Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson: A Talented, Tortured Soul

I amaze myself today because I am going to write about Michael Jackson. While I was an early fan of his up through and including the Thriller days, I admit to having given up on him (even before his brushes with the law) as being simply too much of an eccentric for me. Somewhere between his childlike behavior, his devotion to Bubbles the pet monkey, the excessive plastic surgery that became more disturbing as the years and operations went by (apparently his supposed desire to purchase the elephant man's bones and preference for sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber were just rumors), and his highly publicized friendships with young boys, he lost me. Frankly, I just couldn't hang.

Having said that, it took me a while to let go completely, and I made excuses for him as long as I could. Even after I quit trying to make any excuses at all, I never lost sight of the fact that his music and dancing, his ability to entertain, and his sheer charisma on stage were pretty much beyond anything I had seen. Boy, could that guy move. And, as Randy from American Idol would say...The dude could blow.

Still, I hadn't felt a connection with him for years...quite the opposite, in fact. To put it simply, he creeped me out. As far as I was concerned, any relationship between the early Michael Jackson and the caricature of himself he eventually became had pretty much disappeared. The whole thing was just too troubling to watch, so I turned my gaze elsewhere. In fact, when I heard that he was mounting a "comeback" tour, my reaction was to cringe a little, shrug my shoulders, and move on to a more interesting subject.

Which is why I was taken entirely by surprise at how much the news of his death affected me. It still didn't feel that personal, but it definitely did feel significant, like the passing of an era. 

This morning, I am even more surprised to report how much his memorial service affected me. Somehow, being privy to the very real grief of his family and friends brought Michael Jackson, the person, full circle for me. It re-humanized him, in a way. Where I had ceased to think of him as anything but an increasingly odd and unsympathetic, one-dimensional figure, I now saw him as someone's son, someone's brother, someone's father. Flawed as he was, there was more to him than the things I found so off-putting, even repellent.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't convinced by Reverend Al Sharpton or Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas that Michael Jackson was some kind of world-changing hero/martyr whose life was beyond reproach...not even close...but I think I was convinced by Barry Gordy that he may well have been the best entertainer ever, at his peak. More importantly, I was reminded by his daughter, Paris, that he was indeed a real person, with individual worth that extended even beyond the many gifts he had been given...and by his brothers, Jermaine and Marlon, that he was and is one of God's children, a fact I had somehow forgotten in all the media coverage and literal plasticizing of his countenance.

I was touched by many of the speakers and performances...Stevie Wonder's expressed belief in God and His goodness, Smokey Robinson's testimony of the hereafter, Jennifer Hudson's beautiful rendition of "Will You Be There," Jermaine Jackson's determination to make it through his brother's favorite song, Smile, and Brooke Shield's lovely and poetic words referring to that song's lyrics. When Usher sang "Gone Too Soon," I could hear echoes of Michael Jackson's voice in each note and was reminded of his vocal virtuosity. And listening to "We Are the World" was bittersweet and nostalgic, reminding me of a time when Jackson really was a force to be reckoned with in the music world.

The part of the memorial service that touched me most wasn't, as some might think, the moment when Mr. Jackson's daughter spoke briefly of her feelings for him. I did feel compassion for her, of course, but it was Marlon Jackson whose words went straight to my heart. After speaking with obviously sincere affection, sorrow, and sometimes humor about his most famous sibling, here is what he said: "And I have one request, Michael--one request. I would like for you to give our brother, my twin brother, Brandon (apparently stillborn), a hug for me. I love you, Michael..."

In my life, it all comes down to family, and Michael Jackson was and is a member of one, however dysfunctional. Somehow, this memorial service served to remind me that we are...every one of us...members of an even larger family. As children of a loving Heavenly Father, we are all human beings, no matter what we misguidedly do to make ourselves seem less so. Here was a deeply troubled man, and his death has allowed me to remember how indescribably sad it was to watch him self-destruct. His fall from grace, along with everything that set it in motion, was tragic. And that's why I had to look away.

On this morning of mourning and memory for those who loved him, my hope is that his uniquely talented (and tortured) soul will find peace.


em said...

okay, i'm going out on the edge here with this sue, but i must say i kept looking at sean when they kept revering him as the man who broke through all barriers as an african american. i turned to sean and said, "wait, wasn't he white?" see, i don't really remember him as african american b/c by the time i was listening to his music his skin was clearly white. so i'm sure he did do a lot, but "the person" to break through all boundaries. really? what about some love for rosa parks and dr. king? just sayin...
he really was an outstanding performer. LOVE his music. there's nothing like some good michael to get you going. but as a person, he was interesting. we'll leave it at that.

Carolyn said...

He was before and after my time. But well written thoughts are always interesting.

Momza said...

His music was a gift. His life a dissapointment. In any case, he was still important and loved by his family.

karen said...

I understand what you mean, Sue. I started out just being disgusted by all the hype about the memorial service, who would get the kids, etc. So many more important things going on in the world. But, in spite of myself, I turned on the TV to watch the memorial service - just for a few minutes, intially, and then I got interested. Brooke Shields' eulogy was very sweet and heartfelt, and when his brother sang "Smile" it was quite touching. It humanized Michael, which was nice. He was a person with real feelings and (huge) problems, not unlike a lot of people. The fact that he couldn't overcome them was a tragedy, but I have to wonder how well I'd have done, living in the bubble that he did. It's just as well we don't judge, and that we all just worry about our own problems and shortcomings. Those are plentiful enough to keep me busy the rest of my life.

Jill said...

I didn't even watch the Memorial service but I did see his beautiful daughter Paris give her little speech. And I guess from that, I had dreams about Michael Jackson's funeral all night long, it seemed. So I think, like it or not, he made an impression on all of us. I did like some of his music years ago, and one of my sons tried to copy some of his dancing.
He led a very sad life. So much weird mystery about it. I worried about his children and how he was really raising them. I thought it was so odd the way he put masks and veils on them when they would go out. But now I look at that a little differently. I think he was just trying to protect them...otherwise every time they went anywhere, their little faces would be on every magazine and scandal sheet.

NBlake said...

I was thinking all those same things myself. Surprise, surprise...

Darlene said...

Wow! I've been struggling with this, and now you've put it into perspective for me.Thanks,
Love ya, Dick

KC Mom said...

I used to love MJ years ago as well. But, I like you...couldn't relate to his quirkiness. I also became disillioned with him when he became broke after spending millions of dollars...well...wasting millions of dollars. So, many people's lives could have been blessed...instead he went into debt. I had a really hard time with that. Never mind the stories of hanging out with then I was already disenchanted with him.
I feel sorry for his family who clearly, in their own disfunctional family way, love him and miss him. I also think it's such a shame for him to die so young. I didn't feel like spending the the day honoring him more than anyone else though. Instead I was thinking of the soldiers who died in Iraq the same day as he died.
Such a tragedy and frankly a waste of a talented and potentially life changing human being.
Hopefully now, he can finally rest in peace.

Karen said...

Been in the wilds of Wyoming and missed the tribute but have heard some really nice things. Your post echos my own feelings about Michael Jackson - He was IT in my teen years and to watch him having such a haomilyrd time dealing with life was always sad to see. My sympathies go out to his family and friends. Thanks for the great post.


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