Like Chuck D, I got so much trouble on my mind

I have to speak on Micheal Jackson. I never would have described myself as an MJ fan at any point in my life. However, as a music lover and ass shaker, I have always appreciated him as an artist and the influence he has had on all music for the last 20 years.

I’m surprised at how profoundly sad the news made me yesterday. One friend posted the Billy Jean Motown Performance in 1983. That moment, when he busted out the moonwalk towards the end (ever the consummate performer, brother could build to the moment) was a bolt of lightning in pop culture. Like Obama’s election, it was one of those moments when everything changed in an instant.

I’m sad the bizarre antics of the last 15 years will overshadow the first 35 years where he lived only for writing, recording and performing music. When he was a boy wonder, who evolved into this unbelievable performer before he was even 20.

It’s not that the Motown moonwalk was his big break. By then he was well known as a talented motown/soul/r&b performer. His dance moves were a huge part of his appeal, which is why the black community had been following him since Jackson 5.

See it wasn’t that the Motown was his break, it is that Motown was the first time mainstream (read white) audiences became aware of this unbelievable talent. And Mr. Jackson went on to dominate it, setting trend after trend, for the next 10 years. I mean you have to understand, Madonna was big, but it was Micheal’s house.

You know the rest as well as I. I can’t speak on bizarre last 10 years of his life. With detached curiousity we all watched a clearly troubled person devolve in front of our eyes. We treated him like a circus freak, which is what he became. I know he made choices, addiction issues and possibly worse. But we sucked the life out of him. We let him produce some of the greatest music in the last 30 years and then most of us turned our back on him as soon as thing went bad for him.

I don’t pity him, I pity us. Our lack of compassion, our quick judgment on a person who clearly looked mentally unstable for a decade. How could he do that to himself? we asked. Maybe we should have asked why is he was so filled with self hate?

As his problems piled up, we continued to watch with morbid curiosity. Like his bad life was catching up with him. I don’t think his bad life caught up with him. I think he suffered terrible scars from a traumatic childhood and went on to live a rarefied existence. Very few people can understand what he has been through, I can think of only two and they have had just as tragic trajectories: Elvis and Britney.

Turn off the media circus. Watch some old vids, talk about it with friends. I’m not saying he was a saint nor that he was evil. What I am saying is that we created him and then destroyed him. We all could benefit from a big dose of compassion and empathy.

And just to end on a lighter note, I shall share my two favorite MJ memories. The first was when I was in sixth grade and the librarian would let us come in at recess and choreograph dances to songs off the Thriller album. I still remember our opening sequence for Beat It! (word to the Martinezes: Kelly, Joselle and Erika!)

My other favorite memory is from college in the early 90’s. Do you remember when the big debate was: Who is the better dancer, Prince or Micheal Jackson? And I will tell you, I am forever team Prince, but I loved watching the guys get up and argue so passionately for MJ. That’s how I want to remember him and his influence.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carol
    Jun 27, 2009 @ 07:58:26

    Oh those 6-grade dance routines. Baby L’s moves are just around the corner. Get ready Mamamars.


  2. brian
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 14:45:30

    it was amazing to see how many people returned to fandom upon his death… i, like many black kids at the time, benefitted from the timely success of Thriller. it was truly that bridge into “maintstream” that allowed safe passage culturally for discussion and acceptance with kids that we didn’t share that much in common and introduced both sides to music we may otherwise not have enjoyed… not to mention the friendships that developed from those interactions


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