Oh, Michael

I was an Eighties baby but the last of the family. So many of my childhood memories are Seventies leftovers from my sister and brothers. And like so, so many black families around the world, the Jackson 5 were a part of our lives. I don’t recall exactly when my love affair began, but it may have been the first time I heard Who’s Loving You.

Oh, Michael.

Young Michael with the perfect afro, the unbelievable soaring voice, and enviable adult swagger so long before any of us sucked all meaning from the word.

Every Christmas we listened to the Jackson 5 Christmas Album. To this day, their version of Give Love on Christmas Day is as evocative of Christmas to me as is the crinkling of wrapping paper.

Oh, Michael.

He became a symbol of lust for so many, as he grew older. Seventies era bellas know all about it, when the Jackson 5 taught us dance moves that many try to replicate to this day — check them poppin and lockin with the late Dom DeLuise. Laying the foundation for Usher, Chris Brown, and Justin Timberlakes to come. They were Dancing Machines, Michael out front, amazing us all with his fluidity years before a white glove set him apart.

Oh, Michael. As he became a man, at first he put away childish things. Or at least he seemed to, with Off the Wall. That album is practically perfect, from the dazzling disco of Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough (OMG, what an iconic video), the heartache of She’s Out of My Life — believed to be a tribute to the late Minnie Riperton — the irresistable bump of Workin Day and Night, the insiduous slink of the title track, the effortless sex appeal of Rock With You. Girrrrrllll, close your eyes. Let that rhythm get into you.

Oh, Michael.

My favorite track from that album? It’s so hard to choose just one. But I Can’t Help It comes most immediately to mind. Just hearing that on the radio brought pinpricks of tears to my eyes yesterday. There’s something so wistful about his vocals on that track. Oh…. Michael.

“Michael

OK, HOW big was Thriller in your life? Thriller was beyond humongous. Thriller was on constant rotation in my house for a year, it seemed. I’m partially responsible. I was old enough to get the LP onto the record player and choose my favorite tracks. I remember sitting in the living room by the stereo, gazing at the photo of Michael and the baby tiger and letting his voice wash over me.

The songs I listened to over and over again were Human Nature, PYT — oooh, that bassline! — Wanna Be Starting Something, and of course, OF COURSE, Billie Jean. And who doesn’t remember THIS moment?

Was that the moment the rest of the world fell in love with MJ? It may have been. He was on fire that night, in a way that so few artists ever are. Oh, they might think they match up, but they can’t hold a candle. Sparks seemed to surround him. And then he introduced the world to the moonwalk and honey, it was OVAH.

Oh, Michael. One performance and you changed the game forevermore.

Bad was a phenomenon in my life. I remember getting a pair of bright red overalls with Bad spraypainted across the front and feeling like the coolest little thang ever when I wore them. And the videos from Bad lit the world on fire, putting Michael Jackson at the forefront of the entertainment scene once again. As if he’d ever left. My parents raised an eyebrow at the sexual danger lurking in the video of The Way You Make Me Feel — it was the beginning of the “is Michael Jackson weird?” questions that swirled around him for the rest of his too-brief life. The rumors about the Elephant Man’s bones, the hyperbaric chamber, thetabloid nicknames, the beginnings of vitiligo and the apparent plastic surgery.

Still, the music came ahead of his image at the time. The dance moves in Smooth Criminal astounded us all. I cried at the video for Man in the Mirror. Another Part of Me was my favorite song.

More than anything, I wanted to go to a Michael Jackson concert. To experience that hysteria in person. The screaming crowds that seemed to reveal an almost religious fervor for the King of Pop. Maybe this was when fame began to become bitter poison.

The first Michael Jackson album I bought for myself was Dangerous and it still bumps to this day. By then Michael had alienated himself from some of his fans, his appearance was so changed from the handsome brown skinned boy we grew up admiring. But still, the music was undeniable. Who Is It? remains a thumping, sexy, underrated gem. The video for Remember The Time was a high budget revelation. Heal The World touched my heart and Will You Be There stayed on repeat in my little boombox for quite some time.

And then there was In The Closet, the sexiest video Michael ever made. That reignited the inner fangirl in my again.

Oh, Michael.

The fall from grace came shortly thereafter. I can’t deny that the allegations of child molestation — despite his consequent acquittal didn’t make Michael hard to defend. The allegations and the trial tarnished his image while the world watched. Michael Jackson became the universal punchline for filthy jokes. And he didn’t do his own image any favors in that time, or afterwards, in that heartbreaking Martin Bashir documentary, or when he dangled his baby from the hotel window… so many times after that. He did so much to tarnish his own legacy and make even his fans question his sanity. I’d see his increasingly gaunt, increasingly wan, increasingly unrecognizable visage on television shake my head and think, oh Michael. What has become of you? What have you done to yourself? What’s happening in your mind and in your heart? Maybe even he wondered.

Michael Jackson became Shakespearean tragedy. He became Howard Hughes. He became Citizen Kane. He became Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond — terrifying, confused, detached from reality, detached from his roots, detached from what made him the world’s superstar. I was cheering for him to make a comeback, but I must admit — I did on Twitter recently, maybe 2 weeks ago — I had knots of doubt in my stomach that he had the physical ability to do so. And now, the King of Pop, the boy from Gary, Indiana who showed the world music and moves we will never forget, is dead at the age of 50. To borrow the title of one of his most maudlin songs, Gone Too Soon.

I’ve been fighting with myself to not snap like an attack dog at every online comment that disparages his name and questions his legacy. I’ve been trying to laugh off the people who seem so confident in theirknowledge of who’s got a place in hell and who doesn’t. I’ve been trying not to take it personally. But for some reason, this cuts close to the bone. That’s because his music truly was the soundtrack of my life.

So many memories, so much emotion wrapped up in his silken voice. So sad to think that he is no longer with us.

I choose to celebrate his legacy instead of express bitterness at his transgressions and strangeness. I choose to remember the time, when I fell in love. I hope in death, he finds reprieve from the physical and mental pain he so publicly endured.

Oh, Michael. All I can say is, I hope you truly do Rest In Peace.

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Comments

  1. *Sigh* When I read the title of your post, that alone had me NO GOOD! His life was the epitomy of bittersweet and it was almost painful to watch sometimes. But he is very much at peace now.

    His death affected me more than I thought it could b/c it signifies more than the passing of an icon but the times of good music gone. We are now left with the likes of SouljaBoy. *shivers*

    Rest in Peace, MJ!

  2. Mike is going to be missed. Am I the only one who’s miffed at all these celebrities writing press release statements? I’m sure their feelings are sincere but why the constant press statements?

  3. Caribbean Girl says:

    Oh girl….

  4. Beautiful post. I’m praying he’s found peace.

    I tried to not get angry, to laugh off the comments, and to ignore the disrespect. I snapped, quite a few times actually. I have to keep telling myself to just let that ignorance….be ignorance.

  5. Caribbean Girl says:

    The original.

  6. Excellent, excellent!! And obvious so many universal themes. I also love Rock With You and the intro line. Didn’t know abt She’s Out of My Life being about Riperton. It makes sense as they’d recorded their duet. So much to relate to!!

  7. Afrobella, I had been waiting for what feels like forever to release any emotion about this tragic loss and your post gave me the release I had been waiting on. Thank you.

    I know exactly what you mean when you say “I’ve been fighting with myself to not snap like an attack dog at every online comment that disparages his name and questions his legacy. I’ve been trying to laugh off the people who seem so confident in theirknowledge of who’s got a place in hell and who doesn’t. I’ve been trying not to take it personally. But for some reason, this cuts close to the bone. That’s because his music truly was the soundtrack of my life. ”

    and all I can think is “finally someone gets it”

  8. Patrick Jnr. says:

    Beautiful Patrice, simply beautiful…thank you for this. God rest his soul.

  9. Me too, Bella…me too. Thanks for speaking truth to power. You said it all for me, too.

  10. DANG! That last clip got me. Thanks again. And can some enterprising exec post this blog post on CNN or something?

  11. *hugs*
    HOW do you manage to write EXACTLY what I am feeling? Michael was OUR King. And he will be missed. Period.
    *hugs*

  12. Thanks, bella. Your words have poetically expressed the feelings that I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind – and heart – around.

  13. warrior11209 says:

    thanks for the post ans the videos. RIP Michael , you will be missed. Bella – you have captured my feelings exactly.

  14. nolagirl says:

    That
    was
    excellent.

    You write how I feel with clarity. Less emotion more sense, I;m still too emotional about it to read some blog comments, thank you for the post.

  15. Best piece of writing I’ve seen so far.

  16. Christine says:

    Man that was beautiful. Made me teary at work and everything. I keep telling my boyfriend, you know it’s not that I feel sad about Michael Jackson so much as I feel so old and nostalgic for what was.

  17. Today I felt so emotional and sad. My SO rang me up last night when the news first started getting out in the UK (twitter etc)… I thought it was a gone-wrong prank. It wasn’t.

    London was busy, as usual – But I could see many people reading and glancing at the news with sadness…

    RIP MJ!!!
    Memories, positive energy and messages. You and your music lives on.

  18. paradisebird says:

    Thanks Bella,

    thank you so much! Finally I am able to cry. These tears want to flow the whole day but i was too paralyzed. His eyes seem so incredible sad to me in many of the pics and clips. May he now have peace and joy.
    Auf Wiedersehen, Michael….

  19. I love your blog and knew you would find exactly the right words to commemorate MJ.

  20. Thanks for this piece. It is extremely well written and poignant.

  21. We can dream can’t we. I’d love to see all the bloggers and social networks rally behind Michael just like what was done for Mr. Obama. And ensure that Michael’s children grow up with good feelings about their dad reinforced by a major online movement to raise money for a foundation to help children and or to buy back the catalogue of which Michael only apart of. I just feel like the internet global community can do something grand for their dad.

  22. As usual, ‘Bella, your words perfectly express my thoughts. Let’s pray his soul does find the peace it was visibly seeking….

  23. He went away trying to give something to his fans. We all wanted a piece of him and that he did through his many soulful music.

    There isn’t one generation that didn’t worship Michael’s music since he came on the scene. He conquered hearts of millions with his unforgettable lyrics and eye catching videos. There are no video compared to his mini films.

    Although he was still young to be gone so soon, Michael will still live on for future generation to marvel at his songs.

    FOREVER MJ!!!

  24. Thank you for this article. It indeed feels like true talent is gone. When you had to really have talent. He did what he did with ease, style and grace and never, ever said one unkind word about anyone, ever, even though there were many for him. We must remember as fans when we sit behind our keyboards that these peoople are real, with feelings that we write about and feel smug. He is in a much better place now, no pain, no gossip, just light and his wonderful music in heaven with angels who appreciate what he had to give, that is my hope. blessings to the family and children, and I hope that they will not be bothered by the very press that tried to destroy this wonderful gentle being.

  25. Nicoletta says:

    thanks so much bella for these beautiful words.

    rest in peace michael.

  26. I kept it together until I read this post, but half way through the tears finally flowed. Decades of genre changing music and performance that reached globally, individually and personally. Great, heartfelt, and beautifully done as always, Bella.

  27. So much promise. So much offered. Michael was like a musical Michelangelo. It is unknown what, if any talents his children have, but I hope and pray that they will be able to survive his passing and the storm of greedy hangers on who will try to get a piece of the MJ pie.

    On another note, I just heard (not fully confirmed) that the doctor in the MJ police investigation is from Trinidad – unfortunately.

  28. I understand the feelings. He was so many different things to all of us, each in the way that matters to us. Thank you for your sharing. :)

  29. Beautifully said, Bella. Thank you.

  30. Bronxgirl1 says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I tried to also do a tribute on my blog the day after, but I was so choked up with emotion that I was unable to do so. I posted pictures instead. Your tribute said everything I wanted to say and so much more. I am weeping even as I type this. I wish I could wake up tomorrow and find out that this was all a publicity stunt. I know that won’t happen so I can only pray that Michael finds peace at last.

  31. mochachoc says:

    Beautiful, just beautiful writing. You encapsulated the joy, awe and conflicted feelings well. This shall go down as one of the best tributes I’ve read. Oh and by the way I don’t listen to the poisonous rubbish people are far too quick to sprout about the afterlife.

  32. Your post mirrors exactly how I feel, but have been unable to put into words. Thank you.

  33. Wow Bella,

    That was beautiful and wonderfully written. Me feelings are exactly the same..

    Thanks for all that you do

    RIP Michael

  34. This is, by far, the best tribute to Michael Jackson I’ve read, so far. I’m only 20 yrs old, but Michael Jackson has been a part of me since birth. He’s legacy was worldwide; my family was in Nigeria when our memories with Michael’s music first began. I’m crying because I really do feel as if I’ve lost a family member in one of the most tragic ways. All I can do now is continue the legacy when I’m blessed with my own children, and continue to celebrate his life and what it meannt/means to me. Great job Bella.

  35. Lovenia says:

    I feel like Luvvie – to me in many ways he is a symbol of a time of when music was good, real, and connected w/many of us on such deep levels…music fails to do that anymore. Michael and the depth of his artistry will be sorely missed. the breath of music he leaves behind is phenominal …

  36. Absolutely fantastic piece bella. In the midst of the flood of all the information, commentary and media glitz and my wanting to soak in absolutley everything to the point of overload, you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head for me with your writing. Thank you very much and may he finally be at peace.

  37. MoniMoni says:

    Bella,

    I have been an absolute wreck since this came out. I have never cried so much in my life. My childhood slipped away.

    The first album my dad ever purchased for me was GIT by the J5. GIT was “Get It Together”. I was around 7. Love that album! Still have it! Second one was “FOREVER MICHAEL”. I cannot describe it to you, so I will just give you a link so you can understand. This is one of the songs from “Forever Michael”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ir9aoen_DxE

    I can’t say anything else, I just can’t…

  38. Often imitated, NEVER duplicated!!! RIP Michael, we LOVE you!!!

    I pray that you find the peace that was so elusive to you in this life, in your new life.

  39. I miss him.

  40. Of all of the Michael Jackson memorial posts, articles, broadcasts, or snippets I’ve seen, heard and read, this is by far the best. You brought tears to my eyes with your elegant words and perfectly paired videos of him. Thank you.

  41. Rebecca says:

    This is a lovely post, Bella. It is a bit comforting to know that others feel sad too. I never realised how sad I’d feel. To me there is a lack of humanity on how he was treated during his life. How could you not crack under that? Shakesperean without a doubt.

    x

  42. Just happened to find you, Bella. Beautiful post. MJ touched my life too:

    http://charlotteannmoore.com/michaeljackson/

  43. Michael’s Thriller album was a staple in our household when I was growing up in Nairobi, Kenya. I share with others whose lives are truly catalogued by his music. No artist has ever made music that has touched people so deeply; he opened me up to a world of emotions I never knew existed.

    Almost one month since his passing and I’m missing him so much. The wounds are just too deep, the pain so acute. He is the last person on my mind when I lay down and the first person on my mind when I arise in the morning.

    Despite the highs and lows in his life, Michael still had an enormous capacity to love others. Far above his music, his kind, beautiful, gentle heart and charitable legacy is what I will remember most about Michael.

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