It makes no sense to blog about anything today other than Michael Jackson—or even to talk or try to think about anything else, except perhaps an obligatory prayer for Farah Fawcett. If I blogged about anything else today, nobody would bother reading it.
I didn’t think I had anything to add to the dialog bouncing around every form of communication known to modern life—but then I remembered what MJ meant to me, back when he meant something to a lot of us, circa 1982, during the Thriller era and—something that seems to be getting lost in the shuffle—the We Are the World phenom, which was partly Michael’s doing.
Around that time I wrote and submitted to a dozen or so publishers a proposal for a book called The View From Both Sides: Bisexuality and its Discontents. It was to be about more than sexual orientation only: at the heart of the book was the premise that we were living at a moment when people longed to transcend boundaries, sexual and otherwise. The symbol I used throughout was Michael Jackson. (Note: Said book was never published; it was way before its time, which is a fact, not a boast.)
I saw Michael Jackson as someone who transcended boundaries of sex, gender, age, race, and musical genre. I don’t know if by then he’d also hopped merrily over every national border, as I wasn’t tuned into that aspect at the time. Today, listening to radio tributes, reading the paper, and scanning the cyber unieverse, it’s obvious that a lot of people felt that way about MJ.
We Are the World: As someone said on KQED’s Forum this morning, the song and video were easy to parody and mock—but it mattered. It was a popcult phenom that said something about and to the world that mattered a lot. My heart still skips a beat when I recall images from WATW, like little Cyndi Lauper, surrounded by world-renowned blues singers, belting out her part like a big fat mama: if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was an Ella or Aretha. Bruce, Bobby, Lionel, Ray, Stevie, Diana (who looked like she was high as a kite on the experience alone)—it was a remarkable thing, really. Michael Jackson co-wrote that song and helped bring the whole thing together.
After that, though, he fell from grace, for me and for a lot of people. The purposeful alterations to his looks were heartbreaking: Michael apparently didn’t know how beautiful he was, and we who did know had to endure his repeated changes, until he became downright grotesque.
And then, of course, there were the allegations of child molestation. It bugs me to no end that I will never know the truth of what went on at Neverland between Michael and those children. I can buy either scenario: that he was a nasty pervert luring children to his bed with a veneer of child-like charm; or that he was himself a child who only wanted to snuggle with his playmates. Like most people, on this day I’d prefer not to think of it at all.
I prefer instead to think about Michael Jackson’s music and the pleasure he brought to me and to people all over the world. I want to remember watching We Are the World with Billy Coatney, a friend’s retarded son, who screamed in unbridled joy as he recognized each performer. I want to remember walking into a Tunisian café in Paris with my mother and my sister, the three of us so obviously American that the waiter immediately put WATW onto the stereo. Never before had I felt such pride in my country. Michael Jackson made that moment possible.
RIP Michael. One thing we can be sure of: you will long be remembered. Just ask Elvis.