It's been a fortnight since Michael's passing and now that we have memorialized him, maybe it's time to move on. Not that we haven't been living our lives, but if you live in greater Los Angeles as I do, it has not been all that easy to escape televised coverage of some aspect related to his untimely death.
There is not much, if anything, I can say about Jackson that has not already been addressed. We marveled at his talent as well as questioned some of the decisions he made in his adult life. We saw someone transform themselves over the years, yet through that transformation, they were remarkably the same throughout. And maybe that is what appeals to us so. It was his one-of-a-kindness we could count on - the hair, the outfits, the moves. Add the three together and you'll be hard pressed to find someone else who challenges him at such a magnitude.
A few days after his passing I heard Michael Eric Dyson say the following, "The tragedy is that later on in his life, with all these accusations, the whitening of his skin and the Europeanization of his image, he lost what he was on the inside, and that was a metaphor for black people written in large." Initially, I thought it to be quite a profound statement. Then I backtracked. Michael Jackson's life, a metaphor for black America? Come on, that seems a tad lofty, doesn't it? Just moments before, I said the reason Michael Jackson captured and enraptured us for so long was the consistency. Yes, his physical appearance, for reasons we will probably never fully understand, changed - but in spite of it all he was still the same. I am not so sure Michael Jackson's life was so much a metaphor for a post-civil rights black America as it was symbolic of a transcendent power that went beyond mere celebrity or race or even nationality. The fact that he was a black man - a black American man - only heightened the stakes.
But then I heard the words of Rev. Al Sharpton and now I can get a clearer understanding of what Michael Jackson's life meant in the broadest sense when Sharpton said,
Because Michael Jackson kept going, he created a comfort level where people that felt they were separate became interconnected with his music. And It was that comfort level that kids from Japan and Ghana and France and Iowa and Pennsylvania got comfortable enough with each other so later it wasn't strange to us to watch Oprah on television. It wasn’t strange to watch Tiger Woods' golf. Those young kids grew up from being teenage comfortable fans of Michael to being 40 years old and being comfortable to vote for a person of color to be the president of the United States of America.
His death shows us the explosive power of his celebrity, coupled with the power of his music. Our culture thrives on celebrity whether entertainers or politicians, journalists or religious leaders, athletes or authors. We have celebrities in every one of those categories. But there is something about the power of music each of us can take with us. With the exception, perhaps, of great writers, music transcends generations and cultures the way other celebrated fields cannot. We may not have the 10-year-old Michael singing "ABC" or the 20-year-old Michael singing "Don't Stop til You Get Enough" or the 30-year-old Michael singing "Bad" still with us, yet remarkably those performances and music live on for future generations to discover.
It is ironic, really. I don't think Michael Jackson necessarily thought of himself as carrying the post-civil rights era torch. Yet in his own quiet but extravagant way, Michael did exactly that.
Well, I gotta scoot