I was watching Farewell, My Concubine last week and the thought occured to me  that a young Michael Jackson’s experience was probably not quite far removed from the young singer’s  training in the movie. I think the theft of innocence and childhood is the crime of the gravest, highest order. It’s enough to almost shift my opinion of the death penalty. But this is not what I’m writing about.

I’d been wanting to say something since his passing, but what can be said that hasn’t already been said? And yet, Michael’s effect upon my life is far too deeply impressed upon and inside of  me to just say nothing.

Writers and artists, almost in jest,  mention meeting “their people”, but in 1983, after reading this story in Rolling Stone, I knew I’d met mine.  My person. Singular.  “He’s gonna be huge”, my mother remembers me telling her, then.  It was the little things, though. The smallness, the quiet world of a lonely soul with a taste for enchantment. Magic is a word I frequently employ when I’m at a loss to describe the undescribable. Can’t find it in a Harry Potter book. Or in special effects, or hocus-pocus. For me, it reveals itself in the very quiet places, in small things…in the bond between humans and animals (because talking is so overrated). In art and creation. Ideas and forms crisscrossing, germinating, and becoming. In nature. And in the small spaces of kinship that form between two people; silent, unspoken communions which run somewhere between the carnal and the spiritual.

Michael in those times was  exciting, but shy.  His showmanship flashy, over the top, ever expanding….the videos got bigger and bigger—but it was all rooted in origins of simpler times that ran the gamut from the classic innovations of Chaplin and Buster Keaton, to Jackie Wilson to Sammy Davis Jr.  to James Brown and other points in between.  Cartoons and Motown.  Campiness and Horror movies. In the icons of the silver screen and in the choreography of Broadway.

In that time, boys fascinated me. Boys frightened me.  Sex fascinated me.  Sex frightened me.  My talents held me strongly and so much was expected of me because of them, that instead of inspiring and motivating me, I’d run, run, run away from them again and again the first chance I got, until finally, I realized that without art and words, I was unknown to myself.

Michael was attractive, but safe. Male, but with a soft, high voice. I liked his voice. People made fun of his speaking voice, but it fit in just fine with his personality; with his art. He was a singer, after all. A soft high voice is much more disconcerting coming from a big man like Mike Tyson.

I’d glommed onto the music of Off the Wall, which still remains my favorite of his albums. Life ain’t so bad at all, if you live it off the wall…..  Yes. I still think that work most perfectly captures him…it’s a dancer’s work. It has its ballads, another strength. It’s playful. Thriller became a Michael that played too much to demographics. It wanted to be loved by many, which I guess Michael did, too. It was the beginning of things getting too big. When the videos featured casts of marching armies and giant statues of Michael, he lost me. Like many, when the publicity stunts got wierder and wierder, I edged away. And when he continued sharing a bed with little boys—whether innocently or not—I’d had it with him. Truth or fiction, fair or not, I couldn’t listen to the music without being creeped out.

I like This is It. I like seeing the artist and a process. In the end, I don’t think I or anyone could ever really know him, could ever perfectly capture what made Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson. I haven’t seen one tribute that does that. Perhaps Michael never completely knew the him in him. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve missed the way he made me feel, all those years ago. Magic.


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February 2010
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