As I mentioned earlier, I’m an ardent Michael Jackson fan. There may be some confusion as to what I mean by “ardent”. Allow me to define it for you: I’m a sparkly-glove-wearing, fedora-loving, crotch grabbing, message-board-posting, memorabilia collecting, moonwalking Michael Jackson fiend.
I can’t help but to feel the need to post my feelings on Michael’s recent passing here. He was and is a huge part of my life, and I feel obligated to explain why and how to those who don’t understand his astounding impact. Funny enough, his impact on me is vaguely blog-related, but even if it weren’t, I’d still have written and posted this. I wrote and posted it back in July. It was originally posted initially on my Xanga blog. Although I haven’t been there in a couple of years, I felt compelled to place this post there. The reasons are explained after the jump, in the entry.
It is today, finally, that I am able to express what I’ve been feeling in regards to Michael Jackson’s death. Almost two weeks later. In the early morning after his memorial. The final curtain call. The true goodbye. It took until now.
I bet you have two questions: 1) Why are you telling us on Xanga, especially now, out of the blue? and 2) Why do we care?
Well, to answer one of those questions, you don’t have to care, and it really doesn’t matter if you care. You can click back if you feel so inclined. This post is primarily for me anyway, I suppose.
But if you’re curious, then time for a step backwards.
I have been absent from the Xanga blog circuit for almost two years. I created my account in, oh, February 2005 or so. Something like that. Dates don’t matter, and I’ll try not to bother with too many details, especially since this post is about Michael Jackson. I posted about… geez, what did I post about? Whatever was in the news, whatever was in my life. And, perhaps most notably, I wrote a lot about Michael Jackson. A lot.
Some things haven’t changed. I obviously still write, and writing has been my life’s passion for the vast majority of my existence (…or maybe not so obviously. I guess you couldn’t know that unless you actually know me, or I told you). Though I left Xanga (and eventually, regular blogging for the most part), my Michael Jackson fandom never waned. It evolved, perhaps, but never dwindled. Not through personal struggles, increasingly intense school responsibilities, breaks from the fan boards, overall mental checkouts… nothing kept the Bad album from getting regular play in my stereo, or the occasional weekend-long DVD collection binges where all I (sometimes with the sporadic company of family members) would do for a few hours at a time was sit around watching Michael’s short films on the couch, surrounded by snacks.
This blog was, for a short and exciting time, a bit of a hub. I felt connected with people, which as I’ll explain later, is a really important part of my love for Michael in the first place. I could speak and feel heard. I suppose that’s the purpose of blogging in the first place, but I especially felt at one with fellow MJ fans. There was a surprising number of fans here. When I signed up on Xanga, being an MJ fan was, eh… a rocky road, you could say. Hey, it wasn’t 1984 anymore, and it hadn’t been for a long time. There was something incredibly comforting about seeing other fans’ Jackson-centric thoughts pop up in fresh blog entries every time I logged in. Some of it– most of it– was on the fluffy end of the spectrum, as tends to happen in fandom, but a lot of it was truly beautiful, thought provoking, and insightful. There were a lot of genuinely inspired conversations sparked.
And that’s why I feel that in some odd way, it’s kind of… I don’t know. Appropriate? Comforting? A step toward closure? For one or all of those reasons, I feel compelled to add this place to the (short) list of places at which I post a blog describing my thoughts and reactions, my healing process. Xanga, in being an outlet for my fandom and a source of lasting connections and friendships within the fan community, unintentionally became a part of my fandom as it existed only a short time ago. For a little while in life, there was simply writing and Michael. That was it. No inhibitions. Just two loves. I was at a point in my life defined by my desire to connect, to find some kind of worth in the steady stream of words I found myself needing to share. Not just as a writer, but as a person. I needed reassurance. I’ve always kind of needed reassurance. I still need reassurance, really.
And I think that desire, that longing, is probably the best place for me to begin explaining exactly what Michael means to me. Because really, how can one explain where she is now without explaining how she got there?
I was kind of a lonely teen.
I know what you’re thinking already. “This isn’t a story we haven’t already heard,” you’re saying to yourself aloud, scrolling down to check exactly how much longer this self-indulgent rant is. You’re right about that. This experience is rampant in the MJ fan community. You are right. And when I say I was lonely, this isn’t to say that I had no friends. I had great friends. My loneliness wasn’t the lone wolf, antisocial kind of loneliness. Well it started out that way, not by choice.
Middle school was a living hell, and even if you weren’t a lonely preteen, I’m sure you can attest to that anyway. I truly felt completely alone in my pre-and early teens. I was the new kid at a tiny, conservative Lutheran school. I was shy, and they didn’t understand that. There were 17 people in my class, and by the time I graduated, I was close friends with approximately one of them. I would eventually befriend two more of them in high school, but I’ll get to that soon enough. I was excluded, mocked and teased, and deceived. I was too dark, too ugly, too short, too thick. My hair was weird. My slanted eyes were weird. My reserved nature and my soft voice were weird. My “ethnic” name was weird. My life was the stuff of a horrible young adult novel.
Now, at this point in my life, I was no stranger to Michael Jackson. Are you kidding me? I grew up listening to Michael Jackson. I had the privilege of having parents and an older sister who enjoyed his work. I am a member of a family of fans of varying degrees. I’m easily the most passionate, but my sister is quite an enthusiast herself. Even my younger cousins have inherited the torch from me. We are a family of Michael Jackson fans. But it was in my early teens that I began walking the path that would lead me to the love I have for Michael today. I had always listened to Michael’s work– we had CDs and tapes and a copy of Moonwalker lying around that we would be glued to as a family every so often– but something changed, something clicked rather suddenly.
It’s always the magic that hits you first. For example, Moonwalker has always been one of my top favorite Michael-related anythings. I sit and watch Speed Demon and marvel at Michael, clad in all black with all his friggin’ badass belts and studs and grommets galore, dancing like his body consists of pure energy. I lose all control of my ability to restrain myself from moving– I simply must move something. A twitch, a toe tap, a bob of the head. I can’t help myself.
But one night, I listened to the words in Michael’s work with a newfound sense of understanding. It was like I’d finally flipped some kind of internal ON switch and I was receiving messages like an antenna. Like I was listening to the words for the first time. Listening to him speak for the first time. It wasn’t just music, it was a dialogue. And oh my God. He was talking to me. He was really saying things. To me. And then it was about more than the magic, more than the apparent and undeniable musical prowess, more than the countless worldwide admissions that this man was genius beyond compare. He was unparalleled complexity translated into notes and lyrics that we somehow absorbed and were strangely nourished by.
It’s not just that he composes, arranges, sings, and dances to music that is aesthetically pleasing, although that is true. It’s that… in that music exists a part of himself, and somehow, I understood, on some primitive, spiritual level. I don’t know how I understand it. I don’t know how any of us understand it, really. We just do. It’s a transmission of creativity and beauty and wanting and concern. There is anger there, and there is a lot of sadness. You might say, “Well isn’t that what music’s really about anyway? Isn’t that the whole point? Doesn’t every artist do that?”, and I would say to you, “Well sure, but I want to you look at the past 60 or 70 years of music and really think about who truly, genuinely, accomplishes that. And for every artist that did accomplish it, I dare say that Michael did it with more honesty, ingenuity, and raw talent. That may be only my opinion, but a whole lot of people see what I see too. I mean, look at what this dude did to people! Women wanted him, and men wanted to be him. Oh yeah, and men wanted him, and women wanted to be him too.”
I found in him a man who wasn’t only the most insanely talented singer and dancer we will probably ever know. I dug deeper. I read, and watched, and kept listening. I found a man who was troubled, more troubled than I could ever imagine. His past was a sad one. His present was sometimes a sad one. All of a sudden my own problems seemed less daunting. I didn’t always feel like I fit in, but at least I had the opportunity to be around kids my age and discover that much. Middle and high school end eventually. Life as a spectacle, for Michael Jackson, would never, ever end.
I found a man concerned for life on earth. He wanted to heal the world, and I wanted to. He wanted to reverse the destruction of the planet, and I wanted to. His humanitarianism moved me, and reminded me to stay as aware as possible. It probably moves me even more now than it did at the time. Michael is the reason I began volunteering. He’s the reason I explored the issues behind vegetarianism (even after he’d reluctantly left) and eventually became a practicing vegan. He’s the reason I vowed to use my own talents to better the world in any way I can.
I found a man who made people respond in ways I couldn’t even have imagined. You don’t have to speak English to understand him, to feel him. He transcended language, race, creed, ethnicity, and nationality barriers. For once, it didn’t matter.
I found a perfectionist, a man who strived to be the absolute complete and total best, a man who used his abilities to touch souls, inspire happiness, break down barriers, help heal social and economic wounds in any way he could, and literally change the world. I could never dream to do as much, but I can certainly aspire to do the best I can, like he did.
I found someone kindhearted and troubled, but tormented by others in spite of that. Someone who, to my outrage, was seen by the population at large as nothing but a punchline. I didn’t understand how anyone could look at him as anything but a deeply scarred human being, one that deserved reverence, and perhaps even more importantly sympathy, some consideration for his circumstances as the root of what we often saw as a puzzling or eccentric life.
My sense of isolation changed eventually. By the time I got to high school, people had matured beyond actively excluding or mistreating people, and other such middle school nonsense. But social circles are still as stringent in high school as they are in middle school, and making friends is never easy for some no matter how old that person may be. I made friends, sure. I had great friends, even. But I always felt somewhat out of place amongst the three groups I drifted between early on. For most of the time, it was a very, “alone in the crowd”, “square-peg-in-round-hole” kind of loneliness. I spent a lot of time, especially as a freshman and sophomore, eating lunch alone.
And so every night I’d retreat into the oasis I’d discovered back in middle school. His voice was like a velvet envelope. I just wrapped myself in it and sent myself off far away. My nights were largely comprised of disappearing into my room and leaving Michael’s music on repeat. When my family got tired of it, I bought a pair of headphones and usually fell asleep wearing them. I thought about him every day. I printed out my favorite photos and used them as models to sketch him. He fit into every equation. Everything added up to Michael Jackson.
I joined Xanga, and as you now know, my enthusiasm bled into my blog. As I stated before, I felt a lot less lonely speaking my mind and sharing my interest with others. I met a lasting friend through Xanga, we still talk via email and message board posts. Michael did that, lol. It’s not like Michael made high school easier, or more fun, he wasn’t a magic wand. He just helped me feel understood, and that translated to other parts of my life. And I loved the way he did that. He made me feel like a part of a community, and I am. He made everything else a lot better.
Looking back on this post, it makes at least a certain amount of sense to me– why at first I couldn’t manage to sit down and limn the thoughts and emotions that accompanied the departure of my idol. I think this post proves that there is so much there, so much to be said, and a lot of it is intangible. It’s experiential, this entire phenomenon, the condition of feeling connected to Michael Jackson in this way. You just have to feel it to know.
I don’t know why, exactly, I stopped writing regularly. What changed? If my fandom stayed the same, then how did the Michael-centric blog posts ever stop? I don’t know. I could probably throw out a few things here or there. Life started to get in the way of the writing. My own self-consciousness about my writing began to get in the way of the writing. I ran out things to write about with a “fresh perspective”, or at least what felt like one. My enthusiasm– about my work and about my life– had melted into a puddle around my feet. Life had become a bit monotonous and I didn’t want to be wind up chirping that one, resentful, warbling note.
Cut to June 25th, 2009.
My mother, sister, and I have been working all year on planning a trip to Nigeria, where my family’s from. We’re leaving in about a week. This trip will include a stop in London, where Michael happened to be planning to start his farewell tour. We had known for a while that we probably wouldn’t be able to go in London, but that hadn’t stopped us from trying early on. My sister stayed up late for hours the night tickets went on sale, trying and trying to purchase some. No dice.
I wasn’t thinking about that trip, though. I was wasting time as usual, sitting on the internet doing God knows what, I don’t remember, who remembers what random crap they were doing before something shocking happens? CNN was on in the background, and seconds before I prepared to get up and save a little energy by turning the TV off, Wolf Blitzer calls at me through the speakers over my shoulder. I hear the name “Michael Jackson” and immediately turn to the television. He says that Michael has been rushed by paramedics to the hospital… something involving his heart… not much more information.
I was startled, but not yet frightened. After all, lots of people are rushed to the hospital and are fine afterward. This was our Michael we were talking about, here. He was one tough-as-nails dude, regardless of what people thought his persona or physical stature implied. He was no stranger to hospitals, anyway.
But within the course of a mere two hours, my emotions would soar out of control upon each news update. Things got more and more serious. I knew, fairly quickly, that this could be the end.
And it was.
“Did you cry?” My sister asked when she arrived at my house from work. It wasn’t anything snide or anything, no annoyance at the idea of me getting worked up about a man I’d never met. In fact, her tone was rather melancholy and empathetic.
I nodded. I purposefully left out the fact that I had in fact shrieked upon hearing the confirmation and promptly fell into a bawling mess of tears. Crying would have been an understatement. It only lasted a few minutes, but it was intense. They weren’t even tears of total sadness yet. No, those would not come until the next day, when the reality of the previous day’s events had sunk in and I actually peered off into the future and realized Michael Jackson was no longer a part of it. Those tears were tears of initial shock, just indescribable disbelief.
Pain, and anger. Life isn’t fair, I know, but sometimes the universe likes to remind you of this in absolutely hideous ways. I was pained by the fact that it happened like this, pained that he never got to go out doing the one thing in life that brought him joy, pained to think that he may have never, really, truly gotten what he wanted– peace.
“I feel like we lost a member of the family,” she said to me that evening.
I feel a little silly saying this, because it comes across as so utterly melodramatic, but when I heard Michael Jackson had died, I felt in some way that a part of me had died, or at least was missing or different. I knew I wasn’t crazy for feeling this when I heard my mother admit to roughly the same feeling– and my mother is one of the most rational people I know, rarely prone to sharing sentimentality with others.
It was the end of a chapter in my life, a chapter in my fandom, a chapter in our cultural history. A time never to be duplicated. It’s all gone. All we have left is music and memories. Old VHS cassettes with MJ marathons on them. Dolls and trading cards and buttons and wrinkled posters with tattered edges. The echo of his musical sound waves filtering into space. It’s funny, because while he was around, it felt as if that was sort of enough, like the physical presence of his music was all that mattered. Without him here, something feels strangely empty about it all.
It was an end, it was finality, not for fandom, but just… *struggles for words* just in the way I lived, knowing back then that this man was even just still breathing and looking up into the same sky I looked up into.
Well, in the spirit of all my former blogs, this post is long as all hell and took me forever to write, but I have never been more content with a discussion of what Michael means to me. Even if I never post here again, and that’s okay. Like I said, this post is about closure. Posting about Michael here feels like coming full circle, like an acknowledgment of that unique time in my life.
Michael, I never actually met you, and you had no idea I even existed. But you mean so much to me and so many others. Thank you. Thank you for putting up with us. Thank you for sharing yourself, your humanity, your brilliance, with us. Thank you for bringing us together. Thank you for caring so passionately. Godspeed… and goodbye.