It’s impossible to know the private thoughts, demons, and dreams of another person. Often, it’s hard to know our own.
How can any person begin to imagine what the daily life of Michael Jackson must have been like?
He literally grew up before our eyes. His fans likely knew more about his background and his family life than he did.
While Madonna was attending elementary school, Michael was on Ed Sullivan. While Prince was playing four-square, Michael was in the recording studio. While Simon Le Bon was buying lollies, Michael was touring the country.
He went on to become the biggest-selling recording artist in the history of recording. His sales records will likely never be equaled.
He went on to become the most famous person in the world. His image was more recognizable to children worldwide than that of Ronald McDonald and Jesus. Tribes in remote jungles could identify Michael Jackson.
There was not a street corner, backwoods diner, desert palm tree, or iceberg that Michael could visit without attracting attention.
How lonely and thrilling and sad and amazing and frustrating that must have been to experience.
In every interview I’ve seen recently, the same few words keep coming up: innocent, child-like, playful, silly… For many years, I’ve believed that Michael likely never progressed emotionally past the level of a 12 year old. As an adult, he created his ideal habitat, basically a giant circus and amusement park. I don’t believe this was the act of a predator, I believe it was him surrounding himself with his most basic childhood dreams.
The musician in me can not begin to express the reach and influence Michael had on his contemporaries and younger generations of artists. Every single person on the pop music charts today, from Taylor Swift to The Jonas Brothers, Justin Timberlake, Rhianna, and Miley Cyrus owe an incredible amount of gratitude to Michael Jackson.
His work, dedication, and talent did much more than just sell a few hundred million albums… he busted racial barriers, revolutionized the music industry, introduced filmmakers to new technologies, and probably most importantly shed light on major social issues of the day.
No one in the US knew or cared about the famine that was claiming hundreds of lives daily in Ethiopia in the 80’s until Michael’s USA for Africa exposed it. Even now when I suggest Ethiopian food for dinner, someone invariably makes the joke, “I didn’t think they had any food!”
His humanitarian efforts are unequaled. He has given more money to charitable organizations than any other “person of note.” He founded nearly 40 different organizations aimed at providing funds for everything from HIV/AIDS to burn victims and wounded veterans.
I’ve found myself vigorously defending Michael the past several days on Twitter and Facebook from people who want to complain that his death is receiving too much attention… or demanding that people stop talking about the “child molester” who should be rotting in hell.
To those people I say, “May you never be judged by the worst thing you’ve been accused of.”
To those who dwell on his seemingly bizarre behavior and appearance, remember that “freak” is another term for “different” and our prejudices and bigotry are our problems, not the problems of those who are different.
This “freak” was a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a human being who did extraordinary things under extraordinary circumstances.
Michael’s legacy will survive the scandals. Michael’s legacy will survive whatever the next several months or years will find him being accused of now that he’s not here to defend himself. Michael’s legacy will survive the legal battle over the custody of his children and the disbursement of his estate.
Michael Jackson’s page in the history books will be filled with his music and his charity. I don’t believe the scandals will even warrant a footnote.
As for myself, I will remember being jealous of my childhood best friend who came to school wearing that red zippered jacket and glove, and the joy when he let me wear it. I will remember my mom and dad dancing with me to the “I Want You Back” and “ABC” records. I will remember the countless hours I spent watching MTV just hoping they would play “Thriller” one more time. I will remember how much I loved “The Way You Make Me Feel” and how I cried like a baby the first time I heard “Gone Too Soon” after Ryan White died.
I will mourn the sudden silence of a voice that has always been heard in my house.
And I will mourn yet another piece of my childhood slipping away.
Pardon the hell out of me if that’s interrupting your regularly scheduled programming.