On June 25, 2009, while I wondered whether I was going to have cake or pie for my birthday, I heard the news that Michael Jackson had died. After first disbelieving the news as another Internet prank, I came to the realization that the King of Pop was dead and that somehow my life was different.
1. Black and White (and everything in between)
While many may not recall Michael Jackson the cover of Teen Beat types magazines in the early 1970s, but I do. I recall the school yard debates, in my newly integrated elementary school, about who was cuter Donny Osmond or Michael Jackson. Of course then, the debate was only resolved on the color line.
However, the Michael Jackson of that time was a chocolate -skinned, afro-wearing crooner, who wore bell-bottom pants and wild polyester prints and I was only seven. As he grew and music evolved, so did the world around us all. Race became an issue to discuss and diversity a concept to embrace. As time moved on, we recognized that music was not limited by ethnicity, color or gender.
When Michael Jackson passed, white, black, Asian, Native American, Africans, Latinos and more mourned him. Men impersonated him and women would faint at the sight of him. School yards no longer forced to be segregated and multi-cultural friends are no longer taboo.
While placing this progress on Michael Jackson would be overreaching, his music seemed to want to unify the world. I guess that’s why people still sing “we are the world.”
2. Man In the Mirror
When you are young, you consider yourself impervious to harm and to disappointment. When you are older, you simply adjust your self perception and justify any shortcomings. Michael Jackson was only a few years older than me at the time of his death, but he clearly had not lost his agility or style. He was a consummate performer, who during rehearsals clearly was not overshadowed by the much younger dancers and musicians.
While the circumstances surrounding his death are still controversial, he maintained an appearance and attitude that proved that he was going to be young forever. Soon thereafter, I began reevaluating my health, eating habits and fitness. Now, I am committed to taking better care of myself and playing more attention to my appearance. My goal is to live and enjoy life and any grandchildren my own children will bless me with.
3. Had I Seen My Childhood
After making calls to a number of friends and family on the day Michael died, I recall listening to one of my favorite songs by him, “Have You Seen My Childhood.” While the words made me consider how unfortunate his life (at times) and death may be to millions, I also recalled how incredibly wonderful my childhood was.
While I may have gripped about being raised on a farm and not having what others may have considered luxuries, I do know that I was loved and provided for by two very remarkable parents. I remember being safe. No one locked their doors. No one was kidnapped or molested. We swam in creeks and ate wild fruit from the vines. We played outside until it was dark and we knew that regardless of how horrible you were, you could always come home.
4. Music and Me
When I was younger, there were the Jacksons, Parliament, and Earth Wind and Fire. As I aged there was Duran Duran, Donna Summer, Billy Joel and Barry Manilow. When Michael died, I realized that I had not really focused on music or the “hottest” new talent. My children listen to Lil Wayne, OutKast, Mariah Carey, and Linkin Park, but these names were not as familiar to me.
Once Michael died, I wondered who would or could come close to being his successor. I began to listen to more and more types of music and artists. I have learned to appreciate genuine musical talent more and realize that Michael as a singer was a rare talent.
5. Will You Be There
Sometimes, something affects you indirectly. When Michael Jackson died, I realized that with all the news coverage and tributes I would ultimately have to explain Michael’s death to my son, who is autistic and a die hard Michael Jackson fan. While explaining abstract concepts of life and morality can be weighted, its harder to explain these concepts when you know that your child may have a harder time understanding them.
For my son, could understand the concept of death as it related to his family or pets; however, for the more celluloid figures in his life, death and dying have been almost impossible to explain to him. The reason for this difficulty rests in the availability of videos, movies and Youtube. When a relative dies, images are fixed in pictures, but when stars die, you can relive concerts, songs and performances through various media.
Since Michael’s death, our family now owns the Jackson 5 animated cartoon, the Jackson variety show DVDs, the California Raisins figure, the Wiz, Moonwalker DVD, This Is It Movie Posters, This Is It DVDS (2), and countless other television specials, songs and pictures of the later Michael Jackson. The collection will probably continue to grow as the world memorializes the man and exploits the fans that are like my son.
To my son, Michael Jackson cannot be dead and any mention of it must be a blatant lie. As such, Michael’s death has made me realize that if a person’s identity is simply an image on the scene or a voice on the radio, they are more illusions than reality. If they are their death’s are then more a fact than a manifestation. In a way, its more of a sad situation. As such, pressing the issue that Michael Jackson is gone is pointless in my home, because in my son’s reality, Michael cannot die.
While it’s been more than a year since the King of Pop died, his death continues and may continue to impact my life for years to come. While some of these changes were expected, the sense of self and impact on my children have been unexpected. I truly have appreciated the fact that Michael’s talent has been shared with the world and feel deep sadness for his children, who miss their father.