I recently decided to update all my Michael Jackson albums. I had nearly all of them from 1978’s Off The Wall onwards, but most were of a sub-standard quality; an excuse I gave for not taking the time to listen to his lesser-known works. This update awoke the feelings I had when he passed away, and helped me revisit them.
I remember the 25th of June 2009 so clearly, and the mish-mash of emotions I felt. I remember staying at my family home during my university’s winter vacation. I remember emerging from my bedroom, bleary-eyed, around 8:30 in the morning, to make some breakfast; just like any other day before it. And I remember my mother coming up to me and saying something like ‘Michael Jackson died last night of a heart attack’.
I remember the cocktail of sadness, grief and loss I suddenly felt, made worse by the fact that in the preceding months, faced with the prospect of losing the fleeting yet special childhood memories I had of him, I had just started to truly get into his music. It wasn’t the kind of sadness you’d feel if a close family member or friend died. That’s a more tangible sadness, where there’ll be a hugely personal rift in your day-to-day life from then onwards. It was a collective sadness, a communal sadness that you know millions of other people were feeling, and it multiplied within us all. Our brightest star had burnt out.
But mixed with that, I had an oddly intense joy. I opened up my laptop and immediately started playing his hits, loudly and proudly, revelling in the fact that, although he was gone, his beautiful and inspiring music was not. And since he put his entire heart and soul into his music, there he shall remain. His body, a well-known ‘monstrosity’, ceased to be alive, but his music: always alive, as sure as the sun rises in the morning. I cried, a soothing salve for my sadness, but the moment soon produced tears of triumph. Our domestic servant Princess was working that day, and was quite baffled and concerned about what was going on. My mother explained the situation, saying who had died. When she said that, I remember thinking , “Not the Michael Jackson I’m thinking of”.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday, as I’m walking on my way to work on a misty May morning, earphones in, listening to The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’. Through the tiny speakers, 10-year-old Michael’s voice rang out with a style and force unbecoming of his tender years.
Then it hit me: Michael Jackson was humanity’s sacrifice to music.
How many other young child stars like him continued to produce music right through their lifetime, and reach the level he did, musically and culturally? I can barely think of any off the top of my head, perhaps only the genius of Stevie Wonder. In return for the hyperbolic fame and fortune, he was robbed of a normal childhood, which in later life, brought about horrific emotional problems for him that few of us could ever imagine. The intense media scrutiny around every aspect of his being drove this sensitive and childlike man to breaking point. And coupled with this was the diagnosis of the skin disease Vitiligo: the cause of his ever-whitening skin, and for someone who was constantly in the public eye, an everyday nightmare. It was a truly unique set of circumstances for a truly unique, trail-blazing individual.
To moonwalk his way to the title ‘King of Pop’, he gave his life, his whole life, from just the age of 5. Humanity offered up a vessel, filled to the brim with an amount of musical talent unheard of in a human being. Music accepted the offer, and the rest……is history.
I don’t think there could’ve been any other way about it.