Michael Jackson died. If you hadn’t heard, it’s probably because you’re not on Twitter. My dashboard at the popular social networking site was teeming with an even ratio of RIPs and OMGs to commemorate his passing.
I have to admit, I was pretty taken back by the news. I was sitting in a work meeting when my sister held up her iPhone and said, “Michael Jackson’s dead.” Everyone at the meeting responded with shock, myself included. That wasn’t surprising. Death always comes as a shock, even when you’re expecting it. What surprised me most was that I felt a small pang of grief. I’d never even met the estranged (and also very strange) pop singer, and for the most part, I wasn’t even a fan. The only Jackson album I own is a Jackson Five greatest hits compilation (that I enjoy very much). However, throughout my life, Jackson had been such a prevalent figure.
The world has probably never seen—and perhaps never will again—a more enigmatic pop star. Rising to prevalence in a time when many families had televisions in every room, almost his entire life was lived for the world to see. And the world was certainly watching.
Maybe that’s why grief set in. I grew up with Jackson, though he is 18 years my senior. He’s sort of like the older brother I never had, and in many cases, the older brother I’m glad I never had.
I’m sure I can’t be the only person who feels this way. Whether he liked it or not, we were granted an all-access pass into his life. Not only were his great feats as an entertainer broadcast for our delight—the screaming fans fainting at the mere sight of him, his triumphant unveiling of his signature “moonwalk,” his cinematic music videos that elevated the artform—but so were the maladroit and perhaps criminal aspects of his private life. On the somewhat lighter side of the spectrum, he had to kiss his then wife Lisa Marie Presley at the 1994 MTV VMAs just to prove that his marriage wasn’t a sham. Years later, he introduced his Berlin fans to his child by dangling the infant out of a hotel window, setting off a tabloid shitstorm. And, of course, there was his trial for child molestation that led Jackson to divulge details of the investigation—fittingly enough—on national television. I still remember that video interview in which Jackson told a reporter that investigators had to take pictures of his penis. This admission was one of the most awkward, and in some ways saddest, things I’ve ever seen broadcasted.
I’m not going to defend Jackson’s actions. I don’t have sympathy for child molesters, and if he did indeed do what he was accused of, then he deserves all the scrutiny and ridicule that tormented him in his later years. However, it’d be short-sighted to look back on Jackson’s life and ignore all the good he did. His songs defined a generation and entertained people the world over. If Jon Bon Jovi’s claim in the song “Wanted Dead or Alive” were true, and that he actually did see a million faces and rocked them all, you’d have to multiply that number 100-fold in Jackson’s case.
I’m sure you’ve read plenty of reflections on Jackson’s life over the past few days, so I think I’ll leave it at that. It’s hard not to comment on the passing of one of my generation’s most indelible figures—maybe the most indelible. When my mother and I would watch the Academy Awards together, I would poke fun at her for her reaction to the part of the show where they pay homage to all the actors, directors and other movie personal who’d died in the course of the previous year. She would watch the screen and sigh, “Oh no. So and so died?” I’d laugh at her for being so dramatic, but now I think I know how she felt. Maybe the passing of someone you’d watched on television your whole life is sort of a grim reminder of your own mortality. How’s that for dramatic? All I know is the King of Pop is gone, and the world will be a less interesting place because of it. Rest in peace, Jacko. You could probably use the break.