They Reminisce Over You: Michael Jackson

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature} It's been two weeks since The Gloved One's untimely demise and I'm still kind of reeling from it all. I was standing on U Street outside Bohemian Caverns when I heard the news. I was on the phone, talking to my dad when he said, "Did you hear Michael Jackson died?" I couldn't believe what he had just said. But suddenly everything made sense. The Michael Jackson medley playing at Busboys and Poets. The group of black teenage boys passing by me in a car, singing "Billie Jean" at the top of their lungs with the kind of exuberance and abandon that only comes when you're that young. A black man pushing his daughter in a pink stroller nodding in approval at their performance. "Michael Jackson died." That phrase still doesn't even sound right. I suppose that's why I haven't talked too much about it. Even with all of the media coverage (which I have been trying my best to avoid, no easy task when your day job's in the media), even with all of the tributes that various bloggers and writers have posted, even with the Michael Jackson tribute parties, even with the BET Awards travesty "tribute show", even with last Tuesday's memorial service, even with all the armchair psychoanalysis being presented as irrefutable fact, I've been having a hard time processing all of this and trying to figure out why this loss feels so damn personal. I think it's because his music is so intertwined with my childhood memories, in ways I didn't realize until the past few weekends, when MTV, VH1, BET and TVOne ran his videos and the Jacksons: An American Dream miniseries nonstop. I was taken back to when I was a little shorty doo-wop, trying (and failing horribly) to moonwalk, to stand on my toes, putting on my dad's fedora and flinging it across the living room just like Michael. I was taken back to weekend mornings listening to my parents' Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson albums (as in, vinyl long playing records for the younguns who may be reading this), singing along to "Rockin' Robin", "I'll Be There", "Got To Be There", and "ABC", watching re-runs of the Jackson 5ive cartoons, listening to my parents talk about being my age and watching the same thing. I was taken back to watching the Moonwalker video so much my VCR gobbled up the tape one day, spitting out spools of black reels and breaking my four-year-old heart. To trying (and once again, failing horribly) to imitate that crazy 45-degree lean he did in the "Smooth Criminal" video. To watching the premieres of "Remember the Time" and "Black or White" on Fox. To listening to the Thriller album over and over again, singing along with the liner notes. To losing my mind when he was a guest voice on the The Simpsons, and everyone coming to school the next day singing "Lisa, it's your birthday/happy birthday Lisa!" I was taken back to the premiere of "Scream", trying to decide who was a better dancer, Michael or Janet. I was taken back to my high school days when Invincible came out, and while it was definitely no Thriller, no Off the Wall, no Bad, I kept "Butterflies" and "Heaven Can Wait" on steady rotation. I didn't expect to be hit so hard by this. I never knew the man, after all, only his incredible archive of music. But there it is. I won't lie and say I didn't wonder what was going on with him as his skin became paler and paler, as his lips became thinner and thinner, as his nose all but disappeared. It always saddened me to think that the beautiful brown-skinned boy from Gary, Indiana couldn't see that he didn't have to change at all. But then again, wasn't he just an extreme manifestation of what Black people have struggled to reconcile for generations? Asserting self-love and racial pride while still succumbing to chemical and surgical procedures that alter our natural beauty? I don't know. Right now I don't have it in me to analyze any of that. Right now I just don't have it in me to explore his dysfunction, his lack of a childhood, his understandable, if extreme, reaction to the trappings of fame. Right now what I can do is focus on his undeniable artistry. No matter how he changed physically or how odd his personal life appeared to some, his music brings me back to a point in my life when things were a bit simpler and I was a bit more...buoyant. I suppose that's what I've been mourning too, in a way. Days gone by in places that have since been shuttered and replaced with condos or sit vacant, with people who are no longer with me; days and loved ones that I can't ever get back. I guess I just thought Michael Jackson would be like James Brown, 70+ years old, on some iteration of YouTube or Video MyTwitFaceLiveSpace (because network TV would just be obsolete by then, right?) bringing back the sparkling glove, wearing those high-water pants with white socks and black loafers, still showing the young bucks how it's done. Ultimately that's how I want to remember him. As a tireless performer and innovator with an amazing voice, otherworldly dance moves, and an astonishing level of creative energy. I can't believe he's gone at just 50.