and why am I feeling defensive of michael jackson? i do not know exactly. i am embarrassed to admit that i don't have one of his albums other than a mix CD i requested from a friend last year which i play when i do deep-cleaning house chores, like washing windows. but i do adore many of his singles--billie jean is my favorite. and i should also admit my strange "connection" to the jackson's, being that my maiden name is jackson (not to mention my middle name is katherine) and i was regularly teased in school as being related to michael jackson, the joke in later years being that i would reply "yeah, we're both white!" i guess one of the reason i am moved to write about his death is that with motherhood comes this undeniable nag from deep in ones heart that lets itself ask on such occasions "what if this were my child?" and the acknowledgment that everyone in the world is somebody's child, born of love and light, as hippie-dippy as it sounds.
i think that if anyone takes the time to understand this young boy turned massive superstar's past it would be clear where all the craziness came from. imagine yourself one of nine children in a struggling family. imagine at a young age discovering that you had a talent that set you apart from the rest. imagine your father grabbing hold of that opportunity and suddenly your life is not your own. school gets out and you have to practice for hours until your evening gig (sometimes in strip clubs), getting home late, and having to get up and start all over again. i think all of us with children out there, or even those who spend time with them, understand how critical it is to have the freedom to play and be silly, magical beings--its essential for proper development.
then imagine that suddenly your career (should a child even have a career??) as a singer and dancer in a musical group, takes off and you are adored by millions of fans. its a world that i don't think anyone can ever come close to really understanding unless you've lived it. imagine transitioning into adolescence this way. imagine that through all of this your father and manager shames you daily for your "fat nose" and then sends you out onstage under the lights in front of thousands.
developmentally speaking, it would nearly impossible for anyone under these conditions to blossom into a well-adjusted adult. by the time you do reach the age of adulthood you are literally the most famous person in the whole world and you have more money than could be fathomed. do you think you might do some strange things, like have a pet monkey? or build a fantastical world based on the beloved character peter pan, the boy who never grew up? do you think you might seek out other people who understands you (amidst all the others who just want a piece of this fame) like fellow child stars and take them out on red carpet events? do you think your behavior would always make sense to others and not be picked apart everyday by scrutinizing eyes? what kind of world would you build around yourself if you lived this life?
do you think that you might have issues with your looks and, with endless resources and very few people around you who are truly out for your best interest, feel justified in changing yourself in extreme ways? do you think its possible to handle all of this madness you would have quirks and vices and addictions that you battled?
when i decided to sit down and step away from my judgement, i began to see that this was a person who could really never grow up, who made decisions like a child, was likely motivated by childish motivations, and responded to this life in child-like ways. i wholly believe that if there had been actual sexual abuse, of which he had been accused of, evidence would have been found...children are not good at covering their wrongdoings. to me it is much more likely that the accuser had motivation to benefit from the allegations, and that all of the confusing behavior, such as sharing bed with children, was as innocent as me sharing a bed with my own children, or as innocent as children's sleep-overs--because its fun. because you can whisper and giggle and eat snacks and watch movies, before passing out. how much would you crave this normalcy if your own childhood was taken up by hard work and celebrity? do any of us that venture to make that call to REALLY know what happened? no.
but the most painful realization is how much would such accusations affect you? going from adoration to superstardom to your name becoming synonymous with "freak" or "pervert." would you worry about how this affected your children? from everything i've seen/read/heard his children were very happy, mild-mannered, home-schooled kids with a deep loving attachment to their father. that actually having their faces covered ended up working because then they could sometimes have vacations, go to the beach, the movies, and go uncovered and know one knew who they were; they could feel normal. aside from being what we all thought he was, wished he was, accused him of being, he was a dedicated daddy to three children.
and to cast aside the cloud of reputation, there is always the music--music which nearly everyone has some memory. music that influenced nearly every artist after him, and as pointed out at the public service, broke down barriers for african-americans in all industries. he softened up many homes to the acceptance of black people--his music was so irresistible that color faded from being an issue for many. this has been a massive transition over the last 50 years and you cannot deny michael influence--he was the first black person to have such a large embrace in white american homes. and now look how far we've come: we've come so far as to elect a black man into the white house. this deserves to be acknowledged. yes, you could say, its just a pop star. it's just music. but music changes lives. and michael changed everything.
it should also be noted that michael literally set the records for generosity to charities. compassion and generousness is many times more intact in children than adults.
the fact is, we share celebrities, we all own a little bit of them, we all feel connected over "knowing them." they are out there for us to idolize, or to throw stones at. we unleash our opinions on them, our judgments on them, our praise on them--sometime all in one breath. celebrities are a part of our culture, they are sacrificial lives, subject to our love and hate, whether or not it is deserved. and especially musicians: they pull us together, they fire us up, they speak into our hearts, we have a mostly one-sided connection with them of strange depth, and at them same time, they are merely people, just like us. equally sacred, equally holy, equally deserving of compassion and the benefit of the doubt.
one truth has been revealed to me as i have watched this event unfold, one thing that i didn't not know i felt in my heart until now and that is this: i do not believe in speaking ill of the dead. it could too easily be ourselves. it is too easy to be misunderstood or to be focused on in negative light. we all have regret, we all have issues and struggles, we all have weaknesses--it pains me to think that people would choose put those into focus when i am not around to defend myself. michael died just on the cusp of making a comeback where he hoped to shed the nickname that plagued him, "wacko jacko" and to again be considered an entertainer first, to bring joy to audiences through the power of music, after years of laying low, focusing on his family, and trying to overcome the shame of scandal.
as al sharpton said, directly to michael's three grieving children: "Your daddy was NOT strange, but it was strange what he had to put up with."
is all of this memorializing taking a selective look at one's life, ignoring the bad and glorifying the life of this star--is it right? YES. i think so. when i die, when anyone dies, they want their image to be properly dusted, cleaned, and repaired, and viewed as a whole, not to be turned over have all of your chips and cracks examined. i vow from this day forward to give everyone who passes from this world that much-deserved respect.
i leave you with the tribute that i found so moving (and not just because i listen to the george michael record with this song all the time!) from tuesdays service, performed by stevie wonder: