Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Never Can Stop Saying Goodbye
Perhaps the Jewish people have it right: When a person dies, they are dead -- and gone. Above ground is for the living. Thus, burial is within 24 hours if possible. The dead are returned to earth. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.
The alternative seems better, considering that it took 12 days to finally lay Michael Jackson to rest. While Jackson is something of a unique case, he does prove a point: The longer the dead remain among us, the easier it is for unseemly debate to break out on the "truth" the deceased represented. Mark Anthony's assertion that, "The evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones," can barely sustain the scrutiny of the modern-day spin cycle.
Had Jackson been buried a week ago, perhaps Rep. Peter King's weekend rant on Jackson being a "pervert, child molester and pedophile" wouldn't have been quite so off-putting. For that matter, perhaps King wouldn't have even said it, as it seemed to have come from a place of frustration over the the amount of time that Jackson was consuming the news cycles. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had a point in saying that it had gone on too long. And this is hardly a partisan issue: Many congressional Democrats are squirming with the idea of overly praising Jackson's lifestyle.)
Conversely, with the dead still "with" us, the temptation exists also for the living admirers to find still more superlatives with which to praise them.
It wasn't enough that Michael Jackson managed to bring black and white musical styles together. No, in his eulogy, Rev. Al Sharpton had to declare him the racial barrier-breaking precursor to Barack Obama. And let's not forget that, as good as Jackson's "Thriller" videos were, if it wasn't for the corporate power of CBS threatening to pull all their videos off MTV, that racial barrier might not have fallen either.
(The president's carefully worded statements about the King of Pop suggests that the father of two in the White House also instinctively recognizes Jackson's problematic dual nature.)
For Sharpton, it wasn't enough for "We Are The World" to be a good song and ultra-successful charity single. No, Michael had to be responsible for discovering famine in Africa"before Live-Aid," Sharpton gushed.
In fact, Jackson and Lionel Richie were inspired by Bob Geldof's Band-Aid single, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which was a huge worldwide hit over the holidays in 1984. The duo wrote WATW in time for the '84 American Music Awards, gathered the talent -- and the rest is history.
Did WATW's success enable Geldof to put on a Live-Aid far greater than he could have ever imagined (in Philadelphia. AND London, for example)? Absolutely. But the fact remains Jackson followed Geldof's example, just as he and the Jacksons built upon the music of earlier cross-racial trailblazers -- many of whom recorded for Motown.
Point is: Michael Jackson was an amazing talent -- with more than a few emotional "issues," as the saying goes. But why the need to pump him up even higher than his own prodigious efforts already did? If anything helped contribute to Jackson's fall in later life, it was his own perfectionism that made it impossible for him to live up to the monstrous talent that he had created.
Like all people, Jackson wasn't a saint. Like all of us, he was a sinner. But to the extent that Pete King states? That's still a question that will linger for many a year. But, he's not quite the demon King wants to make him.
But amazing as he was, he wasn't the deity Sharpton wants to portray either. Superbly talented, yes, but stunningly haunted and tortured as well, with afflictions which led him to certainly harm himself -- and possibly others as well.
But again, that is for historians to decide. Perhaps the one thing that was truly worth waiting for in Tuesday's memorial was Jackson's 11-year old daughter Paris speaking in public for the first time, "Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him — so much."
That was, the appropriate poignant coda to a too-long public mourning. At a certain point, grief must become personal, owned by those who knew the deceased best. That moment has at last been reached.
For now, finally, it can be said: Michael Jackson, R.I.P.