Saying Goodbye to MJ
When we got the email congratulating us on winning one of the coveted tickets to Michael Jackson memorial, we had only nine minutes left to reply or lose the tickets!
In a rush we completed the transaction and got instructions to go to Dodger Stadium in person to get gold wristbands by 5 pm. Then came the emotional discussion of who should get to go. We had won two spots, but we have 4 family members.
Our 11-year-old daughter won out over our 9-year-old son, who was getting over what was probably swine flu.
My daughter and I jumped in the car and drove into LA before rush hour. Dozens of police greeted us as we approached Dodger Stadium parking lot. But everything went smoothly. We went to sleep that night with gold wristbands securely attached and tickets safely tucked into my wallet. We set the alarm early so we could use public transportation to get to Staples in plenty of time.
Tons of hype had surrounded this event with reports that thousands would be trying to get into Staples Center. But almost everyone we saw had the gold wristband like we had. A few vendors hawked Michael Jackson t-shirts or hastily-made programs. A small band of right-wing nuts carried hateful placards: “Michael will Burn in Hell!” Oh, and tons of cops. LA used about 3,000, way too many for this event. No wonder it cost several million.
Some in the city suggested after the fact that Michael’s family or promoter should pay the millions spent on the cops. But in the end the mayor said a city that bills itself as an entertainment capitol should be willing to pay.
Seeing the casket draped in red roses while a parade of singers and other celebrities talked about Michael Jackson was a surreal experience. You weren’t sure what to make of it all. Was the deceased “the greatest entertainer ever” as one speaker put it? Was he a freak who had taken advantage of children? Or just a child himself, who had been abused by his own family?
The crowd was a mix that reflected LA, but the speakers extolling him were predominantly African-American. A bit of a paradox as at the zenith of his popularity, most of his fans were white.
Smokey and Berry Gordy talked nostalgically about the good old Motown days when young Michael was a phenom. But would Michael himself recall his childhood with such a glow? In interviews he had said his father would punish him physically and emotionally if he made mistakes while practicing. Perhaps Motown and even Michael’s father should get some credit for his meteoric career. But I could not help wondering if all this gushing about his childhood was a revisionist history of child exploitation. Even if Joe’s strict discipline led to Michael’s success, was it worth it?
And speaking of Joe Jackson. Michael said he was so abusive he physically wanted to throw up when he saw him. Would he really have wanted this guy sitting in the front row with the rest of the family? Joe, wearing gold bling, was eager to try to jump up and get in on handshakes and hugs as speakers greeted the family. Would Michael have wanted him anywhere near his kids?
Performances by stars such as Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, and John Mayer caused some of us to shed a tear. The one that touched me the most was Michael’s big brother Jermaine singing “Smile.” The voice sounded a lot like Michael’s. So much emotion went into Jermaine’s performance. You could not help but wonder about the complex relationships that family must have had with all those talented kids growing up in the shadow of Michael’s career.
The big brothers served as pallbearers, and they all wore dark suits with a gold tie and red rose in the lapel. They all had on a single sequined glove. Seen live, these gloves really sparkled. Perhaps only these brothers had any real glimpse what Michael went through as a child star in the Jackson household.
Brooke Shields said many thought she and Michael made an odd pair. And I recall thinking that when they started hanging out as teenagers. But as a child star, she too had an inkling of the stress of being in the spotlight so young. As did Elizabeth Taylor.
I was impressed as well by Al Sharpton as he spoke eloquently off the cuff. But not so much by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who blathered on incoherently so long that I noticed the teleprompter read “PLEASE CONCLUDE YOUR REMARKS” for half her speech.
Right on the ticket it said “no cameras.” So I did not bring mine. But plenty of people did and were flashing away during the ceremony. Seemed a bit disrespectful. As did the people who came in raggedy or slinky clothes. But hey, it’s LA.
My daughter and I will not forget the day. We are keeping our gold wristbands and tickets as well as the memorial program they handed us as we entered Staples Center. Michael’s songs flooded the airwaves after his death, and they still play in my mind. I ponder his legacy. I wonder if he had lived if the big comeback tour would have been a hit . . . or if the critics would have panned him. Seems like more and more kids go into entertainment so young. Few of them can sustain popularity into adulthood. Many end up messed up. Maybe those in the entertainment industry should do more to ensure that parents and the industry itself doesn’t take advantage of these kids so their talented lives do not turn into train wrecks.
I scanned the covers and an inside page of the program, but if you want to see the whole thing, I found it at scribd.
Growing up, I took Michael Jackson for granted as he had always been there. Now that I take the time to listen and reflect, I appreciate his music more. If you are looking for Michael Jackson music, Amazon has a whole store devoted to him at the following link:
When I first heard Michael had died, I immediately thought he must have committed suicide. Then I wondered if it was a drug overdose. He was too young and healthy to just drop dead. As the LAPD investigate possible misuse of drugs he may have used as a sleeping aid, I think about how hard it must have been for him to come to peace with his life each night, especially during the tough time of his trial. To think that he had overcome his darkest hour and was coming back . . . .
As for me, my favorite song of Michael’s will always be “Never Can Say Goodbye,” a song he sang so sweetly when he was just 12. It was 1971. One of my best friends had moved the year before, and it seemed to reflect how I felt. Now it has an added meaning.