It has been one year since Michael Jackson died.
Looking back at the post I wrote 365 days ago, it’s clear to me that I really did not fully understand on that day just how much of an impact he had on my life, or how greatly his death would affect me.
I remember much of that afternoon quite clearly. The panic as I was leaving work, the text messages and phone calls from my friend Pam. The confusion and the confirmation. The feeling of the ground dropping out from under me as I walked to Grand Central to take a train home. Evan was working late, and my mother drove me home from the ferry. I sat in her car and forced myself to not cry because I knew that kind of reaction would be irrational. But why?
The death of a celebrity is a strange thing. Everything about celebrity is strange, actually. We know them but we don’t know them, and they don’t know us at all—or at least not as individuals. It’s nearly as one-sided a relationship as possible, but the extent and depth of emotion we’re capable of feeling for these strangers should not be underestimated.
There are a hundred reasons why Michael Jackson’s death has affected me so deeply, and none of them are unimportant. I feel what I feel, and I stopped apologizing for it a long time ago. (Though I suppose the need to even say that is, in itself, a kind of apology. Oh well.)
It’s been a strange year. On one hand, it’s a relief to see documentation of certain things (yes, even the autopsy confirms vitiligo; no, the extensive FBI files weren’t hiding any sordid tales; yes, he really was extorted, multiple times; yes, the media did completely mislead the public for 16 years; no, there isn’t anyone who knew him with anything bad to say; yes, his three children are beautiful and amazing and they love him very much; yes, that fire on the Pepsi set was way more horrible than any of us realized; yes, he really did give away that much money; yes, a lot of people took horrible advantage of this man with a big, big heart; …and yes, he just might have been the nicest person ever), it’s very frustrating and sad for a lifetime fan who has spent many hours over many years reading a great number of legal documents and court transcripts to not be able to say, “I told you so”.
I just wish all of the voices speaking out on Michael’s behalf now would have done so years ago.
But enough about that.
The word “icon” gets tossed around an awful lot, but it’s impossible to overuse when talking about Michael Jackson. Everything the man wore became instantly identifiable as an extension of who he was an artist. Of course the first thing most people think of is the single, glittering glove, but that’s just the tip of the MJ fashion iceberg. Beyond the glove, we have the cropped pants, the white socks, the loafers, the fedora, the zippered red jacket, the red jeans, the military-style jacket, the white-taped fingers, the sequined cardigan, the Mickey Mouse shirt, the aviator-style Ray Bans, the armband, the surgical mask, the red button-down, the umbrella, the arm brace, the shinguards, the bow tie, the gold pants…and so on. From just a few photos and some film shot last spring, it’s now impossible to see a peaked-shoulder Balmain jacket or a pair of bright orange Dior Homme jeans without thinking of Michael. Anything he chose to wear became his. How amazing is that? And I’m just talking about fashion here—I haven’t even touched on the music and the dance!
The fact is that Michael Jackson had something that no one else has ever had or ever will have. He was and continues to be utterly compelling to watch and listen to because every aspect of his being as an entertainer was in perfect harmony. Nothing was done by mistake or without reason, but the overall effect is one of total effortlessness. His movements, his voice, his appearance: Like breathing.
It’s hard for me to write this. I could keep going and going and never finish, becoming more and more disjointed with my thoughts and failing miserably at paying any kind of real tribute. Ultimately, the best way to honor Michael is by listening to his music. I learned that last August 29th, when I stood in Prospect Park with 20,000 other Michael Jackson fans, singing and dancing and weeping and remembering how much joy this man has brought us over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an outpouring of love for strangers in one place before in my life. But as always, Michael loved us more.