Caits Remembers MJ / My Story
I am normally not affected by celebrity death in a deep way. After acknowledging the loss of life with a moment of silence, I continue on- normally do not seek out video clips or pieces of their art to remember their contributions with. It's just not how I am.
But the death of Michael Jackson is really sitting heavy on the heart. I first heard the news when Alec called me, in shock, upon first arriving to the Brooklyn Honors Spike Lee art opening and panel discussion that kicked off the 3-day-long festival. Like any cultural icon passing unexpectedly, this will go down in history as a "where were you when" moment. Mine happened to be while honoring another cultural icon, watching my friend's hard work come to life, and Amir capturing me on film delivering the news to him, smiling out of sheer discomfort and disbelief. We all have mixed feelings about Michael Jackson, as a character. I am not sure what he did or did not do. But for a moment, put all this aside. Here is when we get to look at a person for what outlives them. We get to see what great art does: it elevates us, and those around us, to our higher selves, even if just for the length of a single song on the dance floor.
My friend Sarah put it aptly when she said that for our generation (and she is four years older than I), MJ was OUR music. The first we connected to outside of our parent's taste. Indeed, since my parents are of the cool variety, admittedly, I first consciously heard MJ when I was four years old and they rented the just-released VHS of Moonwalker. Those characters on Mopeds always stuck with me, permanently ingrained in memory, as well as the deep lean in Smooth Criminal dance (which for years I called, "Annie are you OK?")
Fast forward to elementary school. My cousin (and best friend) Alec hears the Free Willy anthem on the radio and raves to me that I must hear it. We spend the day listening to Fly 92 just to catch the song, thinking the opening notes of any song just might be it. It took hours, but we finally caught it, bought the disc and subsequently, became obsessed. That year we sang "Heal the World" to our parents at Christmas in fake concert. 5th grade rolled around and the double-disc HIStory became my favorite album (mostly side one.) The Scream video just released as the most expensive music video created to date, and Alec and I would watch it in awe, on MTV during summer vacation. In high school I ran a workshop at summer camp where we learned the Thriller dance. I can't even tell you how hard that was. Try it. Michael made dancing look easy, but the man has joints that're oiled like a grease slick. And these are just a small sampling of the many, many memories I have associated with Michael. He was omnipresent.
It is no exaggeration, the way we like to do in death, to say Michael Jackson touched the world with his music. His death is not all joy, however. I think about how deeply troubled his existence was and wonder what turns a person to such extreme behavior. Is it an abusive dad? A level of fame that is incomprehensible from such a young age? I don't know. Such a complicated character, MJ illustrates the paradox of our humanity. Nothing is black or white, and MJ, in more than one way (all jokes aside), proves this. I am still sorting through these thoughts. For now--
Everyone blasts him from their car windows. Dance floors are playing MJ back to back to back (always has been my favorite to dance to.) Friends are singing it together in varying shades of bad (and decent) voices. We're revisiting his revolutionary music videos and recalling them in "do you remember the time" nostalgia. The news caused internet platforms to crash. Rabbi D's alter of record covers and candles DJ-booth-side and Sarah gazing on, mid-dance floor, clasping her hands over heart in a genuine moment of sadness. The outpouring of love and respect paid is absolutely astounding. Thank you, Michael, for being something beyond your physical form. For making the masses dance, think, sing together.