Archive for July, 2009

Appreciating Michael Jackson

Monday, July 6th, 2009

On the one hand, I feel I have no right to write a tribute to  Michael Jackson. On the other hand, I feel compelled to.

Until his death, I had really never paid much attention to him.  I have never been especially interested in popular music, and I was in my forties when he was really coming into his own. I knew about the white glove – and I would sometimes glance at his videos when my children were watching MTV, but that pretty much sums up my exposure to him – except for the periodic and vitriolic media attacks which were hard to avoid. So, when I heard of his death, my only thought was, “He’s still so young; how sad.” But that was  pretty much  it.

The Friday evening  after his death, I was watching Charlie Rose and to my surprise I discovered that he was devoting part of his program to Michael Jackson. I learned that Michael Jackson was possibly the most famous person in the world, that news of his death had brought the internet to its knees. What was this global outpouring of grief all about?

That night, I got on my computer and went in search of Michael Jackson videos. And I found them! I watched well into the early morning – and found myself, like millions of other fans before me, mesmerized by the magic and power of this incredibly gifted man. Although a great deal of tv time and printed matter has been devoted to the brilliance of his performances, what interests me the most are the powerful feelings he expressed and inspired in others – including me, watching him, all alone, the day after his death.

The video, and song, which I love the most is the hauntingly lyrical “Earth Song” with its  deliberately jarring segue into the angry and accusatory refrain “What About Us?”. In “Earth Song,” Michael connected with  and called forth the terribly deep pain and anguish  — the anger and frustration — we all would feel all the time if we would — or could — allow ourselves to internalize the terrible things we, and those who act in our name, are doing to all Life, including human life,  on our planet.  In “Earth Song,” Michael Jackson, his whole being filled with love and compassion,  arrows his powerful message straight into our hearts.  In “Earth Song,” he makes us feel earth’s pain  – which apparently was his intent when he wrote it.

Although I applaud Al Gore’s environmental efforts and commitment,  “An Inconvenient Truth” is addressed to our heads, not our hearts. To put a stop to the multitude of human and environmental tragedies playing out globally on an hourly basis, we need to feel them, experience them, at the level of our deepest, most powerful, emotions – those having to do with our survival and the survival of others. But we don’t. Because we can’t. We are too busy erecting defenses precisely to keep ourselves from feeling, because we can’t face the pain and the guilt.

Michael Jackson in “Earth Song” cuts through all those defenses and brings us face to face with  the consequences of our destructive  acts. He gives voice to the planet and to the planet’s most vulnerable  inhabitants.  And death cannot still his voice.