In Kodungallur and Latur and Dibrugarh, they don’t know of Van Halen or U2, Beyonce or Bobby McFerrin, Bob Dylan or John McLaughlin, John Denver or Kid Rock. Heck, they don’t even know the Beatles.
But they know Michael Jackson. And they know he is dead.
It was the day we were afraid to wait for. It was the day we thought would never come. Or if it did, that it would go away without bothering us.
It was the day the music died.
It was the day the Internet almost died.
It was the day that has completely washed away the tears that are being wept for Farrah Fawcett.
Hacks have been ready with MJ’s obit for nearly a decade. Which explains why the ones you read in The New York Times and The Washington Post are so meaty. All they needed to add was a paragraph on the day and time of his death, and whisk up a soapy ending.
Around the world, MTV and radio stations have not stopped playing MJ since the news of his death. Even in death, it is a festival like never before for the pop icon who blurred the boundaries of everything society has struggled to define demographically – gender, colour, religion, age, crime, morality…
He was perhaps the most hunted celebrity of all time – in fact he demonstrated, with his life, the glory and the anguish of celebrity. He was condemned to enjoy no private moments – his life was the original Truman Show.
But, because he is gone, we shall not remember MJ for his foibles – for the black skin turned white by willful vitiligo, for the prosthetic nose that slipped off during an interview with one of many media vampires, for his uncomfortable marriages and his alleged paedophilia, or for his escapades around Bahrain in a burqa. Those shenanigans will soon be forgotten, for MJ was a rarity among celebrities – he was the soul of innocence, a child all the way. As NYT put it, he was “the Peter Pan of pop music.” It is only a matter of technicality that he died at 50.
And, most of all, we will remember him for his music. And for being a performer without parallel or peer in mediated history. Proof, apart from everything else in his life, lies in the musical legacy he leaves behind – ten albums, of which six were bestsellers from the moment they hit the shelves.
Many a child growing up in the 1980s has attempted the moonwalk, or the patented anti-gravity lean he used in the music video for Smooth Criminal, and blanched at the urban legend that Jackson broke a few ribs just dancing. And many of us, now with more grey hair showing than Jackson ever did, may still feel a hot flash of adolescent adrenalin coursing through our tired veins when we listen to Thriller, or Bad, or Beat It.
As with the great legends of music who never die, Michael Jackson shall live on.
MJ can never be mourned, only celebrated. May he go in grace.
And we, for our part, shall remember the time when we fell in love.
Wrote this yesterday on my blog and cross-posted here.