I’m awake now

June 26, 2009

Like everyone else, I’m waking up to the news. I tuned into the BBC World service this morning. Usually, when someone famous has died, it’s the last item on the news. This time, not only was Michael’s death first, it took half the news programme. Next item after Michael’s death was the arguments between Ahmadinajad and Obama over the Iranian elections.

I suppose I’m just like the newshounds, lapping up all information. I’m curious, what happened here? What caused the cardiac arrest? Was he in the middle of rehearsals?

Everything in the public domain suggests that MJ was already quite frail. Someone had said that it would be unwise to book for the last of his promised 50 shows. Apparently, if the 12th show was fully booked, the advice was not to book for show 13. He hadn’t done this in a long time; he’d appeared in court on several occasions in his pajamas; he looked frail in court; we knew all that. A rabbi who was his close friend and adviser said that MJ had a lot of emotional pain, and he transferred it to physical pain.

All over the world, people are waking up, or if they haven’t slept, mourning the loss of MJ. The BBC World Service have been reporting from Mumbai, Africa and of course the States. Everyone’s talking, including Quincy Jones, who produced Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad, Madona and one of his former wives, Lisa Marie Presley. The last time I was moved to blog on an event, we were all celebrating Obama. In a sense, all the worldwide traffic of information is suggesting an international event of similar proportions.

This morning, I heard Germain Jackson speak on behalf of the family. In an emotional voice, he narrated the official account and asked journalists to respect the family’s privacy. Will this happen? I remember there was an ABC helicopter over the hospital. I remember hearing on the BBC that Latoia was seen coming into the hospital in tears. Everyone is using words like iconic and phenomenal. Somehow I’m not sure that journalists will respect privacy. Ironic that all MJ wanted was his privacy. He even sang songs about it. Remember ‘leave me alone’ from the History album?

Akin always said he loved the fans but hated the press. He would know. You wouldn’t believe that he holds down a job as a lecturer in a top US university. He’s my source of all entertainment gossip, but when it came to MJ, he talked like he had personal knowledge. He talks about passing people to the back of Wembley, after they’d fainted; about the push to get into the stadium; about watching MJ perform some incredible moves, right in front of his eyes. He even talks about shows he hadn’t been to, in Tokyo, India, etc and how the fans gather when MJ is around. He talks about MJ’s house, friends, fan club, even about friends he’s made from the fan club. When he talks about perfectionism, he talks like it’s a personal thing. He’s explained to me why it takes 4 or 5 years for Michael to release a record; how many songs are discarded in the process; how his shows are designed to achieve the spectacular.

I thought I’d give him some time before ringing him for the full low down. It would be a long conversation, and I’m sure I need some skills in consolation. I won’t be surprised if he’s designated to day as a holiday.

My niece is in Manchester. She sent me an email to say MJ’s dead. I called the family she’s staying with. They report that everyone suddenly rushed to the telly when the news broke. My niece always fancied herself as some media figure and was heard to say that she had wanted to interview Michael. She’s only 13. MJ’s greatest hits were released long before she was born.

Now, they’re playing ‘She’s out of my life’. Akin tells me that every time he performed the song, MJ would break down in tears. You can almost hear his voice shaking as he sings the ending, ‘she’s out of my life’. He’s out of our lives now. Or is he?

You see, I too love to hear about celebrities. Two things strike me here; behind every public personality is a private life. Pity that MJ’s private life was so bound up in his public persona that Akin can tell me so much about it. After all is said and done, and despite the public persona, MJ is just a man. But the second thing I’ve learned is that when you really love someone, it’s warts and all. All those fans gathering and mourning have heard all the stories, but the real fanatics will defend, or at the very least justify MJ’s actions. They replayed his announcement of the 50 O2 shows. You know what he said to his fans at the end? ‘I love you’. People say it was for the money, but I think that’s not entirely true. I think that like you and me, MJ craved the love. I think he wanted to put up the perfect show, release the perfect album, etc as gratitude for the unquestioning love that people showed to him. Whenever I have come across that kind of unquestioning love, I’ve also seen the reciprocity, the gratitude, the willingness to do everything for the lover. I know that this is my own ideal too.

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So, where were you …

June 26, 2009

I suppose in several decades, people will be asking, “where were you when you heard that Michael Jackson had died”, just as they still ask about Kennedy and the others.

I’d come back home from a worship group meeting and to tell the truth, I was feeling bored and rather alone. Actually, I’d been thinking how long it had been since I last blogged. Earlier on, I’d been thinking I should write something about how memories shape our lives. It would have been very easy for me to write, but I wasn’t feeling up to writing.

So, there I was, quietly dozing in front of my computer when I got a call from my friend Yinka, whose husband is, apart from the font of all entertainment knowledge, a tremendous Jackson fan. Yinka is in the UK and she was talking to her husband who’s in the States when he interrupted her to tell her that Michael Jackson had just died. To Yinka, Michael Jackson is a great musician, but you can’t be married to Akin without being a fanatic. When we were younger, he used to tell me about attending MJ concerts in Wembley. In the 80s and 90s, it was pretty much an annual event, or maybe he repeated the stories that much.

So, I woke up and turned on the radio that sits near my computer. I know I can get pretty much every station on the net, but I can’t be bothered to search, when all I need do is press the ‘on’ button. And sure enough BBC 5live had interrupted their programming. It’s the rolling news and sports station. His death hadn’t yet been confirmed, but I heard about his cardiac arrest, he wasn’t breathing, he’d been rushed to UCLA hospital, TMZ online, and even the LA times website had announced his death, etc.

So, you all know that when I heard of MJ’s death, I was sitting in front of my computer, not particularly feeling like working, or even blogging. It’s just so sad, because while everyone talked about his lifestyle, his plastic surgery and skin pigmentation, and fans like Akin talk of his dancing and his music, the truth is that MJ was just a man. Ordinary men sometimes manage extraordinary feats. The Bible talks of Elijah as a man like us who commanded rain to stop and it stopped, then he commanded rain to start … and it did. And after he became famous, he suffered a crisis, much like MJ has suffered. But he recovered and went on to even greater things.

MJ was a really gifted man, much more than I appreciate. I heard of the news stories, of all the fame and his dancing. To be honest, I liked the music very much, and it was very clearly expressive, vibrant and sometimes really moving. But he wasn’t the best musician I’d ever heard. If you add the dancing, which those who see have always considered phenomenal, then he was a really great man.

Already, radio people are speculating about the cause of death; most agree it has to do with the pressure of fame. They’ve been talking about child abuse allegations, debt, his reappearance at concerts in the UK to raise money, etc. Honestly, it’s all a bit too much to digest right now. It’s the stuff you work out later, just like you did when you first started watching wall to wall descriptions of any tragic event; the death of a celebrity, (Elvis, Lennon, Princess Di, etc).

The 5Live programme contained ‘Billy Jean’ which reminded us all of his tremendous dancing and as I heard it again, I remembered how I felt that even as he sang, he seemed to be constantly in motion. I once remember doing a Billy Jean impression at a party just to make that point. It was given for MA students at my department. We were all in dissertation mode and welcomed the chance to let our hair down. I remember feeling very embarrassed the next day, strolling round the department of politics and someone walked past me, doing my Billy Jean impression.

At the end of the programme, 5Live played ‘One day in your life’ and it seemed such a poignant song.

Maybe I should go to bed and process the information tomorrow. I can then add it to my memory collection for that blog one day when I’m up to it.