Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

A special remembrance from and for the heart of a soul lover
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Illustration by Veronica De Jesus

It was a strange day. It didn't start normally, nor did it end that way. It began with a disturbing run-in with one of my roommates. I was getting ready to work at 6 a.m., while he was trying to hook up after pulling an all-nighter. After that awkward encounter, I made my way into work with an uneasy, ill feeling. It was inexplicable. My sour mood took twists and turns and like the onset of what I imagine feels like a nervous breakdown. Something was wrong. Everyone knows peripheral, typical job frustrations, but I had a scowl on my face for my entire shift. I work in a newsroom at an all-news radio station.

Early on, the death of Farrah Fawcett was announced. Hmm, that's too bad, I thought to myself. I heard it was cancer. She was very much an icon and sex symbol, but her bout with the disease was lengthy, much publicized, and we all saw it coming. Let's see ... Ed McMahon, Farrah ... uh oh. Famous people die in threes, right? Something bad was going to happen.

After leaving work, I wanted to stop at a few record stores before going home. In between Rasputin and Rookie Ricardo's, I got a text from a friend who had dressed as Michael Jackson along with me a few Halloweens ago: "MJ in the hospital!"

My previous inkling about trios of death had now become more of a dark premonition. I thought it was strange that the story had completely evaded the wires in the newsroom. I was off the clock, and I had been scooped. Things soon took a dire turn when the friend called to say she got an IM that TMZ had confirmed his death. Yet I remained skeptical. It was a bit much to process so quickly.

Once I was inside Rookie's, people came out of the woodwork via text message and I started to believe the unbelievable. I'm not usually one to make a fuss or bring attention to myself, but this was one instance where I just had to know: Did Michael Jackson really die? I was more than moved, compelled even, to make a public announcement. Actually it was more of a question. So I went ahead and shouted out in despair to the clerk and all four customers, "Did you guys hear about Michael Jackson?" Everybody sorta perked up and looked at me strangely. "I think he might be dead." A patron checked his iPhone and the sad truth was revealed. I left soon after. I was in no mood to look at the old soul records that were the primary foundation of Michael's musical roots.

In the early 1980s, MJ just looked cool. The jherri curl, aviator shades, and that mysterious sequined glove were all signs that someone special was about to do something great. Up on stage (the place where, like many icons, he claimed to be most comfortable), his tall, slender body was perfect for much of the angular choreography he created. He took inspiration from and expanded on the stage moves of his hero, James Brown, to create his own repertoire. He popped and locked in the '70s to the Jackson 5's 1973 "Dancing Machine," doing the robot with such precision, I'm convinced to this day that he must have been at least part alien. I don't need stock footage or YouTube to remember when he debuted his mind-blowing moonwalk at the Motown 25 TV special. His voice had a flair for high notes, but could also make the walls resonate like thunder. Listen to him shudder toward the end of "The Lady in My Life," on Thriller (Epic, 1982), or as the Scarecrow in The Wiz (1978) during his opening number "You Can't Win." So deep. Quintessential soul. He will probably always be every bit as enigmatic as he was charismatic.

No one will ever truly know the inner turmoil of Michael Jackson. But his decaying exterior over the years is a good clue. People tend to disregard his creative efforts post-Bad (Epic, 1987). But there is much to be said about MJ's latter-day lyrics. His mood and tone can be cold, agonized, and despairing.

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