The night that Michael Jackson died, I wrote this (kieselaymon.com). The piece didn't focus on his legacy or the weirdness or his biography. A year removed from his passing and I'm wondering what we're supposed to do with the anniversary of the passing of genius. Do we light skinny candles and sit in the itchiest of grasses? Do we try to clumsily replicate the steps we took a year ago "after we found out"? Do we make lists of our favorite Michael Jackson songs, duets, underrated joints, dance moves and show them to our two friends who "like, really care?" Maybe.
The silly sophomoric part of me still thinks a new Michael Jackson video for "The Lady in My Life" is gonna debut today. I ain't lying. I’ve thought this everyday for the past year. The video will start with pitch black screen and sound of penny loafers walking onto a stage. When the lights come on, all we see are empty front row seats in the Apollo. Michael starts the song acappella, "There'll be no darkness tonight/Lady our love will shine." Strings comes in after the first four bars and we go all the way through the song with the camera just panning differently shaped empty seats until Michael ends the song pleading, "Let me feel you, baby/ All over, all over ..." At this point, the camera finally faces the stage and we watch a 51 year-old, completely alive, Michael Jackson working, giggling, knowing.
I spent more than a few days in March coming up with art created after 2001 that I think is better than Thriller and Off the Wall. One day, I convinced myself that Twitter and Facebook might be better than Thriller and Off the Wall, even though I don’t know how to use either effectively. Then I thought that maybe Sopranos Season 4 could at least take Thriller the distance. Sometimes, late on Sunday night, my list will include Boondocks and 30 Rock Season 1, Imani Perry’s Prophets of the Hood, Kanye's College Dropout or schools that upped their commitment to financial aid during the recession. Then I wake up. And I want to slap myself in the chest for being a fucking melodramatic moron.
At the beginning of this week, my newest thing is to make a list of all the things I wish Michael Jackson would have done differently. One of the wishes go something like, “Damn, why couldn’t you address your addiction to being high and purchasing a white body part and some white children in your lyrics? You know, like Eminem does on Recovery? Or Jean Grae does on This Week? Or Ani DiFranco and James Baldwin do on everything?"
It's 5:11 a.m. and I’m trying to wound myself into a space where I can say something profound about Michael Jackson and spectacle and acceptance and anniversaries and the peculiar anxiety produced when wickedly genius humans die trying to ease the pain of being human.
But all of it is bullshit. The video, the lists, the wishes, the pontifications about Michael and spectacle are bushes. I, like other folks I know, are hiding. We're trying to think ourselves out of feeling. Michael Jackson died. His work is still here. And here. And here. And there. And most of us who loved his work are all just struggling to be an iota as great at one thing as he was at meaningful stuff like hearing, singing, moving and, as Kimberle Crenshaw says "channeling." Sometimes, there is no wonderful intro, no substantial middle and no poignant end ... to life or art. Sometimes there are wandering consumers, unimaginable genius, untimely death and good ol' time. We choose the order in which we confront all four, but we never really choose whether the confrontation happens. I wish Michael Jackson was alive to confront, with vigor and honesty, the anniversary of his death. It's hard to say yes to life when you haven't accepted or earned death. I haven't done either. What about you?
Professor Laymon will be sharing more reflections on Michael Jackson next week in the Huffington Post.
Photos via kieselaymon.com and Life Archive.