OFF THE WALL

Michael Jackson’s memorial service takes place in my hometown of Los Angeles at the Staples Center. For those of you who want to tune in on the internet, check out the live stream at Hulu.

At The Root, Rebecca Walker gives her memories of Michael Jackson’s music and meeting him as a teenager:

Why Michael approached me in a room full of superstars after the show I will never know. Perhaps because I was the youngest in the room, and at 14 didn’t have a big name, a big career or a powerful company. I was a kid, easy, with few expectations. I was not old enough to demand, even silently, that he live up to anything. Perhaps he felt that with me he could be, in a sense, free.

I remember his body language. He moved slowly, like a very cool cat, hesitant, but smooth. And then, in the softest of voices, he asked how I was able to do the impromptu bit of comical business. He could never do something like that on the spot, he said. He’d be too nervous. I remember laughing and chiding him. You’d be great, Michael! I said. He shook his head and out crept a smile so open and vulnerable that I wanted to hug him, and probably would have, if he weren’t Michael Jackson.

But he was, and I had no way to reach across the boundary of celebrity that put us on opposite sides of an invisible fence. Michael was, as he described himself in a song years later, untouchable. I believe that is what killed him. A human being can only live so long without the touch of another and can only breathe manufactured air for so many minutes.

We are left with music, memories and the shame of our own narcissistic voyeurism. As it was for so many of us, Michael’s music was a running soundtrack for my life, a powerful influence that helped shape my identity. As a young girl, I kissed a boy furtively as Michael’s song, “Rock with You,” played on my cassette player. My first real boyfriend stood for hours in front of a full-length mirror in my bedroom practicing his Michael Jackson dance moves. In quieter moments, we lay on my bed listening to “She’s Out of My Life” on the record player, both of us close to tears and full of reverence for Michael’s heartfelt emotion.

Later, when I was old enough to go out dancing with my friends, we’d all scream when we heard the rumblings of his sultry dance groove, “Don’t Stop Till You get Enough” and head to the dance floor for some serious getting down.

It’s not so much the music that got to me when I first heard about Michael Jackson’s death. It was the memories associated with it. My family and I listened to Off the Wall when we drove cross country from Los Angeles to DC one winter. I remember being 8 years old and singing the chorus along with my mom and dad, and sitting in front of the TV in anticipation of the Remember The Time video; it was all we talked about on the school yard the next morning.

There were parts of Michael that were strange and controversial, and we’ll never know all of Michael Jackson’s story. But we will alll certainly remember him as a musician with unmatched talent, and, as a friend of mine said, a softspoken genius.

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