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Derrick K. Baker Headshot

Michael Jackson and the Frailty of Life

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I still can't believe that Michael Jackson is dead.

When I watch news reports, enjoy his over-the-top videos that now are in heavy TV rotation or talk to people about the circus that was his life and the knock-you-off-your-feet tragedy that is his death, it absolutely still feels like a dream.

Surreal. Mean. Unfair.

When Michael's songs that still make me sing along and snap my fingers grace the radio when I'm in the car, I am crooning like a mad man to "Smooth Criminal" and "Another Part of Me" and "Butterfiles," the last of which is a flat-out jam for anybody who can dance even just a lick.

How can the King of Pop be dead? Why isn't he walking around yet another mall somewhere with a throng of paparazzi capturing his every move and his three kids semi-camouflaged with those Mardi Gras-like masks covering their innocent faces.

Was he weird? Of course he was. MJ was weird and eccentric as hell. Nutty as a fruitcake and even more off the wall than his album "Off The Wall."

But Michael Jackson was a bad mother... Shut your mouth! But I'm talkin' 'bout Mike. Oh, we can dig it!

Selecting the adjective that best fits my disbelief isn't a challenging proposition when I factor in the extent to which we were generational peers. We both were born in August and about 40 miles or so apart. Michael just a few years older than me so when he and his brothers appeared on the "Ed Sullivan Show," so did I. In my mind.

When he sang lead on "ABC" and "I Want You Back," so did I. When people talked about his broad nose, they talked about mine, too. When my mother used an Afro Sheen blow out kit on my hair when I was in 8th grade, then and only then, was it as long and poufy as Michael's was all of the time -- until I started to sweat at recess. Then he kinked up like nobody's business; like a kernel of popcorn constricting in reverse.

I still can't believe that Michael Jackson is dead.

The fact that Jackson sold what is estimated to be more than 750 million albums worldwide is not a primary reason why I was a fan. I have always been taken by his obvious God-given ability, his natural and undeniable creative talent to write a song and create dances and abstract video concepts that made it clear that Michael had more talent in his pinky than most of the people we know ever had.

Was it cocky for him to label himself the "King of Pop?" Of course it was but if he wasn't, who was? And is? Who else made grown men and women swoon and made me scream like a woman in labor when he appeared in concert in 1984 just outside of Chicago. I was there with my sisters and I shrieked and stomped my foot and craned my neck like there was no tomorrow. I wasn't focused on how his physical features were changing before our eyes. I was grooving to his jams, the baselines and the hooks. I was being entertained by the world's ultimate entertainer. That's all I knew and cared to know.

The chilling reason I can't believe that Michael Jackson is dead is because his bigger-than-life life was one that seemed to defy any sort of end. Now that he's passed away, a few of my buddies and I can only talk about how death is the one appointment we all will keep. If Michael Jackson can die at an age most of us think is early -- his alleged prescription drug abuse notwithstanding -- then how afraid of dying should the rest of us be?

My buddy Gerald and I talk frequently about pursuing our goals, vacationing and other activities that make us happy and help us make others happy. We know life isn't promised and you can't get out of life alive. Michael's death just made that even clearer.

The range of emotions that have had an indelible impact on me this year is about as broad as one person can stand. When you cast your vote for the black guy running for president, and that black guy who is only one day younger than you wins, who wouldn't be as high as a kite? America has a black president and I for one just about can't stand it. Barack is my contemporary and I am him. Without the Ivy League pedigree and the dog named Bo, at least.

But then the world's greatest entertainer who made you feel so good about yourself as a young boy dies, you have to fight the feeling that a part of you died too.

I still can't believe that Michael Jackson is dead. Damn.