I thought long and hard about whether to go on CNN tonight and once again talk about my late friend Michael Jackson. Months ago when he died, I did a flurry of interviews, mostly on CNN and with Larry King, and got a lot of positive feedback for some of the things I said about Michael. Viewers wrote to me in droves via email, Facebook, and Twitter; there were grateful that I had "humanized" him. It was natural to me to recollect Michael more as a friend - I knew him from when I was just a kid on through my college years, my first few years out in the working world, getting married and becoming a father - rather than try to analyze the pendulum of his career from iconic rock-star to scandal plagued celebrity. I was close to him as he endured both phases, and what was remarkable was that he stayed largely the same guy underneath - staggeringly intelligent and wildly irreverent, deeply spiritual but quintessentially cynical. Michael was cool, but he was also conflicted. He was forever a contradiction, a creative visionary who wanted to heal the world, but could barely keep his own life together.
Part of the reason I was ambivalent about going on TV tonight was because I'm not attending the memorial service/burial today in which he is finally being laid to rest. The reasons for that were various. To tick off a few: frankly, because it's really weird to me that he died 2.5 months ago and still had not been buried (in the Hindu tradition, the body must be disposed off within two days, and not that I am even very Hindu, but come on...); because I sensed the service would be more of the same - a circus of attention seekers and media - and I didn't really want to be a part of it; and because, well, I don't think I was really invited by his family or lawyers or post-death entourage, whoever is running the show. I'm not surprised, nor disappointed. I was good friends with Michael, not his parents nor many siblings, not his wonderful children, nor the many in his entourage who always seemed to be around, and appear just as plentiful and voracious in his death. On the former (the family), this has no doubt been a conflicted time for them as well. When I was with him the last few years, Michael intimated a deep respect for many of the members of his family, but he didn't profess a real intimacy with them in recent times. He loved his brothers deeply but he didn't ache to re-establish the famous fraternity the world once knew. Then again, what do I know?
Still, today it feels like some closure is upon us. Michael gets to go underground, which is perhaps a place he may finally find some peace. That said, I could have sworn he once told me he wanted to be cremated when he was all done. Strike that from the record, though, if it means now we have to go through another circus with him and his body. This is all turning a little too Thriller for me...
In our Eastern traditions of course, we do actually draw a distinction between him and his body. To me, Michael left us a long time ago. His soul certainly lingers around us - our recollections of him, our celebrations of his art and our time with him - but his body is just some empty vessel, a symbol I suppose that others feel necessary to put through various rituals and sacraments so as to officially sign off on his death and departure. Even the sadness of the day - it's more for us than it is for him.
Whatever the case, in the weeks and months and years ahead we will all celebrate Michael in different ways. I am working on something myself, a creative project he and I had started together a while ago and over the years were quietly nurturing with no certain deadline to show the world. After he died, I dove back into my archives and aggregated all the notes, the outlines, and sketches - okay I am giving too much away - and looked them over. I was overwhelmed. The story Michael was telling was both haunting and heartening. I'm committed to it now more than ever and hopeful it can be shared with the world someday very soon.
Right, so I'm leaning toward a CNN appearance tonight because, well, I like talking baseball during the breaks with Larry and because I've kind of enjoyed my role "humanizing" Michael Jackson, whatever that means.
Final story (for now): a couple of years ago, Michael became briefly obsessed with an assortment of Indian saints - some living, others dead - Gurus who gleaned pop-culture fame for their dissertations on things like meditation, consciousness, the art of happiness, critical mass effect, and other esoteric spiritual themes. More than their message, Michael was obsessed with the men. He'd call me in the middle of the night after having watched some obscure video on one of these guys. "They seem so at peace," he said in one of those calls, "so pure and happy."
"It's 3 AM, man," I answered.
My wife groaned: "It's Michael, isn't it?" She rolled over and went back to sleep.
"Nobody is that pure and happy, Gotham."
"If you say so," I croaked back.
"Those guys eat cows, don't they?" He whispered.
"Aren't cows holy in India? I bet those guys eat cows when no one is looking." He laughed.
"You're strange and I'm going back to sleep." I said.
"Okay Brown (one of his many nicknames for me), go back to sleep. I'll find out the truth when I see those guys in Heaven." He hung up.
Now's your chance, Mike. RIP.
Gotham Chopra blogs a lot at www.intent.com