I remember June 25th, 2009 vividly. I remember standing in the sweltering epicenter of Metro Center in Washington, D.C. I was waiting on the red line train en route to Union Station when I got a voicemail message. It was my dad telling me that Michael Jackson had passed away. There was a strange feeling that took my body completely hostage when I heard those words. It's a year later and I still can't describe that feeling. The thought of Michael Joseph Jackson not being alive is completely implausible. As I made my way onto the train that finally arrived into the station, I started to shuffle through the bemused index cards that were cluttering my mind.
I also wondered if my riding companions were in the know of the news that I had just received. All of a sudden, Blackberries and iPhones started to chirp in unison, as if they were moaning in a technological heat. I then heard a woman ask to no one in particular if we had heard that Michael Jackson had died. The entire subway car gasped, and it seemed the same feeling that had taken over my body minutes earlier had found new destinations of flesh and soul to take hold of.
As a broad coalition of Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials sat on that train to Union Station, our faces were momentary portraits of suspended animation. It's as if we couldn't believe that the same beautiful, black prince who had provided the soundtrack to our adolescence, in one way or another, had gone on to glory before we had. Not the same adorable kid who, along with his four brothers, introduced the world to bubble gum soul on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969. Not the same young man that had thousands of little boys and girls of different shades striving to attain the perfect afro, all while practicing that robotic dance that they saw young Michael perform while they were glued to their TV screens watching Soul Train on Saturday morning. Not Mr. ABC. Not Mr. Never Can Say Goodbye. Some experienced these events in living color. Others, like me, have relied on VHS, DVD, and the internet over the years to wallow in that beautiful pool of nostalgia. But one thing remains consistent from generation to generation; we aren't supposed to live in a world without Michael Jackson.
One year later, there is a legacy that is still being written about Michael long after he has taken his last breath. Questions still surround the role that personal physician Dr. Conrad Murray might have played in MJ's death. Michael's father, Joe Jackson, has blamed his mother Katherine for his death. There have been allegations made by Michael's former dermatologist that the two had a homosexual relationship. It's been reported that Michael has made nearly $800 million after his death. This crazy thing we call life still goes on. And it seems that many people still have a lust for sensationalizing every aspect of Michael Jackson's life -- even from beyond the grave. The labels that followed him for most of his adult life -- pariah, self-hater, nutcase, child molester -- seem to have dwindled away slowly. In a strange way, Michael's death has made him human again. In his passing, we were able to see the great son, brother, father and humanitarian that Michael had evolved into during his short 50 years on this earth. It was truly touching to see how his children adored him, as his daughter tearfully laid her dad to rest at his funeral last summer. A year later, we see Michael in a different light; a light that has shunned hypocritical finger pointing and embraced an everlasting bond that will always be shared through his music.
What was the first song you played when you had your Michael moment? You know the moment -- the little space of spare time that you had to take for yourself after you heard the tragic news. The moment when you closed your door, turned off your TV, and put your iPod playlist on nothing but Michael Jackson greatness. "Rockin' Robin"? "Lookin' Through The Windows"? "Dancing Machine"? "Got To Be There"? "Blame It On The Boogie"? "Off The Wall"? "This Place Hotel"? "Thriller"? "Bad"? "Jam"? We all have our favorites, and the first song that I played was "Human Nature." To me, that was the song that truly summed it all up for me. The reason that Michael didn't outlive us is because he was human. Even though he could glide across the moon without ever stepping foot in space, he was a man of flesh and blood. Just like all of us. As I went through my entire Michael Jackson catalog and all of the rare performances and commercials on YouTube, I came to the realization that Michael was gone for good. And even though his brilliant music lives on forever, we don't have the man who was blessed to create that brilliance here with us to celebrate. But in the words of Joni Mitchell (and baby sister Janet), maybe we didn't know what we had 'till he was gone.
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