The only time I cried Tuesday during the Michael Jackson memorial was in the middle of it, when I went back to sleep after an awful night of tossing and turning and dreamed that I was crying, uncontrollably, that hiccupy, face-contorting, ugly kind of crying. It was unclear in the dream why I was crying, but I remember being surprised by my tears. And then I woke up and watched the rest of the memorial service, which I had recorded, dry-eyed.
There was something so chilling about mourning a man in the most public of ceremonies whose great tragedy was that he had never had a private life. Even in death, there wasn't any way for Michael Jackson to walk -- or be driven in a casket -- down the street unnoticed.
And the memorial service itself, while undoubtedly providing fans some kind of catharsis -- and entertainment, searing into our brains one last time this notion that Michael was the consummate entertainer -- felt strangely like an awards show and not a funeral, an awards show with a peculiar dress code: black clothing, sad faces, choked-back tears. (Except for Mariah, who, god bless her, adorned her mourning garb with a Farrah Fawcett-worthy hair flip, cleavage down to there, and sequins.) Everyone who eulogized Michael was so famous, captions identifying them to the general public were dispensed with by and large.
Perhaps that's why I found Judith Hill's performance of "Heal the World" towards the end of the service so moving. Hill, who's half-black and half-Japanese and whose parents met in a funk band in the '70s, was scheduled to be one of Michael's backup singers during his shows in London, and was, until yesterday, a complete unknown. Hours before Rolling Stone identified her, our friend Raymond, cofounder of URB magazine, Tweeted her identity and website (I don't know how he figured it out, he's just brillz that way).
Every time she sang the line "heal the world," I thought she might actually do it. There was joy tempering the pain, and unlike so many of the other performances of the day, hers didn't feel produced -- in the sense of "lights, camera, action" -- for an audience. Hill's rendition of the song Michael once said was the one he was most proud to have created wasn't transmitted through this thick static of celebrity, performance, apology, legacy-asserting, and possibly fake-tears. Which is why it almost brought me to real ones. And I think I might have cried if I knew what exactly I was crying for, unlike in my dream, where I cried and cried for no reason.
Would I be crying for him? Me? Those lost moments of childhood, jumping on my bed, singing every line that I could make out in Thriller, believing there was no greater happiness?