AKIE BERMISS: The news hit me like a ton of bricks. Michael Jackson: dead at 50. What do you say to that? What do you think? There’s such a constant war raging on in my head regarding Michael Jackson — I barely even give it creedance anymore. Do I love him? Do I hate him? Do I aspire to be like him? Is he musics greatest disappointment? With other artists (contemporaries and predecessors of MJ) its much easier for me. You love them or you hate them or you’ve negotiated a comfortable middle ground. “Billy Joels sounds great on The Stranger and like crap everywhere else.” Some of them you like, but you know their overrated? Or you dig them but they’re underrated.
Michael Jackson was, literally, the King of Pop. When you examine the acts that call themselves Pop today — you are looking at the jesters in the court of the King. He taught them everything they know. They exist because he allowed it.
I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t be writing about Michael. That I should be finding a quiet place to blast his music into the cosmos; to dance to the sound of the beat and mimic is almost-vulgar gyrations; to “hee-hee” and “huh” my way through his catalogue. I was thinking that writing about Michael would be an exercise in futility so soon. And yet here I am at 4am still trying.
I guess what I’m looking for is closure. Or meaning. Or both. When he was alive, there seemed plenty of time to sort it all out. What was he? But now that he’s gone, the solutions are as insubstantial as the memories. I can remember the first time I put on the Thriller record. I remember the exhilaration and admiration I felt. Or listening to Michael singing like a master at age seven — putting his adult handlers to shame. His was a pure, true, inexhaustible talent. And yet, in the late wind of death, he went down before his time. And he was ravaged on the way. How do we remember him? Our tragic superstar. One of music’s oh-so-rare boy wonders. His ending was so abrupt, so violent, so unexpected — I think it shocks and hurts us all. And frightens us that we too may be dying — without making that hoped-for comeback.
I will listen. And continue to process. And try to find some semblance of scale or scope to cope with the man and his life and work. Right now, I still feel like singing, mostly. Singing and nothing else for a time. Till the songs break and all this madness must be faced anew.
One this is for sure, currently: He left a hole in our humanity where he dropped out. A void. A vacuum. The question is what WAS in that space?
MOLLY SCHOEMANN: I felt very sad when I heard the news; I almost cried. Part of it is that he was such a big deal when I was a little girl, and some of my earliest musical memories involve listening to the Thriller casette tape on my Fisher-Price tape-player.
In college, I went through a devoted Jackson Five period, and hearing his incredible but still childish voice and thinking about what a weirdo he became always made me feel a little melancholy.
I guess I’m also sad because his life seemed so strange and tragic– but deep down, I think I was always waiting for his next comeback. I know that doesn’t make any sense, and it seems like he was on a slow decline for probably the last decade or so, but somehow the idea that now he’s gone and it’s over is upsetting.
JILLIAN LOVEJOY LOWERY: Last night, at the bar that I frequent, there was a whole lot of Michael Jackson being played on the jukebox. The songs you’d expect to hear — Beat It, Billy Jean — and ones you might have forgotten about, like Dirty Diana. Everyone was discussing the passing of the King of Pop, remembering his music and trying to make sense of his missteps and eccentricities.
Some people spoke of crying, though this wasn’t my reaction. I am sad, but not moved. I have been conflicted about MJ for quite some time, though I never lost sight of the fact that he was, without a doubt, a musical genius.
I grew up listening to Jackson. My first record player was portable and had his face emblazoned across it. My first record purchased was Thriller — and the first music video I ever saw, at my first slumber party, was also Thriller. I wore the glove and attempted to moonwalk. Later in life, I yelped and grabbed my crotch while dancing. There is no doubt that Jackson’s work impacted me greatly. The Michael Jackson of the 1980s was truly remarkable.
And then, we started seeing the cracks, noticing that Jackson was kind of a weird dude. First it was the change in the speaking voice, the oddness of Neverland. Then the surgeries. Then the allegations of inappropriate behavior with young children. Then the Lisa-Marie Pressley thing. Then the oddly named children and baby-dangling. Then more damning allegations.
At the end, Michael Jackson was planning a comeback, facing forclosure on Neverland and rumors of bankruptcy were swirling. Once one of the world’s most recognized and revered celebrities, Jackson was a sideshow, a punchline.
I am profoundly sad that Jackson died when he did. Because it was indeed too soon. And also because I wanted to see that comeback; I wanted him to experience some sort of redemption, to have another great achievement for people to comment on — to take the focus off of his overwhelming strangeness and back to his talent.
Still, Jackson leaves an incredible legacy, an unbeatable catalog and a fascinating story. He will continue to entertain us for years to come.