Why I’m mourning Michael Jackson’s death

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This is Michael Jackson the year I was a senior in high school.

It’s a little before 6:00 a.m. CST as I write this and I’ve been listening to the BBC World News stream on WPLN.org. I’ve been struck by how the world is reacting to the news that Michael Jackson died.

Not only is it the dominate story on the BBC broadcast, the report includes news of how TV networks in countries around the world broke into their regular programming to report the news. The flood of queries to Google from around the world led the service to interpret what was taking place as a malware attack. (Doc Searls, as a “live web” record, took a “snapshot” of a Google and Twitter search mashup at time the news of Jackson’s death was announced.)

There’s a big part of me that wants to ask, “What’s wrong with people?” Don’t they know Michael Jackson is bizarre?

But then, I think back to before Michael Jackson became so bizarre and the statement I heard someone make years before the fall of the Iron Curtain. They said, “If we want to defeat communism, we should forget nuclear weapons and load up cargo planes full of Levi jeans and Michael Jackson tapes (this was a pre-CD era) and drop them over eastern-bloc countries.”

Michael Jackson’s music, like it or not, is part of the essence of American culture (at least, the “pop-” kind of culture) that people all over the world find appealing, even when they’ve been programmed all their lives to believe America is the Great Satan.

It’s the music and incredible talent of Michael Jackson, not that bizarre person he became, that people are mourning today. That, and something a little more personal.

I was in high school when the Jackson Five hit the big time. You know what that means: Michael Jackson was a big part of the soundtrack of those years of my life. And the soundtrack of that part of your life sticks with you for the rest of your life. That soundtrack is engrained into you brain as a part of way too many important things in your life, you can never completely flip it off. It’s like a permanent playlist in your mind that starts playing whenever you encounter something that makes you think of anything related to that era.

I think we all get crazy in our obsession with the deaths of someone like Michael Jackson because he was there, singing in the background, when we experienced so many things we hold dear.

The music is still there. The memories are still there. But if Michael Jackson can die, does that mean a part of us dies with him?

I think that’s what we mourn.

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  • In a nutshell, you have it right here: “It’s the music and incredible talent of Michael Jackson, not that bizarre person he became, that people are mourning today.”

    I remember the living room of the house where I grew up, with giant headphones on, the Thriller RECORD on the turntable, just dancing and singing while my parents tried to watch TV around me. My poor parents… heh

  • Shannon McRae

    Following coverage last night, I wondered several times, Why do I care about this so much??

    And you’re so right. “I think we all get crazy in our obsession with the deaths of someone like Michael Jackson because he was there, singing in the background, when we experienced so many things we hold dear.”

    His music was some of the first that I chose to like myself, rather than whatever my parents were listening to in their cars.

  • “But if Michael Jackson can die, does that mean a part of us dies with him?”

    Yes. When someone is that omnipresent in the culture across so many years, whether good, bad or bizarre, they are a part of what Douglas Hofstadter might call or (has called) our soul pattern. They are indeed a part of us. When our experience of that person – of their “soul shards” – is reinforced by something as primal as music it becomes even more deeply entrenched, more a part of, our own specific pattern. Any loss we may feel is real and it is another, high contrast, inevitable step toward our own mortal experience.

    Have a nice day! 🙂

  • I think everyone (regardless of how much we all recall his recent years as being bizarre) remembers Michael Jackson in some positive light. Almost everyone plays Jackson 5 tracks at their weddings if dancing is part of the celebration. Children know who he is, people in practically every country knows/knew him – he was more of an international phenom than any other artist/performer out there.

    Sometimes I wonder if we in America might be the only ones so fixated on watching celebrities fail and fall.

  • Bob

    Michael Jackson was killed by Iranian agents at the behest of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in order to divert attention from his oppression of the Iranian people. It worked. There is not a major news network in the country that is talking about Iran, they are spending their time on Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and comparisons to Elvis. Meanwhile Iranians die, and they get no TV specials.

  • Hudge

    Bob, with all due respect, you’re not quite on the mark. Mark Sanford ordered the hit, which was carried out by Peronista ninjas. Sanford in turn was seduced by an agent working for the Chavez-Ahmadinejad axis, which then, as you note, caused the desired diversion of attention. I’m sure Nancy Pelosi and cap-and-trade are mixed up in this, too.

  • Hudge

    The Jacksons and MJ were too late for me to get into, so I’ve never understood his popularity. I once won a Jackson 5 album (that dates me!) from a Knoxville radio station call-in contest. I don’t recall the station identifying what the giveaway was, and since I didn’t like the music, I probably wouldn’t have called in had I known. Anyway, my fiancee glommed it and thought I was nuts for not wanting it. To me, the Jackson 5 music fell into what was termed “bubble gum” rock, and MJ’s later music was too “poppy,” with the exception of “Thriller” (mainly because of Vincent Price) for my taste. I saw where he once said something about ending up like Elvis, and it’s beginning to appear that will be the case, including financial redemption after his death.

  • Chuck

    I was also very conflicted on Learning of MJ’s death. Being old enough to have experienced his music from the beginning, I knew his talent long before I knew his flaws. I think back to not only other entertainers, but also friends and family, whose passing forced me to remember their finer qualities even while acknowledging their shortcomings.