There are many people out there who don’t understand what the big deal is about Michael Jackson. Some acknowledge his talent, his philanthropy, and his influence on entertainment over the years, but miss the point by labeling him (singer, dancer, entertainer, etc…). Some can’t comprehend his importance because he wasn’t part of their lives, and are merely frustrated with the seemingly “excessive” coverage of his death. And some, the disgusting, vulgar, and relentlessly stupid but highly vocal few, find it fun or even the right thing to do to degrade and spit on a good man with lies and hatred, and label all those who love him as messed up, gay, or psychotic. So in the face of all those who just don’t understand, I submit this, so that it might help you see how much a part of me he is.
Michael’s music has been in my ears my whole life. My mother is a big fan, and Thriller was at the top of the charts when I was born. “Dangerous” was the first CD I ever bought, and I remember dancing and singing to it endlessly with the girl from across the street when we were kids. As wonderful as his earlier albums were, and as revolutionary, the majority of that happened before my time, or at least before I was aware of it. I can’t speak to the racial barriers he broke down, or the way he revolutionized music videos, or any of that, because I was not around to see what it was like before Michael. So “Dangerous” probably marks the period where the connection formed. He was the top of the world, selling more albums than anyone, his own amusement park, a ride at Disney World, being the man he wanted to be.
I think it was the songs on “Dangerous” that first spoke to me. Michael rarely gets the credit he deserves as a songwriter and musician. “Black or White”, “Heal the World”, “Remember the Time”, “Keep the Faith”, “Will You Be There”. All entertaining, many inspirational, some absolutely badass. “Will You Be There” in particular resonated with me. It spoke of loneliness, strength, compassion and companionship. It was as much a prayer and a plea from Michael to all of us to support him as it was a guarantee to support us. It was a pact between the man and the fan, one that I have held on to ever since. “I’ll never abandon you or turn on you, please never abandon or turn on me.” As a (sometimes) lonely kid, that meant a lot.
But Michael’s music was just a manifestation of what he truly represented to me. I was a dorky, lonely, bullied, shy, soft-spoken, solitary, youth. I was told so many times that I was nothing, or less than nothing, and that that is all I would ever be, and I kept a great deal of myself hidden inside, out of fear and self-loathing. But what Michael showed me was that no matter what people thought of me, of how I looked or acted, what I wore, what I said, or how I was treated, I could be special, strong and powerful, talented, passionate, and exactly who I wanted to be, whatever I wanted to be. He showed me how much I had inside, and that not only was it ok to let it out, but that it was beautiful and right, that it was worthy to be let out, and how much joy it could bring me. At the time in my life when I felt the worst about who I was, he made me feel good about myself. The many roles he played in his songs and onstage allowed me to let out whatever aspect of myself I was hiding. He didn’t change me (except to perhaps make me more aware of the world and the suffering around me), but he let me be me, at a time when that was the thing I needed the most. He taught that we should love one another, not for who we think they should be, but for who they are.
So it should be no surprise how many tears I’ve shed, or that “Will You Be There” is the song that I’ve turned to the most in my sorrow. It’s actually playing on the TV as I write this, without my planning it. It’s the connection he and I share, the guarantee that he is always in my heart, just as I was always in his. We never met, I never saw him, never got to tell him what he meant, but I believed in him, and he believed in me, at a time when I thought that no one did. Despite our flaws, our reservations, our struggles, we never gave up, we carried each other, and he will always be in my heart, just as he carried the whole world in his.