Friday, June 26th, 2009 • No Comments on True Story
I never jump on the celebrity bandwagon, especially not when it relates to death. I tend to process such information privately and have nothing public to say. Honestly, I find our culture’s obsession with celebrities to be distasteful. I love movies, theater, music, I even love a few television shows, but I really don’t care about the private lives of those public people. I may wonder what their lives are really like and how they deal with the celebrity while trying to be “normal,” but I don’t read the tabloids or watch E! True Hollywood Story. I figure that stuff is as much fiction as what I see on the screen, you know?
I wasn’t a Michael Jackson fan. True, I grew up listening to the Jackson 5 and came of age during Thriller. I will admit (with some embarrassment) that I owned my share of white sparkly socks and loafers, but that’s about it with regard to my interest in Michael Jackson. As the years went by and he became a shadow of himself and a caricature of someone else (Diane Ross, perhaps?), I dismissed him as another celebrity who lost himself in stardom. A musical genius, a tortured soul, a freak.
Michael Jackson hasn’t been on my radar for years. I vaguely remember hearing he was planning to make a comeback, but with the exception of the occasional song on the radio (or in the elevator), I never gave him a thought. Until June 5.
On the evening of June 5, I was sitting in Starbucks (go figure) at the airport, waiting for Jay’s plan to arrive from Panama, via Atlanta. I had a book with me, but I was tired (pregnancy will do that to you) and spent more time people watching while I sipped my vanilla latte. The soundtrack that night was oldies, songs designed to keep the crowd flowing in and out of Starbucks (though I was the only one in there that night). The Jackson 5’s “ABC” came on, really too loud for the small space. But it didn’t matter. It’s a catchy song and I can’t hear it without remembering some old television performance of the boys with little Michael belting out the lyrics in that high, prepubescent voice that wasn’t much different from his adult voice.
Listening to that song, I had this sudden thought—call it an urge—to go back to that time when Michael Jackson was still a kid and rescue him from all the fame and fortune and insanity his life would become. Odd thought, huh? Maternal urge, I guess—to save a little boy from himself. To yank him off the stage as he sang “ABC” and take him somewhere safe where he could be a kid and have a normal childhood and grow up knowing and understanding himself. Being allowed to become an adult before being given the choice whether to share that self with the world. I’m a fiction writer, so the image was so vivid I could see the story playing out in my head even though I knew it was just an odd little fantasy of my very tired brain.
I’d never really considered Michael Jackson that way before that night at the airport. I had never really felt sorry for him or considered what his life, especially his childhood, might have been like. But that night I wanted to cry for that little boy. The song faded and left me with a kind of bittersweet feeling for a person I never knew.
Three weeks later and Michael Jackson is dead, a little boy trapped inside the body of an emotionally and physically damaged 50 year old man. I don’t think it was particularly prophetic that I had that thought such a short time before his death. I’m pregnant, I’m emotional and, even though I didn’t know it for sure at the time, I kept feeling like I was having a boy. So it’s only natural I’d feel protective of little boys—even if the little boy in question was forty years in the past.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what if. Who would little Michael Jackson have grown up to be if someone had yanked him out of the spotlight before it was too late?