I don't think I'll be equal to much of the eulogizing that's been going on in the wake of Michael Jackson's death. Firstly, because no one's going to match the fury and emotion shown by ?uestlove last night, and secondly because at what was arguably the height of Jackson's artistic powers, I just wasn't into him. I remember my grandmother (searching for Christmas present ideas) asking me if I liked Michael Jackson. "No," 8-year-old me replied, as politely as I could. It's not that I disliked him, just that I wasn't upside-down about him like my friends. I never practiced moonwalking on the playground, nor ever owned a many-zippered red jacket.
In light of M.J.'s death, I keep thinking--yes, of how I came to appreciate him eventually, starting with the disco-y stuff during my college days, but also of the edition of the E.T. soundtrack that I got on LP as a birthday present. It features Jackson narrating portions of the E.T. story, and a song, "Someone in the Dark." It is absolutely the corniest record I own. (And I own a record of a father-and-son organ-and-drums duo playing instrumentals of 1960s pop hits.) But it occurs to me now that Jackson's narration--ridiculously melodramatic as it may be (and it is ridiculously melodramatic)--must have come from somewhere real to have turned out so unguarded and emotional. As my colleague Jim Ridley puts it, "Every turn of the story seems like it's happening to him."
Lost, hunted and alone, the alien is at once powerful (with his healing hand and defiance of gravity) and powerless in the face of the mechanized bureaucracy set against him. The parallel to Jackson's life seems obvious now--even the somewhat uncomfortable angle that the alien's only true friends are children. For so long it seemed that Jackson, too, felt he was not really of this earth, and often acted the part. But if somewhere there is a world where Michael Jackson can feel accepted and understood without condition, perhaps he's made it there, at long last.