I can’t remember a time when I didn’t “Like Mike.”
Even though men aren’t quick to confess it, there was probably a time in every boy’s life when that boy still believed in Santa Claus, when he thought he’d like to fly like Peter Pan (or some other fantasy-land character) and when he thought fairies (or some other fantasy-land characters) would make fine friends.
That’s the substance of the worst thing you can say about 50-year-old Michael Jackson: he lived in a fantasy world, where he never grew up.
I once compared the Million Man March to Michael Jackson.
I unsuccessfully argued to an executive producer of a network news broadcast, that just as Michael Jackson was the first American Superstar who sang Black Music in a Black body; the Million Man March was the first grassroots movement expressing the “body” of Black discontent, which had a Black “head” on the body.
The editor wasn’t buying it. While conceding that American vocal superstars Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley both arguably sang Black Music, and that Michael Jackson’s accomplishments had certainly equaled or surpassed those two Original, Old School American Idols, that was as far as I was permitted to go with my metaphor.
Purely as an entertainer, it’s fair to compare Michael Jackson to Jazz immortal Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, who changed almost everything about the way American music was played and listened to before the 1950s.
Michael is one of the Archangels. In that heavenly choir–The Jackson 5–people all over the Planet Earth heard and bore witness to Michael’s angelic voice, a gift to us from God Almighty… “A-B-C,” “I’ll Be There.”
He touched us, across languages, across color lines, across national borders, Michael Jackson affected us all and he took us to a place we’d never been together. His music–Black Music–speaks The Universal Language.
As a dancer, did Michael Jackson take lessons from Sammy Davis Jr.? The Nicholas Brothers? Mikhail Baryshnikov? Or could he have taught them all a step or two? Just asking.
We embraced him and his inspirational story because he started out like so many of the rest of us begin, deep, deep in “Da ‘Hood,” “The Ghetto,” “Tobacco Road.”
Gary, Indiana, his hometown–a scrap-apple, steel mill town. Eventually, practically everyone from Northern Indiana grew proud of their hometown because of The Jackson Family. He was a symbol of pride, in an area that didn’t have very many symbols of pride.
He was gentle and generous. He was one of us. He always belonged to us. But to the larger world, he meant much, much more than we could even know. Michael Jackson is The Original Tiger Woods. Michael Jackson is The Original Oprah Winfrey. Michael Jackson is The Original Barack Obama. Michael Jackson broke the old, color-blinded mold, which defined anything and everything “Black” in America, automatically as being on a margin somewhere, rather as defining the mainstream.
That’s part of why I like Mike.
Michael Jackson is The Original Venus/Serena Williams. Michael Jackson’s genius, his immortality was his universal, post-racial appeal. At a time in American culture when race defined almost everything else, Michael Jackson became the Original Post Racial personality.
Unfortunately, most of us just saw him only in the context defined by tabloid journalists, who used only his most unflattering nicknames whenever they could.
I was blessed to see Michael Jackson up close and in person: Jan. 16, 2004, the day he was arraigned in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
After court, he climbed on top of the SUV in which he was riding to express his gratitude for the support of the thousands who crowded the small town to be with him. He threw a kiss to the crowd from the roof of the truck.
Later, he fed the hundreds who went to his ranch, healthy menu choices and Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars. All the rides and the Neverland Theater were in operation, including the scale-model train ride around the grounds. There was no charge for anything, not even parking.
It’s not hard for me to remember why I like Mike–generous, gentle soul, with so very much talent.