"Michael Jackson's dead. Heart attack."
I thought for a second. "Well, he was bound to bleach himself out sooner or later, wasn't he?"
Eva stayed silent. Oh, come on, that was good for the ghost of a smile! And on short notice, too!
Still silent. The temperature had dropped a few degrees.
I furiously ransacked my brain, looking for whatever it was I was supposed to have said. All that came to mind was a seemingly endless procession of jokes, increasingly tasteless. I'm sure you've heard a few of them over the years.
Okay, maybe it's inappropriate to joke about a man the day he dies. But then, for something approaching twenty years, this man had been an inappropriate joke. Worse than that, a walking scandal.
Did he transform the face of rock 'n' roll? Absolutely. Did he almost singlehandly usher in the video age? Positively. Was he a brilliant artist, a consummate showman, a phenomenal musician? Undeniably.
Twenty years ago.
Yes, once again I've completely misjudged the zeitgeist. I'm really good at that. Did you know Thriller was, as of this morning, once again the best selling album on iTunes Canada? I didn't, and when I found out, I was incredulous. Uh...why? Surely anybody who ever wanted that album has got it by now. Am I supposed to believe people are buying a second copy just because the artist is dead? 'Cos I don't.
Wrong again, Ken.
Reading through page after page of reaction--everywhere! In authors' fora! In hockey fora! EVERYWHERE!--I found myself eyeballing this (and sorry, I can't find it again, whoever you are):
"'Rest In Peace' seems more than appropriate in this man's case. Michael Jackson never had a moment's peace in his whole life."
Then, this from my mom this morning:
This might sound strange but I just have to tell someone how devastated I am about the death of Michael Jackson. You remember how much I loved his music and adored his dancing. His moves will forever be a memory of mind. I never did judge him in his personal life – after all, I never knew the “rest” of the story, HIS. I am truly saddened and I hope the media allow him and his to rest in peace.
These reactions served as a stern rebuke, even though nobody (aside from my wife) knew my uncharitable thoughts at the time. So what if I believe him to have been guilty of child molestation? I still can't bring myself to defend pedophilia, but it certainly would be understandable in Jackson's case. The man had a brutal childhood, and he spent the rest of his life trying to create, and then retreat into, an idealized youth. I'm firmly convinced he never had a hurtful thought. And I've gotta say his fame and money may well have made him a target. Perhaps, just perhaps, some of the allegations against him were, how shall we say, overblown? Even if not--even if every allegation was true and more besides, he was the furthest thing from a predator.
And there's the matter of the music and the dancing, which made Mr. Jackson the most famous man in the world for a period of several years. In this hyperspeedy culture, it's hard to fathom the staying power of an album like Thriller--eighty weeks on the charts, 37 at #1. Whatever else Michael Jackson was or was not, he was a rare and prodigious talent. And this omnipresent mourning is only his due.