Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Eulogy for a Stranger

It’s logically absurd, mourning for someone you didn’t know. Why shed a tear for a person, who by all accounts, lived in a world that was impossible for you to reach? You never met this person, never shook his hand, never spoke to him. All you’ve ever seen of him were pictures and videos, dots of colored ink and pixels that could never really quite capture his true presence. Why should you care about him and his passing, if you didn’t know the guy?

That’s just the thing. Michael Jackson was there since the day I was born, a global phenomenon before I breathed my first breath. I grew up knowing him as a universal constant, his music and moves assaulting my senses before I could even register what they meant. He was one of those things that my generation was just born accustomed to. For as long as I can remember, I felt his presence in the world around me.

He was always there. When I would visit my cousin’s house as a kid, we’d crowd around the television to watch the video for “Leave Me Alone”. When I got my first Walkman, I permanently damaged my hearing by blasting “Bad” through my earphones. When we’d have our weekly family mini-reunions on Sundays, we’d play our newly-purchased “Dangerous” CDs on my aunt’s sound system.

I grew up trying to master the Moonwalk, and celebrated when I figured out how to spin like him. I was enthralled by the video for “Black or White”, which provided the extra thrill of starring Macaulay Culkin. It was just so damn amazing to watch him take on another global phenom, Michael Jordan, in the video for “Jam”. I often daydreamed about what it would be like to live in Neverland, with all my childhood idols, and the rides, and Bubbles the Chimp.

He was inescapable. MTV constantly played documentaries covering his life. Local shows like Eat Bulaga! and Lunch Date usually had celebrities covering his earlier hits. My favorite Mad Magazine digests were piled with jokes about him and parodies of his music, often playing on the fact that his pearly-white complexion used to be that of a black man (which, of course, I never fully understood until much later). Even in videogames, my earliest addiction, he made his presence felt with “Moonwalker”.

My brother told me the secret of the gravity-defying lean in the music video for “Smooth Criminal”, a fact I shared with some of my earliest friends. At one of our programs in Kindergarten, my class performed “Heal the World” in sign language, when wearing white gloves was the coolest thing ever. On the way home from school, I’d listen to “Will You Be There” on the Discman given to me by my uncle from Thailand, whom I had met for the first time.

When the first child molestation charges were filed against him, I was stunned. I vehemently denied the claims despite the alleged evidence. There was no way such an awesome person could do such a heinous act. To my young mind, it was impossible.

As I turned 10, the molestation became a non-issue when word came around that the Philippines was going to be a stop on his HIStory world tour. The man was coming HERE. I had seen MC Hammer, I watched the then-WWF live performances with great excitement, but nothing at all compared to sheer anticipation of the icon’s visit to our tiny nation.

We ended up watching it from a distance, high up in one of the buildings surrounding the stage. The place itself was bare, my parents were enviously down on the concert grounds, and my 7-11 hotdog had gone stale, but I didn’t give a hoot about any of that. There he was, Michael Jackson himself, strutting like no tomorrow and performing his hits like the phenomenon he was. It didn’t matter to me that he looked like an ant on the stage from that distance – I was in the same area as the greatest entertainer of my generation. Nothing, not a single thing, could’ve been better.

I watched as his career hit its twilight. From being portrayed as an eccentric genius, the man became a freak show, the butt of too many jokes. I admit I was swept by the fray and joked along. I consoled myself in the fact that no matter what kind of a weirdo he seemed to be, there was no questioning his talent.

As he got less and less airplay, I wondered if he would ever be the same. Sure, artists come and go, but this was THE artist. He was the measure by which I compared all other artists. His genius continued to influence artists born generations after him, and rightfully so. You can imagine my delight, then, when he tried to ignite a comeback with “Invincible”. When the video for “You Rock My World” debuted, I was overjoyed to see him back in form, sporting an outfit reminiscent of the one he wore for “Smooth Criminal”. Sure he was a bit slower, but the man could still move. My childhood idol was back.

Or so I thought. Controversy bombarded him in the Baby over the Balcony incident, the Bashir Interview, the second allegation of sexual abuse, and his own bizaare behavior during the court proceedings. The freak show, unfortunately, had never left. Despite all this, I had always hoped that once things blew over, he’d find his way back to the top and take his rightful place as the King of Pop.

The comeback never happened. He passed away before he could even start it.

More than a week has passed since that tragic day, and it’s only now that I speak my mind about it. I had reacted when he died, saying that the passing of the legend took a part of my childhood away with him, but I never fully expressed how I felt. His death never really sunk in until the memorial service ended with that empty spotlight on the stage.

And so, finally, I truly mourn the loss of Michael Jackson. Even though I never really met the guy, he has been so prevalent in my life that a tiny part of myself feels like I knew him. He has been there my entire life, a constant I took for granted until his last days on Earth. The man we’ve always loved, and at times hated, ever since we could remember, is gone.

Despite what others may say, we knew him. We knew him through his music and his lyrics. He spoke to us about love, life, and what they meant to him. He shared with us his ideals of devotion and romance, of peace and understanding, and of the childlike innocence he so strongly valued. He opened his heart to us about the pains of his life, lashing out in frustration at those who wanted a piece of him, and then later begging us to love and understand him. Despite the secrecy with which he guarded his life, despite his eccentric reclusion, he was always reaching out to us, telling the world who he was, what he’s been through, and what he’s felt.

We may never know him as his family did, or as his closest friends did. We may never know what he was like behind the disguises, surgical masks, and umbrellas. We may never meet the person he was off-stage. But we knew him through his music, enough to realize how much of a loss his passing was. To those of us who listened – really listened – we knew him.

1 comment:

  1. I cried when I learned he already passed away. I was thinking, how can somebody who has more money and security than anyone in the planet - a legend, invincible, be gone too soon? I still can't bring myself to open the Time Magazine commemorative edition I bought last night.