Can a collage of memories decode the King of Pop?
The trapeze artist is flying through the air and a woman in pink is riding on the back of a pony and I ask my dad who Michael Jackson is. My mom isn’t there, she has gone to the bathroom, and I don’t know how she will find us again among these millions of people in the Astrodome. Who is Michael Jackson? A girl in my second-grade class showed me a picture of him and kissed it over and over and said she loved him. But the idea is disturbing to me, loving a person, a man, who looks almost like a woman, who exists only in a picture, and a picture that clearly says he is “bad.” “Michael Jackson is a singer,” my dad says. “He is one of the richest people in the world.”
My uncle, who is so close to me in age he is more like a big brother, is explaining which music is good and which music is bad. He shows me the cover of Thriller, a picture of Michael Jackson, wearing a suit. “Michael Jackson is OK,” my uncle says, “but he doesn’t sing from the heart. Bruce Springsteen, now he sings from the heart.” I know Bruce Springsteen because he sings the song “Born in the USA,” which my mom puts on the record player a lot, and when the song is over she always reminds me that she and my little sister were born in the USA and my dad and I were not. “How do you know if someone is singing from the heart?” I ask my uncle. “You just know,” he says.
We are on a family trip and my little sister has brought a friend, and the friend has a tape of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. One of the most popular songs on the album is “Heal the World,” which does not seem dangerous at all. My sister and her friend jump up and down on the bed in the hotel room, screaming along with the music. They both say they want to marry Michael and fight about who wants to marry him more. Michael, still able to evoke the love of second-graders, even as his body and face are slowly erasing themselves.
Martin Bashir wants the truth to be known about Michael Jackson, and clearly so does Michael. Except they don’t agree about what that means. All there is is a sort of loneliness, not just Michael’s, but everyone’s.
Even if it is possible to know what is in someone’s heart, whatever is in Michael Jackson’s is probably the least possible to know.
My son, at age one-and-a-half, is afraid of the video “Thriller.” In the video Michael transforms not once but twice into a terrifying monster. First into a werecat, and then into a zombie. When I see the video it is clear to me that Michael is capable of destroying someone he loves, someone who trusts him. It is his nature.
“Thriller” is a clue. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is a clue. Something about being a vegetable. That is definitely a clue. “Ben” is possibly a clue. The beginning of “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” is a clue. There was an answer in the making. A performance art piece whose culmination would have been astounding to behold. Somewhere there is a stack of notes with the underlying mythology, surprisingly simplistic, though convoluted. We are waiting for the Wikipedia article that puts it all out there for us.
In the end, if he had not died, he would have begun to dance, to something unexpected, something kind of frustrating, “You Rock My World,” maybe, and the audience, sensing that this was the end, would cheer but whisper, why did he pick this song, and slowly he would have begun to rise, above the lights, above the backup dancers, above the million cheering fans, higher and higher, until, above them all, he began to change, into a panther, into a snake, into a car, into Macaulay Culkin, into Macaulay Culkin’s dad, and yes, into a werecat, into a zombie, each shift followed by louder cheers, and then, suddenly, someone points, his shoes are on fire, and they think it is an optical illusion, but his whole body is engulfed in flames, and suddenly the entire stage is on fire, and the flame grows and spreads, rushing through the stands, and the entire stadium is blazing, but the cheers do not subside, until they just stop.
GIF by Yvonne Martinez.