NPR logo Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

The last time I saw the great Pan-Africanist and intellectual C.L.R. James, I was in London. I sat by his bed while some of the Race Today folks were having a party downstairs. After asking how I was doing, James talked about Michael Jackson. He felt "this young man" was the greatest entertainer he had ever seen. I think from that moment on, I had a different take on Jackson. His ability to change was remarkable, and I took all of his changes to be nothing but a work of art. In many ways he represented the future. In a sex-starved world maybe it's good that someone looks androgynous. In a world filled with Pirates, maybe it's good that someone believes in Peter Pan. In a world where reality shows compete with reality, maybe our only escape is into animation and Never Never Land.

Just a few days ago, I spent about an hour watching old Jackson footage on YouTube. I did this after watching performances by other entertainers. Michael Jackson still leaves one breathless. The music, the moves, the military precision - and the anger. To me, Michael Jackson always seemed angry when he danced. Whatever demons possessed him, or drove him, seemed to almost lash out at the audience. The crotch grabbing was perhaps another way of giving all of us the finger, or placing emphasis on the fact that he was never Diana Ross in drag.

Michael Jackson was dangerous, because we live in dangerous times. The violence around us is often cartoonish. Consider all the car bombs that explode in the world. Shouldn't all the victims be able to get up and run again? When I think of Michael Jackson's little outfits, his pants raised so that we see his cute socks, all I can see is Disney. Jackson's moonwalking was so surreal that it was almost pure animation.

I saw him perform once. It was the Victory Tour with his brothers. The sound system was awful that night but I didn't care. I was thrilled just watching the guy perform. Thrill is the word that will probably always be attached to him. His album Thriller changed music and music videos.

I never liked the title "King of Pop:" it sounded too much like some leader in a third world nation. Some place where the leader's pictures are more developed than the leader. I never wanted to compare Michael to Elvis. I'm still trying to understand the marriage to his daughter. If there is one positive note to come out of tonight's sadness, it's that we won't have to remember Michael Jackson as a 50 year old entertainer trying to reclaim stardust or pay the bills.

Maybe the sudden loss of this great performer will force all of us to look at our own lives. We judged Michael Jackson too often and we laughed at him and thought that he was wacko. He was tabloid material but aren't we all? Don't we all have some crazy Disney soundtrack playing in our heads? How else to explain our behavior towards our fellow human beings.

I think I'll remember Michael Jackson the way I remember Peter Pan. I don't want his singing and dancing to end.