Friday, September 11, 2009

Michael Jackson Agonistes: The Final Act of an American Pop'era

by Barry Michael Cooper

"Michael Jackson rose above it all in his untimely transition. America found his heart, spirit and words connected around the world. He never used any harsh words, nor actions against his accusers. He refused to engage those who were and still are attempting to define him as ugly. Michael Jackson did not die in the way many in Babylon have wished. Hardly, Michael Jackson loved all the children, people of this world. He shared his love, shared his pain, showed us in this final performance that love does conqueror. He shows us that love is everywhere. Michael Jackson--despite all of his travails--transcended to show the world love, not any one religion, race or creed. Michael Jackson brought the world together; his transition is about love and healing in the world. Not hating."
Dr. Carl S. Taylor,
Professor of Sociology
Michigan State University

(and a bodyguard for Michael Jackson
on the Jacksons 1979 Destiny Tour)

Friday - 11. September. 2009.

Dear Michael:
One week ago yesterday, your corpus was finally laid to rest. Away from the digital vultures. Away from the sin feeders and soul eaters. Away from the living, grinning Hell of a Mad Fame populated by smooth criminals--reeking with the dead stank of lost angel lust--whose whispered lies cast in gnashing teeth, made you weep every night. But you don't have to worry about that anymore; your agony has ceased.

Mike, Providence now rocks you in the arms of eternal love. As the brilliant and brutally honest Tracy Morgan told me recently, "The world is changing, and it's a world without Mike. But one thing we can be assured of, he's up there singing to Abraham right now, and to Jesus. He's up there singing to GOD right now. As much as we needed him here, GOD needed him more."

Two weeks ago in Prospect Park (on Saturday, 29. August. 2009) in the urban galaxy known as Brooklyn--third rock from the concrete and steel sun known as money-makin' Manhattan--in a spiral galaxy in the constellation called the American Dream, there was a love-in sponsored by Spike Lee and Keistar Promotions.

It was your 51st birthday celebration, Mike. More than 20,000 people came out in the rain, transforming Prospect Park's Nethermead green knoll, into an urban Neverland; not to figure out who gave you what, and when, and how, and where, and why, during your last hours, minutes, and seconds, of your final day above ground.

Twenty-thousand fans, Mike; Black, White, Latino, Straight, Gay, Skinny, Fat, Young, and Old. Twenty thousand people--whose lives you have touched for almost half a century--came to thank you for your music. For your talent. For your generosity of spirit. For your willingness to entertain us and lift us to a limn of a higher vibaration, even when it seemed at times, that you were being surveilled by shadows in the valley of death.

However, as Rev. Al Sharpton stated in his stirring invocation that day in Prospect Park, “To celebrate Michael, is to celebrate the best in us,” which got a rousing cheer from the crowd

Rev. Sharpton continued: “When he was born, they said he was of a class and a race, that couldn’t break through. When he left, he broke down all the barriers. He redfined music. He transformed class. He stepped over race. He was Bad. He Beat It. He was Michael!”

“We did not come here to fear the future.
We came here to shape it.”

President Barack Obama,
The Heath Care Address to Congress
9. September. 2009

Twenty-six years and twenty million albums ago, the colossus known as Thriller had no fear if the future, and shaped the world we live in now. In other words Mike, Thriller was Dr. King's Dream, produced by you and Quincy Jones, packaged by Epic Records, disseminated by MTV, and absorbed on seven continents.

The Moonwalk was bigger than choreography, and Billie Jean was deeper than a hypnotic chorus and hook. Thriller was political; a Black Man who sold more records than Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, and The Stones. A Black Man who spoke to the soul-powered goodness in all of us.

Thriller was music bidness reparations for every single African-American artist up to that point, who had songs stolen without compensation. Mike, Thriller was the hope-come-to-fruition of artists like Sam Cooke--who dreamed of owning his own career--realized beyond our wildest dreams.

Thriller moved the conversation of equality forward; beyond the DC beltway, and into living rooms across the country (and all over the world, for that matter), in the midst of the Reagan Era's racial asymmetry, that Mourning In America for black folk. We were dancing in unison as a unified, multi-cultural and colorful Race of One, what you envisioned as We Are The World, and what baby sis Janet later assembled into a Rhythm Nation.

Only The King of Pop could pull that off.

Thriller was the social, emotional and cultural trigger for the '80s ascension of an Oprah Winfrey, a Michael Jordan, a 1988 Run, Jesse Jackson, Run!, and a Spike Lee kicking in the doors of Hollywood, and ushering in a decade long Golden Era of a serious African-American presence in Hollywood (1986-1995), a phenomenon discussed in author-filmmaker Nelson George's compelling book, Post Soul Nation (2005). And would we even be talking about a the possibility of an unlikely presidential candidate named Barack Obama in 2007, without the mega-success of Thriller, two decades earlier?

"Tell me what has become of my rights
Am I invisible because you ignore me?
your proclamation promised me free liberty
I'm tired of being the victim of shame
they're throwing me in a class with a bad name
I can't believe this is the land from whence I came...
all I wanna say is that
they don't really care about us"

Michael Jackson,
They Don't Really Care About Us
HIStory: Past, Present, and Future,
Book I (1996)

Mike, it was apropos that Spike Lee was the organizer, host, and MC for your Brooklyn birthday celebration. You and Spike were two of the most transformative figures in the world of entertainment, as a 1980s America continued to struggle with the transgressive nature of its failed race relations. It made sense that Spike directed both versions of your most blatantly political song to date, They Don't Really Care About Us.

I remember the uproar in 1996, over your use of the terms "Jew me" and "Kike me." I didn't think you were trying to slur Jewish people. I believe you were trying to draw attention to the enormous stupidity in prejudicial thinking. Period. I wonder if you had said, "nigger. trigger/native son/like Bigger", would there have been the same rush to indignation in the media?

In 2009, that's a moot point. Here's what's important: Spike's two memorable videos for They Don't Really Care About Us--one shot with you as a universal prisoner in a cell wallpapered with the grotesque holograms of the Rodney King beating, the massacre in Tiananmen Square, and profane b-roll of the sour milk of man's-inhumanity-to-man; the other, a super-saturated Brazilian color-burst of a Salvadorian favela in Rio de Janeiro--was your version of Do The Right Thing, Mike.

That horrific 1993 trial, accusing you of unthinkable child abuse--a trial which attempted to strip you of all of your dignity, despite the fact that you were never charged, because of a lack of evidence--was a harsh alarm clock for you, Mike. It woke you--and all of us--up to the harsh light of the reality that the biggest pop star in the world--The King Of Pop!--who sold more records than any artist in history, could still be a nigger.

So instead of using the epithet nigger, Mike, you used the term kike. Because the subject of race will always be a third rail in our country's discourse, it was meant to electrify society with the shock of an ugly word. Mike, you could have just as easily used the term wetback, or mick, or fag, or dyke, or chink, or wop, or poor white trailer trash, or raghead.

The point that you and Spike Lee were (as Spike did with that great scene in Do The Right Thing, where each ethnic member of that Brooklyn neighborhood broke the fourth wall and recited racial slurs directly to the audience, as a warped mirror of our own ignorant fears) were trying to make, was that marginalization--by any name--has a destructively reductive power on the human spirit.

Mike, you would have seen just the opposite on your 51st birthday, in the gathering of those 20,000 fans--your extended family--in Prospect Park. The gigantism in the power of the love we feel for you and your work felt like a mini-Woodstock. Dare I say, it was the first Mike-Stock festival?

Mike, you were there among us, in the rain, and when the sun appeared midway through the celebration--as if on cue, right after Spike suggested to DJ Spinna to play The Beatles' Here Comes The Sun (and I know you appreciate the Providential irony of the sun actually shining through the clouds, and the connection to Paul McCartney and the ATV catalog, too).

You were there at Spike's press conference, when I asked him what did you mean to America, and Spike responded, "Michael meant a greater deal to global culture, he was bigger than just America."

You were there when 30 Rock's Tracy Morgan took the stage and comically struck one of your dance poses. You were there when Ed Lover and Free led the crowd in a chorus of Can You Feel It, and when the spoken word artist Lemon electrified the crowd with his ode to you on your birthday:

"I remember when the killing rate
went down with the crime
Cause the whole Hood/Stood home
waiting to see Michael and Eddie Murphy
Do You Remember The Time..."

Mike, you were there when the journalist, activist, and future Brooklyn, NY congressman Kevin Powell, told me how you became his first Black American hero, when you performed on Motown 25 in 1983. You were there when we all went crazy singing the mama say/mama sah/mama/ma cusa chorus to Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' (and while I'm on the subject, I think you were definitely doing a sly nod to Manu Dibango's Soul Makossa with that chorus).

In closing, Mike, on this most ominous observance--9/11--I want to thank Spike, and Brooklyn, and most of all, you, Michael Joseph Jackson, for a most propitious Saturday. I will never forget that day, for as long as I live. I have embedded a four part, mini-documentary of the event in this blog; so I can revisit this day over, and over, and over, again.

By GOD's Grace, twenty-thousand people got together and sang songs, danced, laughed, and cried. NYPD was there, 500 strong, and the only thing that was arrested was the collective beat of our hearts, by the prolific genius of your music. There is a line that echoes in my head, weeks later, that sums up that day perfectly. It's from Rock With You:

And when the groove
is dead and gone, yeah
you know that love survives
and we can rock forever, on...

Sleep in Heavenly Peace, my friend.

Yours Truly,


(Here are the links for Act I and Act II of Michael Jackson Agonistes: An American Pop'era in Three Acts. Please feel free to leave a comment or feedback on this post. Thank you.)


Pamela Alexander-Beutler said...

Beautiful. It is often so easy to feel isolated and alone. Reading this I saw for myself that someone understands what s going on. So knowing you are there, articulating what I feel but could not share. I know that we are not alone. Thank you.

Bmc said...

Thank you Pamela, for you kind words of support. I really appreciate it.

Lauren said...

Thank you for this blog post and for sharing your experiences with those of us who could not be in NY.

Bmc said...

Thank you Lauren. It was a great day that I will remember for a long time. I appreciate your response.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing the awesome event sponsored by Spike in celebration of a special person on his special day. I have always greatly admired Michael and his spirit will forever live in my heart. I share your sentiment of what a true inspiration and global icon Michael Jackson was while in our midst. I miss him dearly. Thanks again!

Bmc said...

I miss Michael too, Cathy. He was/is the true embodiment of the American spirit and a real GOD-given talent. Thank you for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that wonder and truthful words on Michael. He transended all barriers of race,colour,creed and religion.
It was so nice of you to tell this to the world. Dose not matter what country you are from we all Love Michael more then ever.

Thanks Sangeeta

Bmc said...

Thank you Sangeeta for you warm words of support. I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

thank you...thank you.... thank you...thank you for remembering Michael. Long live the King...and may his reign be long.

Bmc said...

Thank you Anonymous; GOD Rest the soul of Michael Jackson, the greatest entertainer that ever lived. Thank you for your kind words.

nesse said...

What wonderful words.
It endears me to know that there are people who will tell-it-like it is....and not portray mj as something other than what he is/was.
We need more people like u - Madonna - Spike and others.
thank u.

Bmc said...

Thank you for those awesome words of support Nesse. I really appreciate it.

nyrk said...

beautiful entry, you said so much truth and so well. Thank you.

Bmc said...

Thank you Nyrk for your kind words. I appreciate it.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the beautiful words on an extraordinary man, Michael Jackson, who touched the lives of so many millions, not only through his music and artistic abilities but also through his soul. The pure, giving caring and loving nature that shone through everything he did, said and created and this is why to this day I still feel his death is such a great loss and we should preserve his legacy and make the world a better place, the way he envisoned that. Thank you once again for your blog.


Bmc said...

Thank you, Elmira/Galene, for reading, and thanks for your kind words. Michael Jackson was truly, and extraordinary man. He will be sorely missed, but the power of his music lives on. Thanks again.

claire said...

thank you so much for writing this for michael. to us fans, he will always be remembered, never forgotten.

Bmc said...

Thank you for your kind words Claire. I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for capturing his heart in words. This is so beautiful and, to me, such an accurate reflection of Michael and the many gifts he gave to the world. From the depths of my soul, I send you my gratitude and love.
xoxo Marla Ludwig

Bmc said...

Marla, thank you so much for your warm and kind words of support. I truly appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

such a beautiful article. thanks so much for posting this. Michael was truly one of a kind and he represented the best qualities in human being. Love him forever.


Bmc said...

Grace, I agree, Michael Jackson was truly one of a kind. Thank you for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you so much for your beautiful words. The tears just kept flowing as I read your words realising how much I truly miss Michael. He was truly one of a kind, one of the great ones who did so much and yet received such cruelty at times. For all the people who truly loved Michael, he forever will be remembered in our hearts.

Bmc said...

Thank you so much Anonymous, for your kind words and heartfelt response. I really appreciate it.

gayat1 said...

I felt as though a fiber of my being was torn when Michael died. However I take comfort when I see that I was not the only one affected and that the fiber of my being, that wound, that tear is beginning to crystallize. L.O.V.E from a San Francisco poetess.

Bmc said...

@gayat1: Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I came across your post and enjoyed it so much. Your words were so true and beautiful. I cried all the way through it (I am such a baby when it comes to anything Michael). Thank you so much for posting this and getting the truth out about a beautiful, incredible soul. Thank you for getting the TRUTH out there! I also wanted to thank you for posting the videos of the Brooklyn event. I couldn't make it and was so disappointed about it.

Do you have any idea if Spike plans on doing this again for Michael's 52nd Birthday. I heard him say something about doing it annually. Do you know of any plans of theirs to do this next year? Thanks so much for everything! I really credit you.

-Cydney Tanner

Bmc said...

@Cydney Tanner: Cydney, thank you so much for your heartfelt, kind response. I really appreciate it. I don't know if Spike has plans for an annual MJ Brooklyn Birthday event, but I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes one, judging by the 20,000+plus people who attended the flagship soiree. It was moving, powerful, and memorable. Have a Blessed New Year, and thank you again for your inspiring feedback. Bmc