03 July 2009

work in progress - remembering MJ

A couple years ago, a group of my friends and I had a Michael video marathon. We watched all his greatest videos from "Rock with You" to "Thriller" and "Smooth Criminal" - we danced and sang along with Michael...and talked about how much we all loved MJ. We also watched the new stuff - from "Don't care about us" to "You are not alone." Seeing the physical transformation of MJ through his videos all in one sitting was quite astonishing and sad really. I saw him as a product of american racism, a troubled family, and a victim of child star obsession. I found myself haunted by his face, his eyes, and words he wrote about his childhood. And I started a poem then, but it remained unfinished in one of my journals until recently. It was (and is) hard to write about him -- I was so disturbed by the abuse accusations, I couldn't face the poem... but when he passed away, I decided to return to it. Like many people, I couldn't stop reading about MJ after he passed away - I listened to his music, watched videos online, and read news reports and blogs. I enjoyed reading different memories from writers who shared their love for MJ and why they thought he was so important. This was a kind of "recuperation" of MJ - he is suddenly responsible for making so much possible for Black people - i.e. he broke racial boundaries in the music industry and the world. MJ has been elevated to a new kind of Pop Icon Hero status. I was amused at the media's attempt to critique itself over "too much coverage" - the hypocrisy of it all - they continue to make money off of MJ, perhaps even more so in death. I watched the memorial service and cried. It was beautiful to hear positive things about this man who was so often berated. It was refreshing to hear about his humanity.

I also watched Democracy Now's report on Michael Jackson and they highlighted something James Baldwin said about him back in 1985, in his essay titled “Here Be Dragons”:
“The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael.” … “Freaks are called freaks and they are treated – in the main, abominably – because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires.”

This made me think more about MJ's treatment as a freak and how we can talk about him as a cultural icon. He certainly broke all kinds of norms, especially with gender performance, but he was also punished for it. I plan to write about this more... But in the meantime, I went back to the unfinished poem.

On Michael Jackson's Passing

I think often about your music, its genius,
but mostly about your sad eyes

I want to find you in your music
I want people to stop making fun of you
I want you to love yourself

I want the world to remember your smile
in spite of the circus and frenzy
your freakish glory and charm

morphing into white-washed
picture perfect view
living american royalty dreams

I want to scream that you were a human being,
not property to be consumed, nor an amusement
park ride, not a thing to rip at, pull & tear a part

they did it to you
we did it to you
you did it to yourself

I see your face, I think about the pain
you must have been carrying for so long

I think about the tears we never saw
the long days and nights of childhood
eroded, stolen, mutilated, burned

I think about this child star being
the object of sexual gaze

I think about the stars dancing around you
in awe of your power to make
people cry and fall out

I think about how you never got to grow
and discover yourself

I think more about your face
your beautiful face, troubling sadness
your eyes, in every picture


Unknown said...

On the surface, this poem is about the elusiveness of MJ's personality and the sliver of sadness that one can find in some of his images. But it is also about the speaker's desire to undo her participation in the freak show.

Solangé said...

Very beautiful and moving story and poem!