When I came home from the Galleria with my mom this afternoon my Dad told us that Michael Jackson had been taken to the hospital for a heart attack. About half an hour later, my friend sent me an instant message that MJ had died. She was at a car dealership in LA getting her windshield wipers fixed when the news broke. Â CNN confirmed the shocking news for me over here.
Just as with any unexpected passing of people we knew or felt we knew, the homing realization of mortality sits uncomfortably on our shoulders until we shake ourselves from the disbelief and let the sad fact roll to a stop at the pit of our stomachs. Â I’ve never been a rabid fan of MJ but as CNN plays his greatest hits during its report, I realize just how much his music has connected with events through decades of my life. Multiply this connection by a billion (or two) people and you can imagine the reach his music has had on many of us around the world.
The first time I held a boy’s hand was at a roller skating party in middle school; my hands were clammy partly because his green eyes were so pretty and mostly because it was my first time on skates. Rock with You played twice, and the second time it came on, I got my first kiss (I think I just heard my Dad groanÂ oh gross!). Â Now whenever I hear that song, I think how cool it is to be a girl.
After I passed the bar exam, I was traipsing around somewhere when the swearing-in ceremony took place back in LA. Â So a judge swore me in privately in his courtroom a few weeks later while his clerk and my then boyfriend witnessed. It was a particularly memorable day because I had been pacing the front steps of the courthouse all morning, waiting for my mom and aunt to arrive from out of town for that very milestone. Â Some guy sitting on the sidewalk was playing the Dangerous CD over and over in his boombox (remember those?) while I fretted. They were late–this was before the advent of the GPS–and eventually missed most of the very short ceremony. For years when I hear Black and White I would cringe a little at the memory but now I identify that song with one of the coolest four-minutes blips on my radar. Â The day I broke up with that boyfriend who briefly became a fiance, Billie Jean looped on my Walkman all night and then the next day until I went for a run and decided that my decision was correct. Â
Not too long ago in North Africa I danced with a group of musicians from Ghana. After they played their traditional songs, as we were all leaving, a few of them stayed behind and played Thriller on their instruments when they thought no one was listening. Â That was cool.
I can’t tell you in how many cafes from Timbuktu to Malacca Town to Bruges I’ve heard Michael Jackson songs playing. There have been at least two instances in which strangers sang his songs to me when they found out I was from America; one was a German kid who did the moonwalk for me–he’d pointed at me and said Japan? I shook my head and said America. That’s when he broke into his MJ impression right then and there. Another was a (really bad) karaoke dedication to me at some club in HCM City. Beat It just hasn’t been the same after this experience.
So while we’re all having these life moments accompanied by his music, I wonder what songs were playing for him in times of joy, sadness, or just…living. Rest in peace MJ.