On this day, when Michael Joseph Jackson is finally laid to rest, I awoke to a single note, a whispered “butterflies.” Wafting from my neighbor’s open window to mine was Michael’s lovely spin on Marsha Ambrosius’ paean to longing and infatuation. I am transported to my DC childhood and a nearly unbearable crush on a beautiful brown boy whose precociously soulful sound touched me as deeply as his cherubic face and glorious corona of hair delighted my eyes. The Got to be There cover with Mike in an Applejack and a Colgate smile just set my heart aflutter. It was he who first gave “me butterflies, inside, inside and I” didn’t know what to do with them. My little heart would race and the telltale blush would spread across my cheeks, prompting teasing that would bring me to tears.
Over the years there would be a J5 lunchbox, Right On! pull-out posters, stacks of 45s –which provided the b-sides not always found on albums, bumping, roboting Dancing Machine contests; devoted viewings of the Saturday morning cartoon, appearances on Soul Train, variety shows, both others’ and their own. I learned the camaraderie-inducing effect of festival seating at the Cap Centre, where MJ and his brothers closed out their Destiny tour thirty years ago.
I had a resurgence of MJJ ardor in the Thriller era, complete with a bow-tied, yellow-vested Michael gazing out directly from my wall. And who can forget the unparalleled excitement of his show-stealing Moonwalk during the Motown 25th anniversary. My best friend Carla and I zipped around the city hoping to catch a glimpse of him during his 1984 NYC stop to be inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most popular album in history and for winning the most Grammy Awards, eight, in a single show.
When my friend Barb toured with him in 1997’s HIStory Tour, I joined her in London for a few days. The concerts at Wembley Stadium, were, of course, sold-out. Seeing the endless sea of enthralled diversity from backstage was incredible.The Bunyanesque statue of Michael, at first glance a hallmark of egomania, really did need to be large to be seen from the furthest reaches of the adoring crowd. He had indeed become larger than life.
Flummoxed by the oddity of his behavior whilst enchanted by his many gifts, we offer him at the altar of public consumption: revered by some, reviled by others. It is my hope that his memory is not bludgeoned by speculation to a pulpy mass of unanswerable questions.
I hear his own voice, the plaintive Gone Too Soon. I am saddened by the early passing of yet another black man, saddened by the undeniable pain of another human being, yet Michael, how glad I am your anguished soul is free. Thanks for the butterflies. Rest in peace.