Grieving the Great Musician | Remembering Michael Jackson

If 2009 through 2011 were especially rough for you it was because you were grieving the loss of Michael Jackson.  We’re serious! On this, the 8th anniversary of his death, we salute the late, great super-musician. Read how Michael gifted us some sweet family memories.

Michaeljackson_(cropped)

*****

Every Morning I Wake Up and Blame You for MJ’s Death

By Obehi Janice

The day that Michael died I flipped through TV channels and this is what I’ll never forget: the ceilings in my Mom’s salon were so high that you had to actually tilt your neck at a solid 45 degree angle just to see the images correct. I did that from habit, not worrying about my neck muscles straining, because I always new that eventually the strain would release and I would walk to my Mom’s styling chair and watch her cut and color and create beauty for a client.

The day that Michael died, we kept our necks tethered to that television screen. It hurt. It hurt to have my ears ring with TMZ’s coverage of ambulances surrounding Michael’s home. It hurt to have channel after channel wait for the other to break the official news: THE KING OF POP IS DEAD.

I remember when CNN finally broke the news that TMZ had officially broken the news that Michael was gone. My Mom finished her last client. I looked in one of the mirrors, idly, picking my afro. And I asked her one question: “IHOP?”

She replied, “IHOP.” And we drove to the nearest IHOP and shared a stack of pancakes and traded turns trying to convince the other that Michael Jackson hadn’t left this earth.

“He was a Jehovah’s Witness right?”

“He didn’t really practice, though.”

“But it counts, right?”

“I don’t know if it counts. But I know he loved God.”

“Okay. You remember, right? Heal the World?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Yeah.”

The pancakes and syrup were a balm. Very, very temporary salve.

I no longer go to IHOP (unless forced) and I hate TMZ with a passion.

I hate drugs and I hate addiction.

I hate colorism and the white supremacy that bred it.

I hate the words “talent” and “potential” because they can be so easily extinguished.

But I love my fro. Sometimes, when I play Off the Wall, I play it with a vengeance. I play it like someone who is looking for rhythmic blood. Because I don’t care about your culture. Michael was my culture. And y’all took it away from me. I like digging my hands (because you can’t) into my fro and I know that Michael and me shared the same kind of hair and the same kind of culture and the same kind of skin and it makes me happy.

Every morning I wake up and I still blame you for his death.

And then I angle my neck forward and start my day.

*****

Family Ties

By Elise Lockamy

I distinctly remember the deluge of news coverage concerning Michael in the days and weeks after his untimely death. One report detailed the public’s reaction to the news. A young woman looked incredulously at the videographer and tearily said, “I don’t know what’s real anymore.” I chuckled and then ruminated.  Today, I think I know what’s real – that Michael’s identity was crushed by the weight of celebrity -, but damn Michael is really gone.  In the words of the great Kanye West, “Our *homie* dead”. When I moved to Atlanta, my grandmother gifted me a worn vinyl record. It was Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album.  Every member of my family had a copy of this one; “Bad” happened to be one of the few songs that would soothe me as a baby.  Yes, MJ has been with me since the beginning, informing my emotions, dance personas, and ballad dreams.  My sister hyperventilated throughout Michael’s funeral coverage on CNN. As I offered comforting words to her, I continued to think, “The king is dead!” In another news clip, a gentleman said, “Look, at some point in their lives, everybody loved Michael Jackson”. Indeed. So here’s one for my homie and lost love Michael Jackson — and even as I type these words I’m saying  “MIKEEEEE” long and loud for the neighbors to hear.  RIP my dude. RIP.

*****

I Remember the Time

By Acasia Olson

Do y’all remember the days when Michael Jackson music videos premiered on MTV? It was an event! Michael had a way of turning a music video into a mini movie! My family and I would sit in the living room, watching the screen and waiting as the timer counted backwards.  Then we’d be transported to a scene in a back alley speak-easy or the Pharoah’s court in Egypt and watch as Michael did what he knew best. And it wasn’t just the fly beats and dance moves but the amazing special effects.  He was the pioneer of the epic music video. “Do you remember the time?” and “Smooth Criminal” were two of my favorite videos, and “Dangerous” is probably the first Michael Jackson album where I feel like I got to “know” Michael.

I had a lot of mixed feelings about Michael.  I didn’t grow up loving him and unlike my Aunts or little sister, I didn’t believe I would marry Michael at all.  I was a kid when all the slander and frenzy came out about his misconduct with children.  In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe he hurt any one of those children. Sadly I worried and grieved for his tortured soul because I’m sure he was tormented and assaulted as a child in the grimey music and entertainment industry that preys off the vulnerable.  

But what I remember most, and what probably bothers me the most, is the time that I missed out on meeting him.  Michael Jackson befriended a local news reporter in the DC Metro Area who happened to also befriend an old mentor of mine.  One day, when Michael was in town, my mentor invited my family to join her at a cookout where none other than Michael Jackson would be present.  We had been to the reporter’s house before, but we didn’t really know the host personally and my dad, who contemplated whether or not to go, decided it best not to seem intrusive and too much of a fanatic. We opted to give Michael his peace and serve as one less foreign face to shower him with adoration.

But that’s probably what he needed, because that was in 2004, and the world was not in love with Michael Jackson.  The cute, afro toting, dancing machine, chocolate ball with the high pitched voice and mesmerizing smile was now a pale, straight haired and gaunt figure who remained shrouded both in mystery and pain and who appeared as if his internal torment and tortured soul had succumbed to the demons.   We decided not to meet him and after he died, my dad, sister and I said, “damn,” because not only did we lose a legend but we would never again have a chance to be that close to seeing the King of Pop. And we had the perfect chance to meet him, in person, at a private home and away from the fanfare and spectacle that likely accompanies him in the public eye. The closest I got to coming near him again was posthumously when, while living in Bahrain, I would drive by the alleged home he once lived in while seeking solitude out that way.

Now I watch his videos, tears in my eyes, nostalgic and amazed that we were blessed with an incredible artist, genius, and soul.  May his memory never be forgotten and may he rest in peace.

 

Nevermore…

photo credit: flickr

photo credit: flickr

By Acasia O.

Baltimore has a place in my heart and a chapter in my book.  Random fact: I started my loc journey at a natural hair salon in Baltimore, MD six years ago.  During that time, I was one of roughly 15 participants in a summer research internship (RISE) for underrepresented minorities and had secured a great opportunity to conduct research through Johns Hopkins University’s pediatric AIDS clinic.

That summer was sweet like penny candy, soft serve ice cream and Domino Sugar. My love and I were in our second consecutive summer health research internship together and enjoying Charm City, making frequent trips to Dominion Ice Cream, taking walks around the campus hand-in-hand while fireflies flashed us a thumbs up and crickets chirped their shrill tunes. We stayed on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, shuttled the bumpy streets to the medical campus in East Baltimore daily, where for 10 weeks, we worked a 9-5 that offered mentorship, and required seminar attendance and delivering a final presentation on our 10 weeks of data collection and research conclusions. Those were the days of crashing ultimate frisbee games, waiting for the shuttle in a long line in sweltering heat and learning the news of Michael Jackson’s death.  Those were the days of watching Robin Thicke at Artscape in his former glory, and running downstairs every evening to catch a dorm-cooked meal by my love.

8726012244_4c091126df_z

Photo Source: Flickr

Those were also the days when I was reminded that walking home in broad daylight didn’t exempt you from assault, burglary or battery.  Those were the days when, one morning on my way to work, I learned that a gang shot up the memorial service of a rival gang member and a shooting was reported right near Johns Hopkins University Hospital.  For those who know or have spent any significant time in Baltimore you know it has its thorns, to put it lightly.  I would often marvel at the pockets of ‘safety,’ surrounded by a sea of poverty and waves of insecurity.  While my now husband earned his Masters in Public Health at Hopkins, nary a day went by during the school year when I wasn’t worried about him. But beyond the constant news reports and alerts of shootings and beyond the boarded up row houses and broken glass windows and flashing blue lights at the lamp posts on the corner down Charles Street.  Beyond the massively huge and saturated graveyards, the constant cry of the ambulance and the littered pot hole marked streets is a city with a noteworthy story to share and hear.

"Washmonument" by Brlaw8 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Washmonument.jpg#/media/File:Washmonument.jpg

“Washmonument” by Brlaw8 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The residual energy and grit of Baltimore’s industrial heyday lingers over it like dust particles that
dance and sway in a beam of light.  The one-eyed mascot of the Natty Boh brewery watches over Charm city, donning his signature handlebar mustache. It’s the home of the Ravens, Orioles, sister city to Bremerhaven, Germany (Chris’ birthplace!) and stomping grounds of Cab Calloway, Edgar Allen Poe, Babe Ruth, Jada Pinkett Smith and Nancy Pelosi to name a few.   I felt and still feel a certain way about Baltimore.  It was home for 10 weeks one summer and my biweekly weekend get away when visiting my love during grad school. It’s the place where I lost my favorite earring in the harbor near Fells Point, and the spot where I witnessed my husband run his first marathon. It’s the city that I would visit almost every year in high school when my folks took their youth group to visit the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum.  It’s the city where I trekked to to complete my Masters’ Thesis and the city where I fell in love with Old Bay and scotch bonnet hot sauce on my boiled oysters, Hot Mustard’s Korean Bip Bim Bap and an ice cold beer at The Brewer’s Art.

It’s also the city where, like Jesus did at the news of Lazarus’ death, I wept while driving past the Baltimore City Detention Center, a tomb in its own right, holding broken men and women beguiled by the lure of fast cash and easy money and those falsely accused and slandered by “a system whereby they lynch men.”   It’s the city where mayors move in and out of office like 18-wheelers at the truck station, only a matter of time before they fall asleep at the wheel or break down to the pressure of the power pipe as either a victim themselves or a perpetrator complicit in the schemes and crimes against humanity that plague cities largely inhabited by people of color.   It’s a city where the level of poverty in some neighborhoods makes you wonder if you’re driving through a 3rd-world nation despite being in a major U.S. city.

7076807257_9b4c1562d1_z

Photo source: Flickr

The murder of Freddie Gray while in police custody adds yet another stain on Baltimore’s already tarnished tapestry. And while the city, for the last few years, has been striving to make progress in revamping its image and reversing its reputation of heroin abuse, teen pregnancy and violence, my hope is that the latest attention on the city will result in people asking the question “Why?” Why is Baltimore in the state that it’s been in for decades?  And why would people loot, riot, vandalize or whatever you choose to call it all in the name of justice?  And why don’t more people see the pain of a people who are so broken, so ignored and so undervalued that they manage to destroy their own property and streets while crying out? It might not make sense, but neither does redlining, education disparities and breaking your own neck, spine and voice box.

When a person is suicidal, while some would ask “why?” and do what they can to prevent a suicidal attempt, I would hope that folks wouldn’t mock or try to attack that person for trying to take their own life.  When someone is the victim of abuse, neglect or financial assault, we don’t lambaste them, taunt them or shame them.  But folks have and they do and that’s the problem.  Baltimore is, in my observation, in need of radical transformation.  I often wondered what it would take for the city to bounce back and clean up its act.  I have often wondered why it was left behind and ignored. And with everything that’s been going on over the last week, I wonder what it will take to restore the city. How long before the systems and environments have to be radically changed before we see the healthy transformation?

When a city’s gangs unite in solidarity to protest injustice, you begin to wonder if you’re in the twilight zone. But, if you’re like me, you also begin to wonder if there will ever be a day when these gangs can take their influence to positively transform their neighborhoods.  And further, you wonder if there will ever be a day when politicians and law enforcement officers stop feeding off the power pump and start striking at the root of the problems instead of pruning the symptoms. But ultimately, when will people start to understand that the Baltimores and the Fergusons and the Oaklands of the country are manifesting symptoms of a larger problem that, if not properly addressed, will continue to fester and eventually explode?

Photo credit: flickr

Photo credit: flickr