I'm starting with the man in the mirror...

Well... Michael Jackson - the king of pop - is dead. So many feelings and thoughts are running through me - so many conflicting experiences with this troubled, brilliant, wounded genius who shared his core with the world on the stage and wrestled with demons I will never comprehend. Yes, he became scary - to be sure he was broken - but he was beautiful, too. And the deepest longing within me is that Michael might be at peace. As one of my old Tucson friends wrote: may dear Michael find peace in life everlasting that he never knew in this life. I say, "AMEN" to that one thousand fold.

I was sitting having dinner and conversation tonight with a new friend - another music and spirituality guy who shares something of my passion for both - when the TVs in the pub broadcast Michael's death. We were shocked - saddened - stunned. It brought to mind the other important musicians in my life who have left this realm...

+ I was driving back from San Francisco to the Tehachapi Mountains - just outside of Bakersfield - when I heard the radio say that Elvis had been found dead in his shower. It was August 16, 1977 - my first daughter was less than a year old - and we were leaving the Farm Workers Union to complete undergraduate school on the way to seminary. I had always loved Elvis - and love him still - from the hip, sexy outcast of the 50s to the fat, sad old clown of his later years. My mother turned me on to "the King" and we used to go to all his movies at the drive-in. I still to a mean impression of the early Elvis because he was so real. As Bono said so well: this dude was the embodiment of the Civil Rights movement way before the 60s. He was black and white, male and female, sex and religion and hope all rolled into one confused Southern gospel boy who was deep fried and FILLED with soul.

+ I was sad when Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin offed themselves with drugs - the sad end to tragic excess - but I was knocked on my ass and unable to breath or think when John Lennon was gunned down in New York City. I was a second year seminary student at Union Theological Seminary in NYC. My dentist was across the street from the Dakota where a troubled young man with a gun shot one of my life-long heroes on the way into his home. I couldn't move - John helped me experience Pentecost when he sang "Twist and Shout" on Ed Sullivan - and I have loved his music and madness ever since. Sitting weeping in my seminary apartment with 2 little girls, my oldest friend, Ross, called me and we wept together. Ross helped me learn to play guitar after confirmation class each Wednesday during 9th grade. We formed a band together and sang out our hearts and souls together. We went our separate ways after high school... but when John was shot there wasn't another person alive I wanted to talk to. I still give thanks to God that he called me that day.

+ There were other shocking deaths - Frank Zappa, George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Duane Allman, Roy Orbison, Marvin Gaye,Kurt Cobain, Jerry Garcia, and James Brown - they were all dear to my heart. And now Michael Jackson...

I would never have said that I was a FAN but GOD did I love to dance to this man's music.
And the way he wove tradition into innovation - a genre bender as I like to say - always impressed me and strengthened both, too. Which brings me to my favorite MJ tune: Man in the Mirror. It is a little gospel - a lot of confession - total funk and state of the art pop/street groove all at the same time - and it is infused with a message of humility, hope and solidarity. It is a much better song than "We Are the World," a song whose spirit I embrace, but grow tired of its sound. But I never tire of "Man in the Mirror." It still brings tears of joy and compassion to my eyes even now. There is a little James Brown and Motown here, a little Beatles and a lot of gospel as well - to say nothing of his incredible fusion of street hip and tenderness.

I am going to grieve his death... and I am going to choose to remember him for giving me, "Man in the Mirror." He was wounded and brought pain and confusion to some; he was exploited and abused, too, by so many others. But I give thanks for the gift of "Man in the Mirror" and all it means to the world.

Comments

SGF said…
It is very hard NOT to be moved by that performance by Michael!!!!
RJ said…
Incredible, isn't it?

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