Michael Jackson was blasting on the streets of New York City last night, out of car windows, restaurants, bars, and radios set up next to makeshift fruit stands. People were paying their respects, but also up to something more. They were taking the first steps towards reclaiming his music, turning it on, turning it up, and finally, finally, beginning to jettison all the bad, heavy vibes his songs have accrued over the last 15 years.
In that time, we’ve all developed an awkward relationship with Jackson and his work. It’s not that the video for “Thriller” or the chorus to “Man In the Mirror” was any less awesome yesterday than it was today, but yesterday, it was still discomfiting. Yesterday, it still came with some really serious baggage, the before our eyes meltdown of a once supremely talented young man, who had, as Emily said, ” so wholly turned himself into a freak .” I remember, years ago, watching an award show tribute to Jackson, in which a young performer (who may or may not have been Justin Timberlake, I can’t quite remember) praised Jackson’s talent and his influence. Jackson, of course, deserved the praise, but there was still a palpable dissonance between what the young performer was saying about him and the person standing up in the balcony, frail, pale, and gloved, looking on. Jacko was once great, but he was now ruined. It was impossible to forget either one of those things, and that took the joy out of not only that particular celebration, but everything related to Jackson.
Now the bad years, tragic as they were, right up to the end, are over, and we can start to appreciate the good ones, the ones when Jackson created more stupendous hit songs than most musicians could in many, many lifetimes. The weirdness still lingers, but it won’t have pride of place for long. Watch, in a few decades, all the freakishness will be a footnote, and the kids will still be dancing to “Billie Jean” and trying to figure out how to moonwalk.