The death of Michael Jackson caught me off-guard, as I’m sure it did everyone. I was in a restaurant when the reports began playing on televisions all around. Texts and phone calls immediately started coming in from family members who knew how I usually stuck up for him whenever I got trapped into one of those awkward conversations about Michael Jackson where everyone tried to offer the funniest put-down. I didn’t find an ounce of joy in criticizing such a fragile soul. I know he was far from perfect, and I know all the allegations that swarmed around him. We will never truly know the state of his soul, but the truth is, we don’t get a vote.
This is what I DO know. Being an original is really, really hard. And being an original who is also in the public eye, is even harder. Michael did it anyway, and I respect that. His work was, and is, a brilliant example of courageous artistry. Did I agree with everything he said or every song he sang? No, but that’s immaterial.
I’m sad he passed away, and I will always believe that his life was filled with purpose, and giftedness, and a need to say some things that were important to him. He chased that purpose with gusto. I, for one, am especially sad that we will never hear whatever new idea was stirring around in his mind before his heart stopped beating today.
I work with artists and have for some time, and I’ve seen over and over again how those with the most natural talent are so often the most tortured souls around. I don’t understand it entirely, but I do know that the greatest artistry of which mankind is capable is often born out of pain, fear, insecurity, or all of the above. Art has a way of bringing clarity to a frazzled soul. That is the beautiful mystery of creative arts. But because musical gifts must be shared to be enjoyed, a tortured soul is set up for criticism the moment his gift is put on display at any level. Suddenly, when the world knows his name, he is perceived to be “public property”. The way constant scrutiny tears away at an already-fragile soul is indescribably sad and destructive.
I hope, as we remember Michael Jackson, that we will offer him the same dignity we would desire if our own lives, from early childhood until now, were documented by the international media for the world to see and comment on. Most of us have the privilege of making our mistakes and failures privately. The trade-off for that is… most of us will never be a household name.
For the man who dared to be over-the-top remarkable on-stage, I applaud. But for the human being behind those dark glasses who spent his off-stage time trying to find that guy everyone loved so much, I grieve.