I just heard, on the radio in a drugstore where I'd stopped on my way home to buy shampoo, of the death of Michael Jackson. I'm stunned. Stunned as well at my own tears, which immediately started flowing. But why wouldn't I cry? I make no claim to be above or live apart from pop culture. This artist's music was part of my life for well over 30 years. I've listened, and danced, and sung along, as has so much of the world.
This was a great great artist. This was a child of the working class -- from the battered old steel town of Gary, Indiana. This was a delicate soul -- and a tortured soul, tortured to what extent by his own demons no one can know, but tormented ever so much more by the relentless stream of racist, homophobic and transphobic invective and ridicule to which he was subjected for years and years on end.
I can think of no other musical artist who has ever been so beloved around the whole world. Who could sell out stadiums in Belgrade, Seoul, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, as well as New York, Detroit, Los Angeles. With whom so many people of all ages and nationalities identified. Whose talent blazed so brightly on so many world stages.
This makes three times that I've cried at the deaths of musical artists. When John Lennon was assassinated. When George Harrison died. (The Beatles were so central to my youth and coming of age that of course their deaths hit me hard. Though "Sir" [doesn't that say it all, that he'd take this imperialist title] Paul's death won't bother me at all.) Also I've been worrying mightily about another giant whose contributions to culture are massive and who I adore beyond measure. Aretha, please take care of your health!
But this--unexpected, bitter, coming at a moment when this brilliant and still young artist was working on a comeback--is hard. Others will be more eloquent about the meaning of this loss. Those with more musical knowledge can comment on his gifts. I'm just one of millions whose lives he enriched. Who'll have to live on without the music he had yet to make.