Friday, July 24, 2009

MJ, after a month

It's now a month since the big loss we're all still struggling to get used to. I realized this morning that every morning since Michael Jackson died I've woken up with one of his songs in my head. I always wake up singing -- (in fact, there's always a tune running through my head, mostly from Broadway or Motown, and I sing, or more generally, hum, literally all the time when I'm awake, unconsciously for the most part and at a low enough volume that people mostly don't notice, although a couple of years ago a visiting cousin did notice my constant humming and labeled it an "autistic tic"!) -- but I've never before noticed myself waking up every day for a month running to a revolving prefrontal playlist of one particular artist's songs. I'm pretty sure I've dreamed about MJ several times too. Some of it is no doubt the result of all the continuing media coverage of his life and death that has seeped into my subconscious. However, I also think that some of this personal jukebox survey is an aspect of my coming to terms with his death. Of mourning, in other words.

Sophisticates, I know, scoff at the notion of grieving for someone you did not personally know. And yes, I'm not in pain over Michael Jackson's death the way I was in pain when my mother died. Also I'd certainly agree with anyone who asserts that the mass focus on and fascination with celebrity, especially in this country, is unquestionably a manifestation of much that's awful about capitalist culture as well as a manipulated response to market forces. However. There is also such a thing as great art. Art that moves the masses of workers and oppressed people. Art that arises from and speaks to our class. Art that enriches our lives. And so although it's not the same as what we feel for our family and friends, a great artist can inspire in us a feeling that can justifiably be called love. And when that beloved artist dies it can affect us, just as the artist's work in life affected us.

This morning I had to run some errands in Manhattan and afterward I stopped for breakfast at an outdoor cafe. I was drinking coffee while waiting for my food and reading Joan Acocella's piece in the current New Yorker about Michael Jackson the dancer. At the exact few seconds as I read the sentence that begins, "Watch him--as you can, for example, in 'The Way You Make Me Feel,' (1987)," I became aware of this very song, "The Way You Make Me Feel," blaring loud and joyous from a car stopped at a red light a few feet away from me. I was stunned and weirded out, but not in a bad way, and I stopped reading and started kind of bopping in my seat to the music, and then I looked a few tables over and saw one of the wait staff dancing to Michael's song as it poured into the restaurant from the street, dancing while she laid out silverware on a table. I got up and went over to her and showed her the sentence in the New Yorker and said, wow, isn't this something, I just read this sentence and then that exact song starts playing. And she said, oh my god, it's Michael, he's here, he's talking to us.

I smiled and shrugged and thought, gee, I wish I weren't such a nincompoop at math, wish I understood probability theory, wish I had the capacity to do some quick calculations and come up with a figure to show that no, actually, it was random chance. How likely was it that I'd be reading that sentence in that article at the same time a car would drive by blaring that song? Likely enough, I bet, given how much everyone's listening to Michael Jackson's music lately.

Michael is not here. Michael is not talking to us, not singing, not dancing, not shining his brilliant creative light on any of us anymore. That's the problem.


I'll get back to book talk soon, I promise. Tonight, though, more music. Unless we get rained out, I'm meeting some friends at Queensbridge Park for a free concert by Metropolitan Opera singers. None of us has ever been to an opera or knows the least thing about this art form, but we're hoping it'll be fun.