Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
– W. H. Auden
26 June 2009
Its 6.36 am and I’m in bed, not wanting to get out of it. In tears and in shock. Not wanting to write, but needing somehow to acknowledge this terrible, terrible thing.
I woke up to a series of texts and they all said the same thing: “He is dead, I can’t believe it”. I could barely breathe, the tears started before I could stop them as my shaking hands googled his name to find out what had happened. Even now, after reading the same thing over and over and over again, I can’t believe it. My tears keep coming and the shock is still new, painful and ugly. We have lost something. Something good. There is a hole in the world, and no one can make it right.
There is a reason I woke up to emails and texts of almost-condolences, as if this loss is somehow mine. And in a way, it is. As I write, I am getting calls from friends that I am in no state to answer. They know my history with this man. They have grown up with it, as I have grown up with him.
I saw my first Michael Jackson video at the age of 10, with my sisters. My mum took us on our much-loved bimonthly visit to the video store where she borrowed a VHS of his music videos. That evening, my sisters and I settled in our parent’s room to watch it and saw, for the first of many times to come, Billie Jean, Black or White, Bad, Thriller amongst others. When the video ended we were numb. We just sat there, converts just converted, full of something almost spiritual but unable to express it.
From that day onwards, we were almost obsessed. Imagine it: 3 little girls bickering over every newspaper article, every picture, every clipping to do with him. We bought every video we could find, every CD we could find, every poster. My mother often groaned that she had created 3 monsters and wondered what she was thinking bringing in that VHS on that fateful night in ’95.
Our extreme love for this man was famous even in school, across grades. While the other girls traded pictures of Nick Carter, Peter Andre and Leonardo Dicaprio, we would jealously guard our Michael Jackson collection and graciously accept any pictures or paper cuttings that others would give us from their Smash Hits magazines.
My first non-journal writings were about him. I used to write at length about what inspired and amazed me about him, how I dreamed of meeting him, of seeing him in concert, what I’d say to him, what he’d look like, what he’d say back to me, how I’d feel. I used to go as far as to deface all my books (from schools books to story books) with phrases like I LOVE MICHAEL JACKSON 4EVA. I shudder at the thought (and the lingo of the time) now, but unfortunately, I have proof. Recently I gave a friend one of my books to borrow and got a worried text from him minutes after he’d left – I’d forgotten that I’d scrawled MICHAEL JACKSON RULZ!!!! inside the cover. Embarrassing.
The most ridiculous (and embarrassing) thing by far was that I decided very early on that I wanted to become his head bodyguard. I didn’t know what a bodyguard was, just that their job was to be close to him. So I wanted to be the main one, the biggest one. The hope was that a romance would be kindled as result of the close proximity – speedily ensued by an epic romance which would result in marriage. Again, I have written documents to prove it. Documents that will go with me to the grave.
I used to listen and dance to his music everyday. Posters covered the walls of the room I shared with my sister – the biggest one was 10 feet across and 5 feet in length – a present from one of our cousins in Scotland. I used to talk to it. No joke.
For a while, instead of ‘Dear Diary’, I would childishly write “Dear Michael” in my journal.
Later, as I grew up, this mad fanaticism calmed down. The scrapbooks lingered for a while, just because they were so fabulously extensive, it seemed a shame not to continue them. But as time passed, even they got delegated to our lower shelves of beloved junk that we’d never, ever throw away. But the love, respect and incredible awe never faded. During those controversial years, rocked with lawsuits and allegations, I read everything I could find on them, saw every documentary and my heart ached for him. The cavalier jokes people made and the downright nasty comments would at first upset me so much I would have to find some place quiet and cry angrily about them on the spot but later I managed to either change the subject, ignore or brush off the remarks jokingly with a funny sort of mock (but not) anger.
I remember, some years back when he collapsed of exhaustion on stage and needed to be hospitalized, we heard the news at night time, when we were just about to go out for dinner with my parents. My sister had to cover for me because I sat silently during the drive there, the entire meal and the drive back home, tears leaking from my eyes in helpless worry that he would not be alright. I stayed up the whole night with my sister, awaiting news that he was alright.
I remember the World Music Awards of ’98 where he received a lifetime achievement award– the whole ceremony was about him – even during other performances and other awards, the camera kept coming back to him. Other famous artists were in fits of giggles just being near him. Incredible. I watched with my sisters, goggle-eyed and adoring, from my grandmother’s living room. Heart bursting with pride, love and inspiration. I had to take breaks every now to run to my room and then to scribble something in my diary, to get some of the emotion out of me, because it was just too much to take.
I remember his beautiful speech at the Grammy’s in ’93 where he won an award for being a musical legend. He talked about childhood and how he had missed out and how magical children were because to them, everything was new, everything was magic. I can relate – it is for this reason that I use children in so much of my writing. As an aside, I even remember random people in the audience. K.D. Lang was one of them. Weird.
Wow. When I try to look back through these past 14 years and think of how much a part of it he was, it’s almost mind boggling. I don’t need to talk about his music or his dancing or his amazing talent or his compassion and desire to heal people who needed it – everybody knows about that. If I talk about his love for children, which was genuine and beautiful because he identified with them on such a deep and emotional level – people will just crack stupid jokes about it and the point would be lost. So no, I won’t go there.
But it’s this funny thing that happens when you are a ‘fan’ for such a long time – and not just a fan of the music, but of the person. When you have read, watched and listened to almost every detail on him as I have; when you have spent so much of your own time incorporating him into your life as I have – a day like this is almost too much to bear.
I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to have to go to work. I don’t want to have to face people talking about it or saying they are so sad or that they can’t believe it. I want the world to mourn this wonderful, beautiful man, but I want the world to mourn quietly. The news will splash it around, like they have done his life, they’ll talk about his talent, his personal life, they’ll use his awful nick names, it’ll be just another breaking story; another day in the media. I don’t want any of it.
I just want to remember him as this glorious part of my childhood – the one I experienced as a child and the one I still cling onto today. I will remember him the way I want – those famous soulful eyes, iconized in images like the cover of the Dangerous album; the wonderfully radiant Jackson smile; the shy, soft spoken voice that could turn sexy, menacing, beseeching, choir-like and luxuriant in song; the slim, lithe body that could move with amazing speed and execute flawless steps that can be only echoed by the stars of today; and the polite, fun-loving, child-like personality that remains consistent in footage from his younger days till today.
I cannot pretend to know him. I don’t. But I still feel as if I have had 14 years with him. I feel like this was a relationship – not that of lovers, but dear, dear friends. My grief today is very real and I will grieve for a long time.
How to get through today? And a future without this magical person? I am often taken aback at how we manage to feel the loss of a celebrity more keenly somehow, than other deaths that are unrelated to us.
But this. This is so much more than that. He was so much more than just another celebrity. He was a part of my life – a huge, influential part. I don’t know how to deal with this incredible loss. To music. To creativity in all its forms. To love. To humanity.
To Michael Jackson:
You are an eternal inspiration.
And I will never say goodbye.
I love you.
Dance of Life,
by Michael Jackson
I cannot escape the moon. Its soft beams push aside the curtains at night. I don’t even have to see it — a cool blue energy falls across my bed and I am up. I race down the dark hall and swing open the door, not to leave home but to go back into it. “Moon, I’m here!” I shout.
“Good,” she replies. “Now give us a little dance.”
But my body has started moving long before she says anything. When did it start? I can’t remember — my body has always been moving. Since childhood I have reacted to the moon this way, as her favorite lunatic, and not just hers. The stars draw me near, close enough so that I see through their twinkling act. They’re dancing, too, doing a soft molecular jiggle that makes my carbon atoms jump in time.
With my arms flung wide, I head for the sea, which brings out another dance in me. Moon dancing is slow inside, and soft as blue shadows on the lawn. When the surf booms, I hear the heart of the earth, and the tempo picks up. I feel the dolphins leaping in the white foam, trying to fly, and almost flying when the waves curl high to the heavens. Their tails leave arcs of light as plankton glow in the waves. A school of minnows rises up, flashing silver in the moonlight like a new constellation.
“Ah!” the sea says, “Now we’re gathering a crowd.”
I run along the beach, catching waves with one foot and dodging them with the other. I hear faint popping sounds — a hundred panicky sand crabs are ducking into their holes, just in case. But I’m racing now, sometimes on my toes, sometimes running flat-out.
I throw my head back and a swirling nebula says, “Fast now, twirl!”
Grinning, ducking my head for balance, I start to spin as wildly as I can. This is my favorite dance, because it contains a secret. The faster I twirl, the more I am still inside. My dance is all motion without, all silence within. As much as I love to make music, it’s the unheard music that never dies. And silence is my real dance, though it never moves. It stands aside, my choreographer of grace, and blesses each finger and toe.
I have forgotten the moon now and the sea and the dolphins, but I am in their joy more than ever. As far away as a star, as near as a grain of sand, the presence rises, shimmering with light. I could be in it forever, it is so loving and warm. But touch it once, and light shoots forth from the stillness. It quivers and thrills me, and I know my fate is to show others that this silence, this light, this blessing is my dance. I take this gift only to give it again.
Quick, give!” says the light.
As never before, I try to obey, inventing new steps, new gestures of joy. All at once I sense where I am, running back up the hill. The light in my bedroom is on. Seeing it brings me back down. I begin to feel my pounding heart, the drowsiness in my arms, the warm blood in my legs. My cells want to dance slower. “Can we walk a little?” they ask. “It’s been kind of wild.”
“Sure.” I laugh, slowing to an easy amble.
I turn the doorknob, panting lightly, glad to be tired. Crawling back into bed, I remember something that I always wonder at. They say that some of the stars that we see overhead aren’t really there. Their light takes millions of years to reach us, and all we are doing is looking into the past, into a bygone moment when those stars could still shine.
“So what does a star do after it quits shining?” I ask myself. “Maybe it dies.”
“Oh, no,” a voice in my head says. “A star can never die. It just turns into a smile and melts back into the cosmic music, the dance of life.” I like that thought, the last one I have before my eyes close. With a smile, I melt back into the music myself.