Since I'm on a music reminiscing roll, I need to mention Michael Jackson. I was surprised at how devastated I was by his death. His music was the soundtrack to the some of the most purely joyous parts of my college years, the Glee Club post-concert parties where we'd shift effortlessly from Brahms to Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" and, best of all, "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough." We played those two songs over and over again until I wondered if the Officer in Charge of Parties owned any other records. I didn't care, though; there were no sounds more gleeful, especially when accompanied by strong blue punch (in the days before Connecticut's drinking age was raised to 21), or better captured those few moments when you're young and your only job is to try to stay a kid while growing up, and have fun. Michel Jackson and I--and, incidentally, a real live boy or two--danced for hours and hours at those parties and then slept in the next day, dragging ourselves to the library by noon to the echoes of that swirling violin intro.
Another memory is his pre-teen face on the cover of of a teenybopper magazine that was pinned to the wall of my friend Cindy's bedroom. She was convinced that Donny Osmond was the best. You're nuts, I insisted; The Jackson 5 are far cuter. We argued back and forth for an hour. My musical tastes were still unformed back then, somewhere between the "Für Elise" I had to practice over and over and whatever played on 77 WABC. I hadn't yet learned the difference between "I'll Be There" and Sonny and Cher--but once I did, a few years later, I knew my initial, clueless assessment was correct.
I wish he could have had a real childhood, so he could have grown into a real adult. The combination of genius and screwed-up parents seems too much for any human to bear. I'm also hitting myself on the forehead in frustration, having only discovered over the last few days those amazing YouTube clips of dancing that look like flying, a language of movement he concocted from the steps of many predecessors and made into something totally new. Even with the sound turned off, I want to leap up from the couch in response and pretend I'm still 19.
@holyweblog on Twitter shared this telling article from Beliefnet, written during the period where he was tight with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, in which Michael Jackson talks about his idea of paradise, a world where he could be ordinary:
My Childhood, My Sabbath, My Freedom
"When people see the television appearances I made when I was a little boy--8 or 9 years old and just starting off my lifelong music career--they see a little boy with a big smile. They assume that this little boy is smiling because he is joyous, that he is singing his heart out because he is happy, and that he is dancing with an energy that never quits because he is carefree.
But while singing and dancing were, and undoubtedly remain, some of my greatest joys, at that time what I wanted more than anything else were the two things that make childhood the most wondrous years of life, namely, playtime and a feeling of freedom. The public at large has yet to really understand the pressures of childhood celebrity, which, while exciting, always exacts a very heavy price."
Imaging what his singing and dancing might have been if not bound by these other chains. It's almost too beautiful to contemplate. But he really did understand Shabbat, a time when we're freed from the weights of earth and can simply be who we are, the purest essence of what God created.