Thursday, June 25, 2009

What the World Lost Today...

My favorite album is "Dangerous". My favorite song is "Human Nature". Let's get the facts out the way: He's the best entertainer in the history of music. He is the King of Pop. He was a musical genius. His impact will never be forgotten.

Yes, this is a Michael Jackson tribute. But this is also very personal.

I'm not over it right now. I've watched the same headlines on MSNBC since it was confirmed at 6:27 PM. First it was TMZ, then LA Times, finally all the major networks. I'm still crying so forgive me if I'm not as coherent as I should be.

My first memories in life are of Michael. I know he was a part of my life before 1990, but my first concrete memories started when I would hear "Human Nature" before I went to sleep at the age of two. I first watched "Thriller" on MTV when I was four with my Grandma (yeah, I was scared) and that same year (1992) I watched The Jacksons: An American Dream on TV. In the morning before preschool, I would watch Jackson5 reruns on the CBS morning lineup. I spent play dates watching tapes of him in concert (no lie, we played Ninja Turtles and watched Michael, I swear). And the only reason I went to see Free Willy in 1993 was because Michael did the song for it (turned out to be a great movie though). "We Are the World" was our finale piece for dance class in 1994. Michael Jackson ruled the world when I just started to understand what the world was, so if you take him away, the world just doesn't make sense to me anymore.

To me, MJ embodied the ultimate human being. He rose to the top of the world, and when he got there, he gave back. Sure, I know Oprah and Bill Gates and countless others give back, but rather than just give back with money, Michael gave his career to his causes. He reached people using the outlet that mattered most to him: with his music. It just seems to me that the world was a better place in the early 90s. It was a better place because people cared about each other. And people cared about each other because of Michael Jackson. I listened to the Jackson 5 and his older music when I was younger, but you have to understand, that when I came into consciousness, Michael Jackson ruled the world. Thus it wasn't the "Rockin' Robins" and "ABCs" that shaped my was the "They Don't Really Care About Us"'s and "Black and White"'s that became my childhood soundtrack. What separated him from the super-celebrities we know today is that he didn't rule with what runs TMZ today, or what he has been recently known for...there were no club fights, no weapons charges, and certainly no stepping out of cars without underwear. Ok, maybe there were hyperbaric sleeping chambers and a chimp named Bubbles, but that's not what I think of at first. I just have images in my mind of tens of thousands of people crowding around for what seemed like miles in front of one stage. Nobody was angry, hysterical maybe, and it seemed that if only for a moment, we could all get along.

That's the Michael I'll always have in my head. One icon, amidst a sea of people.

While his controversy has overshadowed his gifts in recent years, the 4 year old in me always understood Michael Jackson. He never wanted his childhood to end and he never wanted anyone to feel left out. At the root of it all, that was the essence of Michael: everyone in the world is important. Race, religion, gender, sexual orientation--I don't think any of those things mattered to MJ, and though this may be an unusual interpretation, that's always what I understood his physical body to represent. Sure you can make whatever jokes you'd like about aesthetics and behavior, but I think at the root of it all, everyone could relate to Michael because he represented everyone.

I don't want to summarize his life and importance to culture, music and the world. And I realize that he's been many things to many people. That's why I hope you take this time in the wake of his death to remember just what he's done for you. I haven't said all I'd like to say, and maybe this is where I'll stop and take the time to personally sort out music's role in my life from this point on. Today has been hard for me. I've lost the man that made music matter to me. The one person who made me realize that music is the most powerful vehicle for change in the world. If you know me, you know I'm very cynical, sarcastic and self-centered, but I didn't start out that way. I used to feel much more optimistic about the world and its inhabitants. And I can tell you that just from thinking back over my life with Michael Jackson's influence, I'm remembering and appreciating everything and everyone he stood for.

An icon is defined as a thing or person regarded as a representative symbol of something. To some, Michael Jackson is a representative symbol of music, but when I think of him, I see an endless sea of people. And today, they are missing their icon.

The music lives on.


  1. Ashley this was beautiful. I'm tearing up reading this. Thank you so much for writing something so personal to you. I cant even explain to you how much this has touched me

  2. Thanks Julie, I'm glad you were able to take something from it. Mike influenced so many lives and I'm starting to realize that there are SO SO SO many people who are just as impacted by this as I am. I used to think that no one could possibly understand exactly how I feel, but from reading/seeing/hearing this outpouring of grief/celebration, I'm starting to seek comfort in the numbers.

  3. That is an amazing tribute, Ash and what I think is the most sad part in this all is how many people don't realize, fail to recognize, or even refuse to acknowledge the actual role he played in all of our lives.

    Despite that, I am choosing to celebrate his life. MJ Music Party ... Indefinitely.