Saturday, June 26, 2010

Peek Into the Shadow

Somebody please take mercy, because I just can't take it...

A year ago today, I was working abroad in South Korea, having quite possibly the worst time of my life. I was homesick, I was heartsick and my job was so stressful that I was literally days away from being hospitalized. I woke up a year ago feeling as if my world were going to cave in, as if everything I knew was going to be suddenly upended. I ignored the feeling, because, well, every day that I had to go to work meant that in some way or another, a little piece of myself was going to die. However, when the first words you hear in the morning as you walk into a job you hate are "Michael Jackson's dead", more than a little piece of you dies inside. I actually started a huge (read as: loud, angry and belligerent) argument with the offending coworker out of sheer disbelief, until he told me to look at all the news online, at which point, I screamed, burst into tears and felt as if someone had come along and carved out my heart.

Throughout my life, Michael's music has been a balm to my soul. Since I was a child, MJ's music has played a key role in my life. It was his music that lulled me to sleep as an infant, his music that accompanied me to my first day of school, through my first crush, my first heartbreak, and every experience in between. My parents introduced me to him at infancy, and up until I was about seven, I didn't really realize that there were other genres of music besides Michael, Oldies and "White People Music" (I was seven, cut me some slack). However, despite all of his singles, hits and albums, one song always stood out to me the most.

When I was eight, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I came out, and the lead single from that album was "Scream". I was a precocious eight year old and understood that Michael was very angry at the news, and it didn't take a genius to figure out why. Although my parents had done a bang-up job of molding my musical tastes, they didn't do quite as good a job at sheltering me from the news. I had heard all of the stories about the crazy things that Michael had done: all that plastic surgery (which scared the bejeezus out of me), adopting a monkey (which I secretly thought was awesome --and still do), offering to buy the Elephant Man's bones (which I didn't believe because I didn't think he'd be that weird. I was right.), and worst of all, abusing children. As a child, I routinely overheard conversations about whether or not he'd done it, and I found myself so angry at those who accused him without ever really trying to hear his side of the story. I thought it unfair that no one listened to him and instead just made things up.

At 8, I thought I understood the rage that Michael felt when accused of things that he didn't do.

At 22, I have a much better picture.

Listening to the raw emotion on "Scream" as he snarls his way through, supported by his baby sister, my heart twists in agony. This is a man who has been pushed to his limits. This is a wounded soul and not so coincidentally, this is the same period of time when Michael began his abuse of prescription drugs to quell the roar of the tabloid mill as it churned out more lies and scandal bearing his name. This song represents the downward spiral that led to that fateful day last year, and the anger and sadness and bitterness and frustration ringing through the lyrics reaches me to the bottom of my own soul, reaches out to the hurt little girl I once was, dealing with a whole lot of issues that a child should never have to face.

I listen to this song when I'm sad. I listen to it when I'm angry. I listen to it when I'm facing an obstacle, be it a person, thing, or merely my own doubts and fears. Knowing that someone is there, was there, that knows the sort of feelings I'm feeling makes me feel less alone. What makes the song even more outstanding is the appearance by Janet, whose presence, although she is outshone by Michael six ways to Sunday, adds to the feeling of "You're not alone. I've got you." in the face of all detractors,  antagonists, and straight up malicious folks.

"Scream" isn't just a song about the media. It's a song about coping with life. We all feel pressured by external (and sometimes internal) forces. And sometimes, the feeling that "this just isn't right" is so powerful that it makes you want to scream.

I screamed that day last year, because to me, the ultimate injustice was that this man, this legend, was taken from us all too soon.

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