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On Michael

My weekend was amazing and bittersweet. Everywhere I went, people were celebrating Michael Jackson. Friday night, my 21 year old cousin and I went to the Lupe Fiasco concert at the Chicago Theatre. Lupe is one of the most high energy rappers. He danced, jumped, and preened onstage – a couple of times jumping so high that his feet were at the same height as the cymbals the drummer behind him was using to keep time. In the middle of his set, while the dj was spinning his current hit – his verse on the Ain’t I song – and the crowd was really into it, Lupe stopped performing. He had been asking if the crowd knew who he was and as if he realized that he was nobody next to the King of Pop, he stopped the music and whispered something to the DJ. The crowd’s boos turned to cheers when it became clear that Lupe was going to lead us in a tribute to Michael – the greatest who ever did it. He welcomed a woman from the crowd onstage and they danced and flirted until Thriller came on and she started doing the moves from the video. Lupe and everyone else followed her lead.

After the concert, we went to Red. No. 5 on Halsted and it was hot as hell. There were probably 300 black people in there and no air conditioning! The DJ played rap songs that came out when I was in middle school, Beyonce songs, current radio and mix tape hits, and Michael Jackson songs from “I Want You Back” to “You Rock My World.” When Michael’s songs came on, the guys mostly stood against the wall while the women gathered in circles and revived old school dance moves we had learned from his videos.

Public Service Announcement: If you are with a friend who has been over-served in the club, take them home or at least put them in a cab. Don’t let your friends make fools of themselves trying to grope or grab women to the point where they have to be physically restrained to keep them from catching a sexual battery charge.

Back to my weekend. Saturday night, my cousin and I met another cousin at a bar in Wrigleyville. We couldn’t hear the music over the crowd, so after several drinks, we decided to make our own . The four of us started singing every Michael song we could remember (whether we knew all the words or not), often punctuating our off key renditions with moves from the music videos. By the end of the night, we had migrated to a larger bar down the street that had a dance floor. One our friends wore a fedora and we kept egging him on to moonwalk or do a few pelvic thrusts for the crowd.

As a grad student, I am always looking for ways to procrastinate. Itunes provides me with a myriad of ways to do just that…I have amassed a collection of music videos on my computer -half Michael, half Beyonce.. At home, sometimes we have cable, sometimes we don’t. I often try to bring things home to entertain myself and my nieces. Two years ago, I introduced my nieces (who were not quite 1 and 2 years old at the time) to Michael Jackson via Beat It. Kamryn the younger of the two is an energetic dancer. Maya, the older of the two, plays it cool but will definitely dance if everyone else is doing it. From the moment they saw the Beat It video, they were in love. Especially Kamryn. They live in NC. I live in Chicago. They call me and request Michael…Can I see Beat It? When I step in the front door after having traveled thousands of miles to see them, the first thing they ask is – Where’s Michael? or Can I see Beat It?

My brother David was watching the Michael tributes on CNN with my 2 year old niece while we were on the phone. In the background, she questions her father, “Why she dead?”

My brother’s annoyed. “I’m not going to tell you again – That’s a man! That’s Michael.” He says.

Michael often left his fans confused. What happened to the beautiful man who starred in the Bad video? Did he do what they said he did? Why are his children white? Whatever our questions, the music moved us. His dancing left us in awe. Who among us hasn’t moonwalked? We’ve played his music during some of our most important moments and when we were just hanging out at the house.

When Michael died, he was in preparations for his Ozone tour. Was he about to do something great again? If anybody could pull out a show-stopping, path-breaking performance at 51, it would have been Michael. On the one hand, the Michael we all applauded and fell in love with was long gone. On the other hand, no one had risen to take his place on the world stage and many held out hope that he would come back and thrill us once again. To honor Michael, in addition to pulling out my Cds, and listening to tributes on the radio, I plucked a book about him from my bookshelf on Friday and started reading. In her tome On Michael Jackson, Margo Jefferson tries to figure out how he went from the spectacle who meticulously controlled what we saw to the man who lost control of his image so completely that he was branded a criminal and no longer smooth. She uses P.T. Barnum and a Barnum and Bailey circus analogy to describe Michael’s showmanship as well as his lifestyle. For Jefferson, whose book was written in the wake of the second child molestation trial, it was clear that the star’s best days were behind him.

But, I was much more hopeful. I had planned to scrounge together enough money to get to one of the concerts in London next summer. We had seen Michael in so many incarnations – including a ghost of his former self dangling “Blanket” from a terrace…why not resurrected King of Pop?

At least now he gets a rest from being in the public eye. Hopefully, he’ll find peace.