Today several people stopped me on the street to ask me how Michael Jackson’s memorial service was. It took me a while to catch on that they weren’t all psychic. I was wearing the gold wrist band that everyone in LA knows means you had a ticket to the event. I did indeed, thanks to my friend Scott, who beat the odds and was one of the 8,500 people out 1.6 million to get free tickets. And good ones at that– in one of the premier seating boxes. Lucky, you might say, but then there’s something odd about saying you were lucky to go to a memorial service of anyone, including the boy you had planned to marry in seventh grade, not that he had been aware of the plan. It was a day as sad, weird, and uplifting as the man and his music.
Keeping in mind that I still cry at reruns of Little House on the Prairie, I’m glad Scott brought a hanky for me, as I soaked it. Today was a tear fest from the moment his one-gloved brothers regally walked in with his casket until the end when his daughter collapsed into her aunt’s embrace. In between that, there was a celebration of a man who everyone under the age of 55 can say they grew up with, whose image and music have been a fixture of every place I have lived, from Minnesota to Beirut to the UAE, where posters of his London concerts have been hanging up at malls for months. It was also a celebration of African Americans and the strides they have made since the Jackson 5 became a part of the American landscape. I wouldn’t go as far as saying, as Al Sharpton implied, that Obama was able to become president because of Michael Jackson, but when MLK’s daughter spoke of how MJ had called Coretta Scott King in her final days to lift her spirit, there was no denying the power Michael Jackson has had on the entertainment and social fabric of the country. It was also a celebration of family, and how it rallies together, and of talent—his and those he inspired and was inspired by. Lionel Ritchie, Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey, Usher all at their most powerful today, and what a privilege to hear them sing in the same place at the same time. And I suppose for anyone of a certain age, there was sorrow in losing the biggest icon of your lifetime, a person who made you dance and hum for most of your life with a sound and moves that were so distinctly his. They just don’t make icons like Michael anymore, and given the advent of Andy Warhol’s predicted 15 minutes of fame for everyone, they probably won’t.
Al Sharpton also said to Michael Jackson’s kids “There wasn’t anything strange about your daddy, but it was strange what he had to deal with.” And that statement is perhaps more about growing up in the limelight and growing up based out of Los Angeles, where yes, you get to be as weird as you want, but you also have to accept that every bit of your weirdness is up for media hyperbole and dissection.
It’s not completely without irony that the Barnum and Bailey Circus will move into the Staples Center tomorrow, as many refer to LA’s media as a circus. But today, LA ran like a well-oiled machine, and pulled off a show for the world without any chaos. It might have taken thousands of policemen, transit authority workers, and city staffers, but as my friend Natasha said, it was an LA response to an L.A. story. And what happens in LA—at least when it comes to the entertainment industry—happens everywhere.