I had no intention on writing a post about Jacko’s passing. While I had always respected him as an artist, probably the greatest visionary of my time, I had never been impressed with his image. The self-loathing that culminated in an attempted race change, a loss of a discernible nose, numerous molestation allegations, and a slew of other personal problems, gave him a dubious distinction that did not warrant a post on my behalf. Besides, there are plenty of people obsessed with MJ to make sure that he will be immortalized on the web as he has already been in discography and in other forms of media. However, MJ has come up so often in my travels these past couple weeks that I cannot ignore him, and must give him props for being most likely the most well-known human on the face of this planet.
I found out he had died in Mbeya, Tanzania, amidst French people who thought that CNNs around the clock coverage was comical. But just because the French in Mbeya weren’t impressed, that didn’t mean that the rest of Tanzania wasn’t reeling from the shock. Monica quickly sent me condolences from Dar, as if he was a family member of mine, and my other Tanzanian friends that I met up with later looked genuinely distraught. The music channel ticker was populated with messages of grief from its viewers, many of them expressing thanks for the hope that MJ embodied for Africa. Even if MJ wanted the world to see him as white, Africa (an acknowledged generalization of course) seemed to think he was the symbol of a black man rising against the odds and taking his position as King, a source of inspiration to all on this undervalued continent.
Malawi was no different. When people found out I was American, they would apologize for MJ’s passing and talk about what a great man he was. The clubs played MJ tributes and two of my friends that I met in Lilongwe, would blare MJ’s music as we drove around the city. The energy that vibrated through the seats and jarred the windows was electric. I had forgotten how much of a genius he was. No one had the magic touch like he did. As we sang “Smooth Criminal” and other hits at the top of our lungs, while wondering in the back of our minds what the hell “Shimore”, or whatever he says, meant, I realized that he could never be replaced.
I was in Beira, Mozambique for the memorial service. The Staples Center, really? It was a huge production. Not really what I think of when I think funeral. However, I had always loved the New Orleans style funerals with the brass band playing in the streets and everyone following behind singing and dancing. What better way to celebrate life than through music? Death was not given credence. It was stamped out by the power of harmonic vibration. I could see no other way MJ would’ve rather been remembered. Huddled around my Dutch couchsurfer’s neighbor’s tiny TV, squinting our eyes to neutralize the static, we all somberly watched the event as a mist of sadness wafted through the room. We had an impromptu remembering session, each recalling MJ moments in our lives. I realized that MJ was one of those people that no matter how far off the beaten path you reach, you would never find someone who didn’t know who he was. True, I’ve never been to remote villages concealed by the jungles of the Amazon. Perhaps I could find a couple people to disprove my theory, but I do believe that MJ reached a level of fame that no one will ever challenge. And while I’m not willing to overlook his shortcomings, I am willing to admit that no one has touched the lives of as many people as MJ has, and what a wonderful way he accomplished this: through music.