Tuesday, July 7, 2009

We'll say goodbye -- just not right away

I'm not going to be one of those people grousing about all the Michael Jackson coverage. Yes, it's kind of remarkable that he's been dead nearly two weeks and he's still not in the ground, but that's up to the family and the promoters -- and of course the millions of fans, who seem a little too enthusiastic to be called mourners. Fact is, you can't jam several thousand people into the Staples Center and not have a casket there. Let's just hope they had the good taste to keep it tightly closed. I keep thinking of the Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral in 1989, where the mourning got so out of hand the cadaver actually fell out of the coffin.

To put things in context, it took just under one week to bury Princess Diana. But then she didn't sell 750 million records. Also, she was quite good looking and seemed to represent a sort of class and dignity that Jackson himself had largely abandoned. You didn't like to think of her being carted, 12 days dead, into a large sports venue; with M.J., you sense this is just what he would have wanted. Also, not to be crass about it, but his face in death could not be a lot less expressive than the odd face he'd crafted for himself over the last 15 years.

With Jackson, it's hard to know exactly what to mourn. The man himself? Maybe, but he's not been seen much anyway, apart from the footage where he's dangling the kid off the balcony or moonwalking atop a van after his child-molestation trial. His music? Well, he seemed to have quit that too, and it's safe to say the best of his music isn't going away -- ever. His incisive take on current events? Hmm. I can't remember M.J. ever saying anything that wasn't about his own celebrity.

I liked much of Michael Jackson's work. I wouldn't say, as so many have, that any of it changed my life. That's overestimating the power of pop. And it's not like he was going to write a lot more of it. I'm sad he died the way he did, but mostly I'm sorry he never got around to redeeming himself. Maybe that wasn't going to happen either, but I like to think he might have tried harder, if only he'd known what was coming.

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