Thursday, June 25, 2015

Retro Corner: The Day The Music Died

1971 marked the year that acclaimed song writer and performer Don Mclean released his highly regarded song “American Pie”. At the ending of each verse, filled with ambiguous pop references whose meanings have been debated since its creation, Mclean somberly refers to "The Day the Music Died". This reference describes the tragic plane crash that took the lives of the immensely popular rock roll artist Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper J.P. Richardson on February 3, 1959. Being that I was not even a mere twinkle in my mother's figurative eye, I could not witness firsthand the ramifications it had on pop culture. Little did I know that on June 25th 2008, I would soon experience such loss and despair.

I was returning home from viewing a mind numbing hodgepodge of a poorly developed characters, sophomoric dialogue and illiterate, jive talking robots in what some people call “Transformers 2: Revenge of The Fallen”. I simply will refer to it as "Man, that seven dollars plus gas could’ve gone a long way in this recession." Anyway, I turned on my radio only to be pleasantly surprised by the rhythmic sounds of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T”. After I shouted the exclamatory chant of "Aw Shucks", I proceeded to do my best set of dance moves that I had been practicing since the age of four whenever a MJ track would play. 

Immediately following that song, another in it’s’ place followed, then another and another. While I was definitely enjoying the Michael medley, an ominous feeling began to come over me. "Why are they playing all of these MJ tracks?" I sheepishly asked myself. When I decided to change the radio station, Thriller was already on its’ third verse.The once glee filled nostalgic trip down rhythm review lane begun to turn into a constricted dead end street. So I turned the station, all the while privately coaxing myself into believing that this is just publicity for his alleged “comeback” tour. When “Man in the Mirror” begun to play however, my ominous vibes were now coupled with eerie provocations topped with a spark of denial. "No, no! Nothing has happened to Mike,” A message that begin to drown out the melody of the introspective track. However, when the song had concluded the VJ sighed and preceded to utter words I thought I would never hear, “Michael Joseph Jackson has passed away.” The words that followed were nothing more than jumbled, white noise. I sunk into my seat and begin to swerve, speeding as if I was trying to out pace the announcement. With each frantic turn of the radio dial, I vehemently searched for some sort of relief, revealing that this was a hoax or more of the media conspiring against my favorite artist.

I became stationary in the parking lot of my grandmother’s apartment complex. As I walked up her stairs, with every heavy step bringing me closer to the burden of proof, I could hear my grandmother confirm the news. I began to quiver and told my "Nanny" that I had to go. When I got back into my vehicle, I began to unabashedly weep. At first, I was upset with myself. I would always mock those who could cry profusely over the death of a celebrity. What great emotional connection could you possible possess with someone that nine times out of ten you have never encountered? For the next three days that answer became more apparent as I was trapped in an undeniable state of melancholy and mourning. I would steal away into corners so no one could see my grief, nevertheless it was quite apparent. In no way could I register that Superman had passed. 

I have never known a world with out Michael in it. My earliest memories of music are embedded with his presence. My living room floor would transform into any given stage as I attempted to glide with an awkward precision that could only be alleviated if Michal was tutoring me himself. Sure I got teased by my other cousins, who were fully enamored with New Jack swing acts such as Guy and Keith Sweat, but Mike would always be the man in my book. 
For the past four days, I submerged myself into his music, connecting songs with postcard memories, weather I was arguing with my classmates in kindergarten about his musical relevance, asking advice from my friend Pedro about how I could pull off a show stopping rendition of “ Man in the Mirror” with assistance from our choir in the sixth grade (sparkles and all), exchanging verses from the Girl is Mine with my high school girlfriend, current confidant, into the wee hours of the twilight while reading her yearbook inscription quoting the Jackson 5’s “All I do is Think of You”, purchasing “Off The Wall” as my first ringtone or strenuously practicing Michael and Janet's'' Scream” routine in a dorm room, that lacked air-conditioning mind you, to entertain the incoming class of 2003 in one of the best summers of my life, Mike's music, which has been said by so many already, was the soundtrack of my life. 

But Mike meant much more to me than just an audio cue for memories. Someone asked me, “How can you aspire or relate to someone like Michael Jackson?” I replied, “How could I not?” Michael rose from the confinement of urban decay and transformed himself into a transcendent entity that would touch billions of lives. But on a more personal level, I empathized with Michael’s struggles, whether it was dealing with and breaking the confines of stringent, barnacle like religious ideologies, feelings of inadequacy due to a battered self esteem fueled by an unhealthy desire to achieve perfection and acceptance, or the strain of artistic endeavors that are not quite understood by your contemporaries. I related to Michael so much so that my moniker and current stage name D.S is taken from track six disc two off his album “History Past, Present and Future Book 1.”So I not only lost my favorite artist, I lost a kindred spirit.

The biased media will do everything in its' power to tarnish someone who they could not control. Whether it includes ignoring his business savvy, glossing over his immense charitable works or misconstruing his attempts to discover a lost childhood, one only needs to look at history and the efforts of this hierarchy to discredit one who is an anachronism, so advanced that it seems that he did not belong in this time. Did he engage in behavior they may have been interrupted as questionable? Perhaps. Was it ever proven that he engaged in heinous acts of child exploitation? Absolutely not! In no way am I exonerating the vile act of child molestation, but in my heart of hearts I have always found it difficult to believe that such allegations were true. Yet, despite the treacherous, unfounded claims heaved in his direction, not once did he retaliate with maliciousness.

To those who harbor resentment towards this man for allegedly “turning his back on his people” ,I implore you to read the article entitled “The Source Remembers Micheal Jackson: The Humanitarian “found on the Source Magazine’s official website.* Michael has donated millions of dollars and time to such organizations as The United Negro College Fund, Watts Summer Festival, Transafrica, NAACP, Minority Aids Project, and the Congressional Black Caucus. When others turned a blind eye to the devastation and decay occurring in Africa, Michael gathered over forty artists from all genres of music and created the USA for Africa coalition. Through the song “We Are the World” USA for Africa would go on to raise over 100 million dollars for Africans suffering famine and disease. 
Beyond his financial philanthropy, one should also consider the social messages, be it blatant or subtle in context, that Michael brought to the forefront. He depicted Egyptian royalty as dark skinned beings in his “Remember the Time” video, spoke of the racial injustices in “They Don't Care About Us”, tenderly described his love for his African object of affection in "Liberian Girl", proudly displayed the athletic ability of urban children in his video for “Jam” and courageously shouted” I aint scared of no sheets" in “Black and White”. Mike has always been an advocate for issues that affect individuals in the Africa Diaspora. Perhaps it was we that turned our collective backs on him.

My dear Michael, you can now rest. For forty five years you have endured under constant and public scrutiny. I can not imagine the courage and strength it took to sustain under such immense pressure brought upon all that surrounded you. No more do you have to suffer attacks from the soulless hate mongers whose decency and love has been sacrificed for sensationalism and profit. No more do you have to withstand against the unimaginative quips of tasteless comedians and anemic artist. No longer do you have to yearn for a father because you now have countless patriarchs and matriarchs along with a host of sisters, brothers and children who will cherish you eternally. You are our hero, brother, friend, and artistic inspiration. In your song “Childhood”, you meekly pleaded, “Before you judge me. Try hard to love me." Believe me; loving you is something that is not hard to do at all… at all.

Mile's Rendition of Human Nature patiently plays
As the words become escape artist from a captive disbelief
I read the headlines until they were in arms reach
Trying to grasp what had been announced. ...
The sunken feeling delivered by the anchor
You had gone,leaving footprints on the moon
That we all tried to follow in our space
I looked away, stiffen lip as if my masculinity depended on it
But This tin Man Could Not Return What Oz never Gave Him
Rusted Emotions screeched as they had never been moved
like this before...
You were taking too soon, but later still would have been
too early.... (D.S Williams)

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