Michael Jackson Memorial
Winner of Lottery Ticket to Service Offers Some Thoughts on the Event
Michael Jackson's Memorial Service at the Staples Center this morning was rife with amazing, heart-felt star performances, tributes, and sermons, but, in my book, the showstopping turn of the day belonged to--no surprise--Michael Jackson. A two or three minute clip of 10-year-old Jackson singing Smokey Robinson's "Who's Loving You?" on the Ed Sullivan show was as spectacular and mesmerizing a performance as I've ever seen.
The glimpse of that little boy in a pink fedora singing his heart out for America expressed everything there was to say about the King of Pop. This was a performer with unbridled, otherworldly talent that exploded from the depths of his soul from the time he could open his mouth. And while I can't claim to have ever been a wild fan of the man (whose personal vicissitudes are legendary), I have always been mesmerized by his indisputable gifts, as has the rest of the world.
Renowned Motown mogul Berry Gordy and Robinson himself remarked during the tribute that when they saw young Jackson sing this song for the first time their jaws dropped. Both men joked that Jackson's performance blew Robinson's own rendition of the song out of the water. Oddly, the song has never been one of Jackson's most played hits... but I am sure that will change after today.
From my perch in Section 206, Row 8, Seat , opposite the stage at the far end of the arena (tickets won via the lottery), I watched a service that was tasteful, respectful, and surprisingly quiet. It was a dramatically un-dramatic tribute to a son, brother, friend, father and superstar. With the exception of a few requisite "We love you Michaels!" shouted during lulls, there were no histrionics or inappropriate outbursts, and precious little grandstanding from Jackson's family and friends. There was no trace of the circus atmosphere (in or outside the Staples Center) that had seemed almost inevitable. In fact, the event felt oddly calm and intimate; it was as if I had stumbled upon a family funeral where the casket happened to be gleaming gold and the family happened to include Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, Brooke Shields and about 11,000 other guests.
The other striking detail was that, in this era of real-time everything, nearly everyone in the arena snapped pictures, recorded, Twittered, and Facebooked through the service (I was not immune!), eager to share this historic event with friends and family with noses pressed against the virtual glass outside the center. One woman spent most of the ceremony typing on a blackberry that she held in a sequin-gloved hand.
To be honest, I had expected (and dreaded) gobs of maudlin sentimentality, but there was, thankfully, only a little of it. By now, you have surely seen all the clips, so you know that Brooke Shield's memories of her friend were quite moving. Her voice caught in her throat as she talked of a pal with whom she shared a child-like joy and the bond of early fame. She also made an apt comparison between Jackson and "The Little Prince" from Antoine de Saint Exupéry's famous children's book. The other "had to weep" moment was Jackson's daughter Paris' impromptu goodbye to her father at the end of the service, a heart wrenching moment that would have choked up even the most jaded observer.
Throughout the morning, Jackson's friends and family painted a picture of a multi-dimensional and flawed man, but one who was driven, strong, determined, eager to learn and extraordinarily generous and caring, whether that caring might have crossed lines or not.
The only real cringers of the day were Gordy calling Jackson "the greatest entertainer that ever lived" (sorry, there have been some other really great ones), and Usher singing right TO the casket. As he neared it, I found myself saying aloud: "oh God, please don't!"
Kudos to the Memorial organizers and the City of Los Angeles, who did a spectacular job running a seamless event, especially given the last minute planning. Picking up tickets at Dodger Stadium yesterday was a breeze--I never had to leave my car. And today, my guest and I took the subway into downtown LA, and had no hassles whatsoever. The police presence was everywhere. It felt uncrowded, and I felt guided every step of the way.
When I returned home and flipped on the coverage, I was thankful that I had been safely ensconced in the Staples Center itself, joyously free of non-stop commentary and split screen lunacy. Without anyone to tell the audience how to feel, we could see the event for what it was, a lovely and refreshingly simple tribute to an extremely talented man.