My band Second Wind and I were setting up onstage before our gig at the phenomenal ‘Downtown Silver Spring Swings’ summer concert series venue yesterday evening when I got a call from a former colleague asking me what time we were going on. I told her 7pm, to which she mentioned something cell-phone-signal-jumbled about Michael Jackson. I thought she asked if we play any of his music. She said, “No, did you hear he’s dead?” I was staggered for a second, the breath temporarily shooting out of my lungs. It wasn’t maybe as devastating as hearing Howard Cosell tell us during the Monday Night Football telecast in 1980 that John Lennon had been shot and killed, but still, it was a real stunner. I couldn’t really believe it, so I withheld truly letting it sink in. It wasn’t until about a half hour after asking passersby if it was true that a young man said, “Yes, CNN just confirmed it.” It was over the next hour before we went on that a half dozen people or so, nearly all African-Americans, came up to me and asked if we were going to pay tribute to Michael during our show, or perhaps even play one of his songs. No, I told them, we would not be playing any of his music, it’s just not in our repertoire, but I would be saying something brief to honor him, which I did at the start of our second set. But the most memorable thing I noticed was that the many people I encountered seemed genuinely rocked by the news, and to be going onstage after hearing about it, well, let’s just say it took a minute or two for me to get it together. As a huge music fan, I greatly respected Michael Jackson’s innate musical sense, his gift, his genius, as both a musician, and a dancer. ‘Thriller’ was an interesting musical moment for me and is my closest tie to him; I was a tried and true rock and roll fan but couldn’t stop playing it over and over when I first bought it back when it came out in the early 80’s. Throughout his career, at least for me, it was all about the music, and not about the other headlines he generated. To me, Michael Jackson never grew up, or perhaps, he grew up before he had his own childhood to experience.  He was a superstar by the age of 6, and from then on, was never really allowed to naturally grow into an adult, especially under the iron fist of his father Joe. Subsequently, he became basically a ‘man/child’, waited on all the time and with his every basic need fulfilled, but largely, never having the things he really needed, like true companionship, friendship, and a chance to mature into a real man. always longing for that childhood he never had. Therefore, and this is substantiated by many of those closest to him, he sought out the company of children because he understood them. Not for purely sexual or deviant reasons, but because he could relate to them best. People like Macaulay Culkin, or the actor who played Webster, or even Lisa Marie Presley whom he eventually married, were his closest friends because they were all in generally the same boat: they were kids who were in the brightest of spotlights from a very early age, and who also never got the chance to grow naturally into adulthood. Michael was also by all accounts a wonderful, doting, attentive father to his three children. I say ‘whatever’ to the dangling of his baby son out the window to give paparazzi a glimpse, it was a dumb thing to do, but not criminal. But as far as being a loving father, is that a real surprise? He knew exactly what it was like to be a child, because, in many ways, he still was one until the day he died. And he also wanted to love his children in a way he never was by his father. I am not saying Michael Jackson did not have his true eccentricities, and had relationships with children that were certainly out of the ordinary. He settled a child molestation case in 1993, and was acquitted of all charges in a similar case in 2005, brought by the same money-hungry lawyer who he faced 12 years prior who twisted a story into his own false reality to try and get more money out of Jackson. He was proven wrong. But I would give Michael Jackson the benefit of the doubt as to his reputation as a pedophile given his penchant for love, care and devotion for not only his own kids or those closest to him, but to children around the world whom he helped in a purely philanthropic and beneficial manner. He was known as a tremendously sensitive and generous man who supported many children’s causes around the world. Is that because he was a pedophile? I think not. Was he confused as to his identity and place in the world? Yes. But was he a true deviant? Again, I say no. He was a lonely, sad and troubled man who was still living in the mind of a child in many ways, and purely loved the company of children for their innocence and their non-judgmental demeanor. genthumb The debates will rage on, but to me, what we all need to remember most about Michael Jackson was what he was best at, and what he brought to us in many flashes of true brilliance: his music. I won’t go along with the shock radio idiots who say, “How can you give him musical integrity with all the allegations about him?” I say look at who Michael Jackson really was, and the music, not the minutae, will shine through as his legacy. Go put on Thriller, and see what I mean. Those chills will return, the genius will rise up again, and you’ll remember that that’s what Michael was best at. Godspeed Michael Jackson. Maybe you’re finally at peace.


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