By the time I returned to the teacher’s office, it had been saturated by the news of your passing. Your name was on everyone’s lips. Now everyone grew silent and looked to me with half-condolent half-it’s nice to have something to talk about except tsuyu-expressions on their faces, confirming that, at least in that office, you were my misfortune, my sorrow, and mine alone. My colleagues only felt sympathy for me. You were simply something to chat about.
Your words were still in my head, and another song reached me lips. I sang: how does it feel, when you’re alone and you’re cold inside…like a stranger in Moscow...
“Must have been suicide,” I heard one teacher say, with that Yappari tone in his voice, like over-medicating was the American version of the all too-popular Japanese Splattercide where one decides now is as good a time as any to become an ancestor and hops in front of a racing commuter train during rush hour.
“He was using drugs,” another said with haughty contempt, like it was something disgraceful that neither he nor anyone he’d ever met, nor anyone who shared his values, would ever do.
I pretended not to understand, to not even hear them. Several people asked me, sincerely, if I were ok.
“I’ll be alright, thanks.”
“Did you like him?”
I wanted to tell them that like doesn’t even begin to describe the feelings I have for you…but I didn’t. “Like” in Japanese (suki) has an altogether different meaning, as you probably know as worldly as you were. It’s actually substituted for love quite often. My first and only love in Japan used to say, “Suki yo!” to convey her feelings for me…and I knew she would have done anything for me…I used to sing your songs for her. She loved when I serenaded her with your words: The way you make me feel…you really turn me on…you knock me off of my feet…my lonely days are gone…
“Yes, I liked him very much,” I said.
I’ve learned how to do a few things during my tenure here in Japan. One of them is to downplay my feelings. I now show less emotion and share fewer of my real feelings than I ever have. But, your passing was proving to be too much to make light of. You are a part of my life.
I remember when I was a kid, my older brothers took me to the movies to see, “Ben.”
The ushers gave out barf bags just in case, you know, a bunch of sewer rats attacking someone turns your stomach. It was one of those movies. I personally didn’t think it was horrifying at all. I liked rats…not sewer rats, of course, but clearly Ben was domesticated, not unlike a Guinea Pig, which I had two of, at home. And the thought of them protecting me was a warm one. The movie’s theme song, your song, about a boy’s affection for a rodent, moved my pre-adolescent heart and made me cry. I had never been brought to tears by music before. And, though I already thought you were the shit by then, I think that was the point when I really fell unconditionally head over heels…and it had become official in my heart: you could do no wrong.
But, you tried, didn’t you? You made it increasingly difficult to openly love you. I had to go way out of my way to defend you; which I did and do to this day, and I will continue to do so as long as I can. Why? Can’t you see? You’re just another part of me…the greatest part of me, and so, indeed, defending you is self-defense. I watched you trying to defend yourself against what had become indefensible. From We are the world to They don’t really care about us, and understood you and felt your compassion and pain every lonely step of the way.
“He was the king of pop,” my colleague whispered to me, while her hand gentled my back, as if acknowledging your royalty would mollify my grief somehow. I looked over my shoulder at her. She must have seen something in my eyes cause her hand stopped stroking and retracted. I smiled but too late, the damage was done. I’d frightened her.
The king of pop?
The Godfather of Soul…now that’s a fucking title! That’s a throne to plant your ass on forever and sit contentedly. When James passed I didn’t grieve. Hell, I wanted to party! I had ants in my pants and I needed to dance! He’d done some questionable shit, too, but James spent his whole career bringing the noise and bringing the funk and I’d be damned if I was going to desecrate his legacy with sobbing. He died as he lived, saying it loud: I’m black and I’m proud! There was nothing sad about James.
But you, Mike, you seemed to shun your own skin. Maybe when you looked in the mirror you couldn’t see how beautiful you were. You were looking at the surface, while I, and millions of people that James reached through you, were looking at the you, and all the beauty, all the artists, the artistry and genius within you. Didn’t you know that? When I think of you I think of a story I heard in a film called “Basquiat.”
There was this little prince with a magic
crown. An evil warlock kidnapped him,
locked him in a cell in a huge tower and
took away his voice. There was a window
made of bars. The prince would smash his
head against the bars hoping that someone
would hear the sound and find him. The
crown made the most beautiful sound that
anyone ever heard. You could hear the
ringing for miles. It was so beautiful,
that people wanted to grab the air. They
never found the prince. He never got out
of the room. But the sound he made filled
everything up with beauty.
That’s what you do, Micheal. You fill everything up with beauty. My sadness comes from your never being able to get out, but man did you try, and the harder you tried the thicker the bars got.
I saw you trying, through your gifts, in the Earth Song video and especially in the They don’t really care about us and Scream videos, the latter your most expensive video. In the former I saw you trying to reconnect, tapping into your roots, communicating as we did in ancient times: with the drums!And the latter…the latter, I was moved to tears the first time I saw it. Everyone wanted to see you and Janet dancing together but you showed me something that I had been looking for much much more than a team-up of pop idols. You showed that you were not alone. That you had a sister, a family, and she was there for you and you for her. And the lyrics! My god, man, poignant and scathing, they were!
Tired of injustice
Tired of the schemes
The lies are disgusting
So what does it mean
Kicking me down
I got to get up
As jacked as it sounds
The whole system sucks
Peek in the shadow
Come into the light
You tell me I’m wrong
Then you better prove you’re right
You’re sellin’ out souls but
I care about mine
I’ve got to get stronger
And I won’t give up the fight
With such confusions don’t it make you wanna scream
Your bash abusin’ victimize within the scheme
You try to cope with every lie they scrutinize
Somebody please have mercy
‘Cause I just can’t take it
Stop pressurin’ me
Just stop pressurin’ me
Stop fuckin’ with me
Make me wanna scream
I wonder if people were really listening to you and Janet or just watching y’all dance and entertain! I doubted very much if my colleagues got it. Otherwise they would know that that evil warlock that had you locked in a cell was named The King of Pop.
But, you know what I would find out later that day? I was wrong. Some of them did get you.
…to be continued
ps: a little something from diddy and game