Grandma Coleman used to admonish me about making mountains out of molehills, or creating unnecessary drama. That’s what I told myself the media were doing way back in Michael Jackson’s post-Off The Wall days, when he still had an afro and beautiful, dark brown skin, and initial reports of his eccentricities began to emerge.
In the early 80s, Jackson rocked a Gheri Curl LONG after they had played out. After I saw it, in the “Beat It” video, I believe, I marched my black ass into the campus Walgreens and bought the first of many S Curls kits. I talked my girlfriend into applying that lye in my dorm room, and I couldn’t wait to fling some of my new, liberally applied curl activator off of my head while I shook that aforementioned black ass to Jackson’s music.
I wore much-too-short black Levi 501s, just to show off my ivory sox and ebony loafers. I Slim Fast-ed myself down to a 29 inch waist and shaved the peach fuzz from my upper lip. I installed contact lenses for the first time just so I could wear a pair of aviator sunglasses…inside. If I had been man enough, I’d have sported mascara beneath those shades.
Just in case you didn’t figure it out, let me be clear: I loved Michael Jackson. But dude was weird.
He had his pet chimp, Bubbles, on his arm at award shows. He had a pet boa constrictor named Muscles, about whom he wrote a hit song for Diana Ross.
Did Jackson really buy The Elephant Man’s bones, have a full sized amusement park at his legendary Neverland Ranch, or sleep in a hyperbaric chamber?
Nah. He couldn’t.
After Thriller, Bad, and Jackson’s self-coronation as “The King Of Pop”, reports of allegations of improprieties with the first of a series of children began to surface. And then there was the infamous Martin Bashir documentary, during which Jackson spoke of his penchant for sharing his bed with young boys.
In the face of the allegations, Jackson maintained his innocence. Could he have done it?
Nah. He couldn’t.
I told myself that Jackson’s biggest problem was a hyperactive media intent on tearing him down, just as those media had built him up. Jackson settling related lawsuits out of court didn’t phase me, as it did some fans — I knew that he simply wanted to get it all behind him.
And even as I was raising children of my own, without a single thought of sharing my bed with any of their friends, I compartmentalized my questions about Jackson and remained a slave to his rhythm.
“Billie Jean.” “Smooth Criminal.” “Jam.” Comically, “In The Closet.” The man wrote “We Are The World” and “Heal The World,” and he sung “Man In The Mirror” with the fervor of someone who’d written it. He was a prophet. A saint. In his heyday, Jackson was unstoppable. Invincible.
And I sang and danced with him.
The turn of the century brought a cooling of Jackson’s career, along with a second round of boys and questions. It also brought, for the first and only time, criminal charges, related to child pornography. Police raided Neverland and removed countless boxes of alleged evidence, while news teams broadcast the spectacle around the world. Jackson maintained his innocence and the case went to trial, where he was acquitted of all charges.
And I kept singing and dancing with him.
When Jackson died in 2009, I had to learn to navigate a world without him. To this day, thoughts of him, and the joy his music brought me, can prompt both smiles and tears.
I’ve heard that a posthumous assault to Jackson’s character has come with the new documentary Leaving Neverland, airing now on HBO. I’ve seen only clips of it. It sits on my DVR, awaiting the moment when I’m strong enough to watch. Jackson’s not here to defend himself as he used to, so I’ll just keep dancing with him, remembering a time when the world seemed a bit gentler.
In reports on Leaving Neverland and the current R Kelly case, I keep reading about a culture of celebrity that intoxicated parents into turning their children over to the rich and famous, even if they are accused child molesters. Having raised two children of my own, and having done so for many years while living paycheck to paycheck, I can honestly say that no promise or amount of money would have motivated me to drop one of my kids off for a slumber party at the home of a 30-something year old man who has admitted a fondness for a bed shared with young boys, even if his name were Michael Jackson.
But for now, Jackson is innocent until — and unless — he is proven guilty. I want to believe that Jackson is as innocent as he always maintained he was. If not, it’s not just Jackson’s innocence that will be lost: it will be mine.
At press time, reports are emerging of radio stations pulling Jackson’s music from their airwaves. I can’t go there. The Jacksons’ “Walk Right Now” and “Can You Feel It” got me through my cardio this morning. If I can still laugh with Cliff, Clair, and the Huxtables, and separate the art from the man, I can still dance with Michael Jackson.
And you can’t stop me. As a matter of fact, I won’t stop ’til I get enough.
If Jackson is ever proven to be the molester that I’ve heard is presented in Leaving Neverland, he was much more of a monster than anything that crawled out of a grave in his landmark Thriller video. But for the time being, I’ll continue to enjoy the art while bracing myself to mourn the loss of the artist.
Connect with freelance writer Michael P Coleman and Coleman Communications at michaelpcoleman.com, or follow him on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP