Last week everyone at school kept mentioning to me that Michael Jackson had died. I mean, not mentioning it in general, but mentioning it TO me. As if it had some special bearing on me, emissary of foreignness. As such my general response was "Are you really surprised? Did he look long for this world? Did you think he was well?" I wasn't just putting up a facade. I felt no shock and little sadness at all, except in a general way about the plight of mankind and our broken spiral towards the grave.
If you had to rate death pains on a scale of 100, with the areas above 100, reserved for friends and family, who really can't be measured and some special system of colored shading for people who aren't famous but you feel bad about how they died, then Michael Jackson's death was, sadly, somewhere in the low teens for me. I know what you are thinking, the low teens sounds right up your alley. Touche secret part of my brain that tells the unvarnished truth like you live in a sawmill. But, no, it was a hollow death and I forgot about it off and on across the span of the day. Lance Hahn, now there was a 99 on the scale if ever there was one. Joe Strummer and Jam Master Jay, kicking off together on that long walk home are hovering in the mid-nineties. Paul Wellstone? Right there with them, but up to a 98 maybe for the shock of reading the news in my room of a Senator who had died, "As long as it isn't Paul Wellstone" I thought. In the 80's lurk Ralph Wiley and Steve Gilliard, who I always looked forward to reading daily and whose mutual voids have never been filled. In the 70s? Maybe Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thomson, who were beloved but not unexpected. They had each had a hand in the cookie jar for a long while. 60s? Those special celebrities, JFK jr, and Princess Di, who I never cared about in life and felt awful over in death, much to my own chagrin. May I jump back into the 90s and place Walter Payton whose death hurts right now as I think on it and who earned his fame far more than the two I just mentioned. In the 50s it starts to get random. Maybe those dudes from For Squirrels whose story seems so sad that you can't look away from it, earning their record deal and then crashing their car on the Georgia/Florida border. Music is mired with them. The 40s gets foggier. Curtis Mayfield was truly a shame but it played out for so long and then end is only the conclusion that was told at the beginning. The 30s could be Stevie Ray Vaughn who started much higher but faded quickly. No fault of his own. In the 20s would could place Rodney Culver who died on ValueJet. Why did he fly ValueJet? We will leave that for all downtrodden football players. Mike Webster and Lyle Alzedo maybe. 0 we will reserve for Lee Atwater, who at least repented. And just above him was how I felt about Michael Jackson last week.
But an odd thing happened. Something very democratic and populist and in that sense beautiful and touching and appropriate. There is a strange word in celebrity death. I was engaged to go to a friend's birthday party Friday evening in Osaka which quickly, through no fault of my own, degraded into a night of rare debauchery. The Japanese owner of a cigar bar , picked up a karaoke mic and started singing something slow form the mid eighties. Something I can't even remember now. And I thought, "I'm drunk." I also thought, "That WAS a good song."
My strange evening stretched out past the last traina nd I was drug into an underground club, packed with the foreigners I try so hard not to meet. Somewhere into the evening, between beer cocktails and tequila shots, the DJ began spinning his Michael Jackson tribute and I jumped back a few years to Ed's apartment in Kawaminami planning out the first disco we would DJ and trying to get a copy of "Wanna Be Starting Somethin'" which I remembered a DJ playing at Twisters in Richmond my first year in college. The bit about 4:45 in. You know the part. Is about the best track a DJ can posses.
Although "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" is probably the better track.
As a DJ though, I would have to say that the real money melon is "Blame it on the Boogie." If asked, people probably aren't that into it, but they will loose their shit over it if you drop it in a set. True. Strange.
Most Jackson 5 stuff I credit to having on of the most insane backing bands of all time, so I won't go to much further into their stuff. But in the middle of this raucous night, even as Slash's "Black or White" guitar lick played out, Michael made his way up my death-o-meter. I realized it was just that the wrong me had been trying to feel it. It was the me that wonders if a song as relevant as "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" will ever be written again. Not the part of me that knows that You can mix "All Fall's Down" seamlessly into "Beautiful" if you keep mixing in the intro vocals when the music fades. The me that loves Michael Jackson was somewhere in a smokey club in Japan that I had to be talked into going into having fun despite myself with friends that I miss and waking up in a fountain somewhere feeling bad about things but smiling. Or it was the me with my records walking home alone wondering if there was an equation for what it takes for a DJ not to get laid and trying to figure out how I had perfected it. So Mike, may I call your crazy dead ass Mike? Thanks for those times. It isn't that rare for a talented person to be crazy, but it is rare and crazy to be that talented.