What are we mourning when we mourn for ‘Michael Jackson’? The most obvious answer would be the musical artist who died three days ago in LA. He was (once) the master of pop music and dance, an almost divinely gifted performer who reached manhood more biologically than emotionally, and whose private life was notoriously turbulent. We mourn for the man who was born on August 29th 1958, and who died almost fifty-one years later.
But is that all we mourn? Those who grew up listening to his music religiously, be that in the nightclubs of downtown 80s LA, in suburban bedrooms in Oxford, or on duvet-veiled pirate radios in the USSR: these people may be mourning the loss of their youths. They are no longer teenagers, their dreams of moving to the country or of escaping the country, of fleeing the City or of making it big in the City, have now turned to dust in their hands. All that remains of a time which bathed in the soft light of potential are a few bars of ‘Bad’ and a nostalgic moonwalk over a grubby kitchen floor. When ‘Michael Jackson’ lived, so, in a subconscious sense, did that potential. But when his heart stopped, their worlds, which had ceased to pulse for many years without their ever realising it, resounded with the sound of missing beats.
But is that, too, all we mourn? ‘Michael Jackson’ was not a man; he was a global phenomenon. He was an invisible network; like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s, but with less signs and more moves, he penetrated almost every planet upon earth. The child from the slum in Karachi had nothing in common with the Hispanic cleaner of a New York office, but when they hummed the tune to ‘Billie Jean’ on different sides of the world, the Zeitgeist hummed it with them and united them – if only for a moment. In the age of the high-rise tenement block, suburban prisons known as ‘homes’, gated residences, barrios, and crumbling terraces, ‘Michael Jackson’ was a mystical aura which conjoined a community of followers.
‘Michael Jackson’ was what right communal love looks like in a world that’s wrong. We mourn the absence of the right world; we weep hysterically for the fallen brothers that we never had. So let us now work towards transforming that illusory, narcissistic, but nonetheless righteous, visceral dismay into a real community of real brothers and real sisters.
Workers of the world, moonwalk!