My earliest memory of Michael Jackson happens to come from a slumber party, which was very likely my first slumber party. A girl in my second grade class was turning something (seven? eight? how old are second-graders anymore?), and she had every girl in the class over to sleep in a big Army tent. We're talking HUGE. Like, a school bus could have fit in this tent (please know that I grew up on Army bases for most of my childhood). I was still young, but I remember I didn't want to sit and scream and drool and stare at the screen while Michael Jackson concert videos were being played -- and that is all the other girls were doing. It didn't have anything to do with the music, I just didn't want to be a screaming, slobbering, boring idiot 2nd grader who couldn't think of anything better to do at a slumber party than watch television. Harsh? Well, that was me as a 2nd grader, no lie. I remember sitting with my 2nd grade BFF on the Army cots and making fun of Antonia's older sister (age 17) who was 'chaperoning' the slumber party (if chaperoning = making out with high school boyfriend under scratchy wool Army blankets).
My next memory of Michael Jackson comes from a year or so later when Free Willy (the first) came out on video. Someone bought the video for me and my brother and sister. We watched it, but I think we were skeptical of the political agendas at play. Still, Killer whales were alright with us, and we liked to gawk at the funny music video after the credits, featuring the dancing man with all his smooth moves, strange clothes, and funny vocal effects.
Of course later in life there were news reports about cosmetic surgery, criminal allegations, eccentric behaviors, and on and on...
I truly became a fan of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 once I was old enough to start dancing with boys at homecoming dances and wedding receptions -- I finally learned the great charm of some of the best, most heart-lifting songs out there. Insane rhythm!
Last Summer came the terrible news that Michael Jackson had died in his home, most likely from drugs coursing through his veins which were, after all, only human veins encased in the body of a pop superstar. THE pop superstar.
Several months ago I had the opportunity to watch 'This Is It,' the documentary made from footage of Michael Jackson preparing for his next mega world tour. I saw something new in this infamous pop star: diligence, perfectionism, professionalism, and love. He wanted his life to be about love. I don't think he knew the first step to take at times, and took many wrong ones at that, but he was dedicated to loving others and motivating his fan base to do the same. I had never understood this about Michael Jackson the icon, pop symbol, stereotype, caricature of himself. It made me wish I could have seen him on the actual tour.
So this is supposed to be about last night, but I wanted you to have the background that I took with me to the concert.
Michael (Ruiz) and I had this excellent opportunity to see Michael Jackson music performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and The Entertainer, James Delisco. When we entered the room at the Meyerson, we noticed immediately that the atmosphere differed greatly from the previous DSO concert we'd attended (which ended and I think we were both asleep, I kid you not). There were brightly colored lights and a high energy filled the room. People of all ages surrounded us and anticipated a night of fun and nostalgia. We were happy just to be together for once in a crazy while.
Everything was classy as the orchestra stepped out on stage and took their places. All black. The brightly colored lights stay illuminated on the stage and flashed as the house lights went down. Not knowing what to expect, we welcomed Delisco onto the stage and were instantly impressed with his artful impression of Michael Jackson. He's done his homework: every superhuman movement was replicated! Every vocal nuance echoed Michael's performance perfectly. If I'd wanted to see Michael in concert, I could close my eyes and I was there.
I didn't close my eyes, however, because the visual portion of the evening was half the entertainment. I couldn't help but watch the faces of the orchestra members as the crowd went wild in response to the groove of Delisco. Someone shouted, "I LOVE YOU MICHAEL!" We were all applauding, laughing, wooing, and the orchestra members just sat there. Stony. That's the only word for it. Actually -- there was one Asian man three rows back and I happened to see him crack a smile, but I think his blatant lack of decorum is what landed him three rows back in the first place. [I wanted to yell at them and say "You can dance if you want to!!" but then I thought they might start to cry, or whip me with their violins.]
Michael (R.) noticed that the rhythm section was totally on point but that the horns seemed to be missing the funk/jazz pops necessary to keep up with MJ's beats. There were stuck in a classical moment that they could not seem to get out of, but apparently it wasn't that bad because it did not subtract from my enjoyment at all. Michael had to tell me to "try really hard" to hear them, but I was far too involved in enjoying the perfomance.
We got the very best possible seats, right behind a waif of a 50-something Caucasian woman who was dressed like Michael Jackson. She was so excited about the evening that her bottom barely touched seat cushion the entire evening. This woman was dancing, snapping, wooing, laughing, and waving her arms in the air. We loved her enthusiasm, to the point that Michael really believe that she was Delisco's foster mom ... until I talked him out of it (I think).
During the intermission we met a wonderful man wearing slacks and a sport coat with a dapper hat, and beneath his coat he wore a black shirt covered in sequins, shaped into the dazzling image of Michael Jackson's face. When the bell started chiming and the lights began to wane toward the end of the intermission, we stood with said man while he and Michael chugged the dregs of their Shiner Bocks together (mine was long gone, mind you). Michael complimented him on his shirt. He was flattered, looked at the two of us and noticed my little bedazzled number. "Well now, you've got some bling then haven't you!" We all laughed and agreed and he turned to Michael, "And you'll be goin' to the bank tomorra, won't cha?" More laughing and warmth and we returned to our seats.
Intermission has a funny way of refreshing people and loosening things up, and that funny way is called 'beer'. So part II of the evening had a lot more audience participation and dancing in the aisle. We were even blessed to see the jumpy-bottomed lady and sequin-shirted man break it down for us together on multiple occasions. Joy!
One of the audience's favorite parts of the evening was when Delisco welcomed 4 children on stage to sing 'Thriller.' Heart-warming and adorable. It caused us to laugh and soften, and we all reflected on the fact that James Delisco himself had received an opportunity to see Michael Jackson in concert as a child, after Michael Jackson paid to have all the poor children in the city bussed in to his concert. Delisco looks at Michael as a role model, an individual who broke down racial barriers and made some of the first music videos featuring a Black man on television. There was so much meaning in that moment when Delisco pulled the awed 5-year-old child on stage with him, and welcomed any others who would come. I know James Delisco felt that he had come full circle, giving a moment in the spotlight to a shy child, just as it had been done for him.
I know that we can argue about celebrities all day, disagreeing and spouting our opinions about their actions. Michael Jackson led such a controversial life that he is beyond immune of the worst criticisms of society. We can call celebrities guilty when they're acquitted and say they deserve everything they get. I think we can so easily forget that they are human, too, withstanding immense pressures of fame. We condemn them so quickly, forgetting that we are no better -- it's just that our flaws are not magnified to an epic level.
I welcome the artistry of Michael Jackson and I praise God for his musical talent. I will always be so glad to dance to one of his tracks! He had an ability to lift people to heights of joy and called them to think about Love. I embraced the moment of grace we had last night to think about the good that MJ did with his life: the lives he touched and the people he encouraged when they were in a low moment. I hope that we can all take our lives as seriously as Michael Jackson did: every movement and every sound should express an outpouring of the love that fills us up inside. May we all learn to groove and move with love! Let it make us laugh for the joy and the unbelievable grace of life, and always and forever drive us to lift our neighbor up a little higher.
And just for kicks, here is the song from Free Willy: