Sunday, July 12, 2009

Michael Jackson Taught Me Something

I never really liked Michael Jackson. I don't care for his music, and I'm certainly sick of all the hype over his death. So imagine my surprise to find myself writing a tribute of sorts on a blog that's supposed to be about LDS theology. But bear with me, it all ties in.

I shouldn't say I never liked Michael Jackson. I was a monster fan of his way back when he sang lead with The Jackson Five during the golden age of Motown. I even bought their Best Of album some thirty-odd years ago and played it to death. But the Michael Jackson then and the Michael Jackson of today don't even seem to be the same person. I don't recognize any connection between his voice then and his voice later, which seems to me a collection of shouts, hiccups, and staccato chirps.

But then, that could just be my age. When I emerged from my mission in 1975 at age 23 (most young men complete their missions by age 21, but I had to stay over two years for detention) I no longer had any attachment to the popular music of the time. A prolonged period with little exposure to top 40 radio had left me with little interest in any of it.

So when Michael Jackson hit the scene as a solo artist, I was unimpressed. I didn't understand how Thriller could be the greatest selling record of all time; it seemed pretty mediocre to me. And I thought the Beat It video was ridiculous with this frail, androgynous creature trying to look tough by doing a little dance in the middle of a gang fight.

But my distaste for all things Michael Jackson reached a zenith following his recent death when it seemed that half the population was going ga-ga over him. I had no more patience for the ceaseless celebration of the late Michael Jackson than I had for the former hysterics displayed at the passing of other supposed royalty like John F. Kennedy, Jr. or Princess Diana.

And that brings us to why I'm addressing this subject on a blog devoted to the core teachings of Mormon theology. I recently came to the realization that my irrational feelings of aversion for someone who has done me no harm at all are indicative of my penchant for unrighteous judgment. And that kind of judgment is a sin, even when directed at a popular entertainer.

What changed my thinking about Michael Jackson was when I wandered into the bedroom yesterday to find Connie watching the previously recorded memorial service for him. After rolling my eyes in disdain, I sat on the bed and watched for a moment as Michael's brother Jermaine was trying to get through the song "Smile, Though Your Heart Is Aching". While his own heart was breaking.

Suddenly I wasn't watching an extravagant tribute to a self-indulgent pop star. I was seeing a sad old man grieving the death of his little brother.

I got Connie to rewind to the beginning of the service, and we watched the whole thing together. What I saw touched my hardened heart: friends and family simply mourning the loss of a loved one who was taken too soon. This experience forced me to reassess my feelings and think about exactly why I get annoyed for no reason at certain people I don't even know.

Let's take a second look at one of the attributes of Michael Jackson that I used to think was so annoying: his notorious immaturity.

Much has been written about Michael Jackson's lost childhood as the reason he spent so much of his adult life trying to live like a child. But let's face it, there are much worse things one can be other than child-like. So what if he was in many ways stuck with the mind, emotions, and desires of an eleven year old boy? He could afford to be.

When I was eleven, I wanted a monkey. When Michael Jackson was rich enough, he got himself a monkey too (technically an ape, but let's not quibble). I'd probably still want a monkey today if I hadn't already had children of my own and realized what a horror it would be to own an animal that was just like them, except perennially retarded.

And you think it's weird that anybody would want an amusement park in his backyard? What did you want in your backyard when you were eleven? A circus? A carnival? When I was eleven I wanted to turn our sizable backyard into a replica of the Disneyland jungle cruise, and the only reason I didn't was my mom wouldn't let me. (Specifically, she wouldn't help me. I felt entirely capable of digging the canal myself but I needed a grown-up to pay for all that expensive jungle foliage. The audio-animatronics I could figure out later.)

If Michael Jackson grew up and could afford to build the amusement park he'd wished for as a kid, who am I to fault him?

There are a couple of other things I saw Michael Jackson do that could be considered evidence of self-indulgent immaturity, but on closer inspection I have to admit wasn't anything I wouldn't have done myself if I could have.

I saw a clip of from a concert where he made his dramatic entrance by being suddenly shot from a trap door in the floor of the stage, landing firmly on his feet in front of the crowd. He stood stock still, shoulders back, head erect, wearing a costume that made him look like a superhero from the future. The audience went nuts. He continued to stand like a statue, serious and heroic, then gradually reached his hand up to his face. The crowd went nuttier. He slowly removed his sunglasses and stared straight ahead. The fans ate it up. They cheered until they were exhausted. And he still hadn't done anything.

Welcomed by a cheering throng as a conquering hero for simply arriving on the scene! Looking at that through the eyes of an eleven-year-old, I'd have to admit it was pretty cool. Especially if that had been me up there.

On another occasion, at the end of his concert, stagehands strapped a helmet and a jet pack on him and he flew up into the air, disappearing amid cheers, screams, applause, and weeping. Nobody wanted him to leave. Don't tell me you wouldn't want to experience that kind of adulation. Forget an eleven-year-old's fantasy, I'd do that today.

So if Michael Jackson's biggest sin is that he could afford to indulge his childhood fantasies of being the most popular kid in school, what's the harm? What is that to me?

Of course, Michael Jackson's childlike naivete is what got him in the most trouble. He wanted the boyhood sleepovers every normal kid had, of staying up with a group of friends snacking and giggling and watching TV together late into the night. His naivete was his downfall, as he was unable to recognize the impropriety of a man in his forties cavorting with young children. Although he was exonerated of charges of child molestation, many people still believed he was guilty. My own gut feeling tells me that he was simply too trusting and naive. He spent the entire trial in a state of stunned bewilderment that anyone could interpret his "sleepovers" as anything other than innocent get-togethers between friends. The very fact that he was quoted as saying that sharing one's bed with a child was a beautiful thing was evidence enough for me that he was a simple child in a man's body. A real pederast would never say anything so foolish and so culpable.

The biggest reason I have for the recognition of my sin in judging Michael Jackson unrighteously is because I once knew Michael Jackson intimately. So did you. Same as you once knew every person on the earth today, and everyone who has ever lived here.

Ages before he became Michael Jackson and eons before I was ever Rock Waterman, we lived together, all of us, in a pre-existent state where we knew one another for who we really were, not for what we would eventually become on earth. Eternities from now, when I bump into Michael Jackson again, we'll probably reminisce about the memories we had together of our pre-earth life. If we bother to touch on the subject of our short time on earth -his tragic life as an overachiever and my tragic life as an underachiever- it will probably be to simply shrug and say "Boy, that was a weird time, huh?"

If we compare notes at all, it ought to be on how well each of us accomplished what we were actually sent here to do: show love and kindness to our fellow sons and daughters of God.

Among the songs Michael Jackson recorded that I just heard for the first time is a number entitled "Heal the World", an appeal for each of us to work toward making this planet the kind of home God hoped we would. There was a time I would have considered that song hopelessly naive. Now I hope it becomes the legacy that represents his life.

Is there really any harm in my having engaged in snarky celebrity gossip? I think there is. Every ugly word that escaped my lips in describing Michael Jackson, or anyone else I didn't understand -"odd", "weird", "crazy", "creepy", "freakish" -hangs in the ether and somehow adds to the defilement of the universe. It certainly defiles me. Such negativity prevents us all from attaining the "oneness" that God wishes us to aspire to. No one can hold judgment in his heart for a fellow being and still have room for love. One will always cancel out the other.

I heard that the song Michael's brother sang at his funeral, "Smile, Though Your Heart Is Aching" was Michael's favorite song. It that's true, it speaks volumes about his personal loneliness. Michael Jackson's trust was betrayed again and again by those he hired to look out for him. Still, by all reports, he remained a loving, trusting, and generous man-child. Michael Jackson's lack of guile caused him countless problems in his life. But then, my cynicism has caused me a few setbacks too. He may have spent a lot of his life reckless and self-indulgent, but he was also incredibly generous and forgiving.

And me? I've spent a lifetime critical of those I had no business judging, ignoring the huge beam embedded in my own eye. By the end of his life, my old friend Michael Jackson was miles ahead of me in the "become as a little child" department. Maybe I still have time to catch up.

_

13 comments:

Dave P. said...

I realized something similar not too long ago when reading a few books on the original O.J. Simpson trial and how a bunch of people are still adamantly convinced that he was guilty. One person even once told me that the first thing he would do after dying would be to ask God, "Was O.J. really guilty?"

I told him I'd imagine either the Father or the Savior (one God, after all) telling him, "It is none of thy business. Let's talk about the deeds in thine own life."

In regards to those whose sins will be "shouted from the rooftops" I can more easily see those people being the ones who belong to modern day secret combinations and have done far worse deeds in terms of advancing Satan's earthly kingdom while attempting to destroy man's free agency while never being held accountable for it in this life.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Amen to that, Dave. It's none of our business now whether O.J. is guilty or not. The jury has acquitted him and that's enough for this life. if it turns out he really was a killer, well that's what we have God for. Any just punishment denied in this life will be meted out in the next.

spaul said...

mj injected himself thinking he could perform like when he was 2o or 3o it wasnt the docotr who injected him with diprovan but he didnt take into account that he was now a 50 year old he could only perform while high on something!the docotrs who gave hime these drugs need to be found and reprimanded!!!none was trying to kill him like his sister latoya has said - shes the one who said he was a paedo remember?by the way he did do those things to children but he got away with it why did he pay jordan chandler he was guilty of doing those things to children pity someone as talented as that and he abused his talent thinking he could do anything and get whatever he wanted like a little child he needed a big dose of growing up!!

Urban Koda said...

Nicely put! Probably the nicest tribute I've heard for Michael in the past few weeks of media frenzy.

Anonymous said...

I found your write up very interesting and well thought out. Unfortunately you lost me when the subject of pre-existance came up. As you might guess, I am not LDS, and find much of the strange doctrine taught, to be ....well, strange. Other than that, being in your age group and having a similar opinion of Michael Jackson, I realized a lot of my condemnations were the same, until reading your take on him.
Cheers
JR

Alan Rock Waterman said...

Well JR, that's okay that you find the concept of pre-existence to be a strange doctrine. As for me, I can't conceive of the possibility that I have not always existed in some state of conscious awareness. To think that I may not always have existed somewhere in the universe in some form is what would seem strange to me.

But then, you may have ascertained from this blog that even some of my fellow Mormons think there's something strange about my core beliefs.

Thanks for your input. Glad to have you here.

jay beacham said...

good comments.

Barbara said...

Good thoughts on judging!

The Widget said...

Thanks, Rock.
.
As I waded through the ashes of my self-immolation and wished that people wouldn't judge *me*, I came to understand that judging is God's job, not ours, and He isn't doing it yet. Our job is to love and help each other without judging. I suppose this is why Christ's two great commandments are to love: God and our neighbors.
.
This posting truly is "pure Mormonism"

Jonas said...

I too have felt disdain over MJ for many years. He was a freak and lots of other things and I judged him as such. On the day of his memorial my co-worker felt the great need to have the service playing in the store. I was highly annoyed and and wanted not to listen, but could not getaway from the sounds of the speakers.

I could withstand no longer and I began to listen as Brooke Sheilds spoke of Michael. By the time she finished I had an epiphany: I have judged Michael Jackson based on what I have read and what I have heard through the media.

I never knew the man personally. I don;t know anyone who knew him personally. I don't know anyone who knows anyone who knew him personally. Yet I judged him as being a pervert and a freak.

Michael shined his light in his own way. And if he accomplished nothing else in life (which he seemed to accomplish a great deal) he got me to look at me and my judgment.

By the end of the service I wept for his life and that it took his death to teach me what an unreasonable judge I have been. From that epiphany, I can now grow to new heights as I look at who I judge and remember to put aside judgment and just allow each pereson to be who they are.

The worst part of all this is that actually bought into the media hype and all their lies and propaganda. I'm not saying they lied about MJ. I don't know fact from fiction there, but this I know; the media will do or say anything to sell a story. And I believed it.

Oh well, I choose now to let go of the judgment of myself for buying into what may or may not be fact, and to move on to happier realms.

Thanks Michael, for being my teacher.

Jonas Thomander

Jonas said...

Remember that judgment itself is the great deceiver. It is judgment that requires that I be right and if you think or act differently than me, then you must be wrong.

If God's love is truly unconditional, which it is, then God can have no judgment. And that my friends, is liberating!

Anonymous said...

Lyrics to Michael Jackson song
"Tabloid Junkie"

Speculate to break the one you hate
Circulate the lie you confiscate
Assassinate and mutilate
As the hounding media in hysteria
Who's the next for you to resurrect
JFK exposed the CIA
Truth be told the grassy knoll
As the blackmail story in all your glory

It's slander
You say it's not a sword
But with your pen you torture men
You'd crucify the Lord
And you don't have to read it (read it)
And you don't have to eat it (eat it)
To buy it is to feed it (feed it)
Then why do we keep foolin' ourselves

Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual
Though everybody wants to read all about it
Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual, actual
They say he's homosexual

In the hood
Frame him if you could
Shoot to kill
To blame him if you will
If he dies sympathize
Such false witnesses
Damn self righteousness
In the black
Stab me in the back
In the face
To lie and shame the race
Heroine and Marilyn
As the headline stories of
All your glory

It's slander
With the words you use
You're a parasite in black and white
Do anything for news
And you don't go and buy it (buy it)
And they won't glorify it ('fy it)
To read it sanctifies it ('fies it)
Then why do we keep foolin' ourselves

Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual
(Everybody wants to read all about it)
Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual
(See, but everybody wants to believe all about it)

Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual
(See, but everybody wants to believe all about it)
Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual, actual
She's blonde and she's bisexual

Scandal
With the words you use
You're a parasite in black and white
Do anything for news
And you don't go and buy it (buy it)
And they won't glorify it ('fy it)
To read it sanctifies it ('fies it)
Why do we keep foolin' ourselves
Slander
You say it's not a sin
But with your pen you torture men
Then why do we keep foolin' ourselves

Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual
(Though everybody wants to read all about it)
Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual
(See, but everybody wants to read all about it)

Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual
Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual
Just because you read it in a magazine
Or see it on the TV screen
Don't make it factual, actual
You're so damn disrespectable


Pretty much sums it up for me.

Adam Peabody said...

One thing that we need to think about is the fact that Michael Jackson is a prime example of what happens when a person as good, trusting, and outgoing as he was gets tied up in the public and the dangers included with that level of personal exposure. The kind of person he is is the very person god asks us to be. Granted he didn't have the full gospel in his life and had a different understanding of things, but he certainly was a christian by heart and was very spiritual in nature. Whats funny is that's just it. We as Mormons are taught to be loving, respectful, outgoing, trustworthy. All these things are taught to us through the gospel, and yet the world still slanders and ridicules us for these things. Michael wasn't much different. Though many ridiculed him, he still kept trying and pulled through. I myself am obviously still working on being as a child as he was, but grown up at the same time. Its difficult i'm sure for all of us. He became what he wanted to be and that was him being himself. That's why so many loved him. He wasn't just the most popular musician ever, but he was one of few who had good morals and saw the world for what it could be, or even what it needs to be. This is why i love Michael Jackson, or in better terms; a high respect, and a desire to befriend if you will. I personally think if i knew him now that we could have been close friends. Almost brothers even. My challenge to everyone is to aspire to be Christ-like as Michael was. Child like in nature, respectful, trustworthy, genuinely kind in your doings, charitable, and in being outgoing in these things. Michael Jackson during his life on Earth, was a very gifted person. YOU are too. Seek after and strive to be like Christ. Despite Michael's ups and downs, and lack of full truth in his life, he still achieved much of this. Have faith and endure, because you can too. Be wary of the public. Because, as we are taught, being of the world causes us to stray and brings about unnecessary stresses and trial. I hope this helps. Thank you for this opportunity. I thank the lord as well.