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To Walk a Lifetime in Michael Jackson's Moccasins
bibliomaniac
Life's journeys sometimes lead us to the most unexpected places, including right back home again.
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Michael Jackson giving it his all in concert around 1988. (photographer unknown)

You probably can't read the words in the note next to the accompanying photo of Michael Jackson, but they were handwritten by the singer himself during the late 1980s when he was constantly on tour and just as constantly a subject of much public ridicule and condemnation. This note was composed on hotel stationery and, complete with original spellings, grammar, and format, reads as follows:

 

"like the old Indian proverb says do not judge a man until you've walked 2 moons in his moccasins.

Most people don't know me, that is why they write such things in wich most is not true

I cry very very often because it hurts and I worry about the children all my children all over the world, I live for them.

If a man could say nothing against a character but what he can prove, history could not be written.

Animals strike, not from malice, but because they want to live, it is the same with those who criticize, they desire our blood, not our pain. But still I must achieve I must seek truth in all things. I must endure for the power I was sent forth, for the world for the children.

But have mercy, for I've been bleeding a long time now."

M.J. (circa 1988)

 

It's hard to think of Michael Joseph Jackson as having been a baby boomer because nothing defined him quite so much as his music, and his music possesses the eternal quality of genius that makes all superior art timeless, ageless, and endlessly compelling. But a baby boomer he was, born August 29, 1958, and now gone so soon to his rest June 25, 2009.

Reporting on Jackson's death just hours after it was confirmed, NBC News anchorman Lester Holt noted, "We were the same age. I remember being a ten-year-old watching this ten-year-old kid on television." A familiar feeling. I arrived on the planet one year before either of them but like Holt I also watched the young Michael Jackson on stage on television. My attention was fully captured with no desire to be released because there he was: a cultural mirror image of myself who was not the watermelon-eyed "Buckwheat" (all due respect to the actor who played that role) or a stereotypical barefoot "pickaninny" movie extra in some Gone With the Wind spin-off, but a little black boy musical genius so charged with the lightning of his talent and confidence that he could take the lead singer position with his four brothers behind him and an audience of thousands in front of him--and perform with all the grace, skill, and maturity of someone three times his age. How did that kid do that? Living as I did in a southern region where black skin and a male anatomy often reduced one's life expectancy by decades, the answer of how that kid did what he did was important to this future author.

Years later I considered the greater scope of what he had achieved. While the vast majority of those in our peer group at age eleven or twelve were at home evenings studying for a quiz in school the next day or building up nerve to steal a first kiss, Michael Jackson was working--working in clubs, working in theaters, working on television, working in concert halls, working working working his ass off. On how many continents, and in how many countries, was that child a stranger in a strange land? Yet one who repeatedly channeled gifts of song and dance and love to bring respites of celebrated joy to the lives of others? His labors as a child played no small role in laying a foundation of lasting wealth for what has been called America's "preeminent family of pop music." Later on, those labors would pull a lagging recording industry out of its deathbed slump, and jump-start a new industry art form known as video while trashing racial barriers on TV and radio in the process. Did that make him a saint? No. Does it make his memory one worthy of respect? Most definitely.

Not all "child prodigies" who exhibit the level of talent that Jackson did as a child tend to fulfill the promise of those gifts in their adulthood. He was one of those who did. Once his ambition led him to pursue and establish with phenomenal results a solo career, each year thereafter when birthdays came around (his in August, mine in July) I started studying what he had accomplished to date and would challenge myself to do better in my own career. That's not to say I ever did, or even that I thought I could or should match him; only that his accomplishments motivated me to reach for some of my own.

The judgments of different critics aside, he outdid himself repeatedly: with the flawless album Off the Wall in 1979; the all-time bestselling Thriller in 1982; Bad in 1987; and Dangerous in 1991. By the time Jackson's HIStory-Past, Present and Future, Book I was released in 1995, I was managing a multi-media book, video, software and music store, which allowed me to indulge the pleasure of dancing along to the album's combination of anthology and new music while shelving and selling books. True, I was dancing to his life's soundtrack rather than my own and another three years would pass before my first book would get published. But: I celebrated this last album (not the last of his career) in particular because it was the first one released after the singer had descended into the tar-thick shadow-side of celebrity-hood: constant hounding by the paparazzi, reportedly "bizarre" behavior bordering on insanity, and allegations of pedophilia. The fact that his fame had become his cross made me less envious that he had achieved it so early.

Yet in the album HIStory, the purity of the music declared that whatever might or might not be the truth behind the scandalous headlines, all had somehow remained well with his soul. Whereas madness attempted to take over his life--and for a time possibly did--he fought and won his battle to turn it into superlative art. The new songs on HIStory presented his defense of himself even while going beyond that to champion the environment and level substantial social criticism of his own. It was around the time of HIStory's release that he wrote the above note and the photo that accompanies it was taken (my apologies for failing to track down the exact date or the photographer's name). When I saw them published in People Magazine, I cut the page out and placed it in a photo album, then said a prayer for this man whose voice had helped awaken my voice.

We human beings tend to demand that our heroes fulfill many fantasies, but one fantasy no hero can fulfill is perfection while in this world. They can make the effort to give as much of themselves to the global community as they can, and then beg forgiveness when the gifting isn't enough and the less appealing aromas of their humanity dim the air with the funky truth of their flesh and blood limitations. It was good that "the King of Pop" had been tested and learned something about his limitations in one major battle because he would need whatever strength he gained from it for other confrontations down the road. In the end, it was strength he was reaching for once again to begin his journey anew and do the one thing he did better than anybody else.

A lot of tabloids, magazines, websites, radio stations, entertainment personalities, and retail chains made tons of good hard cash peddling before the world what they presented as Michael Jackson's eccentricities and possible moral failings. Perhaps now that he has left the stage for the last time, they can pay a bit of that forward by leaning in the opposite direction and honoring the brilliance of his dynamic artistry, the beauty of his dazzling creative passion, and the simple sincerity--however wounded it may have been--of his love for his fellow human beings.

 

by Aberjhani
co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love

 

Comments
23 Comment count
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Aberjhani, we are about the

Aberjhani, we are about the same age. I remember going to slumber parties hosted by my little girl friends and playing Michael's music all night long. We'd memorize the lyrics, we'd copy the moves we'd seen him do on TV, we'd choreograph some of our own, we'd kiss the album cover. Each of us had a massive crush on the young Michael Jackson, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we were little white girls living in late 1960s/early 1970s America. I think Michael transcended so much in his life. His music and his artistry were appreciated by so many.

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Truly

His truly was/is a universal soul and I think that in his passing, over the weeks to come, many will begin to see for the first time just how widespread that universality is and what it has meant around the globe.

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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i can't write about this yet . . .

. . . but I'm glad you did. Thank you. Peace to you, and peace to Michael Jackson in his transition.

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And Peace to Us All

I actually tried to resist writing this Evie because I had not slept well the night before and was exhausted but I was compelled, as many writers have experienced, to transcribe the rush of emotions and memories running through me into this personal essay/tribute. 

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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What a beautiful note AND your message!

Alberjhani,

Thank you for your tender words of compassion and sharing this most touching note with us.

I always felt Michael's spirit of heart above all the media, and now he is at peace soaring with the angels; singing, dancing, and free!

This is a very beautiful letter you have written. One that needs to be remembered, too.

Truly,
Catherine Nagle

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The Spirit of a True Artist

 Thank you Catherine. History has shown us repeatedly that many true artists and deeply spiritual human beings have tended to stumble when it came to social and political situations but their art--whether visual, musical, or literary--often revealed who and what they were really as well as why so many were drawn to them. 

 

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Beautifully Said

Thank you for your very moving essay on Michael Jackson and what he meant to you -- and many others. The note you quote at the beginning is heart-breaking. Let's hold his music and talent in our hearts and forgive ourselves for the things we may have incorrectly believed about him as he was the subject of such a whirlwind of rumors and allegations.

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Clearly written in the moment

Thank you Carol. The thing I appreciate most about Jackson's note is that it was clearly written in the moment and came straight from his heart and soul rather than presented as a calculated PR stunt. He wasn't hiding here and wanted people to exerience something of his true self, which he realized was not neccesarily as enchanting as the mesmerizing performer on stage.

 

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
 author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Aberjhani, just to confirm

Aberjhani, just to confirm what you said about the meaning of his music and dance around the globe, I have a cousin who´d watch his videos over and over again to copy his dance steps, especially break. He even performed parts of the choreography of Thriller for us once. I haven´t seen my cousin Claudio for a few years now, but I thought about him yesterday, when I heard about Michael Jackson´s death.

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All Around the World

 The images coming in from all around the world of people dancing in the streets to the music of Michael Jackson are quite extraordinary. I hope your cousin Claudio is able to celebrate with a move or two :-) 

 

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
 author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Resonance

What you've written here resonated with me so much that I riffed on it, quoted you, and linked back at African-American Books Examiner.

Nordette Adams
African-American Books Examiner for Examiner.com
See feeds from all her haunts @Her411.
Follow on Twitter @this link.

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Appreciate the extended exposure

 Thank you Nordette for the riff, quote, and link. I put the link to your piece on Twitter. Deeply moved by the comments from your readers.

 
Aberjhani 

Founder of Creative Thinkers International
 author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Appreciation

Thank you for writing this, Aberjhani. Through this whole experience of hearing about Michael's death and then the onslaught of related news, I continue to be struck by the fact that he was 50 years old. Only 50 years old. And yet it seems like he's been around for so much longer than that.

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Maybe Quincy Jones described him best

Producer Quincy Jones described Michael Jackson as an old soul in a young man's body and maybe that's one reason he seemed to exude such an aura of the eternal.

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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I gotta say, if Quincy said

I gotta say, if Quincy said this about Michael Jackson, he could have chosen his words a tad more carefully.

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Perhaps but...

Oh he definitely did say it, and right on camera. Many of us when dealing with grief fail to express ourselves as eloquently or precisely as we might. Hopefully such slights at such times can be forgiven :-)

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
 author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Michael Jackson RIP

This is so moving. I am going to Tweet this.

You might enjoy my Motown lens which I have updated to celebrate the life of Michael Jackson and mourn his death.

http://www.squidoo.com/Motown-Lenses

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Enjoyed your lens Zhana

Thank you Zhana for dropping by and Tweeting this piece on Michael Jackson.  

 I did indeed enjoy your Motown lens as well as the one on nonviolent communication--clicked five stars on both. 

If you like Twitter, please check out my new blog here on Red Room at http://redroom.com/blog/aberjhani/they-came-cyberspace-five-twitter-tweets 

 

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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His Moon Walk

Aberjani,

Last Saturday, I made a visit to one of my high school friends. She said I gave her a Michael Jackson’s video about twenty five years ago. I forgot about it, but remembered we gathered in one katatu warmer at her house and watched the video. She said afterward, her family members used to practice Michael’s moon walk as they watched the video.

Thank you for your tribute to Michael Jackson.

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You are totally welcome Keiko

I don't recall how many copies of Jackson's "Thriller" I bought and gave away but I definitely contributed to him being honored with the Diamond Award acknowledging that his records sales as of 2006 had reached 750 million worldwide.

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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To Michael

I came across this unbelievably moving post on Michael Jackson, the love and dream of my teen years, because I was looking for “his moccasins” on the web.
Yes. It’s true!
I wanted to see if someone out there talked about him and his magic shoes. So there it was, Mr. Aberjhani and his breathtaking words about Michael. I still have tears slowly coming down my face, while writing.
In these days I was trying to write a post about him myself, (obviously in Italian, my own language), and I wish I was able to express such deep thoughts in such a beautiful and touching way.
You know in this period after his death I sometimes felt guilty. Don’t know if you know what I mean.
Guilty of having left him alone in these late years, having forgotten about his life and art, having had doubt about his innocence and good intentions. And more.
It was so easy for everyone to file him away as a “weirdo”, without "walking at least 2 moons in his shoes". I hope he will forgive me for that.
He had an amazing Gift given by God, and as you said, he had used it all, outdoing himself since he was 5, and the world witnessed that. But in a very twisted way they seemed to care more about his appearance, rather than his artistic genius and human richness, which left everyone speechless.
In his life he had everything and nothing at the same time, he had joy and pain at the most, he was always surrounded by millions of people but it was one of the most lonely person on earth, as Michael himself wrote in his book. I feel sorry about that. And now I do miss him very much! I know rationally that my life won’t change after his death, but something inside me…, yes, … actually broke.
I only hope and pray that he has now reached that happiness and peacefulness he really deserved.
Thank you so much for this tribute. I wish I could achieve half your level in writing. With all my respect and gratitude.

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I'm glad your search led you here Giorgia

One of the most amazing things about Michael Jackson was, and is, his ability to inspire creative expression in others, and because we grew up during the same period I experienced that inspiration very often--which means the only way I could have written about him was in the manner that I did. It also means that his creative spiritual energies were strong enough to inspire me to help inspire You to do exactly what you had been hoping to: "express such deep thoughts in such a beautiful and touching way." Thank you for sharing those thoughts here.

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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A hypcritical society

I find it hypocritical of us as a society to find so much fault with Michael Jackson when it's our star-lust that drove him to what he became. How different would the life of Michael Jackson be if he had lived a normal life and did normal things as a boy, like working up the nerve to steal that first kiss? Until we walk those 2 moons in his moccasins we really should not judge what this man became. Even as the world turned on him, I always remembered the Michael Jackson from our childhood and remember him that way to this day. I just wish I could hear a new Michael Jackson download instead of just listening to all my old favorites these days.