Today would have been Michael Jackson’s fifty-eighth birthday, and he’s been on my brain since I woke. Diana Ross fell in love with him on first sight and so did I, fell for those big eyes beneath big fros long before either of us hit puberty. I adored him in the Jackson 5, emulated his Thriller moonwalk every day afterschool at my best friend Ansie’s. Listened to Off the Wall a ton when I started to have good sex in my twenties—even more when I learned to love in my thirties.
Sure, I couldn’t pretend he didn’t become a ghost—and an unsettling one at that—by the time the ’90s rolled into view. But I never lost sight of his gangly sad-eyed big-dimpled genius. I got permakitten Grace the day of his funeral and to this day she wears his full name as her middle two. I can’t help feeling he sprinkled her with a little of his magic when they passed each other by. She loves dance and song like no animal I’ve ever known.
Just watch “This Is It,” the documentary about his preparations for what would have been his final tour, if you don’t grock or, worse, remember what he really brought. Born the same year as Prince (and Madonna, come to think of it), his light was nonetheless old-school; a true Virgo, he channeled a work ethic that dwarfed even his sunstar talent. Ultimately, of course, it was that sense of responsibility that backed up on him and everyone who sucked him dry. And I use the word “back” super-deliberately. It’s not just that he never recovered from injuring his back in that ill-fated Pepsi commercial. (It’s not just that I dated his indiscreet back doctor for an ill-fated minute of the early Aughts and so knew how injured it really was.) It’s that on his beautiful broken back Michael carried us all with his soft-shoe, soft-voiced charm, and then he buckled under the weight of everything wrong (racially, capitalistically, religiously, sexually) in this fucked-up wonderworld called Ameriker. Never say goodbye, he sang so sweet, and we never will. For one thing, we’ll never earn that right.