Michael Jackson was a lot of things. He was a great performer. He was a good song writer. He was an innovative dancer. He was a smart businessman. He was a freak. The big thing, however, is that he now is was. For all the memorable moments, for all the media frenzy, for all the sheer showmanship, the hard core fact of the matter is that the enigmatic, problematic, hermaphroditic Jackson is gone. Ding, dong, the Wiz is dead.
The suddenness of his death is a boon to his fairy tale image. Though he was middle-aged, screwed up, and resembled a Tim Burton character, his unexpected departure preserves his almost mystical aura and the fantasy land in which he lived, a land like Oz where people come and go so quickly. Michael was never really one of us but glimmered like a lamp that burned and gave light, and we chose for a time to enjoy his light. Unlike poor Farrah Fawcett, who had the misfortune to die only hours earlier and whose demise was virtually erased from public awareness by the Jackson death juggernaut, Michael did not succumb to a prolonged and predictable illness. He just vanished on us, a Bilbo Baggins who simply disappeared from his own elaborate party. He was there, but now he’s not. We always suspected that Michael was not of our world.
His abrupt leave-taking was also a mercy to the rest of us. We watched with morbid fascination as he carved himself away. His increasingly ethereal persona seemed barely able to maintain corporeality. He was a wisp of a will who materialized and then dematerialized at the flash of a camera. His own bodily presence seemed a burden to him, one, it seemed, that he would have discarded if he could. He was already a ghost, but one who found it necessary to inhabit a body. But the ghost within hated that body and relentlessly chipped away at its substance until it was barely a body at all. Mercifully for us, the rest of the devolution will take place in a fine and private place.
Most poignantly, Michael Jackson’s death reveals the ultimate nature of his life. Michael was a bubble, an exquisitely fragile membrane whose translucent surface shimmered with a bright but tremulous rainbow. For the merest of moments Michael floated free of the laws of gravity. But the unbearable lightness of his being could not last. The very laws that make such a life possible are also the laws that determine its end. The mortal cannot take on immortality. The bubble bursts and is no more.
This is too much truth for us. It is a universal wound we cannot bear. The death of Michael Jackson is a macabre signal of our own inevitable vanishings. We cannot let him go gently into that good night. For our own sakes we must rage against this dying of the light; we must erect a bulwark against the nothing that is all but the spark we are.
And so we will raise up a pyramid of honors for Michael. We will repeat to ourselves, like some desperate liturgy, the canon of his already fading glories; we will drown out his end—our end—with the contagious pulse of his music; we will resurrect him on YouTube again and again and again. And then, when we are again safely at a distance from the terrifying fact of his death, we will leave him there in Neverland. We know he cannot save us. We must move on in search of another Messiah.
Fred Allen heads up Burning Bush Ministries, teaches literature, draws cartoons, and writes a lot. He is the author of Our Daily Fred, an alternative online devotional, found at http://ourdailyfred.wordpress.com. He and his family live in Salem, Ore.