Michael Joseph Jackson: The Black Gold of My Sun


Cats sit on the windowsill
Children sit in the show
Why do I feel I don’t fit in anywhere I go?
From “Corner of the Sky” by The Jackson 5

Some words, phrases and sentences simply make you bristle. When I think of that concept I chuckle a little bit, because I flash back to Dorothy telling fellow “Golden Girl” Rose that while intrauterine is a word, it shouldn’t be used in any old context.

I just wish the situation on my mind and heart at the moment was close to being that funny.

I am less than two months shy of turning 30. When I saw the words Michael, Jackson and dead woven together on Thursday, my universe turned upside down. My thoughts were racing at an uncontrollable pace. Could this be? Certainly not, right? It is 2009 – and Michael is still a young man. If I’m seeing a headline that says we lost him, have I blinked and missed the last 20 years of my life? I couldn’t be the 29-year-old Steve who, more than 20 years ago, saved his coins in his Smurf bank to buy a copy of Bad. I must be 50 and settled into my life as a happy, well-adjusted adult – and moving into the season where the icons of my youth are in a logical space to make their transition. I wanted to believe I wasn’t seeing an American tragedy unfold in the present.

When the dust of my devastation settled around my spirit, I had to own what happened: Michael Joseph Jackson, my childhood hero, was dead at 50. Ironically, it was a happy day for my family and I, as my witty maternal grandmother celebrated her 90th year of life. Speaking to her reminded me of how rewarding a long life filled with love and positive energy can be. In Brother Michael’s passing, however, I saw a grainy image of what can happen when a person never fully experiences those gifts, and that saddened me. It still does.

But I won’t go there just yet.


The eighties were a magical time for those of us who lived it, and Michael worked his sonic sorcery like no other. In him and his illustrious canon were infinite possibilities, Technicolor testaments to the fact that little black boys like me could dream big and see those visions come to fruition. His music is a key part of the soundtrack of my early years, but it was the way it built cultural bridges that was so special. Growing up in the suburbs of southeastern Virginia, I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me when I entered the homes of my friends – but there was always Michael. Whether it was a poster, a pillow or a copy of Thriller, it wouldn’t be long before that inimitable, badass white suit would fill my gaze. I always found comfort in that because just for a moment, I had another brother in my midst. In my little world, Michael became a de facto symbol of universal love and acceptance.


When it comes to the music itself, I don’t know what I could say that has not already been stated. The classics he created with his talented siblings and on his own still burst with shimmery innocence, capturing the evolution of both R&B and an icon. The wise-beyond-his-years readings of “Who’s Loving You” and “Got to Be There.” The adolescent angst of “Dancing Machine” and “All I Do is Think of You.” The elegant, understated and underrated Philadelphia International productions The Jacksons and Goin’ Places. The high steppin’, hip dressin’ disco of Off the Wall. The shear pop mastery of Thriller, Bad, Dangerous and even Invincible. It just goes on and on. It cuts me to my core to know that the beautiful voice at the center of such greatness, an instrument that brought so many so much joy, has left this Earth.

I just wish Michael himself had been able to have a bit of that joy in his own life. Ravaged by constant media scrutiny and a fickle public, Michael was never afforded the chance to be happy. Save for a few close bonds, genuine friendship and support seemed to elude him. On more than one occasion I’ve been offended as a black man and a fan by things that have been said and written about this man. It continues to make me ache, because it almost seems like people want to believe the worst about Michael, no matter the circumstance. I simply don’t understand it.

However, this is not a time to dwell on the negativity of some segments of society. This is a time about Michael. The tears of pain I cried Thursday birthed a celebration in me of the man and his music. I celebrate the beauty of his soul. I celebrate what he gave me. I celebrate what he gave the black community. I celebrate what he gave the world.

Most importantly, I celebrate the peace that now cradles this beautiful brother. It is a peace he was never given in life, and it can’t be taken from him in death. That puts my mind and heart at ease.

Here’s to the black gold of my sun, Michael Joseph Jackson. May he rest peacefully in his corner of the sky.

A Janet fan’s discipline


It’s hard being a Janet Jackson fan. It takes a whole lot of discipline.

I want those who stan for Janet to do something for me: Close your eyes for a moment and think back to the days, pre-2004, when your role in the Rhythm Nation was drama and argument free. You were able to watch interviews without holding your breath, free of the worry of “the incident” popping up during the dialogue. There were no catty blogs, no mean-spirited reporters and critics ready to pounce, no hateration. You didn’t get smartass remarks from peers if you even hinted at being a fan, either. Indeed, those were good times.

Sadly, those days are long gone. As “Discipline” — Janet’s tenth release overall and first for Island Def Jam — hit shelves Tuesday, the doubters were already flapping their jaws at a fever pitch. Before the record could even take hold, the masses were tagging it another sexhibition, a collection that did little more than collate vapid pop indulgences and Quiet Storm smut. This is hardly the case, as the delightfully raunchy title track is really the ONLY thing that comes close to her past excursions into erotica.

“Discipline” is a dance album first and foremost, full of skittering beats, catchy hooks and plain old good feeling, which is how we all like Miss Jackson best. Infectious dancers like “Feedback,” “Rock With U” and “2Nite” are classic Janet with a modern twist indeed (How many times did she say that in interviews?) and are worth a listen. And when she slows it down and channels her big brother Mike on my personal favorite, the lovely “Can’t B Good,” she proves she never lost touch with her endearing sweetness.

With all this in mind, this should be a time for Janet fans to rejoice. She’s back on MTV in heavy rotation for the first time in years, is planning a tour and just won an NAACP Image Award for her role as Dr. Patricia Agnew in “Why Did I Get Married?”. Yet, most spend their time defending their favorite diva against the side-eyes of naysayers and unfair comparisons. While critics tell Janet to grow up, they praise the tired, ghetto-urchin funk of Mariah Carey (I know ya’ll have heard “Touch My Body”), who is just two or three years Janet’s junior. Granted, she’s coming off of a hit album and wasn’t in Janet’s position even during her darkest hour, but that’s beside the point. People are looking for any reason to dog J out, and that’s just greasy.

So what’s a Janet fan to do? My advice would be to enjoy the record without worrying about sales, what she did or did not do promotionally, or how it’s gonna stack up to the output of others. Just be glad our girl has some solid product out there for us to enjoy. If you like it, like it, if you don’t, don’t – but don’t’ change shit up if the record does not chart where you think it should like folks did with “20 Y.O.” after it didn’t meet expectations. (I still don’t think that record was half bad, but what do I know?)

In short, just do your duty as a proud Janet fan. Or stan. Or whatever you wanna call yourself. Just keep in mind that if you let the haters and the charts sway your opinion on things, you weren’t a fan to begin with.