Mud and Michael

Kemp mud closeup I love how the legendary Dead Sea mud glitters on my shoulder here. I love the way my bathing suit carries its fresh, mineral smell now [ETA: I wrote it was “herbal” before. I must have been more tired than I originally thought].

I spent a little too much time at the hotel watching Michael Jackson coverage on TV, but I think I can be forgiven. Michael Jackson was my childhood. He was long, cold winters with skies of uniform chrome that seemed to go on forever back then. He was the smell of shampoo in the beanie my mother wore occasionally. He was the glow of the magical new stereo in our crappy car – the stereo you took out and stowed in the glove compartment when you left the vehicle, because it alone would be cause for someone smashing a window and getting in. He was my pretentious sneer as I explained to my younger cousin that no, his hair wasn’t “messy,” it was STYLISH. He was music wafting out over my aunt’s crumbling balcony and into the night, joining the sounds of passing cars, birds settling down to sleep, even the occasional gunshot. He was everything I had imagined America to be – beauty and passion, glamour and grandeur. And, above everything else, I saw in him someone as vulnerable and odd as me – it was in his eyes – only he could pull it off and I couldn’t. And then, one day, those roles were reversed.

I don’t have much else to say about Michael that hasn’t already been said. He was a hero, pariah, scaly monster, ugly punchline and fiery, pulsating star all rolled into one. I’ve always hoped that Michael and all of the people he had touched – both in gruesome and beautiful ways – could find a measure of peace. In my later years, as a teenager, I spend a good deal of time letting go of some of the anger at various events in my childhood by thinking about Michael and how the abuse in his own household contributed to his own behaviour down the road. There were many lessons for me there, and many explanations. While a lot of the stories about his contact with children have, over the years, confused me, I have little doubt that Michael’s damaged personality ended up spilling over onto others. It’s what I had always feared for myself, to be honest.

Yesterday, bobbing on the surface of the Dead Sea like a cork, with a thick layer of mud slowly being licked off me by the oily water, I was thinking about how far away my childhood is. I’ve been running away from it for a long time, while Michael kept trying to re-live his. The path of greater wisdom is not the one that seems most attractive – it’s the one that you are able to handle. Michael didn’t handle things. You could see as much carved into his face as the years wore on. Some people said he deserved to be miserable. I personally have no idea what any of us actually deserve. I know that it isn’t anyone’s place to “forgive” Michael for anything, save for the people he is guilty toward.

But you never forget the music. It is written somewhere deeper than skin.

7 thoughts on “Mud and Michael

  1. I’ve been pining for the relaxation and recovery that a Dead Sea vacation at my favourite resort (albeit on the other side of the sea) brings. They say the air there is uniquely composed to aid in that, and the mud is fun! I hope it contributed to your well-being.

  2. natalia – nice essay on micheal jackson, but why do you need to go in blackface with the mud? are you trying to prove some point about the transformation of his skin? i don’t know your intention, but this seems like it is in poor taste.

  3. I have to tell you, Heidi, while the Israeli side of the Red Sea is vastly superior, the Jordanians have a better deal with the Dead Sea. You MUST check it out sometime.

    Safiya, thanks for the link. It’s a beautiful and devastating read.

    Cranky, I’m not sure if you’re trolling or being sincere. On the off-chance – Dead Sea mud is therapeutic. People from all over the world travel to the Dead Sea for a chance to get slathered in it. I didn’t put it on because I was going “haw haw! Look at me! I’m black!” I put it on because it feels great on my skin and helps soothe irritation.

    Of course, I was using the mud as a metaphor – for the things that remain, and then things that are washed away by the tide. The contrast in that photo, between the mud and my pale skin underneath was pretty too, I thought.

    It wasn’t an attempt at blackface, and a quick Google search might clue you in on the difference. Blackface involves a crude distortion of features – it’s a sick racist joke that has a very old and twisted tradition behind it.

  4. And it’s a beautiful picture.

    I have to say, so far I haven’t entirely understood the reaction to Michael’s passing, but this is a great essay. For me, I never understood getting that hung up on someone I don’t know in the first place, but you explain it very well.

  5. Hi there! Stopping by to thank you for your comment on my MJ post the other day. Much appreciated, as is your thoughtful discussion of him here.

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