Monday, July 20, 2009

The Impossible Dream, made possible

We suspend our disbelief so easily when it comes to transforming robots, the Force and pointy eared aliens, but when it comes to comprehending how men could actually journey to the moon, we're still at a loss.

Imagine, just imagine standing on a cold piece of rock that a few generations before, some folks were convinced was made of cheese — or was inhabited by exotic animals. Since the dawn of man, this bright orb in the sky was the object of wonder, of worship, of dreams and prose.  And now you're looking at rocks, dust, little hills through the visor of a suit that's keeping you alive. You look up and see a beautiful ball, a big blue marble that contains everything and everyone you've ever known. While you're taking in this astounding sight, wars are being fought, triumphs are being celebrated, old men are gasping their last breaths, babies are taking in their first. All on this bright sphere in the distance.

Hours go by in a flash, and it's time to pack up your lunar picnic basket and start the last leg of the boldest, most dangerous adventure a man has ever undertaken. Three days later, flames lick at your plummeting tin can; you and your two fellow travelers splash into the ocean, instantly becoming the most unique and most envied people on the planet.

Although you have traveled so far into the sky, you're hardly a superman back on earth. Once you were separated from your neighbors by over 200,000 miles, but you're back home now... back to lawn mowing, grocery shopping, traffic jams and barking dogs. Every day for 40 years, someone wants to shake your hand while you recall your fantastic journey, a journey that only a handful of people understand. Every night for 40 years, weather permitting, you gaze up at this moon, this alluring alien land that you once claimed for all mankind. You stare and imagine that you can see the footprints — your footprints — that still mark its surface. And you must wish, "If only I could do it again."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson, and a moment of clarity

Yesterday, we mourned the tragic, untimely death of the King of Pop; his life was eulogized by the King of Opportunism, Rev. Al Sharpton, and his musical and humanitarian legacies were celebrated around the world.

But who mourned the tragedy that was the last 20-odd years of Michael Jackson's life?  

Michael Jackson, the man, or Michael Jackson, the icon, positively affected and inspired millions of people, as evidenced by the global response to his passing.  Just think what Michael could have accomplished over the past two decades if he hadn't become unhinged.

Of all the controversies that have resurfaced in the past two weeks, Michael's mental and/or emotional decline is one that has not been disputed.  Anyone who saw the re-runs of the Martin Bashir interviews was reminded of how deeply disturbed Michael had become.  The singer clearly needed psychiatric help, but apparently wasn't getting any.

Of course, Michael's fans chose to interpret the over-the-top signs of illness as the traits of a misunderstood, eccentric, child-like innocent.  They seemed to view him not as a man, but as a musical messiah or an all-powerful, benevolent alien sent here to right the wrongs of the world.  But, as they witnessed yesterday, Michael Jackson was, in the end, merely a man, a man whose children no longer have a father.

A man whose death, in all likelihood, will be linked to his profound problems.  A man who was removed from reality, a king that was seemingly above the medical profession, and quite possibly, the law.  A ruler that had more or less lived in exile for the past 10 years.  A performer with unprecedented talents and unlimited potential whose illness(es) —  undoubtedly sparked by the double-edged sword of superstardom — turned him into the butt of jokes for almost 20 years.

It's beginning to sink in that the most meteoric celebrity in world history is dead.  We've watched the videos over and over again, and mourned not only the loss of an icon, but the loss of our youth.  And now that the man is laid to rest, that little nagging nugget in the back of our minds can resume asking the question, "What the hell happened, Michael?"

The question of the ages.  Michael left behind one of the most complicated histories and mysteries of any figure, and it will never be completely unraveled.  We're at the tip of the scandal iceberg; decades of wildly conflicting views and opinions and unauthorized biographies has just begun.  The opening salvos of the legal and financial battles haven't yet been fired.  The freak show that was Michael Jackson's later life has folded its tent, but the big top will be in town for a long time to come.

As we indulge our sick, morbid curiosities and watch this circus go through it's three-ring act again and again, let's occasionally put down the popcorn and pause for a moment of clarity.  Let's shake off the cloak of denial that coats our precious memories in warm fuzziness.

Michael Jackson was a kind, generous, unique, gifted and very, very troubled man who achieved something that few have ever achieved —  and that something swallowed him up and took him to places that we would never, ever want to go.