Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Birth of a Nation: Notes on the Michael Jackson Memorial Service

Image courtesy of Levar Burton via twitpic.

Just finished watching the Michael Jackson memorial service. I must say that it was most fitting. It hit all the right notes. It was at once both dignified and entertaining. Both sorrowful and inspirational. The memorial more than exceeded my greatest expectations.

And as I watched, I followed the comments and observations of literally hundreds of people via Facebook and TweetDeck. It seems that during those few hours, the entire world was tuned in. Television commentators estimated that one billion viewers watched worldwide. I even read that Al Jezeera was airing the memorial. Several times my Facebook page and TweetDeck froze from the sheer number of responses.

I am reminded of that theoretical axiom which states that nation, community, and family are born and reaffirmed in those spaces created through shared circumstance, ceremony, and spectacle. Of course this restatement is not precise, but I think you get the general message.

But it’s a shame that we must wait for somber occasions like a funeral before we all can come together for one purpose. Not too long ago, I attended my grandmother’s funeral. The church was packed to the point of overflowing. I saw family and friends there that I had not seen in years. And together we held one another and cried even as we celebrated my grandmother’s life. For a brief moment in time, all bad feelings were shoved aside. All internecine feuds were forgotten.
And when it all ended, we embraced and promised that we would not allow that much time to pass before we came together as a family again. But I know that’s a promise that will not be kept. I’ve been through it all before.

Time will pass. The emotion will subside. And the petty bickering and backbiting will resume again. And most of those friends and relatives I will not see again until the next funeral where we will make those same empty promises.

But I still relish those moments in time, those moments of shared circumstance, those ceremonies, those spectacles, even when they are somber, even when we must shed tears, where we can truthfully refer to ourselves as a family, as a community, as a nation, as one world.


Renee said...

As I watched the memorial I actually did not think about music, instead my thoughts were focused on the importance of family. Michaels death was so sudden and if we take nothing away from it but the knowledge that we should tell those we love each day how special they are then his life will not have been in vain. I kissed and hugged my little boy and knew in that moment peace and happiness. That is all any of us can ask for in life.

RainaHavock said...

Great post. I know what you mean. When my grandfather died I saw people I hadn't even known I was related too. The memorial was beautiful.

El Nuyorican said...

Well said my friend... Stevie broke me, but then J-Hud took me down.

Anonymous said...

I did not get a chance to see Steve or Lionel. I heard Lionel sang "Jesus Is Love" I would not have made it through that one. Usher pulled at my heart strings even further. I thought it was a beautiful service. I will be praying for the family, especially his kids and his sweet Mother.

Looked like Jermaine wanted to breakdown everytime I saw his face.


CiCiwryter said...

It was a very touching homegoing and as you said everyone, lovers&haters of MJ, were brought together. One of the greatest moments in my family is the time we made the 'funeral promise' to get together and not let it be because of a death and kept it. It only happened once but I cherish that memory. If only this world....

Max Reddick said...

@ Renee

You are certainly right! I remember this old gospel song, "Please, Give Me My Flowers Before I Die." It would have been nice if we had shown MJ that appreciation before he died. I have resolved to do a better job of acknowledging my loved ones.

@ Raina

Thanks for the compliment.

@ El Nuyorican

It was his daughter Paris that got me. I was sitting there with my daughter at the time, and I thought about how my death might affect her.


Yeah, Jermaine has been standing up for Lil' Bro all this week.

@ CiCiwryter

I concur. In only this world would!

Orchid said...

your post sums up the thoughts that came to me as i watched the memorial. Michael wanted everyone to be untied, to treat each other better, to come together, and it is a darn shame that we have to wait till he's dead to find comfort in each others arms. Makes me even sadder...

Orchid said...

oopsie! untied= united!

uglyblackjohn said...

I'd say that it should be weddings and funerals - but at a wedding, some sort of gift is expected.
At a funeral, you get to eat for free.

I think every family makes these promises.

udee said...

Well said, Max! We'd all love to be nostalgic and unified to celebrate and remember MJ. Then reality sets in. It's a sad cycle ... I wonder how long reality will set in this time.

Kyra D. Gaunt, Ph.D. said...

Instead of asking life to be different than it is, we can relish the great joy and comfort such occasions create for us and the opporunity they are to remind us to create our own happiness between the funerals and weddings. This homegoing service was a gift not only from MIchael and his music, his family and his colleagues, but also from black people to the world. Homegoing celebrations allow both sorrow and joy to naturally live side by side. Joy and pain, are like sunshine and rain, sing it one more time.

I balled during Stevie, Lionel, Mariah, all through the first 30 -50 mins of the service. Couldn't believe how moved I was. The casket made it real for me. And having the socially mediated experience of a black homegoing service broadcast to millions all over the world. A true testament to our culture.

BTW, Al Sharpton!!!! Thank God for his passion for his people!

I always remind my students, my white students, thata you may not agree with him, but you can respect his lifelong commitment to his community and people.

na said...

Thanks for this well written piece. I am so happy he went out in style. He lead a very non traditional lifestyle, but was blessed enough that his family made sure he went out with class and dignity. BET should be ashamed and not allowed to do any more tribute shows unless they consult whoever did MJ Tribute Memorial first.

Max Reddick said...

@ Orchid

Yes, Michael's life seemed to be directed toward bringing people together. And maybe for a moment in time he did that if only through his unfortunate death.

@ uglyblackjohn

Can't complain about free food. Though you do need to find out who made the potato salad before you can eat it. You can't eat everyone's food.

@ udee

I'm sure reality will set in rather quickly.

@ Gaunt, Ph.D.

Yeah, Uncle Reverend Al brought it. Thank you for stopping by. And come back soon.

@ na

BET ought to be utterly ashamed of themselves. They were made to look like a second tier organization. And thanks for coming by and come back soon.

Keith said...

Great post. It was such a moving memorial service. It definitely reminded me of how much Michael contributed to this world. Not just in music either. He's an icon. He will be sorely missed. I really thought about how life is so short. We never know when our end is coming. We should make sure we let those we love know it. We should also live life to the fullest.

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