I didn’t watch a second of the Michael Jackson service today.

I haven’t said anything here about what I think about the biggest pop musician of my lifetime, the one who shaped what my contemporaries listened to while we grew up. Back then, I was chasing a different kind of musical buzz, and Mike’s stuff never did much for me. Later on, my skepticism about his personal life — and some of the things he was accused of doing — kept me from even a nostalgic appreciation of his music.

I haven’t said anything about it here. Beyond the previous paragraph, I won’t.

It’s easy to look at the mobs of people wandering around LA for the last couple days and wonder about what they’re thinking and how genuine their grief for a person they’ve never met can be.

I think about Aug. 9, 1995, and I understand.


I certainly didn’t know Jerry Garcia, and I never had a chance to interact with him beyond the confines of Richfield Coliseum, Deer Creek, the Omni or, a little more than a month before he died, at Three Rivers Stadium. But it would be insane for me to try to deny the impact that he, or his band, or the group of people who used to follow him around the country, had on me. I followed the Grateful Dead around the eastern half on the country for 11 years, in hopes of finding that elusive moment when music and energy and luck and timing all converged — BAM — on the stage in front of me. When it did? There was nothing better. Experiencing that just once was enough to keep me coming back for another dozen more.

When I see a clip of someone sobbing outside the MJ service, I understand. I was in a complete daze for about 48 hours after learning about Garcia’s death; it took an assignment to do a local obit about him to get me to shake the funk.

My friend Dawn posted a Facebook status earlier today, after reading the endless snark — much of which made me laugh, I admit — that rolled by today in our Twitter streams. In part, she said:

I’m seriously about to go postal on holier-than-thou people who think they’re above appreciating a person for the joy they brought to the lives of others. You don’t like it or him? Fine. Keep it to yourself and show some respect for others.

She’s right. Fourteen years ago, I was one of those people. The day after Garcia died, I was heartbroken to listen to young guys on our sports staff joking about the dead hippie and all the dirty hippies who were upset about his passing.

But I understand the response, then and now. You think the people gathered around the Staples Center looked a little odd? Imagine a group of old hippies and younger Deadheads gathered in Golden Gate Park on a late summer afternoon, to mourn another flawed idol, one who had a heroin habit that contributed to his early death, one who couldn’t maintain a long-term relationship with any of his wives, one who came close to killing himself on two different occasions because of his horrible personal choices.

Sound familiar? It does to me.


  1. Dawn and I were talking about that very comment, and other deaths of people “unknown” came to mind. People like Princess Diana, Curt Cobain, Elvis, Ronald Reagan, Steve McNair, and many others floated through my consciousness, and I realized that each of those deaths effected some people in ways that I couldn’t understand. That doesn’t mean that the grief for those people wasn’t real. It’s not my place to judge anyone for feeling grief, so I’ll stick to being respectful. It’s the right thing to do.


  2. You are absolutely right, but I will admit to talking about not quite getting it. I mean – I was sad about Jerry – very sad, and yet I find myself a little confused my the MJ reaction.

    I think mainly I am just so very tired to hearing about it day and night. I was definitely shocked, I feel bad for his family, I even got a little teary seeing clips of his daughter at the the service (I’m not dead inside), but the constant coverage actually takes away from it, to me. It’s so exploitative and just seems “icky” to me.


  3. I’m not a Michael Jackson fan (and I was too young to know about this Jerry Garcia you speak of), and while I can understand and, in some ways, sympathize with the fans of these musicians — or any celebrity, really, my issue is with the coverage of Jackson’s death.

    Yes, I get that people think he is a music icon, but I’m not sure we need to know where the casket is every second.

    But, that’s how it goes. There’s not too many “celebrity” types I’d truly mourn in the way many folks are mourning Michael Jackson.


  4. Well said. I barely touched the topic myself (brief mention today) because I didn’t care all that much for his music ever. But I can see the point about being respectful of people’s feelings, regardless how bizarre you think they might be. I was heartbroken when Kurt Cobain killed himself — and angry. I hadn’t seen Nirvana live, and I never will.

    When we went to my in-laws yesterday, Fox News was recapping the funeral, and MJ’s daughter was sobbing on-screen. As I had the girls with me (and I found the coverage distasteful anyway), I quickly changed the channel. Monkey said, “Why was that little girl crying?” I answered, “Because her father died.”

    And I left it at that. And that fact — that a little girl lost her father — is a sad fact.

    Oh, and I tagged you.



  5. Well done post Crappy! As you know me I can be a cold hearted bastard at times but I respect other people’s heartaches. I have never been one to idolize anyone as everyone is still just another person in my eyes. I just find it hard to understand how people can wrap their lives around celebrities simply because they are popular. Call me shallow, I just don’t get it.


  6. All I can say is “thank you”… and I mean that sincerely.

    I mentioned on my running WWIII Facebook status Update Drama, that I knew more than one person that was hospitalized when Cobain died. I knew people that made themselves physically ill over Princess Di’s death. I watched friends become frighteningly moved by the deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac. I never understood those reactions, but I knew enough to know that what those “Celebrities” had touched my friends and acquaintences in a way that changed their life. And I mean that profoundly.

    Michael Jackson changed my life profoundly, and my amazement at his dance and music abilities from the time I was in kindergarten began the shaping of my backlash at the communities I grew up in that were less than gracious about a person’s skin color. I pushed boundaries because he was good… and I didn’t understand why that was bad. I forced family members to reevaluate their own upbringings in order to answer me… and it happened time and time again when he faced media scrutiny over and over again, for various different reasons. To say he was a controversial touch point in my life is an understatment.

    I didn’t sell all my belongings to go to the Staple Center, and I didn’t stay home from work, but I listened to the service, and I was moved. I can agree that the constant Casket Watch was distateful. The remaining part of the service was beautiful, and poignant. People forget just how much he changed popular culture and how much he gave to humanitarian causes. I was glad his family and friends finally sang his praises for that because he never did himself. Angelina Jolie, he was not.

    Sorry this was so long, but thank you for seeing this from a perspective other than “It doesn’t effect me, so the news must bend to my will, and people need to care about only what I care about.” You really don’t know how much that means to me.



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