Inner Michael » Tribute and Review of "This Is It:" The movie and Michael Jackson’s Last Performance

Tribute and Review of "This Is It:" The movie and Michael Jackson’s Last Performance

Once again I stand guilty of not appreciating someone enough until they are gone never to return. And so it is with Michael. I call him by his first name now because I know him personally—but only so after his passing and only after seeing his movie “This is It.”

I finally understand Michael the man, both the human being and the creative genius, and I see the incredibly wide love for people and the planet… that came from this singular figure.

One listen to the lyrics of his songs will tell what the man was made of…

“Heal the World
Make it a better place
For you and for me and the entire human race.
There are people dying
If you care enough for the living
Make a little space
Make a better place.”

“When they say why, why? Tell ‘em that it’s human nature.
Why, why do you do me this way?”

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change.”

I sat in the parking lot and cried for most of an hour after leaving the movie. I didn’t know why. The tears were not voluntary. In the theatre I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leak the magic. I didn’t want him to be gone.

I felt the finality of that curtain call and realized that I couldn’t have another chance with him—to rescind my doubt. I wanted forgiveness for ever having it. I felt immobile with sadness—in betraying him, in overlooking him, in dismissing him, in questioning him, in doubting him. The tears were because… there are no do overs. Because the world lost something un-named and un-namable with his passing. Because it was something bright. Because Michael held so much love. Because I felt his loneliness. His vulnerability. But mostly I grieved for the light gone out in the world. I still do.

I had always wondered if Michael was guilty of the things people accused him of doing. I had agonized over my own feelings, my own repulsion if the accusations were true. Over the what ifs. You see, I grew up with the Jackson 5 and my children gew up with Michael’s music. I felt if Michael was guilty it would be a personal betrayal and a betrayal of my children. I rejoiced when he was finally found “not guilty” but not everyone accepted his innocence and I confess, in the back of my mind in a little corner, I always wondered. Accusation does that- creates doubt.

After seeing “This is It” I now know the truth. Michael Jackson never deliberately hurt anybody. Ever. I didn’t miss his incredible kindness to musicians in his band; his “we’ll get it done” assurance to his musical director who wanted his contribution to be perfect because it was, after all, Michael Jackson he was trying to please. I saw his infinite patience with the singers, musicians and dancers as he worked hands on with them to polish their performances. I heard the patronizing tones in the voices of people addressing him and his gracious and patient replies. I heard Michael the leader, teacher and master who used metaphor to help them feel his intentions. I heard Michael the guru who urged them to share the spotlight and shine with their own talent. I saw his hands say what his words could not and I watched the tender and not so tender genius in those gestures and those hands.

Michael was beloved and adored by millions– fans and friends. That love and a kind of artist-to-artist admiration beamed from the sparse audience that made up his cast and crew for the concert tour that was to be “This is It.” Michael was teaching them as well as rehearsing. His absolute clarity was stunning. His understanding of transcendentalism, mystery, creative tension and especially using magic and metaphor to take people to places beyond ordinary awareness and through the tunnel of emotion– to a place they had never been and never imagined was genius. All of us have that talent somewhere inside us but convention, tradition, condition and cultural boundaries can prevent us from going there. Performance anxiety runs much deeper than stage fright. His clarity in performance and leadership was humble perfection.

Because of his early recognition and financial success, very few of the limits and demands of everyday life that press upon us and drain juice from our imagination, wonder and creative impulse touched Michael. Michael’s stardom began very early in life; his childhood was anything but average. And with his talent, he cultivated unrestricted access to most of the world and certainly to the creative realm of wonder and invention. Living most of his life without healthy boundaries brought great aspirations and ambition but also intense pain, betrayed trust and the anguish of being constantly misunderstood. Michael pushed the envelope; he pushed relentlessly and hard. He was showman, businessman and genius. The grand genius of his works, and especially his concerts were the transcendental experiences. “Transendental” takes us somewhere else beyond the personal self, to a place where the self and the world become something more and we become something more. Michael was loved for what he showed us was possible. He was the man in the mirror and the one holding it up for us to look.

I always loved his dancing but wondered why the sexual “beyond innuendo” in some of it. Watching him in the act of creation—I now understand that it comes from the passion of someone who “rocks it” not because he wanted to or had to but because that was what came through him, through his body. The driving beat of Michael’s music carries an intensity that demands the body move, gyrate, leap, growl and grind. The intensity centers in the groin and solar plexus because it comes from the “seat of emotion.” Intensely emotional, it is the language of pure passion. Hindis have a name for that passionate grinding, grounding energy that rises from the place in the human body where spirit meets matter, where physicality meets soul. It’s the energy of gestation, birth, genesis, of force and forceful release—that rises into and becomes creation. It’s the impulse energy that rushes hot and upward along the backbone from the groin and solar plexus. It is the place of the Kundalini force, the juice of life. And it’s explosive. Like orgasm, that creation energy sends waves of physical earthquakes up the backbone. It is obvious that Michael felt it in his music; it exploded through the music, through him and through his body.

“This is It” left me with some questions:

How do you live with the paradox that millions of people around the world love you but you cannot leave your home? How do you never push a cart down the aisle in a grocery store? Never enter a music store where your recordings are on sale? Never go to a baseball game, a parade, a zoo or picnic in a park with your children? How do you never be left alone yet be so very, very alone? How do you write so well of loneliness? And when you’re with people, how do you sort out if someone is being authentic with you or playing to your public persona? How do you be so painfully shy and have such massive talent that it cannot be contained? How do you never say no when and because the music hounds and haunts until it comes through you? How do you rehearse for hours to exhaustion because you can’t NOT share the bigness of your creative genius with the world? How do you stand up and be a superstar in a world with so much shadow? How do you keep writing lines that highlight or attack that shadow? How do you survive when the shadow turns on you? I understand now it was a calling—the kind that no one could turn their back on because it possesses them. Oh yes, Michael was called. Look at his lyrics—most of them are prayer.

And how do you live so naked in public light knowing that for some, you are everything and for others, you will never be enough? How do you remain steadfast in the the beacon called “public scrutiny” allowing yourself to be a larger than life target for opportunists? How do you bear continuing vilification perpetuated by unscrupulous exploiters when the unthinkable accusation doesn’t even live in your consciousness, your world? How do you come to show up for court another day to listen to them excoriate you, shred your very personhood, destroy who you are being? How do you get out of bed? Out of your pajamas? How do you reconcile being accused alone even if found “not guilty” of unspeakable acts to children when you have always loved children because of their wonder, their innocence? How do you trust ever again after someone gained your confidence and left the best part of you on the cutting room floor and called the remainder tabloid film a documentary of your life? How do you survive a mad dog mentality in the legal system bent on destroying you? The very system that is supposed to protect you? How then do you gather up the carelessly flung about pieces of your life? And in the midst of it, or in its aftermath, how do you even show up for life?

Maybe you become a recluse and look for something to dull the pain and make the brutality and exhaustion go away. Maybe to make the world go away for awhile. Maybe you even find a doctor or two who will give a little something that helps to ease your woundedness while you try to heal yourself. Can the missing chunks of flesh chewed by those who wanted a pound, be patched? How deep is the wound? Weary soul deep or just weary bone deep?

How do you bear a lifetime of insults, slurs and lies too many to address and too tormenting to allow inside because it would paralyze you? How do you not let it harden your heart? How do you bear comments about your face? My god, your face! The only thing you can be in, express to the world, telegraph your emotions with. How do you live with Lupus, a disease that wants to consume your body and Vitiligo, a disease that mars your face? The face that presents you to the world, the face you make a living with? How do you live under umbrellas because the sun makes the blotching of your skin that much worse? When you do the best you can with the treatments that are necessary but that make your skin appear bleached and whiter? Now that the disease has left you with more white than black skin in large blotches, and the doctors have avised that the best treatment is to zap the dark skin with lasers to even it out, how do you bear the accusations that you have become a trader to your race? How do you navigate being the butt of thousands of jokes and unkind remarks that impale you? How do you survive without one single day in the sun romping at the beach? I wish “we” could have loved and accepted you just the way you were. I wish we could have cradled you and your face with our minds. But the world is not kind to blemish and imperfection. But you knew that didn’t you Michael? Being the perfectionist and artist you were, you kept changing your face. You always empathized with the dowtrodden, disabled and disfigured– you were closer to them than any of us knew. You hid it from us so well.

How do you explain to a world that is too far gone and will never be innocent enough again to understand that boys loved to hang out with you because you are a legend? A bigger than life greatness that gives them hope in the descending despair of childhood and adolescence, a someone who gives them something undefined to aspire to? That, yes, they see the Peter Pan in you, love you because of it, and want to be close to you because you embody that unabashed joy and wonder that they feel slipping from them. The thing that the world-in-becoming-grown up lost when it lost the innocence of simple “believing?” How do you explain that boys are hanging out to hang onto something so gossamer that it can’t be defined? But you too, know what it is and want them to have it just a little longer. How do you explain that they are beginning to discover that if they let go of you, (more what you represent) they will have to confront the despairing reality that they don’t care much for this world the way it is either.

Are we all so far out from childhood that we don’t remember?

How do you pay for children’s’ artificial limbs and transplants in an unknown act in an unknown hospital in an unknown country meanwhile bearing an accusation of deliberately causing harm to children? How do you navigate the vitriolic damnation of some who haven’t heard you were found not guilty? Or couldn’t hear it because of their own shadow? When it would never occur to you to hurt a little boy because you, yourself conspire to always embody the magic and wonder for the “boy” in all of them and for the sake of all of them? We all have to bear sometime that one searing and rending wound, the loss of innocence. Was your innocence so great that it took that to destroy it? Did it require that much shadow to cover the light that you were? How do you ever return to Neverland? I guess you don’t.

Oh, yes you were eccentric, Michael, in your own way and by some of the world’s standards. And sheltered. Creative geniuses usually are. Yes, you marched to your own drummer. Only, because you didn’t like the beat or the vibe of this planet, the one you landed on at birth. Yes, you were Peter Pan in the flesh but only because the world was not a place where you could live, where your fragile spirit could be nourished or thrive. Peter Pan held more sanity than the real world. Yet up until the very end, you were still trying to make it a better place! It would have been so much easier to turn your back on a world that didn’t understand you. It would have been understandable. Even expected. But then you always were a master of the unexpected. How is it, Michael that you could or would continue to care?

That Michael Jackson was truly a contradiction is understated but evident in his last appearance. His humility, clarity, unassuming and egoless private persona certainly “contradicts” the moments he “rocks it.” His shyness contradicts his superstar status. In “This is It,” Michael is truly being Michael— the contradiction. The glory. What if that Michael truly never understood the dark energies that come from minds that cannot comprehend true innocence and genuine naiveté? The creative or creation impulse? What an incredible gift to the world yet the world didn’t appreciate him well—both lion and lamb. Yes,the world crucified yet another of our lambs who was a (oh yes he was!) light unto the world. And then again, perhaps Michael did understand. He sang, after all, about “human nature.”

And maybe we never knew him until now. Until he was gone. Until “This is It.” Were he still here, I would not have met the real Michael. I would not have known him. I would not have seen the genius, the creative impulse, the clarity of leadership, the ownership of the awesome power and responsibility that he knew he held. I would not have known the Michael in the Music as well as the music in Michael. I wince when I think about the number of times the man put himself out there not knowing if what would return would be revulsion or love. And yet he was staging a comeback—he was willing to give the world and us another chance. And it would have brought him back to us and us back to him; of that I am sure. Would the world have appreciated that magnanimity of the risk, the gift? We will never know. At least he never gave up on the world. On us.

I wonder who now will take over his role– not as the “King of Pop” but as the world’s cheerleader and hummanitarian? What language will she speak? How will he get the world’s attention? Michael spoke in the language of music. It was because of the language he spoke that he was able to reach the masses. Because he was so widely beloved, Michael was able to mobilize forces, bring people together, and create story in the most unusual and spectacular ways. He was a man with a mission and because of who he was, he was able to command audiences of millions. He used music- a popular and universal language to trumpet his message. He used it to reach just the right audience- youth. Michael understood that young people hold the hope for the future and the world. And his message was about healing the world, caring for children and that “we are one.” He was able to spread it universally to many generations and peoples around the globe. Who now is capable of that? We know in a quiet and secret place that there will never be another Michael. We, the world, didn’t cherish him enough, in fact we didn’t treat him very well and now he is gone.

Watching the movie, something Michael never intended for release, made me feel a little like a voyeur watching a man preparing to expose his soul to judgment. I felt like I had trespassed into sacred space. But I am grateful for it. I feel like I now know the soul of this man called Michael. He loved big. Oh, I always loved his talent, but I didn’t love Michael, the man. It wasn’t enough.

And my final gift from Michael is the realization that “Man in the Mirror” which has to be my favorite song, has an even deeper message than “be the change you wish to see in the world” of Gandhi. There are some people on this planet who saw his light earlier, longer and who never doubted because they had to have seen in Michael, the reflection of their own light. Just like those to whom he reflected their darkest shadow. I wish it hadn’t taken his death to bring me the bright light that was Michael Jackson and the mirror of mine. I just didn’t love him as much as he loved me.

(c) ~ Barbara Kaufmann 2009 and beyond


  1. Simona said . . .

    So beautiful, Barbara … thank you.

    Posted July 1, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  2. Shondra Fowler said . . .

    Thank you so much for writing this about Michael. Man in the Mirror is my favorite song too! What you said about Michael really touched my heart, tears in my eyes and I’m glad that there are some people in this world that can change and see the light! May God bless you for this and I pray this will also inspire many around the world who live in darkness that they too can see the light!

    Posted September 21, 2010 at 12:13 am | Permalink

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