Inner Michael » 2300 Jackson Street: Art, History and Magic

2300 Jackson Street: Art, History and Magic

The magic man who suspended the Internet when he passed also suspends ordinary life and ordinary reality. The day is anything but ordinary as I walk down the street that is blocked off by barricades. The music is unmistakably Michael Jackson and the mood is carnival as I make my way past tiny houses that look eerily cookie-cutter similar all along the street. Some of them are empty with broken windows and charred roofs; some have grass that is as tall as I am, obviously untouched for a long time. It is a neighborhood with some sadness and occasional equal charm. The address: 2300 Jackson Street.

Today is August 29, 2010 and there is a spirit of celebration; it is Michael Jackson’s birthday, or would be had he lived; wistfully I find myself wishing there was not a reason to be here. So these are the roots? This is where he came from? This is where musical genius met hard work and an icon was born? This is the street where the brothers stood on the corners perfecting their harmonies?  

There is something surreal in the air despite the party atmosphere. This neighborhood on an ordinary day might be ordinary in it bleakness. Today, it’s jammin’. Today, it’s all memory, Michael memory. It’s not hard to imagine this neighborhood back in 1968 in a time of racial tensions, civil rights struggles and Motown. It would have been even more bleak than today because of the scarcity of hope. Michael would have been ten years old and just beginning his career with Motown and getting ready to move to California after two years on the local circuit playing clubs in the Midwest.

Those were the years when the primary sound in this neighborhood would have been the “moan” Michael referred to lyrically and in dance especially poignantly in Smooth Criminal. Martin Luther King who represented so much hope for the black community was assassinated on April 4 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed shortly after his death on April 11. Robert Kennedy’s assassination would follow on June 5 of the same year. It is also the year of the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam, Apollo 7 and 8, and the election of the first black woman to congress—Shirley Chisholm and Julia debuts on TV—the first TV program to star a black woman lead—Diahann Carroll.

Motown and the Jackson 5 would go on to become instrumental in the racial integration of popular music and the crossover success of black artists. This neighborhood is historically significant for more than the obvious reasons being celebrated on August 29—Michael Jackson’s birthday. Being mindful seems important as I make my way toward the music.  

The house comes into view and is now fenced in—probably very appropriate given the monument that now stands in the front yard near the sidewalk. It is a stone monument featuring the iconic picture of Michael landing on his toes in the famous Motown 25 dance move. Beneath the monument squeezed between the fence and it’s stone edge are flowers and cards and stuffed animals. The front stoop of the house holds a planter in the shape of a lamb—which seems as much if not more, a monument and silent testimony to Michael as the elaborate stone monolith.

The stage in the middle of the street showcases Karaoke singers, dance performances and contests and Michael impersonators—some very young. In the street his music blares from speakers that give life to Michael’s admonition to sound engineers “hurt me!” One feels the vibration as well as hears it. And it makes the body want to move.

That is exactly what people are doing in the streets—moving to the rhythms of Michael music. The men especially seem to give intense focus to the moves they have obviously spent hours perfecting. Some are dressed in clothes that are torn and dirty, some in typical Michael garb and fedoras are everywhere.

An old man sits on the porch of his house behind the temporary stage and one wonders what his life becomes when the celebration is over and all the people are gone. Does he still sit on the porch daily? The neighbors are enterprising and entrepreneurial in their booths with memorabilia, T-shirts and CD/DVD sales. A woman gestures toward me holding a small roll-on bottle: “Have you tried the new Michael Jackson fragrance?”

Artists display their likenesses of Michael, some of them huge canvas portraits of his poses and dance positions. One in particular catches my eye as I notice something unusual about the work—there is a light and life coming from the canvas. It’s not just the sunlight that falls on the cloth; it’s coming from the faces.

“Who is the artist?” I ask a man in a black hat who leans lazily against the fence.

“I am,” he says.

“And the medium?”

“Air brushing acrylic.”

We strike up a conversation and he tells me of his paintings and his other work—a mural that graces the building on 24th street. It’s a painting of The Wiz, a movie that Michael starred in with Diana Ross. He introduces me to his son, also an artist, who shows me his drawings. It appears Michael Jackson was not the only artist to come from this neighborhood.

We talk about my work writing about Michael and we speak about featuring both artists at Inner Michael and Inner Michael Guest when we can work out the details as soon as there is time after the launch of the Words and Violence Curriculum and hopefully, in the near future. The father’s work has a quality that I don’t often seen in art about Michael—there is an aliveness that comes at you off the canvas. Lots of art depicts a likeness and is good art and speaks to the observer but this art makes the person in the portrait come alive. The father thanks me for saying that because this is the first time he has heard it. As an artist myself I have questions for him: “Do you use a yellow background wash to get that light in the flesh?”

“No,” he says. He attributes it to the air brush magic.

I have to agree. And I decide that someday this man is going to paint me a mural.

We also talk about the younger son’s talent and how he needs to get good grades in school and get himself a scholarship to a school of the arts. He is that talented. I wonder how many children so talented as he will not have the opportunities that Michael had. That is something I will be seriously thinking about. 

We speak briefly as well, about Voices Education Project and the soon-to-be-released curriculum coming on September 9th at Voices Education (dot) org. And I tell him about the contest I will sponsor with Voices—a contest that will give youngsters an opportunity to showcase their talents nationally and internationally. That announcement to come… so stay tuned.

But the most precious thing happening at 2300 Jackson Street is the children. They are dancing. They have not worked hard and sweated countless hours perfecting their dance moves. They have not practiced their whirls and smiles and staccato robotic moves and full stops. They move naturally to the rhythm. They giggle instinctively to Michael’s voice when he squeals. They smile broadly and unabashedly as they express the joy of his music, the light in his sound. They move to something that adults sometimes don’t remember and forget to see. They dance joyfully on this historic street. They know nothing of the significance of what happened here. They know only joy. They move to Michael because they know Michael; they know joy– it’s their natural state of being.


  1. lmat said . . .

    Gary was one more place where children sang and danced and felt the joy in Michael’s music. The vision of that happening all over the world is wonderful. And maybe, for a little while, even those of us with lots of years between then and now, could answer Michael’s question, “Have you seen my Childhood?” with a happy yes–yes, in the faces and bodies of children of all ages celebrating the gifts given by that little boy who lived in that little house. I say “Thank you, Michael.”

    Posted September 3, 2010 at 3:35 am | Permalink
  2. Suvie said . . .

    I am on another side of the world and I decided to celebrate Michael’s birthday in SOS village. My five year old joined me, we had a cake, a beautiful MJ collage, baloons, my laptop (for music) and return gifts for children. SOS village has a beautiful concept, about 10 children and a “mom” stay in an “individual cottage”. Its like home for them with a stay-in mommy and siblings.
    So when we reached, we were greated by a very articulate and charming girl of about 10 years. I was introduced to two houses, all children came together in house no 4. I showed them a picture of Michael and told them that he loved children the most and it is his birthday today. We put up the ballons and I played Michael’s videos especiallly the one that showed his love for children.
    A Moslem boy of about 7 years knew a bit to dance like Michael and I had him blow the candles and cut the cake. My 5 year old served the cake, chips and candies to children while they watched Billie Jean, Black or white and a few other videos. We played afew games and then gave them gifts. It was time to say good-bye to the beaming children. I spent my sunday Michaeling and it “felt real good” 🙂

    Posted September 3, 2010 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  3. Simona said . . .

    Oh, thank you so much for your unique point of view on this event, Barbara…. this moved me to tears.

    Posted September 3, 2010 at 8:11 am | Permalink
  4. Anne UK said . . .

    Dear Rev Barbara,
    Your eloquent words made it possible for me to experience 2300 Jackson Street as well. The sense that there is hope out there came through so strongly especially regarding the artist and his son.The father’s work was outstanding and Michael “sparkled” from that canvas.The children feel and live the rhythym that is Michael inspired. It’s amazing to think that one man could have been responsible for so much. His life here might be over but the inspiration gets stronger every day. I too thank you Michael.

    Posted September 3, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  5. Kim said . . .

    Hi Barbara, thank you for the wonderful vision of 2300 Jackson Street. I can see it and feel it. 🙂 Thank you! I know there is hope in our children…I believe!!!

    Posted September 5, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  6. Barbara J said . . .

    I am joyous to find this site! I must tell my story: When Michael died, my grief was immeasurable because of the way he was treated. I was crying, could not sleep. About a month after he died and another sleepless night, I knew I had to do something to help myself. I found out years ago that I had a little drawing talent and my first attempts were a little crude. But this sleepless night I thought I could help myself if i could only draw his eyes – just for me. It took me over an hour, but Michael was looking back at me. I was up all night and the second set of eyes were better. I started drawing him every day, and did his nose and mouth. Shocked!! Stunned! They looked just like him! I had never drawn a face in my entire life and had no art education. I did not know I was an artist! The sketches very quickly improved, became gorgeous, with an awesome likeness – and with eyes that looked alive! Looking at my pictures, some people get goose bumps, some cry. My family and friends are stunned!! I have searched the net for other stories like mine, but have found none. When I look at them, at times it feels very surreal, because I am not sure where this came from. I do know one thing. Michael has brought a miracle to my life. I believe the spirit of Michael Jackson will bring miracles to others. sincerely, Barb J RN

    Posted September 7, 2010 at 7:28 am | Permalink
  7. shaitasha mcmann said . . .

    I really miss Michael; he will be missed.

    Posted October 20, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

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