Thoughts on the Michael Jackson memorial

The memorial got started at 1:33 p.m. Eastern, about a half hour late. The anticipated mobs outside the Staples Center in L.A. did not materialize as feared; police estimated about 50,000 were in or around the venue.

A gospel choir sang as the pallbearers carried in Jackson's shiny, flower-strewn coffin. The lyrics sounded like "We are going to see the King," and one wondered if the double meaning — God, the King; the King of Pop — was intended.

The podium speakers — from Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Al Sharpton, Queen Latifah (who read a Maya Angelou poem), two of Martin Luther King's children and others — took a variety of approaches, from Sharpton's fiery oratory to the more lighthearted remembrances of Gordy, Robinson and Magic Johnson.

Sharpton seemed intent on pushing the late Jackson for sainthood, saying that the people who were comfortable with Michael Jackson in their youth turned out, as 40-year-olds, to be comfortable with voting for an African-American for President. Sharpton pushed past the bounds of reality with the comment, "I would like to say to his three children there wasn't nothing strange about your Daddy; it was strange what he had to deal with."

The comment earned a long, standing ovation, probably appropriate in the context of a memorial, but essentially untrue. Michael Jackson was indeed a strange individual.

In fact, a few of the speakers chose to paint Jackson as a victim. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee exclaimed, "We know that people are innocent until proven otherwise."

Usher, Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer (in a rather odd turn playing "Human Nature" on guitar) and others sang heartfelt tunes. The most stunning of all came courtesy of Stevie Wonder, seated at a piano. He sang "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer," a ballad that Michael covered, and the rather obscure slow tune "They Won't Go When I Go," calibrating his performance with just the right measures of heartbreak and passion — and hitting notes in the upper register that a 59-year-old should not be able to reach.

in the end, the Michael Jackson memorial was about what I expected — not some kind of cathartic experience — and as fitting as I had hoped. There had been predictions that more than a billion people around the world would watch on TV. I'll be anxious to see if such a staggering number came to pass.

They saved the not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house part for the very end. As the Michael Jackson memorial stretched just past two hours this afternoon, after a series of speeches and several emotional music performances, Jackson's daughter approached the microphone, aunt Janet steadying her. Choking back sobs, 11-year-old Paris said, "Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. I just want to say I love him so much."

If that didn't get to your tear ducts at least a little, you've got a pretty chilly heart.

The second-most famous Jackson, Janet, clad in a black dress and beret, was sad- or stone-faced every time on camera. She neither spoke nor performed. Michael's brothers Jermaine and Marlon offered tributes, and Jermaine sang a teary rendition of what speaker Brooke Shields said was Michael's favorite song: the Charlie Chaplin chestnut "Smile."

Maybe I've reached Michael Jackson overload, but I stayed dry-eyed until Paris' comments at the end.


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Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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