Friday, June 26, 2009

'It don't matter if you're black or white'

A friend of mine put it quite well this morning. She said: "Somehow you knew he was never going to grow old. Now he doesn't have to."

I had planned to go play at the 125th Street station at some point during this project, to acknowledge the Apollo Theater and its importance to music in Harlem, the City and wider world. I just didn't think it would be under circumstances like these.

Regardless of all the gossip, rumor and conspiracy theories amid the media overkill of the last 24 hours, by the time I got up there today, the mood had turned to a celebration of his music. Folks were, quite literally, dancing in the streets. Michael Jackson t-shirts were everywhere. People were dressed as him; one young girl wearing a red "Thriller" jacket moonwalked in the doorway of a discount suit store and was greeted with cheers when she finished.

A lovely woman about my age called Sophia told me that she and Michael had shared a birthday. "Even though he wasn't blood family, I feel like I've lost a brother," she said.

I watched as staff from the Apollo, where the Jackson Five had performed at the famous talent night early in their career, gathered up the makeshift shrine that had formed by the doors. And always, there was singing. The crowd must have sung through all of his hits at least once, and between songs it was like they were constantly chanting his name.

A few years ago when I lived in Michigan, I'd visited the Motown Museum and was just knocked out to have been able to stand in the studio where so much great music was created. Even though I'm a white boy from Ireland, with a whole different musical DNA, it resonated with me that I was in a place where something genuinely special had happened.

No doubt there'll be more than enough time to talk about exactly how Michael Jackson died. But I felt privileged today to watch people celebrate his life.

The 125th Street station on the 2/3 line has a wonderful series of mosaics celebrating the Harlem Renaissance and the community's artistic, literary, sporting and social achievements.

On the platform today, I played only one song, once. People smiled as they went past, I hope because they knew I was being sincere. But even then, I felt like I was intruding. Anything more would have been too much.

I Want You Back - Jackson Five

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