Saying goodbye to Michael Jackson at the Motown Museum, and what he meant to me personally
To those who were waiting for the beginning of my promised 3-part Michael Jackson piece on Monday, I apologize for the delay. I went to the Motown Historical Museum on Sunday afternoon to leave a small memorial collage that I made along with some flowers, and to be honest it hit me much harder than I imagined it would. I've spent the last few days in a bit of a haze and I couldn't put the words together, though I've been working on it bit by bit as inspiration strikes.
I tend to mourn loved ones very privately, saving my tears for the seclusion of the shower or maybe crying into my pillow at night after everyone else is asleep. Since we're talking about a celebrity who I did not know personally, who I never even saw live on tour or in person, I did not think that I would be hit with that overwhelming wave of emotions at the memorial.
But when I walked up to the Motown Museum with my loved ones, the heaviest feeling of loss swept through me. I saw the larger than life banner hanging from the roof... the fans of all ages and all races... the gifts lining the front of the building... the music blaring from giant speakers in front of the museum and all down the block... My lips quivered and the tears started to flow. I'd take a moment and think I had it under control, and the tears would come again.
My hero was really gone, and there on the lawn of the former Hitsville USA, Berry Gordy's iconic Motown studio that I had the opportunity to walk through several years ago, I truly felt that irreparable loss. In my head I kept hearing the words, "Nothing will ever be the same." And I know that's the truth.
I kept looking at my own picture on the collage that I left (you can click the pic to see it full-size if you like). Age three, wearing my Michael Jackson shirt, at the height of his fame and at the beginning of my love of music.
I looked at that little girl and I knew that I was mourning her just as much as I was mourning Michael Jackson. At a very young age I was told that my musical aspirations were unrealistic. I knew better than to accept that, but I did quickly learn to keep my singing and songwriting under wraps. Just like Michael Jackson never felt normal or good enough, I became very aware that I was not like other people. I developed two sides--an almost completely private side where I was an artist, a singer, a songwriter, and a future star; and a public side where I was ordinary, quiet, and all but invisible.
The little girl who is captured in that photo is the real me. The authentic, happy soul who existed before I became ashamed of my dreams... before I developed two distinct personalities, public and private. I heard magic when I placed that needle into the grooves on the exquisite piece of vinyl called Thriller. I just looked at that well-worn record today and it's still got my messy kid handprints literally all over it. The album jacket itself is creased and bent because I used to lay with it on the couch while I listened to the music. When Billie Jean and Beat It were on MTV, or if The Wiz was on, you know I was lying on the floor in the family room with my eyes glued to the set. And that's only the Thriller era I'm talking about--that was only the beginning.
I stood there at the memorial in tears, mourning us both. We both ran from ourselves for the last 25+ years when we both should have been accepting ourselves and churning out an endless stream of music. I can't bring Michael Jackson back, but I can bring Kelley Hornyak back. There is so much that I want to achieve before I leave this life myself. I want to do it as me, not as somebody else.
I have so much to say about Michael Jackson. I don't even know if I can honestly fit it into three blog posts. I'm sure I'll be talking about him on and off for a good long while after this. With every album release, I was there. I know every note, every word, every embellishment and ad lib, every behind-the-scenes story. It hurts to know that he's sung his last note. I'm grateful that we will still, at some point, get to hear it... hopefully along with everything else from the vaults.
If Michael Jackson never existed as a solo artist--if he never believed in his own magic enough to go solo and reach a height that no one else has ever reached--I would never have wanted that gold and platinum (or diamond status as he achieved) for myself. I don't know if I'll ever get there. I have certainly wasted a lot of time, and Michael's death has only made me more aware of that. But even if I die tomorrow, the deep need to create music and to center my life around that creativity... that's what I'm really about. And Michael Jackson is the one who taught me the value of that.
Not a lot of people in my daily life have really seen that creative side of me because I have kept it so private... but it's what's always driven me, and it's an undercurrent in all that I do. There is rarely a moment that these dreams aren't on my mind, and I don't think I'll ever feel completely comfortable in my own skin until I achieve at least a small piece of musical success. Success is defined differently nowadays. It's a different path than it was in 1982. But when I prove that it was never an unrealistic dream, I'll be able to breathe and relax and be me all the time.
The unbelievably gifted human being who we all wanted so badly to believe in, even through the scary and confusing times, has left us for a better place. We're left to believe in ourselves now until one of us becomes the next legend. If I make it, I have to make it in a world without Michael Jackson. What artist in my generation didn't want to be heard and recognized by Michael Jackson? For those of us who haven't made it yet, that day will never come. Or I guess we can look at it in a different way, and believe that he sees and hears every word we sing, along with Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and every other musical pioneer who has passed away.
I don't know that anyone in my life can completely understand what Michael Jackson meant to me or how deeply his death has actually affected me. I can't express it verbally as well as I can express it in writing, and no one around me writes music or really looked at him as a role model to emulate. There seem to be two groups of people mourning him--the artists and the music lovers. And of course those two groups overlap. But for some he was magical entertainment to enjoy and dance to, and for others he was almost a musical god and an ideal to aspire to. The way that he felt when Jackie Wilson and James Brown died--that's how I feel about losing Michael Jackson. There are still other geniuses lighting the way, but nobody like him.
More to say, more to write, and more pictures from the memorial to post... but like he said in his book Dancing the Dream, that's "enough for today." Stick around, I'll be posting more on Thursday and Saturday.