Attending Michael Jackson’s Memorial
Reflections on a sad day inside the Staples Center
It was so very sad.
I guess I should have expected the memorial service for one of the most famous men in the world to be maudlin.
Yet as I followed the crowd into the Staples Center yesterday morning, the mood was anything but morose. At some points, it was downright festive. Fans smiled and clutched souvenir programs. White-gloved impressionist moon walked. Hungry revelers stuffed McDonald’s french fries in their mouths.
From the vendors hawking t-shirts to the stylized blue lighting design to the shrieks as Kobe Bryant entered the building, it felt like the energized moments before a Lakers game – not a funeral service.
But when those first gospel chords sounded and the crowd grew ghostly quiet, the grave purpose of the moment snapped into focus.
As the Andrae Crouch Choir sang the words, “We’re going to see the king,” everyone in the Staples Center seemed to remember why they were there.
There were gaps in between speakers, a few stumbles here and there, which leant an air of honesty to the day. This wasn’t some slick sideshow. The people singing and speaking seemed to be genuinely grappling with a very personal loss.
The service was in turns touching (Stevie Wonder breaking our hearts singing “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer”), gaudy (that gold-plated coffin center stage), rousing (Al Sharpton‘s praise of Michael’s breaking of color boundaries: “Michael never let the world turn him around from his dreams”), controversial (several speakers skirting the issue of Michael’s “questionable” judgment), entertaining (thanks to songs from Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Hudson, John Mayer, Shaheen Jafargholi and others), nostalgic (Jermaine struggling to finish the verse to his brother’s favorite song, “Smile, though your heart is breaking,”) and funny (Brooke Shields‘ memories of Michael as her mischievous partner in crime and Magic Johnson‘s hilarious revelation that even Michael Jackson ate Kentucky Fried Chicken).
In other words, it was all the things Michael was.
And when a tearful Paris Jackson left the safety of her aunt Janet’s arms for an unscripted moment at the microphone, it was also very, very, very sad.
“Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine,” the 11-year-old girl managed to say. “And I just wanted to say I love him so much.”
It was such an intimate, revealing moment. In that quavering little sentence, Paris showed us a glimpse of who Michael must have been to her, and the enormity of her loss. It was a sentence that tore all of our hearts open.
Yes, even in the jaded press section, where I saw very few dry eyes.
As people filed out of the Staples Center, in one of the most quiet, somber and calm exits I’ve ever seen from an event of that size, the mood had changed entirely.
I think a lot of people felt like saying exactly what Paris had, that they all just loved Michael Jackson so much.
Except perhaps for the scalper standing at the Staples doorway on my way out. He just wanted to say that he’d give me $80 for my ticket stub.