Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Another Part of Me...

Can it be I stayed away too long?...Every impulse is an MJ song these days. It has been a long month with much excitement and travel, but it all comes back to what's now missing. I was on staff at Cave Canem when we got the news of Michael's passing and, though I missed being home with my parents--the folks who bought me all three of my Michael Jackson dolls, my red walkman, and my multiple Thriller tapes--there was no other place I would have wanted to be. The hardcore crew loaded up in cars and found a bar with CNN and some serious karaoke and sang ourselves into the night. When it was time to head back (since people still had those Off the Wall-inspired poems to write...), we lit up the campus with music and danced (and wrote!) until dawn.

To be among artists when a great artist is lost is truly a gift. No one questions why this work was invaluable and how it shifted lives because they are already assured that this is what art does, what it's meant to do. Music was my first art. My family says there is a reel-to-reel lost in someone's attic that has a clip of me singing Diana Ross' eulogy to Marvin Gaye and others with such feeling and anguish that no one would believe I was only three years old when the song was captured. And while I've always been 'struck' by certain music in a way I could never articulate, there are a few artists--Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, maybe one or two others--who, over the years, became the soundtrack to my life. It sounds strange to think of it that way, but there's no other way to explain it. I can pinpoint every moment of my life by their voices, their changes in style and movement, their lyrics, their harmony, their melodies. Every moment of my life has been punctuated by their work. And, as an artist, the loss of this kind of legacy, affects me so deeply. It's like losing someone who traveled with me every day of my life.

I'm always impressed by artists who live and breathe their work. This is not my life. If it were, I'd probably be a better artist or practicing another kind of art. But I am in awe of those who go unchallenged as some of the greatest artists who ever came to be. The video below shows Michael as that kind of consummate showman. He knew how to work a stage and whip a room into a frenzy. He perfected his art. He loved it, and how it moved us:

In the months to come, just like in all the years passed, we'll hear countless reports about money and drugs and all of MJ's humanness, what we won't hear enough about is his boundless charity and empathy, his 10,000 book library and his love for poetry. Friends say he was reading Tagore just before he passed and that he relished in Emerson. Emerson's words serve as a fitting eulogy the man who gave every bit of himself to art, to love:

Give All to Love

Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
Friends, kindred, days,
Estate, good-frame,
Plans, credit and the Muse,—
Nothing refuse.

’T is a brave master;
Let it have scope:
Follow it utterly,
Hope beyond hope:
High and more high
It dives into noon,
With wing unspent,
Untold intent:
But it is a god,
Knows its own path
And the outlets of the sky.

It was never for the mean;
It requireth courage stout.
Souls above doubt,
Valor unbending,
It will reward,—
They shall return
More than they were,
And ever ascending.

Leave all for love;
Yet, hear me, yet,
One word more thy heart behoved,
One pulse more of firm endeavor,—
Keep thee to-day,
To-morrow, forever,
Free as an Arab
Of thy beloved.

Cling with life to the maid;
But when the surprise,
First vague shadow of surmise
Flits across her bosom young,
Of a joy apart from thee,
Free be she, fancy-free;
Nor thou detain her vesture’s hem,
Nor the palest rose she flung
From her summer diadem.

Though thou loved her as thyself,
As a self of purer clay,
Though her parting dims the day,
Stealing grace from all alive;
Heartily know,
When half-gods go,
The gods arrive.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson