When Michael Jackson died a few months ago, I didn't have an opportunity at the time to write down any of my feelings about his passing, much less his career, his legacy, and his impact on my own life. I didn't cry, I don't remember being "shocked," and I didn't really react at all, to be honest, except with some mild degree of incredulity over the way so many people were just wracked with sorrow over the death of someone many of them would have vilified the day before it happened.
But a couple of weeks later, I spoke to my mom, whose well-worn vinyl copy of Off the Wall still takes up a place in my record collection, and who gave me Thriller when I was seven. She mentioned that I was the first person she thought of when she heard the news. Somehow that actually affected me more than his actual death, and I really started thinking about how much his music really meant to me. While that ongoing reflection has mostly manifested itself in repeated plays of both of the albums mentioned, as well as Bad, it made me both curious and apprehensive about This Is It, the documentary Kenny Ortega put together about his final tour.
Last Wednesday I went to see the film, and I wasn't deeply roused by it, either as a Jackson fan or a general filmgoer. Part of this can no doubt be attributed to the fact that the footage was by all accounts never intended to be seen by anyone other than Jackson himself, so any real structure or polish applied to its rough edges in order to create dramatic momentum was done posthumously. But even though I never judged Jackson for endlessly transforming himself into an almost literal shell of his former self, watching him on stage in this documentary, struggling to maintain the energy and focus that once came so easy and natural (or at least looked that way), I couldn't help thinking that Michael Jackson was a figure better celebrated in our memories, even before he passed away.