A REAL Tribute to the King of Pop

Michael Jackson when

"Michael'' meant Michael

Amid the tumult surrounding the sad ending to Michael Jackson’s life, I got to thinking about how I have come to terms with all the baggage that has come with being a huge admirer of the Boy Wonder and Music Genius. It’s a good time to remember that before the age of “Michael’’ when “Michael’’ meant Jordan, a world that transcended music knew Michael. As in Jackson.

As media insist on making his death the freak tabloid sensation of the early 21st century, I have been coping with the loss by reaching back in time. We tend to preserve in a recess of our mind the memories that mark or change us. They surface mostly in times of joy or sadness.

In the fall of my college freshman year at 17, I was in love with two “Michaels’’, in fact, two “MJs’’. One, my boyfriend at the time, the other, the youngest brother in the hottest boy group on the scene, The Jackson 5.

MJ The Boyfriend, and I, and friends drove 30 miles northeast from Grambling, La., to the Monroe Civic Center to bear witness to a concert put on by the popular brothers group we only had known through transistor radio blasts on every floor of every dorm on campus.

After seeing Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael perform and interact with the audience, I was hooked. I’ll Be There, ABC, I Want you Back. We rocked the entire show. And, what a show. Memory of other 1970 Top 10 artists – The Beatles, Jimi Hendirx, Simon & Garfunkel –quickly blurred.

I had never seen anything like them, and I fell head over heels. I resembled countless numbers of girls, boys, women and men all ages across the United States. Unanimous echoes on the drive back (in between off-key drones of ABC lyrics) turned into an anointment: “The littlest one, Michael!” We knew that his star would rise and he would become King.

Like all Michael Jackson loyals, I followed the superstar during his high times and low points professionally and privately and shouldered years of mixed emotions. At the low point, I would embrace the special feeling he and his brothers gave me at that performance, and it somehow soothed my gloom. I had taken him into my heart all those years ago. It was easy to do having brothers his age. When rumors of his abusive childhood erupted, I was in disbelief. The Jacksons seemed wholesome, much like my family. Sure they weren’t perfect, but what family is?

We now know how the story ends. Genius often leads to complexity in the human spirit. We need only point to the abundance of examples of masters throughout history. Mozart. Einstein, Hemingway. Van Gogh.

A month ago, a dear friend and I were discussing the movie Ben with our 20-year-old daughters. Long story, but the conversation boiled down to my rodent phobia, the generational divide, and the film’s once popular title song.

My friend and I reminisced about Michael Jackson, who sang the film’s theme song. That led to us talking about Jackson’s July comeback, which led to us looking online at the artist’s vintage videos.

“Why did he have to change?’’ My friend lamented, as we watched footage of Michael and the brothers from their debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. “He was so adorable, so cute,’’ we agreed.

The Jackson 5 show all those years ago remains at the top of my list of live performances, rivaling only the late ’70s Smokey Robinson concert in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall. We like to protect our memories. So as I think of The King of Pop, and what is now a Shakespearean ending to a royal life, I will dwell on the 12-year-old boy who made this teenager feel like a princess.

(Want to pay tribute here? I welcome your feedback. Feel free to comment on your favorite Jackson 5 album and/or hit single, as well as memories of your special Michael Jackson solo. This is a Michael Jackson The Genius Safe Zone.)

Once upon a time, very very recently, there lived...

Ten happy Brownie maidens

in a kingdom not far away

Over the last two years of empty nesting, I lost sight of the fun that comes with being a Girl Scout volunteer. Got a call early June from a former fellow troop leader, explaining that our area’s local Girl
Scout council needed volunteers for summer day camp and that possibly
girls were going to be turned down if the Council couldn't meet its required adult-to-child ratio. I signed up and soon after was helping out with a 10-member Brownie unit of 6- and 7-year-olds that called themselves The Maidens in keeping with the camp theme: Medieval Manor. Girls Scouts instinctively are hard-working and smart, and they keep you on your toes. The trick is to remain standing as you lead. Thankfully, I could make good use of my old bag of strategies from seven years as a troop leader. In the end, the girls amused me and taught me a few things.

Here are choice moments from the week:

Vignette No. 1, straight from my journal...
Had a good day with Girl Scouts, but man am I wiped out. The camp theme generated a flurry of activities, crafts, songs, swaps, flag ceremonies and dances. The enthusiasm was dizzying. I'm out of practice. I was so wiped out I had to take a nap when I got home. Forgot how much I missed being around industrious girls of all ages. Some of the older scouts are from the middle school where I sometimes teach, so the first part of the day I heard a lot of "Hi Mrs. Johnson!?!?'' ricocheting from the big gym. It's funny how surprised students can be to see that teachers have a life outside of the school building. :-)

Vignette No. 2 , again, straight from the journal…
OK, today was hot hot, and I am so grateful for indoor camp activities and air-conditioned school gymnasiums. True confession: Today I discovered how out of it I am as to what the little kids are into. The one good thing about my former life as a reporter was having the Youth Beat. It kept me fresh and on top of things. So, there I was all day with 10 young Brownies smarter than me. We are one of several units, Girls K through 4. Thursday is the day units will present plays tied to the medieval theme. I had arrived late the first day and missed the production's details. Today, my Unit co-leader filled me in, telling me that the girls had opted to make their presentation a musical based on Love Story. So I thought, “Wow! That's such a modern and complicated and mature story for 7-year-olds... don't know how they will tie that all together with a medieval twist, but they seem smart and confident. More power to them.” Turns out today a small portion of the time was spent rehearsing, and that's when I found out that the Love Story musical is based on a five-minute video that is (as cool you probably already knows) a modern takeoff on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet by someone named Taylor Swift. I felt so stupid. My co-leader and I had a good laugh over it. The girls are none the wiser. These little girls are sooooooooo adorable. I forgot how fabulous this age can be. They can't wait to dress up in their pretty dresses for the ball scene.

Vignette No. 3, straight from my journal…
Man, I had to skip camp today for a “self-mandatory’’ teacher training session. Today, the Brownies/maidens created the indoor version of “campfire’’ s’mores and cooked hot dogs. What lousy timing I have!

Vignette No. 4, from you know where…
I am so proud of my little maidens. They knew all the words and dance steps and gestures and wowed the audience of peers and grownups. In the end most wanted to be fair maidens because no one wanted to be Romeo or Juliet. The ring scene was too much to take. As one of the little princesses exclaimed, “I have to marry him? No way!’’ One of the two PAs played Juliet, and the other PA’s little brother, a very brave soul, showed up to do the Romeo honors. The youngest Brownie persisted -- she didn’t want to be a princess or maiden. She had preferred being a tree in the garden where the proposal would take place. She arrived this morning with fresh cut branches from her Grandma’s oak to adorn her 3-feet frame at show time. Another had preferred strumming her guitar and pretending as a traveling musician to serenade the couple in the big proposal scene. The rest lined up as maidens and formed an impressive chorus line.
Improvisation aside, I predict they will all live happily ever after.

The End

The obvious moral of the story is that you, too, can get this corny feeling you used to get as a little girl playing princess. So, if you have spare volunteer hours, please consider giving them to our little Girl Scout sisters? If we all donate time, no girl will be denied. To learn more about volunteering in the Dallas area, visit Girl Scouts of North East Texas at http://www.gsnetx.org/