For all the lovely grace notes, homages, and eulogies that have flowed from any number of erudite and compassionate individuals in the wake of Michael Jackson’s untimely death at the young age of 50, a celebrity’s death is not over in American until the huge, gaudy, multi-million dollar traffic-slaughtering funeral. Which is today, at 1PM EST, at Los Angeles’s Staples Center, where a truly confusing team of musicians, athletes, and stars of all stripes will come together to send off MJ in a manner that, as yet, remains to be seen. SOTC will be following along in real time–refresh the page for updates–and now, as we get set to go, let’s welcome Voice Music Editor Rob Harvilla to the booth. Rob?
RH: Alright Zach. Let’s do our part to deep-six the internet.
RH: So I have avoided pre-game activities, the tailgating and whatnot. First question: Is his body in the building?
ZB: The body is on the move. It *will* be in the building.
RH: Man that is some macabre shit.
ZB: Bill O’Reilly says: “Many newspeople apparently think Jackson was some kind of hero because he could sing and dance.” Is this in fact true?
RH: I suppose it is, Bill. Nice of him to go gender-neutral with “newspeople,” I suppose. It’s fun now to enter the “contempt for people still talking about this” phase of the MJ cycle.
ZB: Probably the wrong day for that. Katie Couric says Michael probably would’ve appreciated all the animals they herded out of the building this morning to make way for Mariah Carey. Et al.
RH: Ouch. She’s quoting Elizabeth Taylor’s Twitter. This is the golden age. Let me note that indomitable LA Weekly music editor Randall Roberts is in the building somehow. He, unlike Elizabeth Taylor, will be Twittering about this when not in poor taste. I trust his judgment.
RH: The Bronx is in the house. “I would just die if I saw a limo.” Holding a suspiciously prominent bottle of Coke. This is the Golden Age.
ZB: What about a hearse?
RH: I think she would accept a hearse, yes.
ZB: Police, fire, sanitation…estimated cost: between 2 and 4 mil. Money that Los Angeles “doesn’t have.” They’re soliciting donations on a website. Between this and the Lakers LA probably wishes it was Cleveland right about now.
RH: They can have it. Did people inside, who won that lottery, have to pay anything?
ZB: It’s free, unless you scalped a ticket for $50,000 dollars, in which case it cost $50,000. Or whatever. We’re live.
RH: Smokey Robinson. Reading a letter from Diana Ross. A fine opening act. Plus Nelson Mandella.
ZB: Nelson Mandela!
RH: I wonder if Jack Nicholson got an automatic courtside seat.
ZB: He’s going to start complaining about calls to Smokey Robinson any second.
RH: Scarfing nachos and leering. So do we know pretty much exactly what’ll be happening here?
ZB: I think we don’t. There’s a guestlist that makes no sense. And Mariah’s definitely singing “I’ll Be There.” Beyond that, who knows? Could be the BET awards. Could be…something far more classy and sensitive.
RH: It seemed like a good idea to avoid that BET Awards thing entirely. Was this a wise impulse?
ZB: Let’s just say Joe Jackson was invited.
RH: Hahahaha. That’ll do. And Soulja Boy.
ZB: Couric with the hard-hitting questions: “How are you so sure his best years were ahead?”
RH: I’m with you Katie. Look at that backdrop.
ZB: Casket is on the move.
RH: There it is.
ZB: Ug. Sad.
RH: Yeah this is gonna end up being way more affecting than I had anticipated.
ZB: Pastor Lucius Smith: “We come together to remember the time.” Nice pun.
RH: Yeah expect about 20 of those. Nothing involving “Smooth Criminal” I would imagine. Aaaaand let’s just get Mariah singing “I’ll Be There” out of the way shall we?
ZB: Mariah should’ve painted her cleavage mourner’s black if she was gonna go the risque route. Just sayin’.
RH: Look at that Harlem crowd. This is nicely underplayed though. Relatively.
ZB: Yeah, even the finale. “Thank you Jesus. We miss you.”
RH: Yes, we do all miss Jesus. Can’t really do this without Queen Latifah, right?
ZB. She’s doing a credible robot. And now come the tears. I’m kinda with her. Maya Angelou wrote a poem for Michael Jackson!
RH: That’s when you know you’ve made it. It’s sad that this is mostly how you hear her nowadays. Eulogizing. She was at the Odetta memorial uptown a few months back.
RH: Ohhhhh shiiiitt. Lionel Richie. On the Commodores’ “Jesus Is Love.” How many actual MJ tunes are we gonna hear? How many are remotely appropriate for this setting?
ZB: Not many. We’ll see Usher and Justin dance for sure though.
RH: Like can you really bust out “Billie Jean” at a thing like this? I guess you can. So what’s the huge closer here? “You Are Not Alone”? “We Are the World”?
ZB: Berry Gordy up next. “The Motown family mourns the death of our friend and brother, Michael Jackson, who was like a son to me.”
RH: All the Jacksons sitting there in sunglasses is pretty intense. “Who’s Lovin’ You” is probably the biggest rediscovery for me thus far.
ZB: Smokey reaction shot ambiguous.
RH: Outsinging Smokey at 10 years old. So what percentage of this fanfare will Prince get when the time comes?
ZB: About half. Maybe less. There’s less of this Motown/industry backstory for people to get worked up on. Gordy makes very oblique reference to legal troubles, troubles in general. How close are we going to get to any of that stuff?
RH: That’ll be about it. This’ll be what the coverage has been for the past week and a half: eulogizing someone who died around 1985.
ZB: Gordy: “Greatest entertainer that ever lived.” Standing ovation.
RH: Pretty great from Gordy.
ZB: Clips. This whole thing could be montages. Or music videos. My lord.
RH: Man the anti-gravity lean from the “Smooth Criminal” video is still my favorite.
RH: Oh Stevie Wonder. I’m gonna lose it.
ZB: This one’s not getting topped I don’t think.
RH: “I Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer.” Yeah this is it for me. Oh my god
I love this song. This is bone-chilling. “They Won’t Go When I Go.”
ZB: Great. Jackson brothers on their feet. All are wearing one white glove. Stevie and Michael go back as far as possible as it is to go.
RH: Kobe and Magic.
ZB: Kobe says Michael is in the Guiness Book of World Records for “most charities supported by a pop star.” That sounds made up.
RH: Man I hope “They Won’t Go When I Go” gets a massive iTunes bump.
ZB: Magic: “I truly believe Michael made me a better point guard and basketball player.” Are we really here already?
RH: Who made Larry Bird better? John Denver?
ZB: Magic had grilled chicken at Michael’s house. Michael got KFC.
RH: KFC sales go through the roof.
ZB: Magic praises Michael’s mom, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Joe Jackson’s name conspicuously absent.
RH: There was a “…and his father” earlier in the speech, but yes. Let’s just leave him out of this.
ZB: Is he in the building do we know?
RH: I think he isn’t. Thought I heard a talking head mention that.
RH: I was thinking Aretha immediately, but no, Jennifer Hudson.
ZB: Jennifer Hudson may be the youngest pop star ever to end up in the default serious eulogy spot
RH: Yeah no kidding. I considered also Mary J. Blige, but nah. Aretha is probably super pissed about this. Dorky choreography on loan from David Byrne’s show.
ZB: Who is talking right now?
RH: That would be him.
RH: Yep. How long is this slated to last?
ZB: Till tomorrow, as far as I can tell.
RH: Urgh Al Sharpton. Please don’t dance Al.
ZB: Memories of the 1970 Black Expo. Of course Sharpton was there at the beginning. “He put on one glove, pulled his pants up, and broke down the color curtain.” Music videos and magazine covers. Do you think he knows music videos and magazines don’t exist anymore?
RH: First time I’m really conscious of the crowd there though. Just the way Al whips them up. “It’s not about mess, it’s about his love message.” “Don’t focus on the scars, focus on the journey.” “Michael never stopped. Michael never stopped. Michael never stopped.” “Wasn’t nothin’ strange about your daddy. It was strange what he had to deal with.”
ZB: And the family stands up. Classy to address so much of this to Jackson’s family.
RH: Yeah no denying Al’s power when it comes to stuff like this.
ZB: I’ve been dreading this moment
RH: Oh man. I didn’t know enough to dread it. John Mayer throwing down on “Human Nature.” Maybe dial back the Jazz Face today John.
RH: And thus an all-time ballad is reduced to elevator music.
ZB: Yeah this belongs in a dentist’s office.
RH: Black people in Harlem seen dancing to John Mayer for what will be the final time. Yikes yikes yikes.
ZB: Dude enough with the solos! And now he’s getting hugs. What the fuck for?
RH: SUCKER-PUNCH HIM TITO.
RH: Well I for one am relieved to have something to joke about.
ZB: We’re not out of the woods yet.
RH: Brooke Shields is not gonna handle this well.
ZB: I was 13 when we met. And from that point on, I was his beard and closest confidant.
RH: Hahaha. That’s some cold shit Zach Baron. “We never performed together.” And thank god.
ZB: “When we were together, we were two little kids having fun.” OK–I feel terrible now.
RH: Oh it’s alright. They laughed together. We can laugh together.
ZB: This is like page 143 of her autobiography
RH: “The night before Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding.”
ZB: “…and then Mick Jagger staggered by, high on cocaine.” Now she’s talking about how she asked him “What’s up with the glove?” …aaaannd she’s reading from the Little Prince.
RH: And why not. “This calls to mind a passage from ‘The Hobbit.'”
ZB: Blanket’s first shout out of the night
RH: It just sort of dawned on me that Michael Jackson has a son named Prince. And a secretary named Lincoln.
RH: I hesitate to say this but Janelle Monae sings this song. Sorry. Moving on.
ZB: Jermaine is huge. I mean his presence onstage
RH: He really is. The Jackson Tribute Album is coming right?
ZB: Dunno. I guess it’s likely. Jermaine and “Smile”–not quite Stevie but pretty moving.
RH: Oh boy. Felt like he almost lost it at the end.
ZB: I think he almost did. MLK III: On June 25, “Heaven and earth did pause indeed to say, ‘Here lived a great entertainer who did his job well.'”
RH: Can you imagine being MLK’s son/daughter and getting like a B in public speaking?
ZB: That rated a B+ at least.
RH: Oh good someone from the House of Representatives is here. “Innocent until proven otherwise.”
ZB: I could use some of Magic Johnson’s baked chicken right about now.
RH: Better Sheila Jackson Lee I guess than Nancy Pelosi. Michael Jackson = The Good Samaritan.
ZB: Resolution 600, to be debated on the House floor: Claims Michael Jackson as an American legend and musical icon. Someone who will be honored forever and forever and forever and forever. Peter King is not pleased
RH: Alright Usher. Try not to showboat here. On MJ’s own “Gone Too Soon.” The NINTH single from “Dangerous.”
RH: Usher get away from his casket this instant. Thank you.
ZB: Tears. Class act, that Usher. Jackson on the Ed Sullivan show, 1970. When Usher was this age he was being introduced to groupies in P Diddy’s mansion.
RH: Smokey Robinson: “I wrote that song!”
RH: So MJ singing clearly adult songs so intensely at 10 years old. Can that be drilled into you, the ability to feign that kind of emotion? Or is it just totally a supernatural thing?
ZB: Completely supernatural. It’s absurd. Who else even came close? To being able to do that, that is.
RH: Tevin Campbell. Lil Bow Wow.
ZB: Onto the Britian’s Got Talent portion of the evening. Shaheen Jafargholi is not that dude.
RH: Yeah a nation scrambles to Google to figure out who this kid is singing “Who’s Lovin’ You.”
RH: Please no Susan Boyle.
ZB: Katie Couric cannot manage SJ’s name.
RH: Yeah that’s tough one.
ZB: “We Are the World.” Starring everybody. Even the kids. Think I spotted Janet?
RH: I was hoping for a Janet showcase. I guess its absence is understandable.
ZB: “Heal the World”
RH: So no Justin Timberlake. Man “Heal the World” doesn’t make his top 50 does it?
ZB: No it does not. Everybody’s waving. Justin’s out there somewhere.
RH: Any reason they didn’t do this up prime time?
ZB: LA would’ve caught fire, I think
RH: Works for me.
ZB: Jermaine: “I’m lost for words. I was his voice and his backbone.” “We thank you. We thank you very much.”
ZB: So fucking sad. Marlon talking about trying to watch the 3 Stooges with Michael in the scant time between coming home from school and going to the recording studio.
RH: “Maybe now they will leave you alone.” Man this is too much. Now Janet.
ZB: Paris Jackson: “Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could imagine. I just wanted to say I love him so much.” She’s in tears. Who isn’t?
RH: Well that was the most brutal possible moment to end on. I can’t believe it all only went two hours.
ZB: Yeah, got no joke for that one. Let’s end this. Well, almost: verdict?
RH: Overall I thought it was great. Even Usher/John Mayer were somewhat gauche but ultimately nothing to get offended about. Stevie Wonder particularly was incredible. As Katie Couric is already showing us, Al Sharpton’s “He was not a strange man, strange things happened to him” is the soundbite. Or “What he had to deal with is strange”
ZB: Yup: murderer’s row, with the exception of Mayer in particular, who should never, ever have been invited to this thing. Sharpton, the King children, Berry Gordy–basically a really classy affair, if weirdly circumscribed. As you predicted, no “Billie Jean” or much of the other major smash hits. Very sober take on the guy.
RH: Very much by design of course. Everyone seemed to flee in terror from the BET thing. No time to badly mimic him.
ZB: And for that we can all be thankful.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 7, 2009