Tuesday, July 7, 2009
King of Pop
Pop stars aren't allowed to die.
Not without giving an exclusive, farewell, one time only performance.
We expect nothing less from Michael Jackson, the King of Pop.
Today at the Staples Center his casket is being brought in for a final farewell tribute extravaganza. Over 1.6 million people applied for tickets, but only 8,750 lucky pairs won the lottery. There will be no funeral procession for "Corpse Fest" 2009.
Living only 7 miles away from the Staples Center, I am compelled to see this spectacle for myself. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox news have been giddy for days over the funeral. TMZ.com has hourly reports. The state of California is broke, but Los Angeles is spending millions to provide security and crowd control for the event.
In my mind, there is only one question.
Do I drive, or do I take the bus?
I drive. Bus? People with cars don't ride no stinking bus! I plan to drive in as close as I can, then find street parking and walk the rest of the way in. There is talk of people being camped out the night before to get good "seats". The show is at 10, so I decide to leave at 7 just in case traffic and parking is insane.
I'm about half a mile away from the LA convention center on Pico before I run across police barricades. I veer down Argyle and park on 12th street, less then a mile from the Staples Center. Another block up and the parking attendants want $40.
"Is this the most you've ever charged?" I ask one of them.
"I just started working here." He lies.
Cops have cordoned off all the side streets around both Staples and the convention center, people are funneled to the north and south of the building.
On Pico I discover a crowd of thousands, most of whom are waiting in line. They are all ages and all ethnicities. There are young women in black dresses, dignity marred only by their heavy make up and tattoo's displayed on their forearms and back. There are black men in suits, some appear as if they could belong to the Nation of Islam, others look like they walked out of a Pimp and Ho convention. There are kids wearing Michael Jackson T-shirts, families laden with cameras, cholas and suburbanites mixed in.
Half of them are dressed in black, the other half appear they just came from the beach.
"Anyone got a spare ticket?" a black woman asks.
Police are everywhere. Dozens of police stand at attention near their motorcycles, ready to spring into action. Clusters of them stand at the corners, directing traffic while police cars block off roads, lights flashing. Trios of cops patrol the "inner" wall, making sure no one gets too close to the convention center while helicopters buzz overhead.
There are vendors selling T-shirts and photographs. Many of them are parked and selling merchandise out of the back of their car, others are on the sidewalk selling goods directly out of a pair of heavy suitcases. Some vendors have hung up T-Shirts and flags on the sides of chain link fences.
"Get yur T-Shirts right here! Ten dollar!"
"Buy three get five! Buy three get five!"
"Ten dollar, ten dollar, ten dollar!"
"Michael Jackson portraits and buttons!"
"Ten dollars, ten dollars.....free!"
I turn. The vendor points at me and laughs.
I speak to a graphic designer who has driven up from San Diego. In San Diego the best job she was able to find as a senior graphic designer was $12/hour.
I pass by the venue line and turn up Flower. The streets on the East side of the convention center are virtually deserted. Here the parking is only $10. I close in on the Staples Center and am stopped by an amazonian cop. "Do you have your ticket and wrist band?" she asks.
I shake my head. "No, I'm just here for the spectacle."
"You know you can't get any closer."
I nod. I'm okay with that. A Philippino in a nurse uniform tries to get through, she claims she's parked a block away and she needs to get to her car.
The police don't let her through.
I turn south and walk to Venice. More then a block away from the Staples center and the streets are empty. I turn north and angle towards the convention center. I spot three men and a pre-teen girl waving signs proclaiming that "Jacko is in Hell!" and "God hates Fags!"
"God hates you!" one of the men screams at the bystanders waiting in line. "Mourn for your sins!"
I am tempted to talk to them. Just what are they hoping to accomplish?
"God LOVES you!" people shout back at them from across the street. "We LOVE you!"
The men keep holding their signs. A trio of cops keep a close eye on them.
I approach the one in a red shirt, the loudest of the bunch. "May I ask you a question?"
"We are here to answer all questions." He intones. "We are here to preach the Lord's word, you may."
"What is your objective?" I ask. "What do you hope to accomplish?"
"We are here to preach the Lord's word and to let America know that God is punishing us for our sins. We have turned away from the Lord and his Godly ways and replaced His laws with our own."
I blink, but remain silent.
"This is idolatry. Michael Jackson is a false idol. These people worship at the false temple, and they will burn for their sins, just as Michael Jackson is burning for his."
"But why do you need to proclaim it? If God is punishing Michael Jackson why do you need to tell the world that he is doing so?"
"Because the Bible tells us too. For the world was saved by the foolishness of preaching."
"But what are you accomplishing? I don't see anyone here begging for forgiveness."
"I have answered that question! The BIBLE tells us too!" He then quotes me a long verse.
A reporter interrupts me. "Excuse me, I was interviewing him. I'm on a deadline, is it all right if I finish?"
I nod. "Go ahead."
The reporter asks the preacher a number of questions. He's from Topeka Kansas, and he's flown out here on his own dime to preach the Lord's word. The reporter asks him how he knows Michael Jackson is guilty of pedophilia when the courts never found Michael Jackson guilty.
"Because it is obvious!" the man states with the calm authority of a zealot.
"But don't you believe in your country's laws?" the reporter asks.
"So if the judicial system never found Jackson guilty, how do you know he's guilty?"
"Because Michael Jackson broke the Lord's law. He lived in sin, he is a fag, a pedophile, an adulterer..."
"You're claiming he cheated on his wife."
"He divorced and remarried, that is living in sin. Only by death may marriage be parted."
The reporter tries to hide his amazement. "So you are claiming that anyone who divorces and remarries is living in sin?"
"I am not claiming. The BIBLE claims. We just follow the Lords teachings."
The reporter thanks the man for his time, and I follow him. He pats me on the shoulder. "Where are you from?" I ask.
"I'm from the Toronto Star. I'm the only Canadian reporter south of the border. I was doing a story tracing the history of the Grapes of Wrath, then Michael Jackson died."
"I thought there would be more people here. I doubt there's more then ten to twenty thousand. There's bigger tail gate parties for football games."
The reporter nods. "So did I. This is a media made creation, the first ever virtual reality funeral. The public wants a spectacle, so the Jackson family is giving it to them, brilliant, eh?"
"If they had tried to have a private funeral they would have been mobbed by reporters. Having a show at the Staples Center allows the press a field day and gives the public closure. It's hard to believe that this will be today's biggest story."
"They won't let him die without ensuring he gives a last show." I state. Beyonce, Kobe Bryant, Martin Luther King Jr. III, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, and Usher are all supposed to be in attendance - the Ebony awards months ahead of schedule.
"I've interviewed a lot of famous people," the reporter continues, "and pop stars are never what you think they'll be like in person. You have to learn to separate the music from the person, the performance from the reality."
"I think that was Michael Jackson's problem. He tried to become the image of his fans fantasy."
The reporter tells me a story about the time he was at Yassir Arafat's funeral. Over 100,000 Palestinians attended, everything was orderly until they saw his coffin. Then everything devolved as people pressed forward, determined to touch the coffin, to be a part of the man who created the idea of a Palestinian state.
"Did they tear up his body like the Ayatollah Khomeni?"
"It was more like a peaceful mob. They just had to touch the coffin. The police couldn't hold them back." He looks at me. "Why are you here? To gloat? To preach?"
"I'm a writer. I have to see things for myself."
The reporter nods. This is something he understands. He asks if he can quote me, I give him my name, age, and profession, then head back towards my car. The line has begun moving as they let people into the convention center, but at 9:15 the vendors are already gone.
I find one on Argyle St selling T-Shirts for $5 a pop. I buy four. Time to go home.
Live events are always better on TV.