Monday, June 29, 2009

i’m glad that freak is dead

the HooOoooOOoOOHHHH shredded through delhi’s summer heat, it shattered the afternoon and splintered into me. it screeched into my ears and ripped right under my skin. that’s the DEVIL, my grandmother said walking in.

my cousin played me the song that blew me when i was ten. he was thirteen and unquestionably the cool one. i was merely good, i read books all the time. he’d flown in from mumbai after jusssst grazing past the ninth standard and he had a walkman plugged into his ears 24x7. he ate with it on and went to sleep with it on and woke up with it on and from what i could make out, he even bathed with it on. he never, ever, let me touch it. he had a bunch of tapes in his suitcase but he played only two. over and over and over again. off the wall and thriller in a loop. he’d be sprawled on his stomach in the veranda, picking at the grass, with his chin in his other hand, eyes glazed over. every half and hour or so, he’d mechanically turn on his back, pick up his walkman, flip the tape, glance at me, hit play and roll over.

i was burning up by day three. will you let me listen, i finally asked him. he thought about it for a minute. ok, but not on my walkman. ok…i said, a little disappointed. so he took out the tape and put it in the recorder, he maxed the volume and pressed play.

my grandmother was right. i was never the same after listening to michael jackson. he put the devil in me. my mother put her foot down when she saw the poster up above my bed. it had mj clutching his crotch as his body spasmed into an orgasm that had him up on the tips of his toes.

THAT comes OFF, she said her eyes as hard as steel.

don’t touch it, i said, looking her in the eyes, my voice colder than steel.

when i was fourteen, i had a friend who had cable and watched mtv. cable tv was my big carrot for ‘doing my best’ in the tenth boards. it pressed down on me like a numbing heat wave the month before the exams began. dangerous was out and i was DYING for cable! my friend swore to call me the minute she saw it on tv. she lived nine floors above and one afternoon, just when my dad had got the car out to take me to math tuitions, she called.

come NOW.

i dropped the phone, dropped my bag, SLAMMED the door and RAN. i simply FLEW up nine floors. and i crashed through her front door…bang into the middle of black or white. i was no use in math that afternoon, and i floated through the next 45 days until i got cable tv.

the summer i was twenty, the one thing i knew was that i didn’t want to study for an mba. so i got a job at air fm, playing songs on the radio instead. i watched mtv and channel v the whole day long and twice a week i’d head to the station. the first time i played mj to chennai was a religious experience for me. this was my god, and by god, i was going to make the world listen. i began with ‘the way you make me feel’ (it’s my favourite too, AGG) and i played every mj song i’d managed to lay my hands on through the next hour and a half. i didn’t say a word except, good evening chennai, this is michael jackson. i just spliced one song into the other and played until the hour and thirty minutes was up. i almost got sacked for skipping all the ads and all the call ins. but the programming chief liked me i think. you’re a freak, he said, and let me go with a warning. i felt like a goddess that day. the next afternoon i went and shaved my head. my mother still hasn’t got over it.

over the last decade or so, i’ve gotten used to not having mj around. only the hawaiian shack plays him these days. he pops up in the newspapers every once in awhile. he’s bankrupt, he’s run away from america, his nose has fallen off, he’s dangling his baby from a balcony, he’s a freak, a changeling, a demon who plays sex games with children, he’s recording with when you see him on tv, he’s wearing a mask and behind it peter pan’s been irreparably broken.

he’s made quite a come back in the newspapers and on tv over the last couple of days. michael jackson’s dead they screamed and started beaming a kaleidoscope of him. i keep flipping until i reach a channel that’s playing the videos and shutting up about what happened and whether he’s bigger than elvis or not. like the last few minutes of cinema paradiso, all the mj that’s been censored over the last decade goes on in a loop. it’s tragic…but it’s magic, that he’s dead but not yet.

i was watching ‘dirty diana’ just now and when the crowd roared back at him and my heart wHoomPHed in response, i realized something – that an era fed off this body in the flimsy white shirt, that rises up on its toes, arms spread wide, offering itself like a sacrifice to the spotlight. that we’d fed off everything. from his music to his tragedies and the giant comedy of his life. he is michael jackson and he is ours to kill, or to hold up and to throw down and kick into the mud and pick up again for having pulled off a classic celebrity exit. it’s the drugs, it’s the pressure, it’s mental illness, it’s the doctor…it’s true, he’s dead and for a whole week again, i’m sure he’ll be BIG.

in the end, it’s dying that’s brought him back to life for all the freaks. the ones that love him, the ones that laugh at him, that condemn him, that use him, that cry and pray for him, and me. he belonged to nobody. he belonged to everybody. and we all know that never ends well.


Sangfroid said...

"he belonged to nobody. he belonged to everybody" :-)

he is dead and is is alive!!

Who cares if he is greater than Elvis or whoever. Media / News Channels serve utter junk!!!

By the way, how in the world were you let off by just being called a freak for what you did on air fm :-)

Kokonad said...

Yo Mentalie. Awesome post I say. :)
Loved the last bit!
As for me, despite all the controversies he was in, he created an energy with his music no one else could ever recreate! I listen to his music still, as I used to when I was growing up. :)
There is a big part of me that does not want to believe all the controversies, though they are, in all likelihood, true :( Such a sad death, with debt and all...

Anonymous said...

I've read a billion MJ tributes, this one is the least sappy and the most engrossing so you deserve applause.

Bw, I LOVE the way you make me feel too =D

And shaving your head? Very BRAVE. *high five*

Anonymous said...

'Gone too soon'- shouted the newspaper headline the next day. "Ten years too late" i thought. His music touched my life in magical ways but the aftermath was too slow and too torturous for the both of us, i think. thanks for this rare honest tribute to MJ!

mentalie said...

sangfroid: i completely agree, who cares who's bigger...i love elvis as well! no clue how i got let off with a warning...i should have been arrested i think...sheer bloody luck:)
kokonad: thank you...and phuck the controversies. the only reason the world isn't discussing our morals is because we aren't talented enough...!
qi: thank you again. shaving my head didn't take an iota of courage. it felt great ;p
anonymous: i completely empathize with you...

thank you all for reading this post. i meant every word. i was bursting the whole weekend because i didn't know how to deal with it...thank you again.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

you know i just finished another post on MJ and i left a comment saying that michael jackson was a marker in life - i dont know whether i was a fan or not. but i seem to remember his songs etched with so many seperate moments at various ages - when i was 8 or nine, just before board exams - just like you seem to have done. the songs just entered your consciousness somehow. maybe that was the magic.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post and an excellent piece of writing.

As I write this, 'Beat It' starts on the radio...

So I shall.

Thanks for your words.


agent green glass said...

well said mentalie.
and ya, now that i know you write as well as you draw, there go my chances of getting you to illustrate my story. you'll be doing your own. darn.

Kedar said...

i'm not really a fan, but i see what you mean by "it's dying that's brought him back to life."

mentalie said...

cynic: you are right...mj was the era we grew up in and his songs captured what the era was dealing for the magic, i don't think its as simple as that...but then, i am a fan ;p
anonymous: thank you :)
AGG: DON'T take away my only offer to illustrate a book! pretty please...?
kedar: yes...isn't it strange? dying is possibly art's best kept strategy. sorry, don't mean to sound flip...

Anonymous said...


last word by the acp