Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Reporting from the Michael Jackson funeral

My alma mater, The Christian Science Monitor, asked me to help out with its coverage of the Michael Jackson memorial service. I haven't written on deadline for a while, but I managed to hunker down in a nearby Starbucks and sweat out a story about the mood of the event and a followup piece about whether Jackson is the last true superstar.

There were extraordinary scenes at the Staples Center yesterday, from the airplane that spelled "MJ" with its vapor trail to the flood of opportunists selling everything from T-shirts to bootleg CDs to posters to copies of the June 26 LA Times ($5 each).

Outside, crowds gathered long into the evening to take photographs and video of the long memorial wall that thousands of attendees have signed with their personal eulogies. The jumbotrons on the outside of the arena displayed photos of a pop star who underwent more facial transformations than Dr. Who -- from the moppet in the cow boy suit who wowed Ed Sullivan to the star's final incarnation as glitter-suited Geisha. In the photo montage, Jackson resembled the ultimate pop culture Zelig, appearing next to the likes of president Reagan, Sinatra, Pavarotti, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Marcel Marceau, Nelson Mandela, Stevie Wonder, and Britney Spears. It underscored just how much of an icon he was.

The service itself was often remarkably moving and, regardless of what you may have felt about Michael Jackson, it was hard not to feel a sudden instinctive rush in the tearducts when Jackson's 11-year-old daughter, Paris, sobbed, "I love you, Daddy." Many of the personal anecdotes shared by his friends and family gave one a glimpse into Michael, the person. It was a rare peak behind the face mask and sun glasses that became his public facade.

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