In one sense, it seems odd to review a memorial as though it was a television show. On the other hand, that’s exactly what Michael Jackson’s televised memorial was, and, really, what else could it have been, given the kind of born-in-his-blood entertainer that Jackson was?
With that in mind, and knowing that it’s not just me who sat in front of the TV screen making value-judgments about various performances and testimonials — you know you were, too — here’s what I thought were some high points, and some lesser moments.
• Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy’s spoken remembrances of Michael’s abilities — both of their senses of history and humor and affection — were tremendously moving, particularly Robinson’s songwriterly analysis of how Michael performed a definitive version of Robinson’s own song, “Who’s Loving You.”
• Jermaine Jackson may not have given the most technically “perfect” performance of the memorial — Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Stevie Wonder, to name just three, turned in superlative vocal efforts — but I nonetheless found Jermaine’s performance of what Brooke Shields told the assembled audience was “Michael’s favorite song,” “Smile,” not just moving but a passionate R&B interpretation of a classic pop song:
• The Rev. Al Sharpton on Michael’s life? Say what you will about the man, he knows how to coin a phrase: “It’s not about the mess, it’s the message.” That may not always prove true as the years go by, but it was a rousing sentiment this day.
• Poor Queen Latifah spoke her own sentiments eloquently, but then was obliged to recite a perfectly dreadful piece of Maya Angelou poetry written for this occasion, called “We Had Him,” which included the lines, “In the instant we learn that Michael is gone we know nothing,” and “Though we are many, we are achingly alone,” and “We had him, and we are the world.”
• The best use of humor on this sad day must surely have been Magic Johnson’s funny anecdote about visiting Jackson and being so happy to learn that Michael liked to tuck into a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken now and then. It was one of those down-to-earth, non-reverential moments that make a memorial vivid.
All in all, this was a remarkable, mostly-dignified event that still managed to capture the ordinary humanity of a great, complicated musician. What did you think?