I realize a lot of people who read my blog think that the world’s mourning of Michael Jackson was a supreme waste of time in the name of piss-poor journalism.
I couldn’t disagree more.
And the reason couldn’t have been better summed up than seeing 2 Pianos, 4 Hands at the Colony in Burbank on Friday night.
For the uninitiated, 2 Pianos, 4 Hands is a rarely licensed play written by two famous Canadian pianists-turned-actors-and-playwrights. It’s memoir for the stage of how they both grew up as classically trained pianists and the crazy challenges they faced when they emerged in a world with demands far greater than they’d anticipated. It’s rarely allowed to be performed because the two writers and original performers — Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra — both want to ensure that the actors who perform their play are not only great actors, but accomplished pianists. But when they find those two actors, the result is a very funny, touching performance with spectacular live piano music.
As I watched this enormously entertaining play, I was reminded of the incredible power of music in our lives. How music reaches across centuries to touch us in profound ways. While I was no fan of Jackson*, I felt keenly the extraordinary power of his music to shrink the world into our palms, long before we ever had the Internet. Sure, we could say, “What a waste of time! The guy was a pedophile and a lunatic!” But that is cheapening, if not totally discarding, the power and importance of music itself, and how it was wielded by an immensely popular and talented man.
Just two days before Jackson died, the BBC reported about a team from Tubingen University that published details of flutes they found that date back 35,000 years — the oldest musical instruments ever found. For at least 35,000 years, music has been shaping our human psyches. It is and probably always will be the greatest and most influential thread from culture to culture. Jackson was that thread, stitching us together in astonishing ways.
For me, I felt a distinct pang when I heard the news. I immediately suspected drug overdose, possibly even suicide. I acknowledged that a piece of my childhood had died with him, that somehow he’d woven himself into my life without my wishing so. And maybe that’s what people are reacting to. Maybe that makes them uncomfortable. But for me, I could not deny that his death is, through nothing less than his music, a tragedy that we can’t underestimate.
Later this weekend, Lord Arux and I spent some wonderful time with the piano and guitar putting chords behind two more Lady Euthanasia songs, discovering that I’d slipped in some funky time changes. I even puzzled over whether “Don’t Cry Baby Mithras ‘Cos Jesus Stole Your Birthday” needed a bridge until Lord Arux pointed out that plenty of folk songs don’t have bridges. He knows because he likes folk music. I don’t. I just write it. Which is, um, weird, I admit.
Just kick me if I start wearing one glove. Hard.
*Read my essay, “Goodnight, Marvin,” which I wrote for Douglas Adams in The Anthology at the End of the Universe to see how little I thought of Michael Jackson’s music. Egads!