It’s Sam. We haven’t met, and we never will. Your recent passing left me with some things I felt needed to be said, though, and though I know you’ll never read this, I feel like I need to write it for myself before I go crazy.
As a student and would-be writer undergoing his novitiate in the American media, I winced in pain and embarrassment as my so-called ‘elders’ and ‘role models’ spun your death so quickly and so startlingly that it hurled the rest of the world out of the American eye – even Farrah Fawcett, who finally exchanged her Charlie’s Angels’ wings for real ones (if you believe in that sort of thing.)
As a student-musician, poet, and would-be literary artist, I squirmed as those same media outlets punched your ticket into the Pantheon of Self-Destructive Artists Who Went Apeshit And Ruined Their Lives And Careers, where you will sit alongside other mad geniuses of the Western canon, as well as some of my personal favorites: “dipsomaniacs” Faulkner, Hemingway, and Agee; junkies Hendrix and Yardbird Parker, and suicides Cobain and Plath.
When I got the news, I expressed the lip-service of every American born after, oh, 1975. Let’s be real: I didn’t know you very well. Your work was never that big in my house, and I was born too late to fully experience the legend of Michael Jackson. I bumped “Thriller” on Halloween, and slow-danced to “You Are Not Alone,” but I was on the tail end of your boom. My generation didn’t know you as the brilliant musician you were; we saw you as the crazy bastard dangling babies over balconies and waving away accusations of pedophilia.
That said, I do miss you. It took a few friends exposing me to “Man in the Mirror” (A cappella’s done a lot to bring me back to the classics of pop music) and a memorial party in Hawaii to think more about who and what you were.
Yes, you were crazy. Yes, you squandered goodwill and cultural capital for most of my lifetime. Yes, you were one of the greatest musicians in the English-speaking world. I regret not immersing myself in your music when I was younger, and I mourn for the talent that you represented gone – the oncoming brilliance of London and a possible resurgence, the dramacracy and paparazzi, the kids, Neverland Ranch.
As a historian, I know the verdict is still out on you. For now, I suppose I can get back in your work and find out how you did it. At the very least, I wish you the wishes given to the equally vacillating Hamlet: Good night, good king, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
…I still think North Korea and Iran had you assassinated to redirect American media attention, though. Regardless, rest easy.