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This is Marc Porter Zasada with The Urban Man for KCRW.
Last week the Urban Man drove down to Hollywood Boulevard and joined the crowds hoping to see the afterglow of pixie dust around Michael Jackson's star. To protect myself, I wore my darkest sunglasses.
Lots of folks are puzzled by the posthumous reverence for Jackson, but it's easily explained. We know that just as Prometheus braved the wrath of the gods to steal fire from heaven so that humans might have heat and light, so did Jackson defy the laws of nature to steal pixie dust from Neverland. While he was alive, this often repelled and terrified us; now that he's safely dead, we all recognize his efforts as heroic.
What precisely is pixie dust and why did Jackson try to steal it? The chemical formula has never been determined, but scientists have isolated its properties:
1. If you sprinkle pixie dust on an object in the mundane world, that object becomes transubstantiated into a higher realm, the same way the Catholic Church transubstantiates bread and wine, or sculptors transubstantiate blocks of marble into saints.
2. Pixie dust makes things glow in this weird, supernatural way.
3. It only takes a little bit to make you fly.
If you mainline the stuff over a long period, it's likely that pixie dust, like its close relatives Vicodin, Valium, and Xanax, will kill you.
The properties of pixie dust are most clearly seen in the great Billie Jean video of 1983, where Jackson strolls through a gritty urban landscape wearing a pink shirt and red bow tie. He tosses a coin into the cup of an old drunk who has passed out in a dismal alleyway. The cup begins to glow and the old drunk suddenly finds himself wearing a white tux. Everywhere Jackson steps, the paving stones glow. He leans against a lamppost and it glows, he puts his shoe up on a garbage can, and even the garbage can glows. He's pursued by a shadowy detective, but like a pixie, he disappears again and again, even from the very bed of Billie Jean.
Importantly, the actual fate of Billie Jean, along with her son and all the other Lost Boys of Neverland, is never spelled out. Like so much of Jackson's music, "Billie Jean" was a deep and highly effective protest against age, maturity, and responsibility — three evils, like darkness of night, unfairly foisted on mankind.
Sure enough, around Jackson's star on Hollywood Boulevard, the afterglow was pretty damn substantial. The crowd could see it escaping brightly, even through a big mound of flowers.
Outside cathedrals, little shops often sell images of martyred saints. Me, I strolled across the street to one of the many Hollywood souvenir shops, to check out the images sold on mugs, plates, and mousepads. Here I noticed that two faces still dominate all others: Elvis and Marilyn, two people who lost their lives trying to mediate between fantasy and reality in the same way saints once mediated between heaven and earth. Here and there other tragic legends peep out: Judy Garland, James Dean, even Heath Ledger. But just as all the many Hindu gods can be compressed into one or two essential images, so have Elvis and Marilyn come to symbolize everyone whoever perished in the effort to bathe themselves in pixie dust.
One shop carried a dark painting of Jackson which showed him standing at the magical age of 22 or so, all dressed up in his military swagger, those little curls of black hair across his forehead. A big scowling beast stood behind the singer, claws on his shoulder. The only bright spot was that one white glove, shining with rhinestones. Surely, it was a harbinger of sainthood...but whether Michael will actually ascend to the rank of a Marilyn or an Elvis, we won't know until tomorrow.
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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