Welcome to live coverage of Michael Jackson’s memorial. I’m going to spend the next few hours watching CNN, writing about it and linking to whatever I find interesting. Should be a wholly uncomfortable afternoon. (See the photo gallery from the memorial here)
11:30pm. First up, live coverage of the private memorial at Forest Lawn cemetery as seen from a helicopter circling overhead. Very, very classy. Let’s distract ourselves. Maybe go buy a copy—or 12!—of our commemorative issue. Or go read Sasha Frere-Jones at the New Yorker. Or Tom Junod’s obit. Or ?uestlove’s twitter feed. Whatever you do just don’t watch television, ok? I’ll tell you when it’s mildly safe to look.
11:42pm. CNN’s Don Lemon is reviewing the program for the memorial ceremony. It’s like storytime in kindergarten. Only way sadder.
11:44pm. All are agreed that the program is “beautiful.”
11:46pm. A few minutes ago they were speculating on where Jackson’s body might be placed at the Staples Center. Apparently the casket is going to be placed at the foot of the stage. And then John Mayer is going to stand over it and sing. Because that’s not at all weird.
11:50pm. Turns out Jackson’s relationship with Brooke Shields was exactly as you’d imagine.
11:52pm. One of Jackson’s former publicists tells CNN that the Martin Bashir interview was the pivotal point in Jackson’s fall. “He died that night … because he knew he shot himself in the foot.” I’m pretty sure that analogy doesn’t make sense.
11:54pm. The publicist also links Jackson’s drug use to the injuries suffered during the filming of that ill-fated Pepsi commercial. Then there’s the requisite discussion of “demons” acquired in childhood. So it’s Pepsi’s fault. Or Martin Bashir’s fault. Or his father’s fault. Or Jackson’s fault. You could do this all day. Michael Jackson was basically doomed from birth.
12:00pm. The casket is wheeled out and loaded into the hearse. Anderson Cooper and Soledad O’Brien seem suddenly taken aback by their own coverage. Publicist rightly notes that Jackson probably would have loved this.
12:05pm. Donna Brazile makes the inevitable link between Michael Jackson and Barack Obama’s election. And then Don King walks out of the funeral home waving an American flag.
12:08pm. Jeffrey Toobin now walking us through child custody law in California. Toobin could make a legitimate claim to being a modern renaissance man.
12:10pm. Someone named AJ Hammer is commenting on Jackson’s musical legacy. Fails for some reason to cite his father, MC Hammer.
12:16pm. CNN cuts to commercial because, Anderson says, they don’t want to miss any of the funeral procession through Los Angeles. Apparently at some point there’s going to be elephants. (Some adult language at that link.)
12:21pm. The hearse is on the move. Anderson Cooper tries to put on his solemn voice to announce this.
12:23pm. In a tribute to music artists being forgiven their transgressions, Chris Brown will be performing at the memorial.
12:24pm. Poignant insight from a Billboard writer who met Jackson 20 years ago: He was taller than you’d think.
12:29pm. This reputed vault of unreleased songs is intriguing. But don’t you have to assume that if any of it was any good, it would’ve been released by now? Were any of, say, Tupac’s post-death songs as good as his living output?
12:35pm. CNN says Larry King is going to be sitting with the family at the memorial. Seems about right.
12:37pm. A fan waiting for the funeral procession says she sold everything in her house to be there. Seems about right.
12:39pm. Here is the piece I wrote for our commemorative issue, an attempt to understand Jackson by actually listening to his music. At least my third attempt to figure him out in print, preceded by this quick reaction the night he died and this two-year-old piece on the possibility of a comeback. For that last piece I interviewed Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Which rather impressed several of the women in my life.
12:49pm. Roland Martin says it all: “What he wanted to achieve in life, he achieved in death.”
12:51pm. The funeral procession has arrived at Staples. The memorial—the part you should be able to watch without feeling awful about your life—is about to start. Our friends at CityTV are streaming live here.
12:59pm. Hilary Rosen, former president of the American recording association, speculates Jackson’s debts will be paid off in the next few years on the music sales spurred by his death. Good to see the conspiracy theorists aren’t going to be left out of today’s coverage.
1:05pm. Credit where it’s due, Soledad O’Brien, Roland Martin and some other guy are having a fairly interesting discussion now about race and music.
1:07pm. Anyway. In other news, how freaky is this ghost video?
1:10pm. Soledad O’Brien counts six helicopters circling the Staples Center. This may be the greatest moment in the history of helicopter journalism. Or at least the greatest moment since OJ killed the American car industry with that white Ford Bronco trip.
1:13pm. Smokey Robinson starts the service with messages from Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela. Seems about right.
1:23pm. Awkward filling of time while everyone waits for the casket to arrive.
1:26pm. While we wait, here’s Ron Artest rapping about Michael Jackson. (Some adult language contained therein.) One of those rare moments when awfulness and awesomeness collapse into each other creating the pop culture equivalent of a black hole.
1:29pm. Now they’re repeating footage of the casket being loaded into the hearse, while Anderson and Soledad talk about how freaky it was to see the first time.
1:33pm. A choir sings. And he’s here. Or it’s here. Or something.
1:35pm. The casket is gold and covered in roses. Did you want to know that? Should we just pretend it’s not there? Not sure how to proceed with this.
1:37pm. A pastor—Rev. Lucious Smith—arrives to enforce some normalcy on the proceedings. Strangely reassuring.
1:41pm. Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz duet on I’ll Be There. Bit awkward, but too great a song to fail.
1:47pm. Queen Latifah delivers an entirely endearing eulogy. She should run for president. Or host the Tonight Show after Conan gets dumped next year.
1:50pm. Lionel Richie is probably vastly under-appreciated. If you can ignore the goofy music videos and his daughter, he’s a pretty phenomenal singer.
1:54pm. Berry Gordy talks about Jackson’s early years at Motown. Which is not at all awkward given how much Jackson linked his troubles to the destruction of his childhood.
2:03pm. Requisite video retrospective. They really can’t show that footage of him and Ronald Reagan together enough.
2:07pm. Jackson’s brothers are sitting in the front row, all wearing sunglasses. In a darkened arena.
2:08pm. Stevie Wonder performs Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer, which was on the soundtrack to Poetic Justice, which starred Janet Jackson and now it seems like it was written for this moment. With the right marketing, this could be to Michael Jackson what Candle in the Wind was to Princess Diana.
2:14pm. Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson. Kobe talks about how we should appreciate entertainers for the joy they provide with their talents, no matter the failings or controversies in their personal lives. No, not really. Magic says watching Jackson made him a better point guard. Yes, really. Actually that sort of sounds plausible.
2:20pm. Oh, and all the Jackson brothers are wearing sparkly white gloves. Obviously.
2:21pm. Jennifer Hudson finished seventh on American Idol and that’s now basically the subtext to every one of her performances. “Seventh? Seventh? All right, America. Watch this.” For fun, go look up the people who beat her that season. She probably keeps a list of their names that she reviews each time before she goes on stage.
2:25pm. Al Sharpton. Second best voice so far, after Lionel Richie.
2:27pm. I would go to church more often if there was more yelling like this.
2:29pm. “He out-sang his cynics, he out-danced his doubters, he out-performed the precipice.”
2:32pm. That was phenomenal. Sharpton should run as the vice-presidential candidate on Queen Latifah’s ticket.
2:34pm. And of course John Mayer has to follow that.
2:36pm. Decent performance of Human Nature. Bit too much guitar face though. Anyway. Back to Sharpton. Didn’t quite catch what he said the first time, but the line that killed was apparently this: “To his 3 kids, there was nothing strange about your daddy, it was strange what he had to deal with.”
2:39pm. Brooke Shields is rather emotional recounting her relationship with Jackson. Makes the probably valid point that the two of them could understand each other because of their respective childhoods. Throw in Emmanuel Lewis and that night at the Grammys makes a bit more sense now.
2:43pm. “Yes, it may have seemed very odd to the outside, but we made it very fun and very real.” Fair enough.
2:47pm. Jermaine Jackson sings Charlie Chaplin’s Smile. If you’re looking for a valid comparison for Jackson’s life and career, the closest might be Chaplin. That might be the best precedent. That might be the only precedent.
2:52pm. Martin Luther King III recalls some words of his father. Whatever MLK Jr. dreamed he probably did not foresee anything like this.
2:58pm. Bernice King recalls Jackson comforting their mother, Coretta Scott King. “Rest in peace, our brother Michael.”
2:59pm. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speaks on behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives, proclaims Jackson’s innocence. Glad we’ve got that settled. Wonder who Stephen Harper sent as Parliament’s official designate.
3:02pm. The congresswoman recalls Jackson lobbying the ambassadors of various African nations. “He had a twinkle.”
3:03pm. Apparently Congress is going to debate a resolution that Jackson was “an American legend and musical icon and world humanitarian.” That should be both fun and productive.
3:10pm. Usher, wearing sunglasses, sings Gone Too Soon.
3:13pm. Smokey Robinson talks about how mind-boggling it was to hear a 10-year-old sing a convincing rendition of a love song—”He had a lot of know.” Indeed. Is it at all possible to listen to the young Michael Jackson now without feeling just a bit weird?
3:20pm. And now 12-year-old Shaheen Jafargholi, a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent, comes out to sing Who’s Lovin’ You. Because, really, the lesson of today is that more kids with freakish talent should be pushed into unreal prominence.
3:24pm. Kenny Ortega, Jackson’s tour director, introduces an ensemble performance of We Are The World. CNN cuts to footage of people singing, clapping, holding hands and swaying across the country. And then a bunch of children dressed in black and white come out to help sing Heal the World. This is exactly how the movie was supposed to end.
3:34pm. The family gathers on stage. Unless I’m mistaken, Joe Jackson doesn’t appear to be there.
3:40pm. Jackson’s daughter speaks. “I just want to say, ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him.” She retreats then into Janet’s arms.
3:41pm. And that’s it. The band plays Man in the Mirror as the casket is wheeled away. Sad and heartbreaking and amazing and upsetting and altogether just about what you would have imagined this would be.
3:44pm. Some final words from Rev. Lucious Smith. “Now it’s up to us, we should all look at the man or woman in the mirror and change the way we treated each other.” Indeed.
3:49pm. Memorial ends on a prayer and CNN goes to Larry King for insight. Which is probably everyone’s cue to turn the television off and go listen to Off The Wall.