Alice Coltrane — Om Supreme (Eternity)
Michael Jackson died of a self-prescribed drug overdose of various heavy-hitting pain killers on June 25, 2009. The basement record label at which I work grew pretty somber that late afternoon. As the last hours of the day oozed by, we played over the office stereo which Jackson songs we could locate on our work laptops: the underwhelming Paul McCartney collaboration “Say Say Say,” “I Wanna Rock With You,” and perhaps what would become the most overplayed Jackson number in the months (nee year) following his passing, “Human Nature.” A few of us gathered after work at a sports bar patio to hoist some cheap Budweiser tallboys whilst the undergrad bartender rigged the digital juke box to keep the Jackson tunes coming. We kept talking about the great, inspiring 1980s photograph of Michael Jackson with E.T., the Extra Terrestrial, and how it forever placed Jackson in a world beyond our own, on some sort of pop astral plane. We all split after a bit, and I headed home to catch some sleep, as I was to be on duty later that night, driving a bicycle taxi around the college bar scene. It was a job that had me up beyond 4 a.m. on some nights. A thunderstorm rolled in just as I was about to head out for the bike taxi gig, and I ended up drinking wine on my front porch with my roommate and his buddy. In a long moment of silence, they asked me to put on a record, and I picked out Alice Coltrane’s Eternity. It served us well as we talked again of Jackson’s brilliant, eccentric and endlessly captivating body of work and life. But I grew silent when the haunting, deep electric keys of “Om Supreme” came heavy through the porch’s screen door, a slow fist through the screen. Once again, that image of Jackson and E.T. came rushing to the front of my mind. And now a deep, sweet lyrical phrase flows up into the song: “When I called you to California, you knew I would meet you in California. When I called you to come to California, you knew I would meet you in California..” And it’s more than California, it’s California as Nirvana, as Xanadu, as Narnia. And suddenly, in my winedrunk thought, E.T. is more than a plastic alien character from a classic 80s sci-fi movie and Jackson, more than a really great dancer with a really great voice beloved by music fans across the world. Then, this cantation shifts into a call to god (?): “Om supreme bogidva (sp?)….” And I imagine E.T.’s great, white hot pinball game of a spacecraft at the end of his film, and I see Jackson slowly, confidently boarding, finally bound for the Great California in the Sky, the one we imagine in The Beach Boys’ songs or forever framed in vintage surf magazines. And Alice Coltrane is putting Michael Jackson in clearer perspective than “Human Nature” or “Man in the Mirror” might ever be able. I finish my wine and turn in while Eternity rides out and the fellows on the porch polish off the rest of the bottle. Later, I would read Maya Angelou’s poem (read by Queen Latifah at a celebrity led memorial) for Jackson and think again of that night on the porch:
Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing, now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips like a puff of summer wind.
Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace. Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon.
…We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing. He gave us all he had been given.
Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana’s Black Star Square.
In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England
We are missing Michael.
But we do know we had him, and we are the world.