Pilgrimage to the Apollo Theatre’s Michael Jackson Tribute

Tuesday morning, we went to the Apollo Theatre’s free Michael Jackson tribute. That’s right: part of How I Spent My Summer Vacation was standing for nearly four hours in a line at 125th & 6th in Harlem, waiting to get into a Michael Jackson tribute. The crowd outside was friendly, warm, all reminiscing about Michael Jackson and his music. Entrepreneurs were hawking everything imaginable: MJ t-shirts, MJ posters, earrings with sequined gloves on them, sequined hats, bootleg CD’s. Periodically, the crowd would break into an MJ song.
Finally we got in for a 25 minutes event of music, dancing, and a little bit of narration. On stage were a few famous MC types, Al Sharpton (who has never met a microphone or camera that he didn’t love) and Spike Lee (not really sure why). But the real action was on the floor of the theatre – the people who came to celebrate a career and music that entertained and sometimes even inspired a few generations.

Debbie pointed out, quite accurately, that my attempts at dance moves in the theatre betrayed my being a middle aged, Jewish, white boy from the suburbs. I suppose that’s true. There is yet another weird part of my being at the Apollo for this event, though. That would be MJ’s checkered history. The event was, after all, memorializing someone who, at the very least, never recovered from being dragged out of childhood to become an adult performer, threw away hard earned money on nonsense, scarred his body repeatedly trying to surgically become someone else, was a bizarre father who once dangled his kid over a hotel balcony, and invited young children over the his house for pajama parties. And there was always suspicion of more.

So why celebrate his life? Here’s the thing. The biblical book of Psalms (Tehillim in Hebrew) tells us ivdu et Adonai b’simcha, typically translated as “serve God in joy” (Psalm 100:2). But the Hebrew word b’simcha as I understand it could also be accurately translated as “serve God through joy.”

If my translation works, it means that we not only serve God joyously, but that the joy itself is a service to God. Thus, giving joy to others not only serves a holy purpose for one’s self, but invites others to the service of God through joy as well. And certainly Michael Jackson, performer extraordinaire, has given joy to millions of people the world over.

So, while I cannot ignore the troubled individual behind the performer, I must recognize the joy that MJ brought to us through his singing and dancing. And may we always remember to serve God through our joy.

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