Given that Michael Jackson's passing on Thursday afternoon came as perhaps the first major death of this age of Twitter, it comes as little surprise just how quickly word of his death spread throughout the nation—and, on a much smaller scale, among the music fans right here in Dallas, who tweeted their condolences out into the ether to no one in particular.
But in the predominantly black Dallas suburb of Duncanville, it was an old-fashioned relic—radio—that was able to gather the masses in honor of the fallen icon: Less than two hours after word of Jackson's death had risen from rumor to fact, the promotions team at KKDA-104.5 FM (K104) had shored up plans for a candlelight vigil to be held in honor of the King of Pop. By sunset, or shortly thereafter, more than 400 fans had congregated in the parking lot of a vacant Albertson's grocery store for a final show of support for the legendary performer. There, with long-owned, tattered merch in tow—some of which was even signed by Jackson—fans shared their memories with one another and over the airwaves as K104's evening disc jockey, DJ Cat Daddy MC'd a live broadcast blending the station's normal D-Town Boogie-heavy rotation with some of Jackson's biggest hits.
Still, it all came together so quickly. And within the span of this two-and-a-half-hour-long radio-promoted event, each of the five stages of grief passed in rapid-fire succession. First, there was denial: Winter Bluitt of Lancaster sure didn't believe the news of Jackon's death upon first hearing it. When her son called the die-hard Jackson fan during her commute home from work, Bluitt had to pull over on Loop 12 just to gather her thoughts—and called her sister so she could have the information Googled and, thus, verified.
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There was anger too: As the mic began getting passed around for fans to share their memories, two young women broke out into a fight—for Lord knows what reason. Next came the bargaining, directly in response to the anger—"This isn't why we gathered here! This isn't what his music was about," one man said after the fight and before launching into a prayer. And then depression: As Cat Daddy played a recorded statement from Jackson's brother Jermaine over the air, a number of attendees broke into tears—including Bluitt, whose reaction was so overwhelming she had to walk away from the huddled masses. Finally, there was acceptance, which, for the most part, rang true for the rest of the weekend, as DJs, both on-air and in area dance clubs played Jackson's hits for their crowds, not out of want, but out of cathartic need.
At this event, just as would be the case throughout the course of Thursday evening at DJ residencies in various hotspots such as The Cavern, Amsterdam Bar and Fallout Lounge, when Jackson songs came on the air, the crowd exuberantly danced and sang along, gleefully celebrating Jackson's catalog (even ironically in some cases), rather than wallowing in it.
And, ultimately, that's probably the man's lasting legacy. On the night of his death it was nigh impossible to listen to Jackson's catalog—and, notably, songs like "Rock With You," "Billie Jean," "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" and "Beat It," which were played almost ad nauseam this past weekend—and remain sorrowful.
The poppiness and joy spread by these songs are just too timeless, even if the primary media in which they first rose—radio and television—aren't.