Gabriel San Roman's Thoughts From Inside Michael Jackson's Memorial Service
Gabriel San Roman

Gabriel San Roman's Thoughts From Inside Michael Jackson's Memorial Service


It's been 12 incomprehensible days since the shocking news that Michael Jackson died. Since that time, the prevailing feeling was that the immensity that is the King of Pop's musical legacy hadn't been properly or adequately paid tribute to...until today.

I was one of the fortunate few to be awarded a gold bracelet and ticket to the Staples Center memorial service, out of the 1.6 million people who registered online. After spending less than 10 minutes yesterday picking up the goods at Dodger Stadium (without ever having to leave my truck), the scene at the public funeral for one of the most famous people in the world was similarly easy to navigate.

The large swarms of fans who didn't get tickets but wanted to be close to the event never really came in the droves that were projected; or, were kept away successfully. There were many helicopters flying overhead and a police presence so thick it gave me flashbacks from my last trip near Staples Center, the DNC protests nine years ago. The longest and non-negotiable line of the day was early in the morning for the Starbucks across from the arena. Once drawing closer to the site of the memorial service, the experience of being inside the surrounding LA Live area was surreal.

Photo montages of Michael Jackson's career throughout the years hovered on mega flat screens perched high on the adjacent businesses. Within minutes I ran into musicians like Marcos Reyes from the funk band War and MTV hosts like Sway--whose head wrap is way more massive in person--as I made my way towards the Michael Jackson tribute wall where fans have been scribbling their goodbyes, and finally inside the Staples Center.

I did a quick interview on the show I co-produce on KPFK, Uprising Radio, and was ready to go through security, being ushered through the escalator to the level where my seats were. It was tough to describe the ordeal up to that point and I mouthed simplicities about the early experience. I was still trying to take in the quick turn of events that landed me at an event to be viewed by a billion people all over the world.

That experience had me seeing fans walking through the halls of the Staples Center dressed as Michael Jackson in various points in his career. There were also mothers walking in hand with their children dressed with highwater black pants coupled with Michael Jackson's signature hat recreating the "Billie Jean" Motown anniversary performance that took place long before the young ones were even born. The famed sequined glove adorned the hand of Jackson's brothers, but also countless fans in attendance. One lookalike--from the later, paler days--was so strikingly similar that people began posing for pictures with him. I had to do a double take myself, quickly dashing the thought of "could it be?" away.

Waiting for the service to commence, I conversed with a married couple that made the trek to Staples from San Diego. They agreed with me that the entire experience up until that point had been incredibly surreal. There was the sense that many famous people would take the stage from the music, sports and civil rights worlds, but for an occasion that was all too tragic. The euphoric mood of spectacle that Jackson's own life propelled wrestled with the reality of life and death all day today.

With that, I took my seat, three rows from the ceiling and to the left of the space where Michael Jackson's gilded coffin would rest. When he was ushered in, the memorial service that potentially one billion people tuned into occurred right before my eyes, with the words of countless eulogies echoing off the walls where I was seated.

Of course, as everyone saw, the service culminated in the emotional goodbye to Jackson from his daughter Paris. After that moment, people began leaving even prior to the final prayers. The scene outside as crowds exited was quite solemn and somber. Dedicated fans were wiping away tears as the memorial brought the reality of Jackson's death closer to home.

Walking outside of the Staples Center past the Yard House, Michael Jackson's timeless hits were blaring; inviting people to come in for a post-service drink or two. Outside of the sectioned off area, commemorative t-shirts were being sold all along the street. (Of course, no merchandise was offered inside Staples) As I turned the corner, I caught sight of another Jackson (O'Shea, better known as Ice Cube and no relation) as he was buying the bootleg t-shirt of the month. He, like the rest of us, was looking for something to remember this day by.

All the way home, Radio Free Los Angeles (102.3 FM) was playing the music of Michael Jackson in saying goodbye in its own way through the airwaves. Even after this memorial service fit for a king, that goodbye from a great number of us is going to take a bit longer.


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