And then the casket came in, and washed away the helicopter swarms and camera eyes staring at us outside. We, the few witnesses, an itsy representation of the world at large, gathered in an arena downtown to bid farewell. Before the body's arrival, it felt different than the Staples Center will ever feel again. There was silence, there were mumbles, there were the occasional outbursts of I LOVE YOU MICHAEL!, but, unlike outside, in here it felt confined and warm.
The casket sat dead center, below the stage, mounds of red roses covering it as the eyes of 17,000 opened a little wider, the audible gasps, the whoas and the whispers, the consensus that there should be applause, and then there was.
Mark J. Terrill (pool photo) Kobe Bryant and Reverend Al Sharpton at Michael Jackson's Memorial
The crowd gathered slowly inside before the service. It never felt like a madhouse, and, in fact, prior to the beginning there were huge swaths of seats unattended. Slowly, they filled, but not without pause. Jesse Jackson walked in to hoots. So did Smokey Robinson. Larry King received a knowing but tepid applause as he walked down the aisle. And then Kobe, who got roars, and then Reverend Al Sharpton.
The Jackson family came in to a reception befitting a royal family. More whispers. "WE LOVE YOU JACKSON FAMILY!" The audience divided its time between looking at the overhead flatscreens and gazing at the spectacle before them. As a choir came out and stood to sing above the casket, the multi-use Staples Center became a church. The crowd grew silent. 'MICHAEL I LOVE YOU!' Gone were the masses staring. They were outside the walls, watching on TV screens all over the world. In here it smelled like perfume and hot dogs, and you could hear the sniffles of the sad.
More to come.