We love you, Michael!
During lulls in the memorial for Michael Jackson, someone would shout this out so piercingly it felt like a gunshot.
There were, however, very few gaps in the event. Speakers and songwriters smoothly took their place on the stage where, less than two weeks ago, Mr. Jackson was rehearsing for his final shows (all 50 of them), a concert series he called This Is It.
The centre was packed with the few ecstatic fans who managed to get tickets. Elsewhere, in Harlem, at Neverland Ranch, in hometown Gary, Ind., Las Vegas, Times Square, Atlanta, and - most wrenching - on the L.A. overpasses staring down on the dark passage of Mr. Jackson's hearse, fans gathered. Still others watched, online and on television, Michael Jackson's last show.
The artist, named and claimed in the course of the more than two-hour memorial as "the greatest entertainer who ever lived," appeared on stage in a gold coffin laden with lush red roses. He had been present for a private funeral service, then whisked away to the arena afterwards: a disquieting sequence of events all too familiar to Mr. Jackson, who since childhood was compelled to be where he was wanted.
Or to hide away, when he was not: It is still hard to reconcile the quavering, forlorn vocals of Mariah Carey, of Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie, as they sang of their love and loss, with the outcast and desolate Mr. Jackson, wandering around Bahrain in purdah for years.
Wonder seemed the least slick and practised of the singers. His voice was ragged with emotion when he cried, "Michael, why didn't you stay?" as if challenging Mr. Jackson's life-long great artistic trope: his presence and fidelity as a singer and a man. (This sentiment courses through so many songs, from I'll Be There to You Are Not Alone .) And Usher was the most aggressively synthetic of the performers.
He began by remarking, combatively, "You meant so much to us. Especially me," and aimed his song directly at the coffin while stroking and handling it, while everyone else, gracefully, or fearfully, avoided drawing attention to the corpse of the man they loved.
Yet, if Usher seemed a bit glib, he has spoken so well of his devotion to Mr. Jackson in the past two weeks, and he was there. That virtually no one else his age or directly influenced by him attended, including Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake, was a disgrace.
There were so many significant absences, people who should know better and should have been kinder. Elizabeth Taylor skipped the event, dubiously claiming in a classic cop-out that she wanted to mourn alone. This from the woman who stopped speaking to Mr. Jackson years ago, when it was no longer fashionable to do so.
Yes, one feels like Michael Corleone at such times, keeping shrewd track of the guests at his father's funeral, and of how they behave.
Al Sharpton may have saved Mr. Jackson's three dazed children when he barked, righteously, "Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what he had to deal with."
Others, including Bernice and Martin Luther King III, made us remember Mr. Jackson's kindness and philanthropy; a choir reminded us of his piety; and Brooke Shields, so elegantly, spoke of his fragility, comparing him (while cementing the connection between him and Lady Diana, that second guttering candle) to a light exposed, also, to wind.
I watched this and watched too as so many commentators laughed, derided, and made the kind of cynical and cruel remarks that so many people mistake as toughness.
Do they want to be remembered for being heartless, and so weak that they can only quarrel with dead men?
We cannot imagine what it was like for Mr. Jackson, his grieving brother Marlon said, always "being judged, ridiculed."
His frightened little daughter, addressing "Daddy," said she loved him, before sobbing like a small hurricane.
"Maybe now, Michael," Marlon said, "they will leave you alone."