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The historical moment”: Inside Michael Jackson’s memorial

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Brooke Shields speaks at the memorial service for music legend Michael Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on July 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Gabriel Bouys)

“It was eerily quiet,” said Zach Moss of the scene at the Staples Center during Michael Jackson’s memorial service yesterday. “You clapped, you cheered maybe, but nobody spoke.”

“To be in any stadium and it’s completely quiet…” the recent Las Vegas transplant trailed off. “You’re in the Staples Center where the Lakers play and it’s always jumping up and down and crazy and fun. To be in there completely quiet, it was just…it was amazing.”

Moss was one of the thousands of fans who won tickets to the two-and-a-half-hour service held in Los Angeles. Selected from a pool of 1.6 million people who applied for the seats, the 21-year-old DJ found himself watching a concert, memorial and spectacle all rolled into one amazing show.

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

“I had no expectations. I knew it was going to be performances and I knew it was going to be speeches, but, honestly, I couldn’t have written a better show.”

That show featured performances and speeches from a range of celebrities and family members. Mariah Carey sang Jackson 5 standard “I’ll Be There,” and Jennifer Hudson performed “Will You Be There” dressed in ethereal white and surrounded by a circle of dancers. Magic Johnson reminisced and Brooke Shields spoke. The mood was somber, the tribute eminently respectful.

“Between the right people to make the right speeches and the right people to sing the right songs, it just connected so well. It made such a perfect memorial for him,” Moss recounted. “Everyone was very appropriate and said what needed to be said and said what needed to be said from their hearts.”

Those heartfelt speeches reminded both the audience at the Staples Center and those watching the live broadcast at home of the person behind the celebrity, the man behind the King of Pop.

Las Vegas-based DJ Zach Moss with his ticket to Michael Jackson's memorial service at the Staples Center in LA on July 7, 2009.

“In such a private life, you don’t really get that peak into it,” Moss continued. “Brooke Shields today and Magic (Johnson) kind of gave you that peak into his life and how caring and how smiley he is and how compassionate Jackson was.

“Them talking about it and with his coffin right in front of them, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh. The closest I’ve ever been to Michael Jackson is when he’s passed away.’ I missed it almost. … I feel like I really got close to the family and friends and brought into the bubble that is Michael Jackson.”

As Moss recounts his day inside the Jackson bubble his voice is reverential. He describes the event as “the historical moment” in his life, and says that, years from now, he’ll tell his kids about sitting inside the Staples Center the day they said goodbye to Michael Jackson.

Soon, the DJ in him kicks in.

“I felt like being able to play his records when I DJ, it makes you not be able to be one with him, but feel what he feels when he’s on stage and he’s singing and people are singing to him. … But being in [the Staples Center] and seeing it makes you miss it more. It makes you like, ‘No! You need to still be alive and still be singing right now.’”

It was that sadness mixed with regret that marked Moss’ experience and the memorial service as a whole. But it wasn’t Jermaine Jackson’s performance of Michael Jackson’s favorite song, “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin, or the tearful speech by Jackson’s 11-year-old daughter Paris that held the emotional climax of the service for Moss.

“The most memorable moment of the whole thing was at the end after Paris spoke and everybody cleared the stage. They were playing music, and there wasn’t any vocals, and there was a microphone on stage on a stand. Everything was dark except for a spotlight on there. And it was missing something. It was missing Michael! It was like he was supposed to be there, singing the song.”

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Sarah Feldberg is the editor of Las Vegas Weekly magazine. A veteran journalist, Feldberg previously worked as the Weekly's web ...

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