In the beginning, it was too much—too many souvenirs, too much taxpayer-paid security, just too much (although, despite the worst crowd-control fears, not too many people).
In the end, it was all that—and poignantly less.
In the end, the world's biggest show on Earth not affiliated with Ringling Brothers, which moves into Los Angeles tomorrow, was reduced to a little girl missing her daddy.
A recap and adaption of the tweets:
Outside Staples Center:
• First T-shirt-seller spotting. And not even in MJ red zone yet.
• Going rate for MJ T-shirt: $10. Chance to own a piece of the circus: Priceless. Or cheesy. Your call.
• More stuff: buttons, three for $10; flowers, $5 per bouquet; bottles of water, $1 each; totally unofficial "official" programs, $20 each.
• One block away from venue, and media and capitalists (aka the T-shirt and button people) outnumber Jacksons. And even mourning Jacksons fans.
• First ticket-scalper solicitation. If you've got $500, I know this guy…
• Moving into wristband-only area, where cops outnumber everybody.
• MJ's face being eerily projected over at adjacent Nokia Theatre.
• Looking now at three, long white posterboards filled with signatures and tributes from well-wishers.
• Best posterboard message: "Hey wasup MJ."
• Strange but true, if it weren't for the circling helicopters, it'd be pretty quiet here.
• The cavalry has arrived—literally, in the form of an LAPD equestrian unit. And now you know why this puppy's costing L.A. taxpayers $$$.
Inside Staples Center:
• Good thing I didn't buy that "official" program across the street. The official program (note no quotes) is free with admission. Score!
• No wonder AEG, the corporate owner of Staples, isn't kicking in for security—it's barely getting by selling $5.75 sodas in here.
• And, yes, the concession stands are very open.
• Inside the arena, in assigned seat. MJ music playing on the sound system (early stuff, circa "Ben"). Place not half-full yet.
• While the debate over whether MJ will actually be here, so to speak, continues, it sure looks like there's a reserved spot for a casket—an area just below the stage riser, decked out with flowers.
• Lead-off tribute in the program is from Dunk. "To the world Michael is an icon," writes Dunk. "To me Michael is family." (Dunk, I, the bad Jackson fan, later learn, is a childhood nickname MJ assigned to none other than sister Janet Jackson.)
• Lest you forget this is a memorial service show, now appearing on the giant scoreboard screen: Arrivals!
• I wonder who Larry King's wearing today?
• Services expected to begin in 10 minutes, the giant scoreboard screen says.
• P.A. announcer asks everybody to take their seats. You know what that means: Hurry up, and finish your jumbo pretzel.
• Some sort of disclaimer on the screens now. Probably about preserving the dignity of the circus and all.
• Crowd roars the arrival of Kobe Bryant—or some other really tall guy. (Hard to tell exactly when you're in the cheap seats.)
• Arrivals over. Arena full. Star still not here, though.
• This place is deadly silent, if you will.
The memorial service:
• "Ladies and gentlemen, Smokey Robinson."
• Back to the deadly silence…
• This is one well-trained crowd—so quiet, so respectful. Wonder if they're at the right memorial?
• Not to play critic at a funeral, but the pacing's a bit off. There's nothing going on.
• The star has arrived to a standing ovation. (And the casket goes right where it looked like a casket would go.)
• Every third person here must be snapping a picture. So much for the "no camera/video/recording" edict on the tickets.
• Staples isn't a church, but if you project church-y windows behind a pastor… Well, it still isn't a church.
• Why pros, like Lionel Richie, are pros—they have no problem performing with MJ's impossible-to-miss gold casket no more than a few feet in front of them.
• Motown's Berry Gordy dares to reference MJ's "questionable decisions"—and if that doesn't suck the air out of this place (and it doesn't), nothing will. The crowd's either in the tank, or not listening carefully. (Or maybe they don't know who Gordy is to care?)
• Texting isn't just for the riffraff. I can see the glow of cell phones from nearly every VIP aisle. Even during Stevie Wonder.
• Magic Johnson's KFC story may have come the closest yet to bringing down the house.
• Jennifer Hudson is lifting up the house—maybe the first performer so far to really connect.
• Eh, even the applause for Hudson wasn't all that. Who's the audience waiting for? (Well, besides MJ…)
• Um, maybe the crowd was waiting for the Rev. Al Sharpton, who's killing.
• To recap Sharpton's speech: MJ cured cancer. Predictably over the top or no, his line delivered directly to MJ's three children ("there weren't nothing strange about your daddy") is one of the most impactful of the event.
• Now see what you did, Sharpton? The crowd's pumped now, chanting.
• John Mayer can't tweet while he's playing, but if he could, I bet he'd tweet that he's messing with "Human Nature" right now.
• Mayer's noodling was the buzzkill to Sharpton's buzz.
• In here, in the unreal MJ vortex, Brooke Shields' tears make this… thing …a bit more real.
• Fewer and fewer dry fan eyes in the house.
• As Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's applause indicates, her Washington, D.C., colleague, Rep. Peter ("He's a pervert") King, ain't picking up any votes from this crowd.
• I totally get Usher's choked-up performance: He's all over the casket. He just couldn't zone it out.
• Director/choreographer Kenny Ortega seems so decent that his explanation as to why MJ's memorial needs to be Staples Center-sized sounds entirely reasonable. Okay, mostly reasonable.
• Everybody's on their feet. Singing "We Are the World." And, suddenly, it's 1985 again.
• One of those awkward concert moments: The VIPs are still standing; the riffraffers are undecided as to where to park themselves.
• Onstage arm-swaying picking up; offstage arm-swaying at a minimum.
• Jackson family gathered on stage now. Emotional moment undercut by screaming question: Which Jackson brother is that on the mic?!?
• Marlon! It's Marlon! Bless you, Marlon, for telling a story that name-checked your own name.
• Paris Jackson takes center stage. The crowd shushes itself. The girl sends the circus home with two sentences: "Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him so much."
• Guess this day was real, after all.
(Originally published July 7, 2009, at 11:45 a.m. PT)