Friday, June 26, 2009

Icons of Our Youth

Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett both passed away on the same day yesterday, both icons of my youth and both sad at the end in different ways. Farrah was publicly sick for a long time, so that was sad but not sudden. But hearing about Michael Jackson, though i certainly wouldn't have described him as "healthy," was more shocking news than i would have anticipated, more affecting. With Farrah, i was a boy in the 70's, of course i had "The Poster," alongside a more democratic poster of all 3 Charlie's Angels (original lineup only for me). And with Michael i really thought of him as a cartoon for a long time since i would watch the Jackson 5 cartoon on saturday mornings. Post-J5 it's incredible to think about the impact he had on pop music then and into the future, basically with just 2 albums -- Off The Wall, the best, and Thriller, the best-selling. Quincy Jones' production on both is visionary in itself, and coupled with Michael's bizarre energy and delivery and voice..."Rock With You" was certainly a soundtrack to my 10- year-old summer, and though by the time Thriller came out i was really just into rock and metal, i was still riveted by the videos and the "Billie Jean" performance on the Motown TV special. But already, though this was pre-skin bleaching and all the craziness, he seemed like he was from space or something. The art he was making was compelling but i never felt a personal connection to the human being, which is why it's still hard to understand the global reach of Michael Jackson as a phenomenon that filled stadiums (years after he'd become a reverse-shadow of himself) and is now bringing crowds of people into the streets weeping. All that can't be about the dancing and the glove and the hits, so what is it about? I don't claim to get it. I do know that with Farrah and Michael both, though they occupied some sort of pop culture place for me as a kid, and i would never turn the dial on "I Want You Back" and a bunch of other songs, i lost track and didn't think much about either after the early 80's. But when i did i had a vague feeling that i wished that both would turn themselves around, stop embarrassing themselves, return to civilization, return to earth basically; i was rooting for them to be what i thought they were when i was 10.


Blogger Claire said...

i share your point of view on this and have struggled to understand the mass emotional reponse that MJ's passing has generated.

i don't want to sound insensitive, but i actually take some relief from this sad, sad news. certainly, MJ was far too young and his passing underscores the severity of his health problems and personal struggles in recent decades, as well as the harsh media glare to which he was subjected. i guess for those very reasons i am just hoping he is finally seeing some peace.

of course, he was due to embark on his comeback tour. but the cynical part of me suspects that even if the concerts did go to plan (and the *really* cynical part of me suspects that not all of them would), the media scrutiny would be cruel indeed. certainly, until his death was annouced, a fair portion of the population was ready to pick him apart, both purposefully and and unthinkingly. and on a more basic level, he appeared to be in a LOT of pain, constantly. physically, but of course very likely mentally as well.

like you, i readily admit that i’ve never been that personally invested in MJ’s songs, or his persona. certainly, as i’ve grown i’ve come to appreciate the breadth of his career and his legacy. but i think i’m also informed by having lost a couple of people who were close to me this year who were chronically ill and in pain, who were no longer themselves.

i look out at the response to this passing and i see a genuine outpouring of grief. i also see a lot of people mourning an MJ that we already lost a long time ago. i can only surmise that MJ symbolizes something profound (innocence?) to many of these people and that they projecting their own feelings and memories onto the event.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I really don't understand it all, either, but I think Claire makes a good point about how perhaps people are mourning "an MJ that we already lost a long time ago." I hadn't thought of it that way, but it's almost like finally being able to feel some sympathy for him after watching, for what seems like decades, a person with such an unbelievable amount of talent sink deeper and deeper into mental illness. His stuff with the Jackson 5, without even taking into consideration his age at the time, is still incredible.

6:35 PM  

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