Thursday, June 25, 2009

Long Live the King

Jeff and I watch the Oscars together pretty much every year, if we're able. Even though I wanted to murder him during this year's telecast (and still do, if truth be told), there's still nobody else I'd rather watch it with.

Well, there's that girl from the wiggle-cam alien movie, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyhow, during the "In Memorium" segment, Jeff said something that didn't really strike me as profound until I'd heard that Michael Jackson died. He said, "I guess it's a sign I'm getting old, but every Oscars, I recognise more of the names of the dead than I did the year before."*

So, Farrah Fawcett passed away today, and it would be of more significance had she done so yesterday or the week before. I was at the electronics store, shopping for a television and she was on some of the TVs, and I thought, "When I get home, I'll write about how I was just too young to have truly appreciated Farrah's career and how my uncles probably were the perfect age for that famous poster. Maybe I'll tell the story about my dad and Elizabeth Taylor."

When I was a kid, I remember my dad talking about how beautiful Elizabeth Taylor was. I only knew Taylor as the fat lady with many, many husbands, being mocked by Carson and Dave on late night TV. I couldn't conceive of her as being someone to have a crush on, as apparently my old man did. And a couple of years back, when Britney Spears got knocked up and let herself go, I thought, "Well, there's my Liz Taylor, Dad, right there."

But while I was at the store, before I could comment on the Farrah Fawcett thing (or remember any more uninteresting anecdotes), the news interrupted their coverage to say that Michael Jackson had been rushed to the hospital. Another station said he was in a coma, but, chillingly, was talking about him in the past tense.

We went home, and Jackson was dead. I already had three emails from Merrill at FOX, telling me of the developments. Sadly, I was babysitting, eager to set up the new television, and was being told to come to Jeff's house every ten minutes or so (not to mention the fact that I did no work at all yesterday), so I haven't gotten to blog about it the way I wanted to.

But I will.

I said in my intro before that I was a big fan of the deceased (basically, I wrote that paragraph right after the Oscars had happened, leaving the name of the dead celebrity blank. I just had a feeling that someone I'm a big fan of would pass away soon, so I saved it until now). Now, while that's not necessarily true about Michael Jackson, I was a fan of his work, and he was a massive star, perhaps the kind of world-renowned celebrity there were in my grandparents' day. He was Elvis big.

That he's dead is noteworthy not because of who he was in the end, but who he was once, when he truly was the King of Pop.**I was in elementary school, already obsessed with monsters and horror movies, when "Thriller" was released. I was too young to have owned any records, but the song got radio play, and when that video came out, I was lucky enough to see it. I believe they showed it at my school (a teacher, Mr. Worthin, who was probably ten years younger than I am now), and we were going to do a talent show thing based on it, and one of the kids, Gary, thought we could learn the zombie choreography if we watched the video together. But then parents got wind of it, and Mister Worthin and poor Gary Jackson were publicly flogged.

Ultimately, they deemed that, because of its disturbing, occult nature, the video could not be shown during school hours, and those of us who were doing the talent show could only watch it after school let out. Funny, I remember that more than the actual performance on the stage.

So, I was a Jackson fan. Even as a kid, though, he was strange, and the rumours of his strangeness were pervasive. The glove, the high voice, the plastic surgery, the oxygen tank, McCauley Culkin, the Elephant Man's bones, the allegations, the skin lightening, the baby dangling, the odd statements, the hair straightening, the amusement park, the naming of a baby "Blanket," the wearing of masks . . . as the years went on, he alienated a heck of a lot of people. In the end, it was pretty brave to admit to being a Michael Jackson fan. Unless you were a shrieking Japanese schoolgirl, I suppose.

Beyond the childhood thing, I recall doing karaoke at a bar in Hollywood, where my pal Matthew and I dueted on "The Girl Is Mine." I was Paul McCartney and he was Michael Jackson, and we pretty much slaughtered the song, devolving into name calling and changing the lyrics to "the goddamn girl is mine."

But my strongest adult memory of Jackson was listening to those Martin Bashir interviews he did back in 2003. Those were confusing and enlightening, amusing and disturbing, and my coworkers and I talked about them for days. A couple of my friends were infuriated by the interview (my buddy Jeff the Chemist couldn't stop talking about the part where Jackson claimed to have never had plastic surgery), but in the end, I felt sorry for Michael. I don't know who he really was, and it's a shame that his eccentricities/psychoses often overshadowed his musical talents.He died on June 25th, being rushed to the UCLA hospital in a comatose state. They say it was congestive heart failure, but apparently that can mean many things. He was fifty years old.

It's hard to explain to someone like my niece just how big a star Michael Jackson was. It's hard to really remember it myself, and I lived through it. We live in such a media-centric society today, with celebrities coming and going at the rate of fireworks, that truly monumental stars become rarer and rarer.

I remember my film history professor trying to explain just how big a star Charlie Chaplin was back in the 1920's, and the only way he could make us Gen X'ers comprehend was by combining several of today's stars. It's possible that in the future, Michael Jackson's fame will have to be described in that same way.

Who's bad?

Rish Shamon Outfield

*Soon, as long as the Disney Channel stars don't start offing themselves, I'll recognise them all.

**I was in a play as a child, where my line was, "Who's the last person you'd expect to walk through that door?" to which the other actor said, "Ricky Ricardo?" Cue laughter. Well, the line was changed to Michael Jackson. That's all I have to say about that.

1 comment:

Big Anklevich said...

Interestingly, I read your blog as Michael Jackson's funeral plays in the background. That cartoon character Al Sharpton is going on and on right now.