Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson is Dead

Hm. He was a big star in our late teens and early 20s, and just a few years older than we ourselves. We suppose people are going to compare this to the deaths of John Lennon or Elvis Presley, as one of those you'll-always-remember-where-you-were-when you-heard-it events.. Some guy quoted by the AP went right to the top, and compared it to JFK.

So here's Father Anonymous, checking his internal cultural-event-o-meter. And you know what?

We're just not feeling it.

At best, we put the death of Michael Jackson somewhere between those of Robert McNamara and Ted Williams. (Wait -- you mean to tell us McNamara is still alive? Talk about your cosmic injustice.)

And this isn't because we're immune to celebrity-worship. On the day that Muhammad Ali dies, we plan to weep like babies. (Ali is the man. Period.) And of course we have our own personal celebrities: we still wince when we recall the death of Walter B. Gibson, the guy who wrote 283 pulp novels about the Shadow, many of them in two weeks each. (You know, we spoke to him once, by telephone. It was a local call, so we rang him up. Delightful guy.)

And it's certainly not because the -- oh must we? Okay then -- "self-styled 'King of Pop,' " as every single obituary is sure to say, wasn't colossally famous in his time. On the contrary.

We spent months in the 1980s traveling through obscure Andean villages, and a familiar scenario repeated itself often. We would find ourselves pausing for a moment, perhaps to drink a little mate de coca in a town with one dirt road while we waited for the weekly truck that constituted the sole means of transportation. And during this pause, we would make a few minutes (or, sometimes, hours) of idle chitchat with a local. Sometimes, a young boy; others, a toothless old man or a woman wearing a bowler hat and many, many skirts. (Usually, they were speakers of Quechua or Aymara, and spoke Spanish as poorly as we ourselves. This made for a slow, confusing conversation, but you have all the time in the world when the truck runs weekly.)

At a certain point, they would ask where we were from, and we would answer New York. They would ask us how much money we earned, and we would answer that we were unemployed. And then they would ask our name, which was -- surely you know that "Anonymous" is a nom religieux -- Michael. And every single time, whether boy or viejo or senora -- our collocutor would widen their eyes, nod sagely and say, "Ahhhh -- like Michael Jackson."

Yeah, he was huge.

But here's the thing. He was nuts. He wasn't just Elvis-gets-fat-and-offers-to-narc-for-Nixon nuts. He wasn't loveable-eccentric nuts, or even overindulged-star nuts. He was creepy scary nuts, the kind of nuts that makes you wonder about the mental stability of anybody who voluntarily came near him, including especially the parents of those boys who used to sleep over at his Peter Pan-themed "ranch." Just watching him on television, even for a moment, gave us a sick feeling in the pit of our stomach. Oh, we knew he had been royally screwed up by his family and early stardom and all that; and we truly did feel bad for him. But it takes a little more than the death of a pathetic guy who'd been given a raw deal by life and whom you pitied to make an historical moment, or else we'd all remember where we were when Scott McClellan died. (Wait -- you mean Chubby is still alive too? We didn't realize.)

Anyway, that said, it's still sad. He was a human being, and a fragile one. We wish his life had been better.


Kate the Great said...

An athiest friend on our favorite group blog put it this way- "Michael Jackson was challenging in a lot of ways, mostly because he was both way awesome and an insane homosexual pedophile, as if there were a God and he just wanted to ask us the question 'would you listen to a pedophile's music if it was way awesome.'"

It's when I find comments like that funny that I realize I'm a bad person.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Ditto, except that I am a bit (define bit) older than him, and, apparently you. I've been watching some of the retrospective footage to see just what I "missed" ( or didn't.) Creepy, yes. But apparently people who got to know him really liked him. Or maybe he had a lot in common with those who were also crushed by their own celebrity, like Liz.

Jim Krauser said...

Walter Gibson was also a magician who was the entertainment at a couple of banquets at my home congregation back in late 60's maybe early 70's.