25 June 2009
Today was a very strange day indeed. It began with a visit to Le Pain Quotidien down the street for a coffee and a pastry, and then descended into a bizarre clash of competing sadnesses. The deaths today of Farah Fawcett, the 70s beauty icon, and Michael Jackson, but especially the death of the latter, has shaken the world, if I am reading the tea leaves correctly.
The depths of the sadness is a little hard for me to understand. I guess I don't buy into the celebrity culture that values form over substance. I think the world is trying to come to grips with the competing notions of why exactly it is that we feel the way we do when a person who is known as "the king of pop" dies at the relatively young age of 50.
It can't be that it's because we knew who Michael Jackson was as a person at various times of his life -- we fans were mostly not personally acquainted with him. It's because of the good feelings that he gave those of us 9 and 10 year olds who really dug that Jackson 5 songs "I Want You Back" and "ABC" that I remember my sister and I listening to fairly incessantly in 1969 or 70 - whenever we got the 45 and then the album "The Jackson Five".
But to be honest, it's been years since I thought Michael Jackson was a pop icon on the order of U2 or Bruce Springsteen. Indeed, his later years have been peppered with disgusting allegations of some strange behavior. I can only imagine the emotional effect of having the skin disease he had on Michael's self-image. I would think that in some sufferers, it could be devastating. It expressed itself in Michael Jackson in some very strange ways.
Under any circumstance, the collective sadness is understandable. It's at once a reminder of how old some of us are getting as well as a reminder that 1969 and '70 were just a little more tolerable with the Jackson 5 in them, despite the fact that Richard Nixon was in the White House and our boys were fighting a war of choice that made no sense to a lot of people. It's also a sadness at the loss of our collective innocence, when little pop songs that you couldn't get out of your mind rocked your world even if they came out of a tinny speaker from a little portable red AM radio made proudly in Japan. And the world wasn't so damn cynical. We were a little kinder to one another for what I remember and things like baseball still mattered and the pursuit of money wasn't so front and center. The sadness is at the state of our selves: we look at what mattered then and then look at what matters to us now, and it is really sad.