I woke on the morning of the 26th thinking that the only thing that would be memorable about the day would be signing another two years of my life away and a sizable junk of my monthly credit card bill to Softbank for the new I phone. Then I checked the news and saw Micheal Jackson had been taken to hospital with a heart attack. The BBC had a live feed on the website and as I got ready to go to work I listened to see how things developed. At the time I couldn't really believe that he'd actually die, but then unconfirmed reports started appearing on Entertainment news feeds that he had indeed passed away. The BBC confirmed minutes later that he had indeed been pronounced dead at three fifteen LA time. A Pop Legend had passed on to the next world.
You know when someone has had a major global impact on world culture by the reaction of university students, especially here, where you'd be forgiven for thinking that they existed outside time and history with their shocking lack of global cultural knowledge - most of my students have never seen Star Wars, and have no idea why the name James T Kirk is important. I bet if you asked them to tell you who Jesus was - they'd have trouble. Jackson however, on my announcement of his death, sent waves of frenzied reactions through the class. Wow, a guy who hadn't released a new song for nearly a decade was news still for these kids. Impressive, most impressive, and ...
... so sad. Peter Pan of the MTV generation has gone, Micheal Jackson has left for Neverland - second star on the right and on to till morning.
When your childhood pop stars start to die either from sickness, age or accident its a stark reminder that you're no longer saying hello to the world anymore. You consider your own mortality, you do the figures and realize this amazingly talented artist was only fifteen years older than you. You realize that time is no longer infinite, but finite, and not something that can be wasted and drunk like water from a bottomless well.
You realize that in a few years you'll actually be saying good bye, at some point as an artist or as a writer, you'll be thinking about legacy and about mortality. It'll creep into your art not in the abstract ways of youth, but in very real, very personal ways. Soon its not pop stars your saying good bye to but friends and family.
Micheal Jackson lived life in a fantasy world of media, theme parks and unparalleled riches. Ironically to children of the eighties his death is a sign that we're no longer Peter Pan no more, we've grown up, and we're going have to start putting away the whimsy and focus on the reality.
The hyperbole surrounding his death is making his passing bigger than Elvis and on a par with Princess Diana. I hadn't really listened to much Jackson for a long long time, tastes change, and music is a very temporal medium, meaning specific things to special times. Blur and Oasis for example will always belong for me to 1996-97 when I was enjoying Brighton parklife and living cigarettes and alcohol, still finding time to fit hangovers and comedowns in with work.
Jackson for me meant preteens, I think Bad was one of the first LPs I bought with my early pay checks whilst working for my father. Back then buying music was a totally different experience, I didn't just download from ITunes (ahem) based on a whim. It took effort and selection. I remember standing in front of the Top Ten Album chart in Virgin Megastore and looking at dozens of choices. I don't know why but I remember stressing over whether to buy Pet Shop Boys: Actually, or Jackson's Bad. Being a sucker for the publicity at the time I ended up buying Bad, wanting to share the phenomenon that was sweeping through the pop world at the time. I liked the Album, liked it a lot, especially Man in the Mirror and Dirty Diana. Bizarrely I was more intrigued by his plastic Pan in leather and buckles on the cover. I remember actually drawing him for an art assignment, I remember getting an A for my likeness of him. I realized around that time I had a talent for capturing a likeness or an atmosphere for a person or character's facial features, something that's still with me today.
When someone like Jackson passes we look inside ourselves and see how our own experiences were touched or influenced by their work, we realize that in small ways or big ways that artistic giants in mass pop culture have add startling flourishes to our own lives and formative experiences.