27 June 2009

Free to Be

So you want to be entertained?
Please look away
We're not here 'cause we want to entertain
Please go away (don't go away)
Reality is the new fiction, they say
Truth is truer in these days, truth is man-made
If you're here cause you want to be entertained
Please go away

--Sleater-Kinney, "Entertain"

Is your life worth a painting?
Is this girl vs. boy with different symbols?
Being born is power.

--Minutemen, "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing"

Sleater-Kinney: Entertain

R.I.P. Michael Jackson.
R.I.P. the lost memories of youth.

I will openly admit that when I heard the news of Michael Jackson's death my thoughts were one step above the Who Cares level. I've never owned any of Michael Jackson's music and other than the cool shuffle of "Billie Jean" didn't care for it much. I thought he was bizarre. And he certainly was: the plastic surgery, arranged marriages with accompanying children, and the child molestation charges were just too much to deal with or think about. Who cares.

Then I checked Pitchfork for my daily dose of reviews and other bits of music geekiness and found their tribute and I wondered what a sometimes snobby and cooler-than indie rock website would say about the pop icon. And the tribute is honest and it expresses similar feelings of disassociation and confusion that I feel for this person whose body of artistic work has been all but obliterated by the train wreck that his public life became. And at the end of the tribute they posted a 1974 video of Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack singing "When We Grow Up" from the television show Free to Be... You and Me.

And then I almost started to cry.

I was three days short of my fifth birthday when Free to Be... You and Me first aired. We were living on Iris street in Lakewood, Colorado. I have no idea where I first saw the show, either at home or at school. Until I watched the video yesterday I would not have been able to recall that the show even existed. Seemingly, it had vanished from my memory.

The song itself is sweet and heartbreaking. The melody is simple but beautiful and as soon as it began I remembered every word. Michael Jackson was seventeen in that clip and, no, Michael you didn't have to change at all. But you did and I did and I forgot all about you. And now I have a son that is the same age I was when I first saw that show.

So I guess Mike and I have a longer relationship than at first I remembered. And then I went back and watched most of the clips from Free to Be... You and Me. The entire show in seventeen parts is posted on You Tube by someone who goes by the name Mooncrystle. Thank you, Mooncrystle. It's also sweet and heartbreaking and, apparently, it affected my life in profound ways yet relegated to the subliminal corners of my memory. Suddenly, I remembered it all: the lyrics, images, storylines of the individual pieces, Marlo and Mel, Rosey Grier, Alan Alda, Carol Channing, Kris and Rita, and especially Michael.

Then I remembered other things: Riding in my sister's Barracuda. The South Iris Street Fourth of July Bicentennial Block Party. The Phillips '66 gas station where Dad moonlighted after returning from his Bureau of Reclamation job at the Federal Center. My sisters' Jackson 5 Motown 45s. Banana-seat bikes. The drive-in theater on Wadsworth boulevard.

Maybe the test of an icon is its ability to subvert itself into the subconscious. Well, you accomplished that, Mike, even with this non-fan. Damn if you haven't been there all along. And I thought I didn't care.

If I was a gambling man I'd hazard a small fortune to say that Michael never had the opportunity to reclaim some of his lost memories of youth. I might even double down and bet that he might not have had too many memories of his early childhood that he wanted to reclaim. I know them only as vague and incomplete anecdotes but the stories of Michael's childhood with his abusive and violent father are numerous. Sadly, those doors are bound to reopen to the undiscerning public for many months to come. And that's too bad.

By all accounts Michael Jackson's death is a Tragedy in the most classic sense of the word. In short, Aristotle wrote that Tragedy is characterized by a person who experiences a reversal of good to bad fortune. The reversal must be caused by a flaw or mistake in character. Though possibly unforeseen, the reversal of fortune is inevitable. And, finally, the emotional outcome of the Tragedy must elicit in the audience (us) a catharsis or sense of relief.

I don't think it's morbid to say that whatever Neverland Michael finds himself in, it is much less lonely, less fearful, and less painful than the one he experienced here with us (the audience). I, for one, feel a sense of relief.

No, in the coming weeks I won't purchase Michael Jackson albums or biographies or watch too many Entertainment Tonight episodes. As Wendy said, it seems like he died a long time ago. And that's probably true. It's doubtful that he could ever recover any of his glory years from the mid- '70s and early '80s. For me, anyway, that's alright because, apparently, that's the image of him that made such an impression on my five-year-old mind. It's that image, along with a whole host of others, that I had forgotten about. Collectively, those are the images and experiences that formed my life as I live it today. And they have returned to me and they are here; and now they will be remembered. Thanks, Mike.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicely written piece. I had many of the same feelings about him and that period in time. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!
-MattB from TTips