Kings of the Wild Frontier

I was 7 years old when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, died. I still remember hearing it on the news. Elvis’ music hadn’t had much of a direct impact on me, but I knew who he was. Everyone knew who Elvis was. And his death was an utter shock, a moment of frozen time and disbelief. As time has gone by, I haven’t really ever been an Elvis fan, but I still have to acknowledge the cultural impact of his life and death.

Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, died yesterday. He was older than Elvis when Elvis died, but not by much. I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan. I never owned Thriller or any of his other albums. Like most people, I made jokes about Jackson’s strange life and behavior. But as someone who grew up in the ’80s, I’d be lying if I said Michael Jackson had no impact on me, and I really did like a number of his songs. Like Elvis, Michael Jackson impacted everyone. And his death is an utter shock. I can barely believe he’s gone.

These two kings, Elvis and Michael, lived strange lives that just got stranger. They were twisted, tortured, abused and abusive, living in baroque bubbles of unreality. Is this what it takes to be a king in pop culture? Maybe. Despite the accusations of terrible, abusive, possibly criminal behavior, I feel sorry for these two men. They led sad, carnival-mirror lives that took them from this world at an early age. At the same time, they touched–and continue to touch–millions of people all over the world in brilliant ways.

Pop culture is a funny thing.

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9 thoughts on “Kings of the Wild Frontier

  1. I can’t think of any impact that Michael Jackson had on my life. I thought he was weird. But, then, I’m just an old guy…..even pre-Elvis.

  2. Yeah, you weren’t really the audience for this post.

  3. Andrew Sullivan said what I was thinking better than I could. On one hand it is silly to be upset by the passing of a “pop” icon. On the other hand, pop icons fill important psychological and sociological roles in modern life, especially for teens (the time when MJ meant the most in my life). I am afraid he hurt people during his life, but I can’t help but feel sad about this…and I want to revel in the happiness his music and dancing brought.

    “The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan
    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/06/thinking-about-michael.html
    There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. …

    PS-Why leave a comment about MJ not having an impact on your life in the first place RN?

  4. My parents have vinyl Jackson 5, Off the Wall and Thriller. My mom was a fan of the Motown MJ. Maybe I ought to have Morgan listen to some of their old school stuff (my mom was Beatles and Motown, my dad was Elvis…they have both).

  5. I didn’t think so.

  6. And to think, the two are connected by Lisa Marie.

  7. Yes! In fact, here is what Lisa Marie wrote on Friday and Michael and her dad.

  8. Pop culture is a powerful force. Michael Jackson’s death drove off (or at least made secondary) the news from Iran on the top of news websites and off the TV news since his, MJ’s, death. That’s not a negative or judgmental comment, merely an observation. MJ’s death, following right on the heels of the death of Farrah Fawcett (another pop culture icon, at least in another era) is now followed by the death of TV pitchman Billy Mays, someone aspiring to be a pop culture icon.

    As a lifelong devotee of many parts of pop culture, I can appreciate the phenomenon. Musicians in the realm of pop culture seem not to fare well. MJ’s death reminded me of the deaths of people like Richie Valens (at age 17), Patsy Cline (30), Jim Croce (30), John Denver (53), Buddy Holly (22), Jerry Garcia (age 53), the great Janis Joplin (27)…..et alii. Then of course, there was the murder of John Lennon at the age of 40. All so sad……Then there are those of us who lived through and vividly remember the murders of four political figures who attained the stature of pop culture icons either before or aftyer their deaths….John Kennedy in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, and the shootings of the Jackson State (Miss.) Kent State (Ohio) students in 1970…..Too much death.

  9. Michael Jackson’s death has not really affected me either (or at least it hasn’t in ways that I can realize in the here and now). I loved him as a child– wore clothing that announced my love for him, bounced on the bed and sang songs that he sang….. THAT Michael, though, died a long time ago. And now ‘his’ death unfortunately seems like just another strange occurrence in a very strange life….

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