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.