Friday, June 26, 2009

Success, fame, and fortune, they're all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.


What a sad day yesterday was. A couple of generational icons lost in a matter of few hours. In their own ways both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson defined the decades in which they exploded into the American psyche.

I found myself oddly reflective last night about the death of Jackson. More than Farrah (I was a Heather Thomas pink bikini poster guy) he was the star that you really couldn't escape when I was a teenager in the 80s. I was not a fan. I should say: I tried not to be a fan. The guy was so talented he made that prospect difficult as hell.

A flood of memories of growing up in the 80s elbowed their way into my consciousness last night.

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I was with some buddies at the "Rhoddies." The Rhoddies are Portland's Rhododendron Garden located next to a golf course in Southeast Portland. The Rhoddies were a popular place for teenagers to drink and hang out for impromptu parties if you didn't have anything better to do on the weekend.

Somewhere a boom box was blaring what I'd like to think in this memory is "Beat It," although it could have just as well been Madonna or Culture Club. Everybody has fluffy 80's hair. I'm wearing by dark grey Miami Vice jacket with the sleeves rolled up.

At some point I broke away from my buddies and and was standing on a foot bridge by myself sipping a Bartles and James. It's an absolutely beautiful summer night. Bats were swooping down on the bugs by the lake. I remember thinking to myself: "goddammit, it's good to be alive."

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We're out at my grandparent's farm on the 4th of July. Besides shooting off illegal fireworks and stealing shots of grandpa's homemade cherry wine, we also spend a good portion of the day tearing around the property on my little red go cart and playing pick up football.

Practically everybody I love at that moment is in that one place.

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I'm sitting in my old, red Volkswagon Rabbit in the parking lot of McDonalds waiting for my girlfriend to get off her shift. I'm listening to the radio and as sure as I write this it's "Billie Jean."

When my she finally gets in the car there's some perfunctory discussion about where we're going to go. A movie? Grab something to eat? It's all bullshit. We know we're going to wind up parked on a dark street somewhere for some serious snogging and heavy petting.

She apologizes to me because she smells like french fries. I lie and tell her I can't smell the fries. The truth is she does, but I don't care. I like french fries.

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It's Halloween and "Thriller" is playing in the other room while I'm getting Frankenstein makeup applied to my face. I'm going to be the climax of this particular dance. The late, great Mark Zimmerman who was the King of Halloween has planned this dance as his Magnum Opus.

Mark has rigged a scaffolding in the middle of the dance floor going forty feet up to the ceiling of the gymnasium. To this he's affixed a pulley system. In my Frankenstein costume I'm going to be lying on a gurney under a sheet, wheeled out at the right moment to the song "Weird Science" and actually cranked up to the ceiling of the gym where Mark has placed strobe lights near the skylights to simulate lightning. All of this for a high school dance.

Because it was dangerous I asked some guys I could trust to actually wheel me out and run the pulley system. I couldn't see anything under the sheet as they pushed me into the gym and the other kids started cheering but I vividly remember my best buddy Jeff leaning over the sheet near my face, stinking of beer and whispering "have a nice trip, Frankie" just before he socked me in the nuts.

I was going to die.

Of course it went without a hitch and as soon they lowered me back down and as Oingo Boingo blurted "it's alive!" I hopped up and did my own version of Jack's zombie dance.

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I'm in my high school history class and Mr. Sprinkle is rushing through his lesson so he can tell us "war stories" in the last 10 minutes of class. Mr. Sprinkle was in Vietnam and decided at some point that the best lesson he could give his students wasn't out of books. He could tell us stories from his own life about how horribly stupid war is.

Today he's telling us a horrible story about how American troops sometimes slept behind idling tanks to stay warm, even though ordered not to and how once a month a soldier would be killed when the tank backed over them.

In part because of Mr. Sprinkle I have a lifelong love of history, a deep distrust of authority and a wicked sense of humor.

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I'm on a date heading to a party and we're lost. Ahead of us smack dab in the middle of the street is a GIANT puddle. My date and I are arguing about whether my Rabbit can make it across. I say it can, she doesn't think there's a chance in hell.

I hit the gas and the car stalls right in the middle of the puddle. We both have to wade through a foot of water to shore so I can call a tow truck. That was my first and last date with that girl.

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I'm sad about Michael Jackson passing. There was so much talent and potential in that guy and he just went off the rails. It's depressing that he was obviously so uncomfortable in his own skin. I kept hoping he'd get it turned around. He could hae been the elder statesman of pop music.

But truth be told was really brought tears to my eyes yesterday was all these memories from the time when Jackson really was the King of Pop. I thought about goofing around with my friends and family, being young and in love, dancing, and being so damned alive and sooooo damned stupid at the same time. Jackson's death makes all of that wonderful stuff seem so very far away.

It makes me feel so... old.

11 comments:

Randal Graves said...

I wasn't a Michael Jackson fan, but there was a period, and I've tried in vain to explain this to my kids, where he was everywhere and they seemingly played Thriller every hour on the hour on MTV.

Even with the 28-in-24 hour saturation and the internets and all that crap, you won't see anyone that hugely popular for that long again.

Shit, now I feel old, you bastard.

Lockwood said...

I'm old enough to remember the old "Jackson Five" teenybopper music, which I sort of liked in middle school. I was never a fan of Jackson's 80's music per se, but I always admired his dance moves and performance sensibility. I agree with Randall in that with all the options available today (and the fact that MTV is now emptyV), it's impossible for today's kids to grasp how utterly that channel dominated culture generally and music specifically. So even artists I didn't care much for garnered my respect, if not my affection (Madonna is another that comes to mind).

I have felt awfully bad for Jacko for about 20 years. What is it about our society that wants to deify our talented people, only to turn around and demonize them when we discover they're merely human? Today's Onion question was "Singer Michael Jackson died yesterday at 50. What do you think?" My sort of bittersweet take in my "What I Think" post today was "I hope he's feeling better now." RIP, Michael.

Lisa said...

I was never a fan, but there was certainly no escaping the reach of his music and those videos. It was part of the landscape of our teens.

I loved the little vignettes of memories. It was quite real for me because your moments were not so far from my own.

And me? Dancing the evening away at the "disco" in Aurora, Indiana. "Don't Stop" is playing. And I swear, I have never looked so good in jeans as I did in the Calvins.

Aaron said...

Yeah, feeling old was my reation...

HarrySTruman2 said...

I always figured he had at least
one comeback left.

Distributorcap said...

maybe it is my age - but as much as jackson contributed - i dont get the sense of him transforming anythign

he will now become the new elvis/dean/monroe/joplin......

forever living in death

Dean Wormer said...

randal-

Even with the 28-in-24 hour saturation and the internets and all that crap, you won't see anyone that hugely popular for that long again.

Yeah. Our attention is too dilluted by all the choices we have now for somebody to get that big again.

I have felt awfully bad for Jacko for about 20 years. What is it about our society that wants to deify our talented people, only to turn around and demonize them when we discover they're merely human?

It is pretty twisted how we treat celebrities. Most of the time I'm able to write that off by saying they chose celebrity, but guys like Michael are sad cases because they didn't really choose to be as famous as they were- they were groomed that way.

Lisa-

I bet you looked like Brook Shields in your Calvins.

Aaron-

doesn't it suck?

harrystruman-

that's what I was hoping.

distributorcap-

He's going to be shopped into the famous diner poster is what you're saying?

Dr. Zaius said...

Were you still wearing your Frankenstein costume when you drove across the giant puddle?

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Erinbfgn said...

maybe it is my age - but as much as jackson contributed - i dont get the sense of him transforming anythign he will now become the new elvis/dean/monroe/joplin...... forever living in death

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