Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley - the deaths of two icons

I'm sure I wasn't alone in fearing that the life of Michael Jackson would come to an end sooner rather than later. He never seemed to have any inner peace, despite his brilliantly innovative music and dance style.

His passing marks one of those rare moments in history where you'll never forget where you were when it happened. In my lifetime, there's been things like Diana's death and 9/11, but in my life the first such monumental occasion came when Elvis died when I was 10 years and a few days old. In a weird bit of symmetry, my daughter is 10 years and a few days old at Jackson's death.

Yes we have saturation coverage on 24 hour news channels, the internet and social networking sites now, but in 1977, every media outlet we had at that time was full of Elvis stuff for what seemed to me like ages after his death. I remember the news being extended and every paper being full of story, tribute and speculation. I found it all quite confusing at the time because the whole world seemed to be in mourning and I wasn't really sure why because I didn't really know who Elvis was. A few hours' study of the papers gave me all the facts but I didn't have that emotional reaction that older friends and family had. I think the thing that upset me most was that his daughter, who wasn't far off my age, had lost her daddy. More than 3 decades on, I can still remember clearly what Elvis and Priscilla's wedding photo looked like and I'll never forget the reports of the crowds at his home at Graceland.

Technology, by throwing powerful imagery into our house 24/7 makes the experience more immediate and more intense, but there seems to be this feeling that we invented hysterical grieving when Diana died. I don't think so from what I remember from Elvis' death.

While the 10 year old me was amazed that a whole newspaper could be about Elvis, with all other news being snuck into a small corner on page 48, my daughter's realisation that this was quite a big thing came from glancing over my shoulder at my Tweetdeck. I had to laugh as she was amazed that all the Lib Dems and Formula One people (they have a column each) were filled with Michael Jackson talk and tributes, like they should only talk about the things I know them for. I think I have some explaining to do on how you shouldn't label people!

Like me with Lisa Marie, she was very concerned for Michael Jackson's children. Like me, she doesn't really know who he is - her musical tastes are still very much rooted in the world of Disney, High School Musical and Hannah Montana.

I've tried to explain to her how much of a huge star he was when I was a teenager. I didn't much like his music at first, but it grew on me as I grew older and the likes of Billie Jean, Thriller and Bad provided a huge part of the soundtrack to my most formative years. I hope it's music that she will grow up to appreciate - and I suspect she will get plenty of chance as my husband is looking out his Michael Jackson collection. Two of my personal favourites, The way you make me feel and The Man in the Mirror came out the year I got married. Billie Jean and Thriller took me through my O grades and Highers.

In the deaths of these two legends - and I guess I could add that sudden murder of John Lennon as a third - I don't actually see that much difference in the reaction of fans and in the reporting, other than the amount. Then, as now, every available technology is being packed to the gunnels. Then as now grief stricken fans gather at their homes. The big difference is in how the news is brought to us - there was nobody outside Graceland with a mobile phone to film the ambulance taking Elvis Presley away. Then if there were live satellite interviews they could have quite wonky pictures and long time delays - most often reporters seemed to phone in. Now, we almost get live transmission from the field of battle.

So, that is the story of how two ten year old girls, 32 years apart, experienced the death of a major icon of their age.

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