Friday, June 26, 2009

cultural icons (rip)

I was leading a workshop, not watching tv or being on line, so I totally missed the death of Ed McMahon but I heard about Farrah Fawcett and Jocko--how could you avoid hearing about Michael Jackson's's bigger than 9/11 and the White Bronco and OJ?

Everyone has thoughts about those deaths and since I'm one of everyone, I thought I'd share mine.

Ed is the easiest. He is the world class side-kick. Everyone needs a side-kick, a tag-along, someone who laughs at your jokes and is the butt of many of them; someone who doesn't mind being 'second-best' and revels in supporting the 'big guy'. Everyone needs a Gabby Hays to their Roy Rodgers, a Robin to their Batman, a Desi to their Lucy, a Tonto to their Lone Ranger, a Silas to their Paul, a Peter to their Jesus, a Falstaff to their Prince Hal, a Garfunkel to their Simon, a Lewis to their Clark...well, you get the point. Everyone needs a best friend, a foil, a buddy a partner in the crime of Life. Who wouldn't want a big, jovial, ever-supportive friend to say, every time you entered a room, "HERE'S _______!" (Put your name in there and enjoy....) And Ed McMahon was the made in heaven side-kick for Johnny Carson. The only occupational hazard to being a side-kick is that you can never quite carve out your own niche afterwards. Did you ever take Ed seriously in his life after "The Tonight Show"? "That's the guy with Johnny Carson," we all said when we saw him in commercials. But he is forever a part of my life--those late nights I spent with him as he did all in his power to make Johnny funnier than he was. God bless the side-kicks of life. We all want one...though few of us aspire to BE one....

Farrah probably awakened the sexuality of more men than anyone in our time. That poster of her in the red one-piece bathing suit may be the most ubiquitous wall decoration of those over 40. It was de rigor for Dorm rooms of male students for a generation. And Farrah made hair "matter". Plus, there is a TV documentary of her last two years, after diagnosis, that she produced, that is a tribute, not to sexuality and beauty, but to courage and hope and love. If you can ever see it, you should, I think. Fame is a fickle and vicious master--but in that film, called "Farrah's Story" she emerges from the fog of fame to be a wondrous human being. Like Ed, she never quite shed the image of her original persona as one of the 'angels', though she proved herself a talented actress (The "Burning Bed" is still one of the TV productions I remember years later) but her legacy may be the documentary of her final months which reveals her to be a person to be greatly admired.

Michael Jackson--the third of the Trinity of notables to die this week--(my grandmother always said 'deaths come in threes') is perhaps the most enigmatic of all. I'm old enough to remember the Jackson Five. And I've lived long enough to see Michael move from child star to immortal performer to suspicious character to being simply wierd. His songs rattle around in my brain. His dancing changed dancing forever, he--almost single handiedly--created MTV as a force that formed us all in some way. My only youngest first cousin on my mother's side, out of 18 of us, was literally 'enthralled' by him. My daughter, who is 30, called to talk about his death. Nothing in recent history, as I said in the beginning, has seemingly be so completely covered by the media. Perhaps time from now should be referred to as 'AMJ'. EBay and Amazon sold out their stock of his music within minutes of his death. And yet, so far as I can see, he was the embodiment of what is wrong with our celebrity obcessed culture. Isolated, strange, pain-filled, driven to seek to create an eternal childhood, he was, in the end, one of the 'lost boys' rather than Peter Pan. It makes me wonder, as I remember him as a child singing with his brothers, what is true about the wisdom of "the child is father to the man". And it drives me to go stare at the photos I have of myself as a child and ponder....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.