Right, so here we are, the death of a legend. Cue appropriate wailing, and blasts of Billie Jean from shops, pubs and car windows at 12-second intervals. Strange thing is, for my generation, this is pretty much our first one. Our Lennon, our Elvis. It’s our chance to remember where we were when, and then make up a better story to tell at dinner parties years down the line.
I know we had Diana, but to my mind she doesn’t count. Largely because we didn’t ‘have’ Diana - our parents did, the paparazzi did, but to my nine-year-old self she was just a nice lady with fairly dodgy hair, who everyone suddenly seemed to like an awful lot more after she’d gone. In fact, my strongest memory from that day in ’97 was anger that CBBC had been cancelled to make room for identical news broadcasts across all four channels*. Baffling was it that adults could run so many areas of the world so effectively, but fail to think of putting all the identical news into one big broadcast, so that the rest of us could watch Byker Grove in peace.
It seems that the deaths of these legendary figures serve to mark not only cultural milestones, but also the progression of technology – for me, the amazing thing about Jacko’s demise wasn’t that it happened, but just how quickly everybody knew about it. Within the space of 15 minutes on Thursday night, I had four texts, two phonecalls, 10 facebook updates and 106 Google news stories, all proclaiming the same shocked, if hazy statement: “Michael Jackson’s dead! Probably…”.
Because the thing about our media culture now is that quantity and quality are inversely proportional; what we have in abundance, the web posts, social networking hubs, permanently reachable contacts at the push of a few Blackberry buttons, we lack in reliability.
For everyone who heard the news that night, there was no one, solemn, bombshell but instead several hours of high-energy dithering. “He’s dead! He’s not! He is! We don’t know!” shrieked the world’s press, while the assembled audience had to decide which sources they trusted most (most of my friends plumping for national loyalty with “I won’t believe it until the BBC say it’s true”, an option that proved just slightly speedier than carrier pigeon.). Meanwhile Uri Geller’s statement of grief managed to be released even before confirmation of the death was, a coup we’ll attribute to his psychic skills and not just the desire to pip Elizabeth Taylor to the PR post.
So in decades to come, when my children ask me where I was when, there won’t be a romantic answer. No “I was on a bridge at sunrise, and Earth Song just happened to be playing”, or even the far superior “I was at Glastonbury”. My answer will be “On the Mac in the spare room with my mouse poised over the refresh button”. Whether the King of Pop would have considered a million Facebook statuses as a fitting tribute to his life, I don’t know, but it seems that’s just the way we do things now. RIP, Michael.
*Yes, four channels. None of this round-the-clock digital entertainment you kids today have, oh no. In my day, we were content with just a Gameboy, a Babybell and a copy of Live and Kicking magazine to keep us occupied.
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Oh, the heat! Oh my, oh me! The kind of heat where even naked isn’t cool enough. In an attempt to count my blessings, find a silver lining, turn that frown upside down etc etc, I have realised this: while being unemployed is rather a drag, and the heatwave is turning me into Sweatzilla, I should be glad that both are happening at the same time. Because being unemployed in 28 degree heat means parks, Calippos, and idle re-readings of Look magazine, being employed would mean polyester shirts, ineffective desk fans, and sauna-like tube journeys standing in a fat man’s armpit. So thank you, recession, for giving me a summer.
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Finally, my favourite overheard conversation of the week. This time from a lady in Brighton’s Sydney Street, with perhaps the most sensitive and touching eulogy anyone could offer:
“I’m so upset about Michael Jackson,” Lady tells Friend. “Yeah? Really?”, says Friend. “Yeah, really cut up,” says Lady. “You see, I’ve had him on my Celebrity Death List for the last four years, then the one year I swap him for Elizabeth Taylor, he goes and dies. Steve got him instead. I could have won a hundred quid.”
“That’s tough”, says Friend. “Yeah”, says Lady.