Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Death of Eras

Sitting here reflecting upon the events of June 25, 2009 - the early morning passing of Farrah Fawcett and the afternoon death of Michael Jackson - I'm compelled to review moments of impact in my life. I have decided that there have been five significant "deaths" in my life to this point (in chronological order):

1. The death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson. I was twelve years old, moving from Fresno to San Diego literally a day after my sixth grade graduation, when we heard the news that Munson had died in the crash of a private airplane. I wasn't a Yankees fan, but as a fan of fellow catcher Johnny Bench (and a budding baseball fan in general), I knew of him. His death marked the first time I realized that our sports heroes were mortal.

2. The death of "Tutu". I was a 21 year-old high school graduate with one semester of junior college under my belt, working at a bank, wondering if I'd ever earn more than $7 an hour. One day my grandmother went into the hospital for renal bypass surgery, and she never came out. I got the news of her death at around 2:00 in the morning, and stayed awake the rest of the night thinking about my own mortality. Her death marked the first time that I took control of my destiny, and less than a week later I was trying out for a college baseball team despite never having played for a high school team. I made the team, earned a scholarship to a four-year school, and ended up with a degree.

3. The death of "Showtime". On November 7, 1991, I was working an afternoon shift at Kinney Shoes at the Windward Mall in Kaneohe, Hawaii. A co-worker who knew that I was a Lakers fan came into the store with the news that Magic Johnson had announced that he was HIV positive, and that he was retiring from basketball. I was a Lakers fan BECAUSE of Magic, and his announcement marked the death of one of the greatest sports dynasties of all time - and the first time I realized that our sports heroes are not perfect.

4. The death of American infallibility. On September 11, 2001, our lives changed forever. And in the months following that tragedy, America changed forever. We traded reason for revenge and integrity for "interrogation". The towers crashing down marked the first time I realized that others would think so low of us that they would attack us on our own soil, and the first time I realized we would sell our position in the world for the personal gain of our leaders.

5. The death of youth. There have been other celebrity deaths throughout my life, but I cannot remember a more impactful day than June 25, 2009. On the same day, in a span of eight hours, an angel and an icon passed away.

The first poster of a woman I ever had in my bedroom was arguably the most famous image of a woman of its time: the 1976 poster of Farrah Fawcett, which brought the concept of "sexy" to the mainstream.

I was never a fan of the music of Michael Jackson, but he was always a presence in my life: I was five years old when "I'll be There" was released. "Thriller", the best-selling album of all time, was released when I was fifteen, and so many of the songs on that album provided the background music of my youth. Jackson introduced me to an entirely new way to experience music through videos, and even his later, more eccentric (and potentially perverted or criminal) behavior was part of my life experience.

Today I mourn not just the death of two more celebrities, but of a part of my youth. And as such, today is the first time I've realized that I am not as young as I would like to think. RIP Farrah, RIP Michael, RIP Youth.

1 comment:

  1. Believe it or not, I also remember when Thurmon Munson died. I wasn't a huge baseball fan, but my brother was. When he died, it was the first time I could remember being aware of the passing of a public figure. My grandfather's death during my high school years was my first real personal loss. Both of those gave me pause, but Munson was a distant figure, and Grandpa was old and had lived a full life.

    However, subsequent losses have made me more acutely aware of my own mortality: the relatively young deaths of my aunt, my dad, my mom, and my brother, for example. I am too young to be the oldest member of my family, and yet I am. As you say, I am not as young as I would like to think. Nor am I invincible, and there is no guarantee of what the future may or may not bring.

    The passing of not one, but two, public icons yesterday further serves as a reminder. No matter if you watched "Charlie's Angels" (I did) or if Michael Jackson was on your iPod playlist (it is), these two were an integral piece of the fabric of our youth. They were as familiar as Lennon or Elvis or Kennedy for the generation before us, and their loss is a public one for us. It's true that while their families and friends will gather to mourn their private loss of a human being, the rest of our generation, hearing the drumbeat of time just a little louder today, mourn the passing of our youth.