Many years ago – back in the 50s in fact – a promoter by the name of Lee Gordon arranged an Australian tour for Little Richard and a bunch of other American rock’n’rollers. He booked the artists, booked the venues, did the publicity and then had a ridiculously tough time selling the tickets.
Why? Because no one in Australia could believe that the people they listened to on their records could exist, in the flesh, on an Australian stage. They lived in the far off, almost other-planar land of America. The idea that they’d visit Australia was as ridiculous as saying that you’d booked Santa Claus or Superman to appear. It had to be either a bunch of impersonators or some kind of scam – so no one was willing to pay to be ripped off.
Back in the early nineties, when the Big Day Out festival was just getting started, the big guest was Marilyn Manson. This was at the height of his “Antichrist Superstar” period, when he was the biggest, larger than life, most controversial, most frightening personality in music. And he was going to appear at Bassendean Oval, the run of the mill, slightly run down football field that I went past every day on the way to and from school.
As I remarked to my friend Mike this was as if Batman or Spiderman was going to appear – Manson seemed just as much a fictional character as anything from the world of comic books. And yet he was going to strut his stuff in our very backyards. It was downright surreal.
The reason I mention this is the sudden death this morning of Michael Jackson.
Jackson has been around my entire life, always there in the pop cultural milieu. In the 80s he was huge – people laugh these days when he’s called “the king of pop”, but back then he truly was. He was a brilliant song-writer and composer with string after string of hits, most of which still stand up today.
Then he started to go weird. He descended into increasing bizarreness and his music became increasingly unlistenable. He became “Whacko Jacko” – at best a complete weirdo, at worst a dangerous pedophile. His latest excesses and eccentricities were a staple of the tabloids. And as a result – without my realising it – he migrated from the part of my brain that catalogues real people into the part that catalogues fictional people.
So to hear that he’s dead gives me the same sense of surreality that Marilyn Manson’s visitation did, and that those 1950s Sydneysiders had when they were offered tickets to see Little Richard. It doesn’t make sense. How can someone who was never really real die?
So let’s all raise our glasses of Jesus juice to a unique individual. Thanks for Billie Jean at least dude.