Michael Jackson is dead and I don’t feel so good

Published 8:37 pm Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In 1984, the late, great columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote a book “Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.” Grizzard’s premise, among other written meanderings, was that there was no greater indication of time passing than a change in popular culture.

In Grizzard’s case, his milestone was the death of Elvis Presley. His death signaled to Grizzard that he, too, was getting older and therefore forced to deal with his own mortality.

I was sitting in front of the television when announcers said Elvis had died. I was 7 years old and while I understood it was a big deal, I was too young to appreciate the impact his death had on many people.

But Michael Jackson was different. I grew up watching the Jackson Five on Saturday morning cartoons. I was a young teenager when Jackson hit his heights. I was watching when he Moonwalked across the stage. I owned a Michael Jackson piano-key t-shirt.

It wasn’t that I was a huge Jackson fan. I sang along with his songs on the radio and watched his videos, both of which were hard to escape if you listened to the radio or watched TV in the 1980s. Michael Jackson was everywhere.

It wasn’t as if you had a choice to know about him. He, like Elvis before him, was bigger than life, bigger than music.

Then things changed.

He got weird and there were more stories about his strangeness than his music. Michael Jackson became a punchline rather than a musician.

I heard about his death while I was driving down the interstate and while I was saddened, I was not surprised. It seemed like he had been a downward spiral for a while.

Later that day, I was going through the checkout line at the grocery store when the checker asked the bagger, both in their teens, if he had heard about Michael Jackson.

“He’s dead,” one boy said to the other.

“So?” the bagger replied.

I spoke up.

“I know you won’t believe this but at one time, he was the biggest thing around,” I told them. “Think of the biggest star you can imagine and multiply it times one thousand and that’s how popular Michael Jackson was.”

They just stared at me. I knew they didn’t understand.

Michael Jackson is dead and I guess I’m feeling older, too.