Thursday, June 25, 2009

Look Homeward, Angels

I'm reeling from today's news about Farrah and Michael. I mean, both in one day...that's not right. Both of them figured so prominently in the pop culture of my youth, even as I'm sure there are many in my demographic with more interesting memories than mine.

Before Farrah was Jill Munroe to me, she was the girl on the wall. Her poster is the only one I remember my brother ever having. And my brother--shy, bespectacled, bookish-- wasn't exactly the sexy-bathing-suit-girl type. But even I stared and stared at that poster, with the blinding teeth and indomitable nipples. I remember her so larger than life that even the bathing suit seemed nice, and it was an ugly bathing suit. And the tonsorial splendor that even a frizzy-headed Jewish child was compelled to emulate, resulting in two unfortunate sausage rolls of hair perched on each side of my head for over a year. Mine just wouldn't feather in that shiny, careless way. She could probably get hers to feather just by wishing on a star.

And Charlies Angels was the best show ever, because it was obvious that Charlie didn't really have any power over those cool, sexy girls. They were just humoring him before they headed out to kick some criminal ass with their go-go boots.

I've never stopped thinking about the serious movie Farrah starred in, Extremities, where she turns the tables on a rapist who has cornered her at home. She was badass in that role. Women in the theater were screaming and cheering. I know I was. Later, I wrote one of my doctoral qualifying exams on rape revenge films--I think my fascination must have started here. It was all about Farrah--she was just that good.

I don't know much about what she's been doing since. Sure, I heard about the meltdown on Letterman and all that. But for me, she's frozen in amber, all tan skin, long legs, and bright teeth. She was literally the poster child for youth, and now she's gone.

My memories of Michael work the same way. There were other albums after Thriller, other songs I liked, but I was focused elsewhere. Certainly, I knew all about his strange predilections in recent years, but I'm pretty sure I pretended that was someone else. I just didn't want to think about him that way. Even on Facebook, I can see the generational divide. My niece Stella, 13, updated her status as "RIP Michael Jackson, you creepy pedo." That sort of stabbed me in the heart, I have to admit.

I remember seeing a play in college, a complicated, non-linear production with strong themes of racism and sexism, and being sort of rigid with defensive non-comprehension, until after the curtain call, when all the actors silently held hands as the speakers blared "Man in the Mirror" as we shuffled out. I felt idiotic, but I had a huge lump in my throat. And later I found it funny that three hours of shouting hadn't touched me, while one pop song messed me up totally.

I remember being at a high school rehearsal when my castmate Larry O'Connor lured me to the dance room with a boom box, saying he wanted to show me something. I was wary to say the least, but he begged. Once we were surrounded by mirrors, he triumphantly pressed play and the crunching, howling intro to "Thriller" started up. I widened my eyes and he gushed "Okay, this is a fantasy of mine. We're going to act out the video!" He started demonstrating how I was supposed to walk in the beginning, and how I should dart my eyes around like I was scared (and that wasn't acting, Readers.)

I wish I can say that I gave in and enjoyed myself, relished the opportunity to dance "Thriller" with an obvious master. But no, I got really self-conscious, and fled. But I wouldn't flee now. Nuh-uh. I wouldn't mind filling a whole room with people who know "Thriller," and dancing the entire thing together, as a way to say goodbye.


Paul and Heather said...

Nice post Sam. I wasn't so much the Farrah fan...but I did see her movies on Lifetime and loved them. Michael Jackson though...I LOVED!! From Thriller on...I loved it all. I never believed the garbage either. I think he was just a severely disturbed man who desperately was trying to capture some sort of childhood...with the toys...and the friends. May they both rest in peace.

erin said...

I was a mid-level Jackson fan. I'm a sucker for catchy pop stuff though...
And the 'heeb' thing! I've never heard that! My grandparents are Jewish and I would never use any type of anti-ethnic slur ever. I'm deciding whether or not to edit the post now?!

Aunt LoLo said...

We used to have family Dance Sessions where my mother would put on some music, and we'd all run/dance in a circle around our L-shaped couch in the living room. My little brother was maybe 3 at the time, just old enough to reach the volume controls, but not tall enough to be seen over the couch. He'd time it just right - Mom was on the far side, he was on the near side, Michael Jackson was playing....and suddenly MICHAELJACKSONWASBLARINGASLOUDASMICHAELJACKSONCANBLAREANDWEWEREALLSCREAMING. Of course, Ted wasn't - he was standing and grooving and grinning and LOVING IT. Haha.

Caroline said...

This should be in a magazine or something. Lovely thoughts and lovely writing.

Stephanie said...

Nicely done Sam...I guess this answers my question. Farrah was actually the girl on my wall and Jackson, well my sister and I loved the Jackson 5 so much we actually broke the only album we had of them. I am so sad that it took this (hopefully) to relieve the pain in his heart.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

Did you spend hours in the bathroom trying to get your bangs to look like Farrah's? Mine never did. But I tried.

Seems like she was a pretty brave gal.

The Wades said...

Lovely, lovely!

I was working on a slide show all day and then stopped by my mom's before heading out to our family ranch. I already heard the news about Farrah and was pretty disturbed by it. Imagine my horror when my mom said, "Crazy day, huh? Well, with Farrah and Michael Jackson dying . . ." I had no idea he had died as well! I thought about him and what he meant to me back in the days most of the 2 1/2 hour drive. Your niece's words sum up how I probably should feel about him, but I can't help but fondly remember Michael from Beat It and Thriller--his cute looks up on my wall. And he was FIFTY!? How is that possible? Sad ending to a disturbing/amazing life.

G-D said...

"Indomitable nipples" and "sausage hair." Great stuff! Go, Sam, GO!!

G-D said...

Excuse me, "unfortunate sausage rolls of hair." Even better!