In the hours following the confirmation of Michael Jackson’s passing yesterday at the age of 50, I heard the occasion’s impact compared to that of the deaths of John Lennon, Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley. Remarkably, CNN, Fox and MSBNC didn’t bother to seek out the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro, who while insisting “If you were to ask me about the music that formed me, shaped me I’d probably throw 20 to 25 names at you before it even occurred to me to mention Jackson” (“Springsteen, the Beatles, the Stones, Pearl Jam, Billy Joel, Jim Croce, Sinatra, U2, the Police”), managed to admit he felt “scarily, frighteningly identical” yesterday as he did on August 2, 1979, “when my friend Kevin Walsh frantically knocked on the door of my parents’ house in West Hempstead to breathlessly break the news that Thurman Munson had died in a plane crash.”
(the King Of Squat)
I was not a Yankee fan, I was in the midst of some endlessly fruitless Mets summers, but I was still at an age (or maybe it was simply an era) when it wasn’t required by law to hate one team if you liked the other. And so of course I was enamored with Munson, because who couldn’t be? Who wouldn’t like a player who played that hard, that hurt, with that much heart, who got his uniform dirty and seemed willing to do anything necessary to win baseball games? Maybe I would have rather have had Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, Lee Mazzilli and Craig Swan over to my house to have a catch because of the uniform they wore, but I sure wasn’t above feeling a gaping hole somewhere inside when Kevin and I flicked on Warner Wolf for the awful details.
When you hear Jackson’s music, it really doesn’t matter how odd he became in his later years, how troubling it was to see what he’d become, to read another news item about another lawsuit and another pile of debt, all of that. What matters is he soundtrack he offered our lives, with his voice, with his pen, with his unbelievable gift. That’s what I think about now. Thurman Munson might not have been my first choice as a Little League dinner speaker (not if Skip Lockwood was available), just as “Thriller” wouldn’t be the record I make sure I take with me to the “Lost” island (not as long as I still have “Abbey Road” and a couple hundred other candidates). But the loss, in its own way, is just as significant. I do hope he finds a sense of peace now, wherever he is.