April 5th, 1994
[Ed. note - while this is not tattoo related, one would be hard-pressed to find a pop culture icon that is more heavily "Modified" than Michael Jackson]
I was 15 years old, riding shotgun to high school in a motherly, silver Volvo station wagon whose automatic transmission never could seem to get out of 2nd gear without mashing the Go Pedal to hit 7000 RPM. Odds are, I was wearing an intentionally "distressed" green cardigan sweater, a pair of Converse One-Stars and smoking a Lucky Strike. Another day of Junior Year might have been a chore, but at least i was in a car with my bandmates.
The local Alternative radio station (when the A-Word was still on its last legs) interrupted a Soundgarden song for the DJ to announce, "I'm really sorry to have to say this... but the reports are true... Kurt Cobain has been pronounced dead."
The car fell silent and, as the driver recently recounted at a cocktail party (to my red-faced embarassment), I broke the silence with a few simple words: "Go easy, man." I don't think any of us went to class that day... we just sat outside, smoked stolen cigarettes and sulked in suburban self-righteousness. Somehow, we had lost a hero.
At the time, I tried explaining my grief to my parents: "This was my generation's John Lennon." Of course, that meant fuck-all to my father, who saw the "British Invasion" of the 60s as an excuse to delve deeper into the world of Be-Bop. My mother half-heartedly accepted the Yoko comparisons, but little else. They only saw the screaming, depressed, junkie frontman from the Pacific Northwest; not the group that sent a million Sunset Strip hair-bands to SuperCuts and successfully jammed a Big Muff pedal up the ass of Pop Music. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, Nirvana HAD rewritten the modern pop lexicon in cuneiform and black tar heroin.
While watching CNN on the morning of June 26th, Teddy Turner's cronies decided to do a montage of people on the street discussing the passing of Michael Jackson (and as far as most of us in America knew at the time, the CIA had captured Bin Laden, Iran had slaughtered 2/3 of their populace and a Republican senator WASN'T caught with a mistress - none of us would have been notified about this, however, due to the Jacko Coverage). One of CNN's interviewees was a Black Man who proclaimed, quite proudly, "He was our Elvis!"
Truer words might never have been spoken.
At that point, I'd heard Michael Jackson songs pouring from car stereos, over-amped iPods and bodega boom-boxes for a good 24 hours. The media - which once slandered Jackson every time a Santa Barbara 3rd grader opened his mouth to show a reporter "on the doll where the man did a bad touch" - was now lauding MJ as The King if not a martyr. The public, which had perhaps forgotten about the plastic surgery, the freakish behavior and the 8-figure out-of-court settlements, was blocking the streets to Moonwalk.
Once again, we're forgetting the white, sequined jumpsuit; the harsh addiction to prescription painkillers; the stint in Vegas dinner-theaters; the photo with Nixon; the alleged 18" calcified turd in his colon and that classic Graceland myth about filling the pool with Pepsi and lightbulbs and then firing into it with a chrome-plated, pearl-handled revolver.
It's not about race when one says, "OUR Elvis." Hundreds of millions of albums the world over, the story is the same: brilliant entertainer becomes eclipsed by their own notoriety and subsequently devolves into a bizarre self-parody while unraveling and then, posthumously, is remembered for the Younger Pretty Years.
Michael's red leather coat from "Beat It." Elvis in his black leather ensemble from his '68 "Comeback Show." Cut from the same fuckin cloth by the same damned tailor...
And while I've never bought into that whole bullshit "better to burn out than fade away" mentality, I'd rather remember Cobain as the four-album, suicidal junkie than a plastic surgery disaster or polyester nightmare.