The present moves into the past, carrying us with it

This week has seen the departure of two icons of my youth: Farrah Fawcett with her improbable hair, and Michael Jackson with his improbable life. They both shone out of television sets across a Britain struggling to compete with the shiny glamour of all things American, and convinced us to wear stars and stripes T-shirts and spend hours (if we were female) with our hair wrapped around curling tongs, praying that it wouldn’t rain and wipe out our efforts.

To be honest, I find myself splifficated (as Top Cat might have said, at around the same period of the seventies, although he appeared in the States in 1962, which says something about why we seventies kids felt ourselves to be always a step behind the beat, in relation to the USA) by facing the demise of these two, at a time when I am writing about the long hot summer of 1976. It was the year the Jackson 5 became the Jacksons, apart from anything else, the year that Michael and his siblings liberated themselves from their first record label and the process of reinvention began: Jackson 5 to Jacksons is minor, but for Michael that process was to continue through race and gender to produce the androgynous creature we became used to, if never comfortable with.

I’m splifficated too, because the novel I’m working on is about a young black musical genius, although mine dies much earlier, in his sixteenth year. And mine has autism, to the extent that his engagement with reality is peripheral and he exists in a world where mutual misunderstanding is constant and his ability to construct a viable life is limited to his family and a tiny circle of people who are willing to tolerate his eccentricities. Does that sound familiar?

So, oddly, I’m trying to excise the whole MJ media circus: no TV, no radio, no papers, ignoring #MJ tweets and so on, because I don’t want to be influenced by that sad prodigy in writing about my invented one. Life is stranger than fiction, by far, and I don’t want it seeping into my imagination just now.

Stars and Stripes courtesy of BL1961 at Flickr under a creative commons licence


  1. Jim Murdoch
    28th June 2009

    I really can’t get excited about Michael Jackson’s passing. (Probably the wrong verb but you know what I mean.) I’ve not been able to avoid it because our upstairs neighbour insisted on playing his Greatest Hits at a respectable volume yesterday teatime. Only once, thank God.

    I never hated The Jacksons as a group but I’ve never bought anything by any of them or any of their siblings. Just not my kind of music.

    1976 will always be a memorable year for me purely because on on 26th November 1976 the single ‘Anarchy in the UK’ was released and all that shiny-shiny pop stuff (of which The Jacksons were a part) was washed away, at least for a couple of years.

  2. Kay Sexton
    1st July 2009

    I remember it well Jim. And actually, it features in my novel …


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