Two walls. Two acts of violence. I can’t remember what precipitated the violence, but I do remember that race mattered. I tore down the pinups of the J5 from my wall. Dad punched holes through the Angels.
Less than a year after the original moon walk, I saw the Jackson Five play a concert at the Los Angeles Forum. I wasn’t even five. At least that’s how I remember it. Maybe it was when I was 7 that I first saw them there, but it seems like it was twice. And I remember seeing a change the second time. Michael was bigger. His moves were wild… adult, I thought. He was about to be 14. Maybe it was too sexual for me.
Sex and blackness. I was ambivalent. I was barely seven! But I was already aware of my father’s libido and my inadequacies. Somewhere in my Oedipal/Castration Anxiety stage of development, he made me aware.
I don’t know what caused it, but I remember one evening, slamming the door to my room and ripping down all the photos of the Jackson Five.
A few years later we’d moved to Irvine. We’d bought a house and were living the suburban dream that the Encino Jackson’s epitomized. I was all about the Angels, and really Farrah. One day my dad, angry at something or another, started screaming at me and punched holes in the Charlie’s Angels poster above my bed. It was a slanted roof, so I was stuck there, on my bed, beneath the torn paper and falling plaster. He was shouting something like, “Do you love those white girls more than me?”
Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett represented two parts of my life I never could embrace without some sort of interference. If only Michael had stayed black, maybe I would never have had any issues! Ha! But he was a model of some subliminal influence that indicated with talent and a non threatening persona you could be loved. There was even a boyish sexiness that you could use with the girls and especially the older women, to get ahead.
Farrah represented carefree beauty, seemingly free of any calculation, just the privilege of beauty.
I really stopped caring about either Michael or Farrah by the time the first Van Halen record came out. Then, when I came under the influence of The Clash, around “London Calling,” they seemed to be hopeless artifacts. I mean, I respected the production of Thriller. I dug that Vincent Price and Eddie Van Halen were on the record (though I was suspicious of Eddie in my New Wave ethos). I even got into the ambition and emotion of “We Are the World.” But the stuff never moved my soul the way the Smiths were, or the old school R&B of Marvin and Curtis, or Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
But I started to bawl when I heard “We Are the World” followed by “Man in the Mirror” driving home from a poetry gathering in Pasadena Thursday night.
There was heart and empowering ambition beneath the glitz of both Michael and Farrah. The world responded to the glitz. It seems like they both wanted to express more. Yet the high of the glitz seems to be what destroyed them both. The desire for adulation and the compulsion to run away from the falseness it imposes, to angrily reject it, is cancerous. It can break your heart. Both of these performers tried to break walls. People wanted the pinups intact. How does one make peace with that? How does one walk in the world knowing who he or she is, while knowing that people are reacting to only a piece of you? How do you accept the superficial praise and deflect the shortsighted damnations with grace?