Friday, June 26, 2009

two kings

Someone should write a book comparing the lives and deaths of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. The early news reports I heard failed to see the obvious similarities. Both were the absolute biggest things in all of music and all of pop culture during their heyday. Both fell into a weird, isolated decline. Both looked completely different in their later years. Both deaths were originally said to be "cardiac arrest." CNN is reporting that Michael, like Elvis, had problems with prescription medications.

Former Jackson publicist Michael Levine issued the following statement via his LBN E-lert: "As someone who served as Michael Jackson's publicist during the first child molestation incident, I must confess I am not surprised by today's tragic news. Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. His talent was unquestionable but so too was his discomfort with the norms of the world. A human simply can not withstand this level of prolonged stress."

Although he had already died, Elvis was technically Michael's father-in-law for a while. I was sitting in the audience at Radio City Music Hall during the MTV Video Music Awards when Michael and Lisa Marie Presley walked on stage and kissed. I got to go to the VMAs each year when I worked at KROQ.

In the late '80s, I had an even closer encounter with Michael Jackson. He came to the D.C. area to accept an award. I don't recall exactly how I got an invitation to cover the event. I was told to rent a tuxedo and bring a tape recorder. I drove to a multi-million dollar home in McLean. I parked off-site and took a shuttle to the party. The members of the press were ushered into a smaller building that was probably a garage or carriage house. A large room had been set up as if for a press conference. I was told to plug my tape recorder into a mult box, which provided an audio feed to the camera crews. While we waited for Michael to arrive, I struck up a fun conversation with Ann L. Trebbe, who was then a reporter for The Washington Post. She later went to work for USA Today. Michael stepped to the podium and made some brief generic remark like "I love you all, thank you very much." Don & Mike would play that audio for years anytime Michael's name came up.

After the worthless press event, the media representatives were allowed to go next door to the party. We were all dressed in formal wear, after all. The room buzzed when Michael made his entrance. He walked through the crowd, saying hello in his shy way to party goers who had paid top dollar to be there. As he got close to me, I reached out my hand and told him that I was with the local top-40 station, WAVA. I saw a change in his demeanor as his gloved hand shook mine very firmly and he said in a normal voice, "Thank you for your support."

I was working the afternoon shift at Star 102.1 on Thursday when reported that Michael had died. When I turned on the microphone, I wasn't totally sure what I was going to say. I said the date a couple of times and then said that the news I was about to deliver was as big as the death of Elvis was to the listeners' parents or perhaps grandparents.

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Anonymous Michael Silence said...

Good point.

Blogger Andrew Ballew said...

Yeah, the first thing I thought when I heard the news was this is my generation's Elvis. The parallels are uncanny.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was saddened by your announcement. I remember going to middle school dances and hearing his music. People on various forums are saying some very nasty things about those of us who are upset over his passing. They cannot realize how much his music influenced our lives at such young ages. It is at times like this that we forget the strange life he led, and remember the huge influence he had on us all, when we were having the best times of our lives!

Anonymous Heather said...

Hi Frank,

I wondered a lot about the Elvis/Michael similarities too. If Michael still owned Neverland, would it become the new Graceland? Will people flock to his grave site? Will people remember the icon in his glory days?

Mostly, I just feel really sorry for his children!

Blogger bean said...

Perhaps you saw Richard Roeper's column on the two Kings?

Blogger A.C.Campbell said...

I may not be living in the Knoxville market any longer. I would like you to know that it was cool of you to play the Michael Jackson music. Good job, and did you get in trouble for doing it.


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