It seems that the sky was darker than usual on Thursday (June 25th) night. The twinkly firmament was missing 2 very high-wattage stars; Farrah Fawcett (1947 - 2009) and Michael Jackson (1958 - 2009)
Being decidedly unhip when it comes to the Hollywood scene, I don't know much about Farrah Fawcett except that my dad liked watching Charlie's Angels way too much for my mom's liking when she was starring in it and that she had fought a very public battle with cancer this past year. I know a bit more about Michael Jackson, though. He was the biggest thing on the pop music scene when I hit the records-buying age... though I only bought one of his albums (my taste was more toward the music of Simon & Garfunkel and Billy Joel back then). It was quite fascinating seeing the difference in various people's reaction to the two deaths...
The thing that struck me about Mr. Jackson's life and death is actually how similar his story was to that of Maria Callas, the late great Greek-American soprano. I had just finished reading Arianna Stassinopoulos (Huffington, as it turned out)'s biography of Callas a few weeks ago. She was also a supremely talented artist who revolutionized her art form and whose personality transcended her medium... Even today, when you ask a non opera fan to name a few famous opera singers, chances are good that her name will pop up before any of today's brightest opera stars (perhaps with the exception of Anna Netrebko)... even though she's been dead since 1977. Callas also suffered from her fame and didn't communicate well when she was off the stage, and passed away feeling more alone and unappreciated than she really was.
Before I read Stassinopoulos (Huffington)'s book, I had also read a few other opera singers' memoir that mention La Divina. Eileen Farrell met her while dining in London and was struck by how disproportional Callas' appreciation was of Farrell's simple gesture of stopping at her table to introduce herself. Regine Crespin airs her regret at not having reached out to the down-trodden diva before she died. Considering the last years of Callas and Jackson and one can't help feeling at least a little appalled at the tragedy of how someone can rise so high only to suffer so much at the end.... Even though both were living quite well by normal people's standard.
Perhaps Jackson would have been a little comforted had he read about what happened to Callas after her demise. It is quite amazing how sanctifying death can do for you... While contemporary critics were full of criticism for her unorthodox voice and way of singing, posthumously her singing is now nearly universally considered to be beyond reproach. Everyone feels for her for being dumped by the 'cad' Aristotle Onassis in favor of Jacqueline Kennedy, though nobody talks about how Callas' affair with Onassis had caused his then wife, Tina, to end their marriage. So.... perhaps a few years from now Michael Jackson's image will be similarly fully rehabilitated the way Callas' was. It's a shame that he wouldn't be around to enjoy it.
There are already posts going up all over the place properly mourning Fawcett and Jackson... so I'll go the other way and spend the weekend appreciating the still living great talents who have made it big without losing their sense of self and place in the world instead. It is not easy to stay in touch with what 'normal' is when one has made it to the top of the mountain only to find that one dislikes the exposure of having nowhere to hide from others' line of sight. Kudos to those who are successful without losing touch with their humanity... and also to those around them, the family and friends, who enable that to happen (we often lavish praise and sympathy on our celebrated idols while neglecting those who actually have to live with them... I'm sure the 'supporting cast' aren't having it any easier than the stars are either). Better show my appreciation for them while they are still around to see it than the other way around... I figure.
(these clips were posted on Youtube by Parsifalito)
And so... my first swig of Crush's finest orange soda of the weekend goes to the comforting knowledge that for every 'tragedy' of Maria Callas or Michael Jackson, there are the well-grounded Birgit Nilsson, Astrid Varnay, Leonie Rysanek, Teresa Stratas, Edita Gruberova, Natalie Dessay, Renee Fleming, Marilyn Horne, Vesselina Kasarova, Joyce DiDonato, Patricia Racette, et.al.; that it is entirely very possible to master the flame without being consumed by it...