Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Difficult Ghosts

Elizabeth Taylor died today.  Likely, either your ISP’s home page or the TV news has passed along the sad news to you already.  Just in case this is the first you’re hearing of it, she passed this morning from congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, aged 79.

It’s always difficult to know exactly what to say or how to react when someone else’s icon dies.  I’m fully aware of the scope and magnitude of Ms. Taylor’s status among the generation or two before my own.  I’m just a bit too young to truly appreciate it: truth be told, the things I remember most about Ms. Taylor are her many weddings, and her friendship with Michael Jackson.  I mean no disrespect by that, either: it’s just a fact of generational perspective.

A quick float down the inter-tubes yielded several inappropriate responses.  DeepDiscount.com wasted no time in sending out an email suggesting that I remember “this true Hollywood legend” by purchasing several competitively-priced DVDs.  Tacky.  One alleged news story waxed snarky about her succession of nuptials.  I’m rarely one to turn my nose up at a good cheap laugh, but somehow it just seemed disrespectful; too soon, I suppose.  The overwhelming majority of reports and tributes, thankfully, were in far better taste.  Still, I can’t help but think I’m a bit too young to truly feel their gravitas, and I’m sure that faking it would be the most disrespectful action of all.

Thinking about it all brings me back to late December, 2002.  I was working in the music department of a Borders at the time.  It was a few days before Christmas, and I found myself skulking my way in for an unpromising closing shift.  Near the time clock we had a white board, alternately used to communicate pertinent information or total nonsense.  That afternoon, it was blank save for one sentence in my boss Dave’s handwriting: JOE STRUMMER 1952-2002.  Needless to say, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  The reactions of the other staffers were divided; they were either similar to mine, or inquisitive: “Who’s Joe Strummer?”

Despite Strummer and the Clash being iconic for me, the latter question didn’t bother me at all.  Those who posed it were all outside the generational bracket for whom Strummer was an icon, either too young or too old to know.  Once informed, all had the same correct reaction: a heartfelt “that sucks.  I’m sorry.”  In turn, I offer the same to those for whom Ms. Taylor was iconic.  I also offer a suggestion: later that night at Borders, we loaded up the CD changer with as much Clash as we could find and open.  Likewise, why not watch a great old movie or two of your choice and celebrate a life rather than mourn a death?

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