"Pardon me sir, but there seems to be a great big hole there in your youth."
That's how I felt this past week when I watched the landscape of popular culture shift from my deck chair on the S.S. Vacation. There have been plenty of days when, struggling for a topic or place to vent my ire, I have flipped through dozens of headlines to find just the right mix of pathos and irony. Over the past week, I have been sitting on the sidelines while that "rule of three" got one of its most profound tests in recent memory.
Ed McMahon. Farrah Fawcett. Michael Jackson. That's how we say celebrities are supposed to go: in threes. But what a triple play this one turned out to be. It wasn't until I found myself watching the taped bio of Johnny Carson's sidekick that I was forced to reevaluate his place in history. Thirty years of announcing on "The Tonight Show" would be profound enough, but if you add in all the commercial tie-ins and "Star Search" and almost as many years as Jerry Lewis' right-hand man on his Labor Day telethon as Mister Carson. For a few years, it seemed like Ed was giving Dick Clark a run for the guy with the most shows on television.
Farrah didn't have the same kind of staying power, but when she burned, pardon the pun, she burned bright. I didn't need to watch "Charlie's Angels" to know who she was. I didn't. I didn't need to own her poster to appreciate what all the boys thought about her. I didn't. But I do remember watching "Extremities" and thinking that when I saw her last in "Cannonball Run," I hadn't seen "the real Farrah." Then she showed up on Letterman and it seemed like maybe that had been a fluke. Or maybe she was one of those candles in the wind.
Then, just a few hours later came the news about the King of Pop. Like the Farrah poster, I never owned a Michael Jackson album. I didn't need to. Everyone else did. I remember my buddy Darren buying "Thriller" because it had a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen on "Beat It." And there was that spoken intro from Vincent Price on the title track. And the whole album just seemed to defy easy categorization. And then there was the freakish personal life. If Farrah seemed a little ditzy from time to time, that could be forgotten on the scale of Michael Jackson oddness. Then it got creepy. Then it got sad. Now it's over.
A very large section of the seventies and eighties just became material for the History Channel this week while I was on vacation. Maybe now that I'm home, things will settle down a little bit. For a while anyway.