Archived Story

For Gen X it’s a cruel summer

Published 10:49am Thursday, July 9, 2009

I’m going to go ahead and start out by showing a little bit of respect and say: Farrah was robbed.

Charlie’s most beloved angel lost her very public battle with cancer. And just as everyone was reflecting on her life – they were struck by another death. And it just so happened to be the death of the King of Pop.

And the commentary on the death of Michael Jackson has been endless ever since.

One morning on the Today show it took top billing over a massive offensive in Afghanistan.

That’s my generation … we’re all about our self-indulgence.

Michael Jackson died for me a long time ago, along with neon tight pants, feathered bangs and tight-rolled, stonewashed jeans.

But he did define our generation … a pleasure to our parents when he was the standout of the Jackson 5, a sudden concern when he jumped onto MTV and danced in ways that may have made Elvis blush.

When his eccentricities overshadowed his music, we didn’t denounce him but we did turn away. Tried to pretend he wasn’t there. We turned to hair bands and later, boy bands. And it just got worse.

And while plenty of people will simply use his death as an excuse to mourn another celebrity forever, dressing up in red leather zipper jackets and white gloves, really it’s just a reminder that we’re all getting old.

I gave in to the moment and rolled up the classics on the myPod, ‘Smooth Criminal’ and ‘Thriller’ and the music opened the door to something unexpected: nostalgia.

Not giving in to the sensationalism of an uncomfortably dysfunctional public figure, I did find that I was suddenly thrown back my younger days. Into 4th of July block parties when neighbors put up blockades at the end of the street and fireworks lit up our streets. When we didn’t know of any fear of neighbors and hide and seek marathons would be played late into the night, spanning six blocks.

Before we had to have our Halloween candy checked at area police stations.

My generation was the last to know the innocence. The last to know childhood, when our parents were much older than us and we weren’t being given sexual education at age 12.

When I look at children today, I wonder if they will look back and remember the way a classroom smelled on the first day of school, like fresh paper and grass. I wonder if they know the thrill of a slip ‘n slide on a hot summer afternoon, or how it was so awesome that you could buy big bulky ‘D’ batteries, shove them in a boom box and take your music anywhere you wanted to go.

When I see children at summer camps or out at parks, I wonder if it feels the same – those hot vinyl swing seats. I wonder if it’s still as much fun to string colored plastic beads on soft, white string.

I wonder if Kool-aid tastes the same.

Our Generation started with the beauty of Farrah Fawcett. The poignancy of the questions that the absolutely genius cast of William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum and Tom Berenger asked in The Big Chill.

But we progressed into a pop star that made us cringe when we saw him later in life – and really, if you’re making up a list of movies that define generations – we did that with Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year – and still when you watch it – defines the tension of race relations among us all.

We watched divorce take over our homes.

We watched the L.A. Riots.

We grew out of Kool-aid, lived through the progression of the world wide web and turned to Starbucks.

We watched sensation after sensation, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston (remember crack is whack?!!) and others, give in to demons.

But we don’t deny them. We claim them. Because to deny them, would mean to deny who we are and the fact that when we catch ‘Thriller’ – we still nod to the beat. And when we see Farrah – we (girls anyway) still think, man … to have that hair.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at

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