Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Moon Walk

You’re probably disappointed that I haven’t written anything about the passing of Michael Jackson. And, right now, based on the title of this column, you probably think I’m going to!

But you’re wrong. I’m not writing about THAT kind of moon walk.

Still, I will pause and pay tribute to the King of Pop before I get to today’s agenda. He was, after all, omnipresent throughout much of my life… starting, if I’m not mistaken, with “ABC, easy as 1-2-3”, because I obviously somehow completely missed their first single: “I Want You Back.”

Growing up as a bit of a nerdly geekazoid misfit, I only made it to two concerts during my entire time in high school (…including my freshman year of college, which I failed to realize was not my fifth year of high school until it was way too late.) One of those two concerts was The Jackson Five, with cute little Michael stealing the show. In the mid-80’s, for some reason, I also decided to take the kids to see the Jackson Victory Tour in Knoxville, Tennessee. So I actually saw MJ in concert twice.

But, mostly, I was influenced by his dancing – especially the Moon Walk – after which I patterned my own unique dancing style (commonly referred to by others as “The Wounded Walrus”, although I’m pretty sure they’re just jealous!)

Anyway, The Jackson Five were getting ready to hit it big in 1969 – the year of their first hit -- which coincidentally was the exact year that “other” moon walk took place… 40 years ago this week, to be exact.

That moon walk was an actual moon walk. I remember it, because the whole family watched it on TV, as did most other Americans.

The Shealy family, at the time, had only recently acquired its first color TV, but the pictures transmitted from the moon were in vivid Black and White.

Have you ever seen the movie “Pleasantville”? It’s a movie about changing times. In the movie, the earlier, innocent times are in black and white, while the emerging modern times – complete with new and different ideas and values – were presented in living color.

That’s sort of how I remember 1969. It was a crazy, mixed-up time. Of course, I was a 15-year old adolescent who had just gotten a driver license and finished a year of high school. At that age, you could have put me in the middle of the Sixth Century and I probably would have thought the world was crazy and mixed up.

Without question, landing a man on the moon was the achievement of the year, and probably the decade. Nearly 10 years earlier, JFK had laid down the challenge to put a man on the moon, and we had done it… before the Russians!!!

But the moon landing was far from the only event of the year. There was Woodstock. And Hurricane Camille. And the average household income was a whopping $8,500, which was a gracious plenty, since technology had not yet provided us with a whole laundry list of new and costly necessities: cable TV, Internet, cell phones, etc.

And there was Chappaquiddick, the tragic accident which came to define Ted Kennedy, which, ironically, happened exactly two days before we landed on the moon.

The movies in 1969 were different than the ones I had been accustomed to. Instead of Tarzan, Elvis, and Disney, the movies were more complicated, like Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, The Wild Bunch, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (At 15, I was not old enough to see any of these… but I was TOO old to go see the only movie of the year I could have related to: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!)

The music was also changing. True, the Jackson Five were getting ready to make their move, but there were all these other musical groups with names I didn’t understand – like Led Zepplin – and song titles which made even less sense – “Bad Moon Rising” and “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”. The Jackson Five sounded like the name of a musical group; I thought “Led Zepplin” was some kind of weighted fishing tackle!

My only safe haven at age 15 was the friendly land of television. The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Gomer Pyle, Gilligans Island, Bonanza and The Brady Bunch were still my friends.

But then, right there on the friendly safe-haven of our recently acquired color TV in the middle of our comfy den comes this moon walk, and starts complicating things even on TV. (Norman Lear and Rowan and Martin and 60 Minutes were right around the corner.)

It’s interesting that we went to the moon a half dozen times from 1969 until 1972, and we haven’t been back since… a fact which I only realized earlier this week. That probably means we really didn’t need to go in the first place. We only went to prove we could.

And, I suppose, to add one more complicating factor to the previously black and white world of a nerdly geeazoid misfit 15 year old.

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