Sunday November 22, 2015
52. 52 years ago, on this date, was the first time I saw my teacher cry in front of her students. In fact, it was the first time she showed emotion besides hatred or approval of her classroom students. They announced the news over the school PA system, and I can see it startled her, and then the tears flooded her face. I don’t know if it was the shock of hearing the news over the PA system, or the effect it had on my teacher's behavior that early morning on November 22. Up to that date, and just 9 years old, I never experienced death, either by a human or animal such as a pet. Nothing died in my life at that time. Even cowboys didn’t die on TV. The worst that can happen is someone would knock the hero’s back of his head with a gun butt, or the hero may shoot the gun out of the criminal's hand, but that was the worst that can happen. After getting knocked on the head and gaining consciousness, the cowboy hero would rub his painful head up and down, and get back to business, which is to fight crime.
As I got older, I did experience death. But what is strange is the news of hearing a famous person dying compared to someone you know who died. The death of a friend or an acquaintance is much more abstract than a famous person’s death. I don’t think I have ever been shocked by someone’s passing, except my dad, but everyone else it seemed not real to me. Yet, when it happens to the famous, the death is more prominent for some reason. When someone dies that is close to you, one can’t really share that feeling. Yet a famous death is often shared in great detail. If they are even really famous, one can buy a magazine or book devoted to that person’s life and more likely death. The key thing in these publications is the last photograph of the deceased. There is an obsessional need to know that there is such a document in place. The last living presence of that being, as he waves to an audience in the back seat of the car, is shocking enough. Many years later, I saw a photograph of him in the morgue, and even then, I couldn't believe I was seeing what I was seeing. To see a body when there is no life in it, is truly shocking to me. As for a musicians’ death, one hears music being played on the radio, and there may be various tributes being played out on various media mediums, but the death of someone in the family or friend, there is never a PA system announcing that.
To this day, when I hear “Walking On Thin Ice, ” I think of it as the last recording by this famous musician. Of course, his passing, brings a certain intensity to the work. One can even feel that this was the artist’s intent, to have this song as the final message. The truth is, the artist didn’t know what would happen that night. It is not always fate, sometimes shit happens for no reason. And like the other individual who was shot, he looked shocking in the morgue photograph as well. I looked at it, like the others, but I wished I didn't really see that image. I rather think of him as being alive, not dead in the morgue.
On November 22, and over time, it looks like a complex series of incidents happen. There are many theories, and all of them sound possible. But then again, it sometimes just takes one individual to aim, and shoot, that changes everything. How big can that change be, due to one man shooting another dead. The narration needs to be larger. At the time of the shooting, it was bigger than life. The violence of it was the star attraction that day. I knew the victim, but only on black and white images printed in the daily newspaper. I don’t even remember seeing him on television, and I know he is one of the first figures to use that medium for political as well a communicative purposes.
When he was killed 52 years ago, they played out all the angles. They talked about what direction the bullets came from, and even hinted that it came from more than one location. It didn’t seem real. There were so many narratives running through the act of an assassination. A family member or friend just dies, and that is the end of the story. But a star or a public figure, the death process and the action is always complicated for some reason. It is almost like death is too personal, so we need a famous person to die, so we can examine the why, what, where, and how it was done. It’s not polite to do that when a person we know dies. We just quietly accept it.
The second time I experienced death on a personal level was when the accused assassin himself was assassinated in front of live TV. Now that was a real death, and as they re-played the moment he was shot over and over again, one thought “oh wow he was alive at this point, and then when he’s down, he’s dead.” I felt I was watching a bridge between life and death, but I couldn’t make out the architecture of that bridge or walkway. With respect to the first assassination, I wanted to see it over and over again, in the hopes, I get a glance of that string, road, or whatever it is from life to the other side. When he was in his car waving at the crowd, he was so alive, and then a few seconds later he wasn’t. That shocked me. It really disturbed me.
When my dad told me that a friend of the family died, and even though I really like this person, I didn’t know how to react to his death. I felt like it didn’t really happen because I didn’t see it on TV. My father’s words were not enough evidence to me that he died. Especially since we didn’t go to a memorial or funeral for this person. The shocking thing is that he was perfectly fine the last time I saw him. He didn’t give out any death vibes at all. It was really confusing.
As one gets older, more famous people die. That is the weirdest aspect of age, is that you make note of all the TV, movie or music stars are dying on a regular basis. Each death of a TV series actor from the 1960s or 1970s immediately takes you back to that time when you were in front of the TV set. Due to the fact that their character, which I didn’t know was any different from their actual lives, was projected on your consciousness due to being in front of the set, seems to have more meaning for some reason. Often on Facebook someone posts a notice a certain actor or singer has passed, and I automatically put a “like” to that post, not due to the fact that I like that they died or they’re dead, but to acknowledge that person’s observation on that star, as well as a tribute on my part by ‘liking’ that post. It’s a strange thing to acknowledge one’s death by just liking a post. But there you go, a passing of time is often shocking in itself.