“1997” (1997) by Mason Jennings
“1997” (1997) by Mason Jennings
From my memory, 1997 (other than losing something of myself) was famous for how many deaths occurred that year – it was extraordinarily strange. At least for me, it was. Maybe because I was at an age where I was old enough to notice the amount of famous people who passed away or maybe it was because the news media had reached a technical speed where any famous death could be declared live. Or maybe it’s because the amount of deaths were truly astonishing.
* There was a park adjacent to my school named after a guy called Keith Hay. And I read it in the paper that his Funeral was held somewhere. This was maybe the first celebrity funeral I acknowledged at a young age that I can remember. I told my brother, “Hey, Keith Hay passed away!” He said, “Who?” That happened around January.
* Soon after came news about Bill Cosby’s son being shot on a motorway. It was a crazy white guy who attempted a failed carjack, I believe. Maybe like you, ‘The Cosby Show’ was one of our favourites in our household. We always used to sit around the couch and laugh at the mundane absurdity of modern family life. I noticed the show never tackled the dark subject of Death face on. So when it happened in real life, we were shocked for our TV Dad.
* There was talk that James Cameron was making a Titanic movie. Of course, the Hollywood Haters were already pre-criticising how much of a Box Office failure it would be – especially after they succeeded in dissing ‘Waterworld’. But when Edith Brown, one of the last remaining survivors of the sinking, passed that month, she brought the horrific historical story back into the public’s attention again, thus, pretty much doing all the work that the film’s marketing company could ever want to achieve in one day. Other than the Celine Dion song, it turned out to be a fairly good movie.
* Echoing the shattering news of Aramoana, which I was too young to note, Stephen Anderson killed 6 people in Raurimu. My brother was very upset as he knew a guy called Steve, who worked down there. I can’t remember what happened to Steve.
* As I walked into school one day, through Keith Hay park, some girls were talking in a corner. One of them was a friend of mine; I waved 'good morning' to her. She said, “hey, d’ya hear about Biggie Smalls?” And that’s how I found out about Notorious. That day, one girl was blaring out "Big Poppa" outside the tuckshop, on her shitty sounding stereo, until the Principal walked passed. Later that week, some kids talked about how Tupac planned the revenge hit, from beyond the grave. Later that month, at Otara Fleamarkets, Biggie Smalls shirts were as popular as Tupac shirts.
* It came up on the news that Wilbert Awdry died. He wrote ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’. That was unfortunate. I remember that TV series fondly – Ringo’s voice; that delightful theme song; and the hysterically sour faces that Percy the Small Engine used to pull, every time the Fat Controller told him what a useless piece of shit he was, for being too weak to carry large lorries – Faces that usually consisted of : \ or : ( Awdry’s death made me reflect how older I was getting.
* Remember ‘Max TV’?! How could you not?! It was a fun little Auckland alternative music TV station. I don’t understand why they were late to the fact that Biggie died, but they were most definitely there to tell me when Jeff Buckley died. When they declared that news, they immediately played the video clip to "Grace", which is not only a remarkable song, but also a video clip I’m positive they played just earlier that week. It made me realise how anyone can be taken up, at any time.
* TVNZ used to play all the greats movies of yesteryear on the weekends. So my Mum was quite moved when Robert Mitchum and Jimmy Stewart died in early July.
* It must’ve been the first headline of the 6‘O’Clock news, but I remember the helicopter shot of the front steps of Gianni Versace’s Tuscan villa – blood on the outside staircase. It looked like something out of an Opera. The headline continued with discourse about jealous lovers and murderous vengeance. I don’t know if this could be an Opera, the elements seemed to be there, but if it were, the characters undoubtedly would have the most expensive costumes ever.
* One of my Maori uncles, up north, went to the funeral for Matiu Rata – a congenial, intelligent and brilliant leader of the Labour Party.
* The oldest person ever recorded passed away – Jeanne Calment. She was 122 years old – That is a god dam fucking astounding feat. In her last interview, she seemed snappy and spirited. I guess she was just content living life to the best she could. What a fantastic lady! She even met Vincent Van Gogh, who she said was, “dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable.” LoL
It was around early August that after all these images of Death that I was determined and fascinated by the phenomenon, even scratching my head over it. It’d take up a famous rapper at age 24 and then a sprightly Frenchwoman by age 122. Like a gambler at the local racecourse, I awaited the next dreadful words to pass through Judy Bailey’s mouth the next week. And it did ….
* I think I was eating in the living room and turned the TV on around 6.35 pm. This would be around the time that the Sports news would come on. But instead I got video of the Royal Family. It was odd. But maybe Charles bought a Football team or something. This continued on for another 10 minutes. Maybe it’s 5.50pm. Clock said nope. Judy Bailey talked about Paris. What was going on? “DIANA’S DEAD!” My cousin said busting through the front door. “WHAT??!”
It was huge. I’d never seen the news dedicate almost the entire hour to one event. It was unfamiliar to me that they’d do that and was scary because of it. I heard the Internet servers across the world broke down, for the very first time. The Herald’s front spread had a picture of Diana on it and nothing else. Her death was momentous, especially in the way the public consumed its news. The following day at school I saw a mate and I said, “Hey bro – I heard ya girlfriend died!” God, I am such a douchebag.
* A few days later, “in other news”, Mother Teresa died. It was a small footnote in the news hour, only because we were all still trying to decipher what the hell happened in Paris. But being the grounded Catholic she was, Teresa would’ve wanted to go out without too much fuss at all.
* Burgess Meredith died. As I have discussed already in this project, I am a huge Batfan. So hearing the news that the Penguin passed away was rather downing for me. There are only a few vestiges of that original TV series still alive at the time of this writing:
* - Batman himself, Adam West, is on ‘Family Guy’;
* - Eli Wallach, who played Mr Freeze, was on ‘Nurse Jackie’;
* - John Astin is still alive, who played the cooler version of the Riddler compared to Frank Gorshin’s nuttier version.
* - And, maybe my first crush, the inconceivably sexy Julie Newmar, as Catwoman, was recently on the animated Batman TV series. Thanks to her, women in vinyl will always hold a place dear to my heart.
* In what was the worst air crash that year, 235 people died on a Garuda Indonesian flight. I may not have really taken notice about this particular air crash, but I would certainly notice air crashes in four years’ time!
* In what was the worst high school shooting that year, 9 people were either dead or injured by a kid in Mississippi. I may not have really taken notice of this particular high school shooting, but I would certainly notice high school shootings in two years’ time!
* If it weren’t Bat media, then it obviously was wrestling media that was all the rage for the boys around the playground. (I used to give out free Stone Cold Stunners; As mentioned earlier, it’s because I’m a douchebag.) The boys were talking that Brian Pillman, ‘the Loose Cannon’, died. His spectacular round with Stone Cold only happened four months earlier. It was unbelievable news, predominantly when the storylines, acting and marketing became so grandiose, it was difficult to differentiate from what was real and what was not. However his death prepared us, and the WWF in how it handled true life events, with unexpected dreadful passings of Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerro and Owen Hart. We learnt that it was all fun and games, but not everything was scripted.
* My Aunty came over one night and was talking to Mum about making sure her daughters were safe and sound coming home from school each day. News had just broke that two girls were abducted, raped and murdered in New South Wales. It was disturbing news. But I was just puzzled as to how two grown women could talk about such grisly details, whilst knitting:
* - “very bad people out there.”
* - “oh yes, very bad people out there!”
* - “raped them five times!”
* - “oh my goodness, five times!”
* - “and tied them, then stabbed them!”
* - “sweet lord! – tied them, then stabbed them!”
* - “would you like a cup of tea?”
* - “yes, please”
* - “BEN!”
* One of the rifest types of news to come out of the 1990’s were the American Tabloid stories, where the non-famous became famous through horrid acts of family violence: John Wayne Bobbit; Amy Fisher; the Menendez Brothers. And the murder of Sheila Bellush, who’d been stalked by her ex-husband for ten years and eventually, ordered the hit on her, via his Hispanic golf buddy’s mate’s cousin. You can’t write that. It was fine fodder for the followers of filth, who anxiously awaited more gruesome details or the straight-to-video tele-movie version of the case. It’s fucking disgusting, as Casey Anthony would currently know.
* Being a history buff and a fan of the movie, ‘JFK’, I was looking forward to seeing any new conspiracy theories over the 34th anniversary of the assassination. But just like Diana’s spread on the Herald, Michael Hutchence took over the entire front page. My theory about Death this year was concreted moreover, as it crept closer to home. This wonderful Australian singer was taken from us far too soon and ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ will go down as the greatest song they ever wrote.
* The death of John Belushi happened before me. But Chris Farley’s death bizarrely mirrored his. As "Saturday Night Live" was never broadcast here and as his lead performance films only occurred after his death, I only remember Chris Farley in his crazy cameos in Adam Sandler and Mike Myers films. I always laugh when the bus driver he played in "Billy Madison", looked up Mrs. Vaughn’s skirt. He was an amazing comedic talent.
My cousins and family were all over at our house for the Christmas holidays. It turned 1998 and I had to look back on a year of extreme morbidity. By then, I was fatigued playing the bookie with bad taste. I was over it. I hoped the New Year would provide better news. But it seemed the powers that be, with a truly sick sense of humour, weren’t done yet. News came in that Michael Kennedy had died. I really didn’t know specifically who he was. All I really needed to know was his surname. And if there was a family who was destined for tragedy, exclusively in a year which for me was all about tragedy, then the higher beings thought these past twelve months looked a little out of shape, if a Kennedy weren’t added to the mix. That happened in the New Year, which was the 31st December in the United States. Horrible, horrible stuff.
My sick theory had consumed me so much, I just hoped 1998 would be lighter. It was an inadvertently devastating year. (Other than losing my virginity.)