Where were you when you heard that Michael Jackson had died? What were you in the middle of doing — or, rather, what did you suddenly stop doing as the news rattled around in your brain? I was taking the day off from work for a camping trip in Malibu with my wife, my two daughters, and about 50 families from my youngest’s preschool. Few, if any, of the kids had a clue who Jackson was, but as word spread among the parents — all of us having come of age in the Thriller era — there was a sense of both disbelief and instant nostalgia. On one level, the news wasn’t totally shocking — we’d been conditioned for years to expect the unexpected where Jackson was concerned. Yet it somehow didn’t quite compute. It still doesn’t, really, does it?
In August 1977, in the wake of Elvis Presley’s death — another where-were-you-when moment involving pop royalty — the great rock critic Lester Bangs wrote, ”We will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis.” The music scene was becoming too fragmented, cynicism about cultural heroes too deeply ingrained. Bangs may or may not have been right, but at least for a while, we came pretty close with Michael Jackson. And so, long after we’ve forgotten those other fleetingly unifying moments of 2009 — Balloon Boy, we hardly knew you — we will remember where we were on June 25.