Michael Jackson in my backyard

David & me:smOne of my stock events for visiting friends is to take them to the Glendale Forest Lawn cemetery, a short drive from where I live in Silver Lake. It’s a serene setting with towering shade trees, usually very empty, with views that look out over Glendale to the San Gabriel Mountains.

It has it’s restrained yet overwrought kitsch in the guise of a full-size replica of Michaelangelo’s statue of David (carved from Carrara marble from the same quarry as the original); a stained glass reproduction of Da Vinci’s Last Supper; and something called The World’s Largest Painting, a.k.a. The Crucifixion, that measures 195 by 45 feet and is housed in an enormous square building with a church facade. There’s also The World’s Second Largest Painting, The Resurrection, in the same building and they are both unveiled from behind a huge curtain in an auditorium¬† presentation with darkened lights and rumbling narration.

Other sections of the “memorial park” evoke patriotism, “wee” Scottish churches and, my favorite, The Mystery of Life, a large sculpture that professes to answer every Big Question you may have.

On one level, this is all kind of a hoot. And maybe the recent announcement that the body of Michael Jackson will be buried at the Glendale Forest Lawn makes some odd kind of sense, aside from the fact that it is, on its most human level, a grieving family interring the remains of a loved one.

I expect the hordes to descend and a renewed period of media feeding frenzy. I won’t be surprised to learn Larry King has pushed to the front of a very long line of television personalities who will pick over the bones of the MJ saga a few thousand more times. I’m sure Forest Lawn will have crowd control measures in place as needed, because after all, a cemetery is a place for quiet reflection, even in a celebrity-manufacturing place like Los Angeles.

And at some point, tranquility will prevail there again.

5 Replies to “Michael Jackson in my backyard”

  1. I’ve only been to the Glendale Forest Lawn once, and had no idea all that stuff was there. Once the frenzy dies down, I’ll have to go see it again. Thanks!

  2. Dont forget the Birth of Liberty mosaic inside the hall of liberty. I remember being in awe on school field trips. :)

  3. I’ve been there MANY times as a child, even performing in the big stafe area that they have, but I NEVER knew all that was there! Sounds like a job for me and my camera!

  4. you’re missing a truly unique cultural moment if you haven’t explored Forest Lawn. the original recipe in Glendale is the most important one to see, but the Hollywood Hills and Covina outposts have some highlights too.

    after you snicker at the kitsch – and there isn’t any finer kitsch to be had anywhere, Waugh’s satire “The Loved One” wasn’t much of an exaggeration – consider the depth of cultural anxiety that would have motivated the creation of such a place. and how it managed to seize such a prime piece of hilltop real estate for its own particular glossy, country-club vision of memorial placemaking.

    the comparison to a “country club” isn’t only a matter of a hypermanicured landscape aesthetic – Forest Lawn was also well known for practicing racial and ethnic exclusion until fairly recently in its history. thus making it both ironic and absolutely appropriate that it should now enshrine the king of pop. sort of a jeff koons treatment for the afterlife.

    of course, from a practical standpoint, the fact that Forest Lawn’s design includes private areas off-limits to the public makes it a sensible choice for MJ’s grave. that’s also why you can’t go visit the graves of Hunmphrey Bogart and Mary Pickford…at least, not without some fairly easy-to-Google workarounds. I’ve been there at times when the gates to the “private gardens” were ajar, no need to do anything fancy to get in; it’s tougher to get into the closed mausoleums. I’m thinking that MJ’s grave will have strict security in place, though, for the foreseeable future.

    btw, I do think it’s important, no matter how hilarious the kitsch, not to act like a giggling hipster at cemeteries. walk softly, remember you are mortal, and giggle later at the things that deserve it.

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