There are few things more glorious than discovering a new way to describe stink. At least that was the opinion of my younger brother and me in the early 1980s as we sat in my mother’s kitchen listening to the radio and realized that Michael Jackson, with his history-altering album Thriller, and his chart-smashing song of the same name, had delivered unto our childhood the greatest insult known to boys: “the funk of 40 thousand years.”
What could be more pungent than this funk? What could possibly smell worse than this “foulest stench,” this mummified, night-stalking, sarcophagus-preserved putrescence that had been ripening for millennia before attacking the gentle insides of our young noses? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And certainly nothing that we knew how to describe. The phrase immediately transformed our conversations—which, at the time, mainly involved discussion of stink.
When we had to share a bed on a family trip: “Dude, get away from me, you have the funk of 40 thousand years.” When we had to sit next to each other in the backseat of a car: “Ew, put your arm down, you have the funk of 40 thousand years.” When one of us asked the other to grab our shoes: “No way I’m touching them, they have the funk of 40 thousands years.” Underwear had the funk, socks had the funk, breath (of course) had the funk. It meant your rotting body might as well have died ages ago, and could it stop funking and just do that right now, please?
This is what happens when you become a Thriller-sized cultural force. Anything associated with you, even just one phrase spoken in ghoulish tones by Vincent Price at the end of one of your many hits, goes everywhere. It bounces all over the planet, every which way, delivered by every speaker and every medium, and enters all kinds of brains at all kinds of odd angles. Mamasemamasamamacoosa? Is there a person with working ears in all of America who does not have that nonsense lodged in his or her neurons forever? Does anyone know what it means? Does Shamon know? Who is Shamon, anyway? And why can’t I stop saying her name?
Even when Michael Jackson’s dead body is 40 thousand years of funky, no one will be able to say. The secret to that kind of shit goes to the grave with the genius who brought it into the world.