Saturday, August 29, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Creepshow Motif

So I was listening to “This Place Hotel”, and I was struck not (only) by what a wonderful composition it is but what an amazing and radical arrangement it is – only the first of many examples of how, in Michael Jackson’s hands, arrangement becomes an aspect of composition itself and, as a result, a song becomes inseparable from its recorded performance. “This Place Hotel” is an amazing mix of instruments and moods: all fitting, some less appropriate than others.

“This Place Hotel” starts off with a motif fresh out of a ‘creepy’ movie. It’s a dramatic and enjoyable sound, but it doesn’t fit the words of the song at all. Yet it really makes “This Place Hotel” kind of an introduction to a recurring theme throughout Jackson’s career: the creepshow. As a man lost in the world of fantasy, Jackson the artist would waver between a few of those main fantasies in his artistic creations. Obviously the Peter Pan archetype is the one that gets the most attention, but the creepy fantasy is also a recurring element. His first soundtracking effort was for a horror film about rats. Michael Jackson may not have written “Thriller”, but he did embody it: making it the title track of his masterpiece and giving it the most revolutionary video up to that point: a video in which his sheer enjoyment of the werewolves and zombies is palpable.

Blood on the Dance Floor is where Michael Jackson finally gives into his creepshow fandom – oddly for an outtake compilation, the first part of Blood on the Dance Floor really does play like a piece, with the recurrent theme of creepiness. It’s interesting to note that by this time the public perception of Michael Jackson had slid from the largely self-made ‘harmlessly eccentric’ to the entirely externally-designed ‘uncomfortably creepy’. I think you could make a decent point that Michael Jackson permanently lost control of his public image by drastically underestimating the severity of that shift: “Is It Scary?” presents a Michael Jackson confronted by his public image and gaining a perverse delight in it. I think Michael Jackson genuinely enjoyed frightening people (I imagine in real life someone whose sense of humour frequently ran to ‘boo!’-like attempts to surprise/frighten) and returned again and again to the creepy because it reminded him of the movies that frightened him when he was a kid. “Ghosts” is almost a full-length film based on that very concept. It’s highly enjoyable, but it shows the extent to which Michael Jackson revelled in being creepy – even to the point where he was unfortunately unable to separate ‘good creepy’ from ‘bad creepy’. Until it was too late.

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