Saturday, December 26, 2009

Michael Jackson and the "What If..."

2009... the year of Michael Jackson.

I'm reminded, at the end of this year, not of June 25 but of March 5. A faded superstar making a public announcement of his intent to stage a comeback. The inevitable questions: would this be the hero making good, the legitimate comeback? Or would it be a fiasco that cemented his decline? I was on an internet group at the time, and I can remember the question: 'would you pay good money to see a washed-up celebrity in concert?'

Pretty harsh words, if you think about it. But there you had it: on the one hand, interest in the millions: unprecedented levels of demands for tickets. On the other hand: a yawn or a look of disbelief. It's not just that people wanted him to fail - everyone has their detractors who are out for blood. It's more that so many people just expected him to fail. An act of desperation. Michael Jackson doing it for the money. I can remember that it seemed pretty much that the chances of the This is It concerts being an artistic triumph were seen as next to nil.

And then... well, we all know that.

But what if? What if that fateful night had never happened, and the concerts went on as planned? Two things for sure: Michael Jackson's star would have shone brighter than it did a year ago today. But it would have shone much less bright than it has over the whole second half of the year 2009. And since the praise/criticism ratio has shifted so drastically since his passing, we have seen the film, CD and song through a rather uncritical lens. But had he survived, people would have been harsher. How woud the concerts have been recieved?

A sense of drama makes us want to believe that Michael Jackson was just on the edge of a triumphant comeback. But... was he?

We'll never know.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Michael Jackson and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

Given that they're recorded hundreds of times a year, it's not an easy feat to record the 'definitive' version of a Christmas song – the genre, such as it is, is primarily given over to lukewarm 'interpretations' that, at best, merely impress. It's all but impossible to achieve 'greatness' while recording a Christmas song.

So it's noteworthy that doing so, and doing so at the age of 12, is one of those many particular achievements that Michael Jackson was able to pull off in his time on this earth. In 1970, when the Motown mill was putting them through an exhausting three-albums-a-year schedule, the Jackson 5 released an eleven-track Christmas album. Several of the performances are excellent, the whole thing is energetic... but it was their recording of the 1934 standard “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that was truly exemplary, to the point that most recordings of the song today bear at least a minor debt to Michael Jackson.

Why is it so great? Well, I once read a commentary about this song that mentioned that, at 12 years old (he might have been 11 upon recording it), it's possible that Michael Jackson was one of the few performers to record this song who actually believed the words he was singing. Obviously, the pre-teen Michael Jackson was one hell of a method actor, in that he'd made it through a succession of singles that spoke of romantic love and relationships on a level he was probably unable to genuinely appreciate, and certainly unable to empathise with. But here, even if he had outgrown Santa by then, this is still content much closer to his heart and to his own sensibilities than “I was blind to let you go”. Michael Jackson tears into this song with an assurance that comes from mastery of the subject because he does have that mastery – a way that grown-ups like Mariah Carey or Bruce Springsteen had long since lost sight of.

In any case, whatever is powering those energy levels, they are truly sky high, and his exuberance is entirely contagious. There is so much rubbish recorded in the name of Christmas that hearing a song that truly brings a smile to your face is a real December revelation.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Unhappy Childhood

One day, I think that Michael Jackson's life will be taught as a cautionary tale. But cautioning against what? Well, one thing that I have often thought, and I imagine Michael Jackson himself would attest to, is that his story is a story about the dangers of being denied a 'normal' childhood. Whenever I see child stars, I imagine the many ways that their lives must be different from the life that I had, and ultimately there seems to be about an equal balance of advantages and disadvantages. I mean, child stars have exposure to things that I certainly never saw. They have people willing to do things for them and, and I think this would have been huge for me, people willing to listen to them: people interested in what they have to say, whatever that is. Superficially it seems great, and in a discussion I recently had with a group of people about, of all things, the "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" kids, everyone except me agreed that the material benefits public exposure could bring those kids outweighed the possible emotional repercussions the constant cameras might have on them.

In Michael Jackson's case, it's even moreso. Michael Jackson, born out of the camera eye, wouldn't have even known what a so-called 'normal life' was. That camera eye was there from when he was five years old and it never went away until his death (indeed, the last decade of his life was a constant attempt to avoid it). There are videos of him playing baseball or otherwise engaging in childish activities, but by and large his entire childhood was based around music and, more to the point, around being a celebrity. We know that the altered perception of the media toward him as he grew from a precocious child into an awkward adolescent was devastating for him, and we know that many of his preoccupations as an adult stemmed from a desire to recreate, in his words, "the childhood I've never known". Dealing with abuse at the hands of his father, a grueling touring-and-recording schedule and a million attendant pressures, Michael Jackson makes child celebrity seem downright horrible.

And yet, inasmuch as the 'child is father to the man', the series of solo Sony albums that cement his legacy and are the chief reason he has so many fans today would simply not have been possible had Michael Jackson enjoyed a 'normal' childhood out of the limelight and away from the pressures of his money-hungry father. It's not a popular thing to say, but if great art springs from misery, then Michael Jackson's own childhood misery was a positive wellspring of inspiration for him - perhaps ultimately the primary source of artistic energy that carried him through the eighties and nineties. So this raises an interesting question, both personally (to Michael Jackson the individual) and publically (to the world at large): if his sad, dysfunctional, abused childhood was necessary in order for him to create his subsequent artistic triumphs, was it worth it?

It's an interesting question, and not easy to answer. You might counter that with a happy childhood Michael Jackson would still have been Michael Jackson. While I personally don't believe that, I'd still concede it as possible and ask you just for a minute then to presume that Michael Jackson's childhood unhappiness allowed him to become such a great talent upon adulthood. Again, in that case, is it worth it? From the perspective of society-at-large, it's tough to imagine anyone saying "no", really: his art has brought joy to countless people. But within his own personal, ultimately doomed, life? Well, I don't know. But it's an interesting question.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Michael Jackson and the "Bad" Lyrics, Anagrammed

I don't really have very much to say today, so I'll present the lyrics to "Bad" twisted into an anagram. The anagramming is done by this very awesome site:

Note that there are no officially published versions of the lyrics to "Bad" online. This is just an approximation. It's really very tough to figure out the lyrics to this song, to say nothing of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough".
I'm tiny, tuberous (Your butt is mine)
Turgently, hooligan (Gonna tell you right)
O Jesus! Wotcha! Fury! (Just show your face)
Halo drab dignity (In broad daylight)
Me on guiltily (I'm telling you)
Whine of ole (On how I feel)
Rumor annoying thud (Gonna hurt your mind)
Kind sloth to tool (Don't shoot to kill)

I, I moving guy (I'm giving you)
Encounter of hot (On count of three)
Out! Rusty show-off (To show your stuff)
Better oil (Or let it be)
Me on guiltily (I'm telling you)
Joy! What mucous truth (Just watch your mouth)
I am wonky rogue (I know your game)
Beauty! Rout a who (What you're about)

Littlest sleeky, healthy whimsy (Well they say the sky's the limit)
Ultra, maltreated honesty (And to me that's really true)
Ungifted veneration by hush money (But my friend, you have seen nothing)
Twitter jail, thuggish lout (Just wait till I get through)

Ace biased bum (Because I'm bad)
Mob demoniac (I'm bad, come on)
Okay dumb wino (You know I'm bad)
A wonky bum idiot (I'm bad, you know it)
Okay dumb wino (You know I'm bad)
Mob demoniac (I'm bad, come on)
What-ho! Well droned wrathiness on wart hog (And the whole world has to answer right now)
Conglutinate to jealousy (Just to tell you once again)
Bad show (Who's bad?)
Some parts make as much sense as the original... I love "Rusty show-off; better oil". Anyway, that's about it this week. Boredom is the mother of... er, anagrams.

This blog mentions in it.
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