Monday, July 06, 2009

Memories of Michael Jackson

Given the events of the past ten days or so, I feel obliged to write some of my thoughts and memories about Michael Jackson.

His music makes me happy. It makes me want to dance. It evokes my childhood. It's just simply great.

I'm not sure that I noticed what he looked like when I was young. I think it was just how he moved, the rhythms and melodies. The effect of the videos came later. 'Billie Jean' was the first real video (and song actually) that sticks in my head...he's walking along and everything lights up...he gets in the bed...and it lights up...to a six year-old that's the coolest thing ever (of course at the time I didn't have a clue what the song was about...)

I think his music was just a constant when I was growing up...my mum had the radio on, and being as popular as he was - all his music was on a lot of the time. 'Beat It' was my other big favourite...I guess the guitar (courtesy of Eddie Van Halen) was having an effect on me...years before I started playing!

But it was the 'Bad' album that really did it...and the 'Moonwalker' film (I remember going to see it in the cinema)...his artistry was just all over the place...

The strangest thing about this is that I never actually owned any Michael Jackson albums...I don't think I consciously listened to whole albums...I had songs here and there...it was my sister who played the 'Bad' album constantly ('Speed Demon', 'Leave Me Alone', 'Bad' and 'Smooth Criminal' were particular favourites...) I think I just had copies of his stuff.

Somehow though, I absorbed the words to loads of his songs...I don't know how I know the words to 'Bad' and 'The Way You Make Me Feel' and 'Dirty Diana'...but my uncle had a vinyl copy of the 'Thriller' album which has all the lyrics printed on it, and lots of little cartoons depicting the various songs...

When the 'Black or White' video was released, that was a major event...everything stopped for us to watch the premier! What song too! I think it's strong message had an effect on me too...especially as there was so much controversy about his skin colour and stuff. I remember watching the video and noticing all the references to different cultures. Was he Black or White? As far as I was concerned he was definitely not White! No way!

As I got older, so his music became more 'classic'. There was no question about his ability, talent...his music was just 'there'. At uni the older music was featured more strongly...'I Want You Back' and 'Blame it on the Boogie' were just two...the very thought of questioning how good his music was seemed (and still seems) utterly ridiculous.

Even in my darkest heavy metal days there was always a place for Michael Jackson...Eddie Van Halen and Slash gave his music a certain credibility amongst my peers. Even now, the day after he died, I was on the Tube coming back to Waterloo. AC/DC had just played at the O2 I think. Inevitably I got into a discussion about music. 'Back in Black' is the second best selling album of all time...with sales of around 45m. Thriller has sold around 105m. That's comfortably more than double. These two sweaty, long-haired metal fans (with me also a metal fan - just not long-haired) could not discount the importance and influence of Michael Jackson.*

Aside from all his music, since he died I've been reading stuff about him there are things I never knew...like how MTV as a fledgling channel initially refused to play 'Billie Jean' because it was by a Black artist. How can that be? He practically invented the music video as the medium it is! What utter nonsense it seems like now! He really did break new ground...

I think he broke barriers for pretty much every single black artist since Elvis. IMO Elvis is the only other valid comparison. No-one else comes close in terms of influence or global recognition. EVERYONE around the planet knew who Michael Jackson (and Elvis) was…the convict tribute in the Philippines of ‘Thriller’, through to the inevitable over-the-top outpourings from the US (I just can't bring myself to put in a hyperlink).

Of course Elvis was a Black artist too who broke new ground and died in difficult circumstances.

A couple of things bug me though...firstly the fact he's died has increased his record and download sales and he's got number one singles and all that. WTF? Didn't people already own a copy of 'Man in the Mirror'? Are they suddenly downloading the song they never had? Are all these people newly discovering Michael Jackson? Where have they been hiding? Perhaps they're just fair-weather fans...

The second thing is that I can't help but wonder about the Dark Side of Michael Jackson. I mean, did he really do all that stuff he was accused of? When he got married, it seemed a little too convenient in terms of timing. I remember the interviews with Oprah and with Martin Bashir...I felt as if he was just hugely misunderstood, and didn't really know how to behave appropriately. A Little Boy in a Man's Body. He was obviously most at home creating music rather than responding to the tabloids. His song 'Leave Me Alone' perhaps best sums up the whole situation...back in 1989!

I can't help but speculate though. When Wacko Jacko was created by the tabloids in the late 80s and maintained through the 90s, it just seemed as if there was a witch-hunt against him. And that was before all the stuff about children. Then all the reports about debt and stuff...well it made it impossible to take him seriously.

Someone I know thinks of it that way: he was intentionally demonised by the media. Purely because he was Black.

But more than that, he was a Black man who people listened to...never mind his music...imagine what might have happened if he came out and supported a particular action or movement? If he'd maintained a clear image Michael Jackson supporting Barack Obama (the way Oprah openly did) would have a massive effect across the US.

Imagine if he'd taken a stand on any issue...

Instead we perceive him as 'Wacko Jacko' the 'Was-He-Wasn't-He-Paedophile'.

Not a man who had any serious opinions on any serious issues...he was only there to entertain us. Is that all Black people are? Entertainers and Sportsmen? Perhaps Chuck D has a point in his book 'Fight the Power'.

At the end of it all - he was a man and his music. Never mind all the other nonsense.

And that's how I'd like to remember him: a singer, a dancer, a performer on stage. An indelible mark on my experience of music.

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*Although it seems some idiotic people can. I was recently talking with a couple of people about music and I said I thought Hendrix was the greatest guitarist ever...they quickly interjected by saying 'arguably the greatest' and on questioning their 'greatest' mentioned Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani...umm...great as Van Halen is...he's not Hendrix. The discussion then moved on to the influence of Michael Jackson. They both demonstrated their fuck-witted nature by saying he wasn't that good and his music was dated and not timeless! What utter shit! I responded by saying Van Halen sounds dated! I was more than a little shocked at this...and had to wonder if the fact they were South African had anything to do with it...