Michael Jackson: Memories of the Greatest
Pure, live, modern-day musical Genius!But was he really? That’s what I have debated with myself over the past few years. But all my mental debating was finally put to rest about two years ago when I watched a concert of his on the internet. On the internet, you say? Yes, MSN posted up a three hour concert of his held in Tokyo Dome in all it’s HD glory (I had a fast internet connection) on their website, and it finally dawned on me that this man Michael Joseph Jackson was a true and living genius. Debate over.
One of my recent life’s wishes was to go for a Jackson concert (either Michael, Janet or The Jackson’s) Well, I guess those plans are trashed now, though I still wouldn’t mind seeing a Janet concert. Of course it just wouldn’t be the same without the star attraction of the show Michael. (I have watched a Janet Jackson concert DVD though and she is definitely one of the great live performers and is not that far behind her brother.) The Tokyo concert was just a visual marvel and spectacle the likes of I’ve never witnessed before. I had seen songs from out of this concert like Heal The World, but had never watched the concert from beginning to end, with high quality and sound. If watching it on my home computer was mind blowing enough I could only imagine how unreal it must have been to have been there. Well, it was not that hard to imagine as you could see grown men and women crying, screaming, mouths agape, and of course fainting.
The funny thing about Michael Jackson is that the earliest memory I have of seeing any music video is the “Thriller” video. Ever since I was a kid I have always had that Thriller image in my head of MJ in a red jacket, and dancing in a zombie get-up. Later on I learnt that the Thriller video release was a worldwide event and must have been big in Kenya too! I could just imagine hip Kenyans at the time dressing in white gloves, red jackets, fedora hats and the front curl.
When you talk to Kenyan MJ fans about the man and his music, most of them will begin by talking about his plastic surgery and the “Bad” or “Black or White” era onwards. This is kind of unfortunate because you realize they are mostly aware of the period when his career started its decline. Majority of Kenyans my age(20’s) are(understandably I guess) largely oblivious to the Thriller period and before. They may have read more about this period due to the coverage of his funeral, but people my age start mostly from the “Black Or White” video onwards.
I don’t blame them though. That “Black Or White” video, what another big event that was! Man, I was still very early in primary school but I can remember my classmates and I raving about the song and video for weeks! “I read my message in the Saturday Sun..” we even tried to outdo each other on who knew more of the lyrics. There was also this debate and confusion about the message of the lyrics, because MJ was obviously a white person now. Was he talking about himself? Even though I was just a boy, I remember a personal feeling of betrayal that MJ had chosen to get white skin. “Why would he do that?” I thought.
I obviously heard the song before I saw the video and boy, the skit at the beginning remains one of the best. Macaulay Culkin (who was a huge star at the time) telling his dad to “eat this!” Brilliant!(stick it to the overbearing parents, every kid must have secretly shouted). And you should have seen my siblings and I’s mouths when we saw the morphing thing at the end of the video, agape! “Wow, how did they do that?!” The morphing technology was still new. We taped the video from KBC and watched it over and over again.
That’s another great thing about MJ. His music videos, they were all so epic, and different. They just became these events that people talked about for weeks every time a new one came out. MJ was also always at the cutting edge of computer graphic technology with his videos. Check out the “Stranger in Moscow” video, in my opinion that was an early incarnation of the stop-motion technology(geek note2: used three years later in Matrix movies).
But even with all his CG-laced videos I have to finally declare that my favorite MJ video remains “The Way You Make Me Feel.” (I hear you saying “what?!“ well deal with it) There’s just something so profound(romantic?) about that video to me, it was like a “Romeo & Juliet” for the pop age. First of all the woman in the video(even at my young age) was just stunning.(I heard MJ lengad her when she tried to holla after the video, now that’s crazy!) MJ though was just the absolute smoothest, coolest guy in the world after that video to me. I could kind of see myself in that video, the shy-guy at first who picks up the courage and woos the “playing hard to get” beautiful lady, all the while jumping through and on top of cars. C’mon now..ultimate cool factor! He gave us shy-guys a courage we never thought we possessed, woo!lol That video until today to me, remains one of the best, the song has really held up too.
I guess I was lucky in that my family had the “Off The Wall” and “Thriller” LP(yaani vinyl.. we still do), plus one or two The Jackson’s LPs. So I knew of MJ’s I would say “middle-career” period when most kids my age were still singing baby songs. There is still a debate as to which is better “Thriller” or “Off The Wall.” Admittedly I am a bit undecided too; sometimes I am in the mood for one, other times for the other. I must say though I lean more towards Off The Wall, it just seems like the more raw, pure, funky and less commercialized album than the rock/disco/pop of Thriller. Both are some of the greatest albums ever made though.
The “Bad” album is a mixed bag. Some people didn’t like the direction he was took in blatantly trying to reach out to the pop(read white) crowd. The “Bad” video though is another one I have childhood memories of, (at the time) I really loved the video. I watched it again recently though and I must admit the song and video have aged badly, though at the time the record was a worldwide smash hit. The same goes for the album, some songs sound really dated yet others like “Man in the Mirror,” “Smooth Criminal” etc remain some of the best pop songs ever made. “Man In the Mirror” ..sigh. Is there anything more that can be said about this song? If MJ ever had a moment of true genius during his “decline” period it was “Man in the Mirror.” The album vinyl had been in our house since the year of its release, but it wasn’t until mid-primary school that I rediscovered this record and proceeded to learn the lyrics and sing the song for weeks in school. The angels must have given MJ this song, its just remains that powerful. After listening to this song you feel you can change the world.
“Remember The Time” was another great single and video from Michael. This was another song we dubbed from KBC and watched again, and again and again. With all the cameos from Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson, Iman..etc and the spinning to gold dust at the end, it was a great song and video. Who can forget the storm “They Don’t Really Care About Us” kicked up, I think the record had to be pulled and edited from stores because he had what was deemed a racial slur in the song.
As for Michael Jacksons dancing, again what can be said that hasn’t already been said. I was watching the “Beat It” video a month or two ago and man those moves are really spectacular. I can just imagine how much those early videos changed the game, kids & teens must have gone berserk after those Thriller videos. Everyone who grew up watching that “Thriller” video has tried to mimic the moves in it, and the way they combined the zombie movements with a pop twist is truly something. I remember just about learning the moonwalk(a primary school classmate of mine could do it, and he taught me). I tried it the other day and I was a bit rusty but its still there somewhat(I had to use socks of course). As for the swift high kicks, and crotch grabs and hee-hee’s I could never quite get them right, haha.
On the topic of Michael Jackson’s controversies, for a big MJ fan such as myself(everyone claims to be his biggest fan) I wont say much. You could call it blocking the bad stuff out I guess (is that sycophancy?) Yes, it was painful to see MJ go from one controversy to another(and I admit I used to get mad when a new accuser popped onto the scene.) By the way that whole period when MJ was marrying one random woman after the other was a big…huh?? for me. That flew past me, I didn’t get it..like “whatever, when is his new album coming out” you know? Plastic surgery. There are so many stories. For the longest I didn’t believe the vitilgo reason but over the years its seems to have been confirmed. As for his nose…ewww, avoid subject. But I laughed and knew the guy had lost his marbles when he said on The Martin Bashir doc that his nose just kept growing.(remember when everyone was glued to KTN to watch its premiere some years back? lol)
Although I knew many of MJs hits as part of the Jackson(s) 5 its not until recently that I have delved more into his really early stuff. I now have all his Jackson’s albums, plus his solo albums. Some of those albums are really great. If you know me I am huuge on Motown(sound) and there is some really great stuff there(J5s Motown albums). I even have I think their first ever single(before they were signed) which is called “Big Boy” and its a good song. Michael Jackson’s voice even at an early age was truly phenomenal, and in my opinion it must have been one of the best voices at the time, young or old. The emotion, range and voice control he was able to display out of such a small body(and young age) was truly from God.
Speaking of God, although I am a big fan and have been since I can remember(late 80s) I was never one of those crazed obsessive fans. Many fans probably thought he was God/a god and thus I wasn’t really surprised at the reports of people committing suicide on learning of his death. A weird thing is I didn’t cry at all for MJ, was just very sad (though I did shed a teeny one for Aaliyah, can’t believe I admitted that. Hey I love(d) Aaliyah, sue me!) Around the late 80s-early 90s you couldn’t convince me Michael Jackson wasn’t the most popular human being on the planet, sorry Pope! The man was just global, everyone who had a radio knew MJ. Even though all this I always reminded myself he was but a human being so my fan-hood(?) never reached obsessive levels like some people. I think Japan had the most crazed MJ fans, and probably those Eastern Europe countries. My goodness, I don’t know how MJ endured that level of hysteria that I havent witnessed with any other artist(human?)
To go back to MJ controversies for a second, there is something many people don’t realize, or they cant comprehend. It’s kind of my conclusion/theory about him that has sort of settled my mind. MJ grew up in a totally different environment and circumstances than any other person I can think of. As in this guy was s star since he was a toddler. Apart even from the savage abuse meted out by his father, just the pressures he was under must have been incredible. First of all he was extremely shy ,and his childhood was totally robbed from him because he had to grow up fast and be a professional star. Can you imagine never having one second of a normal life since you can remember? Not many of us can grasp that, not being able even to walk out of the gate without hordes of screaming fans hounding you. There are just so many factors no one can understand that came together and totally messed up MJ’s mental & physical state(as it would anyone). And this is the perspective I think we should look at his later controversies from. The early signs I guess was when he started collecting all those exotic animal species and really believing he was Peter Pan.
MJ, MJ, MJ…. Wacko Jacko(I really hated when people said that. Ungrateful haters!!) Anyway, people sometimes ask will we ever have another like him? Hmmm, difficult question to answer. Of course no one can really see into the future and predict, so I will only give my opinion. The chances we will see another MJ in our lifetime are zero. The chances that the world will see another MJ ever are small. Michael Jackson (maybe like Usain Bolt now) was a freak of nature of the music world. He was a god(forgive the term) of music. You see, in my opinion the thing that separates MJ from other artists was his mental state. Michael Jackson was so absolutely focused on achieving perfection and taking things to an unbelievable level, and it’s a quality that few humans are able to possess. That is why we have had the Ushers, R.Kellys, Justins etc since then but they have always been them down here….then MJ up there. He was just on another plane mentally and in his focus. Some things are just rare and God-given and they cant really be duplicated. Michael Jackson was one of those rare events that I am very grateful to have witnessed. It will be interesting to see how historians of music treat MJ and his music, and what future generations will learn from him. Here’s to hoping they get to witness and feel even a bit of what us who were alive have witnessed. Beatles, Elvis give me a break..(sure they sold records) they don’t come close artistically, not by a mile..especially Elvis.
Here’s to you MJ, thanks for changing the world! Where would music have been without you??
To The Greatest….MJ.(this post is late, but I had to do it for you) One.