Infinite Echo: Remembering my First Michael Jackson Concert

Four pairs of unblinking eyes had watched her reading out the numbers on the newly-acquired credit card. My mum settled the phone back in its cradle and looked up at the four unusually silent and well-behaved children perched apprehensively on the couch across the room.

“Okay, kids…”

She piqued the moment with a mischievous pause.

“So… who wants to go to a Michael Jackson concert in the summer holidays?”

We blinked.

We shrieked.

We leapt into her lap and smothered her with kisses of ecstatic gratitude, each of us promising we’d never be naughty ever again.

My mum had recently been discharged from hospital, where she had spent months recovering from illness. This was her way of apologising for not having been around. Not that she ever needed to.

Immediately – in our naivety – my brother and I began fantasising about which songs Michael might perform. Would the concert simply consist of each song from the Dangerous album? Played in order? We had no idea. My brother was ten years old. I was twelve. This was our first ever gig. Our comprehension of a pop concert had been informed purely through perpetually-repeated viewings of the Moonwalker version of Man In The Mirror. As far as we could vaguely appreciate such an abstract event, the ensuing experience would most-likely entail us weeping ourselves unconscious, before being dispatched from the crowd by a conveyor belt of hands and into the custody of some burly men at the front. Strange men, who apparently preferred to throw water at people rather than watch the Michael Jackson concert happening behind them. Even though they all wore Michael Jackson T-shirts.

We four siblings had already been Michael Jackson fans for five years. But the idea of going to see Michael live in concert set our fan status on fire, instantly rocketing us far and away into the stratosphere.

We were somewhat excited.

Our appetite for all-things Michael became insatiable. We collected everything. We studied him. We imbibed him.

Roundhay Park, Leeds – the scene of the shout. August 16th, 1992 – the day with an infinite echo.

And the infuriating view of a fluorescent shell suit.

We were walled-in by adults making early-nineties fashion mistakes.

Alone, my mum had brought four young children to a Michael Jackson concert. I can only imagine it was our delirious level of excitement and regular reminders of our oath to never misbehave again that helped made the scenario manageable for her.

That neon cage is all I can recall prior to Michael’s arrival on stage. My brain was no-doubt drenched in adrenaline. (Although I know that the support act went by the quite ironic moniker of D’Influence.)

But the memory of the crowd’s roar announcing Michael Jackson was now amongst us is invincible. It remains the loudest sound I have ever heard.

Michael Jackson.

The Michael Jackson.

I couldn’t see a thing. It was bewildering. I felt terrified.

The smash of glass.

Michael had kicked things off.

I turned to look at my mum. Her face was beaming.

I felt exhilarated.

Whenever I could manage, I stole glimpses over the shoulders of the garish giants that jumped around me. With the Jumbotron providing a contingency view.

The details I can recollect are few. I remember feeling embarrassed at not knowing the lyrics to Human Nature for the call-and-response section. I remember instinctively turning to my brother as the words “My footsteps broke the silence of the pre-dawn hours…” began to emanate, to find him looking right back at me; whereupon we both simultaneously screamed “Heartbreak Hotel!” Although, of course, it wasn’t. Unbeknownst to us, Michael now used that spoken intro for Smooth Criminal instead. And as that song’s bassline burst open, the mutual exclamation “Smooth Criminal! Ha ha!” was our delighted response.

During the denouement of She’s Out Of My Life I remember laughing at hearing a man shout, “Cheer up, Michael! She’s not worth it mate!” I remember marvelling at the dancing skeletons in Thriller – from my hindered perspective, all I could see were the puppets, not the puppeteers. I remember Billie Jean. Because two men hoisted my younger brother and youngest sister onto their shoulders so they could see the show better.

Yeah. I remember that.

I remember my mum worrying that Workin’ Day And Night and Beat It were too noisy; before relaxing again in the beauty of Will You Be There.

But most of all, I remember Man In The Mirror.

At its climax I witnessed my hero fly.

I watched Michael Jackson fly.

At least, as far as I was concerned as a twelve year old boy.

The magic. The atmosphere. The adoration.

I became a mere one of millions privileged to see the uniquely superlative spectacle that was a Michael Jackson concert.

The stage lights faded for the final time. Michael Jackson had left the stadium. Fireworks blossomed in the sky, stroking strobes across the faces of a dazzled crowd.

We made our way out of the arena. On our own feet – neither crying nor unconscious. But awestruck and soul-altered all the same.

Little had my mum known what a profound impact the experience of seeing Michael Jackson in concert would have on her young children.

The echo of it.

And she reckons she’s still paying off that credit card.

 

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The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

Changes: An Article on Michael Jackson and David Bowie

A maelstrom of loss swirled around, yet its winds were incapable of evaporating the sadness that saturated status updates on social media. Grief unifies, but in doing so makes such a day weigh heavy. The following morning, tabloid newspapers emblazoned the same garish image of the deceased across their front pages, whilst the broadsheets opted for more respectful, sophisticated tributes.

The news of David Bowie’s death was gut-wrenchingly familiar to Michael Jackson fans.

Michael had been a great admirer of Bowie’s, and had known him most of his life. There is a picture of the pair together during the Jackson 5 years, at a party the Jackson family had thrown for Al Green; as well as pictures of the two of the two chatting backstage during Bowie’s 1983 Serious Moonlight tour, with Michael dressed in his Sergeant Pepper garb.

The concept of creating an alter ego and the engendering of enigma – with Michael’s adoption of Sergeant Pepper regalia being an example of this – was something Bowie had been the vanguard for. Bowie pirouetted through myriad identities and musical genres which, as well as enthralling, also discombobulated his audience: who was he?

It is the same principle behind why esteemed actors attempt to keep their true personas a secret by rarely giving interviews: should the audience begin to intuit who they are, it becomes that much more difficult to convince the spectators of any fictitious character they might assume for a role. Said actors need to be as much of a blank slate as possible in order to successfully transform.

And should the audience begin to imagine you as one thing, the switching to an alter-ego has the added benefit of tripping up the expectations upon the embarking of a new project. Or, in the terminology of Michael Jackson’s career, ‘era’.

It was an idea seized upon and utilised by eighties popstars – whose successes, partly as a consequence of adopting this tactic, endured to longevity. Popstars like Michael, Prince and Madonna. The practice continues today. (Just take a look at the evolution of Miley Cyrus and her male counterpart Justin Bieber. Although I think Madonna might have ran out of identities now as she seems to be recycling them. I’m not sure how many times now she’s bestowed the world with the revelation of her being bisexual.)

Madonna also went to see Bowie on his Serious Moonlight tour and said in an interview following the show,

“[Bowie] was definitely an inspiration… He constantly changed. He was more like an actor. He kept coming up with new ideas and new images and new feelings and thoughts to get everybody else stirred up.”

Madonna has repeated this homage since Bowie’s death, saying,

“I want to pay tribute to a man who inspired my career… he changed my life when I went to see him in concert in Detroit… he showed me that it was okay to be different… He opened the door for transgenders and made people feel like it was okay to be different, and it didn’t really matter if you dressed like a boy or a girl… what matters is on the inside.”

Bowie is seen as avant-garde in his advocacy of those that felt ostracised by orthodoxy due to their sexuality, dress or lifestyle. Throughout his career, he defied convention. He provided his audiences with a kaleidoscope of characters, each reinvention used as a means to embolden himself enough to have the confidence to appear on stage. Without the armour of a stage persona, Bowie admitted to feeling uncomfortable. This adoption of an alter ego to – paradoxically, perhaps – enhearten himself with the ability to express his individuality, also has the byproduct of giving his art the gravity of capacity for interpretation, and thus the power to inspire on an individual level. This capacity for flexibility also enabled Bowie to engage in juxtapositional career moves, which stratified his appeal to an ever-expanding fanbase. On the one hand, he could duet with Bing Crosby or narrate the introduction to Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman animation, whilst on the other, collaborate with Iggy Pop or Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame (a band, incidentally, that Michael was also a huge fan of, with them being the inspiration, musically, for his song Morphine).

Of course, when Michael reappeared with a new image for a new era, it wasn’t merely his wig that had changed. Michael embraced his skin disease and used it as both an excuse to alter anything he was insecure about as well as a basis for a new image for a new project. Michael’s continuing successes reinforced this behaviour. As Bowie said about his continuous changes, “I got quite besotted with the idea of creating character after character.”

As Lisa Marie Presley states during the Diane Sawyer interview, “[Michael] resculpted himself; he’s an artist.” A statement Michael then endorses with the words, “I’m a performer.” The philosophies of Bowie and Michael demonstrate that judging anyone by their physicality is farcical.

Michael was also different insofar as where Bowie assumed a different persona for each phase in his career, Michael could switch alter egos between songs during a single concert. Just watch on the Bad Tour how he transforms from a hunched, self-conscious figure into a strutting embodiment of self-confidence the instant the first chord of Dirty Diana is struck.

This is what the poet Keats called the chameleon quality – the ability to “tolerate a loss of self and a loss of rationality by trusting in the capacity to recreate oneself in another character or another environment.”

In a similar vein, many of Bowie’s songs don’t overtly draw from his own experiences, with the focus being instead on fantasy characters. One of the techniques he used when writing songs was the ‘Hunter S. Thompson method’ in which he drew inspiration from randomly retrieved words. This approach, however, is markedly different from Michael Jackson’s, in which the inspiration for his lyrics were most often drawn from his own life, albeit with the utilisation of fictional protagonists.

(Even Smooth Criminal (originally titled Al Capone) may well have been inspired by Michael’s introduction to the Mafia around the time of its writing; what with the period also inspiring such lyrics as “Just put your dime on the line baby, I own you… / Somebody said, give up instead on how you feel / One blow to the head is all you need”. With that last line feasibly a reference to the Pepsi burning incident that had recently occurred. With the success of Thriller, Michael encountered a murky world indeed.)

Bowie’s song Kooks (‘kook’ meaning “eccentric person”) from the 1971 album Hunky Dory, was written after the birth of his son, and anticipates his child growing up in unconventional circumstances. The song is an anthem for the acceptance of diversity and nonconformity and rallies against the rigid, stifling stuffiness of the traditional, sterile patriarchal system. Bowie and his then-wife divorced in 1980, with the singer gaining custody of his son. Bowie had been one of the first artists to openly express the idea of the inaccuracies of gender polarisation, and was also now leading the way for unorthodox familial arrangements. Something Michael Jackson ultimately exemplified. 

In the early eighties, MTV had yet to begin airing black artists in regular video rotation. Rick James publicly denounced the channel as racist after its refusal to play his hit Super Freak. Michael’s Thriller video galvanised the change in attitude, along with Bowie’s now-celebrated confrontation with the contemporaneous MTV veejay Mark Goodman. Bowie audaciously ambushed a live interview with his enquiry, “Why are there practically no blacks on the network?” Before highlighting the fact that “There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV… Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair… to make the media more integrated?”

Ironically, it was only when Bowie teamed up with legendary black producer Nile Rodgers, that he achieved transatlantic commercial success (with the album Let’s Dance – the title track being released as a single accompanied by a video depicting a message of racial tolerance). With Nile Rodgers being a man who cites Thriller as one of his favourite albums of all time.

Michael’s Remember the Time video was conceived in response to Spielberg’s refusal to cooperate in the production of a movie that celebrated a time in history when the wealthy, innovative, powerful societies of the world were black.  Michael hired the model Iman Abdulmajid to play the role of the Pharaohess who would grant Michael his first on-screen kiss. Iman also just happened to be David Bowie’s wife. (Michael also employed the services of another black model in the subsequent In The Closet short film.)

Iman and Bowie were extremely active in their campaigning for many humanitarian causes, especially children’s charities. Bowie’s musical canon is peppered with songs inspired by a concern for the welfare of humanity, such as Fantastic Voyage and When the Wind Blows. Any legacy worth its salt contains such material – a bequeathal of the chance that future generations will discover their art and be reminded of the importance of love and respect for their fellow human beings.

Bowie gave a renowned concert in front of the Reichstag in June 1987, a year before Michael performed there – with both artists’ presence igniting riots on the other side of the Berlin Wall, and hence expediting its fall, and freedom for those in East Germany.

Concerning concerts, in March a memorial concert for Bowie will take place at New York’s Carnegie Hall. A mere three months after his death. It’s seven years now since Michael died. The Estate still haven’t managed to arrange a tribute concert for him.

Also, now Bowie fans have experienced the sense of loss unique to being bereaved of one’s hero, it would be interesting to find out their opinion on how they would feel if the Bowie Estate now attempted to release songs recorded by an imposter. To have to contend with problems of the ilk of our latest one, in which the director Spike Lee is claiming that Janet Jackson – the multimillionaire married to a billionaire – declined to partake in his forthcoming Off The Wall documentary because of tensions between the family and the Estate caused by money. Janet Jackson is not interested in money. She has enough money. Janet Jackson is interested in justice and due reverence for the legacy of her late brother.

There are other important differences between the suffering currently being experienced by David Bowie fans and that which Michael Jackson fans endure, with the former faction not having to contend with the malicious digging up of controversial subject matter their idol might have once said.

Racism remains, but our heroes inspire us to persist in our fight to see changes.

As Bowie himself said, “It’s not the politicians who will end oppression. It’s the radicals, with the stink in their clothes, rebellion in their brain, hope in their heart and direct action in their fist.”

Cover

The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

Michael’s World: An Article on Using Michael Jackson’s Fame to Achieve World Peace

Ten years ago I had a talk with my father that became a rather strange source of comfort. The conversation concerned the worries that had begun to prey on his mind after I had been born.

I was born in 1980. It was the tail-end of the Cold War – an era of fear endured by an entire generation that passively imbibed perennial threats of nuclear war, subconsciously absorbed the sabre-rattling propaganda engineered to cultivate artificial differences. So as to create an arbitrary division between those members of the human race living west of Berlin and those that lived to its east.

The term ‘Cold War’ had been coined a mere seventeen months after the official end of World War II – thirty-three years prior to my birth. My dad became terrified by the potential for nuclear Armageddon, with the twitchy fingers of world leaders hair-raisingly close to a hair-trigger button capable of annihilating millions of innocents. One of whom was his newborn son. And by fulfilling his biological obligation to reproduce had now also been introduced to a hitherto-unknown dimension of love.

Yet he was powerless to protect against the whims of psychotic politicians. There was a dawn of realisation of him as a disposable pawn thrown down at the feet of capricious mercy, a recognition of the gravity involved in his having to solely rely on the tenacity in his capacity to hope.

The Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror. The battlefront has crept eastwards, but it remains that the tensions lie between east and west. Tensions tightly and ominously loaded with the potential for unthinkable disaster. The USSR may have been dismantled, but allies are easy to rally amongst nations confronted by the actions of imperialistic crusading that craves omnipotence for its ideologies; sovereign countries patronised by capitalist-driven democracies intent on thrusting themselves unsolicited upon cultures with incongruous belief systems constructed over centuries of highly successful self-rule.

So, yeah. Comfort.

Why did the conversation with my father act as a source of solace for me? Because through it I theorised that global tumult was simply a consequence of toothless fearmongering tactics employed to control societies. That though the volatility of world politics was a constant, surely no Government would ever be so recklessly insane as to initiate Mutually Assured Destruction. Indeed, the technological advances made since the end of the Cold War (officially over in 1991) mean the weapons once utilised to terrify that particular generation of humanity can now be considered as relatively endearing in their benignity. When compared to the capability for destruction contained within their contemporaneous counterparts.

Of course, at the time of the conversation, I was as yet unaware of the unique dimension of love that the privilege of parenthood provides. And now that I am a father myself, that theory which once brought me comfort now causes me to cringe in its naivety.

And I feel the powerlessness.

Bestial acts committed by humankind are indefatigably relayed to us via the all-pervasive, all-seeing media. These horrific demonstrations of brutality which the human race uses to shame itself are borne of a dearth of humility – a virtue vital for reaching compromise. 

Yet the truth is that we are not animals. We have the capacity for civility. We uniquely wield the ability for thought and imagination. We are bestowed with the power to create and solve. It is our gift as a species. But it also our curse. It is also why we are unique in our capability to exercise premeditated acts of evil. It is also why we destroy and deceive.

The onset of terror that arrived with fatherhood was a huge motivation in my writing The First Book of Michael. The most famous man to have ever lived offered himself to the world in an effort to be adopted as a totem for peace. And in my powerlessness, I decided that trying to promote this notion was the most effective thing that, in my own small way, I could do.

The magnitude to which Michael Jackson became a recipient of adulation was unprecedented. People flocked in their millions to experience his talent and hear his message, regardless of his morphing physicality. A physicality that on sight instantly undermined expectations of gender, race and age. And over thirty years of harmonising crowds comprised of tens of thousands of people all hailing from disparate cultural backgrounds, Michael was uniquely positioned to appreciate the absurdity of perceived differences. He routinely observed how love effortlessly transcends prejudice.

Michael Jackson helped galvanise the fall of the Berlin Wall. Citizens of East Germany bravely defied authority and risked imprisonment just to get as close as they possibly could to Michael’s concert in the West.

To love Michael is to be oblivious to his physical transformation. There is no requirement to justify the cynicism of those that speculate salaciously about and sneer at a special human being who dedicated his life and career to promoting love as a solution to the world’s problems. Michael was just Michael, and the joy, hope and escapism his artistry elicited in those that loved him meant that the puerility of the superficiality expressed by those that didn’t understand was meaningless in its very essence. Future generations will balk, bewildered at the absurdity of the idea that twentieth century American law dictated how a person’s standard of public toilet was determined by a person’s particular skin tone. Similarly, they will also appreciate how Michael was just Michael, his physicality irrelevant.

Michael’s mission was to attempt the laying of foundations for an eventual future incarnation of humanity. One that innately understands the fundamental right of each and every individual to feel comfortable within their own skin. Without fear of prejudice. Because it will no longer exist.

Michael purveyed the idea that this can be achieved through forming a society built upon an absolute reverence for childhood, in the prioritising of providing environmental circumstances tailored to enable the potentiation of the child. Through them possessing the right to make mistakes on their journeys to self-actualisation, content in never having to question whether or not they are loved; to not be forced to live laboured by the shortcomings of their parents. Shortcomings a consequence of the parents themselves having been deprived of the opportunity to fulfil their potential. A bold mission to terminate the cycle of adults having to search for alternative means of filling spiritual vacuums created by an absence of feeling loved as children. To know that being loved is an automatic consequence of living as their true selves.

We can be liberated human beings, we need not acquiesce to the artificiality of authority, to dictats our sense of humanity is innately repulsed by, yet are obeyed as a result of our being manipulated to fear each other.

Of course, Michael’s plan of action to create peace amongst the human race is vulnerable to being dismissed as nothing but naive, unworkable, nebulous idealism – what with Idealism as a concept forever undermined. But Idealism is maligned only by those terrified in their secret awareness of how Damoclean their assumed position of superiority is. Their arrogance is a manifestation of their fragility.

Something they wouldn’t have to worry about in Michael’s world.

Cover

The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

 

Happy Christmas: Thank You (For Leaking Michael Jackson Gems)

Rumour has it that the flood of rare material the Michael Jackson fan community have recently been graced with is down to a dispute between hardcore collectors. The leaked footage and audio contain some of the things most coveted by the fan community (as well as other stuff we weren’t even aware of) – including Bad tour in Tokyo and Rome, the making of Seeing Voices, the Oprah interview, 2 Bad outtakes, the 1993 Addams Family version of Ghosts, Triumph tour in Atlanta and the second-leg Dangerous tour rehearsals.

It was the latter that created the most discussion, however.

The last song Michael rehearses in said footage before a stand-in takes his place is The Way You Make Me Feel, which he sits out and directs from the front of the stage – choosing to speak the lyrics rather than sing them. The initial reaction to this unusual rendition of the song was of it being a curiosity to savour – as if Michael were reciting poetry.

Sadly, the truth is far more sombre .

During the break prior to the track, Michael can be heard plaintively informing Debbie Rowe that he is in pain, with the suggestion being that he is soliciting pain relief. Michael had recently undergone surgery on his scalp – the Pepsi burning a decade previously was still (and would be until his dying day) heavy with repercussions. Michael found solace through the painkillers – emotional as well as physical. A fact with tragic consequences when considering what was just around the corner.

The footage is a poignant glimpse behind the scenes. Of course, we’d already seen Michael out-of-sorts on stage during the second leg of the Dangerous tour – him evidently unconcerned about reaching his own (albeit uniquely stringent) professional standards.

But upon discovering that Michael was not even capable of completing rehearsals – never mind an entire leg of a tour – we suddenly become enlightened with information that is little less than harrowing.

My last blog post discussed Michael’s reluctance to adlib due to his desire to create the perfect show. Such was Michael’s sadness during the second leg of the Dangerous tour, Siedah Garrett felt comfortable enough to improvise on stage by wearing a wig during I Just Can’t Stop Loving You. To try and elicit laughter from Michael.

I love Siedah Garrett.

As tired as Michael was during the second leg, the rage he was feeling at the injustice of what was happening in his ‘private life’ (a farcical description when it comes to Michael) was nevertheless evident when observing the innovation and energy in his improvised dance spots. Fred Astaire was the first to describe Michael as an “angry dancer” and this anger was never more apparent than in footage from stage performances at this point in his life.

Michael’s embracing of rage, combined with the technical dancing abilities instilled in him as a child (ruthlessly so – which formed part of the rage) is what – ironically enough – provided the ingredients that formed his universally appreciated talent as a dancer. Michael painstakingly mastered the technical abilities of his craft under the orders of his father and pressures of record company executives. He then matured as an artist and put his personal spin (no pun intended) on it. And in doing so, he created something unique, deserved and iconic – his very own genre of dancing. One day ‘Michael Jackson Dancing’ will be as respected as other esteemed styles of dance.

After the spectacular professional success of his childhood, Michael Jackson never needed write nor perform another song ever again. Prior to Thriller, prior to the Bad tour, his status as a musical legend had been indelibly scribed into the history books. Indeed, this is the reason why he has two entries in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the effect of such a childhood also meant that Michael was cursed to never feel satisfied without the love from a crowd.

Yet, I believe Michael grew to appreciate this – which is why he began to concentrate his efforts on using his unprecedented fame for humanitarianism rather than the promotion of his artistry.

I would like to give my personal thanks to whoever is bestowing our community with these wonderful rarities – material that provides us with the priceless gift of intuiting Michael’s humanity through his art.

Thank you!

This is a happy Christmas!

 

Cover

The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

I Can’t Help My Soul: An Article on Michael Jackson, the King of Adlibs

Michael turned the adlib into an art form all of its own. He possessed a unique ability to perfectly punctuate epic crescendos with iconic outbursts of phrasing. With the unbridled passion which Michael emoted these adlibs often revealing more about the truth of the particular piece than the main body of lyrics.

However, the pedantry involved as Michael crafted his songs makes the term ‘adlib’ a difficult one to confidently appropriate in the context of his work. Of course, the man in the recording studio vocalising spontaneous streams of consciousness was adlibbing. But why in the editing suite did Michael ultimately opt to include one particular involuntary outburst over another?

Potentially controversial adlibs were often barely coherent. This ambiguity afforded Michael a degree of artistic liberty he would have otherwise had to suppress. The technique enabled Michael to walk the line between mass appeal and honest art – such was the tense dichotomy between his need for quantitative success in order to feel wanted, and his craving to divulge truth. This approach also had the benefit of leaving his art open to interpretation, as well as helping maintain his enigmatic image and satisfying his penchant for the cryptic. (Nothing epitomises this more than the Dangerous album cover.) The tactic became increasingly necessary as a consequence of legal restraints that bound Michael following the Chandler settlement. Good examples of such adlibs can be found in the tracks Monkey Business, Money and They Don’t Care About Us.

For D.S. – on the other hand – Michael threw such safeguards to the wind and sang explicitly about the subject matter. Then avoided legal action simply by publishing the song accompanied with incorrect lyrics.

Michael’s adlibs were uniquely raw, soulful expressions that were specifically and intentionally included for a purpose; as with all of Michael’s art, there was always a reason for position.

Bearing this obsessive pedantry in mind, it’s interesting to note the “see” adlib that Michael used on the Invincible album. The word “see” occurs in twelve of the sixteen tracks. It’s a common verb, admittedly – but one Michael deliberately added to songs that otherwise didn’t contain it. On Invincible, Michael incorporates Notorious B.I.G’s rap from You Can’t Stop The Reign, which includes the line “Put that on my diamond bezel, you’re messing with the devil”. Michael would famously go on to label Tommy Motolla as the devil during the ensuing campaign. The album also contains arguably the most beautiful adlib Michael ever performed, when evoking the image of a butterfly with his fluttering falsetto.

I remember the first time I heard Scream and recognised the adlib “Blame it on yourself!” from Blame It On The Boogie. I also remember thinking how thematically disparate the tracks were – one a carefree proclamation of joy, the other an anguished riposte. Both uttered from the same soul under circumstances worlds apart.

Perhaps the pinnacle of Michael’s vocal improvisations reside in Who Is It. The pain of loneliness and the imploring for understanding are tangible. The track drips with lament. The same applies to those in We’ve Had Enough and Don’t Walk Away.

Michael’s adlibs were regularly the saving grace of any relatively supbar output – recordings he usually agreed to be involved with as part of deals or favours. His featuring on Eddie Murphy’s track Whatzupwitu in return for the actor’s appearance in the Remember The Time video being an example that springs to mind.

The importance Michael put on the power of adlibs can be seen in the making-of footage of What More Can I Give, where as producer, he is seen demonstrating how to emote effectively with the exclamation “Wasting! Wasting my time – no!” then instructing how “On the adlibs I just want you to soar.” However, it seems the performance requested didn’t quite reach Michael’s standards, as that particular adlib ended up being sung by himself on the final edit.

On demo recordings, we can hear how Michael experimented with different vocalisations. Whilst these aren’t strictly adlibs, they are invaluable in illustrating Michael’s creative process. How he often had ideas for instrumentation and sounds that he wanted to include in a piece, but was trying to find the right moment for them. Instances of this can be heard in the outro to Don’t Be Messin’, which features a lick first heard in State Of Shock, as well as in the demo of We Are The World with the “Sha-la-lingy” refrain that was ultimately omitted. In the same vein, it’s also necessary to differentiate between true adlibs and the watermark “hee hees” and “hoos” that Michael employed in his songs. Although, naturally, these were still placed with the same precision so as to generate maximum musical impact.

Perhaps the potency inherent in a well-positioned, well-expressed adlib became apparent to Michael during that fabled instance whilst recording I’ll Be There with the Jackson 5. Michael spontaneously sang the words “Just look over your shoulders honey!” to the annoyance of his brother Jermaine, who pointed out the error – that it is impossible to look over both shoulders simultaneously. Berry Gordy, however, was delighted – pointing out that it is such imperfections that make something genuine. At the very least, Gordy’s support in the matter must have surely bolstered Michael’s confidence – particularly as the adlib made the finished cut.

Michael perfected the art of adlibbing during his time in The Jacksons, with the tracks Style of Life, All Night Dancin’, Strength Of One Man, Things I Do For You, Walk Right Now, Lovely One, Blues Away and Wait all featuring fine examples. The latter two containing personal favourites.

And let us not overlook Michael’s adlibs during live performances. On the Victory Tour especially, when Michael was still more inclined to improvise – with Working Day and Night in the Kansas show containing a prime exhibit. Another adlibbed performance I’m especially fond of is at the denouement of Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ from the same concert, when Michael appears to be doing no less than goading his duet partner with the words “I’m not dreaming brother!”

Maybe in retaliation for the I’ll Be There incident.

It is the Bad era, however, that I contend includes the finest display of live adlibbing Michael ever expressed. Michael’s vocalisations during the finale of Man In The Mirror at the 1988 Grammy Awards elevate the performance from a mere show to a spiritual experience. Michael transformed into a Preacher.

But with each successive tour, Michael’s inclination to improvise – at least, vocally – progressively dwindled.

Spontaneity became more and more of a rarity, with Michael’s professionalism manifesting as reluctance to leave any room for error. The logic behind this ethos becomes apparent with a simple consideration of the extent of Michael’s work ethic. He embarked on world tour after world tour, breaking records for length of time spent on the road and audience attendance figures. James Brown was known as ‘The Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness’ but Michael must surely give him a run for his money in earning this accolade.

This work ethic was also evident during Michael’s long stints in the recording studio, with his predilection for absolute perfection being notoriously difficult to satisfy. Michael appreciated this about himself, admitting that if it were left up to him, nothing would ever get released due to his self-effacing dissatisfaction with it.

Bearing these factors in mind – the level of effort Michael expended when creating his art, and the pathological extent of his perfectionism – it’s easy to see how Michael was tempted to start lip-synching performances when the opportunity arose. This idea is supported by the fact that on the Victory Tour, in spite of the song Thriller being fresh as well as the most famous piece of music on the planet, Michael’s frustration with the contemporaneous quality of live sound production meant the track wasn’t included on the set list. The technology simply wasn’t advanced enough to do the song justice live on stage.

The same reason applies to why – after initially being mooted to feature – neither In The Closet nor Remember The Time were performed on the Dangerous Tour. Although Michael had to some degree embraced lip-synching by this point, miming these two songs in addition to the other Dangerous album tracks that featured in the concerts – all of which were usually lip-synched – might have been construed as taking things too far.

One song – almost uniquely – that Michael consistently performed live throughout his career was Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, and it’s interesting to note how when asked which song he was least happy with in terms of it being the finished article, he cited this one. Michael’s desperation to replicate live the sound he had worked so hard to achieve in the studio is also evident when seeing him instruct the band during rehearsals for This Is It.

By the time the HIStory Tour arrived, Michael seemingly felt the stigma associated with lip-synching had subsided enough for him to utilise the medium for the majority of the set list. It’s no secret that Michael signing up for the HIStory Tour was done under duress and purely as a consequence of the 1993 allegations. Michael needed to respond proactively and remind the world of his status as the master of stage showmanship. The prevalence of lip-synching on the tour can no doubt be partly put down to this. However, Michael had now been indefatigably entertaining and touring the world for three decades. He suffered with breathing problems. His need to get back on the road and fly his flag conflicted with his physical capability to do so. And the perfectionist in him would never allow a run of shows in which things might often be less than immaculate.

As well, lip-synching freed up Michael to focus more on his dancing. Indeed, ironically enough, the HIStory Tour contained the most on-stage spontaneity we had seen since the Victory Tour, with Michael more inclined to stray from a song’s recognised choreography as well as incorporating a great deal more audience interaction than we had ever previously seen. Audience interaction was something Michael once asked Bruce Springsteen for advice about – divulging to Springsteen that the rock star’s ability to converse naturally with his audience was something he envied, as he himself was too shy to do so. The HIStory tour was the closest Michael came to achieving this – even if the conversation was a rehearsed part of the show (there was never any bug on the dance floor).

Michael’s sense of perfectionism in the production of his art ensured its longevity to legend – with the sacrificing of spontaneity being a relatively trivial price to pay for this. Besides, it makes any instances of involuntary expression all the more valuable to us fans. Ultimately, it is irrelevant whether or when Michael was miming or not. That wasn’t the point. For better or worse, these days, live vocals are increasingly scarce in any pop act anyway.

When Paul McCartney told Michael of his reservations about the lyrics for The Girl Is Mine, Michael dismissed them, explaining how he was far more interested in successfully conveying the feel of the piece (albeit, the way this “feel” was communicated had to be done to perfection). Similarly, when performing, Michael was more concerned about the audience’s experience and reaction. Had he managed to blow their minds? Had he lit that spark in a soul? Had he advanced his mission?

Michael’s pedantry concerning his art is what makes the Cascio deception so viscerally repulsive. The original version of Keep Your Head Up even sampled lines from Earth Song for use as ‘adlibs’. The very notion of even attempting such corruption is sacrilegious and betrays Michael’s memory – not solely because of the inherent malevolence involved in prostituting Michael’s voice, but because it exemplifies how little those at the helm of his Estate understand the man they once tricked into believing was their friend.

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The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

Visionary: An Article on Michael Jackson’s Long Game

Halloween approaches once again and three decades later ‘Thriller’ remains as the untouchable artistic embodiment of the festival.

Christmas pop hits are goldmines for their creators, with their annual dusting off guaranteeing them a financial windfall. However, there are hundreds of artists competing for airplay at the time.

At Halloween, Michael is more-or-less the sole contender for royalties.

The decision to change the theme of the love song ‘Starlight’ into what the world now recognises as ‘Thriller’ was a stroke of visionary genius. The song and video ensured Michael’s relevance in the pop charts forever.

It was also during this time that Michael was becoming a businessman, with his shrewd acquisition of the ATV catalogue following soon afterwards. ‘Beat It’ from the Thriller album has been interpreted as a cry against racism, and the opening line “They told him “Don’t you ever come around here / Don’t wanna see your face, you better disappear”” could easily be construed as a reference to the obstacles Michael was facing upon his foray into the business side of music.

As the singer Rihanna recently lamented “…when I started to experience the difference [in attitudes towards her race] – it was mostly when I wanted to do business deals.”

Another example of Michael as the artistic visionary came with ‘Black Or White’. Of course, the theme of racism in the track is overt, but there also exists a subtext in which Michael calls out the racist press. Michael bemoans his having to explicitly inform the “Saturday Sun” of his achievements and his status as the King of Pop, as well as proclaiming that he “ain’t scared of no sheets” – a dual reference to the KKK and newsprint media.

Indeed, the evidence is there for all to see – in black and white.

In order to mock him, said newspapers perennially compile comparison pictures that demonstrate Michael’s physical transformation over the course of his life. They are Ripley-esque in their intent to intrigue the prejudicial masses and in their disregard for the dignity of their subject.

However, what these montages actually demonstrate is the irrelevance of a person’s physicality.

This was visionary genius of a different, more poignant sort.

When looked upon with hindsight by the generations growing up now, the Michael of the Jackson 5 and the Michael of 2009 will be the same person, and the physical transformation will be irrelevant. He will simply be Michael Jackson.

Future generations will understand that Michael’s eccentricities should be celebrated, not scorned. So what if he was obsessed with childhood? Kept mannequins to ward off loneliness? Sculpted his visage? Who cares how his social anxieties manifested?

I mean… what do you want from your genius? Genius both suffers and revels in its being ostracised from close-minded society: the same society that relies on such genius to escape the predictable humdrum of their daily lives.

Frank Dileo exacerbated the extent of Michael’s eccentricities and harnessed them for promotional purposes. This strategic oddball manufacturing was intensely successful. But Dileo’s tactics spectacularly backfired. The world thought Michael too bizarre. So his vulnerabilities of loneliness and unique affinity with children were used against him. With ruthless malevolence. By forces hell-bent on acquiring that ATV catalogue.

Michael bought the catalogue in 1985. It cost him $47.5 million. Today it is worth $2 billion. He fought tooth-and-nail to keep it. It was his prized possession – the totemic culmination of his extraordinary rags-to-riches adventure. Although its phenomenal value weighed heavy, Michael was nevertheless stolid in his determination to retain it.

Which is why, for the third year running, Michael has topped Forbes’ list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities. By quite some margin. In fact, if Michael were still alive, he would have made fifth place on the equivalent list for living celebrities.

Meanwhile, Michael’s remains lie in an unmarked grave.

The horror inherent in ‘Thriller’ is harmless, tales-at-midnight fun. The true horrors exist in the insidious souls Michael encountered upon daring to enter the domain of the devils in suits.

Who continue to prise away in their efforts to possess the catalogue.

But supporters of Michael’s artistic and humanitarian legacy are many and credible. His mission is intact and his vision persists.

Janet Jackson’s latest album – ‘Unbreakable’ – effervesces with tributes to her late brother: in ‘The Great Forever’ her voice is pitch-shifted to resemble Michael’s; during the song ‘No Sleeep’, Michael’s song ‘Butterflies’ is referenced; whilst in ‘Broken Hearts Heal’ she reminisces about their shared childhood. The song also features a sample from ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’.

Though perhaps the song ‘After You Fall’ contains the clearest guide to her intentions, with its lyric,

“After you fall / Who’s gonna be there / With you through all / Who’s gonna care for you / After it all / Who’s gonna be there / After you fall / I will”.

And so will we.

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The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

When He Sings: An Article on Michael Jackson’s Voice

There is a famous clip of Michael being interviewed as a child, in which he’s asked what he’ll do when his voice breaks. Michael nonchalantly shrugs the questioner’s concern off and says he’ll just keep singing.

In fact, as Michael aged, his vocal range actually increased – with him adding lower notes to his repertoire.

Michael’s optimal vocal range encompassed four octaves and forty-four notes.

Yet, technicalities aside – what made Michael’s voice so special? So – despite Sony’s best efforts – inimitable? What made the sections of any songs Michael performed when part of an all-star ensemble, such as ‘We Are The World’ or ‘What More Can I Give?’ stand out so starkly?

Michael wrote many songs that were recorded and released by others. Whilst listening to such tracks, for example Ralph Tresvant’s ‘Alright Now’ (reminiscent of Michael’s songs ‘Free’ and ‘Elizabeth I Love You’) or Rebbie Jackson’s version of ‘Fly Away’, although one can hear the classic Michael Jackson sound, they also seem to possess a throwaway element absent from the songs Michael chose to record and release himself. Indeed, in ‘Fly Away’, as pleasant as Rebbie’s voice certainly is, it’s Michael’s contribution to the chorus and guest adlibs at the song’s denouement that steal the show.

The same applies for the 3T hit ‘I Need You’ – a track that Taj Jackson has admitted the brothers weren’t keen to include on the album, but ultimately chose to after Michael’s recommendation as their producer. On the face of it, one can appreciate the brothers’ hesitance; but then one must also bear in mind that Michael’s capacity for stoking an insipid ballad into an epic crescendo was second to none.

Michael talks about this technique in the video I uploaded today (see below). The video is an edit of the 1993 Mexico deposition Michael underwent as part of a plagiarism case brought against him regarding the song ‘The Girl Is Mine’. Apart from the video being a remarkable window into Michael’s songwriting process, it also demonstrates how downright cynical and farcical the attempt to sue him for stealing the song was.

‘The Girl Is Mine’ is unfairly maligned as being the weakest song on the ‘Thriller’ album. Paul McCartney had his doubts about the lyrical content, but Michael responded that he was less concerned about the details than he was achieving the right “feel” for the song. Watching Michael in the video below, it’s easy to see his fondness for the track. Of course, Michael had worked with McCartney previously, with ‘Girlfriend’ from ‘Off The Wall’ having been penned by him.

McCartney recorded ‘Girlfriend’ for his ‘London Town’ album, but understood that Michael’s voice would be better suited to the tune. Smokey Robinson also acknowledged this when he offered the young Michael his song ‘Who’s Lovin’ You’.

As with ‘The Girl Is Mine’, the duet ‘Just Good Friends’ is similarly derided as the weakest song on the ‘Bad’ album. Musically, perhaps. But once again, Michael’s precious voice elevates the song to a plane of pure pleasure.

Incidentally, regarding the ‘The Girl Is Mine’ plagiarism case – how dare anyone deny Michael’s songwriting pedigree when he was the prodigy of Stevie Wonder?

Such was Michael’s innate understanding of music and sound, he always understood the best voices to work with for the benefit of the song, be that the grittiness of Mick Jagger for ‘State Of Shock’ (although originally recorded with Freddie Mercury, when the track had a more playful tone), be it the anger of his sister Janet for ‘Scream’ or else the romanticism of Siedah Garrett for ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ or the seduction of Carole Bayer-Sager for ‘It’s The Falling In Love’.

Michael’s childhood training involved him performing cover versions of some of the greatest songs of all time, such as ‘My Girl’ and ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. Such is the iconic status of these tracks, it’s arguable whether Michael’s takes on them supersede the high standard of the originals. Nevertheless, Michael’s vocal performances are irrefutably astonishing.

What’s less dubious is the positive effect of Michael’s influence on the cover versions he chose to record as an adult. His version of ‘Come Together’ invigorates the song with a funky sultriness, whilst his interpretation of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’ has now become the definitive rendition.

Really, there should be little surprise that Michael’s voice is so enjoyed by so many millions of people. After all, the unique talent he was bestowed with was diligently crafted for four decades. Still, there remains an exquisite, intangible, enigmatic beauty to it.

One perhaps best surmised by Sir Bob Geldof in 1996 as he introduced Michael to the stage with the words,

“When Michael Jackson sings, it is with the voice of angels.

Cover

The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

Honouring Heroes: The Jacksons Perform at The Proms

Saturday 12th September 2015 was a truly special date.

It began by my attending a rally being held in Parliament Square, organised to demonstrate support for desperate people displaced from their war-torn countries. One-hundred-thousand people stood around me – peaceful feet on the ground proudly making their opinion count. The pacifist Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn had just been elected as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, with his first act being to take the stage at the rally and underline his commitment to helping vulnerable people.

The atmosphere of empathy for suffering fellow human beings was palpable. I cried. And it wouldn’t be for the last time that day.

I left the rally to go and join an altogether different crowd, the forty thousand revellers at Hyde Park who had come together to celebrate the Last Night of the Proms – a musical celebration of British patriotism. It’s not something I’d typically involve myself in, but The Jacksons were headlining the event, and the chance to see them take the stage in honour of Michael – to watch them perform the songs they co-penned and toured with him for two decades, all backed by the world-renowned BBC Symphony Orchestra – was simply too scintillating a prospect to pass up.

Seasoned spectators of Last Night of the Proms seemed unprepared for the passion of Michael Jackson fans. Speaking for myself, as I stumbled and squeezed my way to the front of the crowd, I certainly piqued the annoyance of several picnic-blanket-wielding classical music stalwarts. I might have accidentally stood on the odd Union Jack flag, too.

Still. I’m a Michael Jackson concert veteran. This lot were a walk in the park.

The show began in true Jackson-style, with a teasing video montage intro that gradually stratified anticipation of the brothers’ arrival on stage. Though I must admit, with each layer of excitement that was set – as video footage of Michael played on the screens – I also felt an equal amount of pathos at the tragedy of Michael not being there.

But then.

“Can you feel it…? CAN YOU FEEL IT?!”

Can You Feel It! Live orchestra! Can you imagine it?!

“If you look around / The whole world’s coming together now… / All the colours of the world should be / Loving each other wholeheartedly / Yes, its all right / Take my message to your brother and tell him twice.”

Michael was there, after all! Of course he was! His artistry was there. His soul was there.

The message poignantly echoed the sentiments of the rally held in Parliament Square.

I cried.

The brothers were as impeccable as you’d expect. Marlon whirled around the stage in pure joy, Jackie’s singing was spectacular, Tito was masterful and Jermaine glued everything together with his criminally underrated bass-playing talent. The choreography was so tight. So tight! All of them dressed in their trademark military garb first exhibited on the Victory Tour.

There is no better tribute to Michael Jackson than this – nothing that respects his soul and memory more.

Once the brothers left the stage, the traditional pomp of the Proms began, as people waved their Union Jack flags to the sound of the traditional anthems.

And with the prospect of the United Kingdom one day having a pacifist as its leader, even I – say it quietly – felt what I think might have been a burgeoning stirring of national pride.

A special day. A day of supporting and celebrating peace and justice.

A day of honouring heroes.

JHP

Cover

The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

The Moonwalker: An Article on Michael Jackson’s Demons

There’s a sinister eeriness and lyrical ambiguity to Michael’s song ‘Scared of the Moon’ that allows an interpretation of it being about him suffering sexual abuse as a child,

“Invaded by shadows / The light from the window / Cuts through the air / And pins the child lying there… / There’s nothing wrong / Don’t be bothered they said / It’s just childish fantasies turning your head / No need to worry”.

Of course, the song may literally be about a child frightened of the moon, with Michael merely inspired by the memories of his being taken far from home and the comfort of his mother, and into the guidance of Bobby Taylor.

Bobby Taylor is renowned as having discovered the Jackson 5. Yet he has been oddly blackballed from their history, including any acknowledgement for songwriting credits as part of The Corporation – songs in which Michael was strictly disciplined into carrying out convincing portrayals of sexuality involving children. With lyrics such as,

“When Alexander called you / He said he rang your chimes / Christopher discovered / You’re way ahead of your times!”

Prior to his succumbing to the bane that is the taxman, Bobby Taylor was a big Motown name in his own right, having formed bands called Little Daddy and The Bachelors and Four Niggers and a Chink before settling on the somewhat-more politically correct appellation, Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers.

Little Daddy and The Bachelors had a hit with ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ / ‘Junior’s Jerk’.

Diana Ross was ultimately chosen to “present” the Jackson 5.

Michael recorded Scared of the Moon as part of a gamut of creativity he experienced during the mid-eighties, with the unreleased tracks from this period providing perhaps the clearest glimpses into his soul that we were ever gifted.

There are several instances of vagueness in Michael’s adlibs that are frequent subjects of debate by fans, with a popular one occurring towards the end of the Bad-outtake ‘Monkey Business’.

‘Monkey Business’ is almost a cover version of the Little Daddy and The Bachelors track of the same name (itself a Chuck Berry cover), apart from some distinct lyrical differences such as,

“The government won’t pay my taxes / And I’m really mad… / I might tell on you / So don’t you start no stuff with me / You can’t like it that I’m looking right at you / You can’t like it that I’m looking right at you / You’re dirty / You’re dirty”.

Michael did a lot of soul-searching in the eighties. I like to imagine he managed to purge some of his demons during this time. After all, by the end of the decade – far from being scared of the moon – his very name had become synonymous with it.

Michael Jackson became The Moonwalker.
The Moon and The Star

Cover

The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

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