Deconstructing the Decomposing Jackson

Tripping Off The Light Fantastic

One might expect a piece on Michael Jackson to find its home in the Music section, over at the Right Brain area of this site. But the recent events of Jackson’s death – as well as several that proceeded it – make the subject of ‘Jackson’ one better suited for sociological considerations ...

I’m not really that much into the abbreviated short-form structures of FaceBook and Twitter, outside of haunting the social networks of other people I know. But, indeed, most of my inner circle absolutely refuse to show their faces at such Internet locales, citing them as “just so trendy (they) could puke.”

But with the passing of Michael Jackson, I would find a whimsical and satirical use for my hyper-limited audience at FaceBook and Twitter that would be somewhat reminiscent of my previous, talk radio site. I would chronicle not only the death of Jackson, but moreover, the sociological response to the surprisingly unexpected event. Some of the postings would include …

NEWEST: Family of Elephant Man advances bid for Michael Jackson remains.
10:06 AM Jun 26th from web

LATE BREAKING: Latoya Jackson NOT dead, says friends ... "only looks dead", they assure.
12:09 AM Jun 26th from web

NEWS UPDATE: Sun rises in London ... Michael Jackson now dead in Europe too, says Prime Minister.
11:22 PM Jun 25th from web

UPDATE: Religious leaders proclaim Jackson as the 'Anti-Pinocchio', whereby the more one lied, the smaller one's nose would become.
1:02 PM Jun 26th from web

CORONER: Can't decide what 'sex' and 'race' to file on Jackson death certificate.
10:56 AM Jun 26th from web

… and so it would go for a couple of days …

But all the while, I was watching the media response to Jackson’s death, inclusive of hopped-up appraisals of his life, talents, career … and sociological significance. From Reverend Al Sharpton, to a writer from Rolling Stone magazine. Several in between.

With this, I would feel compelled to set the record straight. Argue or reject it, as you may …

Michael Jackson … was not a musical genius. This notion should be put to rest, buried along with his body. For there are truly so few ‘musical geniuses’ … Mozart, yes. Stravinsky, perhaps. Beethoven, likely. But even Lennon and McCartney, while absolutely extraordinary pop music craftsmen, were not geniuses. And Jackson, far less so.

Indeed, when I first heard the ‘Thriller’ release, back when, I was already musically astute enough to identify it as a “very good Quincy Jones record with Jackson as the front man.” In fact, it’s likely no accident that the Michael Jackson releases that received the most acclaim were all produced by … Quincy Jones. And when Jackson had employed other producers, most things – comparatively – fell flat, far short of previous mark. This, in itself, should be telling.

In fact, as far back as the 90s, I would often hear industry stories that Jackson would come to the studio with “the most vague of melodic notions, hammered into shape by the producer and contributing studio musicians.” … The word, ‘vague’, would pop up frequently in these accounts … That, as a (genius) writer, outside of a place to prop photographs, Jackson seemingly only had the most vague familiarity with the piano (or any other keyboard), and indeed, was far more lost on a guitar (which he used to be photographed with as a child). One then, can only reason that he likely … composed … with a rainbow-colored glockenspiel, traveling across the floor by way of four red wheels and a pull-string.

Okay … so the genius hummed his ideas to a producer. Now, with this consideration, it can be said that – with a limited prowess – Michael Jackson was an exceptionally fine performer. He would have to be. But ‘The Wiz’ did have extensive effects machinery behind him and the curtain, didn’t he?

So, no … genius not. Give me an orchestral arrangement scored by Randy Newman and that may be close to genius. And yeah … Newman can – and does – also conduct the ensemble … all by himself … being responsible for every note – and their ultimate performance.

In short, anyone who cites Michael Jackson as ‘a genius’ – of any kind … is a moron.

It’s not entirely uncommon for people to favorably reassess one’s life and accomplishments with their passing. After all, with the earthly departure of President Gerald Ford, he would be reevaluated as Churchill. But the hyped appraisals of Michael Jackson – often, yes, from spokespeople of the African-American community – are not only ‘over the top’, but further indicate just how little knowledge they have of their own people, as well as the struggles that came before ...

I now so frequently hear that Jackson – unlike any before – successfully crossed the ‘race barrier’ in Entertainment, as in – the first. Oh, bullshit.

Considering even recent history, few seem to recall that Stevie Wonder had been the darling of the Grammy Awards with his remarkable ‘Innervisions’ release, almost 10 years before Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Oh … and as it relates to the previous discussion, Wonder also played and multi-tracked virtually all of the instruments himself, outside of the guitar parts. He then swept again – the following year – with the next release, ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’ … and yet again with the following album, ‘Songs In The Key of Life’. Wonder, indeed, would ultimately win a total of 25 Grammys, to date, inclusive of a Lifetime Achievement Award. Jackson: 13 such awards. And yet it’s now Jackson who broke the very ground you walk on?

Oh, yeah …… then there was Jimi Hendrix – who enjoyed a larger white audience, than a black one. And the list goes on ...

Even seemingly trite, ‘white-bread’ examples of hopping the race barrier existed long before Michael Jackson … Indeed, the extremely well-crafted, Pop-Pap of ‘The Fifth Dimension’ was specifically designed to be ‘safe and accessible’ to white suburban audiences. And they fully succeeded in that endeavor, selling in the millions. Yes, they did it, in part, by ‘sounding white’. But that doesn’t change the premise or example of ‘crossing race barriers’.

And, truth be told, it would be Motown Records’ own, Barry Gordy, who – over time – would be far more responsible for bringing black music artists to white audiences … inclusive of Michael Jackson, despite initial resistance.

Want to go back even further? It would be Scott Joplin – born in 1868, as one of the first post-slavery generation – who would jump hurdles that Michael Jackson never had to overtake. Not even close. And despite being best known for his Ragtime compositions, the works of this classically trained musician would also include two operas – with the second one having its premiere performance … in 1915. And still, you maintain that it was Jackson who pushed down walls that no one else could, before him? Oh, bullshit.

Moreover, ‘Entertainment’ naturally encompasses more than Pop music. In this regard, actor Sidney Poitier was of far greater, barricade-busting sociological significance, with the infinitely more fortified barriers of his time ... as the ‘leading man’. But few African-Americans of this generation acknowledge it – indeed, even know it. And even if they did, some wouldn’t be entirely cool with the knowledge that a few visionary Jew-Boys from the motion picture industry helped make that happen. Surely don’t mention it to Louis Farrakhan. He might have a stroke, or something. And no, Sidney Poitier didn’t do it as an ‘Uncle Tom’ – nor as a militant. He did it … as a gentleman.

And yet … Michael Jackson is ceremoniously cited as “the first black artist” to appear on MTV – as if no other would ultimately do so, and likely soon. But choreographer, Michael Peters – along with director, John Landis – are somehow credited as ‘second-string’ contributors to Michael Jackson’s ‘genius’ ... even though it was the idea of John Landis to create a “theatrical short” for Thriller in the first place, as Landis hated the more common, MTV ‘commercial for record’ format. The director, in fact, wrote and story-boarded the entire video, shot for shot, working side-by-side with the choreographer. Said another way, if they truly made a ‘Making of Thriller’ documentary that wasn’t so self-serving, Jackson would have little actual face-time. And yet – still – again, the ‘Jackson Genius’ would somehow also trump the cut-and-paste, music production savvy of Quincy Jones.

But with Jackson’s passing, he is now additionally heralded as having greater sociological significance and influence than Presley and The Beatles, combined. Spare me. I know it may seem as such for those born after … oh … 1982, but no …

The Beatles would, in fact, change the entire recording industry – even inclusive of its long-held procedures, right down to the ‘hours of studio operation’ … to the length of time devoted to recording, changing a week or two for an entire album … to that of months. And, if in analog form, entire technologies were created by EMI at Abbey Road specifically for the Beatle’s vision – most of which we use today, in binary form, in the digital studio. The entire recording process, itself, was completely turned on its ear (no pun).

And The Beatles would further produce, in ‘Sgt. Pepper’, the very first Pop-Rock album to be considered and discussed as ‘art’ – even by the ‘serious and snobbish’ music critics of the time, for the very first time. ‘Pepper’ would also soon become the most feebly imitated record of all time … to the humiliating embarrassment of many – even The Rolling Stones, with the ‘Satanic Majesties Request’ offering. Only Dylan would have the smarts to head in another, minimalist direction with the ‘John Wesley Harding’ release.

The Beatle influence would even change album packaging – across the entire industry. And even the early career outing of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was also the first Pop-Rock film musical to, again, be regarded as ‘art’, still discussed and analyzed in film schools today. Then there were the ‘made-for-TV’ promotional shorts – from ‘Paperback Writer’ to ‘Penny Lane’ – all long predating MTV by some 15 years.

Music, hair, fashion, art, film, marketing, gender roles, our own sexuality – the very way people would view … themselves … all changed with The Beatles and their sphere of influence. For those who were born in 1982, the year of ‘Thriller’ … you can’t even begin to imagine it. But you can read about it – and I suggest that you do so. In the interim, perhaps it’s telling that, at the very peak of his own popularity, Michael Jackson’s single most valuable asset would be ‘The Beatles Catalog’ (songs of Lennon/McCartney, more accurately). Worth far more … than his own.

By Jackson’s own, rare coherent admission, the people he looked up to were The Beatles … and Elvis Presley.

Michael Jackson was an exceptionally fine entertainer – if more recently coming in tabloidian form over the past 15 years. But to suggest that he was something … more … is irrational. Said another way … emotional. And while it can be said that emotion is appropriate with one’s passing, one shouldn't let one’s mind be buried along with the deceased they mourn.

And odd though it may seem, Jackson’s death may have been a good thing for him. For I just can’t imagine Michael, as 'the man in the mirror', and his child-like mind taking well … to growing old.

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