The formative Jackson 5 years left no-one in doubt with regards Michael Jackson’s capacity for conveying emotion through his voice. Though it was not until he left Motown that we were requited with this voice singing songs he had authored himself. With ‘Blues Away’ came the epiphany – many artists never write a song as important as this in their entire career. Yet, this track – from the eponymous The Jacksons album – the group’s first LP after unshackling themselves of the artistic constraints that had bound them at Motown – was a mere taster; a tantalising teaser of what was to come.
Whereupon one need look no further than Destiny – the subsequent Epic release from The Jacksons.
The opening track – the bassline bonanza that is ‘Blame It on the Boogie’ – is the sole song on the record not written by the brothers (though, coincidentally, it was penned by a Michael Jackson namesake). The album palpably throbs with both joy and heartbreak. The autobiographical nature of the lyrical themes are prescient of the standard ideas we would come to recognise in Michael’s solo work, referencing as they do: insecurity and success as bedfellows; the escapism of dance; and the loneliness of being misunderstood.
Concerning the latter theme, the song ‘Bless His Soul’ is perhaps the most touching: not merely in the context of the Destiny album, but also when considering Michael’s canon of work as a whole. The bridge contains the refrain, “The life you’re leading is dangerous,” with the melody in that final word ‘dangerous’ reminiscent of the chorus of the title track that Michael would record thirteen years later. What with the theme of ‘Bless His Soul’ addressing how, “You gotta start doing what’s right for you / ‘Cos life is being happy yourself” – and how when not living by this philosophy, life becomes “dangerous”, the mirroring becomes poignantly prophetic. Of course, when Michael eventually did begin living how he desired, his life became very dangerous indeed.
The Jacksons’ ensuing release after Destiny was the album Triumph. The short film for the opening track features this Michael-penned voiceover:
“In the beginning, the land was pure – even in the early morning light, you could see the beauty in the forms of nature. Soon, men and women of every colour and shape would be here too – and they would find it all-too easy not to see the colours, and to ignore the beauty in each other. But they would never lose sight of the dream of a better world that they could build together – in triumph.”
It is spoken as the camera pans across a gorgeous vista of daybreak over a deserted landscape. The conclusion of the voiceover is the signal for the horns to ignite the iconic rhythm of The Jacksons classic, ‘Can You Feel It’.
In spite of the short film’s inclusion in a 2001 poll listing the 100 Greatest Music Videos, the spectacle that is the ‘Can You Feel It’ promo is nowadays often overlooked. However, in 1981 – the year of its release – the short film’s state-of-the-art visual effects popped the eyes and dropped the jaws of anyone that saw it, as demonstrated quite clearly by the host’s gasp of disbelief when introducing its premiere on American Bandstand. Prior to ‘Can You Feel It’, the accepted format of music videos had been that of a band in a studio, pretending to sing and perform their instruments in front of a static camera. The conception and execution of the ‘Can You Feel It’ project was nothing short of revolutionary. It was a vanguard; it was the work of a visionary.
(The MTV Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award was named after Michael in 1991, in honour of the culture-altering contribution that was his dedication to promoting the music video as a credible artistic medium. Still, between the years of 1993 and 2005, the award was only intermittently presented. 1997 was one of the years in which it was – when Mark Romanek was granted the prize, after having directed the short film, ‘Scream’. However, since 2005, when Michael was cleared of the child molestation allegations, the eponymous award has been a frequent feature of the MTV Video Music Awards show. MTV would do well to remember that they would not even exist if it were not for Michael.)
In Michael’s autobiography, Moonwalk, he recalls an incident when the Jackson 5 were being interviewed, with their answers being scrutinised by Motown coaches sensitive to subjects that could be considered controversial. A black interviewer attempted to garner their views on the civil rights movement, but the Motown public relations representatives refused to let the Jackson 5 respond. Michael remembers how he and his brothers threw up the black power salute as they left the interview.
Michael grew up immersed in the social tumult generated by the assassinations of both Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. A sixteen-year-old Michael, in 1974, even performed backing vocals on Stevie Wonder’s anti-Nixon track, ‘You Haven’t Done Nothing’.
The significance of a group of black men – products of the decade that brought an end to racial segregation in the United States – wielding their substantial influence cannot be understated. Their message was to encourage progression – that, in spite of their forefathers having suffered the torture and inhumanity of slavery, any ambitions of world peace involve every one of us moving forward, celebratory of our differences, but united.
A recurring theme in this blog concerns the tragic reality of the factions within the Michael Jackson fan community. Indeed, the primary purpose behind my writing The First Book of Michael was to suggest ways to rectify this situation.
Cue the irony (to those with the intellectual capacity to appreciate such a thing).
Prior to the publication of my book, to say I was naïve regards the extent of the backlash I would encounter from some fans, is an understatement at best. There I was, after a lifetime of personal sacrifice in defending my hero, optimistically attempting to provide some kind of reconciliatory framework for the fans to work with. Then, before the book was even published, I was somehow being framed by ignoramuses as some kind of opportunistic hater.
One of the more significant of these divisions that exists is between the battle-worn acolytes extant prior to Michael’s death, and those that were inspired to follow Michael subsequent to his passing.
There is a general feeling amongst the pre-2009 fans, that, considering the abhorrence of the ad hominem opprobrium we had to endure for so long, the post-2009 fans are somehow inferior.
This feeling has been reinforced by what the pre-2009 fans consider as the general support by the post-2009 fans of the abject disrespect of Michael by utilising vocal imposters on posthumous tracks, as well as the use of a physical imposter for a hologram, in order to make money for people that refuse to engage with some crucial questions concerning their true intentions for the legacy of our hero. A man we invested a great deal of our very existences into supporting.
Even Mr. Tom Mesereau himself has deemed the current lot in charge “not fit for purpose”.
It is impossible to relay to anyone the gravity of loyalty involved in supporting Michael through his trial and tribulations. We were attacked on a daily basis. Though with every attack, our resolve to defend Michael was reinforced exponentially. Equally, it is impossible to express the exquisite ecstasy that we felt, both in Michael’s artistic riposte of 1995, and his judicial vindication in 2005.
We are precious about any tinkering with Michael’s legacy. Still. Pre-2009 fans remain keen to recruit for Michael’s cause. But we cannot allow our efforts during those times of personal Gethsemane to be diluted by the apathy of unchecked history. We want the preservation of Michael’s soul. We want the memory of his genius sanctified. Not only due to its uniqueness of quality, but because of the potency in its potential to bring to fruition Michael’s hard-earned desires in making the world a better place.
Yet, discovering Michael, before automatically falling helplessly in love with the truth of his nature, is a common phenomenon; one explained by how Michael’s message appeals to the essence of humanity, due its intrinsic idea of hope. It is a phenomenon unbridled by chronology.
Michael’s Estate purport that he left behind a “roadmap”. This “roadmap” has never been made publically available, with the only evidence of such a thing existing being a note that Michael made to himself. A note specifying future plans to work with either Warner Brothers or Universal. With, for understandable reasons, no mention of the Estate’s preferred partner of choice, Sony – a company that the man who Michael had fired, yet is now somehow at the helm of his Estate, has financial ties to. Most people leave their “roadmaps” in their wills. Though due to the unexplained anomaly that is Michael’s apparent ability to quantum leap in order to have signed the document, the contents of the will are inherently undermined.
However, Michael did indeed leave a roadmap behind.
Due to its presence on a posthumous poster, there is one quote from Michael that has become particularly prominent. It encapsulates his philosophy, one borne of hard-earned wisdom,
“If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with.”
This must be the fans’ mantra.
Any ambitions of world peace involve every one of us moving forward, celebratory of our differences, but united.
This article includes edited extracts from The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla, 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