MJ: Musican Extraordinaire

pianoWhat words come to mind when you think of Michael Jackson? Singer, dancer, and entertainer would be high on most peoples’ lists, perhaps followed by songwriter, actor, and philanthropist. But musician? Although he is sometimes referred to as such on various biographical write-ups (and even on his death certificate!) the question of whether the term “musician” in the strictest technical sense of the word could aptly be applied to Michael remains a highly debatable subject among music critics and fans alike. While no one disputes his superior abilities as a singer and dancer, the respect due him as a musician still lags far behind, mostly because he was never seen as a “musician’s musician.” He wasn’t a performer who stood in front of a microphone with a guitar strapped to him, or the type of performer who could be just as comfortable sitting onstage at a piano. And with the still recent death of Prince-a true musician if ever there was one-igniting again all of the “Who is Better” comparisons, it is a subject that has once again put an unfortunate (and, I think, completely unnecessary) spotlight on the matter. As I stated in my previous post, it is a complete myth that Michael Jackson did not or could not play instruments. That he purposely chose to not make musicianship a central part of his performing aesthetic has nothing to do with his talent or abilities when it came to playing musical instruments (and for the record, in all fairness we must remember that Prince and Michael did approach performing from two totally different aesthetics, neither of which was “better” than the other-like anything else, these issues are a matter of personal taste and preference).

A recent comment I saw on Youtube, on a countdown video of the “Top Ten Greatest Artists of All Time” in which Michael came in at #2, is sadly all too typical of the kind of ignorant, garbage comments that I see whenever the subject  comes up of Michael Jackson as an artist “worthy” of the lofty status he is often given:

+Sarumoh Bolu tell me again what instruments Micheal played? what albums did he even write more then half the songs? fact remains he didn’t create music, never wrote whole albums without the help of writers and didn’t change music like the beatles or elvis Presley. They’re being kind by having him at #2. it’s the beatles at 1 then everyone else. Michael wouldn’t crack top 3 on my list. he’s not an artist he’s an entertainer
Well, if you care to follow the full debate on that topic, it goes on at quite some length. Personal taste aside, this poster was wrong on just about every argument he tried to make. But since these wearisome and ill informed comments, steeped in ill informed myths, just keep coming up with no apparent end in sight, I decided it was high time to address the issue in what I hope will be the definitive post on this topic-and, hopefully, one that can finally allow us to move forward in our cultural appreciation of Michael Jackson, musician. Yes, I said musician. 

 

In this post, I will explore three important angles that must be considered before we can address the question of Michael’s “musicianship”-just how talented was Michael when it came to the ability to pick up an instrument and play; what actually constitutes the definition of a “musician” anyway; and just how fair or necessary are these kinds of comparisons for an artist of Jackson’s caliber?

In the past, when I’ve allowed myself to get dragged into these arguments (not surprisingly often with Prince fanatics or trolls/haters similar to the commentor above who have been brainwashed in the “rockism” tropes to the point that they think a skinny guy with a guitar is the only kind of artist with credibility) I have usually pointed out that Michael did play instruments-we know this, as he is credited on many of his albums on a multitude of instruments-but that in all fairness, he  recognized that his abilities were mediocre at best. This would usually then evolve into a defense that anyone with his astounding vocal and dancing abilities certainly shouldn’t owe any apologies to anyone. But reading through the similar comments by fans made in “defense” of Richard Lynche’s comments only reminded me of how woefully confused and under informed even some fans are about the subject of Michael’s musicianship. And I will admit, I have counted myself among them because my own opinions on the matter have continued to evolve as I have learned more and discovered more.

First off, I am no longer so sure that Michael’s abilities as an instrumentalist were “fair to mediocre at best.” In the past few years, I have heard some pretty amazing samples of his playing, especially on piano and keyboard. As I mentioned in my previous post, my first real revelation was the release of the Bad-era “Don’t Stop Messin’ Around” track which features Michael playing a beautiful and sprightly Bossa Nova style piano hook. At the time of the track’s release, as part of the 2012 Bad 25 project, recording engineer Matt Forger gave an interview in which he stated (referring to Jackson’s choice to play piano on the track) “He could do more than he ever really let people know.”

I think this statement may sum up perfectly why we didn’t have more firsthand examples of Michael Jackson’s technical musicianship prowess. In short, the evidence points not to lack of ability, but rather, to a conscious choice to focus on other aspects of his art that he felt needed his focus more. And as per Forger’s statement, it is possible that modesty (and perhaps his level of confidence) played a key role. That is to say, it is entirely possible that Michael was much more proficient in his playing of instruments than even he would give himself credit. But then again, it is also entirely possible that, confident or not, it simply didn’t interest him that much. There is ample evidence that he loved to “play around” with various instruments, and no doubt could gain proficiency quite easily with his natural rhythm and keen ear, but as for the dedication and practice it takes to truly master a certain instrument, he simply may not have had the attention span for it. Michael has always struck me as an artist who was far more interested in the raw composition of a piece and in its production than in the tedious process of plunking out its instrumentation. The stories of his amazing composition process, as a virtual one man symphony who could hear entire compositions in his head and dictate the sound of every instrument via his own vocalizations into a tape recorder, are legendary. One may realistically question that with such a rare and gifted ability to use his voice as an entire orchestra (one that I honestly do not think has been matched by any other artist that I am aware of) why would there be any need to tediously plunk out a composition on a single instrument (as most musician/composers do) to arrive at a finished product? Why would he when he could just as easily work out the entire arrangement-harmonies, chorus, lead and rhythm-with his vocal abilities alone?

But again, this is where we must be careful to separate interest and motivation from aptitude. This is something I know more than a little about, as a teacher who works with students on a daily basis. A student can have proficient aptitude and ability for a certain skill-such as creative writing, for example- but often if they are not motivated by what they perceive as a practical outcome for the skill, they aren’t going to devote much time to perfecting it. At best for this student, creative writing may become a hobby-what we might call a mustard seed talent-but not a lifetime profession.

Given the evidence I now have, I am more inclined to put Michael in this category-as a musician who, at best, viewed his own musicianship as a hobby or sideline to his more “serious” art of composing, singing, dancing, and performing. There is nothing wrong with that; it was obviously a conscious choice from an artist who knew that to be a true master, one can’t be a jack of all trades.

A good analogy might be, again, to drag out some of the Prince/MJ comparisons. Both could play instruments, but Prince obviously had a far more developed aptitude because he chose to focus on his musicianship. Both could dance, and I know that Prince had some amazing James Brown-influenced moves when he chose to cut loose, but dance was not a principle focus of his art in the same way that it was for Michael. Both were fair actors, though not great (Michael certainly had more potential for growth, as evidenced in performances like The Wiz) and Prince received terrible reviews for his directing debut with Under The Cherry Moon. My point here is that no matter how great any artist may be in his/her area of expertise, it is virtually impossible for any artist to excel in all fields of entertainment or art. The more likely reality is that they will be great at one or two, competent in a few other areas, and will totally suck at some. Another good case in point would be Queen’s Freddie Mercury, who played piano on many Queen tracks and was obviously a competent player, but according to many sources was always very self deprecating about his abilities and, over time, focused on them less and less in order to put more energy into his performing.

guitar2
Learning Guitar Chords In The Late 70’s

But it also begs the question again of why Michael Jackson, perhaps more than other artist, is often held to this rather unbalanced and unfair standard. After all, when we think of artists like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, who were both renowned as great dancers, I don’t hear anyone bashing them or belittling their talent because they didn’t play instruments.

If we go back to our Prince/MJ analogy, it may be fair to say that Prince was certainly a competent dancer, but I never found his style to be especially unique (and again, to be fair, he never made his dancing the centerpiece attraction of his performances). And to be equally  fair, we might argue that Michael’s musicianship wasn’t especially unique even if he was quite good by most standards. But remember, for Michael, “good” didn’t cut it-he always wanted to be the best at everything he did, and therein, I think, lies the key. It wasn’t enough for Michael to be a competent musician. I think part of him knew he was good, but he may have honestly felt that he hadn’t the patience and dedication to become “great” at it-and being the perfectionist that he was, this may have been what held him back from showcasing his musicianship talents more.

However, typing the above sentence reminded me of something that his friend David Nordahl had to say during a public Q&A session that I attended in 2010. He told the amusing story of how Michael wanted to paint-in fact, the very basis of their friendship was that Michael wanted David to teach him how to paint. But although Michael had the aptitude, he didn’t have the patience. Nordahl recalled that Michael  would get frustrated with the fact that he couldn’t produce something “great” within a few days; something that met with his own standard of what “great art” should be. And that frustration, naturally, led to discouragement. He simply didn’t have the focus to become a great painter because his focus, as always, was on his music.

And yet, when we look at the many sketches and paintings Michael left behind, the initial reaction of many is a stunned disbelief that he possessed such a talent. His best sketches, many completed at a very young age, show a natural ability that still, to this day, astounds many art critics.

Michael Did This Sketch Of Dr. Martin Luther King At A Young Age
Michael Did This Sketch Of Dr. Martin Luther King At A Young Age

Obviously, art would become a kind of secondary talent for Michael that took a backseat to singing and dancing, but who’s to say what he might have been able to do with this talent had he chosen to put the same amount of focus and discipline into it that he applied to his singing and dancing?

So what we know of Michael’s art skills may shed an important light, as well, on his musicianship skills and how he viewed his abilities. Just as with his drawings and paintings, there was an obvious natural talent that was never really developed to its full potential due to the fact that he didn’t have the disciplined focus for it that he had for his music, I think we might safely say the same for his musicianship skills.

But even if we sum it up to such a pat explanation, it still doesn’t answer the big question about Michael’s abilities as a musician: Was he simply an all-too-modest genius who never really gave himself permission to shine, or merely a modest talent who recognized his own limitations?

Playing Organ
Playing Organ

For that answer, we can only look to the evidence we have-those rare instances when Michael did play an instrument publicly, or informal, private moments that were captured on tape or video, as well as first hand testimonies from those who were privileged to hear him play.

One of the earliest examples that I am aware of is this 1992 Pepsi commercial which featured Michael playing a stripped down, piano version of “I’ll Be There.”

Although detractors might argue that this simple, melodic riff is not an especially challenging number to play, there can be little doubt that his sparse playing perfectly emotes the mood of the song as surely as his beautifully understated vocal.  Of course, being that this was a filmed commercial, the playing is not live; it is quite obviously a synched performance to a pre-recorded backing track, so again, perhaps not the best “evidence” per se to convince detractors. Many of the comments on this video point out that we still don’t actually see his hands on the piano. But since this was only a mimed performance to begin with, what difference would it make? What is important is that Michael did do his own playing on that pre-recorded track, just as he did his own vocals, so whether this can count as a “live” performance is really a moot point. The track itself still stands as a testament to his ability to play the instrument. And the fact that  this commercial aired on national TV should certainly stand as even more compelling evidence that the public did see this side of Michael, albeit that it was an all too rare glimpse.

Early Photo Of Michael Playing Keyboard
Early Photo Of Michael Playing Keyboard

Although Michael was said to be quite apt on drums and guitar, it was the piano (and conversely other keyboard instruments such as organs and synthesizers) that he seemed most drawn to. Every home in which he lived always had at least one piano-often more-and these were by no means idle decorations, as there are numerous videos that showcase him playing in informal settings, usually for friends or his children.

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In this rare video showcasing Michael’s son Prince, Michael can be heard (and is briefly glimpsed) in the background playing Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island.” As with so many of these examples, it is an all too brief snippet that still doesn’t really provide us enough to reach a foregone conclusion as to our question’s answer, but it’s enough to let us know that at the very least, he was definitely quite good on the piano-which alone should be sufficient to quash the silly notions that he couldn’t play anything at all, or was capable only of very basic chords.

An even more telling glimpse is revealed when looking at the liner notes of his albums where the musicians are credited. An excellent case in point would be the HIStory album, for which it is known that he did receive credit for playing on many of the tracks. Here is an online version that I found of the HIStory  liner notes. For the sake of brevity, I will only include here the section that is relevant to the current discussion-the musicians’ credits. These are, strictly speaking, the credits for anyone who had a hands-on role in contributing musically to the album’s tracks. I have boldfaced where Michael’s musician credits appear:

Piano Performances by David Foster, Brad Buxer, BIG “Jim” Wright, and Jonathan Mackey.

Keyboards and Synthesizers: Michael Jackson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, David Foster, Steve “Yada” Porcaro, David Paich, Bill Bottrell, Dallas Austin, R. Kelly, Rene, Brad Buxer, Simon Franglen, Greg Phillinganes, Lafayette Carthon, Michael Boddicker, Chuck Wild, Rob Arbitter, Gary Adante, John Barnes, and Randy Waldman.

Synthesizer Programming: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Simon Franglen, Steve Porcaro, Brad Buxer, Peter Mokran, Michael Boddicker, Chuck Wild, Andrew Scheps, Rick Sheppard, Rob Hoffman, Bobby Brooks, Jeff Bova, Chris Palmero, Jason Miles, Arnie Schulze, and Gregg Mangiafico.

Drum Programming: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Peter Mokran, and Andrew Scheps.
Synclavier Programming: Andrew Scheps and Simon Franglen.

Guitars: Slash, Nile Rodgers, Trevor Rabin, Paul Jackson Jr., Steve Lukather, Bill Bottrell, Jeff Mirinov, Michael Jackson, Rob Hoffman, Michael Thompson, Jen Leigh.

Drums and Percussion: Michael Jackson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Bill Bottrell, Buddy Williams, Bruce Swedien, Simon Franglen, Rene, Chuck Wild, Bobby Brooks, Bryan Loren, Omar Hakim, and Steve Ferrone.

Bass: David Paich, Colin Wolfe, Louis Johnson, Wayne Pedzwater, Keith Rouster, Doug Grigsby, and Guy Pratt.

Synth Bass: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and Greg Phillinganes.

Horns: Larry Williams, Jerry Hey, Gary Grant, Bill Reichenbach, and Kim Hutchcroft.

Organ: BIG “Jim” Wright.
Violin Solo: Paul Peabody.

Interestingly, musician credits are generally ordered according to the amount they actually contributed to the track, and here we see Michael’s name listed first in at least two categories, keyboards and drums. This would mean that his role on those two instruments was quite prevalent throughout the recording process. And although his guitar contributions are significantly less, he is still credited as one of the album’s featured guitarists. That track was most likely the opening track “Scream,” for which Michael was credited as having played most of the major instruments-“keyboard, guitar, drums and percussion” according to the allmichaeljackson.com website.

Michael Posed With A Beautiful Flying V For The "Scream" Video, Which He Later Smashes In True Rock Star Style...
Michael Posed With A Beautiful Flying V For The “Scream” Video, Which He Later Smashes In True Rock Star Style…

Wait a minute-most of the major instruments on that track? “Scream” is definitely one of the most musically complex tracks of the entire album, with its mixture of industrial beats and funk. Keeping in mind this fresh perspective, let’s take another listen to this classic track. I’m going to post here a more simplified version featuring only the track and lyrics, so that we won’t be distracted by the visual element of its landmark video. The purpose for now is to focus on its instrumentation.

...But Did He Actually Play It On The Track?
…But Did He Actually Play It On The Track?

In listening to this track solely for its instrumentation, there are at least three really interesting segments. One is the poppy, Beatles-esque guitar bridge that occurs about 2:23, right after the line “I think I might go insane.” In Michael’s 1993 Mexican deposition he gave one of the most articulate and intelligent definitions of a song’s bridge that I have ever heard, describing it as the moment in the song when everything changes in order to take the listener to a new place, so that when they return to the main verse and chorus, everything is fresh again and yet elevated somehow.

In this section of the song, the mini guitar bridge serves that purpose. It both elevates the track and yet brings it refreshingly to earth after all of the synth-infused grindings and whooshings of the verse and chorus. It is a wonderfully underplayed riff that invokes the same “spacey” vibe that would later become the video’s theme, like someone playing just slightly against the pull of gravity. Unlike most guitar solos, it doesn’t release the song’s tension, however, which is interesting; if anything, the riff merely pulls the song tighter here. It only lasts a few seconds, but manages to stand out as a classic pop guitar riff. This is intensified in the song’s main bridge, in which the guitar finally releases the song’s tension via an understated but nevertheless impressive  heavy metal breakdown that is just as abruptly reeled back in at 3:26 with a series of soaring lead chords that again invoke the weightless feel of floating in space. It’s quite interesting, also, to see how many Youtube videos have been posted of heavy metal guitarists covering this track, many of them putting their own spin on it. (It is equally amusing to see how many comments will usually pop up asking who played guitar on the original track!). The fact that this track is one so frequently covered by metal guitarists says something in itself; that, obviously, Michael created a sound in ‘Scream” that other musicians have been trying to imitate or better for twenty-one years. Here is another example in which a website dedicated to serious musicianship has a post from someone wanting to emulate the sounds accomplished in “Scream.”

However, before we get too carried away with giving Michael all of the credit here, keep in mind that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are also credited on the track, and there seems to be some contradiction among sources as to who actually played what. Michael has been credited as playing instruments on a number of other tracks, as well, including “Morphine,” “Break of Dawn,” and “Threatened.” But as some have been quick to argue, an album credit doesn’t tell us a lot because credits can be divvied up in numerous ways-for example, if Michael simply beat boxed the rhythm to a guitarist or the beat to a drummer, that in itself could have been merit for a credit. Unfortunately, we don’t have video footage of these recording sessions that would definitively “confirm” the question once and for all, and even the first hand accounts of engineers, producers, and other musicians who were there have been often frustratingly contradictory, with some claiming that they saw or heard Michael play “beautifully” while others will insist they never knew him to play an instrument at all.

Another unfortunate factor is that, since Michael never played publicly enough for listeners to distinguish a specific style or technique to associate with him, it becomes even more difficult to ascertain when we are actually hearing Michael play an instrument, as opposed to someone else.

However, we still have “Don’t Be Messin’ Around”-a track on which Michael’s piano contribution has been fully confirmed-on which to stake our case. And it stands to reason that if Michael could play this well on a 1980’s era track, he would have only gotten better as time went on.

In a way, it makes more sense than not to think of Michael as a musician. Let’s not forget that Michael came from an entire family of musicians. His father was an accomplished guitarist; he grew up surrounded by brothers and cousins who played instruments; instruments were always a part of the Jackson household. It’s naive to think that Michael could have grown up in such an atmosphere without at least having the curiosity to pick up an instrument from time to time.

Young Michael On Drums
Young Michael On Drums

It is also quite easy to believe that with his genetics, he was bound to have some degree of natural music talent beyond just singing and dancing. But because he was so good at what he did as The Jackson 5 “front man” there was not a lot of encouragement to develop any latent musicianship skills he may have had. After all, Jackie, Jermaine, and Tito held down the musicianship end of the group.  All the same, it’s hard to imagine anyone coming from such a musical background, with Michael’s known curiosity and with so many instruments always within easy reach, having no aptitude or even inclination to play an instrument.

So, to sum up the answer to our question, we know at least one thing for sure. Michael could play instruments, and by the late 1980’s and 1990’s, had become quite adept. What remains more dubious is whether he was truly a Modest Mouse who kept a genius level ability hidden away in the closet, or simply a competent talent who knew his limitations. Until better evidence surfaces, I am still more inclined toward the latter, although I think the few examples we have are certainly intriguing and enough to make one wonder if there was indeed more to Michael’s talent than we’ll ever know.

So what is the true definition of a musician? Merriam Webster defines a musician as someone who “writes, sings or plays music.” By that definition alone, Michael certainly qualifies as a musician-he did all three! Furthermore, I think there is often a tendency to under estimate just how complex his composing abilities actually were. I often see comments where people will brush off his abilities by saying, “Oh, he just told other people what to play.” No thought is given to just how complex that process could be, or how completely intact his ideas came to him. Michael could always “hear” the sounds he wanted for the piece, but communicating those ideas could be challenging since he didn’t read music nor did he have formal training, so of course there are those rather humorous stories of Michael trying to communicate to a musician that it needs to sound “like moonlight” or “like a summer breeze on the beach.”

Michael Famously Demonstrates His Composing Process To Diane Sawyer, Who Called Him A “Hard Wired, 48-Track Digitally Mastered Human”

However, listening to his demos-which he often recorded in his home studio, and for which he usually provided all leads, harmonies and rhythm through vocalizations and crude instrumentation (sometimes out of bottles or whatever else was handy)-are perhaps the best key to understanding his true creative process. In these demos, for example, you can hear just how “complete” these famous tracks came to him, and how he already had much of their musical backbone structure intact  before even going into the studio.

“Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” Home Demo (1978)

Finished Studio Version (1979)

“Wanna Be Startin’ Something” Home Demo (1981)

Finished Studio Version (1982)

“Beat It” Home Demo (1981)

Finished Studio Version (1982)

I think the real question we have to ask is why such an extraordinarily gifted composer, singer and dancer is held to this unfair standard that he is somehow a “lesser” talent because we didn’t see him play an instrument onstage? Much of it has to do with what has been a cultural shift in entertainment priorities, with roots that stretch back to the counter-cultural and “folkie” era when the singer/songwriter became the symbol of “cool.” There still persists, especially among the rock culture, a myth of two polarizing extremes of performance-the authentic musician, or the entertainer, with the belief that the latter is somehow less authentic, less pure, and therefore the lesser talent. And yet history has provided us many examples of great singers and great performers who never played instruments onstage-Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, just to name a few. Even Elvis Presley was more of a poser, since his guitar was usually just for show (he could strum a few simple chords, so I have read, but not much more-but he was also an underrated choreographer who came up with many of his best dance sequences, including “Jailhouse Rock!”).

Maybe the moral of the story is that we need to stop judging performers by these unfair double standards, and appreciate them for who they are-and what they do best. Who’s to say that one aesthetic of performing is somehow better than another’s? Personal tastes aside, we have to realize that the term “musician” has many standards by which it can be measured-as does the term “genius.”

Prince's "Piano & A Microphone" Tour Was A Brilliant Idea, Allowing The Performer To Showcase His Versatility While Also Allowing A Restful Change Of Pace From His Usually High Octane Performances. Could Michael Have Pulled Off Something Similar?
Prince’s “Piano & A Microphone” Tour Was A Brilliant Idea, Allowing The Performer To Showcase His Versatility While Also Allowing A Restful Change Of Pace From His Usually High Octane Performances. Could Michael Have Pulled Off Something Similar?

However, I have mentioned on this blog before that I do think it would have been interesting, at the very least, to see Michael perform in a much more low key and intimate style, such as what Prince was doing with his “Piano & A Microphone” tour, or even to just take a moment out of his usual high octane performances to sit with a guitar and sing a ballad, as Madonna has done on her Rebel Heart tour. It would have been a really nice change of pace that would have gone a long way toward proving his versatility. Who knows, maybe if he had lived he would have gone that route. It’s not as if he could have kept dancing like a twenty-year-old forever. But it was Michael’s father Joseph who had instilled in him at an early age that he had to be “in constant motion” on the stage at all times, a belief that had been further ingrained by his Motown training and further cemented by the enormous success of his famous dance routines. Even his ballads were usually performed in a state of perpetual motion.

For Michael, Even Ballads Like “Human Nature” Were Always Performed In A State Of Perpetual Motion

Given this enormous pressure, is it any wonder Michael wasn’t going to be the sort of performer who would ever sit quietly onstage at a piano or on a stool playing a guitar? It is sad in a way, because his “This Is It’ concerts needn’t have been a grueling marathon test where a fifty-year-old performer of his caliber had to “prove” that he could still do what he did thirty years ago. Personally, I would have loved the opportunity to see Michael Jackson age gracefully into a singer/songwriter of the stage. I’m sure his performances would have still been electrifying-could you imagine him sitting at a piano and singing “Man In The Mirror” with a full backup choir behind him? I can, and I know it would have been absolutely astounding.

But one thing the evidence clearly shows-it wasn’t that he couldn’t. It was because it was a conscious choice he made-the choice of a true musician who felt he had nothing to prove (but perhaps sadly and ironically, everything to prove).  We may not always agree with those choices-sometimes we may wish he would have done more of this, or less of that; that he might have shown even more of what he was capable of,  but as admirers of his music and art, we must in the end respect the choices he made, as well as respecting him for the artist that he was-not the one we may have sometimes wanted him to be, but for who he was.

A true musician deserves no less.

ETA: As an addendum to this piece, I wanted to add that there are at least two other public occasions where Michael was witnessed playing an instrument (piano). In J. Randy Taraborelli’s biography, it is stated that Michael played piano at his wedding ceremony to Debbie Rowe.

On the insistence of Michael’s mother, Katherine, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, he and Debbie married after his divorce from Lisa. Six months’ pregnant and wearing black, she walked towards him at his suite in a Sydney hotel while he sat at the piano playing ‘Here comes the bride’.

Photos from Michael’s wedding to Debbie Rowe. The piano on which he played “The Wedding March” can clearly be seen behind them.

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And here was a personal story recounted on the mjjfancommunity website (unfortunately, the link provided to the story’s original source no longer works):

From the time I was five years old I have been singing in studios all over NYC for commercials, demos and even music albums. My sister, brother and I have sung on albums for Gloria Estefan, Liza Minelli, Maureen McGovern and even soloed on the Canadian Brass Christmas album. One day, my mother got a call from our contractor booking us for a recording at the Hit Factory. We weren’t allowed to know for whom we were singing and we were only allowed one parent per child. Our interest was peaked. We spent the next few days trying to figure out who this mystery recording could be for. We decided to bring three CD covers with us- Frank Sinatra (he was still alive at the time), Madonna and Michael Jackson.

We went to the studio and some guy told us we were going to be singing one word… “Childhood”. He sang it for us once or twice then began recording. All we heard in the cans (headphones) were tracks with no lead vocal. We still couldn’t figure out what or whom this was for. After singing the one word a few times, I saw a man behind the glass in the recording studio step forward out of the darkness with a black hat, a red shirt and a black curl in front of his face. On the talkback we heard, “Can you sing it a little more like this… Childhood” As soon as I heard the voice I grabbed my sister’s hand and spoke without moving my lips “It’s MICHAEL JACKSON!!!!”

I cooly sang “Childhood” about a dozen more times and the engineer thanked us and said we were done. We went back to the green room where our parents were waiting and I grabbed the Bad album cover from my mom and brought it to Michael’s assistant. I asked her if she could please bring it to Michael and have him sign it. The other kids who sang with us began ripping little pieces of paper for him to sign. They were no where near as prepared as my family!!

The assistant said “Let me see what I can do”, and she disappeared for about five minutes. She came back and said, “Can I have all of the kids follow me?” We followed her to a door in the Hit Factory that had a star on it and said “Jackson”. We went into the room and there he was, greeting us at the door with a hand shake and a smile and telling us that it was a pleasure to meet us. Can you imagine? A pleasure to meet us?? His room was filled with some pretty strange things: life-size cut-outs of the Power Rangers, a train set, and a giant globe that rotated. He had pictures of children that he had helped attached to the country they were from.

Michael had many questions for us like if any of us went to camp for the summer. He said that he always asked his parents if he could go to summer camp because it looked like so much fun and of course they told him no!! This was right around the time when the media was questioning whether or not he had married Lisa Marie Presley. I noticed a ring on his hand and I said, “so does that ring mean you are married to Lisa Marie?” He nodded his head yes and said “shhhhhh”. We chatted for a while, he signed our album cover and we went home having what I thought was the greatest day of my life.

A week or two later my mother got another call from our contractor. This time she said Michael wanted to have us back to the studio to record a Christmas song. It was July but when we got to the studio, it was decorated for the holidays. There was snow all over the ground, a tree, Santa who gave us all presents (we each got a Gameboy… tells you how long ago this was!!) and reindeer. Michael came walking right into the studio this time and didn’t hide behind the glass. I guess he felt more comfortable with us this time. He taught us the song himself and stayed with us in the sound booth as we were singing it. After we recorded the song he invited our parents into the studio and had the whole thing catered. We sat around the piano as he played the piano and we all sang Christmas songs. It’s just like Christmas Eve at the Elefante’s (my in-laws)!!!

So on June 25th, when the whole world was in shock of Michael Jackson’s death, these were the memories that all came flooding back for me.

86 thoughts on “MJ: Musican Extraordinaire”

  1. Raven, this was a GREAT post! Personally, I’m sick and tired of hearing the “MJ was an entertainer, not a musician” argument from his haters and detractors.

    I have a question: do you know if MJ played the guitar on the “She’s Out of My Life” demo from the “This Is It” soundtrack, or on “Much Too Soon” from the “Michael” album?

    1. Those are good questions. According to the “Michael” album liner notes, the guitar on “Much Too Soon” is credited to Tommy Emmanuel. I’m not sure about the “She’s Out of My Life” demo. Most sources will simply say that the demo features Michael “backed by an acoustic guitar” but I haven’t been able to find anything that pinpoints the identify of the guitarist. That particular credit isn’t even listed in the “This Is It” liner notes, so I’m really at a loss. If anyone knows, feel free to chime in.

  2. Funny that the guy who you quote at the beginning of your post claimed MJ never wrote more than half of his album (wrong), but in the same breath he put Elvis above him who virtually never wrote a song and who ALWAYS used outside songwriters. LOL @ the irony.

    As for the topic at hand, I don’t think MJ needs any defense in this. We can admit that Prince and others were better instrumentalists. MJ might have played some instruments but more on a basic level, not at the same level as Prince. But I don’t think this makes him an inferior musician. To me it seems he just didn’t pursue instruments because he wasn’t interested in playing them that much and his kind of art didn’t really require it either. I have seen people like Madonna or Justin Bieber play a couple of chords on an acoustic guitar on stage – but to me it just seems try -hard. It’s not naturally part of their act, it just seems to me as if they are trying to give one to those rockist aesthetics to impress or show off, “See? I play instruments too. Now am I a real musician?” To me MJ didn’t need that. Maybe if he had had a serious interest in playing instruments he could have got on a very high level, but we will never know that since he never really had that serious interest. So it is a bit unfair to compare him and Prince there when MJ didn’t really pursue that skill and Prince did. I also think MJ didn’t need to play instruments for his act to be complete but Prince did. At Prince shows most of the time it is his instrument playing (mainly the guitar) that makes it interesting to me. He needed that extra something – the instrument – to be special IMO. But MJ was the complete package just by himself, just by his natural talent, without any acquired skills.

    I think the mistake is that often people use “musician” and “instrumentalist” interchangeably. They are not the same. MJ was not an instrumentalist (or just a basic one) but he absolutely was a musician! How is someone who wrote as many great songs as MJ did not a musician? Who composes music if not musicians? And why does it matter in what way music is composed – on a piano, on a guitar or in your head and with your bare voice? Isn’t that just the means that you express the music with? When a book writer writes a book does it matter if he writes the manuscript with a pen or a typewriter? If he writes it with a pen does that make him less of a writer? It would be stupid to say that and the same way I say it is stupid to say if you haven’t written your songs with the help of an instrument then you are not a musician. In many ways, actually MJ’s method of writing is more impressive to me, because it sounds a lot more instinctive and based less on acquired skills. I wonder if that was even conscious on MJ’s part – I mean to keep his talents as natural and and as instinctive as possible. I say this because I remember a quote from Wade Robson (before he went crazy) where he said MJ advised him never to take up formal dance lessons. So I wonder if in a way MJ viewed formal lessons in music and dance as something that would interfere with what is naturally and instinctively in you. And if it was a conscious decision on his part to keep his talents as uneffected by acquired skills and as instinctive and natural as possible.

    As for Prince as dancer: his splits were great but that doesn’t make him a dancer. Often his dance moves, when he really attempted to DANCE, not just do splits, seemed awkward to me. He did not move with the elegance of real dancers such as MJ. But once again, his skills were different. He didn’t need to be a great dancer, just like MJ didn’t need to be a great instrumentalist. It just happens that our popular culture is more influenced by these rockist aesthetics – the guy who expresses his emotions through a guitar solo is considered more artistic than the guy who expresses his emotions through a passionate dance. Although Prince was black but he fit into that white rockist aesthetics more than MJ with his singing-dancing performance that is often looked down upon in rockist circles. But that is actually as much part part of the African-American tradition as the blues guitarist – or even more so. It just happens that the dominant white culture managed to appropriate the guitarist part (to the extent that now most rock guitarists are white), but they never really managed to appropriate the dance part, so they decided that the one that they did manage to appropriate is the authentic artistic expression and the one they did not manage to appropriate to the same level is less artistic.

    1. I agree to all this!
      And I think there is one more thing about Michael not (or very rarely) playing an instrument on his records: As far as I know he often had a very special sound in his head – he knew exactly how e.g. a guitar part in a song should sound, and he let various guitar players come in to get that ONE sound he wanted. So he often was very specific. And not playing e.g. guitar or piano by himself gave him much more options for different sounds or styles for his different songs. For example most famous guitar players have a certain style, you hear who plays the guitar, you can recognize it. But Michael could always choose how he wanted his music to sound by choosing different instrumentalists and he could choose the best for the sound he wanted to hear.

      1. Exactly. It is also why even bands will often bring in other musicians to help get a certain “sound” they are after. Michael had the luxury of being able to call in most any musician he wanted (after Thriller, who was going to turn him down? As John Chamberlin said, getting on a Michael Jackson record meant “being secure for life”).

    2. Very true. And it’s interesting that the most authentic early rock stars who also played instruments-Chuck Berry and Little Richard-were African-Americans whose acts were essentially appropriated by Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, respectively. People may debate as to just how “skilled” of a guitarist Berry was, since most of his songs were only variants of the same two-three chords, but no doubt he created the sound that became rock’n’roll and was certainly a much more skilled musician than his white counterpart Elvis Presley.

      Speaking as someone who developed a definite “late bloomer” talent for dance, I have come to know exactly what Michael was talking about when he spoke about the dangers of formal training. I can’t dance by following rigid choreography or by counting beats or any of that stuff. I have tried it, and all it does is stymie me. I go to formal dance classes and usually just end up very frustrated. But I find that I can just go into a studio, put on my favorite music, and let it move my soul, my body and feet know instinctively what to do. Throughout history, the greatest dancers have either been those without formal training, or those who took formal training at a young age and then broke away from it at some point. There are some, like the legendary Isadora Duncan, who began with formalized ballet training and maintained that basic learning while branching off into a more free style direction.

      For a dancer, his body IS his instrument, and this was always Michael’s approach.

  3. Quote: “Given this enormous pressure, is it any wonder Michael wasn’t going to be the sort of performer who would ever sit quietly onstage at a piano or on a stool playing a guitar? It is sad in a way, because his “This Is It’ concerts needn’t have been a grueling marathon test where a fifty-year-old performer of his caliber had to “prove” that he could still do what he did thirty years ago. Personally, I would have loved the opportunity to see Michael Jackson age gracefully into a singer/songwriter of the stage. I’m sure his performances would have still been electrifying-could you imagine him sitting at a piano and singing “Man In The Mirror” with a full backup choir behind him? I can, and I know it would have been absolutely astounding. ”

    Oh, Raven…..if only! Whether it was Michael himself who couldn’t picture such a transition, or those around him, it’s one of the saddest “What ifs?” in our consciousness.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m so very weary of the comparisons, and I’m so immensely grateful that God doesn’t compare. In my dictionary, I’ll always see a photo of Michael Jackson next to the definition of music . Michael was music, defined.

    1. Michael undoubtedly felt a lot of pressure to always deliver as “Michael Jackson” which meant being able to give the kind of performances that he felt the fans expected of him. I’m not sure how much of that pressure came from within, and how much from without. But as we saw with the “This Is It” concerts he was being put under a tremendous amount of pressure to do fifty shows that looked, for all intents and purposes, like retreads of his Dangerous and HIStory tours.

  4. Oh, as always, I sincerely enjoyed your perspective in this post, Raven. It does not go without saying that Michael Jackson was first and foremost a musician, composer and artist. He was so much more than the average, perhaps this is why so many multiple perspectives remain on his artistry, some of which as you mentioned, classify it as solely ‘entertainment’, a type of catch-all which sums up everything and thereby signifies little. Jackson, as you repeatedly mention and really clearly illustrate was, in the traditional sense of that word, a musician, a musical artist. Great post!

    1. Yes, and again, I think when people use that term “entertainer” to sum up all of a person’s talents and abilities under one umbrella, it does the artist a disservice that shouldn’t have to be, but that exists because we’ve become so steeped in that rockist aesthetic of performing. Those who have only a casual knowledge of Michael still don’t know the full extent of just how complex his composing process was.

  5. I LOVE seeing Michael describe his song-writing in that deposition. He can’t help himself from singing along or moving to the beat of the audio they played him. And I am always amazed by how polite he is, even when he doesn’t feel good, or the questions are hostile.

    I agree with so much else that has been said here…and look forward to the day when Michael is appreciated for everything he was and did. It can’t come soon enough.

    Thanks for exploring these questions Raven. And exposing once again that there is simply no merit what has been said by those who clearly don’t know or care for the brilliant human being we all love.

    1. I very recently sat through that entire three hour deposition. It was as wearisome for me as I know it must have been for him. They would ask some of the most inane questions, and then five or ten minutes later repeat the same question all over again, as if they thought the answer might change. I guess that is the nature of depositions, but gosh was it trying to sit through!

  6. Hi Raven thanks for a great post.

    Of course MJ was a musician and anyone who says otherwise is just an ignoramus without any understanding of what makes a musician – end of story for me.

    However, you wrote ‘Michael wasn’t going to be the sort of performer who would ever sit quietly onstage ‘ Do you remember that awards event (unfortunately can’t remember it off the top of my head and don’t want to leave this post) when he had his foot in plaster and he sat in a throne-like chair and sang Remember The Time with all sorts of things going on around him? Even then he just couldn’t sit still and sing – he danced in the chair!! Also I remember several interviews where he is listening to his music being played with the interviewer and bopping along to the beat.

    That man had music in every fibre of his being – spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, the lot!! I agree, the definition of music is MJ.

      1. Yes, that is it. He performed “Remember The Time” while sitting down-and he was still in perpetual motion lol!

  7. Re. entertainer vs. artist.

    Michael himself often described himself as an entertainer and talked about how entertaining was important to him. For example here at 0:50:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EqCFsOQffY

    Also at the Mexico deposition when he is asked what was his occupation, he says “singer, songwriter, entertainer”.

    So he embraced the entertainer title and I don’t see anything wrong with it either. It’s some people that turned it into a somewhat derogatory term – when they use it this way: “he was JUST an entertainer” and then make it look like you either have to be an artist (superior purpose) or an entertainer (inferior purpose). Once again it’s a fallacious approach IMO. You can be entertaining and an artist at the same time. Which MJ was and which also Prince was. They both did lighthearted dance or feelgood music and songs with deeper meanings. But it is also wrong to characterize the lighthearted dance or entertaing songs as “not art”. Why wouldn’t it not be art? A cool rhythm, a good melody is not art just because it is lighthearted and entertaining? BS. But many people think that way. It’s similar with the movies BTW. Did you notice that dramas are a lot more likely to get a Picture of the Year Oscar than comedies? And I don’t think there aren’t great comedies. Somehow there is this bias that something that is fun and entertaining is less art and that you have to be serious and heavy to be art.

    I personally love the fact that MJ was not a snob and didn’t see anything wrong with the purpose of entertaining, instead embraced that purpose fully. It didn’t make him less of an artist. The two are only mutually exclusive in snobs’ minds.

    1. Also: since MJ was a huge fan of comedy legends such as Charlie Chaplin, the Three Stoogies etc. he certainly saw the artistic value in entertaining itself. To entertain people is not an inferior purpose by any means IMO.

    2. …and to be entertaining was very important for Michael. He often stated that he wanted to give some escapism to his audience. And entertaining doesn’t mean that it can not be something very a,rtistic, or something very meaningfull. His shows were very entertaining, and artistic at the same time, and even songs with a very deep message, like e.g. Earthsong, were entertaining for his audience.

      1. Yes. He said himself, “What’s more important than providing a sense of escapism?” Susan Fast addressed that topic in her book on Dangerous. Unfortunately as I am a bit rushed for time at the moment I don’t have time to look up the exact passage, but it was essentially a defense of escapist entertainment as an art form in itself.

  8. I have no patience with the likes of Mr. Lynch quoted above. He’s an ignoramus, with a healthy dose of racism thrown in. Michael Jackson was a superb musician and entertainer, and a very great artist, period. Not everyone need be an MJ fan, but denigrating him because he wasn’t a White Guy With A Guitar is really getting old.

    You know who can play many instruments? Every high school band teacher in America. Irving Berlin couldn’t read music, could barely play the piano, and then only in one key, yet he managed to compose one great song after another.

    The ability to compose for multiple instruments in one’s head, as Michael did, indicates superior musicianship. A song like Billie Jean is absolute proof of it.

    1. I agree. I just get so weary with those arguments. I think it WOULD be interesting to know the full extent of his talent as an instrumentalist. I wish we had more examples of his playing, and perhaps in time more will surface. But I agree that his composing process was far more sophisticated than probably 99% of the musicians who compose in more traditional ways

    2. Couldn’t agree with you more, Simba. As I studied his life, I was absolutely astounded at the way he composed and wrote. Anyone who denies the fact that Michael Jackson is a genius, is basically denying gravity. I have no favorite Michael Jackson song. They are all brilliant. Each expressing what it needs to. The melodies unforgettable; the rhythms irresistible; the words always memorable and the lush strings and instrumentation perfect! When I say Michael Jackson WAS music, incarnate, I mean it! It was why he was able to touch people on so many levels; connect people on every continent, and speak to our very souls. I find myself in a haze, sometimes, shaking my head, still wondering if his physical absence is just an unwanted dream. How can one so magical be gone?

  9. I’ve been exploring the literature and recently-posted clips on Prince lately (as I imagine a lot of people have)! Truth be told, I never knew much about him or listened to much of his music before he died, so I’m now making up for lost time, much as I did with Michael Jackson.

    Invariably, these discussions about what makes a “musician” (as opposed to a “mere” entertainer) leads me to a persistent question: how do specifically masculinist attitudes shape audiences’ perceptions of pop/rock stars?

    (By the way: this question also goes to the whole rockism/poptimism debate, the “disco sucks” movement c. 1979, and the ways that white (male) instrumentalists—and especially guitarists—have so often been characterized as heroes, and even “gods.”)

    The popularity of disco saw the rise of the DJ, as opposed to the virtuoso instrumentalist of the 1960s. But DJs were “mere” turntablists, with a facility for mashing up and recycling work by other musicians; so they fell short of the ideal of originality. What’s more, a lot of historians have pointed out that disco habitués tended to skew toward fans who were female, Latino, black, ethnic white, gay, and queer.

    In the white world especially, anyone calling themself a “musician” must be equipped with certain accoutrements: musical instruments are the requisite tools of the trade. One instrument in particular—-the guitar—enjoys a pride of place in the whole assemblage of pop/rock instruments.

    A guitar is particularly apt symbol of masculine power. In the first instance, there was Elvis; and at least a few performances by Prince allude to the phallic power of this instrument. There’s greater power in more numerous (and bigger) attainments. That Prince plays some 25 instruments proficiently (and several masterfully), earns him high scores among his male fans who fetishize mastery of the guitar as the pinnacle of musicianship.

    What of the artist/performer/musician who—like Michael—declares that their body and what issues from it (their voice) is enough? They don’t require an *external* signifier to demonstrate their power—they can achieve a great (and perhaps even greater) result from a more meagre means of producing sound. An emphasis on what the body *alone* can produce suggests less of a reliance on the technological fetish of instruments, and aligns Michael Jackson more with the female performers in a historically gendered division of labor: classic jazz and folk ensembles where women have served as the primary vocalists.

    1. ” An emphasis on what the body *alone* can produce suggests less of a reliance on the technological fetish of instruments, and aligns Michael Jackson more with the female performers in a historically gendered division of labor: classic jazz and folk ensembles where women have served as the primary vocalists.”

      But women have never been the primary vocalists in the public performance of music. (The Catholic Church found the female voice so disturbing, it employed male singers castrated in adolescence to sing the high parts in choral music.) Fronting a band was considered somewhat scandalous for a woman until well into the 20th century. Even today, in their endless, tiresome ranking lists, Rolling Stone never properly credits women, whether they sing, play, or compose exceptionally well, or do all three, like Joni Mitchell. (Prince was a big fan.)

      Prince played many instruments – so does Adam Levine – but he was a great guitarist. (Unfortunately, with Hendrix being the exception that proves the rule, black guitarists don’t get the respect accorded white guitarists of equal or even lesser abilities.) He was in no way as great a singer as Michael, and he didn’t really dance at all – he did steps and tricks, albeit with great conviction. Michael’s dancing was in a class by itself. It makes no sense to compare the two as if they utilized the same modes of expression.

      1. Simba says, “He was in no way as great a singer as Michael.”

        It is interesting, now that you mention it, that this is a comparison that almost never comes up in all of the “MJ vs Prince” comparisons. Maybe that fact alone says something about the “value” our culture places on musicians as opposed to vocalists. While I would agree that Michael definitely had the superior range, I do enjoy Prince’s vocal performances. He had a wonderfully warm tone that he could bring to tracks like “Purple Rain” although it often seemed like he was either singing in falsetto or screaming throughout most of his songs. I admire his unique style but in no way can his voice compare to Michael’s.

        Obviously, they did not utilize the same modes of expression (which was essentially the point I was trying to make in the first place) but I figure there must be some reason why this whole “MJ vs. Prince” thing has taken such a hold on the cultural imagination, and has done so for over thirty years. When we think about it, it has to be something more-something much deeper-than just the fact that they were both best selling black male artists during the same decade. After all, Lionel Ritchie was also a hugely successful star during the 80’s but you don’t see people trying to pit him against Michael Jackson or Prince. I honestly think it was the threat to the power structure that each of them posed (a kind of subconscious idea that there could only be room at the top for one black mega superstar of that magnitude; the idea of two such wunderkinds coming along at the same time and serving a double knock out punch to the status quo had to have been quite upsetting indeed).

        1. People don’t compare Michael and Prince as singers for the same reason they don’t compare Michael and Prince as dancers – Michael wins hands down. Michael’s fans don’t feel the need to disparage Prince, or any other artist, to big up their favorite. That’s for the haters.

          ” Lionel Ritchie was also a hugely successful star during the 80’s but you don’t see people trying to pit him against Michael Jackson or Prince.”

          Lionel Richie, good singer, good pianist, good songwriter, but not a sexy, good looking mega star. He’s not in the same league as Michael and Prince.

          “… there could only be room at the top for one black mega superstar of that magnitude…”

          This is actually a hot button issue for African Americans – only one of us at a time is allowed at the top, although it seems to affect women more than men. Black performers are constantly pitted against each other, in real or imagined rivalries.

          1. “People don’t compare Michael and Prince as singers for the same reason they don’t compare Michael and Prince as dancers – Michael wins hands down.”

            I agree.

            It seems to me in the second half of the 80s Prince made a conscious effort to learn to dance better and do more choreographies in his shows. But the choreographies were always amateurish compared to MJ’s and rather easy (one-two easy and rather unoriginal steps with some background dancers to make it look more spectacular). He was just never a natural dancer and his awkwardness as a dancer often showed.

            And I also agree about the singing part. I have seen Prince fans argue he was a better vocalist than MJ because (supposedly) he had a bigger range. Thing is that is misleading because they count the fact that Prince often – or rather almost always – sang in falsetto when he wanted to sing high. Also at times he seemed to go high falsetto for the sole purpose of showing off, not because that was truly required from the song (at least that was my impression). MJ never did that. He didn’t even often sing in falsetto. Most of the time he used his natural voice to go high. Why that matters? Because it is a LOT easier to go high in falsetto. Falsetto is a bit of a cheating. When someone uses falsetto extensively to go high that is actually suspicious that the person does that because he is trying to mask weaknesses in his natural voice in the higher register or because he cannot really go high in his natural voice. Falsetto can be occasionally used as a way to embellish singing a bit, but the extensive use of falsetto ALL THE TIME when someone goes high is suspicious. It is considered a lot more impressive when someone goes high in his natural voice. And MJ’s natural voice and vocals and its expressiveness and colorfulness and the creativity he uses his vocals (using it as percussion for example) – I am sorry, but Prince was nowhere near as a vocalist, I don’t care how high he managed to go once in a falsetto scream. Prince’s natural voice and vocals and his use of his voice are actually rather one-dimensional to me compared to MJ’s.

            Maybe even Prince would agree with me about MJ being a better vocalist. Once Austin Brown (MJ’s nephew) mentioned how Prince told him once how much he loved MJ’s voice.

          2. “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” is one of the few examples I can think of where Michael used falsetto. While I respect Prince immensely, anyone who thinks he had more vocal range than MJ is sadly delusional. However, as has been discussed here, it isn’t all about range-it’s what the artist does with their voice; their ability to “sell” a song, per se. Prince could definitely do that. I would say he was very much a master of his own style, but Michael had more technique and was, simply put, the superior singer. But they were both excellent interpreters and both had the ability to make a song connect with the audience, which are, of course, the most important traits that any singer must have.

          3. BTW, isn’t this whole thing about “whoever has the greatest range is the greatest vocalist” thing also something to do with this Western obsession to attach talent to technical aspects and things that are technically measurable (same as with the “how many instruments you play” argument)? I suspect it is.

            A couple of months ago there was a study circulating in which they measured the ranges of pop/rock singers. The result the media concluded? “Axl Rose is the greatest vocalist ever because he has the greatest range”. I don’t think anyone (apart from his fans maybe) would actually think of Axl Rose as the greatest ever pop/rock vocalist. And with good reason. Range is one thing and some people are too obsessed with it because it is one of the few measurable aspects of a vocal, so they declare it the most important aspect. That it isn’t should be clear from the result of that study. Some singers do inarticulate high screams and stuff like which technically will extend their measurable range, but that won’t make them great vocalists. It’s the quality HOW someone uses his vocals that matters. And that’s why Axl Rose despite of a great range is not the greatest vocalist. I remember him struggling with a Queen song during the Freddie Mercury tribute concert.

    2. After the infamous incident at the Prince concert in Vegas, Michael was alleged to have-let’s just say-“alluded” to the idea of Prince needing a guitar in place of a penis. Obviously, he was miffed about that whole incident for quite some time afterward. I have always found the story kind of amusing, especially now in hindsight with both of them gone; it’s a lot easier just to laugh it off as the clashing egos of two geniuses butting heads.

    3. [quote]What of the artist/performer/musician who—like Michael—declares that their body and what issues from it (their voice) is enough? They don’t require an *external* signifier to demonstrate their power—they can achieve a great (and perhaps even greater) result from a more meagre means of producing sound. An emphasis on what the body *alone* can produce suggests less of a reliance on the technological fetish of instruments, and aligns Michael Jackson more with the female performers in a historically gendered division of labor: classic jazz and folk ensembles where women have served as the primary vocalists.[/quote]

      Exactly Nina. This is also what I meant when I said to MJ’s performance just did not need the guitar or any other instrument. He was complete with his natural talent without any acquired skill. No wonder MJ was basically a complete and very impressive performer already as a young child. He was simply born with that. To me that’s actually more impressive, because his art relied more on his natural talents and abilities than on the ability to master an artificial object. Putting it this way: if him and Prince were on a desert island without taking anything with them then MJ could still display his full talent and full performance and entertain just as much as in the Wemblay Stadium, because his performance and art did not rely on anything other than him. Moreover, since he could compose full songs in his head, he could still compose songs without a piano or a guitar being with him.

  10. Nina wrote: “A guitar is particularly apt symbol of masculine power.”
    No wonder MJ so often had a female lead guitarist. 🙂

      1. Between the two of them, he was also the first to do so. Michael didn’t hire Jennifer Batten until after the success of Prince and the Revolution with Wendy and Lisa.

  11. Prince and Michael were excellent singers, songwriters , composers. Prince was also and instrumentalist and could dance much better than the average artist, but he was not a dancer . Michael was as much a dancer as a vocalist and like most musicians played instruments some how, but he was not an instrumentalist.

    In the 2005 Geraldo interview there is a part where Michael is in the studio with Randy and Michael Prince, explaining how he composes music and instrumentation without actually writing or reading music And it worked perfectly for him, which ultimately is the goal of a musician.
    I have great admiration for artists who(can) play many different instruments especially autodidacts. It makes it easier to produce ones own music like Prince did, which MAY be the reason why he released so much more music than Michael ( that we know of) aside from Michaels perfectionism.
    But on their level of performance the whole debate about musicianship is nonsensical. Both were multitalented, masters at their art and highly skilled musicians. Talent creativity and innovation alone does not accomplish what they have, it took 100% dedication, hard work and practice.
    Fanatics of both artists either miss the point or are more interested in drama than in music.

    Raven says “My point here is that no matter how great any artist may be in his/her area of expertise, it is virtually impossible for any artist to excel in all fields of entertainment OR art.”
    I agree that artists are helt to irrealistic expectations. But Imo entertainment and art are not mutually exclusive. Just like the ‘man with guitar complex” and “he is no musician unless he plays instruments” or the ‘song and dance man‘ concept, I find it artificial to seperate art from entertainment and a bit elitist. As with Fred Astaire, no one will question that Baryshnikov and Nurejev are real artists or refer to them as ‘dance men’. They are pure excellence and entertaining as well(= enjoyable to watch), but most of them ‘only’ danced / interpreted choreographies that were created by others.
    Specifically for Michael there is no either /or as even his darkest songs that some consider his more ‘mature art’ vs his earlier work, are entertaining, as in dance-able. Everyone dances to Jam, Scream, This time around and TDCAU, but only those who know the lyrics know that they are anything but happy go lucky. I think good music/art is about authenticity, creativity. integrity and impact. For Michael it was also perfection and his concert s needed to have an element of surprise, extravaganza and a lot of entertainment.

    As Nina YF noticed, since Princes passing a flood of rare videos, live concerts as far back as the 70s , interviews , personal footage and even alledgedly authentic, unreleased demos has been uploaded , which we would never have had while he was alive because of how protective he was of his property. I keep watching them, but it does feel awkward knowing how he felt about it and I expect them to be taken down soon.
    But they also give an insight in how he and Michael were influenced in a different way by the same predecessors e.g. James Browns signature dance and ‘vocalism’ . The difference between the two, and symbolic of their characters and the artists they were , can be summed up as :
    Michael took the spin and Prince took the split.

    1. Reading your comment, I was once again reminded of the quote from Questlove that D.B. Anderson used in the article “Messenger King: Michael Jackson and the Politics of #BlackLivesMatter”:

      “What we need, said Questlove the other day, are ‘songs with spirit in them. Songs with solutions. Songs with questions. Protest songs don’t have to be boring or non-danceable….they just have to speak truth.'”

      I agree that Michael and Prince both achieved their success due to lots of talent, hard work and dedication to their craft. Michael seemed to me more of the perfectionist, and what I mean by that (not that Prince was ever sloppy with his work by any means because he wasn’t) but I think that, unlike Michael, he wasn’t as shy about letting his rougher edges show. Michael was all about polishing anything to perfection-he applied this principle equally to both his recordings and performances. I have always said that, in a way, his perfectionism was both his greatest blessing and could be, by turns, his greatest curse (because I think to some degree it held him back from taking more risks). A good example is the success of the This Is It movie which we all know Michael would have deplored if he had lived (he only wanted audiences to see the perfected, finished product-not the rough rehearsal process) yet this was precisely the quality that critics found so refreshing and engaging about the film-and at the time it went a long way in restoring respect for his artistry in those critical circles.

      Interestingly, I was reminded earlier today that the HBO special Michael had planned to do in December of 1995 was supposed to be just that-a very stripped down performance that would have featured just Michael performing raw, without pomp or frills. More is the pity that the project fell through; it sounds like it would have been absolutely fascinating.

      But speaking of all the music and footage of Prince that has become available in the past month, it reminds me that Prince, also, held very stringent standards regarding what he felt comfortable with the public seeing. Some have argued that the tight reins he kept on his music prevented him from being as relevant for younger people (perhaps in the same way that Michael had remained relevant due to the much easier access of his songs, videos and performances). There may be some truth to that, although it is not something I’ve researched enough to reach anything like a foregone conclusion. Like you, I have been watching a lot of the Prince footage that has become recently available-and, of course, feeling a bit guilty about it as well because I know how he felt about that stuff being “out there.” But (in a way that no doubt mirrors the experience that movie goers had in 2009 with This Is It) it has helped me to get to know the man and the artist a lot more. So even with the guilt, there is a kind of payoff as well. According to at least one interview I have seen, Prince was well aware that things would change after he died, and that a lot of this stuff would be released. He seemed resigned to the inevitability of it, although I suspect that once matters with his estate have stabilized there will again be a lot more control.

  12. I feel the need to say something here.Michael died seven years ago,and we all talk like he died the same time as Prince.Michael was and still is a Giant of a musician a Giant of an entertainer a Giant of a human been that he touch people all over the world every age and every race and hundred years from now people still going to compare and mentioned his name every time someone famous dies.No need to compare two different people different personalities.Michael was someone that you can go and watch him performed as a family and Prince you had to be a certain age.I let my son go to Michael’s concert when he was fourteen but i would not let my daughter go to see Prince before she was eighteen at list no before he change.There are allot of people who are learning now about Prince and allot of people who are love him specially in America and there’s allot more will come out but the truth is that Michael lived all his life with love for all of us and left himself last trying to gives the best of him.Nothing against Prince who am i to judge; all i know that Michael Jackson he was a special human been and if you are that good it does not matter who you are people will accused you and abused you.And Michael did do the splits just watch some tap dancing clips of him.LOVE AND PEACE

    1. I agree there is no real need to compare them, but it’s a hot button topic right now largely because the media couldn’t resist the urge to dredge up the “rivalry” and comparisons with just about every story on Prince’s death. In turn, that serves no purpose except to ignite the resentment of Prince’s fans who are still mourning him-and then in turn ignites the resentment of MJ fans when those Prince fans respond disparingly and defensively as they are apt to do. I’m sure that dust will settle soon, but it is interesting to note, as someone here commented a while back, “When MJ died, no one mentioned Prince.” If anything, I believe a lot of MJ fans felt bitter and resentful that Prince fans still had him; they could still go to his concerts; could still look forward to his new releases. We knew we didn’t have that anymore, and never would. So when Prince did die, it was for me a weird, surreal feeling. I felt sympathy and compassion for his fans (I loved him, too but, of course, was a bigger fan of Michael) but also a sense of the playing field having somehow evened. Still, it is heart wrenching now to see how the media has turned on Prince-this man who was so very private and had managed throughout most of his career to keep his private life out of the media’s eye-and how they have turned his death into a media circus of vicious rumors and speculations. I see Prince fans complaining about “yellow journalism” and part of me wants to say, as an MJ fan, “Welcome to the club; we’ve been dealing with this sh_ for years.”

      I was in a kind of state of shock for a long, long time after Michael died. It just didn’t seem real to me; I had grown up with him and he had always seemed so vibrant and larger than life. I am now in that same sense of shock without Prince; it still just feels very surreal that he isn’t here. But I do wonder if a lot of the “suddenly converted” Prince fans who have sprung up in the last few weeks will still be as devoted to him seven years from now, in the same way that many of the fans Michael gained after death have remained fiercely loyal to him. Michael’s passing had a profound impact on many lives, one that still defies all attempts to analyze it, despite all of the many books and films that have attempted to make sense of why even former non-fans became so drawn to him and suddenly wanted to learn more. But I do feel that with losing Prince, just as when we lost Michael, there is a collective sense that we had-as Madonna phrased it-a rare and magnificent creature among us, whom we took far too much for granted. For example, I always had Prince songs on my Ipod. I would listen to his music while I worked out; I would listen to it in the background as I cleaned house. But it’s only now that I REALLY listen and think, man, how awesome was this guy! What a legacy of great music he created! And it was the same when Michael passed.

      I feel very comfortable now in saying I love them both, and can appreciate each for the unique talents and gifts they possessed. The times in which they lived, and those of us who were part of their generation, are certainly the richer for having had them both.

      By the way, I don’t blame you. If I’d had an underage daughter back in the 80’s I probably wouldn’t have allowed her to go to a Prince concert, either. His act definitely wasn’t a PG one in those days, lol.

      1. Raven says : “But it is interesting to note, as someone here commented a while back, “When MJ died, no one mentioned Prince.”
        That is not true , just google MJ and Prince. The proof is even right here on your blog Your article about Michael and Prince was written with reference to Michael and long before Prince died .

        Michael, like Prince now, got more new active(online) fans after he died than he had before. Many more are still discovering him and making up for lost time. That is part of the lasting loyalty, but mostly it is the feeling of injustice done to him and the need for vindication. Also Michael had been in most peoples lives from since they were born and to be honest the constant drama that surrounded him in life and still, generates a constant discourse, animosity and polerisation among fans, with the media and others. This is armchair psychology, but imo because of what was done to him many fans want to make up for him. They feel personally offended when someone has a less than favorable opinion about him , even if it is not even criticism or intended ( re Stevie Wonders remark about Prince) and are constantly fighting over nothing. I think that if you have invested and dedicated so much in one man, spent hours and days on social media ‘defending ‘him, it may feel like betrayal to not go on untill some vindication is achieved.
        Princes personal life was not as fascinating but also not as controversial and tragic (allegations, betrayals etc.) as Michaels, with a huge family, all in the spotlight, or he managed to keep it private. The average Prince fan is mostly interested in his music and accepts him with all his shortcomings( no pun intended :-), can be harshly critical of him without feeling guilty and could not care less about the media or gossip about him. There is also some solace in the fact that Prince got mostly positive news after he died, that he was so beloved in his hometown and own community that they showed up in droves to pay respect. He also seemed to have had a small innercircle of loyal friends /co workers who did not run to the media with salacious stories after he died and respected his wishes for privacy after life. So there is nothing to defend or vindicate Prince for, all of which makes loyalty a non issue.
        Like with Michael I again have this constant nagging feeling that something is missing that is not coming back. How a man who was so much alive and full of energy, who could have the most sophisticated healthcare and a whole staff at his beck and call and so young, could just die like that is beyond me. How could he when we had already lost Michael. Surreal indeed.

        “If I’d had an underage daughter back in the 80’s I probably wouldn’t have allowed her to go to a Prince concert, either. “ Lol, what Michael did in the 90s with a microphone on a stand, with silky gold pants on and clearly missing underwear, I would not exactly call child-friendly .

        “I feel very comfortable now in saying I love them both, and can appreciate each for the unique talents and gifts they possessed. The times in which they lived, and those of us who were part of their generation, are certainly the richer for having had them both.”

        Amen to that

        1. (Silky gold pants)i don’t think its the same trying to see under the clothes ,than someone exposing their bottom to the audience.Can you imagine if that was Michael!he would have been crucified for it.Lets face it he came across as an easy target and he was a money making machine for the media and for many people around him.Its the unjustices that its killing me . LOVE AND PEACE

          1. What I think is more to the point: Michael *didn’t* expose his derrière, and was crucified for NOT doing so.

            As I’ve been reading these encomiums on Prince (and to David Bowie, in the tributes that were written after he died), I’ve noted a few recurring words, applied to both these men, that add up to a theme: *fearless,* *knowing,* and *unapologetic.*

            This kind of description is almost NEVER used by critics, bloggers, or commentators who write about Michael Jackson. I think there are some reasons for this that are worth looking closely at.

            I may be reading an entirely different set of texts than some people here; but it seems to me that Michael Jackson’s name is almost never mentioned in all the tributes to Prince I’ve encountered. In fact, he’s been *conspicuously absent* from those accounts—and they’ve been quite numerous—-that consider Prince’s role, along with his ’80s contemporaries, in upending gender binaries and challenging stereotypical ideas of masculinity.

            What concerns me is not that MJ is being trashed, or that he suffers by comparison to Prince, in the press, but that he’s being elided altogether. There’s simply no mention at all of his contribution to shaping the cultural landscape of the 1980s—-even in articles that list Madonna, Annie Lennox, David Bowie, and a plethora of other figures who, alongside Prince, similarly “played with” gender.

          2. I think these references come more from mainstream popular/tabloid media, who of course like to play up the sensationalized angle of pitting fanbases against each other. Prince was no sooner cold than TMZ ran a story about who’s death was a bigger media event-Michael or Prince.

            Actually, the texts you are referring to are the only kinds of “comparisons” of this ilk that really interest me, and the only ones that have any kind of real value or validity. I suspect, however, that the reason Michael’s name does not come up more often in these discussions are for some of the very same reasons that we have discussed in many previous conversations here concerning why Michael was never allowed, critically speaking, to “own” and to be lauded for his unique brand of “otherness” in the way that many of these other artists have been. While many of them were deemed as revolutionaries and as boundary pushers, Michael was more apt to be viewed as simply “weird.” I saw an article recently, for example, that celebrated a lot of Prince’s fashion choices. There was the iconic photo of him from 1986 in a crop top (‘Kiss” era look) and they were essentially praising him as an artist who pushed the boundaries of what male artists could wear and should look like. On the other hand, we know that similar articles about Michael’s various looks and fashion choices are far more apt to be snarky in nature, usually deeming any look post 1985 as simply “weird” or “strange” with little in the way of redeeming merit.

          3. @Nina & Raven

            I think we touched upon this subject a couple of weeks ago in another thread. I think it it is probably because Bowie, Prince, Madonna etc. constructed their otherness in a more conscious and deliberate way and used it to make it a social-political statement in very deliberate and probably more calculated ways than MJ. And on top of that often it was just a stage persona more than their real persona – eg. Bowie wasn’t a Ziggy Stardust in real life, was he? Prince wasn’t Camille in real life, was he? While MJ’s Peter Pan persona did not seem to end on the stage. He went home and climbed trees and threw waterballoons.

            I think the liberalism/so called progressivity of today can be very hypocritical. They celebrate otherness as long as the otherness is a well defined one and with a mass social-political movement behind it – eg. being gay, being bisexual, being transgender (or playing gay, playing bisexual, playing transgender with the calculated intent of making a social-political statment). Those are well defined boxes of otherness by now, which have mass social-political movements in support of them. So of course, anyone playing within those categories will get support and celebration and lots of cheers for “being brave”.

            MJ’s type of otherness was a different type – it was not about sexuality. He always claimed to be heterosexual, he never asked questions in his songs such as “am I gay or straight”. (At times he even seemed rather conservative about sexuality.) It was not really about gender either IMO. Yes, he defied traditional masculinity but he never really played around with gender the same way Prince did with his Camille alter ego or Madonna did dressing up as a man etc. In fact, when MJ and Madonna talked about doing In The Closet together, Madonna suggested to him that in the video they switch gender roles and Madonna dress as a man and MJ dress as a woman. MJ didn’t like the idea and declined the collaboration altogether. If he was someone who deliberately wanted to make a point about gender issues then this would have been a golden opportunity to do so but MJ declined.

            I think MJ simply was being himself and I applaud him for that. He was not your traditionally masculine guy and instead of trying to be one he embraced who he was but without trying to force himself into other boxes and categories that also weren’t him. But this also means he was somewhat alliniated in his own category of otherness – with no mass support (other than his fans) behind his brand of otherness. Which is why you won’t see as many articles celebrating his otherness and braveness to be different as the articles celebrating Bowie’s or Prince’s. Which is ironic because who is more “other” than the one who cannot be fitted even in usual “otherness” boxes and categories? And eventually MJ’s brand of otherness is probably even more authentic than Bowie’s, Prince’s and Madonna’s because he was not trying to make a statement, he was simply being himself. But when you are not trying to make a statement, you are not very political or socially conscious about these issues then it means those political-social movements won’t embrace you as much either.

          4. @ Des/ Nina YF says “What I think is more to the point: Michael *didn’t* expose his derrière, and was crucified for NOT doing so.”

            Well the gold pants have cult status among a fraction of fans for a reason. Let me put it like this , and sorry to be graphic : Prince showed off his naked buttocks and Michael, more subtlely but notably showed off his (often visibly aroused ) penis through the formfitting/ imprinting silk pants . Both of them suggested sex acts (intercourse/ masturbation) in their performance. Prince did it from the 70s on and way into the 80s (Darling Nikki) which caused an uproar leading to the “Parental Advisory/ explicit contend” label. Michael with more risque expression in the early 90s (the uncensored Black & white video).
            Princes music btw was never intended for kids and never promoted as such. Michael made music as he said ” for all demographics.” a significant difference.

            Nina YF : “*fearless,* *knowing,* and *unapologetic.* This kind of description is almost NEVER used by critics, bloggers, or commentators who write about Michael Jackson. I think there are some reasons for this that are worth looking closely at.”

            People seem to forget that up until the late 80s beginning 90s ,Michael was a media darling and public opinion favored him over Prince because of his sqeeky clean image that appealed to the masses. Michael was “King of pop” Prince was “His Royal Badnes” IMO It changed – not in favor of Prince but against Michael- after the mega succes of Thriller , got worse after the ( orchestrated??) allegations and got to a point of no return when Michaels lyrics and performance became more explicit( sexually, politically) , he became more outspoken about injustice( sony sucks, angry man speech, they dont care about us , identifying as a black man) , less diplomatic( told Gloria Alred to go to hell, lyrics like This time around Im taking no shit) and certain powerful groups in society felt offended by him. This was a whole different Michael than the child-friendly , nice and polite one the public had known. For many people the transformation was hard to digest. That is IMO where , pushed by the media , much of the animosity against him came from. Trying to explain it made matters worse, people didnt accept or believed him and kept asking for explanation and apologies. It caused him to become more reclusive which ignited even more speculation.
            And here is another difference, Prince never apologized for anything. He had a fuck you mentality and didnt mind walking around with “slave” painted on his face during his beef with Warner.
            Prince also went through a-reverse- tranformation , maybe because of his conversion to JW, maturing, life experiences such as losing children, which may have soften the publics stance towards him. As well as his more open , public-friendly attitude in the last decade
            All the above IMO shaped peoples mindset consciously and subconsciously and is one of many probable explanations, but my no means an excuse.

            The one who I give credit most for his sharp analyses and foreshadow of what would be Michaels faith is still James Baldwin. I often go back to what he wrote in 1985 , although everyone will interpret it in their own way.

            “The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael. All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; the blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair…”

          5. The podcast that Nina linked to above had a really interesting conversation on just those topics.

            Interesting that you mention the uncensored version of “Black or White.” A huge part of that controversy stemmed from the fact that the video premiered during what was then considered prime time family viewing hour. This was still an era in which Michael Jackson had a huge following among kids, as he had ever since the “Thriller” video, so we can imagine that out of those estimated fifty million viewers, a large percentage of that audience consisted of kids and families watching together, expecting no doubt another delightful, family-friendly outing from Michael. And indeed, this would have seemed initially confirmed by the upbeat, kid-friendly first half of the video. Elaine Blythe, who is quoted in the segment shown in “The Making of ‘Black or White'” had something of a point when she said in aghast, “With all these kids in the video, and the kids watching…jeepers, I can’t believe this.” It WAS a daring and bold move, and no doubt Michael was aware of the reactions it would invoke. It becomes even more intriguing when we consider how morphing and transformation act as central themes of the film.

      2. “I’m sure that dust will settle soon, but it is interesting to note, as someone here commented a while back, “When MJ died, no one mentioned Prince.” If anything, I believe a lot of MJ fans felt bitter and resentful that Prince fans still had him; they could still go to his concerts; could still look forward to his new releases.”

        Wow, that’s news to me. Did you really experience such bitterness over Prince still being alive in the MJ fandom when MJ died? That would be surprising to me because I can honestly say I don’t think most MJ fans had Prince on their minds in any way during those days, let alone this way. I definitely NEVER experienced such a bitterness over Prince still being alive. Mostly I just didn’t see Prince mentioned in the MJ fandom those days.

        I also don’t think MJ fans are generally as bitter towards Prince. I have seen a lot more hostility against MJ on Prince boards over the years than the other way around. For most part, when Prince comes up on MJ boards MJ fans acknowledge he is a great artist and are respectful towards him. You cannot always say the same about Prince fans’ treatment of MJ.

        1. I don’t think it was an overt resentment, and maybe “resentment” as such is the wrong word, anyway. And obviously, this isn’t speaking for the entire fandom. But anger is often a natural part of the grieving process. For a long time after Michael died, I frankly just didn’t care about any performer who was still alive. No matter who they were, if they could still get up on a stage and sing and dance and enjoy the love of their fans, I felt bad knowing that Michael could no longer do so. It’s just a feeling-I can’t rationalize, justify, or explain it, but I’m sure I can’t be the only one who felt that way. Parents who have lost a child will often feel resentment when they see other parents and their children together; it can take some time for those kinds of feelings to heal. I don’t feel that way now, but I did for several months back in ’09 when I was still psychologically, you might say, adjusting to a world without Michael Jackson. Obviously, like I said, there is no rationalization for those kinds of feelings-they just are what they are. But I think I can speak from experience for many fans that this became kind of like the extra salt in the wound whenever Prince fans would disparage MJ.

          1. There are different ways of people grieving that you cannot generalize. Before your comment I have never heard about any resentment towards Prince by MJ fans because he was alive and MJ wasn’t so I don’t believe this is a general sentiment in the MJ fandom. I have seen more comments where fans said they were unable to listen to MJ’s music since he died because it was too emotional for them. BTW, I have seen similar comments in the Prince fandom about Prince since his death (that they are unable to listen to his music now). Others do the exact opposite and only listen to him. But that doesn’t mean people who do that when their favourite arist dies have resentment for other artists who are still alive. I have never heard that until your post here. And I definitely never heard that about MJ fans having resentment specifically for Prince for that reason.

            And BTW, MJ fans have generally been much more respectful towards Prince than the other way around and that’s just a fact. When MJ died there have been some very ugly comments about him on Prince.org. When Prince died MJ forums such as MJJC have been generally very respectful. That’s the difference.

            And I honestly don’t think Prince has been much on MJ’s fans minds over the years – by far not as much as MJ has been on Prince fans’ minds and when he was it was not to disrespect him. Of course, there are discussions now, because there is a general focus on this so called “rivalry” that MJ fans also react to, but generally MJ fans have rarely mentioned Prince and when they did it was typically in a respecful manner.

            As for MJ being on Prince fans’ minds. Not even only on fan forums, but famous Prince fans such as Chris Rock who just cannot keep MJ out of his mouth for some reason. Even his movies are full of “jokes” mocking and belittling MJ. And while he is one of the most visible Prince fans doing that he is certainly not the only one. What is that? Can you tell me? You don’t really see that from MJ fans to Prince.

          2. To clarify, however, I am certainly not talking about MJ fans-myself or otherwise-openly berating Prince or behaving in the tacky manner of Chris Rock and others. On the contrary, I have always had the utmost respect for Prince (as I believe most MJ fans do) and never had the inclination to disparage him in any way. That’s not what I meant at all. What you have said in regard to the fact that it is much more likely to be Prince fans dissing MJ is true from what I have seen (and usually even when MJ fans do lower themselves to that kind of behavior it is usually only after being goaded by something a Prince fan has said-I have seen examples of this many times. Human nature being what it is, sometimes childish behavior begets childish reactions). What i am referring to, however, is something else altogether, another kind of emotion that is much more difficult to articulate. I was never drawn in any way to belittle Prince after Michael died; I just felt sad and sometimes, yes, a little envious that his fans still had him; they could still talk about him in the present tense; could still look forward to his concerts, etc. Now that he, too, is gone, it has only served in some ways to further compound the feelings that a great void has been left that cannot be filled by today’s crop of “superstars.” In fact, this is what I wrote for a local entertainment paper when the editor solicited me to write the obituary for their Prince tribute issue:

            “Sometimes It Snows In April”: Mourning The Loss Of A Unique Icon

            In one of his more underrated songs, Prince Roger Nelson sang the line “sometimes it snows in April.” In just one of many eerily prophetic lyrics that would seem to presage his untimely passing, April 21, 2016 began as any ordinary day. But It would not end that way, as the news began trickling in around twelve p.m. that another superstar had just exited our galaxy. That is not a term I use lightly. With Prince’s loss we just may have lost the last of a generation that produced those kinds of larger than life superstars-the musicians who transcended commercial sales to become icons. We don’t have superstars anymore. I say that unapologetically. Sure, we have plenty of performers who are talented, and who are good at what they do. But in this age of instant Youtube celebrities and streamlined music, there is no room for the organic growth and years of dedication to craft that created stars of Prince’s caliber. The worldwide reaction to his death, if anything, has highlighted the generational divide while simultaneously bridging it. With Prince, it was more than just that his best music has withstood the test of time. Tracks like “Purple Rain,” “When the Doves Cry” and “Kiss” still sound surprisingly fresh, but what’s more, it is the degree to which Prince permeated pop culture. In the wake of his passing, much media focus has spotlighted not just his own musical accomplishments but the number of songs he wrote that became hits for other artists-Sinead O’ Connor’s “Nothing Compares to U,” The Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” and Chaka Kahn’s “I Feel For You” among many others. Prince’s songwriting style was so unique that even when other artists covered his material there was still an instant familiarity to them; they always felt and sounded somehow like Prince songs, and yet he could also surprise us with music that truly transcended any stylistic box.
            No one could crank out a funky groove or a dirty grind better than Prince, and yet his music was always infused with a deep spiritual awareness that tastefully tempered its rougher edges. This was true even before his Jehovah’s Witness conversion in 2001. Who else would have thought of inserting The Lord’s Prayer into the middle of a song like “Controversy?” Who else could make apocalyptic visions of nuclear war seem like so much fun, as he did in “1999?” Who else could have written a song like “Purple Rain?” Or infused a song like “Let’s Go Crazy” with that unique brand of evangelical flair? The best of Prince’s songs recognized the power of weaving myth and spirituality while, at the same time, keeping the party going. It was truly transcendental music for the mind, heart, soul, and body; a delicate balancing act that few could have pulled it off with the same finesse. And it is not a feat likely to be repeated. We can hear the enormity of his influence in current stars like Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson, whose massive hit “Uptown Funk” owes everything to the Minneapolis Sound that Prince innovated, but stars like Prince only come along once in a lifetime. I feel blessed to have lived in the same generation with him, and sadness for those youngsters who will ever only experience the magic of Prince second hand.

            So, as you can see, what I felt about Michael in 2009 is now something I am acutely feeling in regard to Prince as well-that is, that we are not so slowly, one by one, losing our greatest artists. And who will be their replacements? There are many talents I admire today-Bruno Mars, Jay-Z, Chris Brown, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, etc (to name but a few) but I don’t feel that any of them are made of the stuff that creates a true legend. Time may prove me wrong, though. There is always a tendency to venerate the idols of one’s own generation as somehow superior (if I go back in time, I can remember arguing with my grandmother who didn’t think that any of our 80’s superstars could measure up to Elvis or Frank Sinatra). And on the cycle goes. But I AM starting to understand, all too well, that void one feels when all of the people who defined your generation begin to die out. It has a sad and scary kind of finality to it; you feel the inevitability of an epoch slipping away, and you want to hang on because, gosh, it was all so fun and magical and there will never be times like those, or music like that, or artists like that again.

  13. Sina says,
    “BTW, isn’t this whole thing about “whoever has the greatest range is the greatest vocalist” thing also something to do with this Western obsession to attach talent to technical aspects and things that are technically measurable (same as with the “how many instruments you play” argument)? I suspect it is.”

    I think that’s exactly it, Sina—and with it, the idea that “bigger is better” (or “more is better”). This applies to the obsession with vocal *range,* understood very narrowly…. the more octaves and notes a voice can cover, the “better” the singer is thought to be. That’s a technical feat, and it can be used very impressively.

    But it seems to me that “range” can be understood in different way, too: for instance, a singer’s ability to perform a *range* of musical styles; or to impart a *range* of textures (or timbres) to a vocal performance, as both Michael and Prince did—albeit differently.

    It’s worth remembering, too, that a singer is a vocal interpreter; which is to say, an interpreter of a given song’s lyrics—-whether or not they wrote it. Liza Minnelli once said that Michael Jackson was a “great, great vocal interpreter”—and since Liza’s very mother was, in my view, among the best of all time, I take that to heart. (Undoubtedly, some people would say the same of Prince.)

    I wonder why some have expressed the opinion that Prince wasn’t “a dancer,” or that he “didn’t dance.” It’s certainly true that Michael developed a number of instantly recognizable, signature poses and moves—-ones that were specific to him, and that convey to the spectator an immediate visual recognition of “Michael Jackson-ness.” This is why several versions of Michael’s silhouette have become uniquely suitable for adaptation to any number of visual arts media: graphic arts, murals, paintings, etc. He aimed to achieve that. I don’t believe Prince did the same thing; but perhaps he didn’t try to.

    But I’m curious as to how “dance” is being defined here. If you remove Prince’s dancing abilities, wouldn’t that be a bit like saying that Michael wasn’t a “musician” because he didn’t play an instrument?

    1. Besides his greatness as a dancer, Fred Astaire is greatly esteemed as a singer, especially because of his interpretive, expressive ability in performing the songs of George and Ira Gershwin. Astaire didn’t have a big sonorous voice with tremendous range. Neither did Billie Holiday. Great singing is more than bellowing notes over a wide range. Michael was, as Liza said, a great musical interpreter, as well as having range and beautiful tone (which he often rasped in emulating his hero James Brown).

      Prince had a serviceable voice, like many other singer-composers – John Legend and R. Kelly come to mind. One could argue that no one put over his material better than he did, although Tom Jones had the nerve to claim that his version of Kiss was better!

      As for how dance is being defined here, speaking for myself, dance as an art is more than a collection of steps or tricks. I enjoy watching the floor exercise in gymnastics, for the tremendous athleticism of the tiny women, but even though they do it to music, it isn’t dance. Prince could do splits and tricks, because without his guitar, his stance, his silhouette, conveyed little. Chris Brown is similar – he can do flips like nobody’s business, but it’s not dancing.

      It was Fred Astaire who told Michael that he knew he was the real thing, the artistic heir to his legacy, when he took his opening position for Billie Jean and tossed that fedora on the Motown special. That was artistry. That was dance.

    1. The introduction alone sounds fascinating! I will definitely listen to the podcast in its entirety later today! Thanks.

  14. Some thoughts I wrote down in the heat of a moment several years ago, after reading an essay equating the two of them:

    You know, I really don’t get this Prince v. Michael comparison thing.

    Yes, they’re both black, pop/rock stars, and were on the scene at the same time. Even if they both saw the other as competition, they never dwelt in the same universe, as far as I can see.

    Prince might be a virtuoso performer, as the consensus seems to deem him to be, but he is no Michael Jackson, just like Michael is no Prince. I’ve seen Prince dance in concert (via YouTube) and concede he rocks some astonishing moves–for instance he does the splits and split-recoveries, and jumps and twirls with an astonishing frenzy and recovery rate. But what I see is a consummate athlete dancing a frenzied if fascinating storm. Not a one of his moves stays with me or haunts me when the dancing ends.

    Likewise his songs, though I confess I’ve never made an effort to listen to them. Critics attest to his song-writing genius–which I don’t doubt– but outside of Purple Rain, I wouldn’t be able to name you or recognize the tune of a single other song of his. Beautiful and great as they may be they are not ubiquitous to world culture. Or perhaps I am ignorant here?

    As far as playing with the “pretty, androgynous” thing, so did many other rock stars beside Prince and Michael. I remember David Bowie in outrageous glitter and drag, and Mick Jagger prancing for fans in thick black-eyeliner and lipstick, deliberately burlesquing the whole gender bender thing. At Brian Jones’ public memorial, which thousands attended in Hyde Park, London, in 1969, he wore a ruffled white dress and make-up befitting a princess. All this was years before either Michael or Prince came on the scene. Yes, Prince played the whole “female-fatale thing” to outrageous (sometimes vulgar) effect, with trampy glitter-girl dresses, platform high heels, even women’s kinky black lingerie, deliberately mocking the world–almost a “fuck you” to all the people married to man-woman stereotypes. This was entirely different from what and who Michael was. And while Prince was mocking and pouty and slutty, Michael beamed a radiant and gentle and respectful androgyny–a genuine, madonna-like beauty (so much more disconcerting and threatening).

    As for Little Red Corvette v. Billie Jean, and whose ‘black’ music video first appeared on MTV–a first appearance does not equate with who managed to smash/ blast through the racial barrier with power enough to create an opening epic enough for God to drive an army through.

    And was Prince ever seen as “someone with power enough to bring an unprecedented unity to America or even world, society, or at least represent that dream of unity”?

    Did (or has) anyone ever said of Prince “You soared higher than any other pop star has ever climbed. The bond between you and your fans seemed so powerful that it would overwhelm all barriers, cross over all boundaries”? That bond was a version of a dream, and a reality.

    Magnificent entertainer and genius artist that he is, has Prince pioneered anything? If (no, when) he dies, will the world (people of all races, ages, genders, in even remote areas, on all seven continents) go into public mourning? Will people all over the world be moved by grief enough to take to the streets in crowds of hundreds to blast his music & dance his dances in homage, in Red Square in Russia, at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, in the Stockholm Subway Station, en masse in Montreal, London, Tokyo, Brisbane, Berlin, ad infinitum)? He’s admired for his great talent, but is he heartbreakingly, deeply beloved? Has he inspired anyone to look into their heart–to long to become a better person? Has he influenced millions and millions of lives, the world over?

    In the context of world (not just American) culture, what will be Prince’s relevance one hundred years from now?

    I ask the above with genuine curiosity.

    1. I guess by now we have had the opportunity to witness how a lot of these events did indeed play out. It is rather eerie, but in those early weeks after Michael had died, my husband and I had some of those same conversations. What would it be like when Prince died, as compared to Michael? Would the reactions be the same? Would it have the same kind of global impact? Of course, we never in a million years envisioned that this was something in the imminent future. We both thought of Prince as one of those rare exceptions of the musician world who would probably live well into old age. I think everyone thought that about him, which was largely why his death was so shocking. You have people like Prince who have always been so reputed to be into healthy living and religion, and then there are people like Keith Richards who, according to all odds, should have been dead long ago (even Keith Richards himself has said this, in his usually dry humored kind of way). It just goes to show how we can’t anticipate these things; as my grandmother used to say, “When it’s your time, it’s your time, and only God knows when that is.”

      I think, again, it really comes down to apples and oranges, as many others have been saying recently.Each in his own way made significant cultural contributions and opened doors and helped shape, define, and change cultural perceptions of the black male artist. As far as first hand perceptions, did I witness the same degree of public mourning for Prince locally as I did with Michael? I don’t think so; I mean, I didn’t personally witness throngs of people sobbing in the aisles at Wal-Mart and hugging each other as they swiped up memorabilia and comforted each other as if a family member had died. I actually did witness this after Michael died, especially among African-Americans. With Prince, I didn’t personally see anything of that magnitude but, of course, just as when Michael died, many radio stations turned over their entire afternoon to an all Prince format, and people were phoning in their favorite Prince memories, etc. At school, it was mostly people of my generation-myself and fellow colleagues-who were truly upset by the news. The students seemed to be carrying on business as usual and, in fact, a lot of them didn’t even seem to know who Prince was (to be honest, I think they know the songs-“1999,” “Purple Rain,” “Let’s Go Crazy” have been part of the pp cultural landscape for a long time-but somehow the artist behind the songs had kind of dropped off the relevancy radar for them) so maybe that says something worth pondering: EVERYONE knew who Michael Jackson was when he died, young and old. With Prince, it did seem in a way to be much more of a generational thing-people my age knew and understood the magnitude of what had been lost; the younger people, on the other hand, didn’t seem to “get” it. I would be interested to know if others shared that same experience, or if it was just a local anamoly that I observed in my neck of the woods, for what that is worth.

      Obviously, Prince’s death had the greatest impact in his home state of Minnesota, and there we saw from the news footage that people were having much the same reaction as they had to Michael-as if a family member had just died.

      However, I don’t know how much any of it really matters in the long run. Last night we attended the “I Love the 90’s” concert featuring Salt-N-Pepa, Vanilla Ice and Coolio (Tone-Loc was on the bill but pulled a no-show). The performances of all three acts were intermittenly (and surprisingly) sprinkled with Prince and Michael Jackson tributes, and each tribute (whether it was Prince OR MJ) was received with equal warmth and enthusiasm from the crowd, which I think says a lot as to how both are regarded by the people who love and respect the music of that era-or any era.

      1. “You have people like Prince who have always been so reputed to be into healthy living and religion, and then there are people like Keith Richards who, according to all odds, should have been dead long ago”

        This reminded me of these memes. LOL.

        http://imgfave-herokuapp-com.global.ssl.fastly.net/image_cache/1447415363201625.jpg

        http://i.imgur.com/ZU0rhhM.jpg

        “EVERYONE knew who Michael Jackson was when he died, young and old. With Prince, it did seem in a way to be much more of a generational thing-people my age knew and understood the magnitude of what had been lost; the younger people, on the other hand, didn’t seem to “get” it. I would be interested to know if others shared that same experience, or if it was just a local anamoly that I observed in my neck of the woods, for what that is worth.”

        I can talk more from a geographical point of view than a generational. I am from Central Europe and here Prince is definitely not as much of a factor as Michael. I think Prince’s main fan base is in the US and the UK, while MJ is more global. YouTube has an interesting feature where you can browse the views an artist gets by country and MJ’s global popularity is very impressive. He gets many views from countries where other popular Western artist don’t even register. Eg. Arab countries, African countries etc.

        1. Those are hilarious!

          Yes, it is interesting how certain artists can be HUGE in some countries (usually their native country, though not always) and be barely known anywhere else in the world. I would imagine, likewise, many countries have huge superstars who are not known at all in the US or UK. America, particularly, is so U.S.-centric; people here tend to think that only what is popular or well known here is all that matters, lol. It’s always funny, too, when every once in a while someone who is huge in another country manages to have a breakthrough hit here, like “Gangnam Style” from Psy and then everyone is, like, “Who IS this guy?” and come to find out he’s like the Taylor Swift of Korea, lol.

          1. “I would imagine, likewise, many countries have huge superstars who are not known at all in the US or UK.”

            Yes, and the YouTube stats are eye opening there too. YouTube publishes a weekly chart for a couple of months now. MJ is constantly in the Top 20-30 which is amazing because it is only current artists are ahead of him… or Latino artists: https://www.youtube.com/yt/artists/charts.html (click on the “Artists” tab)

            As you can see the Top 100 is FULL of Latino artists that most Western people haven’t even heard about. There is also a Chinese artist (Xuan Mai), some Indian artists. While Western legends such as the Beatles or Elvis are missing from the Top 100. (Actually, apart from MJ the only non-current Western legends constantly in the Top 100 are Queen, the Bee Gees and Pink Floyd.)

            This has many reasons – one is that YT seems to be a popular platform to consume music in those countries. The same Latino/Chinese/Indian artists aren’t doing so well on Spotify, for example. MJ however is the most popular non-current artist on Spotify as well (regularly at around #60-70). The only other non-current artist in the Top 100 are Queen (lower than MJ but still in the Top 100). The Beatles are at #114 currently, Elvis at #310, Pink Floyd at #239, the Bee Gees at #365.

            Some artists are doing well in sales, some are doing well on video streaming platforms (YT), some on audio streaming (Spotify) – but MJ seems to be the only artist to me who does well across all platforms. But I digress…

            YT is the streaiming platform that has the biggest following and the biggest international following. When you go on an artists page (for example, here is MJ’s page: https://www.youtube.com/yt/artists/insights-artist.html?artist=%2Fm%2F09889g&artistname=Michael%20Jackson ) you can see statistics such as from which countries or cities they get the most clicks from which is really interesting.

  15. Ara,

    You ask some pertinent questions here, but in all fairness I propose another question: what will Michael Jackson’s relevance be on hundred years from now? In the days after Prince died, memorials were held, city landmarks were lit purple, and many testified about the great unifying power that Prince, too, had over his audiences.

    I’m disinclined to draw up sides here. If there is any *comparison* to be made, it’s not about evaluation or ranking. It’s not about which of the two was more gifted, more important, or “better.” The ways both these artists (as well as others whose fame grew to gigantic proportions in the ’80s and beyond) affected people’s lives—in similar AND different ways—is of enduring interest to me.

    At the level of excellence both achieved, I think it’s pointless to quibble about whether Michael or Prince was the “better” artist, even on a point-by-point basis. I believe it has to come down to any individual’s personal taste and preference—or maybe what one happens to be in the mood for at any particular moment.

    You ask,
    “Has [Prince] inspired anyone to look into their heart–to long to become a better person? Has he influenced millions and millions of lives, the world over?”

    According to all the testimonials, “think pieces,” and critical assessments of Prince’s life and legacy that I’ve explored since he died, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” Prince DID “represent that dream of unity” for many, many people. And the public mourning rituals have indeed occurred.

    You’re very right about David Bowie and others who predated both Prince and Michael in their play with gender and androgyny in their public performances. (We can trace this play back even into the deeper past, to Little Richard in the 1950s—not to even mention Liberace.)

    But you say, “while Prince was mocking and pouty and slutty, Michael beamed a radiant and gentle and respectful androgyny–a genuine, madonna-like beauty (so much more disconcerting and threatening).”

    I don’t know about this, at all. Some people LIKE their male sex symbols to be mocking and pouty and slutty. They may not WANT a more angelic figure like Michael Jackson. Some find Prince’s sexual frankness to be more daring, more honest (and, in fact, “threatening”) than Michael’s subtler, more allusive approach. While I may not in the end agree, I can certainly see why people may hold that point of view.

    During the Reagan/Thatcher regimes in the ’80s, when the AIDS crisis and the essential conservatism of US/UK cultural politics conspired to repress the youthful energies of “weirdos” of all stripes, where bland conformity seemed to permeate every nook and cranny of daily life—and where sexual expression (*especially* queer expression) was swiftly pathologized—-I can certainly see why artists like Prince and Madonna (as well as many lesser-known but important figures like Grace Jones and Boy George) were seen as beacons of light, emboldening many thousands of young people who despaired of finding anyone in their lives who might understand them.

    So where would that leave Michael Jackson? By the mid to late 80s, I believe he played a similar role, but of course in a different way. I think *all* these questions remain open for the time being, and perhaps indefinitely. One of the definitions of pop stardom is that the star is malleable, infinitely susceptible to the fantasies that the public projects onto them. Inevitably, all the characterizations that cling to one figure (like Prince, or MJ, or Madonna) will shift over time. But here’s one perspective from Questlove about how both were perceived in the ’80s (as reported by Touré):

    “Black male sexuality is always going to be a threat in America,” Quest says. “And Prince came along at the right time. America still had post-Mandingo dreams, no matter how it looked, which really weren’t getting met by Michael Jackson. I remember a lot of interviews when Prince started catching on where they asked people, ‘Why do you like Prince?,’ and they said, ‘Well, Michael Jackson’s cool, but Prince gives us more sex.’ ” He chose that role consciously. Dez Dickerson, who played guitar in the earliest iterations of the Revolution, recalls an early sit-down. “Everybody in this band is going to have a distinct personality and identity,” Prince said. “I’m going to portray pure sex.”

    Read here:
    “Questlove’s Weeklong Master Class on the Gospel of Prince”
    By Touré

    http://www.vulture.com/2013/03/questloves-master-class-on-prince.html
    April 21, 2016

  16. I’d like to go back to the question once again why MJ’s otherness is not respected and celebrated as much as Prince’s, Bowie’s and Madonna’s.

    I was reading passages again from Susan Woodward’s book “Otherness and Power: Michael Jackson and His Media Critics” and I came across these passages which describe an article by journalist Dave Marsh that was published in December 1985. The article was titled “Trapped: Michael Jackson and the Crossover Dream”.

    Here are some passages from Woodward’s book about it. It seems to me that indeed critics’ problem with MJ was the supposed lack of self-awereness and a the lack of some sort of conscious social-intellectual agenda. Plus that his otherness was pretty unique (IMO more unique than that of Bowie’s, Prince’s or Madonna’s) – so much so that critics were confused by it (and in turn projected their own confusion onto MJ). So I am quoting this because IMO it has some connection to what we discussed about why MJ’s otherness is not respeceted as much as others’. I think that it tells more about these critics than MJ. So here are the passages from the book:

    “Marsh then compares Jackson to performers in minstrel shows. He claims that Stephen Foster, whose sentimental songs were widely used by minstrels, was “to minstrelsy what you are to contemporary pop,” because Jackson’s songs are escapist and feature love free of sexuality. And he portrays Jackson as a modern-day black minstrel performer, because, he claims, the many white people who bought Thriller saw in Jackson the minstrel stereotype of a “lazy, pretentious, frivolous, improvident, irresponsible and immature” black man “who loved to entertain whites.” Marsh insults Jackson and white fans when he says, “Ugly as it is to say, your appeal is intimately linked with fulfillment of these stereotypes.” He then insults Jackson’s black fans when he says, “At least you gave them something to dance to, so they still love you.”

    Jackson’s references in interviews to magic, escapism, and dreams ignites considerable contempt from Marsh: “That you are essentially superstitious, bound by a belief in magic and the power of the unknowable, is all but beyond question,” and he calls Jackson an intellectual “sloth” for his beliefs. He is scornful of Jackson’s statements about songs coming to him from dreams or from God, rather than from conscious and deliberate hard work. “Michael, you speak of your songs arriving in dreams as if by magic. That’s a central tenet of your campaign to convince the world that you’re a truly unique figure, genuinely larger than life.” In one form or another, he states repeatedly that Jackson is not self-aware or is confused about himself, but Marsh mistakes his own confusion for Jackson’s: “Nobody was going to make much progress in figuring you out until you got a lot closer to figuring yourself out. You can’t solve a puzzle that hasn’t found its own solution… . If you were less confused about things, it would show. People would be less confused about you – maybe not their feelings about you, but at least less mixed up about who they think you are.”

    Marsh’s discomfort with Jackson’s unreadability is clear, although again he takes his own uncertainty for Jackson’s: “Trying to get a firm fix on your image is like trying to bottle smoke. It sort of makes me wonder if you can get your image to hold still when you gaze into a mirror.”

    Marsh’s confusion about Jackson is particularly evident in the area of sexuality and conforming to expected gender roles. Despite stating that he believed Jackson when he denied being gay, Marsh expounds for many pages upon the reasons that people doubt Jackson’s heterosexuality and repeats old rumors about his sexuality, implying that the rumors might be true. “People think you’re gay, in a word, because you’re pretty. This can inspire many resentments … . One of the epithets pretty boys like you are attacked with is that they’re faggots… . In other words, Michael, people think you must be gay because you conform to a long-standing stereotype of what gay men are like.”

    But what seems to bother Marsh more is his perception that Jackson simply is not interested in sex or has a fear of sex. “So what you’re doing, in essence, isn’t just denying an interest in homosexuality; you’re denying the need for any sexual expression. You’ll admit, I hope, that if this is not abnormal for a twenty-six-year-old human being, it is certainly highly unusual.” This is a striking criticism.
    Jackson seems to have been the only famous male pop musician who did not have sex with groupies. One can easily imagine those other pop stars being criticized for their sexual license and Jackson being praised for having self-control and being more respectful of women; but Jackson was criticized (and not only by Marsh) for his reticence, and the sexual excesses of other pop stars has been considered to be too normal to be remarked upon by music journalists.

    […]

    During the interview [in his book Marsh refers to an interview that Stephen Demorest did with MJ in 1979], Jackson tells Demorest that when he has a family he will adopt rather than “procreate”. Jackson questions the need to conform to typical expectations of how he should lead his life: “Who says at a certain age you have to get married? Who says at eighteen you’ve got to leave the house? I didn’t drive until I was twenty, and I still don’t want to.” Marsh’s sarcastic take on this is, “That was just another one of your tirades about why Michael Jackson, the most special guy in the world, should never be asked to do anything except his absolute heart’s desire.”

    Demorest asks Jackson if he thinks it is possible to appreciate “escapism” too much. Jackson says, “No, I don’t. There’s a reason why God made the sunset red or purple or green. It’s beautiful to look at – it’s a minute of joy. There’s a reason why we see rainbows after a rain, or a forest where deer come out. That wonder, that’s escapism – it touches your heart and there’s no danger in that … and you say, ‘God, is this wonderful – I do appreciate it.” Marsh’s response to that is, “Well, Michael, if all that touches the heart is safe, then what about Hitler’s appeal to the heartstrings of the German people?”

    Marsh takes a dim view of Jackson’s life-long involvement with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, seeing this as evidence of lack of intellect. One might think that disparaging another’s religion might be off limits, but Marsh does not hesitate: “It’s their [Jehovah’s Witnesses’] illogic that sucks you in because it gives you the room for such studiedly childish pronouncements as … ‘Science is so silly sometimes.’”

    He derides Jackson’s love of childhood, linking it to his religion:

    “I’d say what you like about the Witness worldview is the same thing you find in children’s literature and cartoons, both forms of ‘escapism’ for which you express unbounded enthusiasm… . It [the church] asks nothing of you as an adult. It lays out rigid rules and regulations, a complete story of how the universe has unfolded, and a blueprint for what happens next, with heroes and villains and a happy ending for those who really deserve it. In its grip, you become a perpetual child, not responsible for anything that occurs. ”

    He even insults Jackson’s belief in God: “… This belief in God as the agent by which all things occur is not Christian but pagan or, more precisely, barbaric.” Marsh implies that Jackson’s religious beliefs make him a “savage,” and he quotes James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough as defining a “savage” as someone who cannot make the distinction between natural occurrences and the supernatural.

    Marsh compares Jackson to artist Red Grooms and complains that, unlike Grooms, Jackson has no sense of humor. He cites the song “Rock with You,” from the Off the Wall album, as a sad example of Jackson’s inability to let go and have fun:

    “On a record like “Rock with You,” what comes through those happy-days lyrics is an unbearable sadness. It’s expressed in the way you don’t sing “all night,” but leave it to the chorus, in the pleading way you phrase the word “rock,” as though you weren’t asking for sex but for something even more intimate.”

    Marsh does not seem to have read in the liner notes for Off the Wall that the chorus consisted solely of Jackson’s voice, negating his point that Jackson was too inhibited to sing the words, “all night.”

    […]

    Marsh did not appear to have feared or resented Jackson’s power, as do the other authors examined in this book; he wanted Jackson to recognize and use his power, to appropriate ends. But having been disappointed in Jackson’s refusal or inability to take up the role as a unifier, Marsh then turned against him, listing all of the ways that he sees Jackson as other in an attempt to deny him of any power whatsoever. Marsh portrayed Jackson as a childish, ignorant, confused, although talented, person whose power was an illusion.

    So Marsh made clear what he did not like about Michael Jackson. But who would Jackson have had to be to satisfy Dave Marsh? If we reverse his criticisms, we get a picture of who Marsh possibly thought Jackson should have been: someone who had little interest in commercial success (but just happened to be very commercially successful anyway so that he could still inspire the utopian dream of unity), whose music showed that he was firmly grounded in black musical traditions, who was self-aware and aware of his role as a catalyst for social change, who was obviously sexual (especially heterosexual), who was intellectual and not religious, who had no problem with losing control and having fun. However, artists rarely are so conventional. While Marsh described some of Jackson’s statements and behavior as “bizarre,” he seemed not to have realized that artists, especially extraordinarily gifted ones, tend to be at least mildly eccentric and feel the need to resist conformity in order to remain creative.

    Marsh is very critical of Jackson’s childlike qualities, seeing them as signs of lack of intelligence or sophistication. He seems to have been ignorant of the connection that many artists feel they must maintain with childhood in order to create. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Martha Graham, Igor Stravinsky, William Blake, and many others, maintained strong ties to their childhoods in order to nurture their creativity. Marsh is not sympathetic to Jackson’s lack of conformity and does not fully understand that the power of Jackson’s persona and art, to which Marsh responded so strongly at first, came from the very qualities that he later found so disturbing, Jackson’s otherness. These the characteristics, Jackson’s childlike persona and fluid racial and sexual qualities, are what lent Jackson such broad appeal, made him intriguing and exciting, and enabled fans such as Marsh to project onto him the power to change the world. Marsh, churlishly, states as much when he writes, “One key to your fame is that you fit the model of the outcast well enough to make other ‘freaks’ identify and want to help you out,” although he does not elaborate on that idea. Instead of acknowledging the source of Jackson’s power, he portrays the elements of his otherness as grave defects in an attempt to deny him credibility and agency.”

    1. In other words, Dave Marsh is a garden variety racist. What else is new? At least, or at most, he can spell. Otherwise his hectoring, pompous critique is ludicrous. He can’t handle the truth – this young black man is endlessly better than he is, at everything. So he vomits out this intellectualized hatred, the verbal equivalent of a toddler’s tantrum, and about as meaningful.

      1. Couldn’t agree with you more, Simba. I read Marsh’s book as part of my quest but I certainly wasn’t impressed nor did I agree with him on many points. Michael Jackson, sadly, was a magnet for those who understood just enough about music and popularity so they could pretend to be credible and then satisfy their ravenous jealousy by finding fault with him. I advise anyone who wants to know the truth about Michael Jackson and his music artistry to read Joe Vogel’s book. He gets it.

        It’s human nature to compare. Having lived during Michael’s time here, in my humble opinion, Michael cannot be compared to anyone else. He was unique. He was God’s “special” gift to us.

      2. Dave Marsh has a reputation for dogging artists he doesn’t like relentlessly, and not just black artists. He is (or was) on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Committee and used his influence there for years to keep Kiss out of the R&R Hall of Fame (admittedly, a decision I agree with, but nevertheless, it did smack of favoritism). That’s probably why the ol’ geezer Gene Simmons was so bitter and mouthing off about acts like N.W.A making it into the Hall of Fame. Also, Michael Jackson was inducted into the Hall of Fame twice during Marsh’s reign, which may at least say something. However, I am, of course familiar with his 1985 article, and it strikes me as a particularly valuable piece for understanding the white male music critic perspective of Michael Jackson (for what that is worth, it should be added). Interestingly, Marsh does laud many black artists (Marvin Gaye in particular) but a lot of what he seems to be attacking Michael about (with such especial vitriol) is ironically enough Michael’s seeming lack of (in 1985) social consciousness. Michael had become a target for writers like Marsh largely BECAUSE of the phenomenal success of Thriller. And let’s not forget something else central to the timing of this piece-1985 was the year Michael purchased the ATV catalog. This also proves, again, that it was largely the work of these white male rock elite critics that created the de-sexualization of Michael Jackson. They continue to be the ones who perpetuate it to this day.

        1. “it strikes me as a particularly valuable piece for understanding the white male music critic perspective of Michael Jackson”

          Yes, that’s why I posted it. Of course, it is stupid, at times even juvenile and it looks like attacking for the sake of attacking. I don’t agree with it, of course, but it gives an insight into the thinking and aesthetics of those type of critics. Their definition of what is artistic and valuable tends to be very narrow-minded and very much along the lines of white rockist aesthetics.

          “what he seems to be attacking Michael about (with such especial vitriol) is ironically enough Michael’s seeming lack of (in 1985) social consciousness”

          Yes, and that’s how I related it to a discussion we had above and elsewhere on this blog about why critics celebrate the “otherness” of Bowie or Prince, while they rather seem to dismiss or even despise MJ’s. And it is ironic, IMO. They hold MJ’s supposed “lack of consciousness” in his otherness against him. (Or rather is it a lack of conscious political-social agenda is why these white rockist “intellectual” critics cannot relate to him the way they can to more intellectually calculated art and more intellectually calculated images?) Yet in reality it was MJ’s otherness (whether instinctive or conscious or both) that has probably been the most effective in bringing down barriers. I like Prince but he did not really bring down barriers – at least not the same way and to the same extent as MJ did. 1999 was released before Thriller but initially it wasn’t a big hit. People (especially white people) started to pay attention to Prince more after Thriller broke down those barriers. And yes, commercial success is a part of it – especially in the case of black artists it is pretty understandable if there is a goal of being as commercially successful as only white artists were able to do before. Because when black artists can be as successful as white artists, that’s when the barriers are broken down. Not when Elvis plays black music. But Marsh’s snobbish attitudes against commercial success (and even “worse” in his eyes – an artist who openly strives commercial success!) have blinded him of why universal acceptance that is expressed in commercial success is important for a black artist and why it IS a part, an important part, of bringing down barriers.

          You can have a bunch of academics discuss the groundbreakingness of your artistic expression or image but eventually where you have to bring down those barriers to really bring them down is the general public. And MJ’s effect there is much bigger than Prince’s or Bowie’s. A good example of that is the huge global popularity he achieved across countries, nations, races, cultures – possibly like no other artist. And this makes the criticism of his supposed lack of consciousness all the more ironic. Because eventually his effect has been a lot bigger than anyone else’s who had perhaps more intellectually calculated images and agendas.

          1. Suzy : “Marsh’s snobbish attitudes against commercial success (and even “worse” in his eyes – an artist who openly strives commercial success!) have blinded him of why universal acceptance that is expressed in commercial success is important for a black artist and why it IS a part, an important part, of bringing down barriers”

            I couldn’t agree more. And that was more to the point of my comment above about Michael’s v. Prince’s cultural impact. Days after Prince passed away not a single one of the twenty-something students I interact with could hum even one line of a Prince song–Purple Rain included, though they were all familiar with the title.

            I have no patience with cultural snobs who sneer at Michael’s art as “less than” because he strove for not only artistic, but also commercial success. So did Prince. So has Maddonna, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, the Rolling Stones, etc., and my favorite– the revered Beatles. If any of the above mentioned hadn’t cared about being a commercial success we would be far the poorer for it. Below is an excerpt from “Beatles vs. Stones” by John McMillian, Simon & Schuster, 2013; pg 92-93 illuminating just how motivated by money the Beatles were:

            “The Beatles strove to maintain their carefully polished image because their goal, which they frequently acknowledged and rarely qualified was to get as rich as possible. The day they landed in New York City’s Kennedy Airport for the first time, someone from the press corps asked them if they would sing something. “We need money first,” Lennon quipped. Henceforth, Lennon’s sound bites about the groups material ambitions became a mainstay of their press conferences. What will the Beatles do when all the mania about them subsides? someone asked. “Count the money,” Lennon said. What do you intend to do with all your money? “Spend it!” How much money have you made? “A lot.” Are you setting any examples for America’s youth? “Only how to make money quickly.” What has the Beatles success meant to you, personally? “More money than I had before.” Would the Beatles ever consider performing behind the Iron Curtain? “If they’ve got enough rubles,” Lennon replied. Is this really why you got into this [the journalist asked incredulously]: to get rich? Paul and John together: “Yes!”

            After the antibourgeois movements of the late 60s got underway, the Beatles became more cautious about discussing their [interest in money]. But it would be wrong to suggest that there was ever anything campy, ironic, or affected about the way they talked about money during their mid-60s publicity junkets, as if they were only joking, or lampooning their West’s acquisitive tendencies. They spoke the same way in private, too.

            “Somebody said to me, “But the Beatles were anti-materialistic,’ ” McCartney later remarked. “That’s a huge myth. John and I used to sit down and say, ‘Now let’s write a swimming pool.’ ” In a 1965 interview with Playboy, McCartney summarized his feelings thusly: “We’d be idiots to say that it isn’t a constant inspiration to be making money.”

            Thank God Michael cared about reaching as large an audience as he could.

          2. Good point, Ara. I do believe most popular artists strive for commercial success in one way or another whether they admit it or not. After all, if they truly didn’t care they would stay at home and would just play their music to themselves in their basement.

            I also think that the meaning of commercial success is not money for everyone (although it seemed to be for the Beatles) but it is more about acceptance and people liking your music. I think for MJ it was more about that than money, although of course he welcomed the money as well, who wouldn’t.

  17. Michaels sudden death was the first of our generation ( 50+) and a shock that can never be surpassed, because of the way he died while preparing for a highly anticipated tour, after an absence of more than a decade of his deepest lows, But most of all, having been with us all his and our lives,and considered “family” including the drama that comes with it.
    His death also coincided with the spurt of instant social media like twitter, which make the impact even bigger. You cannot have that twice because for me personally it was an exhausting experience.

    Michael and Prince also differ in the way and the time their carreer started. MJ launched into the business at an early age in the 60s, with a supportsystem of his father, brothers an Gordy who created the environment for him to accelerate. By the time he entered his solo carreer, he was a veteran, the J5 and Jacksons had had at least 4 worldtours and many European and US tours and he was already an established name with a huge global fanbase. Many of those early fans – like myself – kept following him somehow , while he was also gaining new fans.

    That is a huge advantage over an equally talented, 18 year old upcoming musician in a niche genre, in the late 70s, who was on his own before he even came of age, put a band together all by himself, taught himself to play many instruments to be able to produce his own music, while struggling to find himself a place to stay and rehearse. Yet at a very young age negotiated a record deal, demanded complete artistic freedom, within 3 years had his music on the charts, co produced his own movies, got an oscar, produced many hits for other artists and was indeed one of the first ‘black ‘ ( ,,,,,) artists on MTV. All the above and his amazing musicianship and performance( not even counting his mostly anonymous humanitarian efforts and advocacy for civil- and musicians rights) makes Prince to me as unique as Michael in a different way and equally incomparable.
    Princes music is not “pop”ular as in pop music and is not for mass consumption. He had more tours than Michaels 3 solo worldtours, but not as big and mostly to western oriented countries, including Japan. His audience from my personal experience, has always been hipsters, teenagers – aspiring musicians, groupy-ish rockchicks, people like myself who love different genres of music, old school rockers and artists, because he was an artists artist. But never children who were a significant part of Michaelss his audience.

    It is absolute nonsense that Princes audience was in UK and US only. I have seen many tributes worldwide, including one at the Apollo and many landmarks such as the eiffel tower in Paris lit in purple. I even posted a link here of a live streaming tribute for Prince in my hometown, shortly after he died.
    My first ever Prince concert in 1981 and the very last one in 2013, were both in Amsterdam and I know people who followed his concerts all over Europe, maybe except for the former eastblock countries. Prince kept a low profile in the late 90s early 2000s, but never stopped touring. He had Musicology, Hit and run, performed at jazz festivals and had just kicked off Piano and a microphone. In between he had the 21 nights residence at the O2 in 2008, which as the myth goes, triggered Michael to beat him with 50. Talk about competition!

    Raven says: “You have people like Prince who have always been so reputed to be into healthy living and religion, and then there are people like Keith Richards who, according to all odds, should have been dead long ago ”

    A healthy lifestyle does not prevent painfull damage on joints and ligaments, insomnia and other medical conditions that many artists especially dancers suffer from and I would not compare the energy of a Prince or Michael concert to a Rolling stones one. But I do find it interesting that artists who use medical prescribed drugs for whatever discomfort or medical issue, have a much higher risk of dying from improper use of them than those who use street drugs from dealers, with actually the same effect and for basically the same maladies .

    Longetivity after death? only time will tell. BobMarley was the very first time I was devastated over an artists death as we had seen him going crazy in a packed stadium only 5 months before. My older brother was depessed for a long time when Jimy Hendrix died and I stil remember the day and impact of Elvis’death and John Lennons murder. People all over the world still listen to and cover all of them, 30 to 40 plus years after they died and before many of them were even born. My son who grew up with MJ, went to the Marley tribute this year and was impressed how everyone in the audience young and old knew and sang the lyrics word by word. He is now much into Bowie and Prince and uses samples of their music for his projects. My daughter is very much into Adele. With internet and social media reaching the remotest places on earth and new technology like holograms ( which I despise) there are no boundaries anymore. While we/my generation were saving money to buy music and had to wait patiently for an artist to tour our country or spent hours and hours traveling to see them, now possibilities to see and learn about artists are open to anyone and for free. Instant fame with one internethit or with Idols and the marketing of death celebrities are booming business. Dead artists demos can be completed and releaed, they can be promoted ,‘kept alive’ and sent all over the globe . Even have a twitter account.

    Re Marshs 1985 !!! writings about MJ ,- the exact same year of Baldwins Here be dragons , I would like to quote Nina YF : “One of the definitions of pop stardom is that the star is malleable, infinitely susceptible to the fantasies that the public projects onto them. Inevitably, all the characterizations that cling to one figure (like Prince, or MJ, or Madonna) will shift over time.”
    This is very true, just look at what has changed in only seven years since Michael died

    And Raven “Each in his own way made significant cultural contributions and opened doors and helped shape, define, and change cultural perceptions of the black male artist “

    As an admirer of both artists, who despite their similar backgrounds , were so creative and individualistic as to arrive at totally different artistic expressions, since Princes death more than ever before, I am grateful to have had the best of both world and will forever cherish it.

    Yet now out of the blue I am also listening alot to Joan Armatrading again, one of my favorites in the 80s and 90s. Hope she is ok.

    1. “It is absolute nonsense that Princes audience was in UK and US only.”

      Except I did not say “only”. I said this: “I think Prince’s main fan base is in the US and the UK”. That doesn’t mean he ONLY had fans in those two countries but I stick to my opinion because that is my experience. His main fan base is in the US and UK then some, to a lesser extent, in Western Europe then the more east you go the less and less of a factor he is. That does not mean he “only” has fans in the US and UK – I never said that, so him having shows in Amsterdam of course won’t change my opinion.

      “and many landmarks such as the eiffel tower in Paris lit in purple”

      That was a photoshopped picture. Many of those “national landmarks lit in purple” pics circulated on Facebook after his death were either photoshops or taken from another event: https://www.inverse.com/article/14655-no-the-empire-state-building-isn-t-purple-for-prince-right-now

  18. Far more disturbing than Mr Marshs 1985 “essay’is “good friend” Sean Lennons 2016 stunt, his music on a video portraying Michael and bubbles that I will not link here, but Im sure mot of you have seen. Not only is it a stab in the back of a deceased friend , but it also perpetuates the myth of the ‘creepy ‘relationship that Michael would have had with bubbles, portraying him as a retarded childish character , under the pretext of art. And more disturbing is that he defends it by telling his criticasters that He knew Michael and they didnt. An MJ site posted the video on their site and I am stunned by their ignorance and inability to seperate a real tribute from mockery.
    I am not easily upset these days and I do not think posting angry reactions is constructive or will solve anything , but this is really really sad.

    1. Yes, I saw the video yesterday and have been debating whether to post on it or to take the higher road approach and simply not draw more attention to it than is warranted. I only watched it once and wondered if I should have a second look (sometimes knee jerk reactions can be premature) but sometimes, as the old saying goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…or, in other words, if my gut instinct doesn’t like what I see, I am usually right. Reading Sean’s interview, I kind of “get” what he is saying about the fact that all of the kids who hung out with Michael-including Bubbles who was himself a child at the time in chimp years-were part of this fantastical world that had to change with adulthood. But instead of playing up the magical or wondrous enchantment of that Peter Pan world, he makes it look weird and bizarre, with of course this “character” who is supposed to be Michael acting like some mentally challenged nutjob. I have seen enough of the video footage at Neverland to know what Michael’s interactions with these kids was like, and there was never any “creepy” vibe to those interactions whatsoever (charming and sweet, yes; creepy, no).

      I did think the claymation segment was kind of interesting; parts of it reminded me of Michael’s “Leave Me Alone” video in concept. If he had wanted to make a video that captured the whimsical and childlike world of Michael and Bubbles, he could have easily accomplished that. But it is the framework segments that are troublesome. I half wonder if Sean is attempting to make some kind of statement about the tabloid caricature of MJ and how he was misunderstood. The problem is that even if that is the intent, most people will only take it at face value. It plays out just like all of those bad Mad TV parodies of Michael as the “creepy” and mentally challenged child/man. The part that bothers me most is that if Sean Lennon was ever really a true friend of Michael’s at all, he would understand how potentially damaging this video is, or at the very least, that it certainly does his friend no favors in the PR department. It is playing into a very damaging stereotyped perception of MJ that has been slow and difficult enough to overcome in the past seven years. Sean knows better; he is a 40-year-old man, not a teenage kid anymore. And the problem is, a lot of people will believe it just because Sean knew him. He is already using that line of defense to the fans who are complaining to him. “You didn’t know Michael-I did.” Well, that then begs the puzzling question “So what is your point here? What is the supposed message that we are supposed to take away from this thing? Are you trying to tell us that you thought he was weird and a freak all along? Are you trying to insinuate you thought he was guilty, even if you claim he did nothing to you? I mean, what the hell IS this thing, exactly?” If you read his NPR interview which was quoted in Rolling Stone, it is full of odd innuendos that can be twisted a lot of ways, like:

      “I’m not trying to take him out or anything, or put him down. I was just trying to have fun and talk about an odd situation in a way that makes it art. It’s like a parallel dimension, and it’s a dark, comedic manifestation that comes more out of the song and not out of real life. It’s like a reflection of a reflection.”

      And:

      “I just thought it was an interesting metaphor for what happened to a lot of Michael’s friends who were my age. It felt like there was something odd going on, and I still don’t know what it was,” Lennon said of the lyrics. “Nothing ever happened with me in an illegal way, but the whole place just felt like I was in some Peter Pan fantasy land. And there was a sense that when Bubbles got too old, he’d have to be gotten rid of, because chimpanzees turn into angry adults or dangerous adults.”

      Maybe it was a poor choice of words, but when he says things like “it felt like there was something odd going on” a lot of people are going to interpret that the wrong way. Again, I think what Sean is REALLY alluding to is the sense of how surreal it all felt, and also having the sense that it couldn’t last-eventually, adulthood and reality would strip it all away. That is what he means with the analogy to Bubbles and the knowledge that eventually he would have to grow up and would have to be gotten rid of. But even with such a seemingly innocent explanation, there is still a kind of disturbing double entendre to it, because it plays into the whole idea-one often perpetuated by haters-that all of Michael’s “friends” were disposed of with the onset of adulthood. Whether intentionally or not, Lennon is playing right into those ideas and, again, you can’t tell me he isn’t old enough or intelligent enough to realize that. Also, the idea of putting the chimp (“Bubbles”) in a bed for the opening segment is disturbing. People naturally associate beds with sex, and it is clear that the chimp is being made to look like an innocent child in a bed-not to mention the look of extreme discomfort on the chimp’s face as he is approached by the very creepy looking guy who is “supposed” to be Michael. The sexual/creepy undertones continue as this character seductively licks a lollipop to entice the chimp. The entire segment is very uncomfortable and disturbing to watch, and negates much of what follows even though, as I said earlier, the fantasy color segment is actually quite sweet. Maybe it is supposed to be the idea of Michael and Bubbles escaping the world where they are so characterized and misunderstood, as represented by the grotesque opening segment. That, I believe, is a very generous interpretation but even so, the video leaves a disturbing and bad taste. I’m still not sure exactly what his intentions are with the project; the whole thing just feels very convoluted and ambiguous. Even the song’s lyrics could be interpreted a number of ways, both positive and negative:

      “We didn’t understand / Dancing with Peter Pan / What would be the result when we / Turned into young adults.”

      This could refer, again, to the sadness of losing that magic of childhood, but also could be twisted to mean the cold reality of being “cast out” to fend for themselves. And, of course, haters will twist it even further and say it refers to the post trauma of abuse.

      I really find the whole project rather confusing, somewhat mean spirited, and pointless. It’s not shedding any new light on helping the public to further understand Michael OR the world he created-instead, Lennon merely falls back on the standard cliches-and, at worst, only feeds into the tabloid sensationalism that he knows contributed much to Michael’s pain and downfall. If he ever truly cared about Michael as a friend, it seems he would want to clear up those kinds of misgivings and misconceptions about him, rather than merely adding more fuel to the fire in the name of art.

      In my book, there are really only two camps of Michael’s friends-those who valued that friendship, and those who have exploited it for their own gain. Sad to say, it looks like Sean has crossed over into the latter category.

      1. I will watch again tomorrow with an open mind if I have the energy. But his explanation does not help much.
        Michael is just a tool for him to draw attention to his ‘art’.
        This is selfserving exploitation of a dead man.

    2. To me he is simply trying to get attention and what better way than to throw in MJ’s name in controversial way? It never fails. Who knew Sean even made music? I sure did not before this. Now he is everywhere from Rolling Stone to other magazines. Congrats, I guess the trick worked again and you got your 15 minutes of fame. Only at what cost…

      He is trying to backtrack saying it was actually a compliment by his standards.

      Sean Ono Lennon Verified account @seanonolennon @MJLovinyou Firstly, weirdo, odd, strange, are all compliments, and yes he was absolutely textbook weird. I hate normal ppl.

      He is also rude calling people who don’t like it retarded and stupid.

      Sean Ono Lennon ‏@seanonolennon
      Sean Ono Lennon retweetelte: MJ’s Gold World
      I honestly just feel great when retards get all worked up over me. It tickles in a good way.

      Or retweeting tweets that call people who don’t like it “stupid” or “retarded”.

      Gato Mercado ‏@gatomercado jún. 4.
      @seanonolennon If stupid people don’t like it then you have something really good 🙂 Congratulations!

      Sean Ono Lennon ‏@seanonolennon jún. 4.
      All the dumbest ppl on the internet are upset by this video, so it MUST be cool!

      I guess you have to be evolved to a certain level of intelligence to get the extremely “high art” of Sean Lennon. LOL. Give me a break.

      Interestingly he does not find it as humorous when it’s his father that is the target of something that other people deem funny. For example, someone pointed out to him if making fun of everything was so important to him (as he claimed) then why was he so upset when people shipped his father and Paul McCartney (shipping=writing homoerotic fan fiction about them). He banned the person…

      To me there is nothing much to analyze about it. He wanted attention and used MJ’s name for it and got the attention he wanted. End of story. It will pass, as will his 15 minutes of fame.

      1. I left a couple of tweets to Sean myself, attempting to explain in rational terms why fans were finding the video so offensive. For that effort, I was blocked. That told me everything I need to know. He doesn’t care how MJ fans feel or that he’s thrown his old friend under the bus just so he can now look “cool” to Primus fans. What is most disturbing about the video is that no matter how he “intended” it, those intentions are being taken the wrong way by many. Mike Parr and his shit horde behind Allysforwaderobson are endorsing it now and singing its praises. So are they, too, among the “stupid” people who don’t get it? I notice he isn’t bothering to attack or contradict the people who are congratulating him on it, even though if what he claims in interviews is true, they are certainly misinterpreting it as much as the MJ fans he calls “stupid people.” Also, lumping all people who have legit criticisms about it into the category of “stupid people” says a lot about his maturity level. Like you said, he wasn’t so amused when it was HIS father being lampooned as the subject of a supposed work of “art.”

        1. Raven I cant imagine you of all people would say anything offensive enough to be blocked.
          Seeing who supports the abomination just confirms what we already felt, that his intentions are not sincere and that this is exactly the response he was looking for.
          Maybe the best policy is to ignore these people . They know MJ fans are predictable and will give them more attention than they will ever get.

          That said, I understand the anger, but there is no need for fans to drag his parents into the mess, he is solely responsible for it. His mother has alway been very respectful towards Michael and trusted him with her husbands catalog.
          Michael needs more supporters, not more enemies.

          1. True; i saw some comments where fans were bringing up an old interview of JL saying he hit women, or bringing up that JL was an abusive husband. Those are really just red herring issues right now that have nothing to do with the present situation. I understand the anger that elicited those comments, but they are really counter productive.After all, this isn’t about John Lennon-it is about Sean and a project he purposely chose to take on, to create and promote. I don’t know how Yoko feels about it; seeing as how Sean is her son, she probably won’t comment, which is understandable. It’s only human nature for a mother to side with her child. It’s just really sad and sadder still that this may potentially taint the high regard that most MJ fans have always felt towards the Lennon family. I sincerely hope not, but this is probably going to get a lot uglier before it gets better.

          2. It’s art. Leave it alone and move on. As Michael said, “Why give more attention to a thing?”

            If fans weren’t reacting to Lennon’s video it would be a nothing by now. Hitting on Lennon for it is like throwing chum to a shark. Sharks like blood. A lot. It makes them wild, unpredictable, thrashing killer machines. And it’s rare that the shark gets killed. If ever.

            Complaining to Lennon only makes Michael and us the victim again. Let’s turn the boat into clean waters, stop feeding the shark, and move on.

            At least that’s my take on this matter.

          3. “Maybe the best policy is to ignore these people . They know MJ fans are predictable and will give them more attention than they will ever get. ”

            Yes, probably that’s why they are doing it. They know that MJ fans will create the necessary noise about such things that will bring attention to an otherwise insignificant and lame project. I suspect that these people are doing it precisely for that reason, so MJ fans should learn that sometimes ignoring things is a better weapon than loud protests which only give these people what they want.

        2. Parr and Co. will celebrate everything that carries just the slightest innuendo or hostility against MJ or anything that upsets his fans. They are MJ haters after all.

          But I get the point. It is not just fans who realize the innuendo in this video but also haters – which is why they endorse it – so how come everyone (no matter on which side) is so “stupid” and “retarded” that everyone sees it that way? Making fun is OK, but when it comes to MJ you certainly KNOW what certain kind of jokes will invoke in people. I am sure Sean knows that too because I do not suppose he is stupid. He obviously doesn’t care and rather enjoys the attention he managed to get with this.

          I am sure you weren’t rude because that is not your style, so the fact he banned you indeed tells you all you have to know about how intelligently he handles this whole thing. And he has the nerve to call others stupid and retarded.

          1. I’m very disappointed with what Sean Lennon is reported to have said; I think there may be a backstory here, too. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he has been inundated, maybe for years now, by Michael Jackson fans who’ve buttonholed him, wanting all kinds of information and commitments. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s even met with some hostility from that quarter: rabid people who have, actually, said some patently stupid things.

            If that’s the case—and of course I don’t know—Sean Lennon has probably had it up to his eyebrows. He may be in no mood for a friendly dialogue with anyone who presents themselves as an MJ fan.

  19. Just thought I can leave this here – it’s one more ‘testimony’ that Michael could play the piano. It comes from Tim Shanahan, who was a good friend of Muhammad Ali, and he remembers meeting Michael at Ali’s house. Michael played the Piano and sang ‘I’ll Be There’ for Ali.

    „Meeting Michael Jackson for the first time, I came to the house, Muhammad was in his office and the phone rings, the gate was calling, „You got guests“. So we went to the door and we’re peeking through the glass, here comes a white Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and out of the driver side is Michael Jackson. And I go, ‘What!? That’s Michael Jackson!’ And then Michael jumps out of the car and is hopping up and down with Tito on the passanger side and they leap up the steps and as soon as they got up at the top Muhammad Ali buzzed out the door and calls, ‘Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson, my friend Michael Jackson is here, everybody come on out, see my friend Michael Jackson!’ And there was a guy cutting grass across the street and he cuts his motor and came across – so he was the only guy there. So we went into the house and he (Ali) said right away, ‘Sing my favourite song’. And of course he met Michael before, and it was I’ll Be There. And Michael sat down on the piano – I didn’t know he played the piano – but he played two verses and he sang I’ll Be There. And then of course we flipped back the rug and we had a ghetto blaster there, a Sony cassette player and there was James Brown on it, so we flipped back the rug and Muhammad said, ‘Do the James Brown, do the James Brown, …I feel good…’. And Michael Jackson was doing the James Brown and he was trying to teach Muhammad….”
    You can listen to the whole (great)interview: http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/…/tim-shanahan-talks-friends…/

    1. I made the correction for you. Thanks for sharing such a cool story! I think by now we can pretty confidently say that Michael must have been quite competent on the piano. I hope more stories that shed light on his instrumentalist skills will continue to surface.

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