While I’m busy preparing my next, longer and unfortunately darker pieces (as there isn’t exactly a lot of cheery MJ news at the moment) I thought I might fill in the gap with a couple of shorter and more lighthearted pieces-one, an interesting side story that surfaced recently in The Huffington Post, and the other, a short look at a rare but very interesting poem by Michael.
Let’s start with this Huffington Post piece on “The Greatest MJ” photo. This was a 1990 photo by Scott Christopher that was unveiled for the first time last Friday, on June 14th, 2013, at the AMFM Fest at Coachella Valley.
You can read the full story behind the photo here:
I think that calling this “The Greatest MJ Photo” is a bit of hyperbole. To call it the “greatest” would have to mean successfully beating out over four decades’ worth of masterpieces, including all of Todd Gray’s gorgeous beauties (sorry, Scott Christopher, that ain’t gonna happen), Annie Leibovitz, Lynn Goldsmith, and a whole host of talented shutterbugs who have contributed to our gallery of MJ Beauty and Appreciation.
Lynn Goldsmith’s story of how she captured some of MJ’s most candidly and sensual, youthful moments on film was told in her 1981 Plum TV interview:
Photographer Lynn Goldsmith worked for Michael for 8 years. Of this photoshoot with Michael Lynn says “We were in his hotel and it’s about 7’o clock, and that’s when the sun was setting and I said ‘You know Michael, up on the roof there’s m…agic light’ so he said ‘Magic light!’ so I said ‘Yeah, you wanna go up there?’ so he said ‘Yeah’ so we snuck out and and we went up to the roof and it was something that he did, Michael started taking his clothes off on the roof which I thought I would get into big trouble for, I mean, he didn’t completely undress but even just taking his shirt off, this is not, you know, a body builder and so you never really knew what he was thinking and that made photographing him very exciting, for me.”
~Lynn Goldsmith Plum TV Interview. 1981 Boston.
And that isn’t even including our wealth of outstanding concert photos that have forever captured the magic of Michael Jackson in performance. Of those, there are far too many to even begin to credit all of the individuals responsible.
Casting aside all exaggeration and hype, what we have left is certainly a charming, unique, and interesting photo that captures Michael in a wonderfully candid moment, and at the height of one of my favorite MJ eras.
What is it exactly that I love so much about Michael during the Dangerous era? I’ve never been able to exactly put a finger on it, but for sure, there was something about that whole whimsical, quirky persona (complete with the ever-present array of goofy hats) that I just loved. This was the era of Michael as the man-child sprite. It was the incarnate of “Magical Child,” the persona of two of Michael’s most well known poems. And I loved it for the same reasons I am drawn to all of those quirky, eccentric, and childlike characters that Johnny Depp plays so well (Edward Scissorhands, Sam from Benny and Joon, etc). It’s an image that isn’t supposed to be sexy-at least, not in the usual, brawny, chest-pounding kind of way. But yet it is. Irresistibly so.
Perhaps only Michael Jackson (and Johnny Depp) could make Peter Pan or The Mad Hatter sexy. But Christopher’s photo works on an artistic level for precisely the same reason that these Life magazine photos of Michael at his piano worked so well in ’93.
It’s that same sort of quixotic combination of the childlike, goofy persona with the intense, passionate artistry of the adult-in short, the eccentric and waiflike genius. But perhaps with one major difference.
Whereas the Neverland shots were posed, and seemingly part of Michael’s carefully calculated plan to project this image, the photo that Scott Christopher captured that day was (going by his story, which I have no reason to doubt) a completely candid and spontaneous moment. Is it the only photo we have of Michael captured in such a moment of candid inspiration? No. We certainly have others; many just as good. But what this image manages to capture so beautifully is the unique juxtaposition of two African-American icons-Louis Armstrong and Michael Jackson-each trailblazers of their own time and generation, seemingly working in harmony and concert. Additionally, these were two men who each faced their own unique challenges as African-American artists of their own generations-and rose above them. No matter how talented any photographer may be, there are certain moments that can only occur with a bit of divine intervention. This was one of them.
But Michael is not just in a moment of inspiration here. He is also captured in a moment of spontaneous play-the kind of spontaneous play that we know, eventually, led to brilliant compositions. It reminds me of that famous scene where Charlie Chaplin suddenly gets the bright idea that if you stick forks into ordinary dinner buns, you can create a dance.
Michael Jackson was the greatest inheritor of that Chaplinesque whimsy, charm-and spontaneous genius that only the most unbidden moments could capture. Michael may not have been creating a Gold Rush dance here out of dinner rolls. But, who knows, he may well have been gleaning his first ideas for some of those great Dangerous classics.
Scott Christopher certainly has every right to be proud of this one. Whatever candid moments those other photogs may have had, this was his moment, and his opportunity to capture a rare and beautiful Michael Jackson moment.
And he did just that. So while it may be far from the “greatest MJ photo ever” I will forgive The Huffington Post hype and simply say thank you, Scott Christopher, for giving us yet one more beautiful image of our beautiful Michael to cherish.