How does one become a “Michael Jackson person”? I’m sure there are any number of ways to finding oneself including MJ on the journey. As a simple example, one young woman told me she grew up immersed in popular culture at a time when Michael was playing a major role in it; and she was proud that he was involved – that he was one to admire and his talent was unquestionable.
For my part, being a few years older than Michael, I of course knew of the Jackson 5 and one could hardly miss Thriller, Billie Jean and Bad. But other than his greatest hits, I have to admit I largely was unaware of Michael’s career and his impact on music and popular culture. Perhaps it was because his music came under the “pop” genre that I never paid much attention, being more an avid listener of “blues” and “rock”.
At any rate, probably 99.9% of my becoming an MJ person had to do with the existence and access to computers and the internet. One day late in August 2010, browsing the video site YouTube (which at the time I had no personal history with) a video of his was just one click away. Later I learned August was the anniversary of Michael’s birth which was perhaps why one of his music videos came up and not something else. A second click brought me to the 30th anniversary concert, Madison Square Gardens, NYC, 2001 at which Elizabeth Taylor introduced Michael as a great humanitarian. If anyone in popular culture is going to get my attention – the aspects of their character that have to do with what they are giving back to the world is a huge draw. What was Taylor referring to? Again the mouse was there with instant answers, my research finding that the proceeds from entire tours had gone to charity and to the Heal the World Foundation, of the visiting of children in hospitals and the creation of Neverland, Michael’s home, and it being opened for children.
Wanting to find out what MJ was like as a dancer and during live performance on tour, it wasn’t long before I came across the Live in Bucharest concert and then watched everything I could find featuring his moves. Later looking up Jackson 5 videos – it was evident the years and years spent honing his stage skills from early childhood on.
In writing this I’m noticing what drew me in first – someone else might have been drawn in by the music first – but for me it was MJ’s humanitarian side, then his dancing and performance style as a solo artist and yes eventually I began to absorb the music itself. I was to discover, that no matter which song Michael Jackson either wrote himself, was given or collaborated on, I liked them all. Unusual for me – as sometimes one or two songs of a recording artist will grab me – not their entire catalogue….
From here I recall my research mushrooming in any number of directions simultaneously. I needed to know about it “all” and how it “all” started – the history of his childhood and family background; the influences he sited – again that led to weeks, months of researching anyone whom he had credited like Sam and Dave and of course James Brown; his years as performing with his siblings and family and learning all about Motown and all the performers and groups coming out of Barry Gordy’s Hitsville – many of which songs were familiar to me as a child growing up in the 60’s with a radio clamped to my ear listening an American station in the middle of the night.
Having always been a voracious reader with a wide range of reading interests and biography, autobiography and memoirs being some of my favourite reading material it was now easy to reread Moonwalk – although I found little of interest otherwise, nothing worthy of serious attention; the library shelves bare in comparison to other contemporary artists and groups such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Elvis.
Back to the internet – I could find endless entertainment though in the Jackson 5 performance years this leading me to set up a Twitter account wanting to have some connection, however illusory with people who had lived and breathed and worked with MJ – his brothers being all alive and right there a tweet away. Any of information I could want to have was again a mouse away. Another example was a particular fascination for Katherine. In MJ interviews I noted his chosen speaking voice From whom did he learn to become so soft spoken and articulate – perhaps they had drilled him at Motown but perhaps Katherine was his initial template to emulate.
And so it went. l was thrilled to catch the Cirque du Soleil – Michael Jackson The Immortal show in Vancouver in November 2011 and again in August 2012. It was a treat to be able to see in action Sugarfoot Moffet, Greg Phillinganes and Jamie King. A spectacular show with the live band, the acrobats, the dancers, the visuals, I felt MJ’s artistic legacy reta
I thought that my journey as a Michael person would be a solitary one. After all, at the time, I lived north of the 60th parallel, in Whitehorse, Yukon so I thought it highly unlikely I would find anyone to share my “obsession”. However I was wrong. After leaving the Yukon I received an email from my former boss, with “Michael Jackson” in the subject line. I thought my boss was teasing me – as he had caught me once in his office practicing the Drill. I used to have a bit of fun at the bakery where I worked. On the front counter, rested a basket of white gloves which we used to take the freshly baked loaves of bread off the shelves. One day a new customer asked me what they were for. “Oh,” I offered, “we’re all Michael Jackson fans, stick around long enough and you might catch us breaking into Billie Jean.” For a moment I think she believed me. But I digress. The “Michael Jackson” email was to introduce me to Wendy (still living in Whitehorse) who having found Michael was searching for others to relate to. Corresponding via email I felt that at least I was not entirely alone on the MJ path. Though Wendy and I have never met physically – we came close when I planned to meet her in Gary, Indiana at the Jackson family home. Because I can often go long stretches “off the grid” as someone referred to me – meaning dropped out from technology, I am more often than not out of the loop as to what is going on MJ wise. So I was grateful to “know” Wendy who told me about the In the Studio with MJ seminars.
These are music workshops offered world wide by one of MJ’s former sound engineers, Brad Sundberg. A story teller extraordinaire, he invites other artists who also once worked in some capacity with Michael, in the studio to share their stories as well and I have thus far had the privilege of meeting Brad Buxer (MD on tour and musical collaborator with MJ) and Michael Prince (the understated and self described “knob twister” in his working relationship with MJ). For someone like me who would never have thought much about the anatomy of how a recording is made, and to hear the break down of a completed piece on the best studio equipment out there at near MJ decibels are experiences I never imagined to have. These workshops can be quite addictive with content being switched up from time to time I’ve had more fun than a person should be allowed at two of these events – one in Boston, another in Toronto. In Boston I was able to thank Joe Vogel, the author of The Man in the Music, letting him know in my opinion it should be on every library’s book shelf. Speaking of books, Elizabeth Amisu’s The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson is on my to read list
Because I am not always tech connected the entertainment value of MJ related spin off projects on line will probably last me indefinitely. As an example, I find the MJ Podcast a worthy replacement if I can’t access CBC radio and Saturday Night Blues.
Recently (as at August 2018) I’ve had the distinct privilege of meeting self described “MJ devotees” – (I think I have that right). Brenda (author) and Siren (artist) graciously and generously opened their hearts and homes to me and included me on their respective MJ paths intertwined beautifully one with the other. For them Michael is a remarkable before and after, life altering, perhaps ego shattering, muse creating, all encompassing experience. They can tell it better and they have – through their art, books, blogs, posts, etc. If Michael’s oft stated “all for l o v e” was an embodiment – it would be in these two.
Interesting the intersection of our paths crossing was because of a tree planted by Brenda and Siren in Michael’s memory in Calgary – happening to also be old stomping grounds of mine from life times ago. When I contacted Brenda on line – I thought I was simply getting directions to Michael’s Love Tree with no expectation to actually meet. Curious about what “makes people tick” and always the seeker I’m finding out a little about the trajectories of others on their own MJ paths.
In my own case while Michael will always be “just another part of me“, (as the song goes), coming across him as I did – thankfully many years after the beginnings of my own life altering, ego shattering, course changing (ongoing) days; MJ has been a reminder to keep the journey “light” “impish” (this in an MJ dream of mine) and carefree. To “make that change” whenever possible – thanks Siedah and cowriter, but also sometimes to just allow for that sheer “escapism” that Michael often talked about wanting to provide through his artistry.
As the anniversary of his birth once again comes up (August 29, 2018) I can continue to celebrate that my happening to be around when he happened to be around just so happened to coincide.