Abstract: Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus by Joseph Vogel (Blake Vision, 2011) £8.99/$4.85 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches: 130 pages. Paperback. ISBN-10: 0981650694/ISBN-13: 978-0981650692
Reviewed by Elizabeth Amisu, PGCE, MA, editor of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies and author of The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona, and His Artistic Afterlife.
The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies asks that you acknowledge The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies as the source of our Content; if you use material from The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies online, we request that you link directly to the stable URL provided. If you use our content offline, we ask that you credit the source as follows: “Courtesy of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies.”
Amisu, Elizabeth. “Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus by Joseph Vogel (Blake Vision, 2011).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 1, no. 1 (2014). Published electronically 15/08/14. http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/earth-song-inside-michael-jacksons-magnum-opus-by-joseph-vogel-blake-vision-2011/.
Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus by Joseph Vogel
By Elizabeth Amisu
Vogel’s other book on Jackson, ‘Featuring Michael Jackson: Collected Writings on the King of Pop’ is targeted more towards lay-readers, giving a simple but effective series of published articles from publications like ‘The Atlantic’. ‘Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus’ completes the triumvirate of groundbreaking studies in Michael Jackson’s art by academic, Dr. Joseph Vogel.
One of the most evident reasons that Michael Jackson’s art was so poorly reviewed by critics in the last decades of his career was because he often went ‘over their heads’ in terms of complexity, artistic influences, self-expression and sincerity while simultaneously reaching the “uneducated” masses, who in the eyes of many rock critics must have been in a shared delusion to buy into ‘Jacksonmania’.
Academic study of Michael Jackson’s art is always a fresh wind which blows away old prejudices and re-appreciates the artist. Vogel comes to ‘Earth Song’, possibly the single-most important and effective song of Jackson’s career, through the prism of intense research and study.
When Vogel writes about Jackson, one would do very well to listen. If there were a Professorship in Michael Jackson Studies, he would have been the first recipient. He is a veritable scientist, tackling Jackson study with the same focused tenacity as a Shakespeare scholar.
Several of Vogel’s sources are primary and ‘Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus’, at a short and easily readable 112 pages features first-hand interviews with Bill Bottrell, Matt Forger, and Brad Buxer, as well as secondary contextual sources that range from the King James Bible (1611) and Wordsworth to Bjork and Emmerson.
Even with the author’s wider knowledge in Jacksonism, Vogel uses the artist himself as his primary source: Jackson’s interviews, words, lyrics, harmonies, and personal convictions lie at the heart of this short but incisive book and this is where its key strength lies.
In 112 pages, the author takes the reader from the 1988 to 2009, charting with startling accuracy Jackson’s creative process, inspiration and visual representation of a single song, ‘Earth Song’ from his 1995 album, ‘HIStory: Past, Present and Future Book 1’. The various guises ‘Earth Song’ took, its varied reception throughout the world, its lack of an American release and its anachronistic nature are presented alongside Jackson’s own intentions.
Throughout the book, ‘Earth Song’ is also placed into the context of contemporary music as well as timeless artistic expression, placed in the context of prejudices against the artist and the artist’s struggle to present a new view to his listeners and truly change the world.
‘Earth Song’ is Michael Jackson and Michael Jackson, in many ways was ‘Earth Song’. It is widely known that this song was his last performance in 2009 and this fact gives it an ethereality which only adds to its urgency:
The messenger has gone but the message remains.
I really do hope that Dr. Vogel goes on to write a series of books like this on a range of songs that epitomise Jackson’s art and life. Songs that are only given a “light touch” in ‘Man in the Music’ could do with an entire book each. This would make such a great series to collect and own. Some of my particular favourites would be ‘Man in the Mirror’, ‘Morphine’ and ‘History’. It would be quite something to read how those songs metamorphosed and grew over the years into the tracks we know and love.
Whether you’re an academic, a fan or spectator this book will captivate and teach you things you never knew.
Elizabeth Amisu, author of The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona, and His Artistic Afterlife, holds an MA in Early Modern English Literature from King’s College London. She completed her teacher training at the University College London Institute of Education and has seven years’ teaching experience. She is co-founder and editor of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies online. For ‘The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies she has edited two publications, An Academic Companion to Michael Jackson Studies and Michael Jackson’s Dream Lives On: An Academic Conversation – Michael Jackson & Prince; written several articles and book reviews, most notably ”Throwing Stones To Hide Your Hands’: The Mortal Persona Of Michael Jackson‘, which has been translated into Spanish and Italian; ”The Isle is Full of Noises’: Revisiting the Peter Pan of Pop‘, available in German; ”Crack Music’: Michael Jackson’s Invincible‘, also in Italian; and ”Heard it Through the Grapevine’: Are We Losing Michael Jackson All Over Again?’, also available in Spanish. Find out more at https://elizabethamisu.com/.
Join the Conversation: