Abstract: Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles. By Armond White (Resistance Works WDC, 2009) $13.00 5 ½ inches x 8 ½, inches: 130 pages. Paperback. ISBN-13: 9780984215904
Reviewed by Nada Basheer, an avid non-fiction reader and reviewer, a long-time Michael Jackson fan and student. She blogs at http://missoverloved.blogspot.ae/ and tweets @overloved.
Basheer, Nada. “Academic Book Review of ‘Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles’ by Armond White.” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 3, no. 3 (2016). Published electronically 23/12/16. http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/academic-book-review-of-keep-moving-the-michael-jackson-chronicles-by-armond-white
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Academic Book Review of ‘Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles’ by Armond White
By Nada Basheer
Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles is a series of 21 essays that chronicles the career of Michael Jackson written by the controversial critic Armond White, in which he reveals the deep meanings of Jackson’s art and examines his impact as a force in the music industry and as a cultural phenomenon and influencer.
It’s a conventional wisdom among the media and music critics that Michael Jackson reached his artistic peak with Off the Wall and Thriller, and every other work he released afterward was condemned as a decline. However, in the wake of Jackson’s death, the public, and the critics are reconsidering such conventional thinking by going back to revalue his albums–particularly his later work. In the recent years, many books were published by academics that focus on Jackson’s artistry and reassess his later work like: Susan Fast’s Dangerous, Joseph Vogel’s Earth Song, and Armond White’s The Michael Jackson Chronicles to name a few.
In his “Moving Forward: An Introduction,” White asserts that post-Thriller ‘the mainstream media attempted to topple Jackson’s showbiz eminence which it had helped build- a circular process satisfying animal bloodlust and political resentment. It was a power struggle.’
White’s first written mention of Michael Jackson is in his ‘Janet, The Last Black Jackson’ article, written in 1986, in which he unimpressively surveys the Thriller era through the lens of Janet Jackson’s Control album. White critically discusses the Bad short film and album in ‘Understanding Michael Jackson’. Although his views on Jackson’s Thriller and Bad are unfavorable (he clarifies in the introduction by stating that he was not ready for the ‘subtle revolution’ then), however, White kept moving (and evolving) from a mere skeptic of Michael Jackson’s message into a believer. Through every essay, White experiences a growing recognition of Jackson’s real significance, and that’s the most gripping element of the whole book.
His 1991 article, ‘The Gloved One Is Not A Chump’ marked a turning point in White’s relationship with Jackson. While the critics were mercilessly attacking the Panther coda (the last segment of Jackson’s Black or White short film), White was the first commentator to see its significance. In ‘The Gloved One Is Not A Chump,’ he intelligently interprets the Black or White short film and discusses the vicious reception of its premiere. ‘His solo dance forced the American public to look at the underside of its benighted racial fantasies and to recognize the unruly feelings inside its most popular entertainer,’ he observes. ‘No other African-American artist has dared such a thing, and no comparably popular white artist has even tried.’
In ‘Michael Takes A Bow For Jam,’ White explores the short films In The Closet and Jam. ‘His Dangerous videos are all similarly, richly meaningful; they increase the significance of the album’s music and text. This way, Jackson is creating, video by video, an ultimate hybrid art achievement as important as anything being done in this era,’ he recognizes.
White shrewdly examines black issues as Jackson became more vocal and direct about race problems as his career progressed. In his ‘Screaming To Be Heard, Book I,’ White states that in American media ‘no one hears a Black man Scream.’ He attentively analyzes Jackson’s HIStory album before declaring that it is ‘full of the steeliest, deepest remorse perceptible to anyone who has ever hurt. Only the deaf will reject it, only the heartless will deny it.’ And in ‘Screaming To Be Heard, Book II,’ he articulates that with HIStory album Jackson ‘makes the discomfort of American living, the whole serious question of our nation’s lost humanism, a matter of mainstream consciousness.’ White rebuts other journalists negative criticism of the album by describing them as a ‘hostile, repressive forces’ that intend to repress black self-representation. He concludes, ‘when Jackson’s stupid attackers subside, the beauty and complexity of HIStory -a bold work by today’s most interesting pop figure- will survive.’
In ‘Earth Song Moves Video Mountains’ White appraises Jackson’s Earth Song by placing it ‘among the most magnificent combinations of music and imagery in the centenary of motion pictures.’
White scrutinizes the Blood On The Dance Floor album in ‘Hear, My Dears’. ‘Thriller was a joke, but the sweet boy inside the Halloween mask has stopped playing,’ he asserts.
In his article ‘In MJ’s Shadow,’ White reminisces the legacy of Michael Jackson by asserting that Jackson ‘aimed for cultural domination, achieved it, then moonwalked across our consciousness–strutting and gliding as if the crown was no heavier than a bon vivant’s fedora.’ He argues, ‘if Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, P.J. Harvey and Eminem are pop’s “geniuses”, what word can adequately describe the world-changing creativity, astounding craft and miraculous precision of Jackson’s output?’ He acknowledges Jackson’s social role and the stereotypes he defied in his way to cultural achievement. White is in alliance with Jackson’s admirers and doesn’t hesitate to condemn his critics. ‘As the soulless media returns to its routine of hateful recrimination, this cultural fact remains: We all live, dance and cry in Michael Jackson’s shadow,’ he writes.
Finally, in ‘Twenty-First Century Renaissance,’ White describes Jackson’s death as a ‘cultural disaster’. He writes about the ‘media elite’ who return to their accusations about Jackson’s personal life and their deliberate disregard of his art. “These music non-lovers reveal their own inhumanity by their indecency,” White notes .
What’s missing in this outstanding collection is White’s unwritten essays on the two films Moonwalker and Ghosts, and Jackson’s final studio album, Invincible. These are among Jackson’s crucial works, and one can only hope that White will consider writing thoroughly about them in the future.
In conclusion, Armond White’s book is a vital read for students of Music Criticism or African-American studies, or for those who are interested in reading a scholarly work about Jackson’s personality and artistry. The Michael Jackson Chronicles is best accompanied with Man in the Music by Joseph Vogel.
Armond White is an American film and music critic known for his provocative and idiosyncratic film criticism, and the author of the 2009 monograph, Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles. Find out more about Armond here.
Nada Basheer is an avid non-fiction reader and reviewer, a long-time Michael Jackson fan and student. She runs a successful blog, filled with fantastic insights and remarkable detail on her reading at Overloved and tweets prolifically at @overloved. This is her first academic piece for The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies. Find out more about Nada here.
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