Abstract: This interview is part of our coverage of content-creators, both online and in the wider world, and their work relating to Michael Jackson. In it, podcasters, Jamon Bull and Q. Gabriel-Smith discuss their work on the world’s premiere Michael Jackson podcast, The MJCast.
Bull, Jamon and Q. Gabriel-Smith. “An Interview with Q and Jamon from ‘The MJCast’.” Interview, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 3, no. 1 (2016). Published electronically 21/7/16. https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/an-interview-with-q-and-jamon-from-the-mjcast/.
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An Interview with Q and Jamon from The MJCast by The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies
1. In just a single sentence, what does Michael Jackson mean to you?
Q – Because of his beauty, talent, heart, inspiration, smile, art, style, dance, music, voice, quality, dignity and LOVE, Michael means the World to me. Is that sentence long enough for you? *laughter!
J – To me, Michael Jackson is the epitome of passion, humility, artistic expression and L.O.V.E.
2. When you started The MJCast podcast did you have any misgivings about the process?
Q – Just nerves really. Nerves about how people would a accept this newish form of Fan Interaction (us) into their fandom of MJ and routines. And we had always planned on being ourselves, so putting yourself out there, our names, our faces, and proudly so, but nerves about negativity we would receive.
J – The only hesitation I personally had was around the quality of our product from a technical standpoint. I have spent years listening to the best produced podcasts from the tech community so in my mind the bar was very, very high to reach and actually I was the one who kept delaying our release. The four other people I started this show with were wanting to get the ball rolling but I was a bit stubborn. I quickly learned through some great advice from my friend TJ that it was best to jump in at the point we were at and improve on the product from there. He was 100% right as our audience has really gotten a kick out of seeing us grow and improve. We don’t plan to stop either. We’re always talking about buying new equipment, which MJ collaborators we could talk to next and just generally how to take our show to greater heights.
3. If you had the chance to meet and talk to Michael Jackson what three questions would you ask him?
Q – This is such a tough question! 1) How have you remained so strong, so humble, so dignified, so grateful, so full of love, after all you have been through? 2) Lets start from the most recent and work backwards, please talk me through the lyrics and meaning behind the tracks of the Invincible album, and video concept ideas, and the creation of these songs, then we will go through HIStory, then Dangerous, etc, etc, then we can talk about what future project plans you might have in great detail! 3) Please come to my home for afternoon tea or dinner!
J – I’d ask him to deconstruct the meaning behind the lyrics of the HIStory track 2 Bad, how on earth he found the personal strength to continue giving the world so much of himself after the 1993 and 2005 ordeals and I’d ask him a whole bunch of questions around his life from late 2007 to mid 2009. There’s still so many truths to discover from that period!
4. How and why did you decide to create a podcast?
Q – Well for me, when Jamon spoke about his idea, I thought it was great, and something I would love to listen to as a MJ fan. When he asked me to be a part of it, I felt this was my chance to do something for Michael. To give back to him and the community. To become more active in the community, and to share the MJ Mateship that I am so lucky to have, and help spread the love for Michael that I feel.
J – I’d been wanting to start a Michael Jackson podcast since before he passed away and was always a big fan of podcasts stemming from the technology community. E.g. John Gruber’s The Talk Show and Leo Laporte’s MacBreak Weekly. The now defunct Star Wars podcast ForceCast was also a huge inspiration. Aside from being inspired by great podcasts and the fact that iTunes was basically devoid of any MJ ones, I had a deeper desire to start the show to bring entertainment to MJ fans all around the world. I had grown up with very close Michael Jackson friends. Q of course, Damien Shields, TJ and others are just a few of the people I’d spent countless hours with often on a daily basis talking about MJ. Over time I began to realise that there must be lots and lots of people out there who weren’t lucky enough to have grown up with other mega fans around them. So yeah, I decided to get together was a few others and give this thing a go. I guess the turning point for me was in the months and years after the Michael album came out I became very, very involved in the A Truth Untold team. We literally spent dozens and dozens of hours using image capture software recording team meetings around the Cascio situation and what we were going to do to bring the truth to the public. I still have all of those meetings recorded! The conversations we had and the information about MJ we uncovered are phenomenal, a lot of which is yet to be learned by the public. It was through this process that I think I built the confidence and technical know how to release a product to the MJ world. Being a teacher probably helped a bit as well, especially with the communication/spoken word side of things. I think things really took off when I realised how much Q and I could balance each other as co-hosts. His passion for the show and the amount of work he puts in to it really inspires me to give my all as well.
5. How do you feel about the fan community?
Q – I feel positive. The fan community is growing, which is terrific for Michael’s legacy. Also, the avenues for fans to learn about Michael and his art are expanding so much now, which is brilliant. Fans can now appreciate Michael and his art across so many platforms, they can educate themselves so much easier. And it’s important for fans to do this, to learn, question, but to do so with respect for Michael, his art, and also the experience of long time fans, who have experienced so much, and know what they are talking about. We heard it direct from Michael! As a fairly longtime fan myself, I respect the fans from way before my time, and want to know about those eras, what it was like, and hear their stories. Sure, there is division now in the community, and that is painful to see and feel, but I think if we go back, listen to Michael’s works, see his actions, and research things, that division can be healed. No need to be disrespectful and closed off, just learn from Michael, and research his art.
J – I think things have gotten a lot better in the past 24 months. 2009 – 2014 were really, really dark times. People would literally suffer abuse from all angles just for fighting for the truth around certain controversial topics to do with Michael Jackson. Now the fan community seems to have calmed down a bit and the truth seems to be surfacing/solidifying thanks to some very brave individuals like Katherine Jackson and Vera Serova. I also think fans are at a place now where we are really enjoying learning about Michael’s life and his art from literature, documentaries and other mediums. The focus seems to be in on his art and what an amazing person he was which is excellent.
6. Do you feel supported by the fan community?
Q – Very much so. Answering listener emails from all over the world, talking with listeners from all over the world, it still blows my mind. I really feel like we have been able to share the feeling of “MJ Mateship” between fans who might not have that, or wish to engage more in it, and want to hear about MJ and the Jacksons, and the latest news, and from those that knew Michael, worked with him, and have been inspired by him.
J – Absolutely. We get multiple emails every week from listeners all over the globe. It’s honestly the most encouraging part of doing what we do. When I get an email from someone saying how we made their commute a bit easier, or we kept them company while they were recovering from illness or something like that…it makes me take a deep breath and realise that what we’re doing is totally worth it. The hours that go into conceiving shows, scheduling them, recording, creating promotional material etc. is all worth it!
7. Have you thought about financial support from the fans, so you can continue to make your show?
Q – For me it’s not an important thing. Sure, it’s a lot of time invested, and some money spent for apps and equipment, but it’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make for Michael.
J – I’ve definitely thought about it. Most shows I listen to are monetized through sponsored ad breaks in the actual episodes. If I were to ever do it I’d want the money to go 100% back into the show in buying equipment, advertising, web hosting and also to support charities Michael would have supported. I wouldn’t want any of the money for my personal use. But we’ll see… Like all decisions on The MJCast, Q and I only move forward when we are in 100% agreement on an issue. We haven’t really felt the need to discuss this in great detail yet.
8. What do you think the legacy of Michael Jackson’s art is?
Q – Michael left us with some of the greatest music ever made. His voice is, and will always be one of the greatest ever to have been heard and recorded. His writing, his stories and message is infinitely powerful and inspirational. His talent in dance is jaw dropping. His use of visuals and showmanship is unmatched. And the truth, honesty and lessons he included in so much of his work is something that should be listened to and learned from.
J – Boy, what a question. I think Michael’s artistic legacy really revolves around his quest for perfectionism. There’s escapism, wonderment and magic in the mix there as well, but to me it was that strive for perfectionism that encapsulates his art. In a way Michael’s art is like a lens that focuses all the great art that came before him and focuses it into an even more perfect product. What is it that he always said? “Study the greats and become greater.” Through studying Michael’s art, and his inspirations, you learn that the sum of its parts are added together to equal something even greater. You see the influence of James Brown, Fred Astaire, Marvin Gaye. You feel the collaborative influence of Quincy Jones, Teddy Riley and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. You can literally hear the unparalleled efforts of Jerry Hey, Louis Johnson and all the amazing musicians Michael directed on his albums but he takes all of them and packages all of it into a product that will never, ever be equalled or matched. And isn’t it telling that his most critically acclaimed songs are the ones he wrote himself? Billie Jean, Who Is It, Stranger in Moscow just to name a few. It’s like anything he touched turned to gold. Whether you’re watching him magically moonwalk across the stage in a Billie Jean performance or listening to the raw passion in his voice belting out the final third of Earth Song, it’s the perfectionism that gives me goosebumps. You can tell when he reached those moments too. Just focus on the look on his face at the end of his seminal Motown 25 performance when he’s gazing up into the ether with his eyes tightly closed. He really touched perfection. I think we should all be eternally grateful that we can get a taste of perfection as well through him.
9. What advice do you have for those wishing to make a podcast on Michael Jackson?
Q – If you are willing to put the time and effort, and commitment to Michael and his fans, go for it! Podcasts are such a great way to share more Michael around, it’s entertainment in your pocket whenever you want it!
J – Please do! Michael needs to be even better represented in the podcast landscape. We have Moonwalk Talks, The Dream Lives On and The MJCast but there’s room for more! My advice would be around sticking with it for the long haul and committing to putting out quality shows. To get it right, it takes getting all the pieces of the puzzle right. Catering to and growing your listener base through social media, investing time and money into learning the technicality behind podcasting and putting out consistently great content. It’s really hard work to do it well every time, but worth it in the end if you have a passion for broadcasting.
10. You just started your podcast a year ago, and it is known as one of the most prolific. How do you feel about that?
Q – I feel so proud of what we have been able to do in such a short time, and that so many people have welcomed us with their time in listening and engaging with us, and their feedback. The effort we have put in is being respected and appreciated. I’m so glad I am a part of something that honours Michael and that I’m giving back to him and honouring him in this way.
J – Honestly? Incredibly humbled and very, very nervous that we wont be able to continue the momentum we began with. Don’t get me wrong. Q and I still have the passion we need for the show and because we are mega fans, that will never disappear. But it was incredibly good fortune that so much fell into place for us in during our first season in 2015. Darren Hayes, Tom Mesereau, Taj Jackson were very enthusiastic special guests and that’s just to name a few of them. At the end of the day, special episodes are only as good as the guests who agree to be on them, so fingers crossed we continue to hear ‘yes’ from people who knew and worked with Michael. In terms of our regular episodes though, I can only see them getting better from here on out. We love our show format and now it’s just about improving that formula. The more I progress through life though, the more I realise that it’s this nervous feeling I have that fuels my drive to make what I do successful. I have that feeling with my work as well. So don’t be nervous that I’m nervous. The minute I stop being nervous about what I do is the time to really start worrying. I guess at the end of the day we just really want to satisfy our listeners.
11. Do you think there is a place for Michael Jackson in schools and universities, and if yes, what do you think that place is?
Q – Oh absolutely! Michael is a world figure. I’m not calling him a religious figure, and that is not how I view him, but Michael is a man who used his incredible art, of the highest quality to not only entertain, but to make a difference, to educate, to get people to think, and change things for the better. Even Amazonian tribes know of Michael, his reach is that great! His influence on art, culture, and what he made, as well as his message of love, equality, environmentalism, animal welfare, to help underprivileged and sick children, family, and many other topics, should be taught and learned from by all.
J – I do feel there’s a place for Michael Jackson to be studied in schools and at universities. As an academic myself and a school teacher I love exploring and analysing Michael’s art. I often include his work within lessons at the school I teach at. I use Earth Song and its lyrics when teaching about the plight about planet faces at the hands of its inhabitants and I love breaking down the lyrics to They Don’t Care About Us when introducing students to civil rights. And of course the actual composition of Michael’s songs will have an eternal place in music curriculum the world over. And who knows? Imagine the good that could come out of his criminal trials being studied at law school. I’m sure we could all agree Tom Mesereau and Susan Yu’s handling of the mid 2000’s trial is a gold mine for prospective criminal defence attorneys. Or perhaps his mistreatment by the media as a strong warning in schools of journalism? At the end of the day though I think it’s more important to be a scholar of Michael Jackson than an academic, if that makes sense. My only hope is that deep learning isn’t exclusive to academic institutions. In this Information Age, courses of learning can be undertaken the world over in many different senses. Learning from Michael shouldn’t be confined to the walls of universities or colleges but should be able to happen wherever you are, whenever you want…and with whatever qualifications you have. Whether you’re listening to a podcast whilst “scrubbing toilets in Harlem” or taking notes in a prestigious lecture hall at Oxford University, everyone can learn something from Michael Jackson and his art. This is why I’m such a huge fan of the courses you guys offer as a part of MJAS. They’re accessible to so many people. Ultimately, Michael’s message was universal, his art was universal and I deeply feel that learning about him should also be universal.
Thank-you, Q and Jamon for taking the time to talk to us.
Jamon Bull is a teacher who specializes in History, and one of the leading voices of the Michael Jackson fan community, with the acclaimed MJ Cast, the internet’s premiere Michael Jackson podcast, which offers bi-monthly news and discussion on the King of Pop and his family, whilst delving back into their history, artistry and legacy. Find out more about Jamon here.
Q. Gabriel-Smith is an acclaimed content-creator, and one of the leading voices of the Michael Jackson fan community, with the acclaimed MJ Cast, the internet’s premiere Michael Jackson podcast, which offers bi-monthly news and discussion on the King of Pop and his family, whilst delving back into their history, artistry and legacy. Find out more about Q here.
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