MJ Studies Today XLVI

ABSTRACT: In this month’s MJ Studies Today column, Kerry Hennigan looks at the work of Michael Jackson as explored in the newly revised edition of Joseph Vogel’s book “Man in the Music” (2019) and Brice Najar’s “Let’s make HIStory” (2016) and considers how the examination of Jackson’s artistic output and his creative processes can tell us much about the man himself and how he expressed his feelings about matters both personal and global.


Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XLV (17-10-2019).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 7, no. 1 (2019). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xlvi/.


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“Every day create your history”: Reading the art of Michael Jackson to discover the real Man in the Music.  By Kerry Hennigan

©Kerry Hennigan

Michael Jackson’s unparalleled artistic achievements spanned periods of considerable social change – from his childhood offerings with the Jackson 5 and his adolescent solo albums to his last studio album, “Invincible”, and the tantalizing scraps left unfinished or unreleased at his death in 2009.  His adult material expresses a range of emotions, from optimism to outrage at social and environmental wrongs, with the apogee arguably being the biggest selling double album of all time, “History: Past, Present & Future, Book 1”.

While he continued to record bold and topical statements after the 1995 release of “HIStory …”, in the new material on this, more than any other album, Jackson laid his love, his pain, his fears, his anguish and his rage out bare for all to hear.  Being interviewed on Sky News in the UK, fan and author Pez Jax of the website MJ Vibe, advised anyone who wanted to know Michael Jackson’s views on everything that happened to him should listen to songs like “Money”, “Tabloid Junkie”, “This Time Around”, “D.S.” and “Scream”. [1]  In the wake of “Leaving Neverland”, rather than his music being “muted”, there should be more emphasis placed on these lesser known (to non-fans) album tracks.   Songs such as these are the artist’s response to his critics, as Joseph Vogel explains in his book, “Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson”, in which Jackson’s work is examined in context with developments in his life, as well as the political climate and social mores of its time. [2]

The revised, paperback edition of “Man in the Music” (released August 2019) focuses on the music Jackson created as an adult for the Epic label.  The coverage of his short films that was included in the original edition has been removed because the author considered it “too thin” and wanted to make room for more in-depth discussion of the music.  Critics of Vogel’s original hardcover edition will be pleased to know that mistakes made in that edition have been corrected based on the most credible sources, and the disputed Cascio tracks have been exorcised from the book other than for a brief note of explanation in the introduction.  Verifiable “Demos, Outtakes, and Other Songs”, including those released posthumously, are detailed in an Appendix.  This revised edition has extensive notes on the author’s sources, thereby increasing the book’s value as a text for the student of Michael Jackson Studies.

The “HIStory” chapter of “Man in the Music” (which, along with “Blood on the Dance Floor” is my favourite part of the book) is like reading a mini bio of Jackson’s life in the 1990s minus the tabloid gossip.  The creative insights provided to Vogel by various first-hand sources tell us so much about Michael Jackson, not just as an artist, but also the man himself – what he was like in the studio; what was his demeanour; what was his process; what was his routine; what factors might have influenced or impacted on the work?  In discussing the creation of the “History” album, Vogel takes us through events that influenced some of the emotions heard on the new material on the album.  Thus we have the 1993 Chandler allegations succinctly summarised; their impact on Jackson’s live performances during his Dangerous world tour; his marriage to Lisa-Marie Presley in 1994; his relocation to New York City for the recording – the latter illuminated by informative accounts of those who contributed to and helped realise the final album.

Another noteworthy source on this period of Jackson’s career is Brice Najar’s “Let’s Make History”, published in 2016.  This book looks at both discs that compose the “HIStory” album, i.e. the greatest hits collected on “HIStory begins” as well as the new material of “HIStory continues” and some of the tracks from “Blood on the Dance Floor” which can be viewed as a postscript to the “HIStory” album.  Najar’s book is composed of transcripts of his interviews with individuals such as musicians and collaborative partners who worked with Jackson from the 80s, the 90s and beyond.  These include Brad Buxer, who, to this day, calls Michael “the best friend I’ve ever had.” We can safely assume that, if any one person could be said to have first-hand experience of Jackson’s creative processes from the 90s onwards, it would be Brad Buxer.

It’s interesting to read Buxer’s take on working with Jackson on “D.S.”, for example, a song believed to be about the then-Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon (dec), who seemed to be running his own personal campaign to bring Jackson down.  Buxer says “he [Jackson] did the song because he was upset.  I don’t think he was overthinking this.  He just did his own thing about it: write a song.” [3]  In discussing this same song in “Man in the Music”, Vogel writes that, “As in the 1996 music film Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, Sneddon is, in essence, represented as the anti-artist: a cold, clinical authority figure, bent on ridding the world of ‘freaks’ (those who don’t fit his definition of ‘normal’).”  From such observations we can gain appreciation of the way Jackson voiced his feelings on matters of personal or global importance.  Like other great artists working in their respective preferred media, he turned his angst (and other emotions) into art. [4]

Back in 1992 in his book “Dancing the Dream” Jackson wrote “To live is to be musical, starting with the blood dancing in your veins. Everything living has a rhythm. To feel each one, softly and attentively brings out its music.” [5]  His was a life infused with rhythm; if anyone really wants to know what made Michael Jackson tick, they just need to put aside their preconceptions and listen. During this time of judgemental “cancel culture” – which does not demand due legal process or believe in presumption of innocence – the artist himself, though deceased, was not/is not, voiceless.

Sources:

[1]  Pez Jax from MJ Vibe speaking on Sky News about “Should we mute Michael Jackson?” https://youtu.be/w85r1jFQcBA

[2]  Vogel, Joseph Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael JacksonVintage Books 2019 edition pp 268-350 https://www.amazon.com/Man-Music-Joseph-Vogel/dp/0525566570/

[3]  Najar, Brice, trans Laetitia Latouche Let’s Make HIStory. An Insight into the HIStory albumCreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016 p 162

[4]  Vogel, Joseph Man in the Music… p 319

[5]  Jackson, Michael Dancing the Dream, Doubleday 1992 page 114 

Illustration:

Photo montage “the fire’s deep in his eyes” by Kerry Hennigan using the author’s own photograph of the 2019 edition of “Man in the Music” and a professional HIStory tour concert photo.  No infringement of copyright is intended in this not for profit educational exercise.

Additional Reading/Listening:

Vogel, Joseph. “An Interview with Joseph Vogel.” Interview, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 2, no. 1(2016). Published electronically 21/01/16  http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/interview-with-joseph-vogel/.

Merx, Karin, Elizabeth Amisu, and Joseph Vogel. “Episode 10 – MJAS Exclusive: 7 Albums, 7 Songs, 7 Years (with Dr. Joe Vogel).” Podcast, Michael Jackson’s Dream Lives On: An Academic Conversation 2, no. 4 (2016). Published electronically 24/06/16  http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/episode-10-mjas-exclusive-7-albums-7-songs-7-years/.

Hennigan, Kerry Sources on Michael Jackson – who is worth referencing? Published electronically 4 June 2018 https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/sources-on-michael-jackson-who-is-worth-referencing/

Hennigan, Kerry Revising Earthsong and reviewing Joseph Vogel’s revised monograph Earth Song: Michael Jackson and the Art of Compassion  Published electronically February 2017https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/09/27/revisiting-earth-song-and-reviewing-joseph-vogels-revised-monograph-earth-song-michael-jackson-and-the-art-of-compassion-2017/

Hennigan, Kerry Book Review: “Let’s Make HIStory. An Insight into the HIStory album” by Brice Najar(2017) https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/book-review-lets-make-history-an-insight-into-the-history-album-by-brice-najar/

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