Archive for the ‘Just opinion and nothing more’ Category

I don’t envy the difficult decision faced by the Jackson family following the sudden death of Michael Jackson in June 2009… Just one of many difficult decisions immediately faced by those closest to him, but a crucial one.

Where in the world would be the most appropriate resting place for the remains of the most famous man on the planet?

How to accommodate the needs of his children, the rest of his family, the millions of mourning admirers… and the practical final needs of the man himself, security, organization and accessibility being in the forefront.

As we all know, the family chose to inter Michael at a place well known for celebrity burial: Forest Lawn Glendale in the Great Mausoleum, near Los Angeles. To many this was an inexplicable choice since the property known as Neverland in Los Olivos, CA was (and always will be) considered his home, closely associated with the superstar and his dreams for the property. But after Neverland was invaded by dubious law enforcement as part of a grifter family’s nightmarish attempt to extort money from him and actually take him to a grueling trial on false accusations, MJ abandoned Neverland and swore not to return.

The dream had ended.

The physical limitations of access to the rural property amid private ranch and farmland and possible objections by overwhelmed neighbors also took Neverland out of the running as an appropriate final resting place, and became a moot point under the new conditions of the property’s ownership as Neverland reverted to its original name, Sycamore Valley Ranch, and went up for sale.

Seven years later, Forest Lawn Glendale continues as a seemingly well-practiced and efficient resting place for Michael Jackson. The peaceful scenic setting and careful security seem appropriate. The place has an interesting history and artistic elements with which he himself might be pleased, and people significant to MJ like Elizabeth Taylor and Walt Disney are close by to keep him company. One of my all-time favorite blogs, Dancing with the Elephant, recently published a satisfying article on the aptness and positive aspects of Michael’s remains being where they are:

https://dancingwiththeelephant.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/visiting-and-revisiting-forest-lawn/

HOWEVER…

In 2014 I read an article in International Living magazine that left 2009 reality behind and grew into a full-fledged fantasy.

The truism says that no man is an island – yet Michael Jackson was almost forced to be one during his amazing and controversial life and career. He described himself as the loneliest man in the world at one point; beloved by millions and surrounded almost constantly by vast numbers of people who were to play various parts in his daily life, he was ultimately, but for his beloved children, terribly alone. The article I read in 2014 suggested to me an interesting idea for a way to honor this man, who excited and inspired so many people, and offers possibilities way beyond just a cold marble crypt to visit and connect with for legions of admirers.

Interestingly enough, it describes a place that honors another musician, Sir William Walton.

Here is the the description that got me thinking: (bolding is mine)

“The Most Beautiful Park: A private estate on the volcanic island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples (Italy), La Mortella is the result of a 50-year labor of love and determination.

Created by Susan Walton, wife of composer William Walton, it was opened to the public in 1991 and has often been named the most beautiful park in Italy. Walton’s music, along with that of other composers, is played during the summer months in the Greek Theatre, built into the hillside overlooking the Bay of Forio. A foundation in Walton’s name promotes chamber music on the island and provides scholarships for young local aspiring musicians.

The Valley Garden is a lush paradise of palms, water lilies, trees, and exotic plants, including a profusion of orchids. Plants form coves and corners, and fountains spurt among lotus and ferns. The Hill Garden is a completely different environment, sculpted into the rocky slope. Steep paths wind up through different terraced levels, but it is no less exotic, with its Temple of the Sun and Thai Pavilion. There are breathtaking views of the sea up there, too.

LaMortella2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The garden is open from April through October; it is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays and you can book tickets online for musical evenings in the Greek Theatre; see http://www.lamortella.org ”

LaMortella3What a wonderful destination it could be: a dramatic island setting that honors Michael Jackson in just the right ways, including things that meant something to him.

The King of Pop’s own Bali Ha’i, floating serene on an azure sea, beckoning his fans…

Beautiful scenery. Gorgeous gardens.

Architecture and features that reflect the international aspect of his long career and great popularity (Japanese garden, anyone?).

A classically-inspired theater on the premises for music and films.

Statuary and art.

Classical music drifting out of a Brad Sundberg sound system!

Buildings that could house the huge collection of MJ artifacts currently warehoused by his Estate, his many awards, a teaching facility for budding musicians and composers, a visitor center housing refreshments, staff offices, a shop and facilities… Perhaps even some representation of MJ’s original Neverland facility. (After all, the original Neverland of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan saga was – an island! It would be tempting to add some of its elements too, depending upon topography, allowing another pleasant connection to Walt Disney…)

And most importantly, to provide a place for his fans to be with him at least in spirit. In the island estate that inspired the article, Walton’s remains are housed in a large rock outcropping in this island garden complete with a breathtaking view, a great place for contemplation; perhaps a variation of that could be created for Michael, accessible but safely tucked behind glass walls that would preclude any misguided attempt at vandalism. (An island’s natural isolation would also limit access and possibilities for removing anything from the premises.)

Lamortella4

 

Naturally this island estate would need to be located near a convenient transportation hub and local accommodations, and provide ways to get from hub or nearby community to the island (hydrofoil ferry, copter, etc). The staff necessary to operate and maintain such a place and the promotion of this destination would provide an economic boon to the whole area. I submit that there are many such island places in the world that are already successful and popular visitor attractions (Canary Islands, Galapagos, Azores, Greek, Caribbean, Taiwan, Belize all pop immediately to mind), and I think there are many such island places in the world that would be eager to host Michael Jackson’s physical legacy and explore the limits of possibility for such an ambitious endeavor. Funding to create it might be supplemented by international business and entertainment figures who remain his admirers.

(An expensive proposition, you say? Well, we are talking about Michael Jackson, who expected only the best! I do guarantee one thing: there are a lot of island properties available for purchase at prices far below the $28 million MJ paid for his original Neverland Ranch in 1988…)

As fantasies go, this one isn’t really that far beyond the realm of possibility. Can you feel it?

I can. Dramatic, colorful, independent, innovative, peaceful, beautiful, singular… just like Michael.

In short, this island retreat honoring Michael Jackson would be a first for the world…  and I suspect that would please the man himself, who gave us so many firsts.

 

LaMortella1

“Bali Ha’i” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”:

Bali Ha’i may call you, any night, any day
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you
Come away, come away
Bali Ha’i will whisper on the wind of the sea
Here am I, your special island
Come to me, come to me
Your own special hopes, your own special dreams
Bloom on the hillside and shine in the streams
If you try, you’ll find me where the sky meets the sea
Here am I, your special island
Come to me, come to me

 

 

2016 has been a tough year, and I did not make my annual visit to the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn on June 25th. I’m reblogging an article by an excellent photographer who did visit and shares some of the astonishingly creative offerings from fans all over the world. The flowers are simply spectacular. Thank you, Hannah Kozak, and also to Willa Stillwater who shared Hannah’s post with her community.

hannahkozak's blog

The Love Continues for Michael Jackson 7 Years Later

© hannah kozak My MJ dolls

© hannah kozak Homemade card at Forest Lawn 23 June 2016

Every year since Michael Jackson left us, I enter Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, on June 25. This year I am overwhelmed and amazed by the 10,547 roses thoughtfully placed for Michael like a big beautiful blanket surrounding all the other gifts for him from individuals near and far. The roses are a coordinated effort by Robyn Starkand’s group: One Rose for Michael Jackson.

© hannah kozak The arrival of roses from One Rose for Michael Jackson – created and organized by Robyn Starkand.

© hannah kozak A fan helping set up the roses.

© hannah kozak Forest Lawn – 25 June 2016

@ hannah kozak

Hannah_Kozak_One_Rose_for_MJ_June_24__2016-5390

Rumi wrote that the wound is where the light enters you. Michael’s light continues to light the way for his soldiers of love, on the seventh anniversary of his departure from this earthly plane. The media…

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Important and thoughtful assessment from Dr. Willa Stillwater:

dancing with the elephant

Willa:  In late 2011, the Michael Jackson Academia Project posted two videos to YouTube analyzing Black or White and They Don’t Care about Us. Joie and I both thought they were interesting and well constructed – in fact, we liked them so much we published a quick post promoting them, even though we were both on Christmas vacation at the time. These videos were followed in February 2012 by two videos on the HIStory album, and again Joie and I thought they were thought provoking and well produced, and we encouraged others to watch them.

We also added the Academia Project videos to our Reading Room, providing recommendations and links, and we have kept them there ever since, even after the videos themselves were removed from YouTube for copyright infringement (something I strongly disagree with, by the way – those videos were analyzing Michael Jackson’s work, not pirating it, so…

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I celebrate this exceptional blog post, from a Black American, addressed to the world of all colors which Michael Jackson appreciated so deeply and to which he dedicated his art. Bravo and Amen, Y.M. Fourney!

Confessions of a Crazy MJ Fan

Settle in, Loves…. This is about to be one bumpy ride.

I did not plan to write this particular blog for Black History Month, but three happenings I witnessed on social media pretty much forced my hand. Given the nature and source of these incidents, I thought this month might be perfect after all.

The first of these incidents was an African American artist’s “imagining” of how Michael would have looked today had he lived past 50 and without the effects of plastic surgery or vitiligo. The other was a vicious string of disrespectful, mean, and misinformed comments under a photo of Michael on a predominantly African American R&B page on Facebook. The third strike was a person who thought it was a good idea to post a question that asked if the members of this particular page felt “Michael Jackson should have gotten therapy in the 70’s before his…

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MJ Truth Now: An island of reason in a seething ocean of rhetoric.

MJ Truth Now

The release of the latest “contemporized” Michael Jackson album, ‘Xscape,’ has predictably triggered a new round of anti-Sony and anti-Estate rhetoric via tweets and blogs. It is always interesting when people criticize business for doing what business does, which is try to make money. That’s how a business survives. The music industry is no exception.

It goes without saying that any artist under contract to a business, a label, tries their best to keep a handle on his or her own professional standards regarding their art, but there has to be a middle ground that appeases both artistic standards and the pressurized realities of getting product to market. During his unprecedented career Michael Jackson understood this better than anyone and so does his Estate executor, John Branca. Missteps are made no matter how many high-level perfectionists get involved.

But look at it another way. When the Jacksons left Motown, the opportunity to join…

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“Michael Jackson’s bodyguards Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard imagine how the King of Pop would have reacted to a remixed album of unreleased tracks.”

 I really appreciate this article by Michael Jackson’s Las Vegas bodyguards, authors of the recently released “Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days”.

So clear that the honest emotion they felt over the events they witnessed during their 2.5 years with him, near the end of his time on earth, affected them very deeply. In the end they could not protect him. Their frustration resulted in years of time and effort to get their personal memories published.

“Jackson believed there are some things you should never touch, but he also wanted his music to be used and kept alive. So what would he have thought of Xscape? Honestly, he probably would enjoyed some aspects of it, and other aspects not so much. If he were here and he listened to the album and he heard even one wrong note, he’d be furious. He’d obsess over it for days, not stopping until he found a way to make it right. But if he saw young people in the club, dancing to this new single “Love Never Felt So Good”? That would have filled his heart with joy like you couldn’t imagine. To hear all these young producers talking about his genius in the studio? To have the #1 album in over 50 different countries? To know that he was still the King of Pop? That was important to him, too.”

It’s especially notable to see them acknowledge that MJ was very conflicted about his music living on for future generations, and how to assure that it would.  The more I hear about “Thriller 25”, the more I feel certain that MJ’s conflict with Sony (which was obviously about issues far larger in scope than remixes) was the core of the problem, as was his probable state of mental and physical exhaustion by the time he fulfilled that final contractual obligation to the label.

In a turbulent decade, he had suffered through another major betrayal in the media, a grueling ordeal in court, left his beloved home, found some respite but then more conflict in Bahrain, and then made an indirect return to the U.S., only to find Randy Phillips and AEG there to woo and ultimately stalk him about some sort of comeback project for them. However, any efforts he made in the past to reinvent himself musically had been redirected by media obsession with his personal life and their sneering accusations, so he was understandably reluctant to jump into the alligator pit once again and initially turned them down.

“He seemed surprised. He’d been out of the spotlight and beaten up by the tabloids for so long at that point that he really felt like maybe the world had moved on, that he wasn’t as popular anymore. It really made him happy to hear his songs in the club like that. He wanted his music to be remembered. Other artists often reached out for permission to sample his songs. Jackson’s attorney would call and say, “Tell Michael that Kanye West wants to sample such-and-such. What does he want to charge?”

We’d relay the message to Jackson, and he’d say, ‘Nothing. Tell them it’s fine if they just use it. The more they use my music, that means my music stays alive.’ He could have charged a fortune, but he didn’t. He just wanted his music to be out there in the world. He wanted to be an inspiration, to be connected to this younger generation of artists and producers who were following in his footsteps. He wanted them to build on his legacy.”

The conversation that the bodyguards quote about MJ’s music being played in the club is poignant. The bigger picture is also hard for any major artist to hear and accept – that musical tastes change and cycle and can be cruelly fickle (just ask Whitney Houston). MJ knew this too as he considered his comeback. Proud as he was of his incredible accomplishments, MJ would not be happy to hear Sony or any corporate entity telling him that he should stay modern and relevant, as if he wasn’t; ironically he was totally tuned in to that very necessity in the tracks he created himself over time, and proved it by his desire to work with other contemporary producers on his own. He tracked the latest trends and intended to use them and create new ones. His industry-changing instincts were wrestling with the weariness of never having been his own man and the necessity of starting over – again.

“We were with Mr. Jackson during the time he was working on the remixes for the 25th anniversary release of Thriller. Those remixes were Sony’s idea, not his. We’d hear him on the phone all the time, arguing with his manager about not wanting to do them. Whenever the subject of the remixes came up, he’d say, ‘There are some things you should never touch.’ We must have heard him say it a dozen times. As far as he was concerned, that album was perfect. You don’t go back and add hip-hop beats to Thriller. It’s a classic, and you don’t touch it. But Sony told him he had to. They told him he had to get in the studio and do these remixes to make himself new and hip again.”

Bottom line? What the bodyguards observed was his reaction to somebody else telling him what he had to do.

THAT was the crux of the issue. THAT is what he hated.

After 40+ years, he was simply fucking tired of anybody telling him what to do.

After his contract with Sony ended, MJ was a totally independent artist for the first time in his career, after years of being owned by his contracts. From Motown to Epic to Sony, artistic control had improved step by step but was still THE sore spot – now, total artistic freedom beckoned. The possibilities seemed endless but for a cash flow problem. We know how that issue ended five years ago this month. His Estate gave the world a final look at the incredible talent that had been lost in the documentary “This Is It”, and Sony’s large international corporate structure was the logical distribution conduit to get the film to as many viewers as possible, so back they came into MJ’s career; despite controversy the film was a major record-smashing success and began to make a dent in the financial legacy. It also became Step One in transitioning Michael Jackson the legendary artist from present to future. Step Two: allowing Cirque du Soleil, a brand he admired, to remix Michael into first a smash touring arena show and then an intricate sensory-overload permanent home stand in Las Vegas, where he had planned to buy his “new Neverland”.

It obviously would have been pretty damn interesting to see what he would have released as a completely independent artist, free to choose his participants and producers, after the 2009 comeback tour.
Tragic, unjust and frustrating that we can’t.

Five years later, despite missteps and more controversy, MJ has an international hit album, going gold and platinum all over the world — and as he dreamed, his fans are excited and energized about his music once again. Even the remixes are being remixed! The global success of Xscape clearly shows that Michael is NOT forgotten, and that remixes CAN and DO serve to keep fanning the flame of interest in his music in new generations of music-lovers, no matter the genre. For Michael Jackson it was always forward, not back to the past – “keep movin’, keep movin’, on higher ground”. He would not want that flame to die with him. More irony in a life filled with irony:  remixes, even the ones from “Blood on the Dance Floor” and “Thriller 25” (both very successful releases) that rankled him as examples of authority he wanted to escape, continue to engage and please music fans everywhere.

Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard summed it up very well in their article:

“Michael Jackson’s final years took a heavy toll on him. He was hunted by the paparazzi, run down by the tabloids, beset by legal and financial problems. That we witnessed, only two things brought him real happiness during that difficult time: the love of his three children and the dedication of his fans, the people who never forgot about the music while the media was only obsessed with scandals and rumors.

 Those fans may never agree on whether the Jackson estate is doing the right thing or the wrong thing. We may never agree about the best way to honor his legacy, and we will all make our own choices about what albums to buy and what projects to support. But we can all agree on one thing Michael Jackson would have wanted: he’d want us to keep the music alive—in the club, on the dance floor, and in our hearts.”

 

 MJ B&W image1 THE REMIX MANIFESTO: THOUGHTS ON THE VALUE OF REMIXES  

 

Part 3 of 3: Conclusions about remixes and Michael Jackson

 

So – it’s down to That Question.

Even if they are done respectfully and well, do remixes necessarily hurt or cheat Michael Jackson’s legacy?

If you think that they do, then philosophically, the last 400 years of eager, inventive, mind-boggling and thought-provoking remounts of works by William Shakespeare done all around the world have just become essentially meaningless… or worse, even criminal.

Even more relevant, all the thousands of orchestral conductors who’ve spent endless hours pouring over Mozart’s works to add their interpretation to his, because the works are inspiring and grand and stellar examples of the best efforts of a gifted creator who floored audiences and inspired millions… are quaking in their tailcoats and spinning in their graves.

Unlike words printed and published in a book or painting or drawing on canvas or paper, music is a living flowing piece of art. It can easily change drastically once created. Like energy itself, music may change form or sound but it can never be destroyed.

But what about changing it? Can you really formulate this into a “right or wrong” argument? To my way of thinking, the real argument is “remembered or forgotten”. Even the oldest known forms of music have been kept alive and relevant to ensuing generations by the constant interest, reinterpretations and energy of others. (But the originals will always exist in their virgin form, and do not hunt you down and punish you for appreciating another interpretation! Nor are you obliged to pledge exclusive and undying allegiance to either. This must reassure you.)

It is clear that Michael Jackson never EVER wanted to end up as a museum exhibit. By saying that his art should never be heard or seen in any manner or interpretation other than exactly as in his original studio albums or works in progress as left in the vault, energetically it edges him closer to that dusty glass case.

In short: I think remixes benefit MJ’s legacy much more than cause harm, and connect very firmly to his musical roots.

My feeling about remixers is that first and foremost, they honor the original creator – much like a jeweler who makes more art from gem or ore or mineral, but cannot in essence fault (or better) the precious thing created by nature or divine guidance.

They also know that as raw material, a song by Michael Jackson is as good as it gets. (And no one has to wonder if it’s really his voice, since components of the original songs are clearly in the mix.)

Though I wrote the first draft of this article three years ago, to this point in my experience, no remixer is selling their creations for large sums of money unless they have been commissioned by a legally entitled entity – a record label or in MJ’s case, his Estate – nonetheless the widespread desire to do unofficial remixes on him remains. They incur costs to get equipment or software and knowledge to do the mix and then more costs to package and market their efforts decently, if they choose to take their chances and do so. There are certainly risks involved. The majority of remixers end up taking their chances sensibly on shared media outlets and private websites, with no recompense involved and asserting that their intentions tread on no royalty issues.

What happens then? In reality, the additional exposure they provide with their remixes, official or not, is analogous to solar power users whose systems provide extra watts back into the power grid. They charge and recharge the music — perhaps alternating the current a bit — and ideally attracting listeners with different voltage to plug in… The Jackson electricity is never static!

Also, I have seen no serious effort yet to package MJ’s songs or music and present it as their own creation – but simply as their own interpretation. In many cases the remixer is never even identified on their work.

If they come from another branch of music (such as rap or hip hop) It seems clear there is a strong desire out there to somehow make and keep MJ a part of their particular musical philosophy. A connection with MJ is still sought after. He was and is so universally respected by his peers.

And if they show off a little in doing their mix, what’s wrong with that?

When you’ve got it, you get to flaunt it. (Talent and expertise, that is.) In Simon Langford’s series of articles (see Remix Manifesto Part 2), he notes that well-received remixes (perhaps collecting voluminous hits on YouTube) can sometimes lead to a career as a record producer, but he also delivers a cautionary reality check when he notes that the industry is not an easy nut to crack. Caveat creator.

***

My personal take on Michael Jackson is that he relished that unpredictable creative spark in anybody he encountered and always wanted to share and collaborate and inspire. He wanted to fan that spark into flame however he was able and challenge people. He does that still, in remixes and mash-ups and megamixes.

Anyone who attempts to wade through the explosion of video creativity on YouTube, dealing with MJ in all his facets and details from the first sign of his genius to the last, can clearly see that positive inspiration is alive and well and doesn’t look to abate any time soon. I think this is magic – as magic as a video I saw once with a sequined white glove falling from the sky (because everybody knows exactly who that glove represents) and becoming a rainstorm of sparkly gloves. Bring ‘em on! Let them become a flood!

The more sparkly gloves and love and positive inspiration and even imitation that exist, the more evidence exists that the media got it totally wrong in attaching so much negativity to Michael Jackson’s name.

I don’t think it ever was about money to MJ, except when he needed some to help others and take care of his family, but it WAS about numbers and breaking records – being loved and appreciated, and never forgotten. And the remixes and amateur videos (like everything else inspired by MJ) eventually lead new and old admirers back to the original songs. In so doing, they sell music for MJ’s beneficiaries, with no effort on the Estate’s part.

If they tried to take away all the genuine high-quality and respectful creativity that MJ inspires, to regulate and to incriminate, the damage done to MJ’s legacy would be far worse than any amount of fan money or time spent upon remixes created by others. The remix simply has been embraced as a creative tool, even by MJ himself as evidenced by the number of official remixes he released on his own label – there is no going back.

Case in point 1: MJ has his own streaming radio station online, from Europe, called MjTunes. (www.mjtunes.com) (How many artists can say that?) Their imaginative play lists include all parts of his career and also extensive presentation of remixes, some of which the station itself has apparently commissioned. That the remixes (and the station) are there is a testimony to their popularity among listeners and also of the awareness by record label and legal representation that such participatory exposure is vital to the legacy of MJ’s art.

Case in point 2: Whosampled.com, a member-driven and moderated database keeping detailed track of covers, remixes and songs that sample from other artists, reports 28,178 remixes from among 247,213 artists in the database and more than 10,000 contributors. (My own much more modest collection of just MJ remixes currently numbers north of 1,675 and still collecting.)

Some official MJJ Productions remix GOLD

Some official MJJ Productions remix GOLD

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I offer this personal treatise, then, as a way to better understand why remixes are valuable.

Personally I skip listening to covers of MJ’s songs, they cannot possibly satisfy me – but remixes ROCK.

They and all roads lead directly back to the one, the only, original and unique King of Pop, Rock and Soul: Michael Jackson. He was and is the heart of inspiration for so many.

It has been said that his efforts saved the recorded music industry in the Eighties – and based upon sales figures for his audio and video art in 2009 and 2010, and the income figures for his Estate since his death, he is performing a similar service inspirationally today even though physically absent.

Some say he might have also been a messenger. The message that I hear, loud and clear, when I play a remix, is that there is absolutely no end to inspiration and innovation and the human need to strive for excellence, as personified by Michael Jackson – to do something that just might eventually change… EVERYTHING.

MJ B&W image2

 MJ B&W image1

THE REMIX MANIFESTO: THOUGHTS ON THE VALUE OF REMIXES

 

Part 2 of 3: Things you might like to know about remixes in general

 

Just what IS a remix, anyway?

The simplest answer is: someone’s reinterpretation of someone else’s idea that came before, using the original ingredients in some other way.

One can remix nearly anything: scientific theories, recipes, automobiles, the written word, and famously, music…

Musical remixes cover the whole spectrum, from simple efforts to slip a faster or stronger tempo or more bass or beat under the existing song, to really musically complex and carefully thought-out manipulations, to interesting and thought-provoking “mash-ups” (that is, combining two or more of MJ’s own songs or combining his with somebody else’s). Some sound incredibly polished, some have their rocky moments.

Frankly, I have not heard a remix done on Michael Jackson yet (official or not) that wasn’t done respectfully.

As with anything else, the beauty of remixes definitely resides in the “eyes of the beholder” – the ears of the listener.

Some work very well, some are awkward; some make you crazy with repetition of some phrase or riff that the mixer fell in love with; some make you laugh out loud; some cause sudden tears to flow…

Your reaction will be individual to you, if you allow the experience.

(Just like the original song – to which the remix takes you back, like a mini time machine.)

Personally, I love being surprised. Remixes are surprising.

When I listen to any album first time I purposely don’t read the playlist or the liner notes.

I want to be grabbed. Startled. Amused. Perplexed. I want to wonder.

Since I already know most of MJ’s songs, that isn’t easy, but remixes can do it, and they force me to listen to the song with fresh ears… sometimes in an entirely different way!

By highlighting a certain lyric or phrase, or changing the order of lyrics I already know, the remix can also cause me to concentrate on the song as if it were new again (which it is) – take nothing for granted – really listen to it – and the new mix can even (by use of blending techniques) cause the final result to be a much more abstract experience than MJ’s original song, almost like a classical or jazz piece rather than a pop song. As I love all those forms of music, this to me is amazing and intriguing.  His voice becomes another instrument because it IS his instrument. What once was a specific genre vocal track thus may become part of something way larger than itself. Truly a fascinating transformation.

Just because MJ didn’t do it that way himself doesn’t make it invalid or wrong – just different. Diversity in action.

Occasionally I’ll listen to the first bars of a remix and I can’t honestly predict which MJ song I’m going to get!

To me, that echoes his own work because all his original songs were so very different; no two were the same, and nobody could say “Ho hum, the same old MJ song again…”

Remixes can actually energize a song in a different way.

(For example – though technically a cover, MJ’s version of “Come Together” gave the song a completely different energetic attitude, one so comprehensive that I can’t really consider it just a cover! Remixes can do exactly that too.)

I don’t react to music in an intellectual manner – rather I have always been taken by music in a very visceral, organic way… I react emotionally as much to the music as I do to lyrics, and most especially to the vocal inflections and delivery or level of involvement offered by the artist – singing or talking or scatting or beat-boxing or breathing or whatever he/she is doing. It’s part of the art – like brush-strokes on a painting. Sound-strokes! MJ gave us all the strokes he could manage, and remixers are intrigued by them. Great art, see, inspires in different ways.

Leaving the abstract and embracing the technical, I often think of remixes as “reverse engineering” – the remixer disassembles the song into its component parts, sees how it works and how it’s put together, examines the individual parts, keeps or discards, adds, tweaks and tunes, and then reassembles those original parts with the energy of his or her own inspiration as part of the new song.

Remixers of MJ songs have even provided little unexpected gifts in their efforts – like stripping away some of MJ’s relentless (and relentlessly wonderful) multi-tracking and layering to suddenly allow clarity on a lyric I never connected with before, or on the beauty of his unadorned voice, or focusing on a background layer more prominently to let it be heard more strongly – this has happened a number of times. I love these gifts! They are spice and frosting on a winning recipe.

Remixing means making a thing more complex than the sum of its parts, and while perhaps not precisely the man in the mirror, it remains a living, breathing piece of art that honors its ancestry back to the original.

 ***

And please remember – remixing the music of someone else is not easy.

To do it properly, effectively, one needs to at least think like a musician (or ideally be one) because one is addressing so many properties of the song.

Questions a remixer asks:

  • Am I putting a new rhythm inside the original tempo?
  • What would that do to the vocal pitch and clarity? The lyrics?
  • Am I introducing another instrumental or vocal line in a different key?
  • Will it matter if the lead vocal sounds sharp or flat because of that?
  • What am I trying to say in the changes I’m making?
  • Am I combining it with another song composed in a different style and will that affect the way the original is perceived?

(This is an actual criticism directed at an OFFICIAL MJJ Productions remix of “They Don’t Care About Us”, a song in which MJ expresses anger, disgust, strong emotion, and controversial language –  which was remixed with a lighter instrumental and struck many listeners as having trivialized the intended message of the song!)

  • Is there another mashed-up vocal line that competes or obscures?
  • Should the lead vocal be more “up front” or more blended?
  • How do I get the listener into and out of the remixed song? (MJ was a master at those…)
  • And how will the listener react to the new hybrid? What do I expect?

All these philosophical considerations are piled on top of the essential mechanical exercises of changing the song’s structure, and add to the task’s complexity.

Editing! Ah, editing.

Sometimes the remixes contain pinpoint, extra-precise editing that just leaves me in awe…

In addition to the melody, harmony and lyrics, MJ provided a vast library of sounds and vocal comments from which to choose.

Sometimes the mixers drill completely down to a single phrase, syllable, note, or breath – to present the listener with a small gem, in sound.

That takes talent… and I really admire talent.

***

Why DO remixes and mash-ups even work, and also the so-called “megamixes”?

(Well —– not all of them do!)

But what makes them even possible is the time signature.

Most “popular” music is written in the common or simple time signature, known as 4/4 time or four-four time. Meaning there are four beats to a measure, and a quarter-note gets one full beat.

So – in theory – this large-scale “standardization” of sorts means that most of MJ‘s songs could be strung together in one huge mondo song, back to back – without missing a beat. This is also why they can be remixed and mashed up with other pop songs without exceptional difficulty, barring enormous rhythmic or stylistic differences.

Rhythm and key are the next big considerations; a good remixer takes the rhythm issue into account immediately when deciding how to mix or mash the songs, and also of course the key (major, minor, dominant note) in which the song is written. Even if you don’t know what this lingo means, your ears will catch on quickly.

Rhythm can be altered directly on the original song or altered indirectly by combination with another existing track. Mixes that “play” with rhythm add complexity. Changing one variable means the likely need to change others.

Trickiest of all is the issue of the key signature of the song in relation to the changes made by a remixer. Major key instrumental added to minor key vocal? Vice versa? A mix of both?

No problem for those with the ability to adjust key by some electronic means.

But if this is not addressed, the result may be what I refer to as a “key collision” or “key-lision” – which may or may not matter to the remixer, who may be comfortable with a certain level of incompatibility in the ears of the listener in order to make a statement with another aspect of the song.

However, this condition may also escalate to what I call a “key-tastrophe” where the difference in key is so blatant and unpleasant that it cannot be enjoyed on any level by most reasonably sensitive faculties, usually resulting in severe facial distortion and some profanity. This doesn’t happen often but it does occur. Remixers who cause a key-tastrophe should probably be ashamed of themselves and should seriously rethink their motives.  (As a listener, it may help in this case to be an admirer of the music style referred to as “atonal” or even “cacophony”. A stiff drink and total teeth-clenching focus on MJ’s vocal may also help endure it.)

Yes, they can occasionally get away with it: I forgave one key-tastrophic remix simply because the mixer ended the song with an unexpected comment from Homer Simpson!

MJ had his favorite keys in which he preferred singing, so that is an additional help to remixers if they want a starting point. He expected his audience to want his songs exactly as first recorded. However, I never could quite see the sense of this, because lower keys would have been much more comfortable for his adult voice and his fans I think would not mind (or maybe not even notice) a transposition downwards, most people don’t….  But that was MJ. He had his ways and very solid instincts, honed by years of performing. However, “mix masters” may challenge his ways even if he did not.

And we have no way of knowing if, or how, his musical exploration would evolve had he lived longer…

 ***

(For a unique and much more detailed discussion of the mixer’s art, see author Simon Langford’s 2009 three-part series written from the remixer’s perspective, touching on some historical influences on remixing music and expanding on some of the mechanical issues I have mentioned, at the following Internet link: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jun09/articles/worldoftheremixerpt1.htm

This article continues in THE REMIX MANIFESTO Part 3.

 

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THE REMIX MANIFESTO: THOUGHTS ON THE VALUE OF REMIXES

Part 1 of 3: Things you may not know about Michael Jackson and remixes

Once upon a time, a patient person, identity unknown, began to compile a list of the “Official” Michael Jackson remixes of his own songs, and posted the list on the Internet.

This list came to my attention in 2011.

Compiling it was a big task and I can tell you it isn’t even a complete list.

BUT – even incomplete, this list includes — are you ready? — 349 — yes, three hundred and forty-nine – official remixes that were released by MJ’s own label, MJJ Productions, on various albums around the world, at various times in his career!

This person’s list included instrumental versions, 7” or 12” edits for radio, extended versions, French and Spanish versions (“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”), the “Thriller 25” release, and some – but oddly, not all – of his acapella versions.

These were remixed by other artists and deejays who presumably were chosen and had their creations approved by the Executive Producer himself, Michael Jackson: Tony Moran, Moby, Roger, Teddy Riley/New Jack, Silky Soul, Clivilles & Cole, Love to Infinity, Track Masters, Basement Boys, Hani, Tee, Dallas, Todd Terry, Tommy Musto, 3 Boyz from Newark, Maurice, Jon B., Ummah, Mark, Refugee Camp, Mousse T, Deep Dish, R. Kelly, Jam and Lewis, Frankie Knuckles (RIP, Frankie…), and a whole slew of other individuals.

The earliest remixed song listed was “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”; the most recent was “This Is It”. (J5 and Jacksons songs were not included, though remixes exist.)

The listed song remixed officially the most times was “Jam” with twenty-seven, followed by “Stranger In Moscow” and “This Time Around” (yup) with twenty-four each,  “They Don’t Care About Us” with twenty, “Who Is It” with eighteen, and “Scream” and “In The Closet” with sixteen each.

Why do I mention this list?

It reflects the biggest value of remixes I can think of: Michael Jackson himself allowed the practice and judging by quantity and quality, supported it.

Michael Jackson wasn’t the only artist to use remixes, or even the first – but his output is prolific by any standards, and I think he realized early on how valuable remixes could be to expanding his audience and record sales.

Indeed, by 1997 they took his stats to new heights, as Joe Vogel reminds us in a particularly pithy chapter of his book Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson: “In spite of its relatively low profile, Blood on the Dance Floor became the best-selling ‘remix album’ of all time, with an estimated eleven million records sold.”  Even if not entirely MJ’s original intention, as some have suggested, the album ironically contained more remixes than it did new tracks.

But what might have caused MJ to first entertain the idea of a remix of his own work, decades earlier?

As a matter of fact, the iconic disco where MJ spent many evenings in the public eye, Studio 54 in New York City, had a regular staff of high-quality professional DJs which included a fabled remixer who, according to songwriter/producer/remixer Simon Langford, eventually also became a legend in the trade:

“To many, the godfather of the modern remix is Tom Moulton, whose career started out by making ‘mix tapes’ for a Fire Island nightclub in the late ’60s. Eventually, he progressed to being an adviser on the nightclub-oriented recordings of the time: his skills were called upon to make sure that the records were club-friendly prior to release. Finally, he began to specialize in actually doing remixes, specifically for the nightclubs. He is said to be the inventor of the ‘breakdown’ and the 12-inch single format.”

In the 70’s Moulton had become the most sought-after remixer in the world, and was said to hand-deliver his custom dance mixes to the Studio 54 dj’s – his reputation and high standards becoming a benchmark for dance music as we know it today. Artists whose work he mixed (such as Grace Jones and the O’Jays) were most assuredly part of the Jackson music collection, and MJ most assuredly shook his body down to the ground to some of Moulton’s mixes at Studio 54.

What better atmosphere for a latter-day king of dance music to get exposure to remixes and learn how the process works? Knowing how eagerly MJ embraced new ideas and always sought out industry professionals who helped him to formulate his own eponymous production style, who knows what interesting conversations might have occurred at Studio 54 other than the usual celeb headline-grabbers? His creative curiosity was always in operation.

Michael Jackson and Steve Rubell in the dj booth at Studio 54, 1977  (Russel C. Turiak)

Michael Jackson and Steve Rubell in the dj booth at Studio 54, 1977
(Russel C. Turiak)

The dance clubs that flourished all over the world during his long career wanted Michael Jackson music in danceable form, even the ballads and the “angry” songs; and he was, after all, known as the king of dance music internationally so it was logical and practical to provide for their needs. Once heard and enjoyed in the clubs, his songs would sell more recordings. Very $mart!

While MJ’s music is still instantly filling dance floors today, since the 80’s remixes have evolved in many directions from the original consideration of simply making songs more danceable: they have become an identifiable art form themselves and may represent a personal artistic musical statement by the mixer, or perhaps a social or cultural or even political statement. The original recording may be the point – or the artist who recorded it – or the philosophy of the artist or the mixer. An influential and talented subject like Michael Jackson invites a multitude of interpretation.

Where Michael Jackson really steps into the realm of the extraordinary, I think, is in the release of so many acapella versions – in other words, his songs with only the lead vocal extracted, plus perhaps some limited portion of his own harmony or percussion.

Wikipedia’s treatment of the acapella genre separates the recorded herd in this fashion:

“A cappella can also describe the isolated vocal track(s) from a multitrack recording that originally included instrumentation. These vocal tracks may be remixed or put onto vinyl records for DJs, or released to the public so that fans can remix them. One such example is the a cappella release of Jay-Z‘s Black Album, which Danger Mouse mixed with The Beatles‘ White Album to create The Grey Album.”

(That’s about as black and white as it gets. But Jay-Z was following the leader in this respect…)

I saw my first Michael Jackson acapella LP on EBay shortly after his death. A look through the discography of the Cadman/Halstead publication Michael Jackson For The Record, 2nd Edition Revised & Expanded shows an acapella release on a 12” single as early as 1988 in the U.S.; though not able yet to confirm the original MJJ Productions release dates, I also saw several “DJ edits” on EBay at various times which had subsequently been transferred to compact disc. More vinyl versions were to have been released in honor of the concert series “This Is It” opening in London.

The first time I listened to a Jackson acapella track, I was blown away by what a breathtaking statement of confidence on his part it was –  to assume that his fans would want his songs with only his voice and no or little musical accompaniment! (And we did!)

What an intimate experience he gave us to share: hearing him create his signature sound, the listener now right there with him in the studio, practically inside his head, listening to him listen to himself playing back on his own headset! Brilliant and, I think, unprecedented at his level of success and popularity.

Beyond that, the acapella versions were another very practical provision from him that allowed for ease of remixes, because the stripped version would be so much easier to lay over a different or altered musical track or to change tempo, rhythm, meter, style, whatever – and now, with electronic synthesizers and computer mixing software available, even to manipulate pitch and tone, add audio effects, and tinker with any part of the vocal or musical sound.

By releasing so many official remixes and acapellas, Michael Jackson made remixing easier – he made it customary – he made it further acceptable in his industry – he made it enticing by his sheer popularity – and I honestly believe he knew that the creative world would have the desire to work with his music for a long time to come. (I don’t think he’d want it any other way…)

But – why remix Michael Jackson?

Okay – why climb Mount Everest?!

Lest my position regarding ANY remix of his songs be misunderstood, I say this:

  • The original songs are brilliant in their own right, as released by Michael Jackson.
  • They are as perfect as he could get them, in his estimation.
  • There is no “need” to change a thing about them.
  • There isn’t a thing wrong with them, nor do they need updating or reinterpretation, nor do they need any censorship!
  • That they CAN be contemporized or reinterpreted is a constant testimony to their intrinsic quality.

The original material is SO GOOD – and that’s exactly what attracts so many people to tackle his songs, that and an honest desire to pay tribute musically; to connect and create with the very best.

BUT – I also assert that nothing that anyone does in a remix can destroy the quality of MJ’s original creations, or diminish them in any way. I believe the universal rules of physics are in control here.

 *****

For a fascinating taste of Michael Jackson’s relationship with Studio 54, check out blog authors Dancing with the Elephant and guest blogger Eleanor Bowman’s article, The Magic of Studio 54, at: http://www.dancingwiththeelephant.wordpress.com/?s=studio+54

This article continues in THE REMIX MANIFESTO Part 2.

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Okay – after reading yet another snarky (and petty) criticism of Michael Jackson using playback in his tour performances, the practice commonly referred to by the moral majority as “lip-syncing”, I’m going to say it again:     His reasons were good ones and understandable ones.

I’m gonna jump in here and share my opinion, with utmost respect to you all, because I’m the one with years of experience in theatre and music, working with performers and singers.  Yes – I aim to defend. It’s a simple question but has a complicated answer.

Like many, you may have gotten your definition of “playback singer” – from Wikipedia – and of course it’s quite correct. However, the word “playback” is often used interchangeably (but inaccurately) simply to describe lip-syncing, which means moving the mouth but issuing no sound.

No matter though. Let’s be more accurate, especially in Michael Jackson’s particular case, and call it what it is instead: “singing over backing tracks”.

We do have to remember that MJ grew up on television as much as in live performance, and actual lip-syncing was extremely common and widely accepted for many reasons.  Whether as J5 or Jacksons or young MJ solo, they all lip-synced many times. That’s how MJ got so good at it – that and his extreme consistency in performing his songs. It was SOP for “Soul Train” and “American Bandstand”, among many other groundbreaking musical shows.

(Aside: I never really have understood where MJ got the idea that his audiences would fall apart if they didn’t hear his big hits exactly as they had heard them on recordings the first time… he even mentions that during a rehearsal recorded on “This Is It”. But he got in that groove and never wavered, even when transposition of his songs downward in key would have suited his deep adult voice better. Not to use that deep voice in public was of course his other unusual choice. I also think a bit of public improvisation on his part would have been well received, interesting, and would have shown off his strong musicality. He apparently did not agree!)

Fast-forward to MJ on his first solo world tour, the Bad Tour, late 80’s. What jumps out at me after viewing concert footage is that he honestly tries to sing full out, every song, and dance full out, every number, for two-plus hours. Even at his physical peak during that tour, there were many musical phrases he simply dropped because he was concentrating on movement rather than singing at that moment. That’s the choice he had to make then and also going forward, given his overriding desire to make his fans happy – he could either sing it all or dance it all, or parts of each – but not all of both.

By the Dangerous Tour, early 90’s, he had started to use “singing over backing tracks” more and the simple physical and energetic demand of his performances was one big reason he went there. Even though a life-long athlete (with proof given in his autopsy report) he was still a human being. And all eyes and ears in those huge venues were focused upon one man – not on the band, not on the back-up singers, not on the dancers; though he chose the best he could find, they were the best-paid invisible men and women in the business. The audiences were there for Michael Jackson. He was onstage dancing and singing almost every minute and usually drenched in sweat from his efforts.

Concert footage really gives another perspective; one look at the energy exchange that went on between him and his audiences and we see that he indeed operated at something beyond that human level – he generated that signature energy and they threw it back to him, a loving and powerful closed-loop feedback system hot-wiring everyone at every performance. Maintaining that level took its toll.

After the shocking events of 1993 started to affect his personal life and would not go away, MJ faced other physical challenges such as persistent insomnia and autoimmune disease. FACT: Singers and their voices are not two independent things; what affects the singer, affects the voice. You can’t separate them. His emotionally challenging personal life all through the 90’s most certainly had physical consequences.

And as MJ went on his third solo world tour, History, he was nearing 40 and inevitably hadn’t the same physical stamina level. By this time the relentless media attacks on him were having visible personal and financial repercussions. The injustice of this harassment and lack of ethics from the media that covered every minute of his day were slowly wearing him down. Healing sleep still eluded him as it had for years. Every personal and career decision he made was subjected to endless scrutiny and debate, and important relationships on both sides of the fence were suffering.

Result: even more use of “singing over backing tracks”.

How is this not understandable? He was a human being, no matter how iconized he had become.

However, I think the main motivator from the start was MJ’s long-developing streak of Perfectionism. (I capitalize the word to illustrate that this quality loomed large in his legend – many have testified to the strength of this trait in him.) He was also by nature a very shy and humble man. I believe these in combination actually made him demonstrably the penultimate studio musician, even more so than a live performer (though people who attended will tell you they were blown away by his energy live). In the studio, the amazing detail of his work could shine and really be appreciated. He could craft and fine-tune and control the all variables to his liking, and to some extent could control the schedule as well.

Back live, though, in the din and chaos of the sold-out stadiums, he still wanted his songs to sound their best – while he was dancing or in movement – exactly like the intricately-layered studio tracks he had worked so hard and long to create – and the only way that could happen was to use his own harmonies and backing vocals from the studio versions, in playback, during the live performance.

This also lessened the impact if his own voice was suffering from the demands of long travel and personal appearances on world tours. (Believe me, it did.) The schedule ruled. If months of touring (and insomnia), or illness, left his voice sounding as rough as a fast drive on an unpaved road, that simply would not do. Those beautiful ballads and inspirational exhortations had to be perfect for his fans.

BUT! MJ did sing live (I can prove it!) over the backing vocals, and did so especially when he needed to cue the action or lights or the band in a particular song. In concert footage, you can clearly hear the difference in his vocal quality when he does. He also is careful to come back in live at the end of each song to show the audience that he’s still with them. The vocal difference is very audible in those cases too. Any energetic difference, however, is not evident. He was fully present for the audience no matter what. The likelihood that anyone attending those concerts actually noticed a difference is virtually nil.

There were also many instances when the playback failed for some mechanical reason (technology does go awry, even at MJ’s level) and he had to sing live whether he wanted to or not. If the technology didn’t fail him, sometimes the technicians did. That’s unpredictable… and also why you have a great band and singers close at hand (even if you can’t hear them some of the time!). Anyone onstage with Michael Jackson needed to be paying close attention, all of the time. Deciding when to mute or bring up his microphone (or anyone else’s) at any given moment might need to be a quick decision.

Let’s be pragmatic: in venues the size that MJ performed in, and with screaming, cheering audiences the size of his, happily generating competing decibel levels, it no longer really mattered if he was singing over backing tracks. The audience heard the songs they knew so well, saw that he lived and breathed — AND most importantly, he showed up emotionally and energetically for his fans. He wanted them to get the very best concert he could give even if that meant some electronic help. No performer in history has ever cared more about their fans than Michael Jackson cared about his; he demonstrated this over and over and made sure he interacted with the fans in every destination on his tours, even while admitting in private home movies that he hated the stress (and the ironic loneliness) of touring.

Taking the long view, the tours had really become a means to an end rather than the end product.

Over the years the basic joy of creating music and dance as simply an escapist/entertainment experience to make people happy had evolved into a way for Michael Jackson to personify what had become his personal goals: helping the down-trodden and disadvantaged all over the world, speaking out against violence, ignorance, prejudice and war, spotlighting the tragedy of children caught in conflicts as collateral damage, fighting poverty and hunger, helping sick and orphaned children however he was able, giving a voice to those who had none.

The international currencies and dollars coming through his corporate pockets were only on the first part of their journey – they continued on into charities and philanthropy at another superhuman level, FACT, which is largely ignored by media. His fame gave him an unexpected pulpit to speak about what ails the world, then and now; unlike most celebrities who choose to go inward to lead self-centered lives, Michael Jackson stepped up to the pulpit and turned his efforts outward.

But to do that, he needed to grab people first by their ears – thus the world tours and endless personal appearances. Once he had the ears, he could go further and grab people by their hearts and minds as well. It became less and less about what the world could do for Michael Jackson and more and more about what Michael Jackson could do for the world. Not a small goal by any means.

By the dawn of the millennium, however, it seems he was one constantly distracted man, trying to run a large business empire without the strong management infrastructure he needed and could depend upon for support, while also still attempting to create, perfect and produce the art he loved to share with the world, in order to somehow encourage positive change in what he perceived as critical concerns. Many struggles competed for his attention. The next nine years tested him to his limits.

I think those who criticize Michael Jackson’s habit of singing over backing tracks are very clearly biased, and it is exactly that type of bias that added to the professional and personal pressures on MJ – nobody seemed willing to accept that beneath it all he was a human being: flawed, hurt, envied, vulnerable, lied to, lied about, extorted, tired, beat up, guilty of occasional bad decisions, and getting older in a line of work that focuses relentlessly upon youth and novelty, mirroring our culture. (MJ wouldn’t accept the getting-older part either, which is a whole ‘nuther issue.) But still he fought hard to keep his dreams and his perceived obligations to the world alive. As Quincy Jones once quipped, focusing on petty things about Michael Jackson is akin to complaining about a cobweb on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. FACT: MJ’s abilities were massive and demonstrated over and over to the world, as well as the level of professional integrity he maintained. His intentions were very high-level. To imply that his habit of singing over playback somehow undermined or falsified what he had accomplished is outrageous.

I can accept the fact that Michael Jackson the man was such a “horse of a different color”, such an individualist, such a mystery-within-an-enigma-within-a-conundrum, so far outside the very narrow boundaries of what we in this country consider “normal”, that he threw many people off trying to understand him. Great artists and innovators tend to do that. They attract strong and polarized emotions. As the biggest and most widely-recognized entertainer who ever lived and the most successful Black entertainer ever, MJ caused ripples in the music industry, in society, in culture, in so many people’s daily lives; his influence is only now being recognized and studied. He’s the only person ever to nearly overload the vaunted Internet – twice.

What I can’t accept is media’s crude and basically inhuman judgment of MJ as an artist without taking into any consideration the challenges of living the life that he did: unprecedented fame, unlivable isolation, record-breaking financial success attracting way too many personal betrayals, and world-wide exposure and pressure to exceed our expectations as we created him to be an idol. WE did that, not MJ. He stuck to his agenda as best he could, but finally we sucked him dry. And the media’s general failure to remain objective and factual and reserve judgment is a perfect example of why that happened.

Michael Jackson is gone – yet inexplicably, the desire of some to demean and diminish him, personally and professionally, lingers on. This may be his greatest mystery.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In conclusion, consider this: while gathering my thoughts for this post, I happened across an article by a professional musician on the Internet which further illustrates some of my points about singing over backing tracks:

(Italics are mine. Asterisks indicate MJ’s general level of usage.)

(http://www.performing-musician.com/pm/apr08/articles/backingtracks.htm)

“Moving to the other end of the scale of live performance, you could easily find yourself at an arena or stadium gig and a large proportion of the instrumental backing is pre-recorded. The cynical among you might wonder whether some of the vocals are pre-recorded too, but let’s not dwell on that. The reason for playing to pre-recorded backings here is clearly not commercial. There are musicians on stage getting paid anyway. The plain fact is that studio recordings can be so complex and so precise that they are virtually impossible to recreate accurately on stage. While it would easily be possible for top-level professionals to perform a live backing that was just as good, the audience often expects to hear exactly what they heard on their CD or download. So pre-recorded backings are the only option.

Pre-recorded backing tracks are used in other high-level professional contexts too, such as television. TV is expensive to produce and having a singer perform to a pre-recorded backing, even if there are musicians on camera, can be an economic necessity.

***There is, of course, an in-between level, and this is where you are performing with your band, but the arrangements call for elements that are not practical to perform live — loops, for example. So the pre-recorded backing track doesn’t replace the band; it augments it. ***

 I could go through other examples of the use of pre-recorded backing tracks, but my conclusion is that they are fully legitimate, as long as they are not used to fool the audience. Often, the audience is complicit anyway, and — as in the case of TV — understands the deal and doesn’t really care too much. So, if we are going to use backing tracks, let’s make them good ones!”

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I think Michael Jackson made them DAMN good ones.

His intent was not to fool his audiences but to please them, and to present his art as perfectly and potently as he was able, as measured by HIS standards. The only place he could speak eloquently was in his art so it was doubly important to him.

To criticize an artist without considering the artist’s individual context and individual motives; to report without checking facts or aiming for truth; to criticize without admitting their own bias or motivations; and to criticize while not being qualified to understand what they are criticizing in the first place; these have all become hallmarks of our various informational media, from the depths of tabloid reporting to the supposed heights of “legitimate” news outlets, to the Wild-West-free-for-all of the new do-it-yourself journalism of the Internet and social media.

Why do we accept this? Evidently because we, as mindless greedy consumers, created the market for it!

Please – take back your minds. Don’t let anyone think for you.

Start by remembering that indeed there are at LEAST two sides to every story, very likely more. Investigate and learn on your own – question – reason. Form your opinions based whenever possible upon fact. If you are not able to base opinions upon fact, base them upon healthy skepticism and logic until fact is available. And even then, ask more questions. You owe it to yourself.

Someone’s life, livelihood and freedom (perhaps even yours) may depend on it.

“Why not just tell people I’m an alien from Mars. Tell them I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight. They’ll believe anything you say, because you’re a reporter. But if I, Michael Jackson, were to say, ‘I’m an alien from Mars and I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight,’ people would say, ‘Oh, man, that Michael Jackson is nuts. He’s cracked up. You can’t believe a damn word that comes out of his mouth.’ “