Ridiculous Advice: Strip Jackson of What Makes Him Unique – MB #317

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Ridiculous Advice: Strip Jackson of What Makes Him Unique – MB #317 Change him? Why do people always think they know what’s best for Michael Jackson? SEPT 21 2006 – Throughout the course of my observations of Michael Jackson, especially after he was acquitted on false child molestation allegations, I’ve noticed some people who are considered ‘friendly’ to the megastar talking about how they would change his image. The changes would apparently be to make him fit in with what segments of society and media would deem an acceptable or more marketable image. Some proffered little changes like making him wear clothes to appear “current” or acceptable. Others want to change the way he makes music, assuming that he is a Johnny-come-lately ‘pop’ artist. Others, still, would prefer that he totally become a different person; losing his individualism, idealism and artistic creativity. What I found disgusting is that some of the “advice” or “constructive criticism” is short-sighted as hell. It also doesn’t take into consideration the fact that Michael Jackson is ‘Michael Jackson’ for a reason. He got to be this famous because he wasn’t necessarily like everybody else. It is only through his type of artistic creativity that albums like Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous, HIStory and Invincible were born. Every last one of these albums went multi-platinum. Every last one of them sold over 10 million copies worldwide. And they didn’t do so by accident. Jackson is the most resilient artist in the history of music. I can’t think of another artist that has gone through that much fire – most of it created by people who either hate him or want something from him – and have been able to mentally survive it. No other artist has had to deal with anywhere near what he’s had to deal with. And, may I add, none of them could possibly handle it as well as he has. So when I hear, for example, producer Rodney Jerkins apparently commenting about how he would ‘change’ Michael Jackson, it absolutely irritates the hell out of me. According to an article featured on Black Voices.com, Jerkins offers some ‘advice’ for Jackson. He apparently said he would enjoy overseeing a Jackson “comeback” project “only if he listens to me”. He goes on to say, “I’m not talking about music, I’m talking about everything. If he said, ‘Rodney just take my career’ ” (article). At first I had to re-read that quote. My first reaction was “what?!” My second reaction turned from surprise to a mild form of anger. Jerkins is all good, but I’ll be damned if I’d like to see a ‘Jerkins-ized’ version of Michael Jackson. Jackson should not have to turn over his career to anybody, and certainly not someone who isn’t at least just as talented as he is, or who understands him on a level not understood by most. Like I said earlier, Jerkins is all good, but he ain’t no Michael Jackson. Pardon the slang. According to the interview, Jerkins goes on to elaborate about his prescribed transformation: getting rid of what he says are “high waters” (pants), getting rid of white socks, making him wear jeans, letting him keep his jackets, but in a modified version. From the article:

“…He could still be fly with the jackets and the things right here (points to his shoulders), but it would just be the fly way of doing it. He don’t have to be so glittery. His hair, he needs a nice cut. There’s only but so much you can do with him, but it’s just to make him more current”. (see article)

First, I remember a ‘glittery’ Michael Jackson…in jeans, mind you…getting a standing ovation when he appeared at the BET awards to present James Brown with a special award back in June 2003. The brotha looked great. Standing next to James Brown, you got a better sense of who inspired his own style. Second, Jackson has had short hair before. I seem to remember a period back during the HIStory album where a short-haired, butt-naked Jackson created a video with a smiling Lisa Presley and, later, performed at the MTV video music awards; short hair in tow. Third, but more importantly, my question is why in hell do these people – be they friend or foe – act like they know what’s best for him and his image? Why do some of them act like he’s supposed to turn over his life (image, music, behavior, idealism, etc) to them in an effort to become what they think would be more marketable to an American audience? And for what? So Jackson can turn into a carbon copy of everybody else? Or morph into a hack version of people who are themselves inspired by him? Hell no! Jackson didn’t get to be such an incredible influence on so many younger artists – in both music and style – by making his image appear like everybody else’s; making that image purposely acceptable to everybody else for whatever reason. Jerkins may not fit in this group, but much of the previous career advice I’ve noticed from other famous folk revolved around half-assed wishes for him to become the Michael Jackson of 1983. To be frank, the only way that will happen is if they build a time machine and shoot themselves back in time. It would be a travesty of artistry if Jackson became someone’s older version of a younger, more ‘palatable’ derivative of a nostalgic dream. To them, he seems to be the opposite of that nostalgic dream-artist from back when people were wearing Thriller-styled jackets and penny loafers. What’s worse is that many of these “1980’s MJ” revisionists seem to be more in love with the way they think he was, than with the way he actually was. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Michael Jackson has always been ‘Michael Jackson’. The same so-called “weird” current Michael Jackson is the same one who brought Emmanuel Lewis up on stage with him at an awards ceremony during what some have described as the height of his American popularity. He’s the same one who went around with his chimpanzee as his companion. He’s the same one who talked about seeing the face of God when babies smile as far back as the 1970s. He’s the same one who wore ‘high-water’ pants and white socks back then too. Speaking of which, I can’t even remember when the last time I actually saw Jackson wearing ‘high water’ pants. He certainly didn’t wear any during the 2005 trial…or to the 2006 MTV Japan VMA awards…or to various outings he had with his kids in the UK post trial. Some of these advice-givers may be hostage to their own assumptions. In which case, they need to recognize who he is first before attempting to give him career advice. The “problem” with Jackson’s image began when he started to openly define himself for himself, instead of allowing the public to continue to create their own fantasies of who he is. Couple that with the fact that he made bold moves in securing his financial freedom and broke records to secure his musical legacy. Once he started letting people into his life – telling the public about how he feels concerning whatever subject – he became something else entirely to those who previously had their own set view of him. I think his artistry isn’t about us. True artists are that way precisely because they are not like everybody else. They don’t process art like everybody else. They don’t do their damnedest to fit everybody else’s conceptions of who they are. And they surely don’t apologize for it either. __The Brand__ ‘Michael Jackson’ is not only a human being, but also a brand. Millions of people are clamoring…outright hungry for that ‘brand’ in an atmosphere whereby it can thrive. The recent atmosphere has been filled with various toxic elements. Being surrounded by crooks, shysters and thieves is like being surrounded by a poisonous cloud. He couldn’t thrive in that type of atmosphere, but he somehow managed to survive it and keep his humanity in tact. Contributing to the toxic atmosphere has been fighting with his ex-record company. This same company may have been purposely slow in shipping out his last album; may not have been recounting his album sales for recertification so they wouldn’t have to pay him; etc. All while doing their damnedest to get their hands on his half of the Sony/ATV catalog by any means necessary. Invincible was released right in the middle of that toxic atmosphere. Probably, the most toxic atmosphere revolved around a vengeful system taking over control of his life for roughly 2 years. I’m of course referring to the fact that authorities in Santa Barbara County raided his Neverland Ranch on the same day his Number Ones greatest hits album was released. By the way, if you think that was a coincidence, I have a big bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Again, whenever something tries to thrive in that type of atmosphere, there will be problems. But even Michael Jackson managed to be successful to an extent. Invincible — with almost zero promotion, one video parodying his older videos with Chris Tucker, and no singles — still sold over 10 million copies and counting worldwide. One cut from the album, ‘Butterflies’, totally blew up urban radio on its own. Number Ones remains one of the most successful greatest hits albums ever released; especially worldwide. Want to know why? It’s because the ‘Michael Jackson’ brand is just that strong; even in the face of insurmountable odds. People will find their way to him/his music because he’s just that talented whether the general media or the loudmouth pundits want to admit it or not. He can’t concentrate on $hit if he has to deal with working on projects while his house is being raided, or dropping an album while feuding with two-faced record execs. External things like that, more so than his image or music, have contributed to whatever these advice-givers think he has to do to become more marketable to an American audience. Coincidentally, this same American audience is already buying up music from stars heavily influenced by Jackson, which includes music created by producers who are themselves heavily influenced by him. See the cycle? He, unlike some other artists, doesn’t have to be on 12 magazine covers or be purposely controversial anymore to move his music off the shelves or digitally. Nor does he need to turn himself into an older, more refined version of Usher…or Justin Timberlake…or Chris Brown in order to be successful. As talented as some of those previously named artists may be, they are still partly (or mostly) a derivative of Jackson; his music, his style and his artistry. For anyone, even renowned producers or CEOs of record companies, to suggest that Jackson become something other than what he is, is totally asinine in my opinion. Leave that decision up to him. If Jackson wants to evolve, without interference from people who will never know what it’s like to be him, then that’s fine. But to be forced into someone else’s ‘mask’ just so that it would make people feel better about buying his product? Please! I suspect that some of this friendly ‘advice’ is so that it would give that CEO…that producer….that writer…or whoever, bragging rights to be known as the one who ‘brought Michael Jackson back’ from a media-pushed musical death. What many of the as yet unheard masses are saying privately is that they generally don’t care about any of the media-spun crap. The thing that draws them to Jackson the most is his musical ability, followed distantly by his own personal struggles. I think he should wear his tribulations like battle scars, and be proud of who he is and of how he thinks about this world. Lesser and more ‘normal’ men would have long since become evil sociopaths not giving a damn about human life; allowing the weight of their past to crush their psyche. But not him. He is special whether these talking heads want to admit it or not. That special quality about him is the reason why he will continue to get attention, continue to sell music, and continue to be an interesting study in how people treat fellow human beings. And he should continue to be as ‘glittery’ as he wants to be. -MJEOL

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