mj in memoriam: five years

Starting a blog devoted to writing about music on the fifth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death seems right. And although I intend “high frequencies” to signify broadly, and although I hope to write about many things (with no particular frequency!), my choice of title is in part homage to MJ, whose intense creativity, both in terms of his vision and its execution, churned, burned, pulsated and oscillated at levels far above and beyond what most of the rest of us can even imagine.   His music and short films have been my constant companions since 2009, and along with a growing number of others, I’ve devoted considerable time and attention since then to thinking and writing about his art, which was reflected upon very little during his life. This moment—June 25, 2014—deserves to be marked in a special way. In fact, it seems strange that there are no plans to mark this milestone anniversary publicly:  no concert, service, tribute of any kind. Odd. Perhaps the release of Xscape last month—an album of reworked demos—was meant to mark it, but interesting as it is to hear those demos, a commercial offering not sanctioned by the Master leaves me, well, a bit cold (I know many fans are enthusiastic and that’s fine, of course).  Without public markers that focus on his groundbreaking artistic achievements, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by sadness, increasingly so as details of the last days and years of his life are not only reiterated but fleshed out.  I’ve just finished reading Remember the Time, an account of those years by his body guards (a respectfully written book, remarkably devoid of sensationalism), and if their recollection can be trusted, this was, for the most part, a lonely and painful time for Jackson, culminating in the enormous stress of preparations for his concert comeback This Is It.  His make-up artist and hair stylist Karen Faye, who has made it clear that she does not want to profit from telling stories about her thirty-odd years of working with Jackson (a decision for which I have the utmost respect), uses Twitter to stay in touch with fans and to answer questions she feels aren’t too personal, and in the last week she has posted her disturbing account of the days leading up to his death. There is a haunting and eerie quality to this recollection, perhaps moreso because it’s come in short bursts over a number of days.  If her version of events can be trusted (and I can’t imagine why she would make these things up), those final days were gut-wrenchingly awful for Jackson, who was, it seems, sick and exhausted.  I’ve watched This is It, the film made from rehearsal footage shot before Jackson’s death at least twenty times since its release in 2009 and was more or less persuaded that he was healthy and fit, but given what some of those close to him have said, I’ve become quite skeptical. (To be honest, I’ve always had a nagging feeling that all was not right with that film; too much of the footage appears to come from the last day or two of rehearsals before Jackson’s death, a time when he appears to have had a brief rally).

The best thing I can think to do at this moment is to return to his work—the work he made when he was alive—and sit with it, soak it up, drink it in and then reflect on it, try to understand it and its cultural significance.

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Since I hadn’t watched them for a while, I returned this week to his concert films. Official concert film releases include only Live at Wembley July 16, 1988, released in 2012 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Bad album; and The Dangerous Tour Live in Bucharest, a concert that was filmed in 1992 and shown on HBO, but not released in DVD form until 2005.  But there are plenty of bootlegs in circulation, including an astonishing number from the HIStory Tour, many of them very high quality. I watched through the Wembley and Bucharest shows this week, and then turned to a bootleg of the Buenos Aires show (1993) from the third leg of the Dangerous Tour.  Watching the concert films this time, I was struck by one particular moment that I’ve never thought about too much before; it was the Buenos Aires show that made me think about it more deeply. Here’s the URL for the show; have a lovely two hours, or keep reading and then start watching at 37 minutes in, where you’ll get a couple of minutes of the audience waiting for Jackson to return to the stage after his remarkable performance of “Smooth Criminal” and then the ballads “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and “She’s Out of My Life.”

It’s these ballads that captured my attention this time, because they tell a story about the desire for connection and the pain that comes with loss, which is what this day is about for so many people. So much of Jackson’s work was “political” in the sense that he grappled with issues such as race, gender, inequality more broadly construed, the environment, and so on, all through music that was “mainstream.”  Scholars are just getting around to taking the politics of his art seriously.  The live performance of these ballads tackle a different kind of issue and it’s done in such a stylized way (especially easy to see if you watch more than one iteration of it) that it might be easy to dismiss.  But I want to dwell on it for a bit here.

On both the Bad and Dangerous Tours, Jackson paired these two ballads in a sequence that intertwines a story of personal love and loss with his desire to get closer to his audience (Jackson connected profoundly with his audience, of course, but he kept his physical distance from them and rarely spoke to the crowd).  “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” is a duet, during which backing singer Sheryl Crow (Bad Tour) or Siedah Garrett (Dangerous Tour) stepped forward and shared the spotlight with Jackson; they usually got pretty sexy with each other.

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As Jackson turns away from her towards the end of the performance, improvising on the chorus, lost in the song and love and…she disappears. This serves as the narrative context for his performance of “She’s Out of My Life;” we’re supposed to understand his grief (which he positively wrings out of the song) as coming out of, and amplified by, the loss of the joyous relationship that just ended, bang–without warning, without, it would seem, cause.  The song sequence offers a way in which to deepen the affect, the emotional landscape of each song, in a way that doesn’t happen if we listen to them individually, or in the context of the different albums on which they appear. This narrative gets complicated in some interesting ways on both tours, but it wasn’t until I watched Buenos Aires that I started to think about all that Jackson tried to accomplish in this stretch of the show; how, in particular, it broadens and deepens the range of affects that he wanted his audiences to experience, including the tenuousness and fraught nature of human connection and loss.

The analysis of concerts as performance events has received far too little attention in the study of popular music. How a concert unfolds, including how it begins, ends, the running order of songs, the space (or lack thereof) between songs, intermissions, encores, interactions between performer and audience, some of which become rituals: all of the parts that go into making the whole, what remains the same and what changes from tour to tour.  These things matter in the larger cultural scheme of things. The anthropologist and performance theorist Victor Turner considered theatrical, musical or sporting events to be liminal spaces, during which our everyday conception of time is suspended, in fact, altered. This offers us an opportunity to get outside the sometimes limiting, even stifling, ideas that shape our everyday lives.  It can pull us into what Turner called subjunctive time–into a realm where we feel capable of letting go and letting new ideas and experiences in.  More recently, performance theorist Jill Dolan has written about “the utopian in performance,” those “small but profound moments in which performance calls the attention of the audience in a way that lifts everyone slightly above the present, into a hopeful feeling of what the world might be like if every moment of our lives were as emotionally voluminous, generous, aesthetically striking, and intersubjectively intense.” This is not intended to depoliticize performance:  far from it. Freeing up mind and body from the everyday can open us up to different ways of seeing the world, of being in the world, of taking in an idea.  Add music to this mix–that thing that moves our bodies into a different understanding of space, time and energy–and the concert experience can become a pretty powerful moment.

Of course this idea can’t remain in the realm of generalities; it’s important to offer analyses of specific performances to figure out what kinds of cultural work they’re doing. In my book on Jackson’s Dangerous, which will be out later this year, I write about two songs on that album, “Heal the World” and “Black or White,” as utopic visions complicated by, especially, ideas about race; I frame this discussion by looking more broadly at the way in which Jackson conceived of his art as a form of escape, by which I understand him to mean a way through which to be transported out of the everyday; I think this resonates with Turner’s idea of performance as liminal and with Dolan’s idea of the utopian performative.  I didn’t have an opportunity to say much about his concert performances in that context, so returning to them here with no word limit is a luxury! It’s difficult to write about live events, and very difficult to capture something about an entire concert that can run two hours or longer, which is probably why it’s so rarely done. Jason King’s essay on the film This Is It is a notable exception (it can be found in the book Taking it To The Bridge: Music as Performance) and even that is about a concert film, not a live performance—a different thing to be sure. So one often ends up talking about moments, trying to contextualize them within the whole.

Which brings me back to the “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You/She’s Out of My Life” moment. One of the ways this love and loss narrative gets complicated—in all of the shows—is that running parallel to the girl/boy story between Jackson and Crow/Garrett is one that is about Jackson loving his audience. During the chorus of the song, for example, when we first get the line “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” Jackson and Crow/Garrett look away from each other and sing the line to the audience. The “you” signifier starts to take on multiple signifieds at this moment, it’s meaning becoming blurrier.

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This happens every time the chorus is sung, Jackson also often inviting the crowd to sing the line of lyric along with them, holding out his microphone and cupping his hand to his ear to hear them, asking, in effect, if they get the message, and perhaps even asking for them to love him back. So there are two stories going on simultaneously; this is less grating in the Buenos Aires concert than in other performances, where Jackson’s divided attention starts to become the focus (the Bucharest concert, for example).

During “She’s Out of My Life,” Jackson always paused while starting the second verse of the song, turned around and asked “Can I come down there,” gesturing towards a staircase that suddenly appeared, leading from the stage down to the audience. It’s actually more accurate to say that the staircase lead from the audience to the stage, since he didn’t actually go “down there,” (at least not in most shows–there’s a video of one of the first Bad Tour concerts in Japan where he does) but rather a girl came up to dance with him, breaking the fourth wall between audience and performer. The performance becomes about this moment of intimacy and connection—the song is mostly forgotten (sometimes Jackson stops singing, or, as in the Buenos Aires performance, lets the girl speak into the microphone). I have no insider information about how these girls were chosen, but after watching quite a few versions of Jackson’s solo concerts—also from the HIStory tour, where the girl would come up during the performance of the ballad “You Are Not Alone”—I’ve noticed that often they don’t conform to conventional beauty standards; unlike U2’s Bono, who also engages in this ritual, and who always manages to end up dancing with a very sexy young girl—Jackson’s girls ran the gamut of looks and body types.  It’s difficult not to extrapolate from this that part of his purpose was not only to connect physically with his audience for a moment (the girl standing in for the whole crowd), but also to perform an expansive view of what counts as a beautiful and loveable women (as in, all women are beautiful and loveable).

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Jackson loses this second girl, too, to a security guard who, in every instance, comes and takes the girl away. Sometimes she goes without struggle, but often this is a horrible moment when she is ripped away from Jackson while trying desperately to cling to him. It makes me uncomfortable, because it’s difficult not to view this as exploitative. Using the girl to create a “moment” in a concert, wreaking havoc with her emotional life in the process; performing the massive power imbalance that exists between celebrities and their audiences, especially when that imbalance involves gender politics like the ones enacted here (he has all the power, she has none).  But moments like this are complex and I’m not given to one-dimensional analysis. And here’s where the Buenos Aires version made me view this performance as less clichéd than others, as less troubling in terms of power. Jackson holds this girl particularly close, cradling the back of her head in his hand, closing his eyes and seeming, at least, to feel the moment of connection deeply.  They’re together for quite a long time. When she’s taken away from him, he stops singing, as usual, before the last word of the lyric, leaving the audience hanging (“she’s out of my…..”). He lowers his head, slowly bends forward and then crouches to the ground, his head buried away in his arm.  This was his standard bit; but here, he stays in this crouched position, drawing the silence out for nearly two full minutes. His powerful and agile body has caved in under the weight of loss, crumpled to the floor and he can’t quite pull himself together. Even when he gets up and begins to leave the stage, he wipes his eyes.  If he’s acting, it’s pretty convincing.

Jackson knew how to stay with an idea when he was on stage and he knew how powerful it could be to do nothing up there…for a long period of time. The Dangerous concerts began with him standing on stage alone, sometimes for a full three minutes. Just standing there while the crowd went nuts. This moment at the end of “She’s Out of My Life” is another such instance of stillness in the context of massive spectacle and massive crowds. But while the beginning of the Dangerous concert is about reveling in (and sharing, I’d argue) Jackson’s powerful stature, and while so much of his concert was about generating excitement and exhilaration at his remarkable singing and dancing, here it is about witnessing loss and loneliness and staying with that feeling. Perhaps the power imbalance is less drastic than we imagine when we see the girl being taken away; if we take the girl as both a single human being and as standing in for his audience, we know that in his life these connections were powerful but fleeting and that he spent a lot of his life alone. Interestingly, he struck this pose one other time during his concerts: towards the end of his Jackson 5 medley, while singing the ballad “I’ll Be There.” Following a video montage of Jackson 5 and Jacksons footage, intended to evoke nostalgia, MJ sinks to the floor, spent and in emotional pain once again. Is he mourning a loss here too?

Jackson’s idol James Brown used to sink to his knees in feigned exhaustion during his concerts—one of his backup singers would come and drape a cape over his shoulders which he’d then shrug off;  he’d get back up on his feet and keep singing. It was a way of expressing his commitment to the performance, or maybe to performance in general, to giving his all to his audience. It also played on one of his nicknames: “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Maybe Jackson nicked the general idea from Brown, but he turned it into his own. With him, this moment becomes a utopian performative that articulates the loss of connection, the pain of loneliness, of how small and weak one becomes in isolation, how this can happen in a crowd, and on taking the time to feel those emotions and ideas.

*****

If you watched the entire Buenos Aires show, you will have noticed the guitar player on “Black or White.” It’s Becky Barksdale, who was with Jackson on the final leg of the Dangerous Tour. She’s less well-known than Jennifer Batten, who played all three solo tours with him (and turned out some mean solos on “Working Day and Night” and “Beat It”), but she’s a ferocious blues-based guitar player who deserves a listen:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Susan Fast

I'm a musicologist who writes about pop music and teaches at McMaster University. My book on Michael Jackson's *Dangerous* will be published as part of Bloomsbury Press' 33 1/3 Series in September 2014. I'm author of the book *In the Houses of the Holy: Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music* (Oxford, 2001), a collection of essays that explores musical performance, gender and sexuality, cultural appropriation, and ritual/mythology in rock music. I've also written on Live Aid and cultural memory, authenticity in U2, performance and new technology, Tina Turner’s gendered and racialized identity in the 1960’s, feminism and rock criticism, gendered and racialized issues surrounding back-up singing, and on the mass-mediated benefit concerts that appeared after the attacks of 9/11. My current research project investigates issues related to gender, race and genre boundaries in rock music, and includes case studies on the vibrant scene of all-female tribute bands to hard rock and heavy metal. Photo Credit: Liss Platt
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25 Responses to mj in memoriam: five years

  1. Dear Susan, I love that you’ve started this blog and I think it’s important for an academic like yourself to get your thoughts on MJ’s performances out freely where people with interest can read it. I do think we have only begun to scratch the surface of many of MJ’s art forms, especially his live performances which as I have been told by so many people were electric in a way that is unlike any other performer. So thank-you, I’ll be adding this page to my Reading List. Eliza x

  2. jacksonaktak says:

    Hi! I’m glad to see you start a blog. I’m looking forward to your book about Dangerous as that is my favourite album.

  3. Willa says:

    Hi Susan. I’m so excited you’ve started a blog, and love your analysis of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” (with Siedah Garrett as a blonde! wasn’t expecting that but it fits, doesn’t it?) into “She’s out of My Life.” You’re right, there’s something very interesting about that moment. Garrett disappears so abruptly, there’s a moment of shocked confusion that she’s gone – as in the sudden loss of a loved one perhaps, as you suggest. And then “She’s out of My Life” builds on that moment so beautifully. …

    I hadn’t seen the Buenos Aires show before – still haven’t had a chance to watch the entire thing, looking forward to that – but was struck by the music during the opening “military” sequences. Is that Wagner? (I know very little about classical music – it’s shocking.) It reminded me of the music in the HIStory teaser, which I thought was the first time he’d appropriated and reconfigured that sort of fascist sound and imagery, so was intrigued to see/hear it here. I’m really curious about what he was doing with that. …

    Also very intrigued by your comments on the need for an “analysis of concerts as performance events … How a concert unfolds, including how it begins, ends, the running order of songs, the space (or lack thereof) between songs, intermissions, encores, interactions between performer and audience, some of which become rituals: all of the parts that go into making the whole, what remains the same and what changes from tour to tour.” Would love to hear more about that … maybe in future posts?

    Congratulations on the new blog! What a wonderful way to memorialize a sad anniversary.

  4. Susan Fast says:

    Hi Willa. Thanks so much! Yes, I hope to write more about the live shows; I hope those who experienced them will send their comments. The music in the opening video sequence of the Buenos Aires concert is from German composer Carl Orff’s *Carmina Burana,*settings of 23 medieval Latin poems (selected from the larger collection of poems known as Carmina Burana) for chorus and orchestra, written in 1935-6 and generally known as a cantata. The specific one that Jackson chose serves as both the opening and closing music of the cycle and is based on the 13th-century Latin poem called “O Fortuna.” Orff gave this movement a slightly different name: “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (Fortune, Empress of the World). Probably because of its grandeur, this piece has been used quite a bit in pop culture; I’m sure that its epic quality was at least one reason that Jackson chose it. But one wonders how well he knew the text of the poem, which can be found here http://www.tylatin.org/extras/cb1.html

    • Joe Vogel says:

      Great observations and insights in this post, Susan. I love your analysis of how utopia/escapism operates in MJ’s work, including his performances. This is one of many reasons I feel your forthcoming book is so important — it helps us think about how an artist like Michael can achieve (or at least attempt to achieve) socio-political/cultural aims with art that doesn’t conform to traditional rockist aesthetics and critical frames.

      Speaking of MJ’s utopian impulses: I’ve been meaning to ask (Willa’s mention of the HIStory teaser reminded me) if you knew about Michael’s use of Esperanto in that short film (“Diversaj nacioj de la mondo konstruas…”). The translation is about building a sculpture in the name of global motherhood and love, and of the healing power of music; he also wears a green star, a historical symbol for Esperanto. This accompanies imagery , of course, that is very precisely choreographed and militaristic, signifying on the Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. I wonder if it is in some way a critique of the dystopia inherent in universalist utopias (regardless of intent) — or at least of the tensions inherent in utopian visions (as, for example, in those moments you note in his performances when he is utterly alone on stage while being cheered/adored by thousands of fans). It reminds me also of the twist in Black or White (which many critics wanted to read as universalist idealism). Thoughts?

      • Susan Fast says:

        Thanks Joe! There’s a post about the Esperanto used in the HIStory Teaser on the blog Dancing with the Elephant: http://dancingwiththeelephant.wordpress.com/?s=esperanto. The link that Karin posted in her comment above also deal with HIStory (at least the first one does–that’s all I’ve had time for so far). So much more analysis needs to be done of that short film and the album! I know you want to write a book about HIStory, Joe–you should. The connection you make between dystopia as expressed there and the moment of him being utterly alone on stage while surrounded by thousands of cheering people is fascinating. That “alone” moment is becoming increasingly intriguing to me–might require another post….

      • karinmerx says:

        Just wanted to mention that he gave an interview in Black and White magazine in 1998 where he makes it quite clear that he is not at all happy with the edit of the film that they made of the HIStory concert. Here the interview with a wrong date but it’s the real interview: http://maljas.republika.pl/wywiady/bw.html
        He also used ‘play back’ sometimes, which one can imagine with the intense dance maneuvers. But it probably also says something of what he wanted to show on stage and/ or what he demanded in a record. Although Karen Faye wrote that he always did a warming up of his voice with his voice coach before the concert.

      • karinmerx says:

        Uhmm, Karen should be Jennifer Batten….

    • Joe Vogel says:

      Ahh…hadn’t seen that Dancing With the Elephant post. Interesting read. Thanks!

  5. Thanks so much for this post, Susan–and so well-timed! I especially love your description of the “utopian performative” and a loss of connection (I had been thinking about an idea of “ecstatic alienation” at those moments when Jackson seems to “fold into himself” with the sense of irreparable loss—sometimes at the end of a song.) I look very forward to your book on “Dangerous” and future posts!

    • Susan Fast says:

      Thanks Nina. I think there’s so much more to say about those moments of “folding into himself.” What a wonderful way of putting it. It does seem to be about irreperable loss; but then in the context of a whole concert, it’s also interesting to think about how he recovers from these moments.

  6. karinmerx says:

    Great read. I noticed remarks on MJ’s military intro and thought it would be a good idea to share a few articles that analyses some songs by way of close reading and intertextuality. I’m musician (classical) and cultural scientist. I’m very interested in analysing MJ’s work. Considering his reading practices, and his way of being curious about the how’s and why’s and his perfectionism in everything, I doubt that he was not aware of the meaning of that text.

    http://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/themjap-as-jacked-as-it-sounds-the-whole-system-sucks/

    http://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/the-mjap-you-remind-me-of-a-black-panther/

    http://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/the-mjap-to-lie-and-shame-the-race/

    http://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/the-mjap-some-things-in-life-they-just-dont-want-to-see/

  7. karinmerx says:

    Hi Susan, great read and I’m looking forward to your Dangerous book. I am very interested in analysing MJ’s work after I finished my dissertation. I’m a classical trained musician and cultural scientist. I read that there was a fascination for MJ’s fascism in his music. MJ studied history, art history, philosophy, psychology and literature. He ha about 20.000 titles in his library. He was very curious about anything and everything and I doubt that he did not understand the meaning of the poem that Orf uses. On the contrary, even though that this piece was used quit regularly in pop music, doesn’t mean MJ did not understand the meaning. I’m pretty sure he used it for it’s meaning and not just for the emotional building up only. It is quit clear he not only fought for a better world, environment, but he also fought against racism and had political statements in his songs which he place in a historical context, like the fascism etc. I placed a few links to transcriptions of articles that were in the first place video’s. Unfortunately Sony removed them, but is very worth reading.

    http://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/themjap-as-jacked-as-it-sounds-the-whole-system-sucks/

    http://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/the-mjap-you-remind-me-of-a-black-panther/

    http://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/the-mjap-to-lie-and-shame-the-race/

    http://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/the-mjap-some-things-in-life-they-just-dont-want-to-see/

    • Susan Fast says:

      Hi Karin. I posted your second comment because you’ve fleshed out some ideas. Yes, I’d agree that MJ probably knew exactly what the words to “O Fortuna” were and you’re right to point out his love of books and learning, something that many people who knew him have remarked upon. Thanks for the links!

      • karinmerx says:

        Okay, I understand. Forgive the typo’s. It is not really working from the iPhone;-) At the moment I’m working on an analyses of ‘Stranger in Moscow’ with the use of the philosophy of Michel Foucault. It takes time because of my other work, but in the mean time I’m looking forward to your next posts and comments of others.

  8. karinmerx says:

    You should ask Jennifer Batten @mondocongo on twitter. She did the live shows with MJ and it seems they were real ‘Gesamtkunstwerke’, more than just the regular pop concerts.

  9. Sylvia J Martin says:

    What a great post, Susan, thank you for it. I’m also looking forward to your book.

    I really like your attention here to his performative events – the order of the songs and what they tell us, as well as Dolan’s work. I have spent some time thinking about these SOOML and YANA interactions, as there are some interesting gender and racial dimensions to these celebrity/civilian encounters.

    I agree with you, Karin, that with his encompassing artistic expression MJ was definitely working within the tradition of the Gesamtkunstwerk (I have a piece coming out on this in relation to these kinds of performative moments!).

    Susan, I’m also glad you chose to post this Buenes Aires piece because the footage captures a range of emotions flitting across MJ’s face as he seems to “feel the moment of connection deeply” as you say, before the finale of isolation. In those moments I see glee, bashfulness, tenderness, time-discipline, lust, restraint, surprise, and generosity. (And his chuckle right before the lyric “cursed pride” after the fan’s passionate declarations into the mic is hilarious!) The general tone of the images from these interaction with young women in Dangerous and HIStory – staged in structure though they were – was such a marked contrast to how he was being portrayed in the press in the 1990s, especially the American press. It can still be surprising to some people to see MJ smooch a diversity of female fans on stage!

    • karinmerx says:

      I have seen lots of MJ concert video’s and what I noticed is that the audience is so engaged in his performence, they obviously cannot make a difference anymore between MJ as performer and MJ as person; when he is not on stage. As long as he lived, the stage was his home where in ‘real’ life he was very shy and could not connect. Well, we all know from all those years what kind of life he had and what he had to endure. But I think that he was very well in performing an emotion on stage, he could convey a message or his message to his audience. Not only had he a high developed musicality, something that is more than just being a musician who plays his instrument or sings a song. This is something that goes much deeper. But he also new how he could bring his message with dancing and his gestures or emotions with his face. I see this as the professional performer and not so much as the personal distress he expresses he has to suffer in his life. True, his loneliness was beyond what we can possibly understand, but as performer I know you have to tell your story, balance the emotion with the intelligence. I was taught that way, so was he. And if there was one professional, it was MJ. It is interessting to look into his interaction with the girls on stage, but I think it was ‘staged’ and maybe a way to connect with his fans but also part of his performance. The intensity of his performances were enormous and he was very much in kind of a trance. Part of his insomnia was because his adrenalin was so high he could not sleep for several nights. I also understood he did not like touring, but he did it for his charities.

      And yes Sylvia, the press has always portraited him the wrong way, that was part of the problem. Joe was the first one who wrote about his artisic body of work, although the appendix about the album Michael should not have been in there. But that’s another story. Remember in late eighties Leave me Alone, and even before that, when he ‘changed’ they just made up stories or asked people in his surroundings to tell stories for a lot of money. That’s one of the reasons I am analysing Stranger in Moscow, that in my opinion is the ultimate expression of his loneliness but also shows how society difines a norm (how should we live, behave etc.) to exclude everyone that does not fit in, to their opinion.

      Is it possible to read your essay when you have finnished it? I am very much interested.

    • Susan Fast says:

      Sylvia, I look forward to your piece; please let me know when it’s published. Thinking about rock concerts such as Jackson’s in terms of Gesamtkunstwerk (a word used by the composer Richard Wagner to mean “total work of art,” as in music, drama, text, acting, etc. all coming together) is a fascinating and generative idea.

  10. lissplatt says:

    Thanks Susan – a great read. I always learn so much from your thoughtful analysis. The comments are also quite valuable, they really flesh out the conversation. Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  11. karinmerx says:

    Hi Susan, I just found out via a twitter answer of Karen Faye on a question asked, that ‘Michael assigned his security to choose a pretty fan.’

    • Susan Fast says:

      Yes, I just saw this too; interesting. In response to Karen’s answer, the fan who asked Karen this question also commented that s/he was “confused” because s/he thought some of the girls were “rather average looking!” Perhaps we have to give the security guards, rather than Jackson, credit for interpreting “pretty” broadly.

  12. karinmerx says:

    I even doubt that MJ was really aware of how a girl he held on stage looked like. He was to deep in a trance or concentration and knew exactly how to play his role. The man was practically born on stage. It was all part of the show. But I can imagine the ‘confused’ fan, because MJ’s message was always about treating everyone equally and beauty is on the inside.

  13. Pingback: Susan Fast – MJ in Memoriam: Five Years – Michael Jackson Academic Studies

  14. Caro says:

    Hi I have only just found this blog via Dancing With The Elephant, and am so glad to have another blog that discusses Michael’s art and work seriously. I am very fussy which blogs I delve into and only go with ones recommended by DWTE. I am not an academic or a musicologist, just a fan who loves Michael to bits, and who is tired of all the tabloid crap, and yearning to read something more erudite and worth while.
    It may be too late to comment now, several months after the first posting, but in case not, just wanted to say thanks for posting the Buenos Aires concert, as I have never seen it before, and am looking forward to watching the whole thing later. I just watched the part you have discussed and was struck by your remark about it being ‘exploitative’. I can only imagine how each girl must have felt to have the pleasure, and may I say honour, of being so close to Michael on the stage, and didn’t feel the least bit exploited. I am sure that every other girl in the audience, would have given anything to be that chosen one!! I particularly like this version, as although he is in a ‘trance’ as a previous person mentioned, he does seem much more engaged than in the concerts I have of BAD and Dangerous in Bucharest, both with Seidah and the girl. And yes, loved the blonde wig – in fact I think Michael looks a bit startled and wonder if he knew she was wearing it? Haven’t seen the concert before that moment to see if she was wearing it when at the back of the stage.
    I wish you all the best with this blog, and hope to read many more, and will look forward to them as I do the fortnightly DWTE.

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