Yep, I’m going to talk about Michael Jackson.
Oh, I know, I know – I hear the collective groan of the Internet, mostly from people who might causally glance at this column. And why, oh why, do we need another Michael Jackson story on the day after his untimely demise? Because it’s my column and I can, for I have two stories with the MJ connection in my life.
First, Michael Jackson was a dynamo – love him, hate him, you cannot deny the man had some talent from somewhere. For me, the Jackson 5 songs (check the grooves and bass lines on “ABC” and “I Want You Back”.), then “Off The Wall” (which I bought on a oh-what-the-hell dare to myself, and was surprised by the infectious grooves). But nothing prepared me for “Thriller” (like several millions on the planet).
And that is a two-fold statement, because you need to SEE Michael Jackson’s music as well as hear him.
Ya see, kids, back in the day, MTV actually PLAYED MUSIC VIDEOS (that was the premise for which it was built on). And the music video concept had a couple of innovations, but was in part kinda of waiting for some concept to break out and grab ya.
Plus, these ‘music videos’ usually featured white folks, and hey……what happened to the African –American peeps?
Enter the John Landis – produced “Thriller” video – it was like a mini film, longer than the usual music vid (much, much longer). My friends and I watched it under a probable party haze, but even with that sheen, this thing, this was something special.
Plus… hey, there’s the BLACK FOLKS!!!
That moment broke a lot of barriers, as has been reported endlessly over the past 24 hours. Race didn’t matter, music video length didn’t matter – the music was rock, it was funk, it screamed, and forced you to dance. My favorite Eddie Van Halen guitar solo was the “Beat It” lead break. From then on, things weren’t the same for ‘80’s pop culture.
I’m not commenting on Michael Jackson’s eccentric, sad, and tragic personal/public life – not because I don’t have thoughts and opinions, but it’s just rehashing the same old scores that pop culture historians will take a decade to sift thru. I will say that the man could have used some boundaries, guidance, tough love, and a person to say, “No Mike, this is WRONG.” But that’s me in a quick summation – thousands of which are dotting MySpace, Twitter, t.v., and the ‘net. Also, let’s not forget Quincy Jones’ role in Jackson’s music – Q is a genius in his own right, and helped, probably more than what people give him credit for, in arranging and producing Michael’s albums. And…. you gotta have the right cats to play the songs, like session ace Steve Lukather and Eddie Marteniz. Give credit where it’s due, people……..
Here’s my other MJ connection: I played in a Des Moines, Ia. based band back in the mid-1980’s called Colt .45. Now, the Colt was spawned in the late 1970’s during the country outlaw/’Urban Cowboy’ phase, and they had a pretty good run, and a good following in central Iowa. Group leader Pat Rouse was hunkering for a change-up to his sliders, and called upon a new crew(that included me on guitar, vocals, and bass)to help out. Oh, we still had the country stuff hold - overs – Alabama, Eddie Rabbit and such. But, depending on your viewpoint to make matters better or more weird to some folks, we threw in Huey Lewis and the News, Prince, Autograph, the Police, and… Michael Jackson.
So, the funny part here is that we had a pretty good monthly gig up north of Des Moines at a bar run by this crazy Greek guy, Ted, in Ankeny, Ia. As long as we made Ted some cake, we could play Stravinsky, as long as people drank beer,danced, and spent their cash.
During a break between sets one Friday night, I went into the bar bathroom, and lined up at the urinal beside this extremely tall cowboy dude who worked as a ranch hand at a farm in Ankeny. During the pee session, this guy looks at me and says, “Hey, y’all gonna play some two-steppin’ music, right?”.
I said, “Sure, you bet we can do that.”
As I zipped up and proceeded to wash my hands, the cowboy stops me at the sink – stands in front of me, blocking the door – and says,” No, y’all are GONNA play some two steppin’ music, RIGHT??”
I looked up at all 6 – 2 of him, and said, “Yep, we’ll do that.”
Beginning on the new set, on stage I tell Pat of the comment by Hoss. “Yeah, we'll cover it”, said Pat. So, we’re playing all the new Top 40 pop stuff, and people are yelling for music to dance to. ”O.k., here’s one”, and Pat pulls out “Billie Jean” by MJ. Well, I was in my mid-20’s then, pretty green still at the ways of bar gigs (even though I had been playing bars or jam sessions in bars since I was 19), and I’m a little unsettled at the fact that Jethro could come up on stage in whatever chemical state he was in, at ME, to take out the lack of pleasure in our two steppin’ music choices. Pat was pretty fearless, and I just needed to trust his instincts.
Well, damn if we weren’t one verse into “Billie Jean”, and there were at least 5 couples out on the dance floor, two steppin’ away in cowboy attire to “Billie Jean” ( Hoss/Jethro included). Pat was RIGHT.
Funny as hell, and I will forever remember dearly the song “Billie Jean” to that moment in my own little musical past…..
For me, I’m just going to enjoy either the memory of the joy of the mini-James Brown, singing and moving around the stage like it was ice, in the funky 1970’s clothing with the Jackson Five, or soaking in the infectious rock –funk grooves of “Thriller”, and I’ll leave the rest to Michael Jackson and his maker…….