Friday, June 26, 2009

American Pie

Most people can remember where they were or what they were doing when news broke of a major icon’s passing.

In my lifetime, that’d include Kennedy being assassinated; Hendrix choking on his own vomit; HRH The Queen Mother sipping her last Martini; Elvis not making it out of his ensuite bathroom; Monroe – was she, wasn’t she murdered; Sinatra no longer able to run with the Rat Pack; Marley succumbing to cancer and Lennon being shot outside the Dakota Building in New York City, his adopted hometown.

And, Michael Jackson’s adopted home – given that he had been stripped of so much a few years back – one rental mansion after another in California. And, there’s a strangely quirky comic-book parallel – in that Orson Well’s Citizen Kane died fictionally and cinematically in pretty much similar circumstances; alone in his own never-never-land, warped of mind, corrupt and corrupted, fighting a losing battle with himself and long-since removed from the genius who’d created his own kingdom.

All over the globe, Michael Jackson’s death reverberates; the whys and the wherefores, the how and if, what might have been and what was – just a few of the subjects uppermost on everyone’s lips. From classrooms to chat shows; from news rooms to blog-sites – the tributes pour forth and the debate rages.

Not least over the legacy that he left behind.

But… what, precisely, did he bequest the world?

Its probably fair to say that over the past fifteen or twenty years, Jackson became a caricature of himself; exhibit-A in the celebrity zoo – modern day music’s Elephant Man equivalent.

Behavioural issues relating to his being a child-man; friendships with chimpanzees and snakes; the wealth of allegations; abused and abuser; the court cases; the fortune(s) earned and squandered; the list goes on and on.

However, underneath the flawed exterior lay the inner-talent that can, justifiably, entitle him to the title of supreme artiste of his generation.

Because, at the root of it all is one, single thing – Michael Jackson created the soundtrack to a generation.

So… how does this fit into AlphaBetaMusica..?

Every TV news-cast has, over the last few hours, been reaching out to people who had touched the hem of the garment; from Rabbis to Rappers; from lawyers to tax avoidance authorities; from medication experts to a-z list celebrities. If they can’t get them in the studio, they want them on the ‘phone with the prime requisite being… make sure your people can supply a picture of you cuddling up to Jacko. Illustrate to our viewers that yes, you knew (no matter how fleetingly) the man-child himself.

All of which is diametrically opposed to what lays behind the initiative that is AlphaBetaMusica.

What is of interest here is the other story; of what really happened behind the musical talent.

And, in this respect, only one commentator – that I’ve found thus far – has chosen to hint at this aspect; Richard Williams in The Guardian who disseminates the music within a crop of phrases in amongst a few paragraphs that are stylistically way beyond anything I could hope to write.

More importantly though, he uses his own first hand experience of seeing The Jackson Five perform a showcase at London’s (now defunct) Talk Of The Town to a handful of carefully selected media folk back in the seventies and how he and the late – and equally legendary – John Peel sat together, awestruck – at which… we shared looks of amazement as the group went through the fully choreographed routines of a Motown act, providing a platform on which Jackson demonstrated every ounce of the gifts and the potential that would make him, by the end of the decade, the biggest attraction in the world of showbusiness, the star of stage shows of previously unimaginable lavishness.

What makes this significant..?

It’s the fact that there was a carefully orchestrated ‘machine’ behind the talent. Just as there was when the HIStory album was launched via a colossal effigy of Jackson; a statue that took about a month to create and which was towed up the River Thames right into central London to announce the arrival of his new record. The man who, on Sony’s behalf who ‘choreographed’ all of that – Jonathan Morrish. And, there are a hundred other examples – the people behind the scenes – from whom generations to come can glean knowledge.

Michael Jackson totally revolutionised ‘pop culture’; he didn’t just re-invent the rule book – he threw it out the window, trashing racial lines in the process and, under the tutelage of Quincy Jones, gave birth to three astonishing albums; each unbound by restrictions of race, ethnicity or genre – Thriller, Off The Wall & Bad.

Each, in its own way not only set the music meets image bar at a new height but… cemented his place as a generation’s role model, arguably the first of his type for young, black America – and long before Obama came along and transformed a nation.

And, it is the underbelly of all of that which – to AlphaBeta – is the important part of the whole. Those are the socio-musical hows and the whys, the whats and the wherefores that matter.

In under twenty-four hours, the outpouring of emotion has already reached Diana-levels; obligatory televised shots of grief-stricken, tear-stained faces. Commentators across every available medium dissecting and unraveling, dismembering and scrutinizing every tiny detail of a life less private, trying (and failing) to simplify a life that bred new meaning to the word complicated.

Nothing is that simple – indeed and as with so many true greats, the genius was (is) tinged with a modicum of madness. The tittle-tattle that ultimately became central to the circus-drama will, I hope, eventually evaporate; people trying to figure out the meaning to and of his life – meaningless in the greater scheme of things, because those ‘opinions’ can only ever be informed by the individual interpretating from their own particular stand-point.

The legacy is the music.

And, for AlphaBetaMusica – its what lay below the surface of the grooves.

Lest we forget.

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