I have thought about writing this for a couple of days.
How could I not? My love for music is well documented here on CC.
I have been blessed to have seen some great performers and bands in person. Sadly, Michael Jackson was not one of the them. Everyone has a Michael Jackson story...their first single, their first music video or their first concert. Was it because of your first girlfriend or boyfriend? Was it because you were mesmerized with his dancing? Who could forget the first time MJ moonwalked at Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.
Having grown up in the 70's I certainly remember the Jackson 5 but it wasn't until the late 70's and early 80's when MJ went solo that I began to take notice. As an aspiring drummer I had a drum teacher that was formerly in the business. He was friends with Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and gave me an insight on the music business that only an insider could. But it was his teaching that made me respect and appreciate MJ's music. It was easy to get hooked on the catchy hits but you had to peel the layers off the onion to really see what he was doing.
A few days ago Orson wrote the following...
When he and Quincy Jones were in the same studio, shit. just. happened. Good shit, like weird sped-up bossa nova rhythm tracks and freaky horn breaks and session drummers as accurate as atomic clocks.
He could not be more right.
My drum teacher pointed that out to me as well. I was too busy trying to be the next Neil Peart or John Bonham who couldn't be bothered with "Pop Music" but oh how wrong I was and it was reinforced 10 years ago when another friend Jeff, came into my life who was the former bass player for Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Michael and Quincy brought some monster talent to the table that made me take a second look. My friend Jeff built upon what my old drum teacher taught me and showed me a lot more in depth musically.
That is how I remember MJ... not the performer that we could all easily see but the tireless perfectionist in the studio.
Sure, everyone knows knows Eddie Van Halen did the solo work on "Beat It". But it was Toto's Steve Lukather who had the idea to bring Eddie in and Lukather did all the lead guitar work on the track along with Steve Porcaro on Keyboards and the late Jeff Porcaro who played the drums on the track.
Everyone loves "Billie Jean" but that song is not where it is without Louis "Thunder Thumbs" Johnson (The Brothers Johnson) laying down one of the most recognizable and powerful basslines in music history. My personal favorite is "Rock with you" (from the "Off the Wall" album) with Bobby Watson on bass and John "JR" Robinson on drums. To me they are the greatest rhythm duo of all time. "Off the Wall" was the album that got it all going for MJ not "Thriller".
Unfortunately, as I grew older and my musical tastes evolved (coupled with all the MJ weirdness that followed) and I went in a different direction. MJ had another few albums of hits but it was hard to really get into it. The music videos were always neat to watch but he wasn't the same...I wasn't the same, but you couldn't help but notice that he could still put out a great record with great talent in the studio.
The MJ of the late 70's and early 80's will be the MJ that I will always remember. I don't know what happened after that...nobody ever will. But sad and tragic are only a part of it. Sick and narcissistic is the rest. Gene Simmons from KISS summed it up perfectly to me.
As happens with all the great ones...their inner demons took over and all the hangers-on attached themselves like leeches sucking the life out of a great talent. I never knew the MJ that the tabloids mocked, I only heard about him. The MJ I knew gave me something to shoot for musically. Trying to learn to play it the way his guys did.
Regardless of all the bad that we all heard about, he made a lot people happy when they danced their asses off when they heard his music!
Unfortunately it is another sad tale of the pressure of fame...Wherever he is, I hope he finds the peace that he could not find here.
May he rest in peace...