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Archive for July, 2010

In Our Small Way

Maybe you and I can’t do great things

We may not change the world in one day

But we still can change some things today

In our small way

This is another song that I think personifies Michael Jackson. He sang it when he was a very young boy – maybe 9 or 10 years old. Now, some may discount this song and the one featured in the first post because no child of 9 or 10 years old could have written and composed such a song. But someone did. No doubt that someone worked for Berry Gordy at Motown. Now when a songwriter writes a song, he normally searches for the perfect person to sing his creation if he hadn’t written it with a singer already in mind.

Let’s be flies on the wall at the Motown studios in Los Angeles for a few minutes. Let’s say that the composer of this beautiful song has just presented it to Berry Gordy and a light bulb goes off in Gordy’s head. He tells the songwriter that he has the perfect person to sing this song with a big smile and enthusiasm in his voice. The curious songwriter asks about Gordy’s ‘perfect person’ and Gordy explains that he wants to give it to a ten-year-old boy. Can you imagine the songwriter’s dismay? Can you place yourself in his shoes for a moment? I imagine his first thought is astonishment. “What kid can sing lyrics of such searing insight,” he might think. No way! No nine-year-old boy is going to sing this song with any depth or emotion. But Berry Gordy is a genius in the music industry and he should know what he’s doing. So, you decide to give the kid a chance at the song.

You’ve never heard the kid’s name before, but Gordy takes you to a studio and introduces you to a pint-sized Michael Jackson. He tells the kid that he’s got a song for him and this beautiful, chocolate-colored child with eyes too big for his head and an afro that hasn’t yet reached its glory very seriously grabs a pair of earphones, pops the tape into the console and listens to your song, bobbing his head and snapping his neck in time to the gentle beat. When the song ends, he rewinds and listens again with the same body language, his eyes closed and humming along with the melody quietly. You notice that his pitch is perfect, but you are still reserving judgment because this is a song that requires the right voice with the right inflection and phrasing and emotion. No kid can bring that to a song – at least no kid that you know.

The whole time Gordy is watching the child with a ‘proud papa’ look about him that you find a bit puzzling. When the song ends, the kid removes the earphones, rewinds the tape and gives it back to Gordy, saying, “When do we do it?”

Gordy replies, “I gotta get it set up. Give me an hour.”

“An hour,” you think with an aborted chuckle that sounds more like a snort. “He’s gotta be kidding! It will take longer than that to lay down the track and backing vocals and strings and orchestral parts. No way!” You expect the kid to go haring off to play some game or to bring toys into the studio, but he watches Gordy get the session musicians together asking the recording engineer a thousand questions.  Finally, the track is down and Gordy says quietly, “Michael, you ready?”

You watch in amazement as the kid lays down a four -part harmony in his own voice, singing all the parts with a professionalism that just blows you away. He’s not happy with one of the parts, so he asks if he can do it again. This time the take is perfect and your jaw is on the floor.

Gordy looks at the child and smiles. “Satisfied?” he asks.

Michael Jackson, who suddenly has graduated from a nameless kid in your mind, shrugs and asks, “Can I hear it one more time, please?” He listens very intensely to the playback and nods. “Let’s do it.” Entering the studio again and standing on an apple crate so that he can reach the microphone, he places a pair of huge earphones on his head, listens to the opening strains, speaking the first line and then turning the most incredible voice loose that you have ever heard, perfectly phrased, his inflection a thing of beauty, his pronunciation clear and eloquent. Gordy is smiling broadly watching your stupefaction. He’s chuckling behind his hand as his tongue plays with the inside of his cheek.

And now, the imaginary fly buzzes annoyingly around the studio and down the hall and out the window. This fictional, imaginative interlude has been brought to you by “with a child’s heart.” You may now return your seats to the upright position, stow your dinner tray in the locked position, make sure your seat belts are buckled and prepare for landing.

So, I hear my reader asking, “What’s the point of this post?” Just this! Someone had to write the song and present it to Berry Gordy at Motown recording studios. Berry Gordy had to hear the song and think that he had the perfect person to sing it and present it to Michael Jackson. And Michael Jackson had to be Michael Jackson.

The logical-thinking person would explain these as a lucky series of coincidences. I’d rather call that same series of coincidences Divine Providence. The difference between them lies only in intent. In one, intent is present; in the other, it is not a factor, everything is left up to chance. I prefer to think of coincidences and synchronicities as God’s way of getting our attention and focusing it on the things that matter for our spiritual edification.

What is not clear in the above fictional scenario is whether or not it was at this point in his life that Michael Jackson formed his philosophy, the ruling paradigm by which he lived. What is clear – and is definitely NOT fiction – is that from this point onward Michael Jackson consistently broadcast the same message over a period in excess of 40 years. He repeated the message numerous times throughout his singing career with lyrics that he did write like Another Part of Me and Heal the World and We Are the World and We Are Here to Change the World and Cry and Earth Song and We’ve Had Enough and Shout -the list goes on and on. What is further clear is that he didn’t just sing the lyrics or write the songs and step away from the philosophy – he lived it by offering his home and his heart to sick and disadvantaged children, by visiting hospitals in every city he played during his solo career, by donating time and effort and money to worthy causes, by performing at charity events, by air-lifting medical supplies to war-torn Sarajevo, in his quiet, soft-spoken, beautiful courtesy. He was the message.

He sang, “Maybe you and I can’t do great things. We may not change the world in one day. But we still can change some things today, in our small way.” And, then, he promptly proceeded to do GREAT things. He changed the world of recording and the recording arts. He changed the world of the musical short film genre. He changed the world of dance and physical expression. He changed the world of performance and stagecraft. He changed the world of charitable giving and philanthropy. He changed the world in so many ways during his short stay with us on this little blue ball hurtling through space.

He showed us how one person can have a global impact – not in one discipline or field of endeavor – but in everything he did. And, then, he encouraged all of us to find our individual ‘passion,’ make it truly ours  and follow his example! He inspired us to look beyond arbitrary restrictions and limitations, to start with the man in the mirror and to be the change we wish to see in our world – as he was! Such an example has not walked this planet for a long time. I’m glad I lived during one such visit of a spiritual being having a human experience.

He changed my world – twice – once in the 1990’s and again when he became immortal. Has he changed yours? Give him time. He’s not finished with us, yet! I firmly believe that.

Jan

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WELCOME!

With a child’s heart

Go face the worries of the day

With a child’s heart

Turn each problem into play

It’s good advice! It’s advice that Michael Jackson lived every day of his life! He took a lot of heat for doing so. He fielded a lot of flack for his adherence to the above principle. Which is why I have chosen it for the title of my blog.

Since Michael became immortal on June 25, 2009, I have been trying to figure out his magic essence because I want to know how he remained so unjaded in an industry and society that doesn’t understand that kind of innocence. How did he stay so kind and gentle and soft-spoken and careful of stepping on other people’s egos? The man had more reason to be egotistical than any human being who ever lived! How is that he NEVER came from an egotistical place when speaking to his dancers or bands or directors as is clearly shown in This Is It?

In my own life recently I have had to judge myself guilty of egotistical words and thoughts and perpetuating arguments with others that should never have happened. I have nothing at stake. He had everything at stake – millions and millions of dollars or songs that sold in the mega-millions the world over. Yet, he never used his position to lord it over his subordinates. How did he do that?

These are the kinds of questions I would have paid money to know the answers to – not bull-tickey like plastic surgeries and elephant man’s bones and oxygen chambers – meaningful questions that could have helped those he left behind to know how to emulate the Christianity that he lived on a daily basis, the generosity he showed always.

For example, in the middle of his trial in 2005, he granted an interview with Geraldo Riviera and spoke about an effort he was organizing with his brothers to provide a song to relieve the suffering tsunami victims. Here was a man who was sitting through jury selection at the beginning of a trial in which he was accused of heinous, horrifying, humiliating criminal actions. He was being vilified and scorned by every news agency in the world as producers and publishers were gleefully rubbing their hands together in anticipation of his conviction. His appearance and face were keeping Jay Leno in business as new monologues were written nightly to jeer at his skin shade.

Is he sitting in a corner saying poor poor pitiful me? No! He’s out there planning relief efforts for tsunami victims! Where does that come from? This is going to be the first question I ask when I finally meet Michael Jackson … and I fully intend to meet him when I leave this dimension/plane or whatever! So, be thinking up your answer, Mike!

Okay … so here it comes! What question will YOU ask Michael Jackson when it comes your turn to enter the pearly gates?

Jan


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