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Archive for April, 2017

The Price of Fame

I took my baby on a river boat cruise
And she was well aware
I was excited about the way that things could have been
She said, “I don’t care”
I wore a face no one can recognize, in disguise
Someone called out my name
They thought of taking pictures, autographs, then they grab
My joy had turned to pain

Father always told me,
You won’t live a quiet life
If you’re reaching for fortune and fame
I feel the pressure setting in, I’m living just to win
I’m done in my pain, don’t you feel no pain? (No way!)

It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame
So don’t be feelin’ no pain!
It’s the price of fame, it’s the price of fame
So don’t you ever complain!

I am the cover of the magazine, what a scene
They know my every move
“Just sign your name on the dotted line, you’ll be fine.”
That always bothers me
Get in your car, you wanna take a ride, look behind
Someone is following you
You try to get away, you turn real fast, but too bad
They know your every move!

My father always told me
You won’t live a quiet life
If you’re reaching for fortune and fame
I feel the pressure setting in, I’m living just to win
I feeling all this pain, don’t you ever complain!

It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame
So don’t you ever complain!
It’s the price of fame, you pay the price for fame
So don’t be feelin’ no pain!

It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame! (uh)
Father never lies
My father never lies (price of fame)
My father never lies (price of fame)
So don’t be feeling this way boy!

I’d like to take some time and get away, then they’ll say,
Is that boy still alive? (uh)
The weak in village.(?)…what a thrill
Only the strong survive

My father always told me,
You won’t live a quiet life,
They startin’ to wonderin’ where have you been?
I feel the idiots look at me
With their mistaken jealousy (oh?)
Then stand here in my shoes
And get a taste of my blues!

It’s the price of fame!
You pay the price of fame
So don’t you ever complain
It’s the price of fame
You pay the price of fame
So don’t be feeling this way
It’s the price of fame
You pay the price of fame
So don’t you ever complain
It’s the price of fame
You pay the price of fame
My father never lies (price of fame)
My father never lies, baby
My father never lies (price of fame)
So don’t be feeling no pain boy!

To say that Michael Jackson was unconscious of the price of fame would be a miscalculation of the greatest magnitude. Here, in Price of Fame (recorded during the BAD recording sessions and released on the BAD 25 compilation) he sings about the total lack of privacy he endured throughout his childhood and adult life as well as the unsympathetic attitude of his father toward his voicing angst over it.

Many of this society’s celebrities experience this lack of privacy as a result of their extraordinary talents in film, music, or any number of artistic endeavors, but in Michael Jackson’s case, the phenomenon was magnified to such a great extent and over such a long duration (forty years) that it often resulted in his total imprisonment behind the windows of his hotel suites while on tour or his fabulous wrought iron Neverland gates when at home for his own protection as well as for the protection of the public who might have been harmed in the riots that ensued when he left his security-guarded  grounds.

That being said, the people of Solvang and Los Olivos, California (the closest neighbors of Michael’s fabulous estate, Neverland Valley Ranch) tell many stories of Michael walking completely unaccompanied through their streets; being natural, friendly, and approachable; shopping in their quaint little shops; and donating to their community charity events. His Neverland Valley Fire Protection service was often called out to assist with the ever-present dangers from forest or community fires. I have been in Solvang and Los Olivos; I have spoken to the proprietors of these shops and heard their stories. They impress me as being very protective of Michael Jackson and his privacy and proud that their small communities housed one of the most famous people on the planet for in excess of fifteen years with some semblance of grace and dignity, proving that he chose well when he located his haven in the Santa Ynez Valley.

This lack of privacy to which Michael alludes on several occasions in his music (i.e. Leave Me Alone , Price of Fame, Privacy), one of the inalienable rights granted to all citizens of the United States of America in its Bill of Rights, was, effectively, a luxury seldom known to the young boy with the golden voice or the beautiful man who was destined to become the King of Pop. He often spoke of his longing to be free to take a walk when on tour, a casual right so many of us take for granted, or to go to a supermarket and shop for groceries, a task that many of us abhor, myself included.

However, it should be noted that this lack of privacy and anonymity is not the only casualty to the price of fame; there are others. One of those others that has struck me forcefully in the compilation of this memoir, The Dangerous Diaries, is the “presumption of superficiality” on the part of the media and, therefore, on the part of the general public, which is fed on the media’s over-simplifications and downright fabrications, and to which Michael Jackson was a victim for much of his life.

Superficiality is not a trait that I would ever attribute to Michael Jackson. Conversely, his propensity to deep thought and his self-taught knowledge on a wide range of subjects, including but certainly not limited to history, philosophy, film, art, and the physical sciences, has been commented upon by many of his intimates and is fully illustrated by even the shallowest interrogation into his lyrics, poems, and performances.

A society’s artists are often on the cutting edge of social change, leading to more open perspectives, freer from artificial judgment and/or condemnation and more fully integrated thought processes. This is as true in our modern society as it was in the eras of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are just two such examples from the Renaissance era whose impact moved their contemporary society towards leaps and bounds in evolutionary terms. They were not only artists, but inventors and innovators in method and aesthetics and their society benefitted greatly through their patronage. In the period of the Reformation, Martin Luther freed his society from its bondage to domination by a mode of thinking that encouraged a status quo detrimental to the major portion of society, which favored only the elite of gentry and clergy, repositioning the common man as a major force, allowing for the creation of a middle class composed of merchants and skilled labor.

In like manner, Michael Jackson’s appearance on the scene heralded a much more integrated view of society and culture, eschewing the prevalent structures of racial segregation in the music industry and in the society-at-large, proving that music is color- as well as barrier-blind.  His music crossed every known barrier at the time, promoting unity across generational, national, religious, gender, and racial boundaries that had been in place for centuries.

Artists are the society’s barometers, its leaders and gauges against which the society is measured. Yet, in our modern culture, artists are seldom given the respect they deserve. This is demonstrably true in the case of Michael Jackson, whose songs and films swept the entire world in a global conspiracy for radical, evolutionary change and whose examples of social and humanitarian engagement have yet to be fully examined.

Almost all of the recent authors who have published works posthumously have contributed their parts to eradicating this superficial perception of Michael Jackson (with the exceptions of the Randall Sullivans and Steve Knoppers of RollingStone ilk). Armond White, Susan Fast, Elizabeth Amisu, Joe Vogel, and Mike Smallcombe all have gone a long way towards extinguishing the false premise of “superficiality” that has dogged Michael Jackson’s steps throughout his life.

However, my most recent acquisition, Dangerous From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson: Pop Culture in the Pantheon of Fine Arts by Isabelle Petitjean, a musicologist at the Sorbonne in France who has made Michael Jackson her field of research and study, has really blown the lid off this premise, in my opinion.

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I was blessed to meet Isabelle in Gary, Indiana last year (August, 2016) when she attended an art exhibition in which I participated and I attended her lecture on the Dangerous album cover at the Gary Public Library. At the time, she had had her scholarly treatise translated into English and was dissatisfied with the translation. I offered to read the translation and see if I could help to prepare it for publication for English-speaking readers; she accepted.

The book is an in-depth expose of the collaboration between the visual artist, Mark Ryden, and the pre-eminent musical artist of his (and, arguably, all) time, Michael Jackson, in conceptualizing and executing the painting which was to become the cover art illustration for the Dangerous album. The complex layering of symbolic references in the image are legion, forming a beautiful, harmonious tapestry (to which Michael Jackson often referred in describing his musical compositions) and are completely and minutely explored in Isabelle’s wonderful book as is the relationship of the two artists, their shared ideological perspectives on the world they inhabited, and the way that the artwork cover announces, enhances and, in some cases, explains the complex rhythms and external noises enmeshed within the music it contains.

Make no mistake; this is a scholarly examination by an author well versed in the terminology and sensibilities of artistic interpretation. As such, it completely explodes any perception of “superficiality” by either of the two artists it examines. However, Isabelle manages to make her artistic interpretation accessible to all, intelligentsia as well as those less well versed readers. It is entertaining, informative, and descriptive.

Mark Ryden and Michael Jackson shared a child-like frame of reference and many of Ryden’s words, as quoted in the book, could easily have come from Michael Jackson, himself.

“I still remember the joy I got out of drawing, painting, and building a world of my own when I was a child. I was free. I try to recapture that feeling I had making art as a child and to believe in magic, to play, to dream. Children see things and feel things that adults don’t. As an adult, there are many barriers to being in this creative state of mind. I feel constantly challenged by these barriers.

Mark Ryden as quoted in Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson (Used by Permission)

“… to cultivate the “inner child” […] really is a constant feature and even an inexhaustible source of unbridled creativity in relation to the natural world and the distant horizons of the supernatural and the imagination …”

Isabelle Petitjean, Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson (Used by permission)

Both Mark Ryden and Michael Jackson were fascinated by the worlds of childhood, imagination, mysticism, and circus panoply, and were deeply committed to ecological issues like global warming and endangered species. In addition, both were collectors of various objects that inspired them. An illustration of Mark Ryden’s studio filled with an eclectic assortment of seemingly unrelated items and included in the book is reminiscent of photographs of Michael Jackson’s home at Neverland, which was stuffed with toys, books, games, castles, statues, art and mannequins, all in uproarious, exuberant clutter. One can just imagine what it was like when these two artists from different fields of endeavor met to discuss their shared project. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!

“There are two very different parts to the brain. There is the logical side and the creative side. To make art you have to stop thinking in a linear way. You have to bring to life the part of your brain that finds mystical wonder in life and nature […] It is the part of your spirit that still feels like a kid, and is awe-inspired and fascinated by the world.”

Mark Ryden as quoted in Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson (Used by permission.)

“My idea of magic doesn’t have much to do with stage tricks and illusions. The whole world abounds in magic. When a whale plunges out of the sea like a newborn mountain, you gasp in unexpected delight. What magic! But a toddler who sees his first tadpole flashing in a mud puddle feels the same thrill. Wonder fills his heart because he has glimpsed for an instant the playfulness of life.”

Michael Jackson, Magic, Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine these two artists, each fully-conversant in his field of endeavor, were kindred spirits. One would expect that their collaborative effort on a project would be rich with import and sensitivity; one would not be disappointed.

Each of these artists, in his own field of endeavor, harbored a distaste for categorization, which resulted in a genre-bending and annihilating eclecticism that resulted in borrowings from many different historical eras, styles, time periods, and fields of study. Michael Jackson spoke often about his belief that “music is music and it’s all beautiful,” and the Dangerous album, in particular, is replete with examples of his use of classical, rap, rock, gospel, jazz, industrial cacophony, and Renaissance a cappella choirs, with his vocal virtuosity and compositional tapestries tying them all together in an organic harmony. Further, his short films and performances were another way for him to display his knowledge of film and dance as well as art. Beat It, BAD and You Are Not Alone are just three examples in which he pays homage to art forms that he greatly admired; the film West Side Story for the first two mentioned and Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak for the third.

In the same vein, Mark Ryden, although categorized as a Pop-Surrealist, actually borrows and is inspired by Renaissance art (Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus); the Middle Ages (Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Netherlandish Proverbs); Bouguereau (whom Michael Jackson also loved and exhibited in his home at Neverland.); Jim Blashfield’s and Michael Jackson’s collaboration  Leave Me Alone short film; and Gilles Guerin, The Mausoleum of Henri II; as well as photographs by Beaton and  circus posters of P. T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth, all of which references make their way into the artwork for the Dangerous album cover.

Both Mark Ryden and Michael Jackson encoded a great deal of spiritual symbolism into their respective artistic bodies of work; the number 7 was a particular favorite of both of these artists as is the all-seeing eye and the peacock which are also represented in the painting Dangerous.

“Through the ages, the peacock has been honored and praised for its attractive, illustrious beauty. Of all the bird family, the peacock is the only bird that integrates all colors into one, and displays this radiance of fire only when in love.

We, like the peacock, try to integrate all races through the love of music.”

Michael Jackson and Jackie Jackson for Peacock Productions, Destiny, 1978

As a matter of fact, this painting is full to overflowing with references to Michael Jackson, his signature imagery and iconography, his spiritual affinity, and his ecological and ideological universe to the point of being mind-boggling. The artwork announces an album full of innovative recordings and grabs the consumer’s attention with its colorful display, fully fulfilling its purpose as a “consumerist” design while also seeking to take the viewer on an emotional journey into the heart and soul of the artists, straddling the divide between high and low art, fine art and graphic design. Like the album, it has one foot in both worlds, providing a bridge for anyone so minded to cross.

While I am deeply honored to have played a small part in bringing the English translation of Isabelle Petitjean’s book to publication for English-speaking readers, I am, if possible, even more enthusiastic about her decision to record her lecture on Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson as presented in Gary, Indiana; Washington, D.C.; and Canada in DVD format.

The DVD format brings all the richness of the references and symbols to vibrant life and Isabelle’s narrative is calm and well-paced, her voice rich with enthusiasm for her subject, and her lovely French accent a treat to listen to. The slides accompanying the narrative are clear and well-designed and animated. While addressing the detailed descriptions contained within the book, they are a bit more visual, concise and succinct, providing an overview which entices the viewer to investigate the book for more detail. The inclusion of selected excerpts from films and performances by Jim Blashfield and Michael Jackson, as well as a few brief references from other artists, allow the viewer to more fully comprehend the points narrated and illustrate the depth and scope of both Mark Ryden’s and Michael Jackson’s erudition.

Superficial? Hardly! Both of these artists are masters of mystery and paradox; they both ask the reader/viewer/listener to question, to reflect, to seek.

The painting/album cover is a symphony for the eyes; the album a lyrical fresco for the ears.

Together they announce the three-pronged media blitzkrieg covered in the previous installment under the topic Dangerous Goes 3D with the album, short films, and Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections its tentacles reaching out to span the globe … and we haven’t even talked about the world tour, which brought the Dangerous campaign to the widest possible audience. It was a masterful juggernaut which aimed at world domination … and succeeded, not with tyranny, but with art in all its many facets.

For those interested, I include the links for the acquisition of Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson:

http://www.editions-delatour.com/fr/biographies-entretiens/3285-dangerous-from-mark-ryden-to-michael-jackson-9782752103048.html

DVD

https://www.amazon.co.uk/ENGLISH-Conference-Dangerous-Ryden-Michael-culture-Fine/dp/B06XH5TZNJ/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1493064621&sr=8-5&keywords=Petitjean%2C+Isabelle

 

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