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Joe Vogel Articles
« on: June 25, 2011, 11:13:40 AM »
Remembering Michael Jackson: The Story Behind His Magnum Opus
Posted: 06/24/11 04:50 PM ET

Before Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, before Avatar and Wall-E, before "going green" became a catchphrase, came Michael Jackson's "Earth Song," one of the most unusual, audacious protest songs in popular music history. A massive hit globally (reaching #1 in over fifteen countries), it wasn't even released as a single in the United States.

Yet nearly sixteen years later, its admirers continue to grow. The song's desperate plea on behalf of the planet and its inhabitants (particularly the most vulnerable) remains as relevant and important as ever.

"Earth Song" mattered deeply to Jackson, who rightfully considered it one of his greatest artistic achievements. He planned for it to be the climax of his ill-fated This Is It concert series in London. It was the last song he rehearsed before he died.

The following excerpt is from a 50-page piece entitled "Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson's Magnum Opus," which details the song's evolution from its inception in Vienna to Jackson's final live performance in Munich:

"Michael Jackson was alone in his hotel room, pacing.

He was in the midst of the second leg of his Bad World Tour, an exhausting, 123-concert spectacular that stretched over nearly two years. The tour would become the largest-grossing and most-attended concert series in history.

Just days earlier, Jackson had performed in Rome at Flaminio Stadium to an ecstatic sold-out crowd of over 30,000. In his downtime, he visited the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Cathedral at the Vatican with Quincy Jones and legendary composer, Leonard Bernstein. Later, they drove to Florence where Jackson stood beneath Michelangelo's masterful sculpture, David, gazing up in awe.

Now he was in Vienna, Austria, music capital of the Western world. It was here where Mozart's brilliant Symphony No. 25 and haunting Requiem were composed; where Beethoven studied under Haydn and played his first symphony. And it was here, at the Vienna Marriott, on June 1, 1988, that Michael Jackson's magnum opus, "Earth Song," was born.

The six-and-a-half-minute piece that materialized over the next seven years was unlike anything heard before in popular music. Social anthems and protest songs had long been part of the heritage of rock. But not like this. "Earth Song" was something more epic, dramatic, and primal. Its roots were deeper; its vision more panoramic. It was a lamentation torn from the pages of Job and Jeremiah, an apocalyptic prophecy that recalled the works of Blake, Yeats, and Eliot.

It conveyed musically what Picasso's masterful aesthetic protest, Guernica, conveyed in art. Inside its swirling scenes of destruction and suffering were voices -- crying, pleading, shouting to be heard ("What about us?").

"Earth Song" would become the most successful environmental anthem ever recorded, topping the charts in over fifteen countries and selling over five million copies. Yet critics never quite knew what to make of it. Its unusual fusion of opera, rock, gospel, and blues sounded like nothing on the radio. It defied almost every expectation of a traditional anthem. In place of nationalism, it envisioned a world without division or hierarchy. In place of religious dogma or humanism, it yearned for a broader vision of ecological balance and harmony. In place of simplistic propaganda for a cause, it was a genuine artistic expression. In place of a jingly chorus that could be plastered on a T-shirt or billboard, it offered a wordless, universal cry.

Jackson remembered the exact moment the melody came.

It was his second night in Vienna. Outside his hotel, beyond Ring Strasse Boulevard and the sprawling Stadtpark, he could see the majestically lit museums, cathedrals, and opera houses. It was a world of culture and privilege far removed from his boyhood home in Gary, Indiana. Jackson was staying in spacious conjoining suites lined with large windows and a breathtaking view. Yet for all the surrounding opulence, mentally and emotionally he was somewhere else.
It wasn't mere loneliness (though he definitely felt that). It was something deeper -- an overwhelming despair about the condition of the world.

Perhaps the most common trait associated with celebrity is narcissism. In 1988, Jackson certainly would have had reason to be self-absorbed. He was the most famous person on the planet. Everywhere he traveled, he created mass hysteria. The day after his sold-out concert at Prater Stadium in Vienna, an AP article ran, "130 Fans Faint at Jackson Concert." If the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, as John Lennon once claimed, Jackson had the entire Holy Trinity beat.


Michael Jackson performs in Vienna, Austria on June 2, 1988, one day after conceiving of "Earth Song."
Photo Credit: Zoran Veselinovic

While Jackson enjoyed the attention in certain ways, he also felt a profound responsibility to use his celebrity for more than fame and fortune (in 2000, The Guinness Book of World Records cited him as the most philanthropic pop star in history). "When you have seen the things I have seen and traveled all over the world, you would not be honest to yourself and the world to [look away]," Jackson explained.

At nearly every stop on his Bad World Tour, he would visit orphanages and hospitals. Just days earlier, while in Rome, he stopped by the Bambin Gesu Children's Hospital, handing out gifts, taking pictures, and signing autographs. Before leaving, he pledged a donation of over $100,000 dollars.

While performing or helping children, he felt strong and happy, but when he returned to his hotel room, a combination of anxiety, sadness, and desperation sometimes seized him.

Jackson had always been sensitive to suffering and injustice. But in recent years, his feeling of moral responsibility grew. The stereotype of his naiveté ignored his natural curiosity and sponge-like mind. While he wasn't a policy wonk (Jackson unquestionably preferred the realm of art to politics), he also wasn't oblivious to the world around him. He read widely, watched films, talked to experts, and studied issues passionately. He was deeply invested in trying to understand and change the world.

In 1988, he certainly had reason for concern. The news read like chapters from ancient scripture: there were heat waves and droughts, massive wildfires and earthquakes, genocide and famine. Violence escalated in the Holy Land as forests were ravaged in the Amazon and garbage, oil and sewage swept up on shores. In place of Time's Person of the Year, 1988's cover story was dedicated to the "endangered earth." It suddenly occurred to many that we were literally destroying our own home.

Most people read or watch the news casually, passively. They become numb to the horrifying images and stories projected on the screen. Yet such stories frequently moved Jackson to tears. He internalized them and felt physical pain. When people told him to simply enjoy his own good fortune, he got angry. He believed completely in John Donne's philosophy that "no man is an island." For Jackson, the idea extended to all life. The whole planet was connected and intrinsically valuable.

"[For the average person]," he explained, "he sees problems 'out there' to be solved... But I don't feel that way -- those problems aren't 'out there,' really. I feel them inside me. A child crying in Ethiopia, a seagull struggling pathetically in an oil spill... a teenage soldier trembling with terror when he hears the planes fly over: Aren't these happening in me when I see and hear about them?"

Once, during a dance rehearsal, he had to stop because an image of a dolphin trapped in a net made him so emotionally distraught. "From the way its body was tangled in the lines," he explained, "you could read so much agony. Its eyes were vacant, yet there was still that smile, the ones dolphins never lose... So there I was, in the middle of rehearsal, and I thought, 'They're killing a dance.'"

When Jackson performed, he could feel these turbulent emotions surging through him. With his dancing and singing, he tried to transfuse the suffering, give it expression, meaning, and strength. It was liberating. For a brief moment, he could take his audience to an alternative world of harmony and ecstasy. But inevitably, he was thrown back into the "real world" of fear and alienation.

So much of this pain and despair circulated inside Jackson as he stood in his hotel room, brooding.

Then suddenly it "dropped in [his] lap": Earth's song. A song from her perspective, her voice. A lamentation and a plea.

The chorus came to him first -- a wordless cry. He grabbed his tape player and pressed record. Aaaaaaaaah Oooooooooh.

The chords were simple, but powerful: A-flat minor to C-sharp triad; A-flat minor seventh to C-sharp triad; then modulating up, B-flat minor to E-flat triad. That's it! Jackson thought. He then worked out the introduction and some of the verses. He imagined its scope in his head. This, he determined, would be the greatest song he'd ever composed..."

Copyright © 2011 Joseph Vogel

The full version of "Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson's Magnum Opus" can be downloaded at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the iBookstore.

For more information, visit www.joevogel.net/earthsong.

« Last Edit: January 16, 2012, 12:23:04 PM by moonstreet »

Offline moonstreet

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Joe Vogel Articles
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2012, 12:22:02 PM »

Scholar Explores Cultural Legacy of Michael Jackson
Released: 1/10/2012 9:00 AM EST
Source: University of Rochester

Newswise — Controversy and scandal marred Michael Jackson's reputation as the most influential entertainer of all time, however a new book about the King of Pop is designed to change that.
“I wanted to help shift the discussion back to what made him famous in the first place, which is his music,” said Joseph Vogel, a doctoral candidate in the University of Rochester’s English Department and author of Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson (Sterling Press, 2011).

The book assesses Jackson’s solo catalog from the 1979 album Off the Wall to the music he created before his death in 2009. In order to understand the creative process behind each song and how the albums were created, Vogel drew on hundreds of sources, including archives from Jackson’s estate, Jackson’s own words, and interviews with his collaborators— some of whom are speaking out about their experiences for the first time.

In addition to receiving positive reviews in the national media, the book caught the attention of film director Spike Lee, who wrote:
“Mr. Joe Vogel has brilliantly cracked the DNA, the code of the work, the artistry of Michael Joseph Jackson. I want to stress the word 'artistry' because people have forgotten or never understood that's what MJ is, that's what he worked at day and night. This is the book I have been long awaiting — a pointed, intelligent dissection of an epic body of work. Mr. Joe Vogel breaks it down album by album, song by song."

Lee reached out to Vogel after reading his book to offer his support and invite him to speak to students in his graduate film class at New York University. Vogel also has received positive feedback from scholars who plan to use the material in courses that look at popular culture, African American studies, and music.

“I’ve always been fascinated with Michael Jackson’s music and given his cultural impact it is remarkable how little information about his body of work is available,” said Vogel, who categorizes most current literature about Jackson as fan adulation or tabloid “tell-alls.” Vogel began writing the book during Jackson’s 2005 trial on child molestation and other charges, when speculation about Jackson’s guilt was used to ridicule everything from his appearance to his children. Jackson was later acquitted of all charges.

“The book started as a way for me to use my literary background to analyze his songs, but after his death especially it also became a way to document history by putting the music in context and learning about the creative process,” said Vogel, who describes the book as a “hybrid between popular reading and scholarly research.”

Vogel writes about music, popular culture, and politics for The Huffington Post and is the author of three books, including a memoir, Free Speech 101: The Utah Valley Uproar over Michael Moore (WindRiver Publishing, 2004) and The Obama Movement: Why Barack Obama Speaks to America’s Youth (Silverton House, 2007). He is an instructor in the University’s writing program and a fourth-year doctoral candidate studying 20th century American literature, popular music and culture, and romanticism.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2012, 12:56:00 PM by moonstreet »

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Re: Joe Vogel Articles
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2012, 12:57:40 PM »

1/13/2012 @ 1:44PM |3,610 views
Michael Jackson: Man In The Music

It’s not often that I write about books in this column–FORBES does have the excellent blog, “Booked,” for that–but every now and then something I read has so much to do with the topics I regularly cover on this beat that I’m compelled to type up some thoughts.

One such book is Joe Vogel’s terrific Man In The Music (Sterling, 2011), which explores the life and work of Michael Jackson. The King of Pop, of course, is a frequent subject for me–I started writing about him on the day of his death and quickly became fascinated with his vastly-underrated business savvy. That’s been underscored in recent years by his posthumous financial success, boosted heavily by his estate’s shrewd deal-making, all of which I’ve covered extensively for FORBES.

Jackson has pulled in half a billion dollars since his death, and regularly tops our annual accounting of the top-earning dead celebrities. For that matter, he out-earned every living artist in 2010 and bested all but U2 this year; another nine-figure annual total seems likely with the success of the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour, a joint venture between the estate and Cirque du Soleil that placed Jackson back atop Pollstar’s touring charts in December.

Man In The Music puts the reader right there in the studio with Jackson, shedding some much-needed light on a mysterious and misunderstood man. Though it focuses primarily on Jackson’s sonic legacy, offering song-by-song analysis of each album, a full understanding of Jackson’s music brings his financial success into clearer perspective.

For instance, we learn that Jackson was an extremely efficient in the studio (at least earlier in his career), coming in with all his songs immaculately prepared and ready to record–a “producer’s dream.”

We’re treated to anecdotes from producer Quincy Jones, longtime sound engineer Bruce Swedien and other collaborators including Rod Temperton, Greg Philinganes, Brad Buxer and Bill Bottrell. These serve to show just how much effort Jackson and his team put into making music composed of sounds the ear had never before heard, especially in some of his later (and under-appreciated) work, like the 1995 album HIStory.

Vogel also reminds his audience of Jackson’s immense commercial ambitions. After his strong solo debut Off the Wall, he told his producers that he wanted his follow-up to be the best-selling album of all time. They laughed. And then Jackson released Thriller, which quickly fulfilled his prophesy. After that, his stated goal was for his next album to sell 100 million units. Though Bad has sold “only” an estimated 35 million copies worldwide, Thriller has surpassed 110 million.

Jackson’s heavily-publicized trials and tribulations are mrntioned throughout the book, but they’re clearly not its focus. If anything, Vogel makes the case that these events so deeply colored the perception of Jackson that his later work was never judged objectively.

Man in the Music is definitely worth a read–and don’t be surprised if it makes you go back and listen to “Stranger in Moscow” with a whole new outlook on The King of Pop.

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Re: Joe Vogel Articles
« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2012, 11:15:20 AM »

Michael Jackson's 'Blood on the Dance Floor,' 15 Years Later
MAR 21 2012, 2:02 PM ET

On June 6, 1990, producer/musician Teddy Riley was supposed to be at his friend and fellow band member's birthday party. Instead, he spent the night at a Soundworks Studio on 23rd Avenue in Queens, working on grooves for none other than the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
"I told [the group] I had a lot of work to do," Riley recalls. "Michael was my priority. I was going out to California to meet him soon, and he wanted me to bring my best work."

It was a fortuitous decision.

Later that evening, Riley learned someone was shot on the dance floor at the party he had skipped. He was shaken. At just 23 years of age, violence and death were already becoming a recurring theme in his life. Within that same year, his half-brother and best friend both had also been murdered.

The rhythm track Riley worked on that night was aggressive, ominous, menacing. But it had no words, no title, and no melody.
The following Saturday he was on his way to Neverland Ranch to meet Michael Jackson. Riley was nervous. Jackson had already tried out a handful of people to replace legendary producer, Quincy Jones, including L.A. Reid, Babyface and Bryan Loren. None stayed on.

Jackson had high hopes, however, for Teddy Riley, whose street-inflected New Jack Swing style brilliantly fused jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip hop. Indeed, perhaps its greatest achievement was in bridging the divide between R&B and hip hop, a bridge, incidentally, that Jackson had been hoping to find since working on Bad.

Jackson listened carefully to the tapes Riley brought with him and instantly loved what he heard. The tracks used different chords than he was accustomed to. The rhythms were fresh and edgy. The beats swung with velocity and hit like sledgehammers.

Among several tracks Jackson listened to that day was the groove Riley worked on the night of the party. Jackson had no idea about the context. "He knew nothing about it," Riley says. "I never told him anything about it."

A couple of weeks later, however, Riley says he was shocked to learn Jackson's title for the track: "Blood on the Dance Floor." Riley got goose bumps. "It was like he prophesied that record. He felt its mood."

Over the subsequent months, Jackson and Riley began working feverishly on a variety of tracks, sometimes separately, sometimes together at Larabee Studios in Los Angeles. "I remember he came back with this melody, 'Blood on the dance floor, blood on the dance floor.' I was like, 'Wow!' He came up with these lyrics and harmonies. Then we just started building it up, layer by layer."

Riley used a vintage drum machine (the MPC 3000) for the beat. The snare was compressed to make it pop ("I want it dry and in your face," Jackson used to say). It was a sound they used throughout the Dangerous album. "Listen to 'Remember the Time,'" Riley says. "It's very similar."

Ultimately, however, "Blood on the Dance Floor" didn't end up making it onto Dangerous. "It wasn't quite finished," Riley says. "There were still some vocal parts missing. Michael loved the song, but he would listen to it and say, 'I like what you did here, but we still need this here.' He was a perfectionist."

As the Dangerous sessions continued, other tracks began to take priority, including "Remember the Time" and "In the Closet." Jackson wouldn't resume work on "Blood" until nearly seven years later. It was now January of 1997. Jackson was in the midst of his HIStory World Tour, and had decided to visit Montreux, Switzerland during a break between the first and second leg (according to news reports, while there he also tried to purchase the home of his longtime idol, Charlie Chaplin).

Here, at Mountain Studio, Jackson went to work on the old demo. "We took Teddy's DAT (Digital Audio Tape) and worked it over with a four-man crew," recalls musician, Brad Buxer. The completed multi-track, engineered, and mixed by Mick Guzauski, was modeled very closely on the last version Jackson and Riley recorded.

"When I heard it finished, I wished I could've been the one to [complete it]," Riley says. "But Michael knows what he wants, and he was happy with it."

It was, in some ways, an unusual dance song. Like "Billie Jean," its subject matter was dark and disturbing (in this case, a narrative about being stabbed in the back in the place he least suspected--the dance floor). Jackson's clipped, raspy vocals evoke a sense of foreboding, as the electro-industrial canvas conjures a modern urban setting. Still, the song feels anything but bleak. The beat cracks out of the speakers like a whip and the hook is irresistible.

Jackson told Riley he believed the song was going to be a "smash." "He explained it like this: A hit is a song that stays on the charts for a week or two. A smash is a song that stays up there for six weeks," Riley says. "He felt 'Blood on the Dance Floor' was a 'smash.'"
"Blood on the Dance Floor" was released on March 21, 1997. Strangely, the song wasn't even promoted as a single in the U.S. Riley says Jackson didn't mind in this case. "He figured people in America would find it if they really wanted it. He wasn't worried about it." Globally, however, the song thrived, reaching the Top Ten in 15 countries and hitting No. 1 in three (including the U.K.). It also proved ripe for remixes and received frequent play in clubs and dance routines. Left off Jackson's two major studio albums that decade, "Blood" ironically became one of Jackson's most durable rhythm tracks of the '90s.

Fifteen years later, what makes the song unique? I ask Riley. "It was just a direct, aggressive sound for Michael. He always pushed for something stronger. But what was really amazing was how he pre-meditated the energy of the song. He knew what it was about even before I told him what happened that night. I've never witnessed anything or anyone as powerful as Michael."