They always say that when people of your own generation start dying around you, it reminds you of your own mortality. I know my Mum seemed to get some pleasure out of knowing she had outlived her contemporaries, even if the last 6 years of her life were spend stuck in a bed. The truth is, no one knows when, or for what reason, the Grim Reaper is going to come knocking. This week, two, well-known, people, sort of my generation, have died. Farrah Fawcett and, yesterday,Micheal Jackson. He earned the name King of Pop, though for me, his eternal youthfulness always seemed to make the title Prince more appropriate.
I have to say that, although I am a Soul Music afficianado, he was never one of my favourite singers. Partly, that is because the title King of Pop is appropriate, his music always was Pop Music rather than Soul Music, though the roots of it were always there. For the same reason, I always preferred the earlier music with the Jackson Five, rather than the later stuff, even though that was technically superior. In part that's probably also that you naturally tend to favour the music you grew up with, but mostly its due to being more concerned with the actual sound that is produced by the singer and the musicians, than how some technician can enhance it. But, no one can dispute that Michael Jackson was a huge influence on music and entertainment. Its only right to pay some kind of tribute.
Like many people of my generation, most specifically those like myself that were into dancing, and the all-pervasive Motown and Soul music that dominated every dance hall in the land at the time, I remember hearing Michael Jackson first when I was still at school. We had our own Fourth and Fifth Form Common Room in the school, with a record player, from where, everyday, the sounds of the Temptations, Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight, Junior Walker and Smokey Robinson, and occasionally the Stones, would issue forth. Yet, the first time I heard, "I Want You Back", although the tradition was obvious, there was something different, something novel about the sound. It was I think, the sound produced by Michael Jackson, who, at the time, must have been soemthing like an 11 year old kid, but who was singing this song about adult things, as though he was himself a mature adult!
In fact, a couple of years later, in 1972, I was sitting in the Wagon & Horses with my girlfriend - now my wife - trying to stretch out a couple of drinks as long as possible, because we had no money, and it was cold outside. You never knew when everywhere was going to go pitch black, because the 1972 Miners Strike was on, and every so often there would be a power cut. As we sat there, possibly gazing into the others eyes! - the sound of Michael singing "I'll Be There", came on what I think must have been the radio, because I don't think they had a Juke Box. I remember we talked about how you couldn't imagine the other young singing sensation of the time, Jimmy Osmond, singing that song, I was going to say, or at least not with anything like the same effect, but no, you just can't imagine it.
I suppose the next period I associate with Michael Jackson is some years later around the late 70's and early 80's. I remember, particularly when my oldest son was just born, and I was lecturing part-time, I used to spend alot of time with him, and we'd dance around the living room, if the beat was right and the mood took me, I'd probably also do a bit of diving over arm-chairs and so on. My son must have imbibed some of the music, because he still likes music from that time now. It was a time where the old soul music of the 60's and 70's had given way to its younger sibling Disco, along with a plethora of films like Saturday Night Fever and so on.
I think I'm right in saying it was the last record Michael made with his brothers, before going solo. And within a couple of years he had become a superstar. It was a far different world in 1984, when the Miners were once again on strike, this time not for more money, but trying to protect jobs and communities, compared to 1972. And now also, the Michael Jackson who produced a string of huge hits was not the same Michael Jackson, the kid who sang "I'll Be There." Nor was the production that went into "I Want You Back" apparently even in the same century as that which went into the production of "Thriller", which broke ground not just as a song, but in being essentially a mini-film attached to the music. There's not much music I can remember let alone want to remember from the 80's, but I can still remember vividly driving from one Miners Picket line to another during that period with "Thriller" playing on the tape in the car.
I suppose the final piece of music I can relate to is "Smooth Criminal", because it coincided with my youngest son, being at the stage of dancing about to music, and he's always been interested in music and video and films, which I suppose is why he works in media now. I remember going to a cousin's wedding, and he was dressed up in a waistcoat and bow tie, and I joined him on the dance floor, for a bit of moonwalking. In that regard, as a bit of hoofer, I suppose I should also end by saying soemthing about Michael Jackson and the dancing. Apparently, Fred Astaire was a big fan, and said he watched in awe the first time he saw Michael Moonwalk. In fact, Moonwalking was only an adaptation of something we used to do back in the late late 60's, except then you basically remained in one spot, with your feet sliding forward. It was something, mostly skinheads used to do, as I recall wearing white butcher's trousers that glared under the ultra violet lights, dancing to what we used to call Reggae back then, but what would probably be called Ska today.
Like many other black performers, Michael says that he picked up most of his moves from earlier singers who also danced energetically on stage, in particular, Jackie Wilson, and James Brown. James Brown in particularly well known for his slides. But, as you would see if you saw the "Stax" film on TV a few months ago, if you watched Sam Moore, of Sam & Dave fame, you would see many of the moves, including those we developed as Northern Soul Dancers, like the Backdrop. In fact, nearly all the Northern Soul dancing can be traced back to people like Sam & Dave, Jackie Wilson, and further back to people like the Clarke Brothers, as well as to all those unnamed Jitterbuggers who came across with the US armed forces, and strutted their stuff in dancehalls across Britain during the 1940's and 50's.
There was nothing new in the spins and feet movement, we'd done it all before, after hours of training, but Michael Jackson as with his music brought a degree of technical excellence and polish to it.
Dance On Michael