His blog is always one of the first places I go to when there is a pending Michael Jackson release, a place where I know I will always get the most honest and up to date chart information, reviews, and more.
Now that the dust and hype has settled around 2014’s release of the Xscape album, this is a good time to really step back and assess what this album-and perhaps more importantly, its songs-represents for Michael’s legacy. After all, it’s always easy to get caught up in the feverish hype and excitement of a new Michael Jackson release. But only time can really assess how well these songs hold up alongside the great classics we know and love. Regardless of whether you were one of those celebrating or protesting the release of Xscape, one thing that is for certain-and one thing we could all agree on-is that those eight original, demo tracks represented some damn great Michael Jackson work. Where it becomes a much grayer area is determining to what extent the integrity of those tracks was compromised by the modern “contemporizing” done by producers L.A. Reid, Timbaland, Jerome Harmon, Stargate, John McClain and Rodney Jerkins. But that controversy isn’t the focus of Shield’s book. Instead, he puts the focus squarely back where it belongs-on the songs themselves and the stories behind them. In the introduction, he describes a conversation with a friend that took place in June of 2014, at the time in which the album’s promotion was at its peak.
“Our conversation about Xscape was rooted in frustration. We were frustrated with the fact that the original versions of Michael’s work— the versions that Michael himself spent countless hours, days, weeks, months, and in some cases years working diligently on perfecting— were seemingly being ignored during the promotion of the album, while the newly remixed versions were given a multimillion-dollar marketing push and global platform. It felt, at least to us, like the original versions were being treated by the record label and estate merely as obligatory inclusions, rather than the brilliant must-hear masterpieces they actually were. It felt like those in charge of overseeing Michael’s legacy— the gatekeepers to his vast catalog of released and unreleased material— did not believe in his ability to appeal to mainstream audiences. It felt as though they had no faith in the quality of the work itself, and that these timeless artistic blueprints were somehow outdated and out of touch; not trendy or contemporary enough to capture the attention or imagination of today’s youth. It felt like they had absolutely no confidence in the marketability of the “Michael Jackson” brand on its own, instead relying on the names of “current” producers and artists to feature on, remix, and essentially redraw the blueprints that Michael and his team of sonic architects had worked so hard to draft.”-Damien Shields, excerpted from the Introduction to Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind.
Shields, Damien (2015-03-24). Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind (Kindle Locations 34-43). Modegy, LLC.. Kindle Edition.
Let’s just ask a few questions, and you can determine if this is a book for you based on how you answer. Were you one of those who found it just slightly irritating that almost all of the hype surrounding the Xscape release seemed to be more about the producers than The Master himself? And yet…did you notice that almost all of the critical praise the album generated was mostly due to the strength of the demos on the deluxe edition, rather than the newly produced versions? Did you question whether Michael really needed a fake duet with Justin Timberlake to sell his music (even if,granted, it was a strategy that worked at least in this case?). Most of all, did you find that over time, it was those original demos-those recordings that best represented Michael’s actual visions for these songs-that kept you coming back to Xscape for repeated listenings? And did you, at any point, find yourself wondering about the origins and histories of those tracks? Yes, we had the liner notes, but if you were like me, you still wanted to dig deeper. For example, how much did Michael actually contribute to those tracks (the ones he didn’t write himself) and just why did these songs ultimately end up on the recording studio equivalent of the cutting room floor? (The answers are not always the ones we expect!). And how much do we really know about Michael’s own vision for these tracks?
When Xscape was first released, we got a lot of these guys’ stories-what was it like to be tasked with producing and updating these tracks? Though their stories were interesting, it still left a huge gap unfilled:
This is where Xscape Origins comes in, and it is a must-have read in order to complete the story of what at least one critic, Buzzfeed’s Matthew Perpetua, called “The Great Michael Jackson Record He Wouldn’t Have Let Himself Make.”
As many of you may recalI, I wrote a rave review of Xscape at the time of its release, and over a year later I still stand by it.
I was not one of those who had an issue with the updated versions of the songs. I thought for the most part the production was handled with respect for Michael’s original vision (if we can make an exception for Timbaland’s quacking ducks on “Chicago; still don’t know what the hell was up with that!). In some cases, I liked a couple of the updates at least almost as much as the originals. “Xscape” is simply a kick ass song in either incarnation, which may have had something to do with the fact that Rodney Jerkins was the force behind both versions. But this is not about the modern producers or the process of “updating” Michael’s songs. That story has already been told. This is about the songs. It’s about the writers, producers, musicians and engineers who first breathed life into these tracks.
And one amazingly talented singer, performer, and writer who oversaw all of them from start to finish, the one who indelibly stamped his blood, sweat and tears into every crevice, every groove. You may have heard of him.
In telling the background story of each track, Shields chose a very simple structure that works well.The book follows the chronological order of the album. He gives the full background story of every track. from inception to its most recently known incarnation prior to the making of Xscape. While a lot of the information may be well known to hardcore fans who have followed the history of his recorded works, there are still a lot of surprising facts and little known trivia, enough to make the book worthwhile even for the hardcore. This is mostly due to the fact that Shields is not an armchair writer content with second hand sources. In writing this book, he conducted exhaustive, personal interviews with those who were involved intimately in the creative process of these tracks alongside Michael. Along the way, he also clears up some of the erroneous information that was put out at the time of the album’s release. For example, “Love Never Felt So Good” did not date back to 1983 and the Thriller era, as some outlets mistakenly reported, but actually predated Thriller by two years, having been recorded at Anka’s house in 1980. The error was widely circulated without check at the time (perhaps because it was assumed to be more advantageous for sales if the public believed it to be a Thriller-era track?). Another “who woulda thunk it” moment was learning that the “warp sound” (as L.A. Reid described it in the documentary accompanying the deluxe edition) was not the sound of a thirty-year-old damaged tape at all, but part of an experiment in sound being conducted by Michael and his collaborative partner on the track, synthesist John Barnes. This was one of the sounds Michael apparently kept because he liked it.
And did you know that the version of “A Place With No Name” that we hear on the album actually dates from a final version that was recorded in 2008, and not the first version that dates from 1998?
It doesn’t end there. You may know, for example, that “Chicago” was never called “Chicago” at all but, rather, “She Was Loving Me.” “Chicago” was never even a subtitle; it was not an alternate title. The song was never anything but “She Was Loving Me” during Michael’s lifetime; its official BMI registration is listed as such,and it remains somewhat of a mystery why the title was changed, other than that someone at Epic evidently thought “Chicago” sounded more catchy. I must admit, I like “Chicago” better, too; “She Was Loving Me” isn’t exactly a title to catch the world on fire, but it does beg the bigger and more disturbing question: Just how many liberties are being taken with these works? (Funny side note: Michael was informally challenged to replace “Chicago” with the name of another city to prove that “Chicago” was the only city whose name would fit the song. He apparently had fun trying out many variations, according to songwriter Cory Rooney, singing everything from “I met her on the way to Los Angeles” to “I met her on the way to San Francisco”).
The track was also a vocal tour de force for Michael, requiring alternate days in which to record the low voice for the verses and the higher “Dirty Diana” register for the choruses. While I won’t spoil too much, I’ll just say that the background stories behind those recording sessions alone are well worth the cover price.
Although the Xscape album does contain three tracks dating to the 80’s and one-“Slave To the Rhythm”-from the early 90’s Dangerous sessions,most of the tracks that dominate the album date to the first phase of the Invincible sessions, from 1998 to approximately 2000. Part of what fascinates me about Xscape is that I can always envision when listening to it that this is the album that Invincible might have been. Don’t get me wrong, I love Invincible. But I still find it, overall, a flawed album, one that begins strong but is ultimately bogged down in the middle by several weaker tracks. So I do somewhat “get” what critics like Matthew Perpetua were saying. The tracks from Xscape comprising the Invincible era-“Chicago,””A Place With No Name,” “Blue Gangsta” and, especially, the title track, are not only strong tracks in and of themselves, but there is a cohesion to them (as well as Xscape’s other four tracks) that makes them work especially well as a unit.
According to Shields, the tracklist for Invincible as it stood in mid 2000, when the mixing process began, was slated to include “Break of Dawn,” “A Place With No Name,” “Blue Gangsta” (basically all of the Dr. Freeze collaborations), “She Was Loving Me” (“Chicago”), “Speechless,” “Cry,” “We’ve Had Enough,” “You Rock My World,” and “Xscape.” Although I love many of the tracks that came later-“Threatened,” “2000 Watts, “Unbreakable,” “Butterflies,” etc, I can’t help but envision what might have been had this earlier version materialized. The truth is that the Invincible album dropped at a time when most music critics simply could no longer look past the media caricature of Michael Jackson long enough to fairly assess his music. Invincible, an album clearly at least ten years ahead of its time, was unfairly dismissed out of hand by many. Yet the critical reception to Xscape did seem to give pause for thought. How differently might Invincible have been received at the time had this original, conceptually tighter version of the album come to fruition? We may never know, but this does bring up another important point that the book addresses. Just because these songs didn’t appear on any album during Michael’s lifetime doesn’t make them inferior. It simply meant, as so often happened out of hundreds of tracks culled, written, and recorded for every project, that Michael ultimately decided their time hadn’t come just yet. A few of these tracks in particular were “A Place With No Name,” which Michael returned to for over a decade, and “Xscape” which he specifically said would be on the next project and to which he vowed to Rodney Jerkins would “see the light of day one day.” As with “A Place With No Name” he was still working on “Xscape” as late as 2008, a year before his death. This is an apt quote from Michael, included in the book, which explains exactly why it often took him years to develop a song to his satisfaction:
“A perfectionist has to take his time,” explains Jackson. “He shapes and he molds and he sculpts that thing until it’s perfect. He can’t let it go before he’s satisfied; he can’t.”
“If it’s not right, you throw it away and you do it over. You work that thing till it’s just right. When it’s as perfect as you can make it, you put it out there. Really, you’ve got to get it to where it’s just right; that’s the secret. That’s the difference between a number thirty record and a number one record that stays at number one for weeks. It’s got to be good. If it is, it stays up there and the whole world wonders when it’s going to come down.”-Michael Jackson
Shields, Damien (2015-03-24). Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind (Kindle Location 1240). Modegy, LLC.. Kindle Edition.
After the controversial fiasco of the “Michael” album, Xscape was a much needed healing step in the right direction, proving that a good posthumous Michael Jackson album could be a possibility. However, Xscape’s strength stands ultimately not on its modern production values but in the stark, raw power of those eight songs, their master sculptor, and the collaborative teams behind them who helped bring their magic to fruition.
This is their story. And it’s worth reading.
Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind can be purchased on Amazon.com:
Michael Jackson Molestation Case: Wade Robson’s Lawsuit Against Singer’s Estate Dismissed-International Business Times Headline from May 28, 2015
“Lies Run Sprints, But The Truth Runs Marathons”-Michael Jackson
This blog’s previous post focused on many of the sham cases that have been brought against Michael Jackson and the many, numerous attempts to frame him that have been going on for over two decades. However, today I would like to focus on the positive. I have said it before and will say it again: No matter how much we may wish to view Michael as a martyred hero, the truth is that the American justice system has been good to Michael Jackson. Over and over, there have been people who tried to bring him down, but in almost every instance the courts have vindicated him. However, perhaps phrasing it as the American justice system being “good” to Michael is erroneous. After all, it isn’t the justice system’s responsibility to be “good” or “bad” to anyone. It is, however, the responsibility of the justice system to ensure that truth prevails, and justice is done.
So let’s think about what that means in relation to Michael, the man who once said that lies will run sprints but the truth will run marathons.
June 13, 2005 is a very special day on the timeline of Michael Jackson history, a day that fans often commemorate as a day of both celebration and somber reflection. This year has an especial relevance, however, as it marks the tenth anniversary of that event-a decade since justice prevailed. A lot can happen in ten years. Both of the trial’s principle players-who faced each other from opposing ends-are now gone. But justice does have strange ways of winning out. Ten years ago, Tom Sneddon had envisioned an end with Michael behind bars and his own reputation shooting into the stratosphere of glory. Ten years later, Michael Jackson’s reputation and legacy are all but restored, his name and brand stronger than ever, and poor Tom Sneddon is…well, dead.
The day has come to be known informally as V-Day, which is short for both Verdict Day or Vindication Day. It also parodies the nickname V-Day as in Victory Day, bestowed upon May 9 to commemorate the day in 1945 that Nazi Germany capitulated to the Soviet Union, effectively marking the beginning of the end of World War II. There are no doubt some who would think it is trivial, even insulting, to compare the ending of a world war and thousands of soldier deaths to Michael Jackson’s day in court. But for Michael and those who lived through those dark 134 days in early to mid 2005, the name V-Day is all too fitting, and with utmost respect to anyone who has endured a war fraught with great battles. By the end of that ordeal, Michael was a seasoned soldier who had fought the good fight to the end. And so, too, were his fans-soldiers who had dug in their trenches and stood firm for what they believed was right, at a time when it was certainly not the popular stance to take. And, like all battle weary soldiers, victory was not easily won. Both Michael and the fans who stood loyal in those battle trenches came out scarred.
V-Day in the Michael Jackson case produced strong emotions from all sides. For many, it was a day of rejoicing and thankfulness. However, in many circles, it was a day in which “celebrity justice”-a belief already confirmed for many by the O.J. Simpson verdict-seemed all but confirmed. I knew instantly, as the shocked backlash against the verdict began to permeate the airwaves within minutes, that Michael’s victory would be a hollow one in the court of media and public opinion. However, I can’t really blame those who, at the time, thought of this as just another case of a celebrity “getting off” yet again. In the wake of the O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake cases. the mood of the nation at the time was bound to be intolerant of what seemed like another case of “celebrity justice,” especially when the very biased media coverage of the trial had made it an almost foregone conclusion in our minds that he must be guilty.
But while some rejoiced and many lashed out in angry bitterness, Michael simply went home and collapsed in bed. Doesn’t this remind you of every soldier who ever returned home after battle? Relatives rejoice and celebrate, while elsewhere politicians and armchair analysts debate political motives and what was “right” or “wrong” with the war. The poor soldier, meanwhile, shell shocked and battle weary, just wants to shut it all out and forget. Their minds, bodies, and spirits can neither rejoice nor argue; emotions like joy, anger, or even regret have no part. All the soldier can feel is a numb thankfulness that he is home and alive-and if he is fortunate, in one piece.
Pictures speak a thousand words: Michael was a shell shocked war veteran by V-Day, visibly scarred and emotionally detached from his surroundings:
I don’t have to ask anyone if this is how Michael felt on V-Day. I know it, from the depths of my soul as one soldier to another. It doesn’t matter whether our battles are fought on the field, or in the courtroom, or in the traumatic things we endure mentally, physically, or spiritually. The results are the same.
But however shell shocked and battle weary Michael may have emerged from that ordeal, the important thing to remember is that on Monday, June 13th, 2005, justice prevailed. Michael Jackson was fully exonerated on not just one or two, but all fourteen counts for which he had been charged.
And with that in mind, this is a good day to pause and reflect on Michael’s statement that lies may run sprints, but the truth will run marathons. For every crazy and outlandish accusation brought against Michael, and for almost every wrong done against him that has been brought to court, Michael has emerged victorious time and again-not because his money “bought him off” (though having good attorneys never hurts!) but because going to trial has a peculiar way of forcing the truth to come out. Lies can indeed sprint pretty quickly; they can run all over tabloid headlines; they can run amok on TV; they can shoot quickly out of a starting gate. But they cannot hold up under the intense scrutiny of court proceedings.
The record speaks for itself. In 2005, Michael was fully acquitted. But the truth’s long distance marathon doesn’t end there. In virtually every silly case ever brought against him that went to trial (and here I am referring to the gamut of frivolous lawsuits) Michael emerged victorious time and again. In every instance in which he counter sued parties for damages, he was either awarded fully or partially in his favor. In 2011, Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty in Michael’s criminal death trial, resulting in some measure of justice for his homicide. And, just a few weeks ago, Judge Beckloff gave Wade Robson his walking papers, at least as far as the probate case is concerned.
The only thing that puts a crinkle in this near perfect record of justice was the result of the AEG trial. I still feel firmly, to this day, that AEG should have been held accountable in that lawsuit, but I suppose as the old saying goes, you can’t win them all.
That still, however, leaves an incredible track record of prevailed justice, especially for a man who was so often put in the defense position for much of his life. It has been almost six years since his death and he is not here to defend himself against accusations that continue to plague him even in death, but perhaps he need not fear. Truth and justice still seem to fight on his side, as has been proven time and again. In closing, another of Michael’s famous phrases comes to mind: “God is for me, who can be against me?”
God fights only on the side of His children and not for the forces who work for the opposing team. And indeed if God fights on your side, then what is there to fear? I believe it has been proven time and again that God is fighting on Michael’s side.
And if God and Truth are on your side, then the forces of darkness have no power. Ten years and counting, the truth is still running strong.
As promised, here is the final installment of student essays for this semester.
Sorrow for Human Responsibility by Paul Reising
Michael Jackson, perhaps one of the most widely known artists of all time, wrote and produced many pop hits and famous videos. He was most famous, however, for his controversies and meanings behind his works. Many such works pale in comparison to “Earth Song.” This work is most famous for being his last performance, and also for showing his true stance on how we as a race, treat and respect our planet, Earth. Michael Jackson was famous for his socially conscious music, but “Earth Song,” his big, bold environmental call-to-arms, is often overlooked (Pasternack). While the vast majority of his songs and videos were focused on relationships and pure entertainment, this particular song took a dark, somber, and more serious tone. The fun aspect was replaced by stark, graphic, and overall disturbing depictions of the effects of human irresponsibility, recklessness, and exploitation. “Earth Song” portrays Michael Jackson’s true convictions toward mankind’s misbehavior toward the planet they walk upon, the creatures they step on, and themselves through the imagery, symbolism, and lyrics.
The song portrayed a lone man walking through what looked like a deforested wasteland. The man, who was Michael, preached his sadness for what had become the state of the planet. Imagery such as: a forest being systematically cut down, a mutilated elephant, a dried up lake without living animals near, a war-torn town, a seal being slaughtered, a trapped dolphin, a graphic display of industrial pollution, sorrowful natives for their loss of lively-hood, and tank heading straight for the camera. Deforestation was, and is, a menace to the well-being of the balance of nature. Michael shows to be weeping for the falling trees and hurts when they hit the ground. A dried up lake in the video goes back in time to its perfect original state of harmony, showing lifelessness and human calamity. A gruesome sight next to the dried up bed of water was a dead elephant with its tusks removed by poachers, also, with a dead calf next to it. This depicts the ongoing illegal exploitation of nature and its resources for a profit, as does the seal being killed and the dolphins being trapped. The destroyed village depicts a distraught, displaced family about to search their crumbling home in search for their child, only to find a wrecked bike. A quick yet impact heavy scene depicts an industrial complex spewing and flooding the atmosphere with toxins and unknown gasses, which gives an ominous feel and we know to be devastating to ozone level. Natives of several places, including Africa and South America are shown to be weeping over their destroyed land and lively-hood. And finally, a tank rolling towards the camera gives a graphic reminder of the ongoing presence of unwelcome warfare. These scenes and images provide a myriad of painted pictures, showing how Michael felt about the wrongs of mankind.
Michael uses the images, however, for a deeper, more meaningful purpose of showing his true, underlying feelings in the symbolism. Michael’s full black outfit throughout the video represents his emotions while singing. It shows his sorrow and dissatisfaction with the current state of how mankind is treating its home. The wasteland surrounding him show what effect humanity had on that particular area and how far it is willing to go in exploiting nature. The hand being repelled by the oncoming chainsaw on the tree symbolizes innocence and good intentions being overthrown by greed and lust. The home of the war-torn family was shown to have a kid, but all that was known from the destroyed house was that a destroyed bike was all that was left. The bike is a symbol for innocence and it being destroyed represents how it was lost to the horror of war.
A selection of cultures from around the world were shown weeping and bowing submissively, scooping up dirt and pleading for salvation. This shows the extent of desperation for a positive change. A tank was shown heading straight for the viewer in one scene, and this symbolizes the part of humanity that is unstoppable and unrecoverable, just like the image of that tank. This aspect would be greed. Finally, the large gusts of wind blowing across the surface of the earth represents the much wanted cleansing and renewal of Earth and all its resources. These symbols reveal and punctuate Michael’s true opinion on how Earth is being treated by its inhabitants.
Although symbols and images reveal a lot, the lyrics come straight from Michael’s heart. There were three main lines that made the most impact. In “Earth Song,” “What about the peace you pledged your only son?” questions god as to why he allows suffering or it could mean he is questioning mankind as to why we have not been able to end and resolve means to warfare. “I don’t know where we are,” shows Michael’s belief that humans have altered Earth to a state where it could no longer be recognized. The repeated use of “What about us?” indicates his concern about our uncertain future. His lyrics come straight from the heart and show his love of Earth.
“Earth Song” as a whole portrays someone who loves the Earth dearly and hates the changes to it based on humanities’ shortcomings and mistakes. It uses imagery to paint the picture of sorrow. It makes use of symbolism to show a deep understanding of his feeling for Earth. Finally, the lyrics emphasize his feelings about humanity, Earth, and its future. Michael Jackson was a person who deeply loved Planet Earth.
Themes and Symbolism in Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” by Jacob Slaughter
Like a great many of pop singer Michael Jackson’s works, “Earth Song” and the music video released with it is packed with symbols and deeper meaning. The third single from his 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, “Earth Song” was all about humanity destroying the beautiful planet on which we live on. The video opens in an apocalyptic wasteland, with scorched earth as far as the eye can see. The video sheds light on the cruelty of humanity.
While “Earth Song” eventually became the highest selling single of all time in the U.K. and garnered much acclaim throughout many European countries, it never got near as much praise in the United States. Its unusual blend of blues, gospel, and hard rock was perhaps something that American audiences weren’t used to hearing. Hits like “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” and “Man In The Mirror” garnered much more acclaim in Jackson’s home country because of our tendency to lean more towards more pop-oriented music.
One of the many sad parts of the video includes an African family looking on at the remains of an elephant and her baby, killed by poachers. The environment changes from having dead grass and dead elephants to being full of life, with a crystal clear lake and a whole herd of elephants gallivanting around and having a great time. This is perhaps Michael saying that he thinks whatever damage we have done to the Earth isn’t entirely unfixable.
In Joseph Vogel’s Excerpts From Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus, Vogel sums up the overall tone and message of the song perfectly:
“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 modern-day “sorrow song” haunted by voices of the past; a lamentation torn from the pages of the Old Testament; an apocalyptic prophecy in the tradition of Blake, Yeats, and Eliot.” (4)
While I wouldn’t exactly call it an apocalyptic “prophecy,” I think Vogel’s description of the message that the song is trying to convey is perfect. Songs like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and NWA’s “F*** Tha Police” are counterculture anthems that challenge listeners to stand up for their rights against authority; songs like these have always been common in mainstream rock music. “Earth Song” is similar in that it is trying to convey a message to its listeners, but it is something a lot deeper. “Earth Song” doesn’t challenge social issues of a particular race or region but rather contains a meaning that everybody can relate to: the gradual destruction of Planet Earth by its inhabitants.
About halfway through the music video of “Earth Song,” a storm begins to ravage the landscape, tearing up houses and creating dust storms. This is perhaps symbolic of God or Mother Nature’s wrath against humanity. In the Biblical book of Genesis, God was more than a little displeased with the way His people were behaving and the way they were treating the beautiful planet that He had created, so he flooded the Earth, killing everything there was and starting anew. The storm in the video is perhaps a second “purging” of humanity by God.
Another symbol found in the video is the people scooping up dirt with their hands. While I’m no expert on symbolism, I look at this as humanity admitting its wrongdoing and asking for Mother Earth’s forgiveness. In the second verse, Michael asks “What have we done to the world? What have we done?” Michael sees that we have treated the Earth with utter negligence and change needs to happen soon.
“Earth Song” is a beautiful anthem that carries a very crucial message: if humanity does not get its act together, it just might be doomed. However, while it is a rather dark song, it does provide a sense of hope and redemption (at least in the video). While we humans may be a rather stubborn species, we can all pull together and do our best to prevent any more devastation than we have already caused.
Inside “Earth Song” by Dylan Bryant
What makes a great musical artist? There are many ways to measure what makes one great, such as the duration of his or her career, number of hit songs, critical reception, impact on culture or album and ticket sales. One artist that possessed all of these things and more was Michael Jackson. Often referred to as the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson was a driving force behind modern pop music. Throughout his career, Jackson won 23 American Music Awards, the most of any artist, as well as 13 Grammy awards (CNN Library). Michael was also a very active philanthropist and advocate for change in the world. He wrote and performed several songs to draw attention to causes he felt were important. In 1995, Jackson released his single “Earth Song” which was accompanied by a dramatic music video. Jackson wrote “Earth Song” to try and convey his interpretation of how the Earth was suffering, and that the suffering was caused by the actions of mankind. The video is an allegory, and as such it is brimming with symbolism and different thematic elements.
The video to “Earth Song” opens to a lush forest teaming with wildlife. There is a drastic change to the setting however, as the viewer next sees a bulldozer moving steadily through the trees. Then, the viewer sees Jackson wearing tattered clothing and walking haltingly through a devastated forest that has been razed and left aflame. This opening scene sets the tone for the remainder of the video which is very somber and despondent. The ruined forest which Jackson is walking through is also very symbolic. The large trees are all cut down to nearly the same height, and flames can be seen across the entirety of the horizon. The destruction of this forest was obviously caused by man, and not by a natural event which is evidenced by the cut marks left in the stumps of the trees. Through this scene, Jackson may have been trying to convey this eventuality of our world should we not change our ways and stop our incessant destruction in the name of progress.
Jackson’s disheveled attire in the opening scene is also symbolic, and clearly done with purpose. He is wearing a jacket and pants, both of which are in poor condition. He wears a dark shirt underneath the jacket, it too is in poor condition with apparent tears and holes in the fabric. While the devastated forest is meant to show the destruction caused by mankind, Jackson’s clothing appears to show that the condition of man is attuned to that of the Earth and that mankind cannot survive without the Earth.
Later in the video, there comes a scene with Jackson falling to his knees and grasping handfuls of dirt. This is followed by groups of people from various cultures across the planet, with each group falling to knees and grasping at the earth as Jackson did. After each group of people is shown to the viewer, it is quickly followed by an example of destruction caused by mankind. These images may represent the actions of those specific cultures that precede them. This scene serves to show that all of mankind serves as steward for the planet, and every person and culture is responsible for protecting the Earth.
Another example of symbolism in this scene is the commonality of every culture descending to their knees. The action of dropping to one’s knees is common in many religions around the world. Resting on the knees is also often associated with the act of prayer. The scene could be intended to represent the people of the Earth all repenting for their destructive ways and seeking forgiveness.
Religious themes are not foreign to Jackson, and “Earth Song” has clear Gospel music influences. The religious overtones are further confirmed in Joseph Vogel’s book Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus where the author writes, “Raised a Jehovah’s Witness, he was taught to believe in a God that was rigid and demanding (including the commandment not to celebrate holidays or birthdays). The main purpose of life was to prepare oneself for Armageddon, which Witnesses believed was imminent and futile to try to delay or prevent. The goal, rather, was to become one of the elite righteous members (the 144,000) that would survive and preside over the earth once it was cleansed of wickedness” (25). If Jackson truly believed as Vogel claims, then Jackson’s motivation behind the next scene of the video becomes more clear. In the scene following the groups of people grasping the Earth, a powerful earthquake begins to assail what appears to be the entirety of humanity. The earthquake is followed by a great storm which seems to reach every corner of the world. This terrible storm is reminiscent of the story of Noah’s Ark in the Bible, and the story could be the inspiration for Jackson’s storm. The storm represents the cleansing of the Earth, and a return to its natural state. The final scene of the video shows a single man standing in a forest, which could also represent a fresh start similar to Noah.
Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” is a desperate cry for change. The song is a lamentation for what has beset the Earth, as well as recrimination for man’s fault in destroying both the planet as well as atrocities committed against mankind. Many musicians have had their ambitions sated by monetary earnings or fame, but Jackson was not satisfied with simply playing music to the masses. He desired for his music to have greater meaning and have a positive impact on the world. Nowhere is this desire for impacting the world more evident than in “Earth Song,” and if we heed Michael Jackson’s words, perhaps the world will be the better for it.
“Earth Song” by Maretta Thompson
Earth Song is a cry out not only to God, but to humanity in general. Struggling with his leaving the religion he grew up in, Jehovah’s Witness, Michael Jackson is trying to understand why God is allowing our planet to be destroyed and why mankind is destroying it. Released November 27, 1995 the song about the destruction and rebirth of Earth was accompanied by a video that was filmed in four geographical regions of the world, the Amazon Rainforest, a war zone in Croatia, Tanzania and New York. (contributors)
The song “Earth Song”, brings a lot of truths about the destruction, that is happening all over the world, to planet earth and the destruction that was yet to come if things did not change. As with many songs, it takes people watching the video to get the full effect of the song. In “Earth Song”, the lyrics are hard to understand through much of the song. Reading the lyrics while listening to the song helps to understand what Michael is trying to get across in his song, while watching the video makes one not only understand the song, but to actually “get it”. The video to” Earth Song”, could get the point across even without the words being said.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, Jeremiah is a voice in the wilderness, known as the weeping prophet, that “cries out to the people to change their apostasy and return to God”.-Excerpt from Michael Jackson’s Love of Planet Earth, pg.41 (Veronica Bassill) Michael Jackson seems to be portraying Jeremiah in the video of ”Earth Song”. He is seen pleading with God throughout the whole video. The video begins in what could be the Garden of Eden from Genesis, but the first scene that Michael appears, seems to be a scene from the end of the world as told about in Revelations. He is crying out with is arms raised towards the heavens seemingly looking to God for answers. At a complete loss, he along with many other people from different nations hit their knees pounding the ground, running the soil through their fingers and praying for earth, praying for change.
Throughout “Earth Song”, Michael Jackson asks thirty-eight questions beginning with “what about sunrise?” The sunrise symbolizes the beginning of a new day, which is what he is wanting for planet earth, a day that the earth is not being destroyed by trees being cut down, flowering fields being destroyed, forest trails being burnt, animals being trapped, tortured and killed, and children dying from starvation, or war. Ironically, the next to the last question in the song is “What about Death?” It begins with a fresh start and ends with death, just as any living thing does. The song covers so many questions that every human should be asking. Twice in the song, he asks “Did you ever stop to notice?” Most people do not stop to notice. As long as they have a roof over their head and food to eat, they do not think about what is going on around them. Millions of people are homeless, hungry, or sick, but as long as it is a stranger, and not someone they know, people do not notice. This planet is home to billions of people and it is slowly being destroyed a little more each day. The final question in the song, is the strongest and most important of all. “Do we give a damn?” Do people care and are they willing to do what it takes to make changes for the future of planet Earth?
Michael Jackson did give a damn and that is obvious in this song and video. Jackson said, “I remember writing ‘Earth Song’ when I was in Austria in a hotel, and I was feeling so much pain and so much suffering of the plight of the planet earth. And for me, this is Earth’s song, because I think nature is trying so hard to compensate for man’s mismanagement of the Earth.” (Paternack). The song and video have made a difference in how many people view the treatment of Earth, but obviously it was not enough because destruction is still happening every day. Unfortunately the Earth cannot repair itself as it does in the video and one man cannot make the whole world a better place, but Michael Jackson tried. This song was special to him and it is ironic that this was the last song that he ever sang before his death on June 25, 2009.
The Unspoken Lyrics of Earth Song by Eoin Dove
Michael Jacksons Earth Song is a cleverly composed ballad of our reality and influence on the world and people around us. The lyrics are well composed and clear however, they are not the only message in the song. The use of visual symbols gives one a focusing point that reinforces the spoken words. It gives means for the viewer to relate beyond the sound they are hearing. Earth Song contains symbolic imagery hidden in plain sight if one just looks deeper into the meaning which itself is a hidden meaning that is also a warning.
The opening of the video shows us common images of the world we see around us today, the sun is shining and the trees are green, monkeys are hanging out in trees and, nothing is abnormal here right? Suddenly a drift of smoke is seen and a brush clearer comes slowly ripping through the forest and the scene cuts to a devastated cut up forest across a vast land scape. This is reality, the real world in a clever twist Michael has gained our attention. He himself appears wearing tattered clothes a reflection of the environment surrounding him. This segment is highly focused our destruction of the nature aspect around us. Michael’s accusations are clear. Through deforest station and toxic air we destroy the very environment that supports us. Eleanor Bowman said in a Dancing with the Elephants segment. “To me, Earth Song is both a lament and an accusation. Michael Jackson’s lament is not only for what we are inflicting on nature, but for what we are doing to each other and what those in power are doing to the less empowered” (Stillwater and Bowman). This is not some possible future this is now today. Next images of dead elephants are shown, their ivory tusks cut out and the rest left rot having no value. This speaks of the impact that greed and desire for rare possessions and the lengths at which people will go to get them. It also reflects the impact we have on wild life. A quick flash is seen where the world turns back and we see the elephants in a herd alive and surrounded by life showing us perhaps what once was.
Meanwhile while the events are going on we see various people of different lifestyles looking on sadly affirming that our actions not only affect the world around us but also ourselves and our fellow man. The forest that is being cleared out may have been the home of the Amazonians looking on as trees are cut down. The elephant may have held a tribal or spiritual meaning to the Africans who stand before its mangled body. More images are shown of animals running freely without human intervention and then a small section of a tribesman walking beside a herd of elephants though he is not hunting or hurting them he appears to live peaceably beside them. This shows us that we can co-exist with the creatures that live besides us and everything is more peaceful. Flashing over a family is walking through a small destroyed town with soldiers all around them. It appears there has been some conflict that has affected the lives of this family. Michael is saying that we destroy each other’s lives as well as our animals and environment. Soon we at the rise of the song we see everyone fall to their knees symbolic of admitting defeat or recognizing the outcome of their actions. They scoop dirt up into their hands like an affirmation of the inevitable. Covered in the “blood” of the earth it seems as though they are crying from rage for justice, but a storm is coming.
The storm is a very interesting aspect of the video. With the storm comes a reversal of everything that has happened. One could see two potential aspects from this, one is the storm brings new life. Rain brings water to end the drought and regrow the trees. The storm is an energy that is unleashed upon the world to inflict a positive change upon the world in a natural event in nature. Another aspect of the storm is its relation to how people should go about making the changes to help the environment and things around them. They should be tenacious and powerful about healing the world and their voices thunder upon the ears of all. With the reversal of all the damage Michael is saying it’s not too late we can prevent this future now. He is saying act now not later. The wind has a very heavy effect in the video as well as it seems to be the driving force of the turning back. This perhaps symbolizes the winds of change. Regardless Michael is saying we need to get together and start making some changes before we end up hurting ourselves and our home the earth.
Michael’s song goes beyond the spoken lyrics it is a call to action. The Dedication he put into the song shows us his passion for his beliefs. A powerful song that send a clear message earth song is full of imagery that conveys to us the dire situation we are in and the repercussions of what will happen if we do not change our ways. Michael used his status as a music icon to get his message across to his listeners. Earth Song contains symbolic imagery hidden in plain sight if one just looks deeper into the meaning which itself is a hidden meaning that is also a warning to stop our destructive nature and heal the world and its peoples, that we need to take care of each other and our planet Earth.
“Earth Song” by Michael Jackson Alexandria Marty
When Michael Jackson wrote “Earth Song” he was changing spiritually and emotionally to the world around him and what it had become. He sees all the harm we are putting the earth through and he wants to find a way to make everyone aware of it. He creates this powerful piece of music that pulls us forward realizing what harm we have caused the earth. He even creates this music video where it shows us what might happen. like he is predicting the future of our earth and people did not really like that.
“At the time, climate change was still a relative seedling of an ecological crisis to many (and the science of greenhouse gases doesn’t lend itself easily to the pop form). Still, heard by millions, “Earth Song” was pop music’s biggest environmental song, and probably the first ecological eye-opener for millions of young fans.”(Pasternack) During what seemed like the millennial ages people where bustling around everyone was getting cell phones, computers were starting to become the norm and even MTV getting bigger by the minute most of us did not stop to think about what was happening to the earth we lived on. Jackson brought us to that reality and no one seemed to care for it but once the music video was released it was a number one hit. People started to look at the world in a different way. As Michael would perform the song on stage he would create this whole theatric motion to symbolize how he felt. “Jackson performed “Earth Song” at the 1996 World Music Awards in France, backed up by a choir of young children and cheered on by a crowd of crying fans.” (Pasternack)
Jackson’s music video to “Earth Song” was a looking to “…scenes of environmental destruction and war…Jackson wandering across a landscape of drought and fire, before he does his yell-through-the-wind thing, undoing all of our ecological damage…” (Pasternack) I think his wind in the video was the symbol of how God is going to cleanse the earth and rid us of all the bad things we have created. Not only is he talking about the environment but he is also talking about wars we have going on and how they are affecting people. He is taking about the racism that is still flooding the earth and how the wind will come in and make everything right again. The wind in itself could be the people of the earth and how we need to make the change for the better so that we can have somewhere to live. Slowly that wind has come because now as a whole nation and as a world united we are seeing the global warming effects and we want to make a change for the better. It might be a long journey but we are slowly getting there. Now I don’t think that the earth will be getting anywhere make to the point of just trees and jungle everywhere but I think that we will be in a much greener earth that will be more aware of are global footprint. Now in Jackson’s video I think he is portraying more of a God like figure coming down on the earth and reversing everything that has happened over the years. He is even bringing back people who have died in the war and even animals who have been killed because their environment was ruined.
There are even mythological meanings behind “Earth Song.” “In the legends of ancient Greece there are tales of punishment for those who reject being earth’s loving children and instead become earth’s destroyers. In one tale, a wealthy man cuts down the trees in a grove sacred to Demeter, the Earth Mother, in order to build a hall for his feasting. His name is Erysichthon, which means “one who tears up the earth.” Demeter punishes him by giving him an insatiable appetite. He even eats the food intended for his children, and so they starve. In our desire to have a “feast hall” for ourselves, we too are literally starving our children, stripping the nourishing capacity of the planet for profit, destroying ecosystems and species, and hoarding the wealth of the planet for a select few. As Jackson knew so well, thousands of children die of starvation every day. In fact, 25,000 people, including 16,000 children, die of starvation-related illnesses every single day.” (Bassil) This story even shows us that back in B.C people believed that there was a God or Gods sent down to punish the people for what they had done and even to this day we are still paying for it in different ways. Jackson’s wind is the symbol of hope to people that the change is coming and will come soon in order to save us.
Even though Jackson’s performances are a little theatrical he gets his point across to the audience and makes them see what our world is. He used symbols and children to call upon the things that are wrong in the world and how it is affect are future children. Wind is ever changing so even though it might have been blowing in the wrong direction when Jackson’s “Earth Song” came out we are starting to see a change in that direction of wind. We heard the message and we started to act on it. Not all of it has been settled or gotten better but we are more aware of how things are in the world and what we need to do in order to save it. Jackson wanted us to know that the change starts with us and we have to be the ones who make it or no one else will.