What You Leave Behind: Michael Jackson’s indie music legacy
originally written for examiner.com July 2, 2009
So as I usually write about indie music, a column about Michael Jackson’s passing may seem forced. Honestly I never had any intentions of writing one until a dear friend and music columnist emailed me her latest column, which focuses on the Detroit music scene.
Now obviously Detroit has a special link to the Jackson family in Motown. Motown truly exemplifies the grass roots hustle that indie artists know is so crucial. It is not only one of the pillars of the music industry but also a model for indie labels such as Messenger Records or Righteous Babe.
On a personal note, Michael didn’t seem to play a huge role in my musical world. His vocals undeniable, his performances a true part of the James Brown lineage but with perhaps the exception of Off The Wall, I confess I didn’t break out his records all that often.
But context is always crucial. I once said all an artist can be is the sum of their influences and although many may take offense at that, I stand by it. It is how we cull those influences that make us special. Michael Jackson drew influence from everywhere, Gene Kelly to James Brown, Annie to Alfred Hitchcock and he did so in a way that was truly revelatory but what is most significant in my mind, is who drew influence from him.
In pop music his influence is all over the map from Christina Aguilerra to Chris Cornell but it’s not all about fireworks and fame. Michael did make beautiful music. And he touched the world at large in a very positive way, from his demolition of racial barriers in the industry itself to his profound global charity work. These things effected our world in a very real way. You, me, our children, parents and grandparents have all been effected by Michael’s efforts to “heal the world”. He is ingrained in our culture and our music.
If you love music than you have been effected by Michael Jackson. Keep in mind that he has been making music for 45 years! So this is for the chill’n and the old timers. From the hardest hip-hop head to schooled and sophisticated session players, musicians love them some MJ.
At this point is there any relevance in debating his personal issues, clothing choices or relationships? What much of the mainstream media doesn’t get is the incredible legacy Michael left in the sonic palette of the collective subconscious. For all those who listen to Michael every day or those who only heard him by accident, we are changed. That is a legacy any of us should be so lucky leave when we head off the that great open mic in the sky.
So, in what I am sure is a vein effort to avoid the pitfalls of writing about music, I will leave you with 2 clips from some of my favorite indie artists illustrating my point: an innovative artist himself, Detroit’s own Dwele (whose first indie record Rise sold so many copies the major labels came to him) and another brilliant singer-songwriter guitarist, David Ryan Harris (whose influence can be heard in the dramatic change in sound of the much heralded John Mayer, for whom he provides graceful accompaniment).
So enjoy and try not to put too much stock in the media shock game. There is some much beautiful music out there, if we take the time to…
Live Well and Listen Closely,
added bonus of Miles Davis performing “Human Nature”
read more articles by music writer J. Hayes at: http://www.examiner.com/x-4161-New-American-Music-Examiner
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