This musical journey starts with some selections from the Jackson 5, of course, before exploring Michael Jackson's early solo career, with a multifaceted look at "Off the Wall" and his original melding of disco grooves with Motown soul. Eventually, we reach "Thriller," looking at half of the album's hits from various different perspectives, before running out of time at the 79:45 mark -- just the right length to be able to burn this mix to CD. Part two, to be released in a couple of weeks, picks up with the second half of Thriller and runs through various side projects and the most intriguing sounds from his later releases.
Now, those listeners looking for a run-through of his greatest hits can, well, purchase or dig out his many "Greatest Hits" collections. In other words, this ain't your mamas Michael Jackson. The mix is built on alternate takes, mash-ups, early home demos, interviews and, especially, remixes. There are many, many remixes of Michael floating around out there in cyberspace, and I chose a wide variety of reinterpretations: some ready to bump your booty, some corny and others just plain weird. I reveled in the wide, creative diversity of remixes that MJ inspired, and listening to them over the past week, it dawned on me just how universal his music was -- there was an essential DNA of heart, soul and groove in just about everything he performed, and those core elements were able to be fit in and reprogramed in all kinds of musical scenarios. House, reggae, grunge, glitch, ambient -- Michael's words and voice sounded natural in so many different genres and environments, in part because it was so real. And I guess that is why he was loved the whole world over -- his gift of song was universal. It touched the heart and moved the booty, no matter what culture or creed.
His great success in moving so many people killed him in the end. His superstardom took over his individuality and he gave himself away to our collective desire for hero-worship, gossip and judgement. In doing so, Michael lost touch with himself and then with reality and that's when the freak show began. I try to withhold judgement for all his oddities and naivete -- I feel like society pushed him in to the corner he was trapped in and we have no right to judge him. Especially now that he is gone and cannot respond. We can only go back to the music that was left behind.
Instead of getting swept up in the media frenzy of the past week -- the endless analysis of his finances and prescription drug use and relationship with his family and fate of his children -- I have turned to the music to remember. Just as I imagine millions of other fans are too. And my full immersion in Michael's glorious art -- "I'll Be There," "Ease on Down the Road," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal," "Jam" -- has reminded me that MJ was, ultimately, a bright light, brighter than most of us here on Planet Earth. He was born to sing and dance and make people happy. His soul was made of pure light and he came to us a bodhisattva, giving of himself to ease the suffering of humanity. "Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter," he sings, "Togetherness is all I'm after."
MJ fearlessly became one with his creative expression, merging his life with his gift, and all of us are that much better off because of it. He performed with selflessness, devotion, generosity and an amazing amount of courage. I might be getting carried away now, but hearing him sing the bridge in "Human Nature" makes me feel like Michael, in his heartfelt surrender to his muse, was channeling the divine spirit. He opened up for us and the bright light of something sacred poured forth. He made it more beautiful to be a human being. We won't ever experience another musical being like MJ in our lifetime.
This musical mix, to be released in two parts to keep it manageable, is my tribute to MJ and all that he gave. Like I said, it is exploratory and sometimes experimental, but hopefully reflects even just a little bit of the shine that Michael gave to the world.
Rest in peace, Michael Jackson. You've earned it. And thanks for all the amazing music!