Being 20: Spotlight on Michael Jackson
Earlier this week, I wanted to remind you, dear readers, of the promise and potential that has yet to unfold for David, who is all of 20 years old. And his vlog this week was so upbeat and reassuring, it’s hard not to keep the optimism for where he will eventually take us with his musical genius and journey.
Re-reading my “Being 20” post, I realized I name-dropped a number of musical legends just to remind folks that, sometimes, greatness unfolds a bit later in life (if I’m judging by history, I’m giving David till age 25 to peak: haha!).
In light of this, I thought I would start a new Soul David series (not based on my going on a blog break but based on expanding the ideas I discussed in my “Being 20” post). I’m calling this the “Being 20” series, in which I will highlight some of David’s influential music figures (and some of my own) to see what they were up to when they were David’s age.
So, I begin the series with one of David’s musical heroes: Michael Jackson. And what was Michael Jackson doing at David’s age?
First, he was unquestionably “black” and wore an Afro (see accompanying pic above of the legend when he was 20 yrs old). And he didn’t have his first plastic surgery yet, which would come a year later when he broke his nose (and was never satisfied with the job, which is why he obsessed over getting this “perfect”). Sometimes, there is innocence at 20, but there is also promise for greater things, right? 🙂
Another thing about Michael at David’s age is that he was three years into a record label, Epic Records, which he and his brothers of the Jackson 5 signed to when MJ was all of 17 (um… sounds familiar?) and itching to break free from dear old dad (again … sounds familiar?) since the move from Motown Records and its owner, Berry Gordy, wasn’t enough to challenge his artistic vision. In short, Michael was looking to redefine himself as a serious music artist. He was all too aware that his Jackson 5 experience branded him a “child star” and “teen idol,” that many in the industry viewed their music as “bubblegum soul.” On Epic’s label, he and his brothers matured as The Jacksons and fit into the dominant sound of the time period – disco – giving us such danceable hits like “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and “Blame It on the Boogie.” But Michael wanted to do something more, so part of his eagerness to branch out included making some bad decisions: like co-starring with Diana Ross in the box-office flop that was The Wiz. Of course, had it not been for his work on this movie musical, he would never have had that fateful meeting with Quincy Jones, who worked on the movie’s score and was a major jazz producer. Michael’s creative mind was already working as he approached Quincy to help him work on his first solo album, Off the Wall, which came out a year later.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
If I had any major wish for David, which I didn’t indicate as a choice on my latest poll, it would be for him to have his own Quincy Jonesque fateful meeting and to collaborate with some major players on his next musical project. He has the raw talent and the ambition. Granted, Michael Jackson also had ambitions to be the greatest pop entertainer, which he eventually became. I don’t know for sure if he had that particular ambition at age 20, but he definitely felt it after Off the Wall. Which just goes to show that genius needs the right nurturers and the right environment in which to grow.
Will David find that? Time will tell.
In the mean time, I will at least celebrate that David was able to break free from management and label that did not support his artistry in any profound way.
So, in tribute to the late MJ, and to David, here’s “I Can’t Help It,” a song produced by Quincy on Off the Wall, written by Stevie Wonder, and sung by MJ himself. (What I would give to hear the Voice lay down some smooth tracks on this baby!)