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Thursday, June 25, 2009

He Was Love

The news of Michael Jackson's passing is shocking, but perhaps not surprising.

Many of Jackson's troubles--and there were a lot--were self-created. He was said to be capricous in his relationships, prone to erratic, druggy behavior, and, worst of all, apparently abusive to children. If half of what his detractors say about him is true, then he was often a terrible person.

But extenuating circumstances exist which help explain, if not forgive, his dysfunctionality. How could his life have ever been normal, what with an abusive father, a childhood spent performing rather than playing, and the misfortune to grow up in the public eye?

The books will be written about his life, his death, and his troubles. I don't plan on reading them. But what I will do is remember the music he and his family made that transcends the worst of human behavior.

"I Am Love" is not a commonly known Jackson 5 track these days. The reference books state that it was a #15 single in early 1975. From their second-to-last album on Motown, Dancing Machine, its seven-minute length make it difficult to program on oldies radio (even though an AM-friendly mix was made at the time).

But I remember this song so well...in those long-ago days, when I was approaching 12 years of age, and trying to figure out what this world, and its people, and relationships, and music, were all about, this song sounded like the Godhead itself.

Beginning slowly, almost mournfully, with Jermaine Jackson's pleading vocal, "I Am Love" is rooted by a lovely, gauzy electric piano. The spare instrumentation establishes a lovely, lush, and almost trippy feel, while the short chorus phrase gets all odd and psychedelic.

Soon, the tempo builds, first to a crawl, with funky bass and clavinet underpinning the arrangement. Michael takes the mic and sings powerfully, doing a masterful job singing good, but difficult to scan, lyrics.

Then the band kicks into double-time! Congas join the party, and fuzzy guitar and synthesizers take solos before all five Jacksons come back to the arrangement, trading phrases and never sounding more together than on this desperate, but uplifting and driving, hymn to the power of love.

It's their great psychedelic funk masterwork, one that never fails to inspire me with its passion.

And that's how I choose to remember Michael Jackson.



9 Comments:

Anonymous Ned said...

I was never, what you might call a big fan of MJ or the J5.

However, this track which I've never heard before, was really strong. A nice way to remember the Jackson 5.

9:04 PM, June 25, 2009

 
Blogger Amy D said...

I posted my own feelings on Michael on my music blog. I feel a great compassion for the fragile, fractured human being that he was. He was not unlike other great talented truly mad geniuses (Syd Barrett, who has passed, and Brian Wilson, who is still with us). All 3 of these men were not strong enough to stand up to the grave weight of celebrity - and the heavier the weight became the deeper the decent into madness.
Brian Wilson came out the other side, but we all know what happened to Syd.
Michael Jackson was a superstar that I don't think half the young kids of today realize. He wrote many of his own songs alongside Berry Gordy. He worked with the best of the best choreographers, and developed his own brilliant moves. His persona on stage was magical, a supernova that was almost untouchable.
It was the last 10-15 years of his life that were most tragic and almost unexplainable.
I wonder if perhaps, he had less toxic human beings surrounding him, less madness that he could have made it through.
Instead, today we remember Michael Jackson and hope that he's at peace.
Like so many others who were too fragile for crazy world where the same crowds that build you up one year, are tearing you down years later.
Great post, Stu. What an amazing song (I'll go look it up - which team wrote it?)

11:18 AM, June 26, 2009

 
Blogger Winona said...

Once again, thanks for sharing the obscure stuff, Stu. Don't think I'd ever heard this J5 song before... as with many others my age, Thriller was an integral part of my childhood. I learned the lyrics, the dance moves... precocious 11-year-old me got mad at him, though, when he bought the Beatles' catalog and I took his posters down from my bedroom walls (still dug the music, though, but never on the same level). He will definitely live on - and I really hope that his musical legacy overshadows the eccentricities of his life... but of course, we're still making jokes about Elvis shooting at the television...

10:37 AM, June 29, 2009

 
Blogger EsseQuamVideri said...

I have found a love of Pandora in my new "Michael Jackson" station. No matter what is going on in the "real world" of Michael Jackson, that music makes people feel good.

8:15 AM, July 01, 2009

 
Blogger Bob Purse said...

With my mind turning as it does towards psychological issues, I always viewed many of MJ's issues, including those about his behavior with kids from a different perspective, one I've rarely seen explored.

I'm convinced that Michael's psychological development was shut down at age 11, and that he was never allowed to continue, emotionally, from that point. Certainly there must have been some degree of change, but I suspect in a lot of ways, he remained an 11 year old boy.

And what, might I ask, is the typical sexual outlet for 11 year boys, if there is one at all?

Seen in this light, some of the more tawdry reports of his behavior might have actually been "developmentally appropriate", even predictable, if still completely unacceptable - although under my construct, he had a form of mental illness thrust upon him, which would lower his culpability.

As to the song, I'd never heard it before, that I recall. I do wish I shared your enthusiasm. I can see what appeals to you in it, and maybe I would have felt the same, if I'd "been there". But only the last two minutes really connected with me - there is some real fire to it, although it's closer to EWF than Stevie Wonder.

"Shake Your Body" remains my key track, with "Off the Wall" and "Heartbreak Hotel" coming in just behind it. But again, those were the tracks when I was "there", so maybe that's the defining reason.

3:44 PM, July 06, 2009

 
Blogger Katie said...

I came across your blog while doing some preliminary online research on baseball and music (my two favorite things). If it's OK with you I'd like to pick your brain about some topics...
Get in touch with me if you are interested - and you can also check out my blog well.
Hope to hear from you,
Katie

9:28 PM, July 22, 2009

 
Blogger lagot said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Sara

http://pianotutorial.net

11:15 PM, July 31, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is sad, that he was so misunderstood. a good performer and a good song writer.

10:27 PM, August 07, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Stu. "I am Love" is their best song. Half Michael, have Jacksons? With the two different halves, it is like their "Hey Jude"?? Clark Besch

4:22 PM, August 29, 2009

 

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