Tag Archives: MIchael Jackson

REMEMBER THE TIME: In Memory of Michael Jackson (from Ebony Magazine, 2009)

This is a blog post from this day last year. In honor of my memories of Michael Jackson, I’m re-posting it. It’s become one of my favorite pieces of my writing—and that’s coming from a dude who never likes his writing! If you’ve read it before, I hope you remember it well. If it’s your first time reading, I hope you enjoy it…Either way, hope you remember the joy and the music and the time(s) MJ gave us…and share it (and this piece) with your friends…Be well.

****

Last summer, after Michael Jackson’s death, my friend Harriet Cole, then the acting Editor in Chief of Ebony Magazine, asked me to contribute a tribute essay about the Man. I was honored, not just because I’d considered myself MJ’s biggest fan but also because this would be my first piece ever for Ebony Magazine, the mag along with Right On! that provides my best memories of pics and articles about the King of Pop. Here, to re-launch SCOTT TOPICS, I wanted to run a slightly longer version of that tribute that appeared in Ebony last summer. Hope you enjoy, and like me, remember the time…

The day that Michael Jackson died, MTV finally played music videos again. For those of us grown folks who grew up on MTV (and, thus, Michael Jackson), who remembered when MTV was one channel on the cable box and not the monolithic, multi-channeled cultural phenomenon it has become, this felt like a flashback to another time. Not only were we being entertained by the short-form music films that changed the music industry, we were watching the evolution of one of the greats, one of the titans of pop music, who’s creative music genius and gift for visual dazzle, actually made MTV into what it is. Michael Jackson created MTV as much as any music industry executive, as much as any fan who sat watching the clips—because virtually any time you see some dancing/singing/attitude-slinging superstar going through their video motions, you are seeing the wildflowers of pop culture who grew from the seeds planted by the man we call the King of Pop.

That day, that sad day for so many of us around the world, means many things to a guy like me, a guy who as a kid interviewed Michael Jackson on the eve of the release of Destiny, shortly before he’d start rehearsing for his role as the Scarecrow in Sidney Lumet’s movie adaptation of The Wiz (and interestingly, the first place he’d work with Quincy Jones, the maestro who’d go on to produce Michael’s three biggest albums). Not only was I was enjoying watching Michael Jackson mutate from child phenom to adult icon, from a tiny whirlwind of youthful energy to a full-fledged man of music and mystery and mastery, I was enjoying the company of a young college classmate, a 21-year-old white college lacrosse player named Matt who seemed to be experiencing the whole of Michael’s career in one complete moment: too young to have experienced Thriller or Off the Wall at their significant and original cultural moments, too young to have known Michael before the tabloid junkies decided he was a freak and not a legend, Matt sat amazed at the beauty and, well, thrill of Michael’s artistic and creative legacy, even pointing out the postures and poses in Michael’s videos that are real and true antecedents to the work of Usher and Beyonce and Chris Brown and Ciara.

Something about this shared moment—me, the jaded music journalist who clearly remembers seeing The Jackson 5 on The Carol Burnett Show in the 70s , and the young kat who grew up on tacky jokes about our superstar and who thought of Michael Jordan when he heard someone say “MJ”—came to symbolize the true beautiful legacy of Michael Jackson. There hadn’t ever been an artist, let alone an African American artist, who’s sheer presence and magnitude had joined so many disparate communities together in the hurtling locomotive of pop culture, taking them for a ride so memorable and fascinating and enjoyable. And here we were, me smiling through tears I wasn’t afraid to cry in front of this guy, him asking me questions about MJ’s history, enjoying ourselves even as we couldn’t really wrap around our brains the fact that this King was no longer with us.

As I write this I listen to a song playlist I made months ago, compiled of Michael Jackson duets. This playlist seems to me to very much sum up the work and life of the man. Whether doing back-ups for Stevie Wonder (“All I Do”) or sharing the studio mic with his former Motown co-star (“Get It”, Bad’s “Just Good Friends”), whether grooving with his brother Jermaine on “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming” or singing with Paul McCartney on “Say Say Say” or “The Man” or Thriller’s first huge single, “The Girl is Mine,” Michael was always a showstopper, but never a scene-stealer. He blended with his co-stars, as he’d learned to with his brothers in the Gary, Indiana living room and the rehearsal halls of Motown, harmonizing effortlessly. And as much as I loved Michael Jackson, it occurred to me that the moments I loved him—when we all loved him most—were when I was sharing him, on the dance floor at parties and clubs, using hair brushes to lipsync to his music with my Aunt Glo (the biggest MJ fan ever when Off the Wall came out) in her Tampa family room, and now with my buddy Matt, across generations, across race and gender and sexuality and background. And that’s how Michael would want it, I think. The last song on my playlist is Michael crooning love notes with Siedah Garrett on the first single from Bad, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” We will never stop loving Michael Joseph Jackson. Not only because he told us, with Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie and a host of other superstars, that we were the world, but also because, as he told us on Dangerous, he wanted us to help him heal the world. And he wanted us to do it as one. Rest in peace, Michael Jackson. You knew pain, you knew the love of millions. Without you, we’ll have to start healing all over again. Together.

 

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The SPB Q: Bassey Ikpi

You know how you meet someone new and it feels like you met them before, like in another life or something? Well, Bassey Ikpi, who I “met” on Facebook a coupla years ago, is one of those people. Either that or we’re just the same person—as Bassey says, no one has ever seen the two of us in a room together. Both of us are Michael Jackson fanatics (please read her devastatingly personal and brilliantly written eulogy for MJ here at her blog, Bassey’s World and the year-after follow-up here.). And rarely ever does one of us tweet or Facebook some tidbit about a line of dialogue from an old TV show or a lyric from a song without the other immediately shouting out the other one and claiming said reference as an all-time favorite. It really is spooky. But in a good way. Bassey Ikpi is one of those people who gave me faith in the social networking thing. We chat online—because life somehow hasn’t allowed us to “meet” in person yet—and it always feels like old-home week: her jokes and one-liners make me actually LOL (and always when I’m drinking coffee or soda); her poignant and revealing stories about her struggles with mental illness have touched me deeply. With words, she has the rhythm of a musician and the timing of a comedian, and it all blends together into dazzling yet personable and heartfelt performances of honesty and truth.

Watch this video, a tribute Bassey wrote to singer Phyllis Hyman, entitled “One Good Reason To Stay,” to see what I’m talking about.

Or this one from the 2nd season of Def Poetry, where I, and many, first discovered her work:

The Nigerian-born poet/author eventually became a featured cast member of the National Touring Company of the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, Russell Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam. She’s been published or profiled in such magazines as Nylon, Marie Claire, Glamour and Bust, and has recorded an original poem for the Kaiser Foundation’s HIV/AIDS campaign, “Knowing Is Beautiful.” She spent this summer on a 5-city tour, taking her Basseyworld Live show on the road and, from what I can tell by the Twitter buzz about it, turning the kids out with her combination of smarts, humor, poetry, and politically incorrect (and very direct) interactive panel discussions touching on everything from politics to pop culture. Her book, a collection of poetry and prose with the wonderful title Blame My Teflon Heart: Poetry, Prose and Post-Its For Boys Who Didn’t Write Back, will be released soon.

You know how you say about someone cool, “That person should have a TV show”? Well, those words were meant for Bassey Ikpi. Seriously. Or, funnily. Or both.

It turns out, weird and coincidental as things get when we’re both Tweeting, that Bassey and I actually had been in the same space at the same time—though neither one of us can confirm whether anyone saw us or not. (Is that like if a tree falls in the forest and no one—oh, never mind.) Turns out we’re both very much members of the 21st century: Not only did we have that experience known to many 90s/New Century creatives—working at a splashy new dotcom that eventually went under—we worked at the same splashy new dotcom that eventually went under, ten years ago. And only realized it a coupla days ago. But that’s Life With Bassey (well, there’s the title of her TV show!): unexpected, always surprising, full of revelation, connected. I’m honored and excited that she’s this week’s SPB Q. You will be, too.

Name: Nyono-MmaBassey (Bassey) Ikpi

Hometown:     Ugep, Cross River State, Nigeria and Stillwater, OK

Zodiac sign:    Mighty, Mighty Leo

Favorite book: Favorites are so difficult for me… Anything by J. California Cooper, The Alchemist, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Assata, Anne of Green Gables, Sula

Favorite author: J. California Cooper, Paolo Coelho, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Aliya S. King, Denene Millner Scott Poulson-Bryant [ed. Wow!]

Favorite poem: “angels get no maps” by Suheir Hammad, “Dream Variations” by Langston Hughes, “smoke, lilies & jade” by Richard Bruce Nugent, “The Highway Man” by Alfred Noyes, anything by Rumi

Favorite poet: Favorites are so difficult for me, depends on what time of the day and what day of the month. I love Suheir Hammad always and forever. Pablo Neruda injects more beauty into a few syllables than any of us are blessed enough to feel in a lifetime.

Favorite movie: Something’s Killing Tate, Anne of Green Gables, The Parent Trap (Original Recipe), The Sound of Music, Goodfellas, Brother to Brother… I have the worst taste in both music and movies.

Favorite song: Michael Jackson everything he’s done (except “Stranger In Moscow”) and “Everybody Here Wants You/Lover You Should’ve Come Over” by Jeff Buckley

Fictional character or poem you wish you had created: Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables. She was the first written character that spoke to me in a language that I felt in the core of me. She gave me permission to be eccentric and to live my life on the boundaries past what any one else could understand. She was true to herself and her emotions and she was unapologetically odd. As an odd kid (and adult) I needed that validation even if it was just in books.

Career High: Performing at the NAACP Image Awards doing an original poetic tribute to Venus and Serena Williams. Then meeting the sisters and Angela Basset afterwards.

Life High: Getting my mental health under control and finally living life the way it was meant to be without anxiety, fear or self doubt. I’m the happiest and most centered I’ve ever been in my entire life. Makes my whole life “high”.

You’re on a desert island and can only have 5 CDs/books/ or DVDs shipped in to you. What are they?

UGH! You’re killing me! Five? I’d pick things that bring me joy and comfort.

  • Jeff Buckley, Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk
  • Wicked Original Broadway Soundtrack
  • Michael Jackson- History 1 & 2
  • The Sound Of Music: Anniversary edition
  • Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist

Your favorite quote: “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.” ~ Toni Morrison (favorite quote today.)

Guilty pleasure: How much time you got? Pop music, reality TV, celebrity gossip…

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SPB’s Top 100 (Best?) (Favorite?) Records EVER!

{I love lists. I love ranking things, even as I realize how fundamentally arbritary and ridiculous such endeavors can be. Every time Rolling Stone rolls out another “Top 10o songs Middle-Aged White Guys THINK They Should Like and Have in their Vinyl Record Collections”—and mind you, I pretty much have nothing against middle-aged people (I’m damn near one; yeah, damn near) or white guys or vinyl record collections—I accept them as arbitrary and ridiculous but I also always feel like those lists are so stagnant in the most trendy, impersonal, rock-crit way that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the songs/albums/concerts that people actually like. So upfront, I’m letting you know that I think these records are the best records mostly cause they’re my favorite records, the ones with the highest number of plays on my iTunes, the ones I force onto new and old friends via mix-CDs and Facebook-status-message lyric quotes. And though I know many of you would NEVER EVER allow that you like some of them—too pop? too rap? too girly? too cheesy? too something?—I’m the type that once I like a record I tend to love it forever. Records don’t get old for me. In fact a few of the songs on this list are records I first heard at age 9 on AM radio in my mother’s Cutlass. Yeh, some of them are old-fashioned; some of them have probably lost their preening pop-culture luster after a few years. But I don’t care; even though I like to tell people that I have lousy taste in music (but my eyes and calves are lovely), I think these records are great—and I suspect many of you peeps will, too. So, if you care, let’s get this thing started, from the bottom to the top, though the order does, in real-life, sometimes change depending on my mood, my aging knees, and love life. At least stick around for the memories?}

#100:

Wanna Be Startin’ Something” by Michael Jackson

This can’t be a surprise to anyone, that the first song on my list is by the greatest singing/dancing/songwriting entertainer of the past 50 years, the one who I’ve loved since I could stack 45s on my Close ‘N’ Play, the one who sadly  wrung way too many tears and memories outta me last June. Yes, the opening track of my list is also the opening track of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I can still remember hearing it for the first time in 1982, having already decided that I didnt love “The Girl is Mine,” the first single off the album. But hearing the percussive intro, the multi-tracked MJ, and the choral backgrounds at the beginning of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” (paired with the major attitude of the lyric—“Someone’s Always Tryin’ To Start My Baby Cryin’/Talkin’, Squealin’, Lyin'”) sealed the deal for me: I wouldn’t be playing Off the Wall and Triumph for a minute because Thriller was obviously going to be the bomb. The chorus is undeniable, and the “I am Somebody” bridge that leads into the gloriously rendered “Mamase Mamasa Mama coo sa” tribal shouts is the perfect summation of MJ’s ability to mix the self-regarding gloss of early 80s pop with the frenzied communal joy of post-disco dancefloor dramatics. MJ knew best: you gotta get the peeps singing and dancing along with you by the first listen of the second chorus or there was no point of even going into the studio to record. “Sing it with me/Sing it to the world”: This was the beginning of many he-he-he’s to come. It had only, in some ways, just begun…

Here’s the tune:

{Every week for the next year, I’ll be posting two songs a week. Hope some of them are your favorites too!}

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Remembering The Time

Last summer, after Michael Jackson’s death, my friend Harriet Cole, then the acting Editor in Chief of Ebony Magazine, asked me to contribute a tribute essay about the Man. I was honored, not just because I’d considered myself MJ’s biggest fan but also because this would be my first piece ever for Ebony Magazine, the mag along with Right On! that provides my best memories of pics and articles about the King of Pop. Here, to re-launch SCOTT TOPICS, I wanted to run a slightly longer version of that tribute that appeared in Ebony last summer. Hope you enjoy, and like me, remember the time…

The day that Michael Jackson died, MTV finally played music videos again. For those of us grown folks who grew up on MTV (and, thus, Michael Jackson), who remembered when MTV was one channel on the cable box and not the monolithic, multi-channeled cultural phenomenon it has become, this felt like a flashback to another time. Not only were we being entertained by the short-form music films that changed the music industry, we were watching the evolution of one of the greats, one of the titans of pop music, who’s creative music genius and gift for visual dazzle, actually made MTV into what it is. Michael Jackson created MTV as much as any music industry executive, as much as any fan who sat watching the clips—because virtually any time you see some dancing/singing/attitude-slinging superstar going through their video motions, you are seeing the wildflowers of pop culture who grew from the seeds planted by the man we call the King of Pop.

That day, that sad day for so many of us around the world, means many things to a guy like me, a guy who as a kid interviewed Michael Jackson on the eve of the release of Destiny, shortly before he’d start rehearsing for his role as the Scarecrow in Sidney Lumet’s movie adaptation of The Wiz (and interestingly, the first place he’d work with Quincy Jones, the maestro who’d go on to produce Michael’s three biggest albums). Not only was I was enjoying watching Michael Jackson mutate from child phenom to adult icon, from a tiny whirlwind of youthful energy to a full-fledged man of music and mystery and mastery, I was enjoying the company of a young college classmate, a 21-year-old white college lacrosse player named Matt who seemed to be experiencing the whole of Michael’s career in one complete moment: too young to have experienced Thriller or Off the Wall at their significant and original cultural moments, too young to have known Michael before the tabloid junkies decided he was a freak and not a legend, Matt sat amazed at the beauty and, well, thrill of Michael’s artistic and creative legacy, even pointing out the postures and poses in Michael’s videos that are real and true antecedents to the work of Usher and Beyonce and Chris Brown and Ciara.

Something about this shared moment—me, the jaded music journalist who clearly remembers seeing The Jackson 5 on The Carol Burnett Show in the 70s , and the young kat who grew up on tacky jokes about our superstar and who thought of Michael Jordan when he heard someone say “MJ”—came to symbolize the true beautiful legacy of Michael Jackson. There hadn’t ever been an artist, let alone an African American artist, who’s sheer presence and magnitude had joined so many disparate communities together in the hurtling locomotive of pop culture, taking them for a ride so memorable and fascinating and enjoyable. And here we were, me smiling through tears I wasn’t afraid to cry in front of this guy, him asking me questions about MJ’s history, enjoying ourselves even as we couldn’t really wrap around our brains the fact that this King was no longer with us.

As I write this I listen to a song playlist I made months ago, compiled of Michael Jackson duets. This playlist seems to me to very much sum up the work and life of the man. Whether doing back-ups for Stevie Wonder (“All I Do”) or sharing the studio mic with his former Motown co-star (“Get It”, Bad’s “Just Good Friends”), whether grooving with his brother Jermaine on “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming” or singing with Paul McCartney on “Say Say Say” or “The Man” or Thriller’s first huge single, “The Girl is Mine,” Michael was always a showstopper, but never a scene-stealer. He blended with his co-stars, as he’d learned to with his brothers in the Gary, Indiana living room and the rehearsal halls of Motown, harmonizing effortlessly. And as much as I loved Michael Jackson, it occurred to me that the moments I loved him—when we all loved him most—were when I was sharing him, on the dance floor at parties and clubs, using hair brushes to lipsync to his music with my Aunt Glo (the biggest MJ fan ever when Off the Wall came out) in her Tampa family room, and now with my buddy Matt, across generations, across race and gender and sexuality and background. And that’s how Michael would want it, I think. The last song on my playlist is Michael crooning love notes with Siedah Garrett on the first single from Bad, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” We will never stop loving Michael Joseph Jackson. Not only because he told us, with Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie and a host of other superstars, that we were the world, but also because, as he told us on Dangerous, he wanted us to help him heal the world. And he wanted us to do it as one. Rest in peace, Michael Jackson. You knew pain, you knew the love of millions. Without you, we’ll have to start healing all over again. Together.

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