Like Bing Crosby with the advent of the microphone, Sinatra and long play concept albums, Elvis and rock and roll, Dylan and folk music, Michael Jackson was there for music videos and pushed the boundaries.
Like Sinatra and Elvis, he pushed the boundaries of “race music” while helping to create greater racial acceptance. Sinatra helped open the doors for black artists, including Sammy Davis Jr. as a member of the “Rat pack” and speaking for racial equality. Jackson did the same in his own way, not only performing with white artists such as Paul McCartney and Britney Spears, but also in his personal life – dating and befriending many people such as Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Taylor and marrying Lisa Marie Presley, as examples of greater dissolution of borders between black and white.
This past week, I have been reading the book “Why Sinatra Matters” written by Pete Hamill soon after the death of Sinatra. With all the media attention around MJ's death, I have listened to the music and watched the videos, and recalled my own memories and experiences of how Michael Jackson's music has been part of my life.
By reading “Why Sinatra Matters” it gives a greater context and template to examine how Michael Jackson's life, music and dance have impacted on both American and global popular culture. Both were affected by their ethnic roots where their communities were treated as 2nd class: Sinatra grew up in the time between the World Wars, when Italians were immigrants to America and worked as labourers to survive. Jackson grew up during the 60's at the time of the American civil rights movement and the rise of African-American studies and culture. Both men forged their ways to greater acceptance of the American dream, breaking through barriers and claiming their places amongst the perceived White Anglo Saxon Protestants mainstream.
Both Sinatra and Jackson, had also been constant targets in the press and tabloids. While Sinatra's supposed mob connections kept him out of purchasing a Las Vegas resort, Jackson was also the constant target for his court cases of child abuse and his plastic surgery. But both men also were great philanthropists and addressed the greater good. Jackson's songs “We Are The World,” “The Man in the Mirror” and “Earth Song” are part of his legacy, as surely as Sinatra's work with Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson at the recording session for Sinatra's last solo studio album L.A. is My Lady (not including the duets albums), produced by Quincy Jones who also produced the Jackson albums “Off the Wall,” and “Thriller.”
From the intro:
“It was mandatory to chronicle his wins and losses, hisfour marriages, his battles, verbal and physical, with reporters and photographers. His romances required many inches of type. There were accounts of his fierce temper, his brutalities, his drunken cruelties. Some described him as a thug or a monster, whose behavior was redeemed only by his talent…
Sinatra , however, did matter in other ways. He wasn't simply an entertainer from a specific time and place in American life who lived on as a kind of musty artifact. Through a combination of artistic originality, great passion, and immense will, he transcended several eras and indirectly helped change the way all of us lived. He was formed by an America that is long gone: the country of the European immigrants and the virulent America-for-Ameriancs nativism that was directed at them… They were extraordinary times, and in his own way, driven by his own confusions, neroses, angers, and ambitions, Frank Sinatra helped push the country forward.
“Now Sinatra is gone, taking with him all his anger, cruelty, generosity, and personal style. The music remains. In times to come, that music will continue to matter, whatever happens to our evolving popular culture. The world of my grandchildren will not listen to Sinatra in the way four generations of Americans have listened to him. But high art always survives. Long after his death, Charlie Parker still palys his verion of the urban blues. Billie Holiday still whispers her angish. Mozart still erupts in joy. Every day, in cities and towns all over the planet, someone discovers them for the first time and finds in their art that mysterious quality that makes the listener more human. In their work all great artsists help trancscend the solitude of individuals; they relieve the ache of loneliness; they supply a partial response to the urging of writer E/ M. Forster: “Only connect.” In their ultimate triumph over the banality of death, such artists continue to matter. So will Sinatra.”
pp. 3-9 “Why Sinatra Matters” by Pete Hamill.
I have just finished watching the Michael Jackson Tribute, and am remembering all the times I saw Michael, and was touched by his music.
Here's a youtube clip of the television cartoon show:
- Watching the Jackson 5 cartoon show as a kid, and listening to the Jackson 5, thinking… he's my age!
- Walking home from school and singing “Enjoy Yourself” with friends.
to “Off the Wall” and “Rock With Me” during the days of disco, as well
as the Jacksons songs “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”, “This
- Seeing Michael do the moon walk on the Motown 25th Anniversary show.
- Seeing the Jacksons concert in 1984 at Vancouver's BC Place Stadium. We went to the 2nd concert. I still have the program and a t-shirt.
- Listening to “Bad” with college friends when it first came out.
- I remember dancing to “Black and White” on my Waikiki honeymoon with my then-wife…. in 1991.
- Watching Olympic skater Katerina Witt do an encore performance to “She Drives Me Wild”