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Monday, 13 July 2009

Put Yourself In A Child

I would practice for about half an hour. For a ten year old boy that was dedication.
I had found an old trilby or pork pie hat from somewhere and would rest it at a jaunty angle atop my head.
The curtains were drawn and mum and dad were at work; dad overseas and mum guaranteed to be out until midday at the very earliest.
I slid the VHS tape once more into the clunky top loading carriage and pressed it shut.
The black screen flickered with wonky horizontal lines, fast forward a little.
I got into position.
“Whe-e-e-eeen I, had you
I treated you ba-aaa-aa-aad
And wrong my dear
And since,
Si-iii-iince you been gone
Don’t you know I sit around
With my head in my hand
And I wonder
Who’s lovin’ you?”
The innocent, smooth, round, milk chocolate face hid learning beyond his years, and that’s how this song of loss was vocalised with so much soul and hurt.
Note perfect and sang live, it captivated me and remains my quintessential Michael Jackson performance. No fireworks, no moonwalking. No white gloves or plasters on the fingers.
Just Michael, stood two feet apart from his brothers, and yet worlds apart.
I would sing along and try to copy every nuance from the hand gestures to the forlorn eyes.
I watched a Michael Jackson video every day for about two years.
Thriller was never really my thing.
Even when I was ten I was trying to find the ‘other stuff’.
What put him there, what came before?One Christmas I was bought a ‘Michael Jackson Mix 40’ double cassette.
40 tracks all, ahem, expertly mixed.
But the beauty of these tapes were the range of tracks presented. From Motown to the Jacksons and his solo stuff, I was getting into songs that weren’t played to death on Radio 1 and thinking back, I reckon it’s where my passion for finding ‘new’ music grew from.
Some of the tracks on this album were:
People Make The World Go Round
Happy (Theme from Lady Sings the Blues)
We’ve Got A Good Thing Going
Hallelujah Day
Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone
Sugar Daddy
Mama’s Pearl
And my favourite ‘Doctor My Eyes’
A lot of these are still obscure tracks from the Wacko catalogue and if I hear them today I still sing in my head where the mix would have changed and the new track started.
Looking at Amazon today the tape which last year fetched around £7 has now shot up to £30 and I am tempted to relive my youth, or maybe I’ll just get all the tracks on vinyl and have a go myself.
Thriller came and went, and I got the Making Of video and watched it incessantly, but I don’t remember listening to the album all that much.
I went to Woolworths and discovered the Motown Chartbusters albums which opened a world into Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Supremes and so much more.
I continued to listen to Michael but Off The Wall and then I got into Triumph and Destiny by The Jacksons.
Can You Feel It, Don’t Blame It On The Boogie, This Place Hotel.
This Place Hotel was used on one of Jackson’s videos and I would play this one song endlessly at home, on my Walkman, at my nans house. I was smitten.
This Jacksons discovery would tide me over until Bad was released in 1987.
My brother and I went halves on the cassette and bought it on the day of release.
Then Moonwalker came out, book and video, and I would try and lean forward like in the Smooth Criminal short and inevitably fell on the couch or the dog.
By this time my musical journey had taken me past Motown and through the sixties milestones of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. The Band, Neil Young and The Who.
Somehow Michael Jackson just wasn’t saying much to me.
I had seen the dance a million times, I had heard the electric basslines and drum machines even more and it started to grate.
My Auntie Janice got Dangerous for me in 1990 but I had to ask my mum to let it be known that I was no longer interested in what Wacko Jacko had to offer.
My ears had since been turned on to Public Enemy and Catherine Wheel, Deee-Lite and Television, Kingmaker and A Tribe Called Quest.
Michael Jackson had opened the doors to these various clubs but refused to let himself in so I strode on ahead and never really looked back.
I still try to listen to him on occasion (usually at weddings and maybe a Doctor My Eyes on a Sunday morning) and I thank him whole-heartedly for the introduction he gave me to music.
I evolved in my tastes but he stayed firmly stuck in the same groove and we had to part company.
I am sorry he has died but can’t help thinking that some of his fans should do themselves a big favour and try a different path. Maybe they should have done it a long time ago.
Inertia is the enemy of progress after all.


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