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“Stranger in Moscow” — Michael Jackson

Whether or not you’re big into MJ is kind of irrelevant.

Any self-respecting music fan can’t deny the talent, skill, and perfectionism of the man who changed music forever. Besides, there’s rarely anything that comes out of the music or entertainment industry these days that doesn’t make a nod toward Michael – so, chances are, if you like any music that has been created within the last thirty years, you have him to thank for it – at least in part. Because he changed everything.

His death affected me profoundly in a way that no artist’s or celebrity’s has or probably ever will again. When I listen to “Stranger In Moscow” – not a big hit of his, though I think it should’ve been – I get a vivid and emotional glimpse not only of his own life, but of his commonality with his fans, with everyone. Here was a man who was troubled, perhaps more than we’ll ever know, and unfortunately it’s that kind of life that often drives genius.

The music video is, in my opinion, a must-view with the song since Michael was, after all, deeply involved in every aspect of his work. Maybe you can’t relate to being a “Stranger In Moscow”, but you’ve been a stranger somewhere, “living lonely”. You can replace the “Kremlin’s shadow” and “Stalin’s tomb” with anything really. You can see yourself within any of the characters in the video – we’ve all been at that place in our lives, at one point or another, where you drop the umbrella and just walk into the rain. Maybe you’re hoping it washes away whatever you’re feeling. I think Michael wanted to wash away the entire world-the world that constantly loved and hated Michael, fiercely and incessantly, for his entire life. For Michael, “abandoned in my fame”, he hoped he could escape like all the other normal people, hoping they would just “take my name and just let me be”.

It’s a sad thing, no? But there’s an uplifting moment, I think, towards the end when everyone is standing out in the rain. The black and white washes over them and suddenly they find an escape, a moment where nothing really matters. Michael probably had precious few of those moments, certainly fewer than most of us have had. Despite the fame and fortune, I think he’s a prime example of the cliché “money can’t buy happiness”. He was one of us, he was a human being and he was the King of Pop, all at once. I think you’ve achieved true musical and artistic perfection when you achieve that balance, that place where people can see you for you, and you for your talent. I only hope his time with his kids and family and the love of his fans brought him some peace before we lost him.

Image courtesy of http://www.hollywoodgo.com.

Rest In peace, Michael Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009).


Find more artists like Michael Jackson at Myspace Music.

“Rhythm Nation” “If” & “I Get Lonely” — Janet Jackson

I was quite moved by metaphoricalgretchasketch‘s discussion in her most recent post about experiencing music, in a rather profound way, via performing it. She was talking about singing which I certainly have no talent for – however, her post resonated with me as I began thinking about all the years I spent in dance classes as a young girl.

I think it’s safe to say that anyone who knows me would not be surprised to hear that I was not an all-star on the athletic field. I didn’t play a sport, per se. However, I don’t think many folks who’ve hung out with me (particularly in college) would be shocked to know that I took dance lessons for several years, because evidence of those lessons resurfaces from time to time when I allow my inner “woo girl” to come out and play. It is also possible that some of my former students might not be surprised by this either, since I may or may not be guilty of allowing them to teach me to crank that “Soulja Boy” or to “Walk it Out”. I plead the fifth.

Dance gets a bad rep sometimes, because you hear a lot about girls coming out of it with lots of body image issues and the like. I can’t say I completely escaped all of that, but in my case, I’d say my self-image problems were largely due to the pressures communicated by the mass mediaadvertising in particular. My dance teachers, on the other hand, were supportive and kind. They challenged us to become the best dancers we could be, but that didn’t mean we had to starve ourselves or whatever. I was fortunate to have had the chance to grow up in those studios under the care of women who were really about helping girls feel good about their accomplishments…even if those accomplishments weren’t going to take us to Broadway.

I was definitely not Broadway-bound, but by the end of my senior year I think I could *bring it* on stage. I’ve always been able to hold my own in a dance club and I could attract attention if I happened to want it (Don’t you judge me! I’m just being honest – and everyone knows that a lot of the time, going out dancing is all about getting attention!). More importantly, though, the experience of studying dance (ballet, jazz, modern, lyrical, hip-hop, and my favorite genre tap) played a huge role in my development as a young girl and onward to womanhood. And I have Janet Jackson to thank for inspiring my interest. It all began with “Rhythm Nation”.

I was nine years old when the video for “Rhythm Nation” was released. I was old enough to appreciate the positive message communicated by the lyrics, but I was more intrigued by the choreography of the video. Even at that early age, I loved thinking about how to interpret music though movement. I hadn’t started taking classes yet, but I knew I wanted to after I heard this song and saw the accompanying routine. Looking back at the video now, I am still taken aback by the brilliant choreography. The dance is militaristic in its movement and if you’ve never studied dance before, I’m not sure you can appreciate the intricacy of the steps or the virtual impossibility of people being able to move in synch with one another to this extent. The result is powerful and the music video is, rightfully so, an important icon of the 90s. For my nine-year-old self, it was a beacon that led to me asking my mom to enroll me in dance classes and it was certainly not the last time Janet Jackson would inspire me to keep dancing.

“If” was released in 1993. I was thirteen years old and I had been in dance classes for a couple of years by this point. And, as pubescent kids are wont to do, I was becoming a little bored. It made me sad that I didn’t feel as excited about dance classes anymore. Luckily, “If” changed my mind.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this video spoke to me at a time when I was just beginning to become aware of my own sexuality. I was starting to realize that I found boys attractive and I was starting to want their attention. And here was Janet Jackson, performing this incredibly provocative (though not too vulgar) dance with her crew and really owning her sexuality. She seemed to explode with confidence and power, and, as per usual, I thought the choreography in the video was amazing. When I had friends over to spend the night, I can remember us jumping up in front of the television set anytime the video was on so that we could try to learn the dance – eventually, I had to make a VHS recording and we wore out that tape within a few weeks. We managed to learn the dance, too, but we didn’t feel half as cool as Janet since we didn’t have any hot guys dancing along with us. Despite that, my love for dance was renewed and I continued with my lessons through the end of high school.

I mentioned earlier that I had some pretty amazing dance teachers. Jennifer, the teacher I had through high school, was the best of the best. I loved her and I loved that she allowed any dancer who was a senior in high school to perform a solo at the spring recital, regardless of her level of ability. I loved Jennifer even more for letting me choreograph mine.

I chose not to go the solo route. Instead, I choreographed a piece for two friends and myself to perform. In homage to the muse who kept inspiring me to go back to dance class, I chose her song “I Get Lonely” for my senior number. I was so proud of the result. The girls that danced along with me were amazing and they didn’t roll their eyes about me being the choreographer – I think that’s probably because they could tell that doing the choreography meant so much to me and because of the culture of mutual support and camaraderie among the students that Jennifer cultivated within her school. After the performance, I left the stage of the Springer Opera House with a full heart. I’m still extremely proud of that accomplishment, and full of gratitude for everyone who helped me achieve my goal of choreographing and performing that dance. It’s one of my most favorite memories from my youth and I count myself lucky for being able to transport myself back to that important night with the touch of a button on my iPod.

Have you ever been inspired by someone’s music or other artwork to pursue a personal goal?
Have you had a life-changing experience while creating or performing something that made you proud?

Tell me all about it in the comments, won’t you? Peace!


Find more artists like Janet Jackson at Myspace Music.

“I Need Air” — Magnetic Man

I first heard Magnetic Man‘s “I Need Air” in the bar at the Generator Hostel in Camden Town, London. I don’t think all songs have to be about the depth of the lyrics – there’s a simplicity here that really caught me the moment I heard it and it really stuck. I guess sometimes it’s not the lyrical genius of songs that mesmerizes us, but the feeling and moment of life that occurs during that first listen.

Perhaps it was the few drinks in me…or maybe it was the fact that it was my first time being (legally) in a bar, my first time being overseas, my first time travelling just with friends – many firsts were happening. Whatever *it* was, when that trance-y beat started I was hooked. The atmosphere in the music video is somewhat indicative of my experience – the blue lights and flashing strobes of the bar and the flying colors on the dance floor were almost too much. The music took me.

My friends and I danced, we drank, we had the time of our lives. We were 3000 miles away from home. There was an unmatched feeling there, something I’ve yet to experience since and that I’m sure awaits me again only in London or a similarly distant locale.

Electrify my body
And you’re makin me feel
Like I’m so electric
Everything you do is makin me
Blow Blow Blow

Don’t know what to do about it
Can’t see how I’d live without it
All I wanna do is just
Know Know Know

You suffocate my mind
And now my atmosphere is crowded
And you being here is makin me
Blow Blow Blow

You penetrate my space
And now I’m looking out of place
And you’re makin it hard for me
I need air!

The chaos of that experience was strange, beautiful and suffocating all at once – that constant beat was like a wave and we were dancing on top of it. The bar was a sea of blues, greens and reds. Trippy. There was a moment where the music, the colors and the atmosphere were all one.

“I Need Air” is now one of my favorite party songs — but it’s more than that. Despite the simplicity of the lyrics, there’s something to be said here: a party, a dance floor or whatever escapist venue you might find is a welcome and constantly sought-after haven from reality. And if you find that haven crowds your space, suffocates you or feels as if it is about to blow, you can find the way through with music like this. You can let yourself go.

Kaleidoscope of colours that you’re bringing me
You’re freaking out my energy
I’m loosin and you’re makin me
Low Low Low

Don’t know what to do about it
You and I can’t live without it
All I wanna do is just
Go Go Go

You smother my emotions
Now I’m drowning in your ocean
And I’m runnin and I’m feeling like
I don’t care

You penetrate my space
And now you’re looking out of place
‘Cos you’re makin this hard for me
I need air!

Those moments in London became a kaleidoscope as the colors and vibrance of the scene suddenly rushed into the dark, flashing bar where in a single moment I seemed to experience what the city was about all at once. London = *life*. You don’t need the stunning visuals of the music video to experience that kind of natural high – you just need this song, a euphoric energy, and a venue (a physical one or one created in your mind). I was totally myself when I first experienced this song and when I hear it now, I continue to feel like it’s okay for me to be who I really am and I don’t have to care whether or not anyone else approves. It was liberating.

Now that I’m back in the states, I listen to this song to immerse myself in those memories and capture that feeling of freedom once again (and again and again). Care to join me in my reverie? The formula for getting there is a simple one: turn off all your lights, play the video at full-screen and pump up the volume until the music is so eclipsing that you need air.


Find more artists like Magnetic Man at Myspace Music.

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