Monday, January 3, 2011

Posthumous Blues

Sony Music, a division of ExxonToyotaWalmart, Inc., is pleased to announce the release today of Michael Jackson's newest single, "Posthumous Blues". This landmark recording features a guest rap by 2Pac, and a guitar solo by Jimi Hendrix. This epic is bound to be remembered as Michael Jackson's greatest hit ever!

(Michael Jackson is a trademark of Sony Music, Inc.)

So there's a 'new Michael Jackson album' out, one called Michael. As we all have to be aware, this slapdash, random selection of ten overdubbed outtakes is the first (excludine the This is It soundtrack) of many, many, many such rehashes.

Michael Jackson released only a tiny amount of the material he worked on in the studio. We all know that there's a lot in the vault, and given how skimpy his officially-released product is, and how loyal his fans are, it's not only good business sense but also a good thing that this music be made publically available. My concern is with how this is being done. Pretending that a certain bunch of outtakes is a 'new album' is cheesy, and giving it the god-awful cover art it currently has is even worse. This pastel pseudo-deification, this array of smiling Michaels from days gone by, this is how we will be asked to consume him from now on. And that's not only sad but in a decade or two from now it will have made Michael Jackson unapproachable for the next generation: he'll be not merely 'one of those dead guys my parents seem to like' but that dead guy who everyone speaks in hushed tones about'. I think the Beatles have mythologised themselves out of the imaginations of the current younger generation in the same way. A Beatles song can't be 'just another enjoyable song on the radio'; it has to be (cue fanfare) a Beatles song! And I don't think that has served the Beatles that well. Making a big announcement about having Beatles albums available on iTunes like that should impress (in 2010, for the love of God) just serves to separate them from the rest of the entertainment industry.

Even Michael Jackson's family expresses concern over the legitimacy of this material, which raises the question: just who is responsible for Michael Jackson's legacy? At least its 2Pac's own mother whoring her son's legacy, and at least (by now, all these years later) Jimi Hendrix's estate gets the money every time a reel of tape documenting Hendrix's bowel movements gets publically released. One presumes they have some authority to say no. Does Jackson's family not? If so, things might just get scarier and scarier.

I would love to see this stuff come out in a dignified 'archival' fashion. I'd suggest 'bonus tracks on 2CD-set reissues of the original albums', but they've already reissued those with bonus tracks - and that's been horrible too (interviews? Fergie?).

Michael Jackson himself was capable of some garish mishaps, but at least those came from the man himself. Now that his legacy is in the hands of Sony, and Sony alone, the main impetus will not be a pathetic man's desire for self-mythologisation but a corporation's desire to milk even more cash from the pockets of fans.

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