I Pray, Pray, Pray Every Day that You’ll See Things Like I Do

Willa:  So Joie, in our last post, we kicked off the new season with a look at one of Michael Jackson’s first videos, Can You Feel It, which he made in 1981 with The Jacksons. And we ended up looking at how the Jacksons themselves are portrayed in this video as almost mythic figures. They’re the size of Titans and kind of translucent, like something supernatural, and they’re sprinkling golden stardust on amazed earthlings and giving them a supernatural glow also. Through these images, Michael Jackson seems to be saying something important about the role of the artist, and how he believes artists can use their art – their “golden stardust” – to bring about social change.

Joie:  That’s an interesting summation, Willa. I like the way you put it all in a very tidy package.

Willa:  Thanks! Anyway, for some reason, that discussion reminded me of Say Say Say, a video he made two years later with Paul McCartney. It’s very different in tone and feeling from Can You Feel It, but Say Say Say also has some very interesting things to say about the cultural function of artists. But it approaches it in a different way – not by portraying artists as supernatural figures, but as tricksters and con artists.

Joie:  Once again, Willa, the way your mind works astounds me! I would never have drawn a connection between Can You Feel It and Say Say Say. But I think I see where you’re going with this, and I am amazed. Tell us more.

Willa:  Well actually, Joie, you’re the one who opened my eyes to Say Say Say and got me thinking about it in a new way, back when we did a post on Michael Jackson’s repeated use of an on-screen audience. As you described back then, “Mac” and “Jack” are both entertaining their audience and scamming them at the same time.

Joie:  Hmm. That was an interesting and fun conversation. But how does that relate to Can You Feel It?

Willa:  Well, just that both videos are talking about specific ways artists can use their art to make the world a better place. Can You Feel It approaches that question in an almost mythic way, while Say Say Say takes more of a historical approach. What I mean is, it takes a pair of modern musicians – Paul “Mac” McCartney and Michael “Jack” Jackson – and places them within a long tradition of troubadours and vaudevillians and other traveling performers. And then it looks at the different ways they interact with different audiences, and how that brings about subtle changes. In other words, it looks at their cultural function, just like Can You Feel It does, though it approaches it in a different way.

Joie:  Okay, I see what you’re getting at. But something you just said struck me, Willa. You mentioned the “long tradition of troubadours and vaudevillians and other traveling performers.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about musicians and life on the road. You know, many bands are on the road almost constantly. Some performers, like Michael Jackson for instance, really didn’t care for touring that much. We’ve all seen the video clip of him talking about how he hated touring because it was hard on the body, etc.

Willa:  Oh, do you mean this one?

I love this clip! He is too funny. …

Joie:  But there are many bands out there who actually love being on the road, and they’re out there for over a year and a half at a time, promoting a single album. Then they go back into the studio, make another album, and get right back out on the road all over again. And if you think about it, with the exception of making an album, all those traveling troubadours and vaudevillians lived out their lives on the road in much the same way.

Willa:  That’s true, Joie. And he seems to be exploring that life in Say Say Say. The Mac and Jack characters are almost like gypsies – another tradition of traveling musicians.

Joie:  Ah, gypsies! I forgot about them, but you’re right! They’re part of that whole tradition of traveling troubadours and con artists as well.

Willa:  Exactly. I don’t know that gypsies really were con artists, but that’s how they were perceived. In fact, that’s come to be an important part of the mythology of gypsies – that they weren’t just musicians but peddlers of exotic, even magical, objects, as well as fortunetellers with an uncanny knowledge. And they were tricksters who could help you out, but maybe not – maybe their magic trinkets could trick you and work against you.

So there was an aura of magic and intrigue around them, and when they came to town, they disrupted everyday life with a spirit of carnival that was both fun and unsettling. And we definitely see that in Say Say Say. When Mac and Jack roll into town, the villagers flock to them but aren’t quite sure if they should trust them or not.

Joie:  That’s a really good description of what we see at the start of the video, Willa. Everyone is gathered around to watch the presentation and see what’s going on. They’re all very curious about the supposed “medical” potion that will make them strong. You can see the uncertainty and the skepticism on all of their faces. But yet, they can’t walk away because they are fascinated.

Willa: Yes, and what fascinates them is a performance. Only they don’t know it’s a performance, and neither do we, actually. We’re in the same position as the villagers at first. Mac is selling a magic potion “guaranteed to give you unbelievable power,” and a slim figure from the audience – Jack, though we don’t know that yet – volunteers to give it a try. He’s so weak he can’t even get the top off the bottle, but one sip sends him spinning, and then he’s able to beat a strongman with bulging muscles in an arm-wrestling contest. The villagers flock to buy the potion, and Mac winds up leaving town with a satchel full of money. Then we discover the strongman is traveling with him, they stop and pick up Jack on the outskirts of town, the strongman gives him a smile, and we realize the whole thing was a scam.

But what’s interesting is that it’s a scam that’s also an artistic performance. Everything the villagers experienced was scripted ahead of time by Mac and Jack, just like a play, and it has actors and a plot, like a play. Only this play crosses the line between reality and art because it doesn’t announce itself as art, so the villagers think it’s real. And it has real effects – it encourages the villagers to buy the potion. So is it real, or is it art? We’re used to drawing clear distinctions between the two, but that question doesn’t really make sense in this case because it’s both.

And it’s fascinating to me to think about all that in terms of Michael Jackson’s aesthetic – for example, in terms of the changing color of his skin – because I see that the same way. It’s an artistic performance that we (the audience, the media, the commentators on his life) didn’t see as art, so it blurs the boundary between what’s real and what’s art also. To some extent, it was very real – he really did suffer from vitiligo, suffered terribly – but it was also an artistic performance. And it was a performance that had real effects. I think it profoundly influenced how we think about racial differences.

Joie:  That’s an interesting parallel you’ve drawn, Willa. I’m not sure I would have made that connection between Say Say Say and Michael’s skin disorder, but I can totally see your point. You have a unique way of looking at things that always amazes me somehow.

Willa:  Well, I don’t want to push that connection too hard – that’s just an example. There’s lots more, like think of the times he and Slash played out a charade that Slash was taking over the stage – that he was playing his guitar out of control and couldn’t or wouldn’t stop. Stagehands would even come from off stage and try to drag Slash off. It was all just an act, but if you weren’t in on the joke, it wasn’t clear if it was real or not.

Michael Jackson did things like that quite a bit, so it’s really interesting to me that Say Say Say begins by depicting an artistic performance, but it’s a different kind of art. It’s not like a painting that sits in a frame on the wall. This is art that refuses to stay on the wall. It jumps out of its frame and draws everyone into the performance. Looking at it that way, Say Say Say is presenting a very different view of art, and of the artist as well – as a trickster or con artist who engages everyone around him into his art, not just as an amused audience but as unwitting performers.

Joie:  You know, Willa, this video is all about presenting that different type of artistic performance. They repeat that theme in the latter half of the film as well when we see them onstage doing their vaudeville act. And again, it’s a performance that’s also a con in a sense, because they end up using it to elude the police who come looking for them over the whole “Mac and Jack” wonder potion scam.

Willa:  And because they’re pool sharks, apparently. At least, Mac is. …

Joie:  But what I find truly interesting about this video is that our tricksters are actually con artists with hearts, because separating these two scenes of possible criminal activity is a sweet little interlude where we see Mac and Jack, and their two cohorts, delivering a large satchel of money to an orphanage. So we learn that they aren’t just out there conning the public for their own selfish gain. Instead, they have a much more noble cause. They are actually a small band of Robin Hoods, if you will – taking money from those who can afford to spare a little, and giving it to those who have nothing.

Willa:  I agree, and that’s a great way of describing it, Joie. They really are like Robin Hoods, aren’t they? In their own small way, they’re helping to redistribute wealth from those who have enough to those who don’t.

But they don’t just provide the orphans with money – they entertain them also. Mac performs magic tricks, pulling a bouquet of flowers out of thin air, while Jack walks across a balance beam, then spins and bows. And they’re singing the entire time, so they bring music to the orphanage as well. And actually, that suggests another function of art: it can provide joy or inspiration or comfort to those who are having a hard time, and maybe lift the spirits of those who are feeling down.

Joie:  Oh, my goodness, Willa! You make that sound like an afterthought, or like it’s just a pleasant side effect or something. But to me, that is the most important function of art! Of any kind of art, no matter what it is – painting, dancing, music, whatever.

I know that there are probably those out there who will disagree with me on this, but that’s ok because they would be perfectly correct in doing so. Because I think art functions as many different things to many different people. Don’t you? I mean, trite as this may sound, but some people – maybe even most people – couldn’t care less about the political message or the social implications behind a particular work of art. They just know that it moves them in some way and it makes them feel happy or sad or pensive, or whatever it makes them feel. Whether it’s a song or a painting, or a performance.

Willa:  Hmmm … Is that the most important function of art?  Wow, I’m going to have to think about that. That’s one of the things I love most about our conversations, Joie – you always make me think!

Boy, I’m really going to have to think about this for a while, but my first response is to wonder if maybe this isn’t one of the dividing lines between entertainment and art. I’d say the primary function of entertainment is to move us – to engage us emotionally and make us feel “happy or sad or pensive,” as you say. But to me, art has to do much more than that. I guess I would say that, for me, the main distinction between art and entertainment is that entertainment tends to reinforce what we already think or feel about things. So if a light-hearted song makes us feel happy or a John Phillips Souza march makes us feel patriotic or a Norman Rockwell painting makes us feel nostalgic, then that’s entertainment. But while art can definitely move us emotionally, it also challenges our preconceived ideas about things. There’s always something a little unsettling about art, even though it can be as pleasurable as entertainment, because at some level it forces us to question ourselves and how we see and respond to the world.

And to me, what’s so incredibly powerful about Michael Jackson is that he’s both an entertainer and an artist. He caught our attention as an entertainer, and we fell in love with him as an entertainer. As Berry Gordy said at his memorial service, he was perhaps “the greatest entertainer that ever lived.” But we can’t get him out of our minds because he’s also an artist. His work disturbs us in a way that won’t turn us loose – we, as a culture, can’t stop thinking about him – because he was also a powerful artist … the most important artist of our time, I think.

Joie:  Willa, I’d like to say that I don’t disagree with you. But … just for the sake of playing devil’s advocate here for a minute … if we apply what you just said, about Michael Jackson’s work both entertaining us and disturbing us “in a way that won’t turn us loose,” to other entertainers, then can we say that someone like E.L. James, for instance, is also a powerful artist? After all, her erotic trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey – which no one would call a literary masterpiece by any means – was both entertaining, and it greatly disturbed us in a way that won’t turn us loose. We, as a culture, can’t seem to stop thinking about it. But I’m not sure I would call her a powerful artist.

It’s a bit of a reach but, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t believe there always has to be an unsettling component to art. I don’t find anything disturbing or unsettling about any of Edgar Degas’ ballerina paintings, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, or even B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” for that matter. And those are just three small examples of great art that moves us emotionally. I’m sure if I really sat and concentrated on making a list, I could find many, many more examples.

Willa:  Those are great examples, Joie, and they can really help clarify this, I think. I’m not talking about a moment’s titillation of sex or violence that shocks us for a few days or even a few years and then fades away. I’m talking about an earthquake that permanently shifts the landscape, forever changing how we experience our world.

I don’t know much about Fifty Shades of Grey, but from what you just said it sounds like a temporary titillation. But Degas and the Impressionists were something completely different. Looking back, we tend to forget they were radicals whose work was rejected by the Academy. Paintings of ballerinas, everyday ballerinas, made from blobs of bright color smeared onto the canvas? That was heresy!  Everyone knew a proper painting should portray the nobility sitting stiffly upright, or maybe a scene from Greek mythology, and should be meticulously crafted with careful, invisible brush strokes. The Impressionists challenged all that, and revolutionized how we see and experience art. To them, the important thing was to try to capture the experiential essence of a moment – of seeing and feeling and experiencing that moment – and it’s a measure of how completely they changed our ideas that they became the new normal. Today, when we think of the great works – the masterpieces of western art – many of the paintings that immediately spring to mind are Impressionist paintings.

You could say the same about Beethoven. Like the Impressionists with visual art, Beethoven revolutionized how people thought about and experienced music. He remains one of the most influential composers of all time. And B.B. King influenced a whole generation of blues guitarists, and through them rock guitarists. You can still hear his influence all over the radio, especially when you hear a high wailing guitar solo. R&B and rock music would sound different today without B.B. King.

It’s too early to tell what Michael Jackson’s long-term impact on the arts will be – and that’s not even talking about his cultural impact, such as how we think about race and gender. But I think it will be far greater than his direct influences on music, dance, videos, fashion, visual art, though those are huge. I think he’s doing something far more fundamental, and challenging how we define art itself.

Joie:  Well, I don’t want to get sidetracked on this, but I have to point out that Fifty Shades is more than just temporary titillation that shocks us for a minute and then we let go of it. No one is letting go of it. That’s the point.

Willa:  I’m sorry, Joie!  I didn’t mean to dis Fifty Shades. I know absolutely nothing at all about it, other than what you’ve told me.

Joie:  Well interestingly, it has become as much a part of our cultural experience as Michael Jackson’s Thriller. And, much like Thriller helped to revolutionize the record industry back in the early 1980s, Fifty Shades of Grey is helping to do the same for the publishing industry. At least the fiction side of it.

There are millions of women out there who have begun writing for the first time in their lives, all because of a fascination with E.L. James’ titillating little story. The term Fan Fiction has become a household word. And hundreds of those women have begun branching out, using Fan Fiction as a springboard to create and self-publish their own original works of fiction. This is an exciting time to be a fiction writer because of outlets like Amazon and Book Baby, making self-publishing so easy and accessible.

But it’s the writers who have found success in unconventional ways – like Ms. James and her titillating read that began as Fan Fiction – who are fueling the imaginations of readers and inspiring them to try their hand at creating something as well. Much like B.B. King and his influence on a whole generation of blues and rock guitarists. I think that counts as “an earthquake that permanently shifts the landscape, forever changing how we experience our world.”

Willa:  You could be right. It is impressive that she’s inspired so many other women to write.

Joie:  Like I said, it’s an interesting topic, but getting back to our conversation about Say Say Say, the point I was trying to make is that I believe that art can be many different things to many different people. And for me personally, the most important function of art is that it provides joy and inspiration and comfort. It makes me feel happy, it lifts me up when I’ve had a difficult day, it soothes me when I’m feeling down. I don’t care what the political message was behind it, or what social injustice the artist was attempting to address when he or she created it. My only concern is how it makes me feel in the moment. That’s a very real function of art. But I wasn’t saying it was the most important function. I said it was the most important function for me.

Willa:  I think I see what you’re saying, Joie, and I agree that connecting with an audience is really important. It doesn’t matter how innovative a work is – if no one cares about it, it isn’t going to survive. And I think Michael Jackson himself would agree with you too. When asked what makes a good music video, his first response was that “it has to be completely entertaining.” So I hope it didn’t sound like I don’t care about that, or think it isn’t important. Michael Jackson’s music and films move me more than I can say, and I wouldn’t care about them nearly so much if they didn’t.

But some artists do more than move us or soothe us or make us feel better. Some actually change the current of art and send it flowing in a new direction, and they lead us to think about art – how we define and experience art – in a new way. And I think Michael Jackson was one of those rare people. He was constantly pushing the boundaries of art, and questioning the role of the artist and of art itself. That’s developed more fully in his later work, but it’s interesting to me that we can see elements of it in his early work as well.

For example, Say Say Say begins with Mac and Jack as traveling minstrels, as we mentioned before – a tradition that goes back hundreds if not thousands of years. Then later we see them doing a vaudeville show, as you said, Joie. That’s a tradition that’s very problematic for black artists because performing in blackface was such an prominent part of vaudeville. So it’s significant, I think, that they paint their faces during that section – not in blackface but as crying clown faces. And then, they subtly evoke film musicals also since, during the vaudeville show, they’re kind of re-creating the “Fit as a Fiddle” number from Singing in the Rain, as Nina pointed out in a comment last year. Here’s a clip of “Fit as a Fiddle”:

So Say Say Say is a very fun and entertaining video – and I don’t in any way dispute that, or think it isn’t important – but it’s more than that. It’s also subtly taking us on a tour through the tradition of music performance or music theater – from traveling troubadours to the vaudeville stage to Hollywood musicals – and it’s both celebrating and questioning that tradition, I think.

Joie:  That’s an interesting take, Willa. And it makes me wonder where they could have gone with it, you know? As you say, they subtly take us on a tour through the tradition of music performance or music theater – and I wonder what that video may have looked like if they hadn’t stopped at a certain point, but instead kept the history lesson going up to the present. From traveling troubadours and Hollywood musicals, up through the traveling concert tours of today. Now that would have been interesting!

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About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on September 12, 2013, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Interesting comparison between entertainment and art. Here is how MJ describes his ‘hit material’ in Moonwalk:

    “A musician knows hit material. It has to feel right. Everything has to feel in place. It fulfills you and it makes you feel good. You know it when you hear it. That’s how I felt about Billie Jean. I knew it was going to be big while I was writing it. I was really absorbed in that song.”

    In TII he uses cooking metaphors– it has to “simmer,” we’re “sizzling”; and in another place he talks about the extended chorus of TWYMMF as being “totally nourishing.” This idea of nourishment is also in the Moonwalk quote re “it fulfills you.”

    I agree that art nourishes us and without it we are deprived of that nourishment–art is food for the senses and the soul. Music is interesting too in that it is a universal language– speaking to/nourishing many cultures at once.

    • Hi Stephenson. I love that scene in This Is It where he says, “You have to let it simmer.” It’s interesting how that ties in with all those other metaphors of music as “nourishment.” That’s such a great way of thinking about art – it really is true that “art nourishes us.”

  2. Fantastic blog. Thank you ladies – I am so glad you are back.

    Before I watch the short film again and re-read the blog, I have two questions as a non-American – 1. What is a pool shark? 2. I gather that this short film was banned – why?

    • Let’s see … I don’t spend much time in pool halls so I don’t know that I’m the right person to answer this, Caro, but I’ll give it a try!

      Pool is a game, kind of like billiards but with a smaller table, I think. And a pool shark is someone who makes money off bets on whether he’ll win or not. Sometimes a stranger from out of town (like Mac in Say Say Say) will pretend they’re a novice player to encourage people to bet big against them – then once the bets are in, they start playing much better and win all the money. So it’s kind of a scam, just like the mysterious strengthening potion. We see hints of that when the local slips the strongman some cash while Mac plays pool.

      I don’t know anything about Say Say Say being banned. I should ask Joie about that. Are you maybe thinking of “The Girl is Mine”? (They’re kind of companions since Michael Jackson sang “Say Say Say” with Paul McCartney for his Pipes of Peace album, and McCartney sang on “The Girl is Mine” for Thriller.) A lot of radio stations wouldn’t play “The Girl is Mine” because, even though race is never mentioned in the lyrics, everyone knows that McCartney is white and Michael Jackson is black, and they’re fighting over the same girl. So no matter what race she is, there’s an interracial relationship involved.

      • Thanks for the explanations Willa. I kinda assumed that was what a pool shark was but good to have it clarified.

        I am sure I read somewhere sometime that Say Say Say had been banned and I never understood why, but I must have got my wires crossed, cos it makes much more sense that The Girl Is Mine would be banned for the reasons you have given – and they talk about apartheid here in South Africa!!

  3. Thanks, again for a great discussion. But, I have to disagree with the importance of Fifty Shades of Grey. It really is just a passing phase of titillation.

    • It may be, but it sure was a fun read.

      In all seriousness, what Edward in the Twilight Series and Christian Grey have in common with Michael Jackson is that they do not use their powers to exploit women for their own pleasures; instead they use their powers to bring pleasure to the women they love. And, in the case of MJ, he seemed to cherish femaleness, not have contempt for it. Which is why so many young women love Edward and CG — and why I love MJ — at least one of the reasons.

  4. After watching the video, I did a quick google seach, and found some interesting notes:

    Art Carney ts an audience member for the vaudeville show

    Wikipedia: Two authors later reviewed the short film and documented two central themes. The first is a “Child/Man” theme; the role of both a boy and an adult, which writer James M. Curtis states Jackson plays throughout the music video for “Say Say Say” Curtis writes that the bathroom scene involving the shaving foam is reminiscent of boys copying their fathers. He adds that the scene marks “the distinction between Michael’s roles as a Child and as a Man”. The writer also highlights the part where the singer supposedly becomes strengthened with a miracle potion, a further play on the “Child/Man” theme. Furthermore, Curtis observes that Paul and Linda McCartney seem to act as if they are Jackson’s parents in the short film. The author also notes that in a scene where Jackson is handed a bouquet of flowers from a girl, it is a reversal of one from City Lights, a 1931 film starring Charlie Chaplin, whom the singer greatly adored.

    The second of the two main themes in the music video is of African American history and culture, as some of the vaudeville scenes in the short film acknowledge minstrel shows and blackface.[40] Author W. T. Lhamon writes that the video is set in the Californian Depression, and that McCartney and Jackson “convey a compactly corrupt history of blackface” as they con their way to riches with the Mac and Jack show.[40] Lhamon was critical of the pair and of the video because he felt that the African American theme had not been made explicitly known. The author expressed his view that aspects of the short film were historically out-of-synch with interracial relations.[40] He stated, “Nearly everything in the video is backward. Mack’s white hand continually helping black Jack on board, for instance, reverses the general process I have shown of blacks providing whites with their sustaining gestures.”[40] Lhamon added, “In a just world, Jackson should be pulling McCartney onto the wagon, not the other way around.”

    Really snarky/fun review of the film: Rembert Explains the ’80s: Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s “Say Say Say” Video http://www.grantland.com/blog/hollywood-prospectus/post/_/id/50935/rembert-explains-the-80s-paul-mccartney-and-michael-jacksons-say-say-say-video

    • Hi Sandra. That’s funny that Art Carney is in the audience! I’ll have to look for him. I used to love watching reruns of The Honeymooners, and I bet he actually performed on Vaudeville. I wonder if he was kind of a consultant on that? That’s interesting.

      It’s also really interesting to hear critics’ ideas but, to be honest, that idea of the “child/man” theme kind of bugs me. Maybe I’m taking this the wrong way, but it feels kind of belittling to me – kind of like a white man calling a black man “boy.” It’s true that Michael Jackson loved children and felt we should try to preserve a childlike wonder, but it’s troubling to me that critics seem very reluctant to see him as a grown man. (For example, I’ve noticed in Rolling Stone that Bruce Springsteen is “Springsteen” and Bob Dylan is “Dylan,” but Michael Jackson is usually “Michael.” Sometimes “Jackson,” but usually “Michael.” I’ve never once seen them call Bob Dylan “Bob.”)

      When Say Say Say was made, Paul McCartney was in his 40s and the Beatles had been disbanded for over a decade, while Michael Jackson was in his 20s and had just released Thriller, so hadn’t even hit his prime yet. But even though he’s much younger than McCartney, he holds his own, I think. Especially in the vaudeville scenes at the end, they feel like equals to me.

      I guess I would disagree with Lhamon also. I agree that “Nearly everything in the video is backward. Mack’s white hand continually helping black Jack on board, for instance, reverses the general process I have shown of blacks providing whites with their sustaining gestures.” That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I’d agree with that. But instead of being troubled by that reversal, I find it refreshing – wonderfully refreshing.

      And thanks for sharing the Rembert take on Say Say Say. I loved his column on “Man in the Mirror” at the 1988 Grammys. I’ve read it at least five times – just love it.

      And I agree – Michael Jackson is gorgeous in Say Say Say, simply gorgeous. It’s worth watching just to see that beautiful face….

    • I found Art Carney! In this version from GiraldiMedia (which I assume means it was uploaded by Bob Giraldi, the director), Art Carney is at 3:43. He’s wearing a beige hat and beige t-shirt, and smoking a cigar – very much like his character in The Honeymooners. Thanks so much for sharing that, Sandra!

    • I love Rembert, especially Rembert on MJ.

  5. Of all the films he’s done, I think MJ looks the most amazingly gorgeously BEAUTIFUL in this one. Almost unworldly beautiful.

  6. Excellent post ladies.

  7. Here’s a video posted in June 2013 of “MJ” and “Paul” performing Say Say Say live! Hah!

  8. Thanks for posting this video Sandra. I had not seen it before, and although the quality isn’t that good, it is great to watch. Any idea where they are and when it was?

    I always loved this short movie, and am glad to read the comments of Willa and Joie, as well as other informed participants.

    It did seem as if Paul and Linda were kind of parental towards Michael hey, and I love the part where they all go off at the end and put their hands over Michael to form a sort of wedding arch – lovely touch.

    I find it ironical that the short film was shot at Neverland where Paul was staying and it was through him that Michael first came to know about it, and then the whole buying of the Northern Lights catalogue thanks to Paul telling Michael about the possibilities of buying other artists songs. Michael certainly was a shrewd business man, and pretty quick on the uptake. Well done him.

    • on youtube, the notes for the video are as follows (I can’t interpret them):
      june 2013
      Junta Épica Paul Maccartney y Michael Jackson Haciendo sus duetos e improvisando Billie Jean
      Banda Paul LA BAND ON THE RUN
      Doble Michael Jackson: GERMÁN MUÑOZ

      • Here is the translation: “June 2013, Epic Partnership Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, performing their duets and improvising Billie Jean. Paul’s band: Band on the Run. Michael Jackson Double: German Munoz.”

        It doesn’t look like the real Paul McCartney or MJ in this clip, but supposedly MJ is played by a double but it doesn’t say who is the double for Pul or is it really him??

    • “It did seem as if Paul and Linda were kind of parental towards Michael hey, and I love the part where they all go off at the end and put their hands over Michael to form a sort of wedding arch – lovely touch.”

      It’s true that Paul and Linda’s characters are quite a bit older than his and they’re very affectionate toward him, so I can see what you’re saying, Caro. I shouldn’t have been so grumpy about that.

      When I first read Curtis’ interpretation of the shaving scene and how it relates to his idea of a “man/child” theme, I immediately flashed on that scene in the Bashir documentary where Michael Jackson is talking about an article that said he couldn’t grow a beard – it was a ridiculous article that speculated he’d had stubble “lasered” into his face somehow, and he seemed genuinely upset and kind of angry about it. He said something like, what, I can’t even grow a beard now? I think the memory of that colored how I responded to Curtis, maybe unfairly.

  9. Thanks Joie and Willa for another interesting blog. I have a question that may be really stupid, but …. What does the video have to do with the song? I can’t see any connection.

    As to the discussion of art and entertainment, I need to think about that some more.

    I’m sort of worn out with high art, art that is deemed art by the establishment based on the fact that only 1% of the 1% can even begin to understand it; the pleasure derived from such art seems to have an awful lot to do with the ability to identify oneself as one of the rare beings who can understand it. These people, not you Willa, look down their noses at entertainment and dismiss anything that is entertaining as being not-art. These are the people who dismiss MJ. To these people, anything that the masses can respond to is by definition not-art. How silly.

    To me, great art, vs. high art, has to do with the ability to access the deepest and most powerful emotions we can feel as humans, express them perfectly and in a way that mirrors what many people are feeling, but may not be conscious of, and, through the perfection of expression, give those feelings legitimacy and bring them to consciousness. This is what MJ did and does. You feel that the world doesn’t care about you, you are absolutely right. And, I’m one of you. They don’t care about us. You feel pain at the way nature is being destroyed, so do I. This is how I feel. You feel lonely, so do I. I know what loneliness feels like. You want to heal the world, so do I. Let’s do it. You like to dance, you want to be one with the music, so do I. I am going to make it impossible for you to remain seated while my music is playing.

    According to Wikipedia — “Entertainment is a form of activity that holds the attention and interest of an audience, or gives pleasure and delight. It can be an idea or a task, but is more likely to be one of the activities or events that have developed over thousands of years specifically for the purpose of keeping an audience’s attention… The experience of being entertained has come to be strongly associated with amusement, so that one common understanding of the idea is fun and laughter, although many entertainments have a serious purpose. This may be the case in the various forms of ceremony, celebration, religious festival, or satire for example. Hence, there is the possibility that what appears as entertainment may also be a means of achieving insight or intellectual growth.” With MJ, the possibility was a certainty.

    But does art have to be entertaining? Well, to be art, it has to hold someone’s interest and attention. So, I would say that art, in the broader sense of entertainment, must be entertaining to be art.

    So, I guess my two-cents is that an entertainment, like a drawing or a painting or music or a poem, can be art, but is not necessarily art. So, not all entertainment is art, but being entertaining does not rule a performance out as art. MJ was an entertainer whose entertainment reached the highest standards for art in my book.

    As you can see, I am really glad you are back.

    • And I am glad you are back Eleanor!! I also often wonder what is the connection between some of Michael’s short films and the song, but thanks to Willa and Joie and other contributors to the blog I am beginning to see the connections. For the longest while I wondered about the film Who Is It? as it seemed to have nothing at all to do with the song, but with this blog I got a whole new perspective. I remember reading somewhere – done so much I can’t remember what where anymore!! – that Michael often visualised the film at the same time he was creating the song and music, but have to say that I sometimes still wonder how they go together, but not so often any more thanks to you guys.

      • Hi Eleanor and Caro. I know what you mean – Michael Jackson’s videos often go in a very different direction than I expect. For example, I can remember listening to “Leave Me Alone” before the video came out, and thinking it was about a failed romance … and not a very nice way to speak to a former girlfriend, someone you once cared about. “Just leave me alone”? That’s not very nice. …

        But then the video completely changed how I interpreted the song. “Just leave me alone”? That makes perfect sense when spoken to the reporters and paparazzi and even the fans who were hounding him constantly. In fact, I think that’s when I started hearing a lot of his “romance” songs in a double way – as words spoken both to a lover and to his audience. That double message runs throughout his work, even back to “Billie Jean” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” but I didn’t really focus on that part of it until later, after the Leave Me Alone video came out. And I really love that aspect of his work – specifically, the way his videos complicate his songs and lead us to think about them in new ways.

    • “[T]he pleasure derived from such art seems to have an awful lot to do with the ability to identify oneself as one of the rare beings who can understand it. These people … look down their noses at entertainment and dismiss anything that is entertaining as being not-art. These are the people who dismiss MJ. To these people, anything that the masses can respond to is by definition not-art. How silly.”

      This is such an important point, and I’m so glad you raised it, Eleanor. There is so much elitism and snobbery at play in determining if an artist’s work is treated as “art” or “entertainment.” When Shakespeare was alive, his plays were very popular with the masses – and looked down on for that very reason, for being “just entertainment.” A few centuries later, Shakespeare’s language has become a little harder to understand, his plays are now seen as something for the learned elite, and they are revered as one of the preeminent examples of high art. Shakespeare’s plays haven’t changed, only how we perceive them.

      One of the many things that’s so brilliant about Michael Jackson’s work is he really forces us to question that division between entertainment and high art. His short films, especially, meet all the criteria we usually look for in high art: they’re complicated, nuanced, richly detailed, and exquisitely well crafted; they’re innovative in form and content as well as technology, constantly pushing beyond the limits of what’s been done before; they tackle difficult social issues, sometimes in controversial ways; and most importantly, I think, they challenge our perceptions, leading us to see ourselves and our world in new ways. But his work is also wonderfully entertaining. Deejays play his songs – both the originals and remixes – at dance clubs. Middle-aged people like me dance to them at wedding receptions.

      Some of his songs, like “Black or White” or “Earth Song” or even “Jam,” are constructed in very sophisticated ways, but they aren’t exclusively for the elite, at all. “Will You Be There” quotes Beethoven, but was used as the theme song for Free Willy. “Little Susie” quotes “Pie Jesu” and a poem from the 1800s, alongside “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof. He’s constantly mixing it up and forcing us to question how we categorize works of art/entertainment (as well as the people who made them).

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