She Lied to You, Lied to Me

Willa:  You know, Joie, one of the things I love most about Michael Jackson’s work is its emotional complexity.  Real life experiences and emotions are rarely simple – we rarely feel pure love or pure anger or pure relief or pure joy. Instead, we generally feel a mix of emotions, and his work captures that so beautifully. Often, his songs will plunk us down in a situation, and then lead us through the full range of emotions we might feel in that situation.

A perfect example is “Chicago,” a song from the recently released Xscape album. In it, Michael Jackson adopts the role of a man who’s unwittingly had an affair with a married woman. Now he’s discovered the truth, and he’s singing about how that feels to him – so there’s hurt and anger and a deep sense of betrayal.

But as the song progresses, we discover that he’s singing this song to his lover’s husband. As he says, “She tried to live a double life / Loving me while she was still your wife.” So there are a lot of other emotions as well: guilt, shame, regret, and this need to try to explain what happened and justify his actions.

But he’s also replaying their entire relationship in his head – the song begins with memories of how they first met. So we experience that initial attraction also, and the tenderness and longing he once felt for her.

So he’s immersed in a jumble of conflicting emotions, and working through all that is really complicated for him – and for us as we feel those emotions through him.

Joie:  You know, Willa, I’m happy you wanted to talk about this song, because I love it, for many reasons! And getting right into it, I agree with everything you just said about all of his feelings of guilt, shame and regret. But I get the sense that he’s not so much trying to explain what happened as he is attempting to warn the husband about his traitorous wife. His words actually sound very much like an accusation, like he’s telling the husband, She did it once, she’ll do it again! This is what he says:

She lied to you, lied to me
‘Cause she was loving me, loving me

Then he goes on to say this:

She tried to live a double life
Loving me while she was still your wife
She thought that loving me was cool
With you at work and the kids at school

Those words are very inflammatory, and they’re sung with such anger and bitterness. He’s clearly very hurt, and now it’s as if he’s lashing out, attempting to hurt her in turn by telling her husband all about their torrid affair.

Willa:  Wow, Joie, I’m surprised it feels that way to you because I don’t get that feeling – that he’s trying to retaliate or hurt her in some way. He does tell her husband, “You should know that I’m holding her to blame,” so he is definitely holding her responsible for what happened, and he is obviously very hurt by it, but I don’t think he’s trying to lash out at her, as you put it. Rather, I think he’s explaining to her husband (and maybe to himself as well) that he’s “not that kind of man” – the kind who would sneak around and have an affair with a married women. As he tells her husband,

I didn’t know she was already spoken for
‘Cause I’m not that kind of man
Swear that I would have never looked her way
Now I feel so much shame

You know, some men would actually feel a sort of triumph in this situation, like they had put one over on her husband. But the person singing this song isn’t like that. There’s something kind of old-fashioned about him – even the words “I didn’t know she was already spoken for” are old fashioned. People don’t usually say someone is “spoken for” anymore.

And you know, an old-fashioned way for him to respond to this situation would be to act gallant – to say it was all my fault, not hers. But gallantry can be another type of lie also, and he refuses to do that. He insists on honesty. So he’s not going to soften things and delude himself that maybe she did love him, and he’s not going to make excuses for her either. He’s going to face the situation squarely, and truthfully acknowledge what happened.

But he also seems kind of shy or unsure of himself. As he says in the opening verse, “I was surprised to see / That a woman like that was really into me.” This kind of reminds me of the opening verse of “Billie Jean” where the protagonist is proud she has chosen him to dance with her. As he says, “Every head turned with eyes that dreamed of being the one / Who will dance on the floor” with Billie Jean. And actually, these songs are pretty similar in some ways. In both cases, a rather shy young man is drawn into a false relationship with a woman who isn’t at all who she seems to be.

So anyway, what I’m trying to say is that “Chicago” is a song about a man who’s had an affair with a married woman, but he isn’t some sneaky, sleazy Lothario bragging about his exploits. Just the opposite. He seems to be a very earnest young man who wanted a real relationship, and maybe wanted to be a father to her children – the children she told him she was struggling to raise on her own. But everything he thought he knew about her has turned out to be false – she already has a husband, her children already have a father, and he’s just an unwelcome intruder into their domestic situation. Now he realizes that – that “she had a family,” as he says in the closing line of the song – and as he says, “Now I feel so much shame.”

Joie:  Yes, but as you pointed out in your opening, Willa, real life emotions and experiences are rarely simple. It’s rare that we feel pure love or pure anger or pure anything. And while I agree with you completely that he’s incredibly remorseful and sincere in his shame – he’s clearly owning his own guilt – I still believe that he also feels a measure of anger and bitterness toward her now. As you said, he tells her husband that he’s “holding her to blame.”

But he doesn’t just say this once. He keeps repeating the refrain throughout the entire second half of the song. In fact, those words, “Holding her to blame,” completely replace the refrain he’s been repeating in the first half of the song, “She was loving me; she was wanting me.”

Willa:  Wow, that’s really interesting, isn’t it? I hadn’t picked up on that, Joie, but you’re right. There are vocal lines running in the background – I wish I knew musical terminology better, but it’s almost like a countermelody in the background while the main melody is telling the story in the foreground. And you’re right – before the bridge that countermelody alternates between “she was loving me” and “she was wanting me” – those are the only two lines we hear – but after the bridge he begins to sing “holding her to blame” over and over. That seems really significant.

Joie:  Yes. It’s a very subtle change, but now he’s “holding her to blame” for everything that happened, and the bitterness of those four little words are palpable and heartbreaking. This man is broken and hurt and lashing out at the woman he thought loved him.

You know, in a lot of ways, this song reminds me of “Who is it.” I get the same sense of bitterness and hurt from both songs, especially when I think about these words:

And she promised me forever
And a day we’d live as one
We made our vows
We’d live a life anew

And she promised me in secret
That she’d love me for all time
It was a promise so untrue
Tell me what will I do?

It’s the same sort of betrayal going on here, and it brings up the same sense of a heartbroken, confused man left wondering what the heck just happened to the life and the future he thought he was building with the woman he loved.

Willa: That’s a good point, Joie, and I think comparing these two songs is really useful. There are some important parallels – like in both cases he was imagining a life together but then realizes it was all in his imagination. She isn’t the person he thought she was, and they will never have the life together that he envisioned. And in both songs, that makes him question what’s real and what isn’t. We really see that in the video for “Who Is It.” And he sings this in “Chicago”:

Her words seemed so sincere
When I held her near
She would tell me how she feels
If felt so real to me

So his world really has flipped upside-down with these revelations. Not only is he feeling sad that the relationship is over, but also deeply betrayed and unsure about what’s “real” and what isn’t, what’s true and what isn’t. And will he be able to know what’s true or real in the future, if he has another relationship?

Joie:  That’s a very good point, Willa. He probably is second guessing himself now, wondering if he will have the street smarts to know or discern the real truth in the future – if he’s even brave enough to venture into a real relationship going forward after this.

Willa:  Yes, and that state of confusion is really captured by the fact that he uses two very distinct voices in this song, kind of like we talked about with “Morphine” in a post with Lisha McDuff last spring. More than that, he alternates between those voices in singing two very different verse forms – a soft one and an angry one – with two different melodies. At least that’s how it seems to me. What I mean is, I don’t think this song has a chorus, which is unusual. Instead of verses and a chorus, which is a typical structure, it shifts between two distinct verse forms that are juxtaposed against each other.

The song – and I’m talking about the demo version – opens with slow, dreamy, kind of mystical music, and then a wistful voice describes how they met, two lonely people on their way to Chicago. This is the first verse form and the first melody, and it perfectly matches the mood of the music, with long, lyrical lines and a sort of hazy, dreamlike quality.

This beautiful quiet voice continues throughout the first verse, but then suddenly an angry voice slams in for the second verse with a very different tempo and rhythm. This second verse form is very different from the first, with short, sharp phrases – almost staccato – and by the end he’s almost screaming as he says “she lied to you, lied to me.”

Joie:  Yes. That’s the anger and bitterness I keep referring to – that angry voice that’s lashing out at this deceitful woman and warning her husband.

Willa:  And you’re right, Joie – that voice is very angry. I’m just not sure he’s trying to retaliate and hurt her too. He seems conflicted, and again that’s expressed through the music as well as the lyrics. That second verse ends, the angry voice stops, and the quiet wistful voice returns singing the first melody. We’re back to the first verse form – the slow, languid, beautiful one – and he tells us how happy he was with her, and how good it felt to be with her. As he says, “she had to be / An angel sent from heaven just for me.”

But just as abruptly, this soft verse ends and the angry voice storms in again, and this time it lasts for two full verses. So he’s alternating between the forms – one soft, one angry – but it feels like anger is starting to win, that anger is starting to take over this song. He repeats the verse he sang before – that “she said she didn’t have no man” – but now extends it to a second verse, telling us (and her husband) “She tried to live a double life / Loving me while she was still your wife.”

By this point, he seems completely consumed with anger. But while it may appear that way on the surface, his feelings are actually more complicated than that because, as you pointed out, he’s singing different words and a different melody in the background. The first melody – the softer one – is continuing behind the second one (that’s what I meant by a countermelody) and as you said, the words he’s singing are “she was loving me” and “she was wanting me.” And that beautiful, mystical instrumentation we hear throughout the first form is running through the background also.

So the foreground voice and the background voice are singing in very different ways and expressing very different emotions. That’s so interesting, and it seems to suggest that he’s in deep conflict – that despite his anger at what she’s done, there’s still this strong undercurrent of softness toward her and longing for what he thought they had together.

Then there’s a short bridge that’s mostly instrumental, but we hear him whisper a painful “Why?” and then he sings “Oh, I need her love.” It’s really heartbreaking.

And then we’re back to the alternating verse forms, and it ends with three repetitions of that confused state where the loud angry voice is in the foreground, proclaiming “she lied to you, lied to me,” while that beautiful wistful voice and mystical music continue to flow in the background.

Joie:  Yes, but now, after that heartbreaking bridge, that beautiful wistful voice isn’t singing “she was loving me, she was wanting me.” Instead it’s singing “holding her to blame,” over and over.

Willa:  That’s true.

Joie:  I love the way you broke the song down there – that was very accurate, I think. And, you know, the more we talk about this song, the more I agree completely with what you said at the beginning of this conversation – that this song is a perfect depiction of human emotions and how we rarely feel only love or only anger or only anything. In every human experience there are a myriad of emotions, both good and bad, that come along for the ride. It’s just how we’re made, I think.

Willa:  I agree, and I admire the way Michael Jackson’s songs reflect that. He doesn’t try to simplify everything down and make it all seem nice and tidy. Instead, he acknowledges how complicated and messy our emotions can be – how high and low and even contradictory they can be, all at the same time.

Joie:  It’s “human nature” … no pun intended!

Willa:  Wow, that’s so funny you should say that, Joie! I was just thinking about “Human Nature.” You know, that’s another song that seems to be about adultery – a lot of critics interpret it that way. And if it is, then in that song the protagonist is all for it. As the song says, “If this town is just an apple / Then let me take a bite.” So in “Human Nature” – which Michael Jackson didn’t write, and we should probably keep that in mind – the protagonist wants to fully immerse himself in all of life’s experiences, including sexual experiences, and there’s kind of a celebration of that – of taking risks and defying social norms.

The situation is completely different in “Chicago.” The protagonist is filled with guilt and shame, hurt and anger, and that brings me back to the unusual fact that this song is addressed to his lover’s husband – not to her or us or even himself, but to her husband. That’s so unexpected and interesting. He’s feeling “so much shame,” as he says, and he seems to want to confess, to get it all out, and the person he’s confessing to – really pouring his heart and soul out to – is her husband.

That’s so intriguing to me, and I wonder if it’s because her husband is the authority figure in this situation. He’s the father of this family, but there seems to be more to it than that, and I wonder if he represents The Father, meaning the generic idea of The Father – patriarchy, God the Father, the rule of law and the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Joie:  Mmm, I don’t know about all that, Willa. I think you might be reading too much into it. I think the husband is just the husband. You know, these kinds of adulterous situations unfortunately happen quite a bit in our society, and I think telling the husband, or the wife, probably happens a lot too, and it’s got nothing to do with confessing to The Father or anyone else. In fact, a lot of times I think it’s done in an attempt to “free” the adulterer from their spouse so the “confessor” can finally have them outright.

Willa:  Well, that’s an interesting idea, Joie, and it’s true the protagonist seems conflicted about the relationship ending. He did love her. But at the same time, he seems pretty clear that it’s over. I don’t think he has any intention of any sort of relationship with her, especially now that he knows who she is and what she did – that she lied to him and misled him, and “tried to live a double life.”

And maybe I am reading too much into the husband/father, but it seems to me that the protagonist isn’t just feeling emotional pain that the relationship is over, but also a sense that he has done something morally wrong – he’s had an affair with a married woman, a woman with children and a family. I keep thinking about the verse after the bridge where he sings,

I didn’t know she was already spoken for
‘Cause I’m not that kind of man
Swear that I would’ve never looked her way
Now I feel so much shame
And all things have to change
You should know that I’m holding her blame

So she hasn’t just hurt him emotionally. He also seems to feel that she’s led him astray, led him into sin. It’s almost biblical – Eve tempting Adam with the forbidden apple. And now, like Adam, he’s feeling a deep sense of shame, and confessing to The Father what he has done – what she, like Eve, led him to do.

Joie:  Well, it’s an interesting interpretation, Willa, but I’m not sure I agree with it.

Willa:  Well, to be honest, I’m not sure I agree with it either. I’m just kind of thinking out loud as I try to work this out. It does feel to me that the protagonist is in a terrible place, emotionally and spiritually. He feels betrayed and angry, but also that he’s done something wrong. So he confesses, but the person he confesses to is her husband. And in a way that makes sense because her husband has been hurt by all this too.

So maybe I need to come at this a different way. It seems to me that, early in his life, Michael Jackson was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, a strict religion with a lot of rules – no Christmas celebrations, no birthday parties, plus a lot more – so he grew up with a strict moral code based on rules. But that seems to have changed as he grew older. I’m thinking of that wonderful verse in “Jam”:

She prays to God, to Buddha
Then she sings a Talmud song
Confusions contradict the self
Do we know right from wrong?
I just want you to recognize me in the temple
You can’t hurt me
I found peace within myself

I love this verse – it’s both beautifully written and so profound – and he seems to be suggesting nothing less than a new kind of morality, one that isn’t based on following religious doctrine but on developing and following our own inner moral compass. “Do we know right from wrong?” It’s also based on people and the connections between us – “I just want you to recognize me in the temple.” So it isn’t the temple that’s important, or even the type of temple – Christian, Buddhist, Jewish – but the people within it and our ability to connect with one another and recognize the humanity within each other.

In other words, he’s talking about an earthly morality, not a heavenly one. And in that sense, it seems significant that the protagonist of “Chicago” confesses, not to God, but to a fellow human – a human he unintentionally hurt, her husband.

Joie:  It is interesting to think about and make those parallels from his personal life. And you may be on to something with your speculations, who knows? But that’s always the fun of looking at these songs, and even the videos and live performances, so closely and trying to discern the true meanings behind them.

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 October 2, 2014, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Fascinating post as usual, ladies. I have never listened to the song Chicago but, based on the lyrics I wonder if Michael was ‘confessing’ to Danny Keough – LM’s first husband?

  2. Great post as always, ladies! I so love reading your blog because it usually addresses issues I have run around in my head as well. I’m glad to see you addressed Chicago this week, as it is definitely one of my favorites (probably because it was so new to us, while we at least knew most of the other songs per previous leaks).

    It’s interesting to note that Michael did not write this song, but I think, as always he picked and developed a song that spoke to him, before he made it his own through his unique poetry of expressive emotion though voice, tone, intonation, etc.
    I agree, we have the usual seeming contradiction between guilt, shame, insecurity, anger, disappointment, juxtaposed with longing, love, and the running, quiet, almost hypnotic background of “she’s loving me..”

    I do agree it is interesting to see the song in the context of his life, coming from a strict Jehovah’s Witness upbringing and connected deep seated values, then falling in love with a woman who was married and had two children. Obviously, he was very much aware of that fact and pursued that relationship anyway, which I’m sure caused internal conflict. Lisa Marie discussed her own feelings of guilt (while she loved Michael deeply, she was torn over what she did to her family and children), both in her music (Excuse Me is a prime example) and in her discussion with Oprah October 2010. While Lisa’s music is like an encyclopedia to her feelings and her processing of her love, anger, longing, disappointment etc… Michael is much more covert in interweaving his personal life with his art. Chicago however, I believe does grant us a small glimpse into his own turmoils.

    Thanks again for your wonderful blog!

    • I didn’t know that Michael had not written this song, but as is so often the case, he choses songs that ‘speak to his condition’, and could therefore have well been written by him. What he does so brilliantly I think, is to take other peoples songs and make them his own in a way that I am sure very few other artists could do, or even that the original writer could have envisioned. I am thinking of Man in the Mirror as an instance, and am sure that neither Siedah or Glen could have imagined what Michael would do with their song when it was released. Another example was Ain’t No Sunshine. He was so much younger than the original writer Bill Withers when he recorded it , and yet his version is way better!! Also with Smokey Robinson’s song – so much so that Smokey says in an interview that people asked him why he was singing Michael Jackson songs!!

    • “It’s interesting to note that Michael did not write this song, but I think, as always he picked and developed a song that spoke to him …”

      Hi Birgit. Thank you so much for pointing this out. I’m embarrassed to say that I somehow forgot that while thinking about this post, and it’s important. That was a big mistake on my part. I should have said up front that this song was written by Cory Rooney.

      However, I agree with you that “he made it his own through his unique poetry of expressive emotion though voice, tone, intonation, etc.” His voice is so expressive in this song.

      I also wonder about the structure of this song – specifically, the way the first melody runs behind the second melody as a kind of countermelody. I really love the way that works, with the angry voice singing in the foreground and the sorrowful voice singing a separate melody in the background. And I wonder if that idea came from Cory Rooney – if it was part of his initial vision for the song that it would have that complexity – or if that idea came later, during production.

      • Willa I don’t think it matters so much that Michael didn’t write this song, and I am not just being kind to make you feel better ha ha!!!. Remember him saying as a young boy that he didn’t sing anything if he didn’t mean it? I think therefore that he meant every song he recorded whether he wrote it or not. I mentioned in another comment, I think Michael chose songs because they ‘spoke to his condition’ and that in every song, whether he wrote it or not, there was something very important that he could relate to, and that related to him. I really don’t think your and Joie’s comment are less valid because someone else wrote the lyrics – they still pertained to Michael and his emotional interpretation which no songwriter could foresee, even if they wrote it with Michael in mind, and I don’t know if Cory did.

        • I totally agree with Caro here. Michael chose songs that applied to him- and I am sure there were many reasons, but most most often when he somehow made that emotional connection. Whatever Happens is another example of a song he did not write yet it just about tears your heart out when you listen to it due to the emotional complexity and level of affective expression.
          I do agree with Willa that it would be interesting to know how the layering came about. I also like how another poster pointed out that it was much more subtle in the original version, which is how I think it was intended to be. I know there are reports of Michael saying to his producer, hey, how do you want me to do this, you are the producer, but I also am just about 99.9 percent certain he know how to insert parts he thought would improve the song.

  3. Beautiful indepth talk and as usual brings different aspects that one may not have thought of originaly ..which is the best part of these discussions. Can’t help but feel Michael’s own feelings within songs such as Chicago. Not that he is singing about a real affair or woman in his life but that he is singing about the longing he always had for that kind of family life. He yearned for the wife, children and the “normal” family life he’s pretty much been denied by his fate and circumstances. Regret, sadness are fully heard in this song and I feel it comes from that lifetime of longing. If we examine for a moment, his hectic non-stop meteroic life from a tender age we can see how he missed out on so much familial bond. As we all know our childhood experiences are very much what define us and our vision of what our adult life should be … .. He said “Have You Seen My Childhood is the most autobiographical song i’ve ever written”– as a child he was denied that family unit concept – on the road from the age of 5 .. cut off from his mother – sleeping in hotels and while not alone .. very much alone. So without making this too long a comment .. I feel the desire for this type of connected family life ..husband, wife, children, nightly dinners where you discuss how your day went …how your children school day went ..etc.. is something Michael wanted very badly but never achieved. Also, i feel why he was drawn to families like the Cascios and wanted to spend time with them. To me that longing for that, finding it in this woman on the train and then losing it …is his way of saying THAT is a life that always escaped him. … As you point out .. Who Is It .. but also if we consider Dangerous —

    And Don’t You Pretend We Didn’t
    Talk On The Phone
    My Baby Cried
    She Left Me Standing Alone

    I Never Knew
    But I Was Living In Vain
    She Called My House
    She Said You Know My Name
    And Don’t You Pretend
    You Never Did Me Before
    With Tears In Her Eyes
    My Baby Walked Out The Door

    Can not Sleep Alone Tonight
    My Baby Left Me Here Tonight
    I Cannot Cope ‘Til It’s All Right
    You And Your Manipulation
    You Hurt My Baby

    “manipulation” just like the woman on the train .. and he cries “you hurt my baby” .. Another relationship shot to hell by interference from a conniving woman … .. discussions of encounters with untrustworthy women breaking up relationships could go on and on with Dirty Diana and Blood on the Dance Floor too … its a theme with Michael .. wanting but not ever having real love.

    • “Can’t help but feel Michael’s own feelings within songs such as Chicago. Not that he is singing about a real affair or woman in his life but that he is singing about the longing he always had for that kind of family life.”

      Hi MJJJusticeProject. That’s a really interesting and productive way to approach this song, I think – more metaphorically – so it’s not so much about longing for one specific person, but for a way of life that was denied him, as you say – one with “nightly dinners where you discuss how your day went … how your children school day went,” as you described so well. And as you point out, we see that longing in song after song, where he imagines a more domestic way of life and a woman who loves him, but then it is revealed to be just a fantasy, and he’s left isolated and alone once again …

  4. Wonderful discussion as always!

    Just a note: Steve Pocaro wrote Human Nature in response to questions about life from his pre-teen daughter. (Per Sundberg) I didn’t get the sense that he was addressing sexuality.

    • Hi dbanderson. That’s really interesting – I love learning background details like this! However, I also think that songs (as well as novels, play, movies, paintings, … ) can come to mean more than what the artist originally intended.

      For example, the chorus of “Human Nature” includes these lines:

      If they say Why? Why?
      Tell them that it’s human nature
      Why? Why? Does he do me that way?
      I like living this way
      I like loving this way

      And the final verse says this:

      Looking out
      Across the morning
      The city’s heart begins to beat
      Reaching out
      I touch her shoulder
      I’m dreaming of the street

      If Pocaro wrote this to his young daughter, then he probably didn’t consciously intend for it to be about adultery. But there are definitely some lines that suggest that interpretation, and I think that’s a valid way to approach it.

  5. What an amazing discussion and comment by MJJJustice. There is so much going on in this song that it is pure genius and blew me away from the first time I heard it. The pain is so palpable that it’s searing and seems very real, very personal for Michael. Q Jones once said that most of Michael’s music was autobiographical. If that’s true, this is a heartbreaking look into Michael’s life. Betrayal, loneliness, deceit, manipulation, hopeful love decimated.

    I thinks it’s safe to say Michael was hurt by women many times from the time he was very young and especially in his adult years. Failed relationships we don’t know about and probably never will. Perhaps when the glitter of Michael Jackson the star wore off and Michael Jackson the human being didn’t measure up, he lost many loves. Couple that with a lifetime of seeing what many women would do to get to him – ie, the woman on the train – and it’s a battering scenario. It’s hardly surprising, though very sad, that he isolated. Fortunately, because Michael was brilliant at turning his heartbreak into art, we will have him with us always.

  6. Willa, Joie, you two are as fascinating as this song! I Love; Love the song Chicago and I’ll bet I’ve felt those emotions for Michael when I listen to that song. I am really glad that I found this site 3 years ago. I’ve been following you ever since. Thank you so much for your insightful tour through this song.

  7. Thank you both so much for dealing with more ‘current’, so to speak, releases – I know they were recorded yonks ago, but most of the songs on Xscape are new to me, and I love having them discussed.

    I think you are both right in him being both really angry and quietly sad about the whole thing. Michael often looked at both sides of the coin in his songs, and I think he is doing that again here. He sings some verses quietly, kind of nostalgically almost, in that lovely soft voice of his, and others are much more angry and strident as you have pointed out – much like some of his protest songs where his voice is hard and disjointed almost. I think he was trying to convey both types of emotion, and for me he did it very successfully.

    I hadn’t even heard the change of background lyrics you point out, or the “why” during the bridge, so thanks for that. I now wish I too was more of a musicologist because I seem to miss so much more than you guys, even though I listen over and over!!! but am very grateful when you point it out so that I can then hear it. Such background vocals often have a real bearing on the song which can easily be missed – we all know that every word and note are there for a reason!! Bearing in mind that the ‘original version’ was JUST a demo, it contains a considerable amount of work, and I am reminded again of someone ? Bruce Swedien ? saying that most artists would be happy to put out a record half as good as one of Michaels demos, and again we see evidence of that. I am so glad they are on the CD – in fact I think they should have been the first tracks, with the other contemprised versions coming second.

    Father story Willa. I too am not sure about Father/God, but I wonder if Michael had his own father Joe in mind. Not sure of the dates in relation to this song, but we know that Michael’s own father was unfaithful to Katherine many times according to reports, but at least once when he produced an illegitimate daughter, and that Michael wanted her to leave and divorce him. Personally, bearing in mind Michael’s love of children, I think it may have much more to do with the children of the woman in the song, and that they as well as the husband would suffer from her adulterous behaviour. They ultimately would suffer much more perhaps than the husband, who as an adult could deal with the situation better than they?? just a thought??

  8. Hi again have just listened to both versions with headphones on – that helps ha ha. In the contemporised version those background lyrics in the original are much louder, and therefore seem a much more integral part of the song as they are clearer to hear. Though I am glad to hear them more clearly, I actually think they sound better a bit softer and therefore more in the background as on the original version. Loved the long “why” – what a question, and one dear Michael must have asked himself over and over.

    Sad to know that he didn’t have that family/home life that he so obviously craved. I remember someone once writing – think it may have been Helena on Vindicating Michael – that the horrible end to his life may have been averted if he had had an understanding partner to go home to at the end of each day throughout his life and even more after rehearsals for This Is It!!!

  9. Thank you for discussing Chicago! I’m completely captivated by this song and I think about it very often. Indeed I do have a lot of different thoughts about it and it just keeps me puzzling which is so intriguing about it… Especially when I put the whole piece into that context of a romantic relationship representing his relationship as an artist with his audience. Of course there are other interpretations as well and I loved the various ideas that were presented in the post and the comments – that’s why I love this blog so much! But just in case. Throughout his career he refers to that relationship as an affair with a taken woman over and over again but this time the whole situation feels so different to me because in most of these songs he seems to know very well that „she was already spoken for“ and he definitely seems to be „that kind of man“ cause he’s downright challenging the “husbands” like the Pharaoh in „Remember the Time“ or the men in clubs like we see them in „You rock my World“ or „Smooth Criminal“. Earlier in „Girlfriend“ he sings quite provokingly „I’m gonna tell your boyfriend… Tell him exactly what we’re doing…“ (and yeah, it seems to be „done in an attempt to “free” the adulterer from their spouse“ as Joie said cause he just wants to „tell him what he needs to know or he may never let you go“). And in „Invincible“ he seems to be not sure whether the woman is in a relationship or not but he talks pretty big and tells her „If there’s somebody else, he can’t love you like me“ whereas with the woman he met on the way to Chicago he feels ashamed now that he knows she had a husband and a family, swears that he „would’ve never looked her way“ and holds her to blame. And it feels unsettling to me that as Willa put it „he did love her. But at the same time, he seems pretty clear that it’s over. […] now that he knows who she is and what she did – that she lied to him and misled him, and “tried to live a double life.” I’m wondering if at the time he worked on the song (which was titled „She was loving me“ then) he had the feeling that maybe his belief in true social change through his art (that would be a time when he would be the one and only man in her life, when they would share true love and have a family together) will never be and never existed as a real possibility but just in his mind. His understanding for her as reflected in the reasons he gives for her misconduct and the whole mess is just heartbreaking clarified to me.

    „because she was loving me/wanting me“:

    So at least THAT was real and the main reason for starting the affair I guess. Well, „knowing“ Michael I can see what happened to her and it rings true to me that she herself would have never believed that there was a man like that… She doesn’t seem to be a constant jade to me although the pager thing keeps me wondering a little bit… But I mean, he was such a phenomenon to the world, we loved him, were absolutely fascinated and mesmerized by his talent, his magic and him being so beautifully different not only as a celebrity but as a man and a person. He was seduction! It’s that magical experience, that the better world our hearts know is really possible, he transcends through his art, music, singing and dance so rich with emotion and energy so that we could really feel it, see it, belief it. But indeed most of us just want to spend a night with him when ever the daily routine would allow it (for example when the husbands are at work and the kids at school, right? Michael TIME!) and we REALLY do love it, it’s escapism, it’s feeling’ alive kind of, it’s us how we really would long to be, dreaming’ of a world we think it just simply should be this way but that is not that easy

    „because she has a family“:

    She’s not like the Egypt Queen who’s desperately bored (except only sometimes every once in a while) nor like the club girls with abusive men surrounding her. She doesn’t need to be rescued in those kind of ways or at least she herself doesn’t REALLY feel that way. She’s a mother. So obviously the woman in the song wouldn’t leave her family and that’s a good thing in the first instance. Reminds me of “Slave to the Rhythm”: „She knew she was needed back home“ – always makes me think of Katherine Jackson and her time out by the way. What kind of mother would leave her kids for a new romance? Why not leave her husband and take the kids with her? Because she doesn’t want them to loose their father or their ideal family? Because she herself doesn’t want to loose it? Because her life isn’t bad at all just not that magical as it is with Michael when she feels she can truly be herself? Because her husband too is a good guy, whom she couldn’t hurt like that? Because in her social environment divorce simply is not an option? Did she marry out of love? Would she leave her husband later when she knows her lover better and trusts in the new relationship like she probably does in her marriage? Would you leave your own husbands for Michael? In other words: Can we change (our world) for him? Would we ever undertake the efforts required? Our lives are pretty good, pretty secure compared to non-western countries worldwide.

    Well, Michael is holding her to blame (because she was the only one who knew about the whole situation and it would have been her responsibility to consider every consequence her decision in this case would cause for all persons involved. But she couldn’t resist and then lied to have both) but at least he seems to admit that she’s in a complex and contradicted situation herself where she’s kind of trapped really. And he acknowledges that she had true feelings for him but nevertheless if he only knew that these feelings were never strong and sincere enough to overcome the circumstances she lives in because she loves her family just as much and it’s her whole life really where she lives totally embedded…then he would have never even tried to look her way, from the start he couldn’t belief anyway „that a woman like that was really into me“.

    Thinking about it that way makes me sort of glad that he dismissed the song for release, that brings hope to me. Maybe just a mournful phase of life or just thinking about a special segment of his audience. After all in Michael’s case the whole world, the entire human race had been his audience so in itself his audience was really diverse… Or he really deals with a quite personal experience here. In the end „Invincible“ made it on the new album, he even named the album after the song. The mood is also desperate and it seems to be over and hopeless, too, but he’s not about to give up or accept that out of understanding but sings „maybe you’ll change your mind and finally give in in time.“ Much more positive.

    • Oh, Julie, I ADORE your post! I think you bring up such a valid point here- with the woman leaving or betraying the protagonist with her lies, seduction, and deception being the metaphor for the audience who first elevated him to almost devine status, but then could not break out of the conventions and to be artistically (at least) free with him. I am sure, when Michael experienced the “swift and sudden fall from grace” he did feel betrayed, deceived, and misunderstood by the presence of the audience who selected him above all other artists (in his mind maybe only for a while). Also, great point, that maybe he did realized he judged to harshly when he “held her to blame” and therefore held back on release. This sort of reminds me when he attempted to address abortion, then pulled back for fears of offending people and being misunderstood in his message.

  10. Great post and discussion from everyone involved. I seldom comment, but always read everything with enthusiasm. The unique thing for me about Michael is the way he uses his amazing and versatile voice to convey a story , and the associated emotions.. but at the same time leaving it up to us to interpret it in our own way.. But then Michael was a story teller first and foremost , and often did things just a little differently.. I’m not sure there are too many songs out there about men discovering their lover is married..( Isn’t it usually the other way round !!) Corey wrote this song for Michael .. and I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael had some input too

    • Hi MagUK. Thanks for sharing this! It’s interesting that Cory Rooney talks about “the verses” and “the chorus,” so he sees it as having that fairly traditional structure. But if you look closely, “Chicago” doesn’t really fit that structure.

      For one thing, the “chorus” (if that’s what it is) has completely different lyrics the third time through. (I’m thinking of the “verse,” I would call it, that begins with “She tried to live a double life / Loving me while she was still your wife.”) Generally, verses change lyrics, but the chorus doesn’t – it will stay pretty much the same throughout. Also, the part that Cory Rooney calls the “chorus” doesn’t reinforce the feelings of the verses. Instead, it complicates and even contradicts them.

      That’s why it seems to me that “Chicago” doesn’t really have verses and a chorus. Instead, it seems to move back and forth between two different verse forms. Does that make sense?

      • Oh that’s fascinating! I think it does by anology with her double life, like moving back and forth between lover and husband or the two worlds they possibly represent.

        • That’s a really interesting way of looking at this, Julie – that moving back and forth between the two different verse forms is “like moving back and forth between lover and husband or the two worlds they possibly represent.” So we could see the alternating structure of this song not only as representing his emotional life but her actual life, the “two worlds” she’s inhabiting.

  11. I love this song, too. And, until I read this post and the comments, I really wasn’t aware that, as I listened to the song, I was seeing a movie in my head.

    I see a young African American man on a train to Chicago, the train that went from New Orleans to Chicago during the day and back to New Orleans at night, passing through the cotton fields of Mississippi, Jackson, and Memphis, on its way. Many African Americans from the south took this train to Chicago, getting off the farms and looking for jobs in the city. Maybe even Joe Jackson and Katherine, as he was born in Arkansas and she was born in Alabama. And Gary is sort of a suburb of Chicago. Anyway, getting away from the farm and escaping (Xscape-ing) to Chicago was a staple of African American experience in the middle of the last century. And this train was legendary.

    On its way to Chicago, the train was called the “Panama Limited.” On the way back, it was called “the City of New Orleans, made famous by Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson, (this journey representing white musicians going south to get soul???).

    So, I am seeing a young man, just off the farm, a little old fashioned (using a term like “already spoken for”) who is really amazed that a city woman “like that” was “really into” him. And then, he is betrayed. And feels bad about his part in her adultery. It is such an emotionally complex song, as everyone says. So proud that she loved him, so much in love with her, and feeling so angry and guilty at the same time.

    Of course, the pager does’t work with the time frame of my scenario, but I until I checked the lyrics, I didn’t realize there was a reference to a pager. And, now, I can’t get the song or the movie out of my head.

    • Thanks for your comment Eleanor. Not being American it is good to have some local content to put the song further into context, and I think your movie is great and makes a good deal of sense to me. I am not good at ‘movies in my head’ and not being American rather hinders that process!!!

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