three beats on a snare drum . . . then into a funky bass beat.
that’s how the beginning of michael jackson’s “wanna be startin’ something” begins – if you know the song, then you’ll instantly recognize those three drum beats.
appropriately enough, wanna be startin’ something is the first song in the new movie “this is it” which features footage from the practices that were going to lead up to michael jackson’s last concert series to be held at london’s o2 arena, well right now.
first a little background – i don’t know if i would describe myself as a michael jackson fan. like countless other people, i own many of his albums (thriller on vinyl, bad on cassette, off the wall, history and the essential on both cds and downloaded) and 99% of his pre-black or white catalog will get me off my butt and grooving. but i also grew up right in the time of his strangeness – from neverland ranch to his marriage to debbie rowe to his strange public appearances, ever-worsening plastic surgery; and then of course there was the accusations and the child molestation trial.*
each of those public forays, he appeared confused, weak, strange, fragile and unaware of who he was, what he was doing and his place in the world. he became much more than the most gifted pop musician of all time, he became the defining character of the weird weird celebrity world and somewhere, the music was overlooked.
and it was
great amazing music. the entire thriller album is pop music genius. off the wall is funkiness with the groove of disco. bad has a number of excellent tracks.
so if you are a fan of jackson’s music, it’s nigh impossible to see this movie and not start tapping your foot or smiling or grooving in as he hits familiar pleasure spots with mega hits like thriller, human nature, beat it and smooth criminal. additionally, you get to see an unpolished behind-the-scenes michael who, like his dancers and singers and musicians, are really working incredibly hard to pull of an entertainment spectacle. and you can see just from the practices that these shows would have been the standard with which all future concerts would have been judged.
but more than the music, the movie shines a spotlight back on jackson the performer, and forgets (or conveniently edits out if you believe the conspiracies) jackson the strange, jackson the deviant, and all we are left with, through this movie, is memories of the music and the dancing. throughout the rehearsals, jackson is a focused driven perfectionist, always seeking to better create the show for the audience. hold the melody for two more bars here, let the mood simmer for 4 more counts there, slow the tempo down a little here. he’s not only the consummate showman, but he has worked hard on his craft and he wants to show it off to his fans.
the movie is both uplifting in that we get to see jackson at his finest once more, and sad, knowing what would’ve been had he not tragically overdosed.
*i don’t mean to brush over this or just ignore it, but the fact of the matter is i have no idea what happened in those bedrooms.