Radio 10.30.09
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening today at The Majestic Theater in Greenville :
            Those of us who enjoy music of any kind, and have even a basic acquaintance with American pop music over the last couple of generations, cannot help but be familiar with Michael Jackson.  He began his career as a young boy, singing lead in “The Jackson Five,” appearing on American Bandstand with Dick Clark.  As a young adult, he enjoyed a tremendous popular following, selling out entire stadiums, and topping the best-selling charts with astonishing frequency.
            But the latter years have not been kind to Mr. Jackson’s reputation as a superstar.  The rise of rap music had something to do with that; it’s not his genre.  But his personal antics have also undermined his celebrity status with the American public.  When he died of an overdose of pain medications a few weeks ago, we all winced at the knowledge that he was once such a great performer, and had even planned a comeback tour.  Such a shame.  Such a waste.
            And that might have been the end of it, except that Director Kenny Ortega just happened to be filming a behind-the-scenes documentary of the making and development of the new concert tour.  And what we have in “This Is It” is a compilation of some of that remarkable footage.
            Let’s just say it:  Michael Jackson was a musical genius.  His persona just radiates energy, and yes, an unmistakable star power, even at an age when most performers have long since retired into the dust bins of Wal-Mart specials.  If you’ve ever tried to sing a single note, and then listen to the way the music flows through him, you feel like you’ve just tried playing one-on-one with Michael Jordan in his prime.  If you’ve ever tried to dance a single step, and then witness the way the moves just pour out of his persona, you feel like you’ve put your home run derby skills against Barry Bonds in his prime.  This showcasing of Jackson ’s talent is just electric.  And the fact that it’s sort of underproduced makes it even more astounding.
            In these rehearsals, we catch a glimpse of the pyrotechnics they had planned, but these are practice performances.  The backup dancers are in their sweat pants and t-shirts.  The backup vocalists are in jeans, no sequins or tuxes or choreographed shuffles back there.  Sometimes we stop for a microphone malfunction.  Sometimes we’re just watching Jackson and his musical director discussing the more sublime aspects of presentation, like pacing and rhythm and mutual cues.  But the “raw” element of these backstage tryouts is exactly what makes them so remarkable.  The pure musicality is just overwhelming,  Strip away all the glitz and glitter and light show and multi-media sound system, and what you have are some incredible performers doing what they do best, with a minimum of distraction.  And obviously enjoying themselves immensely.
            Jackson is glad to do some of his classic hits (the re-creation of “Thriller” is particularly memorable), and also introduce us to some of his newer work (a strong ecology theme), and even reach back to a few of his very earliest songs. All with amazing virtuoso musicianship.  It’s not surprising that he leads the dancers.  But he even was showing the master guitarist what riffs he had in mind, and going over lighting ideas with his director.  Obviously, he was interested in every detail of the performance.  And the force of his star personality is obvious throughout.
            Even if you’re not a particular fan of his music, you cannot help but be impressed by the pop impresario, now deceased, who leaves with us just one last legacy of his once-for-the-ages uniqueness. 
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93-5 KICK-FM