Friday, June 26, 2009

Thinking Of Michael

I was turned off by The Nation's blog on Michael Jackson this morning. Michael Jackson was one of the top practitioners of his art, which, for all its synthetic elements and crossover appeal, is ultimately an African-American form. He comes from the same mold as Louis Armstrong, Jellyroll Morton, King Oliver, and Bessie Smith. Those credentials were recognized in one of those the-planets-must-be-in-alignment situations when Quincy Jones agreed to produce Off The Wall in 1979. I was into Jackson before that album came out, and it was a secret pleasure. Everyone knew and loved The Jackson Five, but after that phase, they — and Motown in general — went into drift. By 1978, the black and white entertainment worlds had separated again. I was in Chicago at the time, and you heard white bands on white radio stations and black artists on black radio stations, and in Chicago, you had a lot of black music to choose from. One of my favorite deejays was named Pervis Spann. He had the rap to match his handle, and he spun some very cool sides. It may have been on his program that, heating up my tube Zenith, I tuned in to what MJ was releasing, which the white world really didn't care about. That is how I want to remember Michael Jackson. Not as the sexy but programmed 10-year-old. And certainly not as the artist and human being who lost his way. But as the epitome of a black form, with a beautiful face, a true innovator. Requiescat in pace.


TC said...


Thanks for this. It's been painful to take in some of the media trash regarding this death. But this was an artist who from virtual infancy had gifts of an Orphic character, and as in some versions of the folklore, the personal fate such gifts ultimately brought upon Orpheus were not kind, one perhaps ought not be too surprised things turned out less than happily for MJ.

And good also to remember Pervis Spann.

As it happens I grew up a block away from the building that housed the radio station (WOPA) whence in the 1950s Pervis Spann broadcast a regular four-hour nightly blues show. In 1963 Phil and Leonard Chess bought the station, turned it into WVON, and made Pervis Spann the all-night blues man. He later managed BB King, Aretha and the Jacksons. (And once did an 87-hour sleepless on-air sit-in to raise money for Martin Luther King.)

VANITAS said...


Thank you for the correct spelling of Pervis' name and the additional detail regarding this pivotal figure in the history of blues and r'n'b. I guess by this point I have come to expect the synchronicity in the fact that he actually managed the Jacksons! The resonance from the airwaves three decades ago still on the air.