warning shot: michael jackson

By Robbie on October 5, 2009

I'm just finishing up with recording for my record of Michael Jackson interpretations. Mastering is in mid-November, which means it could be out as soon as Christmas. Meantime I have to set up licenses and manufacturing, decide on a graphic designer, and all the rest of that niggling jazz that you often wish someone else would do (see next paragraph). I plan to offer the album in two formats: compact disc, via this website's store, and MP3 files, via itunes. So those of you who like some cute pictures and slightly better sound, and don't mind waiting for the USPS to do its thing, will be able to gratify yourselves, and the rest of you can download like normal people. Based on my last experience with tunecore and itunes, I think the CD will beat the MP3s to the street by two months. The content should be identical across the two formats.

I must admit that the indifference of record labels to this project surprised and disappointed me. Beyond the musical excitement and challenge communicated by my etchings, about the translation of which to other ears I've learned to expect nothing, the commercial plausibility of the record struck me as plain. But what do I know about commerce? I mean, other than chairing the Interstate Commerce Commission for six years, as shallow and figurehead-like as that job no doubt is. Anyway, labels seem to be going the way of the dodo. They certainly have plenty of things to be immediately alarmed about, and for that reason along with the traditional reason that media companies big and small have no earthly clue what people prospectively want to watch or hear, I don't think it would be smart to be deterred by their indifference, do you?

So the period of my life (2000-2009) during which I get to arrange and track and mix great songs like "Billie Jean" and "The Man in the Mirror" to suit my own voice and aesthetic interests comes to an end, which makes me sincerely sorry. Nine years, six studios, 21 tracks (don't worry, I won't foist all of that on you); and amid it all the tributee made a comeback record that fizzled, was jailed, fled the US, became ever more a figure of pathos and contempt and fun and disgust, began to stage another comeback, died. The aughts were happier times out where I live. I got more animal enjoyment out of making this record than any of my others, possibly excepting South Mouth. I enjoyed working on music I didn't have to write first -- that's easier. It's enjoyable being the agent of enjoyment in others, and audiences clearly prefer the familiar to the un-. And I personally get enjoyment, although of a lesser, thumb-to-chin variety, from striking a contrary stance, being a handmaiden for unpopular but sound ideas. The idea here is that the compositional credit on a song has a weak relation to its performance's originality, authenticity, and personal investment. In the post-Beatles and -Dylan era of pop vocal music, we exalt the auteur, and tend to accept too easily that there exists some symbiosis of writerly impulse and vocal character that cements a performance's integrity and enhances its value. The era of the auteur has of course given us music that differs markedly from the output of the golden-songbook era of Frank and Ella &c., but strangely, it hasn't given us music that is more original. The performer is the author too, and the much louder one.

If you don't think the music written by and for Michael Jackson over his forty-year career bears comparison with the golden-songbook era, I have two words for you and they are "Mama's Pearl." If you think I am an idiot to invite comparisons of my vocal chops with Michael's, then you are...probably right. But by all means buy my record before boxing either one of us in!

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  1. avatar Antoine Posted about 21 hours later


    Is it correct to assume that more dollars will go into your pocket if the CD is purchased directly, rather than through iTunes?

  2. avatar Nick Barber Posted about 23 hours later

    Excellent news! Now people will start to accuse you of ripping of Chris Cornell....

  3. avatar Nick Barber Posted about 23 hours later

    I meant "off" but the "f" key stuck.

  4. avatar Jerry (aka Jeff) Posted 1 day later

    Yeahhhhhhhhh!!! After all of the live performance teasors over the years, I can't wait to hear all the recordings!

  5. avatar Curt Spaeth Posted 2 days later

    I am excited about this. I have been bugging Robbie for a copy of this for a couple of years now. I can finally get my hands on this cd in two short months.

  6. avatar Ed Posted 2 days later

    If you did a cover album of Latoya you wouldn't have to worry about anyone saying you don't sing well enough

  7. avatar Tito Posted 4 days later

    Here is a vote for all 21 tracks. Foist away!

  8. avatar LarryK Posted 8 days later

    Robbie, I have very sad news - the Interstate Commerce Commission was disbanded several years ago. Actually, its duties were folded into a new regulatory agency called the Surface Transportation Board. And you're right, they don't have a lot to do anymore - "surface transportation" being mostly regulated by market forces rather than govt bureaucrats these days. But like The Dude, the STB abides.

    Of course, you may already know this, since you once helmed the venerable organization....just thinking about the old ICC makes me feel nostalgic. All those historic railroad ratemaking cases. I will raise a glass to its memory tonight.

    PS On a completely different notes, you don't really think "Just Too Easy to Cry" is a weak song, do you? It's got real soul and rythmn - you're being too hard on yourself.