July 24, 2009

My Reflections on Michael Jackson

It's been a month since Michael Jackson's sudden death; the sad news swiftly heard and spread around the world, shocking virtually everybody, from state leaders to die-hard fans. We've seen the media coverages and a lot has been said, in tribute to this legendary artist. We've exchanged our MJ stories through blogs, social networks, and various forms of media. Our tears rolled down during the memorial service. His music and videos are being played everywhere. A month later, we are still heavily mourning over this great loss. The King of Pop may have already passed away, yet he's still very alive and relevant. I agree that Michael Jackson is the greatest entertainer who ever lived. For me, he's one of the most significant human beings who ever stepped in this planet. He's left his huge mark; his legacy - in music, dance, entertainment, philanthropy, pop culture... An eccentric, a megalomaniac, a true artist, a genius. I can't imagine life without MJ; at least, for my generation.

I belong to the MTV Generation. My sisters and I grew up listening to his music and watching his videos. When I was a kid during the early 80's, music videos were a new art form, and I vaguely remember the first time I saw MJ's early music videos (in particular, Billie Jean & Thriller). We all know now how MJ revolutionized music videos. And somehow, our generation witnessed and followed its evolution. From mini-movies to mega-budget masterpieces, plus his showcase of unbelievable dance moves and unique vocal abilities, I was an instant fan.

I grew older, and I became a musician. Later on in my career, when I became the drummer of K24/7, that's when I began further appreciating the music of MJ, his contributions to modern music, and his genius as a musician, a dancer, and a performer. One cool thing about MJ is the fact that he worked with some of the most brilliant musicians, songwriters, and producers of our time.

Here's a list of some of my favorite MJ tracks, plus my thoughts on its relevance to me as a drummer, as a musician, and as a person.

I Want You Back (from Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, 1969) - I first heard The Jackson 5's music later in life. I Want You Back is probably my favorite Jackson 5 tune. K24/7 used to play this song with Aliya Parcs. Though it was a fun song to play, the arrangement is quite tricky. I dig this song because it epitomizes MJ's pure talent, youthful energy, and star quality during his childhood era. If I were to introduce somebody to Jackson 5's music, this will be the first on my playlist.

Got To Be There (from Got To Be There, 1972) - This sweet number is another favorite of mine from MJ's childhood era. The singing skills, dynamics, and interpretation of then-13-year old MJ is convincing.

Rock With You (from Off The Wall, 1979) - This is the first MJ song I ever played live as a drummer. The signature opening fill is instantly recognizable, and the whole song is simply fun to play. I may have played this song thousands of times, but I never get tired of it.

Wanna Be Startin' Something (from Thriller, 1982) - Let's face it... Everytime we hear the intro to this song, with its tight bass lines, quirky beats & brasses, it just instantly makes us wanna groove and dance with it. This should be a fun song to play live. My bandmates and I jam on this tune during soundchecks.

The Girl Is Mine (from Thriller, 1982) - I once played-along to this song at a drumming event, citing it as a drumming reference for great feel, taste, simplicity, sensitivity and musicality. I love Jeff Porcaro's drumming in this song. Beautifully done! Jeff Porcaro was probably MJ's favorite drummer. Thank you God for these two wonderful souls. May they rest in peace.

Thriller (from Thriller, 1982) - When I was little, I was always waiting for this music video on TV. I think I want to have a red jacket like MJ's.

Billie Jean (from Thriller, 1982) - Whenever I hear this song, one thing runs in my imagination - the moonwalk. How in the world did MJ thought of that? Genius. This song is a staple for drummers who need to learn how to play straight-ahead grooves while making it feel good. No big fills and fancy licks here; just pure, solid groove in respect to the music.

Human Nature (from Thriller, 1982) - It's remarkable that Toto members were keys in making this song a part of the Thriller album. Steve Porcaro wrote it (together with John Bettis); David Paich handed the demo to producer Quincy Jones; and Steve Porcaro, David Paich, Steve Lukather, and Jeff Porcaro played on the recording. What a beautifully crafted song! My band and I cover this song. Admittedly, this is a tough song to nail down. It's so smooth, moody and dynamic, so I need to focus on making the groove feel right. The drum parts need to be in good taste, and I can't dare overplay, for I feel like I'll be disrespecting this MJ classic if I do. I focus mostly on the guitar and vocal parts whenever we play this. This is one of my favorite MJ songs.

Pretty Young Thing (PYT) (from Thriller, 1982) - PYT is one of the songs included in my band's Old School Medley (an upbeat medley which features songs from MJ and Earth, Wind & Fire), and it's my favorite part of the medley. It's a gorgeously groovy tune. And what's cool about it are the behind-the-scene credits - keyboardist Greg Phillinganes co-wrote the original demo version with MJ, James Ingram and Quincy Jones re-wrote the song from its slower demo version, and two of its several back-up singers were MJ's sisters Janet and LaToya.

The Way You Make Me Feel (from Bad, 1987) - When this song came out and became a hit, my sister Rica would dance to this tune, then she'll be all over me, and we would dance together during the chorus. Shuffles are sweet.

Man In The Mirror (from Bad, 1987) - Hands down, this is my favorite MJ song. The message is crystal clear, and the music is well-done. I would often get teary-eyed, listening to this classic. I love playing this song with my band.

I Just Can't Stop Loving You (from Bad, 1987) - One of my favorite MJ ballads. Sweet.

Remember The Time (from Dangerous, 1991) - What struck me the most about this track is its music video - the grand production, complicated dance sequences, and its star quality (actor/comedian Eddie Murphy, NBA legend Magic Johnson, model Iman, and actor Tom "Tiny" Lister, Jr.).

Black or White (from Dangerous, 1991) - This is another song from Dangerous where in its music video brought me a lasting impression. During that time, I was crazy with Guns N' Roses, so I was thrilled when I learned that lead guitarist Slash played in this track.

Gone Too Soon (from Dangerous, 1991) - This is another beautiful MJ song that occasionally makes me cry whenever I hear it; one of my favorite MJ songs.

Childhood (from HIStory, 1995) - This is a biographical song, centering on MJ's difficult childhood years. The musical arrangement beautifully interprets the sadness, pleading, and sense of fantasy expressed by MJ. I'm so moved by the lines MJ sang - "No one understands me...They view it as such strange eccentricities, 'cause I keep kidding around"; "People say I'm not okay. 'Cause I love such elementary things... It's been my fate to compensate, for the Childhood I've never known..."; "Before you judge me, try hard to love me. The painful youth I've had." When this song came out, MJ was in the middle of controversies, criticisms, and media cruelty. Whenever I listen to this song, I can empathize with MJ; I can feel the pain. I cry to this song.

Just like many modern-day artists and musicians, Michael Jackson has influenced me in certain ways. And just like many good people around the world, he has touched my life. Thank you very much, King of Pop. You will never be forgotten.