Investigating Michael Jackson’s Subjectivity


Michael Jackson

Baby boomers loved Michael Jackson. We couldn’t take our eyes off him. We grew up watching his whole life. Folks digging the pop-culture moment thrived on Michael’s work because it was undeniably leading us forward. His twenties decade was filled with transformation and his music had a way of reflecting our social angst. His too. I’m encouraged to analyze and investigate Michael’s subjectivity for the JustSheetMusic audience because I know you are interested in this artist. My earlier piece on Jackson got lots of hits, and I thank you all for that.

m2To investigate, I’ll look especially at Off the Wall, Michael’s 1979 album and the title single there. Refresh your recollection of the song here. From an interdisciplinary point of view, this song astonished that part of our “selves” that had supposed, individually or collectively, that we would be dragged toward the future our parents thought we should have. Most of Michael’s fans were not going in that direction, and Off the Wall confirmed that they could cut the ties with the stiff, repressed, depressed, oppressed, and suppressed world that defined itself as normal.

Come on. You have to admit Michael helped us undo everything pre-post modern normal. I love him for that.

In the late 1970s it was an open question whether the radical upheavals of the decade ending could last through the 1980s. We might not have expected Michael to continue to liberate us, but he did. As he sings in Off The Wall, when the world is on your shoulder, gotta straighten up your act and boogie down. If you can’t hang with the feeling then there ain’t no room for you in this part of town. Livin’ crazy that’s the only way. And the direction is clear, keep using your feelings.

Following the Flow

Study the breakdown of and the re-questioning of the values of the conservatives. My dad didn’t go Michael. Back then in Boardman, Ohio my father’s friends would drive around and read the names on mailboxes to see if there was a Jewish person trying to move in. There were no African Americans in that heavily segregated town. The general population also didn’t like my female favorite, Cher.

cher[This is what Cher looked like around the time record stores were selling Off The Wall.


And here is what she sounded like.]

I studied the moves and lyrics of Off The Wall as a piece of writing, and realized that Michael was using dance and lyrics as a linguistic weapon. I liked that.

Our generation wondered: why should Jackson be that unhappy, no matter how rotten his father was? He was a superstar now in his own right! We followed him and his subjective flow. In Off The Wall he sings, so tonight gotta leave that nine to five upon the shelf and just enjoy yourself. That was enough to help me divorce myself from the old fashioned forties style of thinking – which my parents held intact, hard. The middle class was no fun at all.

epater-le-bourgeoisThe next wave of hippies, among many cultural pools: follow Michael. Groove, as he directs. Let the madness in the music get to you. Life ain’t so bad at all if you live it off the wall. Some people could empathize with his artistic solution to extreme times. Appropriately, the track list of Off the Wall also includes Rock With You, which tells us, “let that rhythm get into you.”


The poor person he used to be, the new emerging highly educated poor, the regular American poor, and the poor people in Iran, they could all easily share a comradeship with Michael because everyone had some experiences of devastation and languishing grief. American was a country of growing, dis-integrative identity. Everywhere I went people were in deeply troubling situations. Everywhere. And watching Michael cope with the flax that he got was comforting. Rock it out, I said to myself. [For the extent to which Michael continues to help us rock out, look to this.]

m4The next phase of pop culture replaced the hippies with a more spiritually oriented type of culture. Buddhism swarmed the lives of the east coast intellectuals.

Michael stopped being such a good religious boy. It became more and more

common to take time out to dance and sing.

I’m sure the politicians in Washington continuously felt the social divide between the ordinary kind of mature adult they expected Jackson fans to be and the new young adults who came from the struggle of trying to digest a country with growing problems of homelessness, more poverty, job availability issues and oil prices that would skyrocket. But what’s a young disconnected adult to do? Being use to putting up with the kind of madness poverty and war produce, Jackson’s notions helped us transcend – if only for a short time each day.

Off The Wall unleashes our inhibitions. It’s a flash-forward backlash of the seventies. He says there ain’t no sin in folks all getting loud if you take the chance and do it. You see, he was inviting us to release our rage in an appropriate way. I mean, who can really object to talking louder about any issue that is troublesome. Many of our parents were like mice; they couldn’t talk loud because they were never permitted to. Like a tightly woven thesis that sets the stage for the work of an entire lifetime, he sings, There ain’t no one who’s gonna put you down. Does this suggest that the judicial and governmental bodies weren’t working back then or was it a prophecy of the current future? You see, his ideas often seem timeless.

m5When Michael’s children reach their 20s, maybe they will compare their fate to their father’s Off The Wall and find some substance and sustainance in his music. The task of growing into maturity gets more difficult with time. I can’t help but imagine how terrified Michael was on some level. I mean, what else can make you so mousey in your private persona? He causes us to produce strength by celebrating what we can by using music. We sing along: Do what you want to do. There ain’t no rules. It’s up to you. Ain’t no rules. It’s all up to you.

A Different Energy

It’s as if this Pop Culture leader replaces the hippies style seamlessly, and adds a lot more dancing. His visual special-effects will follow soon after. Get on the Floor, as he tells us, again from the same album’s tracklist.

m6This truly new age pop man also changed black history. He did it with the help of people like Quincy Jones, producer of Off The Wall. They changed America’s view of the black performer. The energy was different alright, and it was better.

We could tune back into Michael and see what extreme difficulty our society is portraying. Eventually, instead of Michael creating artistic programs that showed where he was at with love, he began to mainstream the political forces of our country. He is the best performer of bad American and worldly news I ever heard. The Americans who love Michael, never stop knowing and looking for Michael. And this includes portraying, in all naiveté, what love looks like. He’s giving us a subtle talk on self-love, self-care and how music makes us happy.

I’ll leave you today with Michael singing “It’s the Fallin’in Love.”


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