Saturday 20 April 2019

What about sunshine? What about rain?

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson

John Masterson

I had never realised Michael Jackson was such an environmentalist. But then like many people I suspect I got distracted by all of the sideshows that surrounded the man - from Bubbles the chimp and the Moonwalk, from whether his nose had fallen off to the colour of his skin, from the Thriller video to questions about his personal life, to the big trial.

These were big distractions but there were plenty of songs that caught my attention. I knew he was the King of Pop, that he sold hundreds of millions of records, and that he bought The Beatles' songs (much to Paul's annoyance) - but I never tried to see him perform. I most certainly didn't know that there was a lot more to the man and much to admire.

During the recent ridiculous weather, when we suffered more pestilence than our righteous country deserved, I found myself coping with cabin fever by bingeing on television.

First, I caught up with Call My Agent which is yet another Netflix outstanding piece of work. Then I stumbled on a Michael Jackson documentary, This Is It, made in 2009. I watched as he trained his band, dancers, lighting crew and everybody to his exacting standards. This was to be his big comeback tour and much of the rehearsals were filmed though never intended for release.

There was controversy about this film because it did not show Michael at his perfect best. Some saw it as cashing in and it did gross more that quarter of a billion at the box office. For me it was impressive to watch the man at work and all it did was increase my understanding of why he was as big as he was.

That was before I saw Earth Song. Many of you will know the video. The version I looked at had 167m views. It shows trees being felled in the Amazon rainforest, war in Croatia ("did you ever stop to notice all the blood we've shed before") and the handiwork of Tanzanian elephant poachers.

In 1997 the video was nominated for a Grammy. Jackson sings "what have we done to the world" in a burning cornfield which was the only staged footage and was shot in New York. The final section of the video goes into reverse. The trees stand up again. The elephant regains his tusks.

On June 25, 2009 Jackson rehearsed Earth Song and he gave a motivational speech to the assembled crew where he expressed his concern for what we are doing to our planet. We didn't have much time to put "this crying earth, these weeping shores" right was his message.

It was his final performance. He died that night.

His thoughts on the earth are even more relevant today. The clock keeps ticking. The American president seems to be a climate change denier. Or is there just the glimmer of a possibility that he is beginning to listen to some more informed voices on this idea. Is it just possible that something worthwhile may be penetrating his skull? If so Michael would be best pleased.

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