You’ve seen the video at least two dozen times, maybe more. You’d watch it again right now if you could. You can’t stop ’til you get enough.
Seeing 1,500 orange-jumpsuit-clad inmates doing a perfectly-choreographed Zombie Dance brings back such happy memories. It makes you want to watch the original video, complete with the undead doing dance-steps you once copied.
You can probably still do those steps. You need to find those LPs you’ve got stored in the basement. You need to hear that tune again.
In the new book “Thriller: The Musical Life of Michael Jackson” by Nelson George, you’ll learn about that song and the album that smashed (and still holds) world records nearly 30 years after its release.
George says he grew up with the Jackson 5 “in [his] DNA.” As a music critic and journalist, he considered Michael Jackson as one of his “primary subjects.” Jackson was the focus of his first book. George spoke to Michael once, awkwardly. For awhile, he was a much called-upon Michael Jackson authority.
But there might not have been a Michael Jackson, King of Pop, had it not been for Joe Jackson, says George. He argues that it was Joe who urged his children to find their musical talent. Joe set up gigs, and drove his boys to concert houses and to success. Joe Jackson “instilled in Michael the work ethic noticed by everyone…”
In this book, George looks at Michael Jackson’s life and the impact of “Thriller,” particularly in the lives of African- Americans. The album, he points out, was released before Oprah made her AM Chicago debut. It broke records before Whoopi Goldberg was a star. It was a mega-seller before Michael Jordan was chosen by the Chicago Bulls. It debuted before “The Cosby Show.” It deliberately “blurred” racial lines.
“In the continuing dialogue over what Michael means and what his legacy is as both artist and man, ‘Thriller’ should be the central point of reference.”
As a consummate music critic, George does a fine job dissecting Michael Jackson’s music and his life. I was fascinated by the cultural touchpoints that put Michael’s career into perspective, given the times.
But “Thriller: The Musical Life of Michael Jackson” is scattershot: George sometimes bounces from point to point, which can be hard to follow. Some stories seemed to be hastily inserted, as if he didn’t want to forget to tell them; others begged to be expounded upon. Still, if you grew up with MJ’s music in your ears, you shouldn’t even try to resist this pop-culture-based memoir-filled critique. For you, “Thriller” is going to make you “he he hee.”
(“Thriller: The Musical Life of Michael Jackson” by Nelson George, DeCapo, $24, 241 pages, includes index.)