Michael Jackson: erase performers?

Jackson 5.Diana Ross Presents.1969The ever-inquisitive Arthur asked about a recent post:
About your Rolf Harris song [Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport] – it raises a question: Are we under any obligation to erase performers or songs we once liked because it later turns out that they were either allegedly or actually terrible humans or allegedly or actually did terrible things, like Rolf?

I should note that I was totally oblivious to the charges against the singer. “Harris was convicted of 12 indecent assaults at London’s Southwark Crown Court in June 2014, one on an eight-year-old autograph hunter, two on girls in their early teens, and a catalogue of abuse against his daughter’s friend over 16 years.”

That’s mighty disturbing. Had I known that, I might have passed on that particular song for the list, not as a way of rewriting history but rather not wanting to be perceived as condoning pedophilia. Am I going to go back and delete that musical link? No, because I didn’t know at the time.

Arthur continues: After Leaving Neverland aired on TV here, radio stations announced they were banning Michael Jackson’s music (despite the fact that many of them never played it, anyway, because the music they played was completely different genres or eras). It seems to me that the three reactions are to join the mob, defy the mob and continue to like whoever it is, or to just keep quiet about liking whatever it is or whoever the person is—cowed into silence by the mob. What do you think?

Now you’ve really hit a nerve. I haven’t seen Finding Neverland, and I don’t know that I will. But I do not dismiss the allegations out of hand.

I was writing a post about what songs I would singing karaoke to, a post I haven’t had a chance to finish because of the lack of time. Clearly, though, the songs would include the early works of the Jackson Five. If I were to pick one, it’d be The Love You Save, but ABC and I Want You Back would also be appropriate.

In the day, I was right in Jermaine’s vocal range. Even now I’d join in with anything that Michael, and Jackie, who also hit some really high notes, weren’t singing. For The Love You Save, in addition to harmonies, I’d sing, e.g.:

Those other guys will put you down
As soon as they succeed!

and

The way they talk about you
They’ll turn your name to dirt, oh!

Am I going to stop singing along with Jermaine because of something that Michael reportedly did? Nah. For that matter, will I cease playing Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album, which I believe is better than Thriller? Absolutely not.

If I were DJing a wedding – unlikely, but I did so once – would I play J5 or MJ? I don’t think so, but only out of an overabundance of caution about offending others.

But where would it stop? I could name any number of musicians who were/are schmucks, and who are on the radio daily right now. Where the line is from which one can erase performers – an ahistoric action I’m most uncomfortable with – I just don’t know.


What if Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” had been recorded in the thirties? Wayne Brady and Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox answer that musical question