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!


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

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

4 thoughts on “Michael Jackson: erase performers?”

  1. The argument about not playing the artist’s music could also dovetail into the theory that those artists (or their estates) are profiting from the airplay and sales, which reinforces the concept that playing the music is accepting what the artist did privately and compensating him / her for it.

    It’s most likely one of the reasons you don’t hear “Rock and Roll Pt. 2” at sports arenas any more, in that its performer, Gary Glitter, currently has a multitude of child endangerment charges on his ass.

  2. I hear the struggle.. I used to read the earth-based feminist drenched Arthurian legend in the Series MISTS OF AVALON. It was a yearly summer thing I did for a long time…… Then I read of the author’s daughter who was long-time sexual abused by her stepfather….. He was sent to prison for a long time. My previously beloved author, the mom/wife involved helped the stepfather abuse as he did all the time for the whole time…..I did not know that before…..Since I was counseling at least 2-3 adult survivors of childhood abuse all the time, out of respect for their pain I had to throw that story away…..I have not read it since…..I am okay with that decision……especially after finding out many sexual encounters written in the series that involved any force were true accounts of what was happening to that daughter. Sad now? No. Relieved to know? yes…

  3. My own little road-to-Damascus moment featured a lot of early Ike Turner stuff. By any reasonable reckoning, Ike was a horrible sort of person, and not just for what he did to Tina, either. And when he died — the coroner said it was all the effects of old age plus a substantial dash of cocaine — I reflected on these matters, and decided that there were times when you have to trust the music rather than the musician. And I continue to believe this in the wake of Michael Jackson. (Off the Wall, incidentally, is better than Thriller.)

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