Scholars, fans, and even on-the-fence doubters will find Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson by Huffington Post writer Joseph Vogel, not only an enthralling read, but a gateway into a revised and truer perception of one of the most mysterious and massively influential artists of our time.
Vogel skillfully guides the reader through the remarkable chapters of Jackson's professional career, fully capturing the cultural vibe of the `80s and `90s, while analyzing the particularities of Jackson's creative process from inception to aesthetic fulfillment. It seems the author desires to move beyond exclusively "preaching to the choir" of Jackson's loyal fan base, and has an even more expansive and restorative intention in mind.
Vogel's narrative unfolds in a unique album-by-album mode, so Jackson's career is revealed through intricately woven stories that are chronologically linked with the creation of his music. This odyssey reminds one of a mythic "hero's journey," as it evokes the visceral emotion of artistic conquest. Throughout the process, Vogel explicates Jackson's music, performance art, cinematic short films, and aesthetic incarnations, as well as exploring Jackson's myriad eclectic influences.
The book's success is due, in large part, to a trilogy of strengths the author possesses as an academic scholar and also a writer on popular culture. Vogel manages to fuse a penchant for research with an engaging gift of journalistic storytelling. Rare, however, is the sense of spiritual exegesis he also provides. This literary alchemy gives the reader an entirely fresh and valuable comprehension of Jackson as a culturally transformative artist. Vogel's book also illuminates the voluminous breadth, depth and influence of his artistic oeuvre.
The reader experiences firsthand the gentle singer-songwriter's coming of age, his groundbreaking musical prowess, and his emergence as a humanitarian emissary for the disadvantaged and alienated. We are reminded that Jackson (a voracious reader of Emerson) was a transcendental visionary who called for healing the world through compassion, community, and environmental stewardship.
The author offers a Joycean sensibility as he paints his archetypal "portrait of the artist as a young man" with a discerning eye. Vogel irrevocably raises the bar for future critical analysis of Jackson's art and cultural import, as he portrays his subject as an artist of stature amidst a constituency of the most influential and prescient artists of all time. One hopes the sincerity of Vogel's efforts will prompt inchoate scholarship on this subject to burgeon.
Vogel's interviews document the rich and sundry details offered by a plethora of Jackson's musical collaborators, technical producers, and artistic associates. These remembrances add surprise and synchronicity to the more familiar aspects of Jackson's complex life history. Included among the recollections are those of musical giants Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, Teddy Riley, Bruce Swedien, Rodney Jerkins, Buz Kohan, Brad Buxer and many others.
Vogel, a Huffington Post writer on politics and popular culture, is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester where his scholarship focuses on 18th century poets Blake and Wordsworth. Since he emerges out of an academic perspective on the history of literature and the arts, he is able to credibly position Jackson amidst a much broader contextual background than the many apocryphal works by authors who leapt too eagerly onto the greed-bandwagon following the artist's untimely death.
It is interesting to note that Vogel began research for this book almost six years ago. This was during a time when Jackson was often treated by publishers and much of the public as a social leper. Vogel wanted to correct what he perceived as a terrible injustice and return the conversation to the genius of Jackson's art and his global transformative cultural import.
Vogel later made a conscious choice to refrain from publishing his material immediately following Jackson's death. Hence, his biography includes analysis of Jackson's posthumously released works, as well as reflections on the nature of the artist's ultimate legacy. Vogel's insight and impeccable research do much to relieve the ignominy this artist suffered in life from a rapacious media.
Vogel utilizes a Picasso-like construct in his ability to see his subject from multiple angles simultaneously, thereby rendering a multidimensional portrait. Formulaic tabloid stereotyping and long-standing racial binaries are finally exploded and cast aside.
Vogel's readers will experience Jackson anew as a fine artist, cultural troubadour, and shamanic performer, because he is perceived through a lens that clarifies instead of mystifies.
Perceptive, metaphoric, and humane, Vogel's Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson is certainly the defining biographical work to date regarding this artist. The revelatory nature of Jackson's art, and his under reported international initiatives for social justice, surely deserve this long over due literary retrospective. It is meaningful to note the author has dedicated his book to Jackson's three children. One imagines they will be grateful, for Vogel offers respect and appreciation to the father they loved.
Constance Pierce' ~ New York ~ October 2011