For the upcoming anniversary of Michael Jackson's passing, I repost the following which originally appeared on the blog shortly after his death.
Okay, get your mind off of all the weirdness of MJ's latter years. As for the criminal charges, don't go there. Think about the music and the performances. Get yourself in that mind space. Maybe it'll help if you squeal "Ooh" and "I'm Bad" three or four times. Okay, focused now?
His death was tragic. Having a creative force like his snuffed out so quickly, so needlessly has deprived the world of years of music and magic. So while it's certainly his tragedy, his family's tragedy, it's also a loss for everyone who ever turned on a radio or downloaded music. In the wake of the sudden loss there were many retrospectives and tributes.
As one of those tributes Fox re-broadcast the first American Idol finalist show of this season featuring the top 13 performing Michael Jackson songs. I watch American Idol and enjoy seeing the group working and growing into music professionals. It's always fun to see someone working to make their dream come true. But I'd forgotten about that MJ show because, at the time, it was just another show. Too bad it wasn't done later in the season with the gloved one giving the finalists performance critiques and suggestions.
My favorite contestant of this past season was Adam Lambert. We all recall that he finished second. My only explanation for that is that Kris Allen was everyman -- the one more like the average American watching on the sofa at home. Adam has too much creative force to be contained or labeled in any one genre or tradition. Adam will never be anyone's everyman -- but neither is Elton John and, of course, neither was Michael Jackson.
As one of the last performances of the show, Adam Lambert did MJ's "Black or White." Adam nailed it, standing out from the others like Sir Elton at a High School talent contest. His performance impressed the judges too, including Simon Cowell, the one we love to hate and hate to love. Simon's comments made me think and inspired this post. Simon said Adam nailed it because (and I'm paraphrasing here because I didn't watch the episode with pen in hand) - To make a MJ song work , a performer has to be totally comfortable on stage, and he has to perform the song like Michael - over the top.
Why did that resonate with me? When Adam and MJ perform, they do it over the top. When I write romance, I write it over the top. For a writer or performer to succeed, he or she has to do it the way it comes naturally. If Kris Allen tried to perform MJ over the top, it wouldn't work for him at all. It worked for Lambert because that's how his art speaks to him. It's the same for a romance novelist. You can only write romance over the top and have it carry the reader along if that's how the story and the characters speak to the writer. I understand MJ's approach to music because I know it must have come as naturally to him as my stories come to me.
I write romance over the top, bigger than life, because that's how the characters in my books insist on behaving. Does my over the top style communicate to readers? I had a comment on Amazon from a lovely lady who'd read A Faerie Fated Forever. She said the book was written over the top but she hadn't been able to put it down. Over the top done right will take the reader out of this reality and into one where love is instant, lust is imminent, seduction is inevitable and happily ever after is not just possible and plausable - it's necessary.
With Michael, his song lyrics were intense, almost driven. His performances took that intensity, that drive, and multiplied them many times over. The way he acted, sang, danced and performed carried the songs over the top and took his audience along for the ride. Other artists performing those songs, save for the rare exception like Adam Lambert, generally come off like glass trying to imitate a diamond. Not many performers, even very polished singers who've sold in the multiple millions, could do Michael and have it come off as a tribute instead of a poor imitation. I'd love to see Elton John and Cher performing some Michael Jackson tunes, separately and together as a duet. I'll bet you a re-fried frog that would be a tribute that carried the soul, the spirit and the vibrance of MJ.
Over the top can, too often, come across as parody. It will only capture and carry the audience if it first captured and inspired the writer or artist. As Simon commented on Adam's performance, it has to be comfortable before it can be convincing. When it's done right, the view from over the top can change the way readers and audiences view parts of their lives long after the last word or the last note. Who could experience MJ performing Man In The Mirror without examining their own choices and actions?
I'll never be the MJ of the literary world. His shoes are too big, his legacy too inspiring for anyone to attempt to claim. But if you enjoy MJ's music, perhaps you'd enjoy some of the work of a romance novelist who writes over the top. Brotherly Love, A Faerie Fated Forever, A Golden Forever- and my soon to be released A Sixth Sense of Forever are all over the top historicals, and E-mail Enticement is a bigger than life contemporary. If you enjoy Michael Jackson's music, you might find a bit of that same spirit in my writing.
Over the top takes reality to the max. Then, it takes it further. It makes extreme seem normal. In today's world where reality is too often bad news, where too many talented folks have lost their livlihoods and must re-invent themselves to survive, over the top can be both inspiration and escape.
Put on a MJ album and pick up an over the top romance and life can look a little brighter, goals can seem more achievable. If you take it over the top, there is nothing you can't do, be or accomplish. Taking it over the top has never been harder than now when so much negativity and hardship surrounds us all. Did some of that affect MJ as he rehearsed for his London performances? Did the thought of trying to carry with him over the top so many folks that were so heavy with loss stress MJ beyond bearing?
Not that there would ever have been a good time, but this was a particularly bad time to lose Michael. He was an American original and we are lucky that his legacy lives on.
Romance novels weren't Michael's medium, but if they had been, I think he'd have written them a lot like mine, but better of course. If you're a MJ fan, you might check out some romance novels that will take you over the top.
Michael Jackson, I thank you for your musical legacy. It will show many generations to come the view from over the top. MJ, Rest in Peace, at least for a bit, before you get ready for your duet with Elvis.