Wheel out the cadaver, it’s St. Michael’s day

Obviously, it’s not St. Michael’s day. It’s actually St. Patrick’s day, the day of the year when the population of the world digs deeply into its family tree to find the one member who once spent a weekend mini-break in Dublin, as justification for drinking innumerable pints of green or black beer until comatose. Those of us who were actually born and raised on the Emerald Isle and did the sensible thing by getting the hell off it as soon as we could afford a ticket, tend to get through the day by putting our heads down and pretending we’re English [that gag comes courtesy of Music Week‘s Eamonn Forde]. After all, the celebrating the life of a Romanized Celt, probably British or French, whose presence in Ireland was due to his having been captured and sold into a life of slavery on the island, tends to make us go a little green (and not from the food colouring in our beer) . So, let us belatedly celebrate St. Michael’s day. I am referring not the the already sanctified archangel, or even to the patron saint of ladies underwear and upmarket readymeals, but to the infamous friend-to-children: Michael Jackson.

Jackson, (using the same trick as Diana Spenser and and Jade Goody) died whilst in the public eye, and thus bagged instant sainthood.  Well, perhaps not in the eyes of the Christian hierarchy or the children he ‘befriended’, but to the greater world populace at least. Yesterday will surely seal March 16th as the day upon which his life and death will be forever celebrated, because it was the day upon which the high bishops and cardinals of Sony Music announced the richest deal in the history of the music industry. Jackson’s estate is to be the recipient of a $200million, ten-album deal, with an extra $50million to come upon the meeting of certain conditions.

How nice to see that the much-reported IFPI statement of last week, in which the major record labels defended themselves against claims that they are irrelevant, unimaginative, grasping and insufficiently supportive of new talent, can be followed up with this wonderful piece of ‘do as I say, not what I do’ strategy. Expect box sets and remasters; ‘new, never released tracks’; re-issues of ‘classic’ albums; limited edition coloured vinyl (that gets lighter the longer you own it) and any number of other tricks and strategems to package up the sweepings and detritus that the notoriously picky singer was unwilling to release during his lifetime. This is the bit that bothers me. Jackson’s later works sounded to my ear like the weakening creative output of a once-great artist. Frankly, everything from Thriller onwards sounds progressively worse than the release the preceded it, in my opinion. That said, my opinion isn’t important here, Jackson’s is. Whatever you thought of his musical direction, the quality control was always kept in a firm grip by Jackson and Jones. There is lots of material recorded – it didn’t make it out onto general release precisely because the artists at the helm did not feel it was good enough to do so. This is the exercise of artistic control, control which Jackson earned by making so many successful records. Now though, Sony Music rub their hands in glee, seeing an opportunity to bypass the will of the artist, dismiss the very critical judgment that made him so successful, and gull the hapless fans into parting with hard cash to own the music Michael Jackson did NOT WANT them to hear. And the major labels wonder why people hate them so much! Or why, as soon as the technology and opportunity became available to get hold of music without lining the pockets of the major labels, people jumped at it with a frenzy that would usually be reserved only for hurting politicians and oil companies. The fact remains that the vast majority of filesharers justify their act as a way of hitting back at the major labels. Whatever the arguments against that, however much the artists get hurt by the gesture, there is the raw fact that people who would never dream of filling their car with petrol without paying will happily download music illegally, partly motivated by a will to avenge themselves on an industry they feel has fucked them over for decades. They don’t even hate Exxon that much! Why? Partly because of statements like this one, uttered by John Branca (executor of the Jackson estate, ad negotiator on behalf of the family in its dealings with Sony) in defence of making tracks available to Sony that Jackson did not want released:

“[My co-executor] John McClain said it best. He said that Michael probably wouldn’t have wanted ‘This is It’ released because he was such a perfectionist and it was rehearsal footage. But if he had seen that we could get $60 million for his mother and children and it became the biggest concert movie of all time, he would have said, ‘Thank you very much'”.

It’s a sordid, revolting business at times. Will they wheel out the cadaver once a year, one wonders?



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