The King of Pop: A Biographical Essay 

The King of Pop: A Biographical Essay 

Introduction

Michel Jackson was undoubtably one of the greatest showmen alive. His Super Bowl halftime performance is still the best of any halftime acts. Whatever your opinions on the deceased superstar, he was a master of entertainment and released some of the best music known to man. Michael Jackson has several Greatest Hits compilations that span over 2 CD’s long. The Ultimate Collection has over 40 song on it, many of which are still used in modern movies or sampled in pop songs to this day. His second posthumous album release, Xscape, was a treasure trove of good songs, including 4 chart topping songs in Love Never Felt So Good, A Place With No Name, Slave to the Rhythm, and Loving You.

Early Life

Michael Jackson was born, seventh of nine children, on August 29, 1958, to guitarist turned crane operator Joseph and homemaker Katherine Jackson. He grew up in Gary, Indiana with a very musical family. His father believed they had musical talent and began molding them into a group in the early 1960s. Michael joined his older brothers Tito, Jermaine, and Jackie as their band’s new lead singer at just five years old. Later on, Marlon Jackson joined the band and they became The Jackson 5. After playing local gigs and creating a well polished act, the brother released an album, but it failed to generate interest. They began touring as opening acts for the R&B groups Gladys Knight & the Pips, Sam & Dave, & even James Brown. They eventually caught the attention of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy (who had signed the other artists prior). The Jackson 5 was signed to Motown Records in early 1969.

The Jackson 5 and Motown

The band moved out to Los Angeles, California, living with Berry Gordy and Diana Ross (of the Supremes) for a time. They were introduced to the music industry at a special event in August of 1969 and later became openers for The Supremes. In December 1969, the band released their debut album, Diana Ross presents The Jackson 5, including their chart topping songs “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There”.

At the age of 13, Michael Jackson began to branch out into a solo career, releasing his 1971 Motown debut Got To Be There, followed in 1972 by Ben. After a busy touring schedule and successful run, Joseph Jackson and Berry Gordy came to blows over management of the boys. The band officially severed ties with Motown Records in 1976, except for Jermaine, who left the band and stayed at Motown to pursue a solo career.

The Jacksons and Going Solo

They group, with new member Randy Jackson, reappeared with Epic Records as The Jacksons in 1978 with their studio debut Destiny. Michael released his solo debut with Epic Records Off The Wall in 1979, outshine his brother with solo hits such as “Rock With You” and “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” proving Michael Jackson as a solo artist and a talented songwriter. Michael’s success led to a spike in sales on The Jacksons new album Triumph, released in 1980. Michael began really exploring solo career options, even collaborating with former Beatle Paul McCartney for Michael’s 1982 single “The Girl Is Mine”. The song also appeared on his 1982 megahit album ThrillerThriller included his career-making hits such as “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” “Human Nature,” “P. Y. T.  (Pretty Young Thing),” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”. The album also generated seven Top 10 hits and became the biggest selling album in history. Michael followed this success up by appearing with The Jacksons and on his own during Motown’s Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special, where he debuted his infamous dance move, the moonwalk, during a legendary performance of “Billie Jean”.

Michael soon began shooting and releasing short films as music videos for his songs, including “Beat It” and “Billie Jean,”which he choreographed himself. The most famous short film is Thriller, directed by John Landis (The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London), featuring a voice over from actor Vincent Price. The Thriller album won big at the Grammys that year, taking home a record 8 wins out of 12 nominations; his wins included Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male (Thriller), Best R&B Song (Billie Jean), Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male (Beat It), and was awarded Album of the Year with producer Quincy Jones.

At the top of his game both creatively and commercially, Michael Jackson signed a $5 million endorsement of PepsiCo in 1983. He was severely injured while filming a commercial with his brothers, in which his hair caught fire and burned his face and scalp. He underwent surgery and was believed to have experimented with plastic surgery about this time. His face, most noticeably his nose, would be dramatically altered over next few the years.

That same year, Michael went on his final tour with The Jacksons in support of their album Victory, which produced but one hit in “State of Shock,” a duet between Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. After the tour, he officially left the group. In 1985, Michael co-wrote the single “We Are the World,” which featured some of the biggest musical acts of the decade including Lionel Richie, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, and Tina Turner. The only artist invited who declined was Prince.

The King of Pop

In 1987, Michael released his long anticipated follow-up to Thriller with Bad, which reached the top of the charts and produced five number 1 hits including “Man in the Mirror,” :The Way You Make Me Feel,” and the lead single “Bad,” which boasted a successful music video directed by Martin Scorsese. He spent over a year touring off of Bad. The album was very successful, but it failed to outdo Thriller. Unfortunately, Michael would spend the rest of his career until the day he died trying to outdo his success from 1982.

In the late 1980s, Michael Jackson purchased a large reservation and built a place to live and a place where people could visit. This theme park/residence was named Neverland Ranch and is still located as a museum and memorial in Santa Barbara, California. He had a petting zoo, with his pet chimp Bubbles, and a theme park. Around this time, rumors and controversies around his personal life began to surface, being dubbed “Wacko Jacko” by the media. These rumors suggested Michael was bleaching his skin and getting plastic surgery to become white and was sleeping in an oxygen container to extend his life span.

Michael resurfaced in 1991 with his third solo album, Dangerous, producing No. 1 hit song “Black or White,” the music video for which featured child actor Macaulay Culkin. The video stirred controversy for his sexual gesturing and violent actions in the last few minutes. In 1993, Michael performed halftime at Super Bowl XXVII (27) and gave what is widely considered the best halftime performance in NFL history. He also appeared on Oprah and cleared up all rumors and controversies surrounding him, explaining his skin change comes from a disease called vitiligo and opened up about his abusive relationship with his father Joseph.

Allegations and Career Decline

In 1993, Michael Jackson was served allegations of child molestation. A 13 year old boy and his family that Michael had been caring for claimed that Michael had fondled him. Michael was known for having sleepovers with the children at Neverland Ranch, but this was his first public charge of wrongdoing. The following year, Michael settled the case out of court with the boy’s family. Other allegations swarmed in, but Michael maintained his innocence. In August 1994, Michael announced his marriage to the daughter of the late “King” Elvis Presley, Lisa Marie Presley. They gave a joint television interview with Diane Sawyer, but the marriage was short lived. They were divorced in 1996 due to Michael’s wish for children and Lisa’s inability to provide them. Later that same year, Michael married his dermatologist Debbie Rowe. The two had children through artificial insemination. His oldest son, Michael Joseph “Prince” Jackson, was born in 1997 and his daughter, Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, in 1998. Rowe and Michael divorced in 1999. He would later have a third child, a son named Prince Michael Joseph “Blanket” Jackson II, in 2003 by an unknown surrogate.

Michael’s career began to decline with the lukewarm reception of his 1997 album HIStory: Past, Present, Book I, which doubled as a greatest hits album mixed with some original content. The album spawned two hits in the forms of “You Are Not Alone” and “Scream,” a duet with his rising star sister Janet Jackson, which cost a record setting $7 million to produce. However, another track, “They Don’t Care About Us,” made headlines and brought Michael intense criticism for using an anti-Semitic term. He released his first remix project, which also included original songs in the forms of, “Blood on the Dance Floor” and “Ghosts,” released in 1997. Michael returned to the studio and released his first all new material album almost a decade with Invincible in 2001. Sadly, it would also be his last to be released while he was alive. The album sold well, but by this point the artist was becoming more well known for his eccentricities, such as wearing a surgical mask in public.

Further Controversies

In 2002, Michael made headlines for seeming disoriented and confused onstage during a performance at the MTV Movie Awards. He received more criticism for dangling his son Blanket over a balcony in Berlin, Germany to show his fans his new son. His reputation took another serious blow when British journalist Martin Bashir released his documentary Living With Michael Jackson and painted him in a sexually offensive light when it was revealed he still slept with children and had sleepover with them in Neverland Ranch. He was slapped with more allegations in 2003 by another 13 year old boy. Overall, he faced 10 counts in all, including lewd conduct with a minor, administering alcohol to facilitate molestation, and conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment, and extortion. The resulting 2005 trial was a media circus, with fans, detractors, and camera crews surrounding the court house. Over 130 people testified, including Macaulay Culkin. The actor told the court that he had been friends with Jackson as a young teen, and never had any problems while staying over at the Neverland Ranch. Michael Jackson’s accuser appeared via video and described how he had been given wine and molested. However, the jury found issues with his testimony, as well as his mother’s, and Michael was found not guilty on all accounts on June 14, 2005.

His Last Years

After these allegations, Michael’s reputation was effectively destroyed and his finances in disarray. He soon found refuge outside of the United States with his friend, Prince Salman Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain, with whom he and his children went to live with. The Prince reportedly promised to take care of Michael’s expenses and build him a new recording studio, for which in return, Michael was to collaborate with Al-Khalifa’s record label, write an autobiography, and create a stage play. The completed work never materialized and Michael faced a $7 million lawsuit for backing out of his promise. He also defaulted on his $24.3 million loan owed on Michael’s Neverland Ranch in 2008. Refusing to part with valuable keepsakes, Michael sued to block the auction of some of his personal items, including his infamous sequined glove. About this time, Michael Jackson held a press conference and announced his new tour that he called his “final curtain call” and promised to perform the songs his fans wanted to hear. Despite the allegations and odd behavior, the concert announcement received a very strong reception and sold out in 4 hours. He was set to perform at London’s O2 Arena on July 8, 2009. Then the unimaginable happened. Tragically, Michael Jackson never got to experience the anticipated success of his “This Is It” tour.

Death and Legacy

On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson was rushed to the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest in his Los Angeles home. After his hear stopped and CPR attempts failed, Michael Jackson was pronounced dead later that morning. He was just 50 years old. News of the King of Pop’s death resulted in an outpour of public grief and sympathy, as well as the crashing of many internet sites such as Google. Memorials to Michael Jackson were erected in many locations around the world, including the London O2 Arena and another in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. On July 7, 2009, a televised memorial was held at the Staples Center in downtown LA. 17,500 free tickets were issued out by lottery, while an estimated 1 billion viewers watched at home on TV or online. The Jackson family held a private funeral on September 3, 2009, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, for immediate family members and 200 guests. Celebrity mourners included his ex-wife Lisa Presley and close friend and actress Elizabeth Taylor. As stated in his will, Michael Jackson’s children were placed in the care of their grandmother, Katherine Jackson, and were to be kept away from the limelight. The children’s only appearances were in 2009 when they spoke at their father’s memorial and in 2010 when they accepted his posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award for their father at the Grammys in 2o1o.

A documentary of his cancelled tour was released to theaters in late 2009, entitled This Is It, followed by an album of the same name and featuring the music included in the film. In December 2010, Michael Jackson’s first posthumous album, Michael, was released, producing a number one hit in “Hold My Hand,” a duet with Akon. His little brother, Randy Jackson, and many others questioned the authenticity of the album, but the Jackson estate refuted the claims via The New York Times. In 2011, a massive greatest hits and remix project, Immortal, was released.  In May 2014, Xscape, his most recent posthumous release, debuted at number 2 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album chart and included song recorded by Michael Jackson between 1983 and 1999. Michael’s friend and protégé ,Usher, performed the lead single,”Love Never Felt So Good” at the 2014 iHeart Radio Awards. Using digital magic, Michael Jackson was resurrected for a final performance at the 2015 Grammys, performing “Slave to the Rhythm”. To this day, Michael Jackson’s legacy lives on.

 

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Hail, Caesar: A Review

Hail, Caesar: A Review

Let me start this off by stating that this is my first film experience with the massively talented writer/director/producer team that is the Coen Brothers. Minnesota natives Joel & Ethan Coen are directors, writers, and producers who are responsible for the film creations of FargoThe Big LebowskiNo Country for Old Men, and, most recently, Hail, Caesar!

I went in with uncertain, yet excited expectations. They weren’t high or low, just reasonable excitement. I went in believing this to be a big kidnapping, whodunit mystery thriller. I walked out pleasantly surprised by what I received otherwise. Hail, Caesar is this brilliant character study of this studio head/fixer named Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) and the emotional journey he goes through while trying to keep this studio from failing. He’s a problem solver trying to do what he does best, fix the problems. While he’s trying to make sure everything is running smoothly and deal with his own personal decision, we meet a cast of colorful characters, played by famous celebrities, who have their own problems and their own struggles. The main conflict is that lead actor and Hollywood heartthrob Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped by a group writers burned by the studio and who have become this communist cell because of it. All the while, we have an actress with an image problem and a baby on the way (Scarlett Johansson), a prestigious dramatic director (Ralph Fiennes) with an actor known for western films (Alden Ehrenreich), two twin sisters who both have controversial stories to spill in the press, and a big budget movie without its lead actor. This sounds stressful enough as it is without throwing in Mannix’s own personal dilemmas such as taking a new job as a fixer for an airline company and a family life that he is rarely involved in due to his current job.

The directors have proven to me that they are masters of conveying and manipulating emotions through this film. They also have an incredible vision that immerses you into this story so much so that the audience feels as if it’s in the story and carrying the weight of the characters with them. There are beautiful sequences and twists and turns throughout the story. While it may not have the most clear cut beginning, middle, end story, the film delivers a totally different type of movie that I can only describes as being innovative. Instead of telling a cohesive, three act film, the Coen brothers deliver a case study of the 1950s film industry that still holds weight and, I feel, is the brothers personal insight into the film industry today, slipping in themes that carry over today. These themes include image problems, creating public perception, the state of writers in the current industry, and just a genuine look into the billion dollar business using the 1950s to do it. While not really a musical, there is one musical number performed by Channing Tatum for his character’s film that I found to be entertaining. The entire film as a whole was wildly introspective and fun, all the while maintaining this film noir of the time period it is set in.

In short, I can only use the word brilliant in relation to this film. The only negatives are a few minor story flaws as to a not fully wrapped up conclusion and a few minor plot holes. This is certainly the best film I have seen yet in 2016. I enjoyed greatly. From what I have heard from Coen enthusiasts is that this was not their best film. If this was the Coen brothers at their worst, then I cannot wait to see them at their best. 9/10 would recommend to film lovers and enthusiasts. The general movie goer may or may not find this to be an entertaining film but I absolutely love it. I urge you to go and Hail, Caesar!

The Green Hill: My One Act Play Season Assessment 

The Green Hill: My One Act Play Season Assessment 

That’s a wrap for our season. Last night, the cast from East Grand Forks Senior High School wrapped up our One Act Play season. This has been my second season in the school’s One Act Play department. If you don’t know what that is, a one act is an entire play (beginning/middle/end) told in the span of one act of a regular length play. This year, our director, Darrin Kerr, selected a piece by playwright David Ives entitled The Green Hill. In a brief summary of the play, The Green Hill is about a man named Jake, who, when he closes his eyes, sees a green hill. When he finds a poster with his hill on it, Jake begins traveling the world searching for it, leaving behind his girlfriend Sandy and meeting a whole host of colorful characters along the way.

Our cast consisted of just a few brilliant actresses, an outstanding actor, and myself…
Brody Katka….Jake

Katlyn O’Shea….Sandy

Ponny White….Searching Woman

Daysha Ramsey….Travel Agent/Afganhi

Caitlyn Gordon….Britisher/American

Mackalya Scherrer….Mrs. Kretchmar/German Tourist

Danah Albaaj….German Tourist/Operator

Kaleb Koho….Finnish Worker/Italian Restauraunt Owner
After a month of practice our cast set off to Sub-Sections in Warren. Last year, our similar cast went and took first at Subs in Stephen-Argyle, but this year was a little different. We competed against schools Tri-County, KCC, Stephen-Argyle, WAO, & Theif River Falls. We needed at least second place to advance to Sections in Crookston. That’s exactly what we did, placing second behind KCC and their performance of Smarty Pants. We prepared for an additional week to take a first place victory at Sections, which is what we need to advance to State.

We gave the performance of our lives at Crookston. I can only explain it as simply fantastic. However, we did not advance. We placed third at Sections, behind Rosoe’s second place performance of The Spirit of Life (a long, depressing collection of holocaust stories) and Bagley’s winning performance of Radium Girls (a dramatization of the Radium crisis in the 1950’s).

We closed our season out by performing at our own PAC (Performing Arts Center) for a small crowd alongside our Noncompetitive One Act, Time Flies, starring Ben Kern, Ponny White, & Brody Katka. It was a wonderful season and it deeply saddens me that we will not be advancing to State with our senior friend and cast member, Brody Katka.
All in all, it’s been a fantastic season, with a wonderful cast, a visionary director, and an excellent piece of material to work with. Thank you all.

The Writer’s Block: Creative Writing Tips

The Writer’s Block: Creative Writing Tips

As a screenwriter, some of the most common questions we ask each other are “What’s your writing schedule like?” or “How do you make yourself sit down and write?”.
I don’t have a schedule. I procrastinate and then write whenever I have an idea or feel like writing. The biggest help I can give you is this: Make Stuff. There’s a sort of problem with storytelling in some of the stuff I’ve seen and read. That is that is doesn’t have the best story flow. I mean, that the dialogue doesn’t sound conversational. Another issue is that there doesn’t seem to be a real beginning, middle, or end. The only way for a creator to fix this is to make stuff.

Make a short film with your friends. Put it on YouTube or even just save it for yourself as a home video. The point is to make a story whether its with friends, yourself, action figures, whatever. Just make something. Film yourself saying your dialogue and do a cringe test. Does it sound terrible to you?

It doesn’t matter if you release it, if it looks nice, or if it makes you famous. This is a muscle building exercise. You need to be able to master a story’s flow and the only way to do that is to try and fail and try again at making stuff.

Go film a bunch of landscapes. Write a short story, don’t stress over it, but just put something down. Get a friend to help film it. It doesn’t even have to be edited, just create something.

AUTHORS! Keep your creative muscles stretched by just writing a brief short story to practice different tones or to jot down ideas for a book. You don’t have to publish it.

Journalists! Write short pieces on things going on in your life or someone else’s. You don’t have to release it.

Cinematographers! Go out and film some cool shots and save them.

Editors! Make just a fan made trailer out of some clips on the internet.

The point is to just go out and make stuff in order to stretch your creative muscles and keep you active creatively. When you do this, your projects that you want to publish will become better. I guarantee it.