MJ book focuses on the music
Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson
By Joseph Vogel
(Sterling Publishing), by Joseph Vogel
We get it already: Michael Jackson was kind of a weird dude.
In the weeks, months and now years since the music icon‘s death, news consumers across the globe have been inundated with examinations of Jackson’s life. And frankly, too much of it has focused on the sensational aspects of his 50 years on Earth.
Luckily, for those of us who prefer to remember Jackson as a once-in-a-generation entertainer and the undisputed King of Pop and not so much for his sometimes peculiar personal choices, we have Joseph Vogel in our corner.
Vogel, who writes about popular culture, music and politics for The Huffington Post and teaches at the University of Rochester, has written a book that focuses solely on Jackson‘s creative output.
“Man in the Music” is thankfully all about just that — the music.
And it’s really good.
Vogel takes the reader album-by-album, song-by-song and examines in exhaustive detail how Jackson produced a lifetime‘s worth of music that became a soundtrack to the lives of millions.
Jackson’s Motown years, including his work with The Jackson 5, isn‘t covered in “Man in the Music,” which focuses on the singer’s solo work, beginning with 1979‘s mega-selling “Off the Wall” all the way through “Invincible” in 2001.
Vogel, relying on news archives, Jackson’s words and interviews with those who collaborated on the albums, opens the door to the studio and provides an in-depth picture of the artist‘s creative process. Each song Jackson recorded during his solo career is examined with a critical eye.
It’s a fascinating read and really a must-have for any Jackson fan.
“I wanted to write something historically and critically rigorous, but approach the subject with less cynicism and curiosity,” Vogel writes in the preface.
Mission accomplished, sir. (AP)
A saint loose in the States
“Queen of America”
By Luis Alberto Urrea
It is one thing to be a saint. It is another thing to be a young woman in America on the dawning edge of the 20th century with a father who is getting on your nerves.
Teresa, Teresita, the Saint of Cabora, healer and revolutionary, is back in Luis Alberto Urrea‘s ”Queen of America.“ In 2005’s ”The Hummingbird‘s Daughter,“ she came of age on her father’s Mexican ranchos, where she learned from Huila, a native woman, the old ways of nature and medicine and God. In this novel, a follow-up that stands alone, Teresita and her father settle restlessly into U.S. border towns in diminished circumstances, driven out of Mexico and into a swiftly modernizing world.
Teresita was a real person, a faith healer and vocal supporter of the native peoples of Mexico against the rule of Porfirio Diaz. Her name became toxic to his regime, and even though she was banished from the country, she was said to be the target of assassination attempts. Urrea, a grand-nephew, has spent more than two decades sorting through the legends that surround her, then turning that material into a new legend of its own.
The story turns from the mythic -- visions and healing, thousands of followers, vaqueros and mestizos -- to the day-to-day. Teresita and her father, Tomas, find themselves in one cramped, dusty house after another, at loose ends. He drinks too much. She does healing. She prays in her combination of native religion and Christianity. Nineteen and lonely, she also longs for attention, and sulks. They bicker like a father and daughter from any era.
This is in the early 1890s, and on good days, they encounter America‘s wonders: its baseball, its ice cream, its flush toilets. They read the papers and remark on the changing world. They seem suspended, waiting for something. Could it be that they want a revolt in Mexico, long-brewing, fed by violence of the authorities and a newspaper run by Tomas’ old friend Lauro Aguirre? Aguirre coaxes them to come to El Paso, where Teresita agrees to write for him.
Teresita has a complicated relationship with the media. She is an essayist and reporter, but sometimes her words are twisted and inverted. Her political convictions fall into the background as news of her healing touch spreads throughout the Southwest. From her El Paso apartment she heals Mexicans of all origins, Chinese railroad workers, poor Americans, and charges nothing. Her ministrations wear her down, however, and soon her dynamic, ambitious father regains his footing and persuades her they should move to a mountain retreat. He has plans to mill lumber there, to start again.
It is easy to like Tomas; despite his womanizing, bluster and occasional drinking, he is large-hearted, maybe larger than life. Teresita is a tougher nut: By turns pious, playful, devoted, exhausted and resentful, she can be frustratingly real. As if her transcendent experiences mean nothing, she is sometimes blind and foolish. When she assents to a marriage almost as tragic as it is brief, it causes a permanent rift between father and daughter.
Teresita‘s gifts put her in the hands of people who see how they might profit from them. She becomes a one-woman traveling healing extravaganza.
”The Saint had never seen such a place as San Diego. White buildings. Palm trees. Trolley cars. Bougainvillea and geraniums. Red buildings. Paved and cobbled streets in every direction. Horses, carriages, donkeys, sailors, children, dogs, wagons, flags, oleander, rose gardens, seagulls, pigeons, smoke, newspaper boys, gas lamps, musicians, ladies in great skirts with parasols, black faces, red faces, white faces, brown faces, yellow faces, hotels, tall buildings with sunset in their windows, red roof tiles, fountains, hobos sleeping on benches, strolling blue uniformed coppers with helmets swinging sticks, pepper trees, mosaics. Gray buildings with glass doors. She felt her heart hammering with excitement.“
Eventually, Teresita makes it all the way to New York City. There, she tries to take control of her own destiny, balancing the pressures of her calling, an elite social life and the difficult man she loves.
Urrea delights in the texture of things. Turn-of-the-century America, particularly New York, comes alive at his fingertips: He sees both the silk and the mud. In imagining the story of his great-aunt Teresita, Urrea might have chosen to make her a hero; that would have been easier. What we get is more complicated, more modern. She lived a century ago, half-Mexican, half-native, with the knowledge of traditional herbs and nature, the apparent ability to heal with her hands and an abiding longing for justice, but she was flawed.
Hers is the story of what it means to have a gift, and how a talent can also be a burden. (MCT)