On Friday of last week, I got an email from Kristen Payne, the artist relations manager for StageIt. If you haven't been following along, StageIt is a relatively new online service that allows for people to see artists perform on live video over the Internet for relatively cheap (or free).
In any case, they were doing a special show on Monday 6/27, and asked if I'd like to participate. The show, the email went on to explain, was a tribute to pop icon Michael Jackson, commemorating the two-year anniversary of his passing. At first glance, I wasn't very interested, until I saw the format they'd set up: 12 artists would each have with five minutes of airtime to perform one song by the King of Pop. Well, that sounded fun, and it just so happened that in my large list of songs, there was one MJ tune that I'd done in 2009 shortly after his death.
Side note: I'm not a big Michael Jackson fan. I appreciate him; I respect what he did. I really liked his earlier stuff from his Jackson 5 days through Thriller. But just from a point of context of my doing this show, I certainly don't do his songs very often, and like many people, I eventually had trouble separating the music from the controversy that surrounded him in his later years. However, I do remember being a kid in junior high school who -- despite being into bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC at the time -- would still put songs like "Shake Your Body" on the family stereo and groove my ass around the room... mostly when no one was there to see. Even in high school, when my musical tastes ranged from Iron Maiden to the Grateful Dead, when Thriller came out it was like being on a beach and having a tidal wave hit. Its impact on society was inescapable. I think I blurted out, "Holy shit!" in front of my parents when I saw him do this on a TV special (listen to the crowd reaction starting at 3:45-ish).
Michael, circa 1983. This was the last point that he seemed kinda sorta like a normal human being (though he really wasn't, of course).
Seriously, I can remember the first time I saw Michael do his moonwalk as well as I can remember any major event in history.
Long story short: I told Kristen to count me in for the tribute show, and I'm glad I did. I decided to do "Off the Wall", one of the few Michael Jackson tunes that can be comfortably arranged for a guy playing acoustic guitar. I then spent an hour or two over the weekend determining how I could do the song well (which turned out meaning that I'd need to drop it down to A from its standard key of D... I'm not a glutton for punishment, after all). When Monday evening rolled around, I was ready. My only regret, being scheduled toward the latter part of the hour, is that I wasn't able to watch many of the other artists perform their MJ covers, since I was busy preparing for my own show. However, the song went off well, and my crowd seemed to really enjoy my five-minute performance of "Off the Wall". It had good energy, and I had a nice groove rolling on the guitar as I worked my way through the tune.
One thing: performing well on one song -- just one song -- is hard! You need to get all warmed up and ready, working yourself up to the point where you can do a kick-ass show, and then five minutes later, you're thanking your audience and saying goodbye. I have a lot more empathy for folks who play a single tune on an awards show, or on "Saturday Night Live". It's definitely a different experience than putting on a typical hour-plus concert.
Finally, it needs to be said: Michael was a weird guy who had zero chance of being a normal person, given his background. But he was a weird and extraordinarily talented guy. I'm not saying one cancels out the other, but in retrospect, his contribution to the world of entertainment will overshadow all of the tabloid talk about him in the long run. I mentioned at the end of my song that it was an honor to be involved in the tribute, and I meant it.