In 2009 writer Chris Roberts provided the text for a large format tribute book titled “Michael Jackson. The King of Pop 1958-2009” published by Carlton Books Ltd. In 2018, in advance of the 10th anniversary of Jackson’s death (on 25 June 2009) and coinciding with the interest created by the Michael Jackson On the Wall art exhibition, Carlton Books has another (larger) hard cover MJ tribute book, again written by Chris Roberts.
I read that first book when I was new to MJ fandom and didn’t have a critical enough eye to know when short cuts were being taken and myths perpetuated by the author. I like to think I know better now, which is why the mostly benevolent text of the new book “The Complete Michael Jackson…” is a bit like eating the same stick of fairy floss I ate nearly 10 years previously. It’s a bit bigger, a bit revised and added-to, but doesn’t provide any information we don’t already have.
The first section of the book skips through Michael’s life, complete with photos, mostly presented out of sync with the text, and sometimes with captions that any knowledgeable fan could have written better. For example, we are told that Michael was uncharacteristically “dressing down” in an “understated wardrobe choice” on the set of his Bad short film. He was, of course, dressed in character as the school boy Darryl – which should have been obvious to someone writing a book (well, two books now) about Michael, assuming they had a reasonable working knowledge of the film in question.
The middle section of the book deals with all Michael’s solo albums, including those from his early years. Typically, the 80s gets the “top of his game” tick – with the author falling into the same well-worn groove as many music “experts”, confusing commercial success with creative genius, which I believe came in the 90s and beyond. Although, it really began with the “Bad” album, when Jackson took more control of the writing and recording, even having creative clashes with producer Quincy Jones over some choices of material.
At the end of the twentieth/beginning of the twenty-first century, Michael was singing better than ever, according to producer Rodney Jerkins who worked on the “Invincible” album and other tracks, some of which have been released posthumously. The proof of his words can be heard on the album(s). As to song writing – look at the complexity of “Morphine” and the simple beauty of “Speechless” – this is not just foot-tapping music to groove to, of which Michael was/is the master; this is music that plunges us to the depths (Morphine) and rises us up with a love so pure it hurts (Speechless).
The final third of the book deals with Michael and fashion; but is severely lacking in this department, even referring to the lower half of his Dangerous fencing shirt as a cod-piece. Roberts doesn’t seem to have read Michael Bush’s “The King of Style” or watched the concert footage where Jackson takes off the jacket to reveal the design of his gold top (often erroneously referred to as a one-piece or leotard). Another photo, in which the caption describes him as dressed in “a distinguished, mature suit, by his standards understated” seems oblivious to the trial he was undergoing at the time (in 2005). It does, however, hit the mark in interpreting his “namaste” hand gesture as being a sign of his gratitude to his loyal fans.
In summary, if you are looking for a “complete” book on MJ – this is not it, and it comes without any notes on its sources. This unfortunately makes it worthless for reference purposes. The music has been done better (by Joseph Vogel overall, and “Earth Song” in particular, and Susan Fast on “Dangerous”). As for his life story and career… well, I’m not a fan of the numerous unofficial biographies that have been published. The section on Michael’s life in this book does not endorse the worst tabloid excesses, but neither does it redress those fabrications with well-researched, verifiable facts.
“The Complete Michael Jackson”, despite the misnomer, looks nice on the book shelf, and the photos (all of which we have seen before) are handsomely reproduced on quality paper. A particularly good example is the double page spread on pages 242-243. It is a familiar Dangerous-era photo (as used in the above illustration) of Michael looking pensive in a jacket designed for him by Tompkins and Bush (who don’t get a mention). Here, at least, the caption hits the right note (pun intended):
“An intimate portrait of a leather jacket-clad Michael seems to reveal a blend of thoughtful melancholy and effortless grace. It makes sense that in Summer 2018, London’s National Portrait Gallery opened an exhibition of art inspired by the star, including work by Andy Warhol and David LaChapelle.”
Yes, indeed. And all his supposedly excessive plastic surgeries had been done by the time this photo was taken (1993) and he is beautiful. Barring the stresses of his career and fatherhood, weight loss due to illness or rigorous performances and the effects of medication for his various health issues in later years, he remained beautiful up to the last night he stood on stage – back where he had told us (in “Moonwalk) that he felt most comfortable – about to remind us once again who was King. Not that his fans needed reminding!
If nothing else, “The Complete Michael Jackson” reminds us of the magic that awaits our next listening/viewing, in our music and DVD collections or via on-line streaming. That same magic exists in the memories of Michael that we have enshrined in our hearts; memories of a remarkable man and his art. No book can hope to capture that.
Review by Kerry Hennigan
6 May 2019
Sources on Michael Jackson – Who Is Worth Referencing? https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/sources-on-michael-jackson-who-is-worth-referencing/
What About Invincible – Revisiting Michael Jackson’s Final Studio Album https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/10/30/what-about-invincible-revisiting-michael-jacksons-final-studio-album/
Book Review: First Impressions of “Michael Jackson: All the Songs. The Story Behind Every Track” by Richard Lecocq & François Allard https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/11/03/book-review-first-impressions-of-michael-jackson-all-the-songs-the-story-behind-every-track-by-richard-lecocq-francois-allard/
Book Review – Revisiting “Michael Jackson The Solo Years” by Craig Halstead & Chris Cadman (2003) https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/book-review-revisiting-michael-jackson-the-solo-years-by-craig-halstead-chris-cadman-2003/
These and other MJ-related book reviews can be found here: https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/category/mj-book-movie-reviews/
(Be sure to keep clicking on the link to “older posts” on the bottom left of the screen to access all reviews.)