It was not very long after my short initial response to Michael Jackson’s passing that one of my students, Ross Cooper, spoke of the importance of Jackson to his musical and spiritual maturing and mentioned specifically Man In The Mirror. For me, I had immediately considered Beat It, Billie Jean and Thriller though the latter always seemed a better video than it was a song. My immediate acquirement of The Essential Michael Jackson allowed me to take a closer listen to this Man In The Mirror. And indeed it is a song worth consideration. The objective critique of poverty and injustice turned back on the subjective self in his complicity and need to change the world himself;
“If you want to make the world a better place
Then look at yourself and make a change.”
Challenging, inspirational, brilliant! Even the profits from the single’s sales went to charity.
In the reams written over the days following Jackson’s death I found the most profound and startling the reprint of Sylvie Simmons 1983 article for Creem magazine in The Observer’s Review Special Issue. In this interview Jackson is the wise God believing Jehovah Witness, keeping perspective and aware of the pitfalls. “I believe in God. We all do. We like to be straight, don’t go crazy or anything. Not to the point of losing our perspective on life, of what you are and who you are. A lot of entertainers, they make money and they spend the rest of their life celebrating that one goal they reached, and with that celebration comes the drugs and the liquor and the alcohol. And then they try to straighten up and they say, ‘Who am I? Where am I? What happened?’ And they lost themselves, and they’re broken. You have to be careful and have some kind of discipline.”
Though the one song on Bad not written by Jackson, this interview and many others reveals a man with the ambition of the song, Man In The Mirror. The Man in the Mirror was ironically Jackson’s greatest battle and the childhood he had, or didn’t have, and the madness of mega stardom brought all kinds of psychological challenges that prevented him winning the battle to be the man he wanted to be. In end he was unable to do what he wanted to do and ended up doing what he didn’t want to, as St. Paul suggested about himself and indeed all of us in his letter to the Romans.
But let us take our eyes off the sad demise of Michael Jackson and start with our own man or woman in the mirror. Jackson is pointing out the importance of the individual to make the change. He is eye balling our selfishness and seeing the need for a new perspective of the love in our souls. Andre Crouch and The Winans bring the Gospel effect which adds a black Gospel hopefulness to the entire thing and you realise that this is one of those altar call rock songs like Seeger’s We Shall Overcome, Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready, Springsteen’s Land Of Hope and Dreams, U2’s Yahweh or Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down. You can hear the black preacher hit his crescendo, “Play the King of Pop one more time now... come on one more hand now... commit yourself to change now... One more time... ‘Oh to make a change for once in my life... I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways’... do I see one more hand there!” I’ll feebly raise mine and pray for fewer of the ghosts and demons that Jackson had to fight to be the change!