The documentary film THIS IS IT is a stunning look inside a magician’s bag of tricks, a behind-the-scenes chronicle of how a major music tour is put together. On that level alone it is worth more than a view, This Is It becomes the perfect textbook for any college course on marketing intellectual property. In addition to that, This Is It also provides a superior look at the construction (and deconstruction) of some music that is as familiar or almost as familiar worldwide as the music of The Beatles. And if you had a virtual “dance battle” between Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson, well…just watching the King Of Pop’s feet work non-stop throughout this entertaining 2 hour, one minute movie and the logical mind might have to give Jackson the edge over Astaire. To some that may be sacrilege, yet MJ’s pliable body is so adaptable to so many different looks and attitudes that the artistry beyond his immense vocal skills and songwriting talents is very very obvious in this truly unique presentation.
But with a vibrant and in-control star of the show, the movie also opens wide the conspiracy theory that Michael Jackson faked his own passing. Let’s objectively look at the motives: money and freedom. When Michael Jackson had more negative publicity than O.J. and Phil Spector combined, his fans stood by him, and stood by him in a way that Spector and O.J. never experienced. The late Jim Keith’s essential book Secret and Suppressed: Banned Ideas and Hidden History (Feral House, 1993) has an interesting section on the reasons why Jim Morrison allegedly is still alive.
It is certainly more plausible than not that some wealthy entertainer or business magnate pulled off an “Eddie Wilson” maneuver a la Eddie & The Cruisers and the thought of a Janis Joplin or a Brad Delp being able to successfully move into some invisible life outside of their stardom cannot ever, ever be ruled out. Michael Jackson is the most likely candidate of all, more so than a drug-addled Elvis Presley, more so than a Marvin Gaye. Because any good accountant can tell you how the value of art appreciates with the passing of the artist.
I’m not talking about Edgar Allan Poe whose works became far more valuable when rediscovered long after his passing, the issue here is the ridiculous spike in interest of a catalog already valuable while the artist was alive going through the stratosphere after the death (or alleged death) of the superstar…be it Elvis, Lennon, Janis, Jimi or Jim Morrison.
The fact that Alan Wilson and Canned Heat’s catalog did not increase that much in value after Wilson’s untimely passing on September 3, 1970 is a case in point. Wilson performed at Monterey and Woodstock along with Jimi Hendrix, who passed away on September 18, 1970 and Janis Joplin, who died on October 4, 1970. Hendrix and Canned Heat performed at the “Super Concert ’70” Deutschlandhalle, Berlin, Germany a few days after the August 30 Isle Of Wight Festival (Joplin was recording her final lp, Pearl, in Los Angeles and was not at the Berlin concert, to my knowledge, as reported in Salvador Astucia’s book ” Rethinking John Lennon’s Assassination: The FBI’s War on Rock Stars” which quotes a book by Canned Heat drummer Fito de la Parra, “Living the Blues: Canned Heat’s Story of Music, Drugs, Death, Sex and Survival.). The point that Astucia makes is that all three Woodstock rock stars fell within a one month period.
What was Michael Jackson doing with all the time on his hands? Raising his kids? Sure, but, c’mon, entertainers entertain. To pull off a disappearing act that like this would need time, patience and careful planning. To quote or paraphrase Mel Gibson in the 1997 film Conspiracy Theory “a good conspiracy is one that you can never prove. If you can, then someone screwed up.” Deeply in debt, there was no doubt all his enterprises and intellectual property would balloon in value, though no one ever thought to this extent. As of this writing early Halloween morning the film has brought in 24 million worldwide, and it hasn’t even hit the Saturday night yet!
I viewed it at the critic’s screening on a Tuesday night this past week, which had a theater half-full (about 645 people would be full capacity in Theater 2, Loews Common in Boston), the midnight public showing was “mezzo mezzo” as I was leaving the theater and local Channel 7 was interviewing people on the sidewalk. For a star who passed on to have the major network affiliate on the sidewalk interviewing people on a mere documentary movie, not a live concert, is the real barometer, not that the fans didn’t pack the hall on a Tuesday night.
So Michael Jackson’s catalog will probably surpass all of them this year, beyond Elvis, Jimi, John Lennon, George Harrison, Janis and Brad Delp…perhaps even combined. Wouldn’t you want to be part of an amazing and lucrative practical joke if the world had defamed you and mocked your genius?