Celebrate Earth Day with Michael Jackson’s Earth Song

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Today, April 22, 2015, marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day – a day dedicated to broadening, diversifying, and mobilising the environmental movement. More than 1 billion people around the globe now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the completion and release of Michael’s Jackson “Earth Song” – first made public in June 1995 as part of Jackson’s HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I studio album. I thought I’d take the timely opportunity to mention the song, as well as some of the subsequent works done in honor of/to document and analyse the song, in this short article.

In my opinion “Earth Song” represents Jackson’s overall legacy better than any other material in his catalog. Not only does the song showcase Jackson’s genius in full force, from his abilities as a poet, a songwriter, a storyteller, a composer, a vocalist, and all-round music marvel, but it also shines light on Jackson as one of pop cultures most significant activists and philanthropists, demonstrating his consciousness and connectedness to the place in which we all live – Planet Earth.

As author Joseph Vogel describes in his must-read book, Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus, the Jackson masterpiece is “unlike anything heard before in popular music.”

“Social anthems and protest songs had long been part of the heritage of rock – but not like this,” writes Vogel. “‘Earth Song’ was something more epic, dramatic, and primal. Its roots were deeper; its vision more panoramic. It was a modern-day ‘sorrow song’ haunted by voices of the past; a lamentation torn from the pages of the Old Testament; an apocalyptic prophecy in the tradition of Blake, Yeats and Eliot.

“It conveyed musically what Picasso’s masterful aesthetic protest, Guernica, conveyed in art. Inside its swirling scenes of destruction and suffering were voices—crying, pleading, shouting to be heard (‘What about us?‘).

“‘Earth Song’ would become the most successful environmental anthem ever recorded, topping the charts in over fifteen countries and eventually selling over ten million copies. Yet critics never quite knew what to make of it. Its unusual fusion of opera, rock, gospel, and blues sounded like nothing on the radio. It defied almost every expectation of a traditional anthem. In place of nationalism, it envisioned a world without division or hierarchy. In place of religious dogma or humanism, it yearned for a broader vision of ecological balance and harmony. In place of simplistic propaganda for a cause, it was a genuine artistic expression. In place of a jingly chorus that could be plastered on a T-shirt or billboard, it offered a wordless, universal cry.”

In a recent blog post Syl Mortilla, author of The First Book of Michael, discusses his observations and interpretations of the imagery Jackson used during several live performances of “Earth Song” over the years – from the “notoriously provocative Christ-like imagery (most notably during his turn at the Brits ’96 – recently voted the greatest Brits performance of all time)” to the HIStory tour scene in which “Michael stands – Tiananmen Square-style – in front of an encroaching tank, before facing off the disembarked soldier, removing his gun, and replacing it with a sunflower: a gesture clearly referencing the iconic photograph of Jan Rose Kasmir at an anti-Vietnam war rally at the Pentagon, in 1967.”

flower child pentagon

Jan Rose Kasmir at an anti-Vietnam war rally at the Pentagon, in 1967

To celebrate Earth Day Jamon Bull, co-founder and co-host of Michael Jackson podcast The MJCast, wrote a fantastic short-form article dedicated to promoting Jackson’s efforts to heal the world we live in. In the article, accompanied by a brilliant video tribute to Jackson’s “Planet Earth” spoken poem, Bull writes:

“Not only did Michael write and perform entire songs with the purpose of tapping into humanity’s empathy for our planet, but he also wrote poetry for this cause and raised vast sums of money for it as well. This wasn’t a passion that waned with time, or was done for some selfish cause; Michael genuinely cared for “Mother Earth” and felt the pain we as humans inflict on her quite acutely.

“From deforestation, to climate change, to the extinction of species and overpopulation, Michael had the wellbeing of the planet and by extension its inhabitants foremost in his mind. Evidently, this shines through in his art, and in many of his public speeches and discussions also.

“During the rehearsal’s for his final concert tour, Michael Jackson took the time to explain his ethos around nature and the planet in detail as evidenced in the documentary film This Is It, saying:

‘I respect the secrets and magic of nature. That’s why it makes me so angry when I see these things that are happening, that every second, I hear, the size of a football field is torn down in the Amazon. I mean, that kind of stuff really bothers me. That’s why I write these kinds of songs, you know. It gives some sense of awareness and awakening and hope to people. I love the Planet, I love the trees. I have this thing for trees – the colors and changing of leaves. I love it. I respect those kind of things. I really feel that nature is trying so hard to compensate for man’s mismanagement of the planet. Because the planet is sick, like a fever. If we don’t fix it now, it’s at the point of no return. This is our last chance to fix this problem that we have, where it’s like a runway train. And the times has come, This Is It. People are always saying: ‘They’ll take care of it. The government’ll–Don’t worry, they’ll–‘ ‘They’ who? It starts with us. It’s us. Or else it’ll never be done…’

“On October 26th, 2009 the Estate of Michael Jackson released Michael’s first posthumous album, a companion product to the film and ill fated concert tour entitled This Is It. The album featured many of the songs Michael was to perform live on his comeback tour, but with the interesting and intriguing inclusion of one spoken word track entitled ‘Planet Earth’.  This previously unreleased track is a simple, poetic piece which focuses on Michael’s love for our planet. Prior to 2009, it had only ever been engaged with by fans in its written form as published in Michael Jackson’s brilliant book, Dancing the Dream. The piece clearly demonstrates the sense of wonderment Michael must have felt when contemplating our planet, but it’s the contrast that draws the listener in. The quiet and simple vocal delivery, with subtle revelations of Michael’s emotional depth, juxtaposed against the sheer cosmic scope of the lyrical content. ‘Planet Earth’ is a stroke of genius that only Michael could have delivered.”

Click here to buy a copy of Joe Vogel’s Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus. Click here to read Syl Mortilla’s article on Earth Song, and click here to buy The First Book of Michael. Click here to read Jamon Bull’s Earth Day article, and click here to like The MJCast on Facebook.

View Bull’s “Michael Jackson – Planet Earth (An Earth Day Project)” video below:

 

XO book layout imageDamien Shields is the author of the book Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind about Michael Jackson’s artistry and creative process. Click here to order your copy today – also available via Amazon, Kindle, iBooks, and Google Play. Follow Damien on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date with Michael Jackson-related news.

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