The Genius of Michael Jackson

On June 25th of the year 2009, Michael Joseph Jackson departed life in Los Angeles, California… the king is dead. In chess the word is “checkmate,” but of course Jackson lead a life that will live longer than his physical life making him in effect immortal. William James once said, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

Michael Jackson

I watched Jackson’s entire career unfold and was shocked at the loss, but not completely surprised by his death. I didn’t expect to see him in old age, but God is the best knower. Since his death, I have listened to so much of his music (from all eras) and watched many videos and reflected on what it meant.

For me, the uniqueness in Jackson’s stage persona was this… he was in complete control and he had the resolve of a four-star general on a battlefield. He was relentless in his pursuit of perfection and determination to achieve an end. Perhaps he characterized this in the outfits he wore often featuring a military motif complete with epaulets, medals and patches. His famous single sequinned glove was added for emphasis. The glove seemed to be symbolic of a powerful man who can make magical things happen with one gesture.

Perhaps his penchant for militarism was instrumental in his appreciation for chess… commanding of forces. He certainly seem to revel in leading his troupe and commanding the precision and perfection of the complicated dance movements. He was always thinking ahead of other creative minds in his choreography and was famous for practicing hours on single dance moves… head tips, spins, glides, popping and of course, the famous moonwalk. Every move, no matter how small, seemed to have a purpose or an exclamation point.

When studying Michael Jackson, there are so many ironies such as his meek demeanor in personal life. Meek, but forceful in his lyrics and his intimidating stage presence in concert. He compensated for the vulnerabilities in his personal life through the avenue of music… that was the stage where he ruled. He ruled the world in this sphere.

If a chess player can look at Jackson’s life and learn anything, they would learn that one has to stay determined despite the odds and detractors… work tirelessly and strive for perfection. Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer all had these traits in common with Jackson and all would be considered amongst the greatest of all time. The “King of Pop” indeed taught us a lesson.

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

19 Comments

  1. OK… this is a fun non-chess thread.

    Now that you’ve had time to listen to Michael Jackson for a month, you may have discovered some new songs… or developed a better appreciation for the ones you heard before. What are your favorites and why?

  2. Off the Wall came out right after my senior year in college. I played a hole in it .. vinyl, remember! Besides Michael, the album featured some of my favorite instrumentalists, like Larry Carlton and George Duke. And of course, it was produced by Q. One of the best albums ever made. I still have it packed away with the rest of my LPs from back in the day.

  3. RJT,

    “Off the Wall” was definitely up there. There are so many so songs that I have heard in the last month that I had “forgotten” about. One of the songs that came to mind is “Lady in my Life.” I was going to do a story on Michael immediately after his death, but I’m glad I had a chance to reflect a bit.

    I have always been a fan, but I have come to appreciate his work ethic more since I’ve been critically examining his music the last month. I find so many ironies in his life. I find that he plays a tough guy approach in some of his music. “Beat It” and “You Rock My World” comes to mind. Check out this classic video/movie/short. It’s Michael as you’ve NEVER seen him before.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3wShd_bX8A

  4. I forgot about “Liberian Girl” and “Dirty Diana”…. I got a chance to see him perform at Wembley Stadium, England in 1987 on the “Bad” tour… Literally saw women passing out in front of me!.. that’s a crazy thing to see, I tell ya. “Off the Wall” was definitely his best album.. Who else , besides James Brown, could make up words in a song and nobody check him on it!…

  5. Chamone! 😀

    “Remember the Time” was another good one. Brother had a Casanova heart… he really sang some passionate songs about love. Everything was intense.

    How was the concert?

  6. Well… he had several. Michael Williams above mentioned George Duke who was one famous player, but he used a number of famous musicians including Eddie Van Halen in “Beat It.” Are you talking about in the earlier days? I think that was Jermaine played the bass and Tito played the lead guitar.

  7. I have almost everything on Michael jackson in my ‘vault’. From unreleased songs which you guys have probably never heard, to an autographed Bad Jacket to all his music and videos etc. I am a die hard fan.

    I think his best album is DANGEROUS. In this album you here the beginning of a new jackson style, more on the edge, more risky, more kasparovian.

    Been to two concerts of his. One when I was very young 1988 in Wembley, London and the other in J’oburg, South Africa 1996. He looks very frail and skinny on stage, you would think he is going to collapse any moment, but he is like an unleashed animal. He keeps going on and on. Someone forgot to mention that another of MJ’s talent was on stage stamina. I have seen other rock and hip hop acts on stage but none comes close to the expenditure of energy like MJ.

    Back here where I am in Kenya, we have a club called Checkmates (The biggest in the country) and an MJ CD is put on every friday night and we blitz to that!

  8. As for guitarists, from 90’s onward he had Slash of Guns N Roses do the stuff for him on Black or White, Give into me, Come Together DS, Privacy etc. Dirty Diana had Steve Stevens as guitarist.

    By the way this thing of Quincy Jones having made Michael I think is wrong. Quincy helped MJ out, got him to work with a horde of talented musicians but really the music was largely crafted by MJ himself. Quincy got alot of mileage of of the King, and after BAD Michael dumped him. Outside MJ’s albums Quincy has managed to do nothing else of significance in pop…that should tell you something.

  9. Mehul,

    I enjoyed your posts, but I bet you don’t have any 45rpm records! 😀

    I’ll have to differ with respect to Quincy Jones. He has had a hand in the success of so many artists as a composer and songwriter, but was not limited to pop music. His influence in the industry has been immeasurable… particularly in Black music. He has helped pave the way for many famous artists. Even if we accept that he didn’t have success after Michael, his production of “Thriller” is one for the ages… a ground-breaking album for a lot of reasons.

    You’re right. MJ had to remake his image and style because the gap into between his albums and the changing times. In 1987 (BAD), he was then competing with the rise of hip-hop. His latter albums were more gritty, but I’m certainly a Jackson Five and early 80s Michael Jackson aficionado.

    I’m glad you mentioned the stamina issue because these younger artists have no idea. I would imagine after MJ’s death, many of the young artists went on YouTube and were totally amazed. Hard work pays dividends.

  10. Daim,

    I think you need to here MJ’s Demos, the ones he did in privacy at home…the stripped down stuff where it’s just michael’s vocals and his brothers on the instruments, especially for the album thriller…you will find that what we think are quincy jones ideas were actually MJ’s…from the bass of Billie Jean to the strings on Dont Stop Till you Get enough to the addictive hook of Beat it. It’s all Michael. We forget that Michael was also a genius music producer.

    What I would say Quincy brought and introduced to Michael in the studio was a professional back up team. Through his many years in the Jazz world quincy had access to the best guitarists, best drummers, best keyboard players etc. He got these guys into the studio to work with MJ. Plus he also brought this very important man called Bruce Swedien, the sound engineer on all MJ solo albums from Off the Wall to Invincible. You will notice that old MJ stuff from Off the Wall and Thriller and Bad can still stand up sonically to the latest 21st century sounds…Bruce was the guy who gave them that sonic timeless quality.

  11. Oh…forgot to add…I got TONS of 45 rpm records of MJ!! From his earlier album to various singles. Got my dad’s player as well. Haven’t thrown that out yet and am not going to! For the thriller and off the wall albums I have 3 45 rpm’s each. Reason being that I want to keep some in reserve if others get scratched out!

    Funny thing is the Off the Wall and Thriller albums sounds better on the 45 rpm than the CD! The sound is cleaner and has more bite to it than the modern day Bad and off the wall CD’s.

  12. Oh I’m not referring to the music ideas. I’m referring to the influence and mentorship. Quincy Jones huge and played a role into many budding artists’ success. Some of that influence did not appear in the album credits… even in the early days.

  13. I think his main achievement is how long he stayed relevant. I know no other artist who was singing in 1980 that could sell out a stadium.

    Will there be another Michael Jackson, it will take minimum 40 years to see.

  14. I can’t see someone having the career he did… from a 10-year old national sensation to a international megastar. He music spanned so many decades and cut across so many barriers. However, those of us who grew up with him and followed him from the early days will be biased.

  15. MJ wrote ‘We are the World’ and I am sure were he alive today he would have generously donated to the Haiti effort. Well his spirit lives on regarding this as Quincy and Lionel Richie are dusting of the masters for that record and getting some contemporary pop acts to join in and have a newly refurbished record help in some way via sales to get Haiti back on its feet.

    MJ wrote alot of music concerning world problems…this made him different from the other mainstream pop acts…at the Grammy’s this month they gonna have a 3D feature of Earth Song and this piece I think explains him and his vision. Long live MJ, and I hope the new “we are the world” venture goes some way to helping Haiti.

  16. I love your article – it bears the truth! Michael was, is, and forever will be the Commander in Chief, the Commander of Forces! He is divine and, by giving us Michael, God has shown us what a piece of Heaven feels like. I will always love and adore the man who was my inspiration, my goal, the fuel that quenched my mind, heart, and soul’s thirst of knowing him while growing up with him. I love you, Michael! You’re the keeper of my heart!

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