MJ Uncovered | Turner Hall Ballroom | 13 April
I know I have some friends who think it’s unconscionable to show respect to Michael Jackson given the very public allegations against him during his troubled lifetime. I’ll just start this piece by saying everybody draws their own squiggly lines with all the rock stars on one side or the other; get back to me when you righteously abandon Led Zeppelin.
The Jackson family was an inextricable part of my childhood, and luckily, for me it was almost entirely about the music. Everything Michael did was an event in my household, it seemed, and Bad was probably my first legitimate favorite album that was actually current and not tied to classic rock fandom (not counting Weird Al, of course). It pains me that I never got to see Michael live, and it positively irks me that I missed Janet when she came through town just last year. I don’t know what happened; I pitched that show as a review when it was first announced, but that tour got canceled and then when it was rescheduled I somehow completely let it pass me by. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Then this past January, I subjected myself to yet another Grateful Dead binge, part of my ongoing obligation as a Phishhead to try to fully appreciate the cult of Jerry. It’s never going to happen, but he did write a heck of a lot of great songs, and listening to live Dead shows, there’s always worthwhile music sprinkled in between the godawful singing and the rest of the bullshit. I can only take so much of it, though. A glutton for punishment, I prefer listening to full shows instead of skipping to the jams like a sensible person, so by the time I heard “Me And My Uncle” in the eighth consecutive show my soul cried out ‘WHAT IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD?’ and the answer came back: ‘Janet.’ So I started alternating Dead shows with Janet albums and salvaged my February.
When I’m binging on an artist like that, I’m also reading voraciously about them, and I got to thinking about that whole ridiculous Super Bowl scandal, when Janet ended up getting blacklisted on all media fronts while Justin Timberlake carried on like he had no part in it whatsoever and everyone acted like he was some genius. So let’s see, that happened in 2004…when did this blacklisting end? It was then that it occurred to me: I’d been listening religiously to WRIT’s Totally ‘80s Lunch Hour for months and months, and I had never once heard a Janet Jackson song on there. Pretty sure she had like a few popular songs in that decade (ahem, eleven charting singles, seven of them top-ten). Was it possible that this commercial radio boycott of Janet Jackson was still going on fourteen years later? I looked up the station’s playlist, and I paged and paged and paged through six months, not a single fucking Janet Jackson song. Average of like four Madonna songs a day, all kinds of Michael, Paul Abdul up the wazoo, but no Janet.
It would be laughable to call me an activist, but I did harass WRIT on twitter, and I’ll be damned if the Eye Heart Radio stooges didn’t play a Janet Jackson song—”When I Think Of You”—a couple days later. PROBABLY JUST A COINCIDENCE. But if you wanna thank someone for ending this particular hogwash boycott on one measly radio station, go ahead and thank me! I’m pretty sure they don’t play Janet tunes commensurate with her record sales (or overall awesomeness), but admittedly, I only catch a half hour of that station per day on weekdays because the radio in the lunch room at my job can’t manage WMSE. Maybe they’re playing oodles of Janet all day and night in between their epic commercial breaks. I’m not going to check again; my work there is done.
Anyway, sorry, we’re supposed to be talking about Michael. I had heard back when this Uncovered series was a part of the Alverno Presents organization that Klassik was gonna do MJ, but then he ended up switching to A Tribe Called Quest and we all know what happened (awesomeness). But MJ had to be done at some point, right? Who better than B~Free, the city’s reigning R&B queen and all-around take-charge, problem-solved human being? That Janet binge had carried me on into a wide-ranging ‘90s (and into ‘00s) R&B months-long trip, which jived perfectly with B~Free’s amazing 2016 LP Ode 2 A Luv Affair, so that album had popped back into my rotation too. Dang, I might have to just repeat that entire sequence again next year. Only without the Dead portion.
I ended up going to MJ Uncovered by myself, but of course ran into plenty of buddies there—but on second thought, not as many as I should’ve. There were probably other shows going on that night, blah blah blah, but Turner Hall should’ve been busting. Among the artists who brought down the house: Klassik. Immortal Girlfriend. Cree Myles. Michaela Usher. CHRISTOPHER GILBERT. Let me just say that when SistaStrings finished “Smooth Criminal”—with Britney on flute, of course—everybody in that room turned to the person next to them with jaws dropped. The group rendition of “They Don’t Care About Us” was a hurricane of emotion, and I thought that was it, you can’t top the power of what just went down. End it now or just give us a quick singalong comedown. Probably “We Are The World” or something else to make us all join hands—nah. That’s when Britney stormed out in full regalia for “RHYTHM NATION”. I lost it. It hadn’t occurred to me that MJ could also stand for “Ms. Jackson” (if yr nasty). I wish you all could’ve been there for this, but maybe I was the only one who needed to be there.