Central Oregon musicians pay tribute to Michael Jackson (Part I)

Friday, July 3rd, 2009, 2:36 pm by Ben Salmon

Michael Jackson

It’s been a week now since the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, and the man, his life and his legacy is still a hot topic of conversation. Whether you think he should be remembered as a pop-culture icon or that his latter-day legal troubles overshadowed his chart success (or both), there’s no question the guy had an enormous influence on music.

To get an idea of the influence he had on Central Oregon’s music scene, Frequency asked a bunch of local musicians to talk about Michael Jackson’s role in their development as artists, to reflect on his life, or just to share their memories of his music, and so many responded, I’m going to split this up into two posts. Click below to read their thoughts, watch a video tribute, and see some themes — “Thriller” and sadness — unfold. Then check back in the next day or two for the rest.

Shireen Amini, local singer-songwriter
Michael Jackson has been a huge part of my musical life since I was young. I carry so many fond memories of him, from being intrigued by my parents’ vinyl copy of “Thriller” to being fascinated by the movie “Moonwalker.” One of the first albums I ever owned was the album “Dangerous.” I remember blasting “Black or White” while I did the running man on the couch, trying to sing along even though I didn’t understand half of the words he said. On a more personal level, his songs have been a direct influence on the music I make, from the tasty grooves to his beautifully unique vocal style. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Michael Jackson song come on without everyone becoming instantly joyous and getting up and dancing. To me he represented celebration and unabashed expression.

My first reaction when I heard about his death was complete shock, but I have to say I was also relieved for the poor guy. I feel his tormented soul is now free to be youthful and expressive without the intense scrutiny of the media. I envision him dancing in the clouds somewhere, getting to live out the childhood that he always wanted. He no longer has to worry about how he looks or redeeming himself in the public eye. Despite all the judgments people may carry about him surrounding his molestation charges, I hope we can focus on remembering all the good stuff. His contribution to American music has been immense and his humanitarian efforts equally so. My condolences go out to his family, his children, and all who are feeling the loss of a legend. I know I’m planning to throw at least one or two Michael Jackson songs into my repertoire to keep the M.J. spirit alive! I am deeply grateful for the musical gifts he shared with us all. Rest in peace, Michael!

Joe Schulte of the Moon Mountain Ramblers
“Thriller” was the first cassette tape I ever “wore out.” I’ll never forget, I only liked “Beat it,” “Billy Jean” and “Thriller,” so I always had to flip the tape over and over because “Billy Jean” and “Beat It” were the first two songs on side A while “Thriller” was last on side B, so it actually worked out pretty good. I knew exactly how many seconds so rewind side A after listening to those first two songs to be right at the start of “Thriller” when I flipped the tape. I remember one night in particular doing it like 10 times in a row! I couldn’t get enough!

Andy Jacobs of Goodbye Dyna
Can we please stop calling him “Jacko” now?!

Michael’s story is bittersweet. He accomplished so much in one lifetime and created so much happiness, but at what cost? He singlehandedly revamped a withering music industry by injecting pure emotion and intense conviction into everything he touched. Generosity and inspiration seemed to seep infectiously from his being, yet his is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever known. I must say I strongly believe he was 100 percent innocent of all allegations against him. For an advocate for children everywhere to have it all stripped away by a few greedy people just makes me want to scream at the world for believing them. Many people say he was asking for it, I think he really was just naive. All he ever wanted to do was to help and be loved. Michael was shining evidence of the dark side of fame.

Looking back on the quality of the work he created makes his death feel like the passing of Walt Disney, Elvis or John Lennon. Many boundaries were crossed or flat-out broken. There will never be anyone like him ever again. Whether it was your first glance of the Moonwalk at the Motown 25 concert or experiencing Captain EO at Disneyland as a child, Michael has left a deep imprint in us. Carrying the title of “The Most Successful Entertainer of All Time,” Michael Jackson was completely unique and truly will always be The King. It feels like one of our brightest stars has gone out.

And I still can’t figure out how he pulled off the “Lean Move” in the “Bad” video! I miss him already.

Elise Michaels of The String Rats
So many artists wouldn’t be who they are without Michael Jackson having been brave enough to do something so brilliantly different than what had ever been done before.

What makes me the saddest about him being gone — besides the fact that I will never see him in concert — is that the last half of his life was viewed as such a freak show, and it took away from what we loved about Michael. He either got too deep into the weirdness and couldn’t find a way out or he just didn’t see how weird his life was. Not only could we see the visible changes, but have you noticed in older interviews he spoke confidently, whereas his speech became more and more quiet, almost whisper-like? It amazes me that someone with that much talent could have such low self-esteem and be that withdrawn. I think everyone would have understood it if he was an arrogant a–hole. There’s just no explaining the creative, genius mind and the dark places it goes.

Oh! And being from Kalamazoo, Michigan (which is a short way from Gary, Indiana), we followed the Jackson 5 from wayyy early on. My brother and I used to put together fake bands (complete with fake instruments) and lip sync to their records down in our basement. And our poor parents and siblings had to watch! We were really really bad…

Mark Quon, local singer-songwriter and half of The Quons
I’ve always had a fascination with Michael Jackson. Born the same year as I (1958), it felt like I grew up with him, following his rise to stardom, and then super-stardom. I never considered myself a “fan” and I never bought an album but I appreciated his music and talent.

In art school, for reasons I can’t explain, I was inspired to draw his portrait in pastels. It hung in my apartment and I soon became embarrassed of it. This was before all of the sexual allegations. I gave the doe-eyed portrait to my parents for Christmas (because I didn’t have a present for them). It hung in their house for a polite amount of time and was quickly exiled to the garage. It still hangs there and greets you as you enter the house from the garage door. I keep meaning to tell my parents, “You know, you can throw that painting away.” The portrait has come to represent Michael Jackson as an outcast … someone you don’t quite know what to do with. Still, we can’t throw him away.

I wasn’t surprised to hear of his death. I was waiting for it. He truly seemed not of this world. Rest in peace Michael!

Carl Ventis, local singer-songwriter
I am truly sad and will be for a while. There was a time right around late ’86 into ’87 when I was addicted to meth. I am not proud of that time in my life so I don’t talk about it too much. I was trying to play in a band back in California with my good friend Steve Heartwell and another good friend Gary Huff. I was down to about 122 pounds, and I am 5’11”, so I was really bad off.

My two friends came to me and said, “Have you looked in the mirror lately? You have two ways to go here, either jail or you’re going to die.” It was around this time that they started playing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” on the radio. I would say all these things saved my life, and that’s why I am here today. I am thankful for my faith in God, my dear, dear friends, and for Michael’s awesome song. All of them got me out of that hell, and I have never gone back. Every time I hear that song it gives me hope and strength.

John Keyser of Sagebrush Rock
I’ve been around long enough to remember when Michael Jackson broke into the business. He is one year younger than me, so I have listened to most if not all of his music. We grew up to his songs and each sparks memories of good times past. He has vocals like no other before or since. His attitude and dedication to music goes unequaled. It’s unfortunate that some judgment issues put him in the position he was in when he died. It seemed like all the people he was around tried to cash in on his popularity.

He is and will remain an icon to the business and to all his followers. Michael, rest in peace, see you soon.

Reggie Martinez aka DJ Theclectick, manager of Bendistillery Martini Bar
My memories of M.J. (begin with) “Off the Wall” on vinyl — the best M.J. album in my opinion. My mother used to bump that record every Sunday while she cleaned house. When “Thriller” came out, I was obsessed with the videos, and that was when MTV first came out. I was jealous of my brother because he got the “Beat It” jacket for his 14th birthday. My father bought me a video about the making of “Thriller” for Christmas that year. M.J. buttons used to be pinned to my b-boy painters hat. Parachute pants and breakdancin’ with M.J. buttons. Not to even begin with the Jackson 5 — the first-ever boy band. He was a great mentor and growing up in the ’80s he was my soundtrack.

Kim Kelley, local singer-songwriter
I do not have many thoughts, but I do think Michael Jackson changed pop music, and I am fortunate to have witnessed it. I was an MTV junkie and when I first saw the “Thriller” video, I knew something shifted and would never be the same. I wish his whole career could have been what the first two albums were and that his recent fame had not been based on his bizarre activities.

I hope he is happy and writing great music … wherever he is!

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