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Michael Jackson On Songwriting
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"Michael Jackson On Songwriting" Interview Quotes
compiled by McClure & Trowbridge Publishing Ltd 10/29/02
TV Guide: Did you ever imagine that Thriller and the videos from the album would
catapult your career into the stratosphere?
Michael: I didn't really think about how the album would do; I just wanted to
create what I would enjoy seeing. And my main goal for [the video] "Thriller" was
to do something that would be scary, fun and exciting.
TV Guide: How do you look back on that era now?
Michael: I see it as a happy time and a sad time. Because it made a lot of my
dreams come true. The notoriety was wonderful.
TV Guide: You also said it was a sad time.
Michael: Yeah. If I don't get exactly what I'm looking for, I get very depressed.
TV Guide: You mean the album still didn't live up to what you had envisioned?
Michael: Not completely.
TV Guide: Which songs disappointed you?
Michael: "Wanna Be Startin' Something." Songwriting is a very frustrating art form.
You have to get on tape exactly what's playing inside your head. When I hear it
up here [points to his head], it's wonderful. I have to transcribe that onto tape.
"The Girl Is Mine" [his duet with Paul McCartney] wasn't completely what I wanted,
but it's very nice. But "Billie Jean" is there. I worked so hard on that. I worked for
three weeks on the bass lick alone.
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Anthony: Tell us about a couple of those tracks. You know, what was it like work...
I mean, were there special guests, or were you working with new producers, or how
you wrote them. You know, something that gives us some flavor.
Michael: Well, the songwriting process is something very difficult to explain
because it's very spiritual. It's, uh...You really have it in the hands of God, and it's
as if its been written already - that's the real truth. As if its been written in its
entirety before were born and you're just really the source through which the songs
come. Really. Because there is...they just fall right into your lap in it's entirety.
You don't have to do much thinking about it. And I feel guilty having to put my
name, sometimes, on the songs that I - I do write them - I compose them, I write
them, I do the scoring, I do the lyrics, I do the melodies but still, it's a...it's a
work of God.
Michael: It was, um, it's hard to explain. It was quite exciting, to feel the audience
and to see them and to be accepted so warmly by them. Um, it's just an incredible
feeling. It really is. They're there to support you and to love you and to hear their
favorite songs and you're just standing there and they're just giving you so much
adulation and love and the sprit is just full of love, it's wonderful. It's very
emotional. It, uh, brings me to tears. It's wonderful.
Anthony: I remember in your book you describe that like sometime on stage is
when you feel the most alive, that those are the moments that, you know, really
are the whole -- kind of the most transporting for you.
Michael: It is. It's being offstage that's difficult for me. Uh, being on stage ...
either writing music or writing poetry, and being on stage, and watching cartoons
are my favorite things to do in the entire world. Um, that's what brings me to life.
I love that. That's what inspires me to do what I do, you know?
Michael: Well, I let the song pretty much speak to me and I get in a room and I
pretty much start making notes... You know, I'll speak to a writer -- like Stephen
King and myself, both of us wrote Ghosts, the short film Ghosts, and we just on
the telephone started writing it and let it create itself and go where it wants to go.
But we try to do things that are very unusual. And it's... it's not an easy thing to
do because you have to time it with the song, and you can't spend too much time,
and the special effects can take 5 months sometimes to execute. So, it's just ..
.it's kinda difficult thing and the record company's saying, "Come on, come on,
come on, we have to go, we have to go." So, I understand. So we try to do the
best we can in the amount of time that we can execute it in.
Question: If you could spend one day in complete anonymity, where would you go
and what would you do?
Michael: Probably go to Neverland, or an isolated island somewhere. What would I
do? Probably write music or kind of create some music or stage play or something
- something creative. I never stop working.
Question: Does the real Billie Jean know about the song and if she did what was
Michael: There is a girl named Billie Jean, but it's not about that Billie Jean. Billie
Jean is kinda anonymous. It represents a lot of girls who used to - they used to
call them groupies in the '60s - they would hang around backstage doors and any
band that would come to town they would have a relationship with. And I think I
wrote this out of experience with my brothers when I was little. There were a lot of
Billie Jeans out there. Every girl claimed that their son was related to my brothers.
Question: Which songs of yours are autobiographical?
Michael: Stranger in Moscow, Heal the World, We Are The World, I'll Be There.
Those type of songs.
Question: What inspired the song Sranger in Moscow?
Michael: I wrote that in Moscow. The lyrics are totally autobiographical. When you
hear lines like, "Here abondoned in my fame...Armageddon of the brain" - at the
time, on the last tour when we were in Moscow - that's how I really felt. It kinda
created itself. It fell into my lap, because that's how I was feeling at the time. Just
alone in my hotel and it was raining and I just started writing it.
Midway Gal: How did you get into music?
Michael: I don't think I can answer that without sounding philosophical. We never
had music or dance lessons. We were a family that sang all the time. We watched
TV. We would entertain ourselves...we would take the furniture out of the living
room and dance. I think you're pretty much born with a gift and you're compelled
to create. That is what I have always felt. I remember when I was really little there
was rain outside and we would make up songs. Janet and I would have a
songwriting game while we washed the dishes...while we were cleaning. I think
most kids don't do that these days. It was our destiny.
Even Beevu: Do you come up with the ideas for all your videos?
Michael: A lot of them I do come up with. A lot of the concepts do originate with
me. After singing "Thriller" I knew that I wanted to do a short film. A simple guy
goes out on a date and confesses to her that he's different. I wanted to transform
into different things. It was fun. I had so much fun making that. "Beat It" is
another concept I came up with. Confrontaion - two gangs - West Side Story. I
wanted real gang members. I wanted to see real truisms...in the walk, in the
character, in the clothes. I think it came across.
Pelon: What has been your proudest musical achievement?
Michael: One of them - it is a really difficult question to answer because I am not
a woman, but writing a song is like concieving a child. I love all the songs. "We
Are the World" is one of the most favorite things that I've done. I am proud of
that...it has reached a lot of people, it has touched a lot of people. My secreatry
called when I was in the car and said pull over. And it was like a prayer when all of
the radio stations played it. I had tears.
MJJ: What is your process from going from creating a rhythm on your human voice
box to the album version, such as in songs "Who Is It" and "Tabloid Junkie"?
Michael: The process is creating a rhythm to a click track - which is a sound, a
timed beat. And you're doing these mouth sounds to that beat. These sounds can
be taped according to how you sample it in the computer again and again. This is
the foundation for the entire track - everything plays off this. It's the rhythm, like
a beatbox rhythm. Every song I've written since I was very little I've done that
way. I still do it that way.