"MAN IN THE MUSIC: the Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson," by Joseph Vogel, Sterling Publishing, $24.95, 305 pages (nf)
"Man in the Music" by Joseph Vogel takes a new and unique look at Michael Jackson and is focused on the musical work of the King of Pop — his inspirations and his impact.
Vogel, a Utah Valley University alumnus and doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester, examines the musical output of the "King of Pop" from a scholarly standpoint. Each album is meticulously examined, each song discussed, each video analyzed.
Vogel moved to Utah from California as a teen, attending Springville High School and then completing an undergraduate degree at Utah Valley University. He maintains ties to Utah, as his parents live in Utah County, both teaching English at UVU.
"Writing and teaching are my two passions," Vogel, now married with two children, said in an interview with the Deseret News. "Man in the Music" is his third book (the first book is about the uproar provoked by Michael Moore's visit to Utah Valley — Vogel, who was the student vice president of academics at the time, had invited him).
He's written about popular music, culture and politics for the Atlantic, the Huffington Post and PopMatters, among other publications. He's currently in the fourth year of a doctoral program at the University of Rochester.
Vogel can remember buying cassette tapes of Jackson's music when he was 9.
"I'd never heard anything like him," Vogel said. "His sound was totally unique. And, of course, his videos and performances were mesmerizing."
As Vogel grew older, he watched the press coverage of Jackson, which to him, "focused on scandals and presented him as a freak."
"But for me, there was always a context because I had researched his life and I also realized that historically many great artists have been eccentric and controversial," Vogel said.
Vogel started "Man in the Music" in 2005 when Jackson was on trial.
"My objective (with the book) was to put the focus back on his art, to actually do research and take him seriously as had been done with artists like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and the Beatles," Vogel added.
Vogel spent more than five years on such a huge undertaking, and "Man in the Music" was halfway finished when Jackson passed.
"His death was shocking for me," Vogel said. "I was working on the book the night before. I had tickets to his show in London and hoped to interview him. His passing had a profound effect on the book.
"I determined not to rush it out to exploit his death. "Jackson always told his collaborators, 'The quality must go in before the album goes out.' That was the philosophy I tried to follow in finishing the book."
The challenges were many in completing the book. There were rights to secure for photos and other permissions. One of the biggest challenges — and the biggest reward — was reaching out to collaborators and conducting interviews.
"I started with absolutely no contacts and had to do it all over the phone because I was on a grad student budget. But these conversations were so illuminating and I ended up becoming good friends with several of these individuals," Vogel said.
The result is a fascinating and complete look at Michael Jackson's creative life. The research is exhaustive, the conclusions compelling. Also of note are the photos of Jackson, either creating or performing his music, that illustrate the book. Nearly every song Jackson is known to have been associated with is listed, with detailed information on dates, places, producers, collaborators and studio musicians.
It's clear Vogel is a fan, but that fact doesn't mar this landmark work.
For more information, Vogel's website is at www.joevogel.net.