Long live the king…

This was originally posted to my now-defunct LiveJournal five years ago (back when that was the place to be). The prompt was to write about your favorite Michael Jackson song, and today, on this fifth anniversary of his death, I thought it was worth reposting.

 

Somewhere in the early 80s…

My sister is babysitting me. This is really cool, because my sister is a teenager and in high school (or maybe even college, then), and that means I get to watch MTV. MTV plays all kinds of music videos, and my sister likes the Madonna and Cyndi Lauper stuff, but I’m sitting on the bed and waiting, hoping they’re going to play the only video I want to see.

Yeah. This one.

One of the first videos we rent for our brand-new VCR is the documentary about the making of it.

Another year or two passes, and I’m having a birthday party at the skating rink. (So cool that we have the same birthday.) It’s great, because all my friends are there, and I get tons of jelly bracelets and My Little Pony stuff, and we’ve all been roller skating for so long that it’s going to feel really, really weird to be walking in regular shoes again. And then they turn the lights down, and the disco lights are swirling in the darkness, and they play it. “Thriller” — my favorite song, off my favorite album, the one I have on LP along with my Care Bear records and Disney stuff. I race back out there. I have to be out there for this one.

That is the song, essentially, oddly, wonderfully, that encompasses my childhood. I love so many others of his, from that album and those that followed it, but that is the one that takes me back.

Again, this is why we mourn celebrities. Some of it is for the work we loved, a body of work that becomes now static and unchanging. And some of it is for how our lives entwined with that work. We mourn our own past, and we treasure the things that have the mysterious power to return us there, even just for 14 minutes.

 

Flashback: Beyond the Mind’s Eye

mindseyeWe put our satellite TV service on hold for the summer (a few too many other bills to pay at the moment), so amidst listening to a lot of NPR and watching DVDs, I’ve also been digging through some of my old VHS tapes for amusement, and recently I had a chance to sit down and watch Beyond the Mind’s Eye for the first time in years.

As far as I know, there were four Mind’s Eye videos produced: The Mind’s Eye, Beyond the Mind’s Eye, The Gate to The Mind’s Eye, and apparently one called Odyssey to the Mind’s Eye that I had completely forgotten about until I found it in our video cabinet (I’m guessing it wasn’t all that good, because I have absolutely no memory of it). Of the three that I watched back in the mid-’90s, Beyond the Mind’s Eye was my favorite, and I also had the Jan Hammer soundtrack on CD, which I’ve still been listening to off and on through the years. (There was also one produced called Virtual Nature, where the clips all featured an animal/nature theme, but since it was mostly stuff I’d already seen and the soundtrack was just okay, I never got that into that one.)

For those who aren’t familiar with the Mind’s Eye concept, it dates to the earlier days of CGI — lots of shiny metallic surfaces and undulating blobs and artist’s mannequins — and each installment is essentially a collection of clips made for commercials or companies or by students or studios showing what they could do. All those little disparate clips were then edited into surreal music video segments, creating kind of an animated video album. There wasn’t any real narrative beyond just sometimes the clips having a similar mood or atmosphere, so it was the music that really tied things all together.

Coming back to this after so many years, now that we’ve had everything from Jurassic Park to Gollum to Avatar and beyond, now that CGI imagery can depict fur and hair and every texture imaginable with incredible realism, I was worried that this was going to feel dated to the point of being laughable. And I didn’t want it to be laughable, because it was something I’d loved, and I hate outgrowing things I love.

In the end, though, I was surprised at how much I really didn’t pay attention to the simplicity of the imagery — or, to be more accurate, the simplicity of it didn’t register as something negative, something lacking. Instead, it looked like a style, like a conscious choice by artists instead of not having the tools to do any better. And all over again, I fell in love with the strangeness of the landscapes, the hypnotizing imagery presented just for a few seconds before something else shows up. Back when these were first released, watching them was cool because it was all brand-new and amazing (look, it’s all done on computers!), and it felt cutting-edge. Now, it’s still cool, but not because it feels like the latest technology — instead, it’s cool because it feels like art.

And I found myself wishing they’d bring back the Mind’s Eyes series, working from that perspective of an album/art project. Yeah, there are tons of CGI short films out there on YouTube and so on, but there’s nothing I’ve seen as a whole that strikes me quite like the Mind’s Eye concept, because more often than not the focus is either on making an animated narrative, or in showing off how realistic something can look.  (And if somebody is doing something similar, point me in that direction!)

If you’ve never seen any of the Mind’s Eye segments, a lot of them (maybe all of them) are on YouTube. Here’s the one that was my all-time favorite back in the day (especially the music), “Seeds of Life” from Beyond the Mind’s Eye: