« Dangerous, from Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson »
(Delatour France – 2016)
For any King of Pop’s fan, buying a book dedicated to their idol is not something that should be taken lightly. Indeed, the publications in this field are numerous, and the legitimate demands of each and everyone imply that a book should be relevant and original in order to distinguish itself from various biographies that sometimes are done to fit in a precise mold, to the point that they do not actually stand out.
With this in mind I started reading Isabelle Petitjean’s new book – presuming that it had few chances to fall into this category. It is true that the author of Pop Culture in the Pantheon of Fine Arts is far from being unknown among the Jacksonian community. Along with writing numerous articles for the MJBackstage magazine, she is a doctoral student in musicology at the University of Paris-Sorbonne with, on top of everything, no less than a thesis dealing with dynamic crossovers in Michael Jackson’s production work, and their implications in the American record industry, after writing a Master’s thesis on the King of Pop’s personality and recorded vocal image – what a great program !!
Still, it is important to note that this new book is not limited to this technical specificity, far from it. On the cover, with the subtitle « Dangerous, from Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson », the reader can easily understand that the opus from the 1990s is treated as a vast topic that draws far beyond the one person of our idol, his creative world being infinite, like a galaxy with no limit that it is impossible to explore completely.
It is therefore logical for the work of painter Mark Ryden to be initially approached. While they discovered this musical jewel that is the Dangerous album, fans usually lingered on its fascinating cover, before playing the Compact Disc (or the audio cassette, still frequently used in many homes in 1991…). Up till now, many of their questions had not necessarily been answered, since every one of them could make their own personal interpretation of this very detailed painting and it could be tricky to attempt to make a summary relevant to many different people.
Nevertheless, Isabelle takes this initiative to demonstrate that even in such a complex context, it is not impossible to lift the veil on this work. Both men, Michael Jackson and Mark Ryden, with their own influences and experience that they have drawn from their thirst for culture in order to put their inspiration in tune. The meeting of these artists, so close and distant at the same time, when each one tried to get the best of the other, is the genesis of this fabulous album, and I confess that I was far from having fully grasped this nuance before starting reading Isabelle’s book. Through her work and conversations with Ryden, she managed to decipher all its nuances, and one has the feeling of a total discovery, almost in a troubling way. It is true that nowadays we may often find ourselves reading a book about Michael, with the feeling that we have already heard or read the information it contains, as if the artist had finally become a close friend we have known for a long time. This is not really the case when reading this opus related to Dangerous, when all these discoveries offering a wealth of learning opportunities give us a feeling of being an ant wandering among buildings. The world seems larger, the Jackson artistic universe has never seemed so timeless, breaking all the borders.
Still, the Dangerous album is not limited to this fabulous painting, and that leads the author to present us with a more musical second part. This term, summing up so well Isabelle’s motivations while concocting her lines, may paradoxically seem a bit limiting. In fact, evoking Michael Jackson’s art of sound allows us to dive into various fields such as history, geography, religion, ecology and of course politics… Just like the Dangerous artistic world is not limited to its 77 minutes, each of these fourteen compositions makes it possible to draw a parallel with the Gloved One’s entire career. Logically the author cannot just confine her work to this year 1991, so that she goes much further in dissecting these 40 years of career and much more, as this art seems even more immortal while one reads on. If, in the future, new generations wish to discover Michael Jackson’s world in details, this work is a beautiful expression of it, as a testimony that had to exist.
I really wish I succeeded in making you want to discover this book, but I also want to make one point clear. Like any analyst who listens to MJ’s music in order to decrypt it in its smallest details, this reading imposes a total concentration on us. It is not the kind of book to be read with a distracted eye or a mind thinking of a thousand things at once… Our reading must be equal to Isabelle’s work, in order to appreciate it at its true value. The King of Pop had set the bar very high, but Isabelle Petitjean drew on her faith in the artist to offer this quality book.
Thanks to both of them.