Question 1: It's distressing to hear the analysis of how "Earth Song" was never released in the United States. Could you expand on the cultural reasons for this?
Joe Vogel: Well, there have been various explanations, including that the album was underperforming in the U.S. But I personally find that hard to believe when the previous two singles were Top 5 hits. In fact, "You Are Not Alone" was the first single in the history of the Billboard chart to debut at #1. "Earth Song" was next in line and went #1 all over the world, but it wasn't released in the U.S. Hit singles increase album sales, so there are really only two explanations: 1) it was blocked in some way, or 2) it wasn't seen as viable in the U.S. because of its content. The people I spoke with mentioned both of these as possibilities. Either way is disturbing.
Question 2: How long did it take you to finish this Earth Song research? Are there any tidbits (didn't include in the ebook) you would like to share? Any fun stories about Michael during the recordings?
Joe Vogel: The foundation was already there since I had written about it for Man in the Music. I did research and interviewed about ten people over a period of 2-3 months. It was like putting a puzzle together. I started with a lot of questions and tried to recover, as best I could, the song's evolution and what Michael wanted to achieve with it. I tried to include all the interesting stories in the piece (or the footnotes). I personally love the story of him knowing he would "kill his voice" doing the ad-libs at the end of "Earth Song" and saving them until the final day of recording.
Question 3: Which score (sheet music) have you used for your analysis of the chord progression in the chorus?
Joe Vogel: I didn't use sheet music; the chords were explained to me directly by the musicians that worked on the song with Michael.
Question 4: Why did you imply that Michael was singing live at the "bridge collapse" concert in 1999? That was playback . . . while it was admirable that he kept performing when the set prop malfunctioned, he really had no choice. I don't want to seem like I'm harping on something or "missing the point" but I just felt that part was misleading and I want you to be able to stand up with 100% credibility.
Joe Vogel: Well, first of all, I don't agree that he "had no choice" but to keep performing. He absolutely had a choice and it is pretty remarkable that the show went on (including an encore performance). As for the vocals, in my book, I also don't point out that Michael is lip-syncing during the Motown 25 performance. I don't feel this is "misleading." I just feel it would distract from what is important about the performance. The bottom line is whether Michael was singing life or not, he could still convey the emotions and energy of the song, and he poured his soul into that rendition.
Question 5: My only concern was many of Michael's Fans are of the Jehovah’s Witness(JW) faith and felt his portrayal of their faith in that piece was inaccurate. I would like to ask Joe where he got the information for a statement he made about the JW beliefs? Who does he credit the info came from in that part of his study?
Joe Vogel: It wasn't my intent to offend Jehovah's Witnesses. I also don't pretend to be an expert on the Jehovah's Witness faith, though I have read about it (including its own official materials). In the piece, I was simply describing Michael Jackson's spiritual transformation, which I've researched pretty extensively. Michael's spiritual worldview evolved dramatically as the 80s went on. It wasn't just sadness about missing Christmas and birthdays; he was censored and threatened numerous times by church elders (including for Motown 25, the Thriller video, etc.). He felt a lot of frustration, anxiety, and sadness about certain teachings that wouldn't allow him to be who he was and express himself in a way he felt was natural. He came to doubt many of its teachings. He officially resigned in 1987. The reason I brought it up in my piece is that "Earth Song" began in 1988 and everyone who worked with him could tell his views about life had evolved. While I don't pretend to know all the intricacies of the JW faith, it is well-established that they believe in Armageddon and that the time of its arrival is set. Nothing people can stop it. So when Michael is saying, we need to wake up, we need to heal the world, do we give a damn? he is clearly trying to prevent the calamities and destruction that would be inevitable according to Jehovah's Witness doctrine. In both his songs and Dancing the Dream, his new worldview comes through and it clearly has transformed and given him a renewed sense of artistic purpose. So that's what I was trying to articulate briefly in my piece.
Question 6: Will you be including this study of Michael's Earth Song in your book?
Joe Vogel: No, they are separate, although I do write about "Earth Song" in Man in the Music.
Question 7: The Earth Song piece was very well written, and quite an interesting read. How does the style and content of this piece compare to your analysis of Michael's other popular songs in your upcoming book, Man in the Music? Although this piece is understandably much more extensive in terms the number of pages allotted to this one song, can we expect to feel that same sense of satisfaction and enlightenment after reading the sections on, say, Smooth Criminal or Remember the Time?
Joe Vogel: I would say they are pretty similar, though as you say, obviously I wasn't able to dedicate as much time and space as I did to "Earth Song" to every track. But every song gets covered in a way that I hope opens up some new insights about its creation and meaning.
Question 8: (For both the Earth Song piece and for your book) Did the estate give you access to any information or did you have to research and hunt it all down yourself?
Joe Vogel: The Estate was very helpful and has provided wonderful feedback/insights over the past two years. But there was a lot of hunting down as well. I tried to reach out to people we haven't heard from before, a lot of lesser-known collaborators. I wish I could have done even more. There are so many great stories to recover.
Question 9: I'd like to know if Joe has any information about what inspired Michael to write Little Susie. There have been numerous theories about where that song came from. Some say the song was based on a news story in 1979, others say it's based on a painting or poem, and some even say Little Susie is Michael. I'm just curious whether he has any info on this because it's been a mystery for years
Joe Vogel: I cover this a bit in the book. This may be a piece I explore in more depth later on (ala "Earth Song") along with "Michael McKlellan" and "Lost Children." They're all very fascinating.
Question 10: If possible, could you just give us an analysis on Little Susie and Is It Scary? At least give us your opinion on these two songs.
Joe Vogel: Sorry, you'll have to wait for the book. But I do cover them both extensively. Both are very impressive songs that show Michael's artistic versatility.
Question 11: What unreleased material would you be reviewing in his book? Do you give any details about the unreleased/unfinished classical project that Michael was working on?
Joe Vogel: I briefly discuss 5-12 non-album songs per chapter (many of which are songs that have been released in some fashion or leaked). I debated about how to do this because I really wanted the book to focus on what was released officially. But there are some outstanding songs that didn't make it onto his studio albums that I wanted to highlight for the more casual reader ("Streetwalker," "Blue Gangsta," "In the Back," "Do You Know," etc.). I also do discuss the classical project in the final chapter.
Question 12: Will the book cover the album by reviewing each song or talking about the album as a whole? Do you believe MJ's philosophy behind the creation of an album changed as he matured?
Joe Vogel: Each chapter covers the album as a whole (context, how it was made, release, reception, etc.) and then tackles each song individually. I definitely think MJ's philosophy evolved. This began in earnest during the Bad sessions but really revealed itself on Dangerous, which was the first time he acted as executive producer and was in complete control.
Question 13: Will Joe be including information such as the dates on which each song was recorded
Joe Vogel: I include the year each song was recorded and in some cases the month, but at this point, pinning down specific days would have been impossible.
Question 14: What would YOU like to see released during the duration of the MJ Estate/Sony deal?
Joe Vogel: Everything! Obviously, it will be teased out over a long period of time. But the historian impulse in me is simply anxious to see and hear all that Michael was working on. I've been fortunate to hear and see quite a bit, but there is a lot of material the Estate/Sony will be able to release in the future, from the behind-the-scenes footage to demos, to concerts, to drawings... Hopefully, at some point, fans will get to see the footage of "Earth Song" being recorded. I believe it was Matt Forger that told me he recorded Michael singing "Smile" in the studio. I would love to see that.
Question 15: Do you have any future interest in writing more pieces on Michael's music or life? Perhaps his relationship with his fans? Philanthropic activities? And so on.
Joe Vogel: Maybe. I have enough notes, research, and interviews to write several more books. But I'll have to see. As much as I am fascinated by Michael Jackson, there are other projects I would like to pursue as well. I may do some more pieces like "Earth Song" though, which don't take as long as a book and allow you to really go deep inside an individual song.
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