31. Michael Jackson – ‘Man In The Mirror’ (1987)

“If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change”

Written by Siedah Garrett/Glen Ballard

Produced by Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson

Taken from the album Bad

Also released on HIStory: Past, Present & Future – Book 1, Greatest Hits: HIStory Vol. 1, Number Ones, The Ultimate Collection, The Essential Michael Jackson, King Of Pop, The Collection and Michael Jackson’s This Is It: Original Soundtrack

US #1, UK #2, AUS #8

June 26, 2009. A Friday, a sunny day, but destined to be boring. I was working at a book store at the time, as I was for most of the writing of this blog. I had to get up extra early to get to the gym in the morning, which was located in the centre of Brisbane, closer to where I worked than where I lived. I had maybe twenty minutes to kill so I sat in the food court of Anzac Square near Central Station, and I saw on the television screens that Farrah Fawcett had passed away. I felt sad, but not overwhelmed – she had never been an important figure for me, before my time and known mostly to me as an icon of the seventies.

My mother rang me and told me that Michael Jackson had a heart attack in Los Angeles, where it was the afternoon of the 25th. Normally she doesn’t ring me specifically to talk about celebrities, but Michael Jackson is my icon, my ultimate idol, my favourite artist. I asked her if she was sure, and she sounded worried, but I wasn’t. I brushed it off as another one of the many, many dramas in his life, possibly exaggerated, likely untrue. As I went into the gym, I saw on the TV screens that most of the news channels had picked up the story on his heart attack, confirming that it was true. I left my phone in my bag, in case something bad happened, because I didn’t want to know until I was done.

During the session my trainer and I discussed what would happen if Michael Jackson died. Would I cry, he asked me, and I said I definitely would, but probably in private. Of course, as I was in that session, Michael passed away. As I returned to my phone I saw that it had a barrage of calls and messages, and I just knew. The first text I saw was from my aunt Brenda, who introduced me to Michael’s music ten years ago. I left the gym in absolute shock – I didn’t even bother putting my towel in my bag, I was shaking and just walked out as I was. My trainer saw me and pointed to the TV in shock, and I just nodded and said “I have to go”.

I stood in the alcove of an office building in the middle of a busy street and cried. Like, really bawled my eyes out. People were passing by and looking at me but I didn’t care. I was on the phone to my aunt and it was like I was completely alone. Everyone I spoke to on the phone, my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, they were all crying. Michael Jackson had been a part of their lives since the early seventies. It seems ridiculous looking back on it now, how upset we all were over someone we never knew, but it just ripped me apart. Michael was such a tragic figure, and I joined his fandom in his most troubled decade, and now there he was, on the verge of a comeback, dead. Michael Jackson is dead. It still seems utterly incredible.

I spent my day at work in a daze, and left that afternoon to find the Queen Street Mall, Brisbane’s main shopping district, blasting Thriller all the way down the street, the loudest I’ve ever heard them play music through their speakers. I did what I had been planning to do all week: swap a faulty Pet Shop Boys single for two Michael Jackson singles at a small record store. I avoided listening to Michael all day for fear of losing it again, but all the way home on the train I listened to him. I would listen to no other artist for weeks. Of all his songs, the one that hit me hardest that day was ‘Man In The Mirror’.

Although he didn’t write it, ‘Man In The Mirror’ is still probably Michael’s definitive recording, his ultimate statement. It captures his personality and career so perfectly. There’s a reason it connected with so many people after his death, it made people remember Michael Jackson the philanthropist, the social commentator, the hero. From the sparkly intro to the final statement of “make that change”, ‘Man In The Mirror’ makes you feel good about yourself while making you explicitly aware of how unfair life can be.

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to make a change”

Too many people look at the state of the world and think “Well, I’ll never make a difference”. And yeah, that’s probably right. But when people say to me “Richard, you being a vegetarian won’t stop cows from being killed for meat”, I tell them of course it won’t, but it’d be much worse if I decided I’d just go along with the majority regardless of my actual feelings. One person standing up for something they believe in is better than nobody doing nothing (in general I mean, not just where animal rights are concerned). That’s the point of ‘Man In The Mirror’ – don’t expect anything to change unless you change yourself first, and with enough people changing, the struggling minority will become the strong majority. ‘Man In The Mirror’ has the power to change lives. I know if I could have one song as my Bible, my words to live by, this would be it.

Music video:

2 Responses to “31. Michael Jackson – ‘Man In The Mirror’ (1987)”

  1. Richaod Says:

    Beautifully written… perhaps your best yet. And I know I don’t comment nearly enough, but I’m REALLY enjoying these last few posts!

    question: have you heard Rhymefest’s Man in the Mirror mixtape with Mark Ronson? Dude ORIGINALLY wrote Jesus Walks before basically giving it to Kanye… but quite seriously, I consider it the definitive statement on MJ’s legacy – and it was released in 2008.

    kind of criminal that it never got the recognition it deserved, even after MJ’s death… not trying to sound like I’m advertising or anything, but you might get a lot out of it – http://dnbe.bandcamp.com/album/man-in-the-mirror-20-mixtape

    I can’t hear the original version of Man in the Mirror without mouthing Rhymefest’s verse on his version anymore…

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