Four months ago, I wrote a typically discursive post about my Aspergian Michael Jackson obsession. I was supposed to follow up on it by talking about how my MJ Hoax-induced angst had segued effortlessly into more philosophical forms of despair. But fittingly enough, I got too busy living my life, such as it is, to occupy myself with either the provenance of “Keep Your Head Up” or even meatier questions.
Here’s the capsule version, though: At the same time that I was trying to figure out whether the real Michael Jackson was ever known to overdo it with the vibrato, I ran afoul of an article at The Atlantic entitled “There’s No Such Thing As Free Will“. I couldn’t think of any rational refutation to this article, and felt a bit silly that I had clung so tenaciously to the indefensible notion that we possess some sort of free will that exists completely outside the normal laws of causality. If we can’t speak of a dog or a horse having freedom to choose, why should we assume that we do just because the forces that interact to determine our actions seem a bit more complex on the surface? The unnecessary answer to this rhetorical question is that not clinging to this delusion will make a person go absolutely batty. Although I managed to stop somewhere short of madness, it did put me into a funk. The funny thing is, though, that I had crept right up to this idea in an earlier post without ever taking it to its utterly damning logical conclusions.
The funny thing about us humans (or at least us Bloggerbelses), though, is that we can allow ourselves to be shaken by new developments or realizations – like a diagnosis of illness or the realization that the whole concept of moral agency is a ridiculous sham – and then gradually move on from them in spite of the fact that absolutely nothing has changed. And that’s what I did, until I managed to free up the more philosophical corners of my brain for the more urgent task of listening to more spurious Michael Jackson tracks.
A few months ago, I had talked about the three Cascio-produced tracks from Michael Jackson’s Michael album, and in spite of my misgivings I eventually had to come to the conclusion that they weren’t actually sung by the late Trailer Park Boys actor. It seemed quite possible that, as the prevailing theory goes, they were actually sung by little-known Maryland R&B singer Jason Malachi. But my conclusions were incomplete at the time, since I somehow never managed to perform the elementary Google search that would have produced the remaining nine unreleased tracks out of the full set of twelve.
Luckily, like my man John McCain, I finally managed to use The Google to turn up the missing tracks, with a little bit of help from the MP3 upload wasteland Jungle Vibe.
Unfortunately, in the best tradition of wastelands, and also jungles, Jungle Vibe isn’t especially easy to navigate, let alone embed in a blog post; so, I must ask the patient reader to click through the links and follow my scavenger hunt clues in search of blatant fakeness.
One of the first tracks I discovered was a medley of all twelve Cascio tracks, which can be found by clicking here and then clicking the link next to “12 Cascio Fake MJ Songs”. Although the uploader’s opinion of the authenticity of these tracks isn’t made clear, a cursory listen makes one things obvious: the three songs used in the Michael album must have been chosen partly because they were among the least blatantly fake tracks. The first lines of “‘Cuz this time of ours is borrowed/We must give a helping hand/Whatever happened to our heroes/They must get another chance” sound, in songwriting and performance, much more like a shoddy demo by a never-was R&B singer than anything Michael Jackson would do, even on his off day. By comparison, the real MJ grunts and gasps woven into “Breaking News” sound like a masterpiece of deception, no matter how fake that song may likewise sound. The truth of this remains stunningly clear no matter what alibis Cascio and Porte may have offered for the sheer oddness of these recordings. As you work your way through the medley, some songs sound a bit more credible than others, but overall, the fact that these songs were being pushed upon Sony music as authentic songs by one of the biggest recording artists of all time is certainly a formidable display of cojones. The cumulative effect of all of these song snippets retroactively makes the three songs on Michael sound even faker than they did before – just one end of a much broader spectrum of fakery.
I’ve also read posts arguing that Cascio and Porte were probably following a standard industry practice of writing tracks in the style of an artist, and then creating demos with a stand-in performer in the hopes of persuading the intended artist to eventually record them. This would explain why the songs were registered within days of Jackson’s death, when Jackson was no longer around to dispute their authenticity, assuming that this timeline is correct (I haven’t bothered to sleuth this part out very thoroughly). I also stumbled upon an informative article pointing out parallels between the various Cascio tracks and the past MJ hits that they were not-so-subtly aping – perhaps a transparent attempt at pandering to an artist who was known to draw on his past successes. (I’ll admit that I have also adopted many of the article’s arguments in this very post.)
However, this lo-fi medley doesn’t do full justice to the diverse weirdness of the Cascio tracks, which combine this slavish imitation with weird digressions and eccentricities. And it may not fully convey just how bad some of these songs are, and how surprisingly good others turn out to be. It’s worth one’s time to poke around in Jungle Vibe a bit and experience the full, surreal majesty of these odd little nuggets. (Searches for Jackson Cascio, Fake MJ and NOT Michael Jackson may yield some goodies.) I’ll be reviewing a few of the highlights and lowlights in a different post.
And what about Jason Malachi himself? Some say he recorded his tracks, had his silence bought at a handsome price, and then quietly returned to obscurity. By 2014 he had released Come Home, a Christian contemporary album that a cursory listen reveals to not be very good. Sadder still, looking it up on Spotify shows that not one of the tracks has broken the threshold of 1,000 plays. If the conspiracy theories are true, it means that this man achieved far more fame by covertly impersonating a more famous singer and denying it than he could find with any of his own recordings. The disparity between the man who released the best-selling album of all time and a man who now cannot crack 1,000 plays on Spotify is absolutely stupefying. And one of these men quite possibly cannot even disclose his greatest claim to fame without violating a strict non-disclosure agreement.
Meanwhile, the class-action lawsuit launched by a woman who felt duped by the dubious tracks on the Michael album continues to push ahead, in spite of having seemed like a bad joke when I first heard about it. Hopefully the suit will allow new facts will come to light that will supersede this post, much as my discovery of the unfortunately-named Jungle Vibe removed any lingering doubts that the singer of “Keep Your Head Up” might have just been the real Michael Jackson on a reckless vibrato rampage.
In the meantime, the Cascio tracks continue to haunt me with their meandering journeys through the uncanny valley, sounding a bit like authentic MJ tracks while being wrong in oh so many ways. In their own way, they’ve affected me more powerfully than any number of authentic, vastly superior Michael Jackson songs have. You might even say that this endows the entire endeavor with a certain merit as a bold artistic gesture, a postmodern musical hoax mixed with a hearty dose of performance art. They may not have succeeded in fooling me (or, aside from three of the songs, fooling Sony Music), but I do find myself weirdly moved.