I Saw A Jeweled Glove Upon a Pale Rider:
Michael Jackson & The Book of Revelations
Let it be stated from the outset that I have never been a fan of the Gloved One, nor could I ever fathom the frightening success of the Thriller LP. I find the latter insipid and the former creepy. However, as this year is the auspicious thirteenth anniversary of that album's release, we here at the Greenway Papers decided that a nostalgic tribute to Mr. Jackson's masterwork was in order. Because I have always been impervious to Michealmania, the assignment was thrust upon my reluctant shoulders, in the belief that I would be able to present an objective retrospective of the pop work. Imagine my surprise, upon my first hearing of Thriller in its entirety, when I realized that the album is nothing less than the Book of Revelations told from the perspective of the Serpent, and that Michael Jackson, the Prince of Pop, is, in actuality, the Prince of Darkness.
Revelations, as you may recall is a prophetic account of the apocalypse, and is the last book of the New Testament. (That's the little red tome the you were presented in Grade Five as a gift from Gideon's International.) It was written by John and addressed to seven churches in Asia. In Thriller's liner notes, Mr Jackson thanks seven groups of people. This can be no mere coincidence.
The cover of thriller depicts Mr Jackson dressed in white, lounging provocatively. Sitting at his feet is a small tiger. This is a blasphemous parody of the "elders dressed in white raiment" and the holy beasts who sit and chant at the foot of God's throne. (IV,1-11). Jackson stares at the camera, as if inviting the listener to open the record jacket, which unfolds like a book. To do so is, symbolically, to begin the album. According to Revelations, Armageddon begins when the Lamb opens a book closed with seven seals. By inciting the reader to listen, Mr Jackson is therefore trying to bring about the end of existence.
When the seals are broken, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are released. This corresponds with "Wanna Be Startin Somethin", the first cut of the record. The horsemen are Famine, ("If you can't feed your baby/ Then don't have a baby/ You'll always be tryin/ To stop the child from cryin.") Pestilence, ("Took my baby to the doctor with a fever/ But nothing he found.") War, ("You love to pretend you're good/ When you're always up to no good/... So your tongue becomes a razor.") and finally Death, ("Let the truth unfurl/ No one can hurt you now.") Notice how Mr. Jackson glamorizes Death by portraying it not as oblivion, but the end of pain. Note also how he portrays War with an echo of John's description of the Son of Man, "Out of his mouth came a two edged sword." (I,16) Jackson is saying that Christ is not a messenger of peace, but of strife.
Jackson further maligns God in the incessantly repeated chorus of this song. "It's too high to get over/ It's too low to get under/ You're stuck in the middle/ And the pain is thunder." This is a spiteful parody of the angels' eternal song of praise to the Lord: "Holy Holy Holy Lord God Almighty, which was and is and is to come!" (IV,8) Jackson punctuates each line with "Yeah yeah!" as if to say "Nyah nyah nyah-nyah nyah!" at God.
The next cut "Baby Be Mine" recounts the blowing of the seven trumpets which bring disaster to the unbelievers of the earth. Jackson uses seven wind instruments to accompany this song. (Two trumpets, two flugelhorns, a sax, a trombone and a flute.) Jackson is trying to tempt the righteous listener away from God's protection during this scourge, by echoing God's promise. For example, "We can touch the sky and light the darkest day/ Hold me, only you and I can make sweet love this way" is a perversion of, "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither need the sun light them... for the Lamb... shall feed them." (VII,16-17) Clearly however, the lamb wishes his followers to be free of sin, while Jackson wishes them to succumb to lust: "Girl I need to hold you/ Share my feelings in the heat of love's embrace."
Next in Revelations, a radiant woman, ready to give birth, appears in the Heaven. A Dragon (Jackson) appears underneath her to devour the child when it is born. God hides the woman away and a battle over her ensues between the Archangels, lead by Michael (not to be confused with Jackson) and the Dragon and his followers. This chapter of the story is told in "The Girl is Mine", the next cut of the album, with Paul McCartney cast in the role of the Angel Michael, and Jackson as himself, the Dragon. That he is the Dragon is clear, as the name "Michael Jackson" is an acronym for "Hail Snake M J, C O C" C.O.C stands, of course, for Chomp On the Child.
As this musical war fades away, the eerie title track begins. Thriller is about the dead roaming the earth, reveling in its wanton destruction. Revelations now tells of a Beast, powered by the Dragon, seizing control of the world. "Power was given under the Beast to continue for forty and two months." (XIII,5) Jackson hints at this when he sings, "There ain't no second chance against the Beast with forty eyes girl!" The Beast forces all of mankind receive his number, 666, and their right hands. It is through the number he controls all trade and commerce. Jackson threatens the listener to take up this number when he sings, "They will posses you/ Unless you change that number on your dial!"
Here the record must be flipped over. (We had no CDs in 1982. Remember vinyl?) This illustrates the flip ion the Dragon's fortunes. He begins to lose power rather than gain it. Jackson begins side two with "Beat It" which begs the Righteous to abandon the Holy War against him. In Revelations the Angels, destroy the worshippers of the Dragon and Beast by pouring vials of destruction onto the earth. After each vial an angels sings praise to God. For example, "The third angel poured his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord... Because thou hast judge thus." (XVI,4-5) Dragon Jackson uses this to vilify the powers of goodness when he sings, "They'll kick you/ and they'll beat you/ And they'll tell you it's fair/ So beat it!"
Both tales of the Apocalypse then tell of a promiscuous woman known as both Billie Jean, and the Great Whore of Babylon. Revelations tells that the Whore will be punished and say that those who have, "committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her... when they see the smoke of her burning." (XVIII, 9) And while they are bewailing her they are chucked into the sea like a big rock. Jackson, conscious of his impending doom, wishes to avoid this fate, and though he has fornicated with Billie-jean, "the Mother of Harlots" (XVII, 5), as confessed in the lyrics, "This happened much too soon/ She called me to her room" and the slightly more obscure, "'Cause we danced on the floor in the round", Jackson still lamely maintains his innocence. "My mother always told me/ Be careful what you do" is an example of this desperate, and blatant perjury. The Dragon even inadvertently trips himself up when he sings, "Be careful what you do/ 'cause the lie becomes the truth." In fact the lie is so obvious, his defense soon dwindles into childish repetition. "Billie Jean is not my lover/ Billie Jean is not my lover." As if chanting it incessantly will make us believe it.
The next chapter of Revelations concerns the Angels of God defeating the Dragon. Jackson makes no mention of this in Thriller; The humiliation is too great. "And I saw an angel come down from Heaven... And he laid hold of the dragon... And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up... till a thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season." (XX, 1-3)
"Human Nature" is Satan plotting to seduce the world a second time after his sentence expires. "Four walls won't hold me tonight/ If this town is an apple/ let me take a bite." The town is either, Gog or Magog, which are the twin cities Satan will rule during his short release. Although in chains, Jackson still accepts no responsibility for his evil, blaming the apocalypse on "human nature" rather than his diabolic influence.
After his brief release, Michael Satan is "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the Beast and the False Prophet are, and shall be tormented for ever and ever." "P.Y.T", Thriller's penultimate track is Satan longing for release from his endless torture. "Then tonight/ Ease the loving pain!" "Nothing can stop this burning!" P.Y.T. is another of Jackson's beloved acronyms, standing for Pretty Young Thing, a symbol of the new pure world which is born out of the ashes of the old. Jackson wishes to capture and corrupt it: "Gotta get you baby/... Honey come set me free!" The "Na na na na"s which fade out to end the track are cries of torment.
The final track is "Lady in My Life" This song is entirely false and trite, even by Jackson's standards. Jackson recognizes the New World "had no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it" (XXIII 23) when he sings "There'll be no darkness tonight/ Lady our love will shine." However he imagines himself the victor; "Just put your trust in my heart/ And meet me in Paradise." In fact, God has been triumphant; "For the Glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light there of." (XXI,23) However, this song is so false, not even Michael Satan buys it, as is evident in the line, "Girl I need your sweet caress/ Reach out to a fantasy."
And that, thankfully is the end of the Thriller Album. I am not ashamed to say, I was very disturbed when I realized its diabolic message. It seems the old Southern Preachers were right when they dubbed Rock and Roll the Music of the Devil.