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Book Review: Michael Jackson: A Visual Documentary – 1958-2009 – The Official Tribute Edition by Adrian Grant

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If not for the tragic circumstances of June 25, Michael Jackson would now be well into his scheduled 50-date stand at London’s O2 Arena, entertaining an audience that would ultimately exceed three quarters of a million people. In all likelihood, a world tour would have followed. A new album may have resulted as well, reacquainting the music icon to a medium he once dominated.

Of course, none of that can happen now.

In the wake of Jackson’s untimely death, though, has come a renewed appreciation of his life and career. While much of what’s been published thus far has been in the spirit of exploitation rather than earnest assessment, a reissued work by Adrian Grant—creator of the fan-club magazine, Off The Wall, as well as The Michael Jackson World Network website—serves as the benchmark resource on Jackson to date.

Originally published in 1994, Michael Jackson: A Visual Documentary – 1958-2009 – The Official Tribute Edition includes supplementary material covering the intervening years, culminating with coverage of Jackson’s public memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which the author attended.

The book’s first forty or so pages skim through his childhood and formative years in the Jackson 5, marking pertinent milestones and professional achievements. The bulk of the book, though, concentrates on Jackson's solo career (post-Off The Wall) and the realities of his life within that time.

A feast for fans, the book is loaded with photos and information depicted in meticulous (sometimes day-to-day) detail. While authorized by Jackson in its prior publication, the accounts offered here aren’t of a predictable, hero-worship sort. In fact, much care has been taken by the author to render a straightforward and evenhanded treatment, including accounts of Jackson’s various tribulations and controversies.

Particularly impressive—beyond a myriad of exceptional photographs, many of them uncommon even to ardent fans—is the breadth of content afforded here. Mixed in among chart positions and concert-attendance records, are tidbits on Jackson’s whereabouts and activities when not on the stage or otherwise under public scrutiny, from clandestine encounters with other elusive luminaries (like Prince) to songwriting and recording sessions for songs that have yet to be released.

Barring the eventual publication of an authoritative biography in more narrative form, Michael Jackson: A Visual Documentary is at this point the most definitive chronicle of the late superstar’s life and career published anywhere. 

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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of www.writeonmusic.com and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Joan Armatrading, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.