Thursday, February 2, 2012

An Appreciation of Michael Jackson's Little Susie

Little Susie is a incredible artistic achievement, the orchestral ballad, which was misunderstood by the press, paints a somber image of a forgotten child.
Little Susie is featured on HIStory: Past, Present and Future: Book 1, however unlike the majority of the songs on HIStory (many of which were written in response to the events of 1993), Jackson penned Little Susie possibly many years earlier (Halstead, Craig and Cadman, Chris. Michael Jackson: The Solo Years. Authors OnLine Ltd. 2003. pg. 106).
Critical Reception of Little Susie:
  • Little Susie alongside Childhood were described in Billboard Magazine as "maudlin ... so treacly and overwrought ... they drown under the weight of their own thick, sappy pretentiousness" (Melinda Newman. 'Michael Jackson's HIStory Lesson Comes Packed with Extracurricular Activities.' Billboard Magazine. Jul 1 1995. pg. 18).
  • Little SusieChildhood and Jackson's cover of Charlie Chaplin's Smile were described by The New York Times as "the creepiest new songs" (John Pareles. "Michael Jackson is Angry, Understand?New York Times. Jun 18 1995).
  • Rolling Stone Magazine declared both Little Susie and Childhood as "uncut Hollywood fluff" (James Hunter. "HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1" Rolling Stone Magazine. Aug. 10 1995).
Central to both Little Susie and Childhood are the artworks which are featured in the accompanying booklet to the HIStory album; Gottfried Helnwein's 1972 photograph "Lichtkind" (Child of Light) which is titled Little Susie and an undated and untitled drawing by Jackson, which includes the handwritten lyrics of Childhood (Michael Jackson. HIStory booklet. Sony BMG pg. 37 and 34).
Helnwein's photograph recreates a crime scene, in which an unidentified child's body lays on a decaying wooden floor, a lone penny positioned beside her. The unconscious child's head and eyes are heavily bandaged, her dress, seems new and unworn, and recently placed on her tiny frame, while light, seemingly from above, accentuates her wrists and closed eyes.

Thematically similar, Jackson's drawing is of a saddened child, obediently seated in the corner of a forgotten room, whose small body leans towards the wall for protection. The depicted child tightly grasps onto a microphone, which is attached to a ceaseless electric cord that weaves itself outside the room, to the outside world, a place the child is hopelessly trying to resist.

Thematic Concerns of Little Susie and Childhood

Both Little Susie and Childhood offer narratives in which the child protagonists are left to fend for themselves, as they are left disappointed and disillusioned, alone and isolated. Little Susie paints a grim image of a young girl named Susie, who was abandoned by her father, and left orphaned when her mother passed away. Susie drifts from family to family, abused and neglected, her pain and suffering ignored by the adults who were meant to protect her, and only come to Susie's aid in her death. Susie's only comfort is the tune she sings to herself, which plays repeatedly on her musical box. The opening verse of Little Susie refers to a murder, however it can also be interpreted the character of the narrative, committed suicide, her only escape from her tortured existence.
Childhood on the other hand, also refers to a child desperate to escape their current existence, but through imagination and wonder, a delightful whimsical existence Jackson declares through the song, as something he was denied due to being a tirelessly working child-star. As a then father of two, Jackson would publish an article which appeared on, in which he recalled how all he ever wanted as a child was just to be an anonymous kid at play:

"I'm Peter Pan in my heart"
 - Michael Jackson"More than anything, I wished to be a normal little boy. ... I had to accept that my childhood would be different than most others. But that's what always made me wonder what an ordinary childhood would be like" (Michael Jackson. "My Childhood, My Sabbath, My Dec 7 2000).
(Quote from Living With Michael Jackson: A Tonight Special. Dir. Julie Shaw. Granada Television 2003.)
Within the lyrics of Childhood, Jackson refers to being considered "not okay" and "strange" for wanting to remain a child at heart. Jackson's ultimate display of his inner-child would be realized through the creation of Neverland Valley Ranch, his home, which featured an amusement park, open zoo, playground, swimming pool, arcade and train station named after Jackson's mother Katherine Jackson.
Neverland eventually became the idyllic home for Jackson's children, a place which offered privacy and allowed Jackson to be himself, amongst all the things he loved, and he would open it's gates to disadvantaged children for many years. These experiences of children, free at play, had to be recreated by Jackson, and yet they are the same experiences many take for granted. The namesake of Jackson's home also refers to the fictional island, Peter Pan and The Lost Boys would frequent, a place which forever allowed it's inhabitants to remain children at play, in James M. Barrie's play Peter Pan: or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (1904).
"Peter Pan in Neverland reveals the painful and tortured psyche of James Matthew Barrie. It illustrates how his literary creation was a desperate attempt at repairing his lost childhood, but also in keeping it intact forever" (Judit Szekacs-Weisz, Ivan Ward. Lost Childhood and the Language of Exile Karnac Books, 2005 pg. 92).
Jackson always spoke openly of his complex childhood and through Little Susie and Childhood explores various issues he himself experienced as a child. Both Little Susie and Childhood present children as intelligent, aware and susceptible to their environments. Jackson viewed ones childhood, as their most important journey, it was a time he believed should be nurtured and cherished.
Jackson was denied such an existence, but fatherhood somewhat allowed Jackson to find an emotional balance, as he stated at the 2001 Oxford Union Address "I realize that I cant be a whole human being, nor a parent of unconditional love, until I put to rest the ghosts of my own childhood' (Michael JacksonThe King of Pop, The Big Picture! The Music! The Man! The Legend! The Interviews: An Anthology. By Jel. D Lewis (Jones). Amber Jones 2005. pg 162).

Read more at Suite101: An Appreciation of Michael Jackson's Little Susie |

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