Interview with MJFrance
After several books on Michael Jackson, we would have thought that with your book Let’s Make HIStory, you had gone a little around the question of Michael Jackson’s collaborators insight. Now, you come back once again with Book On The Dance Floor, a book dedicated to the Blood On The Dance Floor album released in 1997. Can you tell us how this project came to your mind?
In fact, regarding “going around the question”, I had the feeling of having done it after each book and then, time does its work, ideas come to your mind and you think to yourself at the time of doing it again, “why not?!”. For this new book, the idea came to me during my summer vacation two years ago. I live in Savoy so Switzerland is a fairly accessible destination for me. I took the opportunity to go to Montreux for the first time, outside the framework of its festival. I particularly enjoyed visiting Queen’s studio and Charlie Chaplin’s house, which became museums. I then realized why these artists had come to recharge their batteries in that soothing place. Inevitably, I also had a thought for Michael who had come to work on the song “Blood On The Dance Floor” in this studio, not without going to visit the Chaplin family in their mansion. I thought it was interesting that he came to these places while the HIStory Tour was taking a break for a few months. The tranquility and beauty of Montreux inspired me to the point of wanting to write about it. And then I thought, why not write a book about this Blood On The Dance Floor album project. The subject is much broader than this stay in Montreux but the Swiss city was a click, the starting point of my reflection.
For many fans, Blood On The Dance Floor is not considered a true album but rather a mix of unreleased tracks, songs that appear in the feature film Ghosts and some surprises. Do you think it’s a real album and how do you see it?
I have a special fondness for this record because, at the risk of repeating myself, the HIStory era remains the most beautiful in my memory. Of all the albums I purchased, this is the one I enjoyed the most because it accompanied the concert of the HIStory Tour that I was going to attend a few weeks later. Obviously, with only five tracks directed by Michael, we can’t really consider it a complete album. Still, I see it as a gift from MJ to his fans, as if he were opening his chest of unpublished tracks for our greatest pleasure. It can then be perceived as something very positive, while its theme remains rather bleak – a fascinating and complex project as was Michael’s personality. So I wanted to investigate this UFO, like something apart in this rich discography. I find it more interesting to make a book on a subject that may look unexpected to many when we know that it is more “commercial” and agreed to deal with the umpteenth biographies.
How did you discover this album that came out of nowhere and what was your reaction to its first listening?
Like many French fans, I got the information with the number 21 of Black and White magazine. That’s why the story of this record is very much linked to the magazine in my mind. When I think about it, we were totally hovering at that time! So I was looking forward to this new record. The album was released on Wednesday, May 14, 1997, and I had turned 18 years old only one week before. Big luck, and I will never know why, all my teachers were absent that day. So I was able to go and buy the album in the morning and spend my day listening to it. I had recorded Ghosts on a videotape a week earlier when it was broadcasted on Canal +, so I was totally in the mood but I was able to discover “Morphine” and “Superfly Sister”. I did not really pay attention to the remixes but from the first listenings of the five tracks, I was totally conquered by the concept. Michael had just climbed the steps of the Cannes Film Festival, and he was going to start the second part of the tour while the press (that’s the impression I had) had no negative comments at that time, unlike the release of HIStory. Frankly, the conditions were optimal to appreciate the release of Blood On The Dance Floor.
After Let’s Make HIStory, the reader should definitely expect the same concept for Book On The Dance Floor. Can you tell us if the principle is the same or if it differs from the previous book?
The interview concept worked well for Let’s Make HIStory. It was a great challenge for me at the time because I didn’t really have much experience in this field. Eventually, I made my mark with the help of Laetitia, my partner, and I will continue to make as many interviews as possible. Today, this function is part of my background, and I also publish interviews for my website. So I wanted to do interviews for Book On The Dance Floor because the reader who expects some sort of a sequel to the previous book would not have understood that I didn’t. However, I missed writing chapters myself and I didn’t want this interviewer label to take over from the author’s label. The various chapters are sometimes raw interviews, sometimes written texts. So you’ll find interviews with people who crossed paths with Michael Jackson, mixed with my personal memories – an original concept, I think.
From our point of view, “Morphine” is a song that stands out in this “album”. It has absolutely nothing to do with any of Michael Jackson’s songs and moreover, it is autobiographical. Is a paragraph of your book dedicated to it and is it the same for every unreleased song on this album?
Yes, each song is entitled to one or more chapters, either in the form of an interview or a written text. “Morphine” deserved to be addressed in depth, to the point of being treated in a chapter including my feelings and analysis of the song, including two interviews with collaborators. I wrote all this in full lockdown, listening to the song on a loop for several days, in some kind of isolation. I was aware that this was an important subject, and I think it was the chapter that required the most work. I don’t know if the reader will feel it, but that’s how I experienced it.
With this new book, have you been able to get in touch with new collaborators whose accounts are not in Let’s Make HIStory. Can you tell us who these collaborators are, how you contacted them and what their reactions were?
I saw Thomas Bähler in Montreux over the summer of 2019. We had spent the day together before the Quincy Jones concert that evening. Symbolically, it was a few meters from Mountain Studios that I asked him if he would agree to write the foreword of the book. He is someone who has encouraged me since my beginnings and I wanted him for this task. He willingly agreed and we went directly to the studio door to pose together, as illustrated in the book.
About the interviews, of course, I wanted to contact collaborative partners who had not participated in Let’s Make HIStory. As an example, I can reveal that I regretted not being able to get in touch with the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis of Flyte Tyme Productions for the previous book. This firm having produced “Is It Scary” and “Scream Louder” (the only remix provided by the same team as the original version, so let me quote it!), I tried to contact one of its members. This time I succeeded with the participation of programmer Jeff Taylor. So he told me in details about Michael’s visit to Minneapolis with great enthusiasm. I am glad I was able to talk about it.
However, it was not necessarily musicians who participated this time. I was able to interview Kiera Chaplin to talk about Michael’s visit to her family’s mansion. One way of saying that this new book also deals with the human aspect and the atmosphere when the record was worked on.
I like to keep a little suspense about the collaborators talking in the book but I can still reveal that there is a musician who offers a new interview and complements that of Let’s Make HIStory. I couldn’t help but contact Brad Buxer again, especially since he is ubiquitous throughout the book, so his role is important in this Blood project. I also took the opportunity to write about my relationship with him, as his trust and friendship touch me deeply.
The Blood On The Dance Floor era was also the Black and White era, the famous French magazine dedicated to Michael Jackson. Can you explain your choice to contact Laurent Hopman and Christophe Boulmé for your new book?
It was an extraordinary time and I am sure the magazine contributed to all of this. It was a pleasure to read Black and White, especially with an upcoming tour and some busy news from Michael. We didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the last quality promotion for a Michael album! That’s why I wanted to address all of this in the book. The best way to do so was to contact the former members of its team that are Christophe and Laurent. I am quite proud to see their names involved in my project because if I had been told that at the time, I would never have believed it. Over many chapters, I take the time to explain my choices and the direction I wanted to take – it is in this context that I tell my own memories. So I pay tribute to this French team who has experienced extraordinary things. I tried to do it many times but, sincerely, it is this book that offers the most successful result. About Laurent, he was the first person I contacted. We were able to approach the album and its behind-the-scenes and offer a different account than a musician’s. For his part, Christophe was already very busy with his own book. So I’m grateful that he took time for mine. It allowed me to approach the ambiance of Ghosts which is, in my opinion, inseparable from Blood On The Dance Floor. I also thank him for opening his archives and for letting me have some never-before-seen photos of the HIStory Tour.
About the photos, can you tell us more? Will there be only topics related to the Blood On The Dance Floor album or will there be other things?
In addition to Christophe’s photos, you can discover Steven Paul Whitsitt’s photos as well. He asked me to help him choose the photos that would be presented at MJ MusicDay in Lyon. In this selection, I noticed some clichés and I’m glad I had his consent to use them in the book. This is how I chose the cover, as well as many portraits that will be visible in full page. There will also be photos offered by participants as that was the case for Let’s Make HIStory. However, the presentation of Book On The Dance Floor is intended to be more ambitious and accomplished in this area. It is very different from my first book published 7 years ago for which it was impossible for me to get any photos… (laughs…)
In terms of topics related to Blood, there will be Ghosts, of course, not to mention the HIStory Tour. That’s why I wanted to do an interview with one of the protagonists present on the three solo tours and thus approach Michael Jackson as a stage artist. I don’t like to reveal too many things but I also wanted to talk about the concert I attended in Lyon. So I did a review, 23 years later, to immortalize all of this. I believe that those who have been so lucky like me will be able to relive the moment. For those who did not go to the concert, I wanted to share the emotion with them. I was able to document it and I thank my friend Cédric Michon for giving me his pictures taken during the concert. For the record, I also added my photo with Brad Buxer and Michael Prince at the Gerland Stadium last year, like a pilgrimage.
The cover of the book was created by Nicolas Keller of ActarusProd, as well as the layout. Can you tell us more about him?
Nicolas’s works have been numerous in our community of fans in recent years. So I knew everything was going to go perfectly when he did the layout of Let’s Make HIStory. He is a professional, but also a fan and this allows him to know exactly what you want for the layout of a book related to the King of Pop. It’s a huge time saver, because you can find a good graphic designer, but that doesn’t mean (s)he’ll understand your vision, being a person outside the Jackson world. For Book On The Dance Floor, I had every reason to contact him again. As I said above, when you can use pictures of two of MJ’s photographers, you know you have to set the bar very high and I didn’t need to tell Nicolas. He was totally invested, willing to immerse himself in the atmosphere of the album. It was reassuring to know I could count on him. Especially since he made himself available – I must admit that I asked him for many modifications and corrections and he always said:”Ok, I’m there!”
We know how essential your books are to anyone who really wants to know the behind-the-scenes recordings of Michael Jackson’s songs, and we thank you for this interview. Would you like to talk to the fans who read these few lines and who might still hesitate to buy Book On The Dance Floor?
If you liked Let’s Make HIStory, you won’t be disappointed with this new book. Unpublished interviews with collaborators will be available. I also put a part of myself and each fan will be able to identify with these lines. I mentioned the preface of Tom Bähler above and I would also like to talk about the afterword by Matt Forger. I’ve wanted to work with him for years and it’s finally done. He offers a very detailed text on his collaboration with Michael during the Blood project. It addresses many human and technical aspects, and without it my book would not have been as complete. I am proud to have the support of many collaborators who understand my approach. I realize that I could never have done all this on my own and as my network grew, I was able to offer a much richer result. It is a combination of circumstances linked to several years of work and a partner, also a fan, who supports me in my passion. Book On The Dance Floor is the result of 7 years of approaching Michael as an author, through books, articles and a website. Some people have advised me not to publish it in the midst of the Covid crisis. I told them that it’s right now that fans want to make their minds off those difficult times. Some were surprised by the topic I chose, but I told them that they could not imagine what 1997 represents for Michael. This book will not leave you indifferent, and I would add a conclusion inspired by a quote from Kennedy: “Don’t ask yourself what the Estate can do for you, ask yourself what you could do to perpetuate Michael Jackson’s legacy…”
Thanks to Brice Najar for giving us this interview.
Original source : http://mjfrance.com/book-on-the-dance-floor-interview-de-brice-najar/