Although the relationship is a two-way street, I’m going to share my thoughts on this subject with a bit of apprehension and reservation.
Whether you’re an aspiring or more experienced musician you can learn something from any musician whether he or she is a virtuoso or average player.
I’m sure you can think of people you know that perform at a good level and are merely average players in their day jobs. And in any given situation we can learn from each other.
But the success and fame of a musician are often tied to a particular work – a popular song or a powerful movie performance.
When a musician performs an instrument, his artistry is at the forefront, so to speak.
But what about the performer who is just walking through the mall, who has no instrument?
What will people think when the guy on the cover of Rolling Stone is singing along to the radio? That he’s pretty good, for sure.
To me, this boils down to a subject called the “superstar mystique.”
That sounds a bit harsh, but that’s exactly what it is. A talented individual who gets the attention of millions of people around the globe but with whom you have no personal connection.
How do I know all of this? Well, I was born in 1963 in the company of ten other kids.
In my school classes, we shared the same desks. In my town, there were three McDonald’s – one for each fast-food chain.
And even though I was the “artsy-fartsy weirdo” in my neighborhood, I was always accepted and was even popular among my peers.
I had a decent life, that is what you call average – not exceptional but nothing to brag about either.
For many years, I would use this fact to my advantage. I was great at doing my own music and I was very skilled in this craft.
In fact, my mother once said to me, “Bill, I have never met anyone who can write a song the way you can.”
And when you look back at those years, I had written over a hundred songs by the time I was twelve years old.
But my secret was still intact. The mystique would not yet be fully realized.
The problem is that the public didn’t know who I was
I had no record label and no contracts. I was still the Michael Jackson of my time.
But then in 1983, the record company and the recording studios demanded that I get in the studio to record a single.
I had a ball. My band and I were playing for fun and making music from a studio.
By this time, my “real” life consisted of work and paying my bills, and living in the same house as all of my 10 friends.
And yes, I had a CD. You could find it at almost any local store back in those days.
Then, in 1985, I was invited by my record company to attend a Grammy party with them.
A few years earlier, I was no longer considered a novelty and my status increased. I was now a “real musician.”
But the star mystique was nowhere to be seen. There were no albums or records – just some singles and a few minutes of my singing.
That is because I wasn’t the star that the press wanted. I was the “poster child.” I was the “guy who sings like Michael Jackson.”
If I was Michael Jackson’s singing voice, that would give me my identity.
I got to the party and was among other celebrities. But even among these people, I felt a bit like an outsider. I looked at the seating arrangement – not Michael Jackson but the other Michael Jackson. Who was that guy?
It was my old high school classmate Sean Combs.
Who was that guy?
I introduced myself to him and said, “I’m really good friends with your brother and sister.”
We made small talk for a few minutes and then it came out that I was going to attend Harvard University, which was at the time one of the top private schools in the country.
As soon as I said that, he jumped in and told me how smart I was. And then he added, “But most of all, you’re Michael Jackson’s singing voice.”
I was stunned. My life, my world, my fame, and my identity had taken a 180-degree shift in just a few minutes.
Suddenly, I was no longer Michael Jackson’s singing voice. I was simply a Michael Jackson impersonator.
What was that going to do to my life? My friends who had just learned that I was going to be a college professor did not know my secret.
That is what I later found out. I was the Michael Jackson of my age group. But with that secret, my chances of achieving my destiny were drastically reduced.
I thought for a moment.
This was truly a turning point in my life. The music world was beginning to change and the entrance of Michael Jackson was causing a revolution in the music industry.
I had always loved to play music. I was not a singer. I had a wonderful singing voice. But as I looked at the people at the Grammy party, I realized that not many people knew that.
I was going to need some tools to make this transformation.
For the next three years, I focused on learning more about Michael Jackson’s music and the same techniques that he used to make music.