Sean Ward (Sean can be found at seanward.net): I remember my Dad wheeling the TV set over to the table so we could watch the Thriller video. That was the only allowed exception to the ‘no TV during dinner rule’ in my house. Nubby, what is your oldest or most formative Michael Jackson memory?
Nubby Twiglet: I got into Michael Jackson much later. Growing up, my parents were very much into Journey, Foreigner and Def Leppard (thanks, mom and dad!) so I wasn’t exposed to Michael Jackson when he was at the height of his fame.
SW: That’s funny because I always talk about how one of the great injustices of my young life was that even though my parents were relatively young and did a good job of keeping the house fully stocked with all of the latest Top 40 hits, we never owned a copy of the Thriller LP.
NT: I remember being at my babysitter’s house in the early 90s and watching the world premieres of Remember The Time and Black or White but I wasn’t cool enough to become a fan at that time; I was still more interested in watching cartoons.
I listened to Michael Jackson’s music in college and loved his personal style but the turning point came in 2005 when he was accused of sexually abusing children. Though I never knew Michael Jackson personally, I felt very strongly that he didn’t do it. Something in my gut told me that just because he loved children and made some missteps didn’t make him a molester.
SW: I never believed it either. I once got stopped by a TV crew for a man-in-the-street piece, asking me my thoughts on Michael Jackson. I said that I believed it’s all BS and besides, this is the man who recorded Wanna Be Startin’ Something so there’s nothing negative we can say about him.
NT: You are so right! I always imagined someone trying to confront Michael Jackson about something they hated and instead of throwing a punch, he’d challenge them to a dance-off.
NT: When I like someone, I don’t drop them from my life just because they aren’t cool any longer. Fame comes and goes but I believe in always standing behind those I love. I felt like I had to fight for Michael. I took my own fake mug shots and posted them online. I wanted people to imagine one of their close friends in the same situation, being humiliated. I wanted to basically ask them, “How does this feel?” You can’t judge someone fully unless you’ve walked in their shoes and lived their life.
SW: I have always insisted that the whole thing was the public punishing him for being eccentric after identifying with him for so long.
NT: That’s the troubling part of fame. They build you up only to tear you down again. I would never wish Michael Jackson’s level of fame on anyone. What’s the point of having that fame and recognition when you can no longer walk down the street without being bothered? It’s like you’re a virtual prisoner (just with cooler stuff). What’s wrong with being eccentric, anyway? If I was as rich as him, I’d probably have a pet monkey and llama too. And, having a theme park at your house is undeniably cool.
SW: I’m with you on all of that. Now, you’re a visual artist, and Michael Jackson is primarily known for music. Yet you cite Michael Jackson as a huge inspiration. What do you take from MJ, and what do you think it adds to your work?
NT: Michael Jackson inspires me most through his apparel choices.
SW: I have to say, the streets are looking like a Nubby Twiglet ‘What I Wore’ photoshoot this Fall! This season is awfully MJ-inspired.
NT: Thanks to Balmain for that! People constantly panned Michael Jackson for his style choices later in his life but he got the last laugh when he started stepping out in the latest Balmain and Givenchy attire straight from the runway that was obviously inspired by him. The biggest fuck you was when he left his doctor’s office wearing a Balmain jacket that was in every fashion magazine at the time paired with a Smurfs shirt and a surgical mask.
SW: Even in the new movie, he was madd stylin’ even when it was just a casual kind of day.
NT: I love the androgynous military look with dashes of sequins! He was so sweet and sensitive yet he could become quite tough and powerful when he hit the stage. I love that extreme mix. I try to add more feminine touches to my look and I don’t believe in copying a celebrity’s look exactly. I take visual cues from what Michael Jackson did and add my own spin. For instance, I’ll wear sparkly socks but pair them with extreme platforms.
Photo by Bianca Alexis
SW: And I remember that you were reppin’ for Michael way before the current renewed interest.
NT: It’s true that I constantly dream of owning Michael Jackson’s costumes and wearing them on a daily basis.
SW: Based on what I’ve seen, you almost can this year!
NT: So true. Lord knows I’ve been stocking up.
SW: Michael Jackson was a lot of things to a lot of people. What do you hope he’s remembered for?
NT: I hope he’s remembered for being groundbreaking. He broke barriers for black entertainers on MTV. He made it okay to be sensitive. He didn’t always have to act masculine and as a man, that can be hard when you’re in the public eye. He was the only celebrity I can think of that regularly invited his fans over to his house to hang out with him. Most celebrities work so hard to keep the outside world out and he let them in, shared his popcorn and rides and was so generous. I hope that he is remembered not just for his talent (which is obvious) but also for his generosity.
SW: Favorite song?
NT: I can’t choose just one!
SW: I can!
NT: What’s yours?
SW: Beat it. Months ago, I would have said Wanna Be Startin’ Something, but I have gone nuts about Beat It this year.
NT: Though people usually gravitate towards his older, more popular songs, I adore You Rock My World. I love the beat and the energy and I love that he seemed to really enjoy himself during that video.
SW: I read somewhere that it takes sixteen listens to start enjoying You Rock My World, and then you can’t stop thinking about it. I laughed because I know that was true for me!
NT: Really?!!!! It was immediate for me. I played that song constantly at the shoe store I used to work at. Luckily, my manager liked Michael Jackson too.
I am also obsessed with Don Diablo’s Song For MJ. It came out right after Michael died and I listened to it for days because it had this sad and dark undercurrent that really resonated with the way he died. I still can’t believe that he is gone.
SW: I’ve got a couple of remix albums that came out around the same time. Did you get the Cookin’ Soul tribute?
NT: I didn’t but you’re going to burn me a copy, right?
SW: Here. What about Michael Jackson Regrooved from Goodgroove Records?
NT: Nope. I’ve been too busy buying military jackets and glitter gloves to go record shopping.
SW: Ha ha! You know I’ve got you! Here.
NT: Thriller. Enough said.
SW: Yeah, you can’t argue with that. Inarguably flawless. Video?
NT: I love the extended version of Black or White. When he is breaking car windows out with the cane and dancing in the back alley, it’s very powerful. It’s dark, sexual and intense. It feels like he is exorcising his demons. I love it.
SW: Me, I’m back to Beat It. Thriller is most people’s definitive image of Michael Jackson but the Beat It look is it for me. The ‘bad motherfucker’ stare, the red jacket over the blue t-shirt. I still want that piano keys t-shirt! I don’t know, I just love the story of it, the look of it, the cinematography. And I much prefer the dance routine in Beat It to Thriller! In fact, I learned it this past summer!
NT: I was thinking about Beat It too. It totally captures the early 80s. And, his outfit was great because it was really accessible. The average fan could achieve that look without much trouble. I like the Beat It routine better than Thriller as well. If we ever meet, you’re going to perform it in its entirety for me, right?
SW: If the song comes on, it’s guaranteed! What did you think of This Is It?
NT: I just saw it this week while I was vacationing in Florida. Michael Jackson was on my mind a lot already because I know how much he loved Disney World and I ended up meeting a magician there that knew him. I loved This Is It because he really seemed to be enjoying himself. Half of the time, it seemed like he wasn’t even trying and he still nailed every move and note perfectly. And, I loved his red jeans, blue shirt and silver jacket paired with the loafers during rehearsals. This movie really proves all the nay sayers wrong; he still had the moves, the voice and the energy. I know Michael would have loved this; it’s what he would have wanted his fans to see. Even at the end of his life, he still had the power to make magic happen.
SW: And all the way along, he keeps pointing out that it’s all about L-O-V-E. That’s the message at the end, and in my study of success I’ve noticed that all of the names that go on to be legends, that’s always the message.
My favorite part of that movie was during the Smooth Criminal part when he’s telling the director how he wants the music to come in, and the director goes “But Michael, then how are you going to see the screen to no when to make your entrance?” and Michael says “I’ll feel it.” I shouted in the theatre, “That’s why he’s the boss!”
NT: I have no idea how at 50, he could move as well as those dancers half his age….
Interview compiled by Sean Ward.
Readers: Did you see This Is It? What did you think? Has Michael Jackson influenced you creatively in some way?