Dave Marsh, the noted rock writer and record industry gadfly, has just published "Trapped: Michael Jackson and the Crossover Dream," a critical biography that's not going to make Jackson or his fans particularly happy. Marsh -- author of "Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run," the best selling rock bio of all time -- takes a long, hard look at Jackson in relation to such issues as race, religion, sex, politics, money, ambition and creativity, and judges him somewhat harshly on almost all counts.
"I tried not to be rude," Marsh insists, "though I guess it's meant to wake people up a little bit." The 259-page book (Bantam, $9.95) grew out of the spring 1984 "American Grandstand" column that got him fired from Jann Wenner's The Record. Feeling a need to get some things off his chest concerning Michaelmania (as he had done with John Lennon during his days at Rolling Stone), Marsh questioned the motivation for the Victory Tour and urged Jackson to live up to his "responsibility" to his audience.
" 'Trapped,' " he says, "is directed at Michael in a philosophical way, addressing him in an adult discussion about what is good and bad about what's happened. It's also addressed to anybody who likes him and takes him seriously enough to be aware that there are some overriding issues involved."
"Trapped," which alternates biographic chapters with "Dear Michael" letters, also examines record industry practices, cultural apartheid in America, the psychology of Motown, black musical traditions and familial conflicts. It's the kind of controversial rock history that benefits from Marsh's passionate analysis and interpretation. He may be too caustic at times, even condescending -- particularly in ascribing motivations -- but Marsh is always provocative.
"I don't feel the book lacks a sense of compassion," he says. "The title tells that side of the story. People might interpret it as beating the guy up, but I never felt that; whenever I could find a doubt, I'd give him the benefit of it.
"It used to be that what meant something was that Michael Jackson was popular, and that the things he did within that popularity and the things he did to cause that popularity did not mean anything," Marsh says. "That's the kind of consensus that I'm trying to disrupt."
Marsh, who maintains that Jackson's credibility was never as an artist but strictly as a commercial phenomenon who helped break down racial barriers on radio and television, also attacks Jackson's "betrayal" in his crossover calculations. "The tragedy is that the audience you'll keep is exactly the audience that your Victory tour betrayed," Marsh writes, "the audience that you never had time for, the people that you never made your other fans pay attention to. They aren't mad at you. Why should they be? You only treated them the same way that everyone else does: sucked their pockets dry, and walked away. At least you gave them something to dance to, so they still love you." % No Stamp of Approval
Jackson fans could have taken solace in the Michael Jackson stamps that were to be issued next week by the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, but there's a little controversy there, too. Jackson's management apparently licensed his image to the British Virgin Islands, which got as far as sending out sample issues before the British Foreign Office stepped in and said no.
The licensing of Jackson's image to a foreign country was "unusual for a few reasons," says Leonard Cohen of Marlen Stamps and Coins in Great Neck, N.Y., which is handling the stamps stateside. "Stamp issues usually relate to indigenous flora and fauna, local themes or royalty and never commemorate a living person other than royalty."
When the British Foreign Office ordered the destruction of all stamp stock (an Elvis Presley stamp from St. Vincent was okayed), the independent island of Nevis said it would issue the stamps next week. But advance issues of the Virgin Islands stamps became instant collector's items: With a face value of $3, Cohen reports they're already selling for $1,000. For the Record
Marsh, incidentally, is quite prolific. He's recently published "Fortunate Son," a collection of his rock writing over the years, and "Rock and Roll Confidential," which collects and augments news published in his provocative newsletter of the same name. Besides finishing a book on the new "Sun City" record project, he's also writing "Glory Days," a sequel to his bestselling Springsteen biography.
Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.," meanwhile, has just spent its 74th straight week in the Top 10, closing in on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (79 weeks). The all-time champ, by the way, is the sound track for "The Sound of Music" (109 weeks). The album has already spawned six Top 10 singles; Jackson's "Thriller" holds the record with 7, though Springsteen could tie that with the release this week of "My Hometown." One record seems unassailable, though: Worldwide sales of 16 million copies of "Born in the U.S.A." are still 19 million behind "Thriller.