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MJ’s “This Is It”: The pursuit of perfection

Dec 13, 2009 Success, Sunday Nation

This column doesn’t do film reviews.

Every so often, however, a film experience comes along that requires you to break your own rules. Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” is one such experience, and one that I am happy to ask you not to miss, if you have any interest in the nature and experience of unusual success.

This film shows footage from the rehearsals carried out by the late “King of Pop”, before his tragic recent demise earlier this year put paid to the series of mega-concerts that were planned as the star’s curtain call. We can never see the real concerts now, but we can certainly see what went into them.

When I first heard about this movie, I thought I would give it a wide berth. I am not much of a movie-goer anyway these days (I can’t stand the numbing vacuity of most modern entertainment). And this project suggested an attempt to flog dead material to make up for the revenue lost from the concerts that never were – a typical modern marketing scam. I thought I would continue listening to MJ’s unforgettable music regardless, without needing to participate in half-baked movie projects. But then too many friends and associates, people I have a lot of time for, began recommending it to me. So my wife and I went to see what the fuss was about.

Sometimes, you can be completely, woefully wrong. Having seen “This Is It” for myself, I have to say I am utterly in the debt of those friends. And I want to shout it from the rooftops: please go and see this movie, and in particular use it to educate your children when they are ready. The lessons contained therein are priceless.

But first, I ask you to put aside your preconceptions about the Michael Jackson freak show. MJ was a man of many flaws and maintained an insane circus around him. His many madnesses are legendary, and I recorded them on this page myself when he died. But that is not the Michael Jackson “This Is It” is about. Here, it is the musician supreme who is showcased. This is not a film about MJ’s entourages, homes, lifestyles or foibles; it is, purely and simply, about his pursuit of perfection.

I saw here Michael Jackson the relentless guardian of excellence. He was surrounded in these rehearsals by some of the world’s greatest musicians, outstanding choreographers and dancers, and technical gurus focused on the best effects and ambience. But because of his own personal commitment to the highest standards of performance, the 50-year-old Michael can be seen giving lessons to all those worthies: improving them, coaxing them, coaching them. And insisting on retake after retake until every tempo, every instrument, every movement, every PAUSE is just right.

There is a tiny sequence in which Michael cajoles the best out of a young female guitarist (Orianthi Panagaris) that is worth the price of admission alone. That scene is gold dust. It demonstrates, more amply than I ever will in a leadership seminar, just how powerful a leader committed to high standards can be, and how he can uplift the performance of all those around him. That young lady was playing a great chord – she was outstanding. By the time Michael had finished coaching her, she was perfect.

Is there anything more valuable than this in life? To do what you do to the highest human standard, and to instil some semblance of that standard in everyone you work with? I cannot think of a better way to spend a life than to continuously raise your own bar – and everyone else’s – in whatever field of endeavour ignites your passion.

That is the lesson I would like to drum into every young Kenyan’s head (and those of their parents): nothing truly great can be realised in life without blinding passion, without enormous energy, without total commitment. Mediocrity is available to all of us: there is plenty of space in the bus stops that lead to average destinations. But if you want to go somewhere worth going, no matter how “gifted” you are, you had better be ready for what it takes.

It doesn’t take sitting around waiting for someone to help you, nor does it take looking for excuses and scapegoats. Those who are going to outperform just do it. They set themselves the highest standard in the world, and then they never relax for a moment. Look at the real achievers you know: they are perpetually practicing, experimenting, polishing and improving what they do.

Michael Jackson’s kind of music doesn’t just happen. It isn’t a fluke, nor is it a gift of God. It is created by complete dedication to an abiding cause. It requires payment in sweat and in blood. So, if you’re young and Kenyan, do you want that sort of success? Then get off your backside and achieve it. Otherwise, as MJ would say, just beat it.

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