In 2010, Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate released a posthumous album containing 10 songs which both companies claimed were performed by Michael Jackson. Among those 10 songs were three tracks which Michael Jackson’s parents, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, children and collaborators publicly decried as fake.
Those three songs have since come to be known as the ‘Cascio tracks’ – named after Eddie Cascio, the producer who sold the tracks to Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate as part of a 12-track bundle.
Questions were asked about the veracity of the 12 Cascio tracks early in the production of the posthumous album. Michael Jackson’s voice did not sound right. Relatives and long-time collaborators voiced concerns that the lead singer may be an imposter, pointing to noticeable differences in Jackson’s falsetto, vibrato and pronunciation.
Eddie Cascio acknowledged that the voice did not sound like Michael Jackson, but claimed this was because Jackson had performed the songs in a shower. However, Jackson was known to record vocals in the bathroom of the movie theatre at his Neverland Ranch and his voice had never before sounded like it did on the Cascio tracks. Eddie Cascio also claimed the vocals sounded odd because Jackson had sung some of them through a PVC pipe.
Upon listening to the isolated, acapella vocal tracks from the Cascio songs, Jackson experts also observed that several tell-tale tics were missing. When he recorded, Jackson insisted on having his headphones turned up so loud that the bleed was almost always audible on his vocal tracks – but it was absent on all of the Cascio tracks. Also absent were the hand claps, finger snaps and foot stomps that his seasoned collaborators were used to hearing all over his vocal tracks.
When asked to provide outtake vocals which might contain proof of Jackson’s involvement, Cascio claimed he had deleted them all to make room on a computer disc. Asked for photographic evidence of Jackson recording the songs, Cascio said he never took photographs or videos because Jackson didn’t like it – a claim undermined by a wealth of footage available from his other recording sessions, from We Are The World and Captain Eo all the way up to Invincible.
I am shocked that things have gotten this far. This is ridiculous. I was at the studio when these questionable (cont) http://tl.gd/6s3qs2
— Taryll Jackson (@tarylljackson) November 8, 2010
Faced with the strange vocal, the absence of any trademark recording tics and the overall dearth of evidence that Jackson had ever been involved in recording the songs, his family members, collaborators and even, reportedly, co-executor of his estate, John McClain, voiced their belief that the songs were bogus and should be excluded from the posthumous album. However, a decision was taken from on high to push ahead with their release.
When news of the row over the suspicious vocals became public, Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate organised a listening event to be attended by friends, family members and collaborators of Michael Jackson. After the event, the Estate issued a public statement claiming all in attendance had agreed the vocals were legitimate. However, before long several people who had been present at the meeting – including Cory Rooney, the former vice president of Sony Music – said the Estate’s statement was untrue and that serious questions remained about the songs’ veracity.
Joe Vogel introduces himself to the Michael Jackson fan community
It was amid the rising anger over the release of the Cascio songs that an author named Joe Vogel chose to introduce himself to the Michael Jackson community. Vogel said he had spent five years writing a book about Michael Jackson’s music and his artistic process. One of his first actions upon his emergence was to write an article teasing the impending book, in which he amplified Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate’s stance on the Cascio tracks. “They are him,” he told readers on his Huffington Post blog, dismissing the deep concerns of Jackson’s relatives, closest friends and colleagues.
The songs were not just real, claimed Vogel. They were fantastic. They echoed the greatest hits of Jackson’s career. The first Cascio track to be aired, titled Breaking News, was reminiscent of both Off The Wall and Dangerous, Vogel raved.
In later articles Vogel claimed those who felt the songs were fake – including Jackson’s beloved, grieving mother Katherine, his brothers Jermaine, Randy and Jackie, his sister La Toya, his nephews Taj, Taryll and TJ, and his daughter Paris – were believers in a ‘conspiracy theory’ and simply needed to hear the songs on ‘very good speakers’.
Joe Vogel made all of these claims while advertising himself to Jackson’s fan community as one of their own.
The Michael Jackson Academia Project is born
The Michael Jackson Academia Project was born out of this depressing and disturbing period. As a group of long-time Michael Jackson fans, it was troubling to see the fan narrative hijacked by emerging Pied Pipers like Joe Vogel, who relentlessly endorsed Sony – a company Michael Jackson campaigned against and publicly accused of conspiring to destroy his life and career – and the Michael Jackson Estate: an organisation run by a lawyer Jackson repeatedly fired, and who was installed by a Will purportedly signed in Los Angeles on a day Michael Jackson was known and accepted to have been in New York.
We were not content to sit back and watch the Michael Jackson fan community’s voice hijacked by suspicious characters who appeared to have cropped up purely to promote big business and to amplify Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate’s position.
The Michael Jackson Academia Project banded together and set up a YouTube channel, on which we published a series of short video documentaries analysing the socio-political and historical commentary Michael Jackson infused his work with. Our aim was to present the actual fan narrative; to promote the position of informed, articulate Michael Jackson fans who appreciated the depth and importance of his art, rather than mindlessly endorsing inferior merchandise released in direct contravention of Michael Jackson’s stated wishes and beliefs about his own art.
Joe Vogel was the primary inspiration for The Michael Jackson Academia Project. We simply were not prepared to see him – or others who later followed his ‘I’m a fan but I endorse Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate’ template – hijack the voice of the group Michael Jackson held so dear and died trying to please; his fans.
We published our videos over a number of months, receiving almost unanimously positive reviews from the fan community. On Twitter we received generous praise from Joe Vogel in private messages and on our Twitter feed.
His tone changed, however, as our videos gained more traction amongst fans. In our opinion, he saw our videos as the legitimate fan response to Michael Jackson’s art, which served as a stark contrast to his posthumous emergence to unwaveringly endorse Sony merchandise.
While we gave our work away for free and made legitimate criticism of Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate, Joe Vogel sold copies of his book ‘Man In the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson’ and had the Michael Jackson Estate promote him via its official Twitter feed, @MJOnlineTeam.
A short while later, Vogel chose to try to discredit our work in a ’roundtable’ discussion on a Michael Jackson fan site, during which he accused us of making claims in our videos which we had never made.
We later became involved in a direct argument with Vogel on Twitter, when he strangely abandoned his platform of supposedly shunning controversy over Michael Jackson’s private life and focusing solely on his art, in order to criticise the way Michael Jackson’s relatives were raising his children, sending direct tweets to Michael Jackson’s grieving daughter, commenting on her welfare. We publicly questioned the appropriateness of this behaviour.
Hours after we publicly questioned Vogel’s conduct, Sony Music removed our videos – which had been online for months – from our YouTube channel, on ‘copyright’ grounds.
Tens of thousands of Michael Jackson videos remain on YouTube to this day, despite being in direct violation of Sony and the Michael Jackson Estate’s copyright. These include full-length albums, full-length music videos and pro-shot concerts which are available publicly for purchase from Sony, unlike the exclusive, academic resources on our channel, which only used very small clips of the very same footage which still remains online in full. In fact, foreign translations of our videos still exist on YouTube!
Still, we are in good company. The only other videos we know to be consistently ripped down within hours of upload are those which compare acapellas from the Cascio tracks to those from Michael Jackson’s legitimate material.