Univ. Communications – If you’re a student, writing a book may seem like an impossible task, a summit of a mountain that takes many years to even approach. Remember, it’s all in your head. Doctoral student Joe Vogel is living proof that all it takes to write a book is persistence, dedication, talent, and a good idea. Vogel, a fourth year graduate student in the English department, has just published a book dedicated to the life and work of Michael Jackson.
Man in the Music:The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson is actually Vogel’s third, yes, third book. He began writing as an undergraduate at Utah Valley University in 2004. Vogel was serving as the Student Vice President of Academics when a monumental event shook the conservative college community: Michael Moore was invited to speak on campus.
“There was a lot of polarization and hostility,” Vogel explained. “There was a huge uproar on campus. There were death threats, bribes, $25,000 checks being offered to cancel, and it became this really fascinating case study for free speech on campus and the influence of donors on the university.”
After writing Free Speech 101: The Utah Valley Uproar over Michael Moore, Vogel turned to Windriver, an independent publisher, to get it out into the world. Though he did not have a contract with a high profile commercial publisher, the book garnered attention for the idea, the case study treatment of the endangerment of first amendment rights on a conservative college campus. The book received positive reviews from Michael Moore himself as well as Noam Chomsky and other academics and writers interested in First Amendment rights.
E-books and independent publishers have leveled the playing field for young, inexperienced writers attempting to put their ideas and words into circulation. “It’s easier now than ever because there are so many options,” Vogel said in reference to his first publishing experiences. His second book, The Obama Movement, was a collection of essays from students across the country on how and why Barack Obama had inspired them to become politically involved. It was also published independently.
“For me, I continued to research what the process was…I learned more and more with each book that I wrote.” As the book on Michael Jackson began to take form, Vogel delved deeper into researching the industry, to find an agent and subsequently a commercial publisher that would cater to a wider audience.
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At this point you may be wondering why a graduate student in English with a history of books on political subjects decided to write about Michael Jackson. It’s simple: he grew up in the 80s. “I’ve always been fascinated with music,” he explained, “I was fascinated with him as a person and I was also fascinated with the depth of his music.”
Rather than perpetuate the sensationalized focus on Jackson as a scandalous oddity, Vogel waned to “put the focus back on the artist.” He added, “I think when you look at the books that are available on Michael, this is the first one to asses his entire artistic legacy, all of it, album by album.”
The project began in 2005 when Vogel got the idea of exploring Jackson’s lyrics from a critical, literary perspective. “What we’re trying to do in my field is interpret culture, interpret art, and that’s what the book was.” As he worked on researching the material, Vogel approached writing each chapter like writing a paper, making the endeavor more manageable. He was soon captivated by the stories behind the creation of the songs and albums and began reaching out to Jackson’s collaborators and, eventually, the artist’s estate.
While at first it was a challenge to get interviews with the high-profile musicians and producers who worked with Jackson, people quickly opened up once they understood that the purpose of his inquiries was not to talk about plastic surgery or pedophilia. “A billion people watched [Jackson’s] memorial for a reason,” the author mused. “He had a huge global impact, and it wasn’t because he was a freak, it was because he was an incredible artist.”
As the project came to fruition, Vogel said the book was passed over primarily because publishers didn’t feel a serious book on Jackson would sell. There also was the issue of credibility. “You have to convince people that you’re the person [to write the book], and you know, I hadn’t written for Rolling Stone for twenty years, I didn’t work at MoTown,” he said. But ultimately, the backing of Jackson’s estate, the quality of his writing, and a great deal of persistence won Vogel a contract with Sterling Publishing. The book was released on November 1 and has received rave reviews. Vogel was recently invited to speak and do a book signing at the Michael Jackson Fan Fest in Las Vegas as well as deliver a guest lecture in Spike Lee’s film class at New York University.
Vogel hopes to continue writing and teaching and after earning his doctoral degree, will look for a university position. Vogel believes that anyone can write a book. “If you have something that you want to say, if you have an idea and the will to carry it through,” then the most important ingredients are in place, Vogel said.
His advice to fellow students is to not to be intimidated by the idea of publishing a book. “It’s a lot of fun and it’s something that takes time to figure out,” he explained. “But if it’s something that you love to do, if you love to write, then you might as well jump in, experience it, and see what you can do.”
Article written by Maya Dukmasova, a Take 5 Scholar at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. She majored in philosophy and religion and focused her Take 5 year on researching the way American media covers current events in the Muslim world. An aspiring journalist, Dukmasova has freelanced for Rochester Magazine, the Phoenix New Times, and the Daily News Egypt in Cairo. She also maintains two blogs, one devoted to culture and society in Russia (www.out-of-russia.com) and the other to photography (www.myorientalism.com).
Photos courtesy of Joe Vogel.