Siedah Garrett talks Michael Jackson, writing 'Man In The Mirror'
With the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Bad being re-released in a brand new box set, MJ fans old and new will get to experience the King of Pop in a way they haven’t before. Siedah Garrett is a Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter who co-wrote one of King of Pop’s trademark songs, “Man in The Mirror,” and was featured on the chart-topping duet “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” TheGrio sat down with Garrett to talk about the process of making “Man In The Mirror,” the impact that it’s had on her fans, and Jackson’s unique spirit.
The 25th anniversary of Bad has just passed. You had the pleasure of crafting one of Michael Jackson’s signature songs within his catalog. What was the creative process behind the making of “Man in the Mirror”?
I was called into Quincy’s house for a meeting along with six of his signed songwriters. Quincy wanted to see if we could come up with one more song to round out and finish what we now know as the ‘Bad’ album. I took a few notes and went to my writing partner Glen Ballard’s house and pretty much gave him the notes and shared with him what I got from the meeting and he said, “okay let’s see what we come up with.” At that moment I sat down on the floor of his studio…two years before that day with Glen Ballard, I was having a writing session with my dear friend John Beasley, an amazing jazz keyboard player.
We were in the process of writing and the phone rang, and instead of letting the machine pick it up, he answers the phone and begins this very long, benign conversation. I’m flipping through my lyric book seething, going, “No he is not just taking this casual conversation when we’re trying to write.”
I’m flipping through my book and I hear him say “The man, what man? Oh the man in the mirror.” So, I wrote down the phrase ‘Man in the Mirror’ and two years later at Glen Ballard’s house, he gets up to find a sound on the keyboard and he just starts playing the intro and I just started flipping through the book and the phrase “Man in the Mirror” pops out so clearly. I started writing feverishly, I couldn’t write fast enough and within 10-12 minutes we had the first verse and the first chorus of ‘Man in the Mirror.’ Glen said “You go home and finish the lyrics, and I’ll finish the track (it was Wednesday), and we’ll meet here on Friday and do the demo.” It was a message, it was coming through me. I was a pure vessel at that moment.
Does it blow your mind when people come up to you and you hear the stories of inspiration that come from that song?
I live for that. Back when I toured with Michael, when we were in Germany in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of a soccer field, I remember the band being on stage and I wanted to hear what “Man in the Mirror” sounded like from the audience’s point of view. I hightailed it out to the middle of this field and I’m listening to the band play and then this woman comes out to the field that happens to be the secretary for Kenny Ortega, I think her name was Penny and says, “Excuse me, do you know Bill W?” I said, “No, who’s Bill W? Why are you asking me?” She said, “I just assumed you knew Bill W because he created AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), and the first few lines of “Man in the Mirror” I just knew you knew Bill W.”
She began to tell me her story and said, “I want you to know that a few months ago I was very despondent and I was seriously considering ending my miserable life. I was really in a bad place and I had just bought the album, and “Man In the Mirror” came on and I played it over and over and over again. By the time I finished playing that record, I didn’t want to kill myself anymore.” We both were standing in the middle of field, in the middle of Germany, in the middle of the afternoon bawling our eyes out because of what she just told me. That meant so much, as a songwriter, that means everything. She told me that those words saved her life. Music is a life saver and that’s when I knew that for real.