Kerry Hennigan on Wordpress

Global MJ Pilgrim "I'm with the doll"

“You are my special love” Michael Jackson and India – a reciprocal relationship

Recently, when interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine about his autobiography, Andrew Lloyd Weber revealed that he and Michael Jackson both loved the music of A.R. Rahman, and at one point “we found ourselves some very obscure part of Long Island listening to a Bollywood concert where A.R. was playing. He had a great love of that music.” (1)

In fact, Michael Jackson professed a love of Rahman’s native India that, when examined retrospectively, is revealed as passionately genuine as well as reciprocal.

Perhaps Jackson’s curiosity had been stirred by his friendship with Deepak Chopra and family. Chopra got to know Michael when he went to Neverland to teach him meditation. “We talked about starving children in Mumbai, and he would start to cry.”(2)

Some of Jackson’s essays published in “Dancing the Dream” and the iconography employed in video footage, shows a more than passing familiarity with Hindu deities and their traditional roles in the spiritual canon. When, in his poem “Heaven is Here” he writes “Come, let us dance/The Dance of Creation/Let us celebrate/The Joy of Life” it is as though he is giving voice to Shiva as Nataraja, “the cosmic dancer who performs his divine dance to both destroy world-weary views and herald the arrival of a new world in its place.” (3)

Yet, despite what seem obvious influences, Michael Jackson visited India just once in his career, on his HIStory World Tour, when he played to a full house at the Andheri Sports Complex in Mumbai. But this was commonplace for a Michael Jackson tour – full stadiums and adoring crowds, fans outside hotels and fawning dignitaries vying for a moment with the global superstar.

One academic noted on Quora that he seemed to like the colours and vibrancy of India. “Since he was also involved in charity, he couldn’t ignore India,” the writer suggested. (4)

Even during his motorcade ride from the Mumbai airport to the city in 1996, Jackson asked his driver to stop so he could spend twenty minutes talking to the children playing in the slums.

At Mumbai’s Oberoi hotel where he was staying, Jackson hosted a pool party for children from an orphanage. He also invited the hotel staff to join him on the tour bus. His “random acts of kindness” still linger in the minds of those who experienced or witnessed them. “At a time when artists demand a lot, here’s to those that give back a lot more” Salil Deshpande wrote in 2017 when looking back on the time “When Michael Jackson rocked Mumbai”. (5)

Jackson is extremely popular with Bollywood stars, like Tiger Shroff, whose 2017 film “Munna Michael” is the story of a boy from the streets who idolizes Michael Jackson; and Hrithik Roshan who met Michael in Los Angeles in 2008 when the pop star paid an unexpected visit to the apartment where Roshan was filming. “I’ve been a huge Jackson fan since childhood,” Roshan said. “So dad requested the mansion owner that we’d like to come over and meet Jackson. Instead he turned up in the room to meet us. That meeting is etched in my memory.” (6)

Bollywood acting legend Amitabh Bachchan fondly recalled his own meeting with Jackson in a blog written 25 June 2013, “its 4 years since the death of Michael Jackson… a true phenomena, if ever there was one… I had met him in New York once, when he had knocked on my Hotel room door by mistake, thinking it was his… we were staying in the same Hotel.” (7)

Actress and artist Sridevi who recently died (aged 54) while on a visit to Dubai for a charity auction of some of her paintings, was another Bollywood star known to have been a huge Jackson fan. A portrait she painted of Michael was reportedly her personal favourite. An article in India Today following her passing noted that, while Sridevi had been reserved for the most part, she never hid her adulation for the King of Pop from the public. “I worship him” she said in an interview in 2012. (8)

For many of us fans, one of the sweetest of MJ’s “Bollywood connections” came in 1999, when he accepted the Humanitarian Award at the Bollywood Awards in Long Island NY, saying:

“In some ways I feel undeserving to receive an award for something that is my duty. I accept this award as a gesture of encouragement from the people of India, and a commission to do more for mankind. I love you very much … Mahatma Gandhi knew how important bringing the world’s attention was to gaining freedom for India without using any weapons. In some ways he was the first person to truly understand the importance and power of the public, he has always been an inspiration to me and it gives me even greater joy and pride to be recognized by his people.” (9)

Last year (2017) on the 59th anniversary of Michael’s birthday, The Indian Express posted a commemorative article which states (in part), “Gliding across the stage in his trademark Moonwalk style, Michael Jackson danced in a manner that convinced us that his body was boneless. Towards the end of his career, his eccentricities got the better of him.” (10)

The latter comment on “his eccentricities” is about the most critical India’s on-line media seems to get when talking about Jackson. However, it’s not just his music, dancing skills and on-stage magnetism that India appreciates. In 2014 a poster for Earth Day activities at the Indian Museum quoted directly from Jackson’s lyrics with a heading that reads “Heal the World. Let’s make it a better place.” (11)

Put simply, it seems that in terms of Michael Jackson, India simply “gets it”.

Message written by Michael on a pillow at the Oberoi, Mumbai, October 1996:

India, all my life I have
longed to see your face.
I met you and your people and
fell in love with you.
Now my heart is filled with sorrow and despair
for I have to leave, but I promise
I shall return
to love you and caress you again.
Your kindness has overwhelmed me,
your spiritual awareness has moved me, and
your children have truly touched my heart.
They are the face of God.

I truly love and adore you India.
Forever, continue to love, heal and educate
the children, the future shines on them.
You are my special love, India.
Forever, may God
always bless you.

Michael Jackson

Kerry Hennigan
March 2018


(1) Grow, Kory “Andrew Lloyd Webber on ‘Phantom,’ ‘Evita,’ Michael Jackson” in Rolling Stone

(2) Chopa, Deepak “Remembering Michael” in Time,28804,1907409_1907413_1907555,00.html

(3) Hennigan, Kerry “Michael Jackson, Shiva and the Cosmic Dance”

(4) Quora “Why Did Michael Jackson Like India So Much” )

(5) Conde Nast Traveller “When Michael Jackson rocked Mumbai”

(6) Iyer, Meena “Hrithik’s MJ moment” in Times of India

(7) Parande, Shweta “Michael Jackson knocked on Amitabh Bachchan’s door – did you know that?”

(8) India Today “Sridevi and Michael Jackson: In life as in death, alike”

(9) MJJ Justice Project “Bollywood Humanitarian Award for Michael Jackson 1999” transcript and True Michael Jackson “Bollywood Awards 1999 – “Outstanding Humanitarian Award”

(10) Das, Samarpita “Happy birthday Michael Jackson: Here’s what makes him the King of Pop” in The Indian Express

Featured post

The Songs that Made the Show that Made History – revisiting Michael Jackson’s performance at Super Bowl XXVII on its 25th Anniversary

A lot has been written about Michael Jackson’s performance in the halftime concert of the NFL Super Bowl game in 1993.  Super Bowl XXVII was played at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California, on 31 January, 25 years ago this year, and is widely acknowledged to have changed the nature of the halftime show and turned it into a ratings winner in its own right.

It was, as one writer described it, a paradigm-shifting performance. (1)

From the material that has been published in interviews with people who were involved on stage or behind the scenes of that show, we can deduce why Michael Jackson would have agreed to be part of a 12-minute show at a sporting event in which he had little interest.  The King of Pop wasn’t into competitive sports, “they make you angry. I’m not into that,” he told Vibe magazine in 2002. (2)

The NFL has a policy of not paying a fee to its halftime performers.  And prior to 1993, the entertainment offered up by the league at its premier showcase event had prompted the television audience to tune out during the break in the game.  Some of them didn’t bother to tune back in – hardly an inducement for sponsors to spend big money to air their commercials during the telecast. (3)

To reverse the downward trend, the NFL looked to the biggest name in entertainment.  Never mind that music critics had started to disparage Michael’s work since the advent of Grunge and other new musical styles.  The “Dangerous” album had been a huge commercial success, and the HBO TV special of Jackson’s concert in Bucharest the year before (1992) had set a record as the channel’s highest-rated special at the time.

There were discussions back and forth between the NFL and Jackson’s management, and finally a deal was struck that saw the league and sponsor Frito-Lay donate $100,000 to Michael’s Heal the World Foundation (HTW) and guarantee commercial time for the foundation’s “Heal LA” campaign in aid of disadvantaged children in the greater Los Angeles area. (4)

Often half-time performers give the audience a medley of crowd-pleasing hits, and doubtless the NFL would have been happy with this considering the strength of Jackson’s back catalogue of number ones.  But Michael wanted to use material from “Dangerous”.  He reportedly said “Billie Jean’s just a tune, it doesn’t mean anything.  It’s a new world; this has to be about ‘Heal the World.’” (5)

One source suggests that Jackson wanted to give an extended performance of “Heal the World” that would occupy the entirety of the half-time show. (6)  The final set-list was, in its well-drilled execution, a happy compromise for which Michael and his touring band had rehearsed for a solid 28 days – right up until the night before the game. (7)

In retrospect, we can look at the Super Bowl show as a mini “Dangerous” concert, in which Jackson made the same spectacular entrance, shooting up from beneath the stage and then standing motionless for a minute and 35 seconds (“that’s like $15 million worth of advertising time” according to producer Don Mischer who admitted it felt like “an eternity”). (8)

Jackson then launched into a short medley of hits – “Jam”, “Billie Jean” and “Black or White”, with their accompanying dance routines – and then he gave them “Heal the World” with a spoken introduction:

“Today, we stand together all around the world, joined in a common purpose to remake the planet into a haven of joy and understanding and goodness.  No one should have to suffer… especially our children.  This time, we must succeed; this is for the children of the world.”

A crowd of 3,500 children, some in ethnic costumes, joined Jackson on the raised platform in the center of the stadium, while a giant globe of the world inflated behind them.  As “Heal the World” rang out around the stadium and on television screens across the world, at the Rose Bowl the crowd held up flip cards displaying cartoon images of children.

This song summed up Michael’s message at the time.  It was the theme song of his charitable foundation, and it was the perfect “sing-along song” for an audience, like the one at the Rose Bowl.  “Heal the World” predated the rage of “They Don’t Care About Us” and the angst of “Earth Song”.  It was happier, gentler material (one critic called it “one of Jackson’s most mawkish songs”) (9) suitable for a mass audience (98,374 at the game and 90 million TV viewers) and ending the halftime show on a spectacular, positive note.

While it is acknowledged that Michael Jackson “saved” the Super Bowl half-time show from its slide into increasingly diminishing ratings, 25 years on it should also be remembered that it was the biggest platform Michael could have commandeered to promote his foundation.  His entire “Dangerous” world tour was in aid of HTW; it was the reason he had changed his mind about touring after having announced that the “Bad” tour was to be his last.

Not just changing the game, but changing the world, was what Michael Jackson was about.  The Super Bowl gave him an opportunity to indelibly etch his message into entertainment and NFL (and live telecast) history – and the collective subconscious of those who witnessed it.  He knew exactly what he was doing, and why.

“He was a gentle, quiet man,” Don Mischer says.  “But when he stepped on stage, he became a general.”

Kerry Hennigan
February 2018

The NFL looks back at the 1993 Super Bowl halftime show:

Michael Jackson’s Heal the World Super Bowl press conference speech:





(4) Ibid.





(9) Ibid.


Featured post

Michael Jackson and Ancient Egypt: “Remember the Time”, Kerma, Cleopatra and Tutankhamun

One of the most popular exhibits at the Chicago Field Museum in the US is an Egyptian carving that many visitors believe looks like Michael Jackson.  The bust, which is actually of a woman, dates from sometime between 1550-1050 BC, a period that also encompasses the brief reign of 18th dynasty pharaoh King Tutankhamun (r. 1332-1323 BC).  But we’ll get to him later.

The interest in the Field Museum statue seems to have been sparked by a photo posted on Flickr in 2007.  Following Jackson’s death in June 2009, it became a focal point for grieving fans.  The statue is now in a glass case to protect it from the many visitors who want to kiss it. [1]

What would the King of Pop think of this case of mistaken identity?  Considering photographer Christophe Boulmé created an image of Jackson in profile resembling an obsidian statue of King Khafre (4th dynasty pharaoh) which was featured in the “HIStory” album booklet, [2] and another based on the gold funeral mask of Tutankhamun, I can’t imagine him being upset with being associated with another Egyptian artefact, albeit of the wrong gender.  (My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that he’d probably be amused.)

Egypt was one of the world’s first nation states.  Though usually thought of in its modern context as part of the Middle East, Michael Jackson quite accurately perceived of it as part of the continent of Africa and viewed its rich past as part of pan-African history. “King Tut, all those great civilizations – that is right there in Africa,” he said in his interview with the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 2005. “Egypt is in Africa!!! And they always try to separate the two, but Egypt is Africa!!!” [3]

Modern Egypt is, in fact, a nation that, geographically, is in both Africa and the Middle East (the latter being the portion located on the Sinai Peninsula, where it borders Israel).  But predating these political borders was the Nile, and the great civilisation that sprang up along its banks following the uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt under one monarch – the first of 30 dynasties of pharaohs – around 3100 BC.

“Egypt was ancient even to the ancients,” writes Professor Lionel Casson.  “It was viewed by Greeks and Romans of 2,000 years ago in somewhat the same way as ruins of Greece and Rome are viewed by modern man.” [4]

Modern man has long been enamoured of the vision of a glorious past when god-kings were buried in pyramids (Old Kingdom) and were sent into the afterlife surrounded by mountains of treasure such as was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun (New Kingdom) – by which time the so-called “boy king” had been all but lost to history (Tutankhamun, although only 9 when he ascended to the throne, was 19 when he died – certainly a man by the standards of the time).

Artists, writers, decorators and filmmakers have all been inspired by the Egypt of antiquity.  This also seems to have been true of Michael Jackson, with the theme of ancient Egypt being used in his “Remember the Time” short film (1992).  In it, Jackson plays a mysterious magician who turns up at the pharaoh’s palace to relieve the queen of her boredom, and raises the ire of her husband.

This playful and evocative piece is nothing less than a classic Hollywood musical in miniature, as relevant to the historical ancient Egypt as the musical “Kismet” is to the historical Middle East.  One extra (whose role of a snake charmer was cut before being filmed) called it “a kind of Ebony magazine version of ancient Egypt”. [5]

“Remember the Time’s” imagery – including the pyramids of Giza, sphinx and busts of Ramesses II (a.k.a. Ramesses the Great c. 1303-1213 BC) and Queen Nefertiti (c. 1370-1330 BC) and its costume styles, allude to a variety of pharaonic periods which have been brought together in the short film.  It’s a “mash-up” in pop music parlance.

Iman, in the role of Nefertiti (as she is identified by director John Singleton in the behind the scenes footage) [6], does indeed look strikingly similar to the famous bust of Nefertiti (18th dynasty) now on display in the Neues Museum, Berlin. [7]  Eddie Murphy’s pharaoh is called Ramesses (19th dynasty), even though Ramesses and Nefertiti were not contemporaries, much less husband and wife.

Nefertiti was principal wife to the so-called heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, father of Tutankhamun.  Ramesses II’s most important royal wife was Nefertari (who died ca. 1255 BC), so the names of the queens are similar, but they lived at different times and were married to different pharaohs belonging to different dynasties.

“Remember the Time” is faux-history being employed to tell a story in a colourful and appealing way.  It is a piece of art intended to entertain and should not be viewed as an accurate reflection of history despite having some historical elements.  (See my earlier article “Precursors to Michael Jackson’s Egyptian Magician and other historical references in the ‘Remember the Time’ short film”.) [8]

In his book “King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson” Michael Bush recalls his employer showing him a museum-quality art book on Egyptian culture and remarking on the beauty of the jewellery, in particular the use of gold.  This was a month before Michael revealed he was working on a new short film with an Egyptian theme. [9]

Jackson’s “Remember the Time” costume, a combined modern and period-inspired outfit, owes its most striking feature, the 18-karat gold-plated gorgerine, to one worn by Yul Brynner in the role of Ramesses II in “The Ten Commandments”.  Michael sent a tape of the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille classic to his costumers, Michael Bush and his partner Dennis Tompkins, so they could see for themselves what he had in mind.  This may seem like art imitating art, but both are, in fact, based on actual jewellery specific to ancient Egypt.  A gorgerine is an assembly of metal discs worn on the chest, either over bare skin (as per Brynner) or over a shirt (as per Jackson), and attached at the back. [10]

But, according to French writer Gonzague Saint Bris, whose book “Au Paradis avec Michael Jackson” details his travels with Jackson in Africa in 1992, and much else, “Remember the Time” gives just a superficial indication of Michael’s deep curiosity for ancient Egypt, particularly for the period of the “Black Pharaohs” that preceded Assyrian domination of Egypt. [11]

Egypt and its southern neighbour Nubia had forged links of commerce through the exploitation of gold mines and the exchange of products since the time of the Egyptian Old Kingdom.  At times they fought each other, and when Egyptian rule became fractured, the Nubian Kingdom of Kush assumed control.  With the rule of the Kushite (Nubian) pharaohs [25th dynasty – r. 760-565 BC], Egyptian policy was profoundly affected for more than a century, allowing the rise in Sudan of a powerful kingdom.   It was this kingdom that fascinated Jackson.

Saint Bris had heard Jackson explain about the lost Kushite state of Kerma (Saint Bris admits never having heard of it at the time), an autonomous and powerful state on the borders of Egypt.  Jackson explained that it was a civilisation in its own right, influenced by its proximity to Egypt, but with its own identity “and the archaeologists consider it to be the first great kingdom of Africa, which was dominated by the five black pharaohs, who would even seize the land of the kings of Egypt…”

Saint Bris continues: “In January 2003, Michael Jackson’s intuition of a vanished realm found its materialization.  A Swiss archaeologist, Charles Bonnet, exhumed seven statues of pharaohs at the Kerma site in Sudan. These monumental works were sleeping three meters underground for two and a half millennia …”

Jackson’s mastery of the history of ancient Egypt impressed Saint Bris, who explains how the Nubian pharaonic dynasty finally succumbed to the Assyrians and kings of the Delta, who endeavoured to erase all traces of the black pharaohs, in particular by mutilation of their statues. But smashing statues is not enough to erase life, he concludes, and “the enigmatic Michael still has the last word: ‘All birth is the rebirth of an ancestor.’”

In addition to being well read on Egyptian history, Michael Jackson’s interest in the subject was reflected in his art collection.  One of his dearest friends was actress Elizabeth Taylor, who famously played the last of the Macedonian Greek rulers of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopator [51-30 BC], in the big screen epic “Cleopatra” 1963.  Whether or not this prompted Michael to buy the 6ft wide portrait of the dying queen by D. Pauvert, titled “Cleopatra’s Last Moments” (1892), we can probably only guess. [12]

Jackson’s artistic sensibilities may have also had a lot to do with his purchase of this work.  “I can look at a painting and lose myself,” he said in his autobiography “Moonwalk”.  “It pulls you in, all the pathos and drama. It communicates with you.” [13]

The Pauvert painting was part of a large collection of Jackson’s belongings that was intended for auction by Julien’s in April 2009.  Among the fine art and collectables, encompassing many periods and styles, was a replica Egyptian harp made of gold-painted fiberglass with the bust of a pharaoh at the front. [14]  Its design is based on some harps depicted in Egyptian art.

The auction was subsequently cancelled after Michael filed a lawsuit demanding return of certain items.  Following an exhibition of the collection that ran for two weeks, everything was returned to the singer and put back in storage.  In that case, the Pauvert painting (and the prop harp) should be among the countless objects (enough to fill five warehouses) held by the Michael Jackson Estate in trust for his children. [15]

Jackson was also reputedly keen to play Tutankhamen in a musical movie adaptation about the young pharaoh.  According to one anonymous blogger who claimed to work at Columbia in 1999, “Columbia is part of the Sony group, as you know, and Michael Jackson is signed to Sony Music. Michael Jackson agreed to do another album for Sony Music on the condition an agreement was made to allow him a pathway into the movie industry. Some kind of agreement was signed by Sony Music (Epic) and Columbia, for this to happen. Again I cannot confirm this. However, I am sure Michael Jackson is set to take the lead role.” [16]

While this was another project that didn’t eventuate, it seems to have remained close to Michael’s heart.  Following his passing in June 2009, a note was found in his rented Holmby Hills mansion that stated there should be “no AEG [deal] unless films are involved.”  As noted by author and academic Joseph Vogel, Jackson wrote about a plan to “develop…a movie a year for [the] next 5 years.”  He specifically emphasized a musical based on the life of King Tut. [17]

Given Jackson’s age at the time, it’s unlikely he would have expected to play the young king himself.  His ambitions for this project may have involved being behind the camera – e.g. writing, producing or possibly directing.  It remains one of the many tantalizing “what if’s” of Michael Jackson’s life that went unfulfilled.

It also tells us that, even at 50 years of age and after his career had been cruelly disrupted, Jackson’s passion for Tutankhamun remained undimmed.  Ancient Egypt had continued to inspire his creativity, as it has done many other artists for hundreds of years.

Kerry Hennigan
January 2018

Illustrations: “Dreaming of Egypt” photo montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan 2018.  No infringement of photographic copyright is intended in this not-for-profit educational exercise.


[1] “Michael Jackson = Ancient Egyptian?” The Chicagoist, 2009

[2] “Christophe Boulmé” accessed 9 Jan 2018

[3] “Jesse Jackson Interview (March 2005)” Full transcript:

[4] Lionel Casson and the Editors of Time-Life Books Ancient Egypt, Time Life Books 1966

[5] Peter Sagal “Thriller.  Me and Michael Jackson” New Republic accessed 11 Jan 2018

[6] Making of “Remember the Time”

[7] “Nefertiti” Society for the Promotion of the Egyptian Museum Berlin accessed 9 Jan 2018

[8] Kerry Hennigan “Precursors to Michael Jackson’s Egyptian Magician and other historical references in the ‘Remember the Time’ short film” 2017

[9] Michael Bush The King of Style.  Dressing Michael Jackson, Insight Editions 2012

[10] “Clothing in ancient Egypt” on accessed 18 Jan 2018

[11] Gonzague Saint Bris “Au Paradis avec Michael Jackson” Presses de la Cite, 2010 pp 108-111 [my translation, thanks to Google Translate]

[12] “Michael Jackson Exhibition” Catalogue #3  accessed 12 Jan 2018

[13] Michael Jackson, Moonwalk, 1988, Arrow paperback edition 2010 p 220

[14] “Michael Jackson Exhibition” Catalogue #2 accessed 12 Jan 2018.

[15] USA Today “Michael Jackson’s Secret Warehouse” accessed 8 Jan 2018

[16] Anonymous “Michael Jackson to play King Tut” Ain’t It Cool News accessed 8 Jan 2018

[17] Joseph Vogel, “A Dream Deferred: Michael Jackson and Hollywood” in Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop, BlakeVision Books 2017

Additional Reading:

Dr Aidan Dodson “Egypt: The End of a Civilisation” accessed 20 Jan 2018

France24 “Sudan temples shed light on ‘secrets of Africa’” accessed 20 Jun 2018


Featured post

Making dreams come true: Michael Jackson and PT Barnum – Lessons from “the Greatest Showman”

“P.T. Barnum, in full Phineas Taylor Barnum, (born July 5, 1810, Bethel, Connecticut, U.S.—died April 7, 1891, Bridgeport, Connecticut), American showman who employed sensational forms of presentation and publicity to popularize such amusements as the public museum, the musical concert, and the three-ring circus. In partnership with James A. Bailey, he made the American circus a popular and gigantic spectacle, the so-called Greatest Show on Earth.”  – Irving Wallace, Encyclopedia Britannica [1]

The story of Michael Jackson’s fascination for PT Barnum, the man who created “the Greatest Show on Earth”, who weathered disasters and reversals of fortune and ended up Mayor of Bridgeport, is well-known to fans.  Jackson aspired to realize his dreams for unprecedented success, as Barnum had done a century before him.  He was said to be so impressed with Barnum’s autobiography that, in 1980, he gave copies to his management team to use as a blue-print for promoting him.

This tale has become part of the Michael Jackson legend, and with the recent release of the dazzling Hugh Jackman movie “The Greatest Showman” [2] it has been revisited in the media and discussed in MJ fan forums. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking just how much impact Barnum’s story really had on the young singer.

In the preface to his autobiography, P.T. Barnum wrote:

“I have thought that the review of a life, with the wide contrasts of humble origin and high and honourable success; of most formidable obstacles overcome by courage and constancy; of affluence that had been patiently won, suddenly wrenched away, and triumphantly regained — would be a help and incentive to the young man, struggling, it may be, with adverse fortune, or, at the start, looking into the future with doubt or despair.” [3]

There are doubtless aspects of Barnum’s life that would not have impressed Jackson, but the impresario’s self-penned book was written not as a confession, but to inspire others to live their dreams – a theme emphasised in “The Greatest Showman” movie.  This focus was very relevant to Michael Jackson in terms of his solo recording career in the late 1970s and early 80s when he reportedly read Barnum’s book.

PT Barnum’s desire to be accepted as a legitimate impresario can even be seen as analogous of Jackson’s desire, after “Off the Wall”, to achieve success beyond categories based on race or musical genre.  Despite Jackson’s high hopes, “Off the Wall” was restricted to two Grammy nominations in 1980 for the single “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” in the R&B and disco categories respectively, resulting in just one award – for best R&B vocal performance. [4]

“I felt ignored by my peers and it hurt,” Michael said in his book “Moonwalk” (1988). [5]

Michael Jackson’s dream was to be The Best, period.  The “Off the Wall” Grammy slight filled him with new resolve – a lesson straight out of Barnum’s book, whether or not he realised it.  “I was disappointed and then got excited thinking about the album to come. I said to myself , ‘Wait until next time’ – they won’t be able to ignore the next album.” [6]

The next album was “Thriller” which, in addition to selling sufficient copies to propel it towards its current fame as the biggest selling album of all time, went on to win eight Grammys at the 1984 awards ceremony.

Like Barnum, who was the son of a tailor/shopkeeper, Michael Jackson came from humble beginnings.  Of course, the difference was, he knew success with his brothers from a young age and grew up in show business – unlike Barnum, he didn’t have to invent it.

But when it came time to develop his identity as a solo performer away from his brothers and the control of his father, he would have found Barnum’s story suitably instructive in the ways of showmanship. It was a craft Jackson continued to develop throughout his solo career – right up to his planned “This Is It” concerts in 2009. [7]

“It’s an adventure. It’s a great adventure,” Jackson told his cast and creative team at rehearsals.  “We want to take them places that they’ve never been before. We want to show them talent like they’ve never seen before.” [8]

Unfortunately, some of the “humbug” for which Barnum had been notorious similarly attached itself to Jackson, whose desire to be inscrutable left critics thinking him “strange” in uncomplimentary ways.

In an article titled “A Cultural Autopsy of Michael Jackson” dated 30 June 2009, Gregory McNamee references Margo Jefferson’s book “On Michael Jackson”:

“In Jefferson’s chronology, something quite mysterious and quite profound seems to have happened to Michael Jackson along about the late 1970s, when he was finally old enough to separate himself from his “scary family.” His psyche changed: “Think of his mind as a funhouse,” Jefferson instructs, a place populated by Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, Elizabeth Taylor, his parents, James Brown, and, more than anyone else, P. T. Barnum, who well knew the rewards that can come from putting on a good freak show.” [9]

Whether a product or a consequence of his remoteness from outsiders when not on stage, following the success of “Thriller”, Michael Jackson attracted all sorts of weird and wonderful headlines, some of them possibly generated by his management acting independently or in collaboration with the artist himself, and some by tabloid writers in quest of a sensational headline.  So, we had the stories of Jackson sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and wanting to buy the Elephant Man’s bones. [10]

Frank Dileo, who managed Michael Jackson from 1984-1989 (and was re-hired in 2009), was described by Rolling Stone as “a 220-pound, five-foot-two cigar-chomping cross between Colonel Tom Parker and P.T. Barnum.”   It certainly seems that Dileo was promoting his charge according to Barnum’s methodology for attention-grabbing publicity. [11]

Michael’s mother Katherine Jackson considered Dileo responsible for capitalizing on the more bizarre stories about her son. [12]  Certainly in telling Rolling Stone that he was dead against the hyperbaric chamber being taken on the “Bad” tour (“I don’t want it around”) Dileo was definitely taking the joke a bit too far, if indeed he actually said that.

He did draw the line at playing on the critics’ fascination with Jackson’s maturing physiognomy, telling Rolling Stone’s Michael Goldberg: “OK, so he had his nose fixed, and the cleft [in his chin] – big deal.  I got news for you, my nose has broke five times.  It’s been fixed twice.  Who gives a shit?” [13]

So, in making his solo career the greatest show on Earth, was it Michael Jackson in the role of PT Barnum, or Frank Dileo, who helped promote a phenomenon that the tabloid media turned into a Barnum-inspired “freak”?

Dileo had been Vice President of National Promotion at Epic Records (1979-1984) before becoming Michael’s manager. Promotion was his game, and he was very successful at it – even being voted Epic’s executive of the year and being credited with taking Epic Records from the number fourteen label in the U.S. market to number two.

Despite the amount of control Rolling Stone’s Michael Goldberg and David Handelman credited Jackson having over his career at the start of the “Bad” world tour, there were plenty of opportunities for those who worked for him to misrepresent him, unintentionally or otherwise.  This is what happens when you keep your distance from the media.  If they’re desperate to talk to you, and you’re not available, they’ll talk to someone close to you – or perhaps someone who was once in the same room as you!  (Those in the latter category are often described as “a source close to the artist” or something equally vague.)  In some cases, reputed “sources” are simply invented to give credence to a story.

Sadly, as experienced by PT Barnum, for Michael Jackson it also proved to be true that not “all publicity is good publicity”.  Some of it has devastating consequences and a long after-life.  Once a story becomes a headline, there’s little chance of taking it back, despite all evidence to the contrary.  This has proven to be the case with the false allegations of sexual impropriety made against Jackson during the last two decades of his life. Despite his vindication in a highly-publicised jury trial in 2005, elements of the public remain ignorant or unconvinced of Michael’s innocence.  We can look to the media as the principal source of this confusion.

Nevertheless, as Barnum’s life demonstrates, it is possible to resurrect oneself from the ashes of disaster – which he did, and which Michael Jackson did.  In Jackson’s case, his audience – his fans – were always there, just waiting for him to return to the studio or step back on stage.  In 2009, when facing the public and media at the O2 press conference must have been truly daunting, Jackson received a reassuringly ecstatic reception from the fans.  It prompted him to declare – as he had done often throughout his career – “I love you.  I really do.  You have to know that.  I love you so much, from the bottom of my heart.” [14]

This is showmanship without humbug or artifice.  Without this heartfelt sincerity Michael Jackson would never have accrued the type of legacy for which he is so loved and admired today.

As for the movie version of PT Barnum’s life, having seen “The Greatest Showman” a couple of times to date, I’m inclined to think that this musical adaptation , albeit sanitized, is more akin to the vision Michael Jackson had when he used Barnum’s autobiography as his blueprint all those years ago.

The movie is about equality, empowerment, accepting our differences and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles and setbacks to realise our dreams.  Indeed, Michael Jackson did all that in his 50 years with us.

A statement he made in “Moonwalk” back in 1988 remained relevant throughout his career and is why he is celebrated and admired by his peers.  This is particularly truly of the young artists who, in their quest for show business success, have been inspired by his example.

“To me,” Jackson declared “nothing is more important than making people happy, giving them a release from their problems and worries, helping to lighten their load. I want them to walk away from a performance I’ve done saying, ‘That was great.  I want to go back again.  I had a great time.’  To me, that’s what it’s all about.  That’s wonderful.”

Recently, after seeing one of the stars of “The Greatest Showman”, actor Zac Efron, relate on the Graham Norton Show how Jackson had once told him over the ‘phone, “Hey Zac, isn’t it awesome? Dreams really do come true, don’t they?” I’m convinced that Michael would have loved “The Greatest Showman” and its message. [15]

We can lament the fact that he’s not here to see it in his own private cinema, along with his kids and friends, and a big bucket of popcorn.  But I prefer to believe that, where he is now, he has “the best seat in the house” any time he wants it.

Kerry Hennigan
January 2018

Postscript: Zac Efron and Zendaya bonded over their love of Michael Jackson while filming “Greatest Showman” :

[Above] “Asian elephants walk to the Staples Centre, hours before a memorial service for recently deceased singer Michael Jackson is to take place at the same location, during the traditional Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus Animal Walk from the circus train on July 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  Wherever the Ringling Bros. circus performs, the elephants and other animals must walk from the train to the performance arena.  The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is arriving for their 2009 month-long southern California engagement.  Jackson, 50, the iconic pop star, died at UCLA Medical Centre after going into cardiac arrest at his rented home on June 25 in Los Angeles, California.” [16]

[1] Irving Wallace “P.T. Barnum.  American Showman” Encyclopedia Britannica

[2] “The Greatest Showman” Fox Movies

[3] The Life of PT Barnum written by himself, including his Golden Rules for Money-Making brought up to 1888.

[4] Michael Jackson, Grammys

[5] Michael Jackson, Moonwalk, 1988 Arrow Books paperback edition 2010

[6] Ibid

[7] Kerry Hennigan “Michael Jackson on Tour – Staging ‘the Greatest Show on Earth’ (and then topping it)”

[8] “Michael Jackson’s This Is It'” directed by Kenny Ortega, Columbia Pictures, 2009.

[9] Gregory McNamee “A Cultural Autopsy of Michael Jackson”

[10] Kerry Hennigan “’Leave Me Alone’ – Michael Jackson and the Elephant Man’s Bones”

[11] P.T. Barnum: Master of Advertising and Promotion:

[12] Katherine Jackson with Richard Wiseman, My Family, the Jacksons, St Martin’s Press 1990 accessed at

[13] Michael Goldberg and David Handelman “Is Michael Jackson for Real?” Rolling Stone, September 24, 1987

[14] Michael Jackson press conference – Live from the O2 Arena London 05/mar/09

[15] Zac Efron on The Graham Norton Show BBC published on YouTube Dec 29, 2017

[16] “Asian elephants walk to the Staples Centre…” Getty Images:

Featured post

Book Review and Commentary on: “Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop” by Joseph Vogel (2017)

“Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop” is an up-dated and expanded version of Joe Vogel’s collection of articles previously published under the title “Featuring Michael Jackson” (2012).  “Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop” contains double the number of chapters/articles – 20 in all, ranging from in-depth examinations of Michael Jackson’s impact on popular culture, his treatment by the media and its broader ramifications to a review of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE resident show in Las Vegas.

51Qej-eCVpL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_For those of us who have downloaded and printed Joe’s articles when they were previously published online, this volume makes those downloads and print-outs obsolete.  As works to reference, they are much easier to access via this volume.

These pieces were all written after Michael Jackson’s passing in June 2009; as such they also provide an opportunity to examine the development of serious writing on Jackson since that time, for which we owe Vogel a considerable debt for his contribution and encouragement of the academic work of others in Michael Jackson Studies.

The various articles examine Jackson’s quest to be THE BEST and the price he paid for being a trailblazer in music, stagecraft and live performance, video production, fashion and just about anything else he had a hand in.

He was applauded and lauded, and then denied and vilified.  We all know what happened in 2005 and the toll the trial took on him both emotionally and physically.  Yet the announcement of his O2 series of concerts in 2009 sent the internet into a meltdown as the online ticket office was jammed by fans wanting tickets.  Michael Jackson might have retreated from the spotlight to regroup and recharge, but it quickly became clear that the fans had never gone away.

The persistence of his fans, their devotion and loyalty, and the lengths they would go to defend him whenever his integrity came under attack, should have alerted the tabloid media (in all its forms) that Jackson was now “hands off” in terms of headlines lacking credibility.  They didn’t listen, and we’re still paying the price as are Jackson’s heirs and his Estate.

Vogel’s 2011 essay “’Am I the Beast You Visualized?’: The Cultural Abuse of Michael Jackson” spotlights the media behaviour, which, as Vogel explains, “never held much regard for Jackson’s other-ness” and over the decades, their abusive reporting of his life and career just became worse.

However, as Vogel points out, despite the name-calling, the virtual stones thrown at him, the truly horrendous accusations made against him that the media delighted in and continue to highlight with little regard for the truth, Jackson never compromised his “difference”.

In today’s eclectic global society, “difference” that breaks down barriers and opens opportunities is more likely to be celebrated – or, at least, it should be.  But it wasn’t always the case, and for Michael Jackson’s relationship with the media, it was almost never the case once they had decided to bring him down.

But there are countless artists today who can – and do – publically thank Michael Jackson for paving the way for their art and lifestyles being accepted in the broader society.

In writing about Jackson posthumously, Vogel does not sway from examining the many and often frivolous claims and delayed accusations that arose after 2009, and some well after the deadline for lodging such claims with the singer’s estate.

In “Michael Jackson, Delayed Allegations and Witch Hunts” he looks at the shocking about-face of Wade Robson, a dancer and choreographer who, with his mother, had determinedly sought career help from Jackson during Robson’s childhood, had received it, and spoken out in defence of Jackson against his accusers in 2005, and then in 2013 announced he had, indeed, been abused as a child by his mentor.

The absurdity of these claims, made in print and television interviews (one supposes for a fee) couldn’t be made against Jackson himself, so they were made against his companies who were supposedly in charge of him.  Except that Jackson was the owner of those companies, so it doesn’t figure they could control him!

At the time of writing this review, the one remaining, much-revised claim Robson still has before the court is close to dismissal.*  One wonders what he will do or say then to generate money by invoking the name of the man to whom he supposedly owes his career?

If, as a reader of Vogel’s ground-breaking book, “Michael Jackson: The Man in the Music” and/or his excellent monograph on “Earth Song”, you are wondering what this new publication has to offer, the answer is, quite a lot.  Some of the chapters are very short, almost cursory looks at Jackson milestones – the anniversaries of his albums, the release of posthumous material, etc., but the best of them go so much deeper to help us better understand Michael Jackson the man.

Given that this volume is a collection of non-academic magazine articles, its use for academia is limited – except for Vogel’s serious examination of the many social issues Jackson’s career highlighted.  His observations are, in themselves, highly quotable and have the ring of authenticity as a result of his interviews with some key Jackson collaborators.

“Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop” provides novice Jackson researchers the means to reconsider what they thought they knew about Michael Jackson, the man and the artist.

For Jackson fans who already own Vogel’s book “Featuring Michael Jackson” be assured that this updated version is definitely worthy of inclusion in your MJ collection.  It is available to purchase from Amazon.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
December 2017

* Postscript: Robson’s case dismissed. Read the AP News story here:



Featured post

Michael Jackson and the Stasi – “Bad” in Berlin, 1988 and the “subversive” influence of pop culture

“Between 1949, when Germany was formally divided, and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, more than 3 million East Germans “voted with their feet” by moving to West Germany. The East German ruling party never enjoyed popular support, and the regime never trusted its citizens. Refugees left East Germany for economic as well as political reasons, and this “brain drain” of young, educated workers had a destabilizing effect on the East German economy. The only way to stop the flow of refugees was to close the border between East and West Berlin” – Professor Mary Beth Stein [1]

After separating families, friends and the city of Berlin for three decades, on the evening of 9 November 1989, demolition of the Berlin Wall was begun by the people of Berlin themselves.  The Wall had been a symbol of the repression of social freedoms for a generation of German citizens whose great city had been bombed, occupied and divided amongst the Allied powers following World War II.  The movements of those in the East had been restricted, then the borders had closed, and finally the Wall was erected to prevent further mass exodus to the West.  Many risked death and, indeed, many died attempting to cross to freedom.

The East German government viewed the Wall as protection against ideals they considered the antithesis of Communism.  They actively discouraged the penetration of western influence on the citizens of the East.  But by the 1980s, the popular culture of the West, including its music, had become all-pervasive.

From June 1987 to January 1989, Michael Jackson toured Japan, Australia, the US, Europe and the UK with his ‘Bad’ world tour.  On 19 June 1988, he performed an open-air concert  in front of 50,000 fans on the grounds of the Platz der Republik, facing the Reichstag, in West Berlin.

Only a year earlier music fans in the East had amassed on their side of the Wall during a concert by Genesis, David Bowie and the Eurythmics.  They had begun chanting “Down with the Wall” and “Gorby, Gorby” in support of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy reform in favour of openness (“glasnost”).  On that occasion they had been beaten with batons and scores were arrested.  Now, in 1988, the Stasi (East German secret police) were very concerned that a concert by the biggest international music star of the decade would cause similar or worse political unrest in East Berlin.

Following Michael Jackson’s passing in 2009, it was discovered that the Stasi had kept a file on him.  It contained a report that stated: “Youths are prepared to go to any lengths to experience this concert around the area of the Brandenburg Gate [next to the wall].”  The report added that the aim of the clash was to “test the limits of the security organ”. [2]

Time reports: “In the minutes of a preparatory meeting of Stasi officials, dated May 4, 1988, the Stasi notes discussions that it was having with the head of the West German company that was organizing the concert. The names are blacked out in the report. According to the report, the organizer ‘together with Jackson’s management is willing to build the stage at such a height that it is not visible from Unter den Linden’ — the boulevard on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate — ‘and to position the speakers appropriately.’ The plan also involved broadcasting the Jackson concert in a stadium in East Berlin with a two-minute delay, so the East Germans could replace the live performance with a videotape of a previous performance should Jackson make any undesirable political comments.” [3]

But there was no stopping the Jackson juggernaut.  In fact, some of the hype was intensified by local TV station SAT who hired a Jackson look-alike to visit Checkpoint Charlie – the famous crossing point from West to East at the heart of the divided city – to see how the public would react.

Photo of Jackson’s double kept on file by the Stasi.  Source: AP

The double was convincing enough for the Stasi, who closely monitored his movements and kept a photo of him in Michael’s Stasi file (as reproduced here).  On a report card next to Jackson’s name and date of birth, it detailed how the double got out of a limousine at 2.52 pm and was accompanied “at all times by a 25-year-old-female.” [4]  Meantime, unbeknownst to the Stasi, the real King of Pop remained in his hotel.

As Time recalls: “The coup was so successful that it worked again 20 years later when Jackson’s Stasi file, and the infamous pictures, emerged. This time SAT 1 nearly fell for its own prank. ‘We certainly would have fallen for the Stasi pictures but by chance a colleague was on duty who happened to be at the shooting of the Jackson double back in 1988,’ said Diana Schardt, spokeswoman for SAT 1 television. ‘We almost went with it, but then cleared it up.’” [5]

Time also notes that judging by the meticulous notes their agent kept, the Stasi considered the visit of Michael Jackson to be “one of the most threatening moments for the security of the now defunct East German state.” [6]

The plan for a diversionary broadcast in the East did not go ahead, [7] and on the day of Michael’s performance, approx. 5,000 people gathered on the eastern side of the wall to experience as much of the concert as they could.  In the early hours of the following morning, hundreds of East German security forces rushed the crowd and 30 people were arrested. [8]

“They were concerned dissident youths would call for the Wall to fall,” Steffen Mayer, a spokesman for the government agency that looks after the Stasi archives, said in an article published by the Telegraph in July 2009.  “This was seen as a potential security threat given the amount of foreign media that would be present.” [9]

The Guardian stated the violent crackdown was prompted because: “The Stasi considered Jackson, like most western pop stars, to be a subversive influence on its youth.” [10]

Spiegel Online reported that television camera crews from the West German channels, ARD and ZDF, filmed the altercation at the Brandenburg Gate and came under attack from the secret police. The West German administration later made official complaints about the mishandling of members of the western press. [11]

Time concludes that “It’s impossible to say whether the Stasi’s fears of Michael Jackson were justified.”  However, the article notes that two decades later, Checkpoint Charlie is a museum, the Wall is all but gone [except for the sections retained as museum exhibits] and the city centre has been returned to shopkeepers, restaurants and offices.

“Maybe the power of pop had something to do with it.” [12]

The contents of Michael’s Stasi file don’t give any indication of how he might have felt about performing in the then-divided city, or about the discussions between concert organisers and the East German authorities.  But he expressed his feelings about the Berlin Wall in his book “Dancing the Dream” (published 1992):

Berlin 1989
They hated the Wall, but what could they do? It was too strong to break through.

They feared the Wall, but didn't that make sense? Many who tried to climb over it were killed.

They distrusted the Wall, but who wouldn't? Their enemies refused to tear down one brick, no matter how long the peace talks dragged on.

The Wall laughed grimly. "I'm teaching you a good lesson," it boasted. "If you want to build for eternity, don't bother with stones. Hatred, fear, and distrust are so much stronger.

They knew the Wall was right, and they almost gave up. Only one thing stopped them. They remembered who was on the other side. Grandmother, cousin, sister, wife. Beloved faces that yearned to be seen.
"What's happening?" the Wall asked, trembling. Without knowing what they did, they were looking through the Wall, trying to find their dear ones. Silently, from one person to another, love kept up its invisible work.

"Stop it!" the Wall shrieked. "I'm falling apart." But it was too late.  A million hearts had found each other. The Wall had fallen before it came down. [13]


Michael Jackson returned to perform in Berlin on his Dangerous (1992) and HIStory (1997) World Tours.  The concerts were held at the Jahn Stadion (close to where part of the Berlin Wall once stood in what was previously East Berlin) and Olympiastadion (formerly in West Berlin) respectively.  Unlike in 1988, anyone who could obtain a ticket was free to attend.  [14] [15]

In November 2002, Michael Jackson made what was to be his last visit to Berlin.  He stayed at the historic Adlon Kempinsky hotel, just east of the Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linden.  At the Bambi Awards ceremony where he was honoured as the Pop Artist of the Millennium, he declared:

“I have wonderful memories of my visits to Germany. Coming back to Berlin, a city so full of energy…it’s very special to me. Berlin, I love you! Berlin, ich liebe dich!

“September 11th has changed our world. Not long ago, the Berlin Wall came down. But, recently, new walls have been built. 1989, people of Germany said…’wir sind ein volk. We are one nation.’

“We are Germans. We are Armenians, French, Italian, Russian, American, Asian, African and many other nationalities. We are Christians, Jewish, Muslims and Hindu. We are black and we are white. We are a community of so many differences, so complex and yet, so simple. We do not need to have war.”

He exhorted the children of Germany to strive for their dreams, to become whatever they wanted to be, and then concluded:

“I want you to know, I love Germany! You are very special in my heart, so much really. Always appreciate the gift of life. Be happy and have fun.

I love you.

Thank you very much.” – Michael Jackson, November 21, 2002 [16]

Today, the Platz der Republik in front of the Reichstag (home of the German parliament) and the site of Michael’s Bad concert in 1988, remains a green, open square of approx. 36,900 square meters.  It was here, on the night of 2/3 October 1990 that a large German flag was raised to signal the reunification of East and West Germany.

For Berlin, the Cold War was well and truly over.

Kerry Hennigan
November 2017

The set list for Michael’s ‘Bad’ concert in Berlin, 19 June 1988:

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
This Place Hotel
Another Part of Me
I Just Can’t Stop Loving You
She’s Out of My Life
I Want You Back / The Love You Save / I’ll Be There
Rock With You
Human Nature
Smooth Criminal
Dirty Diana
Bad Groove
Workin’ Day and Night
Beat It
Billie Jean
The Way You Make Me Feel
Man in the Mirror [17]


[1] Mary Beth Stein, Associate Professor of German and International Affairs, George Washington University


[3] Ibid


[5] Time

[6] Ibid


[8] Time

[9] The Telegraph

[10] The Guardian


[12] Time

[13] Michael Jackson Dancing the Dream. Poems and Reflections, Doubleday 1992



[16] Bambi Awards speech, [extract] as transcribed on


Related sources:

Timothy McGaffin II video from the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany on August 8, 2009

Michael Jackson – Berlin compilation 1988 (German narration, with an interview with Jennifer Batten).

Photo montage “Bad in Berlin, 1988” compiled and edited by Kerry Hennigan.  Copyright of the photographs used is vested in the owner/copyright holder.  No copyright infringement is intended in this not-for-profit educational exercise.

The author at Pariser Platz on Unter der Linden, east side of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, May 2016
Featured post

Book Review: “Behind the Gates of Neverland. Conversations with Michael Jackson” by Ray Robledo and Lori Armstrong.

Behind the Gates of Neverland” (published November 2017) is a book that Michael Jackson fans will devour in little more than an hour.  It’s easy to read, respectful of Michael and provides an opportunity to gain insight into the day-to-day running of Neverland Valley Ranch.  It fits comfortably alongside other slim volumes of first-hand stories about Neverland, i.e. “Private Conversations in Neverland with Michael Jackson” by William B. Van Valin II MD and “Michael Jackson In Search of Neverland” by Gloria Rhoads Berlin.

51FFUDQARgLSome things just seem to be destined to happen – and what at first appeared to be bad news for Ray Robledo in 1989 when he lost his job without warning, paved the way for an exciting new job – as a security officer at Neverland.  At first, he didn’t know where or for whom he would be working.  The interview, the location, everything, in fact, was surrounded in secrecy until he turned up for the job.

Then he met his boss, “Mr. Jackson” of whom he says, “There was an undeniable sincerity about him.”

Through Ray Robledo we meet others who work at the ranch, including Marvin and Linda who looked after the animals in Michael’s zoo, and the animals themselves – the giraffe, the lion, the chimps and more.  From the time he takes over care and control of the amusement park, Robledo is told by his boss to “Call me Michael, please.”  And that is when their friendship began, says Ray.

Many of the staff did not acknowledge Michael when he was out and about on the property, and this seemed to bother him.  Ray knew that his boss was happy to have his employees say hello to him.  Robledo suspects that the problem lay with Michael’s so-called “inner circle” – people who thought they were in control of his life, and the staff handbook employees were given that instructed them not to talk to him.

Nevertheless, to Robledo, Michael spoke excitedly of his ideas for new features for the amusement park – like the water fort and the dunk tank.  Robledo writes that Jackson had a human side that was quite simple, “which was opposite to the strange portrayal of him by judgemental media.”

There were always a lot of preparations by the staff when Michael had guests, like the day the Jackson family arrived for patriarch Joseph’s birthday.  Michael had Robledo erect a banner that said, “Happy Birthday, Joe.”  Ray writes “I never heard Michael refer to his father as dad… always ‘Joe’.”  This comes as no surprise to Michael Jackson fans, I’m sure.

Robledo shares his feeling that Michael and his family, or certain members thereof, weren’t close, except for his mother, “but it was none of my business,” he writes, but “I still felt a sense of sadness for him.”

Later, Robledo told the story of his own childhood to Michael and eventually Michael opened up about his personal feelings and about what he wanted in life.  Robledo realised there was so much more to Michael Jackson than even his own family knew.

Anyone well versed in Michael Jackson’s life will have no trouble at all visualising many of the anecdotes Ray shares throughout his book.  And yes, we know he liked his music LOUD!  That included on the amusement rides, it seems.

Robledo relates his memories of visits from Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky who arrived by helicopter, and their subsequent wedding at the ranch.  Ray says Michael referred to Elizabeth as “Liz” which surprised me when I read it, as I had never heard of him using this derivative of her name.  He always seemed too respectful of her to do that, although calling her Liz doesn’t denote any disrespect by any means.  It just surprises me.

Ray Robledo worked at Neverland from 1989 to 1996, which puts his recollections in a timeline most fans are familiar with.  Some dating of events he relates would have helped these memoirs, and perhaps avoided what look to be – in the eyes of a fan, at least – obvious errors.

For example, Ray tells of a fan named “Billie Jean”, an African-American woman who managed to sneak onto the ranch and hide herself away before Ray spotted her.  Her name really was Billie Jean, we are told, “and shortly after Michael’s hit song topped the charts.”

Well, the song “Billie Jean” topped the charts in 1983 (having been released as a single in January of that year) and Michael Jackson bought his ranch in 1988.  Ray’s employment at the ranch began in 1989 after the amusement park had been built.  So, it’s not possible for Michael’s hit song of the same name to have post-dated the visit to the ranch of the fan named Billie Jean.  (Or, perhaps I’ve misread this part of the text.)

Another timeline problem comes with the story of Michael leaving early one morning on his “Bad” world tour.  Details of the tour are provided that read like they could have come straight from Wikipedia.  However, the mention of this tour comes after the story of Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding to Larry Fortensky at the ranch, which was in October 1991.  Michael’s “Bad” tour was September 1987 to January 1989.

Unless we’ve gone back in time from one chapter to the next, and unless Ray commenced his employment at the very beginning of 1989, it would have been the “Dangerous” tour (1992-1993) that Michael had set out on while Robledo worked there.  Later, we read about changes at the ranch and the staff being spoken to about the rumours circulating in the media about Michael (1993).  Then the Oprah Winfrey interview is mentioned (also in 1993).  So again, it seems it must have been the “Dangerous” tour that Michael had embarked on.

I don’t expect a former employee to have all of Michael’s tour details, hit songs and interview dates down pat – but some easy research by his co-author Lori Armstrong and editors/proof readers of the final text would have provided the correct information.

The changes that came to Neverland, and to Michael’s demeanour, following the false allegations that surfaced in 1993 resulted in some unfortunate changes at the ranch.  People were concerned for their jobs now that the “greedy ‘Yes’ people” from Michael’s “inner circle” of “corporate royalty” were running things.  As for Michael, Robledo reveals that “Where there was once a face of joy and hope, displaying a bright smile, there was now a face of utter sadness.”

But the trouble in paradise had been brewing even before the false allegations arose, with some of Michael’s property disappearing and some employees talking to the tabloids for big dollars.  It was no longer a happy or harmonious place when Michael Jackson wasn’t there.  And saddest of all, after the allegations, he wasn’t the same when he was there.

Nevertheless, it is blessedly reassuring to read the memories of one of the former Neverland employees who is so appreciative of his time at the ranch and especially of having known Michael Jackson.  He’s certainly not the only one, but we’ve been subjected to so much tabloid rubbish over the years, one could be forgiven for being cautious at first.  But, I happily forgive errors like those mentioned above when the important message has been put across so emphatically, which is “I had only experienced and witnessed a pure heart in Michael.  There was nothing I knew about Michael that would ever harm his genuine reputation.”

There is a list of Michael’s philanthropic activities over the years at the end of the book, and a list of awards that Michael received for his humanitarian work.  It’s a nice touch in line with Ray’s feelings about his former “boss”.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
14 November 2017

“Behind the Gates of Neverland” ebook for Kindle is available from Amazon:

Photo at top by Harry Benson (1993) does not appear in the book, but is used as an illustration only for this review.  No infringement of copyright is intended in its use in this not-for-profit, educational exercise.




Featured post

“How Does It Feel?” – Media abuse of Michael Jackson conferred on a Second Generation, and history repeats at the Melbourne Cup 2017

In an interview he gave in 1996, Michael Jackson spoke passionately about his dislike of the nick-name “Wacko Jacko” originally foisted on him by a UK tabloid.  It was a name that haunted him throughout his adult life and one that has recently been applied to his daughter Paris by the press in Australia.

Nineteen-years-old Paris Jackson was invited to attend the 2017 Melbourne Cup – Australia’s richest horserace which attracts participants and VIPs from all over the world every November.  Known as “the race that stops a nation” the Melbourne Cup also has a high fashion content with the “Fashions in the Field” being a showcase for Australian designers and labels.

Paris, who is signed with IMG Models, was sponsored by Myer for this year’s Cup.  She arrived in Australia the day before the race and was photographed getting up close and personal with one of the Cup favourites, an English horse named Marmelo.  Her ‘tryst’ with Marmelo was depicted on the front pages of News Corp publications in each major capital city in the country.  It seemed that the Aussie media had fallen under her spell.

Next day, as the VIPs arrived at the track, Paris was one of the stars in her lacy rust-coloured boho-chic dress, ankle boots and crystal headband.  It was a cool, blustery day, but she managed to pose for the photographers graciously before disappearing inside the Myer marquee with the other VIPs.  [1]

In the following day’s post-Cup coverage in the media, she was pictured through the window of the marquee fooling around and pulling faces at the photographers outside (having fun – as I’m sure were many others inside with her).  Unfortunately certain media writers decided this was an example of “off the wall” behavior and subsequently labeled her “Wacko Jacko 2.0”.

Paris herself tweeted the journos directly, calling them “fxxxxx’ cowards.  Bet you don’t have the balls to call me that to my face…”  One of Michael’s friends, Brett Barnes (who is Australian, and still lives here) responded that “They’re a tabloid pretending to be a newspaper.  Your father always knew we’ve got some of the worst press in the world.” [2] [3]

Paris advised that she didn’t care less what they called her, “but adding ’2.0’ is their way of dragging in my father into it and THAT I will not stand for.”

She later reiterated that she didn’t care what they called her, but that – “it’s the principle”.

This situation is exactly what Michael Jackson anticipated when he spoke to Barbara Walters at the George V Hotel in Paris in 1997 and expressed how he felt about the “Wacko Jacko” nickname and how unfair it would be if the media passed it on to his son.  (Prince was the only one of his children to have been born at this time.)

“I want him to have some space…where he can go to school. I don’t want him to be called “Wacko Jacko” that’s not nice. They call the father that. That isn’t nice…right?…

They created that. Did they ever think I would have a child one day…that I have a heart? It’s hurting my heart. Why pass it on to him?” [4]

Of course, the media has long over-stepped the line of decency when it comes to Michael Jackson’s children – querying their parentage and anything else that will guarantee the sale of a newspaper or magazine, grab ratings or web clicks (and sell advertising).

While we might consider the media as an entity that encompasses many forms of communication – in print, on-line, on the airways, on TV – the stories and the accompanying headlines are all written by “journalists” and “editors” – i.e. someone given the platform to supposedly inform the public.  Such people are meant to have ethics.  We’ve always been inclined to champion “freedom of speech” and “freedom of the press” as a basic human right.  But that does not mean that verbal or printed abuse, bullying, harassment or character assassination is acceptable – from anyone, on anyone.  That’s just abuse/miss-use of freedoms for which some people have given their lives.

Writing for TheFIX on Julia Naughton provided information on the origins of “Wacko Jacko” as revealed by Joe Vogel in his article in The Atlantic in 2012 when he wrote “Even for those with no knowledge of [the nickname’s] racist roots and connotations, it was obviously used to ‘otherize,’ humiliate and demean its target.” [5] Naughton quite rightly suggests that “Resurrecting the nickname and applying it to a young woman – who also happens to be the daughter of the celebrated music icon – seems wrong and frankly, irresponsible.” [6]

When shared online, Naughton’s article comes with a subtitle that reads: “It’s time to retire ‘Wacko Jacko’”.

It’s a “retirement” that is long overdue.

Naughton’s article is one of the few exceptions tackling the publicity resulting from Paris’ Cup day appearance with any sympathy or objectivity.  The treatment of Michael Jackson (during and after his lifetime) and now his children is a sad reminder that while society attempts to call the bullies to account, some of the most strident voices can be the worst offenders.

Unfortunately the name-calling was not the only media harassment Paris Jackson suffered.  There was some attempts at character assassination, with one journalist suggesting Paris behaved like a “diva” at the Melbourne Cup in refusing to wear an outfit by a prominent designer (Alex Perry) that had been purpose-made for her, choosing instead the boho-style dress by Morrison.  This was denied by her management who advised that no such Alex Perry dress had been made, and that Paris had been given a selection of designs from which to choose.  She chose the Morrison.

Perry actually posted a happy snap of himself with Paris on Instagram and thanked her for wearing his design on the cover of Stellar magazine (an insert in the Sunday Herald, a Sydney publication published by Fairfax.) [7]

Other post-Cup tabloid pieces referred to Paris’ guest appearance as being accompanied by “much drama” (neglecting to clarify that it was of the media’s making) and while providing the explanation of her dress choice, still found it necessary to repeat her supposed “snub” of an Alex Perry custom design that never existed.  (The media never let the truth prevent them from repeating supposition and unsubstantiated gossip, as Michael Jackson himself experienced time and again.)

Paris’ partying antics in the Myer marquee were also reported as “bizarre behavior” when she pressed her face against the window and made faces – nothing terribly bizarre when one considers what many Cup Day punters where doing at Flemington and other race tracks around the country at the time (i.e. drinking themselves insensible, displaying behavior that lacked all decorum, and generally doing things they’d likely regret – if only they could remember anything!) [8]

That’s Melbourne Cup Day, and that’s the ugly, intoxicated aspect of Aussie culture, whether the rest of us Aussies like it or not.  It’s apparently acceptable to the tabloids, whereas a fashion preference and party hi-jinx by the King of Pop’s daughter are not.

A article stated that it had turned down an opportunity to interview Paris because of restrictions on the questions they could ask (i.e. NOT about her family and not about her past problems).  One wonders what “off limits” questions they could have asked that she hasn’t already answered in numerous magazine articles.  Don’t they realize how tiresome it is reading the same questions posed to celebrities by different interviewers who obviously assume that everyone is as fathomless as they are about their subject?  It’s indicative of a lack of research, lack of information – or perhaps just lack of interest on the part of the interviewer.

Ashley Spencer addressed some of these issues in his article for TheFix titled “All the reasons why Paris Jackson was the absolute best part of the Melbourne Cup.”

“The look was all so perfectly Paris – who recently tweeted, ‘my daddy was a hippie and my mama was a biker chick the fuk u expect’ – and far more interesting than the parade of monochrome body-con frocks and wobbly pumps that annually descend on Flemington. Iconic.” [9]

Far from home and looking out-of-place “surrounded by a bunch of old strangers… in tiny hats” (a reference to the fascinators that many of the women wear for the occasion) Spencer was pleased Paris  found a friend to laugh and have fun with (Queensland-based former model turned tradie, Tyler Green); “And THEN! She gave us perhaps the greatest moment in Melbourne Cup history. She pressed her nose against the Myer marquee glass and proceeded to lick it.

Yesss, girl.”

As for the media article lamenting the “demands” by Paris’ team if she was to be interviewed, Spencer writes that “Paris has had to fight her whole life to be recognized as her own person outside of her family’s fame.  She’s worked incredibly hard to make a name for herself as a budding model, actor, and activist.”

“It’s not crazy to ask people to respect your career and your personal life – especially when the event you’re promoting has absolutely nothing to do with your past.”

Media rivalries do not help matters, with one journalist complaining that the Victorian Racing Committee had banned any rival media outlets “including yours truly” from interviewing Paris, “as one of the event’s sponsors is the Murdoch press machine, which has already interviewed her around five times at last count.” [10]

So, some sour grapes can be factored in to the tabloid headlines, it seems.

There’ll always be those who criticize while others totally “get it” that sometimes you just need to “be yourself”.  And how refreshing that is – as experienced by Rachael Finch who shared a conversation with Paris in the marquee for Channel 7’s live coverage of the Cup, and scored a spontaneous hug at the end of it. [11]

Throughout the whole post-Cup day, while seeing many of the articles and variations on the articles about Paris’ visit pop up on my news feed, I was reminded of something that happened back in 1965 when the Melbourne racing establishment had been similarly rocked on its foundations by a young woman in a pretty dress.

In that year, UK supermodel Jean Shrimpton appeared at Derby Day in a dress that was a whole 5 inches above the knee!  What a fuss there was from the stuffy old guard. Nothing changes much… Sadly Shrimpton succumbed to expectations on Cup day by wearing something considered “more suitable” to the occasion (a suit topped by a hat – how boring!) [12]

What’s changed between 1965 and 2017?  Not much, it seems

Kerry Hennigan
November 2017

Postcript: December 2017

The dress worn by Paris at The Cup and designed by Morrison, became a sell-out even before it hit the stores, the Daily Mail reported on Nov 13, 2017.

“The $600 Morrison dress Paris wore to the Melbourne Cup last week has already sold out – before even being offered in stores.

Founder Kylie Radford revealed that she has received pre-orders from all over the world for the rusty red bohemian dress beloved by the model.

Radford found new customers from the likes of Spain, UAE, the US, and Iceland after a highly publicised appearance by the 19-year-old daughter of Michael Jackson.” [13]

Alex Perry discussed the matter of Paris’ dress choice in this article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Nov 19, 2017.

“You can’t put her in an Alex Perry lady dress and strap her in and put a pair of high heels on her, it’s not right for what that girl is.” [Perry said.]

Describing it as “a fashion storm in a teacup”, he believes “a mistake was made by someone at some point saying she was wearing Alex Perry but it wasn’t confirmed”. [14]



[1] Video of Paris fronting the media at the Melbourne Cup 2017

[2] Tweet by Paris Jackson

[3] Reply Tweet by Brett Barnes

[4] Transcript of Michael Jackson-Barbara Walters interview 1997

[5] Joseph Vogel “How Michael Jackson Made ‘Bad’” The Atlantic

[6] The demeaning backstory behind that cruel Michael Jackson nickname

[7] Alex Perry on Instagram:




[11] Rachel Finch

[12] Melbourne Cup memories: The legs that stopped a nation



Paris having fun on air with Hamish & Andy on Cup day:

Paris by the fashion mags: Vogue and Elle:,44839


Images used in photo montage:

  • Michael Jackson (1997) Getty Images
  • Paris Jackson (2017) by Alex Coppel
  • Jean Shrimpton on Derby Day at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne (30 Oct 1965) Getty Images

No infringement of copyright is intended in this educational, not-for-profit, exercise.  Montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan





Featured post

One night in Hollywood – MJ Scream LA, 24 October 2017

To go, or not to go, that was the question I had to answer on receiving an email saying I’d scored a priority ticket to the Michael Jackson ‘Scream’ event in Hollywood on Tues 24 October, 2017.

While it may seem strange to many other fans that I hesitated for even a second, the fact was, my itinerary in the US was already mapped out for sightseeing and Michaeling, and deviating from those plans meant missing out on an expedition I had been eagerly anticipating.  There is no gain without sacrifice, it seems.

In the end it came down to friends – specifically Yoly in Vancouver, Queenie in Hong Kong and Marge in Toronto.  The former duo also had tickets and intended to make the trip to Hollywood for the event.  The latter had been to see Thriller 3D at the Toronto International Film Festival and urged me not to let the opportunity slip to (a) see it and (b) talk to the Michael Jackson Estate representatives who would be attending.

It meant cancelling hotel reservations and making new ones and bumping some planned excursions to some other year, God willing.

Thus the evening of 24 October found us lined up at the event meeting point in Hollywood, excited and happy to be mixing with fans similarly keen to make the most of the opportunity to enjoy and celebrate the genius of Michael Jackson.

The different factions in MJ fandom have made me wary of large fan gatherings.  Any event intended to celebrate him has the potential to erupt in heated discussion on contentious issues.  But at this official event, we were a noisy, harmonious crowd as we were directed down the block and across Hollywood Blvd to the illuminated forecourt of the Chinese Theaters complex.

The forecourt, with its many hand and footprints of industry luminaries impressed in concrete, was covered with red carpeting – with the exception of the two slabs representing Michael Jackson.  One was the slab in which Prince, Paris and “Blanket” had pressed their father’s crystal-encrusted glove and their own hand prints, and the soles of a pair of his signature loafers in a ceremony held 26 January 2012.  The other was the so-called ‘Broken Heart Stone’ that Michael had impressed himself back in the 80s for a Las Vegas project that didn’t eventuate.

These two adjacent blocks were framed, but not covered, by the red carpet, highlighting the fact that it was Michael Jackson, and only Michael Jackson, who was being celebrated tonight.

A light show projected artwork from the new Scream compilation album around the facade of the theatre in a swirl of movement.  The music pumped out and the voices of all of us waiting our turn on the red carpet (for a photo opportunity) rose in volume – and excitement.

Inside, free popcorn and soft drinks awaited us at the candy counter and then we were directed to our seats towards the front of the theatre where the ‘priority’ or ‘fan club’ (as the staff referred to us) attendees were grouped.  So, we had superb seats, and were surrounded by like-minded souls all waiting for the show to begin.

It took awhile to get everyone in and seated.  In the meantime, quiz questions and answers relevant to the Scream album were projected on the screen, along with animated imagery reflecting the album artwork.  This played in constant rotation, interrupted by screenings of a preview of the forthcoming animated TV special ‘Michael Jackson’s Halloween’ which was to debut on Friday night (27 Oct) on the CBS network in the US.  It looked like it was going to be tremendous fun, and guaranteed to appeal to young potential fans – and hopefully most of us older ones too!

Finally the MC walked on stage –  Nick Cannon, himself a huge MJ fan – and introduced the full-length version of Michael Jackson’s Ghosts – which had never before been seen on the big screen in the US.  From the minute the Maestro (Jackson) appeared the crowd went wild; the start of the award-winning dance sequence to the tune of 2Bad sent them into an even greater frenzy.

As a champion of the Ghosts short film, and a lover of this era of Michael’s career, I was ‘over the moon’ at seeing my favourite ‘video’ projected in top-notch quality on the giant screen.  For me, this was the highlight of the evening – never mind that it came at the very beginning.

We then had a newly composed Blood on the Dance Floor video that incorporated the original footage of Michael singing and dancing with new footage of Cirque du Soleil’s MJ ONE cast members doing what they do so well.  While I don’t understand the need for a new BOTDF video when the original is so great (see my article about it via the link here) I guess every new album release – Scream, in this case – is entitled to a new video or two.  If music video shows on TV don’t want to play the classics, give them something ‘new’ that remains true to the vision of the original.

Finally it was time for Thriller 3D, with director John Landis walking on stage to introduce his masterpiece.  He spoke briefly about it, and introduced some VIP attendees in the audience – the legendary SPFX/make-up artist who created Michael’s werecat character, Rick Baker (‘leave it to Rick to wear a white shirt’ Landis quipped, as Baker stood for appreciative applause against a mostly dark-clad audience) and Ola Ray, who plays Michael’s girlfriend in the video.  Ola still looks stunning, and it was good to see her at the event, happy and celebrating Michael now that her financial claims against him – and subsequently his Estate – have been settled.

Every seat in the theatre had been equipped with 3D glasses in preparation for the screening of Thriller, and while the impact of the 3D was minimal, the impact of the video, and especially the dance sequences on the big screen, was quite the opposite.  Like Ghosts, the cinematic quality of Thriller was clearly evident when projected in the larger-than-life format for the cinema screen.

After the cheers and applause following the show, we stood and talked in groups in the theatre, awaiting the bulk of the crowd to file out and on to the after party in the event venue upstairs.  When we got there, DJ Steve Aoki was pumping out thumping dance mixes of MJ tracks to a back-drop of swirling lights, while high up on the walls, footage of Michael’s videos relevant to the Scream album were played in constant rotation.

The VIPs had their own roped off area, but did not restrict themselves to the space – it was just somewhere to which they could retreat when the press of the crowd became too exhausting – which it was at times.

DSC_0284As reported in the media (and sighted by yours truly) Joseph and Jackie Jackson were in attendance, and well-known MJ impersonator Carlo Reilly made himself available for fan photos and joined Aoki on the stage for one number.

There was free food and drink – and no sign of the action, or the energy, slacking for the majority of the fans who were revelling in the celebrations.  That was the important aspect of the night – it was a CELEBRATION of Michael Jackson.

Whether or not one buys the album, supports its release, is interested in the respective short films or the animated TV special, this was first and foremost an opportunity for fans, VIPs and the Estate to come together in common purpose – acknowledging the genius of Michael Jackson and his art, and the many collaborators who helped him realise his vision and ambitions for some of his pieces.

Despite the volume of the music making conversations virtually impossible, I was determined to get a word with Estate co-executor John Branca.  We were able to attract his attention and he was happy to come over and talk with us.  I wish it had been under conditions that made a real conversation possible.  As it was, we talked briefly about Ghosts – which I told him was my absolute favourite – the new Blood on the Dance Floor video (the song is John’s current favourite – though he admitted his favourites change all the time) and the fact that next year Thriller 3D will be in IMAX theatres all over the world.

John also talked about the plans for Michael’s 60th birthday celebrations in Las Vegas in August 2018.  This is probably going to be the biggest event on the MJ calendar for the year, and one which those of us who are ‘travelling fans’ should prepare for in advance.  It’s going to be HUGE!  (I use that word without intending it to remind anyone of a certain individual currently occupying the Oval Office in the US!)

My friends stayed on to party a little longer, while I headed back to my hotel.  It had been a long day, preceded by an almost sleepless night, and a long day’s drive before that, and while the midnight hour was still about 75 minutes away, for me it was definitely time to call it a day!

One final footnote to the evening that made me smile was witnessing Joe Jackson and his minders waiting for a hotdog to be prepared for him by a street vendor outside the cinema.  I guess Joe’s tastes are for more hearty fare than all the free food on offer at the party.

And that, dear friends and fellow fans, was my experience of MJ Scream Los Angeles, in Hollywood, on the night of 24 October 2017.  It was worth the effort it took to be there, that’s for sure.

Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan
October 2017


Featured post

“Leave Me Alone” – Michael Jackson and the Elephant Man’s Bones

‘Tis true my form is something odd,

But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.

If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;

The mind’s the standard of the man. [1]

In a small museum in the London Hospital Medical College a famous human skeleton is kept under lock and key.  These are the bones of “the Elephant Man” – Joseph (a.k.a. John) Merrick (1862-1890) who suffered from a rare medical condition now diagnosed as Proteus Syndrome that resulted in Merrick suffering severe skin and bone deformities. [2]

Merrick exhibited and toured as a circus attraction under the name the Elephant Man until discovered by a surgeon from the London Hospital.  Eventually he was permited to stay at the hospital despite his condition being incurable.  The surgeon, Frederick Treves, visited him daily; other visitors included members of London society and the royal family. [3]

Merrick was only 27 when he died, apparently of asphyxia.  He may have suffered his fate because he wanted to lie down to sleep like a normal human being, despite knowing that the weight of his head made it impossible for him to breath in this position.

Merrick’s story resonated deeply with Michael Jackson, who reportedly saw parallels between his own life and that of Merrick.  The story goes that he watched David Lynch’s 1980 black and white movie “The Elephant Man” 35 times, never once without crying.” [4]

Then, on 30 May 1987, the Los Angeles Times published the following item:

Michael Jackson has submitted an official bid, for an undisclosed sum, for the remains of the late John Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, from the London Hospital Medical College which has kept them since Merrick’s death in 1890.

According to Jackson’s manager, Frank Dileo of Los Angeles: “Jackson has a high degree of respect for the memory of Merrick.

He has read and studied all material about the Elephant Man, and has visited the hospital in London twice to view Merrick’s remains.

His fascination with their historical significance increased with each visit, along with hopes to add them to his collection of rare and unusual memorabilia at his California compound.”

“Jackson,” Dileo added, “has no exploitative intentions whatsoever and cares about and is concerned with the Elephant Man as a dedicated and devoted collector of art and antiques.” [5]

It has often been said that (a) Frank Dileo was the source of some of the more outlandish tabloid myths about Michael Jackson – the Elephant Man’s bones and sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber being two obvious examples.  It has also been said that (b) some of these headline-grabbing myths originated from Michael himself, or were at least approved by him under the belief that “any publicity is good publicity” which we know all too well to be an absolute fallacy.

In her book “My Family, the Jacksons” his mother Katherine wrote: “To be fair, a couple of the stories had been spread by Michael’s own people. I’m referring to the silly reports that Michael had slept in a hyperbaric chamber and had made a serious offer to buy the Elephant Man’s bones. I didn’t talk to Michael about the rumours, so I don’t know what role, if any, he had in putting the stories out. But I did watch with dismay as his manager, Frank Dileo played up the stories to the press… As for the Elephant Man’s bones, I have no idea whether Dileo made an attempt on Michael’s behalf to buy them. If he did so, he did so in jest.  And if by some miracle the London medical centre that owns the bones had agreed to sell them, Michael knows me well enough to know that I wouldn’t have let him in the house with them.” [6]

Michael’s supposed bid to purchase Merrick’s skeleton was discussed on Canadian radio in June 1987 with David Edwards, Chief Administrator at the London Hospital Medical College.  Edwards talks about Michael’s visit to the museum where the skeleton is still housed and refers to Michael making two bids for the remains, for US$500,000 and US$1,000,000 respectively, both of which were rejected.  The Elephant Man was simply NOT for sale. [7]

Michael had spoken about his interest in Joseph Merrick (whom he calls John, as per the movie) with considerable empathy to Ebony/Jet in 1987 prior to the start of his Bad World Tour. [8]   The interviewer asked if he would be interested in playing the role of Merrick and in replying Michael references John Hurt’s celebrated performance in the David Lynch movie.  The movie was preceded by the 1979 Tony Award-winning stage play in which the title role had been played in later productions by David Bowie (1980) and Mark Hamill (1981). [9]

When in 1993, Oprah Winfrey asked Michael if it was true that he wanted to buy Merrick’s bones, he responded that it was just a story, saying: “Why would I want some bones?”’ [10]   Nevertheless, the story has persisted, becoming one of the undying tabloid tales of Michael’s life.

Personally, despite the unlikeliness of the bids having any genuine intent, I can imagine Michael feeling such empathy for Merrick that he might want to give the skeleton a fitting burial and perhaps erect a memorial for him rather than have the remains continue to be displayed as an object of curiosity and scientific study, as useful as the latter may be to other (current) sufferers of Proteus Syndrome. [11]  But that’s just my personal fantasy, there is no evidence to support the idea.

In 1988, Michael himself highlighted the absurdity of the Elephant Man’s bones’ story by “dancing” with an animated version of Merrick’s skeleton in the Leave Me Alone short film.  Though disguised as a tale of love gone wrong, the song could have been a plea from Merrick himself as he attempted to evade those who followed him and harassed him out of curiosity at his deformities, labelling him “freak” or “monster”.

elephantmandanceAs he explained in his autobiography Moonwalk, Michael was sending out a simple message.  “The song is about a relationship between a guy and a girl.  But what I’m really saying to people who are bothering me is: ‘Leave me alone.’” [12]

The Leave Me Alone short film is rich in imagery that pokes fun at the tabloids, but his dance with the Elephant Man’s bones is particularly fascinating.  Michael and the animated skeleton appear as though in a sideshow exhibit, with bars behind them, leaving them impelled to face their audience and perform.  Michael is shackled by a ball and chain, which he uses as a prop for his choreography.

What might we make of this?  Quite a lot if we analyse the iconography in the context of the lives of the individuals depicted, e.g. the Elephant Man imprisoned in his deformity; Michael Jackson shackled by his fame; both of them objects of curiosity for an insatiable public.  Merrick’s deformities caused him to wear a hood over his head; Michael’s vitiligo caused him to wear increasingly heavier make-up to mask the depigmentation of his skin.  Both were sensitive human beings who had been labelled as freaks.

The problem with labels – even those applied for purposes of academic study [13] – is that they are too easily misinterpreted even when not intended as uncomplimentary.  Labels set people apart as being “other” than ourselves, as being “other” than normal (whatever that is!)  Labels with negative connotations can result in people being subjected to a different set of societal rules, leading to an unhappy chain of consequences, possibly culminating in marginalisation and even persecution.  I’m personally not a fan of such labels, no matter the context of their application.

Merrick’s story is ultimately one of tragedy – the kind that happens to people who appear to have done nothing to deserve that which life has visited on them, and, in dealing with their adversities, expose some of the insidious ills of so-called “civilised” society.  “Man’s inhumanity to man; that’s what war’s all about,” Michael said in the Ebony/Jet interview. [14]

Michael Jackson’s life was a triumph over his strict upbringing and demands of a working childhood, and his own indefatigable work ethic and relentless perfectionism.  Yet he too wanted to be able to take his rest like ordinary men; to lay down his head at the end of a day of rehearsal, and get a good night’s sleep.

Viewed from this perspective, the desire for normalcy in lives that were anything but “normal” caused the deaths of both Merrick and Jackson. – Merrick in accidentally (or purposely) laying down his heavy head, Michael Jackson with his insistence on Propofol to induce sleep.

Yet what is there really in terms of similarities between these two men?  Not age, ethnicity, nationality nor even inhabiting the same era in history.  One lived in an institution, the other rented luxury mansions.  Jackson had a family of his own, Merrick did not, apart from his circle of friends and visitors at the hospital.  Michael Jackson wept over Merrick’s story; we’ve wept over Jackson’s mistreatment by his father, the media and extortionists, and at his tragic passing.  Whether showing or receiving empathy, the two men are tied together by their humanity.

As are we all.  Joseph Merrick and Michael Jackson teach us a lesson the human race has been long in learning – that difference does not make one less worthy of our understanding and compassion.

“Life is too precious and too short not to reach out and touch the people we can” – Michael Jackson. [15].

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017


[1]          Poem used by Joseph Merrick to end his letters, adapted from “False Greatness” by Isaac Watts

[2]          “Persisting Misidentification of the “Elephant Man” Disease” in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine


[4]          Virgin Media, Michael Jackson Myths  retrieved 15.08.2017.

[5]          Los Angeles Times Jackson Bids for Elephant Mans Remains retrieved 14.08.2017

[6]          Katherine Jackson with Richard Wiseman, “My Family, the Jacksons” St Martin’s Press 1990 accessed at

[7]          CBC Digital Archives, Michael Jackson bids for the elephant man retrieved 14.08.2017

[8]          Ebony/Jet interview 1987

Transcript of the interview:


[10]        Virgin Media Michael Jackson Myths

[11]        Documentary “Meet the Elephant Man” reveals how modern research using Merrick’s bones has aided understanding the disease he suffered and how to help people inflicted with this condition today.

[12]        Michael Jackson, Moonwalk (1988) Arrow Books 2010 paperback edition.

[13]        Raphael Raphael, “Dancing with the Elephant Man’s Bones” in Michael Jackson: Grasping the Spectacle, edited by Christopher R. Smit, Routledge 2012 accessed via

[14]        Ebony/Jet interview 1987

[15]        Michael Jackson, Moonwalk

Featured post

Revisiting “Earth Song” and reviewing Joseph Vogel’s revised monograph “Earth Song: Michael Jackson and the Art of Compassion” 2017

Some masterpieces of art – whether created on canvas, paper or sound recording devices (or on a stage) – come quickly, with the initial sketch being as good as the work can possibly get without being over-thought or over-worked.  Others are long in the making – the idea is born, but the execution takes place over months, even years, before finally the end-product matches the artist’s conceptualisation of the piece.

The latter case proved to be true of Michael Jackson’s majestic anthem for the Earth, “Earth Song”, conceived in 1988 while the artist was on his Bad world tour, and not released until 1995, on his album “HIStory, Past, Present & Future. Book 1”.

EarthSong_cover-193x300In this 2nd revision (i.e. 3rd edition) of his monograph on the song, retitled “Earth Song: Michael Jackson and the Art of Compassion”, Joseph Vogel reveals in detail how all the elements eventually coalesced to form Jackson’s musical masterwork, which took so long to come together it had to cross formats, starting on 24-track, and then switching to digital.  Recording engineer Matt Forger recalls that “The detail and work that went into it was staggering.” [1]

And that was just the recording process.  There is a whole story in how Jackson conceived of “the Earth’s song” (as he referred to it) and of the environmental consciousness that was prominent in popular culture at the time of the song’s early development.  Vogel goes into the political and social climate of the late 80s and the shocking statistics that propelled the need for urgent action to combat deforestation, pollution, disappearing species and all the other elements that invariably impact our own existence on the planet.

When the mood changed to one of cynicism in the 90s, and people were less optimistic about their ability to have any impact on the state of the world (or just didn’t care), Jackson kept working away on “Earth Song”, believing it would, indeed, make a difference.

It was Jackson’s nature to feel compassion.  It was also in his nature to give of the fruits of his labour in terms of his time, his earnings, or both.  Much of the new content in this edition of Vogel’s book on “Earth Song” revolves around Jackson’s humanitarian activities.  This information, excerpted as an article in the Huffington Post, is a reminder to cynical critics and the unknowing public that Jackson led the charge when it came to helping others. [2]

While he enjoyed the attention of unprecedented world fame, “indeed, even thrived on it in certain ways” Vogel writes, “[Jackson] also felt a profound responsibility to use his celebrity for more than fame and fortune.  In 2000, The Guinness Book of World Records cited him as the most philanthropic pop star in history.”

In terms of dollars, Jackson’s philanthropy is known to have exceeded $300 million dollars; in terms of beneficiaries, they were hospitals and orphanages he visited when touring and organisations like the Make A Wish Foundation, Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, NAACP, UNICEF, the Red Cross and the United Negro College Fund which to this day offers a Michael Jackson scholarship. [3]

There are many more beneficiaries, both individuals and organisations, who benefited from the generosity of Michael Jackson; we’ll probably never know the full extent of his charitable acts.  Awareness of Jackson’s philanthropy makes for better understanding of how “Earth Song” became the pinnacle of the artist’s expression of compassion for humanity, the animals, the environment.  It is an anti-pollution, anti-poverty, anti-deforestation, anti-war message.  It comes with a holistic world view that acknowledges the interconnectedness of social and environmental health and the importance of maintaining a balanced ecology.

As Vogel reminds us, “Earth Song” – despite never being released as a single in the US – became the most successful environmental song every recorded, “topping the charts in over fifteen countries and eventually selling over seven million copies.”  Never mind that critics didn’t know what to make of it; as Vogel writes “Its unusual fusion of opera, rock, gospel, and blues sounded like nothing on the radio.  It defied almost every expectation of a traditional anthem… In place of simplistic propaganda for a cause, it was a genuine artistic expression.” [4]

Critical reaction to “Earth Song” and Jackson’s other cerebral tracks frequently highlights a failing of reviewers to step outside their preconceptions of Jackson as a person and expectations of him as an artist.  Often the same critics who laud his early works “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” as his supposed “peak” are the very same who would deny he could have anything relevant to say in the 1990s or later.  The truth is, they just aren’t listening.

To read such reviews, one is inclined to believe that Michael Jackson, the song and dance man, the Mr Bojangles of the late 20th early 21st century, needed to stay in his niche and replicate his work with each album subsequent to “Thriller”.  Yet, they too would doubtless be the first to decry his work as “stale” if his art didn’t evolve.  This is the conundrum with critics – you’re damned in their eyes if you do; and you’re damned if you don’t.  Best to follow your bliss, as Jackson might suggest, and get on with it.

From the engineers, technicians and musicians who worked with Jackson on “Earth Song” and other projects, we get a clear view of his artistic process, both technically and idealistically.  As Vogel explains “Jackson knew it took time and effort to achieve what he saw and heard in his head.  Some songs could be completed within weeks, while others took months, even years.  He sometimes compared the creative process to an artist chipping away at a sculpture.  ‘[You’re] just feeling it.  It’s already in there.  It’s already there.’” [5]   It was something he felt in common with one of his Renaissance idols, Michelangelo, who could perceive the fully-formed sculpture within a raw block of marble. [6]

Despite a lot of time and creative effort having been invested in “Earth Song” since his initial idea in 1988, it wasn’t included on Jackson’s “Dangerous” album, which was released in 1991.  When it did emerge – as though birthed by Gaia herself – “Earth Song” was “a six-and-a-half-minute tour de force that presented the human condition – and the condition of all life – in dramatic panorama.” [7]

Vogel provides a quote from Jackson which encapsulates his sonic vision as heard in “Earth Song”.  “I believe in its primordial form all of creation is sound and that it’s not just random sound, that it’s music.”  And what music.  Vogel examines the track from its opening sounds of nature through to the epic climax – “that pushes the song to new heights.”

“The chorus cries unfold with greater and greater intensity.  The air swirls with apocalyptic energy, ‘the tumult of mighty harmonies’… His call and response and the Andre Crouch Choir unleashes voices that have been smothered.  With each plight Jackson brings to our attention, the choir reinforces with the recurring chant, What about us!” [8]

There have been other notable songs of protest and Vogel explores examples by Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and John Lennon.  Though memorable – and remembered today – none quite have the power of “Earth Song” – a song that “seeks to shatter indifference, as it demands accountability.” [9]

Vogel goes on to explain that Jackson isn’t merely representing himself in “Earth Song”, but is “acting as the medium for a 21st century tragedy; the struggle of earth and its inhabitants for survival against increasingly overwhelming odds.” [10]

Any examination of “Earth Song” as a work of art cannot, and in Vogel’s monograph does not, end with the song itself.  The video for the track is indelibly linked to the song, as it should be, given what went in to making it.  This part of the book is both fascinating and illuminating, revealing the story of how young British director Nick Brandt came to direct the film and captured the necessary footage to tell the story.

The book’s narrative about filming “Earth Song” reveals much – not just about the process of making the video, but about the technique of the director and requirements of the performer, i.e. Jackson, who always wanted his face highly illuminated “in part to hide self-perceived flaws and in part as an aesthetic preference,” writes Vogel.  Even more demanding though, was the need for a wind machine capable of producing the effect required for the climatic scenes of the video, in which all sorts of dirt and debris is hitting Jackson’s face.

But he keeps on singing and performing.

This commitment of the artist, immersed in creating his art, lost in the performance, oblivious to everything being flung at him, is perhaps a suitable analogy for “Earth Song” itself, as well as for Michael Jackson.  Even after he has left us, (we hope, for a far better place), his anthem for the planet remains – powerful, pulsing and demanding.  “Do we give a damn?”

Jackson’s creative partner on “This Is It”, Kenny Ortega, who subsequently directed the movie of concert rehearsal footage, knew the importance of “Earth Song” as containing the artist’s message to his audience and the world in general.  “Michael Jackson expected ‘Earth Song’ to be the most important piece of his This Is It concert series in London” Vogel confirms.

Live performances of “Earth Song” in the 90s were often misinterpreted as the artist acting out some messianic complex.  Rather, Vogel explains, “Jackson was using messianic gestures and symbols not because he literally thought he was the messiah, but because of what tapping into that archetype could express and communicate artistically.” [11]

Vogel quotes another academic, writer and visual artist Constance Pierce, who explains how the “gesture of passion embodied in Jackson’s performance of ‘Earth Song,’ both iconic and transcendent, burns itself into the collective consciousness of the 20th century.” [12]

“Earth Song” remains (to this writer, at least) the highlight of many concert videos and certainly the most dramatic moment in the “This Is It” movie, impressing on audiences the importance of the message Jackson was determined to impart, and its urgency.  Tragically, unbeknownst to everyone present in the Staples Centre auditorium that night of 24 June 2009, it was to be the final song the 50 years-old music legend rehearsed before his passing the next day.  In that lamentable context, as the parting performance of Jackson’s long career, it becomes an even more powerful testament of his deep compassion.

But the legacy of “Earth Song” like that of Michael Jackson, did not, and does not stop with the physical demise of the artist.  Like all great works of art, it has taken on a life of its own and been performed by others ranging from Andre Reu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra to Tony Succar’s “Unity – Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson”. [13] [14]

Returning to Michael’s performance of “Earth Song” in the video, director Nick Brandt explained to Vogel in an interview that the intention in the climax of the film, where Jackson hangs on to two trees in a cruciform pose, was never intended as a messianic gesture.  He was instead “the voice crying in the wilderness”. [15]

Bear with my flight of fancy here: as a one-time student of Aboriginal Studies, I am familiar with the concept of songlines, and stories of Aboriginal elders “singing up the country” through which they are travelling.  They are following ancient routes (often indiscernible to non-native sensibilities) that were created by ancestral spirits as they laid down the landscape, animals and lore.  “[T]he elders or the trained Indigenous people will sing the landscape and therefore be able to move from location to location through it, and teach each other… but at the same time, they are singing the country into being as they cross it.” [16]

A variation of this concept of singing the country into being is what I imagine when Michael howls into the wind and debris in the “Earth Song” video, and we see the death and devastation reversing itself.  It’s like he is urging us to join him in singing the world – not into being, since it already exists, though in an abused, devastated form – but rather “singing” it back to life.  No lone voice can do it, he can’t do it by himself (as he later reminded us in the Invincible album track “Cry”). [17]    This is not messianic, but rather an act of compassion and self-sacrifice in which we are all called to take part.

Michael Jackson knew that.  “People are always saying, ‘Oh, they’ll take care of it, the government will do it.’  They?  They who?  It starts with us.  It’s us!  Or it will never be done.” [18]

Kerry Hennigan
September 2017


[1] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song: Michael Jackson and the Art of Compassion” Blakevision Books, New York 2017.

[2] Joseph Vogel “Michael Jackson’s Forgotten Humanitarian Legacy”


[4] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[5] Ibid

[6] Kerry Hennigan “The Pop Art of Michelangelo and Michael Jackson as defined by LaChapelle”

[7] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Constance Pierce “Lacrymae Rerum: Reflections of a Visual Artist Informed and Inspired by Gestures of Transcendence in the Passionate Art of Michael Joseph Jackson.” Passions of the Skies in Fine Arts Expression.  International Society of Phenomenology.  Fine Arts and Aesthetics 16th Annual Conference.  Harvard University.  May 18, 2011.



[15] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017


[17] Kerry Hennigan “World Cry and the case for “Cry”

[18] Michael Jackson quoted in Vogel, “Earth Song” 2017.

Related articles and reviews:

Photo collage “what about Us?” compiled by Kerry Hennigan using Pixlr software, Sept 2017.  No infringement of copyright ownership of the photograph of Michael Jackson is intended for this not-for-profit, educational exercise.




Featured post

“Let the music tell you what it should be” – Michael Jackson, Vincent Paterson (and me)

It’s a great interview – and I hope every Michael Jackson fan has a chance to listen to it: choreographer and director Vincent Paterson on the MJCast special podcast for Michael’s birthday, 2017. (1)

There is so much to enjoy and information to glean from the interview, my only disappointment being that it didn’t last long enough to cover some areas I was interested in from Vincent’s 17 years of collaboration with Michael Jackson – choreographing the Super Bowl performance of 1993 and directing the Blood on the Dance Floor short film, for example.

Vincent also directed the Bad tour with Michael – I would have loved to have quizzed him about that – not the least because it would have provided some further insight into Michael’s stage craft.

As for Blood on the Dance Floor (1997), this dates from one of my favourite MJ eras, though not the only one.  Here we had mature Michael in a performance that is both spell-binding and provocative – speaking from my personal point of view as an unashamed, besotted fan (per this WordPress article!). (2)

But, returning to the interview, Vincent spoke about starting to take notice of Michael as a singer “when he started stepping into his own realm and started to explore, finding his own voice…”  This really resonated with me, and I guess explains pretty much the way I feel about Michael’s solo adult material compared to the J5 and Jacksons’ stuff.  That may seem like sacrilege to some MJ fans, but it seems I’m not the only one.

While I wasn’t into the Grateful Dead, like Vincent, I bought albums by the Eagles, America, Loggins & Messina, John Denver and Linda Ronstadt – having come through my teens in the 60s with the Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary and Lee Hazlewood.  The Jackson family wasn’t present in my record collection at all.

I can’t remember the first time I heard Michael on the radio, either singing with his brothers or as a solo artist; I was just too entrenched in other music genres to take much notice.  I don’t remember when I first saw the ‘Beat It’ or ‘Thriller’ videos (in which Vincent performs), but I DO remember the first time I saw ‘Bad’ on TV.  It really made me sit up, take notice and think: “Wow, Michael Jackson has grown up [i.e. matured] and become sexy!”  That tells you a lot about my relationship (as a fan) with Michael Jackson.

Of course, I can recognize Michael’s artistic maturity evolving with the development of his videos, starting with ‘Billie Jean’ and its ‘noir’ visual references.  This evolution continued with the short films for the ‘Bad’ album and his collaboration with artists like Vincent Paterson who had expertise in choreography, performance and staging – and a willingness to take up the challenge of realising Michael’s vision for a piece.  Michael’s instruction to Vincent for the choreography for ‘Smooth Criminal’ was “Let the music tell you what it should be”.  The outcome was a classic video which was later translated into a live performance staple for Michael’s tours. (3)

Another performance mentioned in the interview with the MJCast is the MTV 10th Anniversary presentation of Black or White and Will You Be There. (4)  Is there a Michael Jackson fan in the world who doesn’t love this?  If so, I haven’t met them.  (And we probably wouldn’t have much in common if I did!)

Vincent explains about staging Black or White using elements from the black panther portion of the original short film – basically to show everyone that, irrespective of the controversy that arose following the premiere of the Black or White video on television, they were happy with what they had done, and they were going to do it again, “so, too bad!”

Finally, Vincent’s comments on staging Will You Be There for MTV had me feeling I was truly in sync with this man’s sensibilities when it comes to Michael Jackson.  “I know that this will sound corny to a lot of people,” he says at approximately 80 minutes into the interview, “but I don’t care, it’s my truth.  I never really met anybody that to me embodied as many of the characteristics of Jesus Christ… than Michael Jackson.  Kindness, patience, love, understanding, generosity; I could go on and on.

“So, in a way I wanted to just say that this is a good man.  This is, in a way, a holy man.  This is a really good man, and at the end (I’m getting teary-eyed now) …I just thought that Michael was a vulnerable soul and I wanted the world to see him protected and so I brought this model named Angela Ice in on wings and ended it with him wrapped in her arms; so that’s what I did.” (5)

As someone who loves the presentation of that beautiful song of Michael’s, all I can say is: thank you, Vincent Paterson.  Thank you for capturing my emotions with your production back in 1991, and for sharing your own love and respect for Michael in your interview.

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017



(1) The MJCast – episode 064: Vincent Paterson Special – access on:

(2) Kerry Hennigan: “What is it about ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’? or: Michael Jackson as alpha male”

(3) Kersti Grunditz: “The Man Behind the Throne” documentary – Complete Michael Jackson part

(4) Interview – Vincent Paterson MTV 10 and Performance – MTV 10

(5) The MJCast – episode 064: Vincent Paterson Special

Other interviews with Vincent Paterson that feature his work with Michael:

Career overview including working with Michael:

Working with MJ:

Vincent’s website:



Featured post

Michael Jackson on Tour – Staging ‘the Greatest Show on Earth’ (and then topping it)

From June 27, 1992 to November 11, 1993, Michael Jackson’s Dangerous World Tour travelled the globe with over 100 tons of equipment – enough to fill twenty trucks.  Two Boeing 747 aircraft were required to airlift it between cities, and once there, it took three days to set it all up.

This is a reminder to us 25 years later, that when it came to his art, Michael Jackson did not believe in half measures.  And this was a tour that wasn’t meant to happen!  After the Bad World Tour, Michael had announced he didn’t want to tour again. (1)  However, an opportunity to raise funds for his Heal the World Foundation, with sponsorship for the tour from Pepsi (reportedly for US$20 million) prompted him to change his mind.

From the opening number, with Michael shooting into the air from below the stage, flanked by bursts of fireworks, then gazing unmoving out over his audience before kicking into Jam, the show was high-octane, high-energy.  For Michael Jackson, an artist who admired the showmanship of 19th century American entertainment impresario PT Barnum, it was a chance to put on his own ‘greatest show on Earth’.

It’s not like he hadn’t had plenty of practice at this sort of thing.  His Bad tour, also sponsored by Pepsi, had seen Michael revel in the freedom of being the boss of his own show – contrary to when he toured with his brothers.  When touring as a member of the Jacksons he could be outvoted when it came to decisions of songs, presentation and staging.  In his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk he talks about his unhappiness with several aspects of the Victory Tour – from the ticketing process and pricing controversy through to personal and creative disagreements with his brothers.

Promoter Don King nevertheless knew a money machine when he saw one – and its name was Michael Jackson.  “Anybody who sees this show will be a better person for years to come,” he told the media, “Michael Jackson has transcended all earthly bounds.  Every race, color and creed is waiting for this tour.”  The weight of responsibility for the tour’s success was squarely on Michael’s shoulders.

As he later revealed in Moonwalk, “When it came down to the actual tour, I was outvoted on a number of issues, but you don’t think when you’re onstage, you just deliver… The opening was dramatic and bright and captured the whole feeling of the show.  When the lights came on and they saw us, the roof would come off the place.”  Nevertheless, he was disappointed with the tour from the beginning.  “I wanted to move the world like it had never been moved.  I wanted to present something that would make people say, ‘Wow! That’s wonderful!’… I didn’t have the time or the opportunity to perfect it the way I wanted to.”(2)

When Michael later made it known he was not interested in extending the tour to a European leg, the family wasn’t happy.  But after his experiences with the Victory tour, Michael realised he had to make his career decisions with more care than ever.  At Motown everything had been done for the brothers.  Other people made the decisions.  “I’ve been mentally scarred by the experience” Michael said in Moonwalk. (3)

bad tourMichael’s first solo world tour, Bad, began in Japan in September 1987 and to some seemed to continue where the Victory tour had left off.  Katherine Jackson wrote in her book My Family, the Jacksons (1990) that she thought she was watching the identical show, only with four backup singers replacing the brothers.  She told Michael’s manager, Frank Dileo, that she thought the show was great; that Michael was always good, but “it would have been a better show with the brothers.” (4)  Needless to say, Frank disagreed; it’s likely Michael would have too.  At this point in his career he wanted control, and now he had it, both in the studio and on stage.

There were only two songs from the Bad album on the set list for the opening night of the tour, which eventually played in 15 countries and earned Guinness World Records for the largest grossing tour in history and the tour with the largest attended audience.  Michael certainly showed what he could do unconstrained by familial ties, the preferences of others, or by financial constraints (he was already the most successful music star on the planet by this time).

The staging was impressive – with 700 lights, 100 speakers, 40 lasers, three mirrors and two 24 x 18 ft. screens.  There were 70 costumes for the performers, including four that had fibre optic light attachments.  Michael brought in Vincent Paterson for the choreography and staging, and more songs from the Bad album were added to the set list, including crowd-pleasers Smooth Criminal, Dirty Diana and Man in the Mirror.  Staging Smooth Criminal for a live performance required a device that enabled Michael and the other dancers to perform the 45 degree lean.  So, Michael drew up a sketch and his costumers, Tompkins and Bush, created the ‘anti-gravity’ shoes which were registered with the US Patient and Trademark Office.

Michael Jackson continued to polish his stage-craft throughout the Bad tour and took what he’d learned into a new decade – the 90s – when he decided to tour for the Dangerous album.  This time he teamed up with choreographer Kenny Ortega, who he would continue to work with right through to This Is It.  A California native, Ortega had been trained by one of Michael’s idols, Gene Kelly, with whom he had worked on the movie Xanadu; he later choreographed the original Dirty Dancing movie (1987) and various music videos.  His tour credits before the Dangerous tour included Cher’s Heart of Stone tour 1989-90 and Gloria Estefan’s Into The Light world tour 1991-92.  The Dangerous tour was to be the beginning of a long association and friendship between Michael and Ortega.

When asked in 2010 “How do you direct Michael Jackson?  Can you say no to him?” Ortega replied “You don’t tell Michael no. You disagree. You don’t ever have to criticize Michael. What you always get with Michael is an open mind and that’s all he expects back from you. He would say to me, when he really believed in something that I wasn’t on the same page with him about, he’d say, ‘Please, please, just promise me that you’ll keep it alive in your mind for five minutes. I know you’ll come to agree with me.’ I would say, ‘Oh, you’re wrong there, mister.’ Michael loved that about our relationship. He called it creative jousting and he loved that. He rolled up his sleeves and we wrestled ideas and it didn’t matter. I know that Michael kept inviting me back time and time again because I didn’t just yes him, nor did I boss him. We had a wonderful repartee. I know that Michael trusted me that I would get the work done. He would say to me, ‘You build the house. I’ll rock it down.’” (5)

The Dangerous tour packed in many elements that Michael Jackson loved, including a dramatic entrance, stage illusions, and at the end of the show a spectacular exit, when he appeared to depart the stadium by jet-pack.  Michael’s love of illusion and magic, as well as his ability to spellbind his audience just with his presence, was well and truly ‘on stage’ for the world to see.  “He wanted to come out with the biggest show on earth,” guitarist Jennifer Batten said in a 2010 interview. “He wanted it to be like Christmas for people. His imagination was like a creative tornado. He would come up with his wildest dreams and then hire people to carry it out. It was really amazing to be a part of that.” (6)


How could he possibly top that?  For the HIStory tour, he certainly tried.  Instead of shooting into the air at the beginning of the show, Michael arrived in a space capsule which ‘crashed’ into the stage.  He stepped out seemingly encased in metal, beneath which was (gasp) the famous gold pants… plus the rest of his space costume!  It was quite an opening.

As for the staging – it was truly gigantic.  At Letna Park in Praque in the Czech Republic, in front of a crowd in excess of 127,000, Michael performed on the biggest stage of the tour.  Drummer Jonathan ‘Sugarfoot’ Moffett recalled “Our Opening Night Show of the “History” Tour ’96/97′!!!…. An Amazing Day ‘And’ Night, in my Life And Career!!!… “M.J. Magnificence”!!!… The ‘Biggest Stage’ Configuration of the Tour “HiStory”!!! From That date on, . . The stage was ‘Downgraded’ in production attributes compliments, . . To cut production and transport costs!… SO, my dear friends, . . . “THIS WAS IT”!!!!… “M.J. Gorgantuas”!!!… You ‘Had To Be There’, to understand the Magnitude!” (7)

Come the 21st century and the This Is It residency shows at London’s O2 arena, the bar was set at a much higher level for the staging thanks to the availability of advanced digital technology that included 3D footage leading into the live performance.  Ortega recalled one of Michael’s big stage ideas after a press screening of unseen footage from the This Is It movie.

“One morning Michael called me and said: ‘Victoria Falls!’ and I said: ‘That’s in Africa’.

“And he said: ‘That’s why we have to have it!'”

Ortega explained: “Daily, Michael and I would be creative jousting and wrestling down ideas.  I think Michael wanted the world on stage, and he wanted the wonders of the world represented on stage.

“We had choirs and children and dancers and singers and musicians and effects and movies and the world’s largest 3-D hi-definition screen.  What Michael wanted was the Victoria Falls in 3-D pouring over the stage – with him in front of it, singing!” (8)

(We at least see an aerial view of the falls in the Earth Song 3D footage, in the This Is It movie.)  The creative team came up with Light Man for Michael’s entrance at the start of the show.  But topping the Dangerous tour’s ‘Rocket Man’ exit required additional creative thinking.

Thus MJ Air was born.  On the This Is It DVD extras, Ortega explains how Michael was to be whisked out of the arena before the audience was even aware he had left. (9)  He was going to walk up a ramp and appear to board a jet aircraft.  The digital aircraft would then rumble away down the runway, turn and take off over the heads of the audience – in 3D.  (If you’ve ever been to the open air Sun Pictures cinema in Broome, Western Australia, where planes departing the local airport sometimes take off over the top of the screen, you’ll appreciate the effect that Michael’s team was aiming for.)  And while people were ducking in their seats, the star of the show and his children would be in the car and on their way out of London.

His object was to leave his audience gob-smacked.  The ultimate showman might have left the arena, but in the minds of his fans, the show would go on.

It still does.

Kerry Hennigan
September 2017



(1)          Ebony, April 1989 accessed from

(2)         Michael Jackson Moonwalk 1988 Arrow Books paperback edition 2010

(3)          Ibid

(4)          Katherine Jackson My Family, The Jacksons St Martin’s Press 1990 accessed on

(5)          Interview: This Is It Director Kenny Ortega on his last work with MJ

(6)          Interview with Jennifer Batten 2010, as blogged on her website:

(7)          Jonathan Sugarfoot Moffett commenting on a photo of the Prague HIStory stage – Facebook 9 September 2015

(8)          Jackson ‘wanted the world on stage’ BBC News 2009

(9)          Michael Jackson – This Is It (MJ Air) accessible on Youtube

Photo montage ‘let’s Jam’ compiled and photo-shopped by Kerry Hennigan, 2017  MJ Air from Google Images online, accessed 22 August 2017.

Tour data (does not include MJ and Friends, 30th Anniversary, United We Stand concerts or other special event performances) –


Featured post

Book Review: ‘Otherness and Power. Michael Jackson and his media critics’ by Susan Woodward

This slim but important 2014 publication shines a spotlight on some of Michael Jackson’s harshest critics and reveals the depths to which some individuals, publishers and networks stooped to discredit his talent, his manhood, his generosity and his genius.

For someone who is a fan, this can be a very difficult book to read in terms of its content.  Susan Woodward looks at the assumptions and assertions of those who have been emphatic in their published negativity towards Jackson.  This brings the sensitive reader into contact with examples of text that can be considered highly offensive.

Woodward looks first at the words of music critic David Marsh, author of Trapped: Michael Jackson and the Crossover Dream published in 1985; then at journalist Maureen Orth and her “five lengthy articles about Michael Jackson for Vanity Fair magazine” published between the early 90s and 2000s; and finally, Mark Fisher, editor of The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson published in 2009, and the various authors whose essays comprise that volume.

From her examination of these works, Woodward reveals the frightening power of journalism to influence public consciousness despite, in some instances, a total absence of understanding of their subject, and in others, possessing preconceived notions of the artist that colour everything they write about him.

Personally I have no time for professional writers who do not adequately research their articles and/or make no attempt to “walk a mile” in their subject’s shoes.  Theirs is not even an attempt at balanced journalism.  Admittedly, with the subject being Michael Jackson, there isn’t really anyone who could adequately assume to understand what it would be like to walk around in Jackson’s shoes for even the briefest period of time.  But in most cases, they are not even prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt by attempting a less subjective approach to their subject.

allthingsmichael2Woodward dissects their harshest statements and misconceptions and reveals how they highlight a failure of the critics to come to terms with Michael Jackson’s ‘otherness’ as well as his undoubted ‘power’ as a successful artist and internationally idolised celebrity.

For students of Michael Jackson studies, this book is a valuable research tool with a very useful list of sources accessed by the author in forming her arguments.

For the fans, Otherness and Power provides clearly thought-out responses to some of Jackson’s harshest critics – who, we must remember, managed to get their names noticed by ‘bullying’ someone in print because of his difference, his talent and his success.

That way they could at least get their own slice of Jackson’s success.

“Are you the ghost of jealousy?” MJ sings in Ghosts.  For the majority of the folk discussed in Susan Woodward’s book, I’d have to say the answer is “yes”.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
August 2017

Other Reviews of this volume:

Author Interview:

“An Interview with Susan Woodward.” Interview, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 2, no. 3 (2016). Published electronically 21/05/16.






Featured post

Precursors to Michael Jackson’s Egyptian Magician and other historical references in the “Remember the Time” short film

Michael Jackson’s short film for the single release of his song Remember the Time (1992) has been referred to as an Egyptian fantasy or extravaganza.  Certainly in design, depiction and execution, it appears more indebted to classic Hollywood musicals than to actual history.  Its primary focus was, of course, as a promotional vehicle for the single release of the song – the second from the Dangerous album.

In researching the Remember the Time short film, we invariably read about Michael’s love for ancient Egypt, and how director John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) agreed to helm the project if he could have an all-black cast.  However, not usually mentioned – but of more interest to me as a student of ancient history, are possible historical precursors to the character Michael plays in the film.

Some sources on Remember the Time refer to Michael’s character as “a black-robed wizard”. (1)  However, “wizard” is a title derived from the Middle English word “wys” (meaning wise) and the suffix “ard” and only after the mid-16th Century AD did it gain its present meaning of describing someone with magical abilities. (2)

We should therefore more correctly refer to Remember the Time’s mysterious visitor as a “magician”.  “Michael said, ‘We have to put Magic in this video.’ I’ll always remember that” Singleton recalled in 2009. (3)

In reality, the magicians of ancient Egypt had, prior to the first millennium BC, been both priests and magicians, performing ceremonies and casting spells. (4)  We can even draw an analogy here if we look at Michael’s big production performances as “ceremonies” and the way in which he “casts a spell” on his audience (i.e. us) in whatever he does.

Ancient Egyptian magicians figure in the Old Testament Bible in the Book of Exodus 7:10-12 when the Pharaoh, in attempting to replicate Aaron’s feat in turning his staff into a serpent, “called for the sages and sorcerers, and by their spells the magicians of Egypt did the same.” (5)

However, we don’t have to rely on Hebrew or Greek texts for stories of Egyptian magicians, because there are actual Egyptian sources that refer to specific individuals.  These included Meryra, who made a “man of clay” and Khaemwaset, whose name means “He who appears in the Thebes”.  Although the tales of him are fanciful, they are based on a historical individual who is well-known to Egyptologists from the statues of him (as depicted top right in the photo montage above) and other artifacts. (6)

There are other historical references in Remember the Time’s whimsical depiction of ancient Egypt.

At the beginning of the film, images of two very real Egyptian royals appear (and disappear) amongst the swirling sands of time, followed by a glimpse of the Old Kingdom monuments of the Sphinx and Pyramids at Giza. (7)  The bust of the male that first appears is of the New Kingdom pharaoh Ramesses the Great (Ramesses II) d. 1212 BC and that of the queen that follows is easily recognized as being Nefertiti d. 1331 BC the Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten d. 1336 BC. (8)

While Eddie Murphy can’t really be said to resemble the bust of Ramesses II (or Akhenaten, either), Iman certainly presents a very credible impression of Nefertiti.  The famous bust she so resembles was created circa 1340 BC by the sculptor Thutmose.  This priceless artifact is today a star exhibit in the Neues Museum in Berlin. (9)

Eddie Murphy’s headdress resembles a gold version of a type of headdress which Akhenaten is shown wearing on some statuary, stele and wall paintings.

While neither Ramesses II or Nefertiti and Akhenaten are from the era of the famous “Black Pharaohs”, i.e. the Nubian kings who ruled Egypt as the country’s 25th dynasty from 760-656 BC, I think the director’s point in casting the Remember the Time short film is to remind people that the ancient Egyptian royalty were Africans, so why shouldn’t they be played by an African-American and a Somalian respectively, contrary to the lead actors of most Hollywood Biblical epics? (10)

Michael Jackson being assisted with his costume by Michael Bush on the set of the “Remember the Time” short film, January 1992

The issue of ethnicity aside (see my note below), Remember the Time depicts a fictionalized Pharaoh and his beautiful Queen at the height of their dynastic powers – until a mysterious stranger arrives to cure the Queen of her boredom and to remind her, perhaps, of their secret, shared, past.

Ancient Egyptians loved music, dancing and singing.  Love songs were not uncommon – being mostly written by eloquent scribes. (11)  Thus, Michael Jackson can indulge his love for ancient Egypt – and the African continent and its people – while weaving his own considerable magic on his global audience.

As is the case with so much of Michael’s art, there are layers upon layers, and much for the fan and scholar to explore.  For me, Remember the Time has prompted actual historical research in terms of people and occupations of the ancient past as well as how they are interpreted by popular culture in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Kerry Hennigan
7 July 2017

A note on ancient Egyptians:

The ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians is a subject of considerable scholarly debate, some of which has, I think, more to do with modern views on race and racism than actual evidence.  Michael’s short film reflects some important arguments in this debate which have been taken up by proponents of Singleton’s vision of ancient Egypt. (12)

Understandably, the ancient Egyptians had their own way of defining their identity in comparison to others, as depicted in New Kingdom pictorial and written sources. (13)

But, as one modern source wisely notes: “objectivity remains elusive within the race debate, and is perhaps impossible.” (14)


(1)       Text accompanying the official video:












(13)     ‘Digital Egypt for Universities’ website of the University College London:

(14)     Ibid

Further information and additional reading:

Nefertiti’s bust in Berlin:

Akhenaten: Egyptian Pharaoh, Nefertiti’s Husband, Tut’s Father

Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great):

Michael Bush “The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson” [large hardcover pictorial book which includes some interesting information on Michael’s Remember the Time costume]

Photo montage: “Magicians Rule!!!” compiled and edited by Kerry Hennigan using professional photographs sourced through Google.









Featured post

The ‘Pop Art’ of Michelangelo and Michael Jackson (as defined by LaChapelle)

The website for the UK’s Tate Galleries defines Pop Art as…“an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s in America and Britain, drawing inspiration from sources in popular and commercial culture such as advertising, Hollywood movies and pop music. Key pop artists include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake and David Hockney.” (1)

Photographic artist David LaChapelle has a much broader definition.  He believes that ‘pop art’ is art that has crossed over from being for the very few to being for everyone – it is art that has become so recognisable that everyone can identify it – not just Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, but Michelangelo’s David or something from Michael Jackson’s catalogue.

It is art that has transcended genre and outlived the era in which it was created.

LaChapelle equated the art of Michelangelo with that of Michael Jackson in a recent BBC video clip promoting an exhibition at the National Gallery, London.*  It’s a statement that may shock some, but which hardly comes as a revelation for Michael’s many fans. (2)

David LaChapelle, whose first job as a professional photographer was for Warhol, is famous for his own surrealistic photographic and film work employing popular cultural figures in exotic scenarios often inspired by Renaissance artworks and displaying Biblical themes.

In December 2016 he photographed Paris Jackson for her Rolling Stone cover feature where his use of religious iconography is prominent – along with plenty of nods to Paris’ father, of whom LaChapelle is a huge fan. (3)

Biblical themes dominate his series ‘American Jesus’ which featured three post-2009 images of Michael Jackson (achieved by using an impersonator plus some digital manipulation) respectively titled ‘American Jesus: Hold Me, Carry Me Boldly’, ‘The Beatification: I’ll Never Let You Part For You’re Always In My Heart’ and ‘Archangel Michael: And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer’. (4)

The first of these, ‘American Jesus’ features a pose clearly inspired by Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’.

michael and david
Michael Jackson at the feet of Michelangelo’s ‘David’,  Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, 1988.  (Photographer unknown)

Michael Jackson’s own appreciation for the art of Renaissance masters like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci is well documented.  He saw some of these masterpieces first hand while in Italy on his Bad world tour in 1988. (5)

Later, at Neverland, he had a painting of himself by David Nordal – called simply ‘Michael’ – which was inspired by Michelangelo’s monumental sculpture of David.

In his ‘Moonwalk’ biography, Michael explained his admiration for Michelangelo – “he poured his soul into his work.  He knew in his heart that one day he would die, but that work he did would live on.  You can tell he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with all his soul.  At one point he even destroyed it and did it over because he wanted it to be perfect.  He said, ’If the wine is sour, pour it out.’” (6)

This is a particularly memorable scene in the 1965 movie The Agony and the Ecstasy based on Irving Stone’s biographical novel of Michelangelo.  I wonder if Michael saw it and remembered it from there?  (I first saw this film in the cinema as part of a school group accompanied by the nuns who taught us.  Today I still own a copy of the movie on DVD, so I know it well.) (7)

Michael certainly knew the emotions involved in Michelangelo’s outburst – and undertook similar drastic measures.  When he listened to the completed Thriller album for the first time, he knew it wouldn’t work.  In ‘Moonwalk’ he explains that he felt devastated and angry, and declared “We’re not releasing it.”

After a couple of days off, and taking a deep breath, Michael and his team mixed the entire album all over again.  Afterwards everyone – including the record company – could hear the difference.  “It felt so good when we finished.  I was so excited I couldn’t wait for it to come out.” (8)

Michael’s instincts as an artist who – like Michelangelo – poured his heart and soul into his work were accurate – “if the wine is sour, pour it out.”

For Michelangelo, the outcome of starting afresh was his Sistine Chapel masterpiece.  For Michael Jackson, it was the biggest selling album of all time.

When discussing his song writing technique with Vibe magazine in 2002, he again referenced Michelangelo (and another scene from The Agony and the Ecstasy) when he said (in part) “I believe it’s already up there before you are born, and then it drops right into your lap. It’s the most spiritual thing in the world.  When it comes, it comes with all the accompaniments, the strings, the bass, the drums, the lyrics, and you’re just the medium through which it comes, the channel… Like Michelangelo would have this huge piece of marble from the quarries of Italy, and he’d say, ‘Inside is a sleeping form.’ He takes a hammer and chisel, and he’s just freeing it. It’s already in there. It’s already there.” (9)

Like Michelangelo’s ceiling frescos and monumental sculptures, Michael’s albums, singles and videos are indelibly stamped on popular culture – they are ‘pop art’ as defined by David LaChapelle.

Whether or not we agree with LaChapelle’s definition of the genre, to have Michael Jackson’s creative endeavours compared to those of Michelangelo is a testament to Michael’s work ethic and life-long commitment to perfecting his art.

I believe the comparison is justly deserved and one he would have loved.

Kerry Hennigan
March 2017

‘Art is Life… Life is Art’ pop art triptych features Michelangelo’s Pieta, photo of Michael Jackson (photographer unknown) and David LaChapelle’s American Jesus, digitally edited by the author.

*The Credit Suisse Exhibition “Michelangelo & Sebastiano” runs 15 March – 25 June 2017 at The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London.  For details visit:

For an examination of David LaChapelle’s images depicting Michael Jackson I highly recommend Annemarie Latour’s two-part article “Redeeming the King of Pop: David LaChapelle’s Fine Art Portrayal of Michael Jackson” (link below).  Annemarie has also recently written on the iconography in LaChapelle’s portraits of Paris Jackson for Rolling Stone:


  2. BBC video
  3. Rolling Stone
  4. Annemarie Latour “Redeeming the King of Pop: David LaChapelle’s Fine Art Portrayal of Michael Jackson Parts 1 and 2
  6. Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” Arrow Books paperback edition 2010 p.220
  7. “The Agony and the Ecstasy” 20th Century Fox, 1965
  8. Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” pp 199-200
  9. Vibe magazine interview, March 2002 as blogged by

books edited.jpg

Featured post

Book Review: “Let’s Make HIStory. An Insight into the HIStory album” by Brice Najar

517upefrryl-_sx258_bo1204203200_“Let’s Make HIStory.  An Insight into the HIStory album” by Brice Najar.  Translator: Laetitia Latouche.
Preface by Bruce Swedien
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 20, 2016)
Paperback 242 pages

The scope of Brice Najar’s book “Let’s Make HIStory” encompasses both parts of Michael Jackson’s HIStory: Past, Present & Future Book 1 double album, quite rightly referred to as “an opus”.

This was considerably more than I expected when purchasing the book – based on an interview with the author in the Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies – it being the new material on HIStory – the “HIStory continues” portion – that I was most interested in reading about.

The book is composed of interviews, some of them quite in-depth, with people who worked on the different recordings with Michael Jackson.  This means we have people who worked on material from the early 80s as well as the 90s, a rare few having involvement all the way through.

I have to admit to not being one of the fans who worships at the shrine of Quincy Jones, but given that tracks from “Off the Wall”, “Thriller” and “Bad” are included on the “HIStory begins” portion of the album, the references to Mr Jones are unavoidable.  That’s not to mean that I begrudge Quincy his due for the truly memorable work he did with Michael, merely some of the things he has said publically about Michael in recent years.

Once we get to the 90s tracks – three from the “Dangerous” album under “HIStory begins” and then the “HIStory continues” portion – I became truly engrossed in the recollections of the talented musicians and others who contributed their skills and experience to the creative process.

Included are some photographs of the individuals interviewed along with some autographed items from the author’s collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia.  They are not a major component of the book, but they do nicely augment the text and, in some cases provide evidence of the author’s interaction with some of the interviewees.

One thing this book lacks which would make it so much more valuable as a reference work is an Index.  Add a Bibliography, and it would be even better.  But, while there are numerous MJ books that have those things, few of them can claim to have acquired their information through first-hand interviews as has Najar.

Furthermore, Najar’s interviews are composed of intelligent questions, respectful of the creative process and the interviewee’s part in it, and respectful of the primary artist, Michael Jackson.  There is no tabloid fodder here.  It was Najar’s intention to give a voice to those working in the studio “and this way not making anything up!”*

The text contains some typing idiosyncrasies which, though minor and at least used consistently, I nevertheless found to be irritating.  If I had been editing the book I would have insisted they be changed.

I would also have moved the Table of Contents from the back of the book to the front, where we’re used to seeing it in most publications.

By far the most interesting part of the book for me was the interview with Brad Buxer.  Even though I have heard Brad talk about his work with Michael in person at one of Brad Sundberg’s famous In the Studio with Michael Jackson seminars, at which I took copious notes in longhand, it’s wonderful to have his stories “on record” by virtue of this book.

For those who don’t know, Buxer worked with Michael from 1989 onwards, both in the studio and on tour and eventually became his musical director following the Super Bowl half time show in 1993.  He continued to work on songs with Michael up to and including 2008.

Other favourites are Steve Porcaro and Rob Hoffman.  The latter’s recollections of the night in the studio when Michael recorded the final vocals for Earth Song are truly memorable, as are his many other insights from the HIStory album sessions he was involved in.

There are so many quotable quotes in this book from many of the interviewees.  But what comes through in every case is their absolute appreciation for having worked with Michael Jackson and for being a part of his, and popular music’s, HIStory.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
February 2017

*Najar, Brice in his Preface to “Let’s Make HIStory” p 8.

The book is available from Amazon.


Featured post

Michael Jackson – looking for the meaning behind his Art


Having read many articles and some of the academic papers written about Michael Jackson and his art and influence on popular culture, I admit to sometimes being bemused by what I read.  In some cases, others are seeing, hearing and finding meanings quite different from my own understanding of the work being discussed.


Michael’s friend and co-worker on stage and in the studio, Brad Buxer, made a comment at an In the Studio with Michael Jackson seminar which resonated with me and in particular my reactions to some of the analyses I’d read about Michael and his work.

Brad had been personally involved with many songs from the early stages and seen how they evolved into something quite different from what might have first been envisaged.  ‘Morphine’ was cited as an example of this.

Perhaps Michael was keeping his total intent, his complete vision, close to his chest, until the work had reached such a stage as he could see how to have that vision fully realised (take, for example, the period of time it took for ‘Earth Song’ to evolve into the ‘magnum opus’ that it became).

But, in the many instances where Michael himself has not given us more than superficial insight into the work, how do we know if we have analysed it accurately?  And is that possible at all?

I come from a school of thought that suspects in many cases, things are over-analysed to the point where the work being studied takes on a life (or lives) of its own in the minds and articles of those who think they have cracked its code.

This raises the question: can anyone other than the artist know the true meaning of their art?  Furthermore, with performance art in particular, unless the artist works in complete isolation in terms of writing, performing, recording and filming the videos, how can we know how much the ideas, suggestions and experience of others have contributed to the final outcome?

Performance art is usually a collaborative process, with the artist as the instigator and principle component of the work.  At any point in the process though, input from someone in the studio or listening to a demo may prompt the artist to take the work in a completely different direction.

It is inevitable that we judge the work of others from our own place in the universe, from within our own skin, if you like.  How can it be otherwise?  True detachment from the self is impossible – impartiality is a myth we’ve been sold by those who would have us accept their viewpoint as the RIGHT or ONLY one worth considering.

Denying the impossibility of true detachment from our subject is, I believe, akin to denying our individuality.  We might start out by agreeing with someone on several matters, and then come across something where our opinions deviate markedly.  Suddenly we realise that we are not of one mind on all matters after all.  The truth is, nobody is.

So, if you don’t agree with someone’s analysis of one of Michael’s songs or short films or anything else about him (or anybody) do not despair.  You probably have plenty of company.

I often wonder what Michael would think about the way we analyse and dissect his art?  Surely he would be appreciative of it being discussed seriously in academic circles, so long as it was being done with an open mind and, yes, even love.  The intentions of most academics I have come to know who have published work on Michael Jackson are fans as well as teachers, lecturers and authors.  A lot of their motivation comes from a desire to have Michael’s art and his life receive their due recognition as important and influential components of modern popular culture.

As for dissecting and analysing the work… when I find myself in disagreement with something that has been written, I remind myself that the sum of the art is greater than its various parts – and without the artist, it wouldn’t exist.

Kerry Hennigan
January 2017


Featured post

A bitter-sweet sort of agony – On being an MJ pilgrim

Story and Photos* by Kerry Hennigan

A Michael Jackson pilgrim is what I call a fan who travels the country or the world to visit places relevant to Michael’s life or to attend special events honouring his art and legacy. They are a culturally diverse group of individuals from many countries, and since June 2010 I’ve been fortunate to consider myself one of them.

While many people think of pilgrimage in terms of traditional sacred journeys to places like Santiago de Compostela in Spain, following in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land, or travelling to other sacred sites like Lourdes, there are also many types of secular pilgrimage.  Michael Jackson pilgrimage belongs in the latter group, of course.  We love and admire Michael as a human being; we don’t worship him as a god.

California locations like Neverland in the Santa Ynez Valley and Forest Lawn, Glendale are the most obvious places of pilgrimage for MJ fans. In Hollywood his star is on the Walk of Fame and just down Hollywood Boulevard is Pantages Theatre where he filmed scenes for “You Are Not Alone.”  Michael’s final rented home in the Holmby Hills part of Beverley Hills and the Jackson family compound in Encino are examples of other places to include on any LA-based ‘Michaeling’ holiday.

There are no ‘rules’ to follow – like any journey taken by choice, the itinerary should be what the individual pilgrim wants it to be.

Some of us travel to see monuments and statues of Michael – in China, London, Hong Kong, Rio and other places. Happily more are cropping up around the world as Michael’s legacy continues to grow.  When I attended the unveiling of the magnificent statue of Michael by Lu Zhengkang in the Guangzhou Sculpture Garden in China (photo above), I was in the company of hundreds of fans from China, Hong Kong and Macau, didn’t understand the language (except when my HK friends spoke to me in English) and yet had an absolute ball interacting with everyone as much as I could!

We had Michael in common.  What more did we need?

The author in Guangzhou, China with local Michael Jackson fans for the unveiling of Lu Zhengkang’s statue of MJ – 1 January 2011.

By contrast, being a solitary visitor to this statue’s twin in the sculpture garden at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Kansas years later was equally as moving, but in a more personal way. Luckily some US visitors came by and offered to take some photos of me with the statue in case I ever needed to remind myself I had really been there!

Some pilgrims will take in costume and artifact displays like the MJ FanFest (in Las Vegas in December 2011) or the collection that was housed at the MJ Galley at Ponte 16 in Macau. I used to love visiting Ponte 16 and enjoyed staying in the hotel there on two of these occasions. Sadly, I couldn’t ever afford to book their special MJ-themed suite!

Not surprisingly, considering the many cities he visited on his world tours, Europe has plenty of opportunities for Michaeling: the HIStory statue located in Best in the Netherlands, for instance, and the fan-created street memorial in Munich, Germany, opposite the hotel where Michael stayed when visiting that city.

Photos posted on social media of other places fans have encountered provide plenty of items for the pilgrim’s ‘wish list’.

There are numerous artifacts to view at Hard Rock properties all over the world, and at the Hard Rock Cafe in Penang, Malaysia, a large seated statue of Michael reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial in Washing DC is a permanent fixture right at the entrance (but there is none of his memorabilia inside, unfortunately).

Michael’s statue in front of the Hard Rock Cafe at the Hard Rock Hotel resort on the Malaysian island of Penang.

Big tribute shows like Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour, and their resident Michael Jackson One show in Las Vegas have also been successful in attracting fans from far and wide.

Over one extremely heady period ranging from Dec 2011 to October 2013 I saw Immortal in 5 different cities on three continents for a total of 14 shows.  Only the last of these was in my own home town.  My favourites were opening night in Vegas, Saturday night at the O2 in London, and Saturday night in Hong Kong, when the local fans hosted a large group from mainland China who came in especially for the occasion.

I sat with the mainland Chinese fans in seats down on the arena floor and was amazed at how they sang, ‘Earth Song’ word for word – like an actual chorus accompanying Michael! None of them spoke English (and most of them didn’t speak Cantonese – the language of Hong Kong).  It was an unforgettable moment and a wonderful reminder of the truly international appeal of Michael Jackson, world citizen.

When it was screening at the various Disney parks around the world, I would plan my travels to be able to see Michael circa 1986 in the lighthearted 3D space adventure ‘Captain Eo’.  I was eventually able to catch it at every one of the venues in which it had ever screened – Disneyland California (where I had first seen it in 1987), Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland and Disney World in Orlando. It took some effort over a few years, but was certainly worth it, especially considering it’s now no longer screening at any of the parks.

With pals Queenie, Yoly and Jessica (from Hong Kong) at the Captain Eo Theatre in Tokyo Disneyland.

Of course there are other shows – like Adrian Grant’s long-running Thriller Live in London’s West End and in Las Vegas the MJ Live tribute show currently at the Stratosphere (formerly at Rio – where I saw it) plus numerous other tributes which can enliven the travels of the MJ pilgrim.  While you probably wouldn’t plan an overseas trip around these types of shows, they are good entertainment and great places to make some new friends among the fans attending the event. Thriller Live’s home at the Lyric Theatre in London also has a small memorial to Michael in the form of a plaque mounted on the wall in the lobby.

As Michael fans we are blessed indeed to have so many places to visit and, occasionally, exhibitions to view and special events to attend. All are a testament to the man we admire and love, the incomparable King of Pop and king of our hearts, and the source of some incredible moments of personal ecstasy as we enjoy, share and celebrate his legacy.

The author with celebrated photographer Greg Gorman’s 1987 portrait of Michael Jackson, temporarily exhibited at the Museum of Photography, Berlin, Germany.  *Photo by Yoly Leung, May 2016.

So where, you might well ask, does the ‘agony’ come into it?

The more you get to know some of these places and the more fans you meet, the more you discover to add to your wish list. It’s frustrating being on the other side of the world, for example, and not having the time or wherewithal to see or do everything when Michaeling opportunities arise.

That’s one sort of bitter sweet agony.  The other, which is more acute, is knowing that as a pilgrim you have fallen short of the real prize, which is now unobtainable. This is the agony of us late-comers to MJ fandom who never saw Michael perform live, much less had a chance to meet him. We never made the ultimate pilgrimage – to attend a Michael Jackson concert, or to see him when/if he was visiting our own part of the world.

For us, this lack of first-hand experience of Michael has driven us to travel the world ‘in Michael’s footsteps’ (as my friend Nena calls it) as if attempting to make up for what we have missed.

There can be no adequate compensation for never having seen Michael in person, so it’s just as well to have a pilgrim’s wish list that is ‘bottomless’.

Like mine.

The author with Britto’s mosaic portrait of Michael Jackson at Espacio Michael Jackson, Santa Marta favela, Rio de Janeiro, where Michael filmed parts of ‘They Don’t Care About Us’.

An earlier version of this article was posted on Facebook in October 2013:

Featured post

Michael Jackson, Shiva and the Cosmic Dance

[The similarities in Michael’s poem ‘Heaven is Here’ and the story behind the great bronze sculptures of Shiva performing the cosmic dance have long fascinated me. The photos and video footage of Michael dancing in a raging desert sandstorm from the ‘Dangerous’ television commercial also remind me of the Shiva bronzes. They are some of the most powerful images of Michael I have ever seen.

What follows may be just a piece of imaginative fantasy on my part – but I tend to favour synchronicity over coincidence, especially considering the insight Michael has granted us into his creative processes over the years. As we all know, when it came to his art he left nothing to chance. – Kerry Hennigan]

In “Dancing the Dream”, his 1992 book of poems, song lyrics and reflections, Michael Jackson gives us a poem called ‘Heaven is Here’. In this striking piece of prose he writes (in part):

You and I were never separate
It’s just an illusion
Wrought by the magical lens of

There is only one Wholeness
Only one Mind
We are like ripples
In the vast Ocean of Consciousness

Come, let us dance
The Dance of Creation
Let us celebrate
The Joy of Life

The poem is indicative of Michael’s many works on ‘oneness’ and ‘wholeness’ not just with each other, but with the Creator, by whatever name we call Him/Her or the divine Force. The dance as an act of creation and an analogy of creation itself, reflects ancient wisdom – especially that of Eastern philosophies.

From the time I first read it, this poem, accompanied in the book as it is by photos of Michael dancing in the desert (stills from the promotional video for the ‘Dangerous’ album) reminded me of the great Chola bronze depictions of the Hindu god Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance – the cosmic dancer who performs his divine dance to both destroy world weary views and herald the arrival of a new world in its place.

The dual nature of his dance are the Lasya (the gentle form), associated with the creation of the world, and the Tandava (the violent and dangerous dance), associated with the destruction of weary perspectives and lifestyles.

In essence, the Lasya and the Tandava are dual aspects of Shiva’s nature; for he destroys in order to create, tears down to build again. [1]

He holds a drum in one hand, with which he makes the first sounds of creation, and fire in the other – the fire that will consume the universe. At the same time, with his lower right hand, he makes a gesture that allays fear. Beneath his feet he tramples a small figure that represents illusion, which leads mankind astray. Shiva’s front left hand, pointing to his raised left foot, signifies refuge for the troubled soul. The energy of his dance makes his hair fly to the sides. The symbols imply that, through belief in Shiva, his devotees can achieve salvation. [2]


Now Michael Jackson was no Hindu deity; he was as human as you or me, except, he was an enormously talented, highly intelligent and inquiring individual who believed he had been blessed with such gifts for a purpose. He consciously used these gifts to inform, influence and create change.

He can be seen to be a benevolent, all embracing (but deceptively harmless, perhaps) pied piper of nations in the first part of the short film for Black or White – and then becomes ‘dangerous’, ‘violent’, sexually charged and ‘subversive’ in the controversial black panther dance that follows the song in the full length version of the video.

In an interview given in 1992 when asked about the black panther dance, Michael explained “Anger and rage are the prelude to a shift in consciousness. Unless we feel rage at some of the inequities and injustices of our society, there is no hope for transformation.” [3]

As with Shiva, there is an important purpose to this dual vision of the song’s writer/choreographer – in order to create a harmonious existence for everyone regardless of race, creed or colour, one has to recognise, acknowledge and dance/stamp out the ignorance. It should not be an act performed in isolation either, but a performance that draws the attentions of others to the problem(s).

I don’t know whether Michael made the connections I have made with the cosmic dance of Shiva – whom he certainly knew of in the form of Nataraja (Lord of the Dance). Michael had help from his friend Deepak Chopra in preparing “Dancing the Dream”, and as fans we’ve come to understand that there was little Michael did in terms of his art that was not deliberate, and planned, fine-tuned and perfected so as to get his message across.

In 2009 after Michael’s passing, Viraf Sarkari, co-director of the event management agency Wizcraft told the Times of India about Michael’s 1996 visit to India on his HIStory tour. “We first met him in Los Angeles to confirm the concert. We were told he is very keen on performing in India. We’d presented him with a Ganesha, a Nataraj and a sherwani. And without requiring any explanation, he said, “Yes, that’s Ganesha, the god of luck.” Even when politician Bal Thackeray presented a silver statue of Shiva as Nataraj to Michael he didn’t need the politician’s explanation and said, “Yes, I know that’s the god of dance and art.” [4]

Shiva has other identities too, and one of them is as a Guru, or teacher of all types of knowledge (including music). In this form, called Daksinamurti, Shiva personifies the ultimate teacher – the embodiment of knowledge and the destroyer of ignorance. So, even in this seemingly benign form, the duality of his nature and intentions remains.

With knowledge comes awareness and enlightenment as a result of self-realisation. The outcome is freedom – from ignorance and fear. In ‘Heaven Is Here’ Michael tells us to not be afraid to know who we are…

You are much more
Than you ever imagined

You are the Sun
You are the Moon
You are the wildflower in bloom
You are the Life-throb
That pulsates, dances
From a speck of dust
To the most distant star

And you and I
Were never separate
It’s just an illusion
Wrought by the magical lens of Perception

Let us celebrate
The Joy of Life
Let us dance
The Dance of Creation

One of Michael’s friends and creative collaborators told me in the year after Michael’s passing that we can never lose him; in his spiritual form he is all around us and inside us. He is a part of us, and we are part of him.

It’s as Michael wrote in his poem “you and I/Were never separate/It’s just an illusion/Wrought by the magical lens of Perception.”

It is Michael Jackson speaking, but it could just as easily be Shiva, the ultimate teacher.

In his poems, songs and his dancing, Michael has interpreted Shiva’s cosmic dance for the enlightenment of his global audience.

Heaven is Here
Right now is the moment
of Eternity
Don’t fool youerself
Reclaim your Bliss


Conceived and written by Kerry Hennigan. Originally published on Facebook on 17 January 2015:


[1] Wikipedia
[2] The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Excerpts from “Heaven Is Here” are from the book “Dancing the Dream” by Michael Jackson, originally published by Doubleday 1992, reprinted 2009.

Featured post

What is it about ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’? or: Michael Jackson as alpha male

By Kerry Hennigan


It’s the thumping, Latin-infused beat; it’s the grit and growl of Michael Jackson’s vocals; it’s the violent tone of the subject matter; it’s Michael’s sharply defined, mature features in the short film; it’s the ruby red ensemble he wears; it’s his shiny black locks caught back in a French braid which he whips about his shoulders as he dances.

It’s “Blood on the Dance Floor” – song and short film. And it’s almost guaranteed to send some of Michael’s female fans into near orgasmic ecstasies. (Just ask me, I’m one of ‘em!)

The song had its genesis as early as 1990 as a collaboration with Teddy Riley. Seven years later the demo was revisited and re-recorded by Michael with his 4-man creative team at Mountain Studio in Montreux, Switzerland in January 1997, during a break between the first and second legs of his HIStory world tour.

Teddy Riley’s 2-track recording was completely re-created as a big multi-track, according to Brad Buxer, as there was no way to mix Riley’s original. When the team played the new “Blood on the Dance Floor” the first time, Michael’s comment was “This is delicious!”[1]

The track continued to be augmented by Michael and Brad Buxer back in Los Angeles. It was finally released on 21 March 1997 as the first single from the (then) forthcoming album “Blood On The Dance Floor: HIStory In The Mix.” [2]

This song speaks to something primeval in our psyche. But it’s not the psyche that resides in the rational, reasoning parts of our brain; it’s the earthy, solar-plexus dwelling, dangerous thinking that arises from our inner depths. In fact, you could quite bluntly say that, for some of us, it’s Michael speaking directly to our deepest, darkest hidden desires.

We’re not talking about enduring, sentimental love here. “Blood…” is the antithesis of heartfelt ballads like “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and “You Are Not Alone”. This is passion and lust without any excuses.


Doubters just need to read some of the comments posted under the short film for the song in various forums. For example: “I wish I had his number…” “He is Fierce… OMG!” “So sexy!” and, my personal favourite to date: “Hot, hot, HOT! He is so alpha male in this. Whew! Be still my heart…..”[3]

Of course, Michael’s fans were aware of his animal magnetism long before the release of “Blood on the Dance Floor”. Going back to his 1987 album “Bad” with songs and short films like “Dirty Diana” and the title track, it was obvious that a more mature, aggressive edge to Michael’s songs and performances was emerging. In the film “Moonwalker” when he strutted his stuff in shiny black leather pants to the tune of the Beatles’ hit “Come Together”, Michael was clearly pushing up the temperature.

(An interesting aside to this is the fact that a movie still of Michael performing “Come Together”, combined with a 1997 photo by Bill Nation, provided the model for Will Wilson’s painting for the “Blood on the Dance Floor” album cover.) [4]

In asking what is it about “Blood on the Dance Floor” that sends some of us fans into raptures, we have the answers right in front of us, whether we’re listening to the track or watching the short film. It’s Michael dark and dangerous. Brad Buxer revealed at one of his “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” guest appearances that “when he was in his dark mode [as in “Blood on the Dance Floor”] – that’s the best Michael.” [5]

There’s no doubt that Michael was a complicated musical genius who created, sculpted and honed his public persona over the decades to meet his own constantly growing expectations of excellence. From a young age Michael had set himself the goal of perfecting his art until he was the best at whatever he did. He worked at it until he achieved it, and then he set the bar higher.[6]

For self-preservation, there had to be a layer of emotional ‘protection’. While he frequently presented a sunny, child-like nature in public, and was delighted by simple things (playing games, making prank calls to his friends), beneath that veneer there were very adult emotions and sensibilities to which Michael gave full voice in his songs, concerts and short films.

Being a complex, creative individual means we can’t neatly label Michael as “dark” or “light” (or, speaking metaphorically, “black” or “white”- if you don’t mind a bad pun). This too has been stressed by those who knew him from working closely with him on his various recording, filming and concert projects. That word – “genius” – comes often from the lips of these individuals in attempting to describe Michael.

The person we see in the “Blood…” short film is Michael the performer. He is playing a part – that of a man attracted to a woman with a deadly reputation. He flirts with her and dances with her, but is he going to be stabbed in the back by her – whether physically or emotionally? He’s willing to take that risk, despite the fact “the girl is dangerous…” The femme fatale is a recurring theme in Michael’s music.

The question is, who is going to get burned most by this experience – the woman with the bad reputation, the man who desires her and pursues her (on to the dance floor, at least) or the listener/viewer, who may need to monitor their blood pressure.

If you look at some of the few rehearsal photos we have for “Blood” you will see Michael apparently laughing and having fun with his fellow dancers. This is Michael “off stage”. When the cameras roll, and the call is for “action” he is seriously hot, sexy, and yes – definitely an “alpha male”.


Michael actually “hated” the short film we love so much, according to Brad Buxer. It didn’t tell a story like some of his other music videos. Michael just didn’t get the fact that he was “cooler than cool”. [7]

The launch of the short film on VH1 was cause for comment on ET which noted it was his first video release since becoming a father. The commentators are (typically) preoccupied with his appearance:…

The album “Blood on the Dance Floor” was released on vinyl and CD in May 1997, two months after the release of the single.

In the chronology of Michael’s musical canon, the “Blood…” album comes at an interesting time. It is preceded by the raging emotional highs and lows of “HIStory: Past, Present & Future, Book 1” – a towering achievement that gave us “Earth Song”, “They Don’t Care About Us”, “Stranger In Moscow” and Michael’s incredible vocal performance on the Charlie Chaplin classic “Smile” among other memorable tracks.

It is succeeded by 2001’s “Invincible” which re-visited, up-dated and incorporated so many different musical styles and displayed Michael’s broad range of vocal capabilities (e.g. contrast “Butterflies” with “2000 Watts) and gave us the gem, “Speechless”.

Between these two considerable achievements “Blood on the Dance Floor” comes as a full-blooded assault on the senses, with the remixes of some of the “HIStory…” tracks fitting perfectly “in the mix” with the five new tracks premiered on the album.

Of the latter, there are some that would have been stand-outs even on an entire album of new tracks: the songs from Michael’s short film (long form) “Ghosts” for example, and especially “Morphine”. This would have made an incredible short film of its own, if Michael had cared to make one. (Just imagine the publicity that would have generated!)

The “Blood on the Dance Floor” album is an excellent example of how Michael Jackson was forever moving forward in his music and the performance of it. This trend continued right up to the planning and rehearsing for “This Is It”. During that time he worked on new songs to be introduced via his O2 concerts. These were reputedly to be released sequentially as digital downloads that would provide the fans with a full album of new music by the close of his 50-date London tenure.

Throughout his career Michael Jackson willingly sacrificed himself in the cause of creating great art. He did it over and over again, with each new, ground-breaking project. That was the real “blood on the dance floor”; it wasn’t a song, a short film or an album. It was his life as the consummate artist and showman.

The Song:
  • Blood on the Dance Floor – album title track and single (1997)
  • Blood on the Dance Floor – remixes – TM’s Switchblade Mix – Refugee Camp Mix – Fire Island Vocal Mix – Fire Island Dub – T&G Pool of Blood Dub – Refugee Camp Dub – Acapella – TM’s O-Positive Dub
The Videos:
[1] Author’s personal notes from Brad Sundberg’s “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” seminar at Thriller Villa, Las Vegas, 10 October 2015, with guests Brad Buxer and Michael Prince.…
[2] Joseph Vogel “Featuring Michael Jackson” Baldwin Books 2012.
[4] MJJ Magazine Issue #7
[5] Author’s personal notes from “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” seminar at Thriller Villa, Las Vegas, 10 October 2015.
[7] Author’s personal notes from “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” seminar at Thriller Villa, Las Vegas, 10 October 2015.
Featured post

Book Review: “Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind” by Damien Shields (2015)

Sometimes you come to a book tentatively because you fear a clash of ideology on the subject matter with the author. This was what held me back from reading any more than a free sample of Damien Shields’ 2015 book “Xscape Origins” before today.

Having recently purchased the complete Kindle Edition, I read it cover to cover tonight, fascinated afresh by the firsthand reports of people who worked with Michael Jackson on the songs that were released posthumously on the 2014 album “Xscape”.

25211309Shields draws largely on his personal interviews with the song writers, producers and engineers who worked with Jackson on the tracks released on the album, and also on the documentary footage released along with the album. These are tracks that span almost the entirety of Jackson’s adult solo career – from the early “Love Never Felt So Good” to some of the last material the King of Pop worked on before his untimely death.

Between the first-hand accounts of Jackson’s co-creators on these songs, Shields inserts relevant comments made by Jackson on his process and his whole approach to his craft extracted from interviews given by Michael over the years. It ensures a well-rounded view of what others have observed and experienced in the studio with MJ.

My favourite chapter deals with the song I love most from the Xscape album, namely the track “A Place with No Name” in which the insight of Michael’s colleagues rings the most excited and the most poignant.

Learning about these songs and the state they were last left in gives rise to the inevitable questions about the versions we hear on the album – some of which had been superseded by later versions after Michael himself or members of his respective recording team had tinkered further with them.

The primary question is – why weren’t we given those later versions of the songs in question? Why do a retrograde manoeuvre and release an earlier version? Why think you know better than Michael Jackson did about his own recordings? Perhaps someday LA Reid, who oversaw the release of Xscape, will explain.

Damien Shield’s book focuses on the songs themselves rather than the pros and cons of original vs. the ‘updated’ versions (only one of which I really prefer to the originals on the extended edition of the album). Nor does it get into the debate on the appropriateness of ‘finishing’ and releasing the material of a perfectionist like Jackson, who could, and did in the case of some of these songs, take years to work up a track to his satisfaction, and wouldn’t let it be released until he was happy with it.

I was relieved the book did not get mired in these arguments, because then my initial fears might have been realised. Yet I have some sympathy with those who hold to the integrity of Jackson’s vision for his songs; however, I do want to hear them. But my dislike for the “updated” productions of most of the tracks on the single disc version of the album makes me wish even more that they released them as Michael had left them. At least then we could be assured of hearing it as he last heard it. With his passing, we can do no better than that.

In summary, I welcome the addition of Damien Shield’s “Xscape Origins” to my collection of MJ research materials. While it doesn’t have the direct transcript style of Brice Najar’s “Let’s Make HIStory” [1] it does contain a similar wealth of material, with the aforementioned quotes from Jackson strategically inserted, to provide a smooth and highly readable narrative.  Shields also provides all his sources in the back of the book.

As with any book of this nature that attempts to honestly reflect Jackson’s creative process (without striving for controversy or sensationalism) the impact on the reader is likely to be one of devastation that the artist did not live to complete his art to his own high standards. If we like the songs now, imagine how much more we might have liked them when Michael had deemed them “finished.”

Kerry Hennigan
18 May 2018


Featured image by Mr Brainwash, from his mural and as published in the Xscape album.

Michael Jackson’s Neverland: Toy Trains and Museum Plans – How the Media Promulgates Confusion Through Selective Use Of Information – MJ Studies Today, May 2018

Abstract: In this month’s column, Kerry discusses the media output on items of Michael Jackson auctioned and how these get distorted to create confusion. What happened to the truth, do we still care, she asks?

Sign up for the free Journal subscription to access the article here:


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXVIIII (14-05-2018).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 4 (2018).

The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies asks that you acknowledge The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies as the source of our Content; if you use material from The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies online, we request that you link directly to the stable URL provided. If you use our content offline, we ask that you credit the source as follows: “Courtesy of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies.”

Inspired By Michael Jackson – MJ Studies Today, September 2016

Note: this was my first column for the Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies, and my first tentative steps towards looking at things Michael from a more analytical perspective.  It has been a very pleasurable learning experience, and I am so grateful that Karin and Elizabeth extended an invitation to me to become a regular contributor and then asked me to stay on once the initial number of columns had been delivered.

It was only recently that I realised I’d never posted the link to that first column for ready access for readers of my blog or for myself.  So, finally, here it is.  It’s interesting to revisit it over a year and a half of monthly columns later.  I hope there will be plenty more to come, and more for us all to discover and enjoy about Michael Jackson, the man, the artist, the humanitarian.

Kerry Hennigan
April 2018

PS: the first columns did not have any photo montage illustrations, so I have added one here of Michael as he was when I first (belatedly) fell in love with him – commanding the rehearsal stage in “This Is It”.

Abstract: September 2016 introduces new columnist, Kerry Hennigan, who takes a look at ‘the impact of Michael Jackson on popular culture’ and ‘the many ways fans have of expressing their appreciation of, and love for him.’

Sign up for free subscription to the Journal to view the article at


Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today IX (14-9-16).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 3, no. 1 (2016).

The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies asks that you acknowledge The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies as the source of our Content; if you use material from The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies online, we request that you link directly to the stable URL provided. If you use our content offline, we ask that you credit the source as follows: “Courtesy of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies.”

“I can’t imagine life without him.” Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson – an enduring friendship – MJ Studies Today, April 2018

Abstract: In this month’s column, Kerry looks at the friendship between Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor. Despite intense media scrutiny they managed to stay friends until the ends of their lives, including supporting each other through career ups and downs, good times and bad. The media called them “Hollywood’s Odd Couple” – but if we look beyond tabloid gossip, we can glimpse what made their friendship one that was so close and enduring.

Sign up for a free subscription to the Journal to access the article here:


Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song”- the BRIT Awards controversy and performance iconography – MJ Studies Today, March 2018

Abstract: In this column Kerry Hennigan looks at Michael Jackson’s performances of “Earth Song” on awards shows, and specifically the BRITs Awards in 1996 and the controversy that was generated by protests at what some thought of as his depiction of himself as a Christ-like figure.

Access the article here:

Sign up for a free subscription to the Journal to access on-line content.



Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXVII (14-03-2018).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 2 (2018).

The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies asks that you acknowledge The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies as the source of our Content; if you use material from The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies online, we request that you link directly to the stable URL provided. If you use our content offline, we ask that you credit the source as follows: “Courtesy of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies.”





Book Review – “Michael Jackson, the King of Pop: The Big Picture: The Music! The Man! The Legend! the Interviews: An Anthology” compiled by Jel D. Lewis (Jones) 2005

Jel D. Lewis Jones’ intentions in compiling this anthology were exemplary.  A Michael Jackson fan ever since she first heard his name and started listening to his music, she consciously decided to take advice from the “Man In The Mirror” and make a change when Michael’s integrity was under constant attack, by “doing my small part by putting out some positive information about the Superstar!”

imagesPublished in 2005, a book of this nature was never more urgent than when the King of Pop was facing the biggest challenge of his life – the criminal trial that took place in the Santa Maria courthouse in Santa Barbara Country between January and June 2005, and the period preceding that following the laying of charges against him in December 2003.  Imagine living with the threat of a long prison sentence and separation from family, as well as the end to an incredibly successful career in entertainment, knowing all the time that you were innocent!

Lewis Jones’ book presents Michael’s own words in lyrics and interviews and includes a timeline and career overview.  The interview transcripts are particularly useful for someone like me, who writes and researches Michael Jackson and prefers hearing and/or reading his words straight from his own lips rather than paraphrased and interpreted by a third party.

What this reveals is (a) his consistency in his feelings towards the things closest to his heart over the years, and (b) other things that he seems to have changed his mind about later if we rely on posthumous publications (like “The Michael Jackson Tapes”).

All that means is that Michael Jackson was just like the rest of us – he changed his mind about some things, remembered them differently, or felt obliged to divulge a bit more information later on in his life – or not.  It would be the rare human being who didn’t do this throughout (in Jackson’s case) a 50-year life span.

Watching interviews on YouTube is one thing – but having transcripts in a book for quick and easy reference is an asset for anyone interested in looking at the content and pondering what Michael was saying or what may lay behind the words given what we now know about his life.

For this reason – and because of her own original content, and the best intentions with which this book was produced – I heartily thank Jel D. Lewis Jones for her dedicated work and love for her subject.

Kerry Hennigan
7 March 2018

(Review also published on and Amazon)


Gold Magazine interview, 2002

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

Kerry Hennigan on Wordpress

Global MJ Pilgrim "I'm with the doll"

The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Global MJ Pilgrim "I'm with the doll"

Vindicating Michael

People Defend The Truth About Michael Jackson


Global MJ Pilgrim "I'm with the doll"

Stop Global Airwave Abuse

Raise our voice as one!

The Heritage Journal

The Journal has been maintained since March 2005 to promote awareness and the conservation of the incomparable but often-threatened prehistoric sites of Britain, Ireland and beyond.


Global MJ Pilgrim "I'm with the doll"


The blog of a Michael Jackson inspired charity

Annemarie Latour

Culture, music, art, religion, and all things beautiful.

The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies | ISSN: 2452-0497

Dynamic, Influential, Inclusive, Cultural, Explorative, Unique

dancing with the elephant

Conversations about Michael Jackson, his art and social change


TruthIt'sAcomin' site


Global MJ Pilgrim "I'm with the doll"