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A “Thriller” of a Halloween in the Santa Ynez Valley – 29 October 2017

It was Sunday 29 October 2017 and the participants in World Dance for Humanity’s performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” were gathering at the intersection of Grand and Alamo Pintado Avenues in the small Santa Ynez Valley hamlet of Los Olivos.

On this last Sunday before Halloween, there were plenty of people browsing the boutiques, dining, wine tasting and also, as noon approached, more and more turning up with folding chairs to await the performance.

We (i.e. Judi, Lisa, Gigi and myself) had grabbed a table and ordered refreshments from Panino’s while waiting for everyone to arrive, which they soon did, by the van-load.  I was surprised at the numbers – there were a lot of dancers, and their costumes ranged from “fun” to “inspired”.

The dancers’ “stage” was the intersection itself, around the central flag pole in the middle of Grand Avenue.  Traffic was, of course, closed for the duration, but anyone driving through town at the time would probably want to stop, park and watch the action, or at least check out what was going on.

Eventually the dancers formed up, the music started, and they launched into their Michael Jackson warm-up routine of “Beat It”.  Then they went to ground, and lay prostrate until the unmissable opening notes of “Thriller” started.  Slowly the zombies were pulled to their feet by the beat, and then they began to dance!

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Even as a Michael Jackson fan who has become a bit tired of everyone referencing “Thriller” rather than some of Michael’s other, particularly later, material and routines (which tend to be my favorites), I nevertheless found myself beaming at the spectacle before me, while shooting photos as quickly as I could, hoping to catch a special moment or two that would be worth sharing on-line afterwards.

Nearby, Lisa was capturing a video of the show on her phone, as others were doing.  Many more were clapping, tapping, swaying to the rhythm of the song and picking up on the adrenaline of the dancers.

They were GOOD!

Having Michael’s music blasting in the main street of what had been his local community, with a horde of dancing zombies performing his famous choreography, was a wonderful tribute to the King of Pop.

Then, suddenly it was over; the dancers cooled down and wandered around talking to us folk who had been watching.  Some of them gathered for a group photo (and a glass of wine) in front of Larner’s Tasting Room and the Los Olivos General Store.  My little MJ doll was co-opted into the photo and came in for his share of kisses and cuddles from admirers.  (I’m used to this – that’s why my “business” card says “I’m with the doll” – because he’s the one everyone remembers!)

The dancers then departed for the next on the list of locations where they were scheduled to perform in the SYV, but we would meet up with them again later in the day – at Neverland itself.

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In the meantime, there was time for Judi, Lisa, Gigi and I to visit the horses and new-born foals owned by a friend of theirs, followed by an opportunity to take in the view from the top of a nearby hill.  It was a beautiful vista, and being late October in the Valley, the temperatures were pleasant, the days perfect for walking, driving, exploring – and horse petting.

Then we were off to Neverland and the next performance of “Thriller” by World Dance for Humanity.

World Dance was founded in 2010 by Janet Reineck, a dancer, anthropologist and aid worker.  It began as a low-cost exercise class in Santa Barbara and has now become a nonprofit organization that has supported grassroots projects in Nepal, Kenya, Ghana, Liberia, and Uganda and provided grants to Santa Barbara charities.  World Dance for Humanity now helps 25 rural Rwandan cooperatives left divided and destitute by the 1994 genocide in that country.  As stated on the organization’s website “every dollar contributed through a class or donated helps ease suffering and build new lives…”  Their website is http://worlddanceforhumanity.org/who-we-are/

In front of the big front gates of Neverland, just off Figueroa Mountain Road, Janet gave a moving speech of thanks and appreciation for Michael Jackson and the special location, as well as for everyone who helped World Dance make a difference in the lives of others “one step at a time”.

A small audience had gathered in front of the big gates to watch.  As in Los Olivos, there was a spirited warm-up dance, and then it was time for “Thriller” once again.

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“Last year they opened the gates behind us while we danced,” I had heard someone say beforehand.  And yes, a cheer went up as again, in 2017, the big gates swung open behind the zombie dancers during their performance of “Thriller”.  I took it as a small, but important, token of appreciation from the caretakers of Michael’s former home for all of us who gathered to dance, watch or donate in his honor.

And, of course, it was Thrill the World weekend all over the world and just a couple of days before Halloween itself.

I still had Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland ahead of me on the night of the 31st by which time I would be staying in Anaheim, but this, right here, in the company of my dear friends, and with the World Dance for Humanity performers, this was the real Halloween celebration, done in a joyous spirit of giving.

Kerry Hennigan
December 2017

Story and photographs © Kerry Hennigan 2017

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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 1989, 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.

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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]

Epilogue:

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
Thriller
Bad Groove
Workin’ Day and Night
Beat It
Billie Jean
Bad
Encore:
The Way You Make Me Feel
Man in the Mirror [17]

Sources:

[1] Mary Beth Stein, Associate Professor of German and International Affairs, George Washington University https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/remembering-berlin-wall

[2] http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1914581-2,00.html

[3] Ibid

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/jul/30/michael-jackson-berlin-wall-germany

[5] Time

[6] Ibid

[7] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/michael-jackson/5944882/Stasi-feared-Michael-Jackson-concert.html

[8] Time

[9] The Telegraph

[10] The Guardian

[11] http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/fearing-the-moonwalk-revolution-east-german-stasi-spied-on-michael-jackson-a-639520.html

[12] Time

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

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympiastadion_(Berlin)

[16] Bambi Awards speech, [extract] as transcribed on http://www.truemichaeljackson.com/speeches/bambi-2002/

[17] https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/michael-jackson/1988/platz-der-republik-berlin-germany-33d67495.html

Related sources:

Timothy McGaffin II video from the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany on August 8, 2009
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_8NZDDgaQg

Michael Jackson – Berlin compilation 1988 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVTD3F52qHU (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.

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The author at Pariser Platz on Unter der Linden, east side of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, May 2016
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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: https://www.amazon.com/Behind-Gates-Neverland-Conversations-Michael-ebook/dp/B0752DC9HY

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.

 

 

 

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

To go, or not to go, that was the question I had to answer when I received 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 might have hesitated for 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 something I had been looking forward to, in order to return to the Los Angeles area earlier than expected.

In the end it came down to friends – specifically Yoly in Vancouver and 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 – both done without loss of deposits, I’m pleased to say (thank the Maker for Hotels.com) and bumping some planned excursions to some other year, God willing.

Hence 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 free tickets they had won for the event.

I am usually wary of large fan gatherings.  With so many different factions in MJ fandom, any event intended to celebrate Michael Jackson can quickly descend into heated discussions on contentious issues.  But on this occasion, that was not the case.  I guess it’s obvious really – anyone who didn’t WANT to be there (assuming they’d had the opportunity to attend) wasn’t.

So we were a noisy, harmonious crowd, following the event staff 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 the concrete, was covered with red carpeting – with the exception of the two slabs representing Michael Jackson – the one in which his children had pressed his glove (and their hand) prints and the soles of a pair of his signature loafers; and the other the ‘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 who was being celebrated tonight.

A light show projected imagery 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 theatre 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 as I walked past 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

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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 audio 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 came together 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

Sources:

[1] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song: Michael Jackson and the Art of Compassion” Blakevision Books, New York 2017.  https://www.amazon.com/Earth-Song-Michael-Jackson-Compassion/dp/1976106478/

[2] Joseph Vogel “Michael Jackson’s Forgotten Humanitarian Legacy” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/michael-jacksons-forgotten-humanitarian-legacy_us_59c7c8d3e4b08d661550436a

[3] http://www.scholarshipsonline.org/2015/05/michael-jackson-uncf-scholarship.html

[4] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[5] Ibid

[6] Kerry Hennigan “The Pop Art of Michelangelo and Michael Jackson as defined by LaChapelle”  https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/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.

[13] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khBs7K42ICQ

[14] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytOIVrqUpYo

[15] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[16] http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/songlines-indigenous-memory-code/7581788

[16] Kerry Hennigan “World Cry and the case for “Cry” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/world-cry-and-the-case-for-cry/

[17] 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.

 

 

 

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“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

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Sources:

(1) The MJCast – episode 064: Vincent Paterson Special – access on:
ITunes: https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-mjcast/id965404693
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZxbpTeC3wc
Website: http://www.themjcast.com/episode-064-vincent-paterson-special/

(2) Kerry Hennigan: “What is it about ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’? or: Michael Jackson as alpha male” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrxTAs7aV8U

(4) Interview – Vincent Paterson MTV 10 https://vimeo.com/184228366 and Performance – MTV 10 https://youtu.be/fVpy2XYH5Pg

(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: https://vimeo.com/184229711

Working with MJ: https://vimeo.com/184602311

Vincent’s website: http://www.vincentpaterson.com/

 

 

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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)

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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)

Sources:

(1)       Text accompanying the official video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeiFF0gvqcc

(2)       http://www.ancient-origins.net/history/blurring-between-magic-and-philosophy-legendary-wizards-ancient-world-005693

(3)       http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/michael-jackson-remembered-john-singleton-on-challenging-his-hero-20090709

(4)       http://www.ancient-origins.net/opinion-guest-authors/magic-and-superstition-ancient-egypt-002214

(5)       http://www.catholic.org/bible/book.php?id=2&bible_chapter=7

(6)       http://thetorah.com/the-magicians-khamwaset-and-meryra/

(7)       http://www.michaeljackson.com/au/video/remember-time-video/

(8)       http://www.ancient.eu/pharaoh/

(9)       http://www.egyptian-museum-berlin.com/c53.php

(10)     http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/02/black-pharaohs/robert-draper-text/2

(11)     http://www.experience-ancient-egypt.com/ancient-egyptian-culture/ancient-egyptian-life/ancient-egyptian-entertainment

(12)     http://lilsoso.com/kats-korner/remember-time-mj-egypt-black-power#.WVsq_lV96Ul

(13)     ‘Digital Egypt for Universities’ website of the University College London: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/social/race.html

(14)     Ibid

Further information and additional reading:

Nefertiti’s bust in Berlin: http://www.egyptian-museum-berlin.com/c53.php

Akhenaten: Egyptian Pharaoh, Nefertiti’s Husband, Tut’s Father  https://www.livescience.com/39349-akhenaten.html

Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great): http://www.ancient.eu/Ramesses_II/

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]  https://www.amazon.com/King-Style-Dressing-Michael-Jackson/dp/1608871517

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/the-credit-suisse-exhibition-michelangelo-sebastiano

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:  https://annemarielatour.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/faith-trust-and-pixie-dust-david-lachapelle-and-paris-jackson/

Resources:

  1. http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/pop-art
  2. BBC video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwJJ0uUASIo
  3. Rolling Stone http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/paris-jackson-michael-jacksons-daughter-speaks-out-w462501
  4. Annemarie Latour “Redeeming the King of Pop: David LaChapelle’s Fine Art Portrayal of Michael Jackson Parts 1 and 2
    https://annemarielatour.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/redeeming-the-king-of-pop-david-lachapelles-fine-art-portrayal-of-michael-jackson-part-1/
  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7r9RjZO9Q4
  6. Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” Arrow Books paperback edition 2010 p.220
  7. “The Agony and the Ecstasy” 20th Century Fox, 1965 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058886/?ref_=vi_tt_t
  8. Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” pp 199-200
  9. Vibe magazine interview, March 2002 as blogged by http://www.allmichaeljackson.com/interviews/vibemaginterview.html

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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.

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World Cry and the case for ‘Cry’

large-rippedA combination of memorial service and charitable fundraiser, World Cry was the dream of an American Michael Jackson fan named Amber Sipes. [1]

It brought fans together by the glow of candlelight, to read poems and messages for Michael on the anniversary of his passing, and to sing along to Michael’s recording of ‘Cry’ from the ‘Invincible’ album. [2]

‘We all cry at the same time tonight.’ [3]

The first time I participated in World Cry was on 25 June 2010, at Piccadilly Circus in London.  Like many other fans, I’ve done it at the same time every year since, either in a group or a quiet space of my own.

The most memorable was in 2013 when I planned to be at Neverland, presumably by myself, to remember Michael in private outside the gates of his former home.  Only it turned out that I wasn’t to be alone.  Lonjezo from Malawi and Marge from Toronto also arrived to pay their respects.  Although they hadn’t known about World Cry, both happily joined in with me in a close circle as I spoke a quiet introduction and prayer/mediation intention, and then turned on the song on my phone.

An incredible thing happened.  Michael sang ‘Somebody shakes when the wind blows…’ and the branches of the Neverland oaks stirred overhead in the wind, their leaves sighing like the sea that can be heard in the recording.

As the song reached its impassioned crescendo, our close circle became a spontaneous group hung.  It was an experience both inexplicable and wonderful.

cry‘Cry’ is a very special song.  Joe Vogel refers to it as a universal lamentation. [4]   When used in solidarity with others during World Cry on 25th June each year, it becomes a prayer for healing for both the planet and our own wounded souls – and for Michael, whose reputation has been constantly under attack from many sources since his passing.

When his album, ‘Invincible’ was released in 2001, the song almost seemed to go un-noticed, or was dismissed as messianic.  Even generally favourable album reviews often seemed to miss the heavier material, like ‘Cry’.

‘On “Invincible” he goes back to what he does best—breaking down musical barriers while fighting to get the girl.’ [5]

This quote from PopMatters appeared on the Michael Jackson social media accounts on 7 Oct 2016.  It’s fairly typical of some of the positive reviews the ‘Invincible’ album received on its release, and seems to saying ‘Hooray!  The king of pop has gone back to entertaining us rather than wanting us to help him change the world.’

These reviews, despite being complimentary, make me wonder how many times the author listened to the album before penning the review.  What about ‘All the Lost Children’ which, although having a sweet melody, is about a serious subject, and what about ‘Cry’?

‘Cry’ seems to me to be very much a plea from Michael, who had earlier in his career encouraged us to ‘make that change’ and ‘heal the world’ and who now begs us to help him get on with the job of making it happen: ‘we can do it if we try’.

This track is an obvious successor to ‘Earth Song’ and sung with such passion, it’s difficult to believe Michael didn’t write it himself.  The composer was R. (Robert) Kelly who also wrote ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘One More Chance’.

It doesn’t really matter.  In performing the song and producing with Kelly, Michael makes it his own.  Here is an artist, globally adored, who has willingly taken on the mantle of healer – to use what he saw as his God-given gifts, to make the world a better place; to heal the children; to save the planet.

But, despite ‘Heal the World’, despite ‘Earth Song’, the world and many of its children, were still in trouble.  No matter how sweetly he sang, or how passionately he raged into the microphone in the dark of the recording studio, not enough of us had taken up the mantle to make the world a better place.

‘I can’t do it by myself’. [6]

In using ‘Cry’ as a memorial song on the fateful date of June 25th once a year, we are acknowledging our pain and loss over the death of Michael Jackson.  But we are also joining him in his plea for the planet.  We WANT to make it a better place.  We WANT to share the load that he took up when he first started writing and singing songs that made us think about important issues.

When he found his personal voice, and put his fears, longings and prayers into words and music, Michael Jackson willingly shouldered the mantle of light-bringer, to shine a light into the dark corners of global society, so we could see for ourselves what work needed to be done.

Every time I listen to ‘Cry’ I find myself thinking, in response to Michael’s plea, ‘You are not alone in this.  We are here to share the load with you.  We will carry on the work for you.’  And, if we have our way, we will let everyone know that it was Michael Jackson who inspired us and showed us the way.

‘Change the World’. [7]

Kerry Hennigan
January 2017


Resources:

[1] http://www.mjworld.net/news/2009/12/17/world-cry-2010/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDL6A6_hxI0

[3] ‘Cry’ by R. Kelly http://www.metrolyrics.com/cry-lyrics-michael-jackson.html

[4] Vogel, Joseph “Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson!

[5] https://www.facebook.com/michaeljackson/photos/a.108910151472.86254.19691681472/10154661697711473/?type=3&theater

[6 and 7] ‘Cry’ by R. Kelly

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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?

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: https://www.facebook.com/notes/kerry-hennigan/the-agony-and-the-ecstasy-of-the-global-mj-pilgrim/585649768159877

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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
Perception

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]

10915272_10203757583715226_6884599099477970321_nNow 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 a 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

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Conceived and written by Kerry Hennigan.  Originally published on Facebook on 17 January 2015: https://www.facebook.com/notes/kerry-hennigan/michael-jackson-shiva-and-the-cosmic-dance/835410949850423

Sources:
10931510_10203757587835329_1228745484215141078_n[1] Wikipedia
[2] The Metropolitan Museum of Art
[3] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1992-08-16/entertainment/9203140099_1_dreams-spirituality-daily-journal
[4] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/Jackson-wanted-to-meet-Mother-Teresa/articleshow/4709167.cms

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

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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.

12193604_10205474193029386_3712648604945914844_n

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”.

12088249_10205474237550499_3089750258518904196_n

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6F…

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” 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:
Sources:
[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. http://inthestudiowithmj.com/semina…
[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.
blood-live
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Pictures At An Exhibition, Part 2: Portrayals Of Michael Jackson By Greg Gorman And David LaChapelle – MJ Studies Today, November 2017

Abstract: The November column of Kerry is part 2 of pictures, art made of Michael Jackson. Photos where he was the model himself and photos where he was not, but, as Kerry states, an image of an impersonator challenging the viewer, as Michael Jackson always challenged himself and his audience. He’s still doing so.


Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


Access the article here: http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxiii/


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXIII (14-11-2017).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 1 (2017). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxiii/

 

“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 nine.com.au 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 news.com.au 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]

 

Sources:

[1] Video of Paris fronting the media at the Melbourne Cup 2017 http://www.smh.com.au/video/video-life-and-style/video-fashion/paris-jackson-appears-at-the-races-20171107-4zs1s.html

[2] Tweet by Paris Jackson https://twitter.com/ParisJackson/status/928009291264675851

[3] Reply Tweet by Brett Barnes https://twitter.com/IAmBrettBarnes/status/928018860682354688

[4] Transcript of Michael Jackson-Barbara Walters interview 1997 http://www.allmichaeljackson.com/interviews/barbarawalters.html

[5] Joseph Vogel “How Michael Jackson Made ‘Bad’” The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/09/how-michael-jackson-made-bad/262162/

[6] The demeaning backstory behind that cruel Michael Jackson nickname
https://thefix.nine.com.au/2017/11/08/15/54/paris-jackson-melbourne-cup-wacko-jacko

[7] Alex Perry on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/BbL6sB5HknP/?taken-by=alexperry007

[8] http://www.news.com.au/sport/superracing/melbourne-cup/drunken-melbourne-cup-day-antics-begin-in-flemington/news-story/ac3e68e16bdece10f6bb57f69d26a776

[9] https://thefix.nine.com.au/2017/11/08/11/53/all-hail-paris-jackson-melbourne-cup-queen

[10] http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/celebrity/private-sydney/ps-cup-day-celebrity-wrangling-isnt-what-it-used-to-be-20171107-gzggs3.html

[11] Rachel Finch https://twitter.com/7horseracing/status/927763443049930753

[12] Melbourne Cup memories: The legs that stopped a nation http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/01/sport/jean-shrimpton-melbourne-cup-fashion/index.html

[13] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-5075755/Paris-Jackson-s-Morrison-dress-Melbourne-Cup-sold-out.html#ixzz505HQKzr8 

[14] http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/celebrity/designer-alex-perry-dressing-paris-jackson-for-cup-day-would-not-have-been-right-20171117-gznbdf.html

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

http://www.hamishandandy.com/2017/paris-jackson-smells-andy-by-hamish/

https://twitter.com/hamishandandy/status/928167812383649792

Paris by the fashion mags: Vogue and Elle:

http://www.vogue.com.au/culture/racing+carnival/paris+jackson+melbourme+cup+interview,44839

https://www.elle.com.au/snapped/paris-jackson-melbourne-cup-shaman-14943

 

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

 

 

 

 

“Have You Seen My Childhood?” – Michael Jackson, James Baldwin And Childhoods Lost – MJ Studies Today, November 2017

Abstract:  Though they were active in different decades, the famous American author James Baldwin and international music icon Michael Jackson both believed they never had a childhood.  This article looks at the similarities in their formative years, which influenced the art they created.


Op-Ed Piece by Kerry Hennigan, official columnist of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies, and editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. ““Have you seen my childhood?” – Michael Jackson, James Baldwin and childhoods lost” Opinion Piece, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 1 (2017). Published electronically 07/11/17. http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/childhood/.


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.”



Access the article here: http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/childhood/.

 

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