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Not “Scared of the Moon”: Michael Jackson and the Space connection – to the Moon, Mars and the Stars

In 2014 Michael Jackson fans submitted the singer’s name for inclusion on NASA’s Orion spacecraft from Cape Canaveral on a two-orbit, four-hour test flight. Orion was built to take humans further into space than they’ve ever gone before. The test carried with it the names of all those who registered for a ‘boarding pass’ on the NASA website. Michael Jackson’s name was registered over 60 times by fans from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Tunisia, UK and the US.

All in all it was a pretty good effort, I think, with thanks to the fans who first promoted the idea and posted the link and is a reflection of Michael’s view of himself as a global citizen – and one with an abiding interest in space travel, space movies and space real estate, apparently.

In 2017 the opportunity arose again to submit names for NASA’s InSight lander, which will study the deep interior of Mars to advance humanity’s understanding of the early history of all rocky planets, including Earth. [1]  Once again fans quickly responded to have Michael’s name included on the flight.

While the attraction of having Michael Jackson’s name on an operational NASA craft may be obvious to his fans, others may be wondering “What’s the connection?”  There are many, actually.

This is the man who loved movies like Star Wars and ET (as quoted in his autobiography), who provided the narration for the ET Storybook album (1982) and the song “Someone in the Dark” [2]; who starred as the leader of a band of intergalactic misfits (who would have been quite at home in Star Wars’ Mos Eisley cantina) in the 3D Disney feature Captain Eo. [3] [4]

At the end of his Dangerous tour concerts, Michael appeared to take off from the stage via a jet pack, and at the commencement of his HIStory tour concerts, “crash-landed” on the stage in a space capsule.

screammeditationOf course, his “Scream” video, which is famous for being “the most expensive music video ever made” features an ambitious recreation of a spaceship interior, and includes “zero-G” gravity scenes.

Meteorite hunter Rob Elliott sold a piece of meterioite to Michael Jackson in 2003 according to media reports and an auction listing. [5] [6]

We can confidently assume then, that space was a theme that interested Michael Jackson.

On his personal website, Uri Geller wrote in his tribute to Michael: “One exceptional memory will never leave me. Michael had a magical imagination, filled with Hollywood images and children’s dreams. The immediate thing that struck me when I walked into his hotel suite at our first meeting was the immense poster of E.T. bicycling over a full moon. Beside it stood an eight-foot cardboard cutout of Anakin Skywalker, peeping from behind the robes of Darth Maul. Michael adored the concept of space travel — even his trademark dance was called the Moonwalk. And when the prospect of a rocket voyage to the moon itself became a brief, tantalising reality, Michael was like a rich kid in a sweet shop — he wanted it all and he wanted it now.

“I have an answerphone message, recorded at about 3am, with Michael’s whisper barely audible above the transatlantic crackle: ‘Uri Geller, this is Michael Jackson calling. Please, I wish, I pray that we do the moon trip. I want to be the first one to do it in the pop world. All these people are trying to do it, I want to be first! Please! I love you.’” [7]

According to Jackson biographer Jos Borsboom, “Michael was already in advanced talks with a space scientist in a desperate bid to do the moonwalk on the moon.  Michael became obsessed with beating his pop star rivals into space.  He wanted to top them by actually making it to the moon to do his famous dance move – in a ten-year $2 billion… project.” [8]

Posthumous tributes included a moon crater named after him by the Lunar Republic Society, which promotes the exploration, settlement and development of the Moon.  According to one media report “The 13.5 metre-wide site, formerly Posidonius J, is in the Lake of Dreams, next to a 1,200 acre plot owned by Jackson, which he bought at the cost of $27.40 (£17) per acre.”

The article further explains that Michael Jackson “was reported to have been one of the largest lunar landowners, [having] bought his plot in 2005.”  He also owned a smaller parcel in the Sea of Vapours.

The news report advises that the Michael Joseph Jackson crater is visible from Earth using a typical home telescope under standard observational conditions, and that “Jackson’s work was heavily influenced by the moon, from his trademark ‘moonwalk’ dance, his autobiography called Moonwalk and an unreleased song called Scared Of The Moon.

“A spokesman for the society said: ‘The official designation of a Lunar crater is a singular honour bestowed upon only a select few luminaries.  Among those receiving this rare tribute over the past century are Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Columbus, Sir Isaac Newton, Julius Caesar and Jules Verne.’” [9]

At least one group of fans, based in Adelaide, Australia, went a step further (as in further out in space) and submitted Michael’s Star to Sydney Observatory’s ”Name-A-Star” program to coincide with the second anniversary of Michael’s passing and World Cry event in 2011.  This project was organized by fan Helena Willcox in the knowledge that it was something that would have pleased Michael.

As one of those who submitted Michael’s name for NASA’s Mission to Mars Insight lander, I, too, do so in the expectation that it is something he would have loved.

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017

Sources:

[1] https://mars.nasa.gov/participate/send-your-name/insight/

[2] MJ Tunes Music Database “Someone in the Dark” http://www.mjtunes.com/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=1353

[3] Brief overview of Captain Eo at the Disney parks. http://www.yesterland.com/eo.html

[4] Kerry Hennigan “’We are here to change the World’ – Chasing Captain Eo across the continents (and Disney parks)” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/he-came-to-change-our-world-chasing-michael-jackson-across-the-continents-and-disney-parks/

[5] Sunday Post article: https://www.sundaypost.com/news/scottish-news/meteorite-hunter-offers-10000-reward-for-parts-of-space-rock-that-fell-on-scottish-soil/

[6] http://www.mjworld.net/news/2011/08/04/michaels-meteorite/
With thanks to Sue Simpson fro this information.

[7] Uri Geller, “Uri’s Tribute to Michael Jackson” http://www.urigeller.com/uris-tribute-to-michael-jackson/

[8] Jos Borsboom “Michael Jackson: The Icon” Lulu Press 2011  https://goo.gl/5wTBK4

[9] Ben Leach, “Moon crater name after Michael Jackson” 9 Jul 2009 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/michael-jackson/5784734/Moon-crater-named-after-Michael-Jackson.html

Photo montage ‘not scared of the moon’ compiled and edited by Kerry Hennigan from professional photographs from Michael Jackson’s HIStory tour (far left) and Dangerous tour (far right).  No infringement of copyright is intended in the use of these professional images for this not-for-profit, educational exercise.  The central image is a pre-existing photoshopped compilation of Michael Jackson and a NASA astronaut found on Google images, and used here for the purposes of illustration only.  The superimposed image of Mars was sourced through Clip Art.

“Scream” video image of Michael Jackson © 1995 MJJ Productions Inc.

 

 

 

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

‘Tis true my form is something odd,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017

Sources:

[1]          Poem used by Joseph Merrick to end his letters, adapted from “False Greatness” by Isaac Watts  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Merrick#cite_note-pamphlet-9

[2]          “Persisting Misidentification of the “Elephant Man” Disease” in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine http://jabfm.org/content/24/1/112.full

[3]          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Merrick

[4]          Virgin Media, Michael Jackson Myths http://www.virginmedia.com/entertainment/news/2015/10/michael-jackson-myths.html  retrieved 15.08.2017.

[5]          Los Angeles Times Jackson Bids for Elephant Mans Remains http://articles.latimes.com/1987-05-30/entertainment/ca-3547_1_elephant-man retrieved 14.08.2017

[6]          Katherine Jackson with Richard Wiseman, “My Family, the Jacksons” St Martin’s Press 1990 accessed at http://jetzi-mjvideo.com/books-jetzi-04/kj/kj16.html

[7]          CBC Digital Archives, Michael Jackson bids for the elephant man http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1862378797 retrieved 14.08.2017

[8]          Ebony/Jet interview 1987 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDb5fUZPxZQ

Transcript of the interview: https://mjjjusticeproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/1987-michael-jackson-ebonyjet-interview/

[9]          http://www.playbill.com/article/david-bowie-mark-hamill-billy-crudup-and-bradley-cooper-a-look-at-the-elephant-man-stars-throughout-the-years-com-335898

[10]        Virgin Media Michael Jackson Myths

[11]        Documentary “Meet the Elephant Man” reveals how modern research using Merrick’s bones has aided understanding the disease he suffered and how to help people inflicted with this condition today.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWJSoiyXf1Q&t=1076s

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

[13]        Raphael Raphael, “Dancing with the Elephant Man’s Bones” in Michael Jackson: Grasping the Spectacle, edited by Christopher R. Smit, Routledge 2012 accessed via https://goo.gl/Qx66At

[14]        Ebony/Jet interview 1987

[15]        Michael Jackson, Moonwalk

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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.

 

 

 

Featured post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017

smooth1

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/

 

 

Featured post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spaceman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It still does.

Kerry Hennigan
September 2017

mjair

Sources:

(1)          Ebony, April 1989 accessed from http://www.michael-jackson-trader.com/tours/badtourreview.html

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

(3)          Ibid

(4)          Katherine Jackson My Family, The Jacksons St Martin’s Press 1990 accessed on http://jetzi-mjvideo.com/books-jetzi-04/kj/kj16.html

(5)          Interview: This Is It Director Kenny Ortega on his last work with MJ http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Interview-It-Director-Kenny-Ortega-His-Last-Work-With-MJ-15418.html

(6)          Interview with Jennifer Batten 2010, as blogged on her website: http://www.batten.com/images/stories/michaeljackson/mj-saw.pdf

(7)          Jonathan Sugarfoot Moffett commenting on a photo of the Prague HIStory stage – Facebook 9 September 2015 https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1136003033080552&set=a.102088859805313.4758.100000125974421&type=3&theater

(8)          Jackson ‘wanted the world on stage’ BBC News 2009 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8316557.stm

(9)          Michael Jackson – This Is It (MJ Air) accessible on Youtube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7N-EhG7XbI

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_Tour_(The_Jacksons_tour)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad_(tour)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dangerous_World_Tour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIStory_World_Tour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Is_It_(concerts)

 

Featured post

Michael Jackson and the gender fluidity of fashion

A news item surfaced recently about model Gigi Hadid wearing “what was once thought of as menswear – button-up, collared shirts underneath blazers” to an event with Zayn Malik.  According to the article, Hadid and Malik speak to the “gender fluidity of fashion”.  Author Erin Jensen of USA Today quotes Hadid as explaining: “It’s not about gender.  It’s about…shapes.  And what feels good on you that day.  And anyway, it’s fun to experiment…” (1)

What caught my eye about this article was the similarity in attitude to a view expressed by Michael Jackson in his 1988 autobiography, Moonwalk and subsequently quoted in numerous articles about his personal style, i.e. “My attitude is if fashion says it’s forbidden, I’m going to do it.” (2)

Following his passing in June 2009 Vogue noted that Michael’s “exuberant sense of style often meant that he would wear pieces from the women’s collections” and cited examples from Givenchy’s autumn/winter 2007-08 collection. (3)

3c333c14478a698166005a6a489f2727Balmain’s Fall 2009 black and silver t-shirt and military jackets and peaked shouldered blazers are examples of clothing originally designed for women that Michael Jackson was able to wear convincingly as his own fashion styling – which is not surprising, because some of the pieces were inspired by him. (4)

Michael’s style transcended gender stereotypes and pushed fashion boundaries.  His personal stylist from 2007, Rushka Bergman, said “He loved everything that I wore, and he always wanted to wear it.” (5)

His famous attention to detail extended to Michael’s clothing as well as his art – in fact, it was an integral part of his art, not just on stage and in his short films, but his public appearances generally.  His custom-made wardrobe, primarily designed and crafted for him by Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush (who worked with Michael for nearly 25 years), resulted in some memorable ensembles worn by the King of Pop throughout his career. (6)

Think back to the Oscar ceremony of 1991 – Madonna dazzled in diamonds and a sparkling dress à la Marilyn Monroe while Michael, who’d asked his staff to find out in advance what she would be wearing, out-dazzled everyone in his pearl-covered dinner jacket, textured jeans and gold embossed metal belt.  Michael was very conscious of the impression he created and the impact he made in public appearances.

oscars 1991As observed by Emily McWilliams on diply.com:

“When you think of Michael Jackson three things immediately come to mind: his incredible voice, his mind-blowing dance moves, and his innovative style. Michael created many iconic looks in his music videos, performances and at award shows. It seemed that no matter what he wore, fans and other artists wanted to imitate the King of Pop’s original fashion sense. When it came to fashion, Michael was fearless—pushing boundaries and daring to wear what no one else would.  Michael’s style easily extended into the mainstream and around the world, setting trends that defined the decades they were popular in. Like his record-breaking music, Michael’s fashion was a part of his identity—he understood how to bring his image of pop music to life, and his style played a huge role in that vision.” (7)

And let’s not forget the fedora.  On stage and in his short films, it was white for Smooth Criminal, while for performances of Billie Jean, Dangerous and everyday wear, it was black.

According to McWilliams: “No one could wear a hat like Michael did, because to him, it was more than an accessory.  He integrated the hat into his choreography, using it to build incredible performances.  Michael was playful with his audience and liked to surprise them.  His hat allowed him to create that tension and keep his identity hidden a little longer, even though his voice and dancing would give him away almost immediately.” (8)

Entertainers who have followed Michael’s fashion lead abound – whether or not they, or the media, acknowledge it.  In some cases the reference is obvious (e.g. Beyoncé’s Super Bowl concert leather outfit by DSquared2 in 2016, which intentionally referenced Michael’s Dangerous tour costume from his landmark 1993 Super Bowl show). (9)

In other instances we might see a celebrity or pop star of either gender wearing a red-leather, letterman or zippered black moto jacket, and even without a word being said or printed, the source of inspiration is pretty obvious.

As a Michael Jackson fan, I’m inclined to respond to these news stories and images with a comment that goes something like this: “Hmmm, reminds me of something MJ wore back in [insert relevant date here].”

Kerry Hennigan
August 2017

Postscript: Michael’s fashion legacy also extends to accessories like his iconic sunglasses.  His aviator and wayfarer style glasses and variations thereon, were an integral part of MJ’s style throughout his adult career.  Now, eyewear company Illesteva has partnered with the Michael Jackson Estate to produce a frameless, reflective gold reinterpretation of the aviators that Michael wore during the late 80s and early 90s.  The release of the limited edition (200 pairs) – called ‘MJ’s style’ – will coincide with this year’s 35th anniversary of the release of the Thriller album.  They will retail for US$240 each.

“Michael Jackson, one of the most iconic performers of all time, was rarely seen without sunglasses. When we think of him, the aviator immediately comes to mind,” says Daniel Silberman, designer and CEO of Illesteva. “We wanted to design a shape that he would wear on stage today but combined with modern technology.” (10)

Sources:

(1)       Erin Jensen in USA Today 13 July 2017: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2017/07/13/vogue-gigi-hadid-zayn-malik-speak-to-gender-fluidity-fashion/475158001/

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

(3)       Vogue – Michael Jackson – A Tribute: http://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/michael-jacksons-style-26062009

(4)       Balmain Fall 2009 Ready-To-Wear collection http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2009-ready-to-wear/balmain

(5)       Siran Babayan Strange But True Stories from the Man who designed Michael Jackson’s jackets in LA Weekly 29 November 2012: http://www.laweekly.com/arts/strange-but-true-stories-from-the-man-who-designed-michael-jacksons-jackets-2370514

(6)       Zaneta Apostolovski Ruska Bergman: The Last Dinner with Michael Jackson blogged on http://www.truemichaeljackson.com/more-about-michael/rushka-bergman-talks/

(7)       Emily McWilliams The King of Fashion: Michael Jackson’s Style Influences Generations http://diply.com/different-solutions/article/michael-jackson-fashion-style

(8)       Ibid.

(9)       Gaby Wilson, MTV News: http://www.mtv.com/news/2736806/beyonce-super-bowl-michael-jackson/?xrs=_s.tw_news

(10)     Liana Satenstein in Vogue: 35 Years After Thriller, Michael Jackson’s Iconic Sunglasses Get a Modern Reboot http://www.vogue.com/article/michael-jackson-thriller-anniversary-illesteva-sunglasses

“MJ fashion icon” photo montage compiled and photo-shopped by Kerry Hennigan, July 2017.  Copyright of all photos is vested in the respective photographer/copyright holder.

 

 

Featured post

Michael Jackson’s song lyrics on interaction between the sexes from the perspective of storytelling

In June 2016, the Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies [2, No. 4 (2016)] published an opinion piece by Ivana Recmanová titled Thoughts on Michael Jackson’s Lyrics and Gender.  In the article she challenges the view expressed by some critics that Michael Jackson’s repertoire “includes tracks that depict women in an unfavorable light…”  Her article proceeds to examine a number of key tracks to reveal that the lyrics “show a range of approaches to gender identities and gender performing, whether they recreate gender stereotypes or challenge them.” (1)

Ivana’s thought-provoking article, when I revisited it recently, acted as the springboard for considering my own interpretations of some of Michael’s songs and how they might reflect his feelings (or otherwise) on their subject matter, including gender issues.  Of course, without Michael here to confirm or correct our speculations, we can only go by what he has published or revealed in interviews to gain some insight into his opinion on these matters.

From my own experience as a fan of his music, I believe that some of Michael’s lyrics should be read as “storytelling” in terms of his depiction of interaction between the sexes and other subject matter.  According to one of Michael’s recording engineers, Matt Forger, “Each [Michael Jackson] song was its own special case of exploring an idea, a melody, a groove, a story to tell, or an emotion to communicate.”  Forger also described Michael as “a person who loved storytelling…” (2)

Telling a story allows a writer (or lyricist) to tackle themes beyond their experience and which they may not fully comprehend.  In his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk, Michael talks about his composition Heartbreak Hotel (a.k.a. This Place Hotel) which contains revenge. “I am fascinated by the concept of revenge,” he says.  “It’s something I can’t understand.” (3)  From this statement we can deduce that Michael Jackson the storyteller is at work in the writing of Heartbreak Hotel.  He wasn’t making short films with these types of themes (yet), but he was writing songs almost as if they could be film scripts.  (Read Willa Stillwater’s speculation on the lyrics of Heartbreak Hotel on the Dancing with the Elephant blog site for yet another perspective on the content of this song.)

When it comes to the opposite sex, we don’t have to guess how Michael felt, because in Moonwalk he actually tells us.  “If this song [Heartbreak Hotel] and Billie Jean seemed to cast women in an unfavourable light, it was not meant to be taken as a personal statement.  Needless to say, I love the interaction between the sexes, it is a natural part of life and I love women.  I just think that when sex is used as a form of blackmail or power, it’s a repugnant use of one of God’s gifts.” (4)

His opinions on numerous issues may have changed from the early 90s onwards, given everything (including marriage, divorce, fatherhood, false allegations of sexual impropriety and a criminal trial) that happened to him subsequent to the publication of his 1988 autobiography.  However, songs like Heartbreak Hotel, Billie Jean, Dirty Diana, The Way You Make Me Feel, Smooth Criminal and Song Groove AKA Abortion Papers precede, are close to, or contemporaneous with Moonwalk and Michael’s opinions as stated therein.

For another in-depth analysis of Michael Jackson songs devoted in subject matter to women, and clandestine heterosexual relationships, I recommend the opinion piece by Jan Carlson, Femmes Fatale – The ‘Dangerous Woman’ Narrative published in The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 3, No. 3 (2016) a link to which is provided below.

In the instance of his femme fatale songs such as Smooth Criminal, Dangerous and Blood on the Dance Floor and the performance or filming thereof, we can see and hear the influence on his storytelling of the film noir genre Michael was so fond of (and which I wrote about previously).  This genre invariably makes use of tension between the sexes as a driver for the storyline.

(By way of contrast, the lyrics for You Rock My World which portray a man totally enthralled by a woman to the point of obsession, give no hint of the noir genre within which the accompanying short film is firmly rooted, just as Remember the Time doesn’t reference the ancient Egyptian setting of its short film.)

Though Michael’s original introduction to the noir cinematic style was via the monochrome classic The Third Man (1949), a more recent example is the film L.A. Confidential (1997).  This is a story of vice and corruption within the police force in Los Angeles in the early 1950s.  Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger represent opposite sides of the law, yet their characters are drawn together by their mutual desire for justice and/or retribution – as well as sexual attraction.  Basinger plays a woman who is certainly dangerous to know because of her associates, yet whose attraction is irresistible for Crowe’s quick-tempered policeman. (5)

“The girl was persuasive / The girl I could not trust / The girl was bad / The girl was dangerous.” (6)

As a storytelling lyricist, Michael Jackson could very well have written the theme song for L.A. Confidential, but, in a sense, he already had.

Kerry Hennigan
July, 2017

Sources:

  1. Recmanová,  Ivana. “Thoughts on Michael Jackson’s Lyrics and Gender.” Opinion Piece, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 2, no. 4 (2016). Published electronically 28/06/16. http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/oped-piece-by-ivana-recmanova-thoughts-on-michael-jacksons-lyrics-and-gender/
  2. Matt Forger in the preface to “Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind” by Damien Shields, as excerpted in “Michael Jackson, the Songwriter (Part 1)” by Annemarie Latour https://annemarielatour.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/michael-jackson-the-songwriter-part-1/  Emphasis of “a story to tell” is my own.
  3. Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” 1988, Arrow Books 2010 paperback edition.
  4. Ibid
  5. “L.A. Confidential” (1997) on IMDb http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119488/
  6. “Dangerous” written by Michael Jackson, Bill Bottrell and Teddy Riley (1991)

More on Michael Jackson and the film noir genre published in the Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies and on WordPress:

Videos to watch:

Michael Jackson – Heartbreak Hotel Live Yokohama 1987: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vF1LV-_tqU

Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal – “Moonwalker” version 1988: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZed4kuFsJs

Michael Jackson – Dangerous Live Korea 1999: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaiNBQsTu5I

Michael Jackson – Blood on the Dance Floor official short film 1997: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3_NntYhzV4

 

Featured post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
March 2017

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

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

books edited.jpg

Featured post

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

Featured post

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

Story and Photos* by Kerry Hennigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Featured post

Michael Jackson, Shiva and the Cosmic Dance

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

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

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

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

10933839_10203757577875080_8606073395546335086_n

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.

Featured post

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

By Kerry Hennigan

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
Featured post

Pictures at an Exhibition: artistic expressions of the cultural impact of Michael Jackson, Part 1: Ballarat and London – MJ Studies Today, October 2017

Abstract: In her October column, Kerry discusses art exhibitions that concern Michael Jackson. Artists from around the world are inspired by Michael Jackson and the National Portrait Gallery will exhibit numerous artists next summer.


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.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXII (14-10-2017).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 1 (2017). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxii/.


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/mj-studies-today-xxii/

 

Queen of the Silver Camps, haunted hotels and Las Vegas – 8 to 10 December 2016

Part 3 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016 

Tonopah, Nevada, was just an overnight stop on the way from Reno to Las Vegas on our road trip last December, but it has some fascinating history and is close to fabulous scenery and lots of ghost towns and other curiosities.

Tonopah is itself a historic mining town once known as the Queen of the Silver Camps. It was the site of one of the richest booms in the West, which took place on May 19, 1900. [1]

But there was more to see along the way before we even rolled into town on the evening of 8 December 2016, including a rest and refreshment stop at Churchill Springs Casino, and then a scenic pull-off to take a look at Walker Lake.

Walker Lake is a natural lake about 75 miles (120 km) southeast of Reno on US Route 95.  The area around the lake has long been inhabited by the Paiute Indians. However, the diversion of water from the Walker River and its tributaries for irrigation purposes has resulted in a severe drop in the level of the lake impacting the lake’s fishery which in turn is having a dramatic effect on the species of birds using the lake.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has been acquiring water rights to benefit the lake and has submitted applications to the Nevada State Engineer to transfer the water downstream to benefit the lake.  The Walker River Paiute Reservation touches the lake at one point, and you briefly drive through it on US 95 en-route from Reno to Tonopah.

15384520_10208082830163684_2878654508088646073_oTonopah looks exactly what it is – an old mining town with a colourful history.  Originally an Indian campground known as Tonopah Springs, it became the site of one of the richest silver booms in the West.  It was discovered by a local rancher named Jim Butler on 19 May 1900, when Butler’s mule wandered away and fell down a hole 15370009_10208082829563669_6492627037675288896_owhich, Butler discovered, contained an outcrop heavily laced with silver.  Or so the local legend goes.  It’s a good story, anyway.

In 1901 mines around the town produced almost $750,000 in gold and silver and for the next 40 years, the Tonopah mines were consistent producers until the Depression brought a slowdown.  Not much in the way of mining has happened since the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad shut down and its rails torn up in 1947. [2]

I was staying the night at the Best Western Hi Desert Inn which sits immediately below the Tonopah Historic Mining Park on the hillside behind it (see photo above).  Less tired legs might have impelled me to explore the parts of the site that were open, but the day was drawing to its close, and I was looking to sit down for a nice meal.

The Best Western staff pointed to the joint opposite – the Tonopah Brewing Co’s Tap Room, which is famous for its BBQ.  I had the chicken – a huge plate of it, with salad and chips, at a modest price, and then hurried back to my room across the road, huddled against the chill of the descending desert night.

15391308_10208076211078211_4951149377376545090_oNext day we were off to Vegas – not a long drive, but there were some interesting places to see along the way. In particular, the semi deserted town of Goldfield was worth a stop and a chat with the lady in the gift shop who was enamoured of my travel buddy, little MJ. Afterwards I drove around town looking at Goldfield’s abandoned civic buildings and the somewhat infamous ‘haunted’ Goldfield Hotel which has been the site of some paranormal investigations, in particular by the television program “Ghost Adventures”.  When completed in 1908 it was said to be the most spectacular hotel in Nevada. Today it’s listed on the Nevada State Register of Historic Places and forms part of the Goldfield Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. [3]

15418584_10208076322400994_4945323313521946672_oAfter that it was onward to Beatty, and about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas on the 95 there is a view (and a turnoff, which I didn’t take) to the Amargosa Dunes, a.k.a. Big Dune – a 1.5 square mile area popular with dune buggy enthusiasts.  The name is self-evident given that it is, indeed, a big heap of sand sitting between the desert highway and the mountains, with its highest point topping 500 feet. [4]

15369066_10208076247199114_5241266489953603044_oNext stop was (don’t laugh!) at the Area 51 Alien Centre – in reality a big convenience store/truck stop with an extraterrestrial theme.  Worth a stop to look around.  (Just be aware there is a brothel out back!) [5]  After our Area 51 stop and shop, there was quick visit to a petrol station in Indian Springs.  One of the tyres on the rental car had started to go down, so I had to stop for air before tackling the last stretch into Vegas.

The GPS had done itself proud up until this last leg to Vegas, where it took me to Las Vegas Blvd North rather than South – and I didn’t twig until it had turned me around on the freeway a couple of times… what the??? Now, even though I usually drive in to Vegas from the direction of LA, I’ve been here often enough to know when I’m near the south end of The Strip, and this sure wasn’t it… nor was it anywhere near downtown.

Finally I just read the signs and used my knowledge of the place to find my way into Excalibur – at last! I guess after all the driving over recent days, it was bound to end with some tiredness and frustration – but in terms of the GPS, I learned a valuable lesson.  Of course, the day wasn’t over yet – there was the inevitable queue and seemingly interminable wait to check in to Excalibur (not uncommon at the popular hotels in Vegas around check-in time each afternoon) before finally I could head up to our room.

But one look at the view (pictured below) from our castle tower made the drive with a leaking tyre, the wrestle with the GPS – and the queue at check-in – all worthwhile.  It was, in Vegas parlance, a WINNER.

15392931_10208076165157063_892433432831528803_o

Story and photos (c) Kerry Hennigan
October 2017

Sources:

[1] For more info and a terrific promotional video, visit: http://tonopahnevada.com/

[2] History of Tonopah: http://www.tonopahnevada.com/history.html

[3] Goldfield Hotel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldfield_Hotel

[4] Amargosa Big Dune: https://travelnevada.com/discover/26019/amargosa-big-dune

[5] Area 51 Alien Centre: https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/40442

 

 

Old Sacramento, Lake Tahoe and the Road to Reno – 5 to 8 December 2016

Part 3 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016

Old Sacramento dressed for Christmas is a delightful place to wander and explore on foot, which I did at length while visiting the California State Capital last December.  The car had been valet-parked for me on arrival at my accommodation the night before, and it stayed parked throughout my stay aboard the Delta King.  I went everywhere on foot except for when taking a scenic buggy ride behind “Thunder” the horse.

Next day I drove out of town through morning mist, which gradually dissipated the further I climbed towards the California-Neveda border and my first stopping point, Lake Tahoe – the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which sits at an elevation of 1,897 m (6,223 ft).

15326121_10208053155501836_8645723358546327089_oI pulled in at Emerald Bay for photographs, and managed to slip on the ice laying around the carpark and viewing platform.  Fortunately, no harm was done, and there was no need for a bruised ego given that almost everyone else was attempting to avoid the same fate – not always successfully!

Emerald Bay is a California State Park as well as a National Landmark.  It is also the location of the Vikingsholm mansion which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Vikingsholm is considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States, having been designed by a Swedish architect for Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight, who wanted to build a summer home that would compliment the magnificent natural surroundings that reminded her of the fjords she had seen on numerous travels to Scandinavia.  Vikingsholm was completed in the fall of 1929.  Following her death the property changed hands a couple of times before being acquired by the State in 1953. [1]

Unfortunately given the ice underfoot, and the steep trail leading down to the house and lake shore, I did all my sightseeing from the roadside lookout – but the sight of the Vikingsholm summer house on rocky Fannette island in the lake was stunning, and worth the slip on the ice to photograph.

Beyond Emerald Bay the road hugged the lake shore for a while before swinging north to Truckee, California with its picturesque old downtown area.  According to the town’s official website: “Recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Truckee proudly retains its historic roots. Named for a Paiute Indian chief who helped guide thousands of emigrants in their westward journey through 40-mile desert.” [2]

To be honest, I wish I’d had the time to stay and explore more of the town, but the highway beckoned us on to Reno, offering views of some incredible mountain scenery (see main photo above).

15384533_10208048987957650_5386400313856282361_oIt had been many years since I’d been to Reno, and it seemed to me that it had been a lot busier and noisier then.  Perhaps arriving in winter made the difference, but the streets were quiet in the vicinity of my hotel, Circus Circus, and its neighbors, and the picturesque Riverwalk along the Truckee River that flows through the centre of town (as pictured above), was practically deserted but for the occasional tourist or dog walker.

My main reason for allowing time in Reno was to view the portrait of Michael Jackson at the Whitney Peak Hotel, which sits directly adjacent to the famous Reno Arch landmark.  I was directed to the meeting space (The Third Floor) upstairs and to Michael’s portrait (pictured below), which shared a wall with Prince and Madonna.  The portait was created by Scotty Roller and is acrylic on canvas (with a ‘for sale’ price of $1500).  An obliging staff member took photos for me while I posed with the portrait.  One more item to tick off my ‘Michaeling’ wish list. [3]

I had a bit of fun in the casinos in Reno, where the slots are more generous than Vegas, and then the following day (after an overnight snow fall) drove on towards our next stop – another historic town (as most are in this part of the country) called Tonopah – once known as ‘Queen of the Silver Camps’ and our mid-way stop-over on the trail to Las Vegas.

Both California’s Mother Lode (i.e. Gold Rush) country and Reno with the Truckee running through it, has a particular nostalgia that strongly appeals to me.  A favourite song recorded by John Denver, titled “Darcy Farrow” kept playing in my head throughout this part of my journey.

The country is also very beautiful, and as a resident of a beachside suburb on a flat coastal plain back home in Australia (with the highest peak in the local hills topping out at a modest 727 m) I find the scenery of high mountains, tall pines and rushing rivers in this part of the American West quite breath-taking.

If I didn’t have other places to be, and things to do when I got there, I would have happily dwelt a little longer in the vicinity of the Sierra Nevada mountains and perhaps even struck gold!  (Except it would have been in a casino!)

15326123_10208066378272397_7949080281025646874_o

Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan
© October 2017

Sources and additional reading:

[1] http://vikingsholm.com/

[2] http://www.truckee.com/explore/downtown/history/

[3] http://whitneypeakhotel.com/

and http://www.reno.gov/about-reno/things-to-do

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1: https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/04/04/californianevada-road-trip-december-2016/

Part 2: https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/pyramid-lake-fort-tejon-old-sacramento-and-cirque-du-soleil-4-december-2016/

 

 

 

“Don’t it make you want to scream” – Commentary on a review of Michael Jackson’s compilation album “Scream”

It had to happen.  Once again a critic has failed to grasp the complexity and nuances of Michael Jackson’s art. In reviewing the new compilation Halloween-themed album “Scream”, The Guardian music writer Ben Beaumont-Thomas concludes that “By framing Jackson as theatrically phantasmagoric[al] – a kind of horror movie character – it attempts to deflect our attention from his real-life freakishness. But it ends up underlining it all the more.”

And:

“Dirty Diana and Dangerous, both also included on the compilation, are howls of a different kind – those of a man repelled by his own lust. On the latter he says, ‘she came at me in sections’ – he seems so terrified by women that he has to disassemble them.”
[Mr Beaumont-Thomas obviously doesn’t recognise Michael Jackson’s homage to his idol Fred Astaire’s “Girl Hunt Ballet” from the movie “The Band Wagon” (1953). ] [1]

Ignorant of his, er, ignorance, he proceeds to attempt some armchair psychology, querying:

“Is this man, so famously denied a childhood, having to grasp at film imagery to make sense of how he feels, in lieu of a proper grounding in emotion?”

And finally, this statement:

“By framing these songs together, Epic have further underlined how complicated Jackson was, and further defined him as the strange, sexually fraught person that the compilation is perhaps trying to make listeners forget. The unavoidable fact is that his music was a scream, in every sense.”

Holy shit! Talk about verbal abuse masquerading as a music review! And you thought we lived in an age where we were careful about bullying and name-calling, right? Wrong. (Certainly, when it comes to Michael Jackson – everyone’s favourite whipping boy, alive or dead.)

I wonder does Mr Beaumont-Thomas know the lyrics to one of the songs used in the “mash-up” bonus track on the album? It’s called “Is It Scary” – and it should have been included in total in its original form. That, and the short film (long form) from which it comes, “Michael Jackson’s Ghosts”, is a lesson for anyone on judging people without first attempting to get to know them. I would say that it is also a lesson in attempting to judge art without sparing much thought for what it’s about and what it’s trying to say and what are its influences and historic precursors.  But, others have spelled things out much better than me, particularly Joseph Vogel, who wrote the following article for just such critics back in 2012. Sadly, it’s still relevant.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/michael-jackson-trial-_b_10…

But, I’m not done yet.

The Guardian review of the “Scream” album would be right at home with others discussed and dissected by Susan Woodward in her academic work “Otherness and Power. Michael Jackson and his media critics”. I don’t have an on-line link to the text, but I can at least share my review, which will perhaps illustrate why I think The Guardian piece belongs in the mire with many of Jackson’s other critics who failed – and continue to fail in this case – to come to terms with his “otherness” and “power” as a successful artist and international celebrity, still influencing millions the world over – yes, and still making money.
https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/…/book-review-othernes…/

Also relevant to this discussion is an article by Zack O’Malley Greenburg, author of “Michael Jackson, Inc” who was prompted to pen this piece “Writing About Writing About Michael Jackson: What Some Critics Still Get Wrong” in 2014 after reading some of the reviews of his book.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2014/08/28/writing-about-writing-about-michael-jackson/#44b920c9520d

Kerry Hennigan
26 September 2017

The original version of this review rebuttal was posted on Twitter via Twit Longer on 26 September 2017 and in the Facebook fan group “Michael Jackson’s short film ‘Ghosts'”

[1] http://www.thrillingdetective.com/eyes/rod_riley.html

 

Academic Essay Review: “Ruach Hakodesh: The Epiphanic and Cosmic Nature of Imagination in the Art of Michael Jackson and His Influence on My Image-Making” by Constance Pierce

When I first read Constance Pierce’s academic paper “Ruach Hakodesh: The Epiphanic and Cosmic Nature of Imagination in the Art of Michael Jackson and His Influence on My Image-Making” (1) I had never heard of the Hebrew term Ruach Hakodesh.  But I certainly understood the concept that it represents as explained by Pierce, i.e. that which the Biblical book of Genesis describes as a “rushing spirit of God over the face of the waters.”  She further elaborates in the abstract to her piece that a “brooding and hovering wind, the animating breath of the cosmos, a Divinely disruptive force of inspiration and imagination are but a few possible flavors of poetic exegesis.”

My first thoughts on reading this was that, with respect to Michael Jackson’s art, “Ruach Hakodesh” encapsulates the connection with the divine (i.e. God) as expressed not just in Jackson’s music and dance moves but also his poetry, especially as illustrated by his piece “Heaven Is Here”, from his book of lyrics and essays “Dancing the Dream” (1992).  This particular poem is one of my favourite pieces from that book.  As Pierce notes, in “Dancing the Dream”, “he revealed significant spiritual dynamics inherent in his creative process.” (2)

paper coverBut why choose pop icon Michael Jackson to discuss “the epiphanic and cosmic nature of imagination” some may ask?  In fact, Pierce is one of many academics now casting a learned eye on the life, work and social impact of the King of Pop.  Pierce lists some of the academic books, essays, articles and courses that have emerged since the artist’s death in 2009.  As to whether being known by a title such as the “King of Pop” means Jackson can be considered “a serious artist of profound and abiding cultural import” Pierce concludes that the answer is definitely “yes”.

In death, as in life, she argues, Jackson remains a polarizing figure.  “An immense amount of shadow-material was projected upon him by a myopic and racist culture,” she writes.  “Throughout his life, Jackson became highly skilled at bearing this shadow-material, aesthetically processing it, and thrusting it back at us (as maligned artists often do) transformed into art.”

Indeed, in the decade of the 1990s, Jackson turned out some truly challenging and abrasive material which remains as relevant today as when he wrote it.  His angry plea for disadvantaged minorities, “They Don’t Care About Us”, is the best known; but there are many others, even dating back to his “Bad” album on which appeared “Leave Me Alone”, his reaction to being tabloid fodder.  In his 1988 autobiography “Moonwalk” Jackson explained “The song is about a relationship between a guy and a girl.  But what I’m really saying to people who are bothering me is: ‘Leave me alone.’” (3)

In a world of regional wars, environmental degradation and apathy towards our own kind and other creatures, Jackson’s art could be a howl of protest (“Earth Song”) or a soothing balm (“Heal the World”).  Pierce perceives Jackson as “a ritual healer, a modern-day shaman”.  Certainly, if one listens to his recordings of “Earth Song” and “Cry”, he is “petitioning the Cosmos”.  The same can also be said of the seldom-heard but equally compelling track “We’ve Had Enough”. (4)

In support of her view of Jackson as a healer/shaman she explains that he “inspired global multitudes to compassion and endurance by lifting their hearts through his art.”  Of course, his compassionate actions also involved donating massive amounts of money to charities, including the proceeds for entire concert tours.  Pierce contends that “Jackson evidenced a lived theology.”

She also uses photographs of Jackson displaying certain body gestures in his performances, and compares them to works by William Blake.  “Though Jackson was likely inspired by a number of figurative painters, William Blake persists in my mind’s eye,” Pierce writes.  She explains that both artists lived in “a world of rich inner myth and revered the state of innocence as personified by the realm of ‘Childhood’”.

Blake viewed childhood as “a state or phase of imaginative existence, the phase in which the world of imagination is still a brave new world and yet reassuring and intelligible” according to Northrope Frye, whom Pierce quotes on the subject.  Michael Jackson, as most fans – and some critics – are aware, had a somewhat idealized view of childhood and rued the “loss” of his own, having worked as the lead singer of the Jackson 5 from a very young age.  Pierce contends that the contrary states of “innocence and experience” are reflected in the words and visual imagery of both artists, and proceeds to examine some of Jackson’s famous poses, such as the cruciform/resurrection pose and the crouched/crying gesture, for which we are given examples by Blake depicting similar attitudes/emotions.

Pierce is a visual artist by nature, and her own allegorical drawings that accompany her essay give form to the emotions discussed therein.  Her watercolors and pencil sketches are not meant to represent Jackson, or any specific individual, but rather show human forms in “archetypal images [that] bear witness to the afflictions of the world, to the turmoil of interior anxieties, and to the ubiquitous consequences of conflict and greed.”

The allegorical images are also intended to bear witness to the presence of ministering emissaries upon the earth, and an “angel” or spiritual intercessor is featured in each of the travails she depicts.  This series of images is titled “Will You Be There” after Jackson’s prayerful song of the same name from his Dangerous album and world tour.

Pierce explains that, as an artist, she harbors “a core consciousness embedded within that is not dominated by the rational, where mystical poetics such as Ruach Hakodesh can flourish, and where my imagination routinely looks toward the cosmos for its creative source.”  It is from this place that her image-making emanates.

Following the death of Jackson, Pierce began to seriously contemplate “the vast emotional scope evident in Jackson’s art.”  She found a cache of startling imagery embedded within his work.

Many of us who are fans of Jackson have responded to that imagery, and to the other aspects of his private and performance persona that endear him to us as, above all, someone who cared deeply and acted on his compassion, even though in pain (whether physical or metaphorical).  Studying Pierce’s essay explains some of the emotions we, his fans, have experienced, why we have experienced them, and feel impelled to respond to his shamanic call to heal the world.

Pierce concludes that “Michael Jackson left behind a vast reservoir of treasure in his wide-ranging oeuvre as a serious artist.  We are the beneficiaries of a legacy of art that is startlingly innovative and revelatory.  In addition, one may characterize Jackson’s art as being spiritually empowered, for his work awakens in us a truer consciousness of our own joy and suffering.”

For serious scholars of Michael Jackson and his art, and its continuing influence on other artists, Pierce’s essay is essential reading.  It is a reminder that true artists, such as Jackson, invariably inspire others to explore and express their own creativity.

Kerry Hennigan
September 2017

Sources:

(1) Constance Pierce: “RUACH HAKODESH: The Epiphanic and Cosmic Nature of Imagination in the Art of Michael Jackson …” The Cosmos and the Creative Imagination, Springer International Publishing © 2016 | constance pierce – Academia.edu
(See “Files 1 of 5” under title to select download)

and “Will You Be There” drawing series exhibitions: The Fourth Art on Paper, Museum of Art, Aichi, Japan ~ Notre Dame College (OH) ~ Seton Hill University (PA) ~ Regina Quick Center for the Arts (NY) ~ Yale University Divinity Library (CT)

(2) Kerry Hennigan “Michael Jackson, Shiva and the Cosmic Dance” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2016/09/12/michael-jackson-shiva-and-the-cosmic-dance/

(3) Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” Random House 1988, Arrow paperback edition 2010. https://www.amazon.com/Moonwalk-Michael-Jackson/dp/0307716988/

(4) Michael Jackson, Rodney Jerkins, LaShawn Daniels and Carole Bayer Sager, “We’ve Had Enough” from “Michael Jackson. The Ultimate Collection” http://www.mjtunes.com/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=242

Additional viewing:

Constance Pierce: Honoring Dancing the Dream (Watercolor series: Epiphany and Loss) video: https://youtu.be/5oe7TALaTxg

Acknowledgement:

“petitioning the cosmos” photo montage compiled and edited by Kerry Hennigan using professional photographs for which copyright remains vested in the respective copyright owners/photographers.  No infringement of copyright is intended in this not-for-profit exercise.

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