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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.

 

 

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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

 

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“She’s going Hollywood” – Michael Jackson’s ‘Hollywood Tonight’ short film recalled through the rise of its star performer

In June 2011, Michael Jackson’s posthumously released track Hollywood Tonight became his first #1 single on Billboard’s chart since “Scream”.

The single, a different version of the song from that released on the Michael album six months earlier, was blessed with a music video starring Sofia Boutella as a young dancer aiming for stardom in Hollywood. (1)

Six years later, June 2017, sees the mesmerising Ms Boutella (now a full-time actress) in the title role of The Mummy, the latest incarnation of the cinema classic, also starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and Annabelle Wallis.  Boutella doesn’t dance in this film, she slithers, crawls, creeps and stalks as Ahmanet, a recalled to life Egyptian princess on a vengeful mission. (2)

Born in 1982 in Algiers, Sofia Boutella is the Algerian-French daughter of a jazz musician and architect mother.  She began dancing at the age of five.  After moving with her family to France, she took up rhythmic gymnastics and then hip hop and street dance.  In 2007, she was selected for the Nike Women’s advertising campaigns, choreographed by Jamie King. (3)

Yes – the same Jamie King who toured as part of Michael Jackson’s dance troupe on the Dangerous World Tour, and who also choreographed for Prince and Madonna.  Jamie went on to write and direct both of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson tribute shows – Immortal and MJ ONE.  (4)

Boutella’s execution of King’s choreography for Nike scored her dance gigs with both Madonna and Rihanna.  In fact, she was locked into the extended Confessions tour with Madonna at the time Michael Jackson’s O2 residency shows would have taken place.

Sofia had auditioned for the This Is It concerts, and Michael really liked her and wanted her to be a part of his greatest show ever.  When the Madonna tour was extended Sofia was obligated to fulfil her contract through to the final performance.  Responding to Sofia’s disappointment, and probably his own, Michael reputedly said to a couple of his collaborators “I used to date Madonna.  I should call her.” (5)

In February 2012 Sofia spoke to Nicola Rayner of Dance Today who asked if she got to meet Michael.  Sofia replied “No, but I spoke to him on the phone.  He called me, he said, ‘You’re an amazing dancer.  God bless you.  I really want you on my show.’  And I said, ‘I will do my best.’  Then I was on the phone to his stage director, Kenny Ortega, and he told me: ‘When you’re done with Madonna, come and join us,’ and I said, ‘OK, I will.’  And then he passed.”

It seems only fitting that Boutella was given the opportunity to pay Michael the ultimate tribute – by performing his iconic dance moves in an official Michael Jackson music video.  In the 2012 interview she explained that “He always inspired me; and when he felt I could give him something I could not give it to him, when he gave to me a whole life, you know what I mean?  So then the video came up and I got the chance to do it and I felt better about myself; I felt I did something for him.” (5)

The video, directed by Wayne Isham, follows the narrative of the song – the story of a girl who leaves her home and family to go to Hollywood in the quest for stardom.  It’s not easy; she attends auditions by day when not slinging hash, and pole dances in a night club at night.  But this version of the story has a happy ending.  She gets her break, and she’s on her way to the big time.

1zmjyg8Of course, references to MJ are everywhere throughout the film – in the kids dancing in the streets, in his image on billboards and street signs, and in Boutella’s outfit when she performs his iconic moves in front of Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.  [Pantages is known to MJ fans as the location for Michael’s on-stage scenes in the You Are Not Alone video, also directed by Isham.]

Boutella’s performance is stunning, infusing the footage with “infectious energy and talent” in the words of Joe Vogel. (7)

The short film for Hollywood Tonight reflected Michael’s vision for what a music video should be – it should tell a story, it should be cinematic in its production values, it should have all the attention to detail of any big screen, big budget movie.

The single release and video version of the song Hollywood Tonight differed from the album track in a number of ways.  The spoken bridge (which Michael never got to record, and for which he had written darker lyrics) was removed and instead, Vogel reveals “Sony…used his beatboxing, his idea of swelling horns and strings, and his operative vocal (pulled from a tape left running during a recording session in a hotel room).” (8)

Happily, in response to complaints from fans about the over-processing of Michael’s vocals on the album version, for the single (and video) they are left un-processed and the production is scaled back, resulting in what Vogel describes as “a rawer, funkier, but less finished feel than the album version.” (9)

To quote Vogel again: “The video also reminds — along with recent MJ tributes on American Idol and Glee — how profound Jackson’s influence continues to be on new generations (many of whom only ‘discovered’ him after his tragic death in 2009).” (10)

Since Vogel wrote those words (in 2011) the Michael Jackson tributes have continued on stages and screens both large and small, as well as on street corners throughout the globe.

Meanwhile, having taken up acting full time, Sofia Boutella no longer dances.  But, in true fairy-tale Hollywood fashion, her star has continued to rise.

Kerry Hennigan
July 2017

HLL 

Sources:

  1. https://www.vevo.com/watch/michael-jackson/hollywood-tonight-(official-video)/USSM21100583
  2. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1154749/
  3. A sampling of Nike Women commercials starring Sofia Boutella: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHO6oL-1KIA  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1n8DebPWUI
  4. Jamie King on how he got the job of dancing with Michael: https://youtu.be/hkL9dpUfKYo
  5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-vogel/inside-michael-jacksons-h_b_834857.html
  6. http://www.dancing-times.co.uk/sofia-boutella/
  7. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-vogel/inside-michael-jacksons-h_b_834857.html
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.

Photo montage of Michael Jackson flanking Sofia Boutella from “Hollywood Tonight” short film compiled and photoshopped by Kerry Hennigan 2017.

Photo of Sofia Boutella from “Hollywood Tonight” video and CD single cover artwork © MJJ Productions Inc 2011.  Distributed by Sony Music Entertainment.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tumblr_nbfy8q8s3B1tdg72bo1_500
Michael Jackson being assisted with his costume by Michael Bush on the set of the “Remember the Time” short film, January 1992

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
7 July 2017

A note on ancient Egyptians:

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(14)     Ibid

Further information and additional reading:

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

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

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

Michael Bush “The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson” [large hardcover pictorial book which includes some interesting information on Michael’s Remember the Time costume]  https://www.amazon.com/King-Style-Dressing-Michael-Jackson/dp/1608871517

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
March 2017

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

*The Credit Suisse Exhibition “Michelangelo & Sebastiano” runs 15 March – 25 June 2017 at The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London.  For details visit: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/the-credit-suisse-exhibition-michelangelo-sebastiano

For an examination of David LaChapelle’s images depicting Michael Jackson I highly recommend Annemarie Latour’s two-part article “Redeeming the King of Pop: David LaChapelle’s Fine Art Portrayal of Michael Jackson” (link below).  Annemarie has also recently written on the iconography in LaChapelle’s portraits of Paris Jackson for Rolling Stone:  https://annemarielatour.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/faith-trust-and-pixie-dust-david-lachapelle-and-paris-jackson/

Resources:

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

books edited.jpg

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World Cry and the case for ‘Cry’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I can’t do it by myself’. [6]

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

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

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

‘Change the World’. [7]

Kerry Hennigan
January 2017


Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

[6 and 7] ‘Cry’ by R. Kelly

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

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Michael Jackson, Shiva and the Cosmic Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10915272_10203757583715226_6884599099477970321_nNow Michael Jackson was no Hindu deity; he was as human as you or me, except, he was an enormously talented, highly intelligent and inquiring individual who believed he had been blessed with such gifts for a purpose. He consciously used these gifts to inform, influence and create change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are much more
Than you ever imagined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kerry Hennigan

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12088249_10205474237550499_3089750258518904196_n

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

The launch of the short film on VH1 was cause for comment on ET which noted it was his first video release since becoming a father. The commentators are (typically) preoccupied with his appearance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6F…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 7th Child is a gorgeous storybook that retells the Garden of Eden story, the Fall from Grace, and the travails that followed for humanity.  Until, a special child – a magical 7th child – was born who showed everyone how to reconnect with the One wholeness of Creation.

It is clear from the illustrations who this 7th child, this Maestro, really is.  It is also spelled out on the back cover of the book that:

“The 7th child is an artistic expression of the life of Michael Jackson.  It portrays in words and paintings, Michael’s demonstration of the choices we all can make to heal ourselves and our world, through the power of innocence and wonder.”

What sets the 7th child apart is his connection to God and nature as was demonstrated in his art and earned him the title of Maestro.

“The Source from which all Life flowed, was expressed through his pure heart and connection to Truth.  He WAS the Oneness that had been forgotten.  When he danced, he became the music.  When he sang, he became the song.”

Not surprisingly, the Medians, a class of rulers that had arisen since society had lost its Oneness with nature, were concerned about their zealously protected role as leaders of the people.  They were so concerned they attempted to undermine the influence of the Maestro and the respect which people accorded him.

“They started rumours about him.  They told stories that painted him as bizarre and weird.”  Sound familiar – if you know Michael Jackson’s short film “Ghosts” you will recognise this scenario.  It is a scenario that reflected events in his adult life right through to its final decade.

Of course, they did not stop with spreading rumours; the Medians, like Jackson’s real life adversaries, concocted scenarios of wrong-doing (written with sensitivity for young readers).  Even when the accusations were revealed as unfounded, “this cruelty hurt the Maestro deeply.”

51VF3NyZm2L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_How does the story end?  It doesn’t really, if we realise we are talking about Michael Jackson’s legacy.  How author Brenda Jenkyns writes it, and Siren illustrates it, is something you should discover for yourself – by buying what was obviously a labour of love for this Canadian duo.

The 7th Child is a slim, quarto-sized soft-covered book that can be read to children as a morality tale masquerading as fable or fairy tale.  Adults should read it to understand Otherness and Genius, and the 7th child named Michael who was, is and always will be, the Maestro to those who know and love him.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
21 August 2017

Relevant links:

Purchase the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/7th-Child-Key-Creations/dp/151941921X

Brenda Jenkyns author’s page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Brenda-Jenkyns/e/B00958G430

Michael Jackson Art by Siren Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelJacksonArtBySiren/

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Kerry Hennigan
August 2017

Other Reviews of this volume:

https://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwbooks/article/Susan-Woodward-Analyzes-Factors-Contributing-to-Michael-Jacksons-Death-in-New-Book-20141029

http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/academic-book-review-otherness-and-power-michael-jackson-and-his-media-critics-by-susan-woodward/

Author Interview:

“An Interview with Susan Woodward.” Interview, The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 2, no. 3 (2016). Published electronically 21/05/16. http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/an-interview-with-susan-woodward/

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Jackson’s lesson of inclusiveness in a discriminating world – MJ Studies Today, August 2017

MJ Studies Today XX

14th August 2017

Abstract: Kerry Hennnigan experienced that we can still learn a lot from Michael Jackson and his care for people. Michael Jackson had no constrictions when helping those in need.


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

 

 

 

Michael Jackson – in search of a father’s love – MJ Studies Today, July 2017

Abstract: Kerry Hennigan discusses the father figuers in Michael Jackson’s career


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 IXX (14-07-2017).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 4, no. 2 (2017). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-ixx/.

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

 

 

Pyramid Lake, Fort Tejon, Old Sacramento and Cirque du Soleil – 4 December 2016

Part 2 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016

It was always going to be a long drive – from Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley to Sacramento, the state capital of California.  And I had a deadline – I had to arrive at my destination in time to check into my hotel, refresh and change before heading off to a Cirque du Soleil matinée show downtown.  It was the last performance of the show in Sacramento, so there was no room for tardiness.

But I certainly wasn’t going to rush the trip; it was a route I hadn’t driven before with locations I might never get the chance to see again, so there would be sightseeing stops along the way in addition to the usual highway rest breaks.

pyramid lakeThe first stop was at Pyramid Lake and the Vista Del largo Visitors Centre.

Not to be confused with its better-known name-sake in Nevada, California’s Pyramid Lake at Gorman is a reservoir formed by Pyramid Dam on Piru Creek in the eastern San Emigdio Mountains.  It is part of the California State Water Project and is the deepest lake in the system.

Gold was discovered in the area in 1843 just south of where the dam is located today.  The reservoir wasn’t created until 1972-73 and was named for the pyramid-shaped rock carved out by engineers building US route 99 which is located directly in front of the dam.

The view from the visitor centre lookout is spectacular, and on such a clear December day, the water of the lake reflected the deep blue of the California sky.

There were no recreational activities happening at the lake when I was there, just a few sightseers pulling up in their vehicles, making the most of the scenery to stretch their legs after miles of highway.

A little further north on the I-5 was Fort Tejon State Historic Park.  This is a 1850s fort that now offers static and living history exhibits.  One of the rangers on duty suggested I don a handsome military jacket and accompanying head-gear – part of a large collection of costumes used for the living history experiences.  On reflection I probably could have done without the hat – but I loved the jacket!

fort tejonUnfortunately, since this stop was unplanned, my little travel buddy did not have a matching MJ-style military jacket to wear for our photo shoot.  (But he does have one in his rather extensive wardrobe at home!)

The parade ground and its attendant restored buildings and museum, combined with some 400-year-old oak trees, made this another very scenic break in my journey.  The fort is located in Grapevine Canyon, the main route between California’s Central Valley and Southern California.

According to the State Parks website:

The fort was established to protect and control the Indians who were living on the Sebastian Indian Reservation, and to protect both the Indians and white settlers from raids by the Paiutes, Chemeheui, Mojave, and other Indian groups of the desert regions to the south-east. Fort Tejon was first garrisoned by the United States Army on August 10, 1854 and was abandoned ten years later on September 11, 1864.”

After fuel, food and rest stops, we eventually rolled into Sacramento in the golden light of early evening.  The timing was perfect!  And our accommodation – well, that was really special.  The Delta King is a former paddle steamer that has been magnificently restored as a boutique hotel, moored at the wharf in Old Sacramento (the historic part of the capital).

Because of the season, Christmas decorations adorned all the stores and there was a giant Christmas tree on the wharf which was dressed with coloured lights that came on at dusk.  Some places you just know you are going to love as soon as you arrive – and this was certainly true of Old Sacramento.

Still, there was no time for exploring before we were due at the Golden 1 Centre for our Cirque show, Toruk: The First Flight, based on the Avatar movie.  I am a committed Cirque du Soleil fan, a member of the Cirque Club, and go to every show I can – including when travelling.

Originally my journey north from the greater Los Angeles area was to be via Fresno, where I have stayed on at least two occasions previously.  But then I discovered that Cirque’s new show based on the Avatar movie would be in Sacramento at the time of my trip, so I changed my route accordingly.  Besides, I’d never been to the state capital, despite my many trips to California over five decades!

toruk cirqueFortunately the Golden 1 Centre in downtown Sacramento is a short walk from the Old Sacramento waterfront, so I headed off happily to enjoy Cirque’s spectacular show Toruk: The First Flight.

And it WAS spectacular – boasting less acrobatics but more visually stunning light, colour, costume and prop displays than any other Cirque show I’ve seen (which is quite a few of them by now).

I’m used to all photography being banned at Cirque shows, but in this instance we were encouraged to use our mobile phones to download the show app which we were subsequently prompted to use throughout the course of the show.  I could also snap a few non-flash photos, as permitted, including one of the spectacular finale (pictured).

The Christmas lights were flashing in multiple colours as I walked back through the old town to the Delta King which was a welcoming sight, bedecked in her night lights.  After an eagerly anticipated dinner in the Pilot House bistro on board, it was time for us weary travelers to ‘hit the hay’ and happily look forward to exploring our surroundings the following day.

delta king2

Kerry Hennigan
July 2017

Further information:

15267826_10208027200612980_484552269868132657_nPyramid Lake and Visitor Centre: http://www.water.ca.gov/recreation/locations/pyramid/pyramidvisitors.cfm

Fort Tejon State History Park: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=585

Old Sacramento: http://oldsacramento.com/

Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk – The First Flight:  https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk

 

 

 

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