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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he keeps on singing and performing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
September 2017

Sources:

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

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

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

[4] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[5] Ibid

[6] Kerry Hennigan “The Pop Art of Michelangelo and Michael Jackson as defined by LaChapelle”  https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/the-pop-art-of-michelangelo-and-michael-jackson-as-defined-by-lachapelle

[7] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

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

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

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

[15] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

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

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

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

Related articles and reviews:

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

 

 

 

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World Cry and the case for ‘Cry’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I can’t do it by myself’. [6]

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

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

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

‘Change the World’. [7]

Kerry Hennigan
January 2017


Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

[6 and 7] ‘Cry’ by R. Kelly

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Arguing to ‘Make that Change’ – the perspective of a passionate Michael Jackson fan

Recently I participated in a blog discussion about the social and cultural impact of Michael Jackson, the man and his art. I was posting comments on someone else’s blog – the author and their interviewee come from academic backgrounds, as well as being genuine MJ fans.

My own ‘qualifications’ (other than also being a fan) are purely as a mature age student through the Open University. I don’t have a degree and am never likely to unless higher education becomes much more affordable (or free) – but as things are, I have chosen to spend my savings on travel. This therefore limits my ability to participate in some discussions from a sufficiently qualified perspective.

However, I felt that my experience as a former environmental activist with an international organization, as well as my ‘world-view’ meant that I could add intelligently to the discussion. I subsequently got so caught up in stating my point of view on the topic that I ended up feeling quite frustrated, and finally withdrew from participation on the blog.

Many of you have probably been in a similar situation – and it is important to emphasise that everyone commenting on this particular blog post was arguing for what I consider ‘right’ and ‘valid’ reasons. Rather I was frustrated by what I perceived as the narrow focus of their argument. It seemed that Michael’s creative output was being assessed in terms of a single issue, rather than the broader context I felt was required.

In my attempt to get across my own point of view, I sort of forgot that we were all on the same side in the debate. We were all ‘good people’ who were participating in the discussion with the best intentions i.e. we all want Michael’s art appropriately acknowledged as impacting and influencing social change for a better world.

Some of us have a different focus or perspective – that is only natural. Michael’s fan base, academic or otherwise, is global. We can all only argue effectively about what we know. It isn’t possible for us to ‘walk a mile’ in everyone else’s shoes to truly appreciate where they are coming from when they express a point of view.

6-250Sometimes, in wanting desperately to help ‘make that change’ we lose sight of something important – Michael Jackson was first and foremost an entertainer; it was his art that brought him to world attention.  He believed it was incumbent on him to use his art as a medium for advocating social change. The music, the dancing, the short films – these are his ‘contributions’ to improving the human condition, and they have stood the test of time.

As fans who want to promote Michael’s invaluable offerings as tools for social change we occasionally need to step back from the heat of debate to enjoy those offerings.

We – I – just need to remember to be tolerant and respect the informed arguments of others. And, if necessary, take a breather and reconsider. It certainly helps to TURN UP THE MUSIC or, even better, watch the spotlights highlighting Michael’s fluid moves as he performs in concert in his HIStory tour gold pants!

This may not be the cure for everything – my frustrations with certain debates included – but it comes pretty close!

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

– Michael Jackson, “Heaven is Here” (1)

Article © by Kerry Hennigan
Originally published on Facebook, 12 August 2015
https://www.facebook.com/notes/kerry-hennigan/arguing-to-make-that-change-the-perspective-of-a-passionate-michael-jackson-fan/945161572208693
(1) Michael Jackson, “Dancing the Dream” Doubleday (1992)

1898282_10205050425795470_1725363475602448692_n

‘Heal the World’/ ‘We Are The World’ – Michael Jackson’s legacy of inclusion

By Kerry Hennigan

The tragic events that gave rise to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement saw Michael Jackson’s music taking the stage (again) as a voice for the hopes, fears and frustrations of the oppressed.

I wrote those words and the bulk of this essay in November 2015.  Sadly, in mid 2016 in the wake of what President Barack Obama described as a “painful” week in the United States of America, it remains equally relevant.

On Sunday 10 July 2016, Reuters reported that at a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, the out-going US President had urged Americans “not to view the United States as being riven into opposing groups, seeking to soothe raw emotions after a former U.S. soldier killed five policemen in Dallas and high-profile police shootings of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.”

Subsequent to those tragic events, protesters at a rally in Central London were filmed singing “They Don’t Care About Us”.[1]

Following the Baltimore riots in April 2015, Alan Binder reported in the New York Times that “Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’ could be heard playing, and a member of the National Guard tapped his right foot to the beat as the music echoed around the block.”[2]

Billboard also reported that in the streets of riot-torn Baltimore: “Amid chants of ‘No justice, no peace’ and ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ Michael Jackson provided the soundtrack as people took to the streets of Baltimore to protest police brutality following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody.” [3]

This video was shared liberally through social media: “Moonwalk for Peace: Meet the Man Who Wants to Save Baltimore with Power of Michael Jackson” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UycrlDMdUFg

For Michael Jackson fans these incidents are testimony to the powerful messages Michael embedded in his art.

“Michael Jackson was never afraid to put himself out there for the truth as he saw it. We could always count on Jackson to be the global leader of the band, to give voice to everything we were feeling. His adult catalogue is a trove of social activism. Starvation. AIDS. War. Gang violence. Race relations. The environment. It was Jackson who put on concerts for war-torn Sarajevo. It was Jackson who put together a group charity song and concert after 9/11. It was Jackson who used every ounce of his global celebrity to make a difference. He was there.” (Extract) [4]

This statement, from an article by D.B. Anderson, queries the lack of activism among today’s celebrities and also reminds us of what Michael suffered for singing and speaking out about major issues.

“Beat me, hit me, you can never kill me…”

He once said: “I don’t understand racism. We are all the same and I have the perfect hypothesis to prove it. I play to all those countries and they cry in all the same places in my show. They laugh in the same places. They become hysterical in the same places. They faint in the same places and that’s the perfect hypothesis. There is a commonality that we are all the same.”[5]

Although he could obviously identify intimately with some of the inequalities he sang about, racism certainly being one of them, Michael Jackson’s artistic activism was not restricted to a single issue, but rather to those that beset humanity generally, regardless of race, creed or colour.

We were/are ALL his audience.  He spoke and sang to the world at large – a world he had personally travelled on his international tours.  Despite the pressures on him physically and emotionally, Michael truly took his message around the globe.

It’s not surprising then that Michael Jackson’s music has also been used to convey the feelings of people who share little in common with the “Black Lives Matter” movement, with one big exception – they feel injured by life and circumstances beyond their control.  They want healing, peace and a “fair go”.

In places as far apart as the US, Paris, Tunisia and Sydney, Australia, people have played Michael’s music to remind everyone that we are all on this planet together; we all suffer from acts of terrorism, discrimination and violence fuelled by hatred.

“We are the World… we are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving…”

MJJC Legacy Project @MJJCLegacyTeam shared the following on Twitter about the rally for peace and solidarity in Paris following the January 2015 terrorist attacks:

12189104_10205456447745765_6257347922690288237_n“All Singing WeAreTheWorld in Paris Streets #IamCharlie JesusisCharlie Jem’appelleCharlieainsi”

Someone held up a “Heal the World” MJ t-shirt. Another fan made the very astute comment that “People are slowly going to realize just who we lost on June 25, 2009. Not a cartoon character but a man of peace.”[6]

In the scariest of situations, people have poured oil on troubled waters by playing Michael’s prayerful plea:

“Heal the world, make it a better place…”

Following a deadly siege in Sydney, Australia, in December 2014, Australian Associated Press published a story that a Sydney man was playing the music of Michael Jackson’s “Heal The World” at the site of the cafe siege in the CBD. “The man, identified on Twitter as ‘Josh from Parramatta’ brought a small sound system to the area outside the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place on Wednesday. He played the song at the site where flowers were being placed as a memorial to the two people who were killed in Tuesday’s siege.”[7]

In Tunisia following the beach massacre at Sousse in June 2015, British tourists and Tunisian residents joined together to sing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” in a poignant tribute to the dead. [8]

1171426-singer-michael-jackson-performs-during-950x0-1.jpgFollowing the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in June 2016, 400 people gathered at Hong Lim Park in Singapore and sang “Heal the World” at a candelight vigil for the victims.[9]

This same tragedy prompted dozens of Broadway stars to join together to record a new version of the 1965 classic “What the World Needs Now Is Love” inspired by the 1985 “We Are The World” USA for Africa benefit recording which Michael co-wrote with Lionel Richie.[10]

These incidents are powerful reminders not just of Michael’s international appeal, but the depths to which his legacy is infused with his humanitarian ideology.  We, the fans, have seen it and heard it, and whenever the situation calls for it, we remind the rest of the world about it.

“What about us?”

Michael’s message encompasses all of us – NO-ONE is excluded.  Picture his greatest live performance piece, “Earth Song” with the superstar standing symbolically before a tank, arms outstretched.  The tank stops and an armed soldier emerges, pointing his gun at the singer.  Michael faces down the man and his weapon, peacefully disarming the situation until the soldier is crouched and crying.  He then embraces the soldier, who is presented with a flower by a little girl who has come onto the stage, dressed as a war waif.

Michael’s point is that even when we are looking at the machineries of war, it is human beings who drive them.  There is a person at the controls of the tank, an individual behind the gun aimed at other individuals.

Similarly, with respect to “Earth Song’s” environmental message, there is someone driving the bulldozer destroying the rainforest.

Instead of alienating the driver of the tank or the bulldozer as “the enemy” isn’t it better to open up a dialogue with them, talk to them, embrace them as our brothers and sisters?  After all, we are all members of the same human race, and we all share our planetary home.

Michael’s intention was to “change the world”; to get us all to look at “the man in the mirror” and ‘make that change’ – and he wasn’t content to sing just for his fans (i.e. preach to the converted).

My personal belief is that Michael believed in what, in the early years of the Greenpeace movement, we called ‘mind-bombing’.  Where an activist group might employ non-violent confrontational protest to bombard the public via the media with images of environmental wrongs (e.g. whaling or toxic waste dumping) Michael Jackson later used his multi-dimensional talents as an entertainer to ‘mind-bomb’ us with messages of peace, healing and hope for a better world for all.

“Do we give a damn?” 

Michael may be gone, but the music – and the message – carry on informing and inspiring.  How we respond is up to us as individuals.  But one thing is certain, regardless of who we are, what we are, or where we come from, we cannot claim it’s not about us.

11209342_10205456440545585_3632581253854572185_n.jpg

Article written by Kerry Hennigan, 4 November 2015 and updated 11 July 2016 with the aid of the sources as quoted above and provided in the Footnotes (below).

[1] https://twitter.com/MJJLegion/status/751596873832693760

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/live/confrontation-in-baltimore/outside-city-hall-t-shirts-reporters-and-michael-jackson/

[3] : http://www.billboard.com/…/michael-jackson-impersonator-bal…?

[4] http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-messenger-king-20141209-story.html

[5] http://www.truemichaeljackson.com/on-racism-and-equality/

[6] To see the tweets reproduced in the MJJCommunity forum visit:http://www.mjjcommunity.com/…/threa…/134861-March-with-Paris [With special thanks to MJJC Legacy Project and Clems tikitaka @ClemsDjib who tweeted the photo – Kerry]

[7] https://au.news.yahoo.com/entertainment/a/25796592/michael-jackson-song-played-at-siege-site/

[8] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/tunisia-attack-watch-holidaymakers-tunisians-5967265

[9] http://www.mjvibe.com/400-people-sing-heal-the-world-for-orlando-victims/

[10] http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2016/06/15/broadway-stars-record-iconic-song-benefit-orlando-victims/85941668/

Do we give a damn? Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ message on a personal level

Some time ago I said to a friend that I wished we’d had ‘Earth Song’ when I was active in Greenpeace (1979-1984). We had songs by Country Joe McDonald* and others in the counter-culture and protest movement which we would pipe over loudspeakers at rallies etc.

But no-one who grabbed the attention of the general public and mass media like Michael Jackson had done anything as obvious or passionate in its message as his heartfelt plea to God and humanity to take care of each other and the planet.

When I fell in love with “Earth Song” I’d thought my days of environmental activism were over – granted I wasn’t about to stand in front of any bulldozers these days; but Michael spurred me into using the facilities available to most of us to make my opinion (and sometimes my vote) count on an international level – via the internet.

Whether it’s by taking part in some fan-initiated projects to give donations in Michael’s name to major aid organisations (e.g. Team Michael for Haiti-UNICEF) buy trees to reforest the planet (A Million Trees for Michael), gift giving to disadvantaged children (Michael’s Angels for Michael’s Children) and many others, so many options have presented themselves since Michael’s passing.**

We may ask ourselves why it took his death for us to heed his words?  Of course, in some cases it didn’t; some fans have been putting his message into practice all along. As for the rest of us, well, better we act now, in honour of Michael’s life and in celebration of his humanitarianism, than not at all.

Giving, acting or just adding our names to appropriate on-line petitions as Michael Jackson fans is also a worthy way of letting others know the true legacy of the man who continues to inspire us through his music and his example.

Just enjoying and sharing his music is another way of introducing others to Michael’s humanitarian and environmental message.  Maybe they too will heed his pleas and act to ‘Make that Change.”  Let’s hope so.

Kerry Hennigan
Originally published 3 April 2012  Wordpress edition published 2 July 2016.  Edited 9 October 2017.

*  Country Joe McDonald
‘Save the Whales!’ https://goo.gl/mEZMNc and ‘Blood on the Ice’ https://goo.gl/c824DF

**  NB: Some of these groups are no longer active or have achieved their original aims.  These days there are many more groups fundraising for charities in Michael’s name all around the world.  The one I am most active in is www.mjffc.org.uk and another I support is http://www.michaeljacksonslegacy.org/

[First published in www.megaheart4mj.com Forum April 1st, 2012]
[Republished on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/notes/kerry-hennigan/do-we-give-a-damn-michael-jacksons-earth-song-message-on-a-personal-level/332109693513887]

 

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