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Michael Jackson Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesss, girl.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
December 2017


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

[2] Tweet by Paris Jackson

[3] Reply Tweet by Brett Barnes

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

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

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

[7] Alex Perry on Instagram:




[11] Rachel Finch

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


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


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


Images used in photo montage:

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

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






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

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

While it may seem strange to many other fans that I might have hesitated for a second, the fact was, my itinerary in the US was already mapped out for sightseeing and Michaeling, and deviating from those plans meant missing out on something I had been looking forward to, in order to return to the Los Angeles area earlier than expected.

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

It meant cancelling hotel reservations and making new ones – both done without loss of deposits, I’m pleased to say (thank the Maker for and bumping some planned excursions to some other year, God willing.

Hence the evening of 24 October found us lined up at the event meeting point in Hollywood, excited and happy to be mixing with fans similarly keen to make the most of the free tickets they had won for the event.

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

So we were a noisy, harmonious crowd, following the event staff down the block and across Hollywood Blvd to the illuminated forecourt of the Chinese Theaters complex.  The forecourt, with its many hand and footprints of industry luminaries impressed in the concrete, was covered with red carpeting – with the exception of the two slabs representing Michael Jackson – the one in which his children had pressed his glove (and their hand) prints and the soles of a pair of his signature loafers; and the other the ‘Broken Heart Stone’ that Michael had impressed himself back in the 80s for a Las Vegas project that didn’t eventuate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan
October 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017



[2] MJ Tunes Music Database “Someone in the Dark”

[3] Brief overview of Captain Eo at the Disney parks.

[4] Kerry Hennigan “’We are here to change the World’ – Chasing Captain Eo across the continents (and Disney parks)”

[5] Sunday Post article:

With thanks to Sue Simpson fro this information.

[7] Uri Geller, “Uri’s Tribute to Michael Jackson”

[8] Jos Borsboom “Michael Jackson: The Icon” Lulu Press 2011

[9] Ben Leach, “Moon crater name after Michael Jackson” 9 Jul 2009

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

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




Featured post

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

‘Tis true my form is something odd,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017


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

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


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

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

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

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

[8]          Ebony/Jet interview 1987

Transcript of the interview:


[10]        Virgin Media Michael Jackson Myths

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

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

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

[14]        Ebony/Jet interview 1987

[15]        Michael Jackson, Moonwalk

Featured post

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

Some masterpieces of art – whether created on canvas, paper or 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


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

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


[4] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[5] Ibid

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

[7] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

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



[15] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017


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

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

Related articles and reviews:

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




Featured post

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

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


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

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

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

And finally, this statement:

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

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

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

But, I’m not done yet.

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

Also relevant to this discussion is an article by Zack O’Malley Greenburg, author of “Michael Jackson, Inc” who was prompted to pen this piece “Writing About Writing About Michael Jackson: What Some Critics Still Get Wrong” in 2014 after reading some of the reviews of his book.

Kerry Hennigan
26 September 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017



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

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

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

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

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

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

Career overview including working with Michael:

Working with MJ:

Vincent’s website:



Featured post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It still does.

Kerry Hennigan
September 2017



(1)          Ebony, April 1989 accessed from

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

(3)          Ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Featured post

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

“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)


(1)       Erin Jensen in USA Today 13 July 2017:

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

(3)       Vogue – Michael Jackson – A Tribute:

(4)       Balmain Fall 2009 Ready-To-Wear collection

(5)       Siran Babayan Strange But True Stories from the Man who designed Michael Jackson’s jackets in LA Weekly 29 November 2012:

(6)       Zaneta Apostolovski Ruska Bergman: The Last Dinner with Michael Jackson blogged on

(7)       Emily McWilliams The King of Fashion: Michael Jackson’s Style Influences Generations

(8)       Ibid.

(9)       Gaby Wilson, MTV News:

(10)     Liana Satenstein in Vogue: 35 Years After Thriller, Michael Jackson’s Iconic Sunglasses Get a Modern Reboot

“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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