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Michael Jackson Essays

The Songs that Made the Show that Made History – revisiting Michael Jackson’s performance at Super Bowl XXVII on its 25th Anniversary

A lot has been written about Michael Jackson’s performance in the halftime concert of the NFL Super Bowl game in 1993.  Super Bowl XXVII was played at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California, on 31 January, 25 years ago this year, and is widely acknowledged to have changed the nature of the halftime show and turned it into a ratings winner in its own right.

It was, as one writer described it, a paradigm-shifting performance. (1)

From the material that has been published in interviews with people who were involved on stage or behind the scenes of that show, we can deduce why Michael Jackson would have agreed to be part of a 12-minute show at a sporting event in which he had little interest.  The King of Pop wasn’t into competitive sports, “they make you angry. I’m not into that,” he told Vibe magazine in 2002. (2)

The NFL has a policy of not paying a fee to its halftime performers.  And prior to 1993, the entertainment offered up by the league at its premier showcase event had prompted the television audience to tune out during the break in the game.  Some of them didn’t bother to tune back in – hardly an inducement for sponsors to spend big money to air their commercials during the telecast. (3)

To reverse the downward trend, the NFL looked to the biggest name in entertainment.  Never mind that music critics had started to disparage Michael’s work since the advent of Grunge and other new musical styles.  The “Dangerous” album had been a huge commercial success, and the HBO TV special of Jackson’s concert in Bucharest the year before (1992) had set a record as the channel’s highest-rated special at the time.

There were discussions back and forth between the NFL and Jackson’s management, and finally a deal was struck that saw the league and sponsor Frito-Lay donate $100,000 to Michael’s Heal the World Foundation (HTW) and guarantee commercial time for the foundation’s “Heal LA” campaign in aid of disadvantaged children in the greater Los Angeles area. (4)

Often half-time performers give the audience a medley of crowd-pleasing hits, and doubtless the NFL would have been happy with this considering the strength of Jackson’s back catalogue of number ones.  But Michael wanted to use material from “Dangerous”.  He reportedly said “Billie Jean’s just a tune, it doesn’t mean anything.  It’s a new world; this has to be about ‘Heal the World.’” (5)

One source suggests that Jackson wanted to give an extended performance of “Heal the World” that would occupy the entirety of the half-time show. (6)  The final set-list was, in its well-drilled execution, a happy compromise for which Michael and his touring band had rehearsed for a solid 28 days – right up until the night before the game. (7)

In retrospect, we can look at the Super Bowl show as a mini “Dangerous” concert, in which Jackson made the same spectacular entrance, shooting up from beneath the stage and then standing motionless for a minute and 35 seconds (“that’s like $15 million worth of advertising time” according to producer Don Mischer who admitted it felt like “an eternity”). (8)

Jackson then launched into a short medley of hits – “Jam”, “Billie Jean” and “Black or White”, with their accompanying dance routines – and then he gave them “Heal the World” with a spoken introduction:

“Today, we stand together all around the world, joined in a common purpose to remake the planet into a haven of joy and understanding and goodness.  No one should have to suffer… especially our children.  This time, we must succeed; this is for the children of the world.”

A crowd of 3,500 children, some in ethnic costumes, joined Jackson on the raised platform in the center of the stadium, while a giant globe of the world inflated behind them.  As “Heal the World” rang out around the stadium and on television screens across the world, at the Rose Bowl the crowd held up flip cards displaying cartoon images of children.

This song summed up Michael’s message at the time.  It was the theme song of his charitable foundation, and it was the perfect “sing-along song” for an audience, like the one at the Rose Bowl.  “Heal the World” predated the rage of “They Don’t Care About Us” and the angst of “Earth Song”.  It was happier, gentler material (one critic called it “one of Jackson’s most mawkish songs”) (9) suitable for a mass audience (98,374 at the game and 90 million TV viewers) and ending the halftime show on a spectacular, positive note.

While it is acknowledged that Michael Jackson “saved” the Super Bowl half-time show from its slide into increasingly diminishing ratings, 25 years on it should also be remembered that it was the biggest platform Michael could have commandeered to promote his foundation.  His entire “Dangerous” world tour was in aid of HTW; it was the reason he had changed his mind about touring after having announced that the “Bad” tour was to be his last.

Not just changing the game, but changing the world, was what Michael Jackson was about.  The Super Bowl gave him an opportunity to indelibly etch his message into entertainment and NFL (and live telecast) history – and the collective subconscious of those who witnessed it.  He knew exactly what he was doing, and why.

“He was a gentle, quiet man,” Don Mischer says.  “But when he stepped on stage, he became a general.”

Kerry Hennigan
February 2018

The NFL looks back at the 1993 Super Bowl halftime show:

Michael Jackson’s Heal the World Super Bowl press conference speech:

Sources:

(1) http://www.eonline.com/news/909960/why-justin-timberlake-owes-his-super-bowl-lii-halftime-performance-to-michael-jackson

(2) http://www.allmichaeljackson.com/interviews/vibemaginterview.html

(3) http://www.eonline.com/news/909960/why-justin-timberlake-owes-his-super-bowl-Iii-halftime-performance-to-michael-jackson

(4) Ibid.

(5) https://www.makingmichael.co.uk/single-post/2017/02/05/Super-Bowl-and-Michael-Jackson-The-story-behind-the-first-big-halftime-show

(6) https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/flashback-michael-jackson-reclaims-pop-throne-1993-super-bowl-w515839

(7) https://www.makingmichael.co.uk/single-post/2017/02/05/Super-Bowl-and-Michael-Jackson-The-story-behind-the-first-big-halftime-show

(8) https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/flashback-michael-jackson-reclaims-pop-throne-1993-super-bowl-w515839

(9) Ibid.

 

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Michael Jackson and Ancient Egypt: “Remember the Time”, Kerma, Cleopatra and Tutankhamun

One of the most popular exhibits at the Chicago Field Museum in the US is an Egyptian carving that many visitors believe looks like Michael Jackson.  The bust, which is actually of a woman, dates from sometime between 1550-1050 BC, a period that also encompasses the brief reign of 18th dynasty pharaoh King Tutankhamun (r. 1332-1323 BC).  But we’ll get to him later.

The interest in the Field Museum statue seems to have been sparked by a photo posted on Flickr in 2007.  Following Jackson’s death in June 2009, it became a focal point for grieving fans.  The statue is now in a glass case to protect it from the many visitors who want to kiss it. [1]

What would the King of Pop think of this case of mistaken identity?  Considering photographer Christophe Boulmé created an image of Jackson in profile resembling an obsidian statue of King Khafre (4th dynasty pharaoh) which was featured in the “HIStory” album booklet, [2] and another based on the gold funeral mask of Tutankhamun, I can’t imagine him being upset with being associated with another Egyptian artefact, albeit of the wrong gender.  (My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that he’d probably be amused.)

Egypt was one of the world’s first nation states.  Though usually thought of in its modern context as part of the Middle East, Michael Jackson quite accurately perceived of it as part of the continent of Africa and viewed its rich past as part of pan-African history. “King Tut, all those great civilizations – that is right there in Africa,” he said in his interview with the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 2005. “Egypt is in Africa!!! And they always try to separate the two, but Egypt is Africa!!!” [3]

Modern Egypt is, in fact, a nation that, geographically, is in both Africa and the Middle East (the latter being the portion located on the Sinai Peninsula, where it borders Israel).  But predating these political borders was the Nile, and the great civilisation that sprang up along its banks following the uniting of Upper and Lower Egypt under one monarch – the first of 30 dynasties of pharaohs – around 3100 BC.

“Egypt was ancient even to the ancients,” writes Professor Lionel Casson.  “It was viewed by Greeks and Romans of 2,000 years ago in somewhat the same way as ruins of Greece and Rome are viewed by modern man.” [4]

Modern man has long been enamoured of the vision of a glorious past when god-kings were buried in pyramids (Old Kingdom) and were sent into the afterlife surrounded by mountains of treasure such as was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun (New Kingdom) – by which time the so-called “boy king” had been all but lost to history (Tutankhamun, although only 9 when he ascended to the throne, was 19 when he died – certainly a man by the standards of the time).

Artists, writers, decorators and filmmakers have all been inspired by the Egypt of antiquity.  This also seems to have been true of Michael Jackson, with the theme of ancient Egypt being used in his “Remember the Time” short film (1992).  In it, Jackson plays a mysterious magician who turns up at the pharaoh’s palace to relieve the queen of her boredom, and raises the ire of her husband.

This playful and evocative piece is nothing less than a classic Hollywood musical in miniature, as relevant to the historical ancient Egypt as the musical “Kismet” is to the historical Middle East.  One extra (whose role of a snake charmer was cut before being filmed) called it “a kind of Ebony magazine version of ancient Egypt”. [5]

“Remember the Time’s” imagery – including the pyramids of Giza, sphinx and busts of Ramesses II (a.k.a. Ramesses the Great c. 1303-1213 BC) and Queen Nefertiti (c. 1370-1330 BC) and its costume styles, allude to a variety of pharaonic periods which have been brought together in the short film.  It’s a “mash-up” in pop music parlance.

Iman, in the role of Nefertiti (as she is identified by director John Singleton in the behind the scenes footage) [6], does indeed look strikingly similar to the famous bust of Nefertiti (18th dynasty) now on display in the Neues Museum, Berlin. [7]  Eddie Murphy’s pharaoh is called Ramesses (19th dynasty), even though Ramesses and Nefertiti were not contemporaries, much less husband and wife.

Nefertiti was principal wife to the so-called heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, father of Tutankhamun.  Ramesses II’s most important royal wife was Nefertari (who died ca. 1255 BC), so the names of the queens are similar, but they lived at different times and were married to different pharaohs belonging to different dynasties.

“Remember the Time” is faux-history being employed to tell a story in a colourful and appealing way.  It is a piece of art intended to entertain and should not be viewed as an accurate reflection of history despite having some historical elements.  (See my earlier article “Precursors to Michael Jackson’s Egyptian Magician and other historical references in the ‘Remember the Time’ short film”.) [8]

In his book “King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson” Michael Bush recalls his employer showing him a museum-quality art book on Egyptian culture and remarking on the beauty of the jewellery, in particular the use of gold.  This was a month before Michael revealed he was working on a new short film with an Egyptian theme. [9]

Jackson’s “Remember the Time” costume, a combined modern and period-inspired outfit, owes its most striking feature, the 18-karat gold-plated gorgerine, to one worn by Yul Brynner in the role of Ramesses II in “The Ten Commandments”.  Michael sent a tape of the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille classic to his costumers, Michael Bush and his partner Dennis Tompkins, so they could see for themselves what he had in mind.  This may seem like art imitating art, but both are, in fact, based on actual jewellery specific to ancient Egypt.  A gorgerine is an assembly of metal discs worn on the chest, either over bare skin (as per Brynner) or over a shirt (as per Jackson), and attached at the back. [10]

But, according to French writer Gonzague Saint Bris, whose book “Au Paradis avec Michael Jackson” details his travels with Jackson in Africa in 1992, and much else, “Remember the Time” gives just a superficial indication of Michael’s deep curiosity for ancient Egypt, particularly for the period of the “Black Pharaohs” that preceded Assyrian domination of Egypt. [11]

Egypt and its southern neighbour Nubia had forged links of commerce through the exploitation of gold mines and the exchange of products since the time of the Egyptian Old Kingdom.  At times they fought each other, and when Egyptian rule became fractured, the Nubian Kingdom of Kush assumed control.  With the rule of the Kushite (Nubian) pharaohs [25th dynasty – r. 760-565 BC], Egyptian policy was profoundly affected for more than a century, allowing the rise in Sudan of a powerful kingdom.   It was this kingdom that fascinated Jackson.

Saint Bris had heard Jackson explain about the lost Kushite state of Kerma (Saint Bris admits never having heard of it at the time), an autonomous and powerful state on the borders of Egypt.  Jackson explained that it was a civilisation in its own right, influenced by its proximity to Egypt, but with its own identity “and the archaeologists consider it to be the first great kingdom of Africa, which was dominated by the five black pharaohs, who would even seize the land of the kings of Egypt…”

Saint Bris continues: “In January 2003, Michael Jackson’s intuition of a vanished realm found its materialization.  A Swiss archaeologist, Charles Bonnet, exhumed seven statues of pharaohs at the Kerma site in Sudan. These monumental works were sleeping three meters underground for two and a half millennia …”

Jackson’s mastery of the history of ancient Egypt impressed Saint Bris, who explains how the Nubian pharaonic dynasty finally succumbed to the Assyrians and kings of the Delta, who endeavoured to erase all traces of the black pharaohs, in particular by mutilation of their statues. But smashing statues is not enough to erase life, he concludes, and “the enigmatic Michael still has the last word: ‘All birth is the rebirth of an ancestor.’”

In addition to being well read on Egyptian history, Michael Jackson’s interest in the subject was reflected in his art collection.  One of his dearest friends was actress Elizabeth Taylor, who famously played the last of the Macedonian Greek rulers of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopator [51-30 BC], in the big screen epic “Cleopatra” 1963.  Whether or not this prompted Michael to buy the 6ft wide portrait of the dying queen by D. Pauvert, titled “Cleopatra’s Last Moments” (1892), we can probably only guess. [12]

Jackson’s artistic sensibilities may have also had a lot to do with his purchase of this work.  “I can look at a painting and lose myself,” he said in his autobiography “Moonwalk”.  “It pulls you in, all the pathos and drama. It communicates with you.” [13]

The Pauvert painting was part of a large collection of Jackson’s belongings that was intended for auction by Julien’s in April 2009.  Among the fine art and collectables, encompassing many periods and styles, was a replica Egyptian harp made of gold-painted fiberglass with the bust of a pharaoh at the front. [14]  Its design is based on some harps depicted in Egyptian art.

The auction was subsequently cancelled after Michael filed a lawsuit demanding return of certain items.  Following an exhibition of the collection that ran for two weeks, everything was returned to the singer and put back in storage.  In that case, the Pauvert painting (and the prop harp) should be among the countless objects (enough to fill five warehouses) held by the Michael Jackson Estate in trust for his children. [15]

Jackson was also reputedly keen to play Tutankhamen in a musical movie adaptation about the young pharaoh.  According to one anonymous blogger who claimed to work at Columbia in 1999, “Columbia is part of the Sony group, as you know, and Michael Jackson is signed to Sony Music. Michael Jackson agreed to do another album for Sony Music on the condition an agreement was made to allow him a pathway into the movie industry. Some kind of agreement was signed by Sony Music (Epic) and Columbia, for this to happen. Again I cannot confirm this. However, I am sure Michael Jackson is set to take the lead role.” [16]

While this was another project that didn’t eventuate, it seems to have remained close to Michael’s heart.  Following his passing in June 2009, a note was found in his rented Holmby Hills mansion that stated there should be “no AEG [deal] unless films are involved.”  As noted by author and academic Joseph Vogel, Jackson wrote about a plan to “develop…a movie a year for [the] next 5 years.”  He specifically emphasized a musical based on the life of King Tut. [17]

Given Jackson’s age at the time, it’s unlikely he would have expected to play the young king himself.  His ambitions for this project may have involved being behind the camera – e.g. writing, producing or possibly directing.  It remains one of the many tantalizing “what if’s” of Michael Jackson’s life that went unfulfilled.

It also tells us that, even at 50 years of age and after his career had been cruelly disrupted, Jackson’s passion for Tutankhamun remained undimmed.  Ancient Egypt had continued to inspire his creativity, as it has done many other artists for hundreds of years.

Kerry Hennigan
January 2018

Illustrations: “Dreaming of Egypt” photo montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan 2018.  No infringement of photographic copyright is intended in this not-for-profit educational exercise.

Sources:

[1] “Michael Jackson = Ancient Egyptian?” The Chicagoist, 2009 http://chicagoist.com/2009/08/05/michael_jackson_egyptian_mummy_vers.php

[2] “Christophe Boulmé” http://cartasparamichael.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/christophe-boulme.html accessed 9 Jan 2018

[3] “Jesse Jackson Interview (March 2005)” Full transcript: http://www.allmichaeljackson.com/interviews/jessejackson.html

[4] Lionel Casson and the Editors of Time-Life Books Ancient Egypt, Time Life Books 1966

[5] Peter Sagal “Thriller.  Me and Michael Jackson” New Republic https://newrepublic.com/article/118381/thriller accessed 11 Jan 2018

[6] Making of “Remember the Time” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfW8L-N6gGg

[7] “Nefertiti” Society for the Promotion of the Egyptian Museum Berlin http://www.egyptian-museum-berlin.com/c53.php accessed 9 Jan 2018

[8] Kerry Hennigan “Precursors to Michael Jackson’s Egyptian Magician and other historical references in the ‘Remember the Time’ short film” 2017 https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/precursors-to-michael-jacksons-egyptian-magician-and-other-historic-references-in-the-remember-the-time-short-film/

[9] Michael Bush The King of Style.  Dressing Michael Jackson, Insight Editions 2012

[10] “Clothing in ancient Egypt” on https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Clothing%20in%20ancient%20Egypt accessed 18 Jan 2018

[11] Gonzague Saint Bris “Au Paradis avec Michael Jackson” Presses de la Cite, 2010 pp 108-111 [my translation, thanks to Google Translate]

[12] “Michael Jackson Exhibition” Catalogue #3  http://www.juliensauctions.com/auctions/2009/michael-jackson/icatalog3.html  accessed 12 Jan 2018

[13] Michael Jackson, Moonwalk, 1988, Arrow paperback edition 2010 p 220

[14] “Michael Jackson Exhibition” Catalogue #2 http://www.juliensauctions.com/auctions/2009/michael-jackson/icatalog2.html accessed 12 Jan 2018.

[15] USA Today “Michael Jackson’s Secret Warehouse” https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2013/05/20/tv-on-the-web-michael-jacksons-secret-warehouse/2325885/ accessed 8 Jan 2018

[16] Anonymous “Michael Jackson to play King Tut” Ain’t It Cool News http://www.aintitcool.com/node/4511 accessed 8 Jan 2018

[17] Joseph Vogel, “A Dream Deferred: Michael Jackson and Hollywood” in Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop, BlakeVision Books 2017

Additional Reading:

Dr Aidan Dodson “Egypt: The End of a Civilisation” http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/egypt_end_01.shtml accessed 20 Jan 2018

France24 “Sudan temples shed light on ‘secrets of Africa’” http://www.france24.com/en/20170210-sudan-archaeology-temples-discovered-kerma-dogi-ancient-bonnet-history accessed 20 Jun 2018

 

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Making dreams come true: Michael Jackson and PT Barnum – Lessons from “the Greatest Showman”

“P.T. Barnum, in full Phineas Taylor Barnum, (born July 5, 1810, Bethel, Connecticut, U.S.—died April 7, 1891, Bridgeport, Connecticut), American showman who employed sensational forms of presentation and publicity to popularize such amusements as the public museum, the musical concert, and the three-ring circus. In partnership with James A. Bailey, he made the American circus a popular and gigantic spectacle, the so-called Greatest Show on Earth.”  – Irving Wallace, Encyclopedia Britannica [1]

The story of Michael Jackson’s fascination for PT Barnum, the man who created “the Greatest Show on Earth”, who weathered disasters and reversals of fortune and ended up Mayor of Bridgeport, is well-known to fans.  Jackson aspired to realize his dreams for unprecedented success, as Barnum had done a century before him.  He was said to be so impressed with Barnum’s autobiography that, in 1980, he gave copies to his management team to use as a blue-print for promoting him.

This tale has become part of the Michael Jackson legend, and with the recent release of the dazzling Hugh Jackman movie “The Greatest Showman” [2] it has been revisited in the media and discussed in MJ fan forums. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking just how much impact Barnum’s story really had on the young singer.

In the preface to his autobiography, P.T. Barnum wrote:

“I have thought that the review of a life, with the wide contrasts of humble origin and high and honourable success; of most formidable obstacles overcome by courage and constancy; of affluence that had been patiently won, suddenly wrenched away, and triumphantly regained — would be a help and incentive to the young man, struggling, it may be, with adverse fortune, or, at the start, looking into the future with doubt or despair.” [3]

There are doubtless aspects of Barnum’s life that would not have impressed Jackson, but the impresario’s self-penned book was written not as a confession, but to inspire others to live their dreams – a theme emphasised in “The Greatest Showman” movie.  This focus was very relevant to Michael Jackson in terms of his solo recording career in the late 1970s and early 80s when he reportedly read Barnum’s book.

PT Barnum’s desire to be accepted as a legitimate impresario can even be seen as analogous of Jackson’s desire, after “Off the Wall”, to achieve success beyond categories based on race or musical genre.  Despite Jackson’s high hopes, “Off the Wall” was restricted to two Grammy nominations in 1980 for the single “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” in the R&B and disco categories respectively, resulting in just one award – for best R&B vocal performance. [4]

“I felt ignored by my peers and it hurt,” Michael said in his book “Moonwalk” (1988). [5]

Michael Jackson’s dream was to be The Best, period.  The “Off the Wall” Grammy slight filled him with new resolve – a lesson straight out of Barnum’s book, whether or not he realised it.  “I was disappointed and then got excited thinking about the album to come. I said to myself , ‘Wait until next time’ – they won’t be able to ignore the next album.” [6]

The next album was “Thriller” which, in addition to selling sufficient copies to propel it towards its current fame as the biggest selling album of all time, went on to win eight Grammys at the 1984 awards ceremony.

Like Barnum, who was the son of a tailor/shopkeeper, Michael Jackson came from humble beginnings.  Of course, the difference was, he knew success with his brothers from a young age and grew up in show business – unlike Barnum, he didn’t have to invent it.

But when it came time to develop his identity as a solo performer away from his brothers and the control of his father, he would have found Barnum’s story suitably instructive in the ways of showmanship. It was a craft Jackson continued to develop throughout his solo career – right up to his planned “This Is It” concerts in 2009. [7]

“It’s an adventure. It’s a great adventure,” Jackson told his cast and creative team at rehearsals.  “We want to take them places that they’ve never been before. We want to show them talent like they’ve never seen before.” [8]

Unfortunately, some of the “humbug” for which Barnum had been notorious similarly attached itself to Jackson, whose desire to be inscrutable left critics thinking him “strange” in uncomplimentary ways.

In an article titled “A Cultural Autopsy of Michael Jackson” dated 30 June 2009, Gregory McNamee references Margo Jefferson’s book “On Michael Jackson”:

“In Jefferson’s chronology, something quite mysterious and quite profound seems to have happened to Michael Jackson along about the late 1970s, when he was finally old enough to separate himself from his “scary family.” His psyche changed: “Think of his mind as a funhouse,” Jefferson instructs, a place populated by Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, Elizabeth Taylor, his parents, James Brown, and, more than anyone else, P. T. Barnum, who well knew the rewards that can come from putting on a good freak show.” [9]

Whether a product or a consequence of his remoteness from outsiders when not on stage, following the success of “Thriller”, Michael Jackson attracted all sorts of weird and wonderful headlines, some of them possibly generated by his management acting independently or in collaboration with the artist himself, and some by tabloid writers in quest of a sensational headline.  So, we had the stories of Jackson sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and wanting to buy the Elephant Man’s bones. [10]

Frank Dileo, who managed Michael Jackson from 1984-1989 (and was re-hired in 2009), was described by Rolling Stone as “a 220-pound, five-foot-two cigar-chomping cross between Colonel Tom Parker and P.T. Barnum.”   It certainly seems that Dileo was promoting his charge according to Barnum’s methodology for attention-grabbing publicity. [11]

Michael’s mother Katherine Jackson considered Dileo responsible for capitalizing on the more bizarre stories about her son. [12]  Certainly in telling Rolling Stone that he was dead against the hyperbaric chamber being taken on the “Bad” tour (“I don’t want it around”) Dileo was definitely taking the joke a bit too far, if indeed he actually said that.

He did draw the line at playing on the critics’ fascination with Jackson’s maturing physiognomy, telling Rolling Stone’s Michael Goldberg: “OK, so he had his nose fixed, and the cleft [in his chin] – big deal.  I got news for you, my nose has broke five times.  It’s been fixed twice.  Who gives a shit?” [13]

So, in making his solo career the greatest show on Earth, was it Michael Jackson in the role of PT Barnum, or Frank Dileo, who helped promote a phenomenon that the tabloid media turned into a Barnum-inspired “freak”?

Dileo had been Vice President of National Promotion at Epic Records (1979-1984) before becoming Michael’s manager. Promotion was his game, and he was very successful at it – even being voted Epic’s executive of the year and being credited with taking Epic Records from the number fourteen label in the U.S. market to number two.

Despite the amount of control Rolling Stone’s Michael Goldberg and David Handelman credited Jackson having over his career at the start of the “Bad” world tour, there were plenty of opportunities for those who worked for him to misrepresent him, unintentionally or otherwise.  This is what happens when you keep your distance from the media.  If they’re desperate to talk to you, and you’re not available, they’ll talk to someone close to you – or perhaps someone who was once in the same room as you!  (Those in the latter category are often described as “a source close to the artist” or something equally vague.)  In some cases, reputed “sources” are simply invented to give credence to a story.

Sadly, as experienced by PT Barnum, for Michael Jackson it also proved to be true that not “all publicity is good publicity”.  Some of it has devastating consequences and a long after-life.  Once a story becomes a headline, there’s little chance of taking it back, despite all evidence to the contrary.  This has proven to be the case with the false allegations of sexual impropriety made against Jackson during the last two decades of his life. Despite his vindication in a highly-publicised jury trial in 2005, elements of the public remain ignorant or unconvinced of Michael’s innocence.  We can look to the media as the principal source of this confusion.

Nevertheless, as Barnum’s life demonstrates, it is possible to resurrect oneself from the ashes of disaster – which he did, and which Michael Jackson did.  In Jackson’s case, his audience – his fans – were always there, just waiting for him to return to the studio or step back on stage.  In 2009, when facing the public and media at the O2 press conference must have been truly daunting, Jackson received a reassuringly ecstatic reception from the fans.  It prompted him to declare – as he had done often throughout his career – “I love you.  I really do.  You have to know that.  I love you so much, from the bottom of my heart.” [14]

This is showmanship without humbug or artifice.  Without this heartfelt sincerity Michael Jackson would never have accrued the type of legacy for which he is so loved and admired today.

As for the movie version of PT Barnum’s life, having seen “The Greatest Showman” a couple of times to date, I’m inclined to think that this musical adaptation , albeit sanitized, is more akin to the vision Michael Jackson had when he used Barnum’s autobiography as his blueprint all those years ago.

The movie is about equality, empowerment, accepting our differences and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles and setbacks to realise our dreams.  Indeed, Michael Jackson did all that in his 50 years with us.

A statement he made in “Moonwalk” back in 1988 remained relevant throughout his career and is why he is celebrated and admired by his peers.  This is particularly truly of the young artists who, in their quest for show business success, have been inspired by his example.

“To me,” Jackson declared “nothing is more important than making people happy, giving them a release from their problems and worries, helping to lighten their load. I want them to walk away from a performance I’ve done saying, ‘That was great.  I want to go back again.  I had a great time.’  To me, that’s what it’s all about.  That’s wonderful.”

Recently, after seeing one of the stars of “The Greatest Showman”, actor Zac Efron, relate on the Graham Norton Show how Jackson had once told him over the ‘phone, “Hey Zac, isn’t it awesome? Dreams really do come true, don’t they?” I’m convinced that Michael would have loved “The Greatest Showman” and its message. [15]

We can lament the fact that he’s not here to see it in his own private cinema, along with his kids and friends, and a big bucket of popcorn.  But I prefer to believe that, where he is now, he has “the best seat in the house” any time he wants it.

Kerry Hennigan
January 2018

Postscript: Zac Efron and Zendaya bonded over their love of Michael Jackson while filming “Greatest Showman” : https://hellogiggles.com/reviews-coverage/movies/zac-efron-zendaya-michael-jackson/

elephants
[Above] “Asian elephants walk to the Staples Centre, hours before a memorial service for recently deceased singer Michael Jackson is to take place at the same location, during the traditional Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus Animal Walk from the circus train on July 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  Wherever the Ringling Bros. circus performs, the elephants and other animals must walk from the train to the performance arena.  The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is arriving for their 2009 month-long southern California engagement.  Jackson, 50, the iconic pop star, died at UCLA Medical Centre after going into cardiac arrest at his rented home on June 25 in Los Angeles, California.” [16]
Sources:

[1] Irving Wallace “P.T. Barnum.  American Showman” Encyclopedia Britannica https://www.britannica.com/biography/P-T-Barnum

[2] “The Greatest Showman” Fox Movies https://www.foxmovies.com/movies/the-greatest-showman

[3] The Life of PT Barnum written by himself, including his Golden Rules for Money-Making brought up to 1888.  https://archive.org/stream/lifeofptbarnum00barn/lifeofptbarnum00barn_djvu.txt

[4] Michael Jackson, Grammys https://www.grammy.com/grammys/artists/michael-jackson

[5] Michael Jackson, Moonwalk, 1988 Arrow Books paperback edition 2010

[6] Ibid

[7] Kerry Hennigan “Michael Jackson on Tour – Staging ‘the Greatest Show on Earth’ (and then topping it)” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/michael-jackson-on-tour-staging-the-greatest-show-on-earth-and-then-topping-it/

[8] “Michael Jackson’s This Is It'” directed by Kenny Ortega, Columbia Pictures, 2009.

[9] Gregory McNamee “A Cultural Autopsy of Michael Jackson” http://blogs.britannica.com/2009/06/on-michael-jackson/

[10] Kerry Hennigan “’Leave Me Alone’ – Michael Jackson and the Elephant Man’s Bones” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/leave-me-alone-michael-jackson-and-the-elephant-mans-bones/

[11] P.T. Barnum: Master of Advertising and Promotion:  http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/P-T-Barnum-Master-of-advertising-and-promotion-565330.php

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

[13] Michael Goldberg and David Handelman “Is Michael Jackson for Real?” Rolling Stone, September 24, 1987 https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/is-michael-jackson-for-real-19870924

[14] Michael Jackson press conference – Live from the O2 Arena London 05/mar/09 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1znYaU0oeo

[15] Zac Efron on The Graham Norton Show BBC published on YouTube Dec 29, 2017 https://youtu.be/jO2HEVc5iK4

[16] “Asian elephants walk to the Staples Centre…” Getty Images: http://www.gettyimages.com.au/event/circus-elephants-arrive-at-staples-center-hours-before-jackson-memorial-88872365

Featured post

Michael Jackson and the Stasi – “Bad” in Berlin, 1988 and the “subversive” influence of pop culture

“Between 1949, when Germany was formally divided, and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, more than 3 million East Germans “voted with their feet” by moving to West Germany. The East German ruling party never enjoyed popular support, and the regime never trusted its citizens. Refugees left East Germany for economic as well as political reasons, and this “brain drain” of young, educated workers had a destabilizing effect on the East German economy. The only way to stop the flow of refugees was to close the border between East and West Berlin” – Professor Mary Beth Stein [1]

After separating families, friends and the city of Berlin for three decades, on the evening of 9 November 1989, demolition of the Berlin Wall was begun by the people of Berlin themselves.  The Wall had been a symbol of the repression of social freedoms for a generation of German citizens whose great city had been bombed, occupied and divided amongst the Allied powers following World War II.  The movements of those in the East had been restricted, then the borders had closed, and finally the Wall was erected to prevent further mass exodus to the West.  Many risked death and, indeed, many died attempting to cross to freedom.

The East German government viewed the Wall as protection against ideals they considered the antithesis of Communism.  They actively discouraged the penetration of western influence on the citizens of the East.  But by the 1980s, the popular culture of the West, including its music, had become all-pervasive.

From June 1987 to January 1989, Michael Jackson toured Japan, Australia, the US, Europe and the UK with his ‘Bad’ world tour.  On 19 June 1988, he performed an open-air concert  in front of 50,000 fans on the grounds of the Platz der Republik, facing the Reichstag, in West Berlin.

Only a year earlier music fans in the East had amassed on their side of the Wall during a concert by Genesis, David Bowie and the Eurythmics.  They had begun chanting “Down with the Wall” and “Gorby, Gorby” in support of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy reform in favour of openness (“glasnost”).  On that occasion they had been beaten with batons and scores were arrested.  Now, in 1989, the Stasi (East German secret police) were very concerned that a concert by the biggest international music star of the decade would cause similar or worse political unrest in East Berlin.

Following Michael Jackson’s passing in 2009, it was discovered that the Stasi had kept a file on him.  It contained a report that stated: “Youths are prepared to go to any lengths to experience this concert around the area of the Brandenburg Gate [next to the wall].”  The report added that the aim of the clash was to “test the limits of the security organ”. [2]

Time reports: “In the minutes of a preparatory meeting of Stasi officials, dated May 4, 1988, the Stasi notes discussions that it was having with the head of the West German company that was organizing the concert. The names are blacked out in the report. According to the report, the organizer ‘together with Jackson’s management is willing to build the stage at such a height that it is not visible from Unter den Linden’ — the boulevard on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate — ‘and to position the speakers appropriately.’ The plan also involved broadcasting the Jackson concert in a stadium in East Berlin with a two-minute delay, so the East Germans could replace the live performance with a videotape of a previous performance should Jackson make any undesirable political comments.” [3]

But there was no stopping the Jackson juggernaut.  In fact, some of the hype was intensified by local TV station SAT who hired a Jackson look-alike to visit Checkpoint Charlie – the famous crossing point from West to East at the heart of the divided city – to see how the public would react.

360_jackson_stasi_0731
Photo of Jackson’s double kept on file by the Stasi.  Source: AP

The double was convincing enough for the Stasi, who closely monitored his movements and kept a photo of him in Michael’s Stasi file (as reproduced here).  On a report card next to Jackson’s name and date of birth, it detailed how the double got out of a limousine at 2.52 pm and was accompanied “at all times by a 25-year-old-female.” [4]  Meantime, unbeknownst to the Stasi, the real King of Pop remained in his hotel.

As Time recalls: “The coup was so successful that it worked again 20 years later when Jackson’s Stasi file, and the infamous pictures, emerged. This time SAT 1 nearly fell for its own prank. ‘We certainly would have fallen for the Stasi pictures but by chance a colleague was on duty who happened to be at the shooting of the Jackson double back in 1988,’ said Diana Schardt, spokeswoman for SAT 1 television. ‘We almost went with it, but then cleared it up.’” [5]

Time also notes that judging by the meticulous notes their agent kept, the Stasi considered the visit of Michael Jackson to be “one of the most threatening moments for the security of the now defunct East German state.” [6]

The plan for a diversionary broadcast in the East did not go ahead, [7] and on the day of Michael’s performance, approx. 5,000 people gathered on the eastern side of the wall to experience as much of the concert as they could.  In the early hours of the following morning, hundreds of East German security forces rushed the crowd and 30 people were arrested. [8]

“They were concerned dissident youths would call for the Wall to fall,” Steffen Mayer, a spokesman for the government agency that looks after the Stasi archives, said in an article published by the Telegraph in July 2009.  “This was seen as a potential security threat given the amount of foreign media that would be present.” [9]

The Guardian stated the violent crackdown was prompted because: “The Stasi considered Jackson, like most western pop stars, to be a subversive influence on its youth.” [10]

Spiegel Online reported that television camera crews from the West German channels, ARD and ZDF, filmed the altercation at the Brandenburg Gate and came under attack from the secret police. The West German administration later made official complaints about the mishandling of members of the western press. [11]

Time concludes that “It’s impossible to say whether the Stasi’s fears of Michael Jackson were justified. However, the article notes that two decades later, Checkpoint Charlie is a museum, the Wall is all but gone [except for the sections retained as museum exhibits] and the city centre has been returned to shopkeepers, restaurants and offices.

“Maybe the power of pop had something to do with it.” [12]

The contents of Michael’s Stasi file don’t give any indication of how he might have felt about performing in the then-divided city, or about the discussions between concert organisers and the East German authorities.  But he expressed his feelings about the Berlin Wall in his book “Dancing the Dream” (published 1992):

Berlin 1989
 
They hated the Wall, but what could they do? It was too strong to break through.

They feared the Wall, but didn't that make sense? Many who tried to climb over it were killed.

They distrusted the Wall, but who wouldn't? Their enemies refused to tear down one brick, no matter how long the peace talks dragged on.

The Wall laughed grimly. "I'm teaching you a good lesson," it boasted. "If you want to build for eternity, don't bother with stones. Hatred, fear, and distrust are so much stronger.

They knew the Wall was right, and they almost gave up. Only one thing stopped them. They remembered who was on the other side. Grandmother, cousin, sister, wife. Beloved faces that yearned to be seen.
 
"What's happening?" the Wall asked, trembling. Without knowing what they did, they were looking through the Wall, trying to find their dear ones. Silently, from one person to another, love kept up its invisible work.

"Stop it!" the Wall shrieked. "I'm falling apart." But it was too late.  A million hearts had found each other. The Wall had fallen before it came down. [13]

Epilogue:

Michael Jackson returned to perform in Berlin on his Dangerous (1992) and HIStory (1997) World Tours.  The concerts were held at the Jahn Stadion (close to where part of the Berlin Wall once stood in what was previously East Berlin) and Olympiastadion (formerly in West Berlin) respectively.  Unlike in 1988, anyone who could obtain a ticket was free to attend.  [14] [15]

In November 2002, Michael Jackson made what was to be his last visit to Berlin.  He stayed at the historic Adlon Kempinsky hotel, just east of the Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linden.  At the Bambi Awards ceremony where he was honoured as the Pop Artist of the Millennium, he declared:

“I have wonderful memories of my visits to Germany. Coming back to Berlin, a city so full of energy…it’s very special to me. Berlin, I love you! Berlin, ich liebe dich!

“September 11th has changed our world. Not long ago, the Berlin Wall came down. But, recently, new walls have been built. 1989, people of Germany said…’wir sind ein volk. We are one nation.’

“We are Germans. We are Armenians, French, Italian, Russian, American, Asian, African and many other nationalities. We are Christians, Jewish, Muslims and Hindu. We are black and we are white. We are a community of so many differences, so complex and yet, so simple. We do not need to have war.”

He exhorted the children of Germany to strive for their dreams, to become whatever they wanted to be, and then concluded:

“I want you to know, I love Germany! You are very special in my heart, so much really. Always appreciate the gift of life. Be happy and have fun.

I love you.

Thank you very much.” – Michael Jackson, November 21, 2002 [16]

Today, the Platz der Republik in front of the Reichstag (home of the German parliament) and the site of Michael’s Bad concert in 1988, remains a green, open square of approx. 36,900 square meters.  It was here, on the night of 2/3 October 1990 that a large German flag was raised to signal the reunification of East and West Germany.

For Berlin, the Cold War was well and truly over.

Kerry Hennigan
November 2017


The set list for Michael’s ‘Bad’ concert in Berlin, 19 June 1988:

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
This Place Hotel
Another Part of Me
I Just Can’t Stop Loving You
She’s Out of My Life
I Want You Back / The Love You Save / I’ll Be There
Rock With You
Human Nature
Smooth Criminal
Dirty Diana
Thriller
Bad Groove
Workin’ Day and Night
Beat It
Billie Jean
Bad
Encore:
The Way You Make Me Feel
Man in the Mirror [17]

Sources:

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

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

[3] Ibid

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

[5] Time

[6] Ibid

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

[8] Time

[9] The Telegraph

[10] The Guardian

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

[12] Time

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

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

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

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

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

Related sources:

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

Michael Jackson – Berlin compilation 1988 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVTD3F52qHU (German narration, with an interview with Jennifer Batten).

Photo montage “Bad in Berlin, 1988” compiled and edited by Kerry Hennigan.  Copyright of the photographs used is vested in the owner/copyright holder.  No copyright infringement is intended in this not-for-profit educational exercise.

13166084_10206583841689909_976874556336893678_n
The author at Pariser Platz on Unter der Linden, east side of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, May 2016
Featured post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesss, girl.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
November 2017

Postcript: December 2017

The dress worn by Paris at The Cup and designed by Morrison, became a sell-out even before it hit the stores, the Daily Mail reported on Nov 13, 2017.

“The $600 Morrison dress Paris wore to the Melbourne Cup last week has already sold out – before even being offered in stores.

Founder Kylie Radford revealed that she has received pre-orders from all over the world for the rusty red bohemian dress beloved by the model.

Radford found new customers from the likes of Spain, UAE, the US, and Iceland after a highly publicised appearance by the 19-year-old daughter of Michael Jackson.” [13]

Alex Perry discussed the matter of Paris’ dress choice in this article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Nov 19, 2017.

“You can’t put her in an Alex Perry lady dress and strap her in and put a pair of high heels on her, it’s not right for what that girl is.” [Perry said.]

Describing it as “a fashion storm in a teacup”, he believes “a mistake was made by someone at some point saying she was wearing Alex Perry but it wasn’t confirmed”. [14]

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris by the fashion mags: Vogue and Elle:

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

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

 

Images used in photo montage:

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

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

 

 

 

 

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, 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]

Tributes to Michael Jackson following his passing in June 2009 included a moon crater named after him by the Lunar Republic Society, which promotes the exploration, settlement and development of the Moon.  According to one media report “The 13.5 metre-wide site, formerly Posidonius J, is in the Lake of Dreams, next to a 1,200 acre plot owned by Jackson, which he bought at the cost of $27.40 (£17) per acre.”

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

‘Tis true my form is something odd,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
October 2017

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10]        Virgin Media Michael Jackson Myths

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

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

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

[14]        Ebony/Jet interview 1987

[15]        Michael Jackson, Moonwalk

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 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 coalesced 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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

And finally, this statement:

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

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

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

But, I’m not done yet.

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
26 September 2017

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

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

 

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