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Michael Jackson Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

spaceman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It still does.

Kerry Hennigan
September 2017

mjair

Sources:

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

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

(3)          Ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Michael Jackson and the gender fluidity of fashion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
August 2017

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(8)       Ibid.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
July, 2017

Sources:

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

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

Videos to watch:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
July 2017

HLL 

Sources:

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

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

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

 

 

Featured post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
7 July 2017

A note on ancient Egyptians:

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(14)     Ibid

Further information and additional reading:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured post

The Doctor: a Victim of Circumstance or His own Incompetence?

‘The Doctor’ in the title of this article doesn’t refer to anyone as enduring as the BBC’s famous Doctor i.e. Dr. Who.  It refers to Michael Jackson’s personal doctor for the ‘This Is It’ concert rehearsals and the O2 residency that was to follow.

Even now, nearly eight years after Michael’s death, I am loath to type the man’s name. However, in the past week, 12th – 16th June 2017, Conrad Murray (there, I’ve written it!) has been making fresh headlines in the media, albeit a long way from the scene of his downfall in Beverly Hills, California.

Reports surfaced on more than one regional media website in the Caribbean that Conrad Murray has reputedly been treating patients at a private medical clinic in Trinidad without the required licence.

The Jamaican Observer reported on June 14th that Murray was the subject of a probe on the matter by the Ministry of Health in liaison with the Council of the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago.

According to the Observer, “Over the last weekend, the Sunday Newsday reported that Murray had been attending to patients at a private medical facility in central Trinidad.” (1)

I am always reluctant to read comments posted on news articles, given that they are often just an excuse for people to rant and proclaim their own views on the subject, often without recourse to verifiable facts!  But, I was curious in this instance to read if Murray was garnering any sympathy for his apparent predicament.

In this instance, the consensus seemed (logically) to be that the man needed to be properly licensed to practice in their country.  For sure, I thought.  One comment however suggested that given Murray had acquiesced to Michael Jackson’s desire for propofol to prompt sleep, he had been “a victim of circumstance” in the matter of Michael’s death.

The comment was not accusatory of MJ, but it was certainly ignorant of Murray’s culpability for what happened and sympathetic to his current situation.

Just as I normally avoid reading comments on public news sites, I also rarely respond to them. However, I could not let this comment on Murray pass without having my say.  I subsequently submitted the following reply:

Murray did not follow required medical practice, kept no medical records, mislead the paramedics into what he had given Michael, and delayed calling them far longer than he should have. He also lied to the police as revealed by his phone records and other evidence that came out in his criminal trial. Irrespective of what he was asked to do, it was his failure through negligence to properly monitor and assist his patient that was/is and always should be a criminal offence. He has always (in media interviews) denied responsibility for his own actions – this is unconscionable. The judge’s summation at Murray’s sentencing hearing is a damning indictment of this ‘doctor’s’ failure in his duty of care and attempts to cover it up. I suggest anyone with doubts about Murray’s guilt listen to what Judge Pastor has to say... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAhCOtX_2rg

15 June 2017 – posted in ‘comments’ on the Jamaica Observer article. (2)

Initially I believed that, in taking on the job of Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Murray had just been totally out of his depth, despite his credentials as a cardiologist with clinics in Nevada and Texas.  But, that didn’t absolve him of not taking due care in treating Michael’s insomnia, or any other ailments.  If you’re not up to the job, get out and let someone better suited do it.  Someone, for example, who doesn’t leave his sedated patient unmonitored while he leaves the room to make phone calls!

However, Murray, in his actions prior and after Michael’s death, has displayed a desire for money that explains why he was willing to do what he did for Michael. Murray’s need for a big pay cheque was acute!  The man had serious financial problems before he took the job.  He asked for more money than Michael was prepared to pay, but still accepted a more reasonable figure and promptly closed his clinics and abandoned his patients to relocate to Los Angeles as the personal doctor to the world’s greatest music icon.

His financial plight explains his actions, yes, but it does not excuse them.

We must remember that at his criminal trial Murray waived the opportunity to speak in his own defence; yet while incarcerated by the State for the crime of involuntary manslaughter, he gave interviews to the media from his cell, and on release began the rounds of the media to tell his version of the story.

He would talk to the media – for a fee – but he wouldn’t talk to the jury to save himself from a prison sentence.  Why?  Because his story, as he would have us believe it in his documentary, in his television interviews and, most shameful of all, in his supposed ‘tell all’ book, consists of fabrications and obfuscations.

Murray had no defence that justified his actions in the way he treated (or mistreated) Michael Jackson, at least none that could have changed the minds of the jury.  Certainly, he had no defence that would stand up against the evidence that had been gathered by the prosecution.

Murray’s willingness to talk about his famous former patient outside of the court room, in return for financial reward, is shameful behaviour for a medical professional, irrespective of his role in that patient’s demise.

If it is indeed true that Murray has recently been treating patients at a clinic in Trinidad without the appropriate licence from the health authorities of that country, it is just the latest example of him revealing his true colours in terms of his lack of respect for his own profession, not to mention the trust patients have placed in him.

It is not a scenario that makes any sense, either, given the savage blow dealt his career by his conviction.  You would think that if he wanted to rebuild credibility he would be diligent in ticking all the right boxes, signing all the right forms, and acquiring the appropriate approvals to practice in the region in question.

If he has failed to do this, it is further proof of his flagrant disregard for correct medical procedures in the treatment of vulnerable persons.  You’d think he’d have learned his lesson.

michael jackson smile london 2009Lest we forget, here’s an extract from an article in the Telegraph of 7 November 2011 following the jury’s verdict:

[Prosecutor David] Walgren said: “Michael Jackson literally put his life in the hands of Conrad Murray. That misplaced trust cost Michael Jackson his life. He died alone in his bed. Conrad Murray left this vulnerable man, abandoned him, to fend for himself. It violates not only the standard of care, but decency from one human being to another.” (3)

Personally, while I detest what he did, I can’t bring myself to ‘hate’ Conrad Murray.  It serves no purpose to waste intense emotions on him – especially not if they give me an ulcer!  Rather, over the years since his actions of 25 June 2009 (and those leading up to that day) I have just wished him to disappear from public view.  I wished he would quietly redeem himself in the eyes of his Maker by doing charity work in some needy part of the world – out of our sight!

But no, he has repeatedly surfaced with some comment, some statement, some tall tale or promotional plan or two, to keep our emotional wounds raw and weeping.  And now he’s making headlines again.

I think we’ve all bled enough, Dr Murray.  I wish you’d be gone.

Kerry Hennigan
June 15, 2017

 

Postscript, June 23, 2017:

According to an article published on the Trinidad Express website on June 17, Conrad Murray insists that he has been fully registered with the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago since 2000.  Murray’s medical licences for California, Texas and Nevada in the US have been suspended but he is adamant that he is properly licensed to practise in T&T.  A letter from Murray’s attorney to the MBTT claims that the Medical Board, its servants and/or agents and/or employees are “disseminating erroneous information with respect to my client’s registration status.”  The letter indicates that legal action might be forthcoming to solidify Murray’s status as a licensed medical doctor in T&T.

The article explains that while it is not necessary to renew a medical licence annually, an annual fee is required to be paid.  However, according to Murray’s attorney, the MBTT has refused to accept Murray’s fee.  This will be the basis for any legal proceedings against the MBTT.  He also added that action for defamation will be taken against Newsday for the “blatant falsehoods” printed in its reports.  Checks by the Sunday Express revealed Murray’s name is indeed listed on the MBTT’s National Register of Medical Practitioners. Dr Randall Rampersad, owner of the medical centre where Murray has been retained as a cardiovascular consultant, told the media that he will also be filing separate lawsuits next week against various entities, as his clinic has been brought into disrepute.

Rampersad cites Murray’s plans to establish an “acute stroke and vascular intervention centre” in Trinidad and operate a charitable foundation for people in need of surgeries who are on a waiting list in the public health sector as the reason for Murray being a target.  The attorney claims that people in the medical fraternity see him as a “threat” to their work, the extent of which is further detailed in the Express article. Murray believes “It is clearly an attack from the medical cartel.” (4)

While this news may make us re-think our opinions on Murray’s work in Trinidad, it does not change my sentiments as expressed above in relation to his actions associated with Michael Jackson nor the lack of remorse he has shown from those actions to date. – KH,  June 23, 2017

(1) http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/michael-jackson-8217-s-doctor-under-probe-in-trinidad-andh-tobago_101768

(2) Ibid

(3) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/michael-jackson/8867876/Conrad-Murray-found-guilty-of-killing-Michael-Jackson.html

(4) http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20170617/news/properly-licensed-to-practise-in-tt

 

 

 

“Missing” Michael Jackson – as expressed by his fans – MJ Studies Today, June 2017

Abstract: Kerry Hennigan looks into the phenomenon of how Michael Jackson is missed by so many people when they have never met him personally or seen him in concert.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


Is it possible to miss Michael Jackson if you never met him?

This is a question I have asked myself whenever I see fans post comments like “I miss him” in response to a photo or social media item about Michael Jackson. Yet we know they haven’t actually met him, and perhaps never saw him in concert…

Log in to continue reading: http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xviii/.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XVIII (14-06-2017).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 4, no. 2 (2017). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xviii/.


The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies asks that you acknowledge The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies as the source of our Content; if you use material from The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies online, we request that you link directly to the stable URL provided. If you use our content offline, we ask that you credit the source as follows: “Courtesy of The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
March 2017

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

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

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

Resources:

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

books edited.jpg

Featured post

World Cry and the case for ‘Cry’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I can’t do it by myself’. [6]

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

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

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

‘Change the World’. [7]

Kerry Hennigan
January 2017


Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

[6 and 7] ‘Cry’ by R. Kelly

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