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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he keeps on singing and performing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
September 2017

Sources:

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

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

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

[4] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[5] Ibid

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

[7] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

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

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

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

[15] Joseph Vogel “Earth Song” 2017

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

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

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

Related articles and reviews:

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

 

 

 

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“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

 

Academic Essay Review: “Ruach Hakodesh: The Epiphanic and Cosmic Nature of Imagination in the Art of Michael Jackson and His Influence on My Image-Making” by Constance Pierce

When I first read Constance Pierce’s academic paper “Ruach Hakodesh: The Epiphanic and Cosmic Nature of Imagination in the Art of Michael Jackson and His Influence on My Image-Making” (1) I had never heard of the Hebrew term Ruach Hakodesh.  But I certainly understood the concept that it represents as explained by Pierce, i.e. that which the Biblical book of Genesis describes as a “rushing spirit of God over the face of the waters.”  She further elaborates in the abstract to her piece that a “brooding and hovering wind, the animating breath of the cosmos, a Divinely disruptive force of inspiration and imagination are but a few possible flavors of poetic exegesis.”

My first thoughts on reading this was that, with respect to Michael Jackson’s art, “Ruach Hakodesh” encapsulates the connection with the divine (i.e. God) as expressed not just in Jackson’s music and dance moves but also his poetry, especially as illustrated by his piece “Heaven Is Here”, from his book of lyrics and essays “Dancing the Dream” (1992).  This particular poem is one of my favourite pieces from that book.  As Pierce notes, in “Dancing the Dream”, “he revealed significant spiritual dynamics inherent in his creative process.” (2)

paper coverBut why choose pop icon Michael Jackson to discuss “the epiphanic and cosmic nature of imagination” some may ask?  In fact, Pierce is one of many academics now casting a learned eye on the life, work and social impact of the King of Pop.  Pierce lists some of the academic books, essays, articles and courses that have emerged since the artist’s death in 2009.  As to whether being known by a title such as the “King of Pop” means Jackson can be considered “a serious artist of profound and abiding cultural import” Pierce concludes that the answer is definitely “yes”.

In death, as in life, she argues, Jackson remains a polarizing figure.  “An immense amount of shadow-material was projected upon him by a myopic and racist culture,” she writes.  “Throughout his life, Jackson became highly skilled at bearing this shadow-material, aesthetically processing it, and thrusting it back at us (as maligned artists often do) transformed into art.”

Indeed, in the decade of the 1990s, Jackson turned out some truly challenging and abrasive material which remains as relevant today as when he wrote it.  His angry plea for disadvantaged minorities, “They Don’t Care About Us”, is the best known; but there are many others, even dating back to his “Bad” album on which appeared “Leave Me Alone”, his reaction to being tabloid fodder.  In his 1988 autobiography “Moonwalk” Jackson explained “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.’” (3)

In a world of regional wars, environmental degradation and apathy towards our own kind and other creatures, Jackson’s art could be a howl of protest (“Earth Song”) or a soothing balm (“Heal the World”).  Pierce perceives Jackson as “a ritual healer, a modern-day shaman”.  Certainly, if one listens to his recordings of “Earth Song” and “Cry”, he is “petitioning the Cosmos”.  The same can also be said of the seldom-heard but equally compelling track “We’ve Had Enough”. (4)

In support of her view of Jackson as a healer/shaman she explains that he “inspired global multitudes to compassion and endurance by lifting their hearts through his art.”  Of course, his compassionate actions also involved donating massive amounts of money to charities, including the proceeds for entire concert tours.  Pierce contends that “Jackson evidenced a lived theology.”

She also uses photographs of Jackson displaying certain body gestures in his performances, and compares them to works by William Blake.  “Though Jackson was likely inspired by a number of figurative painters, William Blake persists in my mind’s eye,” Pierce writes.  She explains that both artists lived in “a world of rich inner myth and revered the state of innocence as personified by the realm of ‘Childhood’”.

Blake viewed childhood as “a state or phase of imaginative existence, the phase in which the world of imagination is still a brave new world and yet reassuring and intelligible” according to Northrope Frye, whom Pierce quotes on the subject.  Michael Jackson, as most fans – and some critics – are aware, had a somewhat idealized view of childhood and rued the “loss” of his own, having worked as the lead singer of the Jackson 5 from a very young age.  Pierce contends that the contrary states of “innocence and experience” are reflected in the words and visual imagery of both artists, and proceeds to examine some of Jackson’s famous poses, such as the cruciform/resurrection pose and the crouched/crying gesture, for which we are given examples by Blake depicting similar attitudes/emotions.

Pierce is a visual artist by nature, and her own allegorical drawings that accompany her essay give form to the emotions discussed therein.  Her watercolors and pencil sketches are not meant to represent Jackson, or any specific individual, but rather show human forms in “archetypal images [that] bear witness to the afflictions of the world, to the turmoil of interior anxieties, and to the ubiquitous consequences of conflict and greed.”

The allegorical images are also intended to bear witness to the presence of ministering emissaries upon the earth, and an “angel” or spiritual intercessor is featured in each of the travails she depicts.  This series of images is titled “Will You Be There” after Jackson’s prayerful song of the same name from his Dangerous album and world tour.

Pierce explains that, as an artist, she harbors “a core consciousness embedded within that is not dominated by the rational, where mystical poetics such as Ruach Hakodesh can flourish, and where my imagination routinely looks toward the cosmos for its creative source.”  It is from this place that her image-making emanates.

Following the death of Jackson, Pierce began to seriously contemplate “the vast emotional scope evident in Jackson’s art.”  She found a cache of startling imagery embedded within his work.

Many of us who are fans of Jackson have responded to that imagery, and to the other aspects of his private and performance persona that endear him to us as, above all, someone who cared deeply and acted on his compassion, even though in pain (whether physical or metaphorical).  Studying Pierce’s essay explains some of the emotions we, his fans, have experienced, why we have experienced them, and feel impelled to respond to his shamanic call to heal the world.

Pierce concludes that “Michael Jackson left behind a vast reservoir of treasure in his wide-ranging oeuvre as a serious artist.  We are the beneficiaries of a legacy of art that is startlingly innovative and revelatory.  In addition, one may characterize Jackson’s art as being spiritually empowered, for his work awakens in us a truer consciousness of our own joy and suffering.”

For serious scholars of Michael Jackson and his art, and its continuing influence on other artists, Pierce’s essay is essential reading.  It is a reminder that true artists, such as Jackson, invariably inspire others to explore and express their own creativity.

Kerry Hennigan
September 2017

Sources:

(1) Constance Pierce: “RUACH HAKODESH: The Epiphanic and Cosmic Nature of Imagination in the Art of Michael Jackson …” The Cosmos and the Creative Imagination, Springer International Publishing © 2016 | constance pierce – Academia.edu
(See “Files 1 of 5” under title to select download)

and “Will You Be There” drawing series exhibitions: The Fourth Art on Paper, Museum of Art, Aichi, Japan ~ Notre Dame College (OH) ~ Seton Hill University (PA) ~ Regina Quick Center for the Arts (NY) ~ Yale University Divinity Library (CT)

(2) Kerry Hennigan “Michael Jackson, Shiva and the Cosmic Dance” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2016/09/12/michael-jackson-shiva-and-the-cosmic-dance/

(3) Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” Random House 1988, Arrow paperback edition 2010. https://www.amazon.com/Moonwalk-Michael-Jackson/dp/0307716988/

(4) Michael Jackson, Rodney Jerkins, LaShawn Daniels and Carole Bayer Sager, “We’ve Had Enough” from “Michael Jackson. The Ultimate Collection” http://www.mjtunes.com/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=242

Additional viewing:

Constance Pierce: Honoring Dancing the Dream (Watercolor series: Epiphany and Loss) video: https://youtu.be/5oe7TALaTxg

Acknowledgement:

“petitioning the cosmos” photo montage compiled and edited by Kerry Hennigan using professional photographs for which copyright remains vested in the respective copyright owners/photographers.  No infringement of copyright is intended in this not-for-profit exercise.

Book Review: ‘Elizabeth and Michael. A Love Story’ by Donald Bogle

Sometimes knowing from the outset what to expect helps you through the process of reading and reviewing a book. I purchased ‘Elizabeth and Michael’ out of curiosity, as well as love of Michael Jackson and fondness for Elizabeth Taylor, who was one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars. Admittedly I wasn’t expecting to learn much I didn’t already know, nor was I expecting David Bogle’s 2016 publication to be especially reliable as a source on their friendship.

27276460But it was difficult not to get caught up in the spotlight of show biz’s most beautiful glamour couple; and it was interesting to read of the events I had viewed innumerable times on YouTube in the context of the timeline of their respective careers. Not that I was by any means satisfied with Bogle’s coverage of some of these events.

I began by dipping into the narrative at the point when Michael and Elizabeth’s paths crossed, and then entwined off and on through the years. Because I knew most of the public events described, and had read the original sources of some other stories, I could be critical of some of the observations the author makes.  Although occasionally he makes an astute observation that resonates with truth, such as when, on page 332, he states: “Clearly, Joseph Jackson – even at this late date – was still unable to accept Michael as anything other than part of a family affair.”

It’s hardly reassuring when a writer quotes from hostile or discredited (at least in the eyes of the fans) individuals, one or two having been known to admit under oath that they embroidered the truth for financial gain.

Quoting Bob Jones (1) and Stacy Brown (2) was never going to convince me Bogle really came to grips with or understood his subjects. And readers of Boteach’s book ‘The Michael Jackson Tapes’, and Cascio’s ‘My Friend Michael’, could be forgiven for thinking they’d read parts of Bogle’s book already.

This is the thing about ‘Elizabeth and Michael’ – at least the portion covering matters I know most about – that is, the parts involving Michael Jackson: it has been compiled from other sources, some of which have published their own accounts (like the bodyguards’ book) and Bogle has nothing new to reveal.

Moreover, as with most who attempt a biography of Michael Jackson (and possibly also Elizabeth Taylor) they are so indebted to second-hand stories or tabloid tales that their assessment of situations and scenarios is of less value than those of many fans, some of whom really DO know better than what is written by most journalists and who were often closer to and more in tune with some events described in the book.

‘Elizabeth and Michael’ while reaffirming the great friendship between the pair that endured over so many years and through personal pain and hardships, has little that is new to offer the reader who already knows their stories. And occasionally, it drops a tell-tale ‘clanger’ such as when it quotes supposed dialogue from Michael Jackson in which he refers to his friend as ‘Liz’. To my knowledge, he never used this derivative of Elizabeth’s name.

On such a small, but glaring mistake, an entire book can lose credibility, if referencing Jones and Brown and some of the others hadn’t done that already.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
1 September 2017

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Book Review – pre-review commentary on ‘Au Paradis avec Michael Jackson’ by Gonzague Saint Bris

When I was obliged to learn French in high school, I never expected it to be of any use to me, and I wasn’t very adept at it.  When I was in Paris in 1981 as the Greenpeace representative for Australia, it quickly became obvious that the locals were not going to understand anything I attempted in their language.  So, I gave up trying.  (And anyway, I prefer Spanish!)

The next time I was in France it was on a day trip from London direct to Disneyland Paris just after Captain Eo had reopened in 2010.  Language wasn’t an issue (as has proven to be true on other overseas Michaeling adventures and in Disney parks) .

Now, some five decades after those high school language lessons, I find myself re-translating Google’s translation of the description of Gonzague Saint Bris’ book “Au Paradis Avec Michael Jackson” published by Presses De La Cite in 2010.

At present I am not aware of any complete English translation of the book, so for me, reading it will be a long process of working my way through with the help of Google and recollections of Sister Mary Angela’s French lessons (God bless her!).  Only then will I attempt to review it.  This article then, is both a preparation and a work in progress.

Saint Bris’ book came to my attention when a fan posted a memorial notice for the author on Facebook following his death in a car accident on 8 August 2017.  The cover art and title of the book intrigued me – and because it had been posted by an MJ fan, I assumed (hoped) this would be a book worth buying.

Now that it has arrived, it presents an opportunity for me to embark on a linguistic adventure of my own.  Wish me luck (and I’m happy for all the help I can get, folks!)

“Au Paradis avec Michael Jackson” [In Paradise with Michael Jackson] documents Saint Bris’ extraordinary experiences of accompanying Michael on his journey in Africa in 1992 during which they had revealing discussions of life, art and philosophy.

The Description on the back of the book, with information I have added for clarification, reads:

‘Do not judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins’.  Thus spoke Michael Jackson during his journey of initiation into the heart of Africa with Gonzague Saint Bris in 1992. On their journey down the Ogooue River to explore the Gabonese forest and meet with the Pygmies, the global star confided to the author his aesthetic preferences, his spiritual choices, his love of history, his admiration for Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci and his excessive taste for the castles of France to the point of dreaming of ending his days in one of them. But Jackson also spoke about his humanitarian experiences, the secrets of his life and the mysteries of his profession, delivering a personal message about his singular search for beauty beyond all taboos.

Who could have guessed that Michael Jackson was a private man of great erudition, who loved reading, loved the writings of Charles Perrault [the French author who laid the foundations for a new literary genre – the fairy tale] and James Barrie [author of Peter Pan], worshipped the paintings of Nicolas Poussin [the leading painter of the classical French Baroque style] and Edgar Degas; the style of Louis XIV, the projects of André Le Nôtre, the music of Pergolesi and the architecture of Jacques-Ange Gabriel?

Gonzague Saint Bris, whom Michael had seen on the TV show Good Morning America, became in this return to his roots for the King of Pop, Michael’s traveling companion in the emerald forest and golden savannah, and cultural confident on his journey from Africa to Europe.  This pilgrimage with Gonzague Saint Bris reveals the real life of Michael Jackson.

Brief bio of the Author based on the back cover of the book (which I have updated):

Gonzague Saint Bris was born in the Loire Valley on 16 January 1948. A writer, journalist and historian, he was the author of forty books, essays, novels and biographies translated into seven languages.  He received numerous awards including the 2002 Prix Interallie for his novel “The Allied Elders of Brighton”. In the U.S, where his biography of Lafayette titled “Lafayette: Hero of the American Revolution” was published by Pegasus Books, the John F. Kennedy University awarded him its Award for Literature.

Gonzague Saint Bris died in a car accident on 8 August 2017.

Where to buy the book: http://www.amazon.fr/Au-paradis-avec-Michael-Jackson/dp/2258084792

It is also available from Amazon.com in the US: https://www.amazon.com/paradis-avec-Michael-Jackson-French/dp/2258084792/

Kerry Hennigan
August 2017

 

Book Review: ‘The 7th Child’ story by Brenda Jenkyns, artwork by Siren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Kerry Hennigan
21 August 2017

Relevant links:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Kerry Hennigan
August 2017

Other Reviews of this volume:

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

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

Author Interview:

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

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland – a review of the TV movie

First Impressions – a review by Kerry Hennigan, June 2017

Before watching this Lifetime tele-movie based on the book ‘Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days’ by Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard with Tanner Colby, I had not only read the book (some time ago) but seen numerous excerpts, previews and promos for the film itself.

I’ve also met its star, Navi, a couple of times on visits to London for MJ events, so I kind of knew what to expect from him, too.  Navi loves Michael Jackson, and he also makes a living impersonating him.  I don’t doubt he took part in this project with the very best intentions for Michael’s legacy.

I thought Navi did an excellent job, despite not being a professional actor and having a British accent.  Like anyone playing a famous historical person, we need to put aside expectations of the actor being able to create anything more than an impression of that person.  The rest is just ‘smoke and mirrors’ (i.e. hair, make-up, costumes etc).

Still, Navi’s is a reasonable impression for the most part, and in rare moments, appearance wise, it’s quite uncanny.  But there are times when play-acting Michael Jackson becomes too much like a parody regardless of the best intentions.  The same is true when tribute artists attempt to represent MJ in a live performance.  It’s a fine line, and a difficult balancing act for anyone.

While this is a better bio-pic than anything we’ve seen previously (which is not saying very much, let’s face it) that doesn’t mean the bodyguards’ book and the film ‘Searching for Neverland’ are a true depiction of Michael or his family.

One of the glaring omissions from the film is any hint that Michael was continuing to work on his music once he arrived back in the US.  We are left thinking that he wasn’t working at all, while continuing to spend money seemingly heedless of unpaid bills (and wages).  This just isn’t true, as anyone who has heard his musical collaborator and friend Brad Buxer interviewed, can confirm.  Michael was working on new music while living in Las Vegas, and on songs like ‘Best of Joy’ right up to the end.

Because the period when Michael was in rehearsals for ‘This Is It’ in LA occurred after the period covered by the book and film, at no time do we have a chance to factor in Michael’s insistence on creating his greatest ever show for the O2 engagement.  Or the fact that, as it started to come together and he regained some of his self-confidence and love of performing, he began talking to his team about taking the show around the world.

If anyone was driving Michael Jackson hard, it was Michael Jackson himself.  We know he could never settle for anything less than perfection in his art.  Remember, this is the man who said: “Work like there’s no tomorrow.  Train.  Strive.  Really train and cultivate your talent to the highest degree.” (1)  This is an image completely at odds with the picture we are given via the bodyguards of Michael as a tragic figure -which I reject.  Nor do I believe he was the agent of his own demise, despite how hard he pushed himself.

Yes, he was haunted by the false accusations, emotionally and physically shattered by the gruelling 2005 trial, hounded by the media everywhere, and misguided in some of the people he trusted to look after his business and his money.  He was human, after all.

But, getting back to ‘Searching for Neverland’ – some curious aspects of Grace’s behaviour that were mentioned in the book have been left out of the movie, which has me wondering if they had decided for some reason to purposely sideline her character. There’s quite a bit in the book about Grace that is absent from the film.

Also absent (from both) is the third bodyguard, Mike Garcia, who disassociated himself from the book (2) and, more recently, the movie.

I could go on at length about the things I think could have been in the film – and in the book.  But it is the bodyguards’ viewpoint after all, and we need to remember they weren’t necessarily privy to everything that Michael did when they weren’t required to be by his side.  We should also expect a degree of ‘dramatization’.  Others have taken their doubts considerably further, however, in terms of the book’s so-called ‘revelations’. (3)

Another, and more important factor, is Dr. Murray’s responsibilities as Michael’s personal physician.  While Murray’s engagement in this role occurred outside the period of Whitfield and Beard’s time working with Michael, the film leaves the matter open to conjecture as to whether Murray was the cause of Michael’s death.

In my mind, there’s no doubt.

In talking about the film with a friend before either of us had seen it, I stated my belief that I didn’t think ‘Searching for Neverland’ was anything for us fans to worry about in terms of its impact on Michael’s legacy.  Now that I’ve seen it, I can say there are some aspects I am uncomfortable with… as was true for the book.

lifetime posterIn terms of the film, for us fans, Navi can never be completely convincing as Michael Jackson (irrespective of his accent) simply because he isn’t Michael; and the bodyguards’ version of events is just one of several that surfaced after the tragedy of 25 June 2009 which we have digested, debated and found incomplete or unconvincing in the years since then.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  ‘Searching for Neverland’ is just a TV movie, and probably not the last one to be made about Michael Jackson.  We can expect more in the years ahead, and not all are likely to be as ‘benevolent’ as this one, or Michael portrayed by someone who cares about their idol as much as Navi does.

Having said that, though, I have to admit that, like reading the book, watching the film once is probably enough for me.  For the time being at least, my curiosity has been sufficiently satisfied.

Kerry Hennigan
4 June 2017

Navi talks about Michael: https://youtu.be/sVzWeneD98w

(1) Michael Jackson “Moonwalk” https://goo.gl/uFSwVv

(2) http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/12251288/local-man-gives-details-about-being-michael-jacksons-bodyguard

(3) https://michaelandthetruth.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/remember-time-protecting-michael.html by Belinda O.

Photos: Navi as Michael Jackson in ‘Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland’ Lifetime (2017) (USA) (TV) (cable)  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6428912/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm

 

.

Book Review: “Let’s Make HIStory. An Insight into the HIStory album” by Brice Najar

517upefrryl-_sx258_bo1204203200_“Let’s Make HIStory.  An Insight into the HIStory album” by Brice Najar.  Translator: Laetitia Latouche.
Preface by Bruce Swedien
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 20, 2016)
Paperback 242 pages

The scope of Brice Najar’s book “Let’s Make HIStory” encompasses both parts of Michael Jackson’s HIStory: Past, Present & Future Book 1 double album, quite rightly referred to as “an opus”.

This was considerably more than I expected when purchasing the book – based on an interview with the author in the Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies – it being the new material on HIStory – the “HIStory continues” portion – that I was most interested in reading about.

The book is composed of interviews, some of them quite in-depth, with people who worked on the different recordings with Michael Jackson.  This means we have people who worked on material from the early 80s as well as the 90s, a rare few having involvement all the way through.

I have to admit to not being one of the fans who worships at the shrine of Quincy Jones, but given that tracks from “Off the Wall”, “Thriller” and “Bad” are included on the “HIStory begins” portion of the album, the references to Mr Jones are unavoidable.  That’s not to mean that I begrudge Quincy his due for the truly memorable work he did with Michael, merely some of the things he has said publically about Michael in recent years.

Once we get to the 90s tracks – three from the “Dangerous” album under “HIStory begins” and then the “HIStory continues” portion – I became truly engrossed in the recollections of the talented musicians and others who contributed their skills and experience to the creative process.

Included are some photographs of the individuals interviewed along with some autographed items from the author’s collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia.  They are not a major component of the book, but they do nicely augment the text and, in some cases provide evidence of the author’s interaction with some of the interviewees.

One thing this book lacks which would make it so much more valuable as a reference work is an Index.  Add a Bibliography, and it would be even better.  But, while there are numerous MJ books that have those things, few of them can claim to have acquired their information through first-hand interviews as has Najar.

Furthermore, Najar’s interviews are composed of intelligent questions, respectful of the creative process and the interviewee’s part in it, and respectful of the primary artist, Michael Jackson.  There is no tabloid fodder here.  It was Najar’s intention to give a voice to those working in the studio “and this way not making anything up!”*

The text contains some typing idiosyncrasies which, though minor and at least used consistently, I nevertheless found to be irritating.  If I had been editing the book I would have insisted they be changed.

I would also have moved the Table of Contents from the back of the book to the front, where we’re used to seeing it in most publications.

By far the most interesting part of the book for me was the interview with Brad Buxer.  Even though I have heard Brad talk about his work with Michael in person at one of Brad Sundberg’s famous In the Studio with Michael Jackson seminars, at which I took copious notes in longhand, it’s wonderful to have his stories “on record” by virtue of this book.

For those who don’t know, Buxer worked with Michael from 1989 onwards, both in the studio and on tour and eventually became his musical director following the Super Bowl half time show in 1993.  He continued to work on songs with Michael up to and including 2008.

Other favourites are Steve Porcaro and Rob Hoffman.  The latter’s recollections of the night in the studio when Michael recorded the final vocals for Earth Song are truly memorable, as are his many other insights from the HIStory album sessions he was involved in.

There are so many quotable quotes in this book from many of the interviewees.  But what comes through in every case is their absolute appreciation for having worked with Michael Jackson and for being a part of his, and popular music’s, HIStory.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
February 2017

*Najar, Brice in his Preface to “Let’s Make HIStory” p 8.

The book is available from Amazon.

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