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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

 

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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.

whatta-teaser-michael-jackson-10241720-500-495

“We promise, St Michael to learn from you” – extracts from Alice Walker on Michael Jackson

By Kerry Hennigan
a review with extracts from “The Chicken Chronicles” by Alice Walker

81fjbntPzJLPublished in 2011, The Chicken Chronicles is a collection of Alice Walker’s blog entries composed of musings on and to her “darling girls” – Gertrude Stein, Hortensia, Babe, Agnes of God, Glorious and other seemingly unfowl-like individuals.  But the “girls” are indeed fowls: Ms Walker’s chickens in fact and Walker herself is their “Mommy” who sits with them, cradles them and dotes on them.  This book is the result – a meditation on chickens, life, love and everything – including Michael Jackson.

I kept a clipping of an Australian Women’s Weekly review (July 2011) of The Chicken Chronicles when it first came out, but it took me a few years to actually think to borrow the book from the library to find out what Ms Walker had to say about Michael.  And it turns out to be rather wonderful.

It begins on page 81, with the final paragraph of chapter 17, called “Leaving You”, in which she writes:

“Sitting with Gertrude Stein made Mommy think of Glorious, and how she was lost.  And the loss of Glorious would always be connected to the loss of Michael Jackson, whom Mommy always called in her mind: St. Michael.

18

St Michael
[Edited extract]

Dear girls,

The week that Michael Jackson died, Mommy was in a state of shock.  She could do nothing, really, but come sit with you.  Or with her human sweetheart, or with the other “children”; the dog, Miles, and the cat, Surprise.  Spending time with you was especially comforting, and she sat some part of each day with one or the other of you on her lap.  She also became even more obsessed with your freedom.  How to protect you from predators and how to keep you safe if indeed you wandered beyond the enclosed confines of your house and yard.  What pained her so much about the loss of Michael was the loss of his own innocence, seeing it offered to adoring fans who did not have a clue, many of them, how precious was the gift they were consuming.  Because to Mommy, looking at a photo of the young Michael, when he was bursting with love of life and the joy of giving himself to others in song, he was a special being, sent to us for a special reason.  It seemed to her almost everyone forgot to keep wanting to know: what was that reason?…

I had dragged my meditation camping chair that folds out of storage and we were sitting in it together underneath the windmill.  I think this was the day of Michael’s memorial or perhaps the day after it.  What can one do at such times?  I think: Hold something that is alive.  Breathe with it.  Feel its heart.  Offer yours.  What else is there?

However, I remembered I had left a burner on up the hill in the kitchen and decided to put Glorious down and go up to turn it off.  I did this.  When I returned, she was gone.

Just like that…

And then, in my sadness to lose Michael and Glorious in the same week, I realised there is no reliable protection we can guarantee for another being, as much as we would like to do so.  Freedom is a big risk, as is loving.  Michael and Glorious are perhaps showing us by their lives and deaths what they came onto the planet to let us know: that each day is to be cherished, each moment of closeness with another deeply appreciated, each memory of innocence treasured, valued and passed on.

Mommies can’t be everywhere.  Only Nature can be everywhere.

It has its ways.

19

St Michael,
Lover of Animals and Children

vegetarian-704x1024

THAT YOU OFFERED
your light
while you were
too young
to comprehend
our darkness:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

8423457_origThat you were
injured in spirit
while still
a child
& that you
presented your
joy
regardless
of hurt:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

That you knew
you were love
loving itself
in those you
adored:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

That exhausted
from over-giving
you lost
your energy
to protect
your gift:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

That your arrows
were scalpels
turned against
blameless
flesh:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

That your heart
refused
work
no slave
on the plantation
of fame
could accomplish
in fifty
venues:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

That you loved
the simple
vulnerable beings
of this earth:
the trees
the children
& the animals:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

That in your unique
loneliness
you thought
it best
to
erase
yourself:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

That in your reading
of us
in our bondage
you sought
to
offer what
we seemed to desire:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

That the Self
is
already
perfect
with no need
to be
redefined:

We promise, St Michael
To learn
From you.

That to be wealthy
in everything
but freedom
& joy
is to be poor
beyond
bearing:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

That we are
as we are
splendid
to all who
love us
including
ourselves:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

&
we thank you.

That you left us
abruptly
to ponder
these things:

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

& by
our learning
of so much truth
that we have avoided
for so long
& to our
decline
may we repay you
– a very small offering –
for your indescribable
even unimaginable
suffering
from which
we may –
awakening
to our own beauty –
benefit.

We promise, St. Michael
to learn from you.

And we thank you.”

Edited extracts from The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 2011.

This review was originally published as on Facebook on 23 March 2015 at:  https://www.facebook.com/notes/kerry-hennigan/we-promise-st-michael-to-learn-from-you-extracts-from-alice-walker-on-michael-ja/868709653187219

Book Review: Michael Jackson’s Love for Planet Earth

Michael Jackson's love for Planet Earth by Veronica Bassil

 
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought Veronica Bassil’s little eBooklet “Michael Jackson’s Love for Planet Earth” purely on the strength of my own love for the subject matter… I did not know Veronica’s work, and I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be disappointed by the booklet’s contents.

As an inexpensive download it seemed worth the risk. “Earth Song” is my favourite Michael Jackson song. I also love the accompanying short film he made for it, and the footage of his live performances of the song. He put so much passion into the writing, singing and performing of “Earth Song” – it carried his message to heal the world of its many ills through love.

This love, as Veronica Bassil reveals, is evident and personal for Michael, as demonstrated in the posthumously released recording of his poem “Planet Earth” – originally published in his book of essays, poems and reflections: “Dancing the Dream”.

In “Planet Earth” the planet is the beloved, the narrator the lover. Having questioned whether it is just an inanimate lump of rock floating in space, he decides unequivocally that it is a living entity, deserving of our love, and needing to be cherished.

Veronica’s examination of Michael’s environmental consciousness through “Earth Song” references Joe Vogel and Armond White, as well as some fans who have commented on the song on-line. But Ms Bassil’s focus is not on the recording of the song, but on the meaning of the words and how they relate to Michael’s freely expressed love for the planet, the children, the animals, the trees etc.

Her discussion of the environmental catastrophes which have proven MJ’s (and environmental forecasters’) warnings and predictions to be true, highlights the importance of not just listening to and loving the song and its singer, but in taking his message to heart.

It’s for good reason so many of us love “Earth Song” so much. He put his heart and soul into this masterwork, and it has not only stood the test of time, but is growing in power with increased appreciation beyond us diehard fans.

This focus on Michael’s recognition of the planet as a living organism and his use of his unique and exceptional creative gifts to awaken us to the plight of the environment on which our survival depends, makes me want to cheer.

As Ms Bassil writes, “He didn’t begin this way as a nine-year-old singing, ‘I want you back,’ but as he saw the mounting damage to earth’s ecosystems and human cruelty to its own species and to nonhumans, he became more and more alarmed.”

It takes experience, accumulated knowledge, mature understanding and a broadened world-view to develop the kind of love and appreciation for the environment that Michael revealed to us in “Earth Song” and “Planet Earth”.

This booklet is a short, insightful and enjoyable examination of the meaning behind the words, music and visuals that Michael Jackson used to convey to us, and to the world, his most important message.

 

Review by Kerry Hennigan
January 2013

This ebook is available from Amazon.com

Book Review: Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus by Joseph Vogel

Earth Song by Joseph VogelEarth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus (2nd Edition)
by Joseph Vogel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

 

Joe Vogel’s book “Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus”, now available in an updated and expanded 2nd edition, reveals both the genius and hard work of the creative process required to achieve such a master work of popular music.

Vogel tracks the evolution of Earth Song beginning with Michael Jackson’s initial ideas in 1988 for an anthem for the earth, informed by his evolving religious views and growing awareness of global issues. The book follows the development of the song clear through to its release as a track on the HIStory album in 1995, and then as the third single from the album (but, tellingly, not in the United States).

Vogel also assesses the (mostly dismissive) critical reaction, and looks at the impact of Michael’s controversially-perceived live performances of the song as pieces of highly effective performance art that were “so transcendent and unifying for audiences”.

But it all gets back to the song, and stripped of much of the theatrics, as at the one-off Brunei concert in July 1996, Michael Jackson delivers a truly unforgettable performance, “[t]here are no props, no pyrotechnics – just him, the mic, and the music.”

Vogel’s examination of the writing and recording of Earth Song reveals the lengths to which Michael, and those working closely with him, went in order to achieve the results to which MJ was committed. Such perfectionism can mean a delay of years, as in the case of Earth Song before it reached the desired state of completion to the artist’s satisfaction. And, indeed, like the earth whose anthem it was intended to be, Earth Song was an embryo that required a long period of gestation before coming to full term and being fit for launching into the world.

This 2nd edition of “Earth Song” (the book) has a wealth of footnotes, and these are invaluable in fleshing out the picture not just of the song, but of the individuals who worked on it and their respective experiences collaborating with MJ. Vogel even extricates some worthy quotes and valuable insights from sources less than popular with us fans i.e. Taraborrelli, Boteach and Rolling Stone magazine. Other footnotes include on-line sources, some of which beg the reader to investigate further.

As evocatively documented by Vogel, one moment in the long history of creating this epic song really leaps out at this particular reader. Described as a “hair standing up on the back of their necks” moment for his recording team, it is the night when Michael recorded the final vocals for the song in a completely dark studio, as was his preference. Writes Vogel “From the control room, Bruce Swedien and his crew of assistant engineers couldn’t see anything. Yet what they heard roaring out of the darkness was astonishing; it was as if Jackson was channelling from the lungs of the earth – a pained, fierce, prophetic voice, giving utterance to the suffering of the world.”

Here is a song and a creative process which truly deserves documentation, and not just in book form. We might wish for Spike Lee or some worthy equivalent to take the video footage Vogel refers to (shot when the choral backing for the song was recorded) plus interviews, performances and other relevant material, and turn it into a film a la Lee’s “Bad25” documentary. Only in this case it would be a homage to a single song. Earth Song is certainly a subject worthy of such coverage, and Vogel’s book could provide a more than adequate blue print or script.

And yet, in the end, we can do no better than listen to the song. It is, as the author rightly points out, a song that “seeks to shatter indifference, as it demands accountability. Radio can’t do it justice. It is a song that was created to blast out of speakers if it couldn’t be seen live.”

In discussing the scornful critical response to Earth Song, Vogel describes music journalists as wanting to put Michael Jackson back in his place – back to the “dance music” of his Off the Wall and Thriller days. In other words, the socially and environmentally aware mature man who raged through the microphone at the injustices he saw around him (some of which he personally experienced) was someone they preferred to dehumanise – the better to make fun of him and give themselves an excuse to not take him, or his art, seriously.

The only down side on reading this appropriately serious discussion on Michael Jackson and his art as displayed in one exemplary song, is the sense of frustration in contemplating what ELSE might have been… What if Michael’s energy had not been distracted from the process of creating monumental masterpieces like Earth Song (and others) and, out of necessity, redirected to defending his art, his perceived behaviour and (most shameful of all), his appearance, to his many strident critics. The stature of his talent and celebrity status meant he was bombarded with such criticism, much of it ill-informed, frivolous and deliberately provocative.

What mental and physical energies might he have been able to bring to bear on projects that began as a thought or idea, if only his creative genius had been let flower without the constant demands, distractions and de-tractions heaped on him. It was, as he had earlier sung, “The Price of Fame” (now released on the “Bad25” album). For any of his projects he was not able to bring to fruition, we, society, the planet are the poorer.

Earth Song is the ultimate proof of this. This was a project that DID reach its potential as its creator envisioned it. It is the proof of a master craftsman at work; a man capable of transforming an idea into a musical opus through hard work, dedication and craftsmanship of the highest calibre. As Vogel explains in detail, Michael marshalled musicians, engineers, orchestrators and others in the forefront of their respective musical spheres, and worked on the results until they met his own perfectionist standards.

The Epilogue in Vogel’s book talks, appropriately, of Michael’s plans and rehearsals for Earth Song’s inclusion in the “This Is It” series of shows for his London O2 residency in 2009-2010. It was a song, as Kenny Ortega comments in the documentary film “Michael Jackson’s ‘This Is It'” that carried Michael’s message to the world. It was the final song that Michael rehearsed before his untimely passing. While his undoubtedly brilliant recording of Man in the Mirror has become MJ’s unofficial theme song since his death, it is his self-penned, painstakingly conceived and executed Earth Song for which we should be most grateful.

It is a song that deserves to be heeded as well as heard. As Vogel quotes accomplished composer and conductor Jorge del Barrio (who worked with Michael on the orchestral introduction) “Michael felt that this song was to be the one that ultimately would help save the world.”

We can only hope he’s right.

Kerry Hennigan
Australia
December 13, 2012

Book Review: Smile Effect by Brenda Jenkyns

25483920Smile Effect
by Brenda Jenkyns

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a gorgeous little story book with a big, big heart (that comes with the most gorgeous smile – that of Michael Jackson!)

Wylie is a young boy living in down-trodden Gary, Indiana. He briefly met Michael when MJ paid a visit to the town of his birth in the early 2000s. But now Michael was gone, and sitting at a birthday celebration outside Michael’s childhood home, Wylie is depressed.

Then his hero appears, sitting beside him – not a look-alike either. It’s really Michael Jackson, and he has a message for Wylie – the importance of a smile. Michael encourages Wylie to smile at his mother, at his teacher, at a homeless man in the street, at some of his classmates with whom he had been afraid to connect.

Gradually Wylie begins to see the cumulative effect a genuine smile, freely given, can have on himself and those around him. Imagine magnifying that effect on a global scale – what a change for the better it would make in the world!

I love Brenda Jenkyns’ previous MJ story books, and this one contains the same charm and ageless appeal as Ever After and Forever Loved. The illustrations this time around are by Cecile Duteil and are appropriately charming. I’m not quite sure why she has Michael wearing his arm band on the wrong arm in the illustration on page 30, but regardless she accurately depicts the happy, smiling MJ that we fans love. (And I especially love the one on page 12!)

This is a slightly more complex story than Brenda’s two previous books, where the focus was clearly on Michael – his story, his life, his passing and his legacy. Here it is about one young fan learning, through Michael’s example, to change himself and subsequently those around him for the better.

The book could just as easily have been called “Make that Change” or “The Smile Project”, since this is what Wylie undertakes with Michael’s encouragement. “Smile Effect” just seems to me a bit abrupt as a title.

I also noticed that Michael refers to the Butterfly Effect when explaining to Wylie the impact of his smile – and then goes on to use an analogy about the ripples of water radiating out in a pond. This leaves the reference to the butterfly unexplained – which is a shame, because Michael has a song by that name and displayed a love for butterflies during his life time (even having them embroidered on to one of his jackets).

But, these are minor quibbles, and should in no way indicate any reservations on my part in recommending this beautiful little book AND it’s important message – not just to fans, but to readers everywhere, of all ages and races.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
5 May 2015 (less)

Book Review: The Genius of Michael Jackson by Steve Knopper

25111129MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson by Steve Knopper

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I should have known better, but, having seen a copy of Steve Knopper’s “The Genius of Michael Jackson” on the shelf at the mall bookshop today, I felt I ought to show my support for the person it was about (i.e. Michael) and buy it.

However, when I got it home and dipped into it (at the recording of HIStory) I found the version of events there somewhat at odds with what I’d heard first hand from people who were involved with the recording process and more.

Where were the main voices in all these quotes? Where were members of Michael’s regular recording team? Even though I’ve never met Brian Vibberts who was one of the Assistant Engineers on HIStory, I’ve certainly read his tweets about Michael and Janet in the recording studio together for ‘Scream’. Yet Knopper’s book states they recorded separately. Both may be true to various degrees (i.e. some vocals recorded separately, some together) but the book version is stated as the sole fact of the matter, and it would seem not to be true.

Also Michael’s demeanour at the sessions is reported as quite different from what I have heard from some who were there. Reading on a little further, my opinion of the book was not improved by the author’s dismissive attitude to some of the ballads on the album – in particular ‘Smile’ which, I agree with the assessment I heard (in person) at one of Brad Sundberg’s In the Studio with Michael Jackson seminars, is Michael’s finest vocal performance.

Flipping further back into the volume I found plenty more to get upset about… so much for spending $40 on a book that has little new to tell me, never mind misinterpreting some situations and getting others completely wrong.

If I wanted to spend money to show loyalty to Michael, I would have done better to go to JB Hifi and buy copies of HIStory, Dangerous and Invincible etc. and give them away to people who had never heard the full albums – just the radio-played hits.

After the Cascio book I thought I’d learned my lesson about MJ biographies… but there you go; we expect someone to finally produce a consistently good MJ book, without falling into the trap of Taraborrelli-style tabloidism or exploitation or just a lack of comprehensive factual information (or just bad writing!)

Certainly I don’t expect errors and assumptions made by other authors to be repeated. My feeling now (again), given the access to information we have via the internet coming directly from people who worked closely with Michael over many years and a number of albums, special events and tours, is: who needs another biography written by someone who wasn’t there?

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