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Travels of a Michael Jackson Pilgrim

Las Vegas and the Valley of Fire Revisited – 10 to 12 December 2016

Since the Michael Jackson Estate’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil was announced, and its first touring show launched (in 2011), Las Vegas has become a destination on every visit I’ve made to the US.  I love the Cirque shows, I love the themed hotels, and I love the buzz and vibrancy of the place.  My visits in the 70s and 80s belong to a different era, and returning to Vegas for the first time since then in December 2011 to see Cirque’s Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour, was like visiting a new world.

Even now, from year to year there are always changes and new installations to check out.  On my first night in town this year (2016), I visited the Michael Jackson HIStory statue which had been installed that August in the lobby at Mandalay Bay, which is also, of course, the home of Cirque du Soleil’s resident “Michael Jackson ONE” show – the second production resulting from the MJ Estate/Cirque partnership.

vegas 2“There’s a reason why Michael Jackson’s spirit still lives on,” according to Jerry Nadal, Senior Vice President, Resident Shows Division at Cirque du Soleil in a statement released at the time of the statue’s unveiling. “It’s the passion and love behind every song he created. It’s the soundtrack he delivered to an entire generation and beyond. We certainly see this every night at Michael Jackson ONE as thousands of Michael Jackson, Cirque and music and dance fans of all ages and backgrounds collide to experience their favorite Michael Jackson songs in a new and innovative way. Now, this incredible statue stands with us as a testament to his legacy.” [1]

I was duly impressed – it dominated the hotel entrance and featured non-stop MJ video clips from the HIStory album on two sides of the block-shaped pedestal.  The spot lighting played over the face and figure of the statue dramatically.  Being December, the installation currently had a backdrop of Christmas wreaths and a giant decorated tree surrounded by big faux presents.

Whilst at Mandalay Bay I also visited the MJ One Boutique and played the latest edition Michael Jackson slot machine, especially enjoying the “Black or White” special feature, and the resulting win!

But at night the place to be in Vegas is out on the street enjoying the play of neon lights on the hotels, casinos and public spaces – like The Park, on Park Ave, between New York, New York and the Monte Carlo and adjacent to the T-Mobile Arena.  This is a dazzling place with a mosaic of plantings and public seating that needs to be seen at night to be truly appreciated.  Combined with New York, New York’s fantastic street frontage, it forms a continuous pedestrian thoroughfare full of places to dine or drink.  (Although my preference is to retire to the Noodle Shop off Mandalay Bay’s casino floor.)

15400324_10208102287930116_8645369593091353585_nIn addition to seeing Michael Jackson ONE again, this year’s “must do” wish list included a day trip to the Valley of Fire State Park, which I’d first visited in 1977.  Back then I was shooting Ektachrome 35 mm slide film to achieve the best results.  Sadly the exposed roll of film from that excursion to the Valley was accidentally destroyed when being processed by Kodak.  I was sent replacement film by way of compensation.  Needless to say, I felt cheated out of a photographic record of the experience – and promptly switched to the Fuji brand.

In 1977, hiring a car and driving off into the desert was an adventure for myself and the friends from home who were travelling with me.  In later years, and still today, picking up a rental car for the duration of my trip is the first thing I do after walking out of LAX with luggage in tow.  So, why had it taken me so long to get back to the Valley?  Too busy seeing Cirque shows, exploring the Strip and doing other things in or near town, I guess.

Valley of Fire State Park lies approximately 58 miles north-east of the Las Vegas Strip.  Driving time is a little over an hour, assuming you don’t run into traffic before you get out of downtown.  It’s not the closest natural recreation area to Vegas (Red Rock Canyon is just 16 miles west of the Strip), but it’s one of the most dramatic.  I often wonder how many short-term visitors to the city take time to appreciate the beauty of the desert landscape that surrounds it. [2]

valley of fire 1The Valley of Fire was Nevada’s first State Park and is a popular film location given the drama and vivid colors of its landscape.  The 1966 movie The Professionals (Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin and Claudia Cardinale) was shot here, plus the Martian exteriors in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall (1990), and Kirk’s final scene in Star Trek Generations (1994) among others.

There are a lot of detours from the main route through the park where visitors can pull off and hike the trails or enjoy the views.  Trying to do all of them in half a day was petty exhausting, so I settled for the most scenically appealing.  These included the Beehives (sandstone rock formations), Seven Sisters, The Cabins (built for travelers by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s) and Elephant Rock – probably the most famous of the park’s landmarks.

Back in town that night, we headed off to Mandalay Bay again to see MJ One [3] after dinner at the House of Blues (where you get discount if you show your ticket stub for the show).  Inside the theatre I came face to face for the first time with Michael’s original Smooth Criminal costume (from the Moonwalker movie) which is encased in glass against the wall in the theatre lounge.  Like the HIStory tour statue in the hotel lobby, this item was on loan from the MJ Estate, and was an impressive artifact to see and photograph up close and in person.

mj1Despite the number of times I’d seen the show, this time MJ One had been shortened slightly, but performed with heightened energy that made the night simply fly to its conclusion.  The few changes that had been made to tweak the show since last I’d seen it had managed to improve it, as impossible as that seemed.  The performance even finished on a higher note than usual with little MJ being hugged by two of the dancers from the cast who had come up into the audience for the joyous “Black or White” finale.  Fortunately I was able to grab a photo of the moment on my phone.

By comparison, the following day was taken up with low-key sightseeing around town – to the Hard Rock Hotel off the Strip to re-visit their MJ collectables and have lunch at Fu’s Chinese Kitchen (an old favorite), then on to the Venetian back on the Strip to enjoy the shops, particularly the Regis Galerie where Michael Jackson had shopped in person, and finally to Madame Tussauds [4] to see Michael’s wax figure, which is currently dressed in a Smooth Criminal outfit.

It was around this time that I’d realized I was going to run out of available credit to fund the rest of my itinerary, hence the photograph taken of me at M.Tussauds holding a sign displaying the hashtag #SENDMONEY against a backdrop of Vegas signs.  Little Mike held, appropriately, a cheeky smiley face cut-out.  (After all, I was the one paying all “our” expenses!)

Just as well, then, that we were leaving next day to return to California, beyond temptation’s reach.

Kerry Hennigan
February 2018

All photos copyright (c) Kerry Hennigan 2016

sendmoney edited

Sources:

[1] https://www.bestofvegas.com/articles/michael-jackson-history-statue-unveiled-mandalay-bay/

[2] http://www.valley-of-fire.com/

[3] https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/michael-jackson-one

[4] https://www.madametussauds.com/las-vegas/en/

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A “Thriller” of a Halloween in the Santa Ynez Valley – 29 October 2017

It was 29 October 2017, the last Sunday before Halloween, and the costumed participants in World Dance for Humanity’s performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” were gathering at the intersection of Grand and Alamo Pintado Avenues in the small Santa Ynez Valley hamlet of Los Olivos.

The dancers’ “stage” was the intersection itself, around the central flag pole in the middle of Grand Avenue. Eventually they took up their positions, the music started, and they launched into their Michael Jackson warm-up routine of “Beat It”.  They then went to ground, and lay prostrate until the unmissable opening notes of “Thriller” started. Slowly the zombies were pulled to their feet by the beat, and then they began to dance!

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Even as a Michael Jackson fan who has become a bit tired of everyone referencing “Thriller” rather than some of Michael’s later material and routines (which tend to be my favorites), I nevertheless found myself beaming at the spectacle before me, while shooting photos as quickly as I could.

Nearby, my friend Lisa was videoing the show on her phone, while many more observers were clapping, tapping, swaying to the rhythm of the song and picking up on the adrenaline of the dancers.

They were GOOD!

Having Michael’s music blasting in the main street of what had been his local community, with a horde of dancing zombies performing his famous choreography, was a wonderful tribute to the King of Pop.

Then, suddenly it was over; the dancers cooled down and wandered around talking to us folk who had been watching.  Some of them gathered for a group photo (and a glass of wine) in front of Larner’s Tasting Room and the Los Olivos General Store.  My little MJ doll was co-opted into the photo and came in for his share of kisses and cuddles from admirers.  (I’m used to this – that’s why my “business” card says “I’m with the doll” – because he’s the one everyone remembers!)

The dancers then departed for the next location where they were scheduled to perform in the SYV, but we would meet up with them again later in the day – at Neverland itself.

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In the meantime, there was time for Judi, Lisa, Gigi and I to enjoy the view from the top of a hill near the town of Santa Ynez. It was a beautiful vista; being late October, temperatures in the Valley were pleasant, the days perfect for walking, driving and exploring.

Finally we headed off to Neverland and the next performance of “Thriller” by World Dance for Humanity.

World Dance was founded in 2010 by Janet Reineck, a dancer, anthropologist and aid worker. It began as a low-cost exercise class in Santa Barbara and has now become a nonprofit organization that has supported grassroots projects in Nepal, Kenya, Ghana, Liberia, and Uganda and provided grants to Santa Barbara charities. World Dance for Humanity now helps 25 rural Rwandan cooperatives left divided and destitute by the 1994 genocide in that country. As stated on the organization’s website “every dollar contributed through a class or donated helps ease suffering and build new lives…” Their website is http://worlddanceforhumanity.org/who-we-are/

In front of the big gates of Neverland, just off Figueroa Mountain Road, Janet gave a moving speech of thanks and appreciation for Michael Jackson and the special location, as well as for everyone who helped World Dance make a difference in the lives of others “one step at a time”.

A small audience had gathered in front of the big gates to watch. As in Los Olivos, there was a spirited warm-up dance, and then it was time for “Thriller” once again.

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“Last year they opened the gates behind us while we danced,” I heard someone say.  Then a cheer went up as again, in 2017, the big gates swung open behind the zombie dancers.  I took it as a small, but important, token of appreciation from the caretakers of Michael’s former home for all of us who gathered to dance, watch or donate in his honor.

And, of course, it was Thrill the World weekend all over the world and just a couple of days before Halloween itself.

I still had Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland ahead of me on the night of the 31st, but this, right here – in the company of my friends and with the World Dance for Humanity performers – this was the real Halloween celebration, done in a joyous spirit of giving.

Kerry Hennigan
December 2017
Revised February 2018

Story and photographs © Kerry Hennigan 2017

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

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

While it may seem strange to many other fans that I hesitated for even a second, the fact was, my itinerary in the US was already mapped out for sightseeing and Michaeling, and deviating from those plans meant missing out on an expedition I had been eagerly anticipating.  There is no gain without sacrifice, it seems.

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

It meant cancelling hotel reservations and making new ones and bumping some planned excursions to some other year, God willing.

Thus the evening of 24 October found us lined up at the event meeting point in Hollywood, excited and happy to be mixing with fans similarly keen to make the most of the opportunity to enjoy and celebrate the genius of Michael Jackson.

The different factions in MJ fandom have made me wary of large fan gatherings.  Any event intended to celebrate him has the potential to erupt in heated discussion on contentious issues.  But at this official event, we were a noisy, harmonious crowd as we were directed down the block and across Hollywood Blvd to the illuminated forecourt of the Chinese Theaters complex.

The forecourt, with its many hand and footprints of industry luminaries impressed in concrete, was covered with red carpeting – with the exception of the two slabs representing Michael Jackson.  One was the slab in which Prince, Paris and “Blanket” had pressed their father’s crystal-encrusted glove and their own hand prints, and the soles of a pair of his signature loafers in a ceremony held 26 January 2012.  The other was the so-called ‘Broken Heart Stone’ that Michael had impressed himself back in the 80s for a Las Vegas project that didn’t eventuate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan
October 2017

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“We are here to change the world” – Chasing Captain Eo across the continents (and Disney parks)

Opening at Disneyland in September 1986, the 17 minute feature film Captain Eo represented landmark technology for its time.

Shot in 3D, executive produced by George Lucas of Star Wars fame, and directed by his friend Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, the Godfather etc.) it starred Michael Jackson, fresh from the global phenomenon of his Thriller album.

Rusty Lemorande, who produced the film, co-wrote the story with Lucas and Coppola based on an idea by the artists of the Walt Disney Imagineering company.

The Imagineering team originally suggested that John Landis direct Captain Eo on the strength of his success working with Michael on the Thriller short film.  But George Lucas brought in Coppola instead.

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Captain Eo theatre in Discoveryland, Disneyland Paris, June 2010.

The late James Horner, probably best known these days for his magnificent score for the movie Titanic, provided the score, with Michael penning two songs for the production, “Another Part Of Me” (1) and “We Are Here to Change the World” written with John Barnes, (2)

Michael reportedly came in with different versions of his songs on a daily basis, which has the ring of truth to it given what we know of Michael’s hands-on creative process and insistence on the highest possible standard in his art. (3)

In Captain Eo, Michael was accompanied by a cast of characters who seemed straight out of the Star Wars cantina scene – the pint-sized Fussball, two-headed Idey and Ody, the robot Major Domo and his mini-me Minor Domo, and everyone’s favourite critter, the elephant-like Hooter.

Captain Eo’s evil nemesis, the Supreme Leader of a decaying planet, was played by Anjelica Huston.

Though it opened in 1986, it was 1987 before I had the opportunity to see Captain Eo in Tomorrowland at Disneyland, California.  I remember being dazzled not only by the film, but by the in-theatre effects that accompanied it – lasers, lighting effects etc.  I came home telling everyone that it was like having Michael Jackson dance down the middle of the theatre right in front of me.

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Captain Eo in Disneyland’s Magic Eye Theatre, Anaheim, California July 2010.

Looking back, that was obviously a fanciful exaggeration, but reveals the sort of impression that Captain Eo made on my memory – as one would expect for a project that cost US$23.7 million dollars. (4)

Captain Eo closed at Disneyland, California on April 7,  1997 and lasted until August 16, 1998 at Disneyland Paris.  Thereafter it became another of the many Disney ‘lost attractions’ that were never expected to re-surface, expect perhaps as a nostalgia item on DVD or the Disney cable channel. Technology and special effects had evolved to a point where those in Captain Eo had become outdated and were at best described as “quaint” or, at worst “kitsch”.

Then, in 2009, Michael passed away, and there was a groundswell of support through the internet from MJ fans petitioning for Captain Eo to be returned to the Disney parks.  Questions were asked about it at the D23 Expo in September 2009.  At the time, Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger was quoted as saying that Disney was considering the possibility but that “It’s the kind of thing that, if we did it, would get a fair amount of attention and we’d want to make sure we do it right.” (5)

Iger reportedly had legal and public relations folk warning him of the possible backlash to the attraction because of Michael’s controversial legal problems in later years.

Nevertheless, there was an executive review of the film in its original Tomorrowland theatre at Disneyland, followed by another screening for Michael’s children and family, in September 2009.  According to one report, “they loved it.” (6)

In 2010, Captain Eo finally re-opened in the Disney parks with the name on the attraction changed to read: “Captain Eo Tribute”.

I was planning to be in the UK in June 2010 for events related to the first anniversary of Michael’s passing when the news broke that Captain Eo would be reopening in Disneyland Paris on June 12.  I quickly booked a Eurostar daytrip from London to take advantage of being so close to the park.  Besides – it meant I would be travelling via the ‘chunnel’ (channel tunnel) which would be an adventure in itself.

My visit to Disneyland Paris took place on Thursday June 24, 2010.  I’m not likely to forget it – being the first time I’d seen Captain Eo in 3D on a big screen since 1987 – and my first ever visit to Disneyland Paris.

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in the lobby of the Captain Eo theatre, awaiting the next screening at Disneyland Tokyo, March 2014

In the lobby of the Captain Eo theatre, waiting for the next screening, Disneyland Tokyo, March 2014.I remember thinking that the in-theatre special effects weren’t quite as I remembered them (in fact they were modified from the original presentation) but while it didn’t seem that Michael danced down into the theatre, I was stunned by the larger-than-life close-ups of him on the big screen.  I sat through three straight screenings that first time around.

Afterwards I chatted to a friendly female staffer manning the merchandise stall outside the theatre.  We both marveled at how, in Michael’s extreme close-ups, you could see the beginnings of a five-o’clock shadow emerging through his make-up!  (It’s true!  This is what impressed me!)

And, of course, I bought up big on Captain Eo merchandise!

The trip to Disneyland Paris was just one part of a round-the-world Michaeling odyssey in June-July 2010 which eventually brought me to Disneyland in Anaheim, where the good Captain had returned to the Tomorrowland theatre on February 23 of that year.

On July 1 it also opened in Tokyo Disneyland and on July 2 in Walt Disney World’s Epcot.

But on this trip I only got to see him in Paris and Anaheim.  I was to return to see him for repeat screenings at Disneyland each subsequent visit to the US over the next three years, including Christmas 2011 and the night of Mickey’s Halloween Party in 2012 – a great time to be at Disneyland AND to see Captain Eo!  (The Haunted Mansion ride broke down while Litte MJ and I were on it… which seemed only appropriate given the occasion.  The ghosts were having the last laugh… after all, it was THEIR night!)

July 2013 was to be my final opportunity to see Captain Eo at Disneyland in Anaheim although I didn’t know it at the time.  But by the time of my next visit, December 2014, the theatre in Tomorrowland was being used for screening promotional clips for new Disney films.  Fortunately I followed my usual practice of attending multiple screenings each day I was in the park in 2013 – for which I was later grateful. Never let it be said that I didn’t always make the most of every opportunity!

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At the entrance to the Captain Eo theatre at Epcot, Walt Disney World, Florida, October 2015

In the lobby of the Captain Eo theatre, Epcot, Disney World, Florida, October 2015.Early in 2014 some good friends of mine in Hong Kong alerted me to the closing of Captain Eo at Tokyo Disneyland.  They suggested we go see it before its final screening, scheduled for June 30 that year.  Consequently, on the evening of March 15, 2014, Yoly, Queenie, Jessica and I duly joined the queue outside Tokyo Disneyland’s Captain Eo theatre.

It was bitterly cold outside, but there was a warm press of bodies in the theatre lobby where we eagerly awaited admission to the next screening.  The lyrics of Michael’s songs from the film were emblazoned on the walls of the theatre.  They really know how to pay tribute to someone in Japan!

We didn’t do much else that night except view Captain Eo repeatedly.  When my friends eventually returned to Hong Kong, I relocated to a hotel close to the Disney parks (Disneyland and DisneySea – the latter being even more spectacular than its neighbour) and spent three days just exploring them and, of course, seeing Captain Eo again.

It’s worth noting that on its last day of screening at Tokyo Disneyland, there were queues up to 45 minutes long to get in to see Captain Eo.  MJ fans packed the theatre, many wearing Captain Eo t-shirts, and gave the film a standing ovation send-off. (7)

That left just Disney World in Florida, where Captain Eo continued to screen at Epcot until December 6, 2015.  I made it to the park in October of that year, and got to celebrate Halloween at “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party”, where, to my delight, “Thriller” played over loud speakers a couple of times throughout the evening.

Needless to say, I had a great time travelling and visiting the different Disney parks in the course of my quest to see Captain Eo everywhere I could. In the process of this journey over the years, I met other fans of Michael Jackson and his little 3D space odyssey.

So, on behalf of all the fans who did – or didn’t get to see Captain Eo in 3D at a Disney park, I hope you think I ‘done good’ for a gal from Down Under in managing to see Michael’s film in every Disney park in which it screened.  (I’m still visiting Disney parks whenever I can.)

34506_1339911693009_587138_nMeanwhile, until the good captain and his delightfully odd-ball crew return to a Disney theatre or are unleashed on DVD/Blu-Ray or some other medium, in the immortal words of Captain Eo’s buddy Hooter:

“See ya later, trashcans!”

Kerry Hennigan

April 2017

All photos by Kerry Hennigan except photos of Michael Jackson with Captain Eo characters at Epcot, Walt Disney World, Florida (official Disney publicity photos).

Sources:

(1) http://www.mjtunes.com/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=27
(2) http://www.mjtunes.com/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=3241
(3) Wade Sampson, “More Untold Tales of Captain Eo”, https://www.mouseplanet.com/9123/More_Untold_Tales_of_Captain_EO
(4) ibid
(5) http://micechat.com/miceage/allutz/al091509a.htm
(6) ibid
(7) https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202466151190220&set=gm.10152341492684900&type=3&theater

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Forest Lawn, the Rose Bowl, Shambala, Vasquez Rocks and Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana – 2 & 3 December 2016

Part 1 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016

In 2016 I undertook a three-week solo road trip covering parts of Southern and Central California and Nevada in the pre-Christmas weeks of December.  The route was planned for the usual ‘Michaeling’ (i.e. Michael Jackson-related) opportunities and to take in new or seldom-visited locales.  The result was a holiday that was both exhausting and incredibly satisfying.

15259499_10208012343641565_3165428888215488673_oIt began with a visit to Forest Lawn, fresh from LAX after I’d collected my rental car. Here I ordered flowers for Michael for Christmas, and bought a small bouquet to leave by the entrance of Holly Terrace with the tributes of other visiting fans.  I took photos, paid my respects at Michael’s earthly resting place and spent some minutes in quiet meditation and contemplation before taking in an exhibition at the Forest Lawn Museum.

The exhibition featured some artworks – paintings and sculpture – by Eyvind Earle who provided the concept art for Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ animated feature, which I had been enamoured of as a child.  I still have a copy of the vinyl soundtrack LP, and the movie has only recently been reissued on DVD.  Thank goodness – because my VHS copy is unplayable due to many years of viewing!

I was surprised – and pleased – to discover that photography with a mobile phone was permitted in the museum, whereas previously there had been a total prohibition on picture-taking.  So, I tucked my big camera away in my bag and happily snapped away guilt-free with my phone.

15289063_10208011160411985_2176085410641540710_oFrom Forest Lawn it was a relatively short hop to the Rose Bowl Stadium, which, as all Michael Jackson fans will know, was the location for the Super Bowl XXVII game where Michael performed his landmark half-time show.

The date was 31 January 1993 and the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 52-17, not that many people remember that.  The stat that made the history books was for the TV ratings of the half time show, when Michael’s mini concert boasted more viewers than either half of the actual game.  He also started the trend for the appearance of big name artists at the Super Bowl and set a performance standard that others have been attempting to top ever since. (1)

Although no appearance fees are paid to Super Bowl halftime performers, in 1993 the NFL and sponsor Frito-Lay agreed to donate $100,000 to Michael’s Heal the World Foundation, as well as providing airtime promoting an appeal for the foundation’s Heal L.A. campaign.  The campaign – a pre-curser to the Heal LA student charitable group co-founded by Michael’s eldest son Prince at Loyola Marymount University in 2016 – aimed to provide health care, drug education, and mentorship for Los Angeles youth, particularly children affected by the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (2)

I’m not sure why I haven’t been to the Rose Bowl before… but this was definitely the year to tick that off my ‘wish list’.

Arriving in LA just prior to the first weekend in December also enabled me to attend Parents Day at Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve for big cats in Acton, Ca. on the first Saturday of the month.  Michael Jackson’s tiger Sabu, formerly of the Neverland Zoo, had turned 18 years of age on 20 November 2016.  As his sponsor, who has visited him every year commencing 2011, I didn’t want 2016 to close without seeing him again.

Tippi herself lives at Shambala and is usually there on Parents Days to give us all a warm greeting and to sit and chat and have photographs taken with us.  This year though the windy weather kept her inside for the sake of her health.  But the rest of us toured the compounds and enjoyed the big cats being fed their treats by the animal crew before we retired lakeside for our potluck lunch.

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Sabu was no longer where I had always seen him previously – in the enclosure he’d shared with his sister Thriller (who died of lung cancer in 2012).  Now he was next door, so photographic angles were a little different from what I was used to.  But, thanks to having a zoom lens on my camera, I was satisfied with the results (see two of my images above).

More importantly, of course, was Sabu’s apparent good health despite his maturity.

Not far from Shambala lies the scenic area of Vasquez Rocks, a popular movie location and the place where the scenes in Michael’s ‘Black or White’ video featuring the Native American dancers were filmed.  I came here last year in October, but filming at the base of the rocks prevented me from getting to the other side – the spot where Michael danced.  This year I simply drove through the rocks to the car park on the far side and walked back through, photographing everything as I went.

Being a weekend, and great weather for hiking, climbing, biking and whatever other outdoor activities take one’s fancy, there were plenty of folks about enjoying the spectacular scenery.  A couple of guys were flying a drone over the rocks to get aerial shots, and there was even a fashion shoot in progress against the dramatic sandstone backdrop.

15369047_10208019237173899_2044835975682944359_oVasquez Rocks has a fascinating geographical and anthropological history, and if you have time, I recommend following some of the trails using the free leaflet from the Visitor Centre and reading about the Tataviam Indians who lived here from approx 200 BC to the late 1700s AD – the beginning of the Spanish period in California. (3)

In his Handbook of Indians of California (1925) Alfred Louis Kroeber wrote:
“They cannot have been numerous. Taken to San Fernando or San Buenaventura missions, they dwindled rapidly, and the few survivors seem to have been so thrown in and intermarried with people of other speech that their own language became extinct in a couple of generations.” (4)

These Native Americans weren’t like the familiar Plains Indians we saw dancing with Michael here at Vasquez Rocks.  In that instance the Rocks were standing in for an archetypal Wild West backdrop as they have done in many Hollywood westerns of yesteryear.  Only this ‘wild west’ location is just approximately 50 miles from downtown LA.

On the way back to the San Fernando Valley and our hotel, a premature exit from the freeway prompted a visit to the Historic Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana in Mission Hills, founded in 1797. (5)  It is a beautiful property (as you can see from the photo at the top of this story) with an extensive museum which is worth exploring.  In the mid-late 70s and 80s I made a point of visiting any of the historic missions that were within reach of my travels, but had never been to San Fernando Rey until now.

The legacy of the missions in terms of the local Native American tribes is understandably controversial.  The fate of the aforementioned Tataviam being just one example of dispossession, relocation and decline/loss of cultural identity or actual extinction.

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Nevertheless, there were a couple of delightful surprises in store for us here… a Sweet Sixteen ceremony taking place in the mission church, and in one of the museum rooms, the old organ (on the left in the photo opposite) that was used in the classic black and white comedy movie ‘The Ghost Breakers’ (1940) starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. (6)

Willie Best is wonderful in this film as Hope’s black manservant – a role that would definitely be considered demeaning and insensitive these days, and an example of how, historically, black actors were often typecast in dumb sidekick roles, secondary to the lead actors.  But, despite these failings, Best’s performance is a testament to his considerable comedic acting skills.  (He has the best lines in the film!)

Having arrived back at our temporary ‘home base’ of Sherman Oaks, it was time to pack in preparation for our early departure next day.  It was also time for any final photos to be taken of our surroundings – which, not coincidentally, happened to be the hotel where Kent Twitchell’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ mural of Michael Jackson was proposed to be installed. (7)

15230813_10208011185452611_3082354158303144322_nThe Courtyard by Marriott at Sherman Oaks has comfortable beds, friendly staff and a nice cafe where I got delicious, inexpensive meals on both nights of our stay here.  There are local stores within walking distance, and the Sherman Oaks Galleria is just one block away.

But that will have to wait for another visit, some other year.  After two days of busy activity, I was ready to head north – to Sacramento and California’s ‘Mother Lode’ country, where more adventures awaited my miniature travel companion and I.

Story and Photos by Kerry Hennigan
April 2017

Sources:

(1) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-02-06/business/ct-biz-0206-rosenthal–20110206_1_super-halftime-party-doritos-zaptime-halftime-show

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_XXVII

(3) http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/vasquez011574glenn.htm

(4) Alfred Louis Kroeber, Handbook of the Indians of California (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1925) pp. 613-614.

(5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_San_Fernando_Rey_de_Espana

(6) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032520/

(7) http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-michael-jackson-mural-at-museum-of-the-san-fernando-valley-20150618-story.html

 

 

 

Touched by the Chimp (or experiencing Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour in Hong Kong) – August 2013

It’s true, Bubbles grabbed my shoulder on his way from the back of the arena to the stage at AsiaWorld-Expo, Hong Kong during the Saturday night performance of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour.

I had been hoping for a high five from Bubbles – one of my favourites amongst the exceptional Immortal cast.  Instead I got a strong grip on the arm which left me relieved I’d never tried that with a real chimp!

It was 24 August 2013, and the Hong Kong and Mainland China MJ fans were out in force.  My seat was amongst the latter, and did those guys know how to have fun!  Their enthusiasm was matched by the local fans grouped on the opposite side of the arena from us.

I’ve been blessed to see Immortal in the US and UK amongst truly appreciative crowds, but nothing quite matched the Hong Kong experience.  There was no holding back the emotional outpouring of love for Michael or appreciation of the Cirque performers who danced, swung, contorted and tumbled to MJ’s music.

My visit to Hong Kong was timed to take in three shows on the nights of Friday 23rd, Saturday 24th and the Sunday matinee show of 25th with some of my MJ friends who live in HK and Macau.  They had arranged activities to fill the rest of my short visit to one of my favourite holiday destinations.  This included a quick trip to Hong Kong Island to see (again!) Michael’s wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s on The Peak.

1383506_10200925088264610_1418426281_nMy friend Miranda told me that it was the final day for Michael’s figure to be on free public display at the entrance to Madame T’s.  He had been there since before the 25th June anniversary, and had drawn such crowds that it was wisely decided to leave him there until Immortal came to town.

Certainly during our visit, he was still attracting crowds that ranged in age from grannies to babies.  (It actually brought a lump to my throat to see the youngsters cling to his legs, and even crawl between them in the case of one little boy!  It reminded me of photos of Michael’s children holding on to their Daddy or clinging to his legs while in the company of others.)

Hong Kong was full of Chinese tourists, but the fans who arrived at the arena for the show on Saturday night had mostly come just for that night, just for Immortal.  The group photo of them and us (i.e. the HK fans and a couple of us from other Pacific Rim countries) is pretty impressive, especially with most of the group wearing their free VIP ticket t-shirts and a large number waving LED lighted gloves! (See photo at top of article.)

Just as there had been changes in the show between Las Vegas and London, there were more changes evident since those London shows I attended at the O2.  Overall the production seemed a bit tighter and a bit more polished, if that is possible, and there was a bit more focus on members of the live band than I remembered – and deservedly so, too.

We still had Michael on the big screen behind the performers – inevitably bringing the biggest cheers of the night, irrespective of what was happening down on stage; while the spectral-like image of Michael on the curtain during the final minutes of “Will You Be There” still had plenty of us in tears.

The Dangerous pole dancer’s routine seemed more extreme than ever, the Is It Scary contortionist more flexible, and the I Just Can’t Stop Loving You aerialists’ routine even more romantic than I remembered.  And, of course, there was Bubbles – a wonderful performance that had some of us ‘believing’ there was a real chimp inside that familiar costume!

Michael-Jackson.ruThe central mime character who guides us through the story did his usual incredible job as the ‘glue’ that binds the different segments of the show together – keeping us spellbound while, behind the curtains, the set is being redressed and the performers are getting changed for another big production number.

I thought I knew what to expect in terms of how the fans would react to different parts of the show… but Hong Kong surpassed anything I had experienced elsewhere.  At times it was like being at an Australian Rules football match – the cheering, the shouts of “Michael, Michael, Michael” that filled the arena, the mass sing-a-long that accompanied the soundtrack of Earth Song, and finally, the standing, clapping, stamping and singing accompaniment to the final brace of songs that starts with “Can You Feel It?” and climaxes with the magnificent “Black or White”.

Yes – we certainly felt it, Michael, and it’s unlikely any of us will forget it.

With Australia the next country to be visited by Immortal on its around the world odyssey, I was left wondering how seeing the show in my own country could possibly top the Hong Kong experience.

But, regardless of nationality, the fans’ enthusiasm for Michael should never be underestimated – no matter their location on the globe.  I should know – I’m proud to be one of ’em.

Kerry Hennigan
First published on Facebook, August, 2013

Photos by K Hennigan except (below) by Cirque du Soleil and (above) Michael-Jackson.ru

michael_jackson_crop

Dubai, May 2016 – skyscrapers, souks and Michael Jackson memorabilia

Story and Photos © Kerry Hennigan

As the Emirates flight from Munich banked for its approach to the Dubai International Airport, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the fabled city of skyscrapers and souks on the Persian Gulf.  My only previous experience had been a brief airport stopover a fortnight earlier which included aerial views over the city and harbour and the off-shore islands development called The World.

This time I was staying a few days to relax and take in the local sights.  I wasn’t interested in the gold sold in the souks overlooking Dubai Creek.  Nor was I impatient to ride to the top of the (currently) tallest skyscraper on the planet.

I was after gold of a different sort – ‘Michaeling’ gold.  Michael Jackson visited Dubai more than once during his self-exile in the Middle East in the second half of 2005.  He dined at the Burj Al Arab (pictured above), hired Wild Wadi water park in its entirety for a day, toured the Palm Jumeirah (home of the Atlantis Resort) as well as The World development, and refreshed his signature on a piece of his own memorabilia at the Hard Rock Café.

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He also visited the Ibn Battuta Mall where he was spotted wearing an abaya along with a traditional woman’s headscarf, and reputedly ducked into a ladies’ rest room to (according to the local papers) fix his make-up.  The story goes that a woman who realised there was a man under the veil raised the alarm, causing Michael to retreat into the nearby McGrudy’s book store.

Michael’s publicist issued a statement that, having realised his mistake in entering the women’s rest room, he quickly left and waited in the bookstore until police arrived to escort him through the crowd that had gathered.

Michael’s host, the Emirates champion rally driver Mohammed bin Sulayem, dismissed the newspaper embellishments as rumor.

“People are always interested in gossip and in portraying a negative image of (Jackson),” bin Sulayem told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “The reality is that he’s an easy person to be with, not demanding and not difficult.”

On another occasion he was spotted visiting shops with his entourage and went to see a movie at the mall cinema.

An evening visit to Ibn Battuta Mall was the first thing I did on venturing out of my hotel in the Tecom precinct of the city.  After the fresh spring air of Germany, the heat and humidity of Dubai hit me like a tonne of bricks.  The weather was already hot in the Emirates, but it can get a whole lot hotter, I was assured by numerous taxi drivers throughout my stay.

During the day the heat was dry and dehydrating – not unlike my own home town in summer.  But first thing in the morning and again in the evening, things became steamy in Dubai, and I always had to clean the lens of my camera before I could use it.

Ibn Battuta Mall is a bit like a theme park with brand name boutiques instead of rides.  The different wings are lavishly decorated in the style of the different countries visited by fabled Medieval explorer Ibn Battuta of Morocco – who can probably be called the father of travel writing.  You can read about him on Wikipedia.  Throughout the mall there are displays of discoveries and inventions that originated from the Arabic-speaking world, some of which are bound to surprise the western visitor.  But you only notice them if you can tear your eyes away from the surrounding décor – in particular in the Persian wing, where you can dine under a stunning dome of blue faience tiles while enjoying a Starbucks frappe.

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Sadly, McGrudy’s is no longer in the mall, so I consoled myself with a visit to Borders, an old favourite, and browsed the shelves until it was time to eat.  The most heavily stocked author was George R. R. Martin – not much different from home, really! Ibn Battuta Mall has a food court much like that in any other shopping mall, but I like to sit in comfort in an actual café or restaurant out of the way of families with kids and shopping carts balancing trays of food as they wind their way around tables looking for a place to sit.  So, it was back off to the Chinese-themed wing for something that didn’t come from a fast food stall.  (I was still on holiday, after all!)

While at the Mall I booked a pass for one of the double decker hop-on, hop-off bus tours that run between the major sites.  It seemed the most economical way to take in everything in a relatively short space of time.  And, of course, I would ‘hop off’ when I got to a place with a connection to Michael or otherwise of interest to me as a history and culture buff.

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This resulted in a tour of the new ‘down town’ financial district which boasts the towering Burj Khalifa skyscraper (above,top), visits to the local museum (above) and a cultural village – the latter which seemed to be slumbering in the noonday heat except for a resident cat – and Jumeirah beach with the iconic Burj Al Arab, looking like a yacht with its spinnaker sail set to take her out into the Gulf.

Next door to the security gate into the Burj is Wild Wadi Water Park (below).  It’s great to see the well heeled guests of the Burj and their kids mingling with budget travellers and locals and everyone in between at this fun place.  Michael apparently walked about in a white lycra body suit when he hired the entire park and made it available free to families.

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Unfortunately when it came to exploring the Burj, I couldn’t get past the front gate!  Not surprising really – this is the world’s most luxurious hotel.  If you want in you have to be able to afford the rates, the cost of a private tour, or at least a booking for their famous afternoon teas.  Some other time, I’d like to do that.

Nevertheless, little MJ got his photo opportunity with the famous Burj, and I had to be content with that.

The Jumeirah residential area looks like it would be a very nice place to live – if you could afford it, and assuming you can handle the heat of the region.  But the old town with its shop houses, narrow alleys and stalls is the traditional face of Dubai.  It reminded me of an Arabic version of the back streets of Singapore or Penang.  In all these cases, the somewhat ramshackle appearance belies the amount of trade that goes on behind the facade – and the amount of money that must change hands inside.

In Dubai this is where the gold souks do their trade; nearby is the creek with its lines of moored dhows – which all look to lack the masts of the traditional Arab sailing craft. Having been closely involved with the timber square rigged sailing ship ‘One and All’ back home for several years, I wasn’t much impressed by the sail-less dhows or the prospect of taking a cruise on one.

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Another place I did explore was the Wafi Mall (above), famous for its pyramid restaurants.  The Egyptian theme of the complex was the main attraction, and the pay-off was finding a replica of King Tut’s throne which was virtually identical to the one from Michael’s “Remember the Time” video.  As with that one, which we’d seen in person at the Michael Jackson FanFest in Vegas in December 2011, little MJ had to have his photo taken sitting (i.e. standing) on it.

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Dubai has lots of up-market shopping malls, and more are coming, with plans to extend the creek and build the world’s largest mall on an island in the middle of it.  Tourism is Dubai’s big money-earner, and they are not letting the grass grow under their feet.  In a city where the local train network runs between modern elevated stations that look like they belong to a futuristic Disney monorail network (which they’re not) the hop on hop off double-decker tour buses are probably the slowest way to get around.  I found myself spending too much time waiting in too little shade at bus stops for my liking.

When you travel and have limited time in a place, it’s important to use that time judiciously.  The train wasn’t handy to my hotel, it was too hot to walk to the station, and if I was going to have to get a taxi to take me there, I may as well let the taxi take me directly to my actual destination and have done with it.  Time saved is money well spent, and the taxis were reasonable (compared, for example, to the price of a couple of cans of Diet Coke from the hotel café!)

Once over at the Hard Rock Café, I was on familiar territory.  I walked in and immediately felt at home.  The staff told me of the two occasions Michael had dined at HRC Dubai in 2005 during his time in the Gulf region.  The Café was then located on Sheikh Zayed Road by Media City.  Now it was in the Festival City development.  “But the memories are still here” the manageress told me.  She had held the door open for Michael when he arrived the first time around.  It was something she still considers an unbelievable experience.  His humble, polite manner to her and all the staff left a memorable impression on everyone.

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There are some MJ memorabilia at the HRC Dubai, from early in his adult career.  It’s the black and white jacket he wore in one of the Pepsi commercials from the mid-80s, a pair of shoes, and a fedora.  Michael recognised them as his, and even re-autographed the hat.

On one visit he ate the Buffalo Wings, so I had a small serve of the same.  Yes, spicy, as we know he liked his food, but delicious.  On his other visit to the HRC he had a Cajun Chicken club sandwich, which he cut in two, eating only half of it.  Sadly, it’s no longer on the menu, so I couldn’t try it, but I do believe I’ve had this somewhere else in the world at another HRC!  Cajun chicken is, coincidentally, one of my favourites.

The staff were so much fun here, not only because of the memories and stories they shared of Michael’s visits, but because they were a multi-cultural group and knew how to make a customer feel at home.  They were certainly all up for a group photo with little MJ.

The next day was to be my last in the city, and my destination was visible from the balcony of my hotel room and at night was lit up like a beacon on the edge of the Gulf.  This was Atlantis, the popular resort at the top of the Jumeirah Palm development that juts out from the coast into the azure waters of the Gulf.  The drive along the ‘trunk’ of the Palm passes one luxury hotel or apartment complex after another, until finally you come to Atlantis.

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Atlantis has its own water park, shopping arcade (of course) and other attractions which are open to the public.  When I walked in to the towering grotto-like lobby (above), it was full of family groups waiting to check in.  It’s a busy place.  There are parts that are accessible to guests only, but most that is worth exploring is open to casual visitors.  The water park is accessible to non-guests who pay admission.  I don’t swim, so it was of no interest to me, but I certainly intended to use the free pass I had for the Lost Chamber attraction.

The Lost Chamber is a cave-like aquarium maze (below) designed to be a window onto a lost alien civilisation.  With the subdued lighting and the rippling reflections cast by the waters of the giant aquarium tanks, it really was like another world.  There were mats and cushions on the floor so you could sit and take in the mesmerizing view of sharks and rays and other sea life gliding and swirling dreamlike through your field of vision.

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An even bigger treat was in store, however, at the Legends of Atlantis gift gallery.  Here I unexpectedly encountered a one-of-a-kind brother for little MJ, a combination doll-statue of Michael Jackson a little larger than my doll.  I lifted him down carefully from the shelf, carried him to the counter tucked against my chest, and announced to the assistant that I would not be leaving the shop without him!  She was a fan, and we became instant friends.  I’m sure she was also pleased to make such a big sale – for ‘Atlantis MJ’ did not come cheaply.

So there I was, on my last day in Dubai, finally buying some local gold – MJ gold, that is.  I flew out that night with him carefully packed in my carry-on, content that I’d experienced the best Dubai could offer me given the short duration of my stay.

Next time, I promised myself, it would be a different time of year, the weather would be cooler, and I would venture out into the desert and nearby historic outposts to steep myself in their history.

But for now, I was more than happy.

Posted 24 September 2016


michael-in-dubai-aug-2005

Sources for MJ in Dubai:

Photo of Michael Jackson in Dubai, 2005 (above) Associated Press

Various reports of Michael’s visits and activities in Dubai:

http://web.kitsapsun.com/archive/2005/08-31/65296_michael_jackson_relaxes_in_dubai.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/jackson-takes-wrong-turn-in-dubai/

http://onlineathens.com/stories/083105/ent_20050831042.shtml#.V-YjWPB97IU

http://www.contactmusic.com/michael-jackson/news/jackson-water-park-treat

http://www.khaleejtimes.com/article/20051113/ARTICLE/311139955/1002

http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/general/new-reports-of-jackson-sighting-at-mall-emerge-1.444503

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/people/2006-01-16-jackson-new-job_x.htm

Information on the medieval traveller, Ibn Battuta: 

http://www.ibnibnbattuta.com/p/who-was-ibn-battuta.html

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

A bitter-sweet sort of agony – On being an MJ pilgrim

Story and Photos* by Kerry Hennigan

A Michael Jackson pilgrim is what I call a fan who travels the country or the world to visit places relevant to Michael’s life or to attend special events honouring his art and legacy. They are a culturally diverse group of individuals from many countries, and since June 2010 I’ve been fortunate to consider myself one of them.

While many people think of pilgrimage in terms of traditional sacred journeys to places like Santiago de Compostela in Spain, following in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land, or travelling to other sacred sites like Lourdes, there are also many types of secular pilgrimage.  Michael Jackson pilgrimage belongs in the latter group, of course.  We love and admire Michael as a human being; we don’t worship him as a god.

California locations like Neverland in the Santa Ynez Valley and Forest Lawn, Glendale are the most obvious places of pilgrimage for MJ fans. In Hollywood his star is on the Walk of Fame and just down Hollywood Boulevard is Pantages Theatre where he filmed scenes for “You Are Not Alone.”  Michael’s final rented home in the Holmby Hills part of Beverley Hills and the Jackson family compound in Encino are examples of other places to include on any LA-based ‘Michaeling’ holiday.

There are no ‘rules’ to follow – like any journey taken by choice, the itinerary should be what the individual pilgrim wants it to be.

Some of us travel to see monuments and statues of Michael – in China, London, Hong Kong, Rio and other places. Happily more are cropping up around the world as Michael’s legacy continues to grow.  When I attended the unveiling of the magnificent statue of Michael by Lu Zhengkang in the Guangzhou Sculpture Garden in China (photo above), I was in the company of hundreds of fans from China, Hong Kong and Macau, didn’t understand the language (except when my HK friends spoke to me in English) and yet had an absolute ball interacting with everyone as much as I could!

We had Michael in common.  What more did we need?

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The author in Guangzhou, China with local Michael Jackson fans for the unveiling of Lu Zhengkang’s statue of MJ – 1 January 2011.

By contrast, being a solitary visitor to this statue’s twin in the sculpture garden at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Kansas years later was equally as moving, but in a more personal way. Luckily some US visitors came by and offered to take some photos of me with the statue in case I ever needed to remind myself I had really been there!

Some pilgrims will take in costume and artifact displays like the MJ FanFest (in Las Vegas in December 2011) or the collection that was housed at the MJ Galley at Ponte 16 in Macau. I used to love visiting Ponte 16 and enjoyed staying in the hotel there on two of these occasions. Sadly, I couldn’t ever afford to book their special MJ-themed suite!

Not surprisingly, considering the many cities he visited on his world tours, Europe has plenty of opportunities for Michaeling: the HIStory statue located in Best in the Netherlands, for instance, and the fan-created street memorial in Munich, Germany, opposite the hotel where Michael stayed when visiting that city.

Photos posted on social media of other places fans have encountered provide plenty of items for the pilgrim’s ‘wish list’.

There are numerous artifacts to view at Hard Rock properties all over the world, and at the Hard Rock Cafe in Penang, Malaysia, a large seated statue of Michael reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial in Washing DC is a permanent fixture right at the entrance (but there is none of his memorabilia inside, unfortunately).

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Michael’s statue in front of the Hard Rock Cafe at the Hard Rock Hotel resort on the Malaysian island of Penang.

Big tribute shows like Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour, and their resident Michael Jackson One show in Las Vegas have also been successful in attracting fans from far and wide.

Over one extremely heady period ranging from Dec 2011 to October 2013 I saw Immortal in 5 different cities on three continents for a total of 14 shows.  Only the last of these was in my own home town.  My favourites were opening night in Vegas, Saturday night at the O2 in London, and Saturday night in Hong Kong, when the local fans hosted a large group from mainland China who came in especially for the occasion.

I sat with the mainland Chinese fans in seats down on the arena floor and was amazed at how they sang, ‘Earth Song’ word for word – like an actual chorus accompanying Michael! None of them spoke English (and most of them didn’t speak Cantonese – the language of Hong Kong).  It was an unforgettable moment and a wonderful reminder of the truly international appeal of Michael Jackson, world citizen.

When it was screening at the various Disney parks around the world, I would plan my travels to be able to see Michael circa 1986 in the lighthearted 3D space adventure ‘Captain Eo’.  I was eventually able to catch it at every one of the venues in which it had ever screened – Disneyland California (where I had first seen it in 1987), Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland and Disney World in Orlando. It took some effort over a few years, but was certainly worth it, especially considering it’s now no longer screening at any of the parks.

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With pals Queenie, Yoly and Jessica (from Hong Kong) at the Captain Eo Theatre in Tokyo Disneyland.

Of course there are other shows – like Adrian Grant’s long-running Thriller Live in London’s West End and in Las Vegas the MJ Live tribute show currently at the Stratosphere (formerly at Rio – where I saw it) plus numerous other tributes which can enliven the travels of the MJ pilgrim.  While you probably wouldn’t plan an overseas trip around these types of shows, they are good entertainment and great places to make some new friends among the fans attending the event. Thriller Live’s home at the Lyric Theatre in London also has a small memorial to Michael in the form of a plaque mounted on the wall in the lobby.

As Michael fans we are blessed indeed to have so many places to visit and, occasionally, exhibitions to view and special events to attend. All are a testament to the man we admire and love, the incomparable King of Pop and king of our hearts, and the source of some incredible moments of personal ecstasy as we enjoy, share and celebrate his legacy.

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The author with celebrated photographer Greg Gorman’s 1987 portrait of Michael Jackson, temporarily exhibited at the Museum of Photography, Berlin, Germany.  *Photo by Yoly Leung, May 2016.

So where, you might well ask, does the ‘agony’ come into it?

The more you get to know some of these places and the more fans you meet, the more you discover to add to your wish list. It’s frustrating being on the other side of the world, for example, and not having the time or wherewithal to see or do everything when Michaeling opportunities arise.

That’s one sort of bitter sweet agony.  The other, which is more acute, is knowing that as a pilgrim you have fallen short of the real prize, which is now unobtainable. This is the agony of us late-comers to MJ fandom who never saw Michael perform live, much less had a chance to meet him. We never made the ultimate pilgrimage – to attend a Michael Jackson concert, or to see him when/if he was visiting our own part of the world.

For us, this lack of first-hand experience of Michael has driven us to travel the world ‘in Michael’s footsteps’ (as my friend Nena calls it) as if attempting to make up for what we have missed.

There can be no adequate compensation for never having seen Michael in person, so it’s just as well to have a pilgrim’s wish list that is ‘bottomless’.

Like mine.

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The author with Britto’s mosaic portrait of Michael Jackson at Espacio Michael Jackson, Santa Marta favela, Rio de Janeiro, where Michael filmed parts of ‘They Don’t Care About Us’.

An earlier version of this article was posted on Facebook in October 2013: https://www.facebook.com/notes/kerry-hennigan/the-agony-and-the-ecstasy-of-the-global-mj-pilgrim/585649768159877

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Dusseldorf, Best and Xanten – MJ HIStory and Roman Archaeology, all in a day

May 2016: we decided to take the train from Berlin to Dusseldorf, figuring that on a day when museums in Germany are usually closed, Monday was a good day to relocate to the next stop on our Michael Jackson-inspired Germany odyssey.

Neither Yoly, Queenie or myself had realised it was also a public holiday, however, which meant that our afternoon stroll to the shopping precinct of Dusseldorf took us to malls and stores that were closed up tight for the day. (But we did find a place to eat, however!)

Not far from the upmarket shopping precinct is Old Town (Altstadt) where the Rhine waterfront promenade vista lay in front of us. Schlossturm (Castle Tower) and St Lambertus Basilica (13th century) were to our right and the Rheinkniebruke to our left, while handsome period homes and apartment houses overlooked the decorative paving and beautifully manicured street trees.

A land-locked sailing barge floated on the Alter Hafen (Old Harbor) and a clock tower that also measures the height of the river was mounted on the promenade wall in front of us.

Despite the chill afternoon breeze blowing down the waterfront, the sun had eclipsed the earlier showers we’d encountered and bathed the promenade in golden light. Riverboat cruises were chugging up the river and pedestrians (and their dogs, in some cases) were taking advantage of the opportunity to walk in the sunshine.

Here, as elsewhere I visited in Germany, the public places were well patronised by locals and visitors. At home in Australia, much planning goes in to ‘place making’ for new and re-developed urban areas. In Germany they’ve been at it for centuries – and it shows.

Next day we were back at the train station to collect our rental car. Yours truly was the designated driver while Yoly navigated (i.e. programed and monitored the GPS) and Queenie relaxed in the back seat along with little MJ (my doll). It was great to be behind the wheel of a car again – a Volkeswagon, of course – and to not have to worry about train timetables to get us where we wanted to go.

We headed directly to Best, across the international border into the Netherlands. Here in the EU, there is little to alert you that you are crossing from one country to another – just a welcome sign or two. The language had changed, but the scenery either side of the border was pretty much the same – a green, semi-rural landscape dotted with picturesque small towns.

There’s no way you can miss Michael’s HIStory album promotional statue at the McDonalds in Best. It towers over the carpark and is bedecked with cards and decorations from fans from around the world. Yoly was thrilled to see that the banners she and her companions had left on an earlier visit – three years ago – were still hanging in place and still in good shape. I added mine to the collection and liked to think it would have similar longevity adorning Michael’s statue.

It was inevitable that we would have lunch at McDonalds, which proved to be a cut above the average fast-food highway pit stop. The inside is decorated with film and music memorabilia, plus a letter signed by Michael congratulating McDonalds on purchasing the statue hangs on the wall. After lunch we took more photos then hopped back in our trusty vehicle and backtracked across the border.

Our next stop was the historic German town of Xanten, home of the largest archaeological park in the country and a notable cathedral (Xantener Dom or St Victor’s). Yoly had suggested visiting Xanten on our way back from Best, to get more value out of the car we had hired for the entire day. Being a history and archaeology buff, I was so glad that she did – Xanten was an additional unexpected highlight of our cross-country drive.

The LVR-Archaeological Park with Roman Museum preserves the remains of a first century AD Roman settlement that, in AD 98 was granted colony status by Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (i.e. Trajan). Its name duly became Colonia Ulpia Traiana.

We entered through the reconstructed walls of the fort and explored the museum and grounds, the temple remains and the arena. Behind the walls of the arena you can walk through the narrow corridors off which wild beasts and gladiators were housed while awaiting their turn in the arena.

It would have been pretty bloody stuff back then, but the most action these days is likely to be an impromptu game of soccer between some visiting school students. After exploring the shops and cathedral in the town of Xanten, we headed back to Dusseldorf.

At the end of the day, the only trouble we experienced was in locating a petrol station so that we could return the car with a full tank! It was to be our last night together for this trip. Yoly and Queenie were staying on another day in Dusseldorf before flying out on Cathay Pacific, but I was boarding the train next morning for the short trip to Cologne (Koln).

Once again it would be just me and little MJ, and whatever the next destination had in store for us.

 Story and Photos (c) Kerry Hennigan, July 2016

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