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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
February 2018

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

(4) Ibid.

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

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

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

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

(9) Ibid.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
January 2018

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Reading:

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

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

 

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The Unheard Songs Of Michael Jackson – An Examination Of Sources, Assumptions And Conclusions On The “Bad” Album And Beyond – MJ Studies Today, January 2018

Abstract: In this column Kerry examines and questions the amount of songs actually written by Michael Jackson for the release of “Bad”. Are they all really recorded, or are they fragments and not yet finished songs? A discussion worth looking into.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXV (14-01-2018).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 1 (2018). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxiv/.


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


Access the article here: http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxiv-2/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Hennigan
January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review and Commentary on: “Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop” by Joseph Vogel (2017)

“Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop” is an up-dated and expanded version of Joe Vogel’s collection of articles previously published under the title “Featuring Michael Jackson” (2012).  “Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop” contains double the number of chapters/articles – 20 in all, ranging from in-depth examinations of Michael Jackson’s impact on popular culture, his treatment by the media and its broader ramifications to a review of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE resident show in Las Vegas.

51Qej-eCVpL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_For those of us who have downloaded and printed Joe’s articles when they were previously published online, this volume makes those downloads and print-outs obsolete.  As works to reference, they are much easier to access via this volume.

These pieces were all written after Michael Jackson’s passing in June 2009; as such they also provide an opportunity to examine the development of serious writing on Jackson since that time, for which we owe Vogel a considerable debt for his contribution and encouragement of the academic work of others in Michael Jackson Studies.

The various articles examine Jackson’s quest to be THE BEST and the price he paid for being a trailblazer in music, stagecraft and live performance, video production, fashion and just about anything else he had a hand in.

He was applauded and lauded, and then denied and vilified.  We all know what happened in 2005 and the toll the trial took on him both emotionally and physically.  Yet the announcement of his O2 series of concerts in 2009 sent the internet into a meltdown as the online ticket office was jammed by fans wanting tickets.  Michael Jackson might have retreated from the spotlight to regroup and recharge, but it quickly became clear that the fans had never gone away.

The persistence of his fans, their devotion and loyalty, and the lengths they would go to defend him whenever his integrity came under attack, should have alerted the tabloid media (in all its forms) that Jackson was now “hands off” in terms of headlines lacking credibility.  They didn’t listen, and we’re still paying the price as are Jackson’s heirs and his Estate.

Vogel’s 2011 essay “’Am I the Beast You Visualized?’: The Cultural Abuse of Michael Jackson” spotlights the media behaviour, which, as Vogel explains, “never held much regard for Jackson’s other-ness” and over the decades, their abusive reporting of his life and career just became worse.

However, as Vogel points out, despite the name-calling, the virtual stones thrown at him, the truly horrendous accusations made against him that the media delighted in and continue to highlight with little regard for the truth, Jackson never compromised his “difference”.

In today’s eclectic global society, “difference” that breaks down barriers and opens opportunities is more likely to be celebrated – or, at least, it should be.  But it wasn’t always the case, and for Michael Jackson’s relationship with the media, it was almost never the case once they had decided to bring him down.

But there are countless artists today who can – and do – publically thank Michael Jackson for paving the way for their art and lifestyles being accepted in the broader society.

In writing about Jackson posthumously, Vogel does not sway from examining the many and often frivolous claims and delayed accusations that arose after 2009, and some well after the deadline for lodging such claims with the singer’s estate.

In “Michael Jackson, Delayed Allegations and Witch Hunts” he looks at the shocking about-face of Wade Robson, a dancer and choreographer who, with his mother, had determinedly sought career help from Jackson during Robson’s childhood, had received it, and spoken out in defence of Jackson against his accusers in 2005, and then in 2013 announced he had, indeed, been abused as a child by his mentor.

The absurdity of these claims, made in print and television interviews (one supposes for a fee) couldn’t be made against Jackson himself, so they were made against his companies who were supposedly in charge of him.  Except that Jackson was the owner of those companies, so it doesn’t figure they could control him!

At the time of writing this review, the one remaining, much-revised claim Robson still has before the court is close to dismissal.*  One wonders what he will do or say then to generate money by invoking the name of the man to whom he supposedly owes his career?

If, as a reader of Vogel’s ground-breaking book, “Michael Jackson: The Man in the Music” and/or his excellent monograph on “Earth Song”, you are wondering what this new publication has to offer, the answer is, quite a lot.  Some of the chapters are very short, almost cursory looks at Jackson milestones – the anniversaries of his albums, the release of posthumous material, etc., but the best of them go so much deeper to help us better understand Michael Jackson the man.

Given that this volume is a collection of non-academic magazine articles, its use for academia is limited – except for Vogel’s serious examination of the many social issues Jackson’s career highlighted.  His observations are, in themselves, highly quotable and have the ring of authenticity as a result of his interviews with some key Jackson collaborators.

“Michael Jackson and the Reinvention of Pop” provides novice Jackson researchers the means to reconsider what they thought they knew about Michael Jackson, the man and the artist.

For Jackson fans who already own Vogel’s book “Featuring Michael Jackson” be assured that this updated version is definitely worthy of inclusion in your MJ collection.  It is available to purchase from Amazon.

Review by Kerry Hennigan
December 2017

* Postscript: Robson’s case dismissed. Read the AP News story here: https://goo.gl/mCoZmR

 

 

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The matter of Michael Jackson’s artistic legacy – new projects, new releases, original releases or no releases? – MJ Studies Today, December 2017

Abstract: Kerry Hennigan discusses Michael Jackson’s creative legacy and the different, often conflicting views that surrounds it.

REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXIV (14-12-2017).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 1 (2017). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxiv/.


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

Access the article here: http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxiv/.

 

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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