Susan Fast’s “Dangerous”: A Review (Part 1)

I've Been Waiting For The Perfect Occasion To Showcase This Adorable, Rare "Dangerous" Era Photo!
I’ve Been Waiting For The Perfect Occasion To Showcase This Adorable, Rare “Dangerous” Era Photo!

 

“1991’s Dangerous announced the end of Jackson’s innocence and the command of a complicated, conflicted sensibility.”-Armond White.

This quote from Armond White kicks off the introduction to Susan Fast’s Dangerous, the most recent addition to Bloomsbury’s 331/3 music series.

dangerous book coverSince its publication last September, a lot of people have been asking for my thoughts on the book. I will just start off by saying, hands down, this is probably the most comprehensive volume we are ever likely to get on Michael Jackson’s fourth solo studio album, an album that marked a watershed moment in Michael’s artistic maturity and post-Quincy Jones partnership.  If you are one of those prone to believing that Michael’s artistic peak was Thriller or Bad, this book will definitely make you rethink your views. And even if you are one of those who are already well aware that Dangerous marked not the end, but the beginning of a whole new epoch for Michael Jackson-one that would see him delve into much deeper, darker, and yes, sexier depths than ever before-you will still have much to learn from this book. It definitely gave me a lot of new insight into the album, although some of Ms. Fast’s views are bound to spark some controversy among fans and critics.

As always when I do book reviews, I will offer not only my reactions to the book but, also, at times, will use the author’s views as a springboard to discuss some of my own opinions on these topics.  In other words, those who have been following me for any length of time know that a book review here is as much apt to become an in-depth dialog between myself and the author’s views. So if you just want to know whether the book is worth buying, I will cut straight to the chase for you and say, unequivocally, yes. And if that’s all you want to know, get thee straight to Amazon. But if you are truly interested in a round table dialog about this book and its subject, you’re in the right place.

First off, I can’t discuss this book without discussing the very worthy series that it is a part of. Since 2003, Bloomsbury’s 333 series has been dedicated to the serious academic analysis of the most important and influential music albums of the rock era. That this is a field in which Michael Jackson’s music remains woefully underrated is something Fast discusses in the introduction, but as we know, that is changing and will continue to change in the years and decades ahead. For years, the common narrative among music journalists has been that Michael Jackson’s artistic output peaked with Thriller critically, and perhaps Bad commercially.  Although Dangerous received mostly positive reviews upon release and was a mammoth best seller, remaining on the charts for over two years,  it didn’t take long for the album’s reputation to become engulfed in a kind of music critic amnesia, the same one that plagued most of his post-Bad work (the fact that HIStory, a #1 and Grammy nominated album that produced two hit singles stateside as well as his UK chart-topping “Earth Song” is also conveniently overlooked). When these albums were acknowledged at all, it was often only to lambast them as self-indulgent works-“whiny,” “paranoid,” etc became favorite descriptive monikers. It wasn’t, of course,  that these opinions were entirely without some merit. Michael’s albums from the 90’s on did become increasingly long, often uneven, and with an increasing diversity of styles that often left critics more confused than enlightened. Sometimes this came down to too many producers, too many guest stars, too many collaborators, and an ego-driven star who, yes, felt every note of every track was too important to cut (and,conversely, it was this same drive for perfection that often led to some questionable decisions about what was ultimately left out).

But it also came down to something else. Michael’s 90’s work simply became less “fun”-and that was a bit too much for those who could forgive him most anything as long as he gave us catchy dance grooves. Now he was making artistic statements, and not even the kind of generic, feel good philanthropy of “We Are The World” or “Man In The Mirror.” Instead, he was addressing heads-on issues of racism, poverty, the AIDS epidemic, and other things that many felt should be politely swept under the rug-or at least sublimated to a catchy groove. Michael’s ’90’s work also became by turns both more militant and more intensely personal and introspective-after all, this was the era that saw him become a victim of cruel allegations and a relentless witch hunt, and in which he explored the depths of a soul that had been somewhat cast adrift, for he was still in many ways dealing with his break from the Jehovah Witness faith and coming to terms with what that break meant for him spiritually. This was the era in which he would experience, in short succession, first time marriage, divorce, and fatherhood. In short, Michael Jackson in the 90’s had grown into adulthood. Whatever vestiges of innocence that had given his 80’s image its boyish charm was long gone, replaced by a new sensibility, one that was by turns both politically mature and more self aware than ever before. It made sense that he was evolving on his life path, so his music should evolve with him. Yet it has taken over twenty years for critics to gain the perspective needed to finally start recasting Michael’s 90’s and 2000’s work in a new light.

"Dangerous"-An Era Of Increased Introspection and Political Awareness
“Dangerous”-An Era Of Increased Introspection and Political Awareness

Susan Fast’s book is an important step in that direction. But what I got most out of it was a newfound appreciation for the deliberate chronology and cohesive concept of the album. If you’re one of those Jackson fans who, like me, have often found some of his later albums a bit “all over the place” it is quite enlightening to learn how much of this was actually intentional, as Michael’s 90’s work became less about creating albums full of hit singles, and more about creating concept albums.  This may be a new revelation for many Jackson fans. For years, most of us have been thoroughly indoctrinated into Michael’s oft-circulated quote that he believed every song on an album should be a potential hit single. The idea of Michael Jackson as a serious musician creating “concept” albums may thus seem foreign to some, but by taking this approach, latter albums like Dangerous, HIStory, and Invincible can definitely be appreciated in a new light. In short, Fast describes Dangerous as an album with a fully realized arc, and once that concept is understood, the sequencing of the tracks makes far more sense.

“…Far removed from the gleaming Off The Wall, the concise brilliance of Thriller, and the clean, theatrical synth-pop of Bad, Dangerous is messy, industrial, excessive on every level. Like HIStory and Invincible, it doesn’t want to stop: the songs are long, there are so many of them, listening leaves Jackson’s guts all over the speakers, yours all over the room. Not that I’m particularly interested in taming any of this wondrous music, but it all makes more sense if it’s thought of as a concept album. Alan Light criticizes the running order, commenting that ‘the sequencing of Dangerous often clusters similar songs in bunches when a more varied presentation would have been stronger,’ but the ‘clusters’ give us a compelling arc and delineate a number of themes Jackson wants to explore.” (Fast 11).

Fast then proceeds to use that arc as the outline for her book. The chapters follow the sequencing of Dangerous‘s arc, of which she has conveniently divided into five sections-Noise, Desire, Utopia, Soul, and Coda. Likewise, I will break down each section of the book by these same labels.

NOISE:

“Press play on your copy of Dangerous and you enter Michael Jackson’s decade of noisy music-making…” (Fast 17).

This chapter is devoted to the album’s initial six tracks, although there will be some back and forth bleeding and overlapping among the sections (especially since many of the tracks will also be discussed at length in “Desire.”). As Fast states, Dangerous begins with the sound of breaking glass, and it is not until the roughly mid section of the album, beginning with “Heal The World”) that we will have any respite from this sensory overload of sound.

Although Fast expends a good deal of effort in analyzing the reasons for all the noise, it might be worth remembering that the 90’s in general was a musically noisy decade. It was the era of the big, industrialized beat. Janet’s Rhythm Nation 1814 likewise kicks off with a cacophony of clangings and what sounds like military gunfire; Nine Inch Nails’s The Downward Spiral starts off with what sounds like heavy, thudding footsteps, increasing to a frenetic march-like gait before exploding into a fusillade of distorted sound, giving its opening track “Mr. Self Destruct” a feeling of being lost in a machine driven age.

And indeed, that seemed to have been much of the calculated reasoning behind the industrialized sound that drove much of the early 90’s. It was the idea that we were becoming products of a militant and industrialized society; the over production of these tracks, especially in regards to non musical sounds, was a part of that dehumanizing process. This was not an entirely new concept. For sure, most of the psychedelic music of the 60’s also relied heavily on its ability to assault the senses with often distorted sound. But the major difference was that the music of the psychedelic era was still relying on mostly musical sounds to achieve this effect. When we listened to Jimi Hendrix creating his sonic “sound paintings” they could sometimes sound other worldly, but we never lost sight of the fact that we were listening to an instrument. The emphasis on non musical, or “object” sounds was indeed a phenomenon unique to the 90’s. And, as Fast notes, hip hop itself would emerge as a musical art form in which “noise” takes front and center.

Michael did tend to follow trends as much as create them (for example, I believe his track “Morphine” owes a heavy debt to industrial bands like Nine Inch Nails)but it does seem that from the very opening of “Jam” there is a a purposeful shift in musical direction. And it goes without saying that Dangerous, an album released very early in the decade, would have had a monumental impact on albums that followed, including The Downward Spiral.

jamBy this time, Michael had established a pattern of kicking off his albums with aggressive. upbeat songs, from his joyous and spontaneous “Ow!” of “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” to the tight funk of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” to the street smart taunting of “Bad.” But “Jam,” while similar to its predecessors as an uptempo dance track, clearly has a darker and more troubled edge. His vocals are noticeably lower, and he sings in a tormented voice about his generation-the baby boomers-coming of age and “working it out.” Fast analyzes this as Michael’s statement that his baby boom generation, far from having solved the world’s problems (as they idealistically thought they would do in the 60’s) are actually responsible for much of the state the world is in.

By the way, I love her analysis of Michael’s singing style on this track.  Calling his vocals here “wounded” and “terrified” she states:

“…The melody is like a run-on sentence and it sounds as if Jackson won’t have enough breath to get through it-sometimes he just barely makes it to the end of a phrase. And although the rhythm of this melody is made up of straight eighth notes (no swingin’), they’re all sung ahead of the beat, like he can’t wait, he’s in too much of a rush, or maybe even panic, to stay in synch with the music. Adding to the tension is the fact that there’s very little bottom end in the verses-it feels like we’re in suspension.” (Fast 39).

This is the kind of passage where Fast excels most, and throughout the book she painstakingly analyzes Michael’s vocal performances on every track of the album in similar fashion. It serves to remind me that there hasn’t been nearly enough serious and critical attention paid to Michael’s vocal prowess, and how he was able to use his voice as the ultimate instrument.

The back to back analysis of “Jam” and “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” is a passage that I found particularly insightful (for sure, I will never listen to “Jam” quite the same way again). For starters, I never really considered the idea of Dangerous as Michael’s most “black” album (ironic considering the album dropped at a time when Michael was becoming increasingly stigmatized for not being “black enough”). But on hindsight, this is a remarkably accurate conclusion. Both stylistically and in subject matter, Michael was closer to his James Brown roots on those first few tracks of Dangerous than he had, perhaps, been on all of Thriller and Bad combined.  Part of this is steeped in the far more politically conscious, anti-neoliberalism  of these tracks (which Fast exhaustively analyzes, and in far more depth than I can touch on here) but it’s more than that: It’s in the bottom heavy sound of these tracks, and their visceral assault. There is no pop sheen to these tracks; they are straight up, raw r&b and funk, and as stated previously, it’s an assault that doesn’t let up until “Heal The World” even if, albeit, “Remember The Time” does at least slow the pace a little, allowing for a breather. But even that track is unarguably Michael’s most “black” love song since “The Lady in My Life” on Thriller. Case in point: Today, when most of Michael’s 90’s output is largely ignored on most oldies AOR stations, “Remember The Time” remains a staple on many old school urban/r&b stations (and where it is also not unusual to hear “Scream” and “You Are Not Alone” in heavy rotation). This raises an interesting point. Were Michael’s black fans connecting more with him during this era-a time when he was routinely being castigated by white critics for having “sold out” his black identity? If recent events are any indication-as millions of protesters across the country have embraced Michael’s militant 1996 track “They Don’t Care About Us” and, to a lesser but no less notable extent, “Black or White” as official theme songs-this would seem to be the case. Although it may be only slightly off topic, the recent words of Baltimore Sun writer D.B. Anderson are worth pondering in this context:

On Twitter, #TheyDontCareAboutUs is a hashtag. In Ferguson, they blasted the Michael Jackson song through car windows. In New York City and Berkeley last weekend, it was sung and performed by protesters. And In Baltimore, there was a magical moment when the Morgan State University choir answered protests with a rendition of Jackson’s “Heal The World.”

The price has already been paid, but the check was never cashed. Maybe we just need to finally listen to Michael Jackson.”-D.B. Anderson

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-messenger-king-20141209-story.html

By his own admission, Michael had felt so humiliated by the Grammy snub of Off the Wall that he vowed to make his next album something that could not be ignored-something so huge that it would not matter to anyone if he was black or white, In that spirit, Michael’s classic album Thriller was born, and ultimately followed up with Bad which comprised mostly the same formula for success. Perhaps, having proved his point with Thriller and Bad, he no longer felt the need to “prove” himself. In other words, he was Michael Jackson; he didn’t have to kiss butt anymore if he chose not to. Not that he ever had, but if anything, Dangerous does mark the era of Jackson’s independence-and a whole reaffirming of a black identity that  narrow sighted critics would continue to deny him for years to come. 130411012913-01-michael-jackson93-0411-story-top

Further elaborating on the “Jam” vocal, Fast states in rounding out her “Noise” chapter:

“This is decidedly not the voice of a ‘man-child,’ as people liked to (condescendingly) call Jackson, nor is it the voice of someone who ‘wanted to be white.’ It’s the voice of an adult man who understood and was deeply connected to his black musical roots.’ Given his upbringing among r&b greats like Brown and Jackie Wilson, he always had a tendency to ‘go raw,’ as Nelson George has expressed it, but this tendency grew more pronounced in his later works, starting here; there’s less and less of that pristine, conventionally beautiful tenor and more grit and roughness. More blackness. More noise. More danger.” (Fast 41).

Indeed, those initial six tracks of Dangerous could almost stand alone as an album in and of itself (at the very least, an EP) and it would have been Michael’s most cohesive album since Off the Wall. Another six tracks or so in the vein of “Jam,” “Why You Wanna Trip On Me,” “In the Closet,” etc and Michael could have easily had the greatest and certainly most pure funk/r&b album of his career. But rather than being content to go that route,  Michael clearly had a different vision for this album, one in which in which the mini segments (of which the tightly knit r&b funk of those first six tracks is merely the first of several such unified segments) become part of a greater whole. As powerful, jolting, and sexually charged as those first six tracks are, they are simply one movement of a much bigger symphony-and really, as I have discovered, that is the best way to approach any understanding of Michael Jackson’s later albums. A symphony is often comprised of many separate “movements” within the piece, each movement often having little to do (or seemingly little to do) with the main composition, until everything ties together at the end.  We have to trust that the composer is taking us where he wants us to go.  Fast’s book is, to my knowledge, the first serious attempt to analyze the compositional journey that is Dangerous and to put it in its proper perspective.

In Part 2, I will take on Fast’s “Desire” chapter and some of the book’s more controversial aspects. Although I love the book. obviously, there are points I disagree on, and some conclusions she draws that I question, so this should get interesting. The series will round out with discussions of “Utopia,” “Soul,” and “Coda” respectively.

 

More Pieces of Michael Sold To The Highest Bidder

The Video Features Some Of The Most Intense Few Moments of Gazing Into Those Soulful, Brown Eyes One Is Ever Likely To Encounter...But This Was No Photo Shoot!
The Video Features Some Of The Most Intense Few Moments of Gazing Into Those Soulful, Brown Eyes One Is Ever Likely To Encounter…But This Was No Photo Shoot!

I mentioned in my previous post that there were a couple of developments this week that I wanted to comment on. Aside from the new “South Park” episode, the other matter of concern is the recent surfacing-and auctioning off-of these adorable and priceless Christmas home movies. Although the video here is labeled 1993/1996 I am pretty certain that is in error. Michael’s 1993 Christmas was well documented in an earlier video that has been circulated ever since 2003, when it was first shown as part of the special Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies (the famous Elizabeth Taylor “squirt gun” Christmas, notable for being Michael’s first celebration of Christmas.). Other dates for this vid point to Christmas of 1996, which is probably more accurate given Michael’s appearance (he appears thinner than in the ’93 video, and his makeup heavier) and the age of the Cascio children here. (UPDATE: Please see the discussion of the dates in the comments. In light of the timeline, and the fact that Michael did celebrate Christmas in December of ’93 with the Cascios-the earlier celebration with Elizabeth Taylor was in January of ’93-the ’93 date given for this video is most likely accurate).

I know there has been quite a bit of Cascio bashing since these movies surfaced and were put up for auction. I don’t know if they were behind it, and I would rather not get into the judging of it. I don’t know the circumstances of how these movies were put up for auction, but I do know that once again it is saddening to think that so many pieces of Michael are just being scattered to the winds. It also raises another issue: Why do so many of Michael’s friends and relatives have a dollar value on everything they have of him, even down to something as trivial as private home movies? Does EVERYTHING have to be sold?

http://www.gottahaverockandroll.com/michael_jackson_s_never_before_seen_home_movies_fr-lot14759.aspx

Then, there is the whole “invasion of privacy” controversy. As with so many things of this nature, fans will delight in viewing them (and yes, Michael IS absolutely at his most adorable here) and yet will feel guilty for watching them. Because we know they weren’t really meant for our eyes, there is a kind of voyeuristic thrill and guilt at the same time. But just as with bootleg outtakes or anything else that is “leaked” to the public, once it’s “out there” it’s already in the public domain.  These have made it to Youtube and have gone viral within the fan community.  The video itself is harmless enough-it’s just Michael goofing around with friends; certainly no more personal in nature than similar clips he had already allowed the public to see. Yet, for a man who had so little in the way of a private life, it does feel in some ways like a little part of him-something he had kept for himself-is once again being exploited for public consumption.

Nevertheless, I can’t deny there is a certain fascination in viewing them, and trust me, I know fans are viewing them. Part of what makes them interesting is that they DO offer a rare glimpse of a completely candid and casual Michael. Even the clips he selected for Private Home Movies were all carefully chosen to preserve an “image”-we saw what he wanted us to see. And yet it is interesting that what we see here is nothing different. This reinforces the fact that Michael was far more honest and open in his public persona than many detractors give him credit for, preferring to believe that Michael put on an “act” for his fans. Yet what we see here is that the very private and candid Michael Jackson, behind closed doors, was no different from the public persona so many of us adored.  And for the Cascios, who by this time had already known Michael for over twelve years, there was no pretense. So in other words, this is about as “real” as it gets. So we get Michael wandering around in white flannel, striped pj’s, humming songs, discussing dinner, trying out his new camera and taking what is already being described in the media as perhaps the first mirror “selfie” in history :

WATCH: Did Michael Jackson take the first ever mirror selfie in 1993?

Thursday, December 04, 2014 – 04:22 PM

A never before seen Michael Jackson Christmas video has emerged from the Michael Jackson personal archives.

The video begins on Christmas Eve, 1993, with Michael and friends opening presents in Neverland.

The rest of the video shows them touring Neverland, taking rides, in the game room, playing with the animals and taking the first ever mirror selfie?

This takes Man in the Mirror to a whole new level.

This colour home movie is not available to watch in full but we are lucky enough to catch these two shorts clips that were either shot by Frank Cascio or Michael Jackson himself.

The video is to be auctioned on gottahaverockandroll.com tomorrow – and it already has one bid of $5,000.

A collector’s item indeed.

http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/entertainment/watch-did-michael-jackson-take-the-first-ever-mirror-selfie-in-1993-653439.html

“I’m not a narcissist,” he jokes, with a perfectly straight poker face as he stands in front of the mirror to “test” the camera by getting a shot of himself.  This moment alone may well be worth the seven thousand dollar price tag that someone eventually forked over for this rare treasure. The footage beautifully captures Michael at the height of his adorable 90’s “sprite” phase. When I first began seeing the screencaps from these videos surfacing on my Twitter timeline and elsewhere, I thought, “My god, where did these absolutely stunning shots come from!”  Well, it didn’t take long to find out.  Those moments, starting around 4:17 and leading up to his “Something’s weird here” comment are, hands down, some of the most amazing views into those soulful brown eyes ever captured on film.  Perhaps Michael really was his own best photographer!

This Composite Captures Some Of The Best Poses From Michael's "Selfie" Photo Shoot. "I'm Not A Narcissist"-No, But You Sure Were Adorable!
This Composite Captures Some Of The Best Poses From Michael’s “Selfie” Photo Shoot. “I’m Not A Narcissist”-No, But You Sure Were Adorable!

Something else interesting that was learned from this clip: It was a myth that Michael never listened to anything but classical music at Neverland! At one point, we can very clearly hear Yes’s 1983 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” blasting at rather full volume!

There’s nothing earth shattering here, and certainly nothing of the usual juicy, scandalous nature that the media loves when it comes to celebrity private home videos: This isn’t Michael’s and Lisa’s leaked honeymoon video, for crying out loud (though I don’t suppose fans would exactly hate that, either, if such a thing were to surface, lol) nor does it contain anything so embarrassingly humiliating as drunkenly eating a cheeseburger off the floor (poor ol’ David Hasselhoff, still gotta feel kind of sorry for him over that one!).  For what it is, it is simply a very sweet moment captured on film, of Michael indulging in something that in 1996 was still a novelty to him-celebrating Christmas. But for all that is is a very sweet moment, it was all the same,a private one, which brings me back to where this began.

For seven thousand, three hundred and twenty-one dollars, someone has purchased yet another piece of Michael’s private memories, and along with it, another tiny part of his soul.

How much, honestly, is left?

 

Michael Jackson’s Hologram Is On The Loose: Another “South Park” MJ Parody and My Thoughts On It

He Seemed Harmless and Fun Enough At Last May's Billboard Awards. But What If "Virtual Mike" Escaped And Was Running Loose In The World? That Is The Premise Of The Latest "South Park" Episode!
He Seemed Harmless and Fun Enough At Last May’s Billboard Awards. But What If “Virtual Mike” Escaped And Was Running Loose In The World? That Is The Premise Of The Latest “South Park” Episode!

While I am hard at work on my review of the Susan Fast book Dangerous  there have been some interesting late developments that are worth at least a mention. Not the least is the fact that “South Park” has once again done a Michael Jackson parody episode, only this time it is actually “Virtual Mikey” who is the object of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s sharp, satiric pen.  The ninth episode of Season 18, this is a two-parter that is scheduled to conclude next week.

Are The Words "Starring Michael Jackson's Hologram" A Phrase We'll Have To Get Used To Hearing?
Are The Words “Starring Michael Jackson’s Hologram” A Phrase We’ll Have To Get Used To Hearing?

This is not the first time that Parker and Stone have done an MJ themed episode. While Michael Jackson has been fodder for these types of shows for many years-often with cringeworthy results (I despise the “Family Guy” ones, for example)-“South Park” to its credit has at least had some of the more intelligent spoofs. Granted, they still poke fun at many aspects of Michael’s “tabloid caricature” eccentricities, which may rub more sensitive fans the wrong way. But over eighteen seasons, “South Park” has a long and established history of satirizing celebrities. In fact, it has become almost a code of honor within the industry that you are really nobody until “South Park” has taken a stab at you-at least once. The fact is, no celebrity, great or small, is immune to the “South Park” treatment. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are actually Michael Jackson fans (so I’ve been told, at least) so perhaps it is not surprising that their MJ parodies are always balanced and sometimes surprisingly sharp and insightful, even as they do, of course, poke fun at him for all the usual comedic reasons that have been comedic fodder for at least the last quarter century.

Granted, if you are the type of fan who takes offense to any MJ-related humor or mocking of him, these episodes are not for you. “South Park” has not survived eighteen years as a result of being scared to offend. But what is often interesting about the “South Park” parodies-and what I think makes them a definite cut above similar parodies we have seen on shows like Seth McFarlane’s “Family Guy”-is the larger context of the episodes’ social commentaries. Ultimately, there is always an underlying message about the state of our culture and our often tabloid-driven relationship with celebrities, which sometimes says more about “us” than about them. While the show never pussyfoots around a celebrity’s controversies, the storylines are usually serving more as a mirror that reflects our own foibles in allowing the media to shape our views.

2004's "The Jeffersons" Episode Had Michael Living "Incognito" In South Park Under The Alias "Mr. Jefferson." An at times surprisingly sweet episode, this scene featured an interesting parallel with Michael's real life, as he attempts to bond with a "real family."
2004’s “The Jeffersons” Episode Had Michael Living “Incognito” In South Park Under The Alias “Mr. Jefferson.” An at times surprisingly sweet episode, this scene featured an interesting parallel with Michael’s real life, as he attempts to bond with a “real family.”

The first MJ themed “South Park” episode, “The Jeffersons,” aired in 2004 at the height of the Martin Bashir fallout and Arvizo allegations. At a time when MJ bashing was at its height and the witch hunt mentality of the media was in full swing, the “Mr. Jefferson” episode, as it came to be called, was a surprisingly balanced spoof that argued for the fact that “Mr. Jefferson” was merely eccentric and misunderstood, but not guilty of any crime.  So who were the perpetrators here? As it turned out, the episode made a case of greedy parents with their hands out for money, and an over zealous Park County police investigator named Harrison Yates who contacts Santa Barbara Police and learns of a plan to drive a wealthy African-American man out of the community (sound familiar?) because he is “wealthier than we are.”  Of course, there are some tasteless, crude “nose jokes” and things of that nature-“Mr. Jefferson’s” noted eccentricities are not spared-but the bigger context is that the show clearly depicts Michael’s caricature as a framed man. It’s a bit Frankenstein-ish in its approach, where “Mr. Jefferson” is depicted somewhat as the beastly but gentle and misunderstood creature. This, in essence, is simply replacing one paradigm with another which might be as equally erroneous and harmful (either way, it is reducing a very complex man and human being to a caricature) but at the time, it was, at least, quite progressive in putting forth the idea that there were certainly many more facets to the allegations than what was meeting the public eye. (For the record, there was no statement of what Michael thought of the episode. It would have been nice to know what he thought of it. I don’t imagine he would have liked it, particularly, since it hit on some areas that I know were sore points for him. However, it was 2004 and Michael, as we know, had much more pressing issues of concern than a silly TV parody).

Another classic MJ themed “South Park” moment: Chef does “Thriller!”

Fast forward five years, and the second MJ themed “South Park” which aired in October, 2009. This episode was intended as a take on the unusual blitz of celebrity deaths that occurred in such rapid succession that year, and this time Michael, like the other dead celebrities, appears as his ghost. Although it was weaker than the Mr. Jefferson episode (and the whole idea of Michael wanting to come back as a little white girl was just tacky) it had its moments where the usual Stone-Parker humor was right on point. For example, the best scene was when all of the newly departed celebs are on board a plane, waiting for the take-off that will lift them to Heaven and out of Purgatory. Michael is conspicuously absent. “What’s the hold up?” demands a very irate Ed MacMahon. It is explained that they are all waiting on Mr. Jackson, who is apparently being held up in getting his bags checked. “Mr. Jackson has a lot of baggage,” it is explained. At the end of the episode, Michael’s spirit has been released-presumably to find the freedom and peace in the afterlife that he never had on earth.

But now, fast forward another five years, and Michael is back-this time as a constructed hologram. The episode is, of course, spoofing the now famous MJ hologram performance at last May’s Billboard Awards. Actually, to clarify, this episode is spoofing a lot of things. The episode actually has two, distinct parallel plots, one that is spoofing Youtube game bloggers, and another that is making a very razor sharp statement about the current status of the music industry, in which all pop stars seem to be manufactured fakes, or are talentless bimbos who win acclaim not by their music but how well they can twerk onstage (or rub their clits, apparently) and that the great, truly unique and talented idols of the past are now manufactured for profit via hologram technology. (“Tupac,” as his hologram self, is also resurrected for the episode).

For my purposes here, I’m not going to focus too much on the whole gamer/blogging plot, though there is a thematic connection. The connection is that something which was once genuine and “cool” has been lost, replaced by a much inferior activity. Kids don’t actually play video games anymore; instead, they would rather spend hours on the internet watching someone COMMENT on playing video games. The irony and its obvious connect to what has happened to music today, thus, isn’t too far of a stretch. In one scene, Kyle notices dust accumulating on the TV. As he wipes the dust away, the thought occurs to him: “The living room is dying!” Yes, it seems a lot of things are dying, replaced by commodities and gimmicks. The great irony is that in the 1980’s, when artists like Michael and Whitney and Prince were at their peak, we thought the music industry had become too commercialized and real music was dying even then. We hadn’t seen nothing yet, as the absolute nadir of pop music was still a few decades away.

In what is apparently a continuation of a plot gag that has been running throughout the season, the pop star Lorde is not really a teenage girl at all, but rather, Stan’s father Randy, who at the bequest of a greedy manager has been faking it all along, making people believe that he is actually the teenage pop star. The ruse has worked quite well until…well, now he has to perform live at a “Women in Rock” concert. The concert also features Nicky Minaj, Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea-and Michael Jackson’s hologram, who is supposed to perform onstage with Iggy. When it’s revealed that “Lorde” can’t even carry a tune, “she” is immediatly booed offstage. Out of desperation, “she” resorts to the cheap tactics of Iggy, Miley, and the others, and performs an outrageous “clit rubbing” onstage (of course, what makes this scene so hilarious is in knowing it is actually Stan’s dad Randy who is going to these ridiculous lengths!).

In all the chaos over Lorde’s “clit rubbing” Michael Jackson’s hologram escapes! Proclaiming that he’s now “free,” he (or it?) spins, moonwalks, hee-hee’s and shamone’s all the way across the parking lot and into the wild blue yonder.

Being cornered and backed into "fight or flee" mode was a common theme in many of Michael's works, including this shootout scene from "Moonwalker."
Being cornered and backed into “fight or flee” mode was a common theme in many of Michael’s works, including this shootout scene from “Moonwalker.”

So what ensues when suddenly you have a runaway celebrity hologram on the loose? Well, apparently, we will have to wait until next week to get the full answer. All we know right now is that music execs, deciding that the only effective way to capture a hologram is with a hologram, have now resurrected “Tupac” to chase down runaway Mike. “Virtual Mike” is last seen on a bus, where after a conversation with an elderly passenger that engages in a bit of double entendre hinting at the allegations (I wish they wouldn’t always feel the need to “go there” but I suppose it’s unavoidable) we learn that “Virtual Mike” has some unfinished business to tend to. Judging from the evil look in his eyes, we can only hope that maybe it involves Sony, Conrad Murray, Diane Dimond, Martin Bashir or, who knows, maybe all of the above! But…guess we’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

Will Tupac's Hologram Be Able To Capture Michael's Hologram-Or Will They End Up Joining Forces? Guess We'll Have To Wait To Find Out!
Will Tupac’s Hologram Be Able To Capture Michael’s Hologram-Or Will They End Up Joining Forces? Guess We’ll Have To Wait To Find Out!

Aside from the fact that Matt Stone and Trey Parker seem to think that the only memorable line Michael Jackson ever uttered is “That’s ignorant” (the joke wears really thin after the umpteenth time) I “get” what they’re trying to say. And, for sure, the comedic potential of a virtual Michael Jackson who is now free to wreck havoc on his enemies-as well as perhaps the music industry itself-is brilliant. One wonders if Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur’s virtual versions of themselves will end up teaming together against the greedy vultures who have singlehandedly ruined the music industry. If it happens, this would surely be an ending in true “South Park” style!

On a deeper symbolic level, the idea of an escaped Michael Jackson fits perfectly with the whole thematic idea of Xscape. “You want me/come and get me” Michael taunts, barely audibly, in the track’s fade out. Even Michael himself, no doubt, might have gotten a chuckle out of the idea of his virtualized image-meant to be a “slave to the rhythm” for the corporation-actually living out his ultimate fantasy of escaping and putting it to them. When the hologram was first revealed, a common assumption was that here was a true, bona fide puppet for execs to continue milking his brand-even better, for this was a “virtual reality” Michael Jackson who could be completely controlled, who would sing and dance on command and otherwise never cause any problems or raise any demands. In other words, all one had to do was pull his strings, or wind him up (whatever the analogous equivalent of how a hologram is brought to life); he would dance and sing for you, then no more worries. After all, he isn’t human and will never cause any of the headaches that, gosh, our dear beloved human Michael must have sometimes caused them.

The entire episode isn’t available for embedding (copyright infringement and all that!) but here’s a clip from the episode:

Although the crude jokes are to be expected (it’s “South Park,” after all, where nothing is sacred) I think that Trey Parker and Matt Stone “get” Michael Jackson on a far more important, crucial level. While we can laugh at some of Michael’s performance tics, eccentricities, and tendencies sometimes towards the grandiose (and all of these, at some point, have been the butt of “South Park” satire) Michael is most often portrayed, ultimately, as a victim of fame, of greedy execs, and of the media that drove its relentless vendetta against him.  If one thinks for a moment that this is all just some writer’s fantasy, listen again to the lyrics of Xscape, Leave Me Alone, and oh, about a dozen other tracks I could name.  This was the life that Michael lived for over forty-five of his fifty years. Indeed, a predominant, recurring theme of the MJ “South Park” parodies is the idea of Michael Jackson finally being “released” from the metaphoric prison of his existence, and they have played on this theme in many and various ways, from the persecuted and incognito “Mr. Jefferson” to the earthbound spirit of “Dead Celebrities” and, finally, as his own imprisoned “virtual self” in this latest and most recent episode.  In the case of the latter two, it has been some bit of unfinished business or unfulfilled desire that holds him bound, and only by finally accomplishing these final objectives does he find release. In the “Dead Celebrities” episode, the humor of this supposed objective (that he wanted to compete in a little girls’ beauty pageant) is patently ridiculous, but its very absurdity is analogous to the idea of someone who has been trapped in a world since childhood where, presumably, he was never allowed freedom of choice; where no one ever bothered to ask him what he wanted to do with his life.  So it turns out, after all the accolades and the millions of records sold and all the awards won and women fainting at sight of him and dining with dignitaries and zipping around the world on private jets, it turns out all he ever really wanted out of life was a silly trophy for competing in a kids’ pageant. As silly as it sounds, it’s not totally out of character for Michael, either. After all, he spent a lifetime compensating for the simple joys of childhood. So in the end, when his ghost is proudly holding his trophy on the plane, yes, it’s absurd but there is a kind of bittersweet triumph in it, as well. Michael Jackson, so the message goes, finally got something that he wanted-not what his family wanted, or what Sony wanted, or what the world wanted. The implication is that, no matter how absurd, silly, or trivial, he has finally gotten to do something just for Michael.

south park10

 

And, to further add to the relevant timeliness of the current episode, yesterday’s release of the 2015 Grammy nominations have further fueled the speculations of pundits everywhere that the music industry truly is experiencing its own Gotterdammerung. There are few, if any, genuine artists left. We live in an era where the ability to twerk is valued far more than the ability to dance or sing; where being a trending topic on Twitter is more valued as a gauge of artistic success than sales, where auto tuning has replaced vocals and where even the great uniqueness of past pop icons are now reduced to the gimmicky of hologram technology.

I have a feeling that, from Heaven or wherever he is looking down, Michael just might be cheering on his virtual self and its current victory! But what is in store for Virtual Mike? Will he be able to carry out his plan, or will he be captured and forced back into a life of corporate slavery?

Gosh, this reminds me of why I detest two part episodes!

Well, rest assured that whatever mayhem “Virtual Mike” unleashes, we won’t be able to blame it on Michael. After all, he’s in Heaven. So whatever happens, it’s not him-it’s his hologram! Remember when Michael said, years ago, that he would love to be invisible just once so he could slap the paparazzi off those silly motor scooters they drive? Hmmmm…now imagine a world where Michael is finally free, and whatever happens…”Oops, it wasn’t me! Musta been my hologram!”

"It Wasn't Me...Musta Been My Hologram!"
“It Wasn’t Me…Musta Been My Hologram!”

 

UPDATE 12/12/14: Part 2 of the “South Park” hologram episode aired 12/10. Although as it turned out, Michael’s hologram was hardly the centerpiece of the episode (and, in fact, many celebrities and celebrity holograms were spoofed) it turned out to be a quite satisfying conclusion. As predicted, Michael’s and Tupac’s holograms did end up working together, after an initial confrontation at Stan’s house in which the two hologram icons realized that as black men, they had to work together. The episode touched on many relevant, current events, with both Michael and Tupac’s holograms ending up in a stand-off with white cops surrounding Stan’s house. They debate at one point whether Michael’s hologram is actually a black man since “we couldn’t put a choke hold on him.” Michael’s hologram was supposed to be the featured star of a cheesy Christmas TV special (featuring many celebrity holograms), one in which he would play Peter Pan. They mention that this is the segment of their show that has the biggest response on Twitter.  But rather than going back to play Peter Pan, Michael is persuaded that a stand has to be made to save the music industry. Tupac and Michael’s holograms return together to the studio with guns, and Michael gets the shot that brings down the evil music mogul, putting a (most thankful and welcome) end to this sad spectacle.

Other celebrities that were spoofed in this episode included Kurt Cobain, Elvis, Robin Williams, Taylor Swift, and Bill Cosby (I would imagine a recent add to take advantage of the current headlines while the iron was hot).

Some interesting things of note: I liked that this episode gave Michael the heroic ending, allowing him to be the one who fires the fatal shot that saves the day. Even if teamed up with a famous “thug” rapper like Tupac, it seems only fitting that the final stand that saves music should be made by The King of Pop.  Secondly, it may be worth noting that while Bill Cosby’s character is portrayed as being guilty of his crimes (he is obviously trying to come on strong to Taylor Swift, and puts a drug in her drink) Michael’s hologram repeatedly asserts the reminder that his crimes were only “alleged” ones. Of course, as I have said before, the fact that this response is supposed to be somehow humorous (repeating in an effeminate voice that the accusations are “ignorant” ad nauseam) deflects the denial-and another running gag is that the hologram is always too quick to assume he is being accused even when it is supposedly just an “innocent” conversation.  However, another way to interpret the hair trigger responses is that they are conditioned responses that have come about as a result of being hounded and persecuted. In this episode, there is a clear connect to the earlier “The Jeffersons” episode. When the cops come into the station with Michael’s hologram in handcuffs, they say that they found him snooping around “the old Jefferson place.” Since we know that “Mr. Jefferson” was really supposed to be Michael, this means that the hologram’s unfinished business referred to in Part 1 involved returning home, even though this had been the earlier scene of his persecution. Now, with the increased attention of white police brutality against black men, Michael’s hologram is being subjected to even harsher treatment, the white cops presumably having been made even angrier by the fact that their choke hold was unsuccessful. Then, while Michael’s hologram is still in handcuffs, Tupac’s hologram enters the police station. After many incredulous jokes about a “black guy walking into a police station” they start to fire on him. Of course, since “Tupac” isn’t really Tupac but a hologram, the bullets go right through him.

I cringed when I first heard the rumor that Part 2 would consist of Michael’s hologram playing Peter Pan on a TV special. That would have been every bit as incredibly lame as the spoof promo for the show suggested. I am glad that, as it turned out, Virtual Michael never had any intention of taking part in that lame production, a decision that had apparently been made for him and for which he never had a say (then again, he’s supposed to be a hologram, right?). It seems somehow fitting that, in the end, Virtual Mike gets not only the last laugh, but the heroic honor of taking down the man responsible for this corruption.

While I don’t think there is any danger of “Happy Holograms” going down as a classic “South Park” episode it was, for this MJ fan, at least, a pretty fitting end.

 

The Current Conspiracy and…The Australian Connection? Part 3

When We Ask "Who Really Wanted To Destroy Michael Jackson" There Are Always Two Names That Will Crop Up At The Root Of It All-Victor Gutierrez and Diane Dimond!
When We Ask “Who Really Wanted To Destroy Michael Jackson” There Are Always Two Names That Will Crop Up At The Root Of It All-Victor Gutierrez and Diane Dimond!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There have certainly been a lot of interesting developments since I last posted in this series. In an interesting coincidence (perhaps?) it was shortly after the last post in this series that one of the two main MJ hater sites that I reported on in that piece has completely disappeared off the face of the internet. What they may be a harbinger of, if anything, I do not know, but somehow I doubt that these very obsessed and persistent individuals have laid down their arms and given up the ghost that easily. Most likely, it simply means that they have figured ways to become much more subversive in their campaign. I would suspect that whatever happened to my adversary’s blog, “she” has most likely simply closed shop in order to merge the ranks. The Topix faction has been surprisingly mum on this sudden and abrupt silencing of their Queen B leader. But no matter. At least for now, there is one less available hub for the hatists and their propaganda.

What else is new? Well, we have the defection and sudden turnabout face of Alan Duke, a former respected CNN journalist who had always been noted for his fair and balanced coverage on all aspects of Michael Jackson. During the AEG trial, Alan Duke’s updates were always an oasis of reasonableness in a sea of biased gutter reporting. Now, for whatever unfathomable reason, he has hitched up with “the Aussie conspirator” incarnate, Dylan Howard. Which just goes to prove a theory I’ve long held to, which is that the integrity of any journalist is really no more believable than the fake on-air personas that radio dj’s adopt. I mean, have you ever noticed how your favorite radio personality will suddenly shift personas completely once they go to another station? So your favorite cool dj whom you thought loved all the same punk bands as you is suddenly over at the local country or AOR station, and voile’, they have a new on-air name and a whole, new on-air persona to match! Sometimes they even change their voices. It’s all a part of shedding that old skin so that, like a chameleon, they can now blend right into the new environment. When I was younger and cared more about stuff like that, I always took such defections quite seriously-and sometimes personally. It felt like a kind of betrayal. Of course, as we get older we get a lot more more blase’ about these things. In the case of those defector dj’s, for example, we start to realize that these people aren’t in the business for the love of music. It’s a job to them. And like any job, they go where the money is and where the opportunity for advancement presents itself. If that means changing their whole identity and ditching the loyal following they may have amassed, so be it. The way most of them will justify their actions is that they may lose a few followers but they will gain new ones. That’s how the game is played. Alan Duke has proven that journalists really do not operate much differently. For many, their integrity and loyalty depends on which side their bread is buttered. So now that Duke has hooked up with Dylan Howard, suddenly “Jackson” has become “Jacko” and Wade Robson is no longer even an alleged victim, but a “victim” who is being “silenced” by Jackson estate lawyers (if one of Duke’s more recent headlines is to be believed).

Last but not least, as reported in the previous post, Tom Sneddon passed away on November 1. But we can be rest assured that his death will hardly be the closing of a dark and ugly chapter, much as it would be nice to think so. Instead, what we are bound to see-and indeed it is already happening!-is that Sneddon’s death is only going to reinforce the bitter determination of those who counted themselves among his friends, and for whom Sneddon was a personal hero. This is the faction that now, more than ever, are pinning their hopes of ultimate vindication on two individuals who have recently been coerced into the family fold-Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck.

Which brings us to Diane Dimond, who used the occasion of her friend’s death to take a needless and tasteless dig at Michael Jackson and his fans. I have been patiently watching and analyzing this woman’s words and actions for the past five years. There was a time, very early on, when I gave her some benefit of the doubt. She is just a journalist, I thought, and her job isn’t to be Michael Jackson’s fan. A journalist is entitled to have their biases (the title, after all, doesn’t mean that we aren’t still human, although true journalists do nevertheless have an obligation to keep their personal biases out of their reporting). I was even almost fooled by her charade in reporting the Rodney Allen story (pretending to be the undercover journalist with integrity who unearthed a potential scam against Michael Jackson, when in reality she merely used that angle to cover her own ass when the “lead” she investigated turned out to be a gigantic hoax that nearly cost her job with “Hard Copy” who had footed much of the bill for her obsessive wild goose chase to Canada!). But after wading through much evidence over the years, it has slowly dawned on me that Diane Dimond’s role in all of this (i.e, what happened to Michael Jackson and is continuing to happen) is much more complex than what first meets the eye. Is Diane Dimond merely an objective reporter-as she would have us believe-or is her role in the Michael Jackson allegations-both past and present- a much more substantive and sinister one?

A huge part of the objective of this series has been an attempt to get to the bottom of who is really behind the allegations-and why. If Michael Jackson didn’t molest any kids-and there remains to this day no substantive proof or evidence of such claims-then who stood to gain by creating such allegations?

As I have explained before, I chose to subtitle this series “The Australian Connection” due to some curious coincidences that, while I have yet to fully connect the dots, are nevertheless quite intriguing. Wade Robson (Jackson’s current accuser), Dylan Howard of Radar Online (the only web source and media outlet that continues to act as a direct mouthpiece for Robson and his lawyers), the MJFacts website (responsible for perpetuating much of the internet flaming against Jackson and spread of inaccurate information), and at least one “insider” for the Wade Robson support page, all have ties to Australia. This could all be coincidence, of course. But one thing I have noted is that, time and again, the web of individuals who have worked in concert to either plant or perpetuate these stories (the “fan flamers,” so to speak) is surprisingly small and close knit.

These Birds Of A Feather Have Been Flocking Together...For Over 20 Years!
These Birds Of A Feather Have Been Flocking Together…For Over 20 Years!

And if we look past “the current conspiracy” to where it all began, two names in particular have been consistently intertwined from the beginning-Victor Gutierrez and Diane Dimond. From that hub, we have the whole satellite connection of other names-Paul Baressi and Maureen Orth, on down to  Sneddon  and Zonen, on down to the ring of disgruntled ex-employees befriended by Gutierrez and Dimond, and then on down to the actual accusers (all of whom appear to have been coerced in some way after coming into contact with either Gutierrez or Dimond, or both). I have little doubt that both are continuing to play a very pro-active role in current events.  Dimond, especially, who has never been known for her subtlety (or professional demeanor, for that manner) continues to give the game away in ways that she probably doesn’t even realize.  In other words, hot heads and weaklings are fairly easy to catch in their own trap. Diane Dimond’s hypocrisy and changing of facts to suit her own agenda has been called out more than a few times in mainstream media (a good case in point being when she jumped the gun in defending the fake FBI story and her friend Paul Baressi, only to have to embarrasingly retract in the light of overwhelming evidence that the story was a hoax-of which she was well aware all along!). In a now famous email to Susan Etok, whom she ingratiated herself with under the false pretense of a being a Michael Jackson “supporter” in order to gain an interview, she made a blatantly false claim that over twenty boys testified to having been molested by Michael at his trial. This was a blatant lie, purposely intended to pull the wool over the eyes of Susan Etok and unsuspecting readers who would not think to actually investigate the truth. There were, in fact, only five such witnesses who testified at Michael’s trial in 2005, and that is if we count Gavin Arvizo himself.  Of those five, three of them-Macaulay Culkin, Brett Barnes and Wade Robson-denied vehemently any wrongdoing on Jackson’s part. Jason Francia, heavily coached by his mother Blanca Francia, was the only one who claimed anything in the way of inappropriate behavior, but was reportedly such an unconvincing witness that he was laughed off the stand. That left only Jordan Chandler, who refused to testify and never even appeared.  So all in all, a total of five testimonies, and three out of those five claiming adamantly that nothing happened-a far cry from Diane Dimond’s claim of “twenty crying victims.” And in the same email, as she has at various times in the past, Diane Dimond made vague and dubious claims about phantom victims and these alleged dozens of distraught families who have supposedly cried on her shoulder (literally, she would have us believe) about being afraid to press charges.

Email in which Diane Dimond BLATANTLY LIES to Susan Etok about witnesses at Michael Jackson trial:

“I met Diane Dimond for the first time last week and found her to be intelligent, funny, down-to-earth and very open-minded. ”

Letter from Diane:

Are you telling people that I now think Michael Jackson was completely innocent of the child molestation charges?

I keep getting these random e-mails informing me of such.

Please tell me it isn’t so. Because, Susan, I don’t believe that. It was nice meeting you and I know you love your departed friend but I’ve covered this story since 1993. I’ve sat with damaged children and crying parents too many times, parents too scared to press charges for fear of the media onslaught. I’ve talked with police officers and seen sworn statements they’ve gathered. I sat in the nearly 5 month long trial and watched 20-something young men take the stand and tearfully describe what happened to them at Michael Jackson’s hand. Forget the outcome of the trial – where three jurors later said they were coerced into their acquittal vote and wish they could take it back. It cannot be that ALL these people are lying and Michael is just a victim of his own celebrity.

Please. Don’t speak for me on this very, very delicate and important issue. As you said – your friend was a drug addict. I’m here to tell you he was an addict for years. He was not a person in charge of his behavior. I know it’s hard to hear but he was also addicted to little boys – and that’s a fact – just as sure as he was addicted to alcohol and drugs.

I wish you all the best in your endeavors.

Diane Dimond

http://www.michaeljackson.com/us/node/239141

I have seen this statement before from Diane Dimond, and for me it really raises a troubling and disturbing question: Who the heck are these alleged, nameless families, and (presuming they even exist!) why on earth would they seek out Diane Dimond? You would think that if someone thought their child had been molested, they would go to the police. And if not to the police, at least an attorney. A psychologist. Something. Why would a sleazy, ex-“Hard Copy” tabloid reporter be their go-to person? If they were too afraid to press charges (as per the excuse that Dimond always uses) would not they have just as much to fear by going to the media?

It is clearly obvious, based on Dimond’s own track record and the way she operates, that if she has had any such conversations at all (which is debatable) it is very clear that she sought these people out, rather than the other way around. That is the only viable explanation of why they would be talking to her in the first place. But with nothing to go on but the word of a woman who has already been exposed time and again as an outright liar at worst and exaggerator at best, there is simply no way to authenticate these stories one way or the other.

Diane Dimond Uses The Occasion Of Her Friend’s Death As Just Another Excuse To Take An Unnecessary Stab At Michael Jackson!

Santa Barbara District AttorneyTom Sneddon has lost a year long battle with cancer. His wife Pam and many of their 9 children were at his side. 
In my opinion, we lost a man of integrity. Sneddon was an Army veteran, public servant for more than 3 decades, started his county’s first Sexual Assault Response Team and dedicated his life to helping victims try to get justice.
When word of his death was officially announced by his family ill-informed “haters” — fanatics who worship at the alter of Michael Jackson and never forgave Sneddon for prosecuting Jackson on child molestation charges — came out in droves to say the ugliest things. 
They are childish and ill-informed. Sneddon was the ONLY person who had the courage to do the right thing even though law enforcement knew for years about Mr. Jackson and his misbehavior with young boys. 
A testament to the facts is this: Five young men have now come forward to claim they were molested at the hands of Michael Joseph Jackson when they were young boys. Five. Five. I’m betting there are more. 
RIP, Tom Sneddon. Go with God.

What was the point of the above? Clearly, even on the day of Sneddon’s passing, Diane couldn’t shake Michael Jackson off the brain!

I have written extensively about Guiterrez and his motivations for beginning his aggressive, one-man campaign in the mid 1980’s to “out” Michael Jackson as a pedophile. But how did Gutierrez come to be so inextricably linked with Diane Dimond, and what was her motivation for becoming so doggedly involved with this man and his campaign? How did this Chilean reporter become a “mentor” for Diane Dimond?

Awhile back, a reader sent me an email with a link to a rather explosive video, an expose’ on the relationship between Diane Dimond and Victor Gutierrez . Since the view count on this video is still relatively low, I have to assume that a lot of fans still don’t know about it. This is an absolute “Must Watch” for anyone who cares about what happened to Michael Jackson in 1993, in 2003, and is continuing into 2014. The English translation is a little rough in spots, but bear with it. It’s well worth the effort.

Even if Michael Jackson fans are already familiar with much of this background info, it is still quite chilling when you see laid out the connection of these individuals and their motivations, stretching back over at least two decades or more. A couple of things that really stand out to me from the video: 1. How Diane Dimond willingly went along with a scam to create and report false evidence against Michael Jackson (the phantom tape that was alleged to show him molesting his nephew Jeremy) with only the word of Victor Gutierrez as a source! At the time, she falsely stated that the investigation into Michael Jackson was being re-opened, as a means of intimidating Margaret Maldonada Jackson under false pretenses! This goes far beyond the role of a reporter or journalist; this is someone actually taking a pro-active stance to create a story and evidence. Even more disturbing is that after learning the truth about Rodney Allen and his pedophile ring in Canada, she completely turns a blind eye to it, never bothering to follow up on what was obviously a far more frightening-and real!-case than the Michael Jackson story. Apparently, she was quite  content to let a real molestor off the hook when it turned out his name wasn’t Michael Jackson. To my knowledge, there was no attempt made by Diane Dimond to follow up on the case of a man whom she obviously knew was pimping teenage boys on the streets of Toronto. According to the clip and Dimond’s parting words, Rodney Allen’s case was left to the police to unravel. But if Diane Dimond was, as she self proclaims, so interested in justice for child abuse perpetrators, why didn’t she continue to obsessively investigate what was obviously a disgusting and frightening situation going on in Canada? Clearly, her obsession remained Michael Jackson, and Michael Jackson only. In fact, throughout that segment something interesting emerges: We see not only Diane Dimond, but the entire production team of Hard Copy carrying out the role of investigators and district attorneys-in other words, carrying out the work that normally would be handled by police and investigators in cases like this.

At 22:40, something is noted that has also been called out before by many fans who noticed this when Dimond’s Skype interview on Michael Jackson’s death first aired. On her wall, at her home, hangs iconic photos of Michael Jackson from the Panther Dance sequence of “Black or White.” Why does this woman, who professes so much animosity towards Michael Jackson and clearly believes he was a pedophile, surround herself with his images?

 

This image from Diane Dimond's Home-Clearly Showing Photos Of MJ Decking Her Walls-Made Quite A Splash When This Image Went Virale
This image from Diane Dimond’s Home-Clearly Showing Photos Of MJ Decking Her Walls-Made Quite A Splash When This Image Went Viral

Well, to back up to something I said in the last post of this series, when examining the psychology of Michael Jackson haters, I said that there is a fine line between love and hate: they are really just polar extremes of the same emotion, both of which are born out of the same passion. I, too, have many iconic photos of Michael Jackson on my wall. Those photos help provide inspiration, from a place of love, when I sit down to write about him. It would not be too big of a stretch to imagine that Diane Dimond, likewise, uses images of Michael to inspire, only in her case it is the opposite. Just as millions of us MJ fans keep images of Michael nearby to inspire and uplift us, Diane Dimond clearly keeps those images close by to inspire her in the opposite direction. It reeks of a strange, very bizarre, and very sad admiration/hatred for Michael Jackson that has become her obsession, and has been for over twenty years. Think on this: Many journalists covered the Michael Jackson story at the time. Most have long since moved on. A journalist’s job, after all, is to cover the latest stories-not to obsess incessantly over one story and one subject, to the point that it has dominated the last two decades of their life.

ETA: This passage from a NY Post article confirms it. Note what Dimond says here (thank you, Susan, for the link!):

“I did it not because I ‘m obsessed with Michael Jackson,but because I wanted the reminder that that was the one story that I hadn ‘t finished,” Dimond says.. “I wonder what Jackson would think if he knew that I had it.”

http://nypost.com/2005/02/13/jacksons-shadow-a-confidential-report-led-to-the-story-of-diane-dimonds-career/

The headline of the story is quite revealing. The Michael Jackson story was indeed “the story of her career” and, according to her, it remains the story that was never finished because it didn’t have the outcome she wanted. It is also clearly BS that she considered herself still “in the middle” in 2005. This was the same year that she published “Be Careful Who You Love” so clearly she already had her mind made up on the case.

Interestingly enough, one of the most common things that haters of Michael Jackson love to insist is that they are not “haters.” I read a lot of their propaganda. I read it to understand both their mindset and the tactics that they use to manipulate. They will insist that they are “reasonable” people but this is far from the truth. I know people in everyday life who are skeptical of Michael’s innocence. I do not label those people as “haters.” Why? Because clearly, even though they have their beliefs, they are people who have actual lives and do not devote themselves 24-7 to the subject. Clearly, anyone who is so obsessed as to create websites, organize followers, and who spends countless hours on the internet stalking fansites and trolling any pro or anti article about Michael Jackson on the internet is clearly not a “reasonable” person but a person who is clearly mentally disturbed and fixated on hate. Thus, I use the term correctly.

As a celebrity who was constantly hounded by the press and by false stories, Michael Jackson had to deal with many devious and shady reporters. But both Victor Gutierrez and Diane Dimond have the dubious honor of being the only journalists Michael Jackson ever brought a lawsuit against-and won. As the video mentions, Tom Sneddon went above and beyond to write a letter that would prevent Diane Dimond from being charged in the case. Gutirrez was ordered to pay 2.7 million in damages, but avoided the court order by returning to Chile. Michael appealed the decision to exempt Dimond from the charges. The 2.7 million he was awarded was far short of the $50 million in damages he had sought. As it turned out, Michael never received a penny from either of them.

Michael Jackson Sues ‘Hard Copy’ Reporter and Radio Talk Show

January 13, 1995|SHAWN HUBLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three days after a “Hard Copy” report alleged that Michael Jackson was videotaped in an illicit sexual encounter, the pop star filed a $50-million lawsuit against the tabloid television show’s reporter and a radio talk show that aired her assertions.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that “Hard Copy” correspondent Diane Dimond slandered Jackson with a false and unsubstantiated report, and compounded the injury by repeating the allegations on KABC-AM radio.

The suit also alleges that Dimond falsely reported that authorities had renewed their investigation of child molestation against Jackson.

The suit–which also names “Hard Copy” producer Stephen Doran, Paramount Pictures Corp. and KABC talk show hosts Roger Barkley and Ken Minyard–stems from a Jan. 9 episode of “Hard Copy” and an appearance on Barkley and Minyard’s show that morning.

Jackson’s lawyer, Howard Weitzman, said the show was based on British tabloid reports published last weekend and on a claim made by Victor Gutierrez, a self-proclaimed biographer of Jackson who is also named in the suit.

http://articles.latimes.com/1995-01-13/local/me-19724_1_michael-jackson

Dimond may not be an Aussie, but it is clear from recent events and headlines that she is much more than just a side player in current events. If nothing else, she definitely has a reputation among anyone who wishes to bring allegations against Michael Jackson, as someone who will lend a sympathetic ear and as a convenient gatekeeper to the media on the one hand, and authorities on the other, via her long standing friendship with Tom Sneddon. But her history reveals something far more disturbing, and that is her willingness to take a pro-active stance in these accusations. Far more than merely reporting events as they unfold, she has been a key player in shaping those events, and I believe has had some hand in coercing certain players to come forward. A trait that many haters share in common is a tendency to badger young men who were known to be close friends of Michael Jackson. In some cases, the bullying and harassing has been so bad that some have had to go into hiding. She has been, and remains, one of the key instigators of Michael Jackson’s downfall.

Tom Sneddon: The Death Of The “Cold Man”

sneddon22
Michael As Tom Sneddon, aka “The Mayor”

Last week, Michael Jackson’s long time arch nemesis, Tom Sneddon, drew his last breath. I was a bit shocked to hear the news, but reports indicate that he had been suffering a bout with cancer. Most likely, his illness had been a well guarded secret from the world for some time. Whatever the case, the man that Michael forever tagged as a “cold man” is indeed now a cold man quite literally.

The irony and timing of his death was certainly not lost on Michael Jackson fans. Tom Sneddon died on Saturday, November 1, 2014.  He would have been drawing his last, ragged breaths on Halloween night, as across the globe millions celebrated “Thriller” with the usual outpourings of flash mob dances. That week, as Tom Sneddon lay dying, “Thriller” reentered the Billboard charts at #35. But is this, as some have suggested, a kind of poetic justice? As Tom Sneddon, the man who tormented Michael Jackson for decades, lay dying, Michael was still undeniably on top. Forbes has ranked him as the top earning dead celebrity. Obviously, the public’s love and adoration for “Thriller” isn’t in any danger of dissipating. On Halloween night, as millions all over the world danced to Michael Jackson’s music, Tom Sneddon lay dying-a death that was guaranteed to create no more than a footnote to the pages of history. But while there may be satisfaction in this fact, it is not really justice. Let’s not forget that Michael himself is also dead. While his legacy and music live on, his body lies in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn, as cold and lifeless as Sneddon’s. And let’s not forget that, in whatever measure great or small, the man Tom Sneddon is at least partially responsible for that.

Tom Sneddon As...Himself, The "Cold Man"
Tom Sneddon As…Himself, The “Cold Man”

But lest some of you are already forming preconceived notions about this post, this is not about to be another bitter lashing out at Tom Sneddon. There has been plenty of that in the last week. But there has also been a surprisingly large number of fans who have taken the high road, proving once again that we are certainly not all the raving lunatics that the media and haters try to portray (in fact, that Sneddon was able to live out a quite comfortable life to age 73 should in itself be enough to squelch the nonsense that all MJ fans are rabid lunatics looking to harass and threaten every perceived enemy of Michael Jackson). This brings up an interesting point raised by those supporting the Cadeflaw initiative (of which I, too, am a firm supporter). As we know, Cadeflaw’s purpose is to bring about legislation that would prevent slandering of the dead, or in general, of talking ill against the dead in the media. Well, for sure, there can’t be a double standard if this is going to be something we support. That is, there cannot be a standard for those who speak against Michael Jackson, and another for those who speak ill of anyone else who is dead. Tom Sneddon is now among the dead, and like it or not, that fact does entitle him to the same respect we would like to see applied to Michael and all deceased persons.

Michael In 2005, Emaciated and Devastated. Tom Sneddon Was Not The Sole Player, But He Damn Sure Was A Leading One.
Michael In 2005, Emaciated and Devastated. Tom Sneddon Was Not The Sole Player, But He Damn Sure Was A Leading One.

However, just to clarify, there is a difference between what is slander, and what is truth. Death doesn’t change the facts of a person’s life or the deeds they did (I realize this is the same logic that haters love to twist when rationalizing why they continue to sling filth about Michael, but bear with me for a moment). If anything, the fact that the person is dead may make us only slightly more forgiving. Some of us-those capable of taking that higher path-will say that hanging onto that kind of futile bitterness only harms ourselves. After all, we can’t now undo what Sneddon has done, and at least in this life, he will never pay any consequences for what was done to Michael. That, perhaps, is the most frustrating reality of all. Sneddon should have been prosecuted for his crimes while he lived. He should have been held accountable for all of the actual child molestors he turned a blind eye to and allowed to go free while he relentlessly pursued Michael Jackson. A lot of things “should have” been but “should have” never could, as my grandmother used to say. That’s another way of saying it’s all water under the dam now.

So, where do we go from here? For sure, a huge part of “vindicating” Michael Jackson comes with continuing to cast light on what Sneddon did. Evan Chandler, likewise, died and under even more tragic circumstances than Sneddon. But that fact has not stopped us from continuing to look with a critical eye at the key role that Evan Chandler played in Michael’s demise. By the same token, we do have to remember, in extending the same courtesy that we would like to see given to Michael,that a deceased person can no longer speak for themselves. Sneddon’s death should not be an excuse now for “anything goes.” That doesn’t mean that we stop telling the truth about what he did, of course. It just means that the focus may have to change. Whereas before, many of us wanted to see Sneddon pay for what he did, now we have to adjust those expectations. It is truly now about justice for Michael’s name. Nothing else, for Sneddon is beyond paying in this life, and whether he must pay in the hereafter is for God to decide.

Personally, I felt no sense of rejoice at the news. My first reaction was: Great. Here’s another one who got away with destroying Michael. He got to do his dirty work, and then he died. I do feel sadness for his family, of course. Someone said, “He was probably a loving grandfather.” Any death is always a tragedy for somebody, and it’s a point well worth keeping in mind. But either way, physical death isn’t exactly payback. It is simply the end of an existence.

In some weird way, though, Tom Sneddon was a member of what we affectionately call “the MJ fam.” That is, he was among the merry cast of characters whose names I became vastly familiar with over the course of my intense, five year study of all things Michael Jackson-those whose names, for better or worse, were forever linked to Michael’s. Tom Sneddon was not blind to this fact, of course. It was partly what drove and motivated him. He wanted the fame that would come from being the man who convicted Michael Jackson. Perhaps he should have taken a few history lessons from people like Pat Garrett and Frank Hamer. Don’t recognize those names? Not surprising. Few people do. But I bet you’ve heard the names Billy the Kid, and that of Bonnie and Clyde! Granted, I realize there is a slight flaw in this analogy. Both Billy the Kid and Bonnie and Clyde, however much we romanticize them, were nonetheless cold blooded killers who probably got their just deserts in the end. In other words, even if their crimes were greatly exaggerated (I believe they were) their killers could at least rest easy in the knowledge that they were guilty, and some measure of justice had been served. But in the end, as with all things of this nature, they did it ultimately to satisfy their own egos. Yet, as history has proven, their names have been largely forgotten, while those of the criminals they fought so hard to bring down continue to live on in infamy. As Billy the Kid was allegedly reported to have said to Pat Garrett, “You’ll never be Billy The Kid. You will only be known as the man who shot Billy The Kid.”

For the purpose of this analogy, I am casting aside for the moment the fact of Michael’s actual guilt or innocence. The fact is, Tom Sneddon rationalized in his own mind that Michael Jackson was guilty, and sought glorification in the idea of bringing him down.  It would have been the coup of his career, just as his friend Diane Dimond was banking on a Michael Jackson conviction to boost her reputation as an investigative journalist. Instead, they both had to swallow a very large crow sandwich on June 13th, 2005. Reports of Tom Sneddon’s face that day turning red as a turkey vulture’s are not exaggerated (I have seen the photos!).

For years, the name Tom Sneddon has been connected to everything that has been most evil and repulsive to Michael Jackson fans. While there is no single “villain” of this tragedy, Tom Sneddon-as the man who relentlessly persecuted Michael Jackson to the point of driving him out of his home; the man ultimately responsible for the trial that slowly and torturously drained the life from him-has been, perhaps, the most convenient scapegoat; the easiest “villain” of the piece on which to project our frustrated and outraged sense of injustice. With his over the top, comedic appearance (Sneddon could easily have been cast as the “bad guy” of any of those cheesy 80’s movies where some uptight official despises anything that is fun, like music and dancing) and over zealousness to “get” his guy at any cost, he made an easy target, especially for those who loved Michael and needed, perhaps, an easy target. That is, it seems almost like a comedy until one realizes it was all too real. Tom Sneddon really was that guy. When my sister and I made the trip to the state fair in Selma a couple of years ago to ride Michael’s Ferris wheel, we made jokes about what Sneddon would do if he had the Ferris wheel in his possession. “He would be scraping the seats for possible semen stains,” I laughed. But while it may have seemed at times like some grossly exaggerated comedy, what ultimately played out was no laughing matter. Many people suffered and paid the price for Sneddon’s obsession, including Michael and his children. And perhaps even Sneddon himself, for no one can do what he did and live out his years peacefully with a clear conscience. Certainly the years he spent doggedly pursuing Michael Jackson could have been put to more productive use; time that he might have spent with his children and grandchildren, or putting real criminals behind bars.

The great irony is that, for the man who so wanted the fame and glory of putting Michael Jackson away, his death went relatively unnoticed by the world except for-you guessed it, the MJ fandom, where it was the equivalent of a trending topic and, as you see, meriting its own post here! The little media attention that was paid to it was, again not surprisingly, the reaction of Michael Jackson fans. As usual, the media singled out only the most extreme and rabid sounding responses as examples of what “lunatics” those MJ fans are. Stacy Brown, as usual, used the occasion as an excuse to try to make the fandom look bad, by posting this statement (not coincidentally, of course, on his buddy Diane Dimond’s Facebook page!):

” You know what’s interesting. I spoke with Mr. Sneddon the day Michael Jackson died. He, in no way, was joyful or happy. He respected the artist Michael Jackson and he said he thought the death was a tragedy and had hoped that, before Jackson’s death, the singer would find some real peace in his life. Peace, Mr. Sneddon made clear, that Jackson, his family, and hangers-on were responsible for taking away, not the criminal justice system. Mr. Sneddon exemplified class and for those who didn’t have the privilege of getting to know him just a little, it’s really your loss.”-Stacy Brown

Although I never give much credence to anything out of Stacy Brown’s mouth, I don’t doubt that the above statement is probably true. While it’s laughable to presume that Sneddon had no hand in taking away Michael’s “peace” (I only have to remember those stories of Michael crying on the phone to Thomas Mesereau at three am, terrified of what was going to happen to his kids, or those stories of him being sick and vomiting on the way to court on those mornings to know the ludicrousness of that statement!) I suppose I can at least give it to him that he could have used the occasion of Michael’s death to speak ill and rub salt in old wounds, but he didn’t. That, of course, didn’t mean he’d had some change of heart; only that he was abiding by the old civil courtesy of not speaking ill of someone who had just died. But his inability to acknowledge any responsibility whatsoever for his own role is nevertheless chilling. Also, if we want a real taste of Sneddon’s “class” we only have to transport ourselves back to that time (2003-2005) and watch how gleefully he gloated on TV-“We got ‘im!”-and how tackily he and his cohorts celebrated even before the verdict had been announced. There was nothing that smacked of class in those antics.

But perhaps we have to look to Michael himself for the real keys in how to feel about Sneddon-and more importantly now, how to regard his death. In “D.S.” (the song we know was simply a thinly veiled reference to Tom Sneddon) Michael chose what has remained, for me, a somewhat puzzling descriptive phrase. For sure, he could have chosen a lot of phrases for the song’s refrain, but the one he settled on (repeated purposely almost to the point of ad nauseum) is: “Dom Sheldon (Tom Sneddon) is a cold man.” (For the record, it was many years before I realized this was not a song about an “old man,” lol).

Why the phrase “a cold man” in particular? Well, I don’t know but I have some theories. A cold person is not, in actuality, a hostile person. Being hostile means having hot blooded emotions. Remember, rage and hate are considered simply the polar opposites of love. But a cold person is a hardened person; a person devoid of love; a person whose heart is hidden beneath many layers of protective ice; a person who is no longer capable of receiving love. In other words, a person who is not capable of empathy or feeling of any kind.

Did Michael view Tom Sneddon as such a man? It is, like I said, a curious choice of words. “A cold man” would, for sure, make him the polar opposite of someone who stood for love and hoped to bring about world change through the power of love. Love is warmth, the direct opposite of “cold.”

I read an insightful comment on another web site that raised the question of whether Tom Sneddon was, in fact, someone who never had enough love in his life. Perhaps something had scarred him as a child, this person said. Perhaps he was denied love. We know that monsters aren’t born. Everything has its cause. Perhaps we can take another clue from Michael’s (again thinly disguised) portrayal of Tom Sneddon in the film “Ghosts.” I have already written several posts about how Michael essentially used that film as a vehicle to have a kind of “showdown with himself” in the confrontation between The Maestro character (himself) and The Mayor (Sneddon and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Michael’s own alter ego of himself). There is a point in the film, during the title track dance sequence, where The Mayor becomes possessed with the spirit of The Maestro-the equivalent of Tom Sneddon becoming possessed by the spirit of Michael Jackson! During this sequence, the formerly uptight and hateful Mayor is suddenly dancing, spinning, moonwalking, and grabbing his crotch. It is hilarious, of course, as it is intended to be, but something else happens during this sequence as well. The Mayor is grooving; everyone is getting down and having a good time, and for just a few moments, he is almost human-almost likable. We think, briefly, he has a shot at redemption (for obviously, as with most films of this genre, it is not the eccentric protagonist whom we are against, but rather his uptight nemesis). And indeed, once The Mayor is no longer possessed, we can see that nevertheless, a lot of the wind has been knocked from his sails. He is not so sure of his former stance anymore. Something inside him has changed. But nevertheless, he has to keep up the appearance of authority. So in an effort to overcome his own weakness (his own susceptibility to love) he over compensates by now turning on The Maestro with even greater fury. “YES! YES!” he shouts, as if in fervent hallelujah, when The Maestro asks “Do you still want me to go?” Yet, for all this, we can see that something in The Mayor’s convictions have been severely shaken.

In the end, Michael does go, but only to reappear triumphantly at the end of the film, while The Mayor, scared out of his wits by this resurrection, crashes through the wall, presumably never to be seen again. We can chalk this up, perhaps, to Michael’s own wishful thinking, as he was forever telling us that he would remain “invincible” and that no matter how hard his enemies worked to destroy him, he would always survive; always come out on top. On film, at least, it was still possible to believe that evil could be vanquished by a song and a dance. Wishful thinking, yes, but in some ways also chillingly prophetic in ways perhaps Michael could never have envisioned.

I feel sympathy for Tom Sneddon’s family and I will never bash a dead man on these pages just for the sake of bashing. But by the same token, I will continue to go forth with the work I am doing here and to report on the facts of what Tom Sneddon did. We cannot afford to shy away from the truth just because Sneddon has died. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I will as respectfully as I can continue to call out Mr. Sneddon for the actions he should have been held accountable for in his life.

The death of Tom Sneddon is a solemn reminder that no matter how hard Michael’s enemies worked to bring him down, in the end their lives and their names are but a footnote to his. In some ways, Tom Sneddon got what he wanted. He wanted his name to be forever linked to Michael Jackson’s.

He got his wish.

A New Take On “The Next Michael Jackson”

He Is The Gauge By Which Greatness and Success Are Measured
He Is The Gauge By Which Greatness and Success Are Measured

Fans always tend to get very defensive when someone says that “so and so” is going to be “the next Michael Jackson.”   I am one of those. It’s irritating to constantly see some lame up and comer being compared to the magical wonder that was our King of Pop, Rock, and Soul. But the bigger question is: Why do they do it, and why is it always Michael? I am going to offer an alternative to the usual racist and media conspiracies that claim it as an attempt to knock Michael from his throne-perhaps a refreshing one that will enable us to view these comparisons minus the paranoid tendencies. I was thinking about this especially in light of recent comments about Taylor Swift’s “1989.” Jack Antonoff defended his comment of comparing “1989” to “Thriller” by saying it’s amazing that an artist of today can still have sales numbers that are comparable to twenty years ago. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that anything by Taylor Swift or anyone else today will still be holding up twenty or thirty years from now. But the comment really made me start to think: Michael Jackson is the gauge by which EVERY new artist is measured. That is actually a tremendous compliment. So another way to look at the constant comparisons of some new artist to Michael Jackson may not necessarily be because they are anxious to “replace” Michael-as so many often interpret it-but because he is the yardstick by which success is now measured.

When I was growing up and latching onto whoever was the latest pop idol in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, my grandmother would always say, “Do you think he’ll be as big as Elvis?” Inevitably, the conversation would always lead to my grandmother concluding, “There’ll never be another Elvis.” In a way, she was right. Most of the ‘flashpan” idols of that time came and went-except for one.

For many decades, Elvis was the gauge by which any solo artist was measured. Until you could count yourself among that league, you were nobody. And even today, The Beatles are the gauge by which every group’s success is measured. For years, “we’re going to be bigger than The Beatles” was the inspirational motto of every up and coming rock band. Not to mention, the line became the selling point of any manager trying to pitch his or her latest discovery. “I tell you, they’re going to be the next Beatles!”

Did Michael Jackson, in fact, become the “new Elvis” in the 1980’s by surpassing his solo fame, sales records, and cultural significance? Well, I am sure that any Elvis fan would debate that matter hotly. Personally, I don’t think it is possible for any artist to become the new whoever/whatever and if they did, it would mean they lacked the originality to be themselves-the very thing that makes every artist unique-and thus great. That is, if ranking among the greats is to be their destiny. What people mean, of course, when they claim that any new artist is going to be “The Next _______” is that the person who fills that blank is someone who has made such a monumental impact on the world of music; someone who has left such an indelible stamp, that they have become that metaphoric yardstick by which phenomenal success is measured. The artists who join the ranks of Elvis, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson, however, have to do a lot more than just sell records. They have to impact our culture in some way; they have to be movers and shakers whose seismic impact shifts the music scene for decades to come.

So the next time you hear of any new artist being compared to Michael Jackson, just remember, it’s because he is considered a gauge of greatness and the pinnacle of what every artist hopes to achieve.

Writing About Michael Jackson: Who Has The Real Authority?

As the legacy recedes into shadows, who will ultimately have the authority to "write" Michael's story?
As the legacy recedes into shadows, who will ultimately have the authority to “write” Michael’s story?

This post was prompted by a recent post from another MJ blogger (whose blog bears a name confusingly similar to mine, although there is no affiliation). Hers was a statement against blogs that have become part of “the clique” and a kind of lambast against those bloggers who have apparently attempted to become “authorities” on Michael Jackson.

http://allforlove1970.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/should-we-be-burned-are-good-pieces-really-bad/

The post did not mention any names directly. However, anyone who has been part of the MJ blogosphere for any length of time certainly knows that “cliquedom” has become an unfortunate fact of life. Inevitably, MJ blogs and their authors have become lumped into various cliques, based on the author’s particular ideologies and those of their followers, and the approach they take to their subject-namely, Michael Jackson. I need not enumerate them. We know who they are. There are vindication blogs, anti-Sony blogs, anti-estate blogs, pro-estate blogs, conspiracy theory blogs, and just about everything that falls in between. There are blogs solely dedicated to Michael as an artist; blogs that celebrate his humanitarian work, and blogs that attempt to separate myth and fiction from reality. The nature of that “reality”, of course, is what was being called into question-and rightfully so. But let me back up for just a second.

I have always thought that the MJ blogosphere is a wonderful, diverse community where many of us are sharing our knowledge and research, and in so doing, building an archive of information that has seriously dented the narrative of the tabloids and mainstream media. Sure, we don’t all agree on everything. But that is the beauty of it. Readers are free to accept or reject what is put out. MJ fans, especially, are well informed and well aware that they are free to accept or reject any opinions or theories that are put out. They are free to absorb it all, to compare views, and to draw their own conclusions. However, with that being said, I have certainly seen my share of intolerant communities, where bloggers belittle, bully, and sometimes even block anyone who disagrees with them. A few have even gone on actively aggressive campaigns against other bloggers, publicly questioning the intents and motives of fellow bloggers-energy that certainly could be put to far better use by focusing on the subject at hand-Michael Jackson. Sadly, however, it seems that the MJ blogosphere, like so many things these days, is not immune to petty jealousy and the desire to drive off the “competition.” And I sometimes feel that this is the very motive behind a lot of the petty snipping and heel biting that I see.

But this does raise an interesting question. Are we, in fact (as this blogger suggests) guilty of merely supplanting the tabloid spins with a spin of another kind? Are we merely supplanting the mainstream MJ narrative-which has been mostly concocted by journalists with agendas-with an equally questionable narrative that is being spun by well intended fans and armchair researchers who also have agendas? Perhaps more to the point, is that a bad thing? Perhaps the answer is both yes and no.

The crux of her argument is that most of us did not know Michael; therefore, none of us can be qualified as the final authority on him. Well, that’s true. My favorite joke-especially when I hear someone being touted as a “Michael Jackson expert”-is that there is only one person who could have ever been a true “Michael Jackson expert,” and he has been gone for over five years! (Some would even argue if Michael really “knew” Michael!).  But by that same argument, we would also have to reject the full body of scholarship on every single historical figure who has ever lived! In the academic world, it is quite common to refer to colleagues as a “John Keats scholar” or a “Geoffrey Chaucer scholar.” But all the title really means is a nod to the amount of time and energy the scholar has poured into researching their subject. They have earned a certain entitlement due to their hard work and dedication, at least enough that students know to listen carefully and take good notes when they speak-if they want to pass the course. And, of course, it may get them invited to all the right parties, where they will be sure to sit and banter with other “authorities” on many past lives. But no one is ever truly an “authority” on anyone, no matter how many ph.d’s we have or how much  research we pour into that person’s life. We might, over time and with enough dedication, eventually get all of the facts of a life down. But always, the many facets of what truly comprises a human being-their heart, their soul, their dreams, their motivations and aspirations- will always be that elusive shadow we chase. What we think we know about famous celebrities or historical figures is constantly being deconstructed and then revisioned by subsequent generations. So, too, will it be with Michael.  Certainly our thirst to understand these individuals who have shaped and impacted our world doesn’t end just because they die-if anything, death intensifies the need to understand what their lives meant. If everyone ceased researching and writing about historical figures just because they have died and because we did not know them, then pretty soon there would be no biographies left; no documentaries, no library of research or knowledge at all.  We can say we didn’t know them, so why bother?

We Often Don't Even Grant Authority To The Ones Who Knew Him, So How On Earth Can We Entitle It To Anyone Else-Including Ourselves?
We Often Don’t Even Grant Authority To The Ones Who Knew Him, So How On Earth Can We Entitle It To Anyone Else-Including Ourselves?

On the other hand, when the subject is Michael Jackson, how much credence or authority is really granted to anyone who knew him? I never met Michael, but I have met and in some cases have maintained close contact with many who did know him-some quite intimately. To this day, I have only shared a small fraction of some of the wonderful stories and memories that have been shared with me because I considered those things to be private information. Having access to this knowledge, however, still doesn’t make me someone who “knew” Michael Jackson nor does it qualify me in any way to wear the label of “expert” or “final authority.” It is simply what it is-knowledge that has come about second hand, via two degrees of separation, and for which many variables must be accounted, including the nature of that individual’s relationship, the time period in which they knew him (for as with most of us, Michael changed and evolved over time) and their own motivations and experiences, which of course will invariably color their memories of Michael.

But as for actually knowing Michael and allowing that to serve as some kind of right to authority, we have certainly all seen for ourselves just how much weight that carries in the fan community-and even in the media. Karen Faye, Frank Cascio, Bill Whitfield, David Gest, and many others I could name are all certainly people who knew Michael Jackson as well as anyone could know him, yet their comments and motivations have constantly been held up for scrutiny, and even dismissed outright when they did not suit the preferred narrative of fans. Likewise, individuals who knew Michael and who have tried to speak out positively in the press are almost always invariably dismissed as biased sources (if only the same standard would be applied to those who speak negatively!). Lisa Marie Presley can go on Oprah and say she had a real marriage with Michael, and there will still be people calling her a liar. Michael’s own family, including his parents and siblings, would for sure have to count as people who knew him. Heck, he came from his own mother’s body! Yet I don’t even have to touch on how much “authority” or credibility they are granted by many, especially fans, when they talk about Michael! I have seen how quickly any quote from anyone who knew Michael can be shot down by fans and foes alike who don’t wish to accept any “truth” about Michael that deviates from their own-good or bad. And while it’s good to keep a critical mind, it is sometimes just as important to keep an open one.

If you read the information I posted on my “About” page, which I haven’t altered much since November of 2009, I made it very clear that I do not consider myself a Michael Jackson expert. I considered myself a researcher and newly turned on fan whose mind was being blown by all that I was learning about Michael. I was on fire with all that I was discovering and wanted to share it with the world. I figured if I encouraged at least one person to take a closer look at the life and work of Michael Jackson, I had fulfilled my mission.  I am human, of course, and not immune to the allure that is the attraction of the name Michael Jackson. Over the past five years, I have seen so many attach themselves to this name, all in the name of research, scholarship, and “authority”-and, sometimes, ultimately, glory. In time, many individuals come to develop their own following-in Michael’s name, of course, but it is still a kind of ego-driven glorification, a kind of fame that inevitably is riding the coattails of Michael Jackson. I am sure most do not start out that way, or with that intention. It evolves over time and perhaps to some degree, is both subconscious and unavoidable. If you do good work, you are eventually recognized. Then people  who love Michael come to love what you do. And that, of course, is a very satisfying and rewarding feeling-as long as we can keep the egos in check.

It Is Highly Doubtful That One, Definitive Version Of The "Truth" Will Ever Be Arrived At. But Over Time, We Can Certainly Chip Away At The Media Caricature To A More Balanced Perspective.
It Is Highly Doubtful That One, Definitive Version Of The “Truth” Will Ever Be Arrived At. But Over Time, We Can Certainly Chip Away At The Media Caricature To A More Balanced Perspective.

It is true that none of us can stand as the final authority. In the end, I think this blogger made a very valid point. We can only be the authority of ourselves and what Michael’s life, art, and struggles mean for us. But by the same token, I think it would be a terribly impoverished state of affairs if we all suddenly threw in our towels and ceased asking the hard questions about Michael’s life-what it meant, who he was, and what happened to him. After all, it has largely been through the hard work and dedication of bloggers that, finally, many of the long held misconceptions about Michael are being deconstructed. Social media and the internet have eaten away at the almighty power that the tabloids and mainstream media once had.  The dedicated research of MJ bloggers has provided an invaluable wealth of knowledge. I don’t think that can be a bad thing-and I am frankly not sure how I feel when someone lumps us in the same category as the tabloids that ought to be “burned,” even if albeit by “we” I am assuming she is including herself as well. Her argument, in essence, seems to be that we are just another side of the tabloid coin. Well, as someone who has been, by turns, both frustrated and enlightened,  betrayed and supported,  by the MJ blogosphere community-and at times outraged by some of the holier-than-thou attitudes that prevail- I can certainly see both sides of the argument. However, it may be a slippery slope when we start asking the question of who really has the authority to write on Michael Jackson.

Michael’s story-and his legacy-may be best left to the music and words he wrote. However, that isn’t going to stop a whole host of others from jumping on that ship, from fans and scholars, to music critics and cultural analyists, to haters and tabloid journalists, to biographers and even psychoanalysts. I have heard it often said that the bloggers, in fact, may be the last and only real bastion of truth that is out there for the MJ researcher. With such a myriad of opinions, it may be impossible to ever pin down one definitive version of that “truth,” however. When all is said and done, most fans will pick and choose and assemble the narrative that suits them best. Perhaps Michael might even say, if that’s the version of me that makes them happy, so be it. As has so often been said, what matters most-what should and HAS to be our top priority-is clearing his name from the allegations. His legacy will more than survive all else. So we might agree to disagree on whether he was always a strict vegetarian, whether he preferred white wine to red, or exactly how many surgeries he actually did have-in the end, this is all small fry stuff and none of it will ultimately matter.

So who has the authority to write on Michael Jackson? The answer may well be all of us, and none of us. If you have a passion for him; if his music or his life touched you, affected you in any way, you have the authority to write about him. If you have read and researched enough to feel you have a say about him, then you have the authority to write about him. If you feel there are still questions about his death that need to be answered, or even questions about his life that still need to be answered, then you have the authority to write about him. Does that make your word the final authority, however? Certainly not. You have to consider that yours is just one of thousands of voices-perhaps even millions-who are contributing to the fabric of that “truth,” perhaps a “truth” that will never be definitive but which, over time, will certainly be much more accurate and multi-faceted than had we all remained silent, simply allowing the tabloids and the media to tell that story. In time, Michael’s story will be one that has been sculpted and shaped by many hands, from the fans of remote African villages to Harvard Ph.D’s.

We bloggers do have a responsibility. With every word about Michael Jackson that we cast into cyberspace, we are formulating and shaping someone’s perception of him, whether for better or worse. That is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, nor one that is meant merely to stoke our own egos or whatever sense of “power” it gives. We have to remember that when it comes to that vast cosmic ocean of voices raised in search of truth about this man,each of us, individually, are just small drops in that ocean. Let’s not over inflate our worth. But by the same token, let’s not sell ourselves short, either.  After all, it takes every single drop, working in concert, to create that ocean.

Michael’s Alabama Adventures-From the Allforlove Archives (Jan 2010)

Hi all! I am going to be on a brief hiatus for a little while, as I am very stressed with work right now and trying to get things caught up before we leave on an out of town trip for the weekend. To tide you over in the meantime, here is an article that has been buried for a long time in the old, pre-2011 Allforloveblog archives. I thought it would be worth resurrecting for two reasons: One, not many people saw it back when it was first posted, since the blog was still relatively new at that time. Secondly, I will soon be doing some important updates to this piece as I am planning my own on-the-road investigation into Michael’s Alabama roots (probably this spring). Now that I have access to the old archives and have copied most of the pre-2011 articles, I will be reprinting and updating quite a few of these classic posts as time permits. Enjoy, and I will be back with all new material, including the latest updates to the “Australian Conspiracy” soon!

NOT MANY PEOPLE WOULD GUESS THAT THIS TINY TOWN-POPULATION 592-WAS A PLACE MICHAEL JACKSON VISITED OFTEN
NOT MANY PEOPLE WOULD GUESS THAT THIS TINY TOWN-POPULATION 592-WAS A PLACE MICHAEL JACKSON VISITED OFTEN

While most people are aware of Michael’s roots in Gary, Indiana, not as much is known about Michael’s ties to Alabama. As a native and lifelong resident of Alabama, this is a subject that has fascinated me–largely because, like many Alabamians, I was totally unaware of Michael’s Alabama ties until after his death. After all, it was never something that was widely publicized. His mother Katherine was born here, and her family then moved to Indiana when she was a small child. In fact, to the end of his own life, Michael Jackson retained a slight Alabama inflection, obvious in his speech (but one that, for the most part, only a discerning Alabmaian ear would pick up on). I do remember that it was a huge deal in 1984 when The Jacksons came to Birmingham to rehearse for the Victory tour-a huge deal because it meant, at least for those few weeks, we in Alabama had Michael Jackson all to ourselves for just a little while.

But what most of us Alabamians did not know was just how often Michael was in the state, usually lowkey and even incognitio, of course, to visit his mother’s relatives in Russell County and the small city of Hurtsboro (Katherine was actually born in nearby Barbour County, but her mother and stepfather later resettled in Hurtsboro). In LaToya’s autobiography, she states that Hurtsboro’s population is around 1,000. But a more recent census listed on Wikipedia gives the town’s population as 592.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurtsboro,_Alabama

The name of the town may be more than a bit appropriate, considering that Michael Jackson and my home state, unfortunately, did not always have the most cordial relationship. While I’m sure Michael may have had some happy memories of the state, it seemed later in life that coming to Alabama often spelled disaster for him. His string of bad luck in the state included everything from a racially motivated beating that landed him in an Alabama hospital, to a severe case of stomach cramps that nearly put an end to the Victory tour in ’84.

Of all the things I have learned about Michael’s comings and goings in Alabama, the beating remains for me the most disturbing-disturbing for two reasons, one being the fact that it occurred AFTER he was already famous (in fact, the incident occurred post-Thriller) and, 2: Why was it kept out of the local media and never reported? What were they afraid of? Or did Michael himself choose not to go public with it?

But before getting into all of that, let’s back up for a minute to get some more background on Michael’s Alabama roots.

MICHAEL STAYED IN BIRMINGAM FOR SEVERAL WEEKS DURING THE VICTORY TOUR REHEARSALS
MICHAEL STAYED IN BIRMINGAM FOR SEVERAL WEEKS DURING THE VICTORY TOUR REHEARSALS

After June 25th, 2009, a rash of local Alabama writers took an avid interest in educating the public about Michael’s maternal ties to the state. One of the more in-depth and interesting articles came from a colleague of mine, Joseph Margetanski. Margetanski and I both do freelance articles for the same local Alabama paper, “The Valley Planet.” Margetanski had spent a considerable amount of time tracing Michael’s family roots in the state. In his article that appeared in the July 23rd issue, Margetanski wrote:

Michael Jackson’s family ties to Alabama date back to the beginning of the 20th century. His grandfather, Prince Albert Screws, was born October 16, 1907 in Jernigan in RussellCounty, Alabama, just across the state line from Columbus, Georgia. He saw service in the First World War, but his main occupations were railroad work and cotton farming. He later moved to neighboring BarbourCounty. He married Martha Upshaw (from whose mother, Josephine, Michael received his middle name Joseph). Like her husband, Martha was also an Alabama native. And on May 4, 1930, Martha gave birth to Kattie B. Screws.

Kattie’s life was a challenge almost from the moment she was born. Shortly after her birth, the Screws family left BarbourCounty and their name behind. Prince changed their last name to Scruse, and changed Kattie’s name to Katherine Esther Scruse. As if getting three names wasn’t traumatic enough, young Katherine developed polio-all before she was four.

Katherine beat the deadly disease, but it left its mark on her. To this day, she walks with a limp. After her bout with polio, at the age of four, the Scruse family moved north, as did many African-American families. They settled in East Chicago, Indiana, not far from where her famous son would be born. It was there that Katherine met Joseph Jackson, a former boxer…

…As brief as they were, Katherine’s Alabama roots tugged at the souls of her children as well. Michael Jackson sang backup vocals for Kenny Rogers in the country singer’s 1980 hit “Goin’ Home To Alabama.” Four years later, The Jackson 5-brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael-rehearsed in Birmingham for their “Victory” tour. They greeted fans from their hotel balcony, after a heartfelt request from the city’s mayor, Richard Arrington. At least two Alabama residents became intimately involved with the youngest, and most famous, member of the pop group. John Ray of Birmingham, founder of Just In Time Music, Inc., promoted three Michael Jackson concerts in Dallas. David Rowland of Summerdale was Jackson’s pilot for six months, , while the rising star was touring North America. Rowland flew Jackson as far as Niagara Falls and Vancouver

Not only were the Jacksons in and out of the state many times through the years, but often, in times of her greatest troubles, Michael’s mother Katherine would return here (often on her own) simply to seek solace and to regroup spiritually. Of course, that would make sense. Often, in dark times, one can find the greatest comfort in getting back to their roots. In the early 80′s, when Joseph’s adultery had finally gotten the best of her, Katherine escaped for several weeks to the refuge of tiny Hurstsboro. Later, she would return on a search for her family roots. This was when she looked up a young local man, Larry Screws, who had no idea until that visit that he was actually Michael Jackson’s distant cousin!

But in a county as small and rural as Russell County, Alabama, it doesn’t take much asking around for anyone named “Screws” for one thing to lead to another. Eventually, Katherine was directed to Larry Screws,who of course was delighted to learn he was actually related to the King of Pop. He says it was the “glitz and glamour” of Michael’s life that kept them apart. (Note: I was not able to embed it, but if you click on the link for the below article, there is an interesting local news video on Larry Screws and Michael’s ties to Alabama).

“We were just proud of knowing that they were related to us.” said Larry Screws.

Larry Screws was a distant cousin to Michael Jackson, but he didn’t know it until he was in his early 20’s.

“I guess the thing that strikes us most is that we didnt know of them until she came to us.” said Screws.

Katherine Jackson, Michael’s mother’s decided to search for her relatives.

The search lead her back to the place she was born, Alabama. She was born in Barbour County and moved up to East Chicago, Indiana when she was four.

Her maiden name Katherine Screws.

Larry says that’s all she needed to say to find her way to her them.

 “Russell County is a county where everybody knows everybody.” said Screws.

 Larry says the life of glitz and glamour is the reason he never had a chance to meet his cousin.

 “I guess because of the celebrity status we never became close.” said Screws.

http://www.dothanfirst.com/story/michael-jackson-has-roots-in-alabama/d/story/pA5wP_55-kO2t3tFmMu42g

Of course, given the frequency of Michael’s visits here, it was probably much more likely that Michael simply did not know of his cousin’s existence. The Screws/Scruse are a large, extended family, scattered throughout the neighboring counties of Russell and Barbour. And every day, it is almost impossible to not find someone claiming to be kin to Michael, claims that are nearly impossible to either verify or disprove with any certainty. But given the proliferation of Scruse/Screws in the area, it’s usually far more logical to assume they are probably being truthful than not.

DOWNTOWN HURTSBORO
DOWNTOWN HURTSBORO

Michael’s family ties to the state have for sure been played up more since his death. Even in 1984, when The Jacksons spent several weeks in Birmingham rehearsing for Victory, I didn’t recall hearing that much about his family ties. However, as I said, I do recall that his residency here was a HUGE deal. The biggest superstar in the world was right here in Alabama, rehearsing for a tour, and you’d better believe, the local media made the most of it! If he ventured out of the hotel to go to the park, we heard all about it. If he went shopping at a local mall (which he did, in disguise, of course) it made the local papers even as far north as where I live, approximately eighty-two miles away. When he went Witnessing, it was all the talk on the local radio, though of course they did not reveal to the public that he had gone Witnessing door-to-door in the Birmingham suburb of Trussville until the next day.

I remember at the time the reaction of many locals was that they thought it was a little bizarre. Back then, a lot of people weren’t aware that Michael was a Jehovah’s Witness, so it kind of struck people as odd-the idea of this mega-celebrity going door-to-door, in disguise, to talk to locals about Jehovah and to pass out copies of The Watchtower. We didn’t know back then that Witnessing played a huge role in Michael’s faith; it was something he had done for years, even after he was famous, and something he would continue to do for several years thereafter.

I’m sure there were more than a few very surprised Birmingham residents who, after the story broke, were thinking back to that “nice but rather nervous acting, young man with the afro and mustache” who knocked on their door, and thinking, “Was it…could it have been….?” In interviews, Michael always said that one of the things he enjoyed about Witnessing door-to-door was the rare glimpses it gave him into normalcy; an excuse to see how average, ordinary people lived their lives. Usually, his disguises worked well enough, but he said that while it was easy enough to fool the men of the household, the women were much more challenging-and the kids even worse. They would see right through the disguises. “Mommy, it’s Michael Jackson!”

(Note: The original “Alabama News” link I posted with this article in 2010, which detailed some of the stories from the chauffeur who took Michael on that Trussville Witnessing venture, has since disappeared. Among his stories included an incident with a vicious dog, and how he tried to park the limo insconspicously on a residential street while Michael walked on foot throughout the neighborhoods. I am hoping at some point I will be able to track this driver down-he apparently owns a limo rental service in Birmingham-and interview him).

Here is what is apparently the only remnants of that story still available online:

JULY 2:

1984: Michael Jackson left Birmingham after concluding rehearsals for his “Victory” tour at the BJCC. He was largely unseen during the time here, save for a balcony appearance and a Sunday morning when Jackson, a Jehovah’s Witness at the time, disguised himself and went door-to-door in Trussville for about two hours. He wore a mustache, afro wig, hat and black suit while he handed out materials about his religion. No one knew it was him, until it hit the papers the next day.

http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2014/06/the_week_in_birmingham_history_3.html

I am not quite sure why this outlet reported it as such a lowkey affair, because my memory of that time is certainly quite different. However, I think they mean it was lowkey in the sense that Michael did rarely come out of hiding to show himself during those two weeks. Rather, it was the intrigue; the possibility; the ANTICIPATION of a possible Michael Jackson sighting that fueled most of the local hysteria. Judging by the local media, it was, however, almost a relief when the rehearsals were over and the last vestige of The Jacksons had finally packed up and moved on. The presence of Michael Jackson in a town the size of Birmingham (even if, granted, it IS our largest city) had practically brought the city to a standstill, with traffic jams, crowd control and security issues a constant problem. Although it was an exciting few weeks, I think most of the town’s more conservative citizens (i.e, “the old fogies”) were heaving a big sigh of relief when the madness was over. But oddly enough, in a time when my entire home state of Alabama was caught up in Michaelmania and reporting his every move, his every coming and going, it seems rather bizarre that the most horrific thing that could have possibly happened to him-or to anyone-went unreported and ignored in the media.

A SEVERE, RACIALLY MOTIVATED BEATING LANDED MICHAEL IN AN ALABAMA HOSPITAL...SOMETHING THE PAPERS NEVER TOLD US
A SEVERE, RACIALLY MOTIVATED BEATING LANDED MICHAEL IN AN ALABAMA HOSPITAL…SOMETHING THE PAPERS NEVER TOLD US

In LaToya’s autobiography, she gives a brief but horrific account of how things went down. The incident apparently occurred during one of Michael’s many routine visits to his mother’s relatives in Russell County. During a drive with Bill Bray, an associate who had made the trip with Michael and Katherine, Bray decided to stop for gas and to use the restroom. Michael, who loved nothing better than a chance to browse and putter around in small shops where no one would know who he was, couldn’t resist the temptation to go into the shop next door. When Bray came out of the gas station, he noticed Michael was gone. Then, according to LaToya’s account, he heard this “Help! Help” coming from the shop. He ran inside to find Michael on the floor and a white man standing over him, kicking him viciously in the stomach and head, over and over, while shouting, “I hate all you niggers!”

It took Bray several minutes of struggling to get the guy off of Michael. The incident reportedly left him with several severe cuts and bodily injuries, resulting in a hospital stay. As it turned out, the reputed “cause” of the attack was that, according to the shopowner (the guy who was beating Michael), Michael had put a “candy bar in his pocket.” Bray argued and said that was ridiculous…”He doesn’t steal, and he doesn’t even like candy!” Michael continued to protest his innocence, but the man kept insisting that Michael was trying to steal from him.

Well, actually, I think Bill Bray may have been trying at least in part to cover for his friend-Michael certainly DID love candy-but I highly doubt he was trying to steal; this was Michael Jackson, who had the #1 selling album in the world, why in heck would he need to steal a fifty-cent candy bar! (Though the way he liked to pull pranks, it’s entirely possible he could have been “messing” with the guy as a joke, but if that was the case, it was a prank that backfired on him horribly).

But whatever the case, the fact was that the guy never gave him the benefit of the doubt, and for one reason only-because he was black.  Reportedly, the man never even recognized who he was; as LaToya put it, Michael to him was “just another nigger he could abuse.”

So during the time that was supposed to have been a fun and pleasant visit with relatives ended up being, for Michael, a very painful time laid up in an Alabama hospital, being treated for his severe cuts and bruises.

As the story went, Katherine called from Alabama to report what had happened. The family was horrified and outraged; according to LaToya, Jermaine was ready to fly down here and “whoop Alabama ass.”  But cooler reasoning prevailed, and instead, a lawsuit was filed against the store owner. However, nothing came of it.

“Two girls standing outside had witnessed the beating, and one offered to testify on Michael’s behalf. We felt very strongly that racial violence must be stopped, but unfortunately, justice did not prevail in this case. The racist harbored no regrets. In fact, discovering that the black man he’d assaulted was a celebrity only inflamed his hatred. Now he threatened to kill Michael. Bill convinced us that this person was mad, that the threat was quite serious, and that it was better for everyone to drop the action. None of us was happy about this, but there was really no choice.”-LaToya Jackson.

As I said before, my big question-since this incident reportedly occurred at or close to the same time as when Michael was here for the Victory tour and rehearsals-was why it was never reported in the local media? Or for that matter, why Michael Jackson being the victim of a racist beating never made it into the news at all (amazing, considering how his every sneeze or fart was usually fodder for the tabloids?).  However, given that the lawsuit was dropped out of concern for what action this guy might have taken, perhaps it’s understandable why the incident was kept lowkey. But I also have to wonder if Alabama didn’t feel some sense of shame that something like this could happen to the biggest star in the world right here in our own backyard…and was that part of the reason why it never made it into the papers?

Through the years, it seemed that Michael continued to have bad luck whenever he crossed paths with my home state. A Brazilian chef, Rema Vila Real, who had worked for Michael, and whose talents for healthy dishes was one he keenly appreciated, recalled in an interview the time she was mysteriously but urgently summoned to drop everything she was doing and get on a plane-immediatly.

“… I was living in West Los Angeles in a small apartment when I got a phone call. The person on the phone asked me to look outside. He said: “See the limousine? Get in it, now!” I told him I could not because I was taking care of a person off the street and could not leave him. They said that they would send someone to look after the person right away and for me to get into the car. I told them I had to change my clothes because I all dirty from cleaning. They didn’t care. Finally I agreed when the man arrived to take care of my guest and I was taken to a big building in Beverly Hills and up to the very top penthouse. It was very luxurious.

The man on the other side of the desk handed me a ticket and said ‘you are going to the airport right now. Here is your ticket.” I asked him why. He explained to me that Michael Jackson was having stomach aches and specifically requested me to be his “nutritionist” on the “Thriller” tour. He was feeling sick to his stomach and refused to go on stage until they sent me to be his private cook. They were all very nervous. They said they were losing millions of dollars in canceled shows and I had to go right then.

I told them I could not and could only go in the morning. After a lot of arguing, the agreed to let me go home and they picked me up early in the morning and I was off to Birmingham Alabama…”

http://twitpic.com/1lry57

So…it looks like the stomach ailment from unhealthy eating that was costing the tour millions reached its crisis point in…where else, Alabama! (Maybe too many stops at those Birmingham barbecue joints, hmmm?).

But it wasn’t all bad. In fact, one of the funniest segments of the special Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies is when he talks about going “down home” to Alabama, and we see the clip of Michael, his brothers and relatives having a good, old-fashioned hootenanny. Even though bad luck sometimes seemed to dog his steps in Alabama, I think he also enjoyed the bit of anonymity of just getting back to the country, traveling the backroads, shopping at The Salvation Army and being able, for a little while, to just drop the mask of stardom and see how us ol’ regular folks down here live. I can never travel I-65 (Alabama’s main north-south interstate) without thinking how many times Michael and his family must have traveled this road; probably more times than any of us everyday Alabamians will ever know. To this day, I still don’t think most people around here realize the extent of Michael Jackson’s Alabama connection.

But maybe that’s not a bad thing. At least it ensures that tiny  Hurtsboro, Alabama and rural County Road 12 in Russell County are not destined to become mega tourist attractions anytime soon. Hopefully, they will remain as pure and untouched as they were in this hilarious clip from a Jackson Alabama road trip in 1979:

 

Student Essay On “Earth Song”

From time to time, I like to share with you what my students have written after our studies on “Black or White” and “Earth Song.” Here is one that was submitted last summer which left an impression on me. As always, I present my students’ views here exactly as they wrote them.

“Earth Song” by Garrett Rogers

earth song5In 1995 Michael Jackson released “Earth Song” on the album HIStory. To some, it was a song that they could understand, but to others it was something that brought their initial reactions to be very judgmental and condescending towards the work. “The six and half minute piece that materialized over the next seven years was unlike anything heard before in popular music” (Vogel). This was exactly how the public interpreted this song. While the critics kept critiquing, Michael Jackson knew exactly what he was doing when he released this top hit single. His spiritual background and how he would break away from it are key elements of why he would write this song.

While studying Michael Jackson this last week, I have come to know and understand things about his life that I never knew were true. I had always cast my judgment on him like everyone else did and didn’t know the truth about his work or his personal life. Michael really was a true musical genius and “Earth Song” is a prime example of how he could write and perform anything in a way that could be inspirational to millions. In learning about Michael I could see that throughout his whole life he was actually a very devout and spiritual person. His mother raised him to be a Jehovah’s Witness, which is a type of religion that can be extremely difficult to understand and interpret the faith, especially for a young boy like Michael. It would be very hard for any young man trying to find himself in life while ultimately preparing for an Armageddon that only 144,000 of the righteous would be able to survive and preside over the Earth. “He pored over the Bible while feeling deep anxiety about his eternal salvation” (Vogel). While becoming very confused with some of the doctrines of the faith, Michael decided to officially resign from the faith. In resigning from his faith, I think he was almost able to release a part of himself that couldn’t have been reached while being a devout/practicing Jehovah’s Witness. He was now able to take to a whole new meaning of who God was and what kind of relationship he could have with him into his life. “For me the form God takes is not the most important thing. What’s most important is the essence. My songs and dances are outlines for Him to come in and fill. I hold out the form, She puts in the sweetness” (Michael Jackson). I think this quote alone is how “Earth Song” was written. He doesn’t think God has a form but he knows that they are one together. He is now a prophet for God. He also loved our planet and most all the people that surrounded him. Michael was now using his gift of music and dancing to prophet with his God above, while still trying to impact literally the entire face of the Earth. If this were to have been anyone but Michael Jackson I would have told you this was impossible. God gifted him with so many things and he was just starting to realize how useful he could make of them.

I believe while cutting ties with his mother’s religion, there was still a lot to gain from that experience. He was able to develop a desire to learn, along with a touch of dedication towards something that you believe strongly in. I was shocked when we watched how he actually saved a child’s life in “Michael Jackson Visits Children’s Hospital.” While this title makes it sound like he did this type of thing once a year, they don’t want to portray Michael for being a true visionary in important matters in life that did not pertain to his own well-being. I still will stand by that I think this is a result of his mother being so involved in his life in a loving way, which was complete opposite of how his father was towards him.

"He is now a prophet for God"-Garrett Rogers
“He is now a prophet for God”-Garrett Rogers

After Michael broke away from his mother’s religion he even began to write his feelings of his decision. In “Heaven Is Here” Michael says, “You are much more than I ever imagined/You are the sun and the moon/You and I were never separate, that was just an illusion.” He then goes on to say, “Let us celebrate the joy of life.” From this poem I can take away a few new things that Michael is experiencing. He is seeing his faith begin to work in the lives of others. That being said in “Earth Song,” he put everything inside a song that he felt strongly about including his newly developed faith towards God. While number of songs sold may not mean anything, this was his best selling song in the UK of all time. Michael had succeeded. He was able to take his experiences and his worldviews and put them into words. Not only were they just words, but they were visual examples of what he was talking about in his world-renowned music video.

With Michael breaking away from a religion and developing his own opinions and making his own decisions, he did himself and everyone that is inspired by him a great service. I think that his religious decision affected him for the rest of his career in music and in life. He was able to make a statement to the world by showing them who Michael Jackson really was in a six minute song. This was probably the happiest time of his life. He was at the peak of his career and he knew all too well that he would not have been able to accomplish any of this without the help of his mother showing him a part of religion that he didn’t want to pursue, along with God giving him his ultimate feeling of faith and love the rest of his life.

When Michael Jackson Broke Bad

BREAKING-BAD-600x814breaking bad4I have to admit, I am a recently converted “Breaking Bad”fanatic.The controversial but critically acclaimed AMC series, which just wrapped its fifth and final season and cleaned up at this year’s Emmy’s, has been a phenomenonal and critical success since its first season debuted in 2008. The story of a mild mannered family man and high school chemistry teacher who transforms, over a five season period, into a drug kingpin-a monster known as Heisenberg-struck an immediate and resonating chord with audiences. Despite the fact that its protagonist Walter White becomes, in fact, an anti-hero who commits some horrific acts in his quest for power, there is something inherently fascinating to us about the idea of transformation.  Try as hard as they might, the writers of the show could not make us hate Walter White. We continued to root for this chemist geek who, at first manages to genuinely convince us and himself that he is doing it all for his family (in the series, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and at first, was motivated by the idea of the money he could make for his family by cooking and distributing meth. He rationalizes his actions by thinking that the consequences to himself don’t matter; after all, he’s going to be dead soon. But over time,we realize it is no longer about his family-they are just the excuse. He comes to love the power that his new role, and new identity, gives him). We rooted for him precisely because there is something inherently appealing in the idea of the underdog coming out on top, and even moreso, in the satisfaction that comes from a formerly emasculated man being able to take control of his life and, in essence, to “get his balls back.” This was the formula that made American Beauty such a success in 1999, when a similarly anti-heroic character named Lester Burnham-“an ordinary guy with nothing to lose”- became part of the national consciousness. With the character of Walter White in Breaking Bad, creator Vince Gilligan simply took the character of Lester Burnham to a whole new level, one that completely foregoes any idea of the moral compass.

As I often do with subjects I find equally interesting, I began to do some research for cross references. I became curious to know if Michael Jackson ever watched this show, or knew about it. After all, he would have still been alive when the first season aired in 2008. Well, I still don’t know if he ever actually watched it (for the record, I don’t believe Michael was a particularly avid TV watcher of new shows. He had a lot of classic TV show he loved, such as The Twilight Zone, which is going to figure quite prominently in this post, but overall, I think his tastes ran more towards classic films). But I did find a very interesting story which reveals that Michael’s influence on this show-and especially of lead character Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul-might have possibly been more than anyone ever knew.

In an interview on The Jimmy Kimmel show that aired earlier this year, Aaron Paul revealed that in 2007 (which would have been just before landing the role of Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad) he met Michael Jackson and the two of them ended up having a very interesting heart-to-heart conversation over shots of tequila. Here is the video of that interview. Jimmy Kimmel, of course, is his usual dickwad self, but just ignore him. What is interesting is what Paul has to say about the encounter:

Now, I will tell you why the story of this conversation is interesting to me considering the direction that Jesse Pinkman’s character took. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show’s premise, I’ll just offer this brief summary. Walter White, the high school chemistry teacher who decides to “break bad” at age fifty, is first introduced to the world of meth when he rides along with his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, to the scene of a bust where, it turns out, one of Walter’s former students, Jesse Pinkman, is cooking for the gang. From there, Walter and Jesse decide to hook up on the sly, and the rest is TV history.

At least part of the series’ critical acclaim had much to do with the arc of Jesse’s character. At first, it was easy to root for Walter, the bumbling and well meaning guy who just wants to provide for his family after he’s gone. Jesse Pinkman is every bit the little punk-ass, a street kid who (we think) is guilty of corrupting his former teacher. But Walter, as we learn, is still very much the adult figure here, and thus the authority figure-the one in control. Who is corrupting who? As the series progresses, we learn that Jesse has an estranged relationship with his parents, who eventually disown him and refuse to have anything further to do with him. Jesse becomes a kind of orphan, cast adrift, which of course makes him vulnerable to “Mr. White” who becomes his substitute father figure. Over time, the relationship corrodes, for as Walter’s character sinks deeper and deeper into a kind of moral abyss, Jesse eventually has a moral awakening. He gradually comes to realize that, in fact, he is the one who has allowed himself to become corrupted. And after witnessing-and being cajoled into participating  in-many of Walter’s most devious schemes, Jesse eventually comes to the realization that the only way he can save himself is to break free of  the monster-Walter White. But it will not be easy. Without giving away too many spoilers, suffice it to say that Jesse Pinkman has to learn a lot of tough lessons in what true love and forgiveness is all about.

Aaron Paul stated that his conversation with Michael centered on the concept of forgiveness; of being able to let go of the poison that is anger. Michael evidently told him that he had to tap into the ability to forgive those who had hurt him. Hearing of this conversation does not surprise me. Forgiveness as a necessary means of healing was a subject that Michael referred to often, both in interviews and in various speeches.

As part of Jesse Pinkman’s character arc, we see him bond with Walter White as a surrogate father, a bond that eventually turns to distrust and then to outright hate. He goes so far as to plot to kill Walter, thinking it is the only way he will ever be free from both his influence and his threat. But an interesting thing happens in the end. These two characters had been through so much together. I believe that everyone, deep down, was rooting for a reconciliation between Walter and Jesse. While the show never quite delivers that resolution, we do realize in the show’s powerful finale that, in the end, forgiveness has indeed conquered hate.

Did Michael’s words resonant with Aaron Paul as he dug deep within Jesse’s psyche to find the power of forgiveness, even under the most unforgiveable of circumstances? It might be a stretch to say yes-after all, Paul himself did not say so. But it seems ironic in a funny way that the conversation, as described by Paul, almost uncannily echoed some of the same conversations that Jesse would end up having with Walter White on the show. So we can imagine this as very much a case of art imitating reality. The orphaned kid is essentially tutored in life-and manipulated-by the man who should have been his role model figure. In real life, the struggling young actor meets older, succesful performer who, not unlike Walter White, has learned the ropes. And maybe a thing or two about “breaking bad.”

What exactly does the term “breaking bad” or “to break bad” mean? Well, apparently it was a well known phrase long before the famous TV show. Here is what The Urban Dictionary says:

“Breaking bad” comes from the American Southwest slang phrase “to break bad,” meaning to challenge conventions, to defy authority and to skirt the edges of the law.
“What, you just decided to break bad one day?”
by Jake Jawesome September 27, 2011
 
An article by Lily Rothman from “Time,” written to coincide with the show’s finale, dug even deeper into the roots of the phrase. Here is an excerpt:
Here’s a question that’s been hovering in the Breaking Bad fandom for years, but now worth revisiting as the series’ finale is almost upon us: What does it actually mean to break bad?

Show creator Vince Gilligan has said (as in the video above) that he had thought it was a commonly used phrase when he decided to use it as a title, not knowing that the expression was a Southern regionalism from the area in Virginia from which he hails. It means “to raise hell,” he says, as in “I was out the other night at the bar…and I really broke bad.”

But, while the gist of his definition is pretty widely accepted, Gilligan’s use-it-in-a-sentence definition of the phrase is an incomplete accounting of its meanings. In general, “breaking bad” connotes more violence than “raising hell” does. A glance at the bevy of definitions at user-sourced Urban Dictionary reveals that different contributors think the words possess a wide variety of nuances: to “break bad” can mean to “go wild,” to “defy authority” and break the law, to be verbally “combative, belligerent, or threatening” or, followed by the preposition “on,” to “completely dominate or humiliate.”

Reference books back up that third meaning seen at Urban Dictionary. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English gives a definition of “to act in a threatening, menacing manner”; American Slang gives a similar definition and traces the phrase to 1970s black usage. Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang says it’s African-American slang from the ’60s that means “to become angry or aggressive”—and that on 1980s college campuses it could (perhaps in a “bad equals good” sense?) mean “to perform well.” The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms labels the phrase as Southern slang that means “to behave in a violent manner for no good reason.”

One of the earliest instances of the phrase appearing in the New York Times backs up the definition (to turn violent unnecessarily) and history (black, Southern, 1970s) suggested by those lexicographers. In a 1980 excerpt from John Langston Gwaltney’s Drylongso, a Self-Portrait of Black America, an oral history of African-American communities; in describing his view of race relations, a black man from rural Missouri told the author that “if a white man was to come over here and ask me anything, I wouldn’t break bad with him.”

In the interview, Jimmy Kimmel made a wise crack about the story of Michael taking shots of tequila as “the most normal story about Michael Jackson I’ve ever heard.” While I could take a lot of issues with this ignorant statement, it does illustrate in at least one crucial way why Michael felt the need to “break bad.” In the late 1980’s, we saw a very conscious campaign on Michael’s part to break free from his formerly “goody two shoes” image and to embrace a much darker side. It was not, of course, an overnight decision, nor was all of it completely conscious on his part. Some of it was part of a conscious image shift; some of it stemmed from real issues going on in his life, which made it impossible to hold on to certainly formerly held values. And a lot of it would be born out of two decades’ worth of persecution, which eventually is bound to cause even the most gentle and forgiving of souls to “break bad.”

Why did we so universally embrace Walter White? There is something inherently within human nature that responds to the idea of gaining power, and winning respect. In the fantasy world of TV and movies, characters like Walter White and Michael Corleone vicariously fulfill our need to feel powerful, respected, and even feared. What bullied child doesn’t secretly fantasize about one day being able to whoop ass on his tormentors? It is a basic human need that is seldom given outlet in real life, where we are taught that violence isn’t the answer and that we should turn the other cheek; be “the bigger person.” To some degree, these are good platitutdes to live by. But to live by them also involves swallowing a lot of hurt and bitterness, which isn’t necessarily healthy, either. As William Blake wrote in his famous poem “The Poison Tree,” “I swallowed my wrath/my wrath did grow.”

The idea of morphing from a meek and humble character to one who rises against his enemies as a force to be reckoned with-who essentially “breaks bad”-is an idea that had similarly started to consume Michael Jackson’s imagination at least as early as Thriller. Transformation, of course, is a central theme of that video. “I’m not like other guys,” he warns Ola Ray, in that deceptively sweet voice, right before turning into a monster. In a rare rehearsal of that scene, which was first shown as part of Michael’s Private Home Movies, we see him expanding upon his Thriller character as someone who had been bullied, and wasn’t going to take it anymore.

The character, and the transformation, seemed to echo many personal and professional changes that were taking place. The mid to  late 80’s was a turbulent time for Michael, when he was undergoing a lot of change and a kind of new awakening of his direction, both personally and professionally. The break from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, his lifelong religion, was just one deciding factor. Throughout this time, he seemed to be making a conscious effort to stand up and shout; to make a bold stand against a world that, for too long, had given him lots of musical accolades, perhaps, but little in the way of actual respect.

bad3In 1987, Michael took the idea of “breaking bad” quite literally with his third solo studio album, simply titled “Bad.” There has already been much critical analysis and debate as to exactly what the term “bad” meant for Michael. Some critics and scholars believe that “bad” and its accompanying catch phrase “who’s bad” was intended as a metaphor for “black” and I believe there is a lot of merit to this claim, particularly with the title track’s video and its famous stand-off scene between Michael’s character (Daryl) and Wesley Snipes. In essence, this was Michael boldly affirming his stance as a black artist (especially if we buy into the notion of “you ain’t bad” as a metaphor for “you ain’t black). The word “bad” essentially has many layers of meaning within the context of the album, its title track, and the title track’s video. Of course, in the late 80’s we can’t forget that “bad” was also a slang word with an inverted meaning-“bad” meant “good.” But clearly, when Michael morphs from mild mannered Daryl to a hood figure in black leather, he is also playing on the idea of “bad” as in “bad ass.” Or more to the point, as in “I will kick your ass if you mess with me.”

For sure, it was a side of Michael that we hadn’t really seen up until that point. Even in “Beat It,” with all of its macho swaggering, he was essentially saying that the way to be a real man is to avoid violence. But by the time of “Bad,” when he faces off with Wesley Snipes’s character in the final showdown scene, we sense that not only does he have no intention of backing down, but would actually welcome the chance to throw in a punch. The final exchange of looks between the two says it all. This kid is bad. And dangerous (which, perhaps not coincidentally, would be the name of the next album on the agenda).bad6

Clearly, the album titles-and the messages they conveyed-were not accidental. If “Bad” was all about sending the message that “I’m not gonna take anymore” then “Dangerous” was an even bolder statement. Although the media persecution against Michael was not yet in full swing, it was certainly by then very much bubbling under. The title track, “Dangerous,” may have been about another one of Michael’s femme fatales. However, the overall message that Michael seemed bent on conveying with the album’s title and content is that, yes, I can be a real threat, and it may be in your best interest to watch over your shoulder. Whereas with “Bad” he seemed to be making a stand, what we see with the progression of “Dangerous” is one who has actually gone beyond being on the defensive.

In one of the most famous scenes from “Breaking Bad,” Walter’s wife Skyler, who has recently discovered her husband’s double life and has become something of an accomplice to it, expresses her concerns. “Just admit you’re in danger,” she says, to which Walter responds-not as Walter but, rather, as his Heisenberg persona-“I am not in danger. I AM danger. I’m not the guy whose door gets knocked on. I am the guy who knocks.” On the “Dangerous” album Michael perhaps most epitomizes this stance with the controversial “Black or White” video in which he morphs from a happy and spite-ish figure who slips interchangeably between cultures and races, to a raging black panther. Even the album’s more romantic moments seem imbued with a sense of threat. In the track “In the Closet” he is clearly calling all the shots of an illicit relationship. In the video of “Remember The Time” he is the cunning seducer who steals a king’s wife-the queen, no less-right from under his nose.

With “Dangerous,” Michael may have been sending a similar message as the one that Walter delivers to Skyler-“I’m not in danger; I AM the danger,” via the guise of his new persona. If one examines the progression of his one-word album titles, they reveal an interesting narrative and arc, from “Bad” to “Dangerous” to “HIStory” to “Invincible.” They each carry their own message of defiance, with “Invincible” perhaps as the culminating defiance-“You can keep trying to kill me; you can keep trying to bury me, but I’ll always come back.”

More to the point, Michael specifically says in that album’s final track, “Threatened,” “I’ll come back to haunt you.” This carries the message to an even darker-and perhaps scarier-depth. In other words, it could also be interpreted as, “Even if you succeed in killing me off physically, I will still haunt you from beyond.” mask3

Michael’s body of work created an interesting paradox. On the one hand, he was the philanthropist and ecologist who implored us to look “at the man in the mirror” and “make that change”; who pleaded the need to “Heal The World.” Yet the bulk of his body of work, especially from “Bad” forward, seemed to be as much about defiance as love. Perhaps this came from a deep-seated recognition that his message could only be conveyed via a price. He could not simply be “the angel messenger.” His work would require the need to don many masks, including that of scapegoat, monster, and even devil. His greatest “message” songs represent the best of his spiritual ideals. But his songs about “being bad” are perhaps even more interesting to me on some levels, for they best represent his humanity.

In the case of the fictional Walter White character, he first “breaks bad” as a direct result of external circumstances. He is a guy who has been pushed to his limit, by finances, hard luck, and the fact that many have taken advantage of him. His alter ego “Heisenberg” is at first born out of a kind of evil necessity. He doesn’t enjoy doing what he has to do. Yet a strange kind of transformation happens for Walter, once he loses his hair (due to chemo treatments) and dons the pork pie hat that symbolizes his transformation into Heisenberg. He finds that he is actually quite comfortable in Heisenberg’s skin. He enjoys being his alter ego. “Say my name!” he demands, in Clint Eastwood style, as he faces down a rival gang of meth dealers.

In a fashion similar to Walter White’s transformation, we see Michael at first rejecting the world’s attempts to label him as a “freak” but by the time of “HIStory,” “Blood on the Dance Floor” and his film “Ghosts” he seems to have decided that, if this is who/what they want me to be, then I’ll embrace the label and wear it on my sleeve. In doing so, of course, he would only serve to expose who the real freaks were, and this was part of his modus operandi. By this period in the late 90’s, when he  enters his darkest and most gothic era in terms of image and subject matter, he is clearly playing on-and manipulating-the public’s perceptions of him. He is gleaning power from his enemies by embracing and becoming the very thing they fear most-a representation of their own darkest and innermost fears. This is never more apparent than in the showdown scene in “Ghosts” when he literally faces off with himself via his own alter ego, the Mayor of Normal Valley (who is, in fact, Michael himself under a fat suit, a gray wig, and many layers of ageing makeup).

ghosts15

ghosts14It is interesting that when critics discuss the character of Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” the word “monster”-a word that Michael similarly embraces as a kind of mock, self identifying label in “Threatened”-is often used. Over the series’ five seasons, the character progresses from a man of moral ideals with his humanity fully intact, to a likeable and bumbling (and still sympathetic) criminal, to finally, a terrifying enigma who we no longer really know or recognize (and perhaps this is true even for himself). Although we still get glimpses of his humanity here and there, we are simply no longer comfortable-or sure-of just who Walter White is, for he seems capable of most anything. As he says, he has become “the danger.”

Michael Jackson was a performer and entertainer, of course, not a criminal. But his artistic trajectory was in many ways quite similar, from the swaggering of the kid who had simply decided he wasn’t going to take anymore in “Bad” to, finally, its culmination of the “monster” he self proclaims himself to be in “Threatened.” Like Walter White, Michael Jackson transformed over time into an enigma that we could never be quite sure of. Who exactly was Michael Jackson, and why did his identity raise so many questions?

It is, in fact, a trajectory that was analyzed brilliantly in this series of videos by Kanal von MyWhoisIt, who drew on all of the “Twilight Zone” episodes referenced in “Threatened,” as well as various other influences, to illustrate the creation of Michael’s ultimate “breaking bad” persona. The series definitely helps us to realize why understanding Michael’s dark side is perhaps as important as understanding his messages of love and healing the world. We can see that he was not only peeling back the layers to reveal himself, but in so doing, was teaching us a lot about ourselves as well.

Just as final side note to this series, I feel that it has given me some new insight into the cover photo that was used for the Invincible album. I have never been a fan of that cover photo, but as with so many artistic decisions, there may have indeed been a method to the madness. It is certainly not a typical Michael Jackson photo. He is neither smiling joyfully, nor wearing his trademark scowl, or even looking seductive a’la’ the Thriller cover. In fact, the last time Michael had even actually appeared on one of his album covers was “Bad.” For “Dangerous,” we only got that cryptic glance of his eyes behind the mask, and I don’t really count “HIStory” which was a depiction of a statue. Even “Blood on the Dance Floor’s” cover was not an actual photo, but a drawing. For “Invincible,” the decision was made to feature his face-in intense close-up, no less-on the album cover, with an expression that appears strangely neutral. His eyes simply stare straight ahead, blankly, and there is what appears as a slightly sardonic smirk on his lips. The left eye appears normal, if albeit rather expressionless. The right eye, however, is slightly elevated; the brow cocked. The face seems intentionally to represent a kind of mask.  He could, for all intents and purposes, be a singer, a savior, a seducer-or a serial killer. Perhaps this was intended as the representation of the “monster.” For sure, it is a difficult face to read; its expression an almost blank slate that could be filled in by anyone’s interpretation.

invincible

 

To bring this back to the analogy of “Breaking Bad” and its characters, there are really, in the end, only two things that keep Walter White grounded to his humanity, and which serve as his redemption. Those two things are his love for his family, and the care he still has for his former partner, Jesse Pinkman. It’s a bond that endures even after Jesse has turned snitch and threatened his life-indeed, even after he himself has ordered Jesse killed. In the end, the ability to forgive redeems them both. Ultimately, Walter’s fate falls into Jesse’s hands, who must make the final decision as to how the story ends. Theirs is an ending without words, but it speaks volumes.

It seems that Michael, who understood all too well what it meant to walk that fine line between love and hate; between anger and forgiveness (especially for those who had wronged him), and between dark and light, just may indeed have cast a bigger shadow over the show than even he or actor Aaron Paul realized in that chance meeting. For sure, Michael knew the meaning of “breaking bad” long before Vince Gilligan turned it into America’s new catchphrase. He had lived it for the better part of two decades.

But in so doing, he had also kept us, by turns, both repelled and fascinated; spellbound by an enigma that we could never quite put our hands on. Looking back now, it also becomes easier to see that he was teaching us a lesson in our own humanity. We have the power to create our own reality, in ourselves and in others. We can, in fact, even become that which we fear most.

But fear’s greatest counterbalance will always be love

The connections between Michael and “Breaking Bad” apparently haven’t been missed. In this hilarious Spanish spoof, “Breaking Bad” is mashed with Michael’s “Black or White”:

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