Our Work Isn’t In Vain!

sick childrenSometimes it is inspirational to be reminded that all of the hard work we do as bloggers isn’t in vain. The other day I received this very uplifting message from an MJ blogger in Greece, which I have, in turn, been given permission to share here in its translated version:

A special note to Michael Jackson fans and bloggers-MJ defenders

When MJacksonTruth started, in 2010, one of the first categories I added on my blog was “Army of love”. I was and still am part of this army but I hadn’t imagined that one day I would write what I started right now. What’s more, when I started, I had no idea how many blogs dedicated to our angel existed and I still don’t. But hey I’ve got news for you: we win. As I don’t know all the blogs dedicated, maybe another blogger had a previous experience and said “we win” too. In this case, simply add what I will say in the “win box”. But add it. Add it and spread it in order to continue.

Why did I say “we win”?

6 years after MJ left, the tabloids continue writing lies about him

Everything started more than a year ago. It was June 2014 when tabloids had gone crazy writing about FBI stating that there were files proving that MJ had given millions of dollars in order to close mouths. This sick content was reproduced in Greece as well. Journalists and unknown bloggers reproduced the lies without examining if that was true. What’s more, one of the journalists who reproduced the sick article gave a link which was supposed to redirect readers to FBI’s site at the exact section where these non existant files were supposed to be. However, the link redirected us to this journalist’s site’s main page!

As the author of MJacksonTruth, I did what every MJ fan would do and wrote a text based on evidence probably given by a fan or even a blogger. I have the impression that there’s a text (probably by MJ Justice or Allforlove but I’m not so sure). In my text, I didn’t state names (of the journalists) for obvious reasons but, with all the indications that I gave it was easy to find the who-is-who (like specific sentences which would lead readers to the journalists’ sites through googling). If I was in the position of these journalists, I’d be embarrassed. Apart from this, like many other fans from Greece, I let comments under these sick articles and I even sent emails giving them the link and my text which proved that their article was unreliable. But guess!

Journalists removed the fake article

A few days ago, as I was googling about MJ, I discovered that another established Greek journalist, had posted an article with the title “Michael Jackson fans got vindication: FBI stated officially through CNN that there were NO files proving that Michael Jackson had paid money to close mouths of boys etc”. What’s more, the text was taken fromMJacksonTruth and MJacksonTruth was stated in the end as source of the text with link redirecting readers to my blog.

Now is this a victory or not? To me it is. Think about it. MJacksonTruth is an amateur’s work. I’m not a journalist, I’m not a specialist. I’m a simple person like you. However, a specialised journalist consulted an amateur’s blog. To me, this equals a bow and I really hope that the next time a journalist reads another lie they will check its realibility. They know that, we, bloggers, exist and are ready to humiliate them and spoil their professional status by proving that some of the things they say are simply bullshit. They know that we can make them look “smaller” and that, when we do it, we do it by providing FACTS and reliable ARGUMENTS and that readers will see that.

My message

The reason why I decided to share this note is because all these years sometimes I asked my self if what I do in MJacksonTruth is worth doing. I mean sometimes I feel almost useless and I thought that maybe you feel the same. The incident that I stated above answered to my hesitations and this is why I wanted to share it with you. Don’t feel discouraged, continue writing and, yes, send your texts to journalists and to tabloids. It does have results. This way it is more possible that even tabloids will stop writing negative and inexistant things about Michael Jackson.


MJacksonTruth is a Greek blog dedicated on the truth about Michael Jackson and exists since June 2010. In the beginning, it was small and little by little it started to grow. Now it has over 100 small or big articles, its own youtube channel and a Facebook page. And it goes on. Like it also in Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MichaelJacksonTruth/

Ps. I googled the famous sentence about «FBI blah blah blah» of the first  journalist I mentioned (not the one who gave the link to my blog) and I didn’t find it. On the contrary, google gave in the results the new article which stated the truth :)


As stated above, the story of the fake FBI files and the phony $200 million allegedly paid out to silence a bunch of “phantom” victims was officially squelched and made toast in the mainstream media when CNN’s then reporter Alan Duke ran a story declaring the tabloid reports as bogus. The point is that there was nothing in Duke’s article that hadn’t already been common knowledge to MJ fans, researchers, and bloggers for years-it just took having the guts to put the facts that fans already knew into a mainstream publication, one that would have a much wider audience and, therefore, the impact needed to make a difference-namely, to embarrass the heck out of any publication still stupid enough to have this phony story in print by the following day.

We have seen time and again that the mainstream media is paying close attention to us. They follow us on Twitter; they keep tabs on what we discuss among ourselves-and what we print. Even if they don’t always take us as seriously as they should (or at least refuse to admit that they do) there is ample evidence that bloggers and social media in general have had an impact on the way news is reported. This is true in the MJ blogosphere, especially, as it has provided a challenging alternative to often inaccurate and misinformed mainstream reporting. Has it made a dent in the way the media presents stories on Michael Jackson, as opposed to say, twenty years ago when there was no internet to speak of (at least not on the scale as we know it today) or even ten years ago when social media was still more or less in its infancy? The answer is a decided ‘yes’ though, I might caution, a ‘yes’ with a small ‘y.’ For sure, sensational stories still drive the headlines and ratings, and there is still a tabloid industry all too willing to exploit the name Michael Jackson for profit. However, with perhaps the small exception of the usual U.K. rags and the likes of TMZ and RadarOnline (which Duke, sadly, defected to) there has been a detectable shift in the mainstream media’s treatment of Michael. And we can’t attribute all of it to merely the fact that he is dead, or that his passing brought about any sense of guilt. It did do that-for all of ten seconds, but then we also saw some truly vitriolic pieces surface in the weeks and months afterward, enough to satisfy that, indeed, death doesn’t stop the almighty beast that is the media.

Michael, Still Big News To The Media, But Not Like Before...And Maybe That's A Good Thing.
Michael, Still Big News To The Media, But Not Like Before…And Maybe That’s A GOOD Thing. It Means Some Of The Dust May Finally, At Long Last, Be Settling.

Then what did make that difference? We could look at a number of factors. Obviously, when Michael was alive, he was still considered fair game and fodder for the press. When someone dies, they cease to be as profitable because, firstly, they aren’t doing anything to create new scandals or gossip, and secondly, because there is a generally understood perception-even among the media, believe it or not- that death deserves some measure of respect. However, a celebrity of Michael Jackson’s stature can still have an incredibly lucrative posthumous media presence, simply because stories about them continue to sell, and to generate interest. For Michael, this was especially true in the early months after his passing, when the ongoing mystery of “what really happened” was guaranteed to continue generating media and tabloid profit. But after six years and two death trials, there isn’t much new to be added to that saga. His reputation as a great artist is solidified; pointless gossip about his cosmetic surgeries and sexuality are generally recognized and rightfully pinpointed as exercises in bad taste, and these days, most journalists are aware that any ill informed articles written about the allegations made against him are going to be publicly challenged by writers much better equipped to take them on. It is, indeed, a far cry from ten years ago when the mainstream media could put out most any kind of story they wanted to on Michael Jackson and basically get away with it, without fear of challenge or cross examination. Indeed, the heyday of “anything goes” in the mass media is long gone, and on some level, I think they recognize that. I don’t mean to imply that we’ve won the battle-far from it. If that were so, there would be no need for the Cadeflaw Initiative, of which Michael Jackson remains one of the most primary celebrity examples.

However, all I’m saying is that there has been progress, and that alone is reason enough to celebrate. No one ever said a mountain could be torn down overnight. But bloggers have indeed played a large part in this; the pro-active stance of fans who have said “no more bullsh_t” have played a part. My dream is that one day there won’t even be a need for the “vindication” aspect of this blog, or any other. We can simply celebrate the music, and the life.

As it should be.

Death of Arnold Klein Leaves Yet Another Gaping Hole in the MJ Saga

with arnie kleinThis weekend I was shocked, as I’m sure many of you were, to learn of the sudden death of Arnie Klein. I have, unfortunately, been quite swamped the last few weeks and haven’t had much time for blogging, but  I couldn’t simply allow this news to pass without issuing some kind of statement. After all, Klein was a near constant figure in Michael’s life for nearly thirty years. I’m not going to sugarcoat this obituary; however. We also know that, while Klein was one of Michael’s closest friends, he was also one of the most controversial people in his life. But regardless of how we view him-as friend, frenemy, betrayer, enabler, and a whole list of other adjectives-it can’t be denied that Klein was an intricate part of Michael Jackson’s life. And now, as with Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Dileo, Peter Lopez, and even nemesis like Evan Chandler and Tom Sneddon, he has joined the increasingly long list of friends, associates, and even enemies who have met their own demises (some tragically and untimely) since Michael’s passing.

The sad part for us is that, with the loss of every firsthand acquaintance, another piece of Michael’s story dies with them.

As any longtime reader of this blog knows, I never had an especially high opinion of Arnie Klein. He always seemed a little too eager to ride the coattails of his association with Michael Jackson (even though Michael was hardly his only celebrity client). This was a quote that came directly from Klein when he was interviewed by Mark Seal for “Vanity Fair”:

“I treat everyone in the world. Do you know what it is like to eat fried chicken in Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth? Michael [Jackson] opened every door.”-Arnold Klein, excerpted from “The Doctor Will Sue You Now” by Mark Seal.

He was one who could always be counted on to sell a story to the tabloids (and equally notorious for back pedaling when certain stories blew up in his face). He was, by turns, a man who often betrayed his patient confidentiality, and yet maintained many confidences, some of which I’m sure he carried to his own grave. He infuriated many with his often cryptic hints that he “could” be the biological father of Prince and Paris, including Paris herself who, at one point, reportedly declared that she never wanted to see Klein again. Yet he always maintained a fierce stance, when probed on the issue by the media,that Michael was the children’s father and that was that.

Among The Most Unforgiving of Klein's Stunts-At Least in the Eyes of Fans-Was Teaming Up With Jason Pfieffer To Sell The Story That Michael and Jason Were Lovers. Klein Later Recanted His Own Involvement In The Story.
Among The Most Unforgiving of Klein’s Stunts-At Least in the Eyes of Fans-Was Teaming Up With Jason Pfieffer To Sell The Story That Michael and Jason Were Lovers. Klein Later Recanted His Own Involvement In The Story.

Throughout the decades, he was a larger than life, flamboyant, blustery,and often controversial player in the Michael Jackson saga. As with Conrad Murray, his relationship with Michael often blurred the lines between professional and personal (again raising the oft-debated issue as to whether doctors and patients should also be “friends”) but, for almost three decades, Michael continued to trust Klein and to consider him a friend. He was among those few individuals whom Michael often said he could count on one hand-that is, the people he felt had truly stuck by him. He was certainly there for Michael during his struggles with the diagnosis of vitiligo; it was Klein who helped him to cope and live with the disease. It was Klein who hooked Michael up with Debbie Rowe, which in turn led to the one thing which probably saved him the most-the birth of his children.

Arnie and Debbie Clowning Around In The Office. Meeting The Two Of Them Would Change Michael's Destiny-For The Better And The Worst
Arnie and Debbie Clowning Around In The Office. Meeting The Two Of Them Would Change Michael’s Destiny-For The Better And The Worst

But there was a dark side to their friendship, as well. Klein’s reputation was seedy, to say the least, and during the homicide investigation of Michael’s death, Klein’s office was raided on numerous occasions. Many witness accounts, revealed during both the Murray and AEG trials, state that Michael almost always left Klein’s office in an incapacitated state, even after very routine procedures. Then, there was that whole sordid episode with Jason Pfeiffer in 2010, which incidentally turned out exactly  as I predicted it would in an early post on the story:

One thing’s for sure: Klein has a shady past, and has proven that he’s not above doing some very underhanded things. He has also allowed his employees and acquaintances to lie about Michael in the past. And he has also contradicted himself numerous times, first of all by saying he was the biological father of Prince and Paris, then saying months later that he didn’t know.
Just watch. In a few weeks to a few months, he won’t know anything about Michael and Jason, either. He’ll weasel out, backpedal, and leave Jason to fend for himself. I guarantee it.
By the time of this King Jordan radio interview in February of this year (probably the last interview Klein gave on Michael) he had completely back pedaled on the story, as I predicted he would.

Not to mention, he was another on the infinitely long list of those who immediately had a hand out to the estate after Michael’s death, claiming he was owed over $48,000 for cosmetic services rendered during the This Is It rehearsals and a green dinner jacket that was supposedly never returned to him.

In fact, listening to that final interview is quite interesting and revealing. In the six years that have elapsed since Michael passed, Klein definitely experienced his own “swift and sudden fall from grace,” going from “The Father of Botox” and “Doctor to the Stars” to bankruptcy and a tattered reputation.
But as always in cases like this, where death has claimed yet another of Michael’s controversial friends/acquaintances/frenemies, I can’t help but feel mixed emotions. For all the up’s and down’s, I never got the feeling that Klein was someone who didn’t care about Michael. Was he guilty of using that friendship as a self-promoting platform? By even his own admission, yes. But then, so were many and Klein would hardly be the first, or last, to capitalize on his association with Michael. Again, if we go back and look at the list of descriptive adjectives one could apply to Klein and his role in Michael Jackson’s life-friend, frenemy, betrayer, confidante, enabler-all are apt, and all can apply equally depending on the lens one chooses to view their relationship.
Yet I am reminded of an incident from several years ago when, after writing one of my particularly scathing posts on Klein, I received a rather cryptic message (which I always suspected was from either Klein himself of Jason Pfeiffer) telling me that I was no better than the media insofar as reporting on what I don’t know. And in a way, I had to concede there is some truth in that. After all, I didn’t know either Michael or Arnold Klein, and sometimes it is good for all reporters, bloggers, and journalists to occasionally step back and be reminded that we are, after all, writing about real people whose lives are being impacted by the power of words. Sometimes it is all too easy to pass judgement on people we don’t know-especially famous people (or those famous by association) whose lives are often seen as fair game.
The tragedy, of course, is that with Klein’s passing goes yet one more connection to Michael. In the case of people like Tom Sneddon and Evan Chandler, we may not have particularly mourned their passing, but nevertheless, there was a bittersweet pang in also being aware that justice could never be served. In the case of Sneddon, it may have seemed particularly galling since many held out hope that he would one day have to be held accountable for his deeds (as for Evan Chandler, hiw own self torture that led to his suicide may have been punishment enough).  As for Arnie Klein, we may certainly not mourn the loss of the stories he will never get to sell TMZ, but I think there is a part of all of us-a tiny part, at least- that will certainly miss him as an effervescent presence in the Michael Jackson world.
In thinking back to some of the lighter moments, I’m reminded of something Klein said in his last interview, when the topic came up of Michael’s cosmetic surgery and obsession over his appearance.   When a female caller asked his opinion on why Michael never seemed satisfied with his appearance, Klein responded in his typical blunt and blustery style, “Michael wanted you to wet your pants when you saw him.”
Love him or hate him, Arnie Klein was definitely one of the more colorful figures in Michael’s life. And I must admit, however grudgingly, that the Michael Jackson sphere will somehow feel just a little bit colder without his blustery swag.
arnie klein3

Michael and Chakra: A Culinary Love Affair

I Joked And Said, "Man, That Was A Lot Of Jacksons Packed Into One Place!"
I Joked And Said, “Man, That Was A Lot Of Jacksons Packed Into One Place!”

From time to time on this blog, I’ve done features on some of Michael’s favorite foods and eating establishments. Occasionally I receive promotional requests from some of his favorite (or even rumored) favorite dining establishments. While I do not, as a rule, like to use this site to engage in any sort of promotional advertising or endorsements, I couldn’t help but be intrigued when I received a request from Chakra Indian restaurant in Beverly Hills, largely because Michael’s relationship with this particular establishment already has somewhat legendary status. It’s mostly known as the site of the last Jackson family gathering which Michael attended, in May of 2009 on the occasion of Joe and Katherine’s 60th wedding anniversary. Out of that particular event came the last known photo of Michael with the Jackson family. But in actuality, it’s a relationship that goes back much further.

When we talk about Michael Jackson and his favorite foods, most fans immediately think of KFC. But along with his weakness for the Colonel’s secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices, other favorites high on the list were sushi, Mexican food, and even the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish which he once proclaimed as “pretty good” though he wasn’t overly impressed with the rest of the menu (but as with so many parents, an at least somewhat acquired taste for Mickey D’s had to come with the territory!). But what about when it came to fine dining, or just wanting a place where he could actually sit down at a table and order a meal without being bothered? Or a place where he could arrange private family celebrations and intimate dinners with friends? For those times, only one restaurant fit the bill: Chakra of Beverly Hills. According to many reports, Chakra is a rather unassuming restaurant from the outside, one that blends so seamlessly with other similarly ethnic themed shops and restaurants on Wilshire Boulevard and Doheny Drive that it’s rumored to be easy to miss if one isn’t specifically watching out for it.

chakra 2

This is, as we say, one of those “well kept” secrets that, nevertheless, everyone in the know, well, “knows.” And that just might be the first clue, as one of the first indicators of true greatness is that the “best” doesn’t usually have to boast. When Michael Jackson says you have the best food in Beverly Hills, why would you need to, right?

The initial request that I received from Chakra’s was for a restaurant review. However, I informed them that I don’t live in the Los Angeles area and have no plans to be in the area in the immediate future. Instead, I offered something else: How about an exclusive interview of what it was like serving and waiting on Michael Jackson? Much to my delight, the offer was accepted and below are the answers I received.

The first, and obvious, question had to be about the food. What specific menu items were Michael’s favorite? According to Vadivel, Michael loved the “Potato Samosa, Garlic Naan, Channa Masala, Jack Fruit, and fresh berries. ” For those who don’t know, a samosa is a deep-fried pastry usually filled with spiced potatoes, peas, and other various fillings, which can be dipped.

Potato Samosas, Chakra-Style. I'm With Michael On These...Yummy!
Potato Samosas, Chakra-Style. I’m With Michael On These…Yummy!

Garlic naan is a traditional Indian garlic bread that has a reputation as being delicious but-beware!-quite loud, as raw garlic is the principle ingredient. Let’s hope Michael kept plenty of breath mints on hand for afterward! Channa Masala is a very spicy dish of chick peas, which, accompanied with the naan, would have made for quite a kick!

Tatiana Gushed Over Michael's Minty Fresh Breath...Obviously, She Never Worked With Him After A Trip To Chakra's! Garlic Naan Is Said To Pack a Potent Punch!
Tatiana Gushed Over Michael’s Minty Fresh Breath…Obviously, She Never Worked With Him After A Trip To Chakra’s! Garlic Naan Is Said To Pack a Potent Punch!

Jack fruit is native to Southeast Asia and is reputed to be a food that can provide a great spiritual boost to one’s system. For someone like me whose palate revolts against anything too raw, rubbery or crunchy, these things frankly look like a mutha to bite through, but according to most sources, they are exotically aromatic and wildly sweet and savory to the taste-no doubt, the perfect cap to such a spicy meal.

Jack Fruit. Tough On The Outside; Wildly Sweet and Aromatic On The Inside. Michael Loved These!
Jack Fruit. Tough On The Outside; Wildly Sweet and Aromatic On The Inside. Michael Loved These!

Of course, Michael wasn’t always dining alone. Chakra’s was also a place where he often dined with the kids, Prince, Paris and Blanket. I asked about some of their favorite menu items. The Malai Chicken was a favorite. along with Tandoori Salmon. They also shared their dad’s love for the samosas and garlic naan.

And what about Michael’s oft reported tendency to leave behind a messy place? These stories have apparently been somewhat exaggerated through the years. Vadivel reports that Michael “didn’t leave a messy place” and “did a good job” cleaning up after himself and his-or, at least, as much as any ordinary patron in a restaurant would do.

Vadivel also recalls that Michael actually didn’t interact much with the wait staff (the contact between them was kept minimal) but when he was served, he was always polite, smiled, and said “thank you.”

Michael With Prince, Paris, Blanket and Nephews At Chakra
Michael With Prince, Paris, Blanket and Nephews At Chakra

Before Michael’s death, when he was still a frequent customer, his patronage had to be kept extremely low-key. Since his passing, however, the restaurant has been a lot more open in promoting themselves as “Michael Jackson’s Favorite Restaurant in L.A”. The menu now features a special “King of Pop” dish which combines many of his favorite dishes for one price, and the “Smooth Criminal” is rumored to be a drink as smooth as its namesake but with a vicious kick!

Fans on their “Michael-ing” tours of Los Angeles often make Chakra’s one of their “have to” places to visit, and yes, Michael’s favorite booth is even available with a reservation.

But, frankly, this is the kind of cashing in on Michael’s name that I don’t mind. After all, one can’t go to Memphis without encountering at least a dozen greasy spoons claiming to be Elvis’s favorite place to grab a cheeseburger. Even Penn’s Hamburgers, a local favorite in Decatur, Alabama where I grew up, has the distinction of being a place that Elvis loved to send his peeps on secret runs. There’s just something about being able to sit where a legend once sat, smelling the same aromas and ingesting the same cuisine, that packs a vicarious thrill. We all like to feel a little closer to our idols; what turned them on, what sensory pleasures did they enjoy; what flavors suited their palates and excited their taste buds? There may be something slightly voyeuristic in requesting a celebrity’s favorite booth and ordering his favorite dishes; we know it won’t transform our lives, or make us musical geniuses. But it does bring us a little closer to their humanity, and therein lies the thrill.

Review of New Jackson Doc Series: “The Love You Save”

frontOne of the perks of having this blog is that I get asked to review a lot of stuff-books, films, and so forth. Awhile back, I was contacted by a film company in Atlanta,  who have put together a documentary series on Michael, “The Love You Save,” After viewing the film and coming to the conclusion that I could not give it an absolutely positive review, in light of some of the film’s content, I wrote them back to say as much. I felt it was only fair to give them warning, since after all, they did contact me. I really didn’t expect to hear anything back. However, much to my surprise, I received a very genial response that expressed genuine interest in some of the points I raised. They assured me that not only did they want me to run my review, warts and all, but that they would love to interview me for a future installment to counter some of the inaccuracies and views expressed here! That sounded like a fair offer, and since I will be in the Atlanta area at the end of the month, I said I would be happy to do it.

But first, some things to keep in mind about this documentary: It is a small and independent “labor of love” project. They do not have a huge budget to work with, nor do they have the endorsement of the estate. That automatically means there will be much that is missing-namely, Michael’s music, for starters. And we have seen from past endeavors of this sort how difficult it is to truly do justice to Michael Jackson when the one most important element of all is missing-the music that made him so great in the first place. It is the very thing that kept other projects of this type, such as David Gest’s ambitious “Life of an Icon” from being as enjoyable as they might have been. In this case, the producers do an admirable job of getting around that troublesome issue for the most part, but like the proverbial white elephant in the room, the viewer is always acutely aware of this lacking.  That isn’t to say there isn’t any music at all. Like the spirit of Michael itself, the music is all around, and still manages to become an ethereal presence throughout, whether it is being sung by fans, or given to impromptu chants by street kids. And so in its own way, even without estate permission to use the actual recordings, it still manages to give us the perfect feel of just how magical and timeless Michael’s music is, and perhaps in a much more intimate way than we might have gotten with the use of the actual recordings. And, in the absence of the music, we often get something else that is just as valuable-Michael’s own words, taken from various interviews and public speeches, inserted at pivotal moments to provide the insight that only his own words can provide.

However, the fact that this is a project being done mostly at local level, on a low budget, means that we won’t be getting a lot of high profile celebrity interviews from people who actually knew Michael or worked with him. That, too, is a much needed ingredient that simply isn’t there. The producers do an admirable job of attempting to fill that gap with fan interviews, archival footage that isn’t owned by the estate, and interviews with various analysts and psychologists who attempt to “deconstruct” the Michael Jackson myth. The film’s promotional blurb reads:

Michael Jackson was locked in a cage his whole life. He held the key to escape but never knew how. This underground documentary deconstructs the complex psychological and emotional profile of a poor African-American kid from Indiana who became a music pop icon in an era when race mattered most.

Therein for me, however, lies part of the problem, and I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. Read that blurb closely again. Yes. Somehow these words-“psychological,” “emotional,” etc- always become closely linked to anything about Michael Jackson, even too often, projects like this that are intended to be positive. It really begs the question: Why must it be necessary to approach every analysis of Michael as if he is a subject in need of being poked and prodded from a psychoanalytical perspective? I “get” that Michael was a complex human being, and I understand that part of the modus operandi here is to deconstruct some of the tabloid myths. But the problem I found, far too often, is that the documentary often feeds into those myths as much as dispelling them, and in the end, viewers are really left with no clearer idea of who Michael Jackson was at the end than at the beginning. The interviews with the so-called psychological “experts” do nothing to clear these issues. Like so many of their ilk, from Dr. Drew to Dr. Phil, they can do no more than offer up opinions about a man they never even met; for whom they never even sat down and had a conversation. Like so many, they have formed an opinion based on tabloid caricature or perhaps a few hastily read books from less than stellar sources. When their own knowledge of Michael Jackson is so obviously limited-the average fan will know far more than they do-it really begs the question of why they should be given a platform to offer half-baked theories of who Michael was or the forces that motivated him. At least with people like Schmuley Boteach, we know they knew Michael intimately enough to have an informed opinion. That isn’t the case here.  And, too often, the constant need to offer up some kind of psychoanalysis of Michael Jackson, often at the expense of in-depth discussions of his art, only plays into the already tired and cliched’ narrative of Michael Jackson the Genius who Nevertheless Was One Screwed-Up Individual. The problem is that even when such approaches are intended to be sympathetic, they really offer nothing that is revelatory or that hasn’t already been hashed out a million times before. I think it is time for a new approach, one in which the complexities of his artistic genius can be discussed on equal terms with his complexities as a human being. Yes, we may surmise that anyone who has been raised from the age of five in the spotlight’s glare may have “issues.” Michael himself was forthright in telling us the damage that comes to children who are forced to take on adult responsibilities too soon. But the “damaged child” trope is already a well worn one, and there simply isn’t enough new insight brought to the topic here to warrant its inclusion. If any of those people would but pick up a copy of Dancing The Dream, or would but take the time to closely listen to the Dangerous and HIStory albumsthey might be surprised to learn that Michael was already quite adept at self-analysis. Through his own art-often quite brutally and honestly-he had long ago stripped away most of the masks and illusions, and had allowed us to see him in all of his naked vulnerability. I guess I have simply become rather blase’ about the whole topic, but I am much more interested these days in how Michael’s own self analysis helped to create and inspire his art. For those who still find some lingering romanticism in the story of “Michael Jackson, Tragic Hero” perhaps they will find something of interest here. But for me, there’s just not enough that is new, and for others, it will still leave many of the most burning questions lingering uncomfortably.

The film's strength is in the voices of the fans
The film’s strength is in its objectification of the fandom.

The first episode begins mostly as a grassroots tribute to Michael, comprised of various street interviews with fans, shots of various memorials that sprang up in the aftermath of his death. and footage of the Carolwood house. This segment is interesting, even if we aren’t really seeing anything that hasn’t been done in other similarly formatted documentaries such as “The Way He Made Us Feel.” However, this film gives us a broad spectrum of fan reactions, and some are quite revealing in their own way, such as the James Brown lookalike in Episode 1 who says he wishes he had known Michael because if he could have been a friend to him, “I think he’d still be here.” The comment is touching, but raises another interesting question about the psychology of fandom (which may, also, have been part of the producers’ intent). There are so many of us, like this gentleman, who seem to feel that we could have somehow “saved” Michael, by being that one, true friend we often imagine he never had (this, too, is part of the romantic trope that clings to Michael’s “tragic” image, as a kind of sacrificial lamb who never had one, true friend he could trust). It is mostly myth, of course. In reality, Michael did have many close friends who remained loyal to him to the end, but then, we have also seen how many of them, over time, showed their true colors, whether in his lifetime or afterward. So while it may be in part a myth, it is not a myth totally without merit.

In the most touching segment of Episode 1, a child reads an autobiographical narrative of Michael for a school project. His report, spoken from Michael’s perspective, begins with a boy who is born poor in Gary, Indiana but later buys a place called Neverland that is made into an amusement park and consists of almost three thousand acres. This essentially becomes the theme of Episode 1, and like the story of Elvis Presley-who went from poverty in Tupelo, Mississippi to the wealth of Graceland-it is a story deeply woven into the American fabric; the classic tale of The American Dream. However, we know that for both Elvis and Michael, achieving “The American Dream” didn’t bring with it automatic fulfillment. For Michael, especially, it would become a kind of hollow victory, for unlike Elvis he had yet another hurdle to overcome-racism. This is a topic I really would have liked to have seen the film explore in more depth. Perhaps instead of two more caucasion psychoanalysts attempting to deconstruct Michael’s psyche from their perspective of white privilege, we could use more African-American expertise on what happens to a black child blessed with enormous talent when he learns that everything he accomplishes is going to have to be “in spite of” having been born in his skin.

For me, the documentary’s main strength is in exploring fan reactions and the “cult of celebrity.” Where it is lacking is when it attempts to explore more controversial aspects without providing the much needed contexts. Yes, we know if you interview enough random people on the streets, you are bound to get a mixture of reactions, both positive and negative. There will be some, as shown here, who still have ambivalent opinions about the allegations and other issues. I have no personal qualms with acknowledging that there is, indeed, a whole other side to the Michael Jackson mythos, including those who have doubts. What I find more problematic, however, is in giving a platform to these views without offering anything substantial either in the way of context or refutation. The problem, of course, is that these people being randomly interviewed on the streets can’t be expected to have those answers. They obviously only know what they have seen reported in the media; they don’t know any factual information about the cases. If those issues are going to be raised; if they are going to be alluded to in any way, then they should at least be followed up with a rebuttal by a knowledgable individual on those accusations. But too often in this film, these controversial issues are raised and the uncomfortable fallout simply left to settle as it may. Perhaps that was part of the intent, but if so, it would seem to defeat the film’s overall purpose of gaining further insight into either who Michael was, or the forces he had to swim against. In other words, if the viewer is still left with a bigger question mark than before, then one might ask, What’s the point?

Overall, my biggest impression is that the film is uneven. There are moments of very insightful commentary (the man from Zambia interviewed in Episode 2, for example) who provide much needed insight into what Michael Jackson means to his fans of the world. But then, too often, these jewel moments are followed up by glaring inaccuracies that form a distorted picture. I was especially enraged at the segment where a woman, also from Zambia, goes on and on in an uninterrupted interview for several minutes espousing her views on why Michael “didn’t want to be black.” This was problematic for me because the interview was conducted in 2010, a full year after Michael’s autopsy was made public, confirming that he did have the skin disease vitiligo. It’s even more puzzling that the producers not only allow her views to stand unchecked, without rebuttal or the offering of counter information, but never even mention that he had vitiligo (even more puzzling, the complete omission even of the claim of vitiligo, which was so often cruelly referred to in the media as Michael’s “alleged” skin disease”). I don’t think his vitiligo is even mentioned until, in a much later episode, a fan being interviewed casually mentions it. But for viewers who may catch only this isolated episode, they may form the opinion (especially since the interviewee appears reasonably informed and assured of her views) that hers is the correct view. So again, a controversial issue is merely raised, with no real attempt to address the issue or counter it. However, this is an ongoing series, so perhaps those issues will be addressed in upcoming episodes. I certainly hope so, At any rate, they have demonstrated a fair willingness to allow counter perspectives, so we’ll see.

Overall, I found the general structure and chronology of the series a bit confusing, too. There does not seem to be a real narrative focus, and I’m not sure if this is intentional, but it’s a quality I usually expect from documentaries. Rather, it seems to drift rather haphazardly from point to point, while the viewer may be left unsure how a current interview fits into the overall context, or even what that current context is supposed to be. At times, it seems as though it is trying to be too all-inclusive, and that may be part of the problem. The scope of Michael Jackson’s life, career, musical impact, and social impact is simply too vast to be adequately covered in one project, and it means that no matter how you slice it, all are apt to get short changed in the process. This, too, was an issue with David Gest’s “Life of an Icon,” which became a bit unwieldy at times, but to his credit, Gest managed to maintain a strong narrative focus throughout that held the entire, two and a half hour project together. “The Love You Save,” however, feels very disjointed at times, with no real sense of thematic connection.

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There is, of course, much to commend here and I do feel it is a genuine product of love made by people who want to shed some light on the Michael Jackson mystique, while maintaining a balanced perspective. And there is something to be said for its very genuine, grassroots approach. The main problem may be that, for diehard fans, there isn’t going to be enough here that is new to them, and for those with only a casual and passing interest, there simply aren’t enough of the tough questions that are truly explored or, more to the point, satisfactorily answered. This is the same conundrum that has so often plagued many well-intended, but ultimately misguided,  projects on Michael Jackson. However, what it does offer-and where its strength lies-is in the obvious sincere devotion of the fans as expressed in those street interviews, showing a microcosmic view of just how Michael and his music impacted so many lives. I also like how they compared and contrasted the street views from 2004 (at the height of the Arvizo scandal) with those of today. These provide an interesting glimpse of how the public view and perception of Michael Jackson shifted from 2004 to 2009 and beyond, and help to serve an important historical function in the study of how public perceptions of celebrity can be shaped by the media and how those perceptions can be altered over time, especially as the media itself continues to evolve.  Also, the fan views are interesting because they are not one sided, but rather, run the gamut from the truly zealous to the bitter rants against the media, America’s racism, and the hypocrisy of those who ragged him in life only to embrace him in death.

I will certainly look forward to the opportunity to add my own views to this series, and judging from the response I received, I believe the producers really wanted to put the word out on this series and to get feedback from the fan community. This is, after all, still a work in progress and I believe they are sincere in wanting our input, so please, by all means, let them know what you think.

Here is the link to the first episode; from there, you can access the rest of the episodes.

Factions, Factions, Everywhere a Faction! Who Really Pays the Price?

Is Michael's Legacy Being Slowly Crucified By His Own Fandom?
Is Michael’s Legacy Being Slowly Crucified By His Own Fandom?

Once again, I’m feeling the need to take time out from my favorite subject-Michael Jackson-to address a semi-related topic. It’s a topic that isn’t pleasant, but nevertheless, one that every so often rears its ugly head and must be addressed. I’m talking, of course, about the fandom. Not that it’s any news that we don’t all agree. I have long ago accepted the fact that the divide between us is simply too deep to ever bear hope of reconciliation, The ideologies and faction loyalties that have created those divides are simply too vast, I now believe, to ever be brought together. So this post, unlike some past others I have done on this topic, isn’t about some idealistic hope that we can just put aside our differences and get along. What I want to address specifically, however, is a disturbing by-product of this faction division, and how it is impacting Michael’s legacy in the world beyond the fanbase. In the last few months, I have been appalled to see many of the best and most noted Michael Jackson scholars and writers being bullied and lynched-often to the point of having to remove themselves from social media. In the more extreme cases, it has resulted in some of their valuable works actually being removed from availability, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. What is most disturbing is that it isn’t haters who are leading these efforts to censor positive and important writings on Michael Jackson. Rather, these efforts are coming from within the fan base.

The most recent example was the removal of Joe Vogel’s article “I Ain’t Scared of No Sheets: Rescreening Black Masculinity in Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White'” following a claim of plagiarism from The Michael Jackson Academia Project (the article has since been reinstated).

You can read a more detailed discussion of the controversy over this dispute here.

For my purposes, I’m not going to get into debating the validity or non-validity of those claims, as that debate has already been pretty much hashed out on Dancing With the Elephant and elsewhere. However, I do see this latest controversy as yet one more example of how fan faction rivalries are impacting works that are written on Michael Jackson. And this is what it all comes down to. What I find most disturbing in this particular case is that the claims of plagiarism seemed more of an excuse than anything-an excuse to bring down a scholar and writer simply for not not towing a certain line within the fan base ideology.

This isn’t about supporting or not supporting the estate executors. It isn’t about taking a hardline stance against Sony, or not. As I’ve said many times, my own personal views are neutral when it comes to issues of the estate. I do not align myself one way or the other, with either faction, and the reason for that is largely because it is important to me to maintain the balanced objectivity that I feel is so vitally important to what I do. As a journalist, I do feel it is important to maintain a certain level of objectivity on these issues. I certainly don’t mind raising the tough questions about the estate. By the same token, I’m not opposed to posthumous releases (as long as Michael’s standards of excellence are maintained) or projects like Cirque du Soleil. These kinds of projects are important for carrying on Michael’s legacy. However, I have been opposed to other issues such as the sale of Neverland, and overall, I have been willing to keep an open mind on issues pertaining to the validity of the will. And I have always felt it is important to listen, even when you don’t agree, and that even when you do disagree, you should be able to do so with civility. I have a lot of supporters and followers from both sides of the camp, and I have been largely able to achieve this due to my willingness to treat all views fairly and respectfully. I can also say that I have met a lot of good people on both sides of the estate rivalry, and that there are people among both camps who I count among some of my dearest friends and supporters. Thus, as you can see, these kinds of issues are never easy or pleasant to address because no matter what I say, or how civilly I try to say it, someone will accuse me of taking sides. However, this isn’t about siding with any one faction, as I have seen this kind of behavior, to greater or lesser extent, from all factions. But the bottom line is that we really need to stop these kneejerk assumptions that every writer who has achieved some level of mainstream success by writing positively about Michael Jackson is somehow in league with Sony or the estate. Trust me, these are the kinds of things that make MJ fans look like a bunch of looney tunes to the outside world.

Fans Will Usually Unite Against Controversial Books From Questionable Journalists, But Are Often Divided Over Books and Authors From Within the Ranks
Fans Will Usually Unite Against Controversial Books From Questionable Journalists, But Are Often Divided Over Books and Authors From Within the Ranks

It used to be that whenever a new book about Michael Jackson would come out, fans were usually united in either praising or condemning it. There were writers who admired and respected Michael, and who were interested in truth and fairness. And then there were those whose only interest was in sensationalism and falsehoods to drive the sales of their books. There were writers who genuinely admired Michael, and writers whose only agenda was to tear him down. The lines were clearly drawn, and a fan always knew where they stood in regards to those consumer choices. How I long for the simplicity of those days!

Now there is so much paranoia and suspicion-even within the fan base-that no writer is immune to it.  Immediately, it seems, if a writer or scholar is simply interested in writing about Michael’s art, and is not interested in engaging in the politics over the estate and Sony, that person immediately becomes a target of suspicion and abuse. However, there are many and varied reasons why a writer, journalist, or scholar may have no interest in addressing those issues. Perhaps because those issues are not relevant to their works (and indeed, we must ask if it is truly necessary that a scholar interested in studying only Michael Jackson’s music or cultural impact is somehow obligated to also become an anti-estate camp follower) or perhaps because, for most scholars and journalists, these kinds of issues are simply not their concern or their area of expertise. I am quite certain, for example, that not every scholar or journalist who writes on The Beatles, Bob Dylan, or any other culturally significant artist is obligated to concern themselves with issues of the artists’  executors or record companies, at risk of censorship and even the public stoning of their own, personal reputations.

So why is this the case with Michael Jackson? Those answers are certainly more complex than any one article can address. But the bottom line is that it should be the writer’s choice whether they wish to engage themselves in the politics of the anti-estate faction, or if they simply want to write about Michael’s music and cultural impact. I am still a little fuzzy on how those boundaries have become so apparently blurred (and if someone cares to enlighten me, I’ll gladly hear you out; as I said, all views are respected here).

But an excellent case in point would be D.B. Anderson, who late last year published an explosive article in the Baltimore Sun that was, to my knowledge, one of the first pieces to draw the connection between Michael Jackson’s music and #BlackLivesMatter.  Although fans and some scholars have been addressing the black activism of Michael Jackson’s music for years, this was an important and eye opening piece for introducing that concept to the mainstream media. Anderson then followed that piece with another article that served as a scathing expose of Sony’s scheme to sabotage “They Don’t Care About Us.” But apparently even writing a scathingly critical article against Sony was not enough to convince some factions that Anderson wasn’t somehow in league with Sony. I saw many of the tweets that went back and forth during this time. Apparently they had wanted Anderson to write an article exposing the estate, and Anderson had refused because it was not his area of expertise or interest, nor relevant to his own purpose.  I still don’t get the idea of targeting a random journalist, just because they have had a few popular pieces, and essentially trying to threaten them into writing articles that they have obviously expressed no interest in writing. So has it come down to the fact that writers who choose to write about Michael Jackson are no longer free to choose their subject matter or approach in what they wish to write about Michael? Is it no longer enough just to write about the music? I honestly don’t know sometimes. Over the past few years, I’ve seen people attacked for so many stupid reasons that it isn’t even funny anymore. And apparently, unless a blogger or journalist devotes themselves to screaming rants against Branca and Sony non-stop, 24-7, they are considered a supporter, a “fake fan,” or a paid employee. And as I have so often seen, these accusations are often made without merit.

I could understand the criticisms better if the writers in question were actively and vocally supporting the estate, but nowhere have I seen that to be the case. The only exception, to my knowledge, may be Zack O’Mally Greenburg’s book but since that is one I still haven’t read yet (yeah, I know it’s been out awhile but I only have so much dough for MJ books and only so much time in a day, lol) I can’t vouch for its contents. However, my understanding of the book is that it is also one of the few that gives Michael his props as the brilliant businessman that he was, and one that gives him full credit for building his own empire. Doesn’t exactly sound like a negative message to me, but again, I will have to read it before I can fairly judge it.

Despite Having Written The First Truly Comprehensive Book On Jackson's Musical Legacy, Joe Vogel Is One Of The Authors Who Have Come Under Fire.
Despite Having Written The First Truly Comprehensive Book On Jackson’s Musical Legacy, Joe Vogel Is One Of The Authors Who Have Come Under Fire.

I can say, however, that I am certainly familiar with everything that Joe Vogel has ever written on Michael. His books, Man in the Music and Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus, are books I have relied on for a number of years to help educate students about the cultural impact of Michael’s music. Vogel’s  writing style, which constitutes a tasteful and balanced blend between the popular and the academic, is perfect for classroom use, especially at the freshman and sophomore level. My students respect Mr. Vogel’s works immensely, as do I, because his writings enable them to clearly understand the cultural importance of Michael’s work without the feeling that they are being “talked down to.” These are books that chronicle the history of Michael Jackson’s artistry. They are neither pro estate nor anti estate, which is a completely irrelevant issue to the subject. That’s why I fail to understand how these accusations of Vogel as some sort of vessel for the estate have come about. Sure, his books have been successful in reaching a mainstream audience, and his writings that have been featured in The Huffington Post, The Atlantic and many other outlets have enabled him to reach a mass audience. His work on Michael’s music has been deservedly recognized by the estate because, simply put, it is good work. And quite frankly, being asked to be included in a project as huge as Spike Lee’s Bad 25 film is an honor that any Michael Jackson writer would have eagerly accepted if asked.  I seriously doubt this offer came about because Branca and company saw Joe Vogel as a vessel to promote themselves. It was about the music, pure and simple, and Vogel’s expertise and popularity made him the perfect candidate for the job. Did it boost his own profile? Sure, it did. But what writer out there doesn’t wish to be recognized and honored for their accomplishments and expertise? I certainly do not fault Vogel-or anyone-for taking advantage of such a platform.

The Anti-Estate Faction Feels That The Estate Purposely Chooses Certain Authors To Promote. But Are The Reasons Necessarily Sinister?
The Anti-Estate Faction Feels That The Estate Purposely Chooses Certain Authors To Promote. But Are The Reasons Necessarily Sinister?

For someone like Vogel, whose works have always been meticulously documented, I find the accusations even more bizarre, as the only link I have been able to find between Vogel’s article and the videos of the Michael Jackson Academia Project is that they both deal with the topic of the “Black or White” video and the black panther symbolism. But again, as has already been pointed out in Willa’s post, it is not plagiarism when two writers merely cover the same material, or even the same ideas. For fiction writers, those lines are much more clearly drawn. For scholars, it can become admittedly trickier because no matter what you say on a subject-especially one that has been pretty much dissected and analyzed for over two decades-it’s always possible that someone else has had a similar idea, or drawn a similar conclusion. Joe Vogel certainly isn’t the first writer to address the racial themes and symbolism in the “Black or White” video, but he has always generously acknowledged the works of those previous scholars

The bottom line is that, whether we like it or not, Michael Jackson was under contract to Sony for the entire duration of his adult career. That means that all of the great work he did-all of the great music that we know, and that we celebrate as his legacy-is irrevocably tied to the company he came to despise. That is a tragic irony indeed, but it kind of is what it is. Which means there is no way we can write about, analyze, discuss, or even simply celebrate his musical legacy without at least acknowledging Sony’s role in it, for better or worse. It’s a willing disconnect that most fans make. For example, many will willingly boycott new, posthumous releases, claiming they don’t wish to support Sony or the estate, while seemingly forgetting that they are supporting those very entities every time they purchase or even dance to a copy of Thriller.  I understand that there are fans who do not support the idea of “contemporizing” Michael’s music, or even the principle of releasing music he did not approve, or worse yet, tracks whose very authenticity is in question. Those sentiments are certainly easy to understand. But what I don’t get are those fans who actively boycott every new project based simply on the principle of not supporting Sony or the estate, while continuing to purchase Michael’s back catalog of music. Do they honestly think Sony really gives a rat’s ass whether their pockets are lined from fans purchasing Number Ones as opposed to Xscape? It’s all the same to them.

But to bring the matter back to the point at hand, the fact that Sony is inextricably linked to all of the music of Michael Jackson’s adult solo legacy means that it is virtually impossible for any writer or scholar who simply wishes to write critical studies of that music to undertake such a task without, apparently, undertaking the risk of being labeled a Sony/estate supporter. It has indeed become a confusing paradox, and it is small wonder that people outside the fan community are often left puzzled and scratching their heads at the “logic” of Michael Jackson fans. You see, apparently,only in the upside down, often illogical world of the Michael Jackson fan base is it possible to be labeled a “traitor” by the simple act of celebrating an artist’s musical legacy. Here, any celebration or acknowledgment of that legacy is soon tainted with suspicion. He or she must be a hired agent of Sony or the estate (or both)! Especially at risk are those who write about the music to the exclusion of all other concerns.

Look, I know very well the arguments of both factions. I have heard them all, and as I said, there are issues on both sides that I agree and disagree with. But this isn’t about my personal views on these issues. It is about allowing all authors who choose to write positively about Michael to be able to do so without being harassed and hounded by any faction of the fan base (and yes, that includes all factions, including the rights of authors to write books that are also critical of the estate).  It is about allowing all writers to do what they do best-and to be able to choose the topics they wish to address, and that are within their area of expertise-freely without censure and harassment. Any true fan of Michael Jackson would have no objections to works that help to enlighten and educate the masses about the importance of his musical contributions, regardless of how they feel about Sony or the estate. Conversely, MJ authors who choose to write about more controversial topics are still within their rights, and should be allowed to pursue those topics freely without bullying or harassment from the opposing faction. While it may be easy for readers to get confused by such a wealth of often contradictory information, all of it is important, ultimately, to gaining an understanding of Michael Jackson-the man, the artist, and all of the forces that worked both for and against him. And the most important thing to remember is that, if you don’t like a particular book or author, no one is putting a gun to your head to make you buy, read, or support their work. There are quite a few MJ writers out there whose opinions and conclusions I could debate heartily. But disagreeing with them does not give me the right to destroy their careers, reputation, and livelihood.

To reiterate something very important that Willa mentioned in her own blog, any accusation of plagiarism is a very serious offense in the academic world. Because such accusations cannot be taken lightly, they must also not be made lightly. Case in point: When I was an undergrad at Mississippi State, one of the well respected professors in our English department, Brad Vice, was accused of plagiarizing one of the short stories in his award winning published collection. The Bear Bryant Funeral Train. Although the actual charge was debatable, the accusation alone resulted in the rescinding of many of his awards and the threat of losing his job. Here is what Brad Vice’s Wikipedia entry says about the controversy:

In late 2004 Vice’s short story collection, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, won the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award from the University of Georgia Press. The Press published the collection in late 2005. Kirkus, in a starred review, called it “distinguished and disturbing work, from a lavishly gifted new writer.”[2]Publishers Weekly agreed: “Vice has a gift for making the extraordinary plausible, for rendering complex motivations in spare but metaphoric language and searing details.”[3]

When the University of Georgia Press discovered that one of the stories in The Bear Bryant Funeral Train incorporated material from a short story by Carl Carmer, the Press accused Vice of plagiarism, revoked the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award, and destroyed unsold copies of the book.

Jason Sanford, writing in storySouth, described it as a “literary lynching.”[4] A number of other writers and editors came to Vice’s defense. Jake Adam York, for instance, noted that Vice had allowed his short story and the four-page section of Carmer’s original book to be published side by side in Thicket, a journal edited by York. To York, this action by Vice “implicitly acknowledges the relationship (and) allows the evidence to be made public”. York added that doing this allowed the readers to enter the “intertextual space in which (Vice) has worked” and that what Vice was doing with his story was allusion, not plagiarism. York also stated that, according to his own analysis of Vice’s story and Carmer’s source material, Vice did not break copyright law.[5]

After Vice’s book was destroyed, remaining used copies on Amazon.com and other booksellers were selling for hundreds of dollars.[6]

In late March 2007, a new edition of the collection was published by River City Publishing. According to a report in The Oxford American, “The revised version will more closely mirror Vice’s 2001 dissertation from the University of Cincinnati, which contained many of the stories that ended up being published as The Bear Bryant Funeral Train. Unlike the UGA Press edition, it will be divided into two sections, the latter of which is set entirely in Tuscaloosa. In his dissertation, Vice described the Tuscaloosa stories as an ‘attempt to reconcile the seemingly incompatible movements of Southern regionalism and international postmodernism.’ In that vein, it contained epigraphs by Albert Camus, Basho, Guy Davenport, Bear Bryant, and, more importantly, Carmer, all of which will reappear in the River City edition.”[7]

In May 2013, Salon.com reporter Andrew Leonard revealed that Brad Vice had been the victim of a “ferocious assault” byRobert Clark Young, a writer who spent years anonymously attacking his literary enemies by inserting “revenge edits” into Wikipedia. Editing under the user name “Qworty,” Young “devoted a significant amount of intellectual and emotional energy to attacking not only Vice, but the entire community of writers centered around the Sewanee Writers’ Conference that had nurtured Vice.”[8]

So here we have, again, a case of one person who seemed to have an especial and vicious agenda to destroy a writer by bringing a charge of plagiarism-a charge that was debatable, at best. I do remember quite well when the blowup over Brad Vice’s book occurred, and of course, he had adherents and foes in both corners. In the end, some supported him and some didn’t. I cannot personally vouch for whether Vice committed willful plagiarism or if this was, indeed, a case of a literary allusion being misconstrued as plagiarism, but the end result was that a promising writer’s career was cut short amidst a wave of humiliating and disgraceful publicity, resulting in the loss of his position and livelihood. I did some recent, additional research and came across the scathing article from the above mentioned Robert Clark Young, who was apparently a huge instigator in the charge, especially when his article “A Charming Plagiarist” appeared in The New York Press. I don’t have permission to reprint his article, but you can read it here.

While I can agree, perhaps, with some of Young’s points, it doesn’t take very deep reading into his article to quickly ascertain that his real beef was with the Sewanee Writer’s Conference and the entire Sewanee community of writers centered around The University of the South in Franklin, Tennesseee-the very community that had nurtured Brad Vice early in his writing career. In fact, Young’s article devotes more space to ranting bitterly about the Sewanee writers’ group than to the actual issue of Vice’s plagiarism. For many, that was an obvious red flag.

In 2013. Robert Clark Young’s true agenda was revealed in an equally scathing piece written by Andrew Leonard for Salon.com, in which Leonard revealed how Young, under the pseudonym of “Qworty,” had extended his vendetta against the Sewanee writers by editing all of their Wikipedia pages with false or misleading information. It turned out all along that the real reason behind Robert Clark Young’s vendetta was the simple fact that his own work had been poorly received by the Sewanee committee back in 2001. One line in particular from Leonard’s expose on Young seems especially relevant to the issues we are dealing with in the MJ fan community regarding authorship and works:

If Qworty has been allowed to run free for so long — sabotaging the “truth” however he sees fit, writing his own postmodern novel — how many others are also creating spiteful havoc under the hood, where no one is watching?-Andrew Leonard.

In other words, this was a clear cut case of a writer using his own personal vendettas as an excuse to wreck havoc on other author’s reputations and livelihood. It seems all too eerily reminiscent of what is happening within the MJ fan base, whereby some parties are deliberately plotting and strategizing how to “bring down” certain authors for reasons that have to do with everything except the content of what they’ve actually written.

Tanner Colby, Co-Author of Remember The Time, Was Another Writer Bullied Into Sile4nce
Tanner Colby, Co-Author of Remember The Time, Was Another Writer Bullied Into Silence

Again, I want to stress this is not about “taking sides” on any issue or with any faction. It’s simply about what’s right. If you don’t like a certain author-if you don’t agree with their position or views-then don’t purchase their books. You can give them a one star review on Amazon, if you like. But there has to be a line drawn when it comes to actually censoring works and bringing about very serious allegations, or simply bullying a writer to the point that they no longer feel free to maintain their public profiles and social media pages. I feel this is especially tragic when the subjects of concern are writers who have maintained, for the most part, a neutral stance and are simply choosing to focus their writing on Michael Jackson’s music, his social/cultural impact and his positive contributions to humanity and the arts. None of these are issues that have any relevance to who his estate executors are or who is currently in control of that music, which means that these issues have no place in arguments against writers who are focusing on those topics. In short, if a writer’s only interest is in what Michael Jackson created and/or his social and cultural impact, those writers do not deserve to be judged by political standards that have no bearing on their work. The role of writers, journalists, and scholars who take on Michael Jackson as a subject are, for the most part, simply striving to enlighten the general populace or the academic world of an often misunderstood and maligned genius. These are not people who deserve to be caught up in the crossfire of petty fan wars and fan factions, or the ever arbitrary whims of whoever may be the latest “disciples” in control of said factions.

And again, I will say this in support of all writers-pro estate, anti estate, or completely indifferent-who have found themselves or their works to be victims of such campaigns.

On this very blog, I have given positive reviews to many books that were openly critical of the estate, and so again, this has nothing to do with siding against the anti-estate faction. There are a few of those authors, as well, whom I feel have been unfairly targeted by hate campaigns and bullying. It works both ways, and as we have seen, each and every time, the only purpose it serves is to fuel the flames of revenge by the opposing faction.  Simply put, we cannot allow our own politics to dictate which authors get heard or suppressed. If there are professional and legit issues involved, such as disputes over copyrights or infringement, those can usually be resolved peacefully and civilly behind the scenes, through the proper channels. There is no need to wage a public mud slinging campaign, and I honestly believe those who resort to such tactics are doing it more for their own attention and glory than to resolve the dispute. Perhaps, if all attempts to resolve the dispute through civility and legal channels have failed, then yes, raising public awareness of the issue may be the only alternative left. But waging terrorist tactics against writers should not be the way to resolve potentially litigious disagreements, and should always be a last resort when all other options have failed.

Look, I am not writing this to further stir the pot. I am posting it in the hope that we might all come to our senses and realize the damage we are doing to Michael’s legacy every time these battles are publicly aired. I am also writing this for every advocate of Michael Jackson whose voices, one by one, are being silenced for no justifiable reason. When it has reached the point that the biggest threat to a positive Michael Jackson legacy is coming from within his own fan base, rather than without, it is time indeed to have some serious concern. There are many talented writers, gifted journalists and insightful scholars who love writing about Michael Jackson, and who have a lot to bring to the table. But for most of them, it is not a passion that they can afford to place ahead of their own livelihood and even personal safety. When people feel those things to be threatened, the natural instinct is to protect themselves. Thus, many who used to love to write about Michael Jackson are now choosing not to. Why should they, when they feel like their only reward is bullying and harassment from so called fans? We must ask ourselves, do we really want a world in which the only narrative that exists of Michael Jackson comes from the tabloids and the likes of Diane Dimond? Or the senationalized accounts of his life by writers like Taraborelli and Halperin who basically all but ignored the musical legacy altogether? If that’s what we want, we seem to be on a fine path to achieving it. That is, if some things don’t start to change, and change soon.  We can start, first of all, by ceasing to assume that all writers have some hidden, ulterior motive or are working in league with one faction or another. In truth, most aren’t, and furthermore, could care less.  Writers don’t get rich selling books (unless their names happen to be Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, perhaps!). But many writers have ceased publishing articles or books about Michael Jackson altogether, and have claimed they will not write about him again-sadly, not because their passion for the subject has dimmed, but because they feel forced by necessity into that position. Every time I hear a writer utter those words; every time I see another writer’s Twitter account closed, a little piece of me dies-and, I feel, along with it, a little piece of Michael as well. I hope that most of them will come to see that they do have the support of many fans, and will eventually come around and realize they should continue the good work they have started. But many, I fear, will not, and who can blame them?

Who Loses? That Answer Shouldn’t Be Hard To Figure Out!

Sure, Michael Jackson’s music will survive. Some may say that’s all that matters. But I beg to differ. The cultural narrative of his work is equally important, and will be important to those future scholars and historians who will study the cultural impact and legacy that he left behind. We owe it to them to allow for a positive, cultural body of popular and academic scholarship on Michael Jackson to exist. But if we continue to create, perpetrate and allow this environment of hostility towards writers and scholars to exist, I can only foresee a regression in which all of the past mainstream narratives we have fought so hard to eradicate will be the only alternatives available.

We must ask, is that what we want? And if that’s what we want, who ultimately loses?

Michael and Katrina, August 29th, 2005: When a Birthday and a Tragedy Intersected

Photo Released During The Recording Of "From The Bottom of My Heart," Michael's Song For Katrina Relief
Photo Released During The Recording Of “From The Bottom of My Heart,” Michael’s Song For Katrina Relief

Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly celebrating his 47th birthday on August 29th, 2005. Not only had he just undergone the horrific ordeal of the Arvizo trial during the first half of the year, but it also happened that August 29th, 2005, was the day that Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, precipitating one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. The death toll was in the thousands (though to this day, there remains no official, accurate count of just how many died in Louisiana alone), and no one can forget those horrific images of flooded New Orleans and those hundreds of stranded residents who couldn’t or wouldn’t flee. Many of Katrina’s victims were from the poor areas around the Ninth Ward, which not only received the worst flooding but also, where there were many residents who didn’t have transportation or money to evacuate.

I was aware that Katrina had hit on the same date as Michael’s birthday, though in past years I had never really given much thought to the connection. However, with this year being the tenth anniversary of Katrina, I had been thinking a lot more lately about this coincidence, and wondering, if anything, what Michael’s reaction had been. I also wondered if he had planned any kind of relief effort, as he had done with so many past tragedies, from the famine in Ethiopia, to 9/11, to the tsunami disaster in 2004.

I didn’t have to search very long or hard to find that answer. Even though Michael’s spirit had been crushed by a humiliating trial; even though he certainly had plenty of his own woes to think about, and even though he had by then turned very bitter against the U.S. and was living in Bahrain, his immediate reaction to the news of Katrina was how to help the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. And apparently, he was giving no thought to the court of American public opinion, or even if such a relief effort could fly in the wake of his name having been so tarnished the previous spring. It isn’t hard to imagine that Michael must have spent his 47th birthday like so many of the rest of us that day, glued to those terrible reports and images coming out of New Orleans. And he responded in the only way a musician truly can. He wrote a song. And apparently, must have done so pretty quickly, because by September 7th, only a little over a week after Katrina hit, the press was announcing his intended charity relief single, “From the Bottom of My Heart.”

Here is the story that appeared on CNN:

Jackson plans Katrina victims song

Wednesday, September 7, 2005; Posted: 5:53 a.m. EDT (09:53 GMT)
Jackson has been staying in Bahrain since his acquittal in June.


LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) — Pop star Michael Jackson, who has been in seclusion since his acquittal on sex abuse charges, has written a song that he will record to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina, according to his publicist.

Jackson will record the single, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” within two weeks, and he plans to enlist other entertainers for the project, spokeswoman Raymone Bain said.

“It pains me to watch the human suffering taking place in the Gulf region of my country,” Jackson, 47, said in a written statement released Tuesday.

“My heart and prayers go out to every individual who has had to endure the pain and suffering caused by this tragedy.”

He added: “I will be reaching out to others within the music industry to join me in helping bring relief and hope to these resilient people who have lost everything.”

Jackson, who left his Neverland Valley Ranch in California for Bahrain after his acquittal on child molestation charges in June, will record the song on a label owned by Bahrain’s crown prince, Bain said, and donate the proceeds to hurricane victims.

Bain said Jackson was hoping to repeat the success he had with “We Are the World,” a 1985 charity single with dozens of the era’s top recording stars that raised more than $60 million for Africa. Jackson wrote the song with singer Lionel Richie.


In reading this article from 2005, there were a couple of things of interest that I noted. One was Michael’s statement about Katrina’s victims and his emphasis on the fact that this tragedy had taken place in “my country.” I’m guessing he was playing it nice in wording it thus for the media, but I’m sure he must have shared the impotent rage that many African-American citizens were feeling, not only due to the fact that many of the victims hardest hit were poor African-Americans, but as the days had passed, the mounting frustration with the government’s handling of the situation. I think it also shows something else, however. It shows that, when pinch came to shove, his great faith in humanity and that eternal optimism that he could still strive to heal the world had not been tarnished, even in the aftermath of his own greatest, personal tragedy. He apparently still had faith that he could rally celebrities to this cause, and that some good would come from it.

No One Who Lived Through It Can Forget These Horrific Images Of Ten Years Ago:




However, within two weeks, “From the Bottom of My Heart” had still not emerged, and it appeared that he was getting very little in the way of celebrity support:

Michael Jackson Working On Katrina Song — But With Whom?

No artists have yet confirmed participation in the benefit single.
by 9/19/2005


In his first interview since being cleared of child-molestation charges, Michael Jackson said he’s hard at work on his Hurricane Katrina benefit song, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” and that he’s feeling well after several health scares during the trial.

Jackson told The Associated Press during the brief interview that he’s “moving full speed ahead” on the single.

But unlike “We Are the World” — the 1985 charity hit co-written by Jackson that quickly drew participation from such heavy hitters as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel and Paul Simon — so far, no artists have confirmed participation in the recording of the single to aid victims of the August 29 disaster.

“I’m constantly working on it,” Jackson said of the song, which he first announced on September 6. At the time, Jackson said in a statement that he had written the song and intended to contact artists within days and record it within two weeks.

While Babyface’s spokesperson confirmed that the singer is down to record with Jackson, representatives for R. Kelly, Jay-Z, Ciara, Wyclef Jean, Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill said those artists have been contacted but have not yet agreed to participate. Missy Elliott’s rep said she and Jackson are in discussions about the song but have not yet reached any agreement. Spokespeople for Lenny Kravitz, James Brown, Yolanda Adams and the O’Jays could not be reached by press time.

Jackson’s spokesperson, Raymone Bain — who last week confirmed the participation of Brown, Jay-Z, Blige, Elliott, Kravitz, Kelly, Snoop and Ciara — could not be reached for comment.

Four years ago, Jackson announced plans for a benefit song for the victims of the September 11 terror attacks. “What More Can I Give” featured vocals by Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan and Reba McEntire.The song was shelved and never officially saw the light of day.

Following his child-molestation trial — which he described as “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” in his recent AP interview — Jackson and his children left the United States to take up residence in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, where the singer is still “resting and recovering.” Jackson is there as the guest of Prince Abdullah, the son of the country’s king. “From the Bottom of My Heart” is scheduled to be released on Abdullah’s 2 Seas Records.

Jackson, who has not appeared in public since being acquitted in June (see“Michael Jackson Not Guilty On All Charges” ), said “I’m feeling good,” after looking dangerously frail and suffering from various maladies during the trial, including a bad back and the flu.


So it appears that Raymone Bain-in yet another of her nefarious blunders-had prematurely released to the media a whole host of celebrity names that hadn’t even been confirmed. Sadly, it seems Michael was trying hard, but no one at that time was jumping to partner up with him to make it happen. However, it’s very possible this wasn’t the only reason for the delay. Michael’s own touted perfectionism could have also been a contributing factor. In interview after interview, he would always assure that he was working “full speed ahead on it.” But obviously, it had not come together in two weeks as originally hoped. What we can gather is that the song was probably still in a very raw state when the first announcement was made on Sept 7; hence, the rather inferior and weak title.

And it is also quite possible that, as usual, the media was jumping to put its own negative spin on the project. Lionel Ritchie was among those whom Michael had reached out to, and Ritchie was quoted in a late 2005  interview as saying the interest was definitely there but the logistics of getting so many celebrities together had not been properly worked out. In other words, it may have simply come down to poor planning and organization.

But according to this Billboard article from February of 2006, the project had finally come together. Not only did the song now have a new and improved title-“I Have This Dream”-but was actually recorded in London on November 1, 2005!

Jackson’s Katrina Song Said To Be Ready

Eight days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael Jackson announced he would release an all-star charity single within two weeks.

Eight days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael Jackson announced he would release an all-star charity single within two weeks. Nearly six months later, after questions about exactly who would be participating, the prince who has been hosting Jackson during his self-imposed exile in Bahrain says the song will come out by the end of this month.

In a telephone interview from Dubai last week, Sheik Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of Bahrain’s king, said, “The record is coming along great. We’ve been taking our time to perfect it and mix it.”

The song is currently titled “I Have This Dream,” and it includes Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly, Ciara, Keyisha Cole, James Ingram, Jackson’s brother Jermaine, Shanice, the Rev. Shirley Caesar and the O’Jays, the prince said.

Missing are James Brown, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott and Lenny Kravitz, who Jackson spokeswoman Raymone Bain said in September had agreed to participate.

“We were wondering whether or not it was ever coming out,” O’Jays co-manager Andy Gibson said. “They recorded their part of it two or three months ago.”

The prince said the release has been delayed because additional artists wanted to contribute. But he declined to name those artists — “I’d like to keep that as a surprise” — or to name the company he claimed to have secured to sell the song via CDs and the Internet.

Prince Abdullah, 30, plans to release the song on his own 2 Seas label. “Michael did a wonderful track,” he said. “His voice was phenomenal.” He said the song, which Jackson wrote, “is a message of peace and help and caring. It’s a song of total oneness.”

Jackson has been living in Bahrain since his acquittal in a harrowing molestation trial last year, and now has a house there, the prince said. He didn’t know if Jackson plans to settle in the country permanently.

Several of the participating artists recorded their portions of the song Nov. 1, gathering at a Los Angeles studio, Bain said.

“James Ingram, Ciara, Snoop Dogg and Shirley Caesar were all there,” said O’Jays lead singer Eddie Levert. “Michael produced it on the phone from Bahrain. He talked to Shirley Caesar, he talked to James Ingram. He talked to everyone except me.”

“Overall, it came out very well,” Levert said. “It had a strong gospel feel. I think it’s really a great song. If radio plays it, it could do very well.”

Asked if the song’s release was a harbinger of a new Jackson album, Prince Abdullah laughed and said, “I will just say we’ve been very busy.”

“This is a raindrop before the thunderstorm,” he said. “He’s getting ready to come out with a lot of bells and whistles. He’s so energized. It’s explosive.”



So, from  Prince Abdullah’s comments, we do get a few choice hints of what the song might have sounded like:

Michael did a wonderful track,” he said. “His voice was phenomenal.” He said the song, which Jackson wrote, “is a message of peace and help and caring. It’s a song of total oneness.”

And this from Eddie Levert: “It had a strong gospel feel. I think it’s really a great song. If radio plays it, it could do very well.”


This Photo, Long A Favorite of Mine, Was Apparently Snapped During The London Sessions For "From The Bottom Of My Heart." Working Again and Having A Cause To Believe In Was Evidently Doing Him A World Of Good
This Photo, Long A Favorite of Mine, Was Apparently Snapped During The London Sessions For “From The Bottom Of My Heart.” Working Again and Having A Cause To Believe In Was Evidently Doing Him A World Of Good

Even though never released, the song apparently received sufficient notoriety to be placed among Wikipedia’s listing of charity songs for Katrina relief, where it is listed as having been recorded by “Michael Jackson and All Stars”:


But sadly, the fate of “From the Bottom of My Heart”/I Have This Dream” seemed to have gone the way of so many planned projects during this phase. I can only guess that Michael’s soured relations with Prince Abdullah, resulting in an eventual court settlement, was probably a major contributing factor. To this day, the Prince is said to be sitting on a goldmine of unreleased stuff, including recordings for a CD that never materialized and a reportedly (but unconfirmed) massive, 600 page manuscript that was alleged to be an autobiography in progress. That these items do exist is, at least, proof that some of the snarkier media reports of the time (which accused Michael of being lazy and completely reneging on his promises by delivering nothing) were unwarranted. Apparently, Michael was not only working and working hard, but delivering, too-at least to a point. It’s just that not much was ever finished, and what was, apparently became the property of Prince Abdullah after the settlement.

Increasingly, Failed Friendships, Litigation, and Greed Seemed To Stymie Much of Michael's Creative Output-Not To Mention Many of His Best Intentions
Increasingly, Failed Friendships, Litigation, and Greed Seemed To Stymie Much of Michael’s Creative Output-Not To Mention Many of His Best Intentions

Whatever the circumstances, it is tragic indeed that not one, but two of Michael’s planned charity relief singles, both for two of the U.S.’s most tragic events in recent history-“What More Can I Give” for 9/11 victims and “From the Bottom of My Heart” for Katrina victims- ended up being sacrificed to greed and litigation red tape. Imagine how much money could have been raised for victims; how much good these songs could have accomplished!

Recording Snippet Said To Be A Demo of “From the Bottom of My Heart”-But Unfortunately, Minus The “Phenomenal” Vocal: 

It could probably be safely said that August 29th, 2005 was far from Michael’s happiest birthday, as he witnessed the images of the terrible devastation being wrought in his homeland. As I was watching documentaries on Katrina’s 10th anniversary the other night, I was also struck by something they said; the fact that one reason the hurricanes of the last decade have been so especially numerous and devastating has been due to the increased ocean temperatures. I couldn’t help but think that it had been exactly ten years prior to Katrina that Michael had prophesied many of these events to come in “Earth Song.” As David Nordahl and I had once discussed, Michael was well aware that we were in the time of the Earth Changes.

But if the devastation and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina did one bit of infinitesimal good, it was the fact that it shook Michael out of the apathy that had gripped him since the trial, and ignited in him the spark to once again, as he had said, “give a damn.” It reminded him that, personal tragedies aside, there was much worse suffering in the world, and that his work to heal the world-his real life’s mission- was far from over. There was still much work to be done. One can only imagine how the failure of this project, at a time when it was so desperately needed, must have chaffed him. But in reading about his enthusiasm for it, I am reminded again of that eternal optimism he had for humanity. When times were darkest, it was where he drew his strength.

On this August 29th, as we, the fandom, celebrate Michael’s birthday, let’s also not forget the terrible tragedy of Katrina and what happened ten years ago on this date. Ten years later, there is still no healing for many. I know that Michael would agree with me 100%-from the bottom of his heart.

The Love You Save: How Little Michael And The Jackson 5 Reigned Over One Of America’s Darkest Chapters


kent state
John Kilo’s famous photo from the Kent State massacre showed student Jeffrey Miller dead on the ground, while a teenage girl screamed over his body.


The Jackson 5 had the #1 song that week in history-but it doesn’t end there! Michael and his brothers served as the book ends of Nixon’s Cambodian invasion that spring.

Sometimes trivia searches can end in some surprising revelations.

It may just be one of those strange coincidences of history, but I’m a firm believer that nothing happens purely by coincidence. Rather, I believe there are those times when all of the right elements align and things happen for reasons we can’t entirely explain.

To back up, I should probably start by explaining that all of these connections began to make sense to me recently while drafting an article on the Kent State University and Jackson State  College shootings which took place in the spring of 1970. It had occurred to me that there were important historical parallels between what happened then and recent events that are happening now, in the wake of Ferguson and the rash of police killings. Although they are very different tragic events, resulting from very different ideologies, they do share a common thread-that is, the irony of young people being gunned down by the civil servants sworn by duty to “serve and to protect.” In an ideal world, we shouldn’t have reason to fear either the police or American soldiers. These are the people we, as citizens, are supposed to be able to look to for protection.

In the case of the Kent State shootings, the students had felt justified in rallying to protest Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia, further escalating a war that many had falsely hoped was drawing to a close. They thought that their guaranteed constitutional rights to Freedom of Speech and Right to Assembly would protect them. At least four of them paid with their lives; many more would carry the wounds of that day for the rest of their lives.

I was only six years old when the Kent State shootings happened, and like so many of the events that happened during that volatile time, I had never really given it much thought other than to lump it in my mind with all the usual montage of violent images from that era-Civil Rights demonstrations, riots, assassinations, hippies, Woodstock, Manson, etc. But one day, I randomly ran across a video of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio” a song that had been written and recorded less than two weeks after the events of May 4, 1970. And although I had seen the images many times before, for some reason that day, I felt an emotional connection to them that I had never felt before. Perhaps it was because I had already been feeling depressed over all of the sadness in the world. There had been so many senseless deaths in the news that week-Sandra Bland, Sam DuBose, and so many others, all killed as a result of asserting their rights. And then, as I went back and looked at those images from forty-five years ago, seeing those dead kids on the ground and how they stood strong in the face of masked soldiers who were basically sent to terrorize them into submission, something in me snapped. I broke down and cried.

I knew this had been building inside me for weeks; this feeling that sometimes the world is just too terrible to understand. And I understood then, more than ever, exactly what Michael meant when he wrote the words in Dancing The Dream about feeling the weight of the world’s pain and injustice: “I feel them inside me.”

"Those problems aren't just 'out there'-I feel them inside of me."-Michael Jackson
“Those problems aren’t ‘out there’-I feel them inside of me.”-Michael Jackson

This ignited in me a quest to research as much as I could about the events that unfolded that spring, and to study exactly how the events that led to both the Kent State and Jackson State killings escalated. I was interested in learning if there were, indeed, parallels that could be drawn between what happened then and what is happening now. And if so, could we learn from history?

However, I know my readers here may be wanting to know more about how this all ties to Michael. Well, it does in a rather surprising way. Or maybe not too surprising, considering that in recent months, Michael’s music has become the dominant soundtrack of #BlackLivesMatter and “They Don’t Care About Us” its unofficial theme song. But beyond that, we have also seen example after example of Michael’s music being used to bring about collective healing. Songs like “Heal The World, ” “We Are The World,” and “Man in the Mirror” have also become synonymous with the times in which we live. From Ferguson to Baltimore, we have seen the impact these songs have. And we saw  what happened to a rioting crowd last spring in Baltimore when a young man named Dimitri Reeves began to dance to Michael’s music:

Now let’s go back forty-five years, to the last week of April, 1970. The same week that Nixon announces his plans to send U.S. troops into Cambodia, a happy and innocuous little song by a group of brothers out of Gary, Indiana peaks at #1. It’s called “ABC.” It seems ironic now to think that the same week in which America’s growing dissent against the Vietnam War came to its boiling point, such a happy and innocent song captured the mood of the nation. Ironic, perhaps, but not unusual. Pop music, along with other forms of popular entertainment, often reflects the times as much by what it is opposed to as what it mirrors.  In fact, if we look at all of the songs that were battling it out for the top positions that spring, from the Beatles’ “Let It Be” to Ray Stephens’s “Everything Is Beautiful,” the pattern becomes clear. Many of these songs seemed to represent escapist wishful thinking-wishful thinking for peace and a new, prevailing pacifism that embraced the idea of accepting ideological differences, rather than engaging in conflict to resolve them. Only the Guess Who’s “American Woman” addressed the current conflict, but even then, it was an indirect, coded reference that not all listeners would “get” (the “American Woman” being merely a metaphor for the draft, and the irony further intensified by the fact that a Canadian band was singing it). Since explicit protest songs were often banned from U.S. radio play during the Nixon administration, these kinds of “coded” protest songs became quite common during the era. (Indeed, the ban on songs openly critical of the administration is most likely what kept “Ohio” from climbing higher than #16 on the U.S. singles chart, despite being the anthem of the Kent State tragedy. Many radio stations outright refused to play it).

“ABC” didn’t particularly fit into either category. It was not indirect, coded protest, nor was it preaching any anti-political message. It was simply a catchy little bubblegum song that, nevertheless, dropped at the perfect time to coincide with the rising tide of protest and dissent. But the fact that people were buying, listening to it, dancing to it, and requesting it in sufficient quantity to send it straight to the top of the charts says something very crucial about the mood and the spirit of the times. Perhaps, seeing as how so many of the actual, explicit protest songs of the era were being censored, it may not be surprising that the perfect antidote would prove to be a group of African-American boys who provided joy and optimism even as, perhaps by the sheer fact of their commercial success, were inadvertently creating a political stir of their own.

Nixon Announced His Plans To Send U.S. Troops Into Cambodia Just As “ABC” Climbed To The Top Position On Billboard

On Thursday, April 30th, Nixon announced the plan to send U.S. troops into Cambodia. By Friday, May 1, student protests had erupted on campuses across America. This latest escalation of the war, after Nixon’s much ballyhooed promise to end the conflict, caused tensions to escalate on college campuses for good reason. Many young men in college knew the draft was looming, and that deferment would not protect them forever. They envisioned a future in which they could graduate from college and pursue their dreams-not a future in which they would be sent off to die, for a cause they didn’t believe in. Many had already lost friends in the war. Alan Canfora, who has remained for forty-five years the most vocal and politically active of the students who were wounded and survived the Kent State massacre, had just attended the funeral of his best friend-killed while serving in Vietnam-only six days before Nixon’s announcement of the Cambodian campaign.

In another famous, iconic moment from Kent State, student Alan Canfora faces down the National Guard troops. Canfora had just attended his best friend's funeral six days prior-killed while serving duty in Vietnam.
In another famous, iconic moment from Kent State, student Alan Canfora faces down the National Guard troops. Canfora had just attended his best friend’s funeral six days prior-killed while serving duty in Vietnam.

Although the rally held on the Kent State campus that Friday was relatively peaceful, tensions escalated on Friday evening when rioting broke out downtown. During that tense weekend, the campus’s ROTC building was burned. The mayor panicked and, rather than attempting to quell the unrest at local level, instead called upon Governor Rhodes to intervene. Rhodes, after delivering a ridiculous and  inflammatory speech where he likened the student protesters to the KKK,  called upon Ohio National Guard troops to come into Kent, essentially turning the Kent State campus into an occupied military base. Students who returned to campus that Monday morning arrived to find a campus occupied by a military presence. Soldiers patrolled the campus with M1 assault rifles, further escalating an already tense situation. That Monday, May 4, 1970 the students carried forth with their planned protest at noon on the commons, despite the threat of armed soldiers. The protest was, after all, a legal action sanctioned by the U.S. constitution.

The students were unarmed, though of course there was lots of heckling against the military presence and rocks thrown. The students were ordered to disperse, and tear gas was thrown. Some students tossed the tear gas canisters back. The campus was engulfed in the haze. But exactly what prompted the confrontation to go from mere heckling and threats to gunfire and death remains a mystery. Witnesses say they saw the soldiers retreat to a knoll beside Taylor Hall, where they then appeared to turn and fire in unison. What remains a matter of dispute is whether an order was given to fire, and if so, who gave it? Or did the soldiers simply “lose their cool” amidst all the heckling? Did one, lone soldier lose it and cause a reflexive action among his equally tense comrades? It is likely, but not supported by what eyewitnesses actually saw, which was at least a dozen troops turning and, in unison, taking position to fire.

This photograph confirms what eyewitnesses claimed to have seen-the soldiers appeared to be firing in unison, as they would do if ordered to fire.
This photograph confirms what eyewitnesses claimed to have seen-the soldiers appeared to be firing in unison, as they would do if ordered to fire.

The troops claimed self defense, of course, and to this day that remains their official position. But what is undisputed is that troops opened fire upon the students and shot a fusillade of 67 bullets in thirteen seconds. When it was over, four students lay dead (including two who weren’t even part of the protest, but were simply walking to class and got caught in the line of fire) and nine were wounded. Among those included one student whose spinal cord injury paralyzed him for life.

James Earl Green (left) and Phillip Lafayette Gibbs (right) were killed during the Jackson State College shootings.
James Earl Green (left) and Phillip Lafayette Gibbs (right) were killed during the Jackson State College shootings.

Two weeks later, protests against the Kent State killings merged with racial unrest at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi, resulting in the deaths of two students. In this case, it was not National Guard troops but local police and Mississippi Highway Patrol officers who committed the killings; however, the reported actions of the police were even more severe than what occurred at Kent State. Over 140 bullets were fired (at least one officer confessed to reloading his weapon over four times) and the fusillade lasted for almost thirty seconds. They shot directly into a female dormitory (though, miraculously, none of those students were killed). As with Kent State, there were students killed who weren’t even part of the protests, but were simply innocent bystanders. One, Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, had recently become a new father. The fact that the Jackson College killings were overshadowed by the Kent State shootings has rightfully been pinpointed as racism. While the Kent State massacre made the cover of Life Magazine, the equally tragic events at Jackson College, a historically black institution,  were mostly overlooked by the media, or simply looked upon as part of the tide of tragic events that spring.

The bullet riddled dormitory at Jackson State College, in the aftermath of the shootings.
The bullet riddled dormitory at Jackson State College, in the aftermath of the shootings.

Then, as now, it seems that an inundation of tragic events, so closely on the heels of one another, can create a numbing effect. However, both events were equally horrific, equally tragic, and connected by a common thread-young people asserting their right to voice dissension, and attempts on the part of the government and civil authority to suppress that right. While it is undeniable that some violence did occur in the course of the protests. the fact remains that the students in both cases were unarmed and pitted against a force they could not overcome-soldiers and police fully armed with assault weapons.

Under intense pressure to investigate the killings at Kent State and Jackson State College, the Nixon administration formed the Commission for Campus Unrest. However, the result of the Commission’s findings would not shock those of us today who have come to hold out little hope for justice. Although ruling that the Ohio National Guard’s actions at Kent State were “unwarranted” and “unjustified” none of the soldiers involved in the shooting were ever charged with any crime. They continued to claim self defense, despite the fact that the closest student among the casualties, Jeffrey Miller, was over 265 feet away. In 2010, President Obama denied a request to reopen the investigation, thus guaranteeing that the debate over “what really happened” and the denial of true justice and closure for the victims’ families would continue. The only “justice” that the families of Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause. William Schroder, and Sandra Lee Scheuer ever received was a paltry civil suit settlement that added up to approximately $15,000 per student killed, once it was split among the four surviving families. “Justice” for the families of Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green was even more dire. According to a blog written by Desare Frazier commemorating the event:

Jackson State President John Peoples closed the college for the summer and mailed graduates their degrees. Lynch Street was closed on campus and renamed Gibbs-Green Plaza. No one was prosecuted for the shootings. But, Attorney Constance Slaughter-Harvey filed a $13.8 million civil lawsuit in 1970 against state and local officials and law enforcement officers. The case went to trial in February 1972 in Biloxi, and an all white male jury came back with a not guilty verdict. Slaughter-Harvey says the officers in the courtroom erupted in cheers. No one has been held accountable for the shootings.



Looking back on the events that unfolded that tragic spring, as Nixon’s Cambodian campaign escalated and anti-war demonstrations led to bloodshed on college campuses across the nation, it might not be surprising to learn that then, as with more recent events, the voice of Michael Jackson reigned above it all. As Nixon announced his plans to send troops into Cambodia; as National Guard troops opened fire on students at Kent State, radio stations across the country blasted the soprano voice of an eleven-year-old boy who simply shouted: “Sit down girl! I think I love you!”

What America Responded To Was His Innocence.
What America Responded To Was His Innocence. He provided light, joy, and hope that somehow, a poor little black boy from the American midwest could lead us by example through the maze of violence and confusion

In singing a message that seemed to be the perfect antithesis of the times, little Michael may have actually been providing its antidote more than he could have ever fathomed. He did it without the need for any deep, political message or anti-government rant. He simply gave the nation his contagious joy and declaration to “shake it, baby, shake it.” And America responded, by crowning him and his brothers #1 during the bloody two weeks that changed America forever. Years later, it would be a different story as Michael’s adult lyrics and politics became shaped by personal experience and world events. But what America responded to then was his innocence. He provided light, joy, and hope that somehow, a poor little black boy from the American midwest could lead us by example through the maze of violence and confusion.

Throughout the spring, The Jackson 5 and The Beatles continued to duke it out on the charts (perhaps another foreshadowing of things to come, when Michael would essentially “own” a large percentage of The Beatles’s songs). Meanwhile, Nixon declared “Operation Menu” (the Cambodian invasion) as the war’s most successful operation, despite the fact that it had plummeted his approval rating to an all-time low (of less than 50%) and the casualties continued to mount. Forty U.S. troops lost their lives during the Cambodian operation,and this number does not even begin to include the civilian casualties-both at home and abroad. For, as all Americans were acutely aware, the Kent State shootings had marked the  beginning of the era when the war officially “came home” to the U.S. It also marked the beginning of America’s official unification against the war, resulting in the escalation of the government’s withdrawal efforts.

In the last week of June, 1970, after two intense and bloody months, of operation,Nixon began the official end of the Cambodian campaign by withdrawing ground troops. And perhaps it is not surprising that, the very same week that Nixon called for the withdrawal of those ground troops, Michael Jackson was again the voice at the top of the Billboard charts, singing a song about “The Love You Save.”

Just as “ABC” Had Hit #1 The Week Nixon’s Cambodian Campaign Was Launched, So “The Love You Save” Hit #1 The Week That Nixon Withdrew Ground Troops, Officially Ending That Stage Of The Operation. The Jackson 5 Had Thus Served As The Bookends Of The Entire Campaign.


The lyrics may have been a simple love song, urging a girl to “save” her love in the name of self respect, but they were lyrics with far reaching implications within the greater context of America’s role in Vietnam and the symbolic significance of the withdrawal from Cambodia.

After so much violence and bloodshed, perhaps all hope had not been lost. Love could still “save” us yet.

Thus, it seems that Michael and The Jackson 5 served as bookends for the entire Cambodian campaign, or at the very least, its bloodiest and most violent chapter on the American home front. Michael was singing the #1 song in America when the campaign was launched; he was singing the #1 song in America when it effectively ended. And later in the year, he would reach #1 again by singing a song that seemed to prophetically connect both events of the past spring and the future to come:

“Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter
Togetherness, well that’s all I’m after
Whenever you need me, I’ll be there
I’ll be there to protect you, with an unselfish love I respect you
Just call my name and I’ll be there” -The Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There”

This wouldn’t be the last time that Michael reached #1 the same week as a horrific world event. In March of 1988, “Man in the Mirror” peaked at #1 the same week as Bloody Friday, when nearly 5,000 Kurdish citizens were killed in one of the worst genocide massacres in history, the Halabja chemical attacks. I still remember the horrific TV images of those attacks, but the irony of this massacre occurring on the other side of the world the same week that Michael’s plea to “make that change” dominated the domestic charts truly drives home the poignancy of the coincidence.

Hard To Believe These Horrific Images From The Halabja Poison Gas Attack Were Occurring The Same Week That Michael's Plea To "Make That Change" Sat Atop The Charts
Hard To Believe These Horrific Images From The Halabja Poison Gas Attack Were Occurring The Same Week That Michael’s Plea To “Make That Change” Sat Atop The Charts…
...Or, Perhaps Not So Coincidental At All
…Or, Perhaps Not So Coincidental At All

And in Michael’s “Earth Song” performances during the HIStory tour, there was an eerie throwback to one of Kent State’s most poignant moments. Before the eruption of violence, when some of the students and National Guard troops had actually been fraternizing, Allison Krause had placed a flower into the barrel of one of the soldier’s guns, reportedly telling the soldier that “flowers are better than bullets.” That moment became an iconic symbol of the protest, intensified by the fact that Krause would be among those killed just minutes afterward. Her gesture was taken up by other student protesters. As these images were circulated throughout the media, the idea of placing a flower into a soldier’s gun barrel became a powerful symbol of the anti-war movement.

Allison Krause, Soon-To-Be-Kent State Casualty, Confronts National Guard Troops. "Flowers Are Better Than Bullets," She Said.
Allison Krause, Soon-To-Be-Kent State Casualty, Confronts National Guard Troops. “Flowers Are Better Than Bullets,” She Said.
Other Students At Kent State Protest Followed Krausse's Example, Placing Flowers In The Soldiers' Guns
Other Students At Kent State Protest Followed Krausse’s Example, Placing Flowers In The Soldiers’ Guns

Michael paid homage to this symbol in “Earth Song” during the segment where the child emerges with a flower in hand to confront the soldier. The skit would conclude with the child giving the soldier the flower to replace his gun, at which point the soldier would usually break down weeping, ultimately joined by Michael and the rest of the cast. The symbolic significance of this act was the idea that the soldier, having been redeemed by love and innocence, is brought back into the human fold. I do not know if Michael consciously intended to pay homage to Allison Krause and her gesture of peace at Kent State that day, but he most certainly would have been aware of the powerful symbolic role that flowers had played in the anti-war demonstrations.

earthsong stage

And perhaps none of it is truly coincidence, after all. Like all of us of his generation, Michael came of age during one of the most politically turbulent times in history, a time when our country was sharply severed among political, racial, and generational divides. He was shaped and defined by those times. And, perhaps precisely because the wounds of those times have never properly healed but, rather, have merely festered beneath decades’ worth of complacency, it may not be surprising that in today’s equally turbulent times, a new generation is discovering what Michael’s music meant.

He was there, and helped us get through before. He is still here, to help us find our way.

ETA: Michael expressed his own views about the Vietnam War in an early childhood drawing (thanks to Sina for the link!):


The Songs Michael Didn’t Write…That He SHOULD Have

Michael and Siedah Garrett. He Reportedly Wasn't Happy With "Man in the Mirror"'s Bridge...
Michael and Siedah Garrett. He Reportedly Wasn’t Happy With “Man in the Mirror”‘s Bridge…

Michael Jackson can certainly be counted among pop music’s greatest songwriters. We know that many of his classic and most iconic hits were songs he penned himself, from “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” to “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Bad,” “Black or White,” “Earth Song” and, well I could go on and on. You get the idea.

...But They Worked It Out.
…But They Worked It Out.

But that still leaves an amazing number of songs that Michael recorded and performed that were nevertheless written by others. To make the clarification, I am not referring to songs he merely covered. If we counted all of the songs that Michael covered throughout the span of a forty-five year career, including his Jackson 5 and childhood solo career, that would be a mind boggling number indeed. No, this is about something else. This is about those songs that have become so indelibly and inextricably identified with Michael Jackson that casual fans are often shocked to discover he didn’t write them; those songs that seem so reflective of Michael’s own personal values (and for which he made us connect with them so strongly in his performances) that it seems almost inconceivable to believe he was only their interpreter, and not their writer. On the other hand, we can also include songs that were not necessarily huge hits but that. nevertheless, seemed to define in some way who Michael was.

This is not to any way impugn the credit that these songwriters deserve. When I call these the songs that Michael should have written, what I mean is that these are songs that are so iconically identified with who he was and the values he represented that it is almost impossible to disconnect the song from the performer.

The reality is that many of Michael’s most iconic songs didn’t necessarily originate with him. But all the same, we know that something must have drawn him to “connect” with these particular songs.  In some cases, such as “Man in the Mirror” we at least know that those songs were written specifically for him to cover.  And in at least some cases we know  that he did have a major hand in shaping the eventual, finished product even if he didn’t necessarily receive a co-writing credit.

Below is my personal pick of the Top Ten songs Michael Jackson didn’t write but “should” have.

10. When We Grow Up

Michael was only fifteen when he recorded this duet with Roberta Flack in 1974. The song’s message about hanging onto the innocence and fun of childhood-about never changing even when “we grow tall”-conveys the same whimsical, Peter Pan ideals that would become a stalwart fixture of Michael’s adult ethos. It really begs the question: Is it possible that the songs Michael sang in his youth helped influence and shape his adult aesthetics? With lyrics like “we don’t have to change at all” (i.e., we don’t have to become corrupted by adulthood) this song certainly seems like a page torn straight from Michael’s adult solo career.

9. Rock With You 

This isn’t the first time we’ll be visiting Rod Temperton on this list. Off the Wall, of course, was Michael’s huge breakthrough album that launched his adult solo career. and it also launched his songwriting career. He wrote two of the album’s tracks, including its monster breakout hit “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.” and co-wrote a third. However, this number-one of the album’s hugest hits, and easily one of Michael Jackson’s most iconic songs-was not one of them. Temperton wrote quite a number of tracks that Michael eventually recorded (as well as having previously written songs for Heatwave and many others). What makes this song so uniquely Michael, however, is the interpretation and the vocal. It is arguably, in fact, probably his strongest vocal performance (just listen to his enunciation of “I wanna ROCK with you” and try to argue that any other singer could have pulled that off!). This is the kind of song that would become most identifiable with Michael’s post-Jacksons, pre-Thriller era, an airy, romantic, mid tempo dance number with soaring, clear vocals (this was the era before Michael added all of the grit) and lots of bling. Moreover, lyrics like “And when the groove is dead and gone/You know that love survives” will prove to be influential in Michael’s own romantic songwriting down the road.

8. She’s Out of My Life

By the time Michael was twenty-one, he had already written songs about global causes (Can You Feel It) and even a pretty angry relationship song (“Working Day and Night”) but the one thing he really hadn’t penned yet was a tender love ballad. They would come in time-“Liberian Girl,” “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Speechless,”etc.  But if there is one love song that most people readily identify with Michael, it’s this Off the Wall track written by Tom Bahler. There’s just something about that sensitivity Michael brings to this number that is oh so very Michael! It is also an early example (well, an early adult example, anyway) of Michael’s trademark ability to emote. No one could make us feel a song quite like Michael, and that was due to the innate ability he had to connect with a song’s emotions. There is a well known story told by Quincy Jones of how every single time Michael recorded this song, he broke down. Take after take. At some point they just gave up trying to get a sob-free track, and went with it. The result is brilliant. That little quiver at the end is so real we just knew Michael had to have lived it.

7. Smile

Another masterful Michael Jackson interpretation, the Charlie Chaplin penned “Smile” was covered on Michael’s 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present, and Future. Its beautiful blend of pathos and theme of finding strength in times of adversity was perfectly suited for an album that had chronicled much of Michael’s dark, turbulent years in the mid 1990’s-and a fitting closure, bringing the album’s arc to its beautiful but heartbreaking finish (the poignancy being born out of the fact that the narrator has not actually overcome his troubles; he has simply learned how to swallow the tears and fake it pretty well!). Throughout his career, Michael had maintained a deep aesthetic connection with Chaplin, and often cited “Smile” as his favorite song. So deep was his connection to this song that it was sung at his memorial service, and few songs can better sum up the pathos of Michael’s last years, when adversity after adversity must have indeed made it hard to put on that brave front to the world.

6. You Are Not Alone

The second love ballad on our list, “You Are Not Alone” is one of those love songs so closely identified with Michael Jackson that it still seems a bit jarring to realize he didn’t write it (and apparently even R. Kelly’s authorship was successfully contested, at least in the Belgian courts). However, Michael did put many of the finishing touches on the song, including the modulation and choir climax at the end; in short, shaping much of the song’s final structure. All of those little things that make the song so uniquely “Michael,” were, in fact, due to Michael’s direct input, so maybe we can feel good about saying “You Are Not Alone” was, at the very least, a Jackson collaboration. After the 1995 video featuring Michael and Lisa Marie Presley, the song became forever cemented as being synonymous with their relationship. It even inspired its own anagram, YANA girls, to describe the random girls chosen to come onstage when Michael performed it during the HIStory tour.

5. I’ll Be There

Who would’ve thought that the early Motown writing team of Hal Davis, Willie Hutch, and Bob West would have written a song when Michael was only eleven years old that would sum up the entire altruistic philosophy of Michael’s adult career? Yes, it’s supposed to be a simple love ballad, but looking back on it in hindsight, from the moment little Michael sings the words “You and I must make a pact/We must bring salvation back/Wherever there’s love/I’ll be there” it’s virtually impossible to think of this performance as apart from the same artist who, twenty-one years later, would bring us “Heal the World” and would advocate the healing power of love; who, in fact, would always tell us, “I love you more.” Years later, the song remained a staple of Michael’s adult repertoire, the only Jackson 5 song usually performed in its entirety during his concerts. Clearly, Michael never lost his connection to this song.

4. Ben

Could there have been any song better suited for Michael Jackson to sing than a song about a boy whose best friend is a rat? Only Michael could have possibly made such a “love” song not only believable, but downright heartbreaking. And in one of those weird twists of fate, this song seemed to actually prophesize Michael’s adult life, in which his favorite animals often filled the void of loneliness and replaced relationships with people he couldn’t trust. Somehow it doesn’t seem a stretch to believe that the same little boy who sang “Ben” would one day own a fantastical kingdom filled with exotic animals.

3. Human Nature

Speaking of all the interpretations that only Michael could bring to a song, how’s this? Only Michael Jackson could make a song about cheating and going on the prowl for one-night stands seem, well, like a positively religious experience! Perhaps that isn’t entirely coincidental, given that “Human Nature” is a phrase often used in Christian indoctrination, usually to describe the fall from Paradise and the natural human inclination to sin. A famous sermon from William Ellery Channing, delivered sometime in the 1830’s or early 1840’s, and later published in 1872, was devoted to what Channing called “The Religious Principle in Human Nature.” In its most exalted form, according to Channing, “Human Nature” is that which imbues the human spirit with the desire to seek something greater than ourselves; i.e, a “higher power” or more perfect version of ourselves. The drive for “Truth” and “Purity” are only polar opposites of the same drive that compels us to seek earthly or fleshly gratification. “Human Nature,” the song, was first composed by Steve Porcaro of Toto. Since Porcaro presented the original demo to Quincy Jones, it may be presumed that Porcaro had always intended that Michael Jackson would sing it. The song’s lyrics were actually completed by John Bettis (and by this point there was no doubt that this was going to be a possible track for the Thriller album). Even if Michael didn’t write the lyrics, he was clearly attuned with the song’s spiritual undertones. UPDATE: For more interesting background info on “Human Nature,” be sure to check out the comments!

2. Thriller

Given Michael’s legendary love of horror films, An American Werewolf in London, “The Twilight Zone,” and sci-fi themes, it seems almost mind boggling to realize that he actually did not write “Thriller.” Good gracious, could any song have been more tailor made for Michael Jackson? Did any song  ever sound more like it just had to have come from straight  out of his fertile and out-of-the-box imagination? Well, for sure, Michael did have a big hand in the overall concept of the video and some of those iconic images we so associate with “Thriller.” But the song itself was actually a Rod Temperton demo first titled “Starlight.”

1. Man in the Mirror


Michael Jackson became known for his great, altruistic anthems. But ironically, perhaps the one that is most associated with him-certainly his most commercially successful anthem-was a song written by Siedah Garrett (who couldn’t even look at the “man in the mirror” since she was a “she”). However, Garrett was actually commissioned by Quincy Jones to write this ballad specifically for Michael’s Bad album, so just as with a few of the other songs on this list, it was always understood from the very beginning that this was going to be a Michael Jackson song. And for those who may be a bit disappointed to learn that Michael didn’t actually write the words that so many have since associated with him, like looking at “the man in the mirror” and “make that change”-take heart. Garrett has revealed in later interviews and talks that the song as we came to know it was very much a collaborative effort between her and Michael. Just as with “You Are Not Alone,” Michael initially liked the song but wasn’t happy with certain parts. He kept pushing Garrett to come up with a stronger bridge, and would not record the song until the bridge had been brought up to his specifications. And, as with “You Are Not Alone,” he added the modulation and choir-all those little finishing touches that, of course, made the entire difference. Lastly, his famous 1988 Grammy’s performance proved once and for all that he was, indeed, the master of interpretation.

Let me know if you agree with my list!

Book Review: The Murder of Michael Jackson, The Cover Up and Conspiracy by Deborah Stefenaik

murder of michael jacksonHere is another title from the books on my summer catch-up list. Let me just say that, normally, this is the kind of book I would have probably passed over without much of a second thought. Its author is a psychic and medium who claims to have conversations with Michael (as well as, apparently, many of his deceased friends and family members!) from “The Other Side.”  This is actually her second book about her conversations with Michael, although I have not read her first book Another Part of Me. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I’m skeptical of those who have “The Gift.” In fact, psychic and intuitive abilities run in my own family, and the very reason I was intrigued enough to read this book in the first place is because I quickly realized that the author and I have shared a very eerily similar vision of Michael’s death, which I will get to in due order. I’ll just say that the excerpt I read on Amazon was enough to give me chills. And besides, at under three bucks for the Kindle edition, what did I have to lose, anyway?

That isn’t to say I was entirely ready to put aside my skepticism. I do believe there is certainly life after death and, as stated previously, I do believe that some people are blessed with the intuitive ability to communicate with the dead. But some of the book does sound a little “out there” and requires a certain suspension of belief. The title gives much of it away. It is what it is; a personal memoir written by a psychic medium about the alleged conspiracy theory behind Michael’s death, based on her own conversations with Michael’s spirit and the visions he has allowed her to see through his eyes. Still with me? Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking right about now, and trust me, it was  my initial reaction as well.

But there was one, troubling detail I could not shake off or dismiss: The author and I had had exactly the same vision, with but a few details varied. What’s more, my sister had the same dream, both of us within days of Michael’s passing. So when I read the excerpt from this book, I realized right away that even though I could dismiss it all as BS if I wanted to, there was one troubling detail I could not so easily shake off:  the fact that I now had a record of at least three different people, all of whom, independently of one another, had experienced the same vision of Michael’s death within the same time frame, and all with the same eerily similar details. That knowledge alone was enough to keep me reading. I became intrigued to find out how many more details of my own (and my sister’s) vision would be corroborated by Stefanaik.  I started reading this book on June 25, not exactly a cheery way to top off an already depressing day. But if there was any day appropriate to begin reading a book about Michael’s final hours, well, that would certainly be it.

I don’t wish to provide too many spoilers of Stefenaik’s book. After all, the purpose of any book review is to encourage people to read the book for themselves  (or to run like hell, as the case may be) so I will try to refrain from going too much into her theories here, lest I give too much away. But even a casual reading of the book’s blurb will tell you that there are a few individuals and entities who obviously do not come out of this book smelling very good, namely Randy Phillips, AEG, Sony, Frank DiLeo, the Estate executors and most of all, “Dr.”  Tohme Tohme, all figures that converged on (or reentered) Michael’s life during a relatively short window of time between December of 2008 and June of 2009. These names alone are enough to insure that this is bound to be a polarizing book, one that may not be warmly embraced by all segments of the fan community.  However, as I’ve always said, it pays to keep an open mind. While I don’t believe in slandering anyone without sufficient evidence, we have to keep in mind, again, that the book is what it is: A medium merely recounting what she claims to have seen in a series of visions. So in that regard, we can’t exactly call it slander, nor can it stand as evidence of a crime committed. But for those readers willing to keep an open mind-and to keep a handy helping of salt nearby, just in case-it is certainly a disturbing and thought provoking read.

However, the book’s contents aren’t entirely made up of the author’s own visions and “conversations” with Michael. There is a lot of solid, factual evidence, as well. Using trial transcripts from the Conrad Murray trial, the Katherine Jackson vs. AEG trial, the official autopsy report findings and other records, as well as the emails exchanged between all of the parties involved (most of which became public record during the criminal and civil death trials) she is able to provide more than enough factual evidence to support many of her theories. Of course, her agenda is to “prove” that these facts corroborate her visions. Nevertheless, too many details have come to light since Michael’s death that do bear questioning. Why, for example, did Michael’s own children testify that they saw Randy Phillips in their home at odd times when they knew he was not supposed to be there? And why did both Phillips and Tohme seem to have unlimited access to Michael’s home? Why was there such a discrepancy between the actual time of death (according to paramedics who claimed Michael had obviously been dead for hours) and the calling of 911 at 12:22pm? Why was the syringe found at the bedside, containing Propofol and Lidocaine never properly tested? (Remember, this was the syringe that Murray and his attorneys fought so hard to prove as “evidence” that Michael had self administered). Why was DA Steven Cooley receiving financial contributions from AEG (certainly, at the very least, a major conflict of interest!). Why was Tohme Tohme, whom Michael had fired in March of 2009, listed as of June 22, 2009 (three days prior to Michael’s death) as a beneficiary of AEG’s “accidental death” insurance policy with Lloyds of London? Why, indeed, was this man even still in the picture, even to the extent of being present at the hospital on June 25? And what did happen to that missing surveillance tape?

Stefenaik does attempt to answer these questions, and to her credit, relies on factual and documented evidence to support most of her claims, though it would have been helpful if the author could have provided actual PDF facsimiles of the documents in question, rather than merely copying them verbatim-skeptics can always claim the documents have been altered or faked. Fortunately, most of them are public record and can be verified easily enough with a little research, but being able to show the actual documents always helps in the credibility department.

As stated previously, however, I was most intrigued with the author’s vision because its details so nearly matched what my sister and I (in nearly identical dreams on the same night) experienced six years ago.

I have never spoken much about that dream, having only confided its details to a very few people whom I trust. Mostly, I haven’t spoken much about it because I know the general skepticism that people usually give such claims, but also because the logical and common sense side of my brain would always say, “It was just a dream. It’s not like it’s something you can ever prove; it’s not as if anyone would ever actually take this as serious ‘evidence’ of a crime.” And yet a part of me has felt guilty, also, about that silence. This, too, has crossed my mind on many occasions. What if Michael, in those first few weeks when his soul was most restless, had actually indeed reached out to a select few, receptive individuals to show them exactly what happened to him that morning? And if he chose some of us to give this information, what exactly did he want us to do with it, or take from it? That is a thought that has weighed heavily on my mind for the last six years. If Michael wanted this knowledge to be known, had I somehow failed him by sitting on it, dismissing it as “just a dream” that no one would ever take seriously? Did I somehow have a responsibility that I had failed to hold up?

I have to admit that Stefenaik’s book has again raised a lot of those questions for me. Like I said, I probably would have been a complete skeptic about this book were it not for the fact that I saw and felt-almost to a tee-exactly what she felt and describes in this book, as allegedly given to her straight from Michael.

In my case, my dream occurred just a few nights after Michael’s passing. It was long before any photos of the death scene had been leaked to the media; I had no way to even know what the interior of the Carolwood home looked like. It was also long before the autopsy results or any of the details of the death were well known; thus, it was the time when there were still many conflicting media reports and no one seemed to know what had actually happened that night or that morning.

Stefenaik described it as a kind of channeling experience, and this was very similar to what I felt. It was as if I was in Michael’s body, witnessing the events through his eyes as he would have experienced them. There were many details that stood out to me about the room-to the right of the bed there was a lamp that burned continuously, even into the morning hours. There was a white mantelpiece with what looked like either a gold framed mirror or some type of screen above it. Over the windows, heavy beige colored drapes were parted, and through the white sheers that covered the window it was obviously sometime around dawn, as there was just a tinge of gray in the sky. When I finally did see photos of the bedroom, it confirmed for me everything I had seen. I felt intuitively that I had been inside that room before.

death bedroom2


I can only say that what I experienced through Michael’s body (if indeed that’s what was happening) was a horrific sensation that I hope to God to never experience again. The feeling was of being completely incapacitated and unable to breathe. He was mostly conscious of what was happening around him, but unable to move or make a sound. It was like being paralyzed and drowning, all at the same time. My breath was so shallow and labored that every intake of air hurt and burned my lungs. What I felt was very much a semi lucid state, where I seemed to be dipping in and out of consciousness, at times acutely aware of my surroundings; at other times, slipping into a non-lucid state where I believed I was drowning.

I could hear two men laughing. At the mantelpiece, two men stood with their backs turned to me. Since the bedroom photos have come out, I have seen that there were, in fact, two such mantelpieces that would have been within Michael’s range of vision, the one that would have been to his right, beneath the mirror, and one in the foyer outside his bedroom, which looks to have a framed painting above it.

Long before these photos were made public, I had seen the white mantelpiece with what looked like a mirror above it. There was also, however, another white mantelpiece visible on the opposite side of the foyer.
Long before these photos were made public, I had seen the white mantelpiece with what looked like a mirror above it. There was also, however, another white mantelpiece visible on the opposite side of the foyer.

death bedroom6

I could not tell for certain which mantelpiece I saw the men standing in front of (after six years, some of the details have started to get a little blurred to me, as far as whether what I was seeing was to the left or right) but I want to say they were in front of the mantel with the mirror over it. They were going through papers; a lot of papers. They ignored me, assuming I was either dead or out of it. As they sorted and signed papers, they kept laughing like guys exchanging dirty jokes. One of the men I saw was clearly Conrad Murray. The other, however, I could not immediately identify other than that he was a very large, white, stockily built man with longish brown hair.

The next day I was talking to my sister and you can imagine my shock when she described to me having the very same dream, with the exact, same details. We had both seen Murray and the same, stockily built man with brown hair in the room. We had both heard them laughing, and had seen them sorting through and signing many papers. We both had the sensation of being unable to breathe or move. There were, however, a few things that she was able to recall more vividly than I (for the record, her abilities have always been far more advanced than mine; she never ceases to amaze me with the things she is able to “know,” long before anyone else). She said there was a black binder or brief case into which those papers were placed. Also, she recalled seeing Murray escort the brown-haired man out of the room and into what she described as a hallway to the left of the bedroom. After the Murray trial and after the photos detailing the interior of the Carolwood home were made public, I realized that what she was describing was the foyer outside the bedroom, which would have been to the left from Michael’s point of view on the bed. She saw the two men converse briefly in the foyer, then they parted ways. The brown-haired man turned to his left (from Michael’s point of view) and descended down the stairs, unescorted. Murray returned to the bedroom.

My sister believes that she was seeing the last thing that Michael was consciously aware of before his death. During the Conrad Murray trial, at least one eerie detail emerged that chillingly seemed to confirm her vision. It was said that before Michael’s body was moved, his head was tilted on the pillow to the left, with eyes open.That would mean that whatever he had last seen that morning would have been from exactly that point of view, looking towards the foyer.

It was only in the aftermath, while looking at photos of the various individuals involved in Michael’s life at that time, that I realized the brown-haired man I had seen most closely fit the description of Tohme Tohme.

There Is One Thing That Stefenaik's Vision Has In Common With My Own And My Sister's-The Brown-Haired Man Who Most Closely Resembles Tohme Tohme.
There Is One Thing That Stefenaik’s Vision Has In Common With My Own And My Sister’s-The Brown-Haired Man Who Most Closely Resembles Tohme Tohme.
Tohme Appeared At The Hospital The Day Michael Died, Despite Having Been Fired Months Before. Why?
Tohme Appeared At The Hospital The Day Michael Died, Despite Having Been Fired Months Before. Why?

Now, given all I have told you, imagine the chills I got when I read this passage from Stefenaik’s book, as “told” to her by Michael:

“A man put a needle in my arm – an IV drip in my leg. My arm was sore from pins and needles in my shoulder. I couldn’t see. A brown haired guy. They were going through my papers. I could hear them. They ransacked the house. There was a security camera. It was pointed at the gate, but that night something wasn’t right. My life was turning upside down and I didn’t know why. I was out of my body, but not dead. He gave me the last shot and I died instantly. The man with the brown hair, short sleeved shirt, wide open collar, white. I hoped he’d come back to see more, but he didn’t. He stayed away while Conrad Murray cleaned up. I just stood there watching, helpless. He wrote down the time (Conrad Murray). It was significant. He had a pad of paper with him, taking notes. He said he carried it with him where ever he went. Black with leather trim. Frank was separate from this guy. They drove in separate vehicles…”

Stefaniak, Deborah (2014-12-30). The Murder of Michael Jackson (Kindle Locations 80-84). . Kindle Edition.

Later, in the “final vision” she describes seeing exactly how the brown-haired man, whom she also identified as Tohme, delivered to Michael the fatal shot. Ironically, Michael had stated many times that he would die from “a shot.” He used to say that to Frank Cascio a lot, according to Cascio’s book, and of course Frank assumed he meant a gunshot (in other words, an assassination). Perhaps Michael had enough foresight to realize his death would be brought about by “a shot” one way or another. Certainly I think he had a premonition that his death would come early, and that it would not be a natural one. He always believed that he would be murdered.

I will just say that there are more than enough similar details between my vision, my sister’s, and Stefanaik’s to give some serious pause for consideration. Of course, there are marked differences, also. For example, I never saw anyone other than Murray and the man I presumed to be Tohme. I never saw DiLeo or Randy Phillips or any of the other individuals that Stefanaik claims to have seen (but that isn’t to say she’s wrong; only that I didn’t personally see them). I also never actually witnessed the murder act itself. Possibly I may have been experiencing the after effects of the shot (although Stefanaik claims that Michael told her he died instantly after the shot)or perhaps it was the effects of the other drugs that had been administered in order to rend him unconscious before the actual, fatal act. In her version, she says that her vision (looking through Michael’s eyes) was very blurred. She says she later learned, after reading the autopsy report, that the drugs that had been found in Michael’s system in conjunction with the Propofol-mainly the benzodiazapines, would result in blurred vision. In my own dream, I don’t particularly recall having blurred vision, but I do recall feeling in and out of consciousness and the sensation of being unable to move or breathe; all indications of heavy sedation. Also, it’s highly unlikely that three individuals would remember all the same details exactly, or that we were even all given the same details exactly. What I really look at overall are the consistency of the details, which all involved a large, brown-haired man, and the fact that we all saw at least two men in that room going through papers. Call it what you want, but that cannot be coincidence. It seems, rather, that we were all being given pieces to the puzzle; some of us with more detail than others, but all forming a very similar scenario. In my case, I can’t say I saw anything that actually points to murder or to a specific individual. What my vision did tell me, however, was that there was definitely someone else in the room that morning, and that this individual looked a lot like Tohme. Beyond that, I can’t say with certainty that this man killed Michael, but the fact that I saw him there (as did my sister) has certainly been cause enough for us to believe this was a man who, if not directly responsible, was at least complicit in some way.

But let’s just say it did happen that way. Where, then, does this leave Conrad Murray? Was he an innocent man framed, or a complicit accomplice-a “fall guy” as many suspected-willing to take the blame on himself in order to protect the real party(ies) responsible (perhaps in exchange for a major payout down the road)?

Stefenaik seems to be of the opinion that Murray, while hardly a good guy (certainly one who was putting his own interests ahead of his patient) did not commit the fatal act and, perhaps, had no knowledge of it. Her vision revealed only one person-Tohme-who administered the fatal shot. If one believes this, it could, of course, explain why Murray and his defense were so gung-ho for the “Michael self administered” defense, given that his attorneys probably theorized that it would be much easier (insofar as creating doubt in the jury’s mind and obtaining an acquittal) to blame the victim, rather than trying to argue that someone else “could” have been responsible for the crime. Such a defense would have been a long shot gamble, and all but impossible to prove with so little evidence, so shifting all the blame onto Michael would have been the next logical step as far as the defense was concerned.

Within the Michael Jackson camp there have always been people who have sworn that Conrad Murray did not actually kill Michael Jackson. There are many who still believe that Murray’s conviction was simply a smokescreen, one that allowed the real killer to slip through the cracks.

I am, however, not so quick to let Murray off the hook. I know what I saw in my own vision. Murray was on the scene, along with Tohme, and I believe, absolutely, that he either killed Michael or was complicit to the deed with Tohme-perhaps enough that he was willing to take the fall to cover Tohme’s actions. In the end, I am still one hundred per cent convinced that Murray deserved to be tried and convicted. But it is disturbing to think that Murray’s measly manslaughter conviction and two year jail sentence could have, in fact, been a mere cover for something far more sinister.

I don’t know if we will ever really know the full truth about what happened to Michael Jackson. The LAPD, for now, seems quite content to have closed that chapter with Conrad Murray’s conviction. That doesn’t mean a lot of us are willing to give up that search for answers, however. Whatever one is willing to make of the visions that Stefenaik, myself, and my sister have all shared, I’m convinced that it can’t be coincidence that we all claim to have seen this same, large- framed, brown-haired man in the room that morning. Something-or someone-wanted us to see this, and I feel, wanted this story to be told, even if, perhaps, the chances of it being believed (let alone acted upon) may be slim. Spirits who have suffered traumatic deaths, including murder victims whose deaths are covered up or whose murders are never solved, are among the most restless of spirits. They want their stories told, and usually cannot be at peace or move on until they are.

I don’t claim this as the book that has all the answers, and sometimes I did find myself reaching for that pinch of salt. However, there are indeed some things that can’t be explained away. I “saw” what this author claims to also have seen, and that is enough to convince me that there is certainly something to this thing, even if I’m at a loss to explain exactly what that “something” is.  I do know enough to convince me that the final chapter of what really happened to Michael Jackson cannot be closed as long as Dr. Tohme Tohme still walks free. At the very least, his actions of that morning bear investigation, and I pray a time will come when that truth will be revealed. Until then,  Michael’s homicide remains, as far as I’m concerned, an open case.

This book won’t be for everyone. Not only is its subject matter controversial, but as with many self-published books, it could have really used a good editor. The numerous typos, misspellings and punctuation errors were a little distracting at times, but if you can overlook its editorial flaws, it’s certainly a compelling read and one that will raise many disturbing questions about what really happened to Michael on the morning of June 25, 2009-and why.  The advice so often given about books of this nature is, likewise, the best advice I can give here: Read it and judge for yourself.

The Murder of Michael Jackson, The Cover Up and Conspiracy by Deborah Stefenaik is available on Amazon.com:


Saying Good-Bye To Our Beautiful Child of Summer: Six Years Ago Today


MICHAEL JACKSON AUG 29, 1958-June 25, 2009
AUG 29, 1958-June 25, 2009

Stevie Wonder could have chosen a lot of songs to sing at Michael Jackson’s memorial service, but I think it is no coincidence that he chose his lovely romantic ballad “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer.” Stevie was onto something that has haunted me for the last few days, as June 25th has drawn nearer and nearer.

Michael was truly our child of summer. His life began on a hot summer night in August in Gary, Indiana. It ended on a blistering June morning in Los Angeles, fifty years later.

This fact alone isn’t especially unique. Lots of people die in the same season as they were born, and in most cases we can chalk it up to coincidence.  But statistically, it has been said that more births and deaths occur in summer than any other season. Obviously, there are many scientific factors that can explain this. But as we know, there are some things that, every so often, simply defy scientific explanation.

935896_10201065756983235_1342392230_nI like to think that God singled Michael out to be a Child of Summer. In the Northern hemisphere, summer is the season when the sun’s rays are closest to the earth. It is the season when the gentle warmth of May and June gives way to the fierce heat of July and August. It is the season of light, when the days are longest and the black nights are shortest. It is the time of year when life is in full flower. Doesn’t every quality we associate with summer sound just like Michael and the way he lived his life? He blazed like the sun, wrapped the world in the warmth of his love, set stages on fire with his smoldering performances, and gave humanity hope that we could conquer the darkness. From his first cry in the summer of 1958 to his last breath in the summer of 2009, his was a life dedicated to the light.

His Was A Life Dedicated To The Light
His Was A Life Dedicated To The Light

Perhaps this is what made his death so especially poignant, coming as it did a mere four days after the summer solstice. I still remember that day so vividly, mostly because it was such an ordinary summer day until I heard. I had been at work all day, and back then they didn’t yet have computers in every office. With no way to really know, then, what was transpiring  on the other side of the continent, I passed the afternoon making notes on the story that my evening class at 5:30 would be studying, Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” That is a detail that still sticks in my mind. Perhaps it’s only coincidence that I had scheduled my class to read this story on June 25th, 2009, a story of a teenage girl who is enjoying summer fun when death comes, suddenly and unbidden,  in the seductive guise of Arnold Friend (her death in the story is certainly metaphoric even if the physical is only implied). None of my students mentioned the death of Michael Jackson, though it is quite possible they still didn’t know. Word was just getting  to many of us in this part of the country at about that time (I would learn later that many who had followed the story on TMZ and CNN  were still thinking that he might be alive because reports had been so conflicting all afternoon!). Whatever the case may be, my students weren’t very talkative and no one seemed much interested in the story. The vibe felt strange. I dismissed class early and headed home. “Thriller” was playing on the radio. It was one of those beautiful, long summer evenings, when the sun is still as bright as mid afternoon even at 7pm. I passed fields where kids were playing soccer and baseball.

Only when the song ended did I learn the reason why the radio station-a country station, no less!-was playing “Thriller.” Michael Jackson was dead at the age of fifty. My heart sank to the bottom of my feet. I know I must have driven the rest of the way home on auto pilot because I was just in a complete and utter state of shock. It seemed surreal to think of Michael Jackson being dead, while all around me was a world alive with the sights, smells, and sounds of summer.

It’s been six years, and though the pain is duller now, it can still sharpen at a moment’s notice, in ways I often least expect. Usually it’s when I hear a song unexpectedly, like going to an aerobics class at the gym and suddenly hearing “Bad” or hearing “Man in the Mirror” in the grocery store. His music still affects people. I can’t quite explain it; only that I know it when I see it and am around it. People automatically become a little more mellow, relaxed and friendly. Happier. It’s like reconnecting to that feeling of when your parent sang you a favorite lullabye. It comforts you and wraps you in warmth. Everyone’s mood is a little brighter when a Michael Jackson song plays. There’s just something about it. You can’t hold darkness, anger, hatred, or coldness in your heart when you hear it. His voice melts all of it away. Even his darkest and angriest songs have the power to heal and bring unity, as we have witnessed so often in these recent, troubled times. mirror2

People who are born in summer often, also, have a strong affinity with the season. My mother, a summer baby who was born in July of 1945, always hated winter, a season that antagonized her depression. She loves summer-picnics in the park, being able to sit outdoors, watching the grandkids play. Give my mother a winter day of snow and ice and she’s in the equivalent of hell. She’s always told us that she hopes she dies in the summertime, so we can put her away in her happiest time of year.

swimmingI don’t know if all Summer Children feel this, but certainly Michael did. As a little boy, when asked what he liked most about coming to California and leaving Gary, Indiana, he was always quick to say that he was glad to be out of the cold. He loved being in the sun, and California must have seemed like Heaven after all of those brutally cold winters in Indiana. He loved swimming. He loved playing outdoors. He loved sunflowers and roses. He didn’t like snow and ice-the one thing about “back home” that he definitely didn’t miss. swiming2

In one of the cruelest twists of fate imaginable, this Child of Summer lost his ability to enjoy the sun. With the onset of vitiligo, he spent the last two decades of his life avoiding the sun and only going out in heavy, long-sleeved shirts, hats, and with an umbrella ever present. It wasn’t just that the sun had become a burden-it became something that could literally kill him.

But that handicap still didn’t stop him from living his life based on the principles of being a Child of Summer-or, as some say, a Child of the Sun. His life’s mission continued to be the message of love and hope and of overcoming darkness. He continued on this path despite all the media chatter that would have us believe he had sunk into an abyss of darkness. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Even when he had his dark moments, as we all do, he always worked his way back to us-and we to him. He was our wonderful, quirky, magical, mythical, whimsical, beautiful Child of Summer and we loved him. Yes, we loved him. Not just the fans. The world as a collective consciousness loved him. Look how we all reacted on June 25th, 2009! Even those of us who weren’t fans; those of us who THOUGHT we couldn’t care less; even some who had made jokes about him. Some of us cried and didn’t even know why. If I’ve heard that statement once, I’ve heard it a million times. “I don’t know what it was, but, man, when Michael Jackson died, I cried.” A billion people around the world watched the memorial. A billion. Let that number sink in. Sure, at least some of it may have been the usual spectators-at-the-circus mentality. But we can’t deny, the world genuinely grieved the death of Michael Jackson.

The light hadn’t gone out of the world. But somehow we knew, innately, that it would never again burn as brightly or intensely. And for my generation, at least, it was a cruel reminder that summer can’t last forever. Autumn waits, patiently, to claim us all.

The song “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” ends with this verse:

You said then you’d be the life in autumn
Said you’d be the one to see the way
I never dreamed you’d leave in summer
But now I find my love has gone away

Why didn’t you stay?

While the song itself is just a simple love song about a relationship gone bad, Stevie Wonder gave it a whole new context as a song of tribute to Michael. Somehow, we had thought he would always be there, leading us through the chill of autumn and darkness of winter. But he was called home at the height of summer. A true Child of Summer must go where the light beckons. He couldn’t stay.

He Couldn't Stay
He Couldn’t Stay

But is he really gone? Certainly the light he gave lives on. So does the joy and the pain (in the best possible way). We have his voice forever on record and his image forever on film. We can still hear him speak; we can still see him smile and hear that crazy, wild laugh. But it goes deeper than that. It’s the fact that millions of people all over the world can say they are better people by having been touched by him in some way; in living by his example.

The Last Night
The Last Night

He is one Summer Child whose light will never dim, and whose fire will never go out. Like Icarus, he may have flown too close to the sun at times, but in the end (if you’ll pardon my Greek analogies) he was more like Prometheus, bearing us the gift of his fire, knowing we would keep it forever lit; forever safe.

Six years and counting, it still burns bright.

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