meow kitty meow now

Tom Sneddon: The Death Of The “Cold Man”


Michael As Tom Sneddon, aka “The Mayor”

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

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

Tom Sneddon As...Himself, The "Cold Man"

Tom Sneddon As…Himself, The “Cold Man”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He got his wish.

Comments: 17 Comments

A New Take On “The Next Michael Jackson”

He Is The Gauge By Which Greatness and Success Are Measured

He Is The Gauge By Which Greatness and Success Are Measured

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

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

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

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

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

Comments: 21 Comments

Writing About Michael Jackson: Who Has The Real Authority?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments: 22 Comments

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her maiden name Katherine Screws.

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Comments: 15 Comments

Student Essay On “Earth Song”

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

“Earth Song” by Garrett Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments: 4 Comments