One 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 albums, they 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”Publishers Weekly agreed: “Vice has a gift for making the extraordinary plausible, for rendering complex motivations in spare but metaphoric language and searing details.”
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.” 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.
After Vice’s book was destroyed, remaining used copies on Amazon.com and other booksellers were selling for hundreds of dollars.
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.”
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.”
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.
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?
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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!):
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
Here 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 didhappen 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
I admit, I am way, way behind on my book reviews. As always, there are more MJ-related books coming out than one person can keep apace of. Fortunately, summer is here and, along with the laid back pace comes the opportunity to catch up on my MJ reading list. So even though I may be a bit tardy on some of these titles, I figure I can’t be the only fan who’s catching up on my reading list, and it’s never too late to let fans know what books are worth their time and investment.
I was very excited for Damien Shield’s Xscape Origins:The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind when the title was first announced back in March. If you are not familiar with Shield’s blog, he is a music writer and journalist whose blog is dedicated to the very thing that made us all love Michael-the music.
His blog is always one of the first places I go to when there is a pending Michael Jackson release, a place where I know I will always get the most honest and up to date chart information, reviews, and more.
Now that the dust and hype has settled around 2014’s release of the Xscape album, this is a good time to really step back and assess what this album-and perhaps more importantly, its songs-represents for Michael’s legacy. After all, it’s always easy to get caught up in the feverish hype and excitement of a new Michael Jackson release. But only time can really assess how well these songs hold up alongside the great classics we know and love. Regardless of whether you were one of those celebrating or protesting the release of Xscape, one thing that is for certain-and one thing we could all agree on-is that those eight original, demo tracks represented some damn great Michael Jackson work. Where it becomes a much grayer area is determining to what extent the integrity of those tracks was compromised by the modern “contemporizing” done by producers L.A. Reid, Timbaland, Jerome Harmon, Stargate, John McClain and Rodney Jerkins. But that controversy isn’t the focus of Shield’s book. Instead, he puts the focus squarely back where it belongs-on the songs themselves and the stories behind them. In the introduction, he describes a conversation with a friend that took place in June of 2014, at the time in which the album’s promotion was at its peak.
“Our conversation about Xscape was rooted in frustration. We were frustrated with the fact that the original versions of Michael’s work— the versions that Michael himself spent countless hours, days, weeks, months, and in some cases years working diligently on perfecting— were seemingly being ignored during the promotion of the album, while the newly remixed versions were given a multimillion-dollar marketing push and global platform. It felt, at least to us, like the original versions were being treated by the record label and estate merely as obligatory inclusions, rather than the brilliant must-hear masterpieces they actually were. It felt like those in charge of overseeing Michael’s legacy— the gatekeepers to his vast catalog of released and unreleased material— did not believe in his ability to appeal to mainstream audiences. It felt as though they had no faith in the quality of the work itself, and that these timeless artistic blueprints were somehow outdated and out of touch; not trendy or contemporary enough to capture the attention or imagination of today’s youth. It felt like they had absolutely no confidence in the marketability of the “Michael Jackson” brand on its own, instead relying on the names of “current” producers and artists to feature on, remix, and essentially redraw the blueprints that Michael and his team of sonic architects had worked so hard to draft.”-Damien Shields, excerpted from the Introduction to Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind.
Shields, Damien (2015-03-24). Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind (Kindle Locations 34-43). Modegy, LLC.. Kindle Edition.
Let’s just ask a few questions, and you can determine if this is a book for you based on how you answer. Were you one of those who found it just slightly irritating that almost all of the hype surrounding the Xscape release seemed to be more about the producers than The Master himself? And yet…did you notice that almost all of the critical praise the album generated was mostly due to the strength of the demos on the deluxe edition, rather than the newly produced versions? Did you question whether Michael really needed a fake duet with Justin Timberlake to sell his music (even if,granted, it was a strategy that worked at least in this case?). Most of all, did you find that over time, it was those original demos-those recordings that best represented Michael’s actual visions for these songs-that kept you coming back to Xscape for repeated listenings? And did you, at any point, find yourself wondering about the origins and histories of those tracks? Yes, we had the liner notes, but if you were like me, you still wanted to dig deeper. For example, how much did Michael actually contribute to those tracks (the ones he didn’t write himself) and just why did these songs ultimately end up on the recording studio equivalent of the cutting room floor? (The answers are not always the ones we expect!). And how much do we really know about Michael’s own vision for these tracks?
When Xscape was first released, we got a lot of these guys’ stories-what was it like to be tasked with producing and updating these tracks? Though their stories were interesting, it still left a huge gap unfilled:
This is where Xscape Origins comes in, and it is a must-have read in order to complete the story of what at least one critic, Buzzfeed’s Matthew Perpetua, called “The Great Michael Jackson Record He Wouldn’t Have Let Himself Make.”
As many of you may recalI, I wrote a rave review of Xscape at the time of its release, and over a year later I still stand by it.
I was not one of those who had an issue with the updated versions of the songs. I thought for the most part the production was handled with respect for Michael’s original vision (if we can make an exception for Timbaland’s quacking ducks on “Chicago; still don’t know what the hell was up with that!). In some cases, I liked a couple of the updates at least almost as much as the originals. “Xscape” is simply a kick ass song in either incarnation, which may have had something to do with the fact that Rodney Jerkins was the force behind both versions. But this is not about the modern producers or the process of “updating” Michael’s songs. That story has already been told. This is about the songs. It’s about the writers, producers, musicians and engineers who first breathed life into these tracks.
And one amazingly talented singer, performer, and writer who oversaw all of them from start to finish, the one who indelibly stamped his blood, sweat and tears into every crevice, every groove. You may have heard of him.
In telling the background story of each track, Shields chose a very simple structure that works well.The book follows the chronological order of the album. He gives the full background story of every track. from inception to its most recently known incarnation prior to the making of Xscape. While a lot of the information may be well known to hardcore fans who have followed the history of his recorded works, there are still a lot of surprising facts and little known trivia, enough to make the book worthwhile even for the hardcore. This is mostly due to the fact that Shields is not an armchair writer content with second hand sources. In writing this book, he conducted exhaustive, personal interviews with those who were involved intimately in the creative process of these tracks alongside Michael. Along the way, he also clears up some of the erroneous information that was put out at the time of the album’s release. For example, “Love Never Felt So Good” did not date back to 1983 and the Thriller era, as some outlets mistakenly reported, but actually predated Thriller by two years, having been recorded at Anka’s house in 1980. The error was widely circulated without check at the time (perhaps because it was assumed to be more advantageous for sales if the public believed it to be a Thriller-era track?). Another “who woulda thunk it” moment was learning that the “warp sound” (as L.A. Reid described it in the documentary accompanying the deluxe edition) was not the sound of a thirty-year-old damaged tape at all, but part of an experiment in sound being conducted by Michael and his collaborative partner on the track, synthesist John Barnes. This was one of the sounds Michael apparently kept because he liked it.
And did you know that the version of “A Place With No Name” that we hear on the album actually dates from a final version that was recorded in 2008, and not the first version that dates from 1998?
It doesn’t end there. You may know, for example, that “Chicago” was never called “Chicago” at all but, rather, “She Was Loving Me.” “Chicago” was never even a subtitle; it was not an alternate title. The song was never anything but “She Was Loving Me” during Michael’s lifetime; its official BMI registration is listed as such,and it remains somewhat of a mystery why the title was changed, other than that someone at Epic evidently thought “Chicago” sounded more catchy. I must admit, I like “Chicago” better, too; “She Was Loving Me” isn’t exactly a title to catch the world on fire, but it does beg the bigger and more disturbing question: Just how many liberties are being taken with these works? (Funny side note: Michael was informally challenged to replace “Chicago” with the name of another city to prove that “Chicago” was the only city whose name would fit the song. He apparently had fun trying out many variations, according to songwriter Cory Rooney, singing everything from “I met her on the way to Los Angeles” to “I met her on the way to San Francisco”).
The track was also a vocal tour de force for Michael, requiring alternate days in which to record the low voice for the verses and the higher “Dirty Diana” register for the choruses. While I won’t spoil too much, I’ll just say that the background stories behind those recording sessions alone are well worth the cover price.
Although the Xscape album does contain three tracks dating to the 80’s and one-“Slave To the Rhythm”-from the early 90’s Dangerous sessions,most of the tracks that dominate the album date to the first phase of the Invincible sessions, from 1998 to approximately 2000. Part of what fascinates me about Xscape is that I can always envision when listening to it that this is the album that Invincible might have been. Don’t get me wrong, I love Invincible. But I still find it, overall, a flawed album, one that begins strong but is ultimately bogged down in the middle by several weaker tracks. So I do somewhat “get” what critics like Matthew Perpetua were saying. The tracks from Xscape comprising the Invincible era-“Chicago,””A Place With No Name,” “Blue Gangsta” and, especially, the title track, are not only strong tracks in and of themselves, but there is a cohesion to them (as well as Xscape’s other four tracks) that makes them work especially well as a unit.
According to Shields, the tracklist for Invincible as it stood in mid 2000, when the mixing process began, was slated to include “Break of Dawn,” “A Place With No Name,” “Blue Gangsta” (basically all of the Dr. Freeze collaborations), “She Was Loving Me” (“Chicago”), “Speechless,” “Cry,” “We’ve Had Enough,” “You Rock My World,” and “Xscape.” Although I love many of the tracks that came later-“Threatened,” “2000 Watts, “Unbreakable,” “Butterflies,” etc, I can’t help but envision what might have been had this earlier version materialized. The truth is that the Invincible album dropped at a time when most music critics simply could no longer look past the media caricature of Michael Jackson long enough to fairly assess his music. Invincible, an album clearly at least ten years ahead of its time, was unfairly dismissed out of hand by many. Yet the critical reception to Xscape did seem to give pause for thought. How differently might Invincible have been received at the time had this original, conceptually tighter version of the album come to fruition? We may never know, but this does bring up another important point that the book addresses. Just because these songs didn’t appear on any album during Michael’s lifetime doesn’t make them inferior. It simply meant, as so often happened out of hundreds of tracks culled, written, and recorded for every project, that Michael ultimately decided their time hadn’t come just yet. A few of these tracks in particular were “A Place With No Name,” which Michael returned to for over a decade, and “Xscape” which he specifically said would be on the next project and to which he vowedto Rodney Jerkins would “see the light of day one day.” As with “A Place With No Name” he was still working on “Xscape” as late as 2008, a year before his death. This is an apt quote from Michael, included in the book, which explains exactly why it often took him years to develop a song to his satisfaction:
“A perfectionist has to take his time,” explains Jackson. “He shapes and he molds and he sculpts that thing until it’s perfect. He can’t let it go before he’s satisfied; he can’t.”
“If it’s not right, you throw it away and you do it over. You work that thing till it’s just right. When it’s as perfect as you can make it, you put it out there. Really, you’ve got to get it to where it’s just right; that’s the secret. That’s the difference between a number thirty record and a number one record that stays at number one for weeks. It’s got to be good. If it is, it stays up there and the whole world wonders when it’s going to come down.”-Michael Jackson
Shields, Damien (2015-03-24). Xscape Origins: The Songs and Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind (Kindle Location 1240). Modegy, LLC.. Kindle Edition.
After the controversial fiasco of the “Michael” album, Xscape was a much needed healing step in the right direction, proving that a good posthumous Michael Jackson album could be a possibility. However, Xscape’s strength stands ultimately not on its modern production values but in the stark, raw power of those eight songs, their master sculptor, and the collaborative teams behind them who helped bring their magic to fruition.
This is their story. And it’s worth reading.
Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind can be purchased on Amazon.com:
Michael Jackson Molestation Case: Wade Robson’s Lawsuit Against Singer’s Estate Dismissed-International Business Times Headline from May 28, 2015
“Lies Run Sprints, But The Truth Runs Marathons”-Michael Jackson
This blog’s previous post focused on many of the sham cases that have been brought against Michael Jackson and the many, numerous attempts to frame him that have been going on for over two decades. However, today I would like to focus on the positive. I have said it before and will say it again: No matter how much we may wish to view Michael as a martyred hero, the truth is that the American justice system has been good to Michael Jackson. Over and over, there have been people who tried to bring him down, but in almost every instance the courts have vindicated him. However, perhaps phrasing it as the American justice system being “good” to Michael is erroneous. After all, it isn’t the justice system’s responsibility to be “good” or “bad” to anyone. It is, however, the responsibility of the justice system to ensure that truth prevails, and justice is done.
So let’s think about what that means in relation to Michael, the man who once said that lies will run sprints but the truth will run marathons.
June 13, 2005 is a very special day on the timeline of Michael Jackson history, a day that fans often commemorate as a day of both celebration and somber reflection. This year has an especial relevance, however, as it marks the tenth anniversary of that event-a decade since justice prevailed. A lot can happen in ten years. Both of the trial’s principle players-who faced each other from opposing ends-are now gone. But justice does have strange ways of winning out. Ten years ago, Tom Sneddon had envisioned an end with Michael behind bars and his own reputation shooting into the stratosphere of glory. Ten years later, Michael Jackson’s reputation and legacy are all but restored, his name and brand stronger than ever, and poor Tom Sneddon is…well, dead.
The day has come to be known informally as V-Day, which is short for both Verdict Day or Vindication Day. It also parodies the nickname V-Day as in Victory Day, bestowed upon May 9 to commemorate the day in 1945 that Nazi Germany capitulated to the Soviet Union, effectively marking the beginning of the end of World War II. There are no doubt some who would think it is trivial, even insulting, to compare the ending of a world war and thousands of soldier deaths to Michael Jackson’s day in court. But for Michael and those who lived through those dark 134 days in early to mid 2005, the name V-Day is all too fitting, and with utmost respect to anyone who has endured a war fraught with great battles. By the end of that ordeal, Michael was a seasoned soldier who had fought the good fight to the end. And so, too, were his fans-soldiers who had dug in their trenches and stood firm for what they believed was right, at a time when it was certainly not the popular stance to take. And, like all battle weary soldiers, victory was not easily won. Both Michael and the fans who stood loyal in those battle trenches came out scarred.
V-Day in the Michael Jackson case produced strong emotions from all sides. For many, it was a day of rejoicing and thankfulness. However, in many circles, it was a day in which “celebrity justice”-a belief already confirmed for many by the O.J. Simpson verdict-seemed all but confirmed. I knew instantly, as the shocked backlash against the verdict began to permeate the airwaves within minutes, that Michael’s victory would be a hollow one in the court of media and public opinion. However, I can’t really blame those who, at the time, thought of this as just another case of a celebrity “getting off” yet again. In the wake of the O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake cases. the mood of the nation at the time was bound to be intolerant of what seemed like another case of “celebrity justice,” especially when the very biased media coverage of the trial had made it an almost foregone conclusion in our minds that he must be guilty.
But while some rejoiced and many lashed out in angry bitterness, Michael simply went home and collapsed in bed. Doesn’t this remind you of every soldier who ever returned home after battle? Relatives rejoice and celebrate, while elsewhere politicians and armchair analysts debate political motives and what was “right” or “wrong” with the war. The poor soldier, meanwhile, shell shocked and battle weary, just wants to shut it all out and forget. Their minds, bodies, and spirits can neither rejoice nor argue; emotions like joy, anger, or even regret have no part. All the soldier can feel is a numb thankfulness that he is home and alive-and if he is fortunate, in one piece.
Pictures speak a thousand words: Michael was a shell shocked war veteran by V-Day, visibly scarred and emotionally detached from his surroundings:
I don’t have to ask anyone if this is how Michael felt on V-Day. I know it, from the depths of my soul as one soldier to another. It doesn’t matter whether our battles are fought on the field, or in the courtroom, or in the traumatic things we endure mentally, physically, or spiritually. The results are the same.
But however shell shocked and battle weary Michael may have emerged from that ordeal, the important thing to remember is that on Monday, June 13th, 2005, justice prevailed. Michael Jackson was fully exonerated on not just one or two, but all fourteen counts for which he had been charged.
And with that in mind, this is a good day to pause and reflect on Michael’s statement that lies may run sprints, but the truth will run marathons. For every crazy and outlandish accusation brought against Michael, and for almost every wrong done against him that has been brought to court, Michael has emerged victorious time and again-not because his money “bought him off” (though having good attorneys never hurts!) but because going to trial has a peculiar way of forcing the truth to come out. Lies can indeed sprint pretty quickly; they can run all over tabloid headlines; they can run amok on TV; they can shoot quickly out of a starting gate. But they cannot hold up under the intense scrutiny of court proceedings.
The record speaks for itself. In 2005, Michael was fully acquitted. But the truth’s long distance marathon doesn’t end there. In virtually every silly case ever brought against him that went to trial (and here I am referring to the gamut of frivolous lawsuits) Michael emerged victorious time and again. In every instance in which he counter sued parties for damages, he was either awarded fully or partially in his favor. In 2011, Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty in Michael’s criminal death trial, resulting in some measure of justice for his homicide. And, just a few weeks ago, Judge Beckloff gave Wade Robson his walking papers, at least as far as the probate case is concerned.
The only thing that puts a crinkle in this near perfect record of justice was the result of the AEG trial. I still feel firmly, to this day, that AEG should have been held accountable in that lawsuit, but I suppose as the old saying goes, you can’t win them all.
That still, however, leaves an incredible track record of prevailed justice, especially for a man who was so often put in the defense position for much of his life. It has been almost six years since his death and he is not here to defend himself against accusations that continue to plague him even in death, but perhaps he need not fear. Truth and justice still seem to fight on his side, as has been proven time and again. In closing, another of Michael’s famous phrases comes to mind: “God is for me, who can be against me?”
God fights only on the side of His children and not for the forces who work for the opposing team. And indeed if God fights on your side, then what is there to fear? I believe it has been proven time and again that God is fighting on Michael’s side.
And if God and Truth are on your side, then the forces of darkness have no power. Ten years and counting, the truth is still running strong.
I know, it sounds like the far-fetched and paranoid rantings of conspiracy theorists. But the shocking answer to the title question is that yes, there is plenty of evidence to suggest this has not only happened with shocking frequency in the past, but is continuing to happen even today, nearly six years after the man’s death.
As this May 16th Facebook posting from Michael Jackson tribute artist Carlo Riley suggests, the desperate attempts to frame Michael Jackson by creating fake evidence against him continues to be big business. And it is big business for one very simple reason: The fact that there was never any actual evidence to link him to any molestation allegation. Looking at the history of this phenomenon, it’s shocking indeed to see what cartwheels these sinister accomplices are willing to perform in order to create that elusive “smoking gun” against Michael that has simply never existed. This quote from notorious MJ hater/stalker Diane Dimond, taken from a January 1995 radio interview on KABC-AM radio, actually says it all. The full interview was concerning an alleged tape of Michael Jackson and a young boy that, as it turned out, was a complete fabrication. But note what she says here:
“You know, I remember way back when, more than a year ago, we interviewed the head of the pedo[ph]ile unit at the FBI in Quantico, Virginia and he said you know the down fall of pedo[ph]iles is that they love to keep a memento of their victims. Or, they love to take pictures or take videos. We don’t know why, but they do this. It is for their own self gratification later but it always comes back to bite them.”-Diane Dimond
Of course, Dimond is referring here to none other than Jim Clemente, whose public comments about Michael Jackson and the case have revealed much bias and ignorance. But casting aside my own personal feelings and reservations about Clements, what he says here is absolutely true. And it is exactly why so many child molestors are caught red-handed. Their urge to photograph and videotape their “conquests” or to sex chat and text their victims, leaves an unmistakable trail of evidence, the kind which is 100% guarantee of a criminal conviction once introduced into court. True pedophiles, it should be noted, seem notoriously immune to resisting this urge, even when knowing full well they are hanging themselves with their own rope. And so the fact that even after an intensive four month trial, repeated searches of Michael Jackson’s home and seizure of his belongings (including searches of every computer in his home)and over a decade of FBI surveillance, not one such explicit, smoking gun piece of evidence ever emerged remains the biggest craw in the necks of Michael’s enemies. The best that prosecutors were able to do at the time-and, to this day, the best that his detractors have been able to continue to do-is to cobble together a flimsy case for circumstantial “evidence” out of certain items that the prosecution attempted to have included at trial but were subsequently precluded due to their complete lack of relevance to the case. You can read more about those items here:
In short, we’ve heard a lot of loud flapping about male DNA found on sheets (none linked to any alleged “victim” of Michael), a pair of soiled underwear, some legal art books…and not a heck of a whole lot else, other than “he said; she said” testimony.
So if Michael Jackson really was this horrific pedophile and serial child molestor that his detractors and accusers try to paint, then WHERE ARE the photographs, the video tapes, the love letters, the sex chat logs, the text messages and all of the usual evidence that pedophiles can’t seem to resist accumulating? To get around that problematic issue, there are some who like to try to portray Michael as an incredibly slick and savvy pedophile who was smart enough to never get caught with such smoking gun evidence, but the odds of Michael being able to get away with such a ruse while being under twenty years’ worth of intense scrutiny is simply highly nil. Are we to believe that in all that time, no one would have ever taped an incriminating phone conversation? That none of those busybody Neverland employees, only too anxious to sell a story to the tabloids, would have rigged a camera to catch something suspicious? Or that, more importantly, if Michael had been an actual pedophile, that he could so successfully resist the innate urge to document his “conquests” in some tangible form?
Let’s face facts. If any such evidence had ever existed, it most certainly would have surfaced long ago. For sure, it would have been seized upon by Tom Sneddon and used in the trial, and no amount of arguing from the defense would have kept such evidence out of court. The lack of such hardcore evidence is precisely why Michael was acquitted, and why the issue of his guilt or innocence continues to be an issue that his haters and detractors have to debate, rather than being the foregone conclusion they so wish that it was.
In our tabloid-driven culture, of course, the idea of fabricated stories and even fabricated “evidence” shouldn’t entirely surprise. The lengths that tabloid publications will go to get dirt on a celebrity, sometimes offering upwards of six figures to entice friends to “dish dirt” or even fabricate stories completely, is not exactly a secret practice. But some celebrities have obviously been bigger targets than others. The Michael Jackson case presented the perfect storm for fair weather friends, disgruntled ex-employees, those sour over fallen deals, checkbook journalism, and unscrupulous journalists with their own agendas to converge in a feeding frenzy that has had few precedents in the whole, sordid world of celebrity gossip. When I spoke with Michael’s longtime friend David Nordahl in 2010, he told me that he had been offered as much as $500,000 by a tabloid publication to make up stories about Michael. He was given offers to fabricate stories about the children who had modeled for his paintings with Michael. This was absurd on many levels, number one because all of the paintings were quite innocent, and two, because no actual children were used to model in those paintings. They were all either products of Nordahl’s and Michael’s imaginations, or in some cases, childhood images of people they knew as adults, such as Nordahl’s wife who appears in Michael’s “Field of Dreams” painting as the mischievous little girl crouched behind Michael’s arm. Yet the conspiracy to fabricate false stories about these images was and remains a big business, and it is fortunate that Michael had a loyal friend in David Nordahl, someone who considered his friendship with Michael much more valuable than half a million dollars.
That has not always been the case. As we know too well, not only did Michael have acquaintances (the word “friend” just can’t apply here) willing to sell him out, but also those who were willing to make up complete fabrications if the price was right. However, we all know that the tabloid business is what it is. I’m talking of something even more sinister, which is the outright planting or fabricating of false “evidence” in order to create either cases and victims that never existed (the so called “phantom victims’) or to create substantiating “evidence” where no such evidence exists. In Michael’s lifetime, this sort of thing happened with alarming frequency, usually as an attempt to blackmail him by creating a potentially damaging scenario. In death, the practice continues, and namely for two very specific reasons-because his brand and image is still very big business, and because there is a faction determined at all costs to “prove” him a pedophile for the sake of their own glory. Some of these people are so determined and desperate, in fact, that they will stop at no means-however sinister-to achieve that end. Creating falsified documents, fake conversations, and even fake photos are not above them. In some of the more well known cases, the perpetrators had no conscience about even involving actual children as part of their schemes!
One of the earliest and most blatant cases was that of Rodney Allen aka John Templeton, a Canadian man who, in the mid 90’s, ran a prostitution ring of young, underage boys in Toronto. Although I assume most hardcore fans are familiar with the details of this case, I will summarize briefly for the benefit of the casual fans and researchers who perhaps aren’t. The story was first broken on Hard Copy in 1995 by notorious MJ hater/stalker Diane Dimond. Although Dimond tries hard to present herself as an unbiased reporter here, that is in reality not the case at all. The reality was that she had to back pedal her way out of a very potentially embarrassing situation for herself and Hard Copy. But it turns out there was also another motive for Diane Dimond to present herself as an unbiased reporter of Michael Jackson. However, I will comment more on the problems with her “investigation,” as well as her OWNrole in fabricating fake evidence against Michael, shortly. For now, we will focus simply on the facts of the Rodney Allen case as they were originally reported.
Here is the story as it was first presented on Hard Copy in 1995:
The story might leave some with a case of the warm and fuzzies. Diane Dimond investigated what “could have been Michael Jackson’s worst nightmare” and uncovered a scam to frame him. In truth, Michael Jackson’s worst nightmare had unfolded long before this, and Diane Dimond was one of its key players!
The real question here is why, after learning the truth about Rodney Allen, did Diane Dimond-this woman who gives so much lip service to truth, integrity, and of being a champion for the rights of child victims- simply walk away from this case, content to leave it to Canadian authorities to untangle? Apparently her concern for this fifteen-year-old kid (who subsequently was arrested for public mischief) ended when the story became a dead end as far as Michael Jackson’s involvement. Rodney Allen was eventually arrested and convicted to a life sentence in 2001, a full six years after this story aired. In the meantime, the fact that he was head of an ever increasing “family” of teenage boys didn’t seem to phase Diane Dimond or anyone at Hard Copy, who were all too busy chasing the next phony Michael Jackson story.
In 2010, Helena of Vindicating Michael wrote a great piece on this story and raised many disturbing questions about how and why the whole Rodney Allen story was handled in such a cavalier fashion:
I agree with most of the questions raised in this piece. For example, just who was this guy Rodney Allen, what was his stake in so determinedly creating a case against Michael Jackson, and most importantly, how did hemanage to have such detailed information of Hayvenhurst, Neverland, and of Michael’s employees? Information that he then used to coach a teenage boy so convincingly that he almost had the Canadian police fooled?
Well, as it turns out, both Rodney Allen and Diane Dimond had a long-time source in common: A man named Victor Gutierrez, who was certainly no stranger to fabricating false stories about Michael Jackson, and who had been obsessed since as far back as 1986 with the idea of “outting” Michael as a pedophile.
I have already written quite extensively about Victor Gutierrez, his NAMBLA connections, and his obsession in past posts:
By far the most detailed and well researched account I have yet read on the connection between Victor Gutierrez, Rodney Allen, and Diane Dimond can be found here.This is from an author who has done much extensive investigative reporting in an attempt to unravel the long, dirty history of Victor Gutierrez’s role in the Michael Jackson allegations. You can also find here many actual court documents that verify the long and convoluted role these individuals played in making Michael Jackson’s life a living hell:
The connection between Dimond, Gutierrez, and Allen is one that can’t be emphasized enough when it comes to the topic of creating false evidence against Michael Jackson, even though Dimond on at least one occasion was able to effectively use the Shield Law to protect her from being sued by Michael. So let’s back up and look at one of the most notorious and blatant cases of creating phony evidence against Michael, and how all three of these players were involved.
The blogpost I have linked to above is fascinating in that it both confirms the connection between Rodney Allen and Victor Gutierrez (via the author’s own correspondence with Rodney Allen) and also confirms a long suspicion I had held regarding the strategic timing of the broadcast of the Rodney Allen story by Hard Copy in April of 1995.
To briefly summarize a very dirty and convoluted story, in December of 1994 Victor Gutierrez had tried without success to sell a story to the tabloids about an alleged videotape that he claimed featured Michael engaging in lewd acts with his own nephew Jeremy. Gutierrez cited the alleged source of the tape as Jeremy’s mother Margaret Maldonado, ex wife of Jermaine Jackson. Gutierrez had claimed that he met with Maldonado at the Century Plaza hotel to view the contents of the tape. Maldonado denied this vehemently in court, claiming she had never even met Gutierrez, and the Century Plaza hotel had no record of Gutierrez ever being there.
Gutierrez had no luck selling the story to tabloids. It was late 1994, over a year since the Chandler story had been hot news, and OJ was now the big story. Secondly, no one really wanted to touch the story because Gutierrez was not able to substantiate the actual existence of the video.
He finally turned to his friend Diane Dimond, and found a more than willing ally to spread the story, even though she had never personally seen the alleged tape or its contents. Based on no more information than her “source” (Gutierrez) she went on record in January of 1995 on a radio interview show and not only reported the existence of a tape she had never seen, but also falsely reported that the investigation of Michael Jackson was being reopened. This was blatantly untrue. The LA County DA had, in fact, already dismissed the story as bogus (or at the very least, as a story that had failed to hold up under scrutiny) and had no intention at that point of re-opening the investigation.
Although no one had even seen the alleged tape other than, supposedly, Gutierrez, this didn’t stop Hard Copy from running with the story a few days after Dimond had first let the cat out of the bag during the radio interview on January 5. On January 9, 1995, Hard Copy reported the story in a segment featuring Gutierrez, and several British tabloids followed suit.
Still, one very big problem remained…where was this alleged videotape, why had no one seen it, and why couldn’t the “source” simply turn it over if indeed it existed? The fact was that it didn’t exist, and never had.
Michael filed a lawsuit against all parties involved in spreading the slanderous story-including Gutierrez, Dimond, and Hard Copy-for $100 million on January 12, 1995. However, Dimond got her good friend Tom Sneddon to write a long-winded declaration in her defense, citing The Shield Law and that as a journalist who was simply reporting, without malice, what had been told to her by her “source” she should not be a party to the suit.
The courts were apparently convinced by Sneddon’s passionate plea for his friend’s case, and Dimond eventually had to be dropped as a party in the suit. The upshot was that Victor Guiterrez was ordered to pay Michael Jackson $2.7 million in damages, but skipped the country and returned to his native Chile in a cowardly act that enabled him to circumvent ever having to pay the money. In a signed declaration, Gutierrez stated that he had returned to Santia to “get a good job” but hadn’t gotten a job and therefore “I do not have money to buy a plane ticket to return.” (Despite the fact that he later bragged about living in a 21-bedroom mansion!).
But here’s where the whole thing gets interesting. Apparently, Victor Gutierrez and Rodney Allen were more than well acquainted in 1995, when this story broke (the author of the above blog mentions Allen stating that he stayed with Gutierrez in LA and attended a book convention with him in the summer of 1995). And Diane Dimond, who was not only utilizing Gutierrez as her main “go to” source but considered him a personal friend as well, would almost surely had to have been aware of this fact! If this is all indeed true, then there was never any “great mystery” about the real identity of Mr. John Templeton, and Diane Dimond would have already been well aware that a pedophile in Toronto, Canada named Rodney Allen and her “source” Victor Gutierrez were working and hanging out together!
Secondly, it is interesting that Diane Dimond chose to run the Rodney Allen story on Hard Copy in April of 1995, at the exact time when she was still involved with the litigation of Michael Jackson’s lawsuit against her. I agree 100% with the blog’s author that the timing made it all seem like a well planned strategy to show that Dimond and Hard Copy were being objective and fair in their reporting on Michael Jackson, at a time when it served their best interests to prove this. It also occurred during a period when Michael was undergoing intense pressure to drop the case against Diane Dimond and Victor Gutierrez. Gutierrez, in particular, through his attorney Robert Goldman, engaged in many threatening tactics, particularly the threat that Gutierrez would promote his fictional fantasy book Michael Jackson Was My Lover at every opportunity if the case went to trial.
I can’t say beyond a shadow of doubt that Diane Dimond was complicit in knowingly fabricating the story of the phantom video tape, but for sure, she willingly aided and abetted the perpetrator of the hoax and reported false information when she stated that the case was being re-opened (Sneddon, it should be noted, was very careful in his declaration of defense for her to make his wording on this ambiguous, stating that the investigation was “inactive but not closed” in order to mitigate the lie and to make it seem understandable how she might have reached that conclusion). She also knowingly and willfully provided details about the video tape for which she had no first hand knowledge as she had never seen it, and thus had no verification that what she was reporting was even true.
But even more disturbing is how she could have possibly been so blindsided by Rodney Allen. And even worse, if she was already aware of his identity and what he was up to in Canada, why was she still wasting time chasing after false leads on Michael Jackson instead of investigating this guy?
Knowing the connection that both Rodney Allen and Diane Dimond have to Victor Gutierrez suddenly makes all of the puzzle pieces fit together. This would have explained, for instance, how Allen acquired much of his seeming first-hand knowledge of Hayvenhurst and Neverland (information he was then able to pass on to the boys in his circle). It doesn’t answer the question of who the “other” Jackson family member might have been who allegedly molested Allen, but given the ability of both Allen and Gutierrez to completely fabricate stories, there is no real reason to believe (without solid proof) that Allen was ever molested by anyone in the Jackson family.
Could the whole story have been part of an elaborate scam cooked up by the three parties involved-Diane Dimond, Victor Gutierrez, and Rodney Allen? I can’t say for certain, but based on the facts, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.
The whole situation reeks to high heaven. The best we can say, if we’re generous about Diane Dimond’s involvement, is that she used her connections with Gutierrez and Rodney Allen to create a fake story that would help to make her look good as litigation moved forward in Michael Jackson’s lawsuit against her. But the worst case scenario-that she may have actually been an accomplice with these two in a scam to fabricate a case against Michael (a case that subsequently unraveled under scrutiny) is even more damning.
Unfortunately, attempts to frame Michael Jackson with phony evidence doesn’t end there.
In 2012, I broke the story of Alexander Montagu, a distant relation to Princess Diana who capitalized on this tenuous connection and Michael’s known affection for the late princess to concoct an unsavory plan. He invited Michael to attend a Los Angeles memorial service for Diana in September of 1997. However, the invitation as it turned out was merely a front to gain Michael’s trust. He even went so far as telling Michael that he knew, personally, that Michael was not invited to the London memorial and that his only option to honor his friend was by attending the Los Angeles event. However, Montagu’s real plan was that after the service, he would invite Michael back to his hotel to meet his young son Alex, Jr. Montagu had picqued Michael’s interest by talking about his airplane business, and it seems Michael had considered purchasing a plane from Montagu. During the two hour visit, Montagu filmed Michael playing hide and seek with Alex, and in fact, seemed to be going suspiciously above and beyond in filming every interaction between Michael and his son. Although Michael later invited the family to Neverland on at least one occasion, whatever friendly relations he may have had with Alexander Montagu apparently soured when the deal to buy the plane fell through. However, it was later revealed by Montagu’s wife Wendy that the entire plan had been a setup from the very beginning, with the intention of framing Michael by claiming that Michael had molested Alex, Jr! Thankfully, I had a wonderful source during the writing of this article, Melinda-Pillsbury Foster, a personal friend of Wendy Montagu’s who had been privy to the whole, sordid scam! You can read my entire, original post on Alexander Montagu and his scheme here:
Years later, during the Arvizo trial, Montagu had contacted Tom Sneddon and was subpoenaed to appear as a witness for the prosecution. Although he had never been successful in creating a convincingly compromising situation between Michael and his son, he still figured the very innocent footage he had filmed of Michael playing with Alex, Jr. could be put to good use. He figured he would use it to help strengthen the prosecution’s case by claiming the film as evidence of how Michael “groomed” his potential victims. This was all part of an elaborate plan from the the prosecution to “expose” Michael’s previous lifestyle, which included the notorious Neverland Five, a group of five disgruntled ex-employees who re-surfaced in 2005 ten years after they had sued their boss and had been successfully counter sued, and were likewise never able to produce any hardcore evidence of Michael abusing children. Mostly they had succeeded only with selling stories intended to embarrass and humiliate their former boss to the tabloids. However, stories of uncontrollable diarrhea and such nonsense (even if true, which they probably weren’t) did not construe evidence of a crime, and such feeble attempts as introducing Montagu’s staged footage as “evidence” of a grooming process in place, while utterly absurd, was apparently the best they could do. It is heartbreaking in these clips to see Michael so innocently playing with this kid, thinking he is among friends, when the reality was that he was being set up.
In the defense’s motion to have Montagu’s false testimony thrown out, it was explicitly stated:
“There is something disturbing about how badly Mr. Manchester wants to testify about an incident in which his own son denies that any wrongful attacks occurred.”
The plans to testify fell through when Wendy Montagu refused to cooperate and threatened to expose the scam. Even worse for him, his son Alex, Jr. refused to accuse Michael of wrongdoing. The boy had only fond memories of his brief time spent with Michael, and chose to stand by his mother’s version of events. Montagu weasled out of testifying by claiming that he was being threatened by Jackson’s camp to stay away from the trial, but the reality was that he knew his story would not hold up if not substantiated by Wendy, and he couldn’t risk the fact that she might make true on her threat and talk.
Alas, there is a direct link of Alexander Montagu to yet another notorious fabricator of stories about Michael Jackson-none other than Scott Thorson!
And, to add further to the topic of those attempting to plant false evidence against Michael, there is a fascinating discussion here regarding Marc Shaffel’s alleged attempt to plant child porn on Michael:
The post is mostly a scan from a chapter of Andrew Brietbart’s book Hollywood Interrupted which is well worth the read. Brietbart’s source for this info was Paul Baressi, who apparently ended up feeling quite bitter when his exposure of Schaffel’s intended scam was not repaid by Michael’s attorneys. Brietbart is hardly a Michael Jackson fan, but all the more reason why he would have little motivation to lie about something like this. Schaffel’s plan, in a nutshell, was to plant one of his own gay porno films featuring two underaged boys on Michael, in the hopes of receiving a $25 milion dollar payout. And he claimed, according to Baressi’s source David Aldorf, an associate of Shaffel’s, that if he didn’t get his $25 million the next step would be the tabloids.
And, speaking of famous set-ups, let’s not forget that one of the most notorious was when Martin Bashir (whom it is now known was using Victor Gutierrez as a consultant during the filming of Living With Michael Jackson) coerced the scene of Gavin Arvizo lying his head on Michael’s shoulder!
I am certain that every incident I’ve touched on here is still only the tip of the iceberg. As I stated before, the practice of bringing false allegations against Michael, and/or of planting fabricated evidence and/or creating phantom victims has been going on at least as far back as the Chandler case, and perhaps even earlier (in fact, it stands to reason that the Chandler case may have simply been the first and only such fabricated case that actually succeeded according to plan, no doubt setting the stage for many other attempts to follow). In that case, also, no explicit or “smoking gun” evidence was ever produced, but the pressure and embarrassment garnered by negative publicity was enough to set the wheels in motion for a payout. Thus, the motivation for blackmail from unscrupulous parties was ever present. Although as Victor Gutierrez and others had to learn the heard way, even the tabloids have their limits. However, many such unscrupulous gumshoe “journalists,” ex business partners, and others with axes to grind all learned how to play the system, and how to navigate the balance between the tabloids on the one hand, and the police on the other-and how to play both. The wisdom, of course, is that if one potential avenue doesn’t pan out, the other will (usually with the idea being that police involvement will force the tabloids’ hand). Either way, many consider it a win-win, thinking that either the threat of negative publicity will force a settlement or that the income generated from the tabloids alone will be sufficient. In the best case scenario, they are usually hoping for both-that is, that a deluge of embarrasing headlines will ultimately force a settlement offer.
However, in the particular case of Michael Jackson, the motive and the stakes for creating fake evidence against him has an even more sinister agenda for some than mere money or greed. For some, it is a life’s ambition to “prove” what has remained frustratingly and elusively “non provable” for them.
This brings us back to Carlo Riley’s recent post. Apparently, according to what I have been able to gather from Riley himself, this is not the first time. Over the last few years, he has been offered money to fake supposedly incriminating photos with children. He has been asked to pose in casket photos (the latter, perhaps, not as serious as the child photos, but still, a duplicitious scheme nonetheless) and it seems to be a practice that has targeted at least a few of the more well known tribute artists. I suppose it’s an idea that may make sense in theory to some. Let’s get a Michael Jackson tribute artist-someone who bears enough of a passing resemblance to MJ to pull it off-and pay him enough money to pose in a photo or video tape (that, of course, is made to look incriminating). The problem is that most MJ tribute artists-at least the ones I know-are people who love, respect, and admire the man they emulate. He is their hero, and they would never do anything so lowdown as this. However, not all tribute artists are scrupulous (there was even one who made some embarrassing headlines a few years back after he molested a child) and I am sure there are some who, just like anybody else, would do “anything for money.” There are some who imitate Michael Jackson simply because it is a way to make money and gain some notoriety. I sincerely hope they are a minority, and I believe that they are. Of course, it is highly doubtful that such a ruse could hold up for long, under intense scrutiny. Michael Jackson fans know what Michael looks like, and a phony can be sniffed out pretty quickly. Also, there are still enough reputable journalists out there whom I believe would see through such a scam pretty quickly. Photographs can be authenticated easily enough. But in today’s world of instantaneous, cut and paste journalism (where facts are seldom checked and a phony story can spread like wildfire within hours) all it would take is one tabloid outlet willing to pick up the story for the damage to be done.
While I have not been able to verify among the MJ tribute artists I know personally just how prevalent this practice is, it stands to reason that the more well known ones like Riley would be targeted. Riley has been featured on TMZ and is a routine presence at many Michael Jackson functions across the country. If someone was going to plot to hire an impersonator to pose for an incriminating photo with kids, it makes sense that they would start by first going after the more well known ones who would be easy to track down.
Could it be coincidence that Carlo Riley broke his silence just a few days prior to the probate case dismissal of Wade Robson’s claim? Could this have been a last minute, desperate effort on the part of Robson and his attorneys to drum up some kind of evidence, any evidence, to support his case? There is no way to know for sure and, unfortunately, I can only chalk up any such speculations to just that. Speculation. Riley has said that the persons behind this were not forthright in either identifying themselves or their motives, and if he does know more, he apparently is not at liberty to say. However, what is not coincidence is just how prevalent these types of stories become whenever Michael’s name is in the news. Whether it is positive or negative, press coverage always has a way of drawing the roaches out of the woodwork.
To return to the original question, the answer to just how prevalent is this practice is very.The scary part is that this practice apparently remains such big business even six years after Michael’s death. It apparently remains big business because a trial, an acquittal and at least twenty-two years’ worth of ample opportunity for that elusive “smoking gun” to surface, without luck, have not been enough to satisfy those who so desperately want the world to believe that Michael committed these crimes. Whether the motive is profit or just to “prove a point” there are some who will stop at no ends to do whatever it takes.
Even if that means stooping to create evidence that never existed, and never will.
ETA: I wanted to add to the main post some additional links that were provided by Suzy which are definitely worth checking out.
Here is the story of the Newts, another family that tried to set up a false claim against Michael during the height of the Arvizo trial publicity storm: