Michael Jackson’s Halloween, a new, hourlong animated special, featuring the King of Pop’s music as its soundtrack, will premiere this fall on CBS.
Created and produced by Optimum Productions, the Michael Jackson company now owned by his estate, the special will feature the voices of actors Christine Baranski, Kiersey Clemons, Alan Cumming, George Eads, Brad Garrett, Lucy Liu, Jim Parsons and Lucas Till.
The special follows millennials Vincent (Till) and Victoria (Clemons), who meet “accidentally” on Halloween night and find themselves, along with Ichabod the dog, at a mysterious hotel located at 777 Jackson Street called This Place Hotel. Once inside, Vincent and Victoria are sent on an unexpected, magical adventure of personal discovery, culminating in a spectacular dance finale featuring an animated Michael Jackson.
John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the Estate of Michael Jackson, serve as executive producers. Daniel Chuba is the producer and Mark A.Z. Dippé is the director.
Many, including myself, presumed we were finally building up for the official announcement of the long promised Thriller 3D film project. Alas, although that was not to be for this go-round, we still have a project that is centered around a Halloween theme. (Update: Thriller 3D has been scheduled to premiere at the Vienna Film Festival August 30-September 9). However, the announcement had no sooner been made than a barrage of negative reactions swiftly engulfed social media. That’s really no surprise. These days, the announcement of any major MJ-related project is usually a polarizing affair, but this project, in particular, seems to have elicited a lot of strongly negative reactions-somewhat inexplicable, I think, given the overall benign nature of this project. Sure, it’s not Thriller 3D or Dangerous25 (a project that many were hoping to see come to light) but what could possibly be so wrong with an hour long animated special on a major network, featuring Michael Jackson’s best known dark themed works?
Well, the answer to that question is quite complex, and to fully understand it, one must take into account how deeply divided the fan base has become over the estate executors and how deeply that issue of trust vs. mistrust has become, especially when it comes to A: Projects that profit off of his legacy, and B: How that legacy is being handled. As I have emphasized many times, I have always been and remain neutral when it comes to the politics surrounding the fandom and estate. Overall, I believe the estate has made some smart moves when it comes to preserving Michael Jackson’s legacy (This Is It, the Cirque du Soleil Immortal show and One) but also some major missteps. The controversy over the Michael album has forever tainted any posthumous music releases, and the insistence on “contemporizing” Michael’s music (rather than simply allowing the tracks to stand on their own merit) has not helped matters. True, they did manage to wrangle a Top Ten hit with the updated “Love Never Felt So Good” but, for the most part, there have been far more misses than hits with the estate’s attempts to ignite interest in a posthumous musical career for Michael Jackson. In a recent article, in fact, it was stated that there were no future plans to release anymore music from the vaults. That is a downright shame, as they are still sitting on a ton of unreleased gems that many fans want to hear. There is certainly still a market for unreleased MJ tracks; it’s just that fans want these tracks, for the most part, in their raw but pristine state, not over produced by a Timbaland or L.A. Reid to try to mimic everything else on the radio these days.
I think it may be safe to assume, then, that the estate has not had a very good track record for its management of Michael Jackson’s posthumous musical output. I’ve said many times, if they had simply combined the best of the unreleased tracks on Michael (minus the controversial Cascio tracks) and the best of the demos that made it onto Xscape, they could have had a great posthumous MJ album. The tragedy is that, between the insistence on including debatable tracks (which weren’t exactly great tracks to begin with) and the insistence that every MJ track must somehow be “updated” to compete in today’s market, the estate has pretty much blown any confidence that fans may have once had in their ability to successfully market a musical career for Michael Jackson beyond the grave. And here we can certainly add that this shaky confidence has not been helped by the loss of the Sony/ATV catalog, nor the little matter of that 750 million dollar debt with Uncle Sam (which I will still be addressing in due time).
However, when it comes to the musical legacy that Michael created in his lifetime-those seven adult solo albums and the many classic tracks they yielded-the outlook has been much brighter. Clearly, public demand for those songs isn’t apt to disappear any time soon, and it is in the continued public demand for those songs-as well as the continued popularity of Michael’s brand and image-that largely keeps the estate’s bread buttered. The estate’s marketing of Michael Jackson’s known works has been for the most part successful, though still occasionally marred by some questionable choices (for example, licensing the use of “Bad” for Angry Birds, a move that many felt reduced the track’s powerful political message to a silly rumble between cartoon birds). Indeed, these are the kinds of arguments and debates that continue to drive the polarization of the fandom over most estate decisions. Inevitably, some are going to argue that these decisions cheapen the message of his songs and will ultimately water down the impact of his legacy, while others argue-just as vehemently-that this is exactly the kind of exposure that will keep his music, image, and memory alive for future generations. Both arguments have their validity, and this brings me to today’s topic. Michael Jackson himself was an artist who constantly balanced the often polarizing extremes of artistic purity on the one hand, and commercialism on the other (Michael did love sales, and anyone who would wish to argue that sales did not matter to him is sadly deluded). This fact is partly what makes the posthumous marketing of Michael Jackson product a particularly challenging affair. The balance between “what Michael would have wanted,” “how Michael would have done it” and what is going to keep fans and consumers happy is a constant challenge. Even this aspect raises another interesting question: With the wealth of material and projects left behind by Michael Jackson that were completed-but have yet to receive their due-do we really need new projects that have nothing to do with him other than the lending of his name? Here in particular (especially since we are talking a Halloween special) I am referring to the short film Ghosts, a film whose re-release fans, including myself, have spent years clamoring for. As far as the general public is concerned, many are still unaware of this 1997 closet classic, which given the right promotional push and a little updated HD magic, could certainly still captivate a modern audience. Personally, I would love, love love to see Ghosts re-released as a major broadcast special.
However, I do think that in all fairness, we have to consider the uphill battle that the estate is against. There are some factions simply waiting to tear down and rip to shreds anything the estate does, regardless of rhyme or reason. As soon as the announcement hit, many of the reactions across social media were viscerally over the top. Granted, I think much of the negative reaction has stemmed from a long series of gradually building disappointments over estate projects, but I’m just not sure that there is anything in the idea of a Halloween cartoon special to warrant so many hostile reactions, even if, granted, the announcement of the project may not have warranted such a major buildup. This post is not intended as an outright defense of the project-which, granted, could still turn out to be a disaster-but I would like to directly address some of the criticisms that the project has raised, and why I don’t necessarily agree with all of them. For starters, a point to consider is that this is going to be a major network broadcast, which in itself speaks volumes about the renewed faith in the Michael Jackson brand. Obviously, its target audience is going to be kids, and the plan seems to be that this might develop into one of those perennial seasonal projects that returns year after year. That will depend, of course, on ratings and the overall quality of the program, all things that have yet to be proven, but the fact that CBS is willing to take its chances and broadcast a Michael Jackson themed special geared towards children speaks volumes about how far the healing process has come in the re-branding of Michael Jackson.
Michael Jackson was pretty special to a lot of people.
Special enough, in fact, that a little more than eight years after the sudden, saddening loss of the Grammy-winning music genius, a Halloween-themed animated special centered on the beats, pops, and vocal effects that the 50-year-old left to the planet in the wake of his death, will air later this year, just in time for the annual boo-fest.
And for the record, I couldn’t be prouder, happier, and just about moved to tears to learn of this news. And also, no, I am not ashamed to own or publicize my tears. In fact, the world probably could do better with owning their feelings, kind of like Michael tried to teach all of us through his music.
But, I digress.
The reason why the news of CBS’ plan to air the one-hour long cartoon special, Michael Jackson’s Halloween, themed around the only album that could go with it, Jackson’s seminal Thriller; an album that still charts at least once a year on the Billboard Top 200 (along with a mix of MJ compilations that always include some, if not all, of the seven singles released from the nine-song long 1982 recording), is wonderful to yours truly is for one reason and one reason only.
It means that despite everything that most of us have heard about him, the thing that made Michael Jackson special; his gift of music, has finally found a way to outwit, outrun, and outlast the gossip.
And you know of the gossip, I’m sure. The many whispers. The ones that, just this week, began to hit the headlines again for the umpteenth time since the special Michael Jackson departed this Earth. Whether you believe those rumors or not is up to you, but what I believe at this moment is that for the first time since they’ve been uttered, they’re not the only focus of Michael Jackson being in the headlines.
Right now, it’s also about his music. Right now, there’s also talk about whether the album is too dated for present times for a television show in 2017, or whether anyone wants to actually see a Michael Jackson Halloweenanimated special in 2017, some fans included — and no, there’s not actually wrong with having a third, for the record (following the short films for Thriller and Ghosts, of course).
But with that said, with the storm finally starting to lift on the life of someone who was far too special than anyone ever could’ve imagined, perhaps now, we can finally begin to get back to Michael Jackson’s ultimate dream of making the world a better place through his forever-amazing music.
Perhaps now, the young kids who this Michael Jackson animated special in geared toward, won’t grow up only knowing of him as the “joke” their parents made him out to be.
Perhaps they can be the ones to carry his music and magic over to the next generation without the shame and/or judgment that came along for us with standing by the belief that the King of Pop, Michael Joseph Jackson, the blessed son of Katherine and Joe Jackson, brother of Janet, Tito, Marlon, Randy, Rebbie, Jackie, Jermaine, LaToya, and the late Brandon, father of “Prince” Michael Jr., Paris-Katherine and Prince Michael Jackson II, whom he affectionately relayed to as Blanket for the “blanket” of love that he felt for his children, was actually a good guy.
Maybe now, in 2017, we can start reminding the world just how loving, wonderful, magical, powerful, inspirational, and special Michael Jackson truly was.
And it can all begin, ironically and finally, with a Michael Jackson animated special in 2017.
[Featured Image by Junko Kimura/Getty Images]
To add my own after thoughts to this, being “moved to tears” over this project may be a bit hyperbolic but Brown does bring up an interesting point that cannot be emphasized enough. The news of this special hit the same week that the Jimmy Safechuck case was officially dismissed, resulting in yet another round of media attacks by a desperate Vince Finaldi in order to salvage whatever chance the Robson case may have. In the wake of Finaldi’s revenge, the fact that CBS would be broadcasting a Michael Jackson Halloween special was still considered by mainstream media as the bigger story. This is a positive no matter how you slice it, but I would still like to move beyond this (to some extent it is a given that Michael’s art will always trump the tabloid trash) to, rather, addressing some of the direct concerns about the artistic merits–or lack thereof–of this project.
By far one of the biggest criticisms the project has raised is the fact that it is a cartoon. Many of the harshest criticisms I saw could basically be summarized as the estate reducing Michael Jackson’s legacy to an animated cartoon, and how insulting this is for a serious artist. Considering Michael’s own love for animation (heck, we are talking the guy whose dream was to purchase Marvel comics!) I find these kinds of criticisms particularly baffling. Certainly Michael had always loved incorporating these kinds of fantastical, often animated, elements into his work. We know he was a huge fan of Walt Disney, that he loved comics, that he loved the idea of casting himself as these kind of comic, “Superhero” characters. In fact, a very good discussion on a recent MJ Cast episode addressed this very issue, as various points were raised both pro and con regarding the upcoming special and the entire Thriller 35 promotional campaign (of which, supposedly, this project is just one of several planned–we hope, anyway). We also know that a plan for a television Halloween special, to be broadcast on CBS, was already being proposed as part of Michael’s planned “comeback” following the This Is It residency. However, this would have shaped up (according to Michael’s plan, at least) as something very different from the current project (though that isn’t to say that the current project bears at least some similarity in spirit). The plan that Michael drafted with Randy Phillips would have been a reworking of his “Thriller”/”Ghosts”/”Threatened” segment from the This Is It shows. Michael very much wanted to reintroduce the world to Ghosts, and the plan had been to include footage from the classic 1997 film.
The Halloween Special Jackson Was Planning For CBS Would Have Recreated Elements From His This Is It “Thriller/Ghosts/Threatened” Sequence
So the argument that this was something Michael had already planned before his death does have validity, but then becomes one of those pesky “yes, but…” kind of questions that will drive you bonkers if you find yourself drawn into a debate over it. Yes, a Halloween special was in the cards and on the drawing room table, but the actual product that Michael envisioned making would have been very different from the project that it now looks as though will actually materialize.
But in all fairness, we still have to come down to the obvious. Michael Jackson didn’t live to do his planned spectacular “Thriller”/”Ghosts”/”Threatened” segment on tour, let alone to oversee the production of this proposed Halloween special, which I’m sure would have been something quite wondrous to behold. And it goes without saying that he is not here to actually host the program as he had intended. So what to do? Well, either the idea could die with him and wither away in the vault, or the estate could try to find a way to at least partially realize this vision. Again, some will call it exploitation and others will see it as keeping his brand alive, and these days there isn’t much room for middle ground in these debates. The real challenge-and ultimate test-will be in how well the project is actually pulled off.
To that end, I have no crystal ball and certainly can’t predict how this project will play out. As it gets closer to the broadcast date, I’m sure we may start to see some trailers and other teasers that may give us a better idea of what to expect. But in the meantime, here are some points of concern that have been raised and some possible points of refutation to consider (as Michael would say, all for love, of course).
Point #1: The estate is treating Michael like a joke by reducing him to a “cartoon”:
I saw a deluge of social media outrage over the idea of portraying Michael as a cartoon. I think for many, the idea conjures up recent associations such as the hologram fiasco. However, I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with giving us either an animated Michael Jackson special, or for that matter, an animated Michael. We already know that Michael was a huge fan of animation. What’s more, a lot of younger fans (particularly those only born in the 80’s and 90’s) seem to have forgotten that many of us who grew up with The Jackson 5 also grew up with seeing Michael as a weekly, Saturday morning cartoon. The Jackson 5 cartoon was a huge favorite of fans in the early 70’s.
True, we might argue that Michael himself didn’t exactly have much say or control over his career and image at that time (he was only a kid) but in one of his taped conversations with Rabbi Schmuley Boteach (which made it into Boteach’s 2009 The Michael Jackson Tapes) the adult Michael gave us some interesting insight on how he felt about being a Saturday morning cartoon figure:
It is very interesting here that Michael states being a part of that cartoon series was something he felt “more special about” than all of the “hit records and concerts.” He stressed the importance of the connection to children around the world, who were still watching The Jackson 5 cartoon a generation later (and no doubt are still watching it today). Michael’s own words certainly leave little doubt how he felt about being a “cartoon figure.” He certainly didn’t view it as something demeaning or as something that belittled his image, but said, in fact, he thought it was one of the coolest experiences of his life.
Point #2: They would not do this to someone considered a “serious” musician or artist. This is proof of the estate’s ongoing refusal to take Michael Jackson seriously:
But really? I could point to at least half a dozen examples that outright refute this argument. The most obvious, of course, would be The Beatles, who not only got the cartoon treatment in their 1968 classic Yellow Submarine but also, like The Jackson 5, as a Saturday morning cartoon. (The Osmonds, likewise, had a stint as a Saturday morning cartoon, though I suppose there could be room for debate as to whether The Osmonds count as “serious” musicians!).
But certainly being made into cartoon figures didn’t reduce the artistic status of John Lennon or Paul McCartney, so again, there is no reason to jump to the knee jerk assumption that such a project is somehow cheapening his legacy. (However, with that being said, we can still argue, Yes, but…The Beatles did maintain some degree of creative control over projects like Yellow Submarine and therein lies all the difference in the world. To that, I would say it is definitely a valid point, but The Beatles’ actual input into the finished project was actually quite minimal, as they considered the vehicle more as a convenient and quick way to wrap up their three picture commitment to United Artists).
Point #3 This project doesn’t even feature Michael Jackson until the very end. His image is nowhere to be seen in the promo. Is the estate trying to “erase” Michael Jackson from his own brand?
Again, this was an interesting question raised on the MJ Cast webisode I linked to earlier. We are being promised that an “animated Michael Jackson” will make his appearance at the end of the special, but it seems that until then, we will simply be making do with Vincent, Victoria and “Ichabod the dog” having various spooky adventures in a haunted house (albeit, presumably, to a Michael Jackson soundtrack) for nearly an hour. This could go either way, I suppose. On the one hand, it could be a very satisfying and climactic buildup to the big moment when “MJ” actually makes his grand appearance. OR it could have the opposite effect of simply reducing his grande finale performance to a footnote at the end. Again, much is going to depend on how well the project is ultimately put together, and will the big payoff at the end be worth it? If it becomes just an hour of two animated teens having silly, lame adventures and the finale falls flat, the project will be sunk. So obviously a lot is riding on how well that finale comes off.
On the other hand, it does appear that Michael’s “presence” as such will certainly be a factor throughout the program, not only the music, of course, but in all of the various allusions to his song titles and films. It seems that at least part of the idea is that these two “millenials” will not immediately make the connections, but of course they will be very obvious winks and nods to those of us old enough to remember.
As to whether the promotional ad is a deliberate attempt to erase Michael’s image from the project, or simply to preserve the element of surprise at the end, I can’t say. I would certainly hope that it is the latter. A mystery still remaining, however, is which “era” Michael we will get when he finally does appear at the end. Is it going to be “Thriller” era Michael? Or the “Ghost” era Maestro? Or something else altogether? The one argument I would buy is that it seems the estate has continued to push “Thriller” era Michael as its brand of choice, while ignoring or downplaying much of his later, more controversial work. And it may explain in part why Dangerous 25 has been all but trumped by Thriller 35. Clearly, we know there is a very large percentage of Michael Jackson fans who remain nostalgic for 80’s era Michael, pre-vitiligo, pre-political, and pre-controversial. Is the estate catering to that faction? It would not surprise me, although we also have to remember that Bad25 was largely a commercial flop because it did not receive sufficient fan support (again, we had about roughly half the fan base actively boycotting it as an estate project) so there is that argument to be considered, and again, may have a lot to do with why no Dangerous 25 project has materialized.
For now, I am willing to give Michael Jackson’s Halloween the benefit of the doubt. My initial gut reaction to the announcement was, “It seems like a cute idea, but I’m not blown away.” As I have continued to emphasize, everything is going to depend on how well the idea is actually executed. But I would say that certainly at this point, the estate cannot afford another disappointing output. The likelihood that this is going to be something brilliant is pretty slim, but at the very least, if done right, it may turn out decently enjoyable. The sad irony here, of course, is that Michael Jackson, as we all know, was the master of perfection who never settled for mediocrity.
On the positive side, I do have much higher hopes for Thriller 3D which may possibly see a theatrical release in conjunction with the TV special. In any event, Halloween 2017 is shaping up as the season of Michael. It will be interesting to see how these projects play out. Duds or classics, the proof will be in the pudding-the pumpkin pudding, that is.
I am excited to share with you my long awaited interview with Lisa D. Campbell, author of three books that rank among the best written on Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson: The King of Pop, The King of Pop: His Dakest Hour, and her most recent, Michael Jackson: The Complete Story of the King of Pop. Campbell also has the noted distinction of being the only MJ biographer to have impressed Michael enough to warrant a bouquet of roses and a mention of thanks in the liner notes of his HIStory album!
Lisa D. Campbell is an author and researcher whose passion for Michael Jackson-as both a hobby and “full time job”-is impressive indeed. After completing her latest book, I submitted a list of interview questions, which Lisa was gracious enough to kindly answer, despite the fact that the list quickly grew into an epic! Well, I had a feeling that was bound to happen, given our mutual passion for this subject (although I will admit, unlike Lisa-whose resolve to abstain from Pepsi out of loyalty to Michael is admirable, I still have my weakness for my Diet Mountain Dew! Sorry, Michael).
Anyway, soft drink preferences aside, I hope you will enjoy this question and answer exchange between two very dedicated MJ researchers!
Raven: Something that struck me as unique about this biography is that it is one of the few MJ biographies that simply presents a straightforward presentation of the facts, without embellishment. The problem with so many MJ biographies is that the writers often have a specific narrative they are trying to push, or an agenda they are trying to accomplish. Their overall purpose seems to be to convince people that MJ was this, or was that. Your book doesn’t do that-and I must say, it is a refreshing change! You are obviously a fan, but the book at all times maintains a very neutral and balanced perspective. My question is: Did you set out intentionally to write this kind of book? And how difficult is it, when writing about MJ, to keep your own perspectives/opinions/biases out of the narrative?
Lisa:I wanted to present a picture of Michael Jackson that examined all aspects of his life. Some go well out of their way to paint every aspect of his life as somehow weird, depraved, or at least bizarre and skim over all the positive things he accomplished. Others, in attempt to canonize him pay little if any attention to the difficult times of his life – the Chandler accusations; his trial; drug usage, etc. My focus was on presenting the facts of his life to inform readers and let them see MJ without being colored with my bias. This was certainly most crucial in covering the Chandler accusations and his trial. The facts in each case speak for themselves and lead readers to a logical conclusion, something we all know the media coverage did not do.
I did add a little more of my own two cents in this latest edition – something I debated about throughout the whole process. But I think it is clear when something is just my opinion. My true objective was to present a complete picture of his life including the highs and lows, and hopefully change some people’s perception of him that have largely known him through all the tabloid headlines and rumors throughout the years. The painful times of his life – as well as the good times- certainly helped shape the man he was. To think it took the Arvizo family deliberately turning their backs on him, creating lies and more lies about him after he helped them all so extensively, that it took this level of betrayal for him to use the “h” word, that he hated someone, I think speaks volumes about his character. That is what I wanted to illustrate for readers.
Raven: This next question is a bit of a spin-off from the first. Do you think this may have been one reason why Michael was so impressed with your first two books? For someone who had become so used to seeing himself “psychoanalyzed” in every way possible, it must have been a refreshing change for him to finally read something that simply presented the facts of his life, without embellishment and with no sinister, hidden “narrative” to promote. For Michael to have acknowledged your work the way he did speaks volumes, for as I’m sure you know, it was very rarely that Michael ever acknowledged any of the many books written about him-and when he did, it usually wasn’t positive. Did he ever tell you, specifically, what quality(ies) he most admired about your first two books?
Lisa:Michael’s acknowledgement of my work was truly unexpected and overwhelming. My highest hope was that I would somehow have an indication that he was just aware of my work. I sent him two copies of my book. One was inscribed with a note to him, for the other, I asked if he could sign it and return to me. Just a couple of days after receiving the book, it was Fed Ex-ed back to me with a note and autograph from Michael. I was told Michael loved my book, “he flipped over it”. I agree that he had to have been tired of being psychoanalyzed by so many and that a book simply chronicling his unrivaled career accomplishments and humanitarian efforts must have been quite refreshing. I was told he appreciated my attention to detail and he wrote a note to me saying, “… your book is a wonderful inspiration.” As you may know, his kindness and consideration did not end there. A few weeks later I received three dozen beautiful red roses on my birthday with a card reading, “With sincere thanks and love, Michael Jackson.” I will forever cherish his acknowledgement of my work.
“Thanks, Lisa Campbell, for your support and love.”-Michael Jackson, From “HIStory” Liner Notes
Raven: I will be honest with you. One of the reasons this interview has taken so long (I first contacted you in December, I believe) is the sheer size and scope of this book, which ended up taking me a lot longer to read than I had anticipated. But such is the nature of this subject’s life-and only a very big and epic book could ever do it total justice. Most authors would be intimidated with the prospect of writing just ONE definitive MJ biography. But you have written no less than three, including this last which in my opinion should stand as the definitive story of Michael’s life for those who are only interested in the facts. How intimidating is Michael Jackson’s life as a subject to write about? I know you are very passionate about him as a subject, but do you ever get frustrated/intimidated by the sheer prospect of tackling his life? Do you ever get writer’s block, or sometimes find yourself hitting a brick wall? If you had moments like that in the writing of this book, how did you get past them? What kept you focused, ultimately?
Lisa:First of all, thank you very much for the compliment, to quote our mutual hero, “I am very honored”. I honestly did not find the prospect of the project intimidating. His life is a subject I have followed and researched for decades now and I guess I just feel comfortable with it. Even though there has been a long period of time between my last book and this new one, I have never stopped following him, collecting information and researching, so I actually had much of the material readily available. After the first two books, and following the enormity of his loss, I just felt compelled to finish the story. I felt I almost owed it to him and his memory. There were a few times when I was undecided on the best way to present a subject (how much of the ugly details of Chandler’s accusations do I include, or those from his trial?) I would put it temporarily on the back burner and think about it while I worked on another area. Ultimately it was my passion for my subject that kept me on track and my personal commitment to his story. Researching MJ is a full time job and in my spare time, it is my hobby! It is a long volume, but I tried to make it fast reading and not an arduous task to get through. I actually had to edit it down. I had nearly 1000 pages before I tackled Dr. Murray’s trial. It is not titled “The Complete Story” for nothing!
Raven: One thing I was very impressed with as a reader is your attention to detail. I love the way you can recount every single chart position of every song/album, or how in describing an awards show or event Michael attended, how you could describe to the most minute detail every outfit he wore. I was impressed with how you managed to catalog this sheer volume of information. I would assume most of it just comes with the knowledge obtained from having followed his career for so long. I, too, have a pretty extensive and detailed knowledge of all of his music’s chart performances, awards won, etc, but I don’t have a photographic memory so I find myself constantly double checking to ensure I have my facts correct. I guess my question to you is: Are you just a walking encyclopedia of compiled MJ trivia (LOL) or do you find yourself, like me, constantly sweating the small stuff and fact checking to make sure your all your i’s are dotted, every “t” crossed, and every p and q accounted for? What tools of reference do you keep ever ready and close by when you are writing on Michael?
Lisa:I do not have a photographic memory either, but I do have a massive video and print library and I have watched all of my tapes of performances, short films, award shows, etc a lot! Everything is labeled, categorized and stored chronologically for easy retrieval. Having done this for so long, I have also built up a pretty good mental catalog of a huge amount of details. Dates of significance tend to stick in my mind too. My friends and family would undoubtedly say I am a walking MJ encyclopedia. I have watched and re-watched his award show appearances to transcribe his words. (To this day I can recite, verbatim and with all of his pauses, his acceptance remarks from the 1986 Grammys for the win for Song of the Year for “We Are the World”.) I am also really good at playing “Six Degrees of Michael Jackson”! I do go back and double check details often to ensure accuracy. I have referred to Adrian Grant’s A Visual Documentary at times just to confirm some timeframes. I served as a researcher for his project and find it a convenient way sometimes to confirm a date. I worked to include as detailed a description as possible of award show appearance, performances, etc, because those are details I would want to know. If I read he was presented with an award somewhere I wanted to know what he was wearing? Did he have his shades on? A fedora? What did he say? So I included those kinds of details.
Raven: Back when you did Catherine Gross’s blogtalk radio program in December, I called in and asked you a question regarding Michael’s relationship with LaToya. I was intrigued by something I had read in your first book-a bit of info I had not seen anywhere else-in which you mentioned that there had been a dispute between Michael and LaToya in the early 90’s regarding the deed to Hayvenhurst. This would have been at or near the same time as the infamous Tel Aviv press conference. LaToya, as you know, has been in the news again quite a bit with her upcoming reality show and involvement in the careers of Michael’s children, so this seems like a good time to address the unusual brother/sister dynamic that she and Michael had. For the benefit of those readers who did not hear the blogtalk radio broadcast, could you tell us again some of your thoughts on LaToya and why she turned on Michael at that time? Do you think this dispute they were having over the deed could have fueled that Tel Aviv press conference, at least in part?
Lisa:It seems to me to be quite a brutal way to retaliate for such a dispute though it is difficult to put much of anything beyond some of the family members. Her press conference in Tel Aviv seems to me to be the ultimate betrayal. While LaToya claims Michael later forgave her completely, others say he wanted very little to do with her after that. I tend to give more credence to the latter. Of course now she has revealed that her actions at this time were all due to the control her manager/husband Jack Gordon had over her and he threatened harm to her and/or Michael if she did not comply. Only when faced with the prospect of doing something she found exceedingly distasteful (turning on her brother at his very darkest hour didn’t somehow qualify) did she finally find the courage to break free from him. Overall, I think she tends to exaggerate how “close” she and Michael were. While she admits to not being in contact with him over a couple of periods each several years long, they were supposedly two of the closest of the siblings? I was prone to give her some credit recently for at least trying to pursue some efforts on her own and almost seemed to distance herself from the ongoing drama within the family. Her new role as agent or whatever for Michael’s children and being responsible to some degree for Prince’s debut as a correspondent on ET is questionable to say the least. While Prince has voiced an interest in show business as a filmmaker, I think it is pretty clear this is not what Michael wanted for his kids at this young age.
Raven: In the book, you mention how Michael referred to Diana Ross as both his “lover and mother.” I, too, was struck by that rather odd statement in Moonwalk and have often wondered about it. I am sure you know that there has been much speculation regarding the true nature of his relationship with Diana Ross. He certainly seemed genuinely smitten with her, and this was a constant throughout his life. (It can also help put to rest the speculation I’ve heard in some circles that his only sexual interest was in white women! Certainly there is more than ample evidence to the contrary!). With that being said, one can’t discuss the possibility of any hint of an intimate relationship between Michael and Diana Ross without also inviting another controversy, because obviously any such relationship would have been occurring when Michael was still very much a minor. What do you make of some of these long-standing stories/rumors regarding Michael and Diana Ross?
Lisa:I agree there is ample evidence that he had no clear preference as to race in regards to the women in his life. I think the speculation rises in part from the fact both of his wives were white. However he was also romantically linked to a number of African American women. I tend to not put much stock in the notion there was an actual romance between him and Diana when he was very young. He certainly had a very strong motherly bond with her as a youngster and it grew to perhaps a more romantic feeling later, but it is doubtful to me that he acted upon it. He was so timid, and especially in regards to sexual matters, it is hard to believe there was a physical relationship at that time. He was probably deliberately vague about this and his other relationships in Moonwalk as he was a very private person and wanted to keep some aspects of his life a little more mysterious and I think he just found it distasteful – and ungentlemanly – to publically address such things. There is of course ample evidence to support that Michael long held Diana Ross in high regard. Obviously naming her as the contingent guardian of his beloved children bears that out.
Raven: Speaking on the subject of Michael and relationships, you also mention quite definitively in the book that Michael did have a year-long fling with Tatiana Thumptzen. I know there have been rumors, speculation, etc. Some believe that Tatiana basically just concocted a fantasy that she wanted to believe. But you seem quite confident with this info, so I am wondering what was your source for this particular info and why do you feel so confidently that they did, in fact, have a year-long physical affair?
Lisa: Tatiana did make this claim – though I am not sure there has been much if any corroboration. It may be more wishful thinking on her part. She has continued to speak very highly of him and has called him “the love of her life”. She obviously felt a strong bond with him. My intent was to present her assertion as a fact, just as she did. She stated the claim in an interview and I relayed that.
Raven: One thing I absolutely love about your books is that I always discover interesting little facts and bits of trivia that I have never heard anywhere else. For example, I had no idea that it was Michael who actually suggested to Freddie Mercury that “Another One Bites The Dust” should be released as a single! Michael seemed to have a very good intuitive sense of what would make a great “hit” song, and in fact, it seemed that when Sony stopped listening to his input is when some of his commercial impact started to erode a bit (for example, Michael wanted “Unbreakable” released as the first single from Invincible, not You Rock My World, and again, the chart performance proved that his instincts were probably right!). You make an interesting point in the book that, although Dangerous was a hugely successful album, that era also marked the first time that some of the singles released failed to make the Top 10 (both “Jam” and “Heal The World” stalled at #26 and #27, respectively, on the US pop charts, though HTW as you pointed out did much better overseas). Also, Dangerous became the first album of his adult solo career that managed to produce only one #1 single on the pop chart, even if albeit that one #1 was the phenomenally successful “Black or White.” What factors do you think may have contributed to this? Shifting musical tastes in the early 90’s? Michael Jackson overload? The management of Epic/Sony? The absence of Quincy Jones at the helm? Or just the inevitable inability to maintain the sort of phenomenal momentum established by OTW, Thriller, and Bad?
Lisa:Most likely a number of elements were at play. Not having Quincy Jones involved in the project may have played a role. They just formed such a cohesive team, a seemingly unbeatable pair. It would be fascinating to see how differently the album would have been had he continued to work with Quincy Jones. As for Michael Jackson overload – those words do not register with me! With up to four and five years between album releases, I was always starved for more MJ! I always saw Michael as setting the musical trends, not following them, but the rise in grunge music at this time – most notably Nirvana – may have played a role in Dangerous not matching the sales figures of Bad and of course, Thriller. For my money, Dangerous measures up with its predecessors quite well, “Keep the Faith” being one of my personal favorites of his whole catalog. Every time I hear it, I get goosebumps.
I am pleased there were new tidbits of trivia for even hard core MJ experts. I always love learning anything new about him, however trivial – habits (smacking his Bazooka bubble gum), hidden talents (making the world’s best French toast!) or his non-musical interests (reading about history and his knowledge of historical figures).
I do agree that “You Rock My World” may not have been the best choice as the first single from Invincible. It is just not the strongest track on the album, and “Unbreakable” would have been a better choice. The war with Sony certainly hurt Invincible’s performance. Can you imagine if “Cry” had a performance video in the vein of the ’88 Grammy performance of “Man in the Mirror”? That would have been a powerful tool to promote the album. The album also has other great tracks that are largely overlooked, like “Whatever Happens”, “Heaven Can Wait”, “2000 Watts”; and “Threatened”. I love how he later melded “Threatened” in with “Thriller” in performance. It works very well. He was also planning on performing “Whatever Happens” with Carlos Santana at the Grammys, a very considerable loss! It pains me to think of the projects that never came to be, that we do not have these treasures to enjoy now.
Raven: While I am looking at that particular section of the book (Dangerous era) I found an interesting comment you made. “He literally lets his hair down for ‘Black or White.’ Something about that number dictated that his hair not be pulled back in his customary ponytail.” Again, your keen eye for this kind of detail is very interesting. I, too, have noted that Michael had a tendency to adopt certain looks, hairstyles, and modes of dress for certain performances. For some songs, the look would be very militaristic; others might require the cool gangster/Fedora image. But for Black or White, everything about his persona became very open, soft, and flowing (same for Will You Be There, for which he also maintained the loose hair and flowing, white shirt). In the book, you mention this but it is sort of just left for the reader to interpret as they will. I was wondering if you have any theories on why this particular look was so important to that number?
Lisa:That is an interesting question. Certain costumes or looks lent the appropriate tone or mood to his performances and he wanted certain elements to be instantly recognizable – always wearing the red leather zipper jacket for “Beat It” (with the sole exception of the black version of the jacket worn for his 30th Anniversary concert), the blue shirt and white belt for “The Way You Make Me Feel”, etc. The flowing white shirt for “Black or White” and “Will You Be There “ do seem to further his message of openness and lends a tone of softness. The flowing hair and shirts also work well with the fans that were used in the “Black and White” performances. He also adopted the white flowing shirt and loose hair for “Dirty Diana” which utilized the fans as well. As Michael Bush noted in his book, Michael exchanged a leather jacket for the flowing shirt (Michael Bush’s own shirt!) as it worked better with the fans being used. I think over time his short films and performances became so ingrained in people’s minds that he wanted to preserve that image. Can you imagine him performing “Billie Jean” in anything other than the black beaded jacket and glove? It just wouldn’t be right! He seemed to carry this notion from his J5 days when he suggested he wear in concert the same purple hat fans had seen him wear in their Ed Sullivan Show appearance. He knew the familiarity of the hat would bring screams from the audience, and he was right. The best illustration of this is in his HIStory Tour and 30th Anniversary concert (and also planned for This is It) introduction to “Billie Jean” when he very methodically removed his black fedora, glove and black jacket from the suitcase to gear up for the performance. Priceless!
One costuming question I have long had trouble satisfying is, “What is the purpose of the wind coat for “Beat It” and “Earth Song” when he is in the cherry picker? Did he just think it was cool? To work with the fan beneath him? Some sort of safety measure?
[To be honest, I would have to say I don’t know, but my best guess is that the former is the more likely explanation, lol].
Raven: Also in this section you mention the Oprah interview. As you know, Oprah has taken quite a bit of heat through the years from MJ fans because of some of the questions she asked in that interview. Yet, as you point out here, Michael went into this interview with full knowledge of the questions that would be asked, and had agreed in advance to “answer anything.” Given that Michael agreed to do the interview and to answer anything, do you think Oprah has been unfairly bashed in some circles? Granted, the “Are you a virgin?” question just seemed totally out of left field, and ridiculous. I would be interested to know some of your thoughts on this interview, and how it was handled overall.
Lisa:It seemed to me that the virgin question was asked to appeal to those who thought of him as strange and not as a real human being. I do think Michael was caught off guard by the question and was quite taken aback that she would ask such a thing. I applaud his response, “I am a gentleman” and thought he handled it like a pro. I am not sure Oprah asked the most thoughtful questions, pandering to tabloid rumors and such, but Michael was his usual intriguing self. Faced with a situation he was not comfortable with and generally despised, he was warm and generally very open and honest. He was hoping to present himself as a real life person and change the perception of him that he was weird. People in general at this time seemed convinced he was very strange – having seen endless tabloid headlines telling them so (and note this was before the Chandler accusations had been made). I have encountered many who had this perception of him, as a weirdo, but when I would ask “why” they usually had no answer, or something terribly trite like “well, he takes that monkey everywhere with him”. Michael’s efforts to turn this around were highly successful. As I note in the book, the public response to the interview was overwhelmingly positive. The special aired to a record setting audience and sent his Dangerous album and singles back up the record charts. I also especially loved the glimpse at his songwriting techniques – signing the parts of the instruments. That few minutes gave a never before seen look at this talents that were largely transparent to the public.
Raven: In your own business dealings with Michael with issues related to the second book, I understand you corresponded quite a bit with Bob Jones as a go-between. You mention, for example, that it was Jones’s “suggestion” to include the “King of Pop” title as part of the title for your second book, which was originally to have been titled simply “Michael Jackson: His Darkest Hour.” As you know, Jones would later turn very vindictive and became quite a controversial figure in Michael’s life (though he would hardly be the last in a long line of similar traitors!). What was your impression of Bob Jones during the time you were corresponding with him?
Lisa:During the time my first two books were published, I did correspond with Bob Jones quite frequently. At that time he was extremely friendly, thoughtful and generous with his time. He always spoke very highly of Michael and always seemed to have his best interest at heart. His later betrayal of Michael, in response to his firing, was shattering. Showing up as a witness for the prosecution in Michael’s trial was perhaps the lowest – albeit his testimony went a long way toward discrediting the claims of improper behavior by Michael that Jones had made in his book. He had to admit he was unable to “recall no head lickin'”. It was certainly sad to see this long term friendship and association end. Jones wrote the Foreword for my second book which focuses on the Chandler accusations – in which he categorizes the allegations as “cruel and false”. His later about face later ranks up there in my mind with the Arvizo family and LaToya.
Raven: While on this topic, you mention several other relationships-be they friends, business associates or others-whom Michael often had very precarious, rollercoaster relationships with. I was somewhat surprised-though not totally shocked-to find Elizabeth Taylor’s name included in that list. For the most part, we have been led to believe that theirs’ was an undying, unconditional true friendship. Michael himself said he could count his true friends on one hand-and counted Liz Taylor among them. I know that certainly among fans, there is a genuine desire to believe that he did, at least, have one true friend in his life that he could always count on. Yet I know there were some incidents that Frank Cascio related in his book that were a bit startling concerning Michael and Liz (apparently, for starters, they had an argument over a diamond necklace he had promised to give her as a kind of “incentive” for attending his 2001 New York concert with him) and there was also a disturbing quote I recall from Theresa Gonsalves’ book “Remember The Time” which seemed to indicate that certainly not all was rosy or as it always appeared to be with this friendship. I was wondering if you would be willing to provide a little more insight into what you may have heard regarding his relationship with Liz? (For the record, I do believe they were true friends to the end and that she genuinely cared about him, but perhaps as with all long-term relationships, they had their up’s and down’s).
Lisa: I agree that his relationship with Elizabeth Taylor was one of the closest in his life, and they held great affection for each other. That said, Michael did seem to have a tendency to sort of turn on people in his life at certain times though this was usually among the assorted managers and advisors around him. I have not heard of any big blow ups between them, but a sense of paranoia would overcome him and affect his mood. I think his loss completely devastated her. Just as with anyone, long term relationships can be a bit bumpy. I hate to think he needed to bribe his closest friend with jewels to attend his show. (I would have gone for free!) I also think that Elizabeth Taylor may have been one of very few people who could have possibly gotten through to him and helped him had she known what was going on with his extreme measures to solve his insomnia. Her influence certainly had a very strong positive effect on him when she stepped in to help him into rehab in 1993.
Raven: You mentioned there was a rumor that, after Moonwalk, Michael had planned to write a second book that would have been much more revealing-and scathing-concerning his relationship with his father-a book so revealing and honest, in fact, that Michael had agreed only to do it after his father’s death. Of course, sadly, Michael did not outlive his father, and obviously, this proposed book never came to be. First of all, I wanted to ask where/how you came to know about this proposed second book, and secondly, do you think parts of it may comprise the rumored manuscript that has been spoken of recently, which is said to be a 600-page memoir Michael was allegedly writing after his trial?
Lisa:I hope such a manuscript does exist and is published. I have been told by the estate that a book is planned, and I certainly hope this memoir is it. Talk about a must read! It will certainly be fascinating to see if it does in fact include a more in-depth look at the treatment he received at the hands of his father in his childhood and their resulting “strained” relationship. It would go a long way to understand further how that impacted the rest of his life. Any insight into his life, his state of mind following his trial, perhaps a peak at his life with his children, will be interesting to say the least. I have an insatiable thirst for new tidbits about him and especially anything coming from Michael himself.
Raven: For all that you manage to maintain a neutral perspective throughout most of the book, I couldn’t help but notice that you took quite a few potshots at Jermaine (some of them quite funny, actually). In general, what is your take on the brother dynamic between Michael and Jermaine? Why do you think there always seemed to be more friction between them than with Michael and his other brothers?
Lisa:The additional friction between Michael and Jermaine seems to stem at least in part from a place of bitter jealously on Jermaine’s part. He has said that he believes Michael’s meteoric rise to superstardom was due in large part to luck and timing – and could have just as easily been him! Does anyone anywhere really believe that?? He also seems to be the sibling (in addition to LaToya) who likes to pretend they were BFF’s with Michael when in fact Michael very purposely put distance between himself and his family especially later in his life. And don’t get me started on Jermaine’s “Word to the Badd”! When he couldn’t get Michael’s attention, he struck out at him in a very public, deliberate and hurtful way. Jermaine was also good at trying to drag Michael back into performing with the brothers for their sake. He seemed to believe if he made a public announcement of an album or tour, Michael would be somehow forced to participate. In early 2007 there was a statement made by Jermaine of yet another Jackson tour that would include Michael. Michael had to make a public statement to the contrary.
I think Michael and Jermaine were perhaps very close in the early days of the Jackson 5 and Jermaine likes to pretend that relationship endured into their adult years. When push comes to shove, I think they are all basically supportive of each other (if not for the sake of the cameras)– they showed that during his trial – but a struggle to get Michael’s attention – and financial support – always seemed to distance Michael from his siblings and especially so with Jermaine.
Raven: Another quality your book has been praised for is its no-nonsense approach to breaking down the Chandler and Arvizo cases. Again, while presenting “just the facts” with no embellishment, your book makes a strong and persuasive case for Michael’s innocence. The figure for the Chandler settlement, which you quote in the book as having come from “the most reliable sources” states the exact sum of the settlement as 22 million. This figure seems to make sense to me, given what we know of the settlement’s ballpark figure and how it was broken down. I have heard-as I know you have as well-of some ridiculous inflations of that figure. How did you come to the conclusion that it was 22 million?
Lisa:Presenting “just the facts” in both the Chandler and Arvizo cases leads the reader to the logical conclusion that there was absolutely no evidence and no corroboration (even within the Arvizo family) pointing toward the guilt of Michael Jackson. It shines a spotlight on how drastically different the actual facts of each case were from those presented by the media. I think it is probably very easy for the common observer to conclude he must have been guilty of something given all the negative coverage. In researching details of the settlement, sources that proved to be reliable in other areas were given more credibility over more sensational, tabloid sources. At the time of the settlement, I think you could literally read ten articles and get ten different figures. The most reliable pegged the dollar amount at $22 million with a breakdown of the amounts paid to each of the parents, and an amount put in a trust for Jordie. I think many other sources tend to round off to the amount paid to Jordie, the commonly heard $20 million figure.
Raven: You state something in the book that I have always believed as well, which is that while many believed Michael’s superstar status “got him off easy” of those charges, that actually just the opposite was true—it was his superstar status that made him a target, and subject to such intense scrutiny. For sure, the public lynching that resulted in the media was a direct result of his celebrity status. I also believe it is a given that the Chandler accusation, and subsequent settlement, is what set him up for the Arvizo’s accusations much later. Much has been written and speculated as to why the media was so quick to turn on Michael, and why the public campaign against him was so especially brutal, sadistic even. After all, there was a time when the public reaction to a beloved superstar being accused of such a heinous crime would have been much different. The media and the public would have wanted to believe only the best about this person, and would want to think that his accusers were lying. At the very least, I think there was a time when the media and the public would have been much more prone to practice “innocent until proven guilty” and to extend the benefit of doubt. What combination of factors do you attribute to the especially vindictive nature of Michael’s public lynching?
Lisa:Initially, with the Chandler case, the response of the public and the media was one of disbelief and the counter claims of extortion by Michael Jackson seemed to be given more credibility. This came to a quick halt– probably fueled by the blood thirsty and power hungry law enforcement officials handling the case. One of the primary factors contributing to the media’s lynching of Michael Jackson has to be the very nature of the accusations. Just being accused of such a heinous act somehow confirms guilt in some people’s minds. Why would anyone bring such charges if they weren’t true? Also, his well-known deep connection to children seemed to play against him here. It was suddenly seen in a new, reprehensible light. His Neverland Valley Ranch now seen not as an oasis for sick and deprived children, but a way to actually lure children. Many non-professionals, seemed to suddenly gain some clear insight that showed he “fit the profile” of a predator, a pedophile. It was sickening. If he had been accused of embezzlement from one of his charities, tax evasion, or even sexual misconduct with an adult female, the public and the media may have been more likely to take a different stance, one more of innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. With the Arvizo case, there was the added element of this being the second time he had been accused of such a heinous act. This combined with the memory that he settled the earlier case help support a stance that he must be guilty. Of course the core of hunt for Michael Jackson was the almighty dollar. Media outlets drooled over the prospect of covering the scandal, the trial and his predicted life in prison. There is some sort of fascination with seeing a highly public figure torn down, sort of like looking at a train wreck. And this sells, so the media sold it. As is borne out in the book, truth and facts played no role in the media’s coverage of this story. They were only out to continually build it into a bigger and bigger scandal to draw more viewers and readers.
Public support for Michael actually soared after his 1993 telecast in which he openly proclaimed his innocence; Campbell believes the turnabout had more to do with the “blood thirsty and power hungry law enforcement officials handling the case”:
Raven: For all of this, you also do an excellent job of pointing out in the book how public support for Michael-especially after his December 1993 telecast proclaiming his innocence-remained relatively strong and unshaken, with the People article you quote being especially revealing. This is interesting, since there are many cynics and doubters today who will say they agree the Arvizo case was a sham, but that their doubts stem from the somewhat murkier aspects of the Chandler case. But the public reaction at the time goes to prove something I have always felt, which was that it was the very public spectacle of the Arvizo case- that whole sordid trial, and the fact that it was a second set of allegations-that really cemented the notion of him as “guilty” for many. I know this was true of myself until I began to research the cases, and I am sure many felt the same way. I think what people saw in 1993/’94 was the very obvious anger and desire to fight that he had, whereas by the time of the Arvizo trial he had an air of seeming very defeated and beaten down-an easy mark. In your opinion, what do you make of the two cases when comparing them, and how each affected Michael insofar as: 1. His public image, and 2: His own personal health and overall well-being?
Lisa:I think this could be a great topic of a much more detailed analysis. As each case progressed, Michael seemed confident and ready to fight. During the trial however you can see him being steadily worn down. In the Chandler case, after authorities questioned young kids who visited the ranch, their family members, school mates, counselors, teachers and every name in an address book found in the raid on Neverland, they found nothing to substantiate the claims made by Jordie Chandler. There was NO evidence and NO corroborating witnesses. And this was the stronger of the two cases! I review the pros and cons of the settlement – at that time in Michael Jackson’s world- $22 million was a relatively small sum if he could put the ugly mess behind him and resume his career. His earning power exceeding the gross national product of some countries! However, the decision to settle this case certainly cemented the notation for some that he was guilty and very obviously more than tarnished his image. Given that, and given what would follow ten years later, it was clearly a mistake to settle. He always maintained that these allegations stemmed from the father, Evan Chandler, and did not want the experience to change his relationship with children, something he cherished. He was determined to not allow it to change him. This was another mistake as these circumstances clearly fed the Arvizo case when he would be betrayed by the very young man he had helped heal. The Chandler case took a toll on him physically and emotionally – increasing and strengthening his dependency on painkillers. In most respects, he did recover from the ordeal, and got on with his life – something that was less obvious following his trial. His public image was clearly tarnished following the Chandler debacle – some being convinced of his guilt, that he paid his way out of going to jail and they were unwillingly to educate themselves as to the facts of the case, instead joining in on making him into a punch line. The Arvizo case was in many respects much more serious than the Chandler case –even though the facts of the case were actually much weaker. This time charges were filed, he stood trial, and now had the futures of not only himself, but his three young children at risk. At the start of the proceedings, he seemed confident and appreciative of the support of his family and fans. As the trial dragged on, and more disgusting details were made public, he began to steadily weaken and you could see him dropping weight. It was heartbreaking to see him walk into court each day looking wounded and lost. The day of the verdicts he looked completely vacant and broken despite being fully acquitted. His life and those of his children were saved, albeit temporarily. I would like to think his time away from the U.S. with his children and his return to recording again and begin new projects breathed new life into him and that his last days on this earth were happy and peaceful. There is little question that if the Arvizo case never happened, circumstances of his life would have been dramatically different and he would still be here with us today.
Raven: One of the things I also enjoyed about your book is that you sometimes pull no punches being critical of Michael. The Diane Sawyer interview is a good case in point, where you are quite critical of some of the responses he gave. I know from my own experience as an MJ blogger that this kind of honesty is never really easy, as it involves a kind of detachment from the subject. As fans, we sometimes nevertheless have to distance ourselves and view certain aspects of Michael more critically and objectively, to understand things from a non-fan’s perspective. How difficult is that process for you, as someone who is both a fan and, by necessity, an objective biographer? What advice would you give to other wannabe MJ biographers who may find themselves straddling that difficult fence between admiration and objectivity?
Lisa:I don’t really see a fence between admiration and objectivity. I fully admit I love Michael and have admired him for decades. That doesn’t mean I can’t recognize when he made a blunder. His responses to Diane Sawyer’s questions were at times exasperating! During the “Living with Michael Jackson” special – when he was speaking of sharing his bed with others, I found myself shouting at my TV – “Stop Talking!! Stop Talking!!” It was frustrating to say the least that he hadn’t learned his lesson from the Chandler situation. However innocent and loving he knew his connection to children to be – it did not play that way in living rooms around the world.
In putting on my researcher hat (it is a black fedora!), I did have to try and take a more objective stance and concentrate on the facts. This was easier in some cases than others. But even in giving equal time to the prosecution side of the allegation cases against him, it served to show how weak each case was and how incredibly flawed and slanted the media coverage was. It helped illustrate that the information provided by the media barely resembled the real facts. I worked to keep my audience in mind and the objective of the project – to present a clear and comprehensive review of his life and career with all of the highs and the lows and the over arching indelible impression he left on this world.
Raven: You make some very good observations about the HIStory album, and the reaction it received from critics, as well as its commercial performance (of course, all of your breakdowns of each album are amazing in the sheer amount of detail, both for their content and commercial performances!). Much has been written about how the music press seemed to turn on Michael as his music became angrier and more political. You mention, for example, the controversy over “They Don’t Care About Us” in the U.S. and how, as a result, the single peaked at only #30. Do you think that by this point, there was a concerted effort being made to keep Michael’s music OFF the radio and thereby to diminish its potential impact? I personally think it’s no coincidence that the songs that became HIStory’s biggest hits in the U.S. were the relatively non-controversial “You Are Not Alone” and “Scream,” which even though anti-media, most of its lyrics were buried in a catchy chorus and most of the attention was focused on the novelty of its video. But powerful songs like “Earth Song,” “Stranger In Moscow” and “They Don’t Care About Us” had to find their markets overseas. What are some of your thoughts on this?
Lisa:I think the general consensus in the US at this time was one that leaned toward an anti -Michael Jackson slant, most likely due to lasting sentiment that he was at least weird, or worse, a criminal. New releases were not automatically granted high level airplay. “Scream” was an exception as you noted, given its very high profile video and the novelty of being his first and only duet with Janet. He was regularly attacked in the press for the angry songs on HIStory which was aggravating given the songs were in large part lashing out at the media who were so hell bent on destroying him! As a result his own country seemed to a certain degree turn its back on him and we missed out on gems like “Stranger In Moscow” and “They Don’t Care About Us”. The decision not to release “Earth Song” in the U.S. remains a mystery to me. Being one of his biggest hits in other parts of the world, it could have, and should have, easily been as big here. It is another powerful message that would have truly resonated with his audience. It seemed like a bad decision on Sony’s part though it was probably a casualty of the anti- Michael Jackson sentiment at the time.
Raven: In the chapter “2 Bad” an excellent point is made, via the letter from Epic regarding the now infamous “Jarvis Cocker” incident. It has always bothered me that so many applauded Cocker’s actions, seeing it only as an artistic response against Michael’s pompousness, while ignoring the fact that in the process of pulling this utterly tasteless stunt, this sicko was exposing himself to the children who were onstage with Michael at the time. Quoting from the Epic letter, regarding Michael’s own response to the incident: “His main concern is for the people that worked for him and the fact that children should be attacked.” If Michael himself had ever pulled such a tasteless and tacky stunt (not that he would have!) there would have been no end to the vilification he would have received for it. But a punk rocker does it, and it’s cool! (Note sarcasm). This brings up a very interesting point. Michael strikes a crucifix pose as part of an artistic performance, and is roundly criticized as an egomaniac. Jarvis Cocker pulls down his pants, exposes his bum and testicles to a group of children onstage (not to mention the tastelessness of interrupting an artist’s performance) and is lauded as a hero by many. There always seems to have been this whole double standard at play when it came to Michael vs. other artists (i.e, what they could do and get away with) as opposed to Michael. Thoughts on this?
Lisa:Just the thought of Michael doing anything close to this tasteless brings a smile to my lips as it is just so unthinkable. As we know, he always conducted himself with the utmost respect for others and was the ultimate professional. I have to admit that I have given little thought to this whole ordeal because I just think so little of the person involved. There is never a reason to treat any fellow artist like this – and it is worse that he chose to do such a tasteless and offensive act with children on stage. It is of course not cool what he did and he does not deserve any further attention for it. He just doesn’t matter. You are correct though that if Michael pulled any such stunt it would have been replayed and replayed by the media forever – much like the “baby dangling” incident and showing up to court in pajama pants. Anyway this joker earned a spot on “my list” – individuals and companies I refuse to support who was ever disrespectful of Michael or those who worked to tear him down. Certainly our favorite Santa Barbara District Attorney heads the list. But it is shared by, for various, and I admit sometimes juvenile reasons, Cher (she washed her hands of Michael following the “baby dangling” incident – so I washed my hands of her), Pepsi, Jay Leno (continued to make MJ a part of his nightly monologue despite knowing personally that the Arvizo family were nothing more than money hungry conscious-free con-artists,) and anyone who spoke out against him in either the Chandler or Arvizo cases.. Michael’s capacity for forgiveness far exceeds mine, I tend to hold grudges.
Raven: Speaking of famous performances, your book also answers another burning question often asked regarding the Wembley concert and Michael’s performance of “Dirty Diana.” You mentioned that it was actually Prince Charles who had requested that the song not be performed, and that Diana secretly told him she wanted it performed “like you’ve never sung it before.” Where did you hear that this request had been made specifically by Prince Charles?
Lisa: I came across this in a couple of different sources, I also believe it was a story on an entertainment news program at the time, probably Entertainment Tonight. I love the idea of Princess Diana making this request though. She was quite a fan of his and it turns out, vise versa. Supposedly Michael had a romantic interest in the Princess following her divorce. They would have made an interesting couple! He was of course deeply affected by her tragic loss.
Raven: One very searing accusation your book makes is that Sony/Tommy Mottola deliberately sabotaged the “What More Can I Give” single, fearing its release would detract from the Invincible singles. It seems mind boggling-though certainly not shocking!-that Sony would deliberately sabotage a charity single intended to raise millions for victims of 9/11. At the same time, however, this would seem to contradict accusations that the record company was intentionally sabotaging the success of Invincible. What are your thoughts on this?
Lisa: Fearing the charity single may detract from Invincible could have been a convenient excuse publically for Sony. There are schools of thought that (and I am not sure I fully buy this) that at this time the war between Sony and Michael was heating up to a degree whereby they were willing to sabotage their own artist’s record sales. It is not clear to me how much of this is fact and how much may have been borne from some level of paranoia on Michael’s part. Sony paid a staggering $30 million to produce Invincible and an effort to then deliberately sabotage the record seems irrational unless you subscribe to the theory that they were working to force Michael into a financial situation whereby he would be forced to sell some or all of his remaining share of the prized ATV/Sony music catalog. Michael was said to be long fearful of losing control of the catalog. I am relieved that never came to be and it is my hope the trustees continue to hold this incredibly valuable asset in his estate. Whatever the details of the behind the scenes goings on, the losers in the whole thing were the fans. We were robbed of some great singles, short films and performances.
Raven: Something that struck me as I was finishing your book is that the entire post-mortem section alone comprises over nine chapters (excluding the afterword) and over 140 pages! I don’t know of any other celebrity whose entire post-mortem legacy and career has taken on such a enormous life all its own. Reading those particular chapters was, for me, like reliving all of the events of the past three and a half years all over again, from those early days of shock to the feverish anticipation of This Is It, from the anguish of the whole death investigation to the triumphant day the “Guilty” verdict came down for Conrad Murray, from the controversy of the “Michael” album to the glory of The Immortal World Tour, and everything that has happened in between. All of it has served to remind me that for many of Michael’s fans, our journey did not end on June 25th, 2009, but was only just beginning. As a global family and community, we have been through a lot in the last three and a half years. One of the things I truly love about your book is its full acknowledgement that Michael’s life did not end on June 25th, 2009-only the physical embodiment of it. His journey, his legacy, as well as our continued discovery of him, is perpetually ongoing. Do you think that this book will be your definitive and final say on Michael Jackson, or do you see the possibility of more books and more projects in the future?
Lisa:One of the ways in which my book is differentiated from most others is that the story does not end on June 25th 2009. I love your phrasing, “our journey did not end on June 25th 2009”. I do not feel the journey ended on that tragic day and I think fans feel the same way. Clearly his legacy will not only continue, but will grow as new generations come to know him. His incredible artistry will continue to inspire performers for years to come. He leaves this world with three children who seem committed to continuing his humanitarian and charitable efforts, and millions of fans who have been inspired to also follow in his footsteps. The efforts being undertaken in his name and in his memory are heartfelt and touching: planting a million trees in his name, and continuing efforts to one day fund and create the Michael Jackson Children’s Hospital. I have no doubt he is beaming with pride.
At this time I feel I have completed the task of chronicling the life of this incredible human being. I do have an idea for a different type of project that is slowly taking shape. I would also really, really love to be part of a Michael Jackson museum, I am very interested in being a part of efforts to honor his memory and continue his legacy and will continuously work to do so.
Raven: Lastly, what are some of your thoughts on the upcoming AEG trial? I suppose another logical question, feeding off the previous, would be do you plan any sort of revised edition of Michael Jackson: The Complete Story of the King of Pop, pending the outcome of this trial?
Lisa:The recent release of the “smoking gun” emails in the AEG case certainly make it even more interesting and I will be paying rapt attention as it progresses. There does seem to be some credence to the claims that Michael was being pressured and pushed by those around him, AEG included, to perform. Dr. Murray was perhaps subjected to similar pressure from AEG. I am not sure they had first hand knowledge of the extreme measures Dr. Murray was taking to make that happen. Nobody pushed themselves harder or put more pressure on themselves that did Michael himself. Was that already intolerable pressure put into overdrive by AEG? I think it very possible. To me, Dr. Murray is most directly responsible for Michael’s death and he has been tried and convicted. While his sentence, to me, is a cake walk, he has been convicted and hopefully, as a convicted felon, will never be able to practice medicine again. Any further culpability on the part of AEG should also be examined. I do not have plans at this time to do a revised edition of Michael Jackson: The Complete Story of the King of Pop. I feel I paid tribute to him and his legacy and the notations made regarding the suit against AEG are, for this project, sufficient. That is not to say the outcome of the trial is not significant. Any culpability on AEG’s part should result in a judgement against them. I would like to see any money paid in settlement used by his family to further one of the causes close to his heart.
Raven:Thank you, Lisa, for agreeing to do this interview, and thanks in advance for agreeing to give of your time in answering these questions. I know my readers have been looking forward to this for some time!
Lisa:Thank you for the opportunity. I am happy to be a part of your effort in paying tribute to Michael Jackson. I hope readers will enjoy it and maybe even learn a new MJ fact or two! My work has been so well received by fans and I am very appreciative of all of their support. Many have contacted me that still remember me from my first two books, that was quite a pleasant surprise. Thanks again, Lisa.