Category Archives: MJ And Other Artists

Blurring The Lines: The Michael and Prince Saga (Reprinted From Allforloveblog Jan 2011 With An All-New Introduction and Conclusion)

13043347_1179399478777502_4582345209130623983_nBack in early 2011, I ran a two-part series on the saga of the “MJ vs. Prince” rivalry. With Prince’s recent death having ignited, again, a lot of those comparisons (in both good and negative ways) it seemed an appropriate time to re-visit the series. I have now combined both parts into one post, as well as revising and updating much of the original content. At the time, I wanted to cut through a lot of the myths of the “who is better” question which has always been (and remains) more of a media-fueled competition than anything. But in so doing, it still begs a lot of questions as to why and how those comparisons even began and, perhaps more importantly, what it says about how we continue to view the black male artist.

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To be sure, the music world has always been rife with these kinds of competitions, going all the way back to the 1950’s when people debated who truly deserved the “King of Rock’n’Roll” title-Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry or Little Richard? It continued through the 60’s as fans debated the virtues of the poppy Beatles over the darkness of The Rolling Stones. But in the 1980’s when Michael Jackson and Prince became the two biggest selling male artists of the decade, race became a factor in a way that we had never seen before.

princeonbike

The stakes had changed completely. No longer was this a competition between white and black, or between two British groups of similar working class backgrounds who, expanding upon the blues tradition they both shared, then took very divergent musical paths. This was a case of two black men arising out of humble beginnings in midwestern America-both of the same generation, born the same summer-to completely change the face of the pop music scene, and along with it, to challenge all of the rules and expectations about what a black man’s “place” in the music industry was expected to be. And while it may be true that artists like James Brown had blazed that trail long before either Michael or Prince, the level of commercial crossover success that his prodigies Michael and Prince achieved twenty years later is something that even The Godfather of Soul could never have fathomed. But therein may lie one of the biggest fundamental differences between the two. While both were apt pupils in the school of James Brown and Jackie Wilson, it may be argued that Michael remained truer to those roots, whereas Prince, early on, was more often touted as “The Second Coming of Jimi Hendrix”-an exotic, flashy black man on guitar who shared Hendrix’s fascination with apocalyptic, astral themes.

with james brown
While Both Artists Obviously Came From The School of James Brown, It Could Be Argued That MJ Remained Truest To Those Roots…

Nevertheless, when the Purple Rain soundtrack became the only album in the mid 1980’s big enough to take on the phenomenal success of Thriller (and when it began to look as if it was going to be a virtual toss-up of whose posters graced the most bedroom walls of every white teenage girl in America) the media couldn’t resist-and the “rivalry” was born.

prince_l
…Prince Often Seemed More Like The Reincarnation Of Jimi Hendrix

 

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I was of the same generation as Michael and Prince. Of course, this meant that just as with any kid of my generation, I had grown up with The Jackson 5. But Michael’s adult solo career, coinciding just as Prince’s career was taking off, also coincided with my own coming of age. As a young adult, I loved the music of both Prince and Michael Jackson, but like a lot of young people of the era, my preferences and loyalty for one or the other tended to vascillate, depending on whatever stage I was in at the moment. Early on, I had loved Michael’s funky grooves. But by the mid 80’s, as I entered my rebellious “headbanger” stage, Prince seemed more my poison of preference. He seemed harder edged, and his more “out there” avant garde style suited my dark mood at the time. Indeed, looking back on it now, it seems much of the “who is better” rivalry has its roots in what was then a very “rockism”-born agenda to tear down Michael Jackson’s success. And what better way could that be accomplished than pitting his popularity against another black artist who seemed to have more “rock” credibility?

agsdgTo be sure, both men were well aware of how they were being pitted against each other. Their rivalry was never personal; both men made it very clear through the years that their respect for one another was genuine and enormous. They were never exactly “best buds” but their paths in life did cross often; they hung out together on a number of occasions, shot baskets together at Paisley Park; even played a competitive ping pong match for the affections of Sherilyn Fenn. Nevertheless, to some degree the competition did play into their respective egos. 7afb4e57d407eef06f66ea00aae15c7d

Like all successful artists, both had a keenly competitive streak. They were both driven perfectionists who kept close watch on every innovative career move the other made, like two calculating players at chess, each watching for the chance to call “checkmate” on the other. It was not malicious in nature; rather, it came from a deep welled, instinctive drive for survival in what they both recognized as a cutthroat business. More to the point, though, each inspired the other to dig deeper and to work harder. When thinking back to the famous literary rivalry between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, it has been said that “they each envied in the other what they didn’t have in themselves.” In the case of Michael and Prince, it seemed more a case of each envying-and perhaps even fearing-what they both saw in themselves when they looked at each other.  It may be argued quite fairly that Michael’s “toughened up” harder image of the “Bad” era owed much to Prince, but what is most interesting is how their lives and career trajectories seemed to travel very parallel paths, but in opposite directions-for example, how Michael who had been raised as a very devout Jehovah’s Witness and had purposely maintained a squeaky clean image and stage persona, broke away from the faith and began to go for a more “bad boy” image just as Prince-formerly the “dirty boy” of the two-was entering a much more spiritual stage and cleaning up his image.  Throughout the 90’s, as Michael Jackson seemed to be sowing many of the wild oats he had not given himself permission to sow in the previous decade, Prince was settling into the path that would eventually culminate in his conversion to the same faith that Michael had rejected. In short, he was becoming more of a prophet and less of a boy toy for “Darling Nikki.”

Michael Jackson and Prince both had a major hand in pushing the envelope of what defined a male black pop artist, with hits that blurred the lines between pop, hard rock, and funk. They were both innovators in the field of video (though I think few would argue that Michael has the edge there), both became respected legends with numerous music awards, both fought their own corporate battles against the record industry, endured similar personal tragedies, and sought spiritual answers-even embracing the same religion, though at different times in their lives. They have both been subject to media scrutiny regarding their sexuality and sometimes gender-fluid appeal. In both cases, their untimely and unexpected deaths ignited a global outpouring of shocked grief and affectionate nostalgia that, just as quickly, became marred by ghoulish media sensationalism.

What exactly was the essence of their appeal? Maybe it was the comeuppance for all those years that pretty white boys like Elvis Presley got to steal the music and corner the market, while managing to get all the girls, and of course it was all perfectly “safe” since guys like Elvis were sanitized, white…and “safe.”

But for all their commonality, it was their differences that really fueled the fire of the “rivalry.” Although I will argue that their differences were perhaps not as pronounced as many think, and in some cases complete myths (such as the incorrect assumption some Prince fans have that Michael didn’t write his own music or play instruments) we can’t ignore the fact that their differences are what eventually compelled most fans to choose allegiances, depending on personal tastes and preference.

MICHAEL IN THE EARLY 80’S WAS THE CUTE, CLEANCUT BOY NEXT DOOR

PRINCE WAS THE DIRTY BOY YOU MET IN A BACK ALLEYWAY AND DIDN’T DARE TELL MAMA ABOUT. BUT….

Early on, Michael came across as more of a cleancut, Disney-esque personae. Even though early videos like Billie Jean and Beat It made it evident that he had definitely sexed up and toughened up his Jackson 5 image, it still never felt dirty. Even when his music rocked out, it still maintained a pop sheen. Prince, by contrast, came across as much edgier, more like an updated Jimi Hendrix than a pop artist. He played electric guitar. He sang dirty, raunchy lyrics-and what’s more, he gave the appearance of really meaning them!

…ALL OF THAT WAS ALL ABOUT TO CHANGE!

…AND HOW!

In short, despite all their elements in common, they seemed-at least deceptively, at first-to be polar opposites. In the mid 80′s, the lines seemed very clearly drawn. Michael Jackson was like a one-man version of The Beatles-poppy, polished, clean and happy. Prince was like the one-man version of The Rolling Stones-dark, dirty, a bit dangerous and full of angst.

Or in other words, if you asked most girls in the 80′s which guy they would bring home to meet their mothers, the answer most certainly would have been Michael Jackson. Prince was more like the dirty boy you met up with in a backalley and didn’t dare tell anyone.

But it wouldn’t take long for those clearly drawn lines to blur considerably.

Just as The Beatles gradually became darker and more angst-ridden as the 60′s progressed, so, too, did Michael eventually become a darker, angrier, and more sexual persona. By the same token, as Prince became more spiritual in his personal life, he reinvented himself onstage to become more of a prophet than a boy toy for Darling Nikki.

As far as arguing “who is better” I think that is really a moot point that doesn’t interest me. Both have a legacy that is untouchable. Both have proven their mettle by the sheer number of awards won between them and their respective record sales. Between them, they have both written some of the most enduring pop classics of the past thirty years. If it’s true that Prince played more instruments than Michael and was better at it, it is equally true that Michael Jackson’s dance talent alone put him in an entirely different stratosphere. Nevertheless, contrary to the popular myth perpetuated by many Prince fans, Michael Jackson did play instruments. He was quite competent on piano and guitar, and in fact, the posthumously released track “Don’t Be Messin’ Around” prominently features Michael playing piano. True, he did not consider himself a “musician’s musician” in the technical sense; he was very honest in appraising his own talents in that regard, which he recognized to be fair but nothing special. However, what Michael did possess was an uncanny ability to compose entire arrangements which would come to him completely intact in his head, and for which he could famously beat box into a recorder, noting the sound of every single instrument and where it was supposed to go.

As songwriters, one of the common myths is that Prince was more prolific. However, this isn’t true, either. Both Michael and Prince have been two of the most prolific songwriters of our generation. It has often been said that Michael wrote literally hundreds of songs for every album he did.  The only reason it appears that Prince was the more productive of the two is because many more of his songs were released, either on his albums or covered by other artists,  whereas Michael, being the picky perfectionist that he was, tended to hold back more, often sitting on songs for years if  he didn’t feel they were up to his standards. And both would receive arguably the same amount of criticism, from many of the same factions, as they each evolved with less danceable, funky grooves and more socially conscious work.

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Few Would Dispute That Prince Was A Musician’s Musician. Here Is One Of His Best Guitar Performances, From The 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards:

But Michael Was No Slouch, Either. Check Out His Bossa Nova Style Piano Playing On “Don’t Be Messin’ Around”:

 

Birth and Family Names:

Prince Roger Nelson and Michael Joseph Jackson both entered the world during the summer of 1958. Baby Prince arrived just a little over two months before Michael, on June 7, 1958 (Michael would arrive August 29th). Interestingly enough, Madonna would complete the trilogy of Future 80′s Superstars Born During the Summer of ’58, arriving just a few weeks before Michael on August 16th. Both Michael and Prince made their auspicious debuts in midwestern America. Unlike Michael, Prince came from a relatively small family of only two siblings, himself and a younger sister. Michael would begin working by age five; Prince would not become a star until adulthood. However, they both displayed amazing aptitude and talent at very young ages, and both had fathers with musical backgrounds. Joe Jackson played guitar in a local group called The Falcons. Prince’s father, John Nelson, performed in a jazz group called the Prince Rogers Trio. Both were pushed into musical careers more by their fathers than their mothers. Of course, we all know the story of how Joe Jackson pushed his sons into becoming the phenomenal Jackson 5. Likewise, Prince’s father was quoted as saying, “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_(musician)

The somewhat unique first name that John Nelson chose for his son was also a name that had been handed down for years in Michael’s own family, on his maternal side. Prince Albert Screws (later changed to Scruse), Michael’s maternal grandfather, bore the name, as did his father before him. Although Michael himself would be given the common name of “Michael,” he retained the tradition with the birth of his own sons, who would carry on their great-grandfather’s name.

Two different families; three different generations of Prince!

MICHAEL JACKSON’S MATERNAL GRANDFATHER, PRINCE ALBERT SCRUSE

PRINCE ROGER NELSON

 

MICHAEL JACKSON’S SONS, PRINCE MICHAEL AND PRINCE MICHAEL II (AKA BLANKET)

And…you want a REAL Twilight Zone moment? Prince’s mother’s maiden name was Mattie Shaw. Michael Jackson’s maternal grandmother bore the very similar name of  Martha (Mattie) Upshaw!

In Touch With A Higher Power:

Both Michael and Prince displayed at a very young age an indication that they were extra sensitive children with an ability to tap into a spirituality far beyond their years. Before Michael was even ten years old, he would cry at the images of starving children on TV, and told his mother that when he got big enough, he would help all the children of the world (and he did just that!). Prince was said to have been born with epilepsy. But at a very young age, the seizures mysteriously vanished. Later, he would recount in an interview an incident that occurred before he was even old enough to remember.

“My mother told me once day I walked up to her and said, ‘Mom, I’m not going to be sick anymore,’ and she said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘Because an angel told me so.’”

http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20275184,00.html

Awards And Accolades:

There’s no doubt, as far as music awards go, that Michael won more. Michael Jackson has 18 Grammys to Prince’s 7, and additionally, 26 AMA awards (as compared to Prince’s 4 wins), 40 Billboard awards, and 13 World Music Awards. In all, Michael’s number of awards won totals an impressive, whopping 387!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_awards_received_by_Michael_Jackson

However, Prince did win the one award that would elude Michael Jackson throughout his life-the Academy Award! (For Purple Rain as Best Original Song in 1985).

A bit of trivia: What is the one award they both won, and the same number of times? Answer: The Golden Globe Award. They each won once, Michael for Ben in 1971, and Prince for “The Song of the Heart”, from the movie “Happy Feet,” in 2007.

For a complete list of all awards that Prince has won or been nominated for:

http://www.aceshowbiz.com/celebrity/prince/awards.html

The Curse of “The Big One”:

Where do you go once your own album has been not only the biggest selling album of the decade (in Michael’s case, of all time) but one of its two most iconic albums of the decade? For Michael and Prince, living up to Thriller and Purple Rain would be the two biggest challenges of their respective careers. For both, every subsequent album would be held up to these two. Although in my opinion, they both went on to better work, their commercial success-or lack thereof-would always be gauged by these two albums-the albums that both defined, and ultimately, confined them.

The Girls In The Band:

Female guitarists were still a novelty in the early 80′s, when Prince hired Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin to be part of The Revolution. Never one to be outdone by Prince, Michael’s answer was the blonde bombshell Jennifer Batten.  In both cases, these very talented and independent female guitarists allowed themselves, to some extent, to be “molded over” into the fantasies of their respective male leaders. Although it’s never been expressly stated that Michael was trying purposely to keep up with Prince, Jennifer Batten herself said when I attended her Q&A session at the Fanvention in 2010 that Michael had a very specific image in his mind for what he wanted in a girl guitarist-and she, the mousy little gal with the glasses and brown hair, was made over in that image! While Wendy and Lisa played on every man’s lesbian fantasy, Jennifer offered up her own somewhat gender bending contrast to Michael’s male energy, as the Nordic rock goddess with chops of steel!

WENDY AND LISA

JENNIFER BATTEN

 

Madonna:

Prince performed a duet with Madonna on her 1989 album Like a Prayer and played guitar on several tracks, including the title track. It is unknown if he became a Madonna Boy Toy although I’m sure Miss “Express Yourself” at least gave it her best shot, if I know her!

DID MADONNA MAKE A BOY TOY OF MICHAEL? WELL, WE KNOW SHE WAS DEFINITELY GIVING IT HER COLLEGE ALL!

Michael and Madonna had planned to shoot “In The Closet” together, but ultimately, disagreed over Madonna’s gender-bending concept for the video . As to whether she ever succeeded in making Michael her Boy Toy, it is unknown  although she did confess at one point they were “sucking face.”

Dirty Diana vs. Darling Nikki:

As if it wasn’t enough that they were already considered rivals in every respect, they each even came equipped with their own respectively immortalized groupies! While Prince’s “Darling Nikki’s” sexcapade antics  may have sent Tipper Gore into a frenzy, and expedited the formation of the PMRC and those “Explicit Warning” stickers we still have even today, Michael’s “Dirty Diana” was a whole other brand of Medusa, an ambitious, soulless,  siren of a groupie who could literally lure a man to his ruination. While Darling Nikki was masturbating with magazines (a relatively healthy and harmless pursuit), Dirty Diana was on the phone telling your wife “he’s sleeping with me”  and plotting your demise!

For this round, at least, we have to give it to Michael. Darling Nikki might show you a really good time, but Dirty Diana would strip your flesh bare, eat you alive for breakfast, and pick her teeth with the leftover bones! Dirty Diana lived up to her name, and played far dirtier than Nikki ever could!

But their two most well-known groupies also reflect something very fundamental about the way both performers (at this stage of their careers) viewed women and sex. Prince had adopted the stereotypical, macho rock ‘n’roll personae which basically states that all women are playthings to be enjoyed in their own good time. Michael’s approach, as so often in his 80′s songs about women and sex, is the moralistic, cautionary tale approach. In other words: Lust comes with a heavy price, and moral consequences.

At the end of the Dirty Diana video, Michael opens the limo door to find HER there, in the backseat, waiting. The sudden, discordant, ominous note; the look on his face, says it all. Interestingly enough, an online reviewer analyzing this video’s criteria for the “Ten Things Every 80′s Video Must Have” noted how Michael did NOT look happy to find Dirty Diana in his backseat. The implication seemed to be that here was one more bit of evidence that Michael Jackson was asexual or didn’t like girls. To that person, I would highly suggest going back and watching the video again, and really paying attention to the MESSAGE! The reason his character does not look happy in that moment is because he knows he  has just walked into the trap, and that his soul’s been had!

Which perhaps leads me to my next category:

Love, Sex, and Witnessing For Jehovah:

The greatest parallel in the lives of Prince and Michael Jackson cannot be underestimated: They have both served as devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, though not at the same time. In fact, it’s very interesting that Prince actually became a Jehovah’s Witness long after Michael had broken away from the church. Michael had been raised as a JW from an early age, and throughout most of his young adult life, was a devout believer and follower. Prince, on the other hand, who had been raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist, converted to the JW faith in 2001.

From: Sean O’Hagan, “Royal Blush”, published in The Observer, 4 April 2004 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,11710,1186112,00.html; viewed 15 November 2005):

Given all that has happened, then, it is perhaps unsurprising that, like many pioneering black artists before him, Prince has sought solace in the church. Though he was brought up as a practising Seventh Day Adventist he has recently, like Michael Jackson before him, become a Jehovah’s Witness.The story of his conversion broke in typically surreal fashion last October, when a newspaper in his hometown reported how a married couple had answered their door to find Prince proffering a copy of the Watchtower. Though they were orthodox Jews, and it was Yom Kippur, they were also Prince fans. They welcomed him into the house where, with his friend Larry Graham, erstwhile member of Sly & theFamily Stone, one of Prince’s core influences, he spread the word of Jehovah for 20 minutes before moving on to the next house.

Although he has always spoken openly about his religious beliefs – ‘The Cross’ from Sign ‘O’ the Times was a veritable hymn – and his conversion had been signalled in retrospect by his recent album The Rainbow Children, which can now be read as a paean to his new-found faith, the media viewed his outing as further confirmation that Prince was now second only to Michael Jackson in the pop oddball stakes.

What this means in terms of his musical direction is probably of interest to none but the most diehard of Prince fans. The rest of us, many of whom anticipated Prince’s Eighties releases with the kind of excitement that only attends the work of the truly gifted, now look forward to the release of yet another Prince album with a mixture of resignation and wishful thinking.

‘You hope against hope for him to come back and cut it like he used to,’ says DJ Norman Jay, a man who played at several Prince parties in the Eighties, ‘but with every hyped record that turns out to be just another Prince album, that hope diminishes. He’s the classic illustration of the old A&R adage that if you give an artist total creative control, you’ll destroy them. He’s been allowed to release far too much stuff, and he’s probably surrounded himself with people who are all telling him everything he touches is great. That’s a recipe for pure self-indulgence even – especially – where genius is concerned.’

http://www.adherents.com/people/pp/Prince.html

It’s interesting to note the overall, sarcastic  tone of this article (aside from the “second to Michael Jackson in the pop oddball stakes”).  It’s the same sort of “criticism” that would befall Michael as he attempted to broaden and evolve his artistry in the 90′s and beyond. In the case of Michael and Prince, they would both be criticized for the rest of their careers for daring to stray away from being happy “song and dance” men. However, the reasons for their artistic evolvement were, I think,  fundamentally polar opposites.

For Michael, the break from his childhood religion probably gave him more personal and artistic freedom than he had ever known, but at a heavy price. That price was the floundering, doubt, and insecurity that came from letting go of the firmest anchor he had known-his faith. For years afterward, he would be torn by feelings of guilt over that decision, although  in his later years it was rumored that he found peace in traditional Christianity.

The upside was that the break finally freed him of many of the restraints that had held him back. As he became more liberated sexually in his personal life, this was also reflected in a newfound maturity and freedom in his art. He could finally explore many of the themes he had always wanted to, without fear of censor or being de-fellowshipped. His onstage and video personae became more sexual, ironically, just as former “Bad Boy” Prince was becoming more evangelical and “cleaning up” his image.

For someone who had always expressed a fascination with apocalyptic imagery in his work, Prince’s newfound religious  zeal seemed cemented with albums like Sign O’ The Times.  (Not to mention, I heard he alienated much of his female following by his insistence that the missionary position is the only sanctified sexual position for a man and woman, but that’s an old story and I haven’t been able to find anything that verifies it). This is a quote from a very bitter website that seems to be authored by a frustrated ex-fan (and I will apologize to Prince fans for using this as a source of reference; however, perhaps it’s fitting that as a study in the parallels between the two, we can also note how they have both been subjected to this level of scrutiny):

Quoted from The G Spot, November 8, 2010

“That’s the saddest thing of all – Prince lost his mojo by being lame and getting scared of death and dying.”

http://www.dannyhaszard.com/prince.htm

This reminds me very much of the same type of criticism that has been heaped upon Michael Jackson for taking on themes such as the media and his persecution.

In short, as both artists began to explore more personal and global themes, they became criticized for self-indulgence and egotism.

Which also brings us to another element in common: Both of them had songs featuring apocalyptic visions, since it could be argued that Michael’s “Earth Song” was the environmental equivalent of “Sign O’ The Times”, reflecting the prophecy of the Earth Changes as much as Prince’s song reflected the global crisis of humanity.

As for personal relationships, despite both being linked to a string of high profile celebrity relationships, they have shared through the years an almost identical reticence when it comes to the press and doing interviews. Both were married and divorced twice. Michael was married to Lisa Marie Presley in 1994, and divorced in 1996; and Debbie Rowe, married  in 1996, and divorced in 1999. Prince was married to Mayte Garcia in 1996, and divorced in 1999 (ironically, their marriage began and ended exactly the same time as Michael and Debbie’s), then married Manuela Tesolini in 2001. They divorced in 2006.

THE SOMEWHAT ANDROGYNOUS SEX APPEAL OF BOTH HAS LED TO THE INEVITABLE SPECULATIONS REGARDING THEIR SEXUALITY

 

First Child and Tragedy:

Sadly,  Michael and Prince share something else in common. They both lost their first child-within the same year! Debbie Rowe suffered a miscarriage in early 1996 and lost the baby that would have been her first child by Michael (Michael’s son Prince would be conceived later that year, on the couple’s second try). I found a really nice video where Debbie Rowe talks about the miscarriage (a subject she has rarely spoken out about) but, unfortunately, embedding for this video has been disabled. However, you can watch it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWJPUh1CgXI

DEBBIE AND MICHAEL LOST THEIR FIRST BABY, A LITTLE PUBLICIZED FACT

Meanwhile, Prince’s son by Mayte Garcia-Boy Gregory- was born the same year, but died of  Pfeiffer syndrome after only one week.

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,295564,00.html

Independent attempts to verify the child’s birth and death proved difficult. A birth certificate wasn’t filed with state authorities until Dec. 6. But while Garcia was listed as the mother, ”Father’s name” read, ”Mother refused information.”

Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Star Tribune tracked down what it believes to be the baby’s death certificate, filed Nov. 4. It states that a ”Boy Gregory,” born Oct. 16, died Oct. 23 of the extremely rare Pfeiffer syndrome type 2 — a condition in which the skull’s bones fuse together, causing pressure on the brain.According to the certificate, the death occurred at Children’s Health Care Minneapolis, which is affiliated with the hospital where the child was born, and was followed by cremation. The mother’s name is listed as ”Mia Gregory,” the same initials as Mayte Garcia.

At press time, local officials were investigating whether the death certificate was filed under a false name — a misdemeanor in Minnesota. A source at EMI, Prince’s new label, says execs have urged the singer to make a statement, but nothing has materialized.

While Prince’s lawyer, Londell McMillan, maintains that the artist ”expects extraordinary privacy,” one unguarded moment can be found on Emancipation. On the song ”Sex in the Summer” (originally titled ”Conception”), Prince included a recording of his then-unborn child’s heartbeat.

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PRINCE AND MAYTE GARCIA WOULD ALSO KNOW THE PAIN OF LOSING A CHILD. THEIR SON BOY GREGORY DIED JUST ONE WEEK AFTER BIRTH

In a situation like this, it would be pointless to argue which is more tragic. For Prince, who at least got to see his baby son and hold him in his arms, the loss must have surely been devastating. But knowing how desperately Michael wanted a child by 1996, Debbie’s miscarriage must have been every bit as traumatic. Losing a child is still losing a child, and if one has any doubt, one need only ask a parent who has just been delivered the news of a miscarriage. I don’t know about fathers, but I know for mothers a miscarriage is often a scarring emotional trauma that never heals. For a sensitive father like Michael, I’m sure he probably took the loss as hard as Debbie, if not moreso.

And reading the EW article, one can surely sympthaize with Prince as he had to attempt to hide the very personal and painful details of his son’s death from that nosy, probing cow Oprah Winfrey!

Famous Feuds:

As was alluded to just a few days ago in “The Invincible Saga,” Michael and Prince were both known for their notorious and very public battles with their record labels.  Michael’s battles with Sony are well known to fans

However, Prince had already blazed that trail almost a decade before, in his epic battle with Warner Brothers over his creative output and control of his name. In 1993, he famously appeared in public with the word “slave” written on his cheek, and then changed his name to an unpronouncable symbol:

“The first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros… I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name. The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about. This symbol is present in my work over the years; it is a concept that has evolved from my frustration; it is who I am. It is my name.”-Prince

Recent articles since Prince’s death have now tried to put a completely different spin on his battle with Warner Brothers, labeling it-in at least two articles I have seen-as Prince’s “heroic stand against the music industry.” They tend to forget that, at the time, the same media was treating him like a deranged lunatic for this stand, just as they would do to Michael a decade later. Michael’s own vindication would come almost another decade later, when the infamous Sony hacking and leaking of emails revealed much of what he told us in 2002 to be true. Eventually, Prince would regain his publishing rights from Warner Brothers. Michael, of course, maintained control of his Sony/ATV catalog-the catalog that made him one of the wealthiest and most powerful players in the industry-until the end of his life and beyond. However, for both Michael and Prince, this is a part of their legacy that is far from over. Only last month, MJ fans were shocked and outraged to learn that the estate would be relinquishing ownership of the catalog back to Sony.

And already the conspiracy stories have begun that are questioning the timing of Prince’s death after having regained his publishing rights from Warner Brothers.  And while the media had a virtual field day speculating on the status of Michael’s finances at the time of his death, it is starting to appear that Prince’s financial straits may have been even more dire. With no apparent will, his heirs are going to be in for a tough battle to maintain his assets.

Business Moguls:

But let’s not let these issues cloud our judgment of what they accomplished as business moguls. Both  were not only the most successful male black solo artists of the decade-or the most successful, period, for that matter, regardless of race-but also highly successful business moguls who shook things up in a heretefore white-dominated industry. With the possible exception of Berry Gordy, there had been few black entrepreneurs in the music industry who had successfully managed their own labels and companies. In 1985, Prince launched his own label, Paisley Park Records, with the support of Warner Brothers. Acts such as Sheile E., The Time and George Clinton would be among the biggest names on the label. In 1994, incensed by Prince’s public feud with the label, Warner Bothers retaliated by pulling distribution of the label. However, Prince would go on to launch another label, NPG Records.

Michael Jackson, of course, became one of the richest and most powerful men in the music business with the successful acquisition of the ATV catalog in 1985, and then later as co-owner of Sony/ATV publishing. Michael Jackson was also founder of his own production company, MJJ Productions, which later became Michael Jackson Co. LLC, and now MJJ Productions, LLC  and Inc.

They both served as models of  black artists who could not only be  successful , but could also take control of their success. Unfortunately, however, as both would learn the hard way,  they were still very much commodities of the corporate entities that controlled them-and who would fight tooth and nail to see to it that they remained “in their place.”

The Superbowl:

Both artists played the Superbowl halftime show, and both delivered performances that rank unarguably among the greatest Superbowl halftime shows. Fans, of course, will debate as to who ultimately delivered “the” greatest halftime Superbowl performance. Critics seem to be evenly divided between the two, although credit is generally given to Michael as not only being the first superstar half time performance (and thus setting the bar by which all others were measured) but also as the “game changer” who set the standard. After all, his choreography of “Heal The World”-which took an aerial view to be truly appreciated in all its grandeur-was a jaw dropping feat that would take years for other artists to even come close to challenging.

But equally unforgettable is the sight of a diminutive Prince, with nothing but his guitar, standing drenched in the rain as he delivered one of the most soulful renditions of “Purple Rain” ever!

A “Colored” Man Is Still Judged By The Color Of His Skin:

Although the media was unquestionably much crueler to Michael Jackson (no contest there, sorry!) both performers came under media scrutiny as a result of not “looking” black enough. The whole notion is as ludicrous as comparing a tanned, olive complexioned Italian to a pale Norwegian and arguing that the Italian is “not caucasion.” Yet, at various times, Prince and Michael Jackson both found either their racial identity or their loyalty to their race in question.  Because of Prince’s light complexion and the fact that not much is known about his immediate family, a rumor has persisted for years that he is biracial. Early press releases listed him as “mixed” although it seems those sources have been largely discredited. Prince himself has always identified himself as a Black man, although conceding that his father had a mixture of Italian blood, as well. Early photos reveal Prince obviously did undergo the knife. At the very least, he had certainly had a nose job at some point, and quite possibly other procedures as well.  Whatever the aesthetic reasons for these changes-whether it was to look more passably “biracial” or to create a face that would more easily conform to show business standards of “beauty”-or simply to fulfill a personal or artistic whim-cannot be said.

 

EARLY PHOTO OF PRINCE, PRE-COSMETIC SURGERY.

Since The Jacksons, on the other hand, had been in the spotlight ever since Michael was a child, there was little doubt as to his Black heritage, although his father Joe-like Prince’s dad-is mixed and there is prominent Native American blood on both sides. However, it was the skin disease vitiligo that resulted in the most dramatic change, transforming him over a course of roughly ten years from his natural coppery brown, to the lighter bronze of the Bad era, and finally, the porcelain, translucent, fish belly white of his last twenty years. Sadly this little-understood disease would be the cause of much ridicule and public scorn of Michael Jackson in the media. He was accused of bleaching his skin and hating his race. Even when his autopsy report confirmed that he did indeed have vitiligo, the media mostly ignored this finding and have continued to perpetuate the myth of an “alleged” disease.

The accusation was ridiculous on many levels. Michael certainly couldn’t deny being black; after all, he had grown up in the public eye! Secondly, there was never a time in his life when he didn’t look black. Even in the most advanced stage of his disease, and after he had mostly de-pigmented remaining color, he still looked like what he was-a black man without skin pigment. People who say he “erased” all traces of his ethnicity have not closely observed his face. Michael was always proud to be a black man. His disease was something he could not help. And the insecurities that drove him to cosmetic surgery were rooted in other issues that had little to do with race. People who knew him intimately claim it stemmed from insecurity over his looks. However, in more recent years, there have been many interesting and enlightening discussions on the possibility that his evolving looks may have had less to do with the popular body dysmorphic theory, and more to do with the desire to use his face as a canvas for his art. This is certainly an interesting theory that I have kept an open mind to and am quite interested in exploring further, but since Michael himself never really gave us a definitive answer on the subject, such theories at best can only remain just that-theories and conjecture.

MICHAEL IN TRANSITION. THOUGH HIS SKIN GOT WHITER DUE TO VITILIGO, THERE WAS NEVER A TIME WHEN HE DID NOT “LOOK” BLACK.

“We’re called colored people because we come in so many different colors, from light as my hand to dark as your shirt (to Martin Bashir, who is wearing a black sweatshirt). My father has blue eyes.”-Michael Jackson.

Victims of the Vindictive:

It goes without saying, they have both been on the receiving end of vindictive ex-friends, ex-employees, ex-fans, and hack journalists with an axe to grind, all looking to make a quick buck. The following are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I suppose one could argue that it all goes with the territory of being rich and famous. However, it seems that Prince and Michael have both had a more-than-usual share of backstabbing friends, fans and associates. With “friends” and “fans” like Bob Jones and Alex Hahn, who needs enemies?

So now that we’ve looked at some of their many parallels, there is still one burning question: What did Prince and Michael Jackson really think of each other?A great source, by the way, which I highly recommend is this Vibe article from June 2010:

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history

Mainly, I have found it a great source for timelining the Michael/Prince saga, as well as the source of many great quotes from both artists on how they felt about each other. In researching Part Two, I am relying heavily on the Vibe source which I will also intersperse with other articles and my own commentary.

CYNTHIA HORNER (Former editor of Right On! Magazine from 1976-2005; Currently writes and edits for Hip-Hop Weekly): I met Michael back in 1976 and he was one of the shyest people that I’ve ever dealt with. It was a little difficult to interview him because even though as a professional entertainer he realized he needed the press, he wasn’t somebody that knew how to relate to the media in terms of being open with information. He was just super shy unless he was around his family. But he picked up the fact I was shy as well, so he kind of embraced me and we became friends. He and Prince were quite similar because Prince was shy as well. If you were a journalist he would give you the same monosyllabic answers that Michael did. But Prince would also speak in riddles a lot of the time; he was very evasive. He would never answer any of my questions [laughs]. He wanted to keep his privacy protected at all cost.

****

ALAN LEEDS: Michael wasn’t a musician in the classic sense. He approached his music differently from the way Prince did although Michael could write a great song as well. But Prince was arguably a musician first. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Prince saw Michael as a symbol of where he wanted to go in terms [of notoriety]. Michael was one of the few artists on the planet that Prince did respect in that sense. (my emphasis).  Once we realized that he was in the process of writing what was the original idea for the film Purple Rain as he was scribbling in notebooks during his 1982 tour for 1999, we knew he wanted more. The word was beginning to spread: “Hey, Prince really thinks he’s writing a movie.” I don’t think any of us took it that seriously because it didn’t make sense that somebody who at that point only had a few pop hits was going to be able to get the funding for a film. But it certainly revealed an ambition he had and to his credit Prince would go on to pull it off.

CYNTHIA HORNER: I would give Michael copies of the magazines and he would see certain people in the book and ask me lots of questions about the artists he was interested in. And that’s how he was introduced to Prince. After that, I started to let Michael listen to some of the Prince music I had and he was intrigued. At that point, I realized that there was somewhat of a rivalry developing. Michael had been in the business longer, so naturally he didn’t want to get replaced by the newcomer.(my emphasis).

ALAN LEEDS: Prince went to a James Brown gig [in 1983] with Bobby Z, his drummer at the time, Big Chick, who was his security guard, and I think Jill Jones, who was one of his protégés. By now, everybody knows what happened at that gig. I don’t think Prince realized that Michael was going to be there. James looked a little puzzled in that video when Michael whispered in his ear, “Hey, bring Prince up.” And of course Prince didn’t really know what to do either. He went to the guitar first but he fumbles with that because it was left-handed. He played a few licks, did some dancing and knocked over a prop by accident. Now I always wondered if Michael intentionally brought Prince up to put him in that position just to say, “Hey, you think you’re on my ass? Well follow this, motherfucker [laughs].” (my emphasis). Bobby Z called me and said, “Oh boy…he made an ass of himself tonight.” He said Prince didn’t say a word the whole way to the hotel.

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history-pg-2

Here is the (in)famous and historic moment in which we see James Brown, Michael Jackson and Prince all together on the same stage. To my knowledge, this is the only time Michael and Prince ever performed together-if you can call it that!

It would be great to think of their one and only onstage face-off being this great, monumental event in which each gave it their equal all, but it didn’t quite pan out that way. Looking at the vid, here is how it appeared to go down:

At the beginning of the clip, James brown calls Michael to the stage. Michael comes up and starts to sing a tender ballad, until the band throws him a curve that forces him to go into an impromptu James Brown parody (which he pulls off brilliantly, of course. My only complaint-it was all too brief!)  We can see he is whispering something to James Brown, so I’m assuming this is the moment of Prince’s “setup.” As per Alan Leeds’s description, Prince does the guitar thing briefly, then as if to say, “Screw this!” rips off his shirt and begins a totally off the wall, impromptu routine that culminates with the accident.

It’s easy to look at that clip and say Prince upstaged Michael that night, as at least one article has spun it since Prince’s death. Certainly it was the flashier performance (and the one that ended with the biggest bang!). However, in hindsight, there is method to Michael’s polished control. For starters, I think Michael was smart enough to realize that you don’t upstage James Brown! You just don’t. I’m sure Michael could have easily pulled his best “Billie Jean” routine out of his pocket and stolen the show, but he chose the path of reserve. In the end, he came off as the classier, more controlled performer who left you wanting more, whereas Prince…well, the video speaks for itself. It was a classic example that bravado and flash doesn’t always equate the greatest performance. In the end, as Jay Z points out, Prince succeeded that night in mostly embarrassing himself (as to whether he was fried out of his mind on drugs, as some have speculated, I will leave for others to decide). Did Michael intentionally set Prince up that night? Or did he just think it would be all in the name of good fun and sportsmanship? Part of me wants to say the latter is probably a little too naive to swallow, while the other half of me says the former is probably a little too extreme. I don’t think he intentionally set Prince up to make a buffoon of himself that night (Prince seemed to manage that quite well on his own!) but perhaps it was a way of forcing the impending rivalry to a head, so to speak-even if subconsciously.

MICHAEL, WHO BRAVED DARING HEIGHTS DURING HIS PERFORMANCES, DIDN’T THINK IT TOOK MUCH DARING TO WRITE ABOUT MASTURBATION!

As the head-to-head battle between Thriller and Purple Rain began to heat up, Michael and Prince were keeping even closer tabs on what each other was up to:

ALAN LEEDS: Before we set out on the Purple Rain tour, it was a case of Prince wanting to see what Michael and the Jacksons were doing in terms of production, lighting, staging and everything with the Victory tour. We charted a jet with a couple of his bodyguards and Jerome Benton from the Time and Leroy Bennett, who was Prince’s lighting and production designer for his tours. We flew to Dallas to the old stadium where the Cowboys played. There was a feeling in our camp that while what they were doing was a very solid stadium production, there was nothing really cutting edge about the technology. The Varilites, which was a brand name for a type of computerized lighting, was the gold standard in the industry at that time. And we made sure we had all that shit. But the Jackson’s production didn’t. Prince had a lot of respect for Michael, but he was mildly impressed with the show.

QUESTLOVE: Michael attended many of the Purple Rain concerts. I have the four Purple Rain shows that were in Los Angeles in ’84. And now that I realize that Mike was in the audience, I often watch it to see if I can spot him [laughs]. But it makes you think. Why was Mike there four nights in a row? You have already created Thriller, you’ve done the Moonwalk, you’ve done the groundbreaking videos and you’ve sold a million a week. You are officially in the Guinness Book of World Records. For all intents and purposes, Purple Rain sold 15 million units, but it was hardly the 33 million that Thriller went on to sell. So why are you this curious to who is behind you?  Then I realized that you can’t be that successful without being competitive. Michael knew Prince was a serious threat. (my emphasis).

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history-pg-2

J. Randy Taraborrelli added further fuel to the “Prince and Michael rivalry” when he wrote that Michael walked out of a screening of Purple Rain, citing that Prince “looked mean,” couldn’t act and that he didn’t like the way he treated women. (For the record, there is a scene in Purple Rain where Prince’s character strikes Appollonia. However, the movie is also portraying how the cycle of violence is perpetuated when one comes from an abusive background, and that one has to work to break the cycle-something I believe Michael certainly would have related to!).

Michael also had some choice comments about Princes song “Jack U Off” from the Contoversy album, saying he didn’t see how anyone could write about something so private. 

Michael Didn’t Approve Of Prince’s “Jack U Off.” But Give A Listen To “She Got It,” An Unreleased Track From Dangerous And Unarguably Michael’s Most “Prince-esque” Song Ever:

But let’s be fair. While Michael was supposedly taking potshots at Prince, Prince was also getting in his fair share of digs. This verse from Prince’s song “Life o’ The Party” doesn’t make much of a mystery as to who “the other guy” is:

But it ain’t nothing if it ain’t fun
My voice is getting higher
and Eye ain’t never had my nose done
That’s the other guy… Prince

Hmmm. Never had his nose done? Well, in Part One I printed an old pic that clearly shows evidence that Prince did have cosmetic surgery. I will offer up again for your perusal. Photographs don’t lie!

 

Now I’m not going to bs about it. Michael obviously had a lot more cosmetic work done than Prince. Still, for Prince to take that particular potshot was an especially hypocritical case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Despite cheap potshots, Michael time and again expressed a willingness to work with Prince. Through the years, several projects were proposed that would have brought The Gloved One and The Purple One together (sorry, couldn’t resist the bad tabloid-esque pun!). Not one of them panned out. And in every case, it was because the ball had been dropped in Prince’s court and he refused to pick up.

Case in point: “We Are The World.” It’s common knowledge that Prince was supposed to have been part of the project, but on the day of recording, pulled a “No Show.” (He did, however, compensate his no-show by giving the project another song to use, 4 The Tears In Your Eyes).

Then came “Bad”-and the first actual, sit down meeting between Michael and Prince! (Well, officially this was their “first” meeting although according to this site, Prince is the unnamed dinner guest in Latoya’s autobiography who presented Michael with the strange, voodoo-ish gift of charms and feathers!

 

DID PRINCE ATTEMPT A VOODOO HEX ON MICHAEL?

OR WAS LATOYA TAKING LESSONS FROM MAUREEN ORTH ON “HOW TO WRITE SENSATIONALISM?”

According to Taraborelli, the planned “duet” for “Bad” was yet another Frank DiLeo-planted publicity stunt, but one that Michael had agreed to. The “trick” would be in getting Prince to go along with it, as well.

I’ve heard Quincy Jones tell this story many times. If you happen to own the Special Edition of Bad, there is an entire bonus track where Quincy Jones talks about that “historic meeting,” and although he doesn’t specifically mention that it was all a publicity stunt, nothing he says denies it, either.

Here’s an excerpt from Taraborelli’s account of that first meeting:

Quincy arranged for Michael to meet him {Prince} feeling that the two were creative geniuses and should know one another, whether they ever sang together or not. According to writer Quincy Troupe, “It was a strange summit. They’re so competitive with each other that neither would give anything up. They kind of sat there, checking each other out, but saying very little. It was a fascinating stalemate between two very powerful dudes.’”

 

However, Prince did agree to listen to a tape of the song. After hearing the first line-”Your butt is mine”-he declined the offer. By his own account, Prince told Michael he wasn’t going to be singing that line to him, and Michael sure wasn’t going to be singing it to him! He was also reported to have said that Michael didn’t need him for the song to be a hit (which turned out to be true!).

Prince talks to Chris Rock about turning down the offer to duet on Bad:

“YOUR BUTT IS MINE!”

“WAIT A MINUTE…WHO’S SINGING THAT LINE TO WHO?!”

Michael allegedly did take the rebuffs as a kind of snub, but didn’t dwell on it. He moved on and did his thing. As for Prince, despite what he says in the Chris Rock interview about “no rivalry”-and no matter how much he has claimed in the years since about how much he respects Michael-I can’t help but feel that it was some degree of jealousy and arrogance on his part, at least at that time. (Perhaps, as with all things, maturity brought some degree of hindsight and wisdom). My honest take is that, at the time-when much of his appeal was based on being the polar opposite of Michael Jackson-he may also have been afraid of alienating his fanbase. At the same time, he may have sensed that Michael was looking to win over that segment of his fanbase, and perhaps saw this as a real threat.

With both being the reticent, shy, sometimes cryptic artists that they were, it’s really hard to pinpoint what either was thinking. But I’m going to educate a guess that at least in the mid 80′s, when both were at the peak of their fame and both had youth and testosterone on their side, the rivalry was a bit more than just lip service.

ALAN LEEDS: But the thing about Michael coming to Prince and wanting him to do “Bad,” that really pissed him off. Prince was like, “Oh, he wants to punk me out on record. Who does he think I am, crazy?” He couldn’t get outside himself enough to realize that it was the kind of thing that probably could have benefited both of them. (my emphasis).  Still, it would have forever been Michael’s video with Prince as just a guest. So that captured what the relationship couldn’t be. They were like Ali vs. Frazier. And the media couldn’t get enough of pitting these guys against each other.

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-vs-prince-oral-history-3

SHERILYN FENN, HOT ENOUGH TO INSPIRE…A PING PONG MATCH?

Apparently, the rivalry was occasionally more than just a professional one. The infamous ping pong match came about when Michael was trying to snag the attention of Prince’s girlfreind Sherilyn Fenn. (Ah, now we get to the real nitty-gritty of the situation! In addition to “forcing” him to sing “your butt is mine,” it seems Michael was also trying to make a cuckold of poor Prince!).

QUESTLOVE: There’s the now-infamous story about a ping-pong match between Mike and Prince in 1986 while Prince was overdubbing Under The Cherry Moon and Mike was working on Captain Eo. And they were both vying for the attentions of Prince’s girl Sherilyn Fenn, who back then was the hot shit. It was a ping-pong game gone bonkers. He said that MJ played like Helen Keller. [Editors note: Prince’s drummer Bobby Z has gone on record about MJ’s and Prince’s good-natured showdowns in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “They’d shoot hoops at [Prince’s] Paisley Park,” Bobby Z said of the unlikely pair. “Prince had a deep-seeded competitive nature, so it’s easy to see where he would measure himself against Jackson’s success.”]

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history-pg-2

But what was it about Michael’s playing that actually prompted the Helen Keller comment? That story apparently came from engineer David Z, who witnessed the match:

“Michael drops his paddle and holds his hands up in front of his face so the ball won’t hit him. Michael walks out with his bodyguard, and Prince starts strutting around like a rooster. ‘Did you see that? He played like Helen Keller.’”

http://newsroom.mtv.com/2009/06/29/michael-jackson-vs-prince-the-forgotten-rivalry/

If Michael was guilty of trying to steal Prince’s girl, however, Prince was also guilty of making a move on Michael’s sister, if Latoya is to be believed (of course, to hear Latoya tell it, every man was trying to make a move on her!)

From Latoya Jackson’s autobio, 1978

Having grown up surrounded by so many brothers, I liked men as friends but was totally unversed in deciphering the nonverbal cues between men and women.

Shortly after Prince released, “Soft and Wet,” he shyly introduced himself to me at a roller skating party. “Hi.”

“Hi,” I said nonchalently.

“I’m Prince.”

“Yes, I know.” There was no mistaking the large brown eyes, downy moustache, and straight black hair. Although I was sitting down to put on my skates, he was barely my height.

“I just want you to know that I’m madly in love with you,” he whispered passionately.

“Oh.” I thought this was his way of complimenting someone. I had no idea of his real intentions until he said, “I have all your pictures and everything, and I like everything about you.” His voice trailed off as if he had run out of words.

“Oh… that’s nice.”

Most girls would have kissed him or slapped him. Me? I stood up, offered a cheery “Well, hope you have a nice time tonight!” and skated off.

http://lacienegasmiled.wordpress.com/category/bromance/prince/

Their  sports rivalry also carried over to shooting hoops at Paisley Park, acording to  Bobby Z:

http://newsroom.mtv.com/2009/06/29/michael-jackson-vs-prince-the-forgotten-rivalry/

One can only wonder if those matches were anything like the Jackson/Jordan match in Jam!

Considering that Prince was only 5’2 compared to Michael’s 5’9 (neither exactly basketball championship measurements) I can only imagine those games were nothing to cheer about, but I would have loved to have been a fly on the court during those matches! (As Michael would say, there was probabably “cheating like crazy!”).

Prince comments famously on Michael Jackson’s abilities as a fighter and rival:

QUESTLOVE: You recall that ill-fated duet Eddie Murphy did with Michael called “Whatzupwitu?” I have five hours of raw footage during filming for that video. Michael and Eddie had a green screen behind them, so somewhere in that second hour, the conversation turns to Prince. And Eddie is like, “Yeah man…Prince is a bad motherfucker. I’m glad I’m working with you, but another dream I have is working with him too.” And I don’t even think that Mike knew the camera was on him and he goes, “Yes, he’s a natural genius.” And then four beats later, Michael says, “But I can beat him [laughs].” (my emphasis).

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-vs-prince-oral-history-3

Apparently, Michael made one last attempt, in 1996, to reach out to Prince for a collaboration. I am not sure what the nature of that proposed project was. But despite mounting career problems of his own by the mid-90′s, Prince, it seemed, still couldn’t quite swallow his pride enough to accept the offer.

Would he have done things differently had he known, then, that time was running out? We’ll never know.

“WHY DID PRINCE JUST PLAY HIS BASS IN THE MIDDLE OF MY FACE?”-MIKE SEEKS AN ANSWER TO ONE OF LIFE’S MOST PERPLEXING QUESTION!

Michael, for all his bravado, appeared to be  the one who felt the stings of the repeated rebuffs and the nastier aspects of the rivalry the most:

WILL.I.AM (Leader of the Black Eye Peas; Has performed live with Prince and produced several tracks for Michael Jackson): I had a show with the Black Eyed Peas in 2008 and then late that night I performed with Prince at the Palms Hotel. I called Michael just before the show and I was like, “Hey Mike, I’m in Vegas.” I told him about the performance at the Palms with Prince and asked him if he wanted to come. He was a bit apprehensive at first, but I told him, “Let me call Prince to see if everything is OK.” I sat down with Mike after I finished a song with Prince and he comes down off the stage playing his bass and comes right to our table… ripping the bass in half! It was the coolest experience I’ve ever had. I was with both of my heroes. While we were working on new material for his album,MJ asked me why people didn’t think of him in the same way they thought of Prince as a serious songwriter. It was a shock to hear that coming from such an iconic artist. (my emphasis).

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history-pg-4

The above is an important revelation. Michael was well aware that his talents and accomplishments as a songwriter did not get the same respect as Prince, despite being inducted into the Songwriter’s hall of Fame (an honor that, ironically, eluded Prince). It also says that on a very deep level, he wanted to be taken seriously as an artist, not just as a great showman. He wanted Prince’s level of artistic respect; he craved it in the same way that a person may crave bread even if given caviar. Considering that they were both driven and prolific artists who created some of the most critically acclaimed and enduring pop classics of our time, it’s understandable why Michael would feel so keenly the brunt of the difference made between them. Perhaps if he had been merely a showman-rather than one of the greatest songwriters of our age-it wouldn’t have hurt nearly as much. But Michael knew the truth.

Prince himself has always been quick to defend Michael’s artistry, referring to him more than once as a ‘sheer genius.”

And perhaps, in a way, Michael did get the last word in, after all!

In 2008, Will I Am invited Michael to a Las Vegas concert where The Black-Eyed Peas were to be performing with Prince. It was to be the last time the two legends would meet face to face.

Will I Am talks about that concert (and other memories of Michael here):

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8123506.stm

This account of the concert and what went down that night, as told in an interview with Will I Am, was translated from a German article:

A few months ago,I was with the Black Eyed Peas in Las Vegas. Prince calls me, he played in a Casino and asks “, you want to perform with me tonight?” Sure, I say, of course! On the next day his assistant called me and said: “Prince would like to know if you want to come along this evening too.” Want to? What’s more cool than to play with Prince? Right, to play with him two days in a row! A few minutes later I get a further call: “Hey, it’s Mike, wat are you doing?” Mike? Michael Jackson? Wow! He had changed studios at that time, from Ireland to Las Vegas. I say: “Hey, I’m playing with Prince here tonight.” – “Prince? That is great!” – “you should come!” – “really? That would be cool!” – “that would be really cool!” – “Okay, I’ll come.” Imagine that : I’m playing with Prince, and Michael Jackson sits in the audience! Holy ish! What chance is there to get a call from Prince and then one from Michael Jackson within ten minutes ?

Sp: that chance is zero.

Will.i.am: Right. Okay, I head for the concert in the early evening and – get stuck in traffic! I think by myself, @#$%, this is the worst time to be stuck ! So I jump out of the car and start to run. I make it at the last second into the club. Everything goes smoothly, after three minutes I ‘m back from the stage, Prince still yells in the microphone “Give it up for Will.i.am!”, I creep into the hall and sit down to the table of – Michael Jackson. So he really came! “What did you think of me?”, I ask him. He answers: “I did not know that you rapped.” Now I ask you? The man lets me fly to bloody Ireland for a few photographs , and he doesn’t even know that I am not only a producer, but also a rapper! I say: “Have you never heard my music, or looked at my videos? I @#$#%’ am the main rapper of the Black Eyed Peas!” Anyways. Besides Michael Jackson sits the actor Chris Tucker, and then Prince comes down from the stage to us…

Sp: … and sees Michael Jackson sitting at the table with you?

Will.i.am: Yo. He had his bass still strapped on and stops at our table. So there we sit : Michael Jackson, Chris Tucker and I. Prince stands directly before Michael Jackson and improvises on the bass: Slap! He does nothing- nothing! – and says nothing! Simply plays . What a scene! When Prince is again back on stage, Michael Jackson says to me: “Prince played his bass in the middle of my face! What’s up with that?” Now now, I say: “you are finally incognito here! Imagine that Prince would have said: ‘, and by the way Michael Jackson sits here.’ The people are already excited because of Prince, let alone, they would know that you are also here!” Yep, that was it then, the craziest night of my life.

http://prince.org/msg/7/312585

Now, as to how much you can credit hearsay, I don’t know. But I have heard (unconfirmed) that Michael also said that evening something to the effect that he was glad he never needed a guitar to prove he had a penis.

Ouch.

As far as ON THE RECORD, Michael never commented publicly about Prince, just as he very seldom commented on any fellow artists. To answer the question of how they got along, I don’t think (despite what Bobby Z insists: http://www.drfunkenberry.com/2009/06/27/prince-michael-jackson-were-friends/) that they were ever truly friends. I can’t see them as “best buds.” I think what they did have was a very deep-rooted, sometimes begrudging, respect for each other, coupled with a fierce sense of competitveness-equally true on both sides. The few times their paths did cross, they were always cordial to each other, though the underlying tension was almost always palpable. I’m sure at times they did have an easy camraderie. I could easily see them shooting hoops; maybe sharing a shot of Crown and a joke or two. They would have had the kind of bond that comes with simply understanding their shared level of celebrity. Perhaps in those rare moments when the world wasn’t watching-when they could let their masks and their guards down long enough to simply be Michael Joseph Jackson and Prince Roger Nelson,  however briefly-they were able to find that kinship. But for how long, or how often, we’ll probably never really know.

Two rare, fresh-faced pics: Michael and Prince without their famous makeup:

 

When Michael left us on June 25th, 2009, there was a lot of speculation as to whether Prince would join the ranks of celebrities issuing official statements. The closest he came was simply this very brief, laconic statement given in a French interview:

“It is always sad to lose someone you love.”

In typically cryptic Prince fashion, perhaps that was all that needed to be said. Since then,  he has, as always, been content to let the music do the talking, incorporating several Michael Jackson songs into his live concert performances as tributes.

Was he being sincere in referring to Michael as someone he had loved?

I would say to the best of his ability, that answer is yes.

UPDATE: I wrote and compiled all of the above over five years ago in 2011, obviously long before Prince’s tragic passing on April 21st this year. My purpose then was to present a balanced account of their “rivalry” as well as personal friendship, while pulling no punches. Going back over some of what I wrote at the time, I was tempted to edit a few passages in hindsight. But then, I thought, no, it really wouldn’t be doing any favors to either of them to sugarcoat the truth. It doesn’t in any way lessen the enormous respect I feel for both of them. It simply shows the human frailties of both, and also, the fact that both could never have succeeded to the heights that they did without the ego and massive competitive streak that it takes to be a successful performer.

In the week since Prince’s death, we have seen much of the same global outpouring of shock and grief that we saw in 2009. Michael Jackson fans have felt that pain; for us, it is another loss that has struck that cultural nerve. For years after losing Michael, many of us felt that still having Prince around was at least a kind of consolation-that at least some of the magic of our youth was still with us. Now it is only an empty void.

The Fan Memorials In Front Of Paisley Park Bring Back Painful Memories For MJ Fans
The Fan Memorials In Front Of Paisley Park Bring Back Painful Memories For MJ Fans

In the last week, I like many others have been guilty of “Prince cramming”-suddenly curious to learn as much as I can about an artist I loved but admittedly took too much for granted while he was here. It was the same phase of discovery I went through with Michael, as I became more and more amazed at such a gifted artist and amazing human being that I had somehow never allowed myself to get to know better in life. Likewise, I have now found myself learning so much about Prince that I had never really paid attention to before-his humanitarian work, which, like Michael, often went under reported and under the radar; the depth of his private pain, suffering and courage as he kept creating in the face of often debilitating pain, always putting his bravest face forward for his fans; or just how sarcastically funny he could be in interviews, such as this 2014 interview on the Arsenio Hall Show.

In typical fashion, many MJ and Prince fans have tried to reconcile the enormity of this double loss as only those of us who lived through those times truly can-with a healthy dose of humor. In that spirit, here are some of my favorite captions of the past week that have turned some of the tears to chuckles.

On that note, good night sweet King and Prince.

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On Jackson, Bowie, Artistic Reinvention and Other Passing Thoughts

Early Photo of Michael Posing With David Bowie
Early Photo of Michael and Other Jackson Family Members Posing With David Bowie In The 70’s

I had promised before Christmas that my next post would be on the recently surfaced Gorman photo. Rest assured that post is still coming, but as so often happens when I’m writing posts, events sometimes have a way of throwing me off track. I was almost 3/4’s of the way complete with that post when I heard the news of David Bowie’s passing. And although my blog is focused on Michael Jackson, I am a music lover and as such, certainly could not let the death of such an iconic figure go by without its obligatory tribute post. Although Michael and David Bowie were not close friends, their paths did cross, and certainly they had enough in common to merit some undeniable comparisons-both musical legends, of course; both of them innovators; both masters of the art of reinvention; both cultural agent provocateurs who utilized science fiction and fantasy in many of their personas.  In fact, even though I know this may come as a controversial statement to some, I think we could even make the argument that Bowie, at least in part, paved the way for Michael’s own adult superstardom, in which constant reinvention and the chameleon-like ability to transcend many genres became a central focus. In the last few days, a video of a 1983 MTV interview with David Bowie has been widely circulated among the MJ fan community, in which Bowie publicly called MTV out for not playing black artists. I watched this video again last night, and I have to say, it would have been downright amusing (had the whole situation not been so terribly real) to see how Mark Goodman visibly squirmed beneath Bowie’s direct fire of questioning. It was like watching the work of a brilliant attorney when he’s got a crumbling witness disintegrating under his thumb! Most revealing are Goodman’s answers, when he practically admits MTV’s fear of “frightening” kids in the Midwest who might, God forbid, see too many black faces on their TV screen.

This video, alone, is a relevant piece of evidence that proves how all too real Michael’s early struggles were as a black artist on the cusp of the MTV explosion, an artist who not only wanted to be on MTV (in heavy rotation) but who also wanted to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, and who dreamed of a day when he would be nominated for a Grammy in categories other than just “Best Male R&B” simply because that was his only real shot at winning.with david bowie2

There are, of course, those flashes and glimpses of times when their paths crossed. Shortly after Michael passed, as a way of paying tribute to him, a series of photos that showed Michael and David Bowie hanging out together backstage at the LA Forum in 1983 were published on CNN by a reporter whose cousin was working for Bowie during the “Let’s Dance” tour. It was even reported that they had danced together at Studio 54, when Michael supposedly taught David how to do “The Robot!”

 

Michael Looks To Be Taking Some Serious Advice From David
Michael Looks To Be Taking Some Serious Advice From David

 

When Legends Hang Out
When Legends Hang Out

Like Michael, Bowie’s career had roots going all the way back to the 60’s (even if, albeit, as an adult star his path was destined to be quite different). They both achieved mass fame in the early 1970’s, though their appeal was to very different audiences. And in a way, they both reinvented themselves in the 80’s to become leaders of the MTV generation. And this, too, is a reason why I think so many MJ fans likewise embraced Bowie to an extent. Even though he was approaching middle age by the time of the MTV era, the videos and music he made at that time were so fresh, and so innovative, that he still felt very much like a part of that generation. Those of us who remember fondly when “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” were in heavy rotation are also the same generation who remembers “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl” and my all time favorite, cheesy guilty pleasure-Bowie and Mick Jagger camping it up in “Dancing in the Streets.”

They Both Reinvented Themselves For The 80’s MTV Generation

beat itbowie

There were also some compelling coincidences. For example, Bowie starred as The Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, on Broadway. Michael, as we know, had a lifelong fascination with the life of Merrick and often considered his own life as being somewhat analogous of Merrick’s. And, of course, we can’t forget one other interesting way in which their paths crossed, when Iman-the Queen whose heart Michael stole in “Remember The Time”- became Bowie’s real life wife that very same year. I was just listening to “Under Pressure” and remembering how Michael also recorded some amazing and brilliant duets with Freddie Mercury. To think of all three of them now being gone is sad indeed. I’m sure if I put enough thought into it, I could come up with many more examples of ways in which their lives and careers intersected.

But you must forgive me if this post rambles a bit. Like many fans this week, I am sorting through a lot of feelings and reactions, both good and bad, positive and negative.

Michael Jackson was also an iconic figure whose death was huge, and impacted many. But after nearly seven years, the world has had time to process it. Since that time, we have lost a number of other iconic musical legends, including Whitney Houston and now Bowie (and for us grunge lovers, Scott Weiland’s untimely passing last December is still a fresh sting, even if albeit, perhaps, not a total shocker). I am sure, however, that the passing of David Bowie has probably been the only musician’s death to truly equal Michael’s in terms of global mourning and press coverage. There is still a measured difference, however, largely because Bowie’s appeal and impact was, for the most part, to a more esoteric and marginalized following, whereas Michael was The King of Pop, so beloved and instantly recognizable across the globe that even natives in the remotest areas of Africa know who he is (this is not hyperbole; it’s a proven fact!). I still do not think that Bowie’s death, tragic as it is, has quite struck the collective cultural nerve in the same way, but nevertheless, the outpouring of tributes are richly deserving of an artist who not only defined a generation, but also one who made it okay to be “different”; to be “other;” to be eccentric and even “weird.”

Both David Bowie and Michael Jackson Challenged The Status Quo Ideas of Normalcy vs. “Other”

david-bowie-aladdin-sane-1973arnobani_mjHowever, this is where it gets both interesting and sad (and sometimes, yes, frustratingly infuriating) to look at the differences in how the media has reacted to Bowie’s death in comparison to Michael’s. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish to turn this into another bitter “martyred Michael” post, as that is not my intent. I do find it interesting, however, to observe and interpret some of the reasons behind these perceived differences.

Whereas Bowie's Constantly Evolving (And Often Gender Defying) Looks Were Branded As Genius By The Rock Elitist Press...
Whereas Bowie’s Constantly Evolving (And Often Gender Defying) Looks Were Branded As Genius By The Rock Elitist Press…

Think about it this way for a moment: David Bowie dies, and the media praises both him and his ever changing looks and alter egos as “genius” and refers to it as “reinvention.” Michael Jackson did the same thing, constantly reinventing his image and appearance, but for that he was branded as “weird” (in a not complimentary kind of way) and “self hating.” It became clear to me long ago that Michael was simply following the same trajectory of Bowie and other avant-garde artists who have utilized their bodies and appearance as much as their musical talent, yet the media never seemed willing to grant him that respect or to even consider that, just maybe, far from being a self hating black man and a “whacko jacko” who had “mutilated” his face that maybe he really was making an artistic statement all along-and, if so, the ultimate last laugh was certainly on them!

...Jackson Was Often Branded As Merely "Weird" and "Eccentric" For The Same Chameleon-Like Qualities.
…Jackson Was Often Branded As Merely “Weird” and “Eccentric” For The Same Chameleon-Like Qualities.

Bowie certainly embraced the beauty of “Otherness” and certainly challenged the status quo’s notions of gender. One might argue that Michael did as well (thought to what extent he did so intentionally  remains, perhaps, debatable). Bowie openly proclaimed himself as bisexual in an era long before it became the fashionable thing for celebrities to do, though in a more recent interview, he claimed himself (perhaps ironically tongue in cheek) as a “closet heterosexual.” But in all of the outpouring of tributes and media commentaries this week, I have seen nothing but praise for Bowie’s genius. No snarky rants about his sexuality or “why he felt the need to keep changing his appearance” (guess “self hatred” doesn’t apply if you’re white and British!). And the few trolls who have commented on Bowie tribute articles have been quickly shot down by the majority of readers. By contrast, although we certainly saw the same outpouring of grief and media tributes in the wake of Michael’s passing, it always felt just ever so slightly tinged by a kind of backhanded snarkiness, especially from the likes of Rolling Stone and other media outlets and reporters who were too far steeped in their “rockist” attitudes to appreciate Michael’s genius or atristry. In the tributes to Michael, even the most well meaning, there were always the “buts”…far too many “buts.” “Gifted child star but troubled adult;” “Brilliant artist who gave us ‘Thriller’ and then spiraled downhill,” “Cute young guy but, sadly, evolved into ‘freakdom’.” And, too often, those were the “nice” ones. Then there were the just plain nasty and vile, such as Peter King and Diane Dimond spewing their vomit not even a week after Michael had turned cold. Barely two weeks after his passing, comedians like Joan Rivers and late night talk show hosts like Jimmy Fallon were already making jokes in poor taste (as compared to Fallon’s genuinely heartfelt tribute to Bowie). And even though Bowie’s biracial daughter with wife Iman looks every bit as “white” as Michael’s biracial children with wife Debbie Rowe, it can be rest assured that you will see no snarky references to her appearance in the media. I am quite certain there will be no embarrassing articles calling into question his daughter’s paternity. In fact, of all the biracial children who have been born of celebrity parents, none have had to endure the garbage that is constantly heaped on Michael’s children.

David Bowie’s Biracial Daughter Alexandria Zahra Jones (left) and Michael Jackson’s Biracial Daughter Paris Jackson (right). Despite Their Similar, Olive-Toned Complexions, We Can Reasonably Assume That Alexandria Will Never Be Subjected To The Cruel Hatred That Paris and Her Siblings Have Endured, Or The Tasteless and Endless Media Speculations About Her Parentage.

Alexandria Lexi Zahra Jonesparis

This isn’t, of course, meant in any way to cast aspersion on the tributes to David, who was certainly a great artist and, I believe, a great human being as well. He is certainly deserving of all the respectful accolades. So let me make that much clear. This isn’t about David. But it is  about media and cultural perceptions, and why it can be that one artist is universally praised for many of the same things that another artist was universally condemned for. Therefore, I thought it might be interesting to analyze some of the reasons for this discrepancy.

One factor, of course, is the obvious: Bowie, for all his eccentricities, was never charged with a heinous crime. Michael’s fans have always believed in his innocence, and those of us who have researched the accusations made against him believe in his innocence. As I have said before, the fact that Michael was acquitted is largely why his reputation and legacy has managed to not only survive, but thrive. But for many it remains a troubling question mark on his legacy-and, unfortunately, one that many in the media could not seem to let go of, even in death. Bowie, on the other hand, was never charged with any crime, but his life was very much the typical rock star life of excess and debauchery (at least in his younger years). Again, however, while the media seems willing to “forgive and forget” these things with most musician deaths, Michael, it seemed, was and remains judged by a harsher standard. Bowie died from cancer, so in a way, even his death (by media standards) was a perfectly respectable death. Thus, there will be none of the endless scandal, gossip, and circus atmosphere that surrounded Michael’s passing. Fans will not have to suffer the indignity of all the details of his death being splashed across two necessary, but sordid and embarrassing trials. In fact, almost every aspect of Michael’s death became fodder for a huge media circus, from its tragic circumstances to the endless speculation of causes and culprits; from the over the top memorial service (which in and of itself became a source of much media criticism) to the seemingly endless soap opera of where he would be laid to rest, as weeks and then months dragged on with no resolution and his body remained unburied, all of which only served to lend an even more ghoulish and macabre note to the already circus atmosphere of his death. Compare all of that to the simple dignity of Bowie’s death and quiet cremation in New York this week, and it only serves to drive home the fact that Michael-in death as in life-deserved so much more than what he got. But mainly, if I have to single out one thing that rankles the most, it would be that for the most part every obituary and tribute article to David Bowie has focused on what matters most-his art. Michael Jackson, as one of the most legendary, iconic, and influential artists of our generation, certainly deserved the same treatment-or again, should we say, much better than what he got (the crashing of the internet notwithstanding).  Michael did, of course, receive his share of many touching tributes to his artistic genius as well, but too often these paled in number compared to the usual gossip about trivial matters such as plastic surgery, skin bleaching, drug addiction and “who is really father to his kids” or, as mentioned, the never ending speculations about where and how “it all went wrong.” I think we can safely pin it all down to one important factor, which is that Bowie, for all his celebrity status, never really fell prey to the clutches of the tabloid press and the “cult of personality” in the way that Michael did.

There are at least two obvious factors for these differences in how Bowie and Jackson were regarded by the media-we might argue racism, for one. Or the fact that even after acquittal, Michael Jackson remained, for many, guilty in the court of public opinion, thereby seemingly providing a carte blanche excuse. However, it has to be something much deeper and even more troubling, for as most of us know-and have discussed here many times-the media backlash against Michael (as well as the conspiracy to “dethrone” his position in the industry) began long before any accusations were ever made.

And this is where the comparison gets interesting, because Michael Jackson and David Bowie were utilizing many of the same artistic means to similar ends. But again, whereas Bowie’s excesses and repertoire of ever changing “alter egos” was deemed as art, Michael Jackson was often branded in the same mainstream press as a pompous “egomaniac” or worse.

Here are just some casual observations I’ve made, which may help to get to the center of why the media has regarded them in such a very different light, even though they were certainly equals in terms of artistic genius and as agent provocateurs who forced us to confront and question many issues. But first, let’s start by examining their similar visions and even, perhaps, some of Bowie’s influences on Michael.

As early as the 1970’s, Bowie had already become renowned for his evolving looks and alter egos. Artists develop alter ego personas for a number of reasons, but the most obvious is that they allow for a clear distinction between fantasy and reality. In the same way that an actor can literally “become” someone else by slipping into a role, a performer with an alter ego can explore many facets of their personality (and of others’) without the kind of repercussions that might come from actually acting out such a persona as themselves. In doing so, they can become free to act out their darkest visions, fantasies, and impulses, or to indulge in dual personalities, but with a kind of measured safety net. After all, it’s just an act (the performer knows it; the audience knows it) and the alter ego can be left behind when the performer exits the stage. The alter ego can also allow the performer to adopt many different looks and styles, as each era of their career essentially becomes a different concept that is being enacted. Michael Jackson’s career was so long, and so diverse with his many different “looks” and styles, that fans refer to every stage of his career in terms of “eras.” We all know them, and understand that when fans refer to “Off The Wall” era it is very different from, say, “HIStory era.” With every new album, we witnessed a slightly different metamorphosis; a shedding of the old skin. David Bowie’s fans, also, speak of every stage of his career in terms of “eras.” We speak of “Major Tom era” or “Ziggy Stardust era,” “Thin White Duke” era or “Aladdin Zane era.” Each of these personas allowed Bowie as an artist the freedom to explore controversial and even taboo territory (such as androgynous sexuality in the 1970’s).

Bowie’s own explanations of some of his most famous “personalities” are revealing. In a 1974 interview with William S. Burroughs, Bowie explained the concept of Ziggy Stardust:

“The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. [The album was released three years ago.] Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock & roll band and the kids no longer want rock & roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. “All the Young Dudes” is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite.”

“Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes “Starman,” which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don’t have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping. Their whole life is traveling from universe to universe. In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie the Infinite Fox.

Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starman. He takes himself up to incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist on our world. And they tear him to pieces onstage during the song “Rock and Roll Suicide.” As soon as Ziggy dies onstage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible. It is a science-fiction fantasy of today and this is what literally blew my head off when I read Nova Express, which was written in 1961. Maybe we are the Rogers and Hammerstein of the Seventies, Bill!”

Bowie’s “Thin White Duke” was personified as a pure Aryian and Fascist, or the embodiment of Hitler as “an early rock star.” Bowie often described him as his darkest (and certainly least likable) alter ego. Bowie himself described “The Thin White Duke” as a “dangerous” persona who was a “nasty character indeed.”  This phase was undeniably the most controversial of Bowie’s career, and may be considered analogous to some aspects of Michael’s HIStory-era persona, particularly in the HIStory teaser film and “They Don’t Care About Us,” both of which were taken out of context and misconstrued by the media.

That Michael was becoming fascinated with the concept of artistic reinvention was evident as early as his 1979 manifesto, in which he stated:

“MJ will be my new name No more Michael Jackson. I want a whole new character, a whole new look. I should be a tottally [sic]different person. People should never think of me as the kid who sang “ABC,” [or]”I Want You Back. I should be a new, incredible actor/singer/dancer that will shock the world. I will do no interviews. I will be magic. I will be a perfectionist, a researcher, a trainer, a masterer [sic]. I will be better than every great actor roped into one.”

Although Michael’s development of characters and alter ego personas was less overtly obvious than Bowie’s, there can be little doubt that he was certainly creating many such fictional characters and alter extensions of himself throughout his career. The “Billie Jean” character, for example, was a very distinct persona steeped in the quirky pathos of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Michael’s love of miming. There was the gangster suave “Smooth Criminal,” the superhero “Captain EO,” the robotic and unfeeling alien who opened most of the “HIStory” concerts and the entire history of short films in which Michael often displayed transformation and/or the duality of conflicting personas (Preppie Daryl vs. Black Studded Leather Gang Leader in “Bad,” the Black Panther of “Black or White,” the royal trickster of “Remember the Time,” the quirky Maestro and uptight mayor of “Ghosts,” and, finally, “The Beast [we] visualized.” And, as with Bowie, with each new incarnation came a new look, often challenging and provoking status quo norms of masculinity and/or normalcy.

Michael, Like Bowie, Often Transformed Himself Into Many Fictional Characters, Such As The Alien Spaceman of the HIStory Tour
Michael, Like Bowie, Often Transformed Himself Into Many Fictional Characters, Such As The Alien Spaceman of the HIStory Tour

And really, when we think of Michael’s career in these terms, some of the more puzzling and often contradictory aspects of his onstage and offstage personality may begin to make more sense to us (for example, how he could be both the seemingly shy, blushing child-man and the sexually charged onstage presence he became).  However, Michael rarely discussed his art or his artistic vision publicly, and I think this reticence may be at least partly responsible for some of the misconceptions. Whereas Bowie often gave detailed interviews about his alter egos, Michael chose the path of mystique instead, preferring to let his music and performances speak for themselves. And, unfortunately, by the time he was ready to open up and talk about his art, he was met by a reluctant press who were always more  interested in discussing anything but his art. By then, Michael’s life and celebrity had become tabloid fodder. No one was really thinking of him as a serious artist, least of all the media.

David Bowie, too, became very much a part of the celebrity cult, but with a studied difference. There always seemed a clear distinction between David Bowie the celebrity vs.  David Bowie the artist. There was, in other words, a clear distinction between art and reality. No matter how “weird” or “androgynous” Ziggy Stardust might look; no matter how eccentric, dark or twisted the “Thin White Duke,” no one was really confusing those characters with their creator, David (Jones) Bowie.  With Michael, there was not always such a clearly defined distinction between the eccentricities of his art and the eccentricities of his reality. The media often ridiculed his choices of fashion, the makeup, his hairstyles, the surgical masks as all somehow indicative of either an extreme desire for attention or as being symptomatic of a psychological disorder or, at best, as a kind of unforgiving unwillingness to separate the fantasy of the “King of Pop image” from his own reality (even though he was, in many ways, simply carrying on an age-old tradition of show business mystique harkening back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when great stars worked hard to develop an image and never allowed themselves to be seen in public looking “normal” or “ordinary”-after all, a star was not supposed to resemble your next door neighbor).

1997 Interview In Which Barbara Walters Criticizes Michael’s Fashion Statements as “Eccentric”

And it is this aspect that many, particularly the rockist elite who were most determined to bring him down, could not forgive. Back in 2010 when I ran a piece comparing Michael and Johnny Depp, and looking at some of the ways in which Michael’s persona had inspired Depp’s quirkier characters, I raised this same question: Why is Johnny Depp revered for playing the same eccentric, quirky characters that Michael was often condemned for being in real life? And again, it probably comes down to the same answer: Eccentricity is loved, adored, and celebrated when it is on the big screen, or conversely, on the stage. In other words, as long as it is within the realm of fantasy. It’s not so loved, or embraced, when it bleeds over into real life, when being “different” can even become a threat.The world knows that Johnny Depp is an actor who, at the end of the day, takes off the makeup and goes home to a relatively “normal” life. Michael, on the other hand, even after performing in the spotlight, went home to a place called Neverland-a place that, as far as the media was concerned, represented the height of eccentricity. Likewise David Bowie  lived the typical rock star fast life through much of the 70’s and 80’s before finally settling down to a kind of respectable domestic life in the 90’s. Part of Michael Jackson’s mystique, on the other hand, was that those lines between his onstage and offstage personas were often blurred. And he was perceived in some circles as a very real threat. In other words, there reached a point where the balance between showmanship and becoming a very real, unsettling threat to the status quo was not so easily or clearly defined. The public began to find Michael Jackson unsettling precisely because they did not longer know how to categorize him or how to separate those boundaries. The great irony in Michael’s case was that the very mystique he sought, in order to protect himself as a serious artist, was ultimately denied him. Instead, the sensationalist angle of his life took over (but to what extent we might blame Michael or the media for this remains a hotly debatable issue). David Bowie once said that the reason he abandoned Ziggy Stardust when he did was because he had taken that alter ego as far as he possibly could, and that to have continued as Ziggy would have turned both himself and the character into a cartoon caricature. The unfortunate downside for Michael might be that he never seemed as able-or perhaps was never allowed to be as able- to so blithely develop and then discard his alter extensions once the spotlight was turned off. 

David Bowie Said If He Had Not Abandoned Ziggy Stardust When He Did, He Would Have Quickly Become "A Caricature."
David Bowie Said If He Had Not Abandoned Ziggy Stardust When He Did, He Would Have Quickly Become “A Caricature.”

But perhaps the biggest factor may come down to simple demographics. Bowie’s roots were strongly entrenched in the avant-garde world of glam rock, where his brand of “Otherness” was considered the norm; even expected. Unlike Michael, whose roots instead were firmly  embedded in the glory days of Motown and where his fame had begun as a child star and as part of a popular and clean cut “boy band,” Bowie had the luxury of beginning his career as an adult with a clean slate. This gave him the kind of carte blanche needed to fully develop his adult artistic vision, in all of its “weird” glory. I believe that Michael, especially by the time he had emancipated himself from Quincy Jones in the early 90’s, really wanted to be an avante-garde artist on a par with Bowie, but the disadvantage he faced was that his reputation was already firmly established as The King of Pop. The world had watched him grow up, and therefore any and all attempts at self-reinvention or even artistic reinvention always seemed to be met with a kind of skepticism. His huge commercial success had become, in a way, his own downfall in moving forward, and it often seemed that no matter how brilliant his mature work might be, he was always doomed to be judged by a harsher standard by critics who simply didn’t “get it” and who seemed to want to refuse him the right to either grow up or change.

Michael Sometimes Seemed To Want To Be Every Kind of Artist, To Every One. He Succeeded More Than Most...But Not Without Cost.
Michael Sometimes Seemed To Want To Be Every Kind of Artist, To Every One. He Succeeded More Than Most…But Not Without Cost.

But part of the problem, too, is that Michael always desired to be the kind of artist who could be everything to everyone. The boldness of his vision was such that he truly believed he could reinvent himself as a cutting edge, avante-garde artist, one who would challenge and threaten the status quo, all while still selling millions of records and maintaining his role model image and loyal, global fanbase. And I have said many times before that the biggest testament to his star power was that he was able to successfully juggle this often unweildy balance as successfully as he did. However, achieving that balance could not come without some form of price, and in Michael’s case, I believe that price was paid by the fact that he would always forever be doomed to “prove himself” to critics-and to top his own achievements. At some point, Michael did become resigned to the price he had paid, becoming less the “superhero” of past incarnations and more the dark “beast” who reflected our fears and prejudices. Another price to be paid is that his most challenging work was always going to be either torn down or dismissed by a generation of critics who feared what the repercussions of taking him too seriously might entail. To cut to the simple chase, it was always going to be an easier path for a white British rocker to challenge our norms. It was never going to be as easy for a black American pop singer who had started out as a child singing “ABC.” But the one thing we have to remember is that David Bowie did courageously make a stand for black American musicians, using his platform to make the pop and rock world aware of its own racial injustices-and its own short sightedness. And when Bowie spoke, people listened.

There is at least one other parallel note to touch upon, and that is the immortality and metaphoric resurrection of both through their art. In what has become almost a cliche’ with celebrity/artist deaths, both Michael Jackson and David Bowie died just as they seemed on the verge of major “comebacks.” I use the term in quotes, however, because the truth is that neither had ever really gone away. But it is true that the “This Is It” concerts would have been Michael’s return to the stage after almost a decade, and Bowie’s “Blackstar” album was his first since 2013. Of course we now know that Bowie, who had been quietly and courageously battling his cancer for eighteen months, intended this album as his final farewell. That the “Lazarus” video, depicting an emaciated Bowie being resurrected from his death bed, just happened to be released on the day of Bowie’s death was either the most brilliant marketing strategy ever, or-depending on how one views these things-the most macabre and exploitative marketing strategy ever. However, since Bowie was apparently in complete control of this project all the way up to the last, what is most obvious is that Bowie planned perfectly how to make his own death his Last Great Production-and his final artistic statement to the world.

David Bowie’s “Lazarus”-A Good-Bye As Brilliant As It Is Heartbreaking

In Michael’s case, though he was not battling a terminal illness, there was nevertheless something eerily prophetic in the choice of “This Is It” as the title of his final curtain call-and which would lend even more macabre poignancy to the concert film that followed, which in its own way seemed to supplant the aborted live concerts as Michael’s own resurrection from the grave. MJ-mjs-this-is-it-24072928-1280-706 (1)

I have listened to “Lazarus,” as well as watched the video, many times this week, and more recently have listened to the entire “Blackstar” album. It is a haunting and brilliant work, although I know it will take many, many more listenings for all of its facets and nuances to reveal themselves,and before all the dots of its parting message can truly be connected for me. What I do know is that “Lazarus” is an achingly beautiful tribute to the immortality of the artistic spirit, which unfortunately must be pitted against the mortality of the physical body. And in that spirit I am reminded again of Michael’s own words, when he said “To escape death, I attempt to bind my soul to my work.”After viewing “Lazarus” my husband made the comment that he believed a celebrity death had finally managed to “upstage” Michael Jackson’s. This led to a quite interesting (and opinionated!) discussion. I said yes, but we have to remember that David Bowie had eighteen months in which to contemplate his mortality, and to prepare his farewell statement to the world. Michael didn’t have that luxury; he couldn’t have foreseen that his life was going to be cut short at fifty (although I do believe he had a strong premonition in his last months that the end was nearing). But after that conversation, I remembered something else-that Michael had, in fact, brilliantly and prophetically predicted his own demise, death, and eventual resurrection many years before, in the film “Ghosts” and its forerunner, “Is It Scary.” Of course. I have been writing on “Ghosts” for years-even lecturing on it-and yet, somehow, this most obvious parallel of all completely escaped me until being recalled in hindsight. Since there can be little doubt that Michael intended The Maestro character as an extension of himself (that which represented himself as “The Artist”) then the death scene of the character, when he literally crumbles to dust on the floor before the astonished villagers, is not only analogous to Michael’s own physical death twelve years later, but eerily prophesies what he perceives as the crucifixion of the artist. In both “Is It Scary” and “Ghosts” his character is, of course, miraculously resurrected, though in different ways-in “Is It Scary” his corpse is literally pieced back together by the children; the later version in “Ghosts” merely depicts his resurrection as a more mysterious result of the power of wishful thinking, though the implications are the same.  In both films, the idea of the artist as a kind of “Lazarus” figure who is both sacrificed because of his art, and resurrected as a result of its power to sustain his immortality, is a central theme. So in a way, it seems Michael did create his own version of “Lazarus,” even if, albeit, some twelve years prematurely.

In closing, I will simply add this parting thought. I am proud that my generation was blessed with so many unique geniuses and talents, and every time we lose another, the world grows a little dimmer and colder for their loss. Among the music world, I don’t think there are many more genuine stars of their ilk left. The world that created them has passed; we make do with lesser lights.

“Get the point? Good…Let’s Dance!”