You’ve all heard of the six degrees of separation, right? Though I never had the fortune to meet Michael in person, it never ceases to amaze me to learn just how closely our paths often (nearly) intersected. I’ve mentioned before how I only very recently learned that one of my best friends had a brother in California who used to do cosmetology work for the Jackson family. And, of course, I have written about Michael’s family ties to Alabama, my home state-and a place he visited often. In 1984, Michael, along with his brothers, rehearsed for the Victory tour in Birmingham, which meant for two whole weeks Michael Jackson was less than two hours down the road from me. It was no secret, of course, that he was here-the local news broadcasts made sure we got all the latest updates on “Michael sightings.” But alas, I was not able to take advantage of this golden opportunity to do a little Michael stalking-in those days, I barely had transportation to get to the corner store, let alone a two hour road trip. But since those days, I’ve developed a very avid interest in Michael Jackson’s ties to the South and his time spent here.
Last weekend I did get to go on a very amazing road trip to Memphis, which is about a four hour drive by car-a perfect straight shot for a weekend getaway of barbecue and Memphis blues-and if you’re smart, you can do it for a bargain price! Memphis, of course, is one of those famous music cities that every music lover must experience at least once in their lifetime. The long list of iconic musicians who have either hailed from Memphis or called Memphis home is an exhaustive one-W.C. Handy, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, just to name a very few. Then, of course, there is the biggest name of all that everyone associates with Memphis, Tennessee-Elvis Presley.
As we strolled Beale Street, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds- including all of the stars of every performer who had ever graced the stage of The Orpheum, the cement hand prints of Jerry Lee Lewis, and the memorials to Sam Phillips and Johnny Cash- I couldn’t help but wonder if Michael Jackson had ever walked the streets of Memphis. It would stand to reason that he had-after all, he had one very, very big connection to Memphis-and we all know what that connection was!
From 1994 to 1996, in fact, Michael had good reason to be in Memphis. For awhile, however brief, it was Michael’s hometown. Well, by marriage, that is.
Shortly after I returned from my trip, I saw this article, posted by Orthodiva on the website Positively Michael. The article originally appeared in The Daily Helmsman, an independent University of Memphis newspaper:
Michael Jackson Mania
By Michelle Corbet
Published: Monday, November 21, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 15:11
Sheila Guerrero’s collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia occupies an entire bedroom, with items ranging from dolls and posters to sleek white gloves.
Sheila Guerrero, 17, and her friend couldn’t afford a ticket to the show, but they convinced a TV cameraman to take them past security to use the bathroom. The two friends waited anxiously in the bathroom several hours for the show to start.
People began to arrive around 7 p.m. They started asking if anyone knew where Michael would be. A woman told them he was supposed to be in Suite 7. So, clad in their Looney Tunes t-shirts and blue jeans, they made their way through the crowds of ball gowns and tuxedos to look for their beloved King of Pop.
As they waited outside of Suite 7, security started to gather. Ten minutes later, the elevator door opened and Guerrero knew it was Jackson from just a glimpse of his right satin-covered shoulder.
She started to scream and cry.
The former Jackson Five front man came up to her and said, “Aw, don’t cry. It’s okay.”
Guerrero, a junior journalism major, willingly admits that her wedding day didn’t compare to that moment.
Aretha Shotwell and Sheila Guerrero have been “Michael Jackson friends for life” since junior high school.
“Our friendship has been greatly influenced by our love for Michael because we both got a chance to see him at the Pyramid, and that is a memory only the two of us share,” Shotwell said.
Guerrero and Shotwell met Michael Jackson when he came to the Pyramid with Lisa Marie Presley for an Elvis Tribute concert in 1994.
Guerrero started her own fan club, “Michael Jackson Fans Speak Out,” in 2009 to support the pop singer faced with child molestation allegations. Most recently, she flew to Los Angeles to be present in the trial investing Michael Jackson’s death.
Guerrero decided to go to Los Angeles at the time of the Michael Jackson trial for her birthday. She knew the trial would be ending near her birthday, Nov. 4. Guerrero arrived in L.A. Thursday, Nov. 3, and by Monday, Nov. 7, the jury had reached a verdict. Conrad Murray, Jackson’s former doctor was guilty.
Michael Jackson fans were chanting in the streets. Guerrero described it as pandemonium.
Guerrero was quoted in several articles written by CNN and Daily News Los Angeles the day after the trial results. There are numerous videos of Guerrero on NBC Los Angeles and, most notably, an interview by CNN correspondent Jane Velez-Mitchell.
During the interview, Guerrero expressed her happiness, thanked God and said, “Michael deserves justice, his family deserves justice and his fans deserve justice.”
Velez-Mitchell spoke with Guerrero while the crowd waited for the verdict.
“She said, ‘When we get the verdict, I want to interview you first,’” Guerrero said.
“I was so proud and excited for her. I happened to be watching that channel, and I saw the interview so I sent her a text message,” Shotwell said.
David Evans, professor of American folk and popular music, said Memphis’ own Elvis Presley would be the closest precedent to Michael Jackson and the type of fans who follow him.
He said Marilyn Monroe and Jim Morrison also have a cult following similar to that of Michael Jackson. Evans described such celebrities as having unexplainable charisma and artistry.
“He’s different from the others, as he started as a child star and always retained something of that child quality in his persona. He sort of drew the image of the charismatic performer to a younger age level. He appealed as a dancer as well as a singer-songwriter. He’s a cult figure of the video age and essential things about him, like age and gender, had a lot of ambiguity,” Evans said.
Guerrero’s love for the King of Pop started in her childhood when Michael Jackson was topping the charts with “Thriller.” But her favorite song is “Keep the Faith,” from Jackson’s “Dangerous” album.
“I would listen to that song when I was going through tough times at home or in my neighborhood,” Guerrero said.
After Jackson’s death in 2009, Guerrero started a non-profit organization, “Stop the Hurt. Start the Healing.” The group’s focus is to continue Michael Jackson’s mission to heal the world by helping those who are less fortunate.
“I always wanted to do something meaningful, I wanted to continue his legacy of humanitarianism,” Guerrero said.
“Stop the Hurt. Start the Healing” is having its third annual Christmas toy drive for Hope House Day Care. Guerrero said Hope House is one of the few facilities that care for children with HIV. Guerrero’s group will be at the Wal-Mart on Austin Peay Highway collecting toys on Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to noon.
“We have it the first week of December to commemorate world AIDS days,” Guerrero said. “Michael Jackson was on advocate for AIDS and sick children.”
Guerrero continues to do charitable works through “Stop the Hurt. Start the Healing,” and is already planning her next trip to L.A.
“She has accomplished a lot over the years; everything she does through her foundation is in honor of Michael, and she wants to continue on with his legacy,” Shotwell said.
Seeing this article right on the heels of our trip to Memphis last weekend, I became curious and started researching what I could find on Michael’s times in Memphis. The story about Michael attending the Elvis Presley tribute show at The Pyramid intrigued me, since The Pyramid was one of the sights we took in (you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen this architecturally unique beauty of an arena which sets right on the banks of the Mississippi!).
I happened to remember that, long ago, I had seen a video of Michael and Lisa Marie, along with Janet and Priscilla Presley, at an Elvis tribute show. What I recalled most about the video was how loudly the crowd cheered for Michael-and how utterly ticked off Priscilla looked, apparently irritated that Michael was getting louder cheers than either her or Lisa (or perhaps maybe because Michael milked it a little longer than Mama Priscilla thought “proper,” lol!).
I wondered if this was the video of that night at The Pyramid. Well, a little googling and…voile’! It was.
So I had some fun watching it again, just for the heck of it. You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Watch this video and you can pretty much see, within those few seconds, the entire history of the Jackson/Presley marriage played out-along with everything that probably went wrong with it! Michael is the only one who seems genuinely happy to be there; he’s frisky and playful with Lisa, and of course, loving the attention from the crowd. But is he loving it just a little too much? You can read the expressions on Lisa’s and Priscilla’s faces, loud and clear! And here is Lisa, sitting right in the middle between Michael and Priscilla-just as one can imagine she positioned herself throughout the marriage! But notice how it is Priscilla that she takes her cues from. And it is Lisa who smooths over the awkward moment by whispering to her mother that they should all stand again.Looks like Priscilla was more than a bit tiffed at her son-in-law getting so much attention and adoration at her ex-husband’s tribute show!
This find led me to other videos. Apparently, Michael and Lisa Marie’s October, 1994 and September, 1995 visits to Memphis were especially well documented-and a source of never ending fascination for the local media!
In 1995, they visited The Memphis Zoo. The commentary for this video was a tad snarky, though I did have to laugh at the analogy of a Michael Jackson sighting to that of “a rare species” and the comment about Lisa looking so miffed. “Maybe Michael wouldn’t buy his lovely wife a snowcone.” Oh, and he apparently wasn’t one for sitting down until the train was fully stopped!
They also visited a record store where the couple made the day of several Dutch fans when they signed autographs and posed for pictures. If you watch closely, you can also catch some other rare images of Michael and Lisa in Memphis:
Jeroen Noppen was one of those lucky fans that day. In this video, he talks a little about that experience although it is in Dutch (if someone can translate, I’d love to know exactly what he says!). The part about Michael begins at about 5:44:
Of course, Michael never visited any city without taking time out for the sick and needy children. Memphis, home to St. Jude’s Hospital, was certainly no exception. Here is a rare clip of Michael and Lisa visiting St. Jude’s. Michael spent a lot of time with this little girl in the video, whom he teased about being “more shy than me.”
More of Michael and Lisa at St. Jude’s:
And here is a clip that gives a little more background story on this visit as well as highlighting other interesting bits of trivia about the couple’s time in Memphis. Apparently, they had plenty of papayas and melon at the hotel-Michael liked his fruit on the exotic side!
Ironically, a very young Michael Jackson was also in Memphis long before marriage to Lisa Marie, the very same year that his famous, future father-in-law died there-1977. A local Memphis DJ recalled that visit, which ended with Michael and his brothers being forced to take refuge from fans atop a Woolco department store!
One can only wonder if a 10-year-old Lisa Marie might have been among that crowd, checking out her future husband.
Well, I don’t know about that, but I did do some more digging and found this very interesting and touching account of that 1977 visit:
Michael Jackson On the Roof Of Woolco In Memphis, Tennessee, In 1977
Author:Robot A. Hull
29 Jun 2009
When Michael Jackson appeared on the roof of Woolco in Southgate Shopping Center in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1977, he had no idea that one day he would be wed to the daughter of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and that he would even vye for the King’s throne.
Then, Michael was not yet the beknighted King of Pop. In fact, he was more one of the Five, and not yet the grand amalgamation of pop cultural touchstones that he would become.
As the story has been told, the Jackson 5 were appearing that evening in concer and had just visited the South’s great R&B radio station, WDIA. Michael and his brothers were eager to please their fans, and that would mean going into the community to sign autographs. So WDIA planned a remote broadcast at a Woolco in the Southgate Shopping Center on South Third.
Although Woolco was selling Jackson 5 recordings, the manager of the store had never even heard of the group. As a result, nobody at this particular Woolco had anticipated what would happen when they opened the doors of the store despite the fact that the store was actually selling tons of their records.
Of course, hundreds, then thousands, of fans rushed in to meet the young pop icons. One estimate is that at least 10,000 people had been waiting in the parking lot to see the group.
The WDIA handlers decided to put the Jackson 5 on the roof for everyone’s safety.
Up there, Michael and his fans waved and dropped autographs down to the crowds. People were screaming one name: MICHAEL! MICHAEL! MICHAEL!
Many of the fans were angry because they had not gotten a chance to get close to the group. The enormous crowd gathered into a storm, and people began looting the Woolco store, completely cleaning it out. The store was torn apart.
Eventually the Jackson family paid for the damages.
One eyewitness who was present at the Great Michael Jackson Woolco Riot describes the event through a similar experience that occurred in Memphis in 1977:
“The best way to explain it is like when Elvis Presley died.
I was in Sessel’s Grocery Store as a sacker across the street from Graceland when people heard Elvis died. People stopped their cars in the middle of traffic in front of his mansion and got out and prayed.
People fell out in the aisles of the grocery store in tears. There were post cards with Elvis’ picture on them. People took them and walked out of the store with the post cards and put them on the store front glass. People took fruit, busted the glass out, never removing the photo from the glass, cutting themselves.
Traffic was backed up for five miles in 2 directions. You had to drive nearly 30-40 miles to get home when you would normally just drive 2 miles.
To say that people didn’t love Elvis those days was blasphemy.
Just today a young girl heard me playing Micheal’s music. She said didn’t I know he was dead and she thought he was a freak.
Someday as you grow older you will learn the very meaning of your words and how your very words can influence a world like his did. Because When Micheal died, I lost a friend, a friend that had lost his way.”
Woolco ceased operations in the United States in 1982. Michael died in 2009. Somewhere in between Michael Jackson became bigger than life.
Hey, he even married Dead Elvis’ daughter! Fucking amazing!!
Flash forwarding now to 2009, Memphis reacts to the death of Michael Jackson:
Despite the infamous Presley/Jackson rivalry that fans from both camps have been perpetuating ever since Michael and Lisa married in 1994 (and even long before, when Michael began breaking Elvis’s records) it’s clear that Memphis loves Michael. He may not be “King” here-in the heart of Memphis, it does no good to argue who their “King” is-but the town that Elvis called his throne nevertheless has a definite soft spot for its favorite son…er, son-in-law, that is.