Rebutting Wyman and "The Education of Michael Jackson"-Part One

In 1991, Michael Asked The Question: "Why You Wanna Trip On Me?" That's Because By '91, Everybody Was!

Ever notice there are some writers who just stick under your craw with their dogged determination to either dehumanize Michael Jackson on the one hand, or to continue to perpetuate old cliches’ and worn out myths about him on the other? Bill Wyman is one of those who has been very subtley at it for years, while masking himself as one of those “fair and balanced” writers just because he acknowledges Michael Jackson’s musical genius (but then, let’s face it, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Michael had unique, musical genius). Anyone can acknowledge his musical talent. But in the last twenty years, most have been only too willing to jump the bandwagon of diminishing his humanity, and judging from two articles I recently compared-one going all the way back to 1991, and the other as recent as 2009-Wyman has been no exception.

“I Want Me Back: The Education of Michael Jackson” was a jewel I discovered when I was researching my recent article on Michael’s honorary doctorate degree. Naturally, googling and searching the net for any and all articles pertaining to Michael’s formal education led to some surprising discoveries, since such searches will naturally cross reference many other related articles. So on discovering this, I decided it was worth filing away for future reference-and rebuttal.

Something that is always interesting to me is to find old, original  articles written on Michael from various eras, especially that transitional period from the late 80’s into the 90’s when we can actually track the beginnings and rise of the “Wacko Jacko” caricature, and how it came to be created. And please forgive me for using that offensive term; however, we all know it was-and continues to be-a term that was/is actually used, so if I use it in the context of trying to analyze its origins and why/how it all came about, bear with me. It is as necessary as understanding why the “N” word exists, and we can’t get to the truth without sometimes dealing with the unpleasantries of truth.

Bill Wyman’s “I Want Me Back: The Education of Michael Jackson,” while full of inaccuracies and based mostly on speculation and questionable sources, does at the very least serve as an interesting time capsule piece, taking us back to that era when “Black or White” had just been released, when the controversy over the video was still fresh on everyone’s mind, and to a time when people were starting to ask a lot of questions about Michael Jackson, questions that we have to understand AT THE TIME did not have any ready answers forthcoming (for example, in ’91 it would still be another two years before Michael would come forward to tell the world he had vitiligo-an explanation that should have ended all of this nonsensical speculation about skin bleaching then and there, but as we know, did not). However, it’s not so much Wyman’s ignorance on the subject that I call into question-after all, no one in 1991 really understood what was happening to Michael’s skin, or why his color was apparently changing-but rather, his quickness to accept unsubstantiated sources and explantions for truth. Sadly, it’s a phenomenon that has remained all too prevalent when reporting on Michael Jackson.

It is interesting for another reason, also, in that it reveals that perhaps the seed was already being planted for the Chandler accusations a full TWO years prior. I’ll explain more about that when we get to that particular segment of the article.

It’s not that I disagree with the entire article. Most of what he writes in the early passages are not really up for dispute, though there are some small things I call into question. It is the latter half I am mostly concerned with. But for the sake of context and historical interest, I will include the piece in its entirety.

First of all, if you’re interested in reading the full piece without my commentary, here is the link:

But now let’s pick it apart and separate truth from fiction. What I will do, to make this easy to follow, is to quote a paragraph or two from Wyman’s article (which will be block quoted) followed up by my own commentary and analysis, which will not appear in quotes. Boldfaced passages in the quoted sections are my emphasis. It’s a rather long piece, so hopefully this format will make the task somewhat easier to break down.

Look at them one way and you see the Jacksons–the working-class Gary family that produced the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson–at an extraordinary pinnacle of money and power. About a year ago, 25-year-old Janet–the former child star of the TV show Good Times, just a toddler at the time of the Jackson 5’s biggest success–closed a deal with Virgin Records that industry analysts estimate was worth between $30 and $50 million for perhaps only two albums. The same month, her brother Michael signed the largest entertainment deal of all time, worth not a billion dollars, as Sony’s PR apparatus crowed, but as much as $50 or $60 million per album, if Jackson’s records sell at their current rate. There are people who deplore such figures, but it’s not clear why–both Michael and Janet deserve their money, and probably more: Janet generated somewhere in the vicinity of $75 million for her last two album releases, Michael somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million, not counting singles. Has ever a pair of siblings–working independently, no less–achieved such reward or recognition?

Those two deals–which make the pair arguably the highest-paid artists in any medium, ever–were indeed the culmination of a vast family saga; but it is the Jacksons’ tragedy that both Michael and Janet have, in certain key ways, repudiated their family. They both remain in contact with their brothers, sisters, and parents, but they’ve separated themselves artistically and financially. The five oldest brothers’ singing group, the Jackson 5, was managed and controlled by their father, Joseph Jackson, an assembly-line worker and frustrated musician. The Jackson 5 were supposed to be a classically happy family; when they established themselves as a draw in Las Vegas, the show ultimately featured all nine kids, including the 5 (Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael), younger brother Randy, and the three girls: Rebbie, La Toya, and Janet, the youngest, who even at the age of five was bringing down the house with an imitation of Mae West. When Jermaine married Berry Gordy’s daughter, Hazel, the show-business wedding of the year was widely viewed as the coming together of two dynasties.

At this point, I have no dispute with the article, as Wyman is mostly stating well known facts. Obviously, Michael and Janet were (and remain) the most succesful solo artists of the Jackson clan, and it was almost a running joke in the family as to who would top who and land the biggest record deal. However, Wyman is also employing a very sneaky and well known tactic that has been used over and over with writers who intend, ultimately, to create a hit piece on Michael. In acknowledging that Michael’s subtantial rewards for his musical contributions are justified, he is simply setting the stage so that when he flips the coin to then discuss how tragic it is that his personal life has disintegrated into such a circus, no one can accuse him of being unfair or unbalanced. He sets the stage here  by building up to a convenient way to introduce the dysfunction of the Jackson family-which, of course, is inevitably where most hit piece writers and journalists always begin when trying to analyze the root causes of Michael’s “demons” (in itself an overused phrase that has played itself out every time a sensationalistic writer is looking for a convenient way to label the issues Michael dealt with in his life). The insinutaion is clear-Michael’s “education” began at home.

But the truth was of course much different, as a couple of new books confirm. J. Randy Taraborrelli’s well-researched Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness (Birch Lane Press) and La Toya (Dutton), the amusing if untrustworthy autobiography of the family’s second-oldest sister, both portray the family as a fetid swamp of pain, manipulation, and destructiveness. Joseph, evidently, was a feckless father and an unceasing tyrant, beating both the boys and the girls regularly: the children spent their early years terrified of him, their later years holding him in cold contempt. (To the children he was always “Joseph,” never “father”.) The adored mother, Katherine, tried to control her husband’s temper, and, failing, took solace among the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was an unfortunate choice for a number of reasons, among them the religion’s insularity: it only served to isolate the children even further from anything vaguely like normality. Joseph was reputedly a rabid womanizer and had at least one child outside the marriage; his attempts to have his extrafamilial progeny meet his legal children were treated with scorn and disgust, at least by Michael and the daughters. His values were passed down efficiently to most of his male progeny, whose marriages disintegrated amid charges of adultery and, in several cases, physical abuse. It’s a dark picture, and could be even darker: In The Magic and the Madness, which was published before La Toya, Taraborrelli details the negotiations that went on between Michael and La Toya over what were supposed to be allegations in her then-unfinished book that both she and Michael had been sexually molested as children. In the end, neither allegation was included in La Toya’s book; the book was dedicated, however, “to all the children of the world and to people who have suffered any form of abuse.”

The disparity pulling at the Jacksons–the happy aggregation trotted out for the PR photos versus the unhappy internal one torn by strife–finally began to wear the family down. Flailing, their actions increasingly took on the flavor of dependency: they became addicted to Michael, whose disproportionate financial success eventually transformed him from the second-youngest brother to the de facto head of the family. By the mid-80s, the artistic affairs of the rest of the family were essentially moribund–yet still the Jackson household buzzed with potential activity. Promises of millions poured in for the family or the brothers to do just about anything–anything, that is, that Michael would do, too. The most comical scenes in Taraborrelli’s book come when Korean representatives of the Unification Church visit the family’s Encino manse, Hayvenhurst, to persuade the Jacksons to tour South Korea. As Taraborrelli tells the tale, the Koreans promised $7 million, $10 million, $15 million for just a few nights of music–nights that would, of course, include the music of Michael Jackson. Absolutely, said Joseph, who routinely made deals on the basis of things he wished would happen. Great, said the Koreans, here’s a Rolls-Royce. And one for you, and you, they said to anyone–family or staff–who got within reach. Michael was done touring with his brothers, but by this point neither the Koreans nor the Jacksons were ready to take no for an answer. The Koreans finally announced a $1 million cash bounty to whichever family member signed Michael up for the tour. This might have been more difficult than it was, but the biggest pop star in the world, with a net worth far into the hundreds of millions, still lived at home. Things were approaching a fever pitch–Michael’s bodyguard got $500,000 from the Koreans, the bodyguard’s girlfriend a Rolls-Royce–when the family, crazed like a junkie, finally persuaded their ace in the hole, Katherine, to beg her son to help his brothers once again. He caved in–only to have the Koreans back home balk at the money their representatives had been offering. The tour never happened.

Balanced Biography Or Tabloid Trash? One Thing's For Sure, By 1991, This Book Was Influencing The Way EVERYONE Thought About Michael Jackson...For Better Or Worse

Well, here is where things start to get interesting. This is going to be an article all about dishing dirt, innuendo, and gossip. Who woulda thunk it, right? Of course, given that the average reader is far more interested in dirt, innuendo, and gossip than artistic achievements, maybe we can’t really fault Wyman for that. But notice that in the very first sentence of this passage, he identifies his two main sources for all of the dirt, innuendo, and gossip that will follow, all of which he will pass off as fact without apparently having bothered to check any other sources. Furthermore, it’s interesting that he even notes that Latoya’s autobiography is “untrustworthy” and will acknowledge in a succeeding paragraph that Taraborelli’s biography is flawed (“not a great biography,” he states, and even acknowledges his own doubts that Taraborelli had much acquaintance with Michael beyond a professional interview) yet, for all those fully acknowledged doubts, still proceeds nevertheless to quote from both sources as gospel.

For the record, I am not totally anti-Taraborelli, as some are. It’s just that I’m also not one of those who automatically takes everything he has written about Michael Jackson as gospel, either. I have used his book as a source, just as I have read and used many books on Michael, but the trick to using any book or writer as a source is having the ability to think critically and to trust what is reliable information as opposed to what is unsubstantiated innuendo. Any hack writer can tell you that relying on unnamed “sources” is one of the oldest tricks in the book for allowing license to write most anything-after all, how is anyone going to be able to verify the word of an “unnamed source” or the reliability of their information? Tabloid writers have known this trick for years!

There is also a very good reason why Taraborelli has continued to revise and rewrite this biography. To his credit, he has been willing to revise and reexamine some of his earlier held beliefs and theories, such as Michael’s intimate relations with women. On the negative side, this biography has been monumental in establishing what has become many firmly entrenched media myths about Michael Jackson. Taraborelli was largely responsible for perpetuating the myth that Michael used skin lightening products (which then gave his detractors all the ammunition needed to purport the ‘skin bleaching” myth) and was a victim of body dysmorphic disorder. While I do believe Michael had this disorder to some degree (I remember David Nordahl telling me that Michael was always convinced he was “so ugly”) too often it has been exaggerated and lumped in with any discussion about his cosmetic surgeries, further perpetuating the false myth that he was a cosmetic surgery “victim” when the reality was that he was never, at any time, the disfigured and virtually unrecognizable “freak” that the media liked to portray. I also believed Theresa Gonsalves when she told me that Taraborelli intentionally twisted her account of her friendship with Michael.

Though She Would Later Betray Michael In '93, Latoya's 1991 Autobiography Spared Her Brother Much Of The Scathing Criticism Of The Rest Of The Family

As for Latoya’s autobiography, I do believe there was a lot of truth to it, even though some things may have been exaggerated. We have to keep in mind she was still under the abusive influence of Jack Gordon when she wrote it, and that Gordon actually attempted to extort the family in exchange for the book not being published. The demands went unmet, so the publication proceeded.

In some ways, knowing Michael came from such a dysfunctional upbringing has made me feel a lot closer to him on a personal level, because I endured many of the same things that Michael, Latoya, and the other kids experienced. But there is another truth to keep in mind as well, an oft-repeated saying that nevertheless bears repeating here: Every family, to some extent, is dysfunctional. Who can really, honestly say they come from a “normal, happy” family-and who defines what is normal, or happy, anyway? As a show business family, the Jackson’s lives have been held up for public scrutiny, with every domestic drama and dispute becoming tabloid fodder. And, no doubt, the family members themselves have contributed to this by using their relationship with the press and unique position to air the family’s dirty linen every time a personal spat arises.

Note the loaded phrase (boldfaced above) where Wyman, paraphrasing Taraborelli’s account of the Korean concert promotors, refers to the Jacksons as being “crazed like a junkie” over the Rolls-Royces and other perks being offered. You can see here that the roots are being laid for the media’s current tendency to label the Jacksons as a greedy, money grubbing family, a stigma that has stuck to this day and which has been used against them in many unjustifiably cruel ways. Just for example, in the days and weeks right after Michael died, at a time when normally you would expect people to be sympathetic, the media instead seemed to be using his death as an excuse to shift their disdain for Michael onto his family (and sadly, we are seeing the same thing happening now with his children). Sometimes we might hear a word of sympathy expressed for Michael’s elderly mother, but in general, the reports were very snarky as reporters seemed more caught up in trying to find ways to bash the family and accuse them of some greedy ploy (a trend that continues).

Love Them Or Hate Them, But No One Can Deny They Are The Closest Thing We Have To American Music Royalty

I’ll just say here that I am very much aware of some of the things Michael had to say in private regarding certain family members. But regardless of whatever Michael may have felt or said in the privacy of his home, to his most trusted friends and confidantes, that doesn’t change the fact that there has been a real paradigm shift in the way the media has represented this First Family of American Music, and I say this without reservation because the Jacksons are deserving of our respect. This is a family that overcame incredible odds, that broke racial barriers,and established a musical American dynasty. The closest white equivalent we have to them is The Osmonds, but come on! The Osmonds aren’t even remotely in the same league as The Jacksons. Whatever dysfunction may exist within should not detract from their accomplishments or their very deserved recognition. Yet I’ve always suspected that some of this may, in part, be racially motivated, that perhaps the idea of America’s most powerful musical family just happening to be an African-American family was maybe a little too threatening for some.

Anyway, I am digressing. Let’s turn our attention back to Wyman:

Taraborrelli was an editor at Soul magazine when the Jacksons broke big. There’s no sense in his book that he’s had anything but the rarest professional interview with Michael in the years since, the most recent of these a bizarre early-80s session in which Michael required all questions and answers be routed through sister Janet. Taraborrelli’s book is not a great biography, and it could be fleshed out more with reporting from the real world–there’s little perspective from the record companies, for example, or the industry generally. But he obviously has a lot of sources around the Jackson household, and he gives an accordingly ferocious insider’s view of this benighted family. Katherine Jackson, long suffering, was fond of saying that she wished they were back in their little house in Gary. Life there was no picnic either, it turns out, but about halfway through this long and lacerating book you want to grant her just that one wish.

Michael Jackson is a difficult person to figure out, because he doesn’t play by the rules other “superstars” do. He’s not an “artist” in the sense that he has anything to say, or feels a need to play a certain sort of music in a certain way. He’s not really an “interpreter,” either: you don’t get the sense that he records a tune because he feels an affinity with it, or because he thinks he might add some meaning to it. All of these common motivations are subordinated to what he does best (and better than anyone else), which is sell records. In this sense he is the most perfect of pop stars.

Ooh boy, where is Joe Vogel when you need him? Well, okay, I will grant this one to Wyman for two reasons-first of all, it’s his opinion, which he’s entitled to, and secondly, this was still some time before the HIStory album would prove beyond a doubt that Michael was an artist with plenty to say, about a lot of things. But even here, at the time of Dangerous, Michael was already making a a very strong stance on social issues such as racism, poverty, hunger, and AIDS (which he alludes to in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” and even “Gone Too Soon,” which is not just a syrupy ballad, but a song dedicated to Ryan White, an AIDS victim). Not to mention, this article was written a full six years after “We Are The World” and four years after the huge success of “Man In The Mirror” (and how anyone could overlook that performance as being the work of a master interpreter, as well as “Human Nature,” I have no idea!). Clearly, it’s erroneous then to claim that Michael was “not an artist” based on the grounds that he did not have “anything to say.” More likely, I would either chalk this up to a case of severe short-sightedness (that Wyman was one of those so busy focusing on Michael’s dance tunes that he missed everything else) or-dare I say it?-a purposeful attempt to downplay Michael’s importance as an artist.

"I Had To Tell Them I Ain't Second To None"-Perhaps It Was No Coincidence That Michael Proclaimed Those Words in '91 As Well

Speaking of Joe Vogel, this is a piece that anyone inclined to believe Wyman’s “opinion” should read, and you will see that I’m not so far off base in wondering about the true motivations of writers who, through the years, have been so quickly and shallowly dismissive of Michael’s work:

Here is the thing. When writers and so-called “critics” are praising the “genius” of Michael’s musical accomplishments, they are usually without fail referring to Thriller and sometimes Off The Wall, both albums that are heavy on dance tunes. Off The Wall is a brilliant disco album; Thriller is noted for its mostly feel good tunes like the title track and “Billie Jean” (even if albeit  that is a pretty dark song if you really listen to it!). Critics universally embraced these albums but one also has to wonder if this wasn’t partly because they were only willing to accept Michael as a “song and dance” man, and that once he began pushing the envelope with more social and controversial topics-once it was no longer just about fun and good times-they began downplaying his importance and his impact.

It is also interesting, from a historical perspective, to note that this article came out right about the time that the Dangerous album was creating those first, early ripples; those first indications that Michael’s music was about to go in a much darker, more personal, and more political direction.

Additionally, one could counter his statement that Michael didn’t feel the need “to play a certain sort of music in a certain way” as a compliment to Michael’s diversity, his willingness to experiement with and embrace many styles, and his refusal to be pigeonholed as any certain “type” of artist. Had Michael never attempted to evolve beyond Off The Wall and Thriller, he most assuredly would have been criticized for that, as well. There can be no doubt that some of the musical chances he took were genius moves that paid off-for example, the Eddie Van Halen guitar solo on “Beat It” not only gave his music a new, harder edged flavor, but also (and this was where Michael was very smart!) opened the doors for his music to be played on hard rock radio stations-something that had never happened before! I can remember even now how almost apologetically some hard rock radio dj’s played that record, admitting they never thought they would be playing a Michael Jackson record on their station. But play it they did. And in heavy rotation. Whether it was the industrial sound of “Morphine,” or the power ballad-inspired “Give In To Me” or the New Jack Swing of “Jam,” perhaps it did seem at times that Michael was simply latching onto whatever current trend was fashionable. But by the same token, his versatility and flexibility also ensured that he would continue to evolve.

The next several paragraphs of Wyman’s article I will let stand, as most of it is simply non-controversial fact without need for rebuttal. The one exception is that he erroneously refers to “Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)” as a ‘minor” hit from the early 70’s, when in fact this was a MAJOR hit for the Jacksons from the Destiny album, released near the end of the decade in 1978. One might also take issue with his statement that Michael was “far too attuned to current tastes to release a timeless album” (I think history has aptly proven otherwise!) but those are relatively minor quibbles. I will reserve my energy for where it really counts, which is still to come!

He learned the skill at the feet of the master who eventually broke his heart–Berry Gordy, who dropped a career as a boxer for music, first as a record-store owner, then as a first-rate songwriter (he wrote Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite”) and finally as the founder and force behind one of the most evocative names in music, Motown Records. Under Gordy’s tutelage Jackson learned cynicism early–that the truth doesn’t matter (Taraborrelli has him shaving a couple years off his age, for example, and agreeably promulgating the fictitious story about Diana Ross’s “discovery” of the Jackson 5), and, more importantly, that money matters over all. Motown’s usual artist contract was exploitative even by the standards of the day, surpassing the infamous achievements of the seminal blues labels through the simple expedient of getting all the exploitation down on paper. Joseph Jackson didn’t read the contract he signed for the boys; he thought he was committing them for one year but in effect Motown locked them in for five; their royalty rate amounted to roughly a dime per album–say $100,000 for a million records sold–minus whatever the label spent on the band, for recording and just about anything else.

If you think great art comes at a cost, and sometimes it’s the artist who pays, you’re probably sanguine about the conditions that produced the unaccountably memorable music the Jackson 5 created. When the Motown production squads (in this case it was a label exec, Deke Richards, and a couple of songwriting finds, Fonce Mizell and Freddie Perren, d.b.a. “The Corporation”) melded with the young Michael Jackson’s voice and delivery, the result was magic, plain and simple. The band’s first three singles went to number one: “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and, of course, the group’s recording debut, “I Want You Back,” the Motown masterpiece whose breathtaking intro and exuberant, preternaturally knowing lead vocal (Michael was 11 years old!) combine to create one of the most beloved and acclaimed moments in American popular music.

It’s an industry truism that a teen act has a life span of about two years. The Jacksons pushed a bit on these limitations, but eventually succumbed nonetheless, though Michael continued to have occasional solo hits. The boys and their father pushed at Gordy and Motown to allow them to record their own songs, but Gordy held fast: he hadn’t built the largest black-owned corporation in America by giving away publishing money. Like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross before them, the Jacksons fought bitterly with the label; and like most of its talent, they thought about leaving.

Around this time, Taraborrelli reports, Michael himself went to talk to Gordy–a brazen move by a 16-year-old, and an early sign of independence–but got little in the way of satisfaction. Indeed, Gordy responded to the Jacksons’ leaving Motown for CBS by exacting an almost biblical revenge: he took from the family both a brother–Jermaine, Berry’s son-in-law, stayed with Motown–and their name: though the group had been the “Jackson 5” before Gordy had ever heard of them, they’d given ownership of the name to Motown with their contract. At CBS’s Epic Records they became the Jacksons.

The Jacksons weren’t exactly failures in their later years–in the early 70s they had two passable hits, “Dancing Machine” and “Shake Your Body [Down to the Ground],” and later albums, with Michael’s participation, went platinum. But they weren’t really stars anymore. Taraborrelli’s book is good on the uncertainties and pathologies that plagued the family during these years. There seems to have been a widespread understanding in the family that Michael was special, but there was an equally widespread commitment to keeping that specialness at the service of his brothers, and by extension the rest of the family. It was 1979–four years after the move to CBS–before Michael Jackson got to make his first real solo album.

When he did, he produced a gracious pop stunner called Off the Wall, and sold six million copies of it on the back of four top-ten hits. His second adult solo album, Thriller, produced seven top-ten hits and sold a reputed 40 million worldwide, which was of course the most any album had ever sold. And his next one, Bad, which arrived in 1988 after four years of extremely negative publicity and significant changes in the nature of pop music, sold a good 20 million and produced five number-one singles.

You don’t have to like any of these albums (the adult Michael Jackson is far too attuned to popular tastes at any given moment to make a timeless album) to appreciate Jackson’s marvelously assured sense of himself. Despite his occasional PR flubs and his increasingly bizarre offstage life, Jackson has a consistent and immensely valuable ability to make himself the center of a defining pop moment. Sure he strains occasionally; but when he pulls it off–as in his legendary appearance on the Motown 25 TV show, or his recent video for “Black or White”–you have to admire his willingness to risk it all when the stakes are high. The story of the Motown special is a case in point. Gordy had a lot riding on his anniversary show–given his strained relations with almost all of his former stars, he was having trouble putting together a bill that would honor rather than embarrass him. (If you recall, both Linda Ronstadt and, inexplicably, Adam Ant ended up being guests.) Jackson agreed to perform on the show–Gordy had to ask him in person–but demanded both a solo spot and editing control over his segment. Taraborrelli says Jackson created the choreography at home the night before the show. The result, of course, was Jackson’s concussive performance of “Billie Jean,” perhaps the single most dramatic TV rock ‘n’ roll performance of all time and one of the primary catalysts of Thriller’s two-year-long selling spree.

Where Wyman seems to analyze Michael most accurately, and fairly, is in the following passage, although by this point, if you haven’t guessed it already, I am more than a bit weary with seeing every single fact attributed to Taraborelli (as for how great of a job Tarabrelli does at “separating the truth from the rumor” that is a matter of dispute). Also, it’s worth noting that the apparent “source” for his information on the Women’s Wear Daily ad was a typically semi- snarky Rolling Stone article from 1987, “Is Michael Jackson For Real?”, which you can read here:

But back to Wyman:

Even after this success, the family kept Michael tied down with various forms of emotional blackmail. He reluctantly participated in two Jacksons albums, Triumph and Victory. Then, in the worst misjudgment of his career, he was persuaded after bitter and recriminative battles–again the family pulled out Katherine to plead with him–to go along with his father’s plans for what would turn out to be the famously flubbed Victory tour. The brothers without Michael could barely fill a theater, but with him the tour became a financial juggernaut with no one really in charge. There was layer upon layer of management: Joseph and Katherine, boxing promoter Don King, MCA chief Irving Azoff, New England Patriots owner Chuck Sullivan, others who came and went and sued, and of course the looming presence of Michael, who apparently tried to keep the damage to himself at a minimum. The initial method of selling tickets–$30 per, to be sold in blocks of four through postal money orders only–was a scandal in itself. While the family came out of it financially well and Michael announced early on that his portion of the proceeds–perhaps as much as $5 million–would go to charity, Sullivan lost his shirt and the PR cost was enormous and lasting. A few years later, after the release of Bad, Jackson prepared for his first genuine solo tour: similar shenanigans threatened, but he headed them off. According to Taraborrelli he paid his mother $1 million to keep out of it.

Michael Jackson’s private-life idiosyncrasies are by now legend. Taraborrelli does a great job in separating the truth from the rumor: he confirms, for example, previous reports that Jackson himself was involved in planting at least some of the best tabloid fodder, most notably his supposed preference for sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and his alleged campaign to buy the Elephant Man’s bones. (Jackson brilliantly parodied the tabloids’ interest in him in the seminal “Leave Me Alone” video.) We can now debate which is weirder: wanting to spend your nights in a hyperbaric chamber, or getting a kick out of having people think you do.

There are three areas of Jackson’s private life, however, that give one pause. The first is relatively minor: like many other rock stars today, he has become efficiently, almost ruthlessly adept at making money off his name. Jackson got out of his father’s financial clutches before Thriller: with its proceeds he started investing in music publishing, most notably by purchasing the rights to John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s Northern Songs. Music publishing generates money hand over fist and can only increase in value. Jackson is fabulously rich and getting richer all the time, yet he has also been a leader in selling his name to the highest bidder. For every Pepsi deal there has been an embarrassing debacle, like Jackson’s short-lived alliance with LA Gear. Taraborrelli’s book doesn’t even bother to mention one of the tackiest merchandising moves ever made by a major star (and boy is that saying something), an ad placed in Women’s Wear Daily, of all places, announcing in screaming headline type that “MICHAEL JACKSON’S NAME IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR LICENSING.” “Put the most powerful name in American entertainment to work for you,” the ad suggested, helpfully providing several product possibilities: from underwear, mugs, lunch buckets, and hosiery to “small electrics” and “domestics” (Michael Jackson maids?). Is there nothing Jackson won’t do for some sort of price? The U.S. Department of Transportation wants to use “Beat It” in a drunk driving commercial? Fine–as long as the president will give me, let’s see, how about a humanitarian award?

Now even if, like me, you think unimaginably rich rock stars shilling for shoe, beer, and soft-drink companies is a pathetic sight, there are a number of extrafinancial benefits and rationalizations to be made that put Jackson’s deals in a better light. For nearly 15 years his financial dealings were in the hands of people who did not have his best interests in mind, with the predictable results. You could argue, theoretically at least, that it is better for the commodity, so to speak, to have control over itself than to be at the service of another entity: in this sense, the Pepsi commercials, models of the form, are as much a commercial for Michael Jackson as they are for Pepsi. Similarly, while on one level an ad deal is merely a sellout, making the largest advertising deal of all time can become a PR plus. Repeatedly conveyed in The Magic and the Madness is Jackson’s lack of patience with being slighted or coming in second. Off the Wall was a very big record in an industry reeling after the bottom fell out in the post-Saturday Night Fever years–yet it was never number one on the charts and was for all intents and purposes ignored at the Grammys. (Jackson made sure that CBS’s promotional muscles were put to use for Thriller, which eventually spent 37 weeks at number one and swept the Grammys as well.) Still, there is an excess, a tendency to overkill, in some of Jackson’s dealings that someday may backfire.

It’s somewhat hard to fathom now just how huge of a deal this was in the 80’s and early 90’s, when music stars “selling out” to corporations became a polarizing issue in the industry. I remember at the time that Michael’s Pepsi commercials were huge; there was no escaping them. You couldn’t watch TV-especially MTV-without seeing them in heavy rotation, at least a dozen times a day. And no matter how catchy or creative the commericals (including my personal favorite, where Michael esapes the crowd via hitching a ride on a helicopter) there was the undeniable stigma of “sellout.” At the time, I was more a part of the rock scene and so I recall distinctly how many artists used this as an opportunity to take potshots at huge, commercially succesful “pop stars” like Michael Jackson-stars who, in their estimation, represented the worst of mainstream commercialism. (Of course, rock’n’roll was not immune to commercialism, either, as evidenced by some of the controversy back in the day over bands like ZZ Top and Genesis using big name sponsors to promote their tours).

And there is little doubt that Neil Young was taking a jab at Michael Jackson when he sang the famous line, “I ain’t singing for Pepsi/ I ain’t singing for Coke.”

Neil Young’s “This Note’s For You” (1989) took a sharp jab at Michael, as well as other artists singing for commercial products:


While I have always been a huge Neil Young fan, and I support his right to express his own artistic views, I nevertheless now believe firmly that this is a very narrow way of looking at things. After all, there are two schools of thought as to how one can view product endorsement and the commercial licensinig of one’s name and image: One is that, yes, you can look at it as selling out. BUT you can also look at it as someone who is simply, as Michael once put it, doing “good business.” No doubt, Michael made some of the most brilliant business moves of any artist in history (for example, the purchase of the Beatles catalog) but there were some debacles along the way as well. However, overall, his business savvy in making his name and image into a markeatble commodity was unparalleled in the business. It increased his fortune-but it also, perhaps, set him up for a huge downfall as his power in the industry also became unparalleled, in a way that no other black performer had.

Neil Young’s snarkiness aside, Michael Jackson’s Pepsi commercials in the 80’s were undeniably some of the best and most creative commercials ever aired:


A good case in point is the Rolling Stone article mentioned above. While acknowledging many of Michael’s accomplishments, the article also harps on his eccentricities (with much undo attention given to Bubbles and what Michael was wearing, as opposed to any actual intelligent discussion of his music or business ventures),  and when it does mention them, attributes much of the credit of his success to Dileo and Branca. It additionally comes replete with this clincher:

“Michael Jackson Won’t Drink Pepsi-Cola, but he sure wants you to.”

However, I do like this quote from David Williams which comes near the end of the piece:

“…They think he’s shy and he’s evasive and all this. No. He’s just fucking scared and tired of people bugging him. He’s a little sweetheart, and people would eat him up if he let them.”-David Williams, quoted in Rolling Stone, September 1987

Coming up in Part Two, I’ll be analyzing what Wyman had to say in 1991 regarding Michael’s relationships with women, his relationships with boys (interesting because, like I said, this predates the Chandler accusations by two years, and leads me to wonder if these media speculations were already planting the seed for those accusations) and that pesky issue of vitiligo which no one in ’91 understood-yet. I will also look at a much more recent article by Bill Wyman to see how much, if any, he has reassessed his opinions since 1991.  Has the ability of hindsight made him any wiser, or as with so many of his ilk, simply that much more dug in?


51 thoughts on “Rebutting Wyman and "The Education of Michael Jackson"-Part One”

  1. I hate discovering articles like this on my quest for interesting info on him, just brings my mood down a notch.

    A point about the Tarraborelli thing is that while I take issue with Theresa Gonsalves because she sold her story to many other news sources besides JRT as well as spoke about him in various talkshows, so she had her chance to speak whatever truth she had back when he was alive – but I will say that I have spoken to someone else who JRT quotes in his book and when I asked them if it would be possible for them to expand or clarify their comments they told me that they had indeed said some of what was quoted but that it had been edited and some other person’s words had also been added in, which he felt changed his intended meaning. He told me because of that experience he was unwilling to really say anything else about it or MJ for fear of how it could be misquoted again.

    I also spoke to Tonya Boyd/Watts, someone who was quoted heavily as a friend of Debbie’s in JRT’s book, and though she is a friend and did indeed some of the things quoted she had no idea her words had been used in JRT’s book or even who he was or that biography existed until I had sent her a message asking about it last year. He had simply quoted her from various other articles that had been out at the time.

    1. I guess in the case of Tonya Boyd-Watts, it would depend on the context of how her quotes were used. If they were clearly indicated as coming from other sources-and those sources were cited- then that would mean there was no intent to deceive. But obviously, if they were made to look as though Taraborelli actually spoke to her, then that is purposeful intent to deceive.

      But when enough people keep making the same claim, one does have to wonder.

      I’m sure you’re probably aware that he was sued by Berry Gordy after that first edition:

      (I had to remove the Google Books link I put up originally; it was stretching my screen).

      Tarborelli later said something in his defense to the effect that “just because something is true, doesn’t mean people won’t get upset.”

      Oh, and unrelated, but as a little something extra off the cuff, here is a fine example of how Taraborelli chose to pay homage to Michael on the occasion of his 50th birthday…by calling him “Wacko Jacko,” no less! Real classy.

      1. Tarraborrelli said on his facebook he never wrote that. He explained that in UK, the journalist can write an article based on a book and credit you for the article.

          1. He said it on his facebook. Someone asked him about an article on MJ & LMP it’s when he said he had never wrote for the Dailymail, but the british law allowed them to do that.

        1. Shelia, I’d love to have this book because it sdunos more reliable than some being published. I’ve loved Michael since the age of ten. I never believed the molestation charges and other vicious things said about him. I don’t believe half the things being said after his death either. I do know and believe that his life on this earth was a living hell..My mother once stated that the person responsible for getting Ray Charles addicted to heroin should be in jail. I feel the same way about the person(s), so greedy for money that they’d give Michael this dangerous anesthetic knowing it might kill him.I pray that he is resting peacefully and being comforted by our Savior.

  2. According to a commentor on Youtube, in 1993 Neil Young performed a concert sponsored by Molson Canadian Rocks:

    So I guess even Neil Young didn’t always exactly walk his talk when it came to corporate sponsorship and “selling out.” (I still love him, though. He made some great music!).

  3. Oh God! I really appreciate your commentary so cool and thoughtful…but God all this is too much for me. I can’t bear to read/hear what Michael dealt with…thank God their are some strong MJ fans like u.

    Btw Raven, have you ever wondered…how Michael thought he could get away by having his skin change from black to white without offering any explanation in such a racially charged America? Surely, he would have known it will not be “forgiven”…he would not be spared for this? He was pretty knowledgable and intelligent?

    Any person shy or not, would broadcast his condition to the public may be a national announcement saying this is what is happening. How could he leave it for people to speculate given that he was so famous?

    Any clue? I have only a spiritual reason for this…

    1. I love doing these article rebuttals. I love doing them because these are the types of articles (usually extremely biased and poorly researched, as this one was) that have contributed to the public’s misconceptions about Michael. They have been allowed for too long to circulate, unchallenged (in the case of this one, over 20 years).

      The question of why Michael did not come forward sooner about his vitiligo remains a puzzling issue, and for many fans, a troubling one. I say a troubling one because it’s a question that cynics often raise, and for fans who want to defend him on the issue, there are no ready answers. To my knowledge, it was not a question ever directly put to Michael nor one he ever gave an answer to, so it’s not as if one can simply pull up a quote that explains it all away. I wish it were that simple.

      Even though the change we (the public) saw was very gradual, I agree that Michael had to know, at some point people would realize, “Hey, this guy is turning white. What’s going on here?” Even during the Oprah interview, where he finally came forward about it, it wasn’t a willingly given statement, but an admission that she pretty much had to drag out of him.

      That Michael had the disease is not in question. I’ve seen the photos; have seen the autopsy report; have heard it confirmed from people who knew him best. What remains a question is why the reticence.

      I have always felt that the public would have been a lot more sympathetic and understanding about his condition if he had simply come forward when he was first diagnosed. (Of course, given the nature of his relationship with the media, maybe and maybe not, but we’ll never know). However, the public is usually sympathetic to celebrities with diseases once the truth is known. It is when they remain silent that all sorts of crazy rumors and speculations start; of course, the media feeds that, as they always do. But just say, for example, if Michael J. Fox had never come forward to announce that he has Parkinson’s disease, people would be speculating all kinds of crazy stuff about him.

      The problem in Michael’s case is that he stayed silent on the issue for so long that it allowed all of the crazy speculations and rumors to take root. And once they had, people were very reluctant to let go. Many thought that Michael’s admission didn’t seem sincere, and that it was too little, too late. He had essentially left us in the dark and guessing for over five years.

      I’ve often wondered if he regretted that, and if, in hindsight, he might have handled it differently. It’s definitely a question I would have loved to ask him had I ever had the opportunity to sit down with him. You know how there is always those burning, nagging questions that you know you want to know, and that you know everyone else wants to know, too, lol. I would have to say for me, that would have been one of them, maybe not at the top of the list, but definitely on it.

      Many have also asked why he didn’t become, say, a spokesperson for vitiligo sufferers. This is something many celebs often do, to help raise awareness of their diseases and to help others who have the same disease. Well, for the record, we don’t KNOW whether Michael did or did not do more for vitiligo research and to help persons with vitiligo because, as I don’t have to tell you, a LOT of Michael’s most charitable works were done off the record and behind the scenes.

      I do know that at one point he had planned to hold a symposium at Neverland on vitiligo. I don’t know what happened to those plans, but someone reading this may know more about that than I do. I wish those plans had gone forward because I do think it would have been in Michael’s best interest (from a PR standpoint) to have spoken out more about the disease.

      I have a couple of theories as to why he didn’t come forward right away, though. But of course they are just that-theories. People will say that Michael was a very private person and that is true, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think Michael was very personally embarrassed and mortified that he had this disease. I honestly believe if he had had cancer or something, it would have been easier for him to deal with-a disease like cancer is frightening, but easy to explain, and easy for people to accept. (At first, he actually thought he did have some form of skin cancer; he was very scared and didn’t understand WHAT was happening to him). Imagine being as young as he was when he got this diagnosis, and having to live with that knowledge, that within a few years, your only hope is going to be to completely depigment your skin, or look like a spotted cow. Imagine being a young BLACK man whose fame and reputation is at least partly because of your good looks, and now you’ve got to face either looking like some spotted monster, or like an albino (the only other alternative). I believe he did not want this disease to become what he was all about. I think it is very possible that he believed if he just kept quiet, maybe a miracle would happen; after all, he had the money to buy the best of whatever treatments were available.

      But I’ve also considered another, perhaps far more plausible theory, which is that at the time Michael was diagnosed, it was also the height of the AIDS epidemic. For those too young to remember, this was a very scary time. The general public didn’t really understand much about AIDS, and there was a lot of hysteria surrounding it, especially when we began having a rash of celebrities dying from it. At that time, almost any rumored illness that a celebrity had would grow overnight into a tabloid headline proclaiming, “So and so is DYING FROM AIDS.” It is very possible that the panic and misunderstanding that was rampant during the AIDS epidemic may have cemented Michael’s desire to just keep a tight lid on having any possible disease-and given that a lot of people even back then were assuming he was gay, that’s all it would have taken to fuel an AIDS rumor (something Michael definitely didn’t need; by then, his life had become enough of a media circus as it was).

      I am going out on a limb here but I think between those two factors, it may help to explain why he kept silent for so long.

      1. Thanks for the detailed response.

        Your theory no. 1 – Shy and private person – We know he had body image issues, very self conscious. Vitiligo diagnosis is devastating to even normal people, imagine one in his place. Did he feel that he would be unattractive to his fans if he disclosed it? I remember Dr Klein saying Michael wanted to look good just for his fans…But gosh any simple cost-benifit analysis would show him that telling about the problem would be far better than the terrible negative publicity and some of his fans even doubting him!
        I told you Raven that I had not seen Michael before his death but I knew he had turned himself white(I did not even know he was black!)…I don’t know who told me…it was in the air I guess!
        May be destiny/karma…whatever.

        Theory no. 2 – More plausible. may be he thought he could FIX it! May be someone was advising him…don’t know but surely he realised he was getting lighter and lighter by Dangerous he was completely white.

        You know what Raven, Lets imagine that all forms of storing information are destroyed…no books…no electronic ways…nothing…just of word of mouth is left. Also assume, through this word of mouth only the fans or neutral people are left to tell the story of MIchael Jackson. I am more than 100% sure that Michael would become a Mythical figure in about a few generations…a man-child, black-white, male-female, dance-song….:-)

        I don’t know if you believe in channeling and stuff, I don’t know what to make of it but I read an excerpt from a book which was published in March, 2010 (before we had the details from the Conrad Murray trial)…it was stunning. If these women are faking it even then it is so beautiful, only a true MJ fan could write those things…I felt heavenly…:-)

        Your take? (Sorry for taking so much of ur time!)

        1. In Italy still run articles terrible: he appeared a few days ago, the title is more or less “Beyoncé shock: how MJ became white” etc. etc.
          I believe that in the case of Michael’s disease should read the silence, as told Raven, from a psychological standpoint and also taking into account the record industry.
          MJ was performing in a very spectacular, very sensual, not having anything to do with machismo, however, expressed power, energy, sparkling creativity. It turned into robots, into a statue, an angel, loved military uniforms, everything expressed health and joyous physicality. His illness would have made ​​this ridiculous! Cancer is horrible but in public arouses pathos and not disgust!I believe in a character unsure of its physicality as I think Michael did all of this could be devastating.
          And, perhaps, even those who looked after the business around him felt better advise him to keep quiet so as not to lose much of adoring young girls! Let us assume that the disease brings a very unattractive appearance!And then, at some point, it was no longer possible to remain silent … but how much effort! During the Oprah interview is palpable, as Raven said, the reticence, the effort to confess a disease of which he is ashamed, as if it were a sin, a tare family …Because he is the greatest entertainer of all time, may perhaps be so clearly “bad”?!

          1. That’s a very good point, Nicoletta. Very possible that he was advised to keep quiet about it so as to not risk losing fans. We have to remember he was at the peak of his popularity when he was diagnosed. There is never any way to gauge how fans will react to something like that. Maybe young girls will go from crying and fainting over him to saying-“Ooh, Michael Jackson has a skin disease. Gross.” I mean, there was no way for them to know exactly HOW fans would react. It was a huge risk.

        2. I think that I pretty much addressed most of these issues in my response to Simba and Nicoletta, as far as him feeling that he would be unattractive to fans, so there is probably not much I can add here beyond what I’ve already said.

          But I do want to address your fascinating comment about MJ as mythical figure. I think in a lot of ways, he is already there; has already become just that. My experience every day is that people are fascinated with him precisely because there is so much they don’t understand. I remember reading a comment where a young man said he was only a child around the time of Black or White and, of course, he didn’t understand why or how Michael had changed from black to “white.” “I thought he was magic,” he said.

          I would imagine if you go back in time, you would find that this is how many of the old myths from all cultures began. Things that appear to be magical usually have rational explanations grounded in science and reality, but when people have no ready explanations for what they don’t understand, they create myths to explain them.

          A good example might be the dragon myths, of which all cultures have some variant. How did so many cultures come to believe in these prehistoric, mythological creatures? Well, it might just be-as some are theorizing now-that ancient people were discovering dinosaur bones. With no way to identify what they were, prehistoric man could only surmise that once, gigantic creatures had roamed the earth. So in a way, the myth was grounded in reality. Gigantic creatures really DID roam the earth before us! Maybe they didn’t breathe fire, but it only takes a few sprinkles of magic and imagination to weave a myth out of reality.

          I am part Native American, and channeling is a traditional belief of many Native people. I do believe in shamans and that some have that ability (but only those who have received lifelong instruction in the arts of shamanism; there are some ignorant people who think that all Native people are supposed to have those abilities just “because” they are Native, lol!). I’m looking forward to reading the link, but I may have to find some way to shorten it. I am having a problem with longer links. I’ve been noticing when I post a long link that it stretches my screen and cuts off the comments. I don’t know if anyone else is having that problem, but I know it is happening on my end. I’ll see if I can shorten this link and still make it work.

          ETA: Just wanted to let you know, I have removed the link in your comment TEMPORARILY while I work on fixing the problem. It should be back up shortly.

          ETA: I haven’t had any luck so far. Could you please email me the link?

          Send it to:

          I’ll see what I can do to re-post it.

          1. I have sent u the link. About the mythical aspect, right now the myth you are referring to is marred by judgement…people are trying to understand and yet fail to understand. But when someone truly becomes a mythical being then there is no “understanding”…it just is…people may believe it to be true or may be not. In India, there are many many mythical beings…people who were supposed to have existed thousands of years ago. I believe some of these people were real but as the story was handed down over generations…features got added and to a rational mind such a being cannot really be.
            So Michael Jackson, can become a figure like…a being who lived hundreds of years ago in the 20th century…half man-half woman…both black and white…half child and half man…the birds wud stop to sing when he sang…people got enchanted when he danced…he cud float in the air dancing (moonwalk distorted) and he cud magically alter his face at will!! Yet, this man was a man of immense kindness and love and there wud be stories of his love and kindness both real and manufactured…and people cud actually deify him…because he is so Christ already.

            But there is no doubt, this was a magical man!


      2. Raven said, “The question of why Michael did not come forward sooner about his vitiligo remains a puzzling issue, and for many fans, a troubling one…”

        Raven said, “…vitiligo is much more psychologically damaging to black people than to white, and for many reasons. When a Caucasian person has it, they simply become a few shades whiter. But when a black person has it, the disease not only affects their appearance but their entire identity.”

        I saw an interview with Michael J. Fox (which you mention above) on Piers Morgan a few days ago and he discussed his early on-set Parkinson’s. Very interesting interview. He commented regarding how he handled his illness when he was first diagnosed. In fact, he said he hid it for 7 seven years despite being very outspoken about it now!! This immediately reminded me of Michael. I’ve seen interviews with Karen Faye where she has said that he hid it from her for a few years before it became too wide spread to hide anymore. Certainly there was no way for Michael to know how his vitiligo would spread. Everyone is so different when it comes to this disease and its progression. That said, I do agree with your observations concerning Michael’s relationship with the media and the AID’s hysteria of the day not to mention his own fear of what was happening to him as very plausible explanations for Michael’s reticence.

        1. I didn’t know Michael J. Fox hid his condition for so long, but I knew he was out of the public spotlight for a long time. I really feel for him. It is pitiful to see him on talk shows and such now; he can barely manage to sit still in a chair. I really feel for people who are cut down in their prime by illnesses like this.

          I think the big question people have with Michael is that, obviously by the early 90’s, the change in his appearance was so DRASTIC and so naturally people were wondering what the heck was going on. But I believe there were many plausible explanations, all of which have been touched on. If Michael J. Fox kept quiet for seven years, there’s no reason to believe it was so strange for Michael to do likewise. Do I personally wish he had spoken out more? Yes, I do. But I also respect whatever personal reasons kept him from doing so.

          1. Although they are very different individuals I admire MJF in much the same way I admire Michael. They are both identified by those that know/knew them best as genuinely kind individuals who want/wanted very much to give back to their respective communities. They both struggled intensely with their conditions and both dealt with that struggle the best they could despite varying levels of abuse and psychological anguish. Certainly MJF never had to deal with the level of abuse MJ did but he did experience some abuse concerning his condition not least of all from the likes of Rush Limbaugh who disgracefully accused him of faking his condition in 2006. You probably remember that RL was subsequently shamed into a public apology at that time. (Sounds familiar!) If only those that abused Michael Jackson would also apologize for the way they wrongly abused him over the years! I’m not holding my breath on that one, sadly. While it’s still on my mind, although I agree that there is an element of MJF’s condition that is pitiful there is also an element that has brought out the true strength of his character which is considerable and very admirable. In fact he has become the national face for Parkinson’s research through the Michael J. Fox Foundation and due to his continued and eduring popularity has been able to dramatically increase awareness and donations concerning that particular condition. Michael didn’t get the chance to champion awareness about Vitiligo in a public way and as we all know he was robbed of the opportunity to champion children’s causes to the extent he wanted to. I think it’s staggering what he might have been able to accomplish beyond what he did achieve in that regard. Losing MJ was a huge loss on so many levels.

          2. “While it’s still on my mind, although I agree that there is an element of MJF’s condition that is pitiful there is also an element that has brought out the true strength of his character which is considerable and very admirable”

            I agree with this. I hope I did not give the impression that I was selling short the strength of his character he has shown with this disease. While it’s easy to feel pity for someone afflicted, you are absolutely right in that it also can bring out the best in who that person can be.

  4. Raven, you make an excellent point about the AIDS epidemic and the general panic it caused possibly making MJ reluctant to discuss his vitiligo. But you can’t ever allow yourself to forget that MJ was a black man. He didn’t, and he was painfully aware that he would not be treated sympathetically by the press and the general public by revealing that he had vitiligo earlier. Vitiligo is a horribly upsetting disorder, but other than changing one’s skin color, it has no negative effects. You don’t die from it, or suffer great disability as with Parkinson’s. (Couple that with the deluded perception that some have that most black people idolize whiteness and try to bleach their skin.)

    Sometimes vitiligo spontaneously reversed itself and the skin re-pigments. Maybe MJ was hoping against hope that this would happen in his case. (At death he still had patches of brown skin.) MJ was extremely sensitive about his skin condition, and given his natural shyness, it’s unlikely that he would allow himself to become the spokesperson for the disorder, especially since there is no reliable cure, and no great push for one, either. Bottom line, no matter what he did or said, most people would not have believed him. Despite the clear signs of it in his son, there are many who don’t believe he has it either.

    1. I have heard that vitiligo is much more psychologically damaging to black people than to white, and for many reasons. When a caucasion person has it, they simply become a few shades whiter. But when a black person has it, the disease not only affects their appearance but their entire identity. While one doesn’t lose one’s “blackness” just because they lose skin pigment, nevertheless, much of our self esteem and sense of who we are derives from what is seen on the outside. Additionally, black people have the added stigma of people who will accuse them of trying to change their race (this is what Michael had to contend with). That is a situation unique to African-Americans and other minorities of color, which caucasion sufferers of this disease do not have to contend with. In the worst case scenario for a white person, they may end up with no pigment but they will never be accused of trying to be something else.

      Vitiligo, as you pointed out, is in many ways more cruel than cancer or any fatal disease. When people are battling a disease that can potentially be fatal, they can usually at least count on receiving compassion. But vitiligo is a disease that simply affects the appearance, and physical appearance is probably THE one thing that is judged by our fellow human creatures more harshly than anything else. Ever notice that the most unforgiveable sin a female celebrity can commit is to gain weight? A supermodel or actress could go on a killing spree, and it wouldn’t raise half the scandal as her packing on twenty pounds! (I say this only half in jest-it’s true!).

      Male celebs in the spotlight are not any less immune. Especially someone for whom a large demographic of their fan base is female. People are more prone to forgive a male singer or actor for getting older,putting on a few pounds, having a few wrinkles or going bald…but having a disease that can make him look like a spotted cow? Probably not so much.

      Michael had to contend with a lot, more than most people will ever know or understand. I was told by someone who knew him well that Michael used to cry over having this disease. He didn’t understand what was happening to him, or why. But through the years, he learned to bear it with grace and dignity. It was the only choice he had.

      1. I have read this very interesing, intertaineng, and comprehensive book. Thank you, Mr. Taraborrelli, for portraying Michael Jackson with the utmost dignity he was so deserving of. I truly respect you as an author for allowing us to glimpse the human side of Michael. Let us not forget that this man was a truly remarkable human being, whose triumphs more than outweighed his failures. In his life, the media circus had a field day putting on a public freak show at Michael’s expense. Did we ever stop to think that we all may have been part of why this man is no longer here? How much can one man take? Before we purchase another tabloid, let our hearts guide us that we may seek to know the good in another before we judge them especially never having walked a few miles in their shoes. This is the reason why your book is so outstanding. It doesn’t sugar coat the reality, however it does portray compassion for one man who really needed it. Thank you for giving us a means to understand what Michael Jackson was living each day much more than most of us could bear. To Michael, now up above you didn’t go alone, you went with all our love!

        1. Camilia, I am very sorry but it looks like your comment got caught in my spam que. Akismet is pretty reliable, but not always. If an email address looks like spam, it will end up classified as spam, so I didn’t see your comment until today.

  5. Thanks Raven, yes, perhaps the “business” is more important than we think.
    Just a few days ago I was talking with my friend Francesca (she has become passionate about your blog and is sharing it with italian friends!) about this phenomenon.
    At least here in Italy, unless you was in a community of fans, MJ declarations are not just made ​​by the popular press! In the last 90 years if he came out of a speech about MJ, it was common question of why the guys of color not to take punches MJ! it was a fact that he had made ​​the cultural choice to become a white …Still Michael had done more than a public statement about his skin disorder!
    But statements from Michael about his skin disease, not even the shadow. Many other rumors that we well know (hyperbaric chamber, the elephant man, hypochondria, childishness, etc. etc.) and the insistence on the Michael will to become white, I do not really think of a common evil persistence.I do not think is only due to “normal” gossip .
    Maybe then the bizarre character was selling more?
    Perhaps it was bending a black man came to global success?
    In America there have been news certainly, but I can swear in Italy of Michael’s words about his illness in the popular press did not deal EVER!
    I think it was an injustice against not only Michael, but especially against us “public”.

  6. I don’t believe that anyone who would describe Michael Jackson as “man-child”, “black-white”, or “man-woman” (!) can be considered a “neutral” observer. In particular, there was nothing “womanly” about MJ. That is a profound insult.

  7. @Simba
    Sorry if what I wrote offended you. In my humble opinion and I am entitled to it as you are to yours, Michael Jackson had a profound feminine side to him and he was not afraid to show it.

    In India, the God of dance is Shiva and his most famous pose is a dance pose where he is half man and half woman (the woman is his consort Parvati..the Goddess of cosmic energy). It is called the Nataraja pose. To me Michael was the King of dance and he had a lot of duality aout him, which is beautiful.

    One day, I intend to get a painting of Michael done on the lines of Nataraja.

    1. I have not been able to get the link to work. No matter what I try, it still stretches the screen and is cutting off the comments when I load the page. I know the link is the problem because it goes back to normal every time as soon as I delete the link. Don’t worry; not your fault. I’ve had similar problems in the past with long URL’s, such as Google book links, for example. Usually I can manage to find a shorter URL that still works, but in this case I have not been able to.

      I think what I will do is just give anyone who wants the link the option of emailing me, and I can send it to them.

      I’ll just say from what I’ve read so far, it’s a very poetically written and beautiful book. I would certainly love to believe that this is how Michael is experiencing eternity. I’m still a bit skeptical, though. I feel like the authors are projecting a lot into it; sometimes it feels like Michael and other times, it feels like their idea of Michael, if that makes sense. The part that makes me sort of doubt is when they claim he is telling them how he was inspired to write Thriller (which he didn’t write). And given that Michael actually did write so many songs that I think were personally much closer to his heart and the message he wanted to convey to the world, I have a somewhat difficult time believing that’s the one song he would choose to talk about from The Other Side. However, the passage about moonwalking (the idea of motion that is retreating backwards) is very interesting. It reminded me of something I know from traditional Native American dancing, which is that a dancer never dances backward-for a male traditional dancer, this represents defeat in battle. For both sexes, it represents a reversal of energy, but usually in a negative sense (which is why it’s never done unless there is a VERY, VERY good reason, and those reasons are usually very personal with the dancer). Michael would have understood, intuitively, how the direction one moves in as part of the dance affects the energy of the dance. I have always noticed that the first thing Michael would do when coming out of a moonwalk step is to spin (usually followed by the en pointe step). I would be willing to bet that this was his way of reversing and rebalancing his energy-the retreat into the self, then reversing that, projecting it outward again; perhaps he did not think of these things consciously as he danced, but on a subconscious level he probably did. He would have been intuitively aware of what “felt right” to his soul and body as he moved through the song, and the energy balance has everything to do with that.

      I still need to digest the book some more, but those are just my initial impressions.

      BTW I do understand what you mean about the dualities. It’s something that fascinates me, as well. I don’t think Michael was womanly at all or trying to “be” a woman but I understood what you meant. He seemed to be all about balancing those oppositions.

  8. Michael J. Fox did indeed hide his Parkinson’s for as long as possible. He has spoken about how he developed an acting style that incorporated the symptoms of his disease. For example, he found that if he shifted a book from hand to hand, it made his tremors less apparent. He only announced that he had Parkinson’s when the disease had progressed to the point where he could no longer work.

    I confess that I don’t just don’t believe in ‘dualities’ when it comes to Michael Jackson. He never did or said anything to indicate that HE believed he was ‘both black and white’, or ‘half-man half-woman’. It’s my opinion that these are projections from those who find these ideas appealing, for whatever reason. It’s also my opinion that most who espouse these ideas are not sympathetic to Michael Jackson as a sensitive individual, and tend to buy into the media distortion of his persona. Of course, your mileage may vary.

    1. “I confess that I don’t just don’t believe in ‘dualities’ when it comes to Michael Jackson. He never did or said anything to indicate that HE believed he was ‘both black and white’, or ‘half-man half-woman’. It’s my opinion that these are projections from those who find these ideas appealing, for whatever reason…”

      I did want to address this issue just a little bit further. I think when it comes to analyzing Michael, there are basically two approaches one can take. One is to look at it from the perspective of how he viewed himself-and you are right, he never made any claim to be half black and half white- he was a black man, and he never tried to present himself as otherwise; and certainly as a man he never tried to pass himself off as being “half woman.” Regardless of what you will hear the snide cynics say (“Oh, he wanted to be a white woman,” etc) that is just garbage. His looks at times may have bordered on what some consider androgynous, but he never crossed that line into true androgyny (maybe with the exception of the Scream video, but in that case, it was a very intentional artistic statement). I agree with a recent article I read that said, in reality, he was simply recapturing what earlier historical periods had deemed as “manly.” But even in the context of our own time, his look certainly wasn’t any less masculine than a good many rock stars. In the late 80’s, in fact, it was more trendy for male rock stars to have long hair and wear lipstick and eyeliner than not, so why Michael was always singled out as looking “weird” during that era, I have no idea.

      But in addition to how Michael viewed himself, there is also the factor of how OTHERS view him, and how he will be viewed historically-this is where we get into Michael Jackson The Mythological Figure, and I think this is where BL was coming from. And even if the “myth” is 99% baloney, it still bears understanding if we are to truly understand the enduring appeal of Michael Jackson. His mystique; his inability to be “pegged” is part of that. Michael himself said, in songs like Is It Scary, Threatened, and others that he would be whatever we projected on him to be. This was part of his personal myth making. Of course there was also a lot of hurt, anger, and sarcasm behind those songs-anger and hurt at BEING misunderstood, and at BEING projected upon. But by the same token, he was also in a sense embracing his role as a somewhat mythological figure who would allow himself to become our mirror, even our scapegoat if need be.

      Traditionally and historically, myths grew out of what could not be understood or explained. So I think to some degree, what BL was saying, is that imagine if we did not have the books or articles or internet, but only oral tales, passed down from generation to generation, of a magical man who could dance and sing like no other; who was born black but some say he “turned white,” who healed many, who achieved accolade after accolade, but was also persecuted…it would not take many generations for such a figure to either become a religious icon, or a mythological hero.

      But then, where do we separate all of that from Michael Joseph Jackson, who was just a little boy born in Gary, Indiana who loved to sing?

      I am interested in both perspectives-the myth and the man. One has to do with Michael himself; the other is more concerned with HOW Michael is viewed-by past, present and future generations; by historians; by critics and scholars, etc. But I agree with you in that it is very important we do not lose sight of the human being in the process; that we are AWARE and know how to separate Michael Jackson, the man, from those projections of others. The key, I think, is in knowing where that line is, and where to draw it.

      1. Raven I think you’ve hit a very important aspect related to the whole art and life of Michael.
        I always thought that some aspects of the mythological “Jackson character” he have left by his own will (see the elephant man’s bones, the hyperbaric chamber, etc. etc..), But then, a whole series of coincidences and existential events, this thing’s have lost control.
        But after all I find a right answer in the words of Joseph Vogel in
        “Am I the Beast You Visualized?” that I found linked in the Reading Room page of the blog Dancing with elephant.
        At the end of the art. he says: ….”Ironically, it is in the “performance” of his art that we find “the truth, the purity.” This is where he exorcizes his demons, where his anguish is transfused into creative energy. This is where the walls come down and the mask comes off. To the outside world, he may be a spectacle, a caricature, a freak, but here, finally, inside his music, he bares his Soul. He is a human being.
        The question is: What do we see?

  9. Here is a very interesting interview with Lee Thomas, a vitiligo sufferer, discussing his condition:

    Beth Karas, Lee Thomas In Session Interview Part 1 (Starts at 5:05)

    Lee Thomas In Session Interview Part 2

    Lee Thomas In Session Interview Part 3

    1. I also really like this interview Lee Thomas did with Larry King:

      The most interesting thing about this video is that he shows the splotched pigment on his arms and explains clearly that this is where some of his pigment has returned. I love this because it completely shoots down the argument of many haters who say that, because of Michael’s splotched appearance to his skin as late as the 2000’s, it is “proof” that he was continuously bleaching (their reasoning being that once pigment is lost due to vitiligo, it can’t return; thus, according to them, whenever Michael may have gone through periods where he wasn’t bleaching certain areas, the pigment returned to those areas). The more I learn about this disease, from people who actually have it, the more I learn how ignorant some of these “theories” purported by haters are.

      1. So true! The sheer depth of ignorance is insulting and embarrassing. Vitiligo is a condition that is dynamic, unpredictable, not uniform in its effect in that it can come and go in patches at various times over the body. Michael had to continually use skin treatment to keep his skin color uniform. It’s also insulting when people suggest that Michael’s use of certain skin creams somehow caused his Vitiligo. Ridiculous! The interviews that Lee Thomas has done are such a valuable resource in understanding this disease. In fact, Lee has done a number of interviews over the years which gives an opportunity to see how this condition has progressed for him especially since he has chosen to not use skin lightening treatments. Michael, and anyone else with this condition deserves compassion not ridicule. Michael endured so much that he shouldn’t have had to endure.

  10. “It is also interesting, from a historical perspective, to note that this article came out right about the time that the Dangerous album was creating those first, early ripples; those first indications that Michael’s music was about to go in a much darker, more personal, and more political direction.”

    I think it started with the BAD album and/or We Are The World and especially with Man In The Mirror am sure you have seen his live performance of the song and what he is chanting at the end of the song absolutely brilliant!


  11. Neil Young can have his opinion i don’t support it and think he should be ashamed of himself MOCKING the Pepsi burn in that video people think everyone started taking MJ as a joke in the 90’s or 00’s but i’m sorry when did making fun of someone’s real life head burning incident become humor if it was anyone else would he have done that? Michael Jackson was a REAL human being and his head getting on fire was a REAL incident a REAL human being got hurt badly and guys like Neil Young and Eminem think its something they are allowed to mock Pathetic and in bad taste.

    1. Neil Young never mocked his accident, that was Eminem. Neil Young was just taking a jab at artists and corporate sponsorship. He was mocking MJ for doing the commercials, but not his accident (to my knowledge, unless you have seen or heard something I haven’t). I like Neil Young but I don’t agree with all his views. I still remember the whole controversy with his Alabama Song as well (the one Lynyrd Skynyrd referred to it in the song Sweet Home Alabama-“I hope Neil Young will remember/a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”

      1. I’m sure there is an MJ Impersonator in that video and also an impersonator of Whitney Houston The MJ Impersonator’s hair is on fire and the Whitney impersonator puts his his hair out with a can of coke.

        1. Yes, you’re right. I had to go back and watch the video all the way through. I had forgotten about that part completely!!! My apologies. And yeah, that was a low blow on Neil Young’s part. I DID respect his right as an artist to make his statement. I DON’T agree with making a mockery of that accident. It seems, more and more, that I sadly and regretfully have to keep reassessing my opinions of people I used to like and admire. I can’t abide by seeing Michael disrespected.

          But I think again, as I mentioned in my more current article on “Pepsi, Bad 25, and Moving On” that a lot of people back then simply didn’t realize how serious this accident was-or what serious repercussions it would have for Michael. I guess even though common sense ought to tell anyone that seeing someone with their hair ablaze should be enough to know this was very serious, still, I think the fact that Michael seemed to have come out of the accident okay gave many a false sense of cart blanche with it; that it was okay to poke fun at it. The fault is really with our culture-a culture in which late night comedians can crack jokes about someone having their scalp on fire, and everyone just laughs. Neil Young was just another part of that, but still, that is no excuse.

          This is someone who claims to care so much about injustice and suffering in the world. One of the reasons I always admired Young was his stance on issues like the plight of Native Americans and racism. But you would expect someone who truly walks that talk to have empathy for the sufferings of others.

          1. yes i’m not mad at him for having his opinion its just that things like that bug me it just doesn’t feel right i mean you wouldn’t go to someone (Non Celebrity) and make fun of there hair going on fire so just because Michael is famous he shouldn’t be subjected to that kind of treatment. I don’t really mind Michael jokes but the insulting ones i do like the child molestation ones and what not.

            Sometimes i wish MJ was more like Mike Tyson(okay maybe that’s maybe not a good example) so he could stick it to them drag there ass to court for every lie they spread about him. Then again if he was like Mike Tyson the media would have a field day for them he would be what they want him to be “another out of control nigger” its time to get MJ’s respect back not as only as an artist but an HUMAN being!

            I think Eminem hit the nail the following excerpt is from his song “Sing For The Moment”

            “But then these critics crucify you, journalists try to burn you
            Fans turn on you, attorneys all want a turn at you
            To get they hands on every dime you have, they want you to lose your mind
            every time you mad
            So they can try to make you out to look like a loose cannon”

          2. “The fault is really with our culture-a culture in which late night comedians can crack jokes about someone having their scalp on fire, and everyone just laughs. Neil Young was just another part of that, but still, that is no excuse.”

            This might sound corny to some but Michael was so right when he said our behavior is going to affect the future generation of the children who come into this world i mean the type of culture you just explained how is it going to be like in the future when its so bad now is there even going to be a future?

    1. My apologies on not getting back sooner. Yes, posting it here was fine as it goes right along with the theme of this article. I had seen this video on Facebook, in fact. It is so funny to see that guy’s face when he starts to realize what he is being asked! You can tell he totally never expected to be grilled in this manner; I’m sure he thought this was going to be a love feast where he would get to dish out his “great wisdom” on journalism with the crowd lapping him up. I guess in a way it was an ambush but I don’t feel sorry for him. What is even funnier is to see him putting his foot in it so many ways he doesn’t know left from right as he tries to explain his way out of it. Why not just a simple “I was wrong, I’m sorry?” Pure honesty would be a start!

      Unfortunately the trend of journalists just randomly dropping Michael’s name into articles-without even checking their facts-continues unabated. This Huffington Post piece-which you’ve probably seen-is just one of the latest examples:

  12. I think the fans was right.
    I don’t like how he talked about the Dominique Strauss Kahn case. If he was talking about what happened in New York last year, then someone should tell him that the DA dropped the case because he didn’t believe the alleged victim.

  13. I believe the DA dropped the case b/c they had doubts about the credibility of the witness as perceived by jurors, in other words, whether they could win the case. They didn’t pass judgment on whether or not the alleged rape occurred, just that there were problems with her credibility, mainly to do with how she came to USA and what she said in her asylum application, and not what happened in the hotel w. dsk. There was clear physical evidence the woman was violently attacked sexually. Personally, I think they should have gone ahead with the case and let the jury decide, and the reason I say that is b/c of the physical evidence of rape. DSK admitted sexual acts, but claimed it was voluntary, even tho’ the woman was badly bruised in her genitals and had other injuries. To me, it was awful the the NYPost called her a whore, and people generally believed them. She sued the NYPost for that. I think the way she was treated both in the press and by the so-called Justice system bears a close resemblance to how Michael was treated–namely, blame the victim. If they had been able to bring in prior acts, as they did in CA w. MJ, they would have found former rape and sexual violence claims against DSK.

    1. That woman sounds like another Janet Arvizo! This really just goes to show the importance of maintaining “innocent until proven guilty” and not being so quick to condemn someone just because they are accused, as our society and media does, unfortuntalely-especially in celebrity or high profile cases. It seems there is a bloodlust for always wanting to believe the worst in these cases. Although I don’t think body language and demeanor should be valued so highly in determining if an accuser is telling the truth. Different people express their emotions differently, and not everyone reacts to trauma in the same way. Just as demeanor cannot always adequately gauge if the accuser is lying, it also cannot always be trusted as a gauge for whether they are telling the truth. Obviously, this woman had fooled everyone with her story of the soldier gang rape-until she admitted she had made the whole story up. That brought to mind Janet Arvizo and her story about the JC Penny security guards.

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