Michael's Manifesto And What We Can Learn From It

manifestoI said that two handwritten notes from Michael had made headlines this week. Now let’s have a look at the second one. Michael’s “manifesto,” written in 1979 when Michael was just 21, was revealed for the first time on CBS News’ “60 Minutes Overtime.”

By the way, you may be interested to know that the segment which aired during the regular 60 Minutes broadcast, focusing mainly on the earnings of Michael’s estate and the contents of a warehouse containing his personal belongings, topped last Sunday night’s ratings:


Personally, although I enjoyed most of the broadcast, I did have some issues with Lara Logan’s snarky commentary. The constant references, for example, to the allegations were totally unnecessary. (Though to be fair, it seemed that a lot of her commentray was heavily edited. For example, when she was commenting that some of the momentos seemed “awkward” or “creepy” to anyone who didn’t understand his relationships with children, it is clear that she was going to clarify that statement, but it was edited in such a way that it immediatly cut away and did not give her the opportunity to put it in context, so how much to blame her and how much to blame it on sloppy -or malicious-editing, I do not know). However, even before the show aired, I was cringing at the many erroneous statements being made to promote it. For example, there was never any “Billie Jean tour,” as one article had mentioned in promoting the artifacts that would be shown.


But putting all these gripes aside, the broadcast did have its moments. However, perhaps the single most important and revelatory “discovery” to come out of the warehouse, typically, was not even reported during the regular broadcast, but instead given “back seat status” on the Overtime segment. It is strange that so many profess to want to better understand Michael and to get to know who he was, yet this important document takes a backseat while, instead, most viewers who tuned in to last Sunday night’s broadcast only heard the usual pats on the back to John Branca and John McClain as the “saviors” of the estate; how much money the estate has made since his death, and how Michael Jackson as a brand is alive and thriving. And as usual, they were sure to mention Michael’s spending habits and “extravagant lifestyle” without any mention whatsoever of his humanitarian efforts or the millions he spent on charity.

He DID Love To Shop. But He Spent As Much On Others As He Did On Himself.
He DID Love To Shop. But He Spent As Much On Others As He Did On Himself.

Don’t get me wrong, I would never deny that Michael certainly loved to spend and yes, he had an extravagant lifestyle, but no moreso than any pop star of his status. However, I also do not know of too many pop stars who have made the Guinness Book of World Records for their charitable contributions and philanthropic works.

Also, I do not dispute that the estate has done a great job. They do deserve some kudos. It’s just that we should never forget who made all of this possible in the first place. If people did not genuinely love the music that Michael created, then all of the managerial and marketing skills in the world wouldn’t have been enough to save the brand.

Well, I knew I couldn’t talk about the 60 Minutes show without getting that off my chest. But let’s get back to the manifesto.

Although this particular note was new to me, as it was to all fans who learned of it for the first time on this broadcast, it was not surprising to learn of its existence. Michael had a long history of penning such inspirational notes to himself. A favorite was to scribble notes in the corners of his bathroom mirrors with a permanent marker. Jermaine describes one such note Michael wrote in his book You Are Not Alone:


When it came time for “Bad” to be released, Michael wrote a note inspiring himself to make it better and bigger than Thriller. “100,ooo, ooo” was the number that greeted him every morning on his bathroom mirror.

From Michael's Carolwood Home, His Last Residence: This Note Pertains To His Last Rehearsals. It Says, "Train, Perfection March/April, Full Out May."
From Michael’s Carolwood Home, His Last Residence: This Note Pertains To His Last Rehearsals. It Says, “Train, Perfection March/April, Full Out May.”

His Carolwood residence, the home where he spent the last months of his life, was filled with such inspirational notes. Mirrors seemed to be favorite locations, but really, most any convenient surface would do. These notes have been found on mirrors, post-it stickies, scraps of paper, napkins, and whatever else was handy when inspiration struck.

Clearly, Michael was practicing “The Secret” long before it was a best selling book. The law of attraction. If you think it will happen, it will. If you can envision yourself as already successful-and having accomplished your goals-you will accomplish them. It is based on a very simple principle. Positivity attracts positivity.


Neither Michael’s friends, fans, or family-in fact, anyone who knew him or has invested some time studying him- would be surprised to know that he wrote such a note. Michael was as driven when it came to the goals he set for himself as he was with the goals he set for his music.

But perhaps what makes this manifesto so interesting is the precisely detailed and calculated manner in which Michael, at 21, mapped out the entire trajectory of his career-and even seemed to predict/anticipate the twists it would ultimately take.

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

It might not be half so astonishing for a 21-year-old to write those words-except when we realize that this 21-year-old managed to fulfill every single prophecy he set forth for himself! And I think that few who read his words-even his most ardent detractors-would deny that this is one of the most amazing self-fulfilling prophecies ever committed to paper.

So just what does this document tell us about Michael Jackson, the artist and performer? What does it tell us about Michael Jackson the human being?

“MJ will be my new name. No more Michael Jackson…I should be a totally different person. People should never think of me as the kid who sang “ABC,” [or] “I Want You Back”…

An Interesting Phenomenon Is That Michael Is Almost Universally Known As "MJ" To His Black Male Fans.
An Interesting Phenomenon Is That Michael Is Almost Universally Known As “MJ” To His Black Male Fans.

Although Michael Jackson never essentially stopped being “Michael Jackson’ (he would remain solidly and proudly identified by his full name for the duration of his career), we can certainly see him by the early 80’s meticulously creating the “brand” and the powerhouse that would become “MJ.” Long before rap artists would make it cool to be known simply by one’s initials, Michael was laying down his identify as “MJ.” To this day, the title “MJ” is one spoken with great affection, admiration and respect by other artists and those who worked with him. It was a title that commanded both respect and yet a kind of intimate familiarity as well. One interesting trend I have noticed is that Michael is almost universally known as “MJ” to his black male fans. Last summer, on the way to Gary, Indiana, for the birthday celebrations, we happened upon a rap radio station that was playing a birthday tribute to “MJ.” “We got more hot MJ mixes coming up!” the dj promised, and the implication was clear-this was not a tribute to the Michael Jackson who belonged to the world, but to “our bro MJ”-and that was part of what made it so cool. Michael would have understood. There was a time to be “Michael Jackson” and a time to be “MJ”-and, in many ways, they were two entirely distinct personas.

But “MJ” is much more than just a cultural tag. To this day, if you say the initials “MJ” to anyone in entertainment, they automatically know exactly to whom you are referring. It is very few names that can become so huge that even their initials are unique, and instantly recognized by all. Just let the moniker “MJ” be said, and everyone bows down in its mighty presence! (Yes, even the cocky ones who put up a good front and pretend that they don’t! They do; trust me).

Michael recognized the value of creating “MJ” as his own, distinct persona and brand:



The combination of the letters “M” and “J” is a powerful moniker that instantly commands kingly respect, and more than a bit of mystique:



Using just initials has long been the domain of authors, politicians, sports figures, and other famous people who wished to maintain some sense of anonymity while creating intrigue and a sense of power. Sometimes being identified by initials is a kind of affectionate nickname that begins organically and grows over time (one person starts it, and next thing you know, everyone calls them that); other times the person may deliberately plan to make an initial moniker an integral part of their identity. In Michael’s case, it seemed to be a little of both. Michael had the unique ability to be able to calculate something, and still somehow give it every appearance of having been an organic process-something his manifesto proves. (This may also raise some interesting questions about his King of Pop title, but notice that nowhere in the manifesto does he ever say he will be “The King of Pop,” even if, in essence, he is certainly mapping out a plan to be king. However, I will address that issue a bit later in the post).

Here is a list of famous persons who have been publicly known by their initials. Note that there are two “MJ”‘s-Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson! However, there has always been a distinction between the two, since Jordan is a sports legend; Jackson a music legend.


In this song from Li’l Wayne, there is no need to explain who “MJ” refers to…everyone gets it!


Michael played up his “MJ” identity humorously in movies like Men In Black II and Miss Castaway, where he became “Agent MJ.”


But the manifesto also reveals something else-again, not a terribly shocking or surprising thing for those of us who know him well, but nevertheless, it is always interesting to see the irrefutable proof of our theories laid out. One of Michael’s most calculated goals as an adult performer was to break away from his  Jackson 5/Jacksons identity, and to be a star in his own right. We have always known that (heck, it was part of the motivation and drive that made him such a successful adult star, in a field where child stars almost never get a second chance) but what is interesting here is that there is an almost palpable disdain for “that kid who sang ABC.” I don’t know how much to read into that, however, or if anything should be read into it at all. It is no different than looking at a hated school picture as an adult and saying, “I never want to be known as that kid again.”  Clearly, this was coming at an important juncture in Michael’s life-a crossroads, if you will-in which he was making that all important transition from the child star he had been, to the adult, global superstar he would become. He knew he could not succeed in the very competitive adult pop world with that bubblegum image attached to his shoe.

I Believe This Was The "Whole New Look" Michael Was Envisioning In 1979. He Could Not Have Foreseen The Events That Would Lead To Even More Drastic Changes.
I Believe This Was The “Whole New Look” Michael Was Envisioning In 1979. He Could Not Have Foreseen The Events That Would Lead To Even More Drastic Changes.

Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton have both said that Off The Wall was a deliberate attempt to take out the bubblegum, and to present to the world the adult Michael Jackson-lean, mean (well, just mean enough, lol!) and hungry to rock.

But it would get even better. Put yourself back in 1983. Remember where you were the first time you heard Billie Jean, or saw the Beat It video on MTV? Why do you think our jaws were collectively hitting the floor? Because we were all going, “Is this little Mikey that we grew up with? Hot damn!”  C’mon, you know you did! We all did.

This was Michael’s plan, already in place. We were just following blindly right along, marveling at the wonder of it all. And it was only going to get better!

“I want a whole new character, and a whole new look…”

This is where any attempt to analyze Michael’s manifesto could really get deep, and interesting-depending, I suppose, on just how “deep” one wants to get. I am sure that the would-be psychoanalysts, who are never in short supply when it comes to Michael Jackson, are already hard at work picking apart this sentence, and what it may tell us about Michael’s changing appearance over the course of the 80’s. (Michael’s “ever changing appearance” is such a cliche’ now that I almost feel tired even going here, but since his appearance remains such a hotly debated part of his legacy, there is no avoiding it).

Clearly, what the manifesto tells us is that Michael did deliberately and calculatingly plan to change his appearance-which, in turn, would dramatically alter his public image as well as his self image. What it doesn’t tell us, of course, is to what extent he meant when he said “a whole new look.” It was obvious that he was seeking a complete image make-over that would put distance between himself and the public memory of that chubby-cheeked  little kid with an Afro who sang “I Want You Back.”  But what was wrong with that kid? We loved him! He was cute, bubbly; always smiling his way through every performance with a joy so contagious you couldn’t help but be swept into its vortex.

Well, it wasn’t that there was anything wrong that needed to be fixed. It was just that Michael wasn’t that kid anymore, and nothing about that kid represented where he was at, now, as a 21 year old man looking ahead in 1979. He couldn’t quite smile with the same innocent naivety or joy anymore; what’s more, he had no interest in keeping up the facade.

I don’t think anyone will debate that Michael’s appearance certainly changed-and drastically during the 80’s. What remains contested is just how many procedures he had done, and why. I have been firmly convinced for some time that the amount of his surgeries was never as extensive as the tabloids claimed (although, certainly, yes, he had far more than two).

If you are new to this blog, I suggest you check out some of these comparison photos I used in this post:


However, debating how many surgeries he had-where, when, and to what extent-is another subject for another time. But aside from debating how many, the next question in line is usually: Why? And, for the most part, the “why” boils down to two very distinct arguments. Body dysmorphic disorder is the most commonly held theory (that Michael was simply so insecure about the way he looked that it drove him on a never-ending quest for perfection). But another argument is that it was all part of a very calculated, artistic statement. Which is which? Or could it be possible that there is some truth in both?

The manifesto certainly seems to give more credence to this second theory.

Vitiligo Destroyed His Pigment. But It Also Created An Avenue For Him To Reinvent Himself Yet Again-As An Almost Ethereal Being.
Vitiligo Destroyed His Pigment. But It Also Created An Avenue For Him To Reinvent Himself Yet Again-As An Almost Ethereal Being.

I am torn on what I believe, personally. When I interviewed Michael’s friend David Nordahl in 2010, one of the things he told me in the course of our conversation was just how “ugly” Michael always considered himself to be. It didn’t seem to matter if the rest of the world thought he was gorgeous, handsome, sexy, hot;whatever accolades we have hung on him. Michael himself remained convinced he was just “so ugly.” And this apparent insecurity with his appearance has been confirmed by several others who knew him, as well. So I don’t think Tarraborelli (who has been largely responsible for making body dysmorphic disorder a part of the Michael Jackson cultural myth) was entirely off-base.

But that brings us to the second theory. Was Michael simply using his face and body as a canvas, carefully and methodically sculpting from without what he was transforming himself to be within?  Morphing would become a common motif’ throughout many of his short films, as I have written on quite extensively in other posts. He seemed fascinated with the idea of transformation. He was also keenly aware of the role that image and appearance play in a performer’s overall success.

I have no problem buying the idea of Michael using his face and body as a canvas-to a point. As I said, image was crucially important to Michael and, for him, his appearance was both his canvas and his calling card to the world. No doubt, there are some who will carry this theory to ridiculous extremes, and will use this manifesto now as unequivocal “evidence” that Michael calculated his entire transformation. You know where I’m going with this, right?

So the next logical question is: How far did Michael intend to take this “new look” and how much was he willing to sacrifice to be this “new character?” Michael’s first rhinoplasty was done in 1979, but I do not know if it was before or after this note was written. We have to keep in mind that even in the years between 1979 and 1982/’83, we saw a very dramatic change in Michael’s appearance and overall image (it just doesn’t seem as drastic to us now, in hindsight of what came later). His nose became noticeably thinner; his body began to take on the lean, dancer’s physique that would become his adult trademark; the Afro was replaced with a sleek jheri curl. The bubbly persona and ever present, dazzling smile was seen less, and replaced by the soon-to-be near permanent scowl as his persona took on a darker edge. All of it seemed to pave the way for a new, grown-up Michael who was now ready to take his place as a serious (and sexy!) adult r&b artist.

The "New" And All Grown Up Michael Of The Early 80's-Suave, Polished, And Ready For Adult Stardom
The “New” And All Grown Up Michael Of The Early 80’s-Suave, Polished, And Ready For Adult Stardom

But wait…was “MJ” going to be content to be just  another r&b artist, forever pigeonholed by the limitations (and stigma) of the genre? Not on your life! Why be content with being “Best Black Male Performer” when one knows they are good enough-and deserve to be-“Best Male Performer,” period.

I believe that Michael certainly envisioned a purposeful change in his look, but just how far ahead did he plan? He certainly didn’t figure on having vitiligo, the disease that would rob him of his pigmentation! Nor could he have envisioned the near fatal Pepsi set accident that would also precipitate many changes-both subtle and not-to his appearance, and would necessitate many painful surgical procedures, both medical and cosmetic. The “new look” and “new character” he was envisioning in 1979 most likely culminated with the Michael we came to know during the Thriller era. Thus, I don’t think he was calculating any long range plans for the kind of complete transformation we ultimately saw, since many factors which he could not have foreseen in 1979 contributed to that transformation. But what the manifesto does tell us is that Michael was setting forth a plan to present a new face and a new persona to the world. If my theory is correct, it was a plan that took roughly about three years to fully execute, and may have still been a work in progress when vitiligo and the accident threw two major curves he could not have anticipated. In fact, I will go one better and say it never stopped being a work in progress. Rather, it became after that more a matter of learning how to deal-artistically and creatively-with the hand he had been dealt. One of the other things David Nordahl mentioned that has continued to impress me is that Michael never indulged in self pity over his condition. He could have just said “poor me” and threw in the towel. Instead, he reinvented himself-again!-by finding new ways to make his ever lightening complexion work for him. Basically, he shifted into “Phase 2” of his modus operandi (and it wouldn’t shock me if this “Phase 2” exists as yet another manifesto, hidden securely away somewhere to be unearthed at another time!).

“I should be a new, incredible actor/singer/dancer that will shock the world…”

He Said He Would "Shock The World"-He Wasn't Kidding!
He Said He Would “Shock The World”-He Wasn’t Kidding!

It’s interesting that Michael chose to label “actor” first, and “dancer” last, though I don’t know if we should read too much into it. However, it did seem at times that his entire modus operandi was geared towards establishing himself as an actor first, and a singer/dancer second. Michael had dreams of being a huge movie star. It was a dream that was ever present, right up to the last. Almost every major contract he ever signed, and every major deal he ever made, contained some clause about movies to be made. Many do not know that he was actually Tim Burton’s first choice for Edward Scissorhands, the role that eventually went to Johnny Depp. Films were even a part of his planned This Is It comeback. It is sad that this was one part of his plan that never quite panned out, and I think it is our loss.

However, on another scale, Michael’s cinematic ambitions did pan out-in short films, that is. No one will argue that his videos (or short films, as he preferred to call them) would revolutionize the music industry. He would also get some very good opportunities to flex his acting chops, since the short films almost always contained extended sequences with dialog and storylines. In 1979, Michael’s career as a music video innovator was still in the wings, but what we can see here is that he is already laying the seeds; planning the strategies that will lead in a few years hence to Billie Jean, Beat It, Thriller…and on and on.

What was this “new, incredible actor/singer/dancer” creature, anyway? Clearly, Michael was already foreseeing the type of multi-dimensional entertainer that has since become so common in the industry. In one fell swoop, he was envisioning the creation of “the video star” (you know, the one that killed the radio star!) and the magnetic cross-over artist who could comfortably dominate all genres. Soon, many others-from Madonna and Prince, to Whitney Houston and Justin Timberlake, all the way up to today’s Justin Bieber-would follow down that path.

But Michael Jackson blazed it first, because he had the vision to make it happen.

“…that will shock the world.”

No one can argue with this! Michael Jackson would go on to do just that. Not only would he shock the world, but he would dazzle us! For those too young to remember, let me put this in context for you. A huge part of Michael Jackson’s appeal in the early 80’s was that he seemed so magical it didn’t seem he could possibly be of this planet. Michael took “shock and awe” to a whole new level. Later, those words would become sadly prophetic in another way as well. Michael “shocked” the world in ways both good and bad-in later years, it became as much about the controversy as about the art. But either way, he continued to shock, delight, amaze, and keep us talking-in one form or another-right up until his dying day.

Oh yeah, and it didn’t stop there, either. We’re here and you are reading this, right?

“I will do no interviews…”

interviewThis is interesting. We know that it would be in the 1980’s that Michael would start to acquire his reputation as a “recluse” and as someone who did very little press. But most have attributed it to his onrush of mass, global fame after Thriller. The logic seemed reasonable enough. He didn’t need to do interviews anymore; he was the biggest star in the world. In fact, many would have said that by then, he didn’t need the press at all-they needed him! And, eventually, his disgust with being constantly misquoted and misunderstood would also be used, invariably, as an excuse for not granting interviews.

But Michael’s manifesto is evidence that this was actually part of a carefully laid strategy that he was already putting into place long before the mega stardom and long before there was any real need to have such a jaded, cynical attitude toward the press (though I will warrant, not without some justification, for he had learned since childhood of the ways of the press and how the media operates). However, what Michael was doing here was sketching out the persona he wanted, and putting a very concrete plan in place for the type of megastar he would be. And a huge part of his plan was to court mystique; the kind of mystique that can only come from keeping a distance, by keeping the public guessing his next move, and holding back just enough to make them want more.

This is why I have always wondered how Michael would have fared in this modern social media age. Facebook and Twitter have completely changed the artist/fan dynamic; it has become an era in which celebrities are even expected to be instantly accessible to their fans. It is certainly a far cry from the old school world that Michael was so much a part of; even defined. That world in which a celebrity was cloaked with mystique and where the barriers between fantasy and reality were very much in place. It’s hard to say, because on the other hand, Michael did enjoy contact with his fans, and there is ample evidence that, before his death, he was coming into the social media age. (He enjoyed texting, I have gathered). I think Michael would have liked the idea that social media can allow the “middle man”-i.e., the journalists-to be cut out of the equation altogether.

This video shows Michael coming into the social media age. But even this was a very carefully staged event. Would he have ever been comfortable just tweeting to the fans? Guess we’ll never know, but it sure would have been fun!


But part of him was still coming into this new age of instantaneous accessibility with a bit of resistance. One of the interesting tidbits in Frank Cascio’s book involved a proposed plan for a TV talent show, similar to American Idol or The X Factor, in which Michael would have been a weekly judge. Supposedly, he entertained the idea briefly, but then ultimately got cold feet and lost interest. And perhaps it is fitting that he did. By then, Michael had spent almost a quarter of a century developing his special brand of mystique-and God knows, we have little enough magic left in our lives. He had allowed us a few peeks and glimpses through the years, sometimes with astounding success (his Oprah interview; his Private Home Movies special); sometimes with disastrous results (Martin Bashir), but mostly he stuck to the plan he laid out in 1979-to let his music do the talking, and to always leave us wanting more.

I am still so very thankful, to this day, that he never cheapened his image with a weekly TV show!

“…I will be magic. I will be a perfectionist, a researcher, a trainer, a masterer [sic]. I will be better than every great actor roped into one…”

This is an interesting phrase: “I will be magic.” Exactly how does one plan to be magic? We think of magic as some indefinable, intangible quality, certainly not as something that can be obtained through wishful thinking, or even via The Law of Attraction. One either is magic or they are not, right? One can either create magic, or they cannot.

“I Will Be Magic!”

Well, right and wrong. Michael’s manifesto teaches us that being magical-that is, inspiring awe and wonder-isn’t just some inherent quality that one is born with. Like everything else, it has to be worked at, and perfected. At 21, Michael was laying down his plan for how to create the illusion of magic. Any magician can tell you, you can’t just pull a rabbit out of a hat. It takes years of hard work and dedication to the craft to make an illusion appear so effortless, so…magical. Michael’s life would become a never-ceasing experiment in the creation of magic, learning and observing what tricks worked, and how to make them work.

Over the years, many critics would start to dismiss Michael as a megalomaniac. I suppose, for them, there is probably little here to dissuade that opinion. Michael thought in huge, broad strokes, and yes, his canvas was a large one. He used words like “biggest” and “best” because he had been taught, from a young age, that second best was never good enough. Here, in Michael’s manifesto, we see him laying a prescribed plan for how to achieve perfection. How to be the best.

However, as I had pointed out earlier, it is somewhat interesting that, while we see Michael laying down a very deliberate plan to be The King of Pop (in essence, at least) he never once uses that term. He says he will be “MJ,” but not The King of Pop. In fact, long before Elizabeth Taylor (often credited with coining the phrase) called him “The King of Pop, Rock, and Soul” at a 1989 awards show, it seemed the press had already crowned him The King of Pop-as early as 1984!

New York Post, Feb 1984
New York Post, Feb 1984

He is also referred to as “The Reigning King of Pop” in this Decemeber 7, 1984 “Chicago Sun-Times” Article:



king of pop 2


reigning king of pop

Of course, just because Michael didn’t “self proclaim” himself  The King of Pop doesn’t mean he didn’t love the title! His public embarrassment over it to the contrary, I think he loved it! You know he did.

That Little Shy, Embarrassed Act Don't Fool Me None! Michael LOVED Being The King of Pop!
That Little Shy, Embarrassed Act Don’t Fool Me None! Michael LOVED Being The King of Pop!

I have never apologized for Michael’s ego. Ego is what defines genius, and is the quality that separates genius from the ordinary. What sense does it make to strive to be the best, if you don’t feel you have what it takes to be the best, or the greatest? Michael knew, innately, that he possessed greatness. But without a plan to execute it, he might have been doomed for mediocrity.

Part of the paradoxical quality of Michael’s very complex make-up is that he did possess this very unconquerable ego-on the one extreme-and yet an equally sincere humbleness that always thanked God for his gifts; who understood innately that he was not completely responsible for his own greatness, and was always considerate and thankful with those who helped bring his vision to fruition.

But keeping it real, he always had astounding faith in his own ability.

What can we learn about Michael from this manifesto? Much of it does not surprise, but only confirms what we have known all along. What it shows is a very driven young man with a vision, and a set sense of purpose; a man whose work ethic and perfectionism would soon enough become synonymous with his very name. And it should prove, to anyone who doubts, that Michael Jackson was always a man very much at the helm of his own ship. He may have had a lot of co-captains along the way, but ultimately, he was always the captain.

As far as what else this manifesto teaches us, one of its biggest lessons is that nothing happens by accident or chance. We do have the ability to make our own destiny. And we can also take from it that nothing is ever as easy, or as effortless, as it looks. Magic doesn’t “just happen”-nor does being the best. Everything takes hard work-and a master plan. Michael Jackson’s manifesto is proof that “The Secret” may not be New Age mumbo-jumbo, after all. There really is something to this Law of Attraction.

I don’t know of too many 21-year-olds who can map out a master plan for their life. Perhaps there are a few; after all, it doesn’t take much commitment to jot down a few dreams and glowing ideas for the future on a piece of paper.

But how many could go back to that piece of paper, twenty or thirty years later, and say they achieved every single goal? Not many, I will wager.

But that is precisely why Michael Jackson still represents magic to us. His example taught us that anything is possible-if you dare to dream big enough, and are willing to work hard enough for it.

"You Think This is Easy? Let's See YOU Try It!"
“You Think This is Easy? Let’s See YOU Try It!”


That is, at least three times as hard as anybody else.

34 thoughts on “Michael's Manifesto And What We Can Learn From It”

  1. Insightful as usual, but… I think Michael need to become the greatest entertainer ever rather than the best black one had more to do with trying to prove African Americans are able to attain anything European Americans can if they truly work hard (in most cases harder than their white counterparts) rather than some blind insatiability.

    He always spoke about how the true media backlash and unfair critiques of his post-Thriller work began once he began regularly besting his main ‘competitors’: Elvis and The Beatles.

    Anyway, the fact that Michael Jackson was so calculated and determined makes him more intriguing/inspiring/amazing in my opinion. I’ve never come across an artist so enamored with their OWN legacy. Magical, really, like an classic epic of sorts.

    1. That is very true, and it’s a topic I have addressed many times. Michael was truly a civil rights activist in the music industry.

  2. ” I’ve never come across an artist so enamored with their OWN legacy. Magical, really, like an classic epic of sorts.”

    So very true.

    1. All the more ridiculous that some believe that Michael would ask unattractive nonentities for their sperm in order to bring up some other guy’s children!

      What ever insecurities he had over his face, Michael knew that, with his taut musculature, broad shoulders and slim hips, his body was fabulous!

      1. I have a hard time believing it, too, Simba. Unless there was some medical secret we are unaware of, I just can’t buy it. He was too egocentric to NOT want his own biological children.

        1. Look. There could be any number of reasons Michael would not want his own biological children, “egotistical” or not. Not everyone’s egotism runs in the same direction. If you want to believe, if you MUST believe that Michael’s children are his genetic offspring, then so be it.

          I’m not saying they were or weren’t; I simply wonder why it would matter.

  3. re Edwrd Scissorhands, this is what I found that seems most accurate:

    “But the lead role of Edward was picked over by a strange assortment of actors before Burton and Fox settled on Johnny Depp, the former star of Fox Television’s series “21 Jump Street.” Fox urged Burton to consider Tom Cruise for the role, but after several hours of meetings, the two parted ways. (One topic of those meetings, sources say, was Edward Scissorhands’ lack of virility.) Michael Jackson was eager to play the role but wasn’t offered it. Tom Hanks passed up the project in favor of “Bonfire of the Vanities.” William Hurt and Robert Downey Jr. both expressed interest.”


    1. I don’t think that source is entirely accurate, although it seems once one source had published that Michael had lobbied for the role and was unsuccessful, several others followed suit in simply repeating it and pasting the information. On the opposite extreme, there are some sources that go as far as to say Edward Scissorhands was written specifically FOR Michael. I don’t believe that is true, but I do know that he was among Burton’s serious contenders for the role. I really think, all told, it just came down to bad timing-and perhaps politics (who knows?).

      I noticed that the Wiki entry for the film has since been edited to reflect this LA Times article. But this is what was originally stated:

      Michael Jackson was actually Burton’s first choice for the role of Edward. Why Jackson didn’t end up in the movie as Edward, still remains a mystery to this day.[10]

      BTW just a bit of trivia for those who don’t know: Michael later bought and owned the scissor hand props used in the film:


      Many have also noted the similarities between the outfit that Edward scissorhands wore, and Michael’s “Bad” costume.” I don’t know if you ever saw the write-up I did on Michael and Johnny Depp. Right now I cannot retrieve it, unfortunately (technical problems with the old archives again) but it is on my list of articles I will reprint at some point.

      However, I also should add that it is entirely possible that the rumor of Burton considering Michael Jackson for the role could be one of those urban myths that has simply been circulated for so long that many sources accept it as fact, sort of like the long-held belief that Johnny Depp based his Willy Wonka character on Michael (which Depp has continued to staunchly deny).

      It is hard to pinpoint since there are sources that say it is true, and sources that deny it. I think it may be more likely that Michael WAS considered because he apparently had some clout with the production at the time (remember, this was right about the time he signed his huge mega-deal with Sony that was to include a starring role in the film Midknight, a project that was being developed specifically for him. Midknight and Edward Scissorhands shared the same screenwriter, Caroline Thompson. I believe what is more likely, in hindsight, is that those behind the production of Edward Scissorhands were embarrassed by all of Michael’s negative publicity in later years, and sought to distance themselves from any connection to him and the project. There may have also been some bitterness about the Midknight project falling through. In this article, Caroline Thompson is more than a little snarky towards Michael:


      1. Raven, Thanks for your reply. I must say there is no evidence at all that Edward Scissorhands was written for MJ–Tim Burton had the idea and wrote it in a journal when he was a kid and he has talked about that being a childhood idea and has never referenced MJ. I really think it’s an urban myth that MJ was Tim Burton’e first choice for the part, the screenplay being written by snarky Caroline Thompson, who clearly had no respect for MJ even when he hired her and she was his guest at Neverland!

  4. Raven, I have been pondering many of the same matters that you bring up here as soon as the “60 Minutes” segment aired. Thank you for your thoughts here; I have to say that in this “manifesto,” I find as many contradictions as fulfilled prophesies.

    For one thing, Michael says that he shouldn’t be known as the kid who sang “ABC.” Writing this in 1979, we should note that he continued to perform the Jackson 5 medley—which of course includes “ABC”— with his brothers AND on his own, throughout subsequent tours. These include the Destiny tour (1979); the Triumph Tour (1981); the Motown 25 Special (1983); the Victory Tour (1984); the Bad Tour (1987-88); and, perhaps—I’m sure some of you know better than I do—the Dangerous and HIStory tours as well, and possibly the 30th Anniversary show at Madison Square Garden in 2001. We also know they rehearsed that same medley in This is It. He also performed “Ben,” a noteworthy element of his childhood solo success, in the Jacksons Destiny and Triumph tours.

    He resolved to move beyond his image as that kid who sang “ABC”; but he probably knew, nevertheless, that the audience would appreciate that bit of J5 nostalgia. So despite his desire to distance himself from his past, that medley put in a regular appearance as an essential part of his set list as an adult performer. Moreover, at some point (which tour?) he began to use projections of old photographs of himself and his brothers performing as the Jackson 5, as a backdrop; so his deliberate rupture with his image from the past was never really complete, and only partial.

    1. Yes, if you recall, that issue was brought up in the comments to a previous post where some of us were debating whether the Jackson 5 medley/tribute that Michael always included in his concerts was, in fact, a tribute-or a kind of subtle “rubbing it in” to his brothers. (I have a theory that it was a little of both, although whether it was something Michael was actively conscious of, I cannot say).

      Of course, Michael knew that he could never completely make that break because he couldn’t totally erase his past. Although he had acquired a massive following as an adult performer, he was very much aware that at least a good portion of his fandom was a carry-over from his Jackson 5 fame, which, after all, did open the doors that made his adult success possible. I am sure he knew he could never break away from that. And it’s probably fair to say that he didn’t necessarily want to break away from it-completely. It was part of who he was; part of his HIStory. It was just that he needed to make that break in order to find who Michael Jackson was-or who “MJ” was-apart from the family.

      As we know, Michael wasn’t necessarily a willing participant for the Motown 25 speacial, or even the Victory project. He pretty much had to be dragged, kicking and screaming (and with a lot of bribery, lol) to agree to it. I think he saw all of these as setbacks to what he really wanted to accomplish at that point, which was to move forward on his own trajectory (but he found a way to make the Motwon 25 special work to his advanatge, to accomplish just that).

      Later, he would always make sure to include a Jackson 5 spot in every concert, but the irony is that he was always performing “the old songs” with everyone EXCEPT his brothers. Throughout the years, he had no interest in performing again as a Jackson family member, and would not be talked into it again until 2001.

      I think Michael loved his brothers to pieces, but he just had no interest in ever “going there” again. He felt like he had been tied down and held back long enough. As a child, being part of the group worked for him, but as an adult, it was obvious that he was miles ahead of his brothers in creativity and vision. He was successful, and as he once said, he simply didn’t need the headache anymore (he actually referred to Jermaine as being “too much of a headache,” lol).

      Of course, what we have to keep in mind is that Michael was still actively in the process of making this break in 1979, and it had to have been a very tough transition for him. In a way, he was in rebellion. And just like all young people who go through a rebellious phase, there is a time where we can really see those muscles being flexed, and then, over time-with experience, maturity, and hindsight-the young adult begins to mellow out. (This is the phase where they may start to say, “Mom and Dad weren’t so wrong about everything, after all.”). Michael needed to prove to himself, to his family, and to the world that he could do it on his own. Over time, his stance probably mellowed a bit and he could afford to pay tribute to his brothers and acknowledge “the good old days.” But when he wrote this note, he was still very much in active rebellion-and his tone seems to reflect that state of mind.

      1. Raven, I have been re-reading Moonwalk and MJ talks there about what he calls ‘the extreme closeness” with his brothers while they were on tour around 70, 71 (they did 90 cities!!). Cooped up and trapped in hotel rooms due to the crowds, they entertained each other and did all the crazy things he later did with the kids he befriended–such as dropping water balloons on people’s heads and racing through the hallways and balancing buckets of water so as to deluge the person opening the door. I think when his brothers got married and left home MJ was lonely (living in Encino with parents and sisters). He also talks about how devastating it was when Jermaine decided to stay at Motown and how he felt naked on stage without Jermaine on his left side.

        That note was written around Off the Wall, right? After he did The Wiz? I think he had started to envision himself by then without his brothers. He says that one entire summer they did a live TV sit com, which he hated, and from then on he was set against TV, and that was the main reason he declined the Motown 25 gig. Berry came and talked to him in person and they both then agreed he would perform with his brothers and do the one solo non-Motown song Billie Jean. He says the show brought many changes, due to the reception it got, and that it was one of the happiest and proudest moments of his life. He says that after the show each one of hius brothers came up and hugged andd kissed him, and he LOVED IT b/c they had never done that before and he felt as if they were giving him a blessing.

        I think things went downhill on the Victory Tour (55 shows) as he was outvoted so much and said he was disappointed in the tour from the beginning b/c he wanted it to be better than it was.

        One thing that intrigued me about the manifesto is the ‘I will give no interviews”–was this a mistake? And why did he come up with that idea? He does say in Moonwalk that he felt ‘mentally scarred’ by being so controlled at Motown–told what to say, what to wear, what to sing, how to sing, etc.

        1. Your comment reminds me of something Joe once said in an interview. Joe, of course, was denying what Michael had always said about never having a childhood. Joe said that Michael had a great childhood; he had all of his brothers and sisters to play with.

          This is actually true to a point. I can imagine Michael had some great times with his siblings. But there was a kind of isolation there, as well, because throughout Michael’s childhood, his siblings WERE HIS ENTIRE WORLD. Before stardom, his childhood was fairly isolated because his parents didn’t like for them to associate with the other kids in the neighborhood (they were concerned about most of the kids around there being a bad influence). They weren’t really allowed to play outside like normal kids; if they did, they had to be inside before Joe got home from work-or else. So even before stardom, Michael’s world was very restricted, and isolated to mostly just his siblings. He allegedly wasn’t allowed to play with white kids, or to have white friends (Katherine didn’t want her children to know the sting of prejudice) and wasn’t allowed to play with the other black children of the neighborhood (bad influence) so his brothers were all he had. Later, this closeness and isolation would be compounded by their fame. As you have pointed out, the problem came when the brothers started to marry and go off on their own. This left Michael in a very vulnerable position as a younger child who had always relied on his brothers’ presence for companionship. He simply didn’t have other friends or strong, outside relationships to fall back on. I don’t think it is ever healthy for a child to not be able to form bonds outside of the family; that is a huge part of a child’s social development.

          I’m sure a huge part of him was always seeking his family’s approval and approbation-even as he sought to break away from them. He wanted their approval and blessing for having accomplished what he did on his own. That’s why that moment with his brothers after Motown 25 was so special to him. He needed to feel that they really DID approve, and were not harboring jealousy or animosity. I think that was always important to him, even if he tried to act very brave in pretending to not care. Everyone, deep down, craves their family’s approval.

          I’m not sure that the declaration to “give no interviews” was a mistake. It did help him to build his mystique, which I think became very important to his adult career. The downside is that it allowed too much room for a lot of the more vicious rumors to begin circulating, and to go unchecked. One thing we do know is that, up until the Bashir piece, at least, Michael’s approval rating with the public always went up substantially following every interview or public speech. I think the public was very hungry to want to get to know who Michael was-and when they were allowed those glimpses, they loved him even more. It was only when journalists began to maliciously set him up that we saw this begin to change. Also, after the first allegations, I think Michael became increasingly confused over what to say in interviews…what would play well, and what wouldn’t. Certain things that had seemed innocuous or even admirable to say before, now suddenly took on a sinister connotation-or were twisted to appear that way by unscrupulous journalists. I think LMP was right-to a point. Part of it was rebellion and stubborness (because he didn’t think he had done anything wrong, and had nothing to hide) but part of, too, was genuine confusion at having been so viciously turned on by the press and the public.

          1. Great observation about Michael’s isolation within the family, Raven. I think you are absoultely right that this is so important that he did not having the ‘outside the family’ socializing experiences most of us had. No doubt that is why the experience of The Wiz and getting to spend time with Diana Ross was so important. In Moonwalk, he says that when the family relocated to CA from Gary, it took a year (I don’t know why it took so long, do you?). In any case, MJ and his brother lived either with Berry Gordy or Diana Ross in CA. During this time, he says Diana introduced him to art–taking him to museums, drawing together, etc. It opened him up in many ways. But until then, he was in a restricted world for sure. I know for me, having friendships at school, going places with my friends, going to their house and seeing how they lived, meeting their families, all of this took me away from the closed family environment and then led to making new friends and having new experiences. One of my school friends and I later studied abroad one summer. Things like that happend as a result of branching out of the family.

            Uri Geller was an idiot for going with Bashir when he could have chosen David Frost (he said), but a major problem was that MJ trusted Bashir so much he signed a contract without a lawyer checking it and without having editorial control over the final product written into the contract. That was a huge mistake.

  5. Great blog Raven. How nice to get away from all the current courtroom stuff, and back to the MJ we all know and love and are inspired by. This is the ‘real’ Michael/MJ, and you have written about him so well. I also love all the photos and video links you put in – they really add to the whole thing and make it come alive. I believe MJ was clearly neither “Black or White”, and his philosophy was a clear sign of that in all aspects of his life. It is clear from his art and life that he believed in the Law of Attraction, but I didn’t know about his manifesto written age 21, and am very glad to know now.

    I would recommend Willa Stillwater’s MJ Poetica ebook for all who want to follow this topic more fully. She has dealt with all the issues you raise and many more in that great book.

    Thanks for bringing us back to our beloved MJ with this blog.

    1. Yes, it’s nice to take a breather from all the heavier stuff going on. I am still drafting Part 2 of the Wade Robson piece, and finally got all of the trial news up to date night before last (thankfully, the Memorial Day holiday means a break in the trial, so a good time for catching up!). I just wanted to address these two notes from Michael that had made headlines, before the stories got too cold. The other stuff gets depressing after awhile; stories like this help keep me focused on what I am really here for, and what I enjoy writing best.

  6. Raven,
    I thank you, first of all, for this your fantastic post, really great!
    It is also nice that you have disconnected a bit by the argument Aeg and you gave us this analysis so precious!

    Listen, Michael’s manifesto is not a surprise to me. Since I started to “study” MJ, I have always believed that Michael wanted to make a clean break with to his image that represented the J5 for his audience, I do not think as a rejection but rather as a desire to be something diametrically opposed.
    I found it especially strong since Bad era.

    I think to the hard image, studded that the album cover suggests.
    But I think even more about the cover that he would have wanted for Bad album: the one with the lace veil.
    It fully represents the project of the manifesto: mystery, magic, ambiguity and, above all, masquerading as a theatrical representation of the term.

    I then believe that vitiligo and burning were due to certain artistic choices and that Michael, far from being a victim of them, he has used and structured for its artistic purposes.

    Probably, without vitiligo we never had a diaphanous and angelic Michael, but he used his skin too bright to arrive at that imaginary …
    You know, I am struck by the very fact that he has put in his manifesto for the word “actor” first of all.

    I remembered that there is an alternative etymology for the Latin verb personare, (per-sonare: talk through). This would explain why the term person indicating in origin the mask used by theater actors, which served to give the appearance of the actor who played the character, but also to allow his voice to go far enough to be heard by the audience.

    It is really Magic all this!

    1. “…I do not think as a rejection but rather as a desire to be something diametrically opposed…”

      Yes. What you’ve said here. I agree. As I mentioned in my reply to Nina, I don’t think it was an outright rejection. Obviously, he could not totally separate himself from his childhood fame, or of being a member of The Jacksons. But he had a different vision of where he wanted to go with his talent.

  7. I can appreciate that Michael’s lighter, then white, skin makes it easier for white fans to feel close to him, especially Europeans, who were less accustomed to seeing black people some years back. (Europe has since gotten less racially homogeneous.) I’ve even seen a European fan’s depiction of Michael with blond hair and blue eyes. Black Americans do the same thing sometimes, but with fictional characters, like black Betty Boop, and black Bart Simpson.

    But Michael was a real person, a black American. Vitiligo didn’t change that. He NEVER would have claimed to be “neither black or white”. His art came directly from black American performance traditions. I think he projected those pictures of himself as a child to remind audiences of what he knew and felt deeply – the Michael with brown skin was the same person as the Michael with white skin.

  8. I enjoyed reading this post. I appreciate how you referenced your thoughts. I totally agree with all that you wrote on MJ’s manifesto. My thoughts of Michael and how he became the King of Pop are not far from yours. I think his gift was intelligence and leaning how to use it. Despite the negative media articles, Michael is a role model everyone can learn from as you have pointed out in this post. Kudos to you for writing an amazing post.

  9. Apropos Michael’s manifesto: “I want a whole new character, a whole new look. I should be a tottally [sic] different person.”

    Read below an excerpt from John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay “Back in the Day” which was published in GQ magazine, September, 2009:

    Back in the Day

    Before the weirdness claimed his legacy, Michael Jackson understood his talent—and what he was willing to do for it—better than we ever have.
    By John Jeremiah Sullivan

    “On the Internet, you can see a picture of him near the end of his life, juxtaposed with a digital projection of what he would have looked like at the same age without the surgeries and makeup and wigs. A smiling middle-aged black guy, handsome in an everyday way. We are meant, of course, to feel … pity for the strange, self-mutilated creature beside him. I can’t be alone, however, in feeling just the opposite, that there’s something metaphysically revolting about the digital mock-up. It’s an abomination.

    “Michael chose his true face. What is, is natural. His physical body, face, is arguably, even inarguably, the single greatest piece of postmodern American sculpture. It must be carefully preserved.”

    God! If accurate, how absolutely brilliant Michael was. Reading Sullivan’s assessment years ago gave me chills.


    1. I remember that article, Ara, although it has been a few years and it was interesting to revisit it, especially in light of this manifesto. Sullivan is actually a very smart, insightful writer, and it’s nice to read such a rare, in-depth analysis that doesn’t come either from a bias of adoration or dislike. I remember that, at the time this piece came out, a lot of fans were upset by some of his comments. They didn’t like the insinuation that Michael orchestrated his entire change of appearance as an artistic statement. But I did agree to an extent with what he said about the comparison photo of the real Michael’s face in middle age to the digital mock photo that was supposed to show what he would have looked like at 50 without surgery and without vitiligo. As he said, Michael’s face as we came to know it, ultimately, was the face Michael chose. But for me (and I know I am not alone here) it is the face of Michael as we came to know him, and as we grew to love him. That “other man”-as ordinarily handsome as he might be-is a stranger to us.

      There are other issues I have with Jeremiah Sullivan’s piece. Obviously, he based his description of Michael’s autopsy on tabloid reports, and I question a lot of the sources he based his information on. Quoting Halperin as even a semi-credible source almost topples the entire piece for me, although I understood where he was going with it-or trying to. I don’t think he believes Michael was guilty of any crime. He is trying to present his piece in a way that will make it credible for skeptical readers, and I do not have a problem with that. The damage, of course, is that along the way he still perpetuates a lot of the old cliches’ and misconceptions, but he also has a lot of interesting insight that, for me, balances some of the more objectionable parts of the article. (This is one of those where I just sort of have to take the good with the bad; take what I can use and discard the rest).

      Also, I think it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say one can smell Gary’s “poisonous air” from leagues away, lol. Maybe it was different when Michael was growing up and the steel mills industry was still booming there. But I’ve been there twice and never smelled anything. New Orleans smells a lot worse! The only thing I can say about Gary is that most of it-especially downtown-looks very run down. But I don’t think it’s the noxious furnace Sullivan makes it sound like in the piece.

      He also brought up something else that I wish-now-I had included in my own piece, because he is right and absolutely hit the nail on the head. Michael’s development of his adult voice was another aspect of that “whole new character” he was consciously creating. However, he was using his natural voice a lot more in the last decade of his life.

      All in all, this is an interesting piece (with a few flaws, granted) but thank you for reminding me of it.

  10. Great post! Magic is an interesting phenomenon, in modern magic traditions you will be forwarned: be careful what you wish for, you may get it…….!!!!!

  11. Raven,
    I thought, in the light of the project which he then put in place Michael, his decision to accept the infamous Living with MJ.

    I believe that it must have cost him a lot of thought and a lot of despair to accept it.

    Why the star more reserved of the world has decided, out of the blue, to put a journalist in his life, in more detail?

    He evidently had a deep desire to put an end to all the speculations and the myths that were circulating about him.

    If I think then that the result had everything! My god, how much he must have suffered, and in the light of these revelations, how much effort must be made ​​to accept to make a similar documentary.

    Dante put traitors to those who trust in the depths of Hell, in the frozen lake of Cocytus, upside down … I think a proper place for the future of Mr. Bashir!

    1. The reason Michael allowed Bashir in was because he had recently begun a campaign to repair and reinvent his public image. This was advise he had been given, and on the surface, it made sense. The idea was to slowly dissolve the image of Michael as a recluse, and to make him more open and accessible to the public. This long-range plan included doing more interviews and pieces like the Bashir doc; going on talk shows, etc. This campaign was designed to coincide with many projects that were in the works. I have read on this quite extensively, although I do not have time at the moment to search for the links. But apparently, Michael was led to believe that doing a lengthy, no-holds-barred documentary and interview would be beneficial to his “new and improved” image. His friend Uri Geller suggested Bashir. Michael was impressed because Bashir had recently interviewed Princess Diana, and felt that Bashir could be beneficial to him.

      Of course, it all went downhill from there.

      1. About Princess Diana I knew, I did not know that there was a campaign upstream prepared for the revival of the image of Michael.
        Thanks Raven, always you give valuable information

      2. I’ve always wondered if he had actually seen that interview with Princes Diana and came to his own conclusion it had been beneficial or took Geller’s word for that, does anybody know?

  12. thanks 4 posting that old news clip ‘the song is mine’ I’m the kid in the beret and I’ve been looking for this pic for YEARS!! thank u!!

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