After finishing Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard’s Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson In His Final Days last night, I am left with a lot of burning, impotent anger and sadness. “Impotent” is the right word to use. These emotions are impotent simply because, as strong as those emotions may be after finishing this book, there is left, above all, the lingering sense of helplessness. Michael’s life is what it became, and now he is gone. He is gone, and no one can do anything about it; no one can go back and change anything. We cannot undo all of the damage that was done to a human being. We can only, somehow, stand in the ashes and try to make sense of it. That, above all else, is what I take from this book. I believe that Whitfield and Beard, in their own way, are still trying to make sense of what really happened to Michael Jackson, the man they knew affectionately as “Boss” and their intent is to help the fans understand as well.
To what extent the book fails or succeeds in that regard is largely up to what the reader wishes to take from it. It has its areas of strengths and weaknesses.
But let’s back up. The title is a bit cliche’-ish, not to mention it is already the title of another MJ book, the one written by Theresa Gonsalves. But titles can’t be copyrighted and, anyway, it’s definitely not the same book by any stretch of the imagination.
However, most MJ fans and savvy readers will know why certain parts of the book DO seem very familiar. That is because a good bulwark of this book has been told before, by Dr. Karen Moriarty in her self-published book Defending A King: His Life & Legacy. That book had its beginnings when Dr. Moriarty had originally met with Whitfield, Beard and Michael Garcia (who later pulled out) with the intention of becoming their ghost writer for the book. What ultimately happened to that “understanding” is detailed in the introduction to Moriarty’s book, where she states that eventually they realized they were simply not on the same page in regards to the story they wanted to tell. The upshot was that Moriarty’s book, while still relying heavily on the bodyguards’ stories in the chapters portraying the last two years of his life and especially of his time in Las Vegas, became ultimately very much its own book, less memoir and more biography.
After reading the book, I have a clearer understanding of why these differences occurred. But I will address those issues in a bit.
The choice of cover photograph is an interesting one. It’s the same photo that was used for the promos of the Martin Bashir “Living With Michael Jackson” documentary. It is a very handsome photo from Michael’s mature era, which is appropriate since this is a book whose time span is covering the last two and a half years or so of his life, but it is also a photo that seems to emphasize the loneliness and isolation of its subject. (Michael isn’t smiling in the photo; it is a seemingly contemplative pose with a meditative, melancholy expression, as he gazes outward as if searching for something that isn’t there). It’s a fitting and haunting image for a reader’s first impression of the book, since Michael’s isolation really becomes the central theme of the book.
Any time that I read a book written by someone who actually knew or worked with Michael, a list that is growing exponentially longer every day, I try to keep both an open mind and a heaping grain of salt nearby (you know, just in case it comes in handy!). The open mind is important, because the one thing I always have to keep uppermost in mind is that I can’t pretend to know more about Michael than those who were actually around him 24-7. So that means if, occasionally, the picture they present doesn’t jibe with the Michael I thought I knew so well, then so be it (however, I never really found that to be the case here; fortunately, I don’t carry around some idyllic vision of who I believe Michael was, so I suppose that helps in keeping the open mind). However, that little pinch of salt doesn’t hurt, either. Because I also know that, ultimately, anyone’s views of Michael Jackson-even those who claimed to be friends or were employees working for him every day-will inevitably have perceptions that are colored by their own experiences, whether positive or negative. There is also always the danger of the “I was the only one he could trust/the only one he could confide in” syndrome, which a savvy reader has to be aware of anytime they pick up a book written by any individual claiming to be someone who got close to Michael. To their credit, Whitfield and Beard are very honest about this syndrome (they do not claim to be immune to it or as lone exceptions to the rule)and, in fact, go to some lengths in the book to analyze this peculiar phenomenon of celebrity-one that isn’t actually so curious if one keeps in mind that, when talking Michael Jackson and his empire, it was all about the power struggle-who had control; who had his ear at any given moment. And, not to be excluded, the fact that Michael himself had that innate ability-that aura-that always made everyone around him feel somehow special, as if they were the only one in his world who mattered. It was a special gift Michael possessed, but in many ways, one that also proved his undoing.
But Whitfield and Beard were used to being around famous people, even if admittedly they were a bit starstruck at first to realize they were working for Michael Jackson. However, being starstruck was something that soon wore off, as they settled into the job of simply protecting a family-a single father, his three children, and an ever growing menagerie of pets as the children attempted to fill the void of being uprooted from Neverland, the only permanent home they had ever known. There are times when the story seems almost as though it could have been the pilot for “The Brady Bunch”-“Here’s the story of a lovely father/Who was bringing up three very lovely kids”-and, hey, all that’s needed to complete the picture is an “Alice” or two-so now we have Grace, Bill, and Javon, who essentially take on that role even if they do carry lots of big guns. It’s all very sweet, but over it all looms the knowledge that this is a family marred by tragedy; a family that has had to learn to live inside a protective bubble and can never be truly “normal” (though their attempts at normalcy form the poignant heart of the book) and a story where, unfortunately, we already know the fatal outcome. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fun and sweet moments along the way. Like a very good tear jerker movie, it’s possible to enjoy the journey even if you know this isn’t going to be a happy ending.
But it begs some of the same questions as watching a movie like Titanic,for example. If we already know how the story ends, why do we read books like this? Easy answer. Any time we already know how the story ends, we read not for the destination, but for the journey. We read because we are always hungry to learn more about who Michael was/is. There is still the ongoing fascination with who this man was. Yes, we can say he told us all we needed to know in his music-in fact, he told us more in his music and poems than we will ever get from any biography. But there is still an unsatiated desire to know…what was life like for him, on a day to day basis? What was he like to be around? How on earth did he cope with the insanity of his life, and with those constant power struggles going on all around him? And we read because we are still hungry for answers. What happened to Michael Jackson, especially in his final days? Remember The Time doesn’t provide all those answers, but it does give us plenty of glimpses into that life. I think most will come away from this book feeling as I did, that even with all Michael’s money and world fame, I wouldn’t have traded my life for his. Throughout the book, I had many emotions, sometimes smiling or even laughing-“Yes, that sounds just like Michael!”-; sometimes feeling their exasperation and helplessness as they saw things spiraling out of control around Michael (things they could only witness but were powerless to stop). I often had to stop reading to wipe away tears, and by the end, I felt Whitfield’s burning rage as he sat through the memorial service, witnessing first hand the hypocrisy of all those who claimed to be Michael’s best friend-but were never there.
I hope this is not too much of a spoiler for those who haven’t read it yet (if so, just feel free to skip over this part) but that is exactly the note on which the book ends. It is a curious ending, in some ways. There is no real resolution; no great affirmation of reflecting upon who Michael was or what he meant to the world as an artist or as an icon; no, “Wow, if only Michael could have seen this great outpouring of love.” Instead, it ends on a note that is brutally jarring, but also brutally honest. Whitfield had been with Michael throughout all of the times of isolation and loneliness; he remembered too vividly those that never came around; those who gave lip service to supporting Michael, the ones who would call and say, “I’ll be praying for you”-but never showed their faces. I appreciate that there is no white washing of this in the book, because frankly it is a part of the story that needs to be told. This story could have ended, as it has so many times before, with strains of “Man in the Mirror” playing and everyone joining hands to remember what a great light Michael was to the planet and how we all loved him-of course we did, even if we didn’t always take enough time to say it.
Instead, it ends on a note as bitter and jarring as the deafening silence after a shotgun blast. Like I said, it’s not pleasant, and it will leave a reader feeling unsettled, but I can appreciate that it is honest emotion we get, not some sugar coated white washed version of it. Maybe there are some people who “need” to hear that truth. In fact, there are probably many who need to hear it.
It is honest emotion, yes, which brings up one of the many interesting differences between memoir and biography. And it is an important difference to keep in mind when discussing a book like this. Memoirs-where the authors actually knew the subject and are writing from personal experience-are, by their very nature, more intimate and personal than biographies written by neutral journalists or neutral third parties. But because of this very intimacy, they also have their expected limitations. We have to accept that we are only getting a small part of the picture, one that is being filtered through the first hand experiences of these people-and is thus limited by those experiences. Just as with any first person narrative (fictional or non fictional) the “I” speaker can only relate what the “I” knows. This becomes especially problematic when the subjects involve real life people, and especially with someone who was as complex and as adept at compartmentalizing his life as Michael was. In the same way that Michael was able to keep his dating life completely separate from the life he lived with his three children (none of Michael’s secret “friends” apparently were ever brought to his house, but always met on the sly away from the home in hotels) I believe that, often, the side of Michael that friends and employees saw was whatever side he wished to present. That isn’t to suggest anything covert on his part; I think it had simply become a coping strategy of his very unusual life. For all that he grew very close to Whitfield and Beard, and seemed to trust them, they were still employees; their expected place was still in the garage or, later, the security trailer. As readers, we have to respect that their story is filtered at least in part through this distance-a distance that both enabled them to be impartial observers, and yet (because the staff had literally dwindled by then to a skeleton crew) created its own brand of intimacy. You know the old saying about flies on a wall. Right. So essentially they were always there, and “not there”-a witness to events, and sometimes even a part of those events, yet never intimately connected to them.
So, in other words, we can never accept any one individual’s story as the entire, definitive picture of who Michael was or how he lived his life. Rather, each individual’s story is a small piece to the puzzle. I try hard to approach any memoir written about him for what it is; as nothing more or less than one person’s (or in this case, two persons) version of “their” truth as they experienced it. And, while I hate to borrow Wade Robson’s oft-mocked phrase, it is nevertheless an apt one in the sense that personal experience and personal perception will always filter how one relates real-life events. Keep in mind that the root word of “memoir” is memory. I have found, over time, that the books I tend to enjoy most about Michael are those that portray him honestly as a human being with flaws, not for the purpose of exploiting or tearing him down (God knows there are enough of those books out there!) but simply to present him in all his human complexity, with neither devil horns nor wings and a halo. As I have always said, my interest is in Michael Jackson as a human being, not as a deity. Remember The Time strikes that balance, but as I cautioned, we have to keep in mind the limitations of memoir.
Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard knew Michael personally for only the last two and half years of his life. They have received some flack because the book’s subtitle is “Protecting Michael Jackson In His Final Days” but if one reads the book, they are honest in acknowledging that they were not with him during those final months in LA. By then, their on-hand responsibilities had been greatly reduced and they had stayed behind in Las Vegas (indeed, Whitfield particularly beats himself up pretty good for this in the end of the book); thus, the final chapters of the book are really more hearsay than personal experience. In other words, they know the details of what happened during those final months in Holmby Hills pretty much the same way as all the rest of us-by what they have read and heard in the media, and what they were able to piece together after the fact. In this regard, the book disappoints somewhat if one is expecting to gain any new insight based on what actually happened to Michael in those final days. The bodyguards simply don’t have those answers-or if they do, they are keeping quiet for perhaps good reason. Like so many books, there is a lot of speculation, but in the end, what happened to Michael in his actual final days-other than what is already public knowledge via the trials and media reports-remains a mystery.
But what Whitfield and Beard ARE able to provide is a fascinating glimpse into those months immediatly leading up to Michael’s LA departure, and they spare little in revealing who the major game players were in creating the trap that ultimately consumed and killed Michael Jackson. What emerges is a rather horrifying picture. And what one is left with is the haunting image of a man literally consumed by his own empire-one that he himself had created, but one which, eventually, had become bigger than himself, and bigger than even he could control.
Again, because Whitfield and Beard’s experiences are limited to those last two and half years that they knew him, we also have to keep in mind that theirs is not-nor should it be expected to be-the definitive portrayal of who Michael was. We have to keep some things in perspective. The man that Whitfield and Beard got to know was a man who had just come out of exile after experiencing one of the most traumatic events that any person could be put through. Michael was still suffering the effects of post traumatic stress, inflicted not only by the trial and accusations, but by years of negative press; by years of being perceived by the world as “Wacko Jacko;” by years of dealing with lawsuits and vultures and pressure. He wasn’t burned out creatively, but he was burned out on life pretty much by this point. Such post traumatic stress disorder, which would be understandable for any human being who had undergone so much, would probably go far in explaining why Michael, by this point, simply wanted to isolate himself and his children away from the world. He wanted to be left the hell alone. As he said many times, he just wanted to be left alone and to live his life with his kids.
Michael’s isolation becomes a central focus of the book. As I had mentioned a few years back when I first reviewed Dr. Moriarty’s book, perhaps the most heart wrenching aspect of this story is that of a single father and his children whose lives had become increasingly narrowed by circumstance. Their existence had gone from the sprawling freedom of a 2700 acre estate, to an endless revolving door of hotels and rental houses, to finally a cramped residence where one couldn’t even swim in the backyard pool without being spied by neighbors. And to anyone reading this who might be tempted to say, “Well, it’s still a better life than I could give my kids any day-I don’t even have a back yard pool!” think again. That would have been my first thought, too. Until you get a first hand account of what it’s like to not even be able to sit in on a Chuck E Cheese birthday party with your daughter, or to have to sit parked in a hot car at a neighborhood park, only able to watch your kids play from a distance. That last image, in fact, is one that has haunted me ever since I closed the book. It’s not that I wasn’t already aware of these aspects of Michael’s life. It’s just that sometimes it takes a good writer or storyteller putting you there in that moment-making you experience what it was like to be there with Michael in that parked car, only able to view his kids at play from a distance-that really brings it home. Michael Jackson, the man who had spent so much of his childhood years enviously watching other kids play-could now only sit by in a parked car, with the windows cracked, watching his own kids play from a distance. Worse yet, imagine not even knowing if you and your kids will be able to sleep peacefully through the night under your own roof-or if you will be ripped urgently out of slumber by an emergency call and security banging on the door, telling you and your kids that you must get out for your own safety-that there’s been a threat.
Michael’s kids had any material possession they wanted, for sure. And as long as their father lived, they had a center; a parent they knew would always be there for them. But toys and material possessions aside, this was the life they lived, and one could see how it must have been eating their father up inside. What parent doesn’t want to provide a secure life for their children? That Michael was not able to provide this in his final years-the one thing his children needed more than all the games and toys within FAO Schwartz combined-was the thing that was eating him up inside.
This was the man that Whitfield and Beard came to know-a man who had been traumatized by terrible events in his life, and who was struggling for the sake of his kids to hold it all together. Given these circumstances, it’s no surprise that he wanted to withdraw from life. Withdrawal is a natural survival instinct of those suffering from any form of post traumatic stress. Even though Beard and Whitfield often blame others, at least in part, for Michael’s isolation, I have to wonder if this isolation wasn’t at least to some degree a result of the vibe that Michael was giving off to the world. In other words, if enough people sense-and get the hint loud and clear-that you just want to be left the hell alone, eventually they will do just that. They will leave you alone. I get the feeling that Michael during this time wasn’t exactly reaching out to others-but it could also be that, by then, maybe he was simply tired of trying. A person can only beat their head against a stone wall for so long before they finally just give up.
Thus, the two men do have to admit, several times, that the man they knew as “Boss” was not necessarily the same man that the world knew as The King of Pop (that was a different guy; a different persona. one they saw only on very special occasions such as the Vibe and Ebony shoots, or when he became “Michael” to a crowd of fans). He was also someone apart from the brother and son that his family knew, or the friend that many of his music contemporaries were eulogizing at the memorial. They admit that the Michael they knew was someone apart from all of this. Again, one of the book’s most poignant moments is near the end, as Whitfield sits at the memorial, incensed by the hypocrisy he sees all around. There were far too many who were just there to be seen; who weren’t even genuinely grieving. But among hundreds who had turned out just because the memorial was the trendy place to be seen that day, there were the few who were genuinely grieving-the family members who had lost a son and brother; the children who had lost a father; the fans who had loved him like their own family; a spattering of true long-term friends in the music business such as Berry Gordy; a few of the entertainers who were perhaps genuinely grieving the loss of a hero and mentor; a few women such as “Friend” who had known him as lover as well as friend and…then there was Whitfield himself, a bit of an odd man out, still trying to make sense of his own place in Michael’s life and the many emotions he was still working his way through. After all, this was the man who admits that when Michael had called, saying he needed him in LA, had hoped, somehow, that it was just another whim-“like when he asked me to find him a helicopter simulator or a Ferris wheel. I’d wait a few days before doing it to see if he’d drop it or if he’d bring it up again..And that’s how I felt about him calling me to go to L.A. It didn’t seem urgent. So that’s what I told myself. I thought, If it’s important, he’ll call back. He didn’t call back.”-Excerpted from Remember The Time by Bill Whitfield, p. 295.
It was mid-June, 2009, when Whitfield received that phone call. Like I said, we all know how this story ends.
Of course, this has been a polarizing book just as is everything, it seems, that is released by or about Michael these days. But most of the criticism seems to be coming from three factions-those who have agendas (such as pro-estate or anti-estate) who will automatically trash any book that criticizes the wrong people in their estimation (or doesn’t do enough to harshly criticize others); those who are basing their reactions off sensationalized tabloid stories, and those who simply feel that any book at all-written by anyone who knew or worked for Michael-is a betrayal, regardless of content.
I will try to address all three concerns. I can honestly say, as someone who myself has no agendas in regard to being pro or anti anything, that I don’t believe there are any hidden agendas with this book other than to get a story out there that they felt needed to be told. Raymone Bain and certain others take a pretty good beating in the book, for sure. The bodyguards pretty much limit their personal criticism to those whom they had direct dealings with, and Raymone Bain was the primary to-go person during their tenure with Michael-and thus the brunt of a lot of frustrations, especially when they went months without being paid. You will definitely come away from this book with a nasty aftertaste towards Bain, who was allegedly treating herself to some lavish digs in Vegas at Michael’s expense-and without his knowledge. It’s a pattern that, tragically, repeats itself over and over throughout the story. The names change, but the patterns and behaviors do not.
This book appears in many ways as a stark contrast to the other summer MJ book, Zack Greenburg’s Michael Jackson, Inc. I have not yet read Michael Jackson, Inc but my understanding is that it highlights Michael’s brilliant business savvy and how he constructed his empire, also largely crediting him for its continued success even after his death. It begs a question that is often posed: How could it be possible that the man who built a multi-million dollar empire-the man described in Michael Jackson, Inc-could be the same man described in Remember The Time, as one who had become “cash poor” (even if albeit still very rich on paper) and who seemed to have lost complete control of his money?
I have pondered over this question long and hard myself. But I don’t think these two seemingly very disparate sides of Michael-or of his story-are necessarily mutually exclusive. Rather, both are extreme opposite sides of the same reality. Michael in his youth had been untouchable and unstoppable-a musical genius whose business instincts were also razor sharp; who maintained a tight control on his empire and the people who ran it; who wisely used his ability to enact the law of attraction to make things happen for him. He was a man who, by 1990, had enough power and clout within the industry to negotiate most any terms he wanted-and did so, with what had been up until then the most lucrative recording contract in history. And all of this was in addition to his purchase of the ATV catalog and the eventual merger that resulted in Sony/ATV publishing.
But as stated earlier, the man that Whitfield and Beard came to work for was a very different and changed man, one who had endured much emotional trauma and, as a result, had withdrawn. By this point, it seemed that Michael’s way of coping with the chaos of his life (for by then, that’s what it had become) was to simply ignore any unpleasant situations or unpleasant people that he didn’t want to be bothered with; it seemed easier just to deny it all and hope it would somehow magically go away of its own accord-or that the people he trusted to make it all go away would do their jobs.
While this had always been somewhat of a pattern of Michael’s life (after all, he’d had people fighting each other to take care of him ever since he was ten years old) it seemed it was now exacerbated by the trauma and depression of all he’d had to deal with. There is one passage in particular that struck me, because it hit home just how and why Michael became so vulnerable to law suits-and may also go far towards explaining, once and for all, why an innocent man would settle an accusation of child molestation.
“…Michael Jackson was like flypaper for lawsuits. At any given time, there were hundreds of lawsuits pending against him, literally. Some of them were frivolous. Paternity suits from stalkers, that sort of thing. But a lot of these suits were serious, multimillion-dollar claims. With his business coming apart and nobody in charge, people weren’t getting paid. Deals were being reneged on.
There was a whole cast of characters. Former managers and associates who claimed they were part of this or that and they hadn’t been paid or they were owed a piece of something. People who’d worked on his albums and music videos, claiming they weren’t getting their royalty payments. It was one problem rolling over onto the next. I’d get these legal documents FedExed to me for his signature, so I saw how much money was going out the door. He’d settle for a quarter million dollars, half a million dollars, whatever it took. People usually sue when they think they can get something. And everybody knew that if you sued Michael Jackson, you’d get a settlement. He’d challenge the frivolous ones, like the paternity nonsense. He’d get those thrown out. But if you had any kind of claim that could justify going to trial? He’d just pay you to go away, because after what he went through in 2005, he was never going to set foot in a courtroom again.”-Excerpted from Remember The Time: Protecting Michael Jackson In His Final Days, by Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard, p. 194.
Of course, the Chandler settlement did not prevent the family from pursuing criminal charges (had they been so inclined) nor did it end the criminal investigation of the case. But as Michael himself said to Martin Bashir in 2003, he just wanted the whole thing to go away. “I didn’t want to do a long, drawn out thing like O.J., it just wouldn’t have looked right.”
It seemed that Michael was caught in a vicious cycle he could not break free from. The more cases he would settle, in hopes of making them simply go away, the more lawsuits that were bound to come.
Was so much discussion of Michael’s finances necessary for the book? For sure, it has been one of the book’s more controversial aspects, but I think the justification is that Whitfield and Beard really wanted readers and the fans to understand exactly what Michael was up against-and who was responsible. They make it very clear that they did not hold Michael personally responsible for a lot of what went down (they stuck with him even when doing so sometimes meant weeks or even months without pay) although sometimes they would get a bit exasperated with him, wondering why he could not just “man up” ; why he could not seem to just take the bull by the proverbial horns and re-take control of his own money. But those moments of exasperation were short-lived, as they came to realize over time that, for Michael, it was never simply going to be that easy again.
Also, the discussion of Michael’s finances has been tabloid fodder for years, with far too many ignorant people trying to claim that it was all simply a result of his own over spending and lavish indulgences. There never seems to be any consideration that maybe he was being robbed blind by the very people who were supposed to be looking out for his best interests; or how he had literally given and given until there was almost no more to give; no consideration of a wounded soul who was literally suffocating beneath the weight of bills and lawsuits when all he really wanted was to be like a bird, free to sing and fly. Remember The Time, at least, gives that side of the story, in all of its facets. And, intrusive though it may be, it is necessary to understanding Michael’s mindset during these last two years and the desperation that drove him into the contract with AEG. It is necessary for understanding how, by the spring of 2009, there were no less than three different individuals all claiming to be Michael’s manager; all making and signing deals on his behalf. It is vital to understanding just how deep, dark, and scary the hole he was living in had become.
The downside. of course, is that the media will choose to sensationalize excerpts from the book that are taken completely out of context. A good example was a recent UK article by Peter Sheridan, for example, that completely misrepresented the passages about two of Michael’s “secret” girlfriends, “Flower” and “Friend”:
“They insist that for all the paedophile allegations – which they dismiss – Jackson was attracted to women. They reveal he enjoyed secret rendezvous with two women he gave the code names Flower and Friend. According to Whitfield the latter was “drop-dead gorgeous” with an Eastern European accent.
The bodyguards drove around while Jackson had sex in the back of his limousine.
“We had a curtain that covered the back seat, you couldn’t see the back seat,” says Whitfield, who still heard their loud exploits.
Jackson was apparently always excited when Friend came to town and sent his bodyguards to buy her lavish gifts from stores such as Tiffany.
Flower would come a few days after Friend had left and Jackson would repeat his clandestine sex sessions…”
But note that this is what Beard actually describes in the book:
“When Friend came back, one night Mr. Jackson said he wanted to take her into D. C. He wanted her to see the Lincoln Memorial and some of the sights. So we got the truck ready. It was around midnight. Grace stayed back with the kids, and me and Bill took Mr. Jackson and picked Friend up from her hotel and headed into the city. While we were driving, they were in the back, talking and whispering. The curtain was closed and we had the radio up to give them some privacy.
We parked the car about a block and a half from the Washington Monument. From there, we had to get out and walk. When we pulled up, I turned the radio down to tell Mr. Jackson we’d arrived, and all we heard was smackin’ lips behind that curtain. I knew exactly what that sound was. They were making out back there. I didn’t want to interrupt them, but I just coughed a bit and said, ‘Uh, Mr. Jackson? Mr. Jackson, we’re here.'”-Excerpted from Remember The Time, by Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard, p. 178.
So, what is apparently described as a bit of harmless petting going on in the back seat is somehow blown up, by the time the excerpt makes it into the media, to look like a full blown orgy! This is just one example where I have seen the media purposely twist and manipulate the book’s contents for the sole purpose of sensationalism.
But regardless of how one feels, personally, about this kind of information being divulged, a very important point is brought up by the bodyguards themselves. Had it been any other pop star meeting hot European models in a hotel, it would simply be par for the course, and would hardly raise an eyebrow. It would be “normal” pop star behavior. But when it is Michael Jackson, the media always tries to slant it in some way as “bizarre” behavior.
Yet I have to say in all honesty, on any day that the worst thing a tabloid can say about Michael Jackson is that he was having sex with women in the back of a limo, that is a pretty good day. These stories, contrary to whatever spin is put on them, ultimately only serve to humanize Michael and to make him appear a little more “normal” in the eyes of the world. As the bodyguards stated, all it said to them was that he was a normal guy wanting to be able to do the things that normal guys do.
By the way, this is purely speculation, but I found it somewhat interesting that the description of “Flower” sounded a lot like Joanna Thomae, the French girl Michael saw on and off during the early 2000’s. At any rate, she was described as someone who lived overseas and had “dirty blonde hair and freckles.” (And who, apparently, also tended to be somewhat aggressive, which sounds more than a bit like Joanna from what I know of her). Even more bizarrely, Whitfield refers to “Friend” later in the book as “Joanna” (though not her real name, I’m sure). So…”Friend” is referred to as “Joanna,” while the physical description of the real “Joanna” sounds a lot like ‘Flower.” Hmmm. Could it be that both women are merely composites of their real life counterparts?
The description of “Friend” also sounds similar to Frank Cascio’s description of a woman whom he referred to in his book as “Emily”:
“She had dark, curly hair that sort of hung in her face a bit. Petite, about fibe foot four. Nice body. Real slender…”-Javon Beard, describing “Friend,” excerpted from Remember The Time, by Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard, p. 176.
“Around this time, Michael had another friend – I’ll call her Emily – who visited the ranch regularly. She was a nice, cute girl, slender, with brown hair, in her early to midthirties. Emily didn’t want or need anything from Michael. They just liked spending time together – talking, walking around, hanging out in his bedroom. It was a romantic relationship, but as far as I know, he didn’t tell anyone about Emily but me. Michael kept her a secret – she didn’t stay in his room because he didn’t want her to be seen coming out in the morning – and even I didn’t see real evidence of the romance. That’s how I knew he was telling the truth. He wouldn’t have been so secretive if he hadn’t had something to hide. That was the longest relationship I saw Michael have: Emily was at the ranch frequently over the course of about a year.”-Frank Cascio, Excerpted from My Friend Michael: An Ordinary Friendship With An Extraordinary Man, pp. 154-155.
Of course, if by chance “Emily” and “Friend” were one and the same person, that would have been one heck of a long-standing relationship, ten years at least. In all likelihood, they may be two entirely different women (it’s not as if slender girls with brown hair aren’t exactly a dime a dozen)but it’s interesting that their physical descriptions do match up so similarly, and that both seemed to be fairly serious relationships for him. (Update: Bill Whitfield has since confirmed, via Twitter, that “Friend” was not Joanna Thomae. However, we still don’t know about “Flower”).
But, anyway, back to the book. There are still a few issues to address.
Does the book shed any new light on Michael’s sometimes difficult relationship with his family? To that end, I would say not really. Not unless you would be surprised to know that Michael specifically instructed that his family be kept out (except for Katherine) and that once, when Joe showed up unannounced, Michael said he would not see him unless he had an appointment. Just “why” Michael was so adamant about wanting nothing to do with his family is never explained, largely because Whitfield and Beard did not really know, themselves, other than that it was what “Boss” ordered, and it was their job to keep out anyone Michael did not want in-and to ask no questions. One can register a pretty good guess; however, the bodyguards make it very clear that their own position regarding the Jackson family is a neutral one. Although Randy is clearly described as showing up for one purpose-“to get my money!”-and Jermaine, they said, was usually “angling” for something, it is never clear if the other visits were for nefarious or benign purposes. In at least a couple of incidents, it seemed to be some sort of planned intervention. They had heard that their brother was “sick.” Michael’s usual response would be, “Tell them I’m fine.” This would appear, at least, to lend some credence to the family’s oft-vouched claims that they had tried to stage interventions on Michael’s behalf, but were never allowed access to him.
In regard to Michael’s allegedly strained relationship with his family in his last years, the book really raises more questions than it answers-again, largely because Whitfield and Beard do not have those answers, and never did. It wasn’t exactly the kind of thing they sat around and discussed with the client. They did what they were told. The impression I get was that Michael’s total burn out and desire to simply shut out the world had, by this point, extended to his own family as well. Their presence usually meant having to deal with more unpleasant”stuff” and Michael, by then, simply didn’t want or need anymore drama, well intentioned or not.
But it’s interesting to note that, whenever the family is questioned on the subject, they will always insist that there were people who were keeping them cut off from Michael. Whitfield and Beard may have only been following orders, but they represented the physical gatekeepers; literally, the buffers between Michael and all he did not want to deal with. I have heard some of the Jackson family members say that, once they saw Michael and would explain how they had been told he didn’t want to see them, he would always pull a shocked response and say, “Really? Who told you that?” It would be tragic indeed if all of it came down to a huge case of miscommunication, but it’s more likely that Michael never wanted to hurt their feelings by telling them directly he didn’t want to see them. It was easier to let others do that dirty work for him. The first thing Joe Jackson allegedly said to Bill Whitfield was not “Hello,” but “You must be one of the ones that’s been putting needles in my son’s arms.” Such remarks are often dropped throughout the book like loaded bombs, but are never really followed through. Where, for example, did Joe get those suspicions? From acquaintances? The media? Did he know something the bodyguards didn’t? Was he just being paranoid?
Also, as I have mentioned previously, one of the book’s weaknesses is that we still don’t really get a firsthand account of what transpired once Michael left Las Vegas and had moved to L.A. for the This Is It rehearsals. By that point, as they said, Michael Amir pretty much had his ear, then we had The Three Stooges-er, the “three managers”-Thome, DiLeo, and Leonard Rowe, all acting simultaneously on his “behalf”, not to mention a whole new security staff-and, of course, Dr. Murray.
To be frank, there isn’t a whole lot said in the book about Conrad Murray, considering he was the one who put the lethal dose in Michael’s vein; only that he had been the children’s physician briefly in Las Vegas and that Michael wanted AEG to hire him for the This Is It rehearsals and tour (these are their words paraphrased, not mine). The events of June 25th, 2009 and the details of the coroner’s report are given perfunctorily enough, but they only provide Murray’s timeline of events according to the official report he gave the police, without noting any of the wide deviations or gaps in that timeline that were brought out in court testimony, and none of the seventeen egregious errors in standard practice that were committed by Murray, according to Dr. Steven Shafer. The only concession to this is made by Whitfield when he states emotionally that he never understood the delay in getting Michael to the hospital.
“Later on, when I heard the actual 911 call, I heard them on the phone telling the operator, ‘We have a gentleman here. He’s not breathing.’ Fuck that. I would have thrown him in the car and rushed him to the hospital myself. It was only a couple miles away. I would have got him out of there. He’s not breathing? Let’s go! We gotta go! Maybe it would have been different if I’d actually been there. Maybe I’m just imagining how I would have reacted, but I really don’t think I would have just sat around waiting for paramedics.”-Bill Whitfield, excerpted from Remember The Time, p. 301.
These emotional words aside, Murray’s entire involvement and responsibility in Michael’s homicide is treated in a curiously neutral manner, and seems to lend credence to what Dr. Karen Moriarty stated in the introduction to her own book, a chapter titled “The Back Door”: “We had opposite opinions regarding Conrad Murray, and I struggled with my strong, immutable feelings of anger over Murray’s role in Michael Jackson’s death.” Ultimately, this was one of the issues, among others, that led to an amicable parting of ways-and two separate books.
It’s not exactly that they ever intimate that Murray was innocent, or that he didn’t deserve to be tried or did not deserve to be found guilty of manslaughter. But by sticking merely-to-the-facts only, as per Murray’s police interview, it is, as I stated, a curiously neutral perspective. The only reason I can attribute to this is that they had formed somewhat of a personal relationship with Murray when he was treating the kids in Las Vegas. It was Beard’s cousin, Jeff Adams, after all, who had recommended Dr. Murray in the first place (Murray was Adams’s personal physician) so it seems as though there are still some ties there. Perhaps, like so many, they believe that Murray himself was merely a fall guy. While I have never ruled out that possibility, it still in no way absolves Murray of his own role or his own responsibility in Michael’s death.
This I found to be one of the book’s major flaws. If one purchases this book in hopes of learning any new details about Michael’s final weeks or days leading up to his death, they will be disappointed because there isn’t much enlightenment to be had in that regard. It also raises for me another troubling issue that is difficult to simply dismiss. Could it be that, if Michael had come to trust Whitfield and Beard as much as they claim in the book, that he also extended this same trust by default to Dr. Murray, who after all had been introduced to him directly as a result of their employment? I’m sure that Adams meant well when he first recommended Murray (up until then, Murray had an impeccable record as a physician, so there would have been no reason to doubt him, and certainly no way to foresee the tragedy that would ultimately result from that fateful introduction) but, still, it’s a troubling issue that is hard to just sweep under the rug.
However, the book does confirm something about Michael’s insomnia that I had always theorized to be true-that it was only a problem for him during times of stress, or when he had to stick to a strictly scheduled regimen. When Michael wasn’t being stressed to “perform” or to stick to a schedule, it was no issue if he was awake all night and needed to take some down time the following day to compensate. The bodyguards would simply take the kids out to play, giving him time to decompress naturally. Without the stress of rehearsals, his body would adjust naturally to whatever rhythm it was comfortable with; thus, no need for Propofol, and no need for Murray or his “treatments.”
The book’s real strength, however, is in its core narrative as a famous single father struggling to hold his family together despite tremendous obstacles. My favorite passages are the early scenes at the first house in Vegas, and later when the family sets up residence in Middleburg, Virginia (when what was “supposed” to be a family vacation ended as an indefinite, extended stay in the rural countryside). These were simple, happy times-Michael actually went shopping at Wal-Mart (one of the funniest scenes in the book); he bought firecrackers and he and the kids set them off in an open field. One almost wishes the book could freeze then and there, in those small moments where we glimpse him at his happiest.
Are books like this a betrayal of trust? There really isn’t an easy way around that issue. These guys worked for Michael Jackson. Many of the personal incidents they were privy to-even the seemingly harmless little things like hoarding Tobasco sauce or setting off firecrackers with the kids-were things Michael wished to be kept only for himself and his kids. We can only imagine how we would have felt about the revelation of the “secret” girlfriends, or the embarrassment of the world knowing his credit cards had been denied. The very first sentence of the book’s introduction states:
“You would not be reading this if Michael Jackson was still alive.”
No doubt, that is true. I “get” the modus operandi of that statement. It’s kind of like, okay, if you admit this and own it already, then at least you’ve beaten everyone else to the punch.
But here is the reality. Michael is gone, and in the void that has been created by his death, it will largely be nothing but the tabloids that are left to tell his story if honest books like this one are not put out there to counter the garbage. We can say all that matters-or all that should matter to the world-are his songs, his art, and his humanitarian deeds. We can say that until we’re blue in the face, but it still doesn’t change the fact that there is an insatiable market for gossip and trash. The fact is, hundreds of books have been written on, and will continue to be written, on Michael’s personal life. Many of those will be outright garbage, where Michael is simply put under a microscope and studied like some specimen, rather than understood as a complex artist, man, father, and human being. Books by fans-while often better researched and more factual than many of the major publisher offerings-are seldom taken seriously in the mainstream. Books by neutral journalists will always raise the issue of “but they didn’t even know him.” And, ultimately, books by real friends and associates-who DID know him-will often be attacked as “betrayals” even if they are largely sympathetic accounts.
In such an atmosphere, it is going to be impossible to please everyone. But I do think that books like this are crucial in helping to shift the narrative and (often mistaken) public perception of who Michael was. Sure, we won’t always be able to have all of our cake and eat it, too. For every account that exonerates him in some way, it may mean having to accept a few warts along with that exoneration. Michael wasn’t perfect, and any firsthand account that portrays him as such is bound to be a lie. However, the trade-off for accepting a few warts (okay, so he liked to spend money; he sometimes hoarded weird things like mannequins and tobasco sauce-who gives a rat’s hiney?) is in the reward of getting to know an extraordinary man and father who moved mountains with his life and music, and who struggled valiantly in the end to keep all that was most precious to him, despite every obstacle hurled against him.
THAT is the story this book strives to tell. It will make you laugh with the good moments and smile with the sweet ones. But overall, you will probably come away as I did, with a sense of impotent anger that the peaceful life and simple peace of mind that Michael so desperately craved in his life was never going to be an attainable or realistic goal.
Not as long as there was another dollar to be made, and another pound of flesh to be had.
ETA (6/13/14): An open letter from Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard has been sent out to many MJ sites, including this one. They have requested that this letter be shared to help further clear up misunderstandings that have occurred due to some of the media reviews of the book.
An Open Letter to the Michael Jackson Fan Community
It’s been a week since our new book, Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days, went on sale. Since we hit stores, the response we’ve received from fans has been overwhelmingly positive. But there are a few questions and concerns circulating around that we’d like to address directly.
Fans on Twitter and Facebook have had a lot of questions about why we did the book, how we handled ethical concerns about Mr. Jackson’s privacy, why we didn’t take any money up front for writing the book, and so on. We’ve already addressed most of this in the in-depth Q&As published on the MJJ Community fan site and the Michael and the Truth blog, so we won’t repeat the answers here. What we would like to speak on is the reaction some fans have had based on that’s being said about the book in the tabloid media.
Yes, the tabloids have taken things from the book out of context and blown them up to make Mr. Jackson look “crazy.” Nobody should be surprised about that. And trust us, we’re more upset about it than you are. Our publishers have complained to the newspaper editors, repeatedly. One London tabloid had to be threatened with legal action to stop a story that deliberately distorted our words to the point of being libelous. That one article we were able to kill, but as Mr. Jackson knew all too well, there is only so much you can do to shut the tabloids up. The media will twist and sensationalize. They always do. Which is why we put our story in a book so that fans could go around the media and get the truth firsthand.
Our only motivation in doing this project was to give the world an honest, sincere, and respectful portrait of Mr. Jackson as a man and as a father. Still, some in the fan community have been tweeting and writing us with complaints based on the distortions in the media, not on what’s actually written in the book. The ultimate irony of all of this is that Michael Jackson’s fans are paying attention to what’s being said about Michael Jackson in the tabloids, even though you’re the ones who know that you shouldn’t pay any attention to anything the tabloids say about Michael Jackson.
All we are asking is that you judge the book on its merits, that you judge our motivation and our integrity based on what we have produced. You shouldn’t form a decision based on what the media is saying—and you shouldn’t just take our word for it, either. (Obviously, we’re a little biased.) There is only one group you should be paying attention to: the fans who have actually read the book. They know the truth.
We’ve started going through all the fan reviews we’ve received via email, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon, and we’ve compiled the best of them on our website (www.rememberthetime-book.com/fan) for you to peruse. We even reached out to a few of these readers and asked them to submit video testimonials discussing their reactions to the book in greater detail. Three of the videos have been posted so far. More will be go up in the days ahead. They are wonderful and informative to watch.
Right now, as you’ll see, the response from fans has been incredibly supportive. But we do welcome all opinion and thoughtful debate—positive and negative, celebratory and critical—as long as that opinion is based on knowledge about what is actually printed inside the book. For his entire life, Michael Jackson was plagued by people who rushed to judgement without taking the time to learn the facts and make informed decisions. We don’t need to be doing the same thing to each other.
We don’t expect every person on Earth to love the book or agree with everything we’re doing, and we understand the healthy skepticism that many in the fan community have. You were Mr. Jackson’s most passionate protectors in life, and you’ve continued that role since his passing. We respect that. All we ask is that you read what other fans have to say, watch their testimonials, and then make up your own mind.
Many thanks and God bless,
Bill Whitfield & Javon Beard