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Contradictions

June 22, 2017

Once again, June is upon us. Another year has faded into the mists … eight of them since the day the Earth stood still … 96 months. Much has occurred in those 96 months; there have been milestones to celebrate; there have been losses to mourn. The one greatest loss overshadows them all and I return always to the undeniable fact of absence … absence that tears at the heart and paralyzes the intellect … because it is so unnecessary.

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My thanks to Siren for the drawing lesson.

It is the absence of love … and its greatest modern protagonist, Michael Jackson, at least in his physical embodiment, for he is not absent in my life … nor, I would wager, in many of yours. His love is the one great constant that blesses me in every moment of my day … every day … always … and in all ways. So, while his absence is a wound that seeps and oozes with misery, his presence is the air I breathe, the path I walk, my religion, my wealth, my sanity, and my TRUTH. My eyes burn for the sight of him; my ears reach out for the sound of his voice; yet, he is here and my heart is full to overflowing with that knowledge. Contradictions.

As a child, June held such promise that I couldn’t wait for it to arrive. I so looked forward to the freedom of summer days when the school year was just a distant memory and the coming of fall too far in the future to waste my time worrying about.

I loved to swim … oh, how I loved to swim. Diving under the surface of the water where all was monotone silence to swim as far across the pool as my deeply held breath could carry me was a passion for my younger self; the coolness of the water on a hot summer day took my breath away and raised gooseflesh on my often sunburned skin. I used to have a recurring dream that I could breathe underwater and how I loved attempting to make that dream come true during my waking hours.

Now in the twilight of my life, June has become a month of contradictions and an emotional roller coaster … and I have never particularly liked roller coasters. In some ways, I celebrate the month for its joys, particularly when I am traveling to the Holy Land, my Mecca, in Glendale, California and the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara, where the very landscape breathes of the man who walked its sacred hills and valleys with reverence for the preciousness of all life and learned how to milk a cow on one of the farms that line Figueroa Mountain Road.

He was the King of Contradictions, through no intention of his own. His reverence for life was overshadowed, for a time, with monumental irreverence for his life. His sensitivity was met with cold-hearted insensitivity.  His compassion and caring for the children of a society that just doesn’t care a fig if two children … or two thousand children … die today from hunger, preventable diseases, or domestic violence was met with disdain, disbelief and accusation. Contradictions.

His laughter, playfulness and curiosity can still be felt in the whisper of the wind as it rustles the leaves on the tree that shades the massive wooden gates and guardhouse of his monument to love, Neverland Valley Ranch. Even in absentia, he plays with the hair of those who congregate to celebrate his life and the uncountable gifts he left us. As the wind lifts my admittedly almost nonexistent hair from my forehead, I raise my face to the leaf-shaded blue of the sky, incandescent in its brilliance, and inhale deeply. It is the Beloved’s fingers massaging my temples and scalp … I sigh.

Some gather at his monument to love to socialize … to renew acquaintances … to meet with others from far distant lands who travel an accumulative million miles from the four corners of the earth to rest on the small patch of sod, always newly laid and manicured, lush and green, near the natural stone-lined rose garden that borders the road. Others come to renew their faith, revive their spirits, and commune with the essence of the man whose presence is still palpable in this most sacred of cathedrals raised to love since the multitude of Gothic spires was lifted heavenward in the mists of antiquity.

Most of the visitors to this basilica are reverential, their voices a low hum, easily ignored. Occasionally, one or two will become a bit more boisterous than absolutely necessary, however, they are usually easily tolerated and eventually become quieter through the example of the many others whose purpose is less about socializing and more about paying homage to the one who draws them all. During one of my pilgrimages to this Mecca, I witnessed a man who had come to aggrandize himself with raised voice and video camera in tow silenced by one who objected to his consumerism in this Holy of Holies. I can still see it … for I am there … and I laugh appreciatively at the memory with gratitude for having had the opportunity to bear witness.

June bears days when our hearts rejoice over victories while, in the next breath, they plummet to the very depths of despair and anguish over the injustice of the battle that should never have had to be fought to begin with.

We see the exhaustion … the soul weariness … in the faltering steps of our Beloved in the photographic evidence that remains to remind us; we see the dignity, the strength, the endurance, and the love … yes, even through the pain.  We also see the inevitable, unstoppable, ever-escalating slide toward the day that most of us would give our lives to forget, but which is indelibly etched in our minds by the chisel of the sharpness and suddenness of the pain of this absence. Contradictions.

The contradictions are glaring. Perhaps, they are there to help us see the extreme opposites … and make a choice between them. Which do you choose? My choice has been made. I think, for me, the overall lesson of June, especially the last eight of them, must be to learn to be grateful for both the victories and the routs. Without the defeat that we all so mourn, could the milestones we have all achieved, individually and collectively, have occurred and have been appreciated in the same way? I don’t think so.

This June finds me reflecting on all the dear friends I have made through the love of this one man, all the unforgettable experiences I have had, all the beautiful places I have seen, all the projects I have pursued and brought to completion (not the least of which is this blog), and those yet to come. I am grateful for them all and I appreciate each and every one of you, my readers.

But most especially, I am grateful to my Beloved for always being who you are … and for teaching me to be who I am through an innumerable amount of contradictions.

I once read a story … I can’t remember where. It was about the violet hiding in the grass until along came a man wearing hard-soled shoes who, unaware, crushed the violet. Even crushed beyond recognition, the violet blessed the man for crushing her under his weight because it allowed her to release her fragrance and to bestow upon him her gift, that unmistakable scent that only crushing the violet could release. I am the violet under the Florsheims of the Beloved. Let mine be the sweet, unmistakable fragrance that blesses you forever, Beloved. It is my soul … and sole … purpose. It is my JOY. It is my TRUTH.

May all be safe in their travels in the “love bubble.”

 

 

 

 

 

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I wrote the following tribute to our dear Catherine last week in the hopes that I would be able to find someone to read it at her services on May 15, 2017, however, I have been unable to do so. I am posting it here in her memory and honor, as my personal tribute to a good friend and remarkable woman.

Well, I guess Catherine won’t have to emigrate to Canada (an idea that she proposed in the last few months of her remarkable life.) Instead, she has emigrated to a much higher plane.

Many of you present here today may think of Catherine as a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, an educator, an administrator, or a personal friend. However, it may surprise you to know that she was thought of in much the same fashion by her friends in the Michael Jackson Fan Community, which has members in every country, on every continent on this planet. In the Michael Jackson Fan Community, Dr. Reverend Catherine M. Gross was a shining star. She was a teacher; she was a mentor; she was a minister; she was a friend; and she lead by example. She was a tower of strength in times of struggle, a beacon of LOVE and UNITY, and a bridge spanning the sometimes vast distances between us.

Many of us got to know her through her on-line radio talk show, A Place In Your Heart, which was broadcast internationally. Personally, when she talked to me to ask if she could conduct an interview with me, I was dumbfounded. I had never thought of myself as an interesting subject for an interview, but she insisted that I had a lot to say and that she wanted to devote an entire show to me and to my books. Catherine saw potential in everyone she ever met or talked to, often long before he or she saw that potential themselves. She nurtured that potential in every way she could. She encouraged, uplifted and brought out the best in everyone. As a teacher, I imagine Catherine’s students would tell much the same story.

Later, when I was determined to learn to draw, Catherine invited me to participate in an Art Exhibition. Once again, I was hesitant. (You would have thought I would have learned my lesson by this time, but I am pretty stubborn.) My earliest drawings were certainly nothing to exhibit. Nonetheless, she insisted. Catherine was like Michael Jackson in many ways. One of those ways was: If it was worth doing, to Catherine it was worth doing BIG! If you’re going to make a splash, make it a BIG splash.She was talking about makeup artists, getting our hair done, and having television cameras on the scene. For a novice artist, Catherine’s “can do,” “let’s go” attitude was frightening. I was ready for baby steps; Catherine was setting up the marquee with neon lights. God love her.

This dream kept Catherine strong during the almost year and a half from May 2015 through August of the following year, when her health took a turn for the worse. I talked with Catherine every evening during her hospital and nursing home stays on the pretext of reading to her from my vast library of inspirational works by Kahlil Gibran, Gregg Braden, Rabindranath Tagore, and my own humble publications. Every evening without fail, regardless of how well she felt, she ended our conversation with the thought that this Michael Jackson Art Exhibition was going to happen. She was determined to make it a reality; and she succeeded. I am so grateful that she lived to realize the dream that she had held onto with such vigor and faith. Her wonderful inaugural Michael Jackson Art Exhibition happened in Gary, Indiana in August, 2016 and I did participate along with artists from Hong Kong, Russia, Sweden, The Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States.

My thanks to Noble Love for the wonderful video.

It was a remarkable achievement, the crowning glory for a strong, determined, spiritual, faith-filled woman who has left her mark on all of our hearts. Catherine was determined that the Michael Jackson Art Exhibit would be an annual event to bring the fan community together and she would have moved heaven and earth to make that happen. At the time of her Continuation Day, she was in negotiations to find a permanent home for the art she had collected and wanted to expand the exhibit to include costumes, sculptures, and even performance art.

Catherine, thank you for your faith in me … your faith in all of us. I won’t say I will miss you, because, as Michael Jackson sang, “You are always in my heart.”

Jan Carlson

 

 

 

 

The Price of Fame

I took my baby on a river boat cruise
And she was well aware
I was excited about the way that things could have been
She said, “I don’t care”
I wore a face no one can recognize, in disguise
Someone called out my name
They thought of taking pictures, autographs, then they grab
My joy had turned to pain

Father always told me,
You won’t live a quiet life
If you’re reaching for fortune and fame
I feel the pressure setting in, I’m living just to win
I’m done in my pain, don’t you feel no pain? (No way!)

It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame
So don’t be feelin’ no pain!
It’s the price of fame, it’s the price of fame
So don’t you ever complain!

I am the cover of the magazine, what a scene
They know my every move
“Just sign your name on the dotted line, you’ll be fine.”
That always bothers me
Get in your car, you wanna take a ride, look behind
Someone is following you
You try to get away, you turn real fast, but too bad
They know your every move!

My father always told me
You won’t live a quiet life
If you’re reaching for fortune and fame
I feel the pressure setting in, I’m living just to win
I feeling all this pain, don’t you ever complain!

It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame
So don’t you ever complain!
It’s the price of fame, you pay the price for fame
So don’t be feelin’ no pain!

It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame! (uh)
Father never lies
My father never lies (price of fame)
My father never lies (price of fame)
So don’t be feeling this way boy!

I’d like to take some time and get away, then they’ll say,
Is that boy still alive? (uh)
The weak in village.(?)…what a thrill
Only the strong survive

My father always told me,
You won’t live a quiet life,
They startin’ to wonderin’ where have you been?
I feel the idiots look at me
With their mistaken jealousy (oh?)
Then stand here in my shoes
And get a taste of my blues!

It’s the price of fame!
You pay the price of fame
So don’t you ever complain
It’s the price of fame
You pay the price of fame
So don’t be feeling this way
It’s the price of fame
You pay the price of fame
So don’t you ever complain
It’s the price of fame
You pay the price of fame
My father never lies (price of fame)
My father never lies, baby
My father never lies (price of fame)
So don’t be feeling no pain boy!

To say that Michael Jackson was unconscious of the price of fame would be a miscalculation of the greatest magnitude. Here, in Price of Fame (recorded during the BAD recording sessions and released on the BAD 25 compilation) he sings about the total lack of privacy he endured throughout his childhood and adult life as well as the unsympathetic attitude of his father toward his voicing angst over it.

Many of this society’s celebrities experience this lack of privacy as a result of their extraordinary talents in film, music, or any number of artistic endeavors, but in Michael Jackson’s case, the phenomenon was magnified to such a great extent and over such a long duration (forty years) that it often resulted in his total imprisonment behind the windows of his hotel suites while on tour or his fabulous wrought iron Neverland gates when at home for his own protection as well as for the protection of the public who might have been harmed in the riots that ensued when he left his security-guarded  grounds.

That being said, the people of Solvang and Los Olivos, California (the closest neighbors of Michael’s fabulous estate, Neverland Valley Ranch) tell many stories of Michael walking completely unaccompanied through their streets; being natural, friendly, and approachable; shopping in their quaint little shops; and donating to their community charity events. His Neverland Valley Fire Protection service was often called out to assist with the ever-present dangers from forest or community fires. I have been in Solvang and Los Olivos; I have spoken to the proprietors of these shops and heard their stories. They impress me as being very protective of Michael Jackson and his privacy and proud that their small communities housed one of the most famous people on the planet for in excess of fifteen years with some semblance of grace and dignity, proving that he chose well when he located his haven in the Santa Ynez Valley.

This lack of privacy to which Michael alludes on several occasions in his music (i.e. Leave Me Alone , Price of Fame, Privacy), one of the inalienable rights granted to all citizens of the United States of America in its Bill of Rights, was, effectively, a luxury seldom known to the young boy with the golden voice or the beautiful man who was destined to become the King of Pop. He often spoke of his longing to be free to take a walk when on tour, a casual right so many of us take for granted, or to go to a supermarket and shop for groceries, a task that many of us abhor, myself included.

However, it should be noted that this lack of privacy and anonymity is not the only casualty to the price of fame; there are others. One of those others that has struck me forcefully in the compilation of this memoir, The Dangerous Diaries, is the “presumption of superficiality” on the part of the media and, therefore, on the part of the general public, which is fed on the media’s over-simplifications and downright fabrications, and to which Michael Jackson was a victim for much of his life.

Superficiality is not a trait that I would ever attribute to Michael Jackson. Conversely, his propensity to deep thought and his self-taught knowledge on a wide range of subjects, including but certainly not limited to history, philosophy, film, art, and the physical sciences, has been commented upon by many of his intimates and is fully illustrated by even the shallowest interrogation into his lyrics, poems, and performances.

A society’s artists are often on the cutting edge of social change, leading to more open perspectives, freer from artificial judgment and/or condemnation and more fully integrated thought processes. This is as true in our modern society as it was in the eras of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are just two such examples from the Renaissance era whose impact moved their contemporary society towards leaps and bounds in evolutionary terms. They were not only artists, but inventors and innovators in method and aesthetics and their society benefitted greatly through their patronage. In the period of the Reformation, Martin Luther freed his society from its bondage to domination by a mode of thinking that encouraged a status quo detrimental to the major portion of society, which favored only the elite of gentry and clergy, repositioning the common man as a major force, allowing for the creation of a middle class composed of merchants and skilled labor.

In like manner, Michael Jackson’s appearance on the scene heralded a much more integrated view of society and culture, eschewing the prevalent structures of racial segregation in the music industry and in the society-at-large, proving that music is color- as well as barrier-blind.  His music crossed every known barrier at the time, promoting unity across generational, national, religious, gender, and racial boundaries that had been in place for centuries.

Artists are the society’s barometers, its leaders and gauges against which the society is measured. Yet, in our modern culture, artists are seldom given the respect they deserve. This is demonstrably true in the case of Michael Jackson, whose songs and films swept the entire world in a global conspiracy for radical, evolutionary change and whose examples of social and humanitarian engagement have yet to be fully examined.

Almost all of the recent authors who have published works posthumously have contributed their parts to eradicating this superficial perception of Michael Jackson (with the exceptions of the Randall Sullivans and Steve Knoppers of RollingStone ilk). Armond White, Susan Fast, Elizabeth Amisu, Joe Vogel, and Mike Smallcombe all have gone a long way towards extinguishing the false premise of “superficiality” that has dogged Michael Jackson’s steps throughout his life.

However, my most recent acquisition, Dangerous From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson: Pop Culture in the Pantheon of Fine Arts by Isabelle Petitjean, a musicologist at the Sorbonne in France who has made Michael Jackson her field of research and study, has really blown the lid off this premise, in my opinion.

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I was blessed to meet Isabelle in Gary, Indiana last year (August, 2016) when she attended an art exhibition in which I participated and I attended her lecture on the Dangerous album cover at the Gary Public Library. At the time, she had had her scholarly treatise translated into English and was dissatisfied with the translation. I offered to read the translation and see if I could help to prepare it for publication for English-speaking readers; she accepted.

The book is an in-depth expose of the collaboration between the visual artist, Mark Ryden, and the pre-eminent musical artist of his (and, arguably, all) time, Michael Jackson, in conceptualizing and executing the painting which was to become the cover art illustration for the Dangerous album. The complex layering of symbolic references in the image are legion, forming a beautiful, harmonious tapestry (to which Michael Jackson often referred in describing his musical compositions) and are completely and minutely explored in Isabelle’s wonderful book as is the relationship of the two artists, their shared ideological perspectives on the world they inhabited, and the way that the artwork cover announces, enhances and, in some cases, explains the complex rhythms and external noises enmeshed within the music it contains.

Make no mistake; this is a scholarly examination by an author well versed in the terminology and sensibilities of artistic interpretation. As such, it completely explodes any perception of “superficiality” by either of the two artists it examines. However, Isabelle manages to make her artistic interpretation accessible to all, intelligentsia as well as those less well versed readers. It is entertaining, informative, and descriptive.

Mark Ryden and Michael Jackson shared a child-like frame of reference and many of Ryden’s words, as quoted in the book, could easily have come from Michael Jackson, himself.

“I still remember the joy I got out of drawing, painting, and building a world of my own when I was a child. I was free. I try to recapture that feeling I had making art as a child and to believe in magic, to play, to dream. Children see things and feel things that adults don’t. As an adult, there are many barriers to being in this creative state of mind. I feel constantly challenged by these barriers.

Mark Ryden as quoted in Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson (Used by Permission)

“… to cultivate the “inner child” […] really is a constant feature and even an inexhaustible source of unbridled creativity in relation to the natural world and the distant horizons of the supernatural and the imagination …”

Isabelle Petitjean, Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson (Used by permission)

Both Mark Ryden and Michael Jackson were fascinated by the worlds of childhood, imagination, mysticism, and circus panoply, and were deeply committed to ecological issues like global warming and endangered species. In addition, both were collectors of various objects that inspired them. An illustration of Mark Ryden’s studio filled with an eclectic assortment of seemingly unrelated items and included in the book is reminiscent of photographs of Michael Jackson’s home at Neverland, which was stuffed with toys, books, games, castles, statues, art and mannequins, all in uproarious, exuberant clutter. One can just imagine what it was like when these two artists from different fields of endeavor met to discuss their shared project. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!

“There are two very different parts to the brain. There is the logical side and the creative side. To make art you have to stop thinking in a linear way. You have to bring to life the part of your brain that finds mystical wonder in life and nature […] It is the part of your spirit that still feels like a kid, and is awe-inspired and fascinated by the world.”

Mark Ryden as quoted in Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson (Used by permission.)

“My idea of magic doesn’t have much to do with stage tricks and illusions. The whole world abounds in magic. When a whale plunges out of the sea like a newborn mountain, you gasp in unexpected delight. What magic! But a toddler who sees his first tadpole flashing in a mud puddle feels the same thrill. Wonder fills his heart because he has glimpsed for an instant the playfulness of life.”

Michael Jackson, Magic, Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine these two artists, each fully-conversant in his field of endeavor, were kindred spirits. One would expect that their collaborative effort on a project would be rich with import and sensitivity; one would not be disappointed.

Each of these artists, in his own field of endeavor, harbored a distaste for categorization, which resulted in a genre-bending and annihilating eclecticism that resulted in borrowings from many different historical eras, styles, time periods, and fields of study. Michael Jackson spoke often about his belief that “music is music and it’s all beautiful,” and the Dangerous album, in particular, is replete with examples of his use of classical, rap, rock, gospel, jazz, industrial cacophony, and Renaissance a cappella choirs, with his vocal virtuosity and compositional tapestries tying them all together in an organic harmony. Further, his short films and performances were another way for him to display his knowledge of film and dance as well as art. Beat It, BAD and You Are Not Alone are just three examples in which he pays homage to art forms that he greatly admired; the film West Side Story for the first two mentioned and Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak for the third.

In the same vein, Mark Ryden, although categorized as a Pop-Surrealist, actually borrows and is inspired by Renaissance art (Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus); the Middle Ages (Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Netherlandish Proverbs); Bouguereau (whom Michael Jackson also loved and exhibited in his home at Neverland.); Jim Blashfield’s and Michael Jackson’s collaboration  Leave Me Alone short film; and Gilles Guerin, The Mausoleum of Henri II; as well as photographs by Beaton and  circus posters of P. T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth, all of which references make their way into the artwork for the Dangerous album cover.

Both Mark Ryden and Michael Jackson encoded a great deal of spiritual symbolism into their respective artistic bodies of work; the number 7 was a particular favorite of both of these artists as is the all-seeing eye and the peacock which are also represented in the painting Dangerous.

“Through the ages, the peacock has been honored and praised for its attractive, illustrious beauty. Of all the bird family, the peacock is the only bird that integrates all colors into one, and displays this radiance of fire only when in love.

We, like the peacock, try to integrate all races through the love of music.”

Michael Jackson and Jackie Jackson for Peacock Productions, Destiny, 1978

As a matter of fact, this painting is full to overflowing with references to Michael Jackson, his signature imagery and iconography, his spiritual affinity, and his ecological and ideological universe to the point of being mind-boggling. The artwork announces an album full of innovative recordings and grabs the consumer’s attention with its colorful display, fully fulfilling its purpose as a “consumerist” design while also seeking to take the viewer on an emotional journey into the heart and soul of the artists, straddling the divide between high and low art, fine art and graphic design. Like the album, it has one foot in both worlds, providing a bridge for anyone so minded to cross.

While I am deeply honored to have played a small part in bringing the English translation of Isabelle Petitjean’s book to publication for English-speaking readers, I am, if possible, even more enthusiastic about her decision to record her lecture on Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson as presented in Gary, Indiana; Washington, D.C.; and Canada in DVD format.

The DVD format brings all the richness of the references and symbols to vibrant life and Isabelle’s narrative is calm and well-paced, her voice rich with enthusiasm for her subject, and her lovely French accent a treat to listen to. The slides accompanying the narrative are clear and well-designed and animated. While addressing the detailed descriptions contained within the book, they are a bit more visual, concise and succinct, providing an overview which entices the viewer to investigate the book for more detail. The inclusion of selected excerpts from films and performances by Jim Blashfield and Michael Jackson, as well as a few brief references from other artists, allow the viewer to more fully comprehend the points narrated and illustrate the depth and scope of both Mark Ryden’s and Michael Jackson’s erudition.

Superficial? Hardly! Both of these artists are masters of mystery and paradox; they both ask the reader/viewer/listener to question, to reflect, to seek.

The painting/album cover is a symphony for the eyes; the album a lyrical fresco for the ears.

Together they announce the three-pronged media blitzkrieg covered in the previous installment under the topic Dangerous Goes 3D with the album, short films, and Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections its tentacles reaching out to span the globe … and we haven’t even talked about the world tour, which brought the Dangerous campaign to the widest possible audience. It was a masterful juggernaut which aimed at world domination … and succeeded, not with tyranny, but with art in all its many facets.

For those interested, I include the links for the acquisition of Dangerous: From Mark Ryden to Michael Jackson:

http://www.editions-delatour.com/fr/biographies-entretiens/3285-dangerous-from-mark-ryden-to-michael-jackson-9782752103048.html

DVD

https://www.amazon.co.uk/ENGLISH-Conference-Dangerous-Ryden-Michael-culture-Fine/dp/B06XH5TZNJ/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1493064621&sr=8-5&keywords=Petitjean%2C+Isabelle

 

Installment 108

March 23 – March 29, 2017

 

Can we talk about your latest drawing?

Michael, my love, we can talk about anything you want to talk about. I have to admit, this latest drawing has been a bit of a revelation in many ways. I would love to discuss it with you, if you have the time. I have lots of questions.

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Caitlyn

[Michael laughs.] You always have lots of questions and I have nothing but time and nothing I would rather do. I think it is important that we discuss this for a lot of different reasons that we can get into later. But, first, tell me about Caitlyn.

Caitlyn was my little niece. It is one of my greatest regrets that I never met her due to my brother living so far away from me.

And what have we said in previous conversations about regret?

Don’t regret what didn’t happen then. Do it now!

Exactly. There is already here and then is already now. You don’t have to suffer regret. You don’t have to send your prayers back in time or anywhere else because you are already there and she is always here.

There is always an element of blame in regret; usually you are blaming yourself. Where you see a lack or an absence, don’t blame yourself. Don’t regret; do it NOW.

Caitlyn transitioned in the early days of our acquaintance, around 1994 or 1995, I think. She was a beautiful little girl who developed leukemia very early in her life. Of course, the discovery of her illness was a devastating blow to her mother and father, my brother and his wife.

At the time, it was thought that a bone marrow transplant would save her life, so the entire family was genetically tested for compatibility, including myself, but no compatible match was found. I’ve always felt badly that I was incompatible.

Ah, now we are getting to the crux of the matter. Why?

Why what?

Why would you feel badly about something that you could not control? Please understand … that is a rhetorical question for the purposes of this discussion.

I did this myself all the time; we all do. This is a very common experience in the human condition. We have a tendency to blame ourselves in situations like this and we make ourselves “wrong” or “less” than we are as a result.  I can understand you being disappointed; that is only natural. But it wasn’t your fault that your tests didn’t show compatibility.

I know.

Would you have donated your bone marrow if your DNA was a perfect match?

Yes, absolutely I would have.

You would have had the surgery?

Definitely.

Okay. Go on.

Well, from the discovery of her disease to her transition, little Caitlyn spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals receiving blood transfusions and treatments. St. Jude’s was a God-send to my brother’s family.

My friends and I sent balloons. My brother told me at the time that little Caitlyn loved to play with the balloons with her daddy and would smile and laugh as the helium-inflated balloons floated around her as he held her in his arms, despite being tethered to intravenous tubes. She would reach out and try to catch the brightly-colored balloons and laugh as they floated out of reach.

Little Caitlyn fought her disease bravely and was a happy, loving child until the very end. Her journey ended in her father’s arms as he rocked her in the rocking chair in her hospital room.

That’s where you’re wrong. Her journey did not end and I think you knew that at the time, didn’t you?

Yes, I knew, although I didn’t understand it as fully as I do now.

What did you do?

Well, once again, my friends and I sent a large bouquet of balloons to the funeral with the request that they be released into the air for Caitlyn to play with.

Then, I sat down and wrote a story about Caitlyn in which I entrusted her to your loving care.  In my story, I placed my little niece’s soul into the safest hands I knew … yours. My logical, rational brain thought this was a silly thing to do because you were still very much in the physical dimension at the time, but it felt like the right thing, somehow.

I don’t remember much of the story. It’s lost somewhere in the bowels of my first computer in the attic along with the electronic copy of my first book, but I know I sent the story to one of the European fan magazines. I think it was KING! Or Black or White, but I can’t remember which. The story was published in one of its regular issues.

So, you sent little Caitlyn to Neverland to play with me?

Yes, in a nutshell. At the time, I had not read a great deal about time being flexible and fluid or about how even though a part of us is involved in a human experience, there is still a major portion of our more expansive, vaster self that is always anchored in the spiritual realm. [Reference: Installment #40 – Volume 1 – Page 380] And I wasn’t blessed with these formal Conversations with you, although we did share a wonderful connection which was steadily growing stronger.

Despite all that, somehow, it just felt right to entrust her to your care, instinctively, if you will.

But, I’ve always regretted never getting to know my beautiful, brave little niece and I’ve always felt that I wasn’t much of an aunt to her, felt guilty that I wasn’t there for her during her short, little life.

Felt guilty.

Yes … felt guilty.

This guilt thing is a real issue with you, isn’t it? You felt guilty that you were not able to save her life by donating your bone marrow even though you knew that there was nothing you could have done to change that; you felt guilty because you never knew her; you felt guilty because you didn’t measure up to some picture you have in your mind of an ideal aunt, whatever that is. That’s a lot of guilt.

As we’ve said so often before, guilt is one of the most damaging emotions in the human emotional arsenal. One of the things that makes it so damaging is that often what we feel guilty about is something over which we had no control, like not being a compatible genetic match to save your little niece’s life. Could you have changed that?

No.

Of course not. The other is that we bury these feelings of guilt behind everyday busyness and we never deal with them in a healthy way. Then, we defend the walls we built around all those little hurts like one would defend the walls of a castle under siege from the most fully-equipped, battle-ready army.

Using you as an example, you have carried this burden of guilt for more than twenty years buried beneath all the things you do every day and all the walls you have built around them to protect yourself from them. It has been there, lurking in the shadows until very recently. It’s  kinda the monster under your bed (and it is NOT alone under there), waiting to eat you in the night until someone takes a flashlight and shines it under the bed to show you that it’s just the shadow cast by your shoes.

So, what happened to bring little Caitlyn out of the shadows?

Well, while I have often thought of her, she would have celebrated her birthday in March and my sister posted a photograph of her in memoriam. As soon as I saw the photograph, I knew that I wanted to attempt to draw it. I mulled the idea over for a few days, but it scared me. I have never tried to draw a baby before and the thought of attempting it first with my perfect little niece frightened me.

Eventually, I overcame my fear, got out a piece of paper and made my first attempt, which was NOT a success. Drawing a baby is a lot harder than I thought it would be and I spent a couple of days trying to talk myself out of this project … but failed and tried again. On my second attempt, I had a little more success and I think I captured her sweetness.

And … now … the rest of the story. [Michael does a perfect imitation of Paul Harvey and laughs.]

Well, I sent a photo of the drawing to my sister-in-law and brother, hoping that they would not be offended by my no doubt poor attempt at capturing Caitlyn and they think the painting is beautiful, so I will be sending the pastel painting to them in the mail.

That is not what I meant and you know it. What has been happening in your inner world every time you close your eyes since finishing this piece of art?

I have been seeing my story, which I wrote over twenty years ago, coming true. I have been seeing Caitlyn with you at Neverland. The first and second day after completing it, I saw you holding her in your arms, with Caitlyn straddling your waist and playing with your hat.  She was laughing and your smile was HUGE and your giggle was so heartwarming.

Yesterday, I saw her running up to you and holding her arms up to be lifted up as babies do with people they trust. You bent down to pick her up and kissed her little cheek and she giggled and knocked your hat to the ground. You laughed and snuggled her close.

Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!

I have never been able to visualize her before at all, much less at Neverland with you, but now I see her every time I close my eyes. You are always with her and she is always full to bubbling over with joy.

And what does this tell you?

I don’t know how to interpret this change, really. Perhaps, my drawing has freed her to finally be released into your care?

No, although I can understand your confusion. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the mirror image from the real thing … at least, until you change your perspective.

She was always free. She has been a frequent visitor to Neverland since you wrote your story. I have held her in my arms many times both during the times when I was physically present and since. She has always been a light in my world. She is such a pure and innocent soul; I love her very much. You can neither free nor bind her because she is beyond such restrictions and limitations and always has been just as you can neither free nor bind me and for the same reason.

The truth is both much simpler and much more complicated than that. By spending time and love in drawing her, you have freed yourself to perceive her joy.  You have dismantled the walls you built around your hurt at not being good enough to heal her little body and you have begun to forgive yourself for your failings.

You have gotten out the flashlight and dispelled the darkness under the bed (at least in the case of this issue … there are still LOTS of monsters lurking there … don’t worry too much about them, though … we will be working with them as they arise.)

You have laid your blame and guilt aside with every stroke, taken the blinders they represent off, and opened your spiritual sight. You have taken her out of the shadow of your guilt and regret and allowed yourself to see her with me laughing and playing despite what you have perceived for more than twenty years as your shortcomings in the “aunt department.”

Do you see how your vision has been distorted through the lens of what you perceive as your shortcomings? We all do this all the time with everything we see and all that we experience. We view people, situations, and circumstances through our individual lenses and interpret them accordingly. Since our perception is distorted our interpretations are similarly misaligned.

We don’t see “reality” at all; we see our perceptions of “reality” and, often our perceptions of reality are distorted through the lenses of our experiences, judgments, and definitions of ourselves.

You and I were never separate
It’s just an illusion
Wrought by the magical lens
Of perception

Those “magical lenses” affect everything we see and, therefore, everything we do. Often those lenses are grounded deep within the experiences of our childhoods as we talked about in a lot of detail in one of our very earliest dialogs. [Reference: Installment 3 – Volume 1 – Page 21]

Now, do you mind if we talk about this “ideal aunt” concept that you have yourself convinced that you don’t measure up to?

No, I don’t mind at all, Beloved, but I don’t know how to describe it.

Never mind about that. We’ll get there eventually.

Being from a large family, let me just preface this section of our Conversation with the observation that “aunts” come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are very “hands on” and some are not. Some are nurturing and supporting and some are not. Some are demanding and want to shape you into their idea of the perfect nephew or niece and some give you the space to find your own way.

In other words, as many descriptions as apply to human beings apply to aunts. Why don’t you begin by telling me about your aunts.

I would be happy to, Beloved, but I don’t have any. Well, that’s not exactly true. I believe I have them, but I have never known them. When my mother married my stepfather, she moved to a large city several hundred miles away from her family and severed all ties with my father’s family. I only had her mother and father as an extended family and never knew my father’s brothers or any of my cousins on either side at all. We were pretty isolated. Although I have recently become acquainted with a cousin through social media, I have never met her.

However, she has told me that her father (my uncle Earl) was an artist whose art hangs in a museum in San Juan and that he inherited his artistic ability from our grandfather, which was news to me. Imagine being 67 years old and not knowing something like that. It’s an odd feeling.

When we left my mother and stepfather’s house, my brothers and sister and I all ended up living hundreds of miles away from each other as well.

So, you’ve never really had any extended family nor the examples they could have provided, particularly in the area of “aunthood.”

No, not really.

Being from such a large family I could almost envy that. [Michael laughs.]

Well, during our “participatory therapy sessions,” [Installment #86 – Volume 3, page 39] one of the insights I had has a direct bearing on this situation. Do you mind if we talk briefly about that?

No, not at all. Please explain.

Well, back in the 1950s, the line of demarcation between religious affiliations was much more finely drawn. My mother’s family was staunchly devout and their allegiance was to the Roman Catholic Church, which was adamant in its assertion of being the only TRUE church. Back then, if you weren’t Catholic, you were destined for hell. I don’t think it has changed too much since, except Pope Francis seems to be a much more open-minded and ecumenical kind of Pope, so I have hope that, perhaps, this exclusivity issue will change in the not-too-distant future.

I believe my father’s family was Protestant as they hailed from England. Back then, good Catholic girls did not marry into Protestant families; good Protestant boys were not easily accepted into Catholic families … and, generally, if such marriages occurred, it was against their parent’s wishes. Any children from such “mixed” marriages were considered illegitimate, in other words, bastards.

Do you see what we do to each other with our judgments and prejudices? Even in families, which are supposed to be loving, caring, and supportive, we harm each other with irrelevant judgments.

It’s similar to the black/white racial issues. Children are children and they are harmed by these kinds of judgments and prejudices. You were severely damaged for many years by beliefs that were probably passed down to your grandparents from their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents for generations. In this case, the “US” and “THEM” mentality was promoted by a church, which was intended to bring all people into oneness.

It is so sad.

Of course, I don’t know for sure that this religious difference is a hard and fast fact; I am surmising. It feels right. This could have been a factor in my grandmother and grandfather’s refusal to help my mother take care of my brother and I when she needed to enter the workforce, something that was not common in 1955.

It could also have affected the complete severance of all ties with my father’s family after his death and resulted in my lack of extended family life.

This insight occurred to me during our therapy sessions over a six or seven week period back then (April and May 2014) when we were processing my grandmother and releasing her to “Go with God.”

Yes, I remember this one took a little longer because your hurt and defenses were very strong.

Well, I had always viewed my grandmother as perfect in every way. It was hard for me to realize that she, too, was human and as much a victim of the religious, cultural, and ideological prejudices prevailing at the time as was I.

And I think you’re right. That could very well be a major factor.

But I think the relevant point here is that you have nothing upon which to base your ideal of “aunthood.” You are separated by hundreds of miles from your brothers and sister and have no knowledge of aunts or uncles from your childhood. So, tell me … what does your ideal aunt look like?

Promise me you won’t laugh.

I promise you faithfully and with full conviction that I won’t laugh AT you … I will only laugh WITH you. Is that good enough?

Yes, thank you, Beloved. Well, she looks a little like the fairy Godmother in fairy tales. Kind, there when needed to turn mice into horses and rags into dazzling gowns, and able to dispel all hurt with a wave of her magic aunt wand.

Well, it’s pretty easy to understand how you see yourself as not measuring up to that. I mean, who could? And, of course, she is able to leap tall pumpkins in a single bound and cure leukemia in the blink of a DNA test.

Yes, pretty much.

Can I laugh just a little bit now? Never mind, I’ll save it for later.

You are so hard on yourself. Your love for your little niece is very evident in this piece of art. Your determination to do whatever you could do to help her, regardless of distance, also proves your love.

Now that you have dispelled the darkness under the bed (at least, in this instance), do you see how your guilt over what could not be controlled is just an illusion you created as a defense against your lack of self-worth and, then, defined yourself accordingly?

Do you remember when you told me that “plants don’t like you?”

Yes, of course I remember. [Reference: Installment #96 – Volume 3 – Page 235]

Do you still hold the same view?

No, I don’t.

What has changed?

Well, I have begun having a little bit of success with plants. My first gardenia (which we spoke about in Installment 96) did die, but it survived through the winter months last year and actually got a blossom on it in around March.

However, my husband bought me a beautiful, full gardenia this past summer and we set it outside in a nice, sunny place and it flourished, blooming several times. In addition, we found a lovely jasmine at a nursery and set it out during the summer months and it, too, flourished. When fall arrived, we brought them both in the house and they are both alive and healthy, awaiting spring when we will set them outside again.

Further, I got a huge peace lily and one of the girls gave me a phalaenopsis orchid, which also appear to be flourishing. As a matter of fact, there are seven long flowering stalks on my peace lily and five beautiful blossoms on my phalaenopsis orchid. It has re-blossomed after being dormant for months, literally.

Needless to say, that has never happened before!

And what have you been doing differently?

Well, I have designated Tuesday as “watering day” and have stuck to that schedule consistently. I have placed the gardenia in a southern window for more direct sunlight and the jasmine has a more muted eastern exposure. The peace lily and phalaenopsis orchid are on my desk in my north-facing art studio/sanctuary and benefit from the music and meditations that occur here regularly. I send all my plants loving, peaceful thoughts and, yes, I do talk to them when I water them. They all seem to be thriving.

There ya go! And what did I tell you when we discussed this issue in our earlier Conversation?

You said, and I quote:

All living things respond to love and encouragement. No exceptions.

Good … and you are discovering that this is true in your living plants … as well as in your living eternally niece.

All things thrive on love. It’s the way the universe was created. Even hurtful memories blossom into beautiful flower when paid a little loving attention.

Now, we will work on a change in the direction of your thinking. Instead of thinking, “I suck as an aunt,” we will begin thinking, “I am a loving aunt.” And instead of thinking, “Plants don’t like me,” we will begin thinking, “Even plants burst into beautiful flower in my presence.”

Love is always the answer. No exceptions.

 

As we approach the ending of a very difficult year on many different levels, I find myself looking back in a nostalgic way on how all of this began. 2016 has seen what seems like an alarming number of deaths of famous celebrities and musical artists, a disproportionate amount of racial tension in the United States, and the election of Donald Trump as President (something I never thought I would live to see … and, quite frankly, prayed that I wouldn’t.) Nevertheless, that is the “reality” with which we are faced. It is not one of which I am overly fond, so I am choosing, instead, the reality that Michael Jackson is MY president, as he has been for the last quarter of a century. On the cusp of a New Year, hopefully, filled with more promise, I have decided to keep the spirit of the season by looking back to the past (almost twenty-five years in the past) … to look into the future more hopefully.

Prescience

In The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona, and His Artistic Afterlife, page (153), Elizabeth Amisu makes the following statement: “Now, I am not claiming by any means that Jackson was psychic …” Not being a noted lecturer and academic and having no particular reputation to defend or maintain, I have no such compunctions.

In my opinion, there are several instances in both his public and private lives in which Michael Jackson displayed either a degree of clairsentience or a remarkably keen and clear-sighted sensitivity to prevailing trends which resulted in him responding to situations in uncanny ways, often, seemingly, before the situations to which he was responding manifested.

One of the areas that this prescience is most clearly shown is in what has been called Michael Jackson’s “business acumen.” His acquisition of the ATV catalog, following a brief introduction to the music publishing industry during a passing conversation with Paul McCartney, is one such instance. His interest in acquiring the Marvel franchise long before the recent spate of Marvel superhero-themed movies sold out box offices across the world is another.

However, one of the most interesting instances, for me personally, was in the recording and subsequent release date for the single for “Will You Be There” from Michael’s Dangerous album. However, to explain my attraction to this specific instance, I will have to backtrack a bit and explain how I became a disciple to begin with.  “Will You Be There” holds particular significance for me; therefore, I suppose it would make perfect sense that I would be drawn to this particular demonstration of Michael Jackson’s fore-knowledge.

The Dangerous album was released in November of 1991 (two months short of two years prior to the media avalanche that ensued as a result of the Chandler allegations in late August, 1993). Generally, the schedule for single releases is ironed out between the artist and the record company (often as a result of intense negotiation) just before the album hits the shelves. The song, itself, however, was recorded during the early recording sessions for the album which began in the summer of 1990 and was written by Michael in his “Giving Tree” at Neverland Valley Ranch. So, “Will You Be There” was written and demoed as much as three years before its release, according to recent authors Joe Vogel and Mike Smallcombe.

My life as I currently know it began on October 1, 1992, or more than a year into the Dangerous campaign. That’s not to say I was born on that date; in fact, I was a mature woman of 42 years old when I experienced Michael Jackson in an entirely different way than I had experienced him prior to that date. In a way, however, I was reborn on that October evening almost 25 years ago when my two daughters and I sat down to watch the HBO telecast of Michael Jackson Live from Bucharest. My husband was away at a weekend retreat and I was excited that I would be free to 1) watch it and 2) turn the volume up far beyond his comfortable listening level.  Previous experience with Michael had taught me that I was going to want to keep a record of the program so I had a videotape in the VCR machine ready to catch every moment of the rare live concert performance. My comment to my daughters went something like: “Oh, goodie! We get to see the best doing what he does best.”

In truth, I had seen and heard Michael Jackson a few times before. I had flirted with him when he was eleven-years-old (I was 19 or 20) and I caught him performing on one of the variety shows that I loved to watch in the 1970s. I had sung along with his most popular hits blasting on my car stereo throughout the western suburbs of Chicago while running errands or going to work in the mid 1970s.

A decade later, when he was 21-years-old, I had another brief flirtation with him when my younger brother (at the time, perhaps, 18 or 19) tried to teach me how to disco dance in the basement of my parent’s home in Indiana with my new husband standing on the sidelines, shaking his head and laughing. My brother put on Off the Wall, saying it was the best record to dance along with. Of course, he was right, but I had not followed Michael’s career closely during the ensuing years, so I was mildly and pleasantly surprised to hear the beautiful, adult voice emanating from the stereo. This was a different Michael Jackson than the one I had become acquainted with ten years earlier. It was my first experience with him as an adult, but his energy, enthusiasm and exuberance on that record just barely hid the child star beneath a thin veneer of maturity and made a lasting impression on me.

In the mid-1980s, I had another more serious but equally brief flirtation with him when I heard “Billie Jean” and watched Michael and his brothers perform on the Motown 25, Yesterday, Today, and Forever special. I had grown up with Motown; it had provided the soundtrack of my teenage years, so I had to watch that special, but I had no idea of how special it would eventually come to be to me and to millions around the world.

Of course, I ran out and bought Thriller immediately and played “Billie Jean” and “Lady in my Life” over and over. Those were the days when one had to actually get up and lift the needle on the turntable and place it in the grooves of the LP. There was no instant repeat back then. I think I wore the grooves on that record out just replaying those two songs. I had no time to listen to the entire record. I was newly-married to a man who considered my favorite music “noise,” having children, helping to rebuild a one hundred year old farmhouse after moving from a large metropolitan area to a small, rural farm community, working a full-time job … well, you get the picture.

On October 1, 1992, twenty years after I had watched him on the Ed Sullivan Show, however, things changed. I have spent the last twenty-five years trying to explain how they changed and why.

I think a very appropriate way to describe the evening’s event is as follows: I am sure all my readers have heard the adage that when you are about to pass from this world, your past life flashes before your mind’s eye in a review of the life you lived. That’s kind of what happened to me on that beautiful October evening, in a way … only in reverse. On the evening of the broadcast of Michael Jackson Live from Bucharest, at the age of 42 plus a few months, I saw the rest of my life … my future … flash before my mind’s eye. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my inner compass had found its “true north.” Quite by accident, I had found the meaning of the word “truth.”

Gone were the flirtations I had experienced with Michael Jackson; this was serious. By the end of that televised concert, I was committed, heart, soul, mind, and body to Michael Jackson. The concert was a two-hour-long marathon, during which Michael redefined (in my mind) what was possible for a performer … or for a human being, for that matter.  [That lean during “Smooth Criminal! The man was almost parallel to the floor of the stage! How the heck did he do that without any visible means of support?] His strength and agility were mind-boggling. I caught every moment of it on videotape; but it was one eight-minute song that really turned my life around.

Michael’s performance of “Will You Be There” just destroyed every thought I had ever had about who I was or what my life was about and replaced my previous definitions of the world, myself, my life, his life, my belief system, and everything in between with two words … Michael Jackson. He took the “me” I thought I was apart piece-by-piece … very gently (although it was not gentle for him, by any means) … in tiny increments and in “Will You Be There,” he prayed over the pieces, reassembling them in eight minutes into a whole new person – one who was ready to look at absolutely everything in a whole new light.

I don’t know if it was what Michael Cotton described as the “progression” of the songs in the Special Features of the This Is It Documentary – the way they built suspense and released it with Michael’s almost manic, ecstatic mastery of dance to accompany and wring out every drop of emotion and pathos in each of the sequences – what Jackson liked to call “peaks and valleys” … or exactly what it was. But it was masterful!

I had never seen anything to equal the energy that man expended on a stage although I had viewed several concerts both in person and on television, including Paul McCartney and Wings, Electric Light Orchestra, Edgar Winter Group, Todd Rundgren, Jethro Tull, Simon and Garfunkel,  Neil Diamond, Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross and the Supremes. None of them had moved me to the extent that Michael Jackson moved me that night.

Now, maybe I was just “ready” in some way to be moved; maybe it was just as simple and as complicated as that. I don’t know. I had, in my readings, often run across the adage, “When the pupil is ready the teacher will appear.” Well, my teacher appeared … as a matter of fact, he was catapulted into the air from below stage with a veritable shower of pyrotechnics framing him.  I was like Saul on the road to Damascus, blinded by a light that couldn’t be explained by the laws of physics, gravity, or dynamics. Maybe I … and Michael Jackson … were just in the right place at the right time. Maybe all of those explanations fall short; maybe they don’t matter. For those of my readers who have experienced such a turning point, no explanation is necessary. For those who haven’t, no explanation is possible.

For me, it was a religious experience, but one that had little to do with conventional religion. It was an ecstatic, mystical collapsing of time and space. It was uplifting; it was exhilarating; it was exhausting. I felt that I could touch and know intimately every bead of sweat on that man’s face. I found myself straining to get closer to the television set, my entire body coiled, tensed … to catch him if he should fall (which seemed likely from the inattentive way he was bounding around the stage) … or to absorb every ounce of energy that man emitted … and emit he did.

A spiritual energy passed between the man who was performing on that stage and me, sitting in my comfortable, rural living room halfway around the world from where the concert was taking place. A link was forged. I felt a love enfolding me that recognized no boundaries, no limits, no restrictions, no distance, no difference, no time, and definitely no excuses.

There was no question, on my part, whether I would receive that energy; that was a foregone conclusion. It felt like I had been waiting for it … praying for it … searching for it … all my life. I soaked it in, was bathed in it. I was totally engulfed within that wave of energy.  If I had been standing by the ocean knocked senseless by a tidal wave, the feeling could not have been any stronger. His energy, his sincerity, his conviction, his commitment, and his love were transmitted through my television screen and I was totally raptured by it.

Up to that point, I thought I was this bag of events and occurrences and experiences, some of them fairly traumatic, that lived in a 42-year-old female body, married/with children and I saw my life as just proceeding in that same vein indefinitely, with no purpose other than staying alive, raising my kids, feeding my husband, eventually retiring and passing into old age and death without ever realizing that there was more.  That night I discovered that Michael Jackson was my MORE! When I think back on it, I have to laugh. I had no idea. What a ride! Space Mountain had nothing on this rollercoaster.

What I did know at the end of that concert was two things: 1) I had to watch the concert again and 2) I had to find out who this man was … not just the performer; I needed to know the man. So, I did watch the concert again; I stayed up all night watching the concert again. And I began searching for information regarding the man who had turned my world upside down.

In my search, I discovered that he had written an autobiography, but it was out-of-print and I had to have an out-of-print book search company find me a copy, which I paid $100 to purchase and reimburse them for their effort in finding the book. At the time, I thought that was a lot of money, but it was also my only option. Library copies of Moonwalk had mysteriously gone AWOL or had large sections of pictures of Michael Jackson removed before being returned to the library (literally.)  One of the admittedly poor excuses for a library in my area had the printed pages … but no pictures; they had been cut out of the middle of the book! What kind of person defaces a library book like that?

I also discovered what so many recent authors have remarked upon when re-examining Michael Jackson’s work posthumously. While reams and reams of tabloid articles had been devoted to his allegedly eccentric lifestyle and choices, there was really very, very little reliable information to be had in the public marketplace regarding this artist, which seems appalling as he had, in Sir Bob Geldoff’s words, “written and recorded some of the most glorious music in the pop canon,” held several world records, including (at the time) the largest selling album in history, the second largest selling album in history, and the largest selling single in history.

In fact, there was only one biography (of sorts)  with even the remotest claim to pseudo-credibility available by J. Randy Taraborelli called The Magic and the Madness, so, of course, I bought that. I began collecting Michael Jackson’s music and short film collections. I began watching and taping anything and everything that was broadcast on national television stations. Fortunately, he was featured several times during 1992/1993, including the Grammy and Soul Train award shows, the interview with Oprah Winfrey, President Clinton’s Inaugural Gala, and the Superbowl half-time performance so I could observe him for myself. What I saw always amazed me; his humility and sense of humor were endearing and his sincerity was unquestionable. What I read in the popular press and viewed on entertainment shows following those appearances was ludicrously inaccurate and inadequate, cynical and dismissive. I would ask myself the same question repeatedly over the next few years: Were the journalists and I even watching the same broadcasts?

Fast forward to August, 1993. The Chandler allegations had exploded into the media and were raging in a global tabloid press feeding frenzy. The movie, Free Willy, was playing in theaters across the United States and the single for “Will You Be There” (its theme) was released to coincide with its theater debut. Remember, this is almost three years after the song was written and demoed! The song, itself, was an impassioned plea for understanding in the midst of a horrifying period of global suspicion and persecution. At the time, I was aware that Michael had been the victim of inane, nonsensical stories for a number of years, but nothing like these allegations.

I remember sitting in the movie theater with the credits rolling watching Michael’s altered performance of the song while most of the rest of the audience exited the theater. I could not move as his beautiful, tearful voice spoke the following words:

In our darkest hour
In my deepest despair
Will you still care?
Will you be there?

I also remember that “collapsing” of time and space that I had experienced while watching the performance ten months earlier in my living room because it happened again in the theater. The ten months between the two viewings just collapsed into a single heartbeat and turned me into a blubbering, incoherent wreck. I have written about this instance of pre-knowledge or premonition on Michael’s part before. The timing of it was uncanny. But, then, as Kenny Ortega reports in the Special Features of the This Is It Documentary, Michael Jackson is a master of timing. I agree.

Throughout the last twenty-five years, I had thought I was the only one who had noticed this uncannily-timed release, but at least one recent author has proven me wrong. Mike Smallcombe, in his wonderful book Making Michael: Inside the Career of Michael Jackson calls the incident “poignantly appropriate at this time in his life.” I guess “poignantly appropriate” is safer than downright premonitory.

He makes the point, in Chapter 11: “Turmoil” that at this point in his life, Michael was focused on re-inventing himself and redirecting his career in the direction of film, which had been his dream for several years. He was negotiating a horror-themed song and short film for Paramount Pictures’ Adams Family Values (which eventually morphed into Michael’s short film Ghosts) and was very interested in several other feature-length scripts.

However, very shortly after recording on the Dangerous album had wrapped up, Michael was scheduled to go on tour despite suffering excruciating pain from another reconstructive surgery on his earlier scalp injury during which inflatable bladders were placed under the flesh of his scalp and inflated over regular intervals to stretch the flesh so that the scar tissue could be excised and the flesh sewn together in the hopes of re-establishing hair growth.

As he was preparing to leave to commence the second leg of his tour, Karen Faye, his hair and make-up artist reported, “His schedule was so busy that he never had time to heal from the surgery.” [Healing from the surgery involved allowing the wound to be open to the air. Michael’s schedule of appearances, recording, and touring did not allow him to take the time required to remove his hairpieces and bandaging long enough for the wound to heal.] In the midst of the stress and rigors of the touring system, the sleep deprivation he suffered while touring, and the pain from his surgical wound, the news of the extortionate allegations broke as he was preparing to commence the second leg of his Dangerous World Tour in Bangkok, Thailand, bringing his film aspirations to a screeching halt for the first time.

The same thing happened in 2003, when Michael’s dream of acquiring the Marvel franchise fell through partly as a result of his much-publicized squabbles with Sony and partly as a result of the second set of allegations against him. Mike Smallcombe quotes Michael’s then manager, Dieter Weisner, “Marvel was the plan for the second part of Michael’s life. He had the Beatles catalogue on one side, and if he bought the Marvel catalogue, he had the second part … Michael was right; he knew what was coming.”

In addition, Michael Jackson’s music post-BAD bears an uncanny applicability to the current state of the world and, in particular, the United States of America. While much of his music responds to conditions that he, himself, faced throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, in a broader sense it also correlates with the shocking racial tensions resulting from the shooting of unarmed youths of color in 2016 (“Black or White,” “They Don’t Care About Us”), the increasing and escalating burden of climate change in our world as a result of our over-exploitation (“Earth Song,” “Heal the World”), and encouraging us to be the change we wish to see in the world we inhabit (“Man in the Mirror,” “Keep the Faith,” “Will You Be There” and many others). The “Black Lives Matter” movement adopted “They Don’t Care About Us” as its theme in recent months and “We Are the World” was sung for the pope in the Vatican, which supports the premise that these songs speak to the world’s current problems as strongly today as they did at the time of their release, albeit written and performed in what Morgan Freeman called global “love ins” twenty to twenty-five years ago.

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These, along with several comments made to his first wife, Lisa Marie Presley, that he would die in the same manner as her father and his long-time friend, Frank Cascio, that his death would be the result of a “shot” clearly show a tendency toward psychic sensitivity. Michael Jackson was, by his own admission, an empath. The following lines from “That One in the Mirror,” published in Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections clearly speak to this issue:

“I felt strange when he said that. There was something very wrong here. A faint suspicion came to me, one that had never dawned so clearly before. What if that one in the mirror isn’t me? He feels separate. He sees problems ‘out there’ to be solved. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. He’ll get along. But I don’t feel that way – those problems aren’t ‘out there,’ not really. I feel them inside me. A child crying in Ethiopia, a sea gull struggling in an oil spill, a mountain gorilla being mercilessly hunted, a teenage soldier trembling with terror when he hears the planes fly over: Aren’t these happening in me when I see and hear about them?”

He often referred to his inability to witness suffering and not do something to alleviate it, especially in children. There is a very fine line between empathic sensitivity and psychic sensitivity; it often becomes blurred.

Elizabeth Amisu quotes Michael Jackson, speaking about the Invincible album. “’… people will not understand this album right now. It’s ahead of its time … the album will live on forever’ because ‘music is what lives and lasts …’ Jackson knew that it did not matter how Invincible’s tale began, because ‘what’s important is how the story ends.’” I believe his words speak to all of his musical releases from Dangerous through Invincible.

Dangerous Goes 3D

One of the significant factors emphasized in all of the recent academic studies of Michael Jackson’s creative life is the importance of Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections. Elizabeth Amisu calls it “one of the best-kept ‘secrets’ in Michael Jackson’s artistic back catalogue” and Joe Vogel states, “The book was mostly overlooked or scoffed at by critics; Jackson’s sincerity made him an easy target. Yet the book provides a fascinating window into an artist who had an uncanny ability to experience and convey in his performances what Deepak Chopra describes as the “God feeling – a transcendent, ‘ecstatic state’ that dissolves hard lines, barriers, and ideologies and recognizes instead the unity in existence …”

I find it very interesting that Mr. Vogel is describing very much what I experienced on the night of October 1, 1992. That “God feeling which dissolves hard lines, barriers, and ideologies and recognizes instead the unity in existence” is a pretty good description of my take away from Michael Jackson Live from Bucharest.

It is this author’s emphatic contention that it is this conveyance of the “God feeling” that forms the major impetus behind all of Michael Jackson’s later musical releases, short films, and publications. At the time of recording of the Dangerous album, Michael had just completed his BAD World Tour; it was also just a few short and extremely busy years after the filming of the 3D fantasy film, Captain EO, for the Disney Parks.

I think Michael was aiming for that same kind of 3D approach with the Dangerous campaign, with the recorded music, the short films, and Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections providing a fully-immersive experience across platforms, formats, and media. I also think that this immersive exposure indicates the importance he placed on the thoughts and feelings conveyed across these platforms, formats, and media. And exactly what were these thoughts and feelings that Michael found so important to convey in so many different ways? Ms. Amisu answers that question in Chapter 13: “Faith, Hope, and Love: The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson.”

Elizabeth Amisu calls the album and the book “symbiotic.” But we must not forget that the short films were also an extremely important component in this three-pronged media blitz. She goes on to state, “They feed from one another metaphorically, semantically, and lexically.” While bemoaning the fact that it was little known except by the most die-hard of the fan community (in which I must count myself as I was fortunate enough to have acquired two copies of the book shortly after its publication), she states, “The world already knows this book; wearing Dangerous as its disguise, it has already made its way into the homes of millions.” She goes on to relate, “Dancing the Dream is incredibly important because, like its musical twin Dangerous, it reveals Jackson as a poet who is acutely aware of all these interpretations …” and states that “It signifies the beginning of Jackson’s artistic self-presentation as an activist.”

Throughout his life, but particularly in his later life, Michael Jackson was an outspoken proponent of the aforementioned “Dangerous Philosophies” through every means at his disposal. One wonders what kind of films he would have been able to immerse us in had he had the opportunity to fulfill his movie aspirations. If his short films are any indication, we have been irrevocably and irretrievably short changed and the thieves who have stolen those films from us have gone unpunished.

The Sony Debacle

While many of the most recent authors have given a cursory examination of the acrimony between Michael Jackson and the EPIC Division of Sony Music, my most recent acquisition, Making Michael: Inside the Career of Michael Jackson by Mike Smallcombe has, in my opinion, done the most thorough job of explaining the motivations on both sides of the “Sony Debacle.”

I remember thinking, at the time, that Michael’s behavior was uncharacteristic, but I was never really able to grasp what was happening. Prior to 2001, Michael had always spoken very highly of his record company and its executives, but suddenly he was making speeches that were very critical of them. I knew that if Michael had “taken to the streets” in protest, something must have gone very wrong indeed.

Throughout his book, Mike Smallcombe describes Michael’s creative process through the voices of those who worked closely with him in the recording studio and in short film production. One of the points he emphasizes from the Dangerous recording sessions on is Michael’s perfectionism … to and surpassing the point of pushing deadlines to their limits and often far beyond. Quincy Jones, he infers, was a stabilizing presence in the Off the Wall, Thriller, and BAD recording sessions; he kept Michael on point and on schedule (at least, as much as it was possible to reign in Michael’s devotion to perfection.)

However, once Q was no longer in the picture, that perfectionist nature, which would not allow Michael to settle for good enough, was given freer reign, often causing delays in recording schedules, interruptions to complete short film production or personal appearances, and mobile deadlines which resulted in huge budget overruns. Of course, any large corporation is firmly devoted to the bottom line; that goes without saying.

Michael Jackson, however, really did not allow himself to be limited by monetary considerations or time constraints. He was driven by the art … the music. His artistic integrity was always paramount in his mind, never taking a back seat to limitation or restriction of any kind.  It had been this sense of integrity that had resulted in his remarkable and unprecedented successes in the past.

Throughout his solo career, he had pushed those limits. The recording sessions for both Thriller and BAD had resulted in at least one deadline extension. The Thriller short film had almost not happened because of its cost; it was saved by Michael’s intention to foot the bill himself and John Branca’s innovative The Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller short film compilation. The same is true of Smooth Criminal and the Moonwalker feature length film release.  His creativity knew no such boundaries and he pushed himself and everyone around him to go that extra mile that would result in groundbreaking innovation in both recordings and short films, sometimes to the point of scrapping everything that had been done and starting over. To him, setting an arbitrary budgetary limit for a recording or short film was like living in a straight jacket with both hands tied behind his back, literally. It limited his creative freedom in a similar way to his adherence to his Jehovah Witness faith, which he had jettisoned during the BAD campaign. It was something he could not tolerate.

One can imagine Michelangelo’s patrons standing on the floor of the Sistine Chapel and yelling up the scaffold, “Just paint any hand! It doesn’t have to be God’s hand! Get it done! There is no more money. We have a schedule to keep.” Perhaps, Michelangelo would have “accidentally” dumped a gallon or two of paint on them in retaliation. Like Michelangelo, Michael felt that art should not be rushed or limited.

My gratitude to Mr. Smallcombe for his clarity in explaining the complicated issues at stake for both parties in the “Sony Debacle” in such a way that I feel at least partially knowledgeable. As I see it (with Mr. Smallcombe’s help), it was a battle of ideologies  … the assembly line versus the artistic integrity of the artist. In such a battle, there is never only one side.

On Sony’s side: Michael (along with almost all artists) refused to tour following the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, however, his tour was the lynchpin in Sony’s marketing campaign for the Invincible album. The marketing plan was lacking in innovation, according to Michael. Because of his inability to sleep when touring and the rigors of the touring system, he was adamant that the marketing campaign did not include a world tour. Additionally, he refused to stick to deadlines (set by Sony) for completion of the album, accept budgets (set by Sony) and film ideas (arranged by Sony) for the album’s short films.

On Michael’s side: dissatisfaction with Sony’s marketing plan for Invincible (which consisted almost entirely of sending Michael out to tour against Michael’s wishes and his physician’s medical advice), annoyance over Sony’s refusal to release “What More Can I Give” as a promotional campaign for the album, what he considered to be overly restrictive budgets for the short films he envisioned from the album, and lack of support for his philanthropic efforts following the September 11, 2001 attack in New York were significant complaints. In addition, he thought ownership of his master recordings would revert to him as early as 2004, but a careful re-reading of his contract by his lawyers showed that those recordings would not revert to him until 2009, at the earliest. The additional burden of in-fighting and jockeying for positions of control within his inner circle of advisors (which would become an escalating problem in the latter part of Michael’s life) became a significant factor.

Although, he envisioned many innovative short films from the material included on the album Invincible and was particularly excited to “get his hands on” the film for “Threatened,” he viewed Sony’s proposals for short films and their budgets as inadequate, lacking in innovation and creativity, and overly restrictive to his creative, innovative approach (which had so handsomely rewarded Sony in the past.) He disagreed with Sony’s choice of directors and album art and just about everything. In the end, he just refused to participate and put his name on “cookie cutter” music videos. His artistic integrity would not allow him to settle for being just “one of the cans in the assembly line.”

Mr. Smallcombe states that Michael Jackson began to lose creative control over his short films as early as the HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book 1 films and quotes Michael Jackson from 1998: “I’m submitting interesting projects at times, but I don’t always get to do the things I want. Some people [at Sony] push me to do things fast; they don’t care about the result, so they don’t care that the videos will look like everyone else’s, they don’t want to be creative. They are limited. I always wanted to do videos that were innovative, and I want to continue like that. But some people only want that I put myself in front of the camera, and when the lights go on they hope something magic will happen … just like that, without thinking. Well, it doesn’t work that way.”

Inner Circle (The Sharks in the Water)

One of the most mystifying factors in the life of Michael Jackson is how the people closest to him, his advisors consisting of managers, accountants, lawyers and publicity people, came to be so out of control during the latter years of his career. This situation came to a head during the last year of his life, resulting eventually in the confusion of having at least two people claiming to be his manager in 2009, at least one of them claiming to hold his power of attorney while Michael, himself, claimed that he did not represent him and that he had no power to negotiate on his behalf.

Up to that point, there had been a veritable game of “musical chairs” in Michael’s legal and financial empire. Both of his ex-wives had complained about the people surrounding Michael and the in-fighting that enveloped him at every turn and prior to any decision. Often, each of them found themselves the subject of “whispering” campaigns by people who had Michael’s ear and who harbored agendas against Michael Jackson’s best interests.

Mike Smallcombe claims that this “in-fighting” and “jockeying for position” began as early as 1989 and 1990 with Michael Jackson’s relationship with entertainment mogul David Geffen. From the relative stability of Frank Dileo and John Branca (through the BAD campaign), Mr. Smallcombe recounts that Geffen used Michael Jackson to wreak “havoc” for Walter Yetnikoff [EPIC division of Sony] . “Advising Michael to replace Dileo with Gallin was said to be part of Geffen’s way of avenging his enemy Walter Yetnikoff, the CBS president,” he states.

At the time, Mr. Smallcombe describes a literal take-over of Michael Jackson’s legal and financial empire by Geffen associates, with Sandy Gallin and Jim Morey providing his management following the ousting of Frank Dileo; Allen Grubman, one of Geffen’s lawyers,  replacing John Branca as his attorney; his accountants being replaced by  Geffen associates, and David Geffen whispering in Michael’s ear against CBS in an effort to “turn his most prized asset, Michael Jackson, against him [Yetnikoff} by making Michael want to leave the label.” Geffen was successful in his attempt to oust Walter Yetnikoff. Yetnikoff was fired in September 1990; he was replaced by Tommy Mottola.

This is just one example of Michael Jackson’s trust being manipulated by people for their own agendas rather than in his best interests. Throughout the following decade, there would be a number of associates ousted from Michael’s management and advising team. At the end of the day, however, the romance with Mottola, too, would sour when the Sony president tried to exert control over Michael Jackson’s creative freedom during the Invincible campaign. Joe Vogel states, “His representation had become a revolving door. Increasingly, he didn’t know who to trust.”

 

 

 

 

Installment 107


January 2 through January 17, 2017

My Anam Cara,

As we approach the inauguration of the President-elect, I’m afraid I have a confession to make.

Yes, I was wondering when you were going to get around to talking with me about this. Go ahead … get it off your chest, if it will make you feel better.

Well, I haven’t been very successful implementing our plan as it was laid out in our last Conversation. I’m experiencing extreme difficulty.  And what’s worse … I don’t know what I am doing wrong.

You are not doing anything wrong. That’s okay … it’s a big issue. Now, come on. Get the rest of it out.

The rest of it? Isn’t that enough?

No, because you haven’t touched on the biggest part of it, yet.

Failure isn’t the biggest part?

Failure is a judgment; like all judgments, it exists only in your mind. This is the root of your problem, but we will talk about that later, if that’s okay.

There is no such thing as failure in this or in anything else. There is only what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. So far, our visualizations haven’t been working to relieve your fear and anxiety. And that’s okay. There is nothing wrong in that. It is your judgment of it as a “failure” that is the problem and leads to the part you are covering up.

So, what am I missing? What is the biggest part?

Your guilt over what you are considering your failure to cover the situation in love and compassion is the elephant in the room.  As we’ve talked about many times before, guilt is one of the most damaging of human emotions. It can paralyze you, imprison you, and keep you from achieving your goals.

Your guilt over what you are considering your failure has been causing you to hesitate in talking with me about it, hasn’t it?

Yes, to be perfectly honest, it has.

You are so hard on yourself.  [I get a visual of Michael closing his eyes and shaking his head.]

You expect perfection from the starting gun. And when you don’t get it, you feel guilty and call your practice a failure (just like you used to call your earlier attempts at meditation and your earliest attempts at drawing failures.)

From there it is a very small step to judging yourself as a failure and throwing in the towel … giving up on the practice entirely … because you begin to believe that you are no “good at it.” You turn your judgment against yourself. Right?

Well, at least I haven’t done that, yet; I haven’t totally given up. And I am consistent. You have to give me that.

Yes, I will grant you that. You are consistent.

Then, of course, what you call a failure begins to make you feel depressed and more fearful and more anxious. And you slide down that slippery slope into a negative spiral from which it becomes difficult for you to recover. You begin to feel ashamed of yourself for your perceived failure.

You remind me of some of my former colleagues at Sony, wanting that MAGIC touch without investing the work and the money that creates MAGIC – the work, sweat, thought, and toil… the time and practice … that makes MAGIC happen. It takes time; it takes practice; it takes vision. It doesn’t just happen.

You sit down and visualize dropping LOVE bombs on the White House, COMPASSION bombs on the Capitol Building, HUMILITY bombs on the President-elect, and TOLERANCE bombs on the Supreme Court. You even visualize means of transport, like floating high above these locations in a hot air balloon with me … or throwing darts at the balloons suspended over representations of these buildings.

By the way, I’ve been meaning to tell you that these visualizations have really been exercising your visualization muscles. You are really giving them a workout.  I love that! You go, girl! [Michael chuckles.]

Yes, but, then, when I am sitting in a restaurant trying to eat and his face comes on the television set, there is an immediate physical reaction and I almost choke on my food. I usually try to recover and send a thought of support immediately afterwards, but the initial physical reaction indicates to me that I still have a long way to go.

This has actually happened a couple of times because so many of the restaurants my husband and I frequent have installed TVs. During the weeks leading up to the election in November, the 24-hour news cycle kept his face plastered across every channel. And, one day a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with my husband and Nancy Grace’s face came on the television set. I almost gagged.

How many times do I have to tell you? Rome was not built in a day.

No matter how hard
The times may seem
Don’t give up our plans
Don’t give up our dreams
No broken bridges
Can turn us around
‘Cuz what we’re searching for
Will soon be found

We’re almost there
J
ust one more step
Just one more step
Don’t give up
We’re all almost there 

Look at the lonely lovers
That didn’t make it
It’s a long, hard climb
They just couldn’t take it
D
on’t let it happen
To me and you
Hold on together, darlin’
We’ll make it through 

Darlin’, keep on reaching out for me
Keep on reaching
D
o it for me
Do it for me

We’re almost there
Just one more step
Just one more step
Don’t give up
‘Cuz we’re almost there

We’re so close
I can taste it
A life so sweet
We can’t afford to waste it
If you feel your hand
Slipping from mine
Just hold on tighter, darlin’
Just keep on trying
Baby, do it for me
Do it for me 

We’re almost there 

You have chosen to embark on a journey, the most important journey of your life and one fraught with peril. Like Columbus, you have chosen to leave your old world behind and to perceive your reality in a new and unaccustomed way.

You depart, risking, perhaps even expecting, to fall off the edge of the earth only to discover that the earth doesn’t have edges. It’s round! Well, who knew? Like him, you are discovering that this may, indeed, be a circuitous route you have chosen.

He didn’t turn around at the first big wave and say, “Oh, well, the sea isn’t smooth.” And he was working with maps that read, “Here be dragons,” in the undiscovered parts. That was part of his mission … to dispel those myths that had kept human beings land bound for centuries.

You are discovering that the myths that have fashioned your world and your perceptions of it in the past are still in place, despite your best efforts to go around them.

Too high to get over
Too low to get under
You’re stuck in the middle
And the pain is thunder 

You have to be prepared to commit yourself to it for the long haul. It takes time to slay those dragons and it’s not easy. It’s not about arriving at some destination by the fastest and most direct route; it’s about preparing yourself to take the trip and not getting tripped up at the first sign of this phantom “failure.” It’s about learning to enjoy the journey.

Personally, I’m proud of you … and you should be, too. Your visualization skills are improving; just look at how far you have come in a relatively short time with this practice. Only a few very short years ago, you told me you were “no good” at visualizing anything. Now, you are flying around in hot air balloons!  In addition, you are trying to be as regular with your practice as you can, despite disruptions to your schedule.

Yes, my husband’s work schedule has changed dramatically over the last few months and he is home much more frequently during the day. I try to accomplish our readings and meditations as early as possible, but it is often late afternoon before I am free. This change in his work schedule has thrown a good size monkey wrench in my daily activities and I am finding that I have to be a lot more flexible about getting things accomplished.

I have considered setting my alarm for 6:00 or 6:30 AM to begin the day much earlier so that I can get more accomplished, but, then, I caught a cold and the holidays didn’t help. Now that we are getting back to a more normal routine, maybe I can manage my time a little better to fit in all the things I want to do … and it seems the list is growing. I have rediscovered the peaceful activity of knitting and I find that I am thoroughly enjoying it again as I did 35 years ago. It is soothing and good exercise for my hand so I am knitting an afghan.

[Michael laughs.] You sound like some kind of efficiency expert has visited your house and decided you are not making “efficient” use of your time. Efficient is another judgment, just like worthy/unworthy, success/failure, or any other judgment.

I thought you were retired. This is your time to relax and have fun. You don’t have any quota to meet … no schedule to keep … no obligations about how you spend your time. Flexibility is a good thing.

It’s not the end of the world if your meditation time is flexible, but it is good if you do spend a few minutes every day just breathing and visualizing the best outcome for everyone. You sound like you have an “inner slave driver” cracking the whip over you. Silence that inner taskmaster. Relax! Breathe! You’re getting yourself all tied in knots again.

The thing you are missing in this practice is the “judgment factor.” And it is a significant factor. You are visualizing our love bombs falling all around Washington, D.C., but you are still judging everyone involved, including the President-elect, as the devil incarnate.

As we said in our last conversation, he is not; he’s just a man, prone to mistakes and not infallible just like any other man. He may be a man you disagree with and you may disagree with him for very good reasons, but you don’t have to agree with everything he says or does. All you have to do is acknowledge that you disagree … and accept that you disagree. You are not going to change him; and he is not going to change you.

That does not make you “good” and him “bad;” it just means that you disagree. And that’s okay. It is not an either/or proposition; it is a both/and conscious choice.

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The same “judgment” factor comes into play often in global politics as well as personal politics. One nation does something that another disagrees with and the second nation automatically judges the situation according to its understanding. That’s how wars start. It’s okay to disagree; there is room on earth for both points of view. You don’t need to attack just because you are not in complete agreement. As long as no one is being harmed, disagreement is just disagreement … not the end of life as we know it.

You are doing to the President-elect exactly what was done to me during my physical life despite the fact that you objected so strongly to what was done to me for so very long. Can’t you see that you are demonizing him … dehumanizing him … making him “other” based on little more than his appearance and your perceptions of what he says and does. The entire world judged me in the same way that you are judging him because you haven’t been afforded the opportunity to sit down and discuss the issues you disagree about with him on a one-to-one basis.

It is your judgment of him that is causing you stress and anxiety. If you could stop judging him you would see a vast improvement in your anxiety level. Then, your daily practice would begin to feel more advantageous and beneficial. Total agreement is not necessary; only a willingness to see past the appearances is required.

If you could see past the appearance to the reality of the President-elect, you would perceive an uncomfortable truth: He is much like you in many ways. He is insecure but he covers the pain of his insecurity with larger-than-life bragging as much in an effort to convince himself as to convince you; when he is criticized, he acts out his anger in a way you disagree with.

Well, he keeps doing stupid stuff!

[Michael laughs.] See what I mean? Like what?

Well, during the lead up to the election I heard him say that he didn’t pay taxes because he didn’t have to pay taxes. He posed the question, “Why should I give my money if I am not required to?” I was appalled when I heard that. All responsible citizens are required to pay taxes. He enjoys all the benefits of citizenship … and then some. As a responsible citizen, he should pay taxes. If he’s above the law, there is no law.

I think this tax season, we should all contact our tax preparers and let them know that we will not be paying taxes because the President doesn’t pay taxes. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

That would be anarchy, but it might bring the point home in a way that he understands. As far as I’m concerned, there are only two ways this man understands anything – his pocketbook and his gonads. If the country couldn’t pay for the heating bill on the White House and his secret service agents, maybe he would get the point. Sorry, Baby!

That’s okay. Feel better? I sure am glad I got that off my chest, aren’t you?

You have been trained to judge everything, label it, and toss it into one of two bins … right/wrong … good/bad … acceptable/unacceptable. This is the “judgment factor” I referred to earlier.

If you continue to judge and label him and everything he does, you will experience limited success in your visualizations. Limited success … not no success … because placing yourself in the frame of mind that encompasses love and compassion will always be better than remaining in the fear and anxiety that is your normal perspective on this issue.

Beloved, you continually amaze me with the way our Conversations seem to reinforce or strengthen points that I am reading about in our readings.

What do you mean?

Well, as I mentioned in earlier discussions, we have been reading A Course in Miracles for our daily library time. We began at the beginning of the text several months ago and we have continued reading a little bit at a time every day.

The other day, I read the following on page 622 of the text:

“A dream of judgment came into the mind that God created perfect as Himself. And in that dream was Heaven changed to hell, and God made enemy unto His Son. How can God’s Son awaken from the dream? It is a dream of judgment. So must he judge not, and he will awaken. … Judgment is an injustice to God’s Son, and it is justice that who judges him will not escape the penalty he laid upon himself within the dream he made.”

As I am understanding this paragraph, the tendency toward judgment is the “knowledge of good and evil” which resulted in the human race being banished from the “Garden of Eden.” Have I got it wrong?

No, you haven’t got it wrong. It is definitely a way of looking at it.

We are all taught from infancy that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, when, really, there is just your way and my way. Of course, parents want what is best for their children so they want them to do things in the way that will work out to do the most good for them, but, in the process, they teach their children to judge themselves and others according to their standards. Then, religious leaders add their standards … and educational systems add their standards … and society adds its standards … and we end up having impossible standards to live up to.

It is far better to see everyone as ONE of US versus one of them. Perceiving someone as one of “them” implies separation; the person is separate from you or you couldn’t judge him. If you see the entire human race as one large family and everyone as your brother or sister, it is far more difficult to judge someone.

This idea of separation has led to so many false conclusions, violence, wars, prejudice, bigotry, bullying. It has separated us from each other, from our God, and from our deepest, truest SELVES.

We all have this tendency to see ourselves as right and our neighbor as wrong. It is difficult to overcome because it has been ingrained in us for centuries, but it must be overcome if we are to heal our world.

We are all ONE and the sooner we all come to this realization, the sooner we will be able to heal our divisions, eradicate our cruelty, eliminate world poverty and hunger, cure our apathy, and cease our over-exploitation of the planet from which we spring.

Are you saying that I am ONE with Donald Trump?

Yes! That is exactly what I am saying. [Michael laughs.] Read my lips. WE ARE ALL ONE! That does include the President-elect of the United States no matter how much you disagree with him.

Um … Beloved … that’s going to be a pretty hard pill to swallow.

The question is: Will you try? Is it so difficult for you to see him as ONE of US?

Have you ever said something stupid? Have you ever done something you were ashamed of? When you look back on your life, have you ever shirked your responsibility when you felt you could get away with it? Have you ever been lazy or overbearing? Have you ever been loud or bombastic? Have you ever said something in the heat of anger that you wished you could take back?

Of course, I have … all too often I have fallen short of what I should have done or said. However, eventually I found myself feeling remorse and trying to make amends for the harm I’ve caused in the process.

He doesn’t seem to have those filters … at least, not as far as I can tell.

There, but for the Grace of God, go I!

It’s a simple sentence and a wonderful reminder that we are all capable of the noblest … and the least noble … of actions and words.

We’ve all done those things that harmed ourselves or our neighbors. In our haste, we’ve trampled on our neighbors’ feelings. We’ve all said ill-considered words to those we love most. None of us is perfect.

If we could just stop judging other people … and ourselves … and recognize that we are all ONE … we could create the better world we seek.

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race

You have often asked me, “How did you do it? How did you not lash out against all those who persecuted you?” And this is the answer to your question.

I tried to always look past the appearance of illness to the perfection that lies within the thin veneer of all those sick children. I tried to remember that we do not all have to do things in the same way or subscribe to the same beliefs and that it is our differences that make us unique and valuable. I tried to remind myself that inside each and every one of us there lies that tiny spark of divinity that makes us all ONE people … one race … one world. And I treated everyone I met in the way I would want to be treated.

It is the golden rule; and it works.

 

 

 

October 27, 2016 – November 28, 2016

Previously (in The Dangerous Diaries – Part 1, October 7 – 21, 2016), we discussed the concept of promiscuity in Michael Jackson’s femmes fatale songs, including “Billie Jean,” “Dirty Diana,” “Dangerous,” and “Blood on the Dancefloor.” However, I think this topic fully rewards a little more scrutiny than we afforded it in that discussion. In order to delve a little more deeply into this subject, we need to define the term as it is being used.

Miriam-Webster defines promiscuous as: 1. Having or involving many sexual partners; 2. Including or involving too many people or things: not limited in a careful or proper way. One of the synonyms listed for the word is indiscriminate; another is profligate, which has the definition: 1. Recklessly extravagant or wasteful in the use of resources, 2. Licentious, dissolute … and which lists promiscuous as a synonym.

Bingo!

If one searched for decades for a word to describe the early 21st Century, I suggest it would be difficult to find a more apt description than indiscriminate. As a matter of fact, I would like to propose that the term “Generation X” as a moniker for our cultural and societal afflictions be changed to “Generation I” with “I” being derived from the word indiscriminate while also describing our ego-based culture … or “Generation P” for promiscuous.

Let’s be totally honest and take a good, realistic look “in the mirror” for a moment: Ours is a promiscuous society. Many of our world’s problems, which are reaching (if they have not already surpassed) the critical stage, stem from our indiscriminate, profligate behavior. Many of Michael Jackson’s songs point to this definition of promiscuous.

We are promiscuous exploiters of the earth’s natural resources, rather than being careful, responsible stewards, which has led us to the brink of disaster he warns us about in “Earth Song” and “Heal the World” and “Planet Earth,” his beautiful love sonnet to the planet from which we all spring. “The planet is sick … like a fever,” he warned us in his last rehearsal for his O2 residence, This Is It. Instead of finding ways to feed our hungry, we waste billions of dollars transporting and sending millions of tons of unused food to the bottom of the ocean, thereby harming those we could feed as well as polluting the ocean with our unwanted surplus. Portion sizes in the United States are enough to feed two or three and what is not eaten is thrown away.

We are promiscuous, indiscriminate consumers of all manner of things from violence to food to drugs to sex to mind-numbing videogames, to media propaganda, all of which Michael Jackson warns us against in “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” through “Blood on the Dancefloor;” (the femmes fatale songs already treated in Part 1) from “Tabloid Junkie,” “Privacy,” “Scream,” “Why You Wanna Trip on Me” to  “Is It Scary;”from “Morphine” to “Superfly Sister,” from “Money” to “They Don’t Care About Us.”

When we do use our powers of discrimination, we use them irresponsibly against fellow members of our human family who aren’t like “us” for whatever reason – race, phenomenal talent or ability, creed, otherness, geographical location, economic viability, sexual orientation or difference. Michael Jackson does not back away from asking us to look at these issues with depth and sincerity while encouraging us to “make that change” in “Man in the Mirror,” “Black or White,” “Will You Be There” and “Keep the Faith.”

As a matter of fact, this promiscuous, indiscriminate, profligate consumption forms the basis and motivation of much of Jackson’s later work and he does not shy away from calling it what it is in his creative repertoire – promiscuity – although that fact seems to have escaped much of the world’s attention by an almost universal over-simplification of his work as displaying “paranoia,” “fear of women,” “childish rants and tantrums,” “sappy sentimentality,” “naïve idealism,” or “megalomaniacal tirades.” In my opinion, those ill-considered readings are interpretations which have long outworn their usefulness, if they ever had any relevance in the first place. When viewed from a slightly different perspective all of the songs listed in the above paragraphs (and possibly many others) have a foundation in warning us about our society’s indiscriminate waste and consumption … its promiscuity.

Context

One of the most fascinating and socially relevant ways to understand the complexity of Michael Jackson’s creative process, music, and short films is by analyzing it in the atmosphere in which each of his releases was composed and compiled and it is this concept that many of the most recent academic authors have done such a wonderful job of exploring in considerable depth and with the clear 20/20 vision of hindsight.

This trend began with Armond White upon the release of the short film for Black or White. I must confess that I was somewhat surprised to see Mr. White quoted so frequently by all of the more recent authors in the field of Michael Jackson Academic Studies. When I first read his collection of articles entitled Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles, I was unimpressed.

As a matter of fact, I must ashamedly confess to having fallen prey to the fault of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  His first article in the collection was entitled Janet, the Last Black Jackson and it and the next article focused almost entirely on Michael Jackson’s appearance and not in a favorable light. Mr. White attributed the changes in Michael’s physiological appearance as conscious efforts to satisfy the needs of a white-dominated industry … his tacit requirement to accommodate and assimilate into the white, patriarchal and hierarchical music industry as part of the “Black performers’ understood contract with the white-controlled world of show business.”

While I do not discount the fact that black entertainers certainly had to jump through many more hoops to achieve success in these industries than their white counterparts (and the publishing world often appropriated Black innovative expressions as originated by white artists and still does, i.e. Elvis Presley), I also have to remind myself that this article was written prior to the 1993 Oprah Winfrey interview (Ninety Prime Time Minutes with the King of Pop) during which Michael admitted to suffering from a “skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of my skin. It’s something that I cannot help.”

In all fairness, I must confess that Mr. White does, later, mitigate his earlier opinion somewhat with the words, “After viewing this [morphing] sequence [in the Black or White short film], it’s impossible to think of Jackson’s own facial changes as anything other than an attempt at transcendent humanity.”

In any event, I believe I may have just put Mr. White’s collection aside after reading the first two articles, failing to even read the remaining eighteen, in the belief that his offerings (like so many journalistic essays on Michael Jackson) bore very little in the way of factual information or any claim to actually deciphering his musical intentions with any degree of objectivity. I misjudged Keep Moving based on the first two offerings and put it aside as irrelevant.

So, I thought it would be fitting to begin this self-directed curriculum of study with an in-depth re-reading of the articles included in Mr. White’s booklet entitled Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles from a more objective, unprejudiced perspective. I am very glad to say that my re-reading has been fully justified and rewarded. In an academic study, it is not necessary to agree with every word an author writes; it is much more important to come to the study with an open-minded and unbiased willingness to give the author’s meaning the chance to be heard, sink in, and become part of the discussion between author and reader. Mea Culpa!

Mr. White admits that his perception of Michael Jackson changed over the years of his coverage of his career (approximately 1991 to 2009); addressing the change in the timbre of the articles included in his collection within the Introduction called “Moving Forward.” Unlike so many in the field of musical critique, Mr. White was little impressed with Thriller and BAD.  With the release of Dangerous, however, he describes his relationship with Michael Jackson as “changing from critical skepticism to sincere awe” and this transformation is manifest as a prominent feature in the articles included in the latter part of this compilation. The tone of “sincere awe” develops over the span of his coverage of Jackson’s releases throughout the 1990s.

Beginning in 1991 with his critique of the Black or White musical release and globally-broadcast short film, White’s critiques were, indeed, much more focused on Michael Jackson’s art, his delivery, his performance, his conviction, and his genius; calling the short film and the “panther coda” which accompanied its debut “the most significant gesture any American artist has made in years,” and “the best cinema of 1991 … easily superior to any short or feature length film released to the public that year.” He refers to Michael’s much-publicized apology and removal of the coda from subsequent broadcasts following the media-generated furor to the worldwide broadcast of the film as a capitulation to the “forces of repression” and calls the coda “Michael’s truth.”  White ends his critique of the short film with the words, “He’s already charmed the world; Black or White shows he has the courage to shake it up.”

In that last statement, Mr. White effectively, albeit obliquely,  refers to the change to which I pointed in the introduction to this study, which, in my opinion, was not so much a “coming of age” as an “expansion of consciousness.” He does not offer to what he attributes this change in the direction of Jackson’s art, but notes the more socially conscious “courage” required to “shake up” the world in passing, almost as an afterthought.

By the time of the release of Dangerous, Michael Jackson had discovered a supremacy and celebrity few have ever known with his early solo releases. Through the development of his God-given talents, his unwavering faith in those gifts, his punishing work ethic, his predatory curiosity, and his unstinting devotion to perfect execution, he had achieved a hitherto unparalleled success. However, with the release of the Dangerous album, Jackson looks around him at the world he inhabits and makes a conscious decision to address the many challenges he observes in his art … to use that celebrity in such a manner as to call attention to what he observes in the hopes of improving the condition of the human family.

In other words, there is a new commitment implied in Jackson’s later body of work. It’s no longer just about the sexy, young man with the golden voice dressed from head to toe in sequins. He has assumed the rasp of the voice of the voiceless, the primal scream of the marginalized, the cries of the systematically oppressed. Through keen and astute observation, he has bonded with the human family in a much more telling way, calling to each listener to transcend the system from within the system.

I find in this observation/influence trait, as displayed in Michael Jackson’s art, an enormously fascinating correlation to what our best scientific minds are telling us in the field of quantum physics: that through our act of observation we influence sub-atomic behavior, thereby bending the hitherto sacred laws of Newtonian physics, which demand that sub-atomic behaviors are predestined and unable to change.

The very act of observation changes a particle to a wave as demonstrated in double-blind tests. Michael Jackson’s observations of the world, therefore, bear the possibility of influencing and changing it. That possibility is magnified enormously through his artistic attempts to paint the world he observes with his vision, offering the world a chance to view its reflection in rhythm and song, bodily movement and theatrics and be entertained at the same time. It is, often, a subliminal message he imparts just under the backbeat … a subliminal message of peace, hope, faith, and love. Is it just a “coincidence,” then, that this new commitment comes to the fore in an album entitled Dangerous? I don’t think so.

White is similarly open-minded in his commentary on some of the other short films derived from the Dangerous album (“Remember the Time,” “In the Closet” and “Jam”), but some of his most scathing criticism is not directed at Michael Jackson at all. Rather, it centers on what he considers to be the racially-motivated media manipulation to which Michael Jackson was subjected in the latter half of his life. Like many of the more recent authors, Mr. White perceives race as a significant factor in the Michael Jackson story, prompting much of the critical commentary and persecution to which Jackson was a victim post-Thriller. In other words, he plays the “race card” (which the American establishment, as represented by its media, claims doesn’t exist and unanimously dismisses) unashamedly and without apology.

The release of the HIStory trailer as a nationally-broadcast television ad opens one of the most anticipated and castigated periods of Michael’s life. Everything he did was criticized on a monumental, global scale from the statues advertising his imminent arrival at tour stops … to the trailer (described as the “most vainglorious attempt at self-deification a pop star ever made with a straight face”) … to much of the new music on the album. Michael was the media’s favorite “whipping boy.” For those of us caught in the vitriolic backlash aimed at diminishing Michael’s relevance, it was an emotional rollercoaster ranging from excitement to rage as each single and/or short film in the campaign was released. Ironically enough, the universal, monumental scale of the critical commentary seemed to match (and possibly even drive) the monumental, global, nearly ubiquitous reach of Michael’s music, which seemed to be growing exponentially throughout the 1990s.

White may have been one of the … if not the … only voice alerting the public to the fact that there was much more here than an overly-simplistic narrative of megalomaniacal paranoia (as was the gist of almost every other critic and journalist, including Diane Sawyer as exhibited in her interview with Jackson and then wife, Lisa Marie Presley in 1995.) He comments, “All the media’s suspicion over Jackson’s “egomania” disregards its own” and “To nag about ‘self-pity’ in Jackson’s movingly tender “Childhood” is just a chance for reviewers to show off snideness instead of thoughtfulness.” He goes on to state, “That’s the way white journalists deny the complexity of Black artistry.”

White claims of the accusations of anti-Semitism over the “They Don’t Care About Us” release: “Black-Jewish relations are distorted by the arrogance of editorialists who aim to control (or else condemn) Black expression” and “censorship-by-editorial.” Of “They Don’t Care About Us,” itself, Mr. White views it as an “extremely conscientious composition. Jackson shows intelligence and courage by obliquely characterizing anti-Jewish language exactly for what it most often is, the expression of corrupted power.”

In Earth Song, White comments: “The eloquent layers of feeling put Black and human history in this chorus’s thunder.” Indeed! When speaking of “censorship-by-editorial,” this is yet another case in point. Earth Song, hugely popular in much of the world and referred to by Joe Vogel as Michael’s “Magnum Opus,” was not even released within the borders of the United States. Quoting Bill Bottrell, Vogel attributes this omission to the song being “anti-corporate, anti-nature-raping … so it was prone to censorship.” So much for freedom of speech, one of the basic freedoms upon which this country was founded and guaranteed to all its citizens (not just newspaper and tabloid publishers), unless, of course, you just happen to be Michael Jackson.

Overall, White’s comments on the HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1 album are some of the most erudite and thought-provoking I have read. His reading of some of the short films made to accompany the music from the album and make it a multi-media, visceral experience is also eye-opening and thoughtful. He sees in it Michael’s “personal expression of social awareness” and attributes a personal message of “noblesse oblige – a class-based beneficence that many would deny to African Americans” in the final track on the album, “Smile:” “Michael indicates the gentle touch that ought to come with power …”

Subsequent authors in the field of Michael Jackson Academic Studies have, rightfully, followed the trend begun by Mr. White in 1991. Most notably, Joe Vogel, Elizabeth Amisu, Susan Fast and Isabel Petitjean have further focused on the historical, social, and cultural situations to which Michael Jackson was responding in his artistic life.

In his Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, Mr. Vogel precedes each chapter (each of which focuses on one of Michael’s solo album releases) with a lengthy introduction  examining some of the contemporaneous social, political , cultural events and musical trends to which Jackson was responding in his musical compositions and short film releases.

Further, in an article entitled I Ain’t Scared of No Sheets: Re-screening Black Masculinity in Michael Jackson’s Black or White. [Journal of Popular Music Studies, March 2015], Mr. Vogel places the release of the Black or White song and short film firmly within a framework of historical racial segregation marked by mutilations, beatings, hangings and cross burnings and bookended by the nationally televised beating of Rodney King, the acquittal of the police officers who perpetrated it, and the riots in Los Angeles that resulted from that verdict. This makes Jackson’s angry retort in the “panther coda” much more understandable; without these ties to historical and contemporary current events, the film could very easily be misinterpreted as “gratuitous sexual and violent behavior,” which is the overall simplistic narrative applied to his work by many in the fields of journalism and music critique at the time.

By decontextualizing Jackson’s work, Vogel argues, media effectively emasculates it (metaphorically referring to the actual physical mutilation of Black men in the not-too-distant past in retaliation for perceived violations of white/Black boundaries), removing its creative power, and sways public opinion against the voice of one crying out against the inequities he observes within the system he occupies. Within this contextual framework, however, Michael Jackson’s song and short film (including the “panther coda”) indicates a justifiable response to the events and circumstances he saw in the world around him.

That is the artist’s entire purpose and one can surely understand Michael Jackson’s angst at being so roundly misjudged. However, as Mr. White claims:  “Crusading journalists aren’t merely on the side of power – after all, Jackson’s got power – they’re on the side of white.” and “ …[They] come down to white, middle-class spokespeople saying: ‘Shut up and entertain us.’” In other words, they prefer Black performers docile and frivolous, neither of which adjectives could be applied to Michael Jackson in the Dangerous and subsequent campaigns.

Chapter 10: “Recontextualizing Michael Jackson’s Blackness” in The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson: His Music, His Persona and His Artistic Afterlife by Elizabeth Amisu is devoted to placing Michael Jackson’s musical and cultural contributions within the significantly checkered history of slavery in the United States of America, particularly in the southern states where the white supremacist movement gave birth to the Ku Klux Klan and its vehemently anti-black, racially-motivated violence. Unfortunately, such history is not limited to history, as recent shootings of unarmed Black youths in several cities in America clearly exhibit. She quotes Ania Loomba that this system of “assigning different values to human beings” is complex and “twisted” in the American psyche and states: “The very notion that English, Dutch, and Spanish people came to the conclusion that the dark-skinned people of the African continent were, by virtue of their complexion, uncivilized, beastly, and oversexed, making them inherently less human than their white counterparts, remains at the heart of any debate …”

The very fact of the almost universally popular performative of “black face minstrelsy” in the 19th Century, which fed upon that notion and the stereotypical view of African masculinity which proceeded from it, was even further complicated, in Jackson’s case, by his anomalous skin disorder, which changed the color of his skin from brown to white, thereby defying touted European (read white) racial superiority.  The fact that this transformation resulted from a pathology (a disease) in Michael Jackson’s case just added further insult to injury and showed how truly irrelevant such inferiority/superiority concepts in the American psyche really are. Yet, they persist; they exist; and ignoring them or denying them is not helping to eradicate such antiquated notions.

It is this notion that Michael Jackson addressed with his customary incisiveness in the short film for “Remember the Time,” a film in which Michael reminded his viewers of the historically-proven, accurate fact that the African continent is, indeed, the “cradle of civilization;” that Egypt (and, therefore, its remarkable mathematical, architectural, scientific, and governmental achievements) is a part of that continent; and that those achievements were, as a result, much more likely to have been realized by Black people than by white, blue-eyed actors, as is so often depicted in films.  With an all-Black cast (as a matter of fact, Michael’s was the “whitest” presence on the screen), mesmerizing special effects, and historically authentic sets and costumes, Michael sang and danced his way through Ancient Egypt in a non-confrontational, Ghandi-esque depiction of Black pride and “peaceful resistance.” God bless him!

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It Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White

Similarly, Elizabeth Amisu has entitled Chapter 15 in her wonderful book The Dangerous Philosophies of Michaael Jackson: His Music, His Persona and His Artistic Afterlife “Horcruxes: Michael (Split Seven Ways) Jackson.” Prior to the popular series of books and films in the Harry Potter saga, the word horcrux would have been little understood by the academic community or general public. However, placed in the context of this saga, it becomes very descriptive and commonly understood, which further underscores the importance of context as it relates to many of Michael Jackson’s artistic offerings.

While I love Ms. Amisu’s allusion to J. K. Rowling’s epic Harry Potter wizarding world (having often perceived Michael Jackson as the ultimate wizard, who, in my opinion, would have been right at home within the confines of the narrative), I believe that the chapter, which goes on to examine Michael Jackson’s life in light of the lives of seven other well-known artists, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, James Brown, David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder, would have been better called “Lenses” or “Filters.” Her second choice, “prisms,” would also work. A lens is an instrument through which we view a subject in order to bring that subject into clearer focus or more perfect understanding and a prism splits a single beam of light into the full visible spectrum.

In contrast, a horcrux (as used in the Harry Potter saga) is an object or animal into which a wizard places a part of himself (a fraction of his consciousness … his soul, if you will). In this way, even if one part of his consciousness does not survive, the wizard can, indeed, still claim immortality and, in the saga, can be resurrected from the portions that still survive.  Wizard though he might be, it would be extremely difficult for Michael to have placed a portion of his soul into Bach and Mozart as they both lived centuries before Michael was born. Therefore, in the context of its usage in the story in which the word was introduced and understood, it would be much more appropriate to use the word “horcruxes” to describe Michael Jackson’s songs, books, and films … and in his afterlife, his fans and followers, including those who have been attracted to delving more deeply into his creative process in the field of Michael Jackson Academic Studies.

Michael Jackson often referred to Michelangelo’s quote: “I know the creator will go, but his work survives. That is why, to escape death, I bind my soul to my work.” This is a perfect description, from the artist’s own mouth, of a horcrux as understood in the original narrative of Hogwart’s School of Wizardry.  Therefore, by his own admission, Michael Jackson’s music, performances, literary works and visionary short films are his horcruxes, his claim to immortality, from which many of us resurrect him on a daily basis.

Further, his death and its aftermath were seminal moments in many lives across the world. Tales abound within the on-line fan community of life-altering experiences (including unexplainable, uncontrollable grief) in the wake of Jackson’s death and/or upon viewing the filmed rehearsals of his last creative endeavor, the This Is It documentary, released just a few short months following his death. That moment has been described by some of those affected as an “explosion” of energy during which a small spark of Jackson’s unique energetic footprint (for lack of a better or more descriptive term) entered their awareness and awakened them to his artistic genius and his loving presence, which would make all those so affected his horcruxes, myself included. Personally, I kind of like being one of his horcruxes.

Androgyny/Masculinity/Gender Ambiguity

One of the most commented upon facets of Michael Jackson’s life is his so-called androgyny and some of the most vitriolic commentary proposed that Michael Jackson was “confused” about his gender. I find such commentaries ludicrous. Anyone who has ever viewed one of Michael Jackson’s performances can be left in very little doubt of his gender. I, myself, was never in any doubt that Michael Jackson was decidedly and gloriously masculine in every way; I’m sure he wasn’t either. As a matter of fact, I wish more men would subscribe to his sensitive and nurturing performance of gender identification instead of the preposterous, aggressive machismo that currently defines masculinity in our culture. In my opinion, such commentary could only be suggested by authors with extremely limited definitions of gender and who are, themselves, therefore, gender confused. There are as many definitions of gender as there are people walking this earth (approximately 7 billion, I believe … that’s billion with a “b”.)

One of the best treatments of this facet of Michael’s presentation I have found appears in Dangerous by Susan Fast. She examines the androgynous quality of Michael’s voice, his appearance, his dance, and his performance with a wonderful lack of judgment which I have found refreshing. She refers to his vocal characteristics, particularly in “Remember the Time” as a “relaxed tenor … the smoothest Jackson has sounded so far on this record [Dangerous] …” and notes, “But the emotional landscape Jackson paints … is more intense and extreme than most soul man singers and this can quite easily be gendered as ‘feminine.’” Further, she states:

“I’ve wanted to dwell on how Jackson’s performances line up with conventional masculinity because this issue is mostly overlooked or denied in commentary on his gender. Even in his visual appearance and performance, there’s plenty that fits within the realm of the masculine – including his tough-guy gangster persona – but in order to understand that, it’s important to focus on the details at specific times in his career (you can’t talk about it all in one fell swoop. )”

I applaud Susan Fast’s comment here as being very perceptive. Forty-plus years is a long career and Michael’s performance of gender was in flux and, therefore, loosely defined and subject to change, particularly in the earlier parts of that span (as is all young teens and twenty-somethings’). Through familiarity, we have a tendency to forget that an 11-year-old boy’s performance of gender will, inherently, be different than that same young man at the age of 19 … or at the age of 40-plus. Change, in this regard, is inevitable.

In addition, societal “norms” have a tendency to fluctuate over such a span and that, too, must be taken into account. The decades encompassed within Michael Jackson’s career (late 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s) were periods of tumultuous fluctuation by anyone’s standards, during which many societal “norms” were re-examined (i.e. the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation movement, the Woodstock generation, the war in Vietnam and the riots that ensued on many university campuses as a result, etc.)

Fast refers to Meredith Jones as making “the compelling argument that Jackson’s facial features marked him as ‘intergender’ because he incorporated – side by side – signifiers of both conventional masculinity and femininity. His wide, made-up eyes and small, thin nose read as conventionally feminine,” she claims, “while his relatively wide, cleft chin reads as masculine.” She goes on to state that he always wore prominent sideburns while, for the most part, being clean-shaven.  “Markers of masculinity do not disappear. In fact, these characteristics, particularly the square jaw line and cleft chin, became more pronounced as he aged…” and she does not devote a whole lot of time speculating on how or why they became more pronounced “… perhaps through procedures, perhaps through fluctuating weight, or perhaps, again, simply through the natural process of aging. “

I would suggest that, perhaps, the toll of constant, unrelenting criticism might be another factor to consider. Having to constantly respond to inane comments would tend to “haggardize” anyone.

“His body was slight, without developed muscles, but straight, angular and strong – not a feminine thing about it, including the way he moved, right down to his walk … In his costume for the Dangerous tour, however, the gold fencing shirt drew attention to his bulging groin … left very little to the imagination.” [I can’t help but wonder if Ms. Fast saw the Gold Pants of the HIStory tour. OUCH!]

Regarding Michael’s oft-criticized “crotch grabs,” Ms. Fast states:

“But they weren’t ever really ‘grabs’ so much as stylized and often downright elegant gesturings towards … Those moves are controlled, deliberate, flirtatious, daring. It’s provocation.”

I don’t think I have ever seen another author notice that most of these graceful gestures, performed as part of Michael Jackson’s dances, only conformed to the word “grab” on fairly rare occasions (such as the BAD short film and the “panther coda” of the short film for Black or White) and only after he had been roundly and unanimously castigated for them for years. There are few gestures that so accurately represent defiance.

She, then, quotes Joe Vogel that he is “protesting the cruel history of mutilations by flaunting the symbol of his creative power and identity as a black man,” thereby bringing the history of racially-motivated violence right back into the discussion. I see all of the above factors as relevant in any discussion of Michael Jackson’s alleged androgyny.

Ms. Fast also brings the concept of “balance” into the equation, attributing it to the writings of the influential Enlightenment historian Johann Winckelmann. According to him, she states, “beauty was nothing other than the middle between two extremes.” Regardless of gender, all humans have feminine and masculine qualities, in varying degrees; balancing these seemingly disparate traits in our personalities forms much of our maturation process as we age.

Ms. Fast just barely skirts the issue here of “unification” which, in my opinion, so predominates in Michael Jackson’s creative output from his mid-teens to his last breath. He embodied the polarities of white/black, feminine/masculine, child/adult as well as the genre-bending of pop/rock/soul/R & B/hip hop/ heavy metal/classical … and jazz/pop lock/Broadway/ballet/urban contemporary within his own frame, bringing them all into closer alignment within his creative body of work. He blurred the hard lines between them, showing, in the process, that those lines are mobile, depending on our perceptions of them … not carved in granite. He balanced them; he reconciled them; he mediated them for us; he gifted all of us with his vision of altering our narrow definitions of all of them. In doing so, he de-polarized them.

This concept of de-polarization is something we navigate every day without even being conscious of doing so. We de-polarize hot/cold by turning on both to produce warm water for bathing or by centrally heating and cooling our homes. We de-polarize dark/light by flipping a switch and turning on a lamp as dusk turns to night. We reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable polarities on a daily basis.

Within his creative output, Michael Jackson shows concretely that Beethoven can coexist with R&B and Gospel, peacefully, harmonically, creating a new definition by eradicating the space between them, not just on one album but within one song. If they can coexist in harmony, Jackson implies, why can’t we? “Music is music and it’s all beautiful.” He demonstrated with his own body that even a movement as simple as a hand gesture can be stunningly beautiful and graceful regardless of genre; that dance does not have to conform to any preconceived definition.

It is just such a mediation that Michael Jackson’s artistic work indicates is possible for the many limiting and restrictive definitions we apply to people, conditions, and events in the world we see around us. And it is this de-polarization that he demonstrated within his creative output.

“I’m wary of trying to label Jackson’s performance of gender and sexuality because his idea, as I see it, was to get us to question – especially to question the parameters of masculinity and heterosexuality.”

I think Ms. Fast has captured in that sentence the whole of Michael Jackson’s body of work. He wanted us to question our labels, our standards, our societal ‘norms,’ our perceptions, our illusions, our ideas of beauty, and our definitions of ourselves. As Michael Bush stated quite clearly in his wonderful book King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson, “Michael loves people asking, ‘Why?’ … Michael loved the idea that he could make people question, notice, and search for meaning.” And it is in this search for meaning where the parameters of such definitions, labels, and stereotypes reside; therefore, it is only here that they can be changed.

As Michael Jackson states himself in “Innocence,” Dancing the Dream: Poems and Reflections:

“If you are locked into a pattern of thinking and responding, your creativity gets blocked. You miss the magic of the moment. Learn to be innocent again and that freshness never fades.”

 

 

 

 

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