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.
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.
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.”