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Archive for February, 2016

Installment 100

February, 2016

Beloved,

I am so excited to report that the serious study of your body of work which began with Joe Vogel’s The Man in the Music: The Creative Life of Michael Jackson and Dr. Willa Stillwater’s M Poetica: Michael Jackson’s Art of Connection and Defiance continues. While I wish I could say that everything being released into the marketplace eschews the sensational and irresponsible so-called “biographies” and “journalism” so prevalent during the physical side of your life, I cannot.

However, more and more I am seeing blogs, book reviews, books and films that retell the story of your rise from humble beginnings to global dominance with respect for your talent (which is unquestionable, by anyone’s standards), your unprecedented popularity, your unmatchable work ethic (which is also undeniable) and your unrelenting drive toward higher and higher commitment to your humanitarian efforts as well as your escalating investment in perfect execution in your stage craft.

That is really all I ever wanted during the physical side of my life … to be treated fairly like everyone else has a right to be treated. To watch as every release regardless of the material was overshadowed by endless unsubstantiated rumors about my complexion was so discouraging. It made me just want to give up, throw in the towel, and retire to a monastery. [Michael laughs out loud.]  But that would have been letting them win and that would not have worked for me at all. I am too determined for that solution.

What does my complexion have to do with the quality of the music? Can you give me an example?

Absolutely nothing, Michael … and indeed, I can … several, in fact.

Last year, a book was published and widely distributed in national outlets entitled “The Genius of Michael Jackson,” which from the title one would be perfectly justified in assuming would focus on  the “genius” of Michael Jackson. How erroneous an assumption that would have been on the part of the uninformed and unsuspecting consumer. The book, which I saw in my local book distributor (a national chain), penned by Steve Knopper, a frequent contributing editor to notoriously anti-Jackson Rolling Stone, is  just a resurrection of all the salacious tabloid stories written by an author who obviously sees himself not as your peer but as your superior. Like Sullivan before him, he offers no new insights into the man behind the music or the truth behind the myths he is at such pains to perpetuate. As a matter of fact, the two books are almost interchangeable.

I picked it up when I first saw it and opened it randomly in the bookstore to one of the middle pages, read about two paragraphs, and put it back on the shelf. Knopper and Sullivan (both of whom work for Rolling Stone) cut and pasted stories lifted whole cloth from tabloid sources with no further research or investigation. The paragraphs I read were appalling so I won’t give them more coverage here. Suffice to say, it didn’t take me long to discover that this book was not about “genius” at all; it was about sensation, innuendo, questionable sources, over-the-top titillation, personal power and greed. Knopper’s claims to having written a “definitive biography” of Michael Jackson fell far, far short of that lofty goal.

A couple of days ago, a book review entitled “Time for Something Different” by Toni Bower was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It is a fascinating and uplifting read in which Bower calls Mr. Knopper out on his sloppy, cut-and-paste reportage; his superior, condescending style of prose; and his claims to “definitive” biographical data. She even questions why this book was necessary at all since it covers much of the same ground as Sullivan’s book but with less claim to intelligent prose. She mentions the word “plagiarism” within her review! I was nodding my head and saying, “YES!” the entire time I was reading this review and it is a lengthy read. “You go, girl!” The entire review can be read by interested readers at https://lareviewofbooks.org/review/time-for-something-different

In summary, Toni Bower questions the validity of the entire concept of a “definitive biography” (in this specific case) because “He gives so much attention to parroting the received narrative, Knopper does not make visible what is more important: the brains, guts, talent, and persistence that it took for an exploited child star to go from the limitations and indignities of the chitlin circuit  to global admiration and market dominance; the deeply informed, yet utterly original, artistic vision; the clarity of purpose; the endless, daily, hourly practice.”

Indeed, she (he?), in a more generic sense, states that you are too multi-faceted and complex an individual to condense into a few hundred pages (or a few thousand) … that the sheer volume and complexity of your work in the passage from child prodigy to international dominance and its consistent trajectory onward and upward belies an easy and quick retelling.

She plays the “race card” in her review, unapologetically claiming that Mr. Knopper’s superior and condescending tone reiterates how Africans are often patronized as “natural” athletes in the same way that women (but not men, of course) are often portrayed as “instinctual” parents and nurturers. She claims that he predominantly refers to your achievements as a “gift,” leaving the hard work and constant, unrelenting honing, cultivating, and perfecting of that gift unmentioned, totally discounting your infinite dedication, determination and stubborn refusal to let a project go until it had at least approached your vision for it as closely as humanly possible (and sometimes beyond that point.)

In addition, these so-called “definitive biographies” (referring to Knopper and Sullivan) totally ignore your humanitarian achievements in favor of retelling long-winded and subsequently proven false tabloid fairy tales, enormously exaggerating the extent of your “eccentricities” and surgeries, for example, without producing any real evidence for the exaggerations.

Toni Bower quotes you as saying, “I always want to go on working all night, work myself to death.” Although she does not give a reference to this quote, she does say that it was a remark you made early in your career. I don’t remember ever reading this quote before, Baby. Did you really say that?

I don’t remember if or when I said it, but I often felt it. I never wanted to stop working. It was my drug of choice … creating MAGIC … and nurturing it until it was ready to be presented to you and blow you all away. I’m sure you have heard me say that I was always working, that I spent Sundays fasting and dancing until my legs and heart gave out, that nothing was as fulfilling for me as the creative process.

In our last Conversation, you talked about experiencing the tip of that iceberg. You mentioned how absorbed you become when you are drawing or painting or writing, for that matter. You forget time and space and just let the “flow” of it take you wherever it leads. In that flow, the “trying” just disappears and you are flowing with it. You become the flow and the flowing. We talked about athletes getting “in the zone” and performing at their personal best as a result. It was the same for me. And we talked about how in the flow work becomes play. It becomes creation, innovation, moving forward, body and mind are joined in one fusion of joy. You feel fulfilled. You feel a oneness with your creation.

I become the stars and the moon.
I become the lover and the beloved.
I become the victor and the vanquished.
I become the master and the slave.
I become the singer and the song.
I become the knower and the known.
I keep on dancing,
And then it is the eternal dance of creation.
The creator and the creation
Merge into one wholeness of joy.
I keep on dancing and dancing …
And dancing,
Until there is only …
The Dance

Yes, my dear one, I remember.

Ahhh, there is nothing like that feeling. I wanted to be in it forever.

And, not to bring up a difficult subject for you, but if you recall … I did!

Did what?

Worked myself to death.

Oh, Baby, I know you did.

But, let’s not get hung up on that. We move on from there … not just me … all of us. So, don’t let that trip you up. We are still ONE! My personal, physical envelope is just out at the dry cleaners for a while. [Michael chuckles.]

Thank God and you for that. I am so grateful. If your physical envelope is out at the dry cleaners, what are you wearing?

I am wearing YOU … all of you who hold me in your hearts and hear my messages! And you are wearing ME! Ain’t LOVE grand?

Indeed it is. As you so aptly sang, “Love never felt so good.”

Oh, my dear one, what a thought and image. I am going to have to contemplate that thought for a long, long time. Thank you for that!

However getting back to the topic we were discussing, I loved this review in its entirety and encourage my readers to take the time required to read it. Be warned! It is long but very well-thought-out and written and well worth the investment in time and effort.

My next example is from Spike Lee. You worked with Mr. Lee on a couple of short films for They Don’t Care About Us and from what I can tell made a very lasting impression on him.

In 2012, Mr. Lee released BAD 25: The Making of Michael Jackson’s BAD, a two-hour documentary which looked back on the making of the album, the tour, the short films that accompanied the release and the feature-length film Moonwalker. It retold the story of the BAD era through interviews with many of your collaborators as well as contemporary artists who had been heavily influenced by the album.

His film, which clearly depicted your dedication to perfecting the sonic as well as the musical elements of the album, also offered viewers an invaluable window into those private recording sessions through the recollections of those who shared them with you and video clips recorded during the sessions. In addition, it opened a huge door into the production of the short films that accompanied the album through behind the scenes footage and interviews with choreographers, dancers, and directors.

BAD 25: The Making of Michael Jackson’s BAD received national television exposure on Thanksgiving night 2012 on ABC and I was fortunate enough to watch it. Later, I received a DVD of the entire program through the auspices of a dear friend. I mentioned it briefly in a dialog we had in December of 2012.

Sometime in 2013 or 2014, the fan community began hearing whispers of Spike Lee wanting to produce the same kind of film for the Off the Wall sessions and we all got excited by the prospect. This is a period of your life that is often cloaked in mystery. You were still working predominantly with your brothers and gave relatively few interviews. You were gaining in autonomy and independence and your talent was growing; you were seeking more control over your musical releases and your life.

Yes, I remember the period just preceding Off the Wall as a hazy, dark period in my life and I referred to that feeling during the interview with Oprah. Several factors contributed to an overwhelming, paralyzing sadness, similar to the period that you have referred to several times in previous dialogs when it seemed that an inescapable dark cloud followed you around.

For one thing, adolescence is a tough period for anyone. The physical and biochemical changes that occur are confusing and often make themselves felt in a young person’s physical appearance. I was very adversely affected by acne during this period, something that many teenagers go through, but I saw it as “the end of the world as we know it.” And it was. Overnight my world changed! The cute little boy was gone and had been replaced by a monster with a pockmarked face. I knew I was still the same inside but what was showing on the outside was catastrophic. Going on stage with craters all over my face was not easy. As much as I loved performing, I just wanted to run and hide in my room. Our society is so caught up in appearance and entertainers are expected to be perfect and beautiful. I wasn’t that perfect little boy anymore and I was far from beautiful.

May I just interject here that you were never “far from beautiful?” Every breath you took on this planet you were gorgeous.

[Michael laughs.] Thank you, but your love blinds you. I looked in the mirror and suddenly I didn’t know the person looking back at me … and I didn’t like him. I felt that I was disappointing all of you, that I was letting you all down. I had no control over what was happening to my body. I know now that beauty is more defined by the perceiver than by the object of his perception, but I was so young. I hadn’t figured that out at that point. I didn’t see myself as beautiful; I didn’t feel beautiful. I had bought into the cultural narrative of beauty as most teenagers do in finding their way through the storms of adolescence.

The situation was not helped by my brothers’ and father’s constant teasing. Four older brothers can be exquisitely cruel to the youngest, who often got the lion’s share of attention … the cute little boy with the big eyes and voice. They had to keep me in my place. In my mind, it amounted to psychological abuse. We have talked often about the physical abuse and constant fear of my father’s anger. I know that they didn’t intend for their comments to cut as deeply as they did, but that didn’t help.

I understand, my dear. I have been on the receiving end of that kind of teasing. I think we all have. I do not consider it funny.

Then, overnight it seemed, I wasn’t the cute little boy with the big eyes and voice. I was some stranger who strongly resembled their cutting remarks.

I internalized all of their criticisms. As a result, theirs’ became the critical voices in my head for the rest of my life. Theirs’ were the stories I told myself about myself all my life. I still heard my father’s voice repeating, “Never disappoint the fans,” twenty years later when that bridge fell and I should have gone to the hospital, but finished the concert instead. And we have talked often about how those stories affect all of our thoughts, words and actions about ourselves and about our world and if and how we fit in it … until we rewrite them to include more current information, interests and desires.

As if these things weren’t debilitating enough, we were leaving Motown. You have to remember, I loved Berry Gordy. Motown was my home and he was, in many ways, the father I had always dreamed of having. I perceived any kind of disloyalty to him as being a traitor to my identity … to who I thought I was. So, I was faced with the choice of being disloyal to myself by staying with Motown and stifling my creative freedom … or being disloyal to my surrogate father who was Motown. My brothers and I wanted to write and produce our own music. It was an important growth and development stage and our next step. But our contract with Motown didn’t allow us to do that.

We knew we could do it and we begged for the chance to prove ourselves, but the Motown family didn’t have the same faith in our abilities, which was another hurtful realization. It was as hurtful for me to realize that Berry Gordy didn’t think I could write and produce as it was for you when you were told that you couldn’t draw or paint. And it had the same kind of self-sabotaging effects on me as it had on you.

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Fortunately, we made the right decision and left Motown, but Berry’s lack of faith in our ability was painful for all of us. So, now, I was not only unrecognizable to myself physically, but I was not who I had always thought I was internally. I had become this disloyal and ungrateful person who had alienated the very person I held most dear … my mentor, my teacher, a man I trusted, looked up to and wanted to emulate.

Oprah couldn’t understand how I could view that period as being so sad, but all those stresses just kept adding up until they became a burden I found it difficult to carry.

I can certainly understand that, Beloved. That’s a lot for a teenager to carry around with him.

Yes, it was. Add to that the fact that I was beginning to realize that if I was going to accomplish my goals, I was going to have to do it alone. That means without my brothers and without my father making all our decisions and browbeating us until we agreed or being one vote out of six and being outvoted on major decisions (like the Victory tour ticket fiasco) even though I knew I was right. So, by leaving Motown, I had alienated my surrogate father whom I loved and was enormously grateful to and beginning to think that I was going to have to do the same eventually to my biological father and the brothers who had shared all those years with me.

It was a difficult time … very dark. Like all young adults, I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be and I was seeing all this as disloyalty and ingratitude to my mentors. The very people who had contributed so much to our success were holding us back. Their lack of faith in our ability was making us hold ourselves back. My independence was very costly in the personal relationships I valued the most.

And we haven’t even talked about the first indications of vitiligo showing up, which just complicated the acne issue enormously, and the uncertainty that accompanied that. No one can understand what that was like unless they have experienced it. The change in my skin color eventually became the major focus of every magazine and tabloid article for the rest of my life. So, there were a lot of balls I was trying to juggle, none of which I felt I could drop.

Oh, Baby, I wish there were something I could have done to help.

You did … all of you did. Your love for me kept me strong. My love for all of you, my fans; the love for the music that I had bottled up inside me at the time; and my faith that getting that music out there was God’s plan for my life were the only things that kept me going.

There was a strong sense of mission … a feeling of being “called” to do what I was doing. When I was deeply involved in the recording or dance studio or in performing, I felt that I was doing what I was sent here to do … that I was fulfilling my purpose for being here to begin with. That and your love were what kept me moving forward always. I felt that. That never changed.

I am glad but I wish we could have done something at the time more consciously.

Don’t regret what wasn’t done then; don’t cry and moan about missed opportunities; do it now.

You can change the world
(I can’t do it by myself)
You can touch the sky
(Gonna take somebody’s help)
You’re the chosen one
(I’m gonna need some kind of sign)
If we all cry at the same time tonight

As we’ve spoken about before, there is no time where WE are ONE; everything is happening NOW. Time is just a convenient storage locker for the incidents you experience in the material realm. Here, time is more fluid. Forever means forever and proceeds not only into the future but also into the past. It is fluid and malleable; you can shape it and change it. Pulling out the box marked “Past” from its resting place on the shelf in that storage locker is as easy as pulling out the box marked “Future.” You can return to a time when you wanted to make a contribution but failed to do so for whatever reason. You can heal that gap at least in your own mind and when it is healed there it is healed everywhere because WE ARE ONE.

Take a look at yourself and make a change

Regret is like guilt; it is a very damaging emotion. There is a helplessness to it that is very restrictive and limiting. Your mind resides in a state of absolute unlimitedness; it doesn’t like being confined to just these few moments or days or years. It is more expansive than that. Your mind dwells in NOW. To your creative mind, it makes much more sense to heal it. Travel in your mind is true time travel. No machine is required … only imagination technology takes you there and it is ready at the drop of a thought to take you anywhere you wish to go. You can heal those wounds of omission by making a deposit in the Eternal Bank of NOW where we are always ONE.

God, I love you, Baby.

And I love you more, as always.

Well, Mr. Lee has done it again. On Friday, February 5, 2016, Showtime broadcast Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall, featuring previously unreleased footage of your early years with Motown, your move to Epic, The Wiz, your meeting with Quincy Jones, and the recording sessions for Off the Wall.

Following his previous template, he included interviews with your early collaborators, people who had been heavily influenced by your work and are now in the entertainment field, Motown and Epic executives, and DJs as well as compiling wonderful, clear footage of your Destiny and Triumph tours with your brothers, even including your mother, Jackie and Marlon in the interviews.

I had heard about this film quite some time ago but was unsure when it would be released. Word surfaced a month or so ago (through an email from your Estate) that it would be broadcast on Showtime and released later in both DVD and BluRay format with a re-release of the album. Unfortunately, I do not normally have Showtime in my channel lineup and kind of resigned myself to wait for the DVD/BluRay. However, during a discussion with my satellite company on an unrelated matter, I just happened to ask about Showtime … and quite coincidentally, of course …

Of course! [Michael laughs.]

… they were offering a special introductory half-price offer for three months. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I ordered the channel and was able to watch Journey from Motown to Off the Wall.

I love it when a plan comes together, don’t you?

Yes, Michael, I do, indeed.

In the lead up to the debut, Spike Lee was interviewed regarding the film and I caught a couple of videos of him speaking about it, which just poured fuel on the flame of my anticipation. He stated that he also wants to do one on the Thriller sessions. I hope he does. I am so grateful to him for recording this stuff for history because memory is so short and so easily hijacked by the latest sensation.

Your ground-breaking achievements need to be remembered in their cultural context, showing all the uphill battles you had to fight that attended those releases, as all ground-breaking achievements need to be remembered. Currently, Jesse Owens’s Olympic gold-medal-winning-accomplishments in the 1930s is just one example that is gaining a lot of attention due to a new movie being released recounting the barriers he had to overcome to his participation in the Olympic games in Berlin. Mr. Lee is not waiting 80 years to record your barrier-transcending and ground-breaking achievements for posterity, thank God.

The night finally arrived and that old excitement reminiscent of the excitement I experienced so often during the 1990s when you were featured in an interview, concert, or short film release returned. With DVRs, it is so much easier to record a program and watch it later, which I have done several times, of course.

Of course!

I fully anticipate going out and purchasing both the DVD and BluRay formats when they are released later this month. These films are awesome because they clearly depict your dedication to producing the very best possible product of which you were capable and show that it was not just your “natural gifts” that accounted for your unprecedented popularity. Those gifts definitely played an important role, but they were accompanied by a staunchly stubborn devotion to hard work and painstaking, meticulous attention to detail that no one has matched to date.

My third example is a new book I found quite by chance as I was browsing through the music section at my local Barnes and Noble on a visit last weekend. The book is entitled Michael Jackson Faq: All That’s Left To Know About The King of Pop and it is written by Kit O’Toole.  It was published in 2015, but this was the first time I had seen it anywhere. I leafed briefly through it at the bookstore as I usually do and brought this one home with me. It is the Michael Jackson encyclopedia. Covering the span 1968 and the Steeltown recordings through your most recent posthumous release Xscape in 2014, it lists the recordings from Steeltown, Motown, The Jacksons, and your solo career. That’s 46 years, Baby! From your earliest influences to your continuing impact on world culture and entertainment, this book doesn’t skip a beat that I have found.

Every song (except Water … I can’t seem to find Water), every album, every track list of every album, every outtake from every album, every song rumored to contain your vocals but never released, every song writer and composer, every producer, every session musician, everyone you collaborated with both musically and vocally, every tour and the set list for every tour along with all the cities visited and the dates is listed.

The Table of Contents includes but is not limited to:

  • The Unique Singing Chemistry of Michael and Jermaine Jackson
  • Buried Gems and Underrated Album Tracks (for all periods)
  • Notable TV and Concert Appearances (for all periods)
  • Essential Playlists (for all periods)
  • Michael Jackson as Backup Singer
  • Studio MVPs
  • Posthumous Releases and Projects
  • As Actor
  • As Musical Activist

This thing is a veritable treasure trove of information, with no distracting commentary. For example, I knew that you had toured a lot as a child, but I had no idea how much. Ms. O’Toole answers that question with your touring schedule with the Jackson 5. You toured from May through December of 1970 … January through December of 1971 … January through November of 1972 … March through September 1973 … February through November of 1974. You were 11 through 16 years old, Michael!

Yeah, we were on the road a lot.

A lot?!? You say that so casually. “Yeah, we were on the road a lot.” When did you find time to record new music? Nevermind, Ms. O’Toole answers that question, too. Diana Ross Presents 1969, ABC 1970, Third Album 1970, Christmas Album 1970, Maybe Tomorrow 1971, Goin’ Back to Indiana 1971, Lookin’ Through the Windows 1972, Skywriter 1973, G.I.T. Get It Together 1973, In Japan 1973, Dancing Machine 1974, Moving Violation 1975, Joyful Jukebox Music 1976. Cheese and crackers, Baby… when the heck did you sleep?

[Michael just laughs.] Sleep was never high on my priority list. I had a job to do and I always felt an urgency about getting it done … like there was a lot to do and not much time to accomplish the task. That sense of mission … of calling … was an ever-present drive. There was a lot to learn, a lot to do, a lot to accomplish, and a lot to achieve and I was always aware that the time I had to accomplish all that I needed to do was limited. I think that sense of urgency contributed to my sleep problems later.

You gave up so much for us, Baby. Thank you for your service to all of us and humanity as a whole.

And, now, I think a little fanfare is required to celebrate our 100th dialog, don’t you?

Yes, I do. Why don’t you come and join me in Neverland for an hour or so?

Excellent idea.

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