All posts by Raven

After 8 Years, Where Is Michael In His Spiritual Journey?

Soul Searching: Where Is Michael Now, Eight Years And Counting?

June 25th, 2017 will mark the eighth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s transition. At this point, some may be wondering what stage of transition he is currently in, at this eight year juncture. I don’t have those answers, but I do have enough knowledge and have researched enough on the topic of spiritual transition to offer some possible insight. It is my hope that what I have to say will be a comfort to those who wonder where Michael is right now; in what form he may exist, and if he is still in any way connected to his earthly existence as Michael Jackson.

But I will also offer some pre-warning statements so as to save some of you the bother of reading. First of all, this post is not for you if you do not believe in an after life. It is not for you if are among those who believe Michael faked his death and is therefore still alive somewhere on this planet. In that case, then Michael still exists in his earthly form (which I do not believe). This post is also not for those who may hold so dogmatically to their own religious beliefs that they will only accept their own religion’s version of what happens to us “on the other side.”

However, it may be worth noting that for every person who dies, their experiences in their new realm of existence will automatically be dictated by their own religious beliefs. In other words, whatever we have believed devoutly on earth still colors our perceptions of what we experience in the afterlife. There are many phases along the spiritual journey that will appear to replicate “Heaven” just as there are phases that will replicate the Christian version of “Hell” (Indeed, we are reassured that many souls will falsely believe they are in “Hell” during some transitional phases, but that it is only a temporary penitence; once the soul has undergone the necessary self reflection and growth, they will be allowed to progress to the next stage of transition).

Interestingly, it has been said that those who believe nothing happens to them beyond earthly existence will experience just that-nothingness. But this stage, too, is only temporary as the earthly consciousness is gradually separated from the spiritual consciousness. After what seems an eternal period of deep sleep, they, too,  will eventually awaken to the sight of their deceased loved ones guiding them into the next phase. I found this very interesting and wondered how Michael’s early training as a Jehovah’s Witness might have impacted his after death experience (even though he was not a practicing JW at the time of his death). Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that, upon death, the body and soul simply sleep together until the arrival of the earthly paradise (and/or the ascension to rule with Jehovah in Heaven if they are among the anointed 144,000). In their belief system, there is no such thing as after death consciousness. However, since Michael had long since strayed from many of the JW’s tenets, one would certainly have to question how many of these beliefs he still held to at his time of death. I personally do not believe that Michael exists in a state of unconsciousness, although it is very possible that, due to his beliefs, he may have initially experienced such a state temporarily. Of course, there is also another possibility-that unfinished business may have kept him earth bound and within his earthly consciousness for an extended time. In his case, this is very likely, for reasons I will go into shortly.

Going “Into The Light” Is A Phenomenon Recognized Universally, Across All Religions And Cultures. It Marks The Initial Stage Of The Spirit Journey.

There are several afterlife transitions that are universally recognized and accepted regardless of religion and cultural beliefs. These are stages that have been universally observed and recognized across all cultural and religious boundaries. The first phase-familiar to any of us who have kept bedside vigils with terminally ill loved ones-is that the dying person is greeted by deceased loved ones and/or spirit guides who will assist them in their transition. This is the phase we know and recognize universally as “going to the light.” Although no dead person has ever been able to come back to recount their experience, this is the stage most often recollected by those who have been just “close enough” to have experienced it (i.e, those who have been clinically dead and resurrected) and their accounts are all eerily similar in detail. Most recount it as a very peaceful experience, so much so that coming back into their physical bodies is unbearably traumatic and undesired.

For those who continue into the light, this becomes very much a kind of “welcome home” party. They will be in the presence of relatives, friends, children and spouses from whom they have been separated for years. It is a joyous time of homecoming and of “catching up” and for many, they become convinced at this stage that this is indeed “Heaven” (or whatever variant of Heaven that their own religion dictates). However, this is still only a temporary phase, though understandably, one that many are reluctant to part from. (I have a suspicion that my own dearly departed grandmother, a true chatterbox who could spend hours reminiscing with old friends, may well still be in this stage even after thirteen years! I could imagine she is still “catching up” on her gossip). However, the purpose of this phase is merely a kind of initiation; a way of easing the soul into the afterlife so that no one experiences the trauma of having to go it alone. Also at this phase, the soul is still very much connected to their earthly existence. They still possess the consciousness of their earthly life. They still retain their earthly memories and emotions, which connects them not only to those who have greeted them, but to those they have left behind as well. They will still remember the things that gave them joy and pleasure in their earthly body (favorite foods, scents and yes, even sex!).

But this only applies to those who do, in fact, actually cross over. Unfortunately, many souls become trapped and earth bound, for various reasons. They are initially greeted by their guiding spirits, but for whatever reason,  fail to complete the journey forward. These are the restless souls that eventually manifest themselves as ghosts (apparitions that can be seen or sensed) or, more malevolently, as poltergeist entities. In almost all cases, spirits who remain earth bound are those who died untimely deaths; those who died violently or unnaturally (including many suicides and murder victims); those who died angry, or those with unfinished, urgent business. In some cases, an especially strong attachment to a loved one on earth-or to several-may also hold a spirit earth bound.

With All That Consumed Him In Life, It May Be Small Wonder Why Michael Would Have Remained Earth Bound In Death-At Least For A While.

All of the above criteria certainly applies to Michael, who did die untimely; whose death was a homicide; whose death took place under mysterious circumstances that still have not been resolved; who certainly had urgent business and uncompleted obligations (the This Is It tour); who certainly had many earthly concerns weighing on his mind at the time of death; and who certainly had strong emotional attachments to people he was leaving behind (his three minor children). Additionally, Michael’s earthbound ties would have been compounded many times over by his mass, global world wide following; those millions who mourned his death and who, no doubt, kept his energy earth bound for much longer than the normal duration. (This is true to some extent of all celebrities, especially those who die young and violently and are worshipped on a mass scale-Elvis and Princess Diana come immediately to mind, but I think Michael’s case was particularly unique in the way all of these factors combined. it was a recipe guaranteed to keep him earth bound for a considerably extended time).

Based on what I experienced at the time, I believe that Michael initially experienced only a brief few weeks of conscious unawareness. His “awakening” began in July of 2009 and, as an earth bound entity, peaked around August/September 2009. This was the time when so many of us felt his energy and presence most strongly. Over the years, I have heard and collected many, many stories from fans of their collective “after death” experiences with Michael,and the stories all have an uncanny similarity, especially among those who became, in essence, posthumous fans. In all cases, there was a universal, palpable energy that we all felt; a driving desire to tap into something we could not quite explain. Many who had not been fans of his in life, or who had only been casual fans at best, suddenly felt overwhelmed with grief; with inexplicable sadness, and an urge to somehow “correct” the wrongs that had been done to him. The stories, as I have said, are universally similar. It is normal, for example, that in the wake of most celebrity deaths, we might become curious and more interested in that person for a short while. We might be inclined to read more about them or to research their life; we might feel genuinely sad that they passed. But usually that is the extent of it. However, what happened in the wake of Michael Jackson’s passing was much more; it was on a scale with a mass awakening. To this day, it is a force that remains inexplicable to those of us who experienced it.

It was also during this time that many of us experienced some form of contact, through visions or dreams or other mediums of communication. I recounted my own experience here when I reviewed the Deborah Stefenaik book.  (Interestingly, I have since had a similar, though less graphic, experience with Prince, who still seems very confused that he is actually dead). In hindsight, these experiences were not surprising. in this earth bound stage, Michael was a restless spirit determined to get the truth out, as well as seeking his own answers. This was the time in which his physical body remained unburied, and during which the circumstances of his death were under the most intense scrutiny and investigation. These conditions, combined with the intense outpouring of global grief, kept him earth bound for a quite prolonged period.

I don’t know how long Michael remained in this stage. I can only say from my own experience that i felt his energy most intensely and palpably throughout that summer and into early fall. For me, it began to taper off after September of 2009 and I believe strongly that finally entombing his physical remains had something to do with it.

Finally Being Entombed-Over Two Months After His Initial Passing-Seemed To Resolve Some Of His Restlessness.

Also, as more and more people began to take up the mission of uncovering the truth about what had happened to him, he may have finally become satisfied that his mission was completed. Nevertheless, others did continue to have and record experiences (not that I necessarily believe all of them; there are a lot of charlatans out there, but I do believe many of them are genuine). All in all, it would appear that Michael remained in this earthbound phase for anywhere from at least six months to a year. During this phase, he was still very much connected to his earthly existence as Michael Jackson; his consciousness was still that which he carried in his physical incarnation; his earthly memories were still intact. But like a kid at play, he was reveling in the newfound freedom of being able to take any form he chose; to project himself into any consciousness sensitive enough to pick up on him; to converse with anyone he chose at any given time and to be in many places at once.

An earth bound spirit can still eventually transition. Sometimes they require assistance to do so; other times, they simply evolve to a stage whereby they can make the transition on their own. When this happens, it means they are finally experiencing what more fortunate souls were able to experience from the very beginning-that time of bliss in which they are allotted to spend with the loved ones who have finally welcomed them through the transitional process. I don’t know exactly when this happened for Michael, but I do believe strongly that by late 2010 he had definitely “crossed over.”

One thing I have learned from my teachings is that there is no definite time table that exists in this realm, and every individual’s experience is different just as the needs of every individual will differ. Ultimately, each progression is about the evolution of the soul to its most pure spiritual essence-what some call “The Spiritual Plane”-and that journey is quicker for some than for others. This is the stage at which soul and spirit finally are joined as one entity and all ties to earthly existence have been severed. But this destination can take decades, or even centuries.

“Life Review” is often cited as the next phase of the journey. From all the descriptions I have read, most souls-especially if they have been steeped in Christian teachings-will certainly assume that this is the period of judgement. However, the difference is that, while all of their earthly actions are reviewed, the purpose is less about judgement and more about the need for the deceased to learn and grow from the mistakes and sins they committed on earth. During this time, the person’s entire life is played before them (some mediums say it really does resemble a personal theater, where the deceased person watches their entire life projected onto a huge movie screen!). But it is not over in a single viewing. The person is shown their entire life through their own perspective, and then, one by one, through the perspective of every individual involved in their life. It is here that they learn exactly how their actions have impacted others-those they have helped by their actions; those that they have hurt by their actions. Every deed is accounted for.  From here, they will enter a stage of purification (a time of intense reflection and penitence). Some souls may interpret this stage as banishment to Hell, as it is a time spent in isolation,but it is said to be only temporary. However, this stage can be considerably long, or of relatively short duration. If the individual lived a mostly righteous life, and/or if they resolved many of these issues in life (practicing forgiveness and making restitution to those they hurt, for example) then this stage may be relatively short.

I could only imagine that, given the life Michael Jackson lived and his status as a global superstar and icon, his life review has probably been an exceptionally long one. Imagine a review in which everyone  impacted by the life of Michael Jackson-everyone he ever encountered, no matter how briefly- must be accounted for. If one imagines how his life and career was encapsulated in that wonderful Lifetime Achievement montage, just imagine something similar only now including not only every monumental career achievement, but also every personal relationship, and every incident from many multiple perspectives, and one can see how Michael’s life review could certainly be both monumental as well as utterly draining and exhausting. When we consider that even the average person still impacts many lives, one can only imagine how much this is compounded for the public figure whose life has impacted millions, both directly and indirectly. Imagine being Michael and forced to re-live and reevaluate that endless parade of managers, record executives, tour promoters, every hanger-on; every partner; every accuser, every fan; every leech; every friend; every acquaintance; every employee, every relative, etc etc must be considered! A review in which every choice made; every action; every word, both public and private, and every consequence must be weighed and evaluated! Imagine a process whereby he must re-live not only every action he has done onto others (both good and bad, for whatever that is worth) but also, again, every action done unto him. That means, yes, every betrayal must be re-lived; every knife in the back experienced all over again. It means not only experiencing, again, the thrill and high of every concert, but also the entire scope of every trial (imagine his four month ordeal of the Arvizo trial expanded indefinitely and you get the idea!) But, for all the pain, there is joy as well. He will re-live the births of his children; he will experience again Grammy night of 1984; he will embrace Ryan White; he will feel again his grandparents’ caress; this is all part of the experience, the pain as well as the joy and bliss).

Can You Imagine The Epic Scale Of THIS Life In Review?

Given the immense scope of Michael’s life, he may very well still be in the stage of Life Review. But it depends, as I said, on a number of factors. If Michael had resolved many of his life issues before passing, this stage will be reduced considerably. But often those who die untimely or unexpectedly do not have the necessary time on earth to make these kinds of restitutions. Thus, the stage of purification may take longer.

After purification, the soul has evolved to a new level of growth and is ready for servitude. It has been said that many choose to continue in some capacity whatever roles they fulfilled on earth. For example, a teacher may still desire to teach; a caregiver will still wish to serve others. Many choose to become spirit guides. At this stage, there is no longer earthly conscience (the ties of their former life are broken after purification and after all lessons from that earthly life have been learned) but they may still choose to periodically watch over loved ones left behind. I can imagine that Michael would choose to spend his time of servitude in some healing capacity, or perhaps he is still performing and providing comfort and joy to other souls still progressing through their journey. So often in the past eight years, whenever some major tragedy strikes, I have heard people say, “If only Michael was still with us, he would know what to do or say about this; he would know how to bring us together.” If Michael has indeed reached the stage of servitude, then we can be rest assured that he is not only well aware of these earthly events, but is working diligently to help those victims who are transitioning to their own spiritual phase.

Michael Jackson In Servitude Will Still Be Fulfilling His Life’s Missions: Just In Different Form

I suspect at this stage of his journey that Michael’s spirit is somewhere between the phases of life review, purification and servitude. I do not think he has yet achieved the apex of soul/spirit unification-or what many religions refer to as “Bliss”-just yet, as that is a process that takes many decades or even centuries to complete. If we consider that Michael only “crossed over” from earthbound entrapment a little over seven years ago, that is not a long time in the spiritual journey. However, I believe strongly that Michael was already a highly evolved spirit, which is going to make his transition much easier and speedier than it might have been otherwise.

After eight years, I do not feel that palpable sense of energy and urgency that I once felt from him. I don’t feel the anger, desperation or intense sadness that I once felt from his energy, which tells me at once that he is both at peace to some extent and has let go of much of his earthly connections. But it says something else as well: That he has also moved further away from us. I don’t know what the experiences of others have been (I hope some will feel free to weigh in). But I do feel his essence, every single day. It is a much lighter energy now, minus the heavy oppressiveness of before. I am not naive. I know this comes at least partly from having evolved, myself, to a point of acceptance. When Michael died, I grieved intensely, but over time, even the most intense grief gradually fades to acceptance. I know that is part of it, but it is also something more. I am not sure if he is at peace, but I do think he has evolved to a stage that is much less concerned with ties to his earthly existence and memory. If that is so, it is a reality that is, of course, much sadder for us than for him. As Michael himself once wrote in his poem “Are You Listening,” he was well aware that “from Bliss I came” and “To Bliss” he would return. In that poem, he spoke of the power and eternalness of that which we call “Essence:”

Eons pass

Deep inside

I remain ever the same

From Bliss I came 

In Bliss I am sustained…(Michael Jackson)

 

Bliss is, indeed, the state of all energy in its purest and most evolved form. Religions that believe in reincarnation also believe it is only here that souls can either become born again in a new physical form, or else have transcended the need for further incarnation altogether  (This may explain why Michael chose the line, “From Bliss I came”). In that poem, he also reminds us that “This body of mine/Is a flux of energy” and goes on to speak of that energy as eternal. His poem is really just a reminder of what we are already well aware: That flesh is temporary; the soul transcendent, and that the energy of spirit-that which we call essence-is forever. Even in his art, we often see how Michael was continuously playing with the ideas of life, spirit, and resurrection, always reminding us that he-like all of us-was both temporal and transcendent; perishable and transitory, yet ever eternal.

In both “Is It Scary” and its later incarnation, “Ghosts” Michael depicts himself dying and being miraculously resurrected. But in the earlier “Is It Scary” we actually see the process of the physical resurrection, whereby it is through pure love and faith that he is risen out of his own dust and pieced together again. He was also similarly “resurrected” in “Moonwalker.” Even his idea for the “Unbreakable” video (which never materialized) was going to portray him as a dancing skeleton who has been resurrected, bone by bone, after a nasty fall that has broken him into pieces. 

In reflecting on the eight years since Michael left us, I am reminded more strongly than ever that it really does not matter where he is, or what stage of his spiritual journey he is in. What truly matters is that, as Maya Angelou so eloquently stated, “We had him.”

“We Had Him” by Maya Angelou

Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing
Now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips like a puff of summer wind

Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace
Sing our songs among the stars and and walk our dances across the face of the moon

In the instant we learn that Michael is gone we know nothing
No clocks can tell our time and no oceans can rush our tides
With the abrupt absence of our treasure

Though we our many, each of us is achingly alone
Piercingly alone
Only when we confess our confusion can we remember that he was a gift to us and we did have him

He came to us from the Creator, trailing creativity in abundance
Despite the anguish of life he was sheathed in mother love and family love and survived and did more than that

He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style
We had him
Whether we knew who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his
We had him

Beautiful, delighting our eyes
He raked his hat slant over his brow and took a pose on his toes for all of us and we laughed and stomped our feet for him

We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing
He gave us all he had been given

Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana’s Blackstar Square, in Johannesburg, in Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama and Birmingham England, we are missing Michael Jackson

But we do know that we had him
And we are the world.-Maya Angelou

 

Neverland’s Sacred Spot: Recent Tour Provides An Interesting Glimpse Into How Neverland Is Being Marketed

Recently, a new video surfaced on Youtube that features a rare, inside look at what a person visiting Neverland Ranch (i.e, prospective buyers) might expect to see in 2017. The video was filmed by Coldwell Banker realtor Brad Pearson. As fans are all too aware, we got the devastating news in 2014 that Colony Capital had decided to put Neverland Ranch (re-renamed Sycamore Valley Ranch) on the market.  Compounded with the sale of the Sony/ATV catalog, the action stands as a sad reminder that much of the empire that Michael built has been slowly siphoned off. But despite the fact that Neverland has sat dormant for over a decade, ever since Michael himself abandoned the property in 2005, it is encouraging to see that the magical imprint he left there is still very much intact.

While there have been many fan videos posted from the gates of Neverland, we have had precious few glimpses-that is, recent glimpses-of what has transpired with the property since going on the market in 2014. These days, only prospective buyers and realtors are offered access to the house and grounds. It is not open for public or private tours. But for prospective buyers who just happen to be fans, it is an added bonus. At any rate, the video does offer an interesting glimpse into the manner in which Neverland is being marketed to potential buyers, and it is an encouraging sign.

The worst fear of most fans is the idea of some millionaire buyer scrubbing the property of all reminders of Michael Jackson’s residency, and turning Michael’s magical creation into just another sterile, faceless California ranch. Indeed, that could well still happen (I had shudders reading here about the proposal of Golf Digest to turn it into a golf course). But it does seem obvious that Coldwell Banker, the company currently listing the Neverland property, has made no concentrated effort to scrub the property clean of Michael Jackson’s memory, and in fact, seems to be using it as a selling point.

Neverland currently is being touted to prospective buyers pretty much exactly as Michael left it. From the first few seconds of the video to the final frame, every square inch of the property is instantly familiar, evoking the same magical feeling as it always has. True, as the articles are always quick to point out, the rides and animals are long gone, but there was always so much more to Neverland than just its mini amusement park and zoo. The main house has not been refurbished or remodeled in any way. Although the echoes of the hardwood floors are a stark reminder of the home’s emptiness, its exterior and interior are still instantly recognizable from countless photographs and TV interviews. It still reflects the tastes of the man who called it home for nearly seventeen years.

A tour of the property reveals that not much has changed since 2008. The petting zoo looks to be in very good repair, as is the train station and other amenities added by Michael during his time spent at the ranch. Visitors can still experience the tranquility of The Giving Tree; they can still observe the same diving board where Macaulay Culkin  pushed Michael into the pool in “Private Home Movies.”

But easily the most emotional-and perhaps biggest selling point of the home-is a small, square spot in the center of the studio dance floor, eternally lit by a single spotlight. It marks the scuff spots left by endless hours of diligent practice. On the wall, a video of Michael practicing to “Stranger in Moscow” in that very spot is kept on a loop. This is a spot that all potential buyers are brought to, as a reminder of what they would be purchasing; a reminder that the house does carry with it a legacy, and that the inheritance of that legacy will come along with its purchase. Of course, once the property is sold, all remnants of that legacy may remain or may be eradicated completely, depending on the whims of the new owners, but at the very least, I think it is an encouraging sign that Michael’s ownership and presence is being built up as a selling point for the property, rather than downplayed or dismissed. I think it increases the likelihood that the property could end up being purchased by a fan who respects the property as Michael Jackson’s former home. I can’t expect that a new owner would not wish to put their own stamp on the place, but I would be happy so long as I knew that Michael’s original vision for the property was still respected and maintained in some way, however great or small. That would indeed be the “best case” scenario (rumors of Prince, Paris and Blanket perhaps purchasing the property notwithstanding).

Of course, it stands to reason that it could well be more than just sentimentality that is prompting Coldwell Banker to retain as much of Michael Jackson’s presence as possible. There is also a very practical reason, as well. The additional amenities that Michael added to the property-including the  50 seat movie theater, dance studio, train station, stables, and guest cottages-have added substantially to the property’s total value.  This is confirmed by the description given on Joyce Rey’s website, the Coldwell Banker realtor who is currently handling the property. The following paragraphs all allude directly to amenities only added to the property after Michael Jackson became owner:

Adjacent to the main home is a separate staff annex above the five-bay garage, with a ground-level estate manager’s office, which has a gas fireplace and bathroom. The property also includes separate staff facilities, a movie theater and dance studio, barns, and corrals.

The primary guest house, about 150 feet from the main house, consists of four units, each with a separate entrance, HVAC, and full bath. The hill house, with sweeping views, was used by William Bone during the construction and could now be used as guest or staff quarters.

In a separate building of approximately 5,500 square feet, there is a movie theater and dance studio. The spacious, 50-seat inclined cinema has theatre-grade projection and sound system, private viewing balcony, and a stage with trap doors.

A Disney-style train station has a kitchenette, loft, and two fireplaces. There is also an approximately 1,900 square foot private fire station and administration building with three restrooms and a shower.-Joyce Rey

Click here for full article.

I also find it interesting that the tag “formerly known as Neverland Ranch” is being used prominently in the property’s promotion. What this says is that they are still very much aware that the property’s former history remains its greatest selling asset.

As encouraging as these signs are, however, it still remains the greatest hope of most fans that the property could be converted into a Michael Jackson museum. I highly encourage everyone to read this excellent new piece from Annemarie Latour, “7 Reasons Why Michael Jackson’s Neverland Should Be A Museum.”   This is not just another fan fantasy piece or sentimental fluff; it is a very enlightening piece that delves into the very realistic pros and cons of such a venture. But it is also a very poignant reminder of why such a place is so sorely needed. The absence of any true mecca is a void that Michael Jackson fans have felt keenly for the past eight years. True, we still have Hayvenhurst and we still have Michael’s childhood home in Gary, Indiana, and both have their respective place in Michael’s history. But neither of these homes were ever exclusively his (rather, they were the domain of the entire Jackson clan) and they do not represent the vision that was exclusively his. Only Neverland can provide that experience.

Latour’s article makes a good point (actually, several but this one stood out to me): After three years on the market, the property still remains unsold. That doesn’t mean it won’t sell eventually, of course. But it does say there must be something that is holding potential buyers back. Aside from the obvious fact that most people don’t just have 67 million dollars lying around to burn on real estate, perhaps there is a deeper reason. Stepping onto the grounds of Neverland now, even after twelve years, still feels like trespassing. Any potential owner has to know that, regardless of any changes or renovations made, they will be living with the ghost of Michael Jackson (and what’s more, all superstition aside, will inherit the legacy of the property as a fan gathering spot, something that won’t be easy to eradicate). I can almost imagine the ghost of Michael, mischievously interfering with every potential deal that “almost” goes through. Clearly, no matter who eventually buys Sycamore Valley Ranch, they will have only two options: Embrace its legacy as Neverland, or have a miserable life trying in vain to eradicate that legacy.  I think by now, even its sellers have had to come to terms with the fact that what they are selling isn’t just another California ranch property. What they are selling is the home and soul of Michael Jackson, and any buyer-fan or not-will have to have some measure of peace with that idea.

The sad reality is that, ultimately, once the property is sold, its new owners can do with it whatever they want. They can tear down the train station; chop down The Giving Tree; demolish the dance studio to make room for an extra golf course, and there won’t be anything that fans can do other than to accept it and move on. However, that is only the most extreme end of the scale and it seems far more encouragingly likely that Neverland’s chances of being sold to a buyer who will at least respect its heritage is extremely good, given that its former owner and his contributions to the property’s value remains its biggest selling feature. The best case scenario is that it might be purchased by a very rich fan who will not only respect what the home meant to Michael Jackson and his original vision for the property, but would even be willing to open it up for occasional private or public tours-or, better yet, someone who would find a way to finally give us that museum! But, really, I have to say from a personal standpoint that it does not matter to me as long as whoever buys it is respectful to the property, takes care of it and cherishes it as did Michael. The ideal future owner of Neverland, as I see it, is a steward who will continue to respect the unique stamp that Michael Jackson left on this property, even as they convert it into a home that will invariably reflect their own lifestyle and values.

Most importantly, they must recognize the futility of competing against a ghost. Obviously, some things due to their sacred nature should remain untouched at Neverland. The Giving Tree should be left undisturbed, and only a complete and utter fool would wish to erase those scuff marks from the dance studio floor. But true stewardship of the property must extend beyond just Michael Jackson’s memory. We must also remember that hundreds of years before Michael Jackson called Neverland home, this was also the sacred ceremonial grounds of the Chumash Indians. This was already sanctified land centuries before Jackson purchased it. Therefore, respect for the land itself and conservation of the property’s natural resources should remain the top priority of any true steward.

It is probably the wisest approach that the realtors have chosen to embrace Michael Jackson’s seventeen year residency. After all, any attempt to downplay it would only be doomed to failure. Realtor tours of the property are conducted almost as guided tours inside a superstar’s home (indeed, that seems to be the reaction of many even if that is not the actual intent of the tours; I would imagine-unless there is a stringent vetting process- they get their fair share of the simply curious who just want to see the inside of Michael Jackson’s home). Prospective buyers know what they are getting, as well as all of the history-both famous and infamous-that comes with ownership of the property. I think it is, at the very least, an encouraging sign that if Michael Jackson’s stamp on the property is used as a selling point, it is a selling point that will likely continue to hold value for its future buyer.

Three years and counting, we are still waiting anxiously to see what this next chapter reveals.

“Searching For Neverland”: A Review

Navi Recreating Michael Jackson’s 2007 Ebony Shoot in “Searching For Neverland”

I just watched the premiere of the Lifetime biopic Searching For Neverland and am rushing this review out while the film is still fresh on my mind. First of all, I’ll just acknowledge that I know this review isn’t going to please everyone, as a goodly percentage of the fan base was already gunning for this film from the start. However, despite some reservations, I said I would give it a fair viewing before jumping the gun to condemn it. I am glad I approached it with an open mind.

Here is really the bottom line: One’s reaction to this film is inevitably going to be based on how one felt about its source material, the book Remember The Time by former bodyguards Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard. Fan reception of the book was every bit as polarizing as any MJ project that gets released. Some praised it as a positive account of Michael’s final two years, revealing his struggles to provide a normal life for his three children despite mounting financial issues and the fallout from the molestation trial. Others condemned it as a violation of the very trust that Michael had placed in them.

I gave the book a fairly positive review back in 2014. I suppose given that I was one of those more charitably predisposed to the book, it may explain why I was willing to give a bit more benefit of the doubt to this movie. Let’s just say, if you were one of those who liked Remember The Time, you’ll probably love Searching For Neverland. The movie is pretty much simply a faithful, condensed version of the book. Which also means if you were one of those who disliked the book, it will no doubt color how you view this film.  but if we put that aside and just view the film on its own merits, I found it refreshingly sweet and endearing in its portrayal of Michael as a family man struggling to keep together the most important thing to him-his life with his children. Sure, the eccentricities are there, but this was not one of those condescending portrayals intended to make him look one dimensional, naive, or mentally challenged. (Indeed, the few eccentricities will be familiar ground to anyone who routinely watches celebrity biopics; Michael does not come across as worsted for them ). For once, I think a genuine effort was made to portray Michael in all his human complexities, which is at least a big step in the right direction. The worst thing for me was Navi’s accent, which was frankly terrible, but overall, his performance was surprisingly nuanced. I think he did a good job, certainly exceeding my expectations. Despite what some reviewers have said, he is not a “dead ringer” for Michael Jackson, but his performance was believable and earnest enough to transcend those concerns (and, in fact, in some segments such as the Ebony photo shoot, he managed to perfectly capture the sizzling sex appeal of mature era Michael. Refreshingly, this was one of the few portrayals in which we actually are able to see what the fans always knew-that this was still a sizzizingly sexy and vibrant man, not the media portrayed “freak”-and, yes, we even get the scene of the “backseat date”). In another refreshing twist, this was the first film I have seen to successfully capture both the wonder and enchantment of Michael’s world view without the kind of patronizing condescension of so many projects. Despite the title, there is no pixie dust and no childishly naive pleas to everyone around him to “just believe.” What we do have is a realistic depiction of a man who once truly believed he could create magic, but has become worn down by a world that has turned its back on him. This is the story of a father who simply wants to find a home again, both for himself and his children.

The Film Balances The Fine Line Between Michael’s Sense Of Wonder And Unique World View Without Resorting To Merely Cliched’ Or Cloying Sentiment.

By far the biggest complaint, one leveled at both the book and film (and an irony not lost on most reviewers) is that the film is still, nevertheless,  an exploitation of a man whose last years were already the stuff of exploitation. Certainly there is something to be said for those arguments. However, perhaps it is my own journalistic background, but I tend to take a more tolerant and long sighted view of these things. Michael Jackson was a public figure, and even his personal life has become public property. The simple fact is that, while fans may know and cherish the knowledge of this Michael Jackson-the devoted father who strove to give his kids an ordinary life amidst the most extraordinary circumstances possible-it is still a side of him that many do not know, and haven’t bothered to know. If even a fraction of those bothered to tune in tonight, they will have met a very different man from the “Wacko Jacko” they thought they knew. And if the film at the very least accomplishes that goal, it is a worthy endeavor. I’m not going to necessarily subscribe to the school that insists every single project made about Michael Jackson is some sort of gross exploitation. Most are, but for every fifty films that are trash, there is always going to be at least one that deserves a fair chance to be seen and heard.

As I had mentioned back when I first reviewed Remember The Time, the one thing that really struck me the most was how they captured the claustrophobic sense of how small Michael’s world had become at that point, a world consisting mostly of himself, his kids, nanny Grace, and the bodyguards. There have only been two books that have successfully shed light on what those last two years were like for Michael and his kids, the other being Dr. Karen Moriarty’s Defending A King: His Life and Legacy (which also originated from Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard as sources). Not surprisingly, this is also a central narrative of the film, and even though it doesn’t dwell on any of the real controversies that created these circumstances, it successfully conveys the pathos of a wildly famous father, his life now tainted by scandal, who is struggling to keep life for his children as safe, secure, and filled with love as possible. The bottom line is that, as much as we may wish to respect Michael’s bid for privacy from a human perspective, his life-both public and private-has long since passed into the realm of public domain. We live in a celebrity dominated culture, where interest in the private lives of public figures continues to be a billion dollar industry, and where the proliferation of biographies,  biopics and “tell all” memoirs are a permanent fixture of our culture. For better or worse, future journalists, historians, bloggers, scholars and, yes, filmmakers, will be telling his story. In this case, at least some genuine and heartfelt effort was made to get it right, even if they may have failed on one or two minor fronts.

Of course, this was not so much Michael’s story as it is Bill Whitfield’s (and to a lesser extent, Javon Beard’s). Like most celebrity memoirs told from the perspective of another party (be it friend, former employee, lover, etc) we already understand that it is going to be filtered through the lenses of that individual’s perception. That is the nature of memoir, for better or worse. In Michael’s case, almost everyone who ever came into contact with him-for all of five minutes-has claimed at some point to have been his closest confidante. Whitfield and Beard are no exceptions. However, as a narrative frame device, it holds the film together well, and Chad Coleman (familiar to Walking Dead fans as Tyrese) gives a compelling performance as Whitfield, a man torn between his obligations to his own family and the surrogate family he has come to love.

There are some controversial aspects, however, although it’s not anything that anyone already familiar with the book won’t know. The worst, and I suppose the one still most difficult to grapple with, is when we see Michael obliviously piling a shopping cart with Christmas gifts for his own kids while supposedly knowing that the body guards had not been paid in months and were not even able to buy gifts for their own kids. But even here, it is not so much an attempt to portray Michael as selfish or disconnected from reality; instead, it is further evidence of just how little control Michael had by that point over his own finances, and indeed even his own life. (As in the book, Raymone Bain is quite villified). Scenes like this are not intended so much to belittle as to humanize, and I liked that the film seemed at least capable of walking that tightrope without tripping to the extremes of either condescension on the one hand, or mindless sychophantism on the other. In other words, Michael is allowed something in this film that he’s very rarely been allowed to have in any film portrayal up to this point, with the possible exception of An American Dream over twenty-five years ago: His humanity. It won’t please everyone, but it is what it is. And it did not detract in the least from the endearing sympathy already built for the character (if we keep in mind this is as much a story with a narrative as a depiction of a real life). If I had not already been in love with Michael Jackson before I watched this film, I certainly would have been afterward, and I think that is the power it has (and again, a huge credit for this must go to Navi’s affecting performance; terrible accent or not, he did manage to capture Michael’s essence without resorting to cloy sentimentality or childish caricature). I also appreciated that the film actually had a sense of humor. It enabled viewers to see a side of Michael rarely glimpsed in these types of films, as someone who could be a bit self deprecating and loved practical jokes. The humor here is endearing, as it was in real life; not in a way that simply makes him look foolish or immature.

This is still a long way from being the perfect MJ biopic (I’m not even convinced such a thing is ever going to be possible) but, as with An American Dream, it is a satisfying recount of one particular chapter in his life, and for bringing that story full circle, a fairly decent companion piece to that film. (This may not be surprising, considering Suzanne de Passe was the force behind both). Understandably, it still leaves gaping holes in the story, even with its two and a half hours’ running time. As some reviews have already pointed out, Conrad Murray becomes little more than a side player, and the insinuation (just as with so many projects both better and worse than this one) is that Michael’s death was more about the bigger picture: The intense pressures of facing the This Is It shows, in which succumbing to Murray’s “treatments” merely becomes symptomatic of a much bigger problem: An inability to cope with the pressure squeezing him from all sides. As usual, this will most likely leave viewers to merely surmise, again, that Michael was indeed a victim, but perhaps more than anything, a victim of his own inability to cope. This isn’t so much a critique of the film as of the source material (even in the book, Whitfield and Beard were irritatingly soft on Murray). However, as far as these things go, it isn’t a fatal flaw of the film. Most viewers are intelligent enough to know that any movie can only cover so much ground, and that frankly, it isn’t really this film’s purpose to faithfully recount the events of those final two months of Michael’s life, in which Whitfield and Beard were no longer actively involved. Indeed, their story with Michael ends when Michael leaves for Los Angeles to begin rehearsals for This Is It.  At any rate, that is another story perhaps beyond the present film’s scope. The events that transpired beyond those cloistered two years of Michael’s life spent in Vegas are certainly well documented enough for anyone who really wants to research further, and this is not a documentary.

For those who chose to condemn this movie out of hand, simply on principle, that is their right but in my honest opinion I think this was as good as a film of this caliber could be, given its limitations (low budget, no access to Michael’s music) and the generally low expectations most fans have come to expect from any movie made about Jackson’s life. Those trepidations don’t come lightly; they have been earned as per my previous post. I didn’t go into this one with high expectations, but within the first ten minutes, I had completely forgotten that I was supposed to be watching with a reviewer’s judgmental eye, and was simply caught up in a compelling story of an eccentric but beautiful dad struggling to keep together his beautiful family. Of course, it was a bit cheesy in places; this was a Lifetime biopic, after all, not an Oscar contender. But as these films go, it’s definitely a cut above some of the other recent Lifetime biopics, and as far as movies about Michael Jackson, it’s definitely a step beyond the usual drivel that we’ve been subjected to.

All in all, not perfect but certainly a very sweet and affecting film. Also, the follow up documentary that Lifetime is broadcasting, Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Icon, is excellent. I highly urge everyone to check it out. (For those still convinced they won’t be able to stomach the movie, at the very least fast forward to The Ultimate Icon-it’s well worth it!).

I can honestly say, however, that Searching For Neverland has at least redeemed my hope that a decent MJ biopic can still be made. All it takes is a little heart and respect for who the man was. Unfortunately, it will still be found lacking in some regards. Viewers still will not come away with any enlightened view of Jackson’s philanthropy or work as a humanitarian. And they won’t learn anything new about Michael Jackson, the artist (however, as mentioned, the follow-up documentary The Ultimate Icon pretty much covers that ground). What we’re left with is, quite simply, a poignant and tender tale of a father’s love. But maybe that is all it really needs to be.

Now if we can just work on Navi’s accent (lol) and if the estate would loosen the purse strings on Michael’s music, we just might finally get ourselves a halfway decent MJ biopic.