Category Archives: Humanitarian

Michael and Katrina, August 29th, 2005: When a Birthday and a Tragedy Intersected

Photo Released During The Recording Of "From The Bottom of My Heart," Michael's Song For Katrina Relief
Photo Released During The Recording Of “From The Bottom of My Heart,” Michael’s Song For Katrina Relief

Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly celebrating his 47th birthday on August 29th, 2005. Not only had he just undergone the horrific ordeal of the Arvizo trial during the first half of the year, but it also happened that August 29th, 2005, was the day that Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, precipitating one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. The death toll was in the thousands (though to this day, there remains no official, accurate count of just how many died in Louisiana alone), and no one can forget those horrific images of flooded New Orleans and those hundreds of stranded residents who couldn’t or wouldn’t flee. Many of Katrina’s victims were from the poor areas around the Ninth Ward, which not only received the worst flooding but also, where there were many residents who didn’t have transportation or money to evacuate.

I was aware that Katrina had hit on the same date as Michael’s birthday, though in past years I had never really given much thought to the connection. However, with this year being the tenth anniversary of Katrina, I had been thinking a lot more lately about this coincidence, and wondering, if anything, what Michael’s reaction had been. I also wondered if he had planned any kind of relief effort, as he had done with so many past tragedies, from the famine in Ethiopia, to 9/11, to the tsunami disaster in 2004.

I didn’t have to search very long or hard to find that answer. Even though Michael’s spirit had been crushed by a humiliating trial; even though he certainly had plenty of his own woes to think about, and even though he had by then turned very bitter against the U.S. and was living in Bahrain, his immediate reaction to the news of Katrina was how to help the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. And apparently, he was giving no thought to the court of American public opinion, or even if such a relief effort could fly in the wake of his name having been so tarnished the previous spring. It isn’t hard to imagine that Michael must have spent his 47th birthday like so many of the rest of us that day, glued to those terrible reports and images coming out of New Orleans. And he responded in the only way a musician truly can. He wrote a song. And apparently, must have done so pretty quickly, because by September 7th, only a little over a week after Katrina hit, the press was announcing his intended charity relief single, “From the Bottom of My Heart.”

Here is the story that appeared on CNN:

Jackson plans Katrina victims song

Wednesday, September 7, 2005; Posted: 5:53 a.m. EDT (09:53 GMT)
Jackson has been staying in Bahrain since his acquittal in June.

SPECIAL REPORT

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) — Pop star Michael Jackson, who has been in seclusion since his acquittal on sex abuse charges, has written a song that he will record to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina, according to his publicist.

Jackson will record the single, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” within two weeks, and he plans to enlist other entertainers for the project, spokeswoman Raymone Bain said.

“It pains me to watch the human suffering taking place in the Gulf region of my country,” Jackson, 47, said in a written statement released Tuesday.

“My heart and prayers go out to every individual who has had to endure the pain and suffering caused by this tragedy.”

He added: “I will be reaching out to others within the music industry to join me in helping bring relief and hope to these resilient people who have lost everything.”

Jackson, who left his Neverland Valley Ranch in California for Bahrain after his acquittal on child molestation charges in June, will record the song on a label owned by Bahrain’s crown prince, Bain said, and donate the proceeds to hurricane victims.

Bain said Jackson was hoping to repeat the success he had with “We Are the World,” a 1985 charity single with dozens of the era’s top recording stars that raised more than $60 million for Africa. Jackson wrote the song with singer Lionel Richie.

http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/Music/09/07/katrina.jackson/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

In reading this article from 2005, there were a couple of things of interest that I noted. One was Michael’s statement about Katrina’s victims and his emphasis on the fact that this tragedy had taken place in “my country.” I’m guessing he was playing it nice in wording it thus for the media, but I’m sure he must have shared the impotent rage that many African-American citizens were feeling, not only due to the fact that many of the victims hardest hit were poor African-Americans, but as the days had passed, the mounting frustration with the government’s handling of the situation. I think it also shows something else, however. It shows that, when pinch came to shove, his great faith in humanity and that eternal optimism that he could still strive to heal the world had not been tarnished, even in the aftermath of his own greatest, personal tragedy. He apparently still had faith that he could rally celebrities to this cause, and that some good would come from it.

No One Who Lived Through It Can Forget These Horrific Images Of Ten Years Ago:

katrina3

 

katrina

However, within two weeks, “From the Bottom of My Heart” had still not emerged, and it appeared that he was getting very little in the way of celebrity support:

Michael Jackson Working On Katrina Song — But With Whom?

No artists have yet confirmed participation in the benefit single.
by 9/19/2005

 

In his first interview since being cleared of child-molestation charges, Michael Jackson said he’s hard at work on his Hurricane Katrina benefit song, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” and that he’s feeling well after several health scares during the trial.

Jackson told The Associated Press during the brief interview that he’s “moving full speed ahead” on the single.

But unlike “We Are the World” — the 1985 charity hit co-written by Jackson that quickly drew participation from such heavy hitters as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel and Paul Simon — so far, no artists have confirmed participation in the recording of the single to aid victims of the August 29 disaster.

“I’m constantly working on it,” Jackson said of the song, which he first announced on September 6. At the time, Jackson said in a statement that he had written the song and intended to contact artists within days and record it within two weeks.

While Babyface’s spokesperson confirmed that the singer is down to record with Jackson, representatives for R. Kelly, Jay-Z, Ciara, Wyclef Jean, Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill said those artists have been contacted but have not yet agreed to participate. Missy Elliott’s rep said she and Jackson are in discussions about the song but have not yet reached any agreement. Spokespeople for Lenny Kravitz, James Brown, Yolanda Adams and the O’Jays could not be reached by press time.

Jackson’s spokesperson, Raymone Bain — who last week confirmed the participation of Brown, Jay-Z, Blige, Elliott, Kravitz, Kelly, Snoop and Ciara — could not be reached for comment.

Four years ago, Jackson announced plans for a benefit song for the victims of the September 11 terror attacks. “What More Can I Give” featured vocals by Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan and Reba McEntire.The song was shelved and never officially saw the light of day.

Following his child-molestation trial — which he described as “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” in his recent AP interview — Jackson and his children left the United States to take up residence in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, where the singer is still “resting and recovering.” Jackson is there as the guest of Prince Abdullah, the son of the country’s king. “From the Bottom of My Heart” is scheduled to be released on Abdullah’s 2 Seas Records.

Jackson, who has not appeared in public since being acquitted in June (see“Michael Jackson Not Guilty On All Charges” ), said “I’m feeling good,” after looking dangerously frail and suffering from various maladies during the trial, including a bad back and the flu.

http://www.mtv.com/news/1509834/michael-jackson-working-on-katrina-song-but-with-whom/

So it appears that Raymone Bain-in yet another of her nefarious blunders-had prematurely released to the media a whole host of celebrity names that hadn’t even been confirmed. Sadly, it seems Michael was trying hard, but no one at that time was jumping to partner up with him to make it happen. However, it’s very possible this wasn’t the only reason for the delay. Michael’s own touted perfectionism could have also been a contributing factor. In interview after interview, he would always assure that he was working “full speed ahead on it.” But obviously, it had not come together in two weeks as originally hoped. What we can gather is that the song was probably still in a very raw state when the first announcement was made on Sept 7; hence, the rather inferior and weak title.

And it is also quite possible that, as usual, the media was jumping to put its own negative spin on the project. Lionel Ritchie was among those whom Michael had reached out to, and Ritchie was quoted in a late 2005  interview as saying the interest was definitely there but the logistics of getting so many celebrities together had not been properly worked out. In other words, it may have simply come down to poor planning and organization.

But according to this Billboard article from February of 2006, the project had finally come together. Not only did the song now have a new and improved title-“I Have This Dream”-but was actually recorded in London on November 1, 2005!

Jackson’s Katrina Song Said To Be Ready

Eight days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael Jackson announced he would release an all-star charity single within two weeks.

Eight days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael Jackson announced he would release an all-star charity single within two weeks. Nearly six months later, after questions about exactly who would be participating, the prince who has been hosting Jackson during his self-imposed exile in Bahrain says the song will come out by the end of this month.

In a telephone interview from Dubai last week, Sheik Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of Bahrain’s king, said, “The record is coming along great. We’ve been taking our time to perfect it and mix it.”

The song is currently titled “I Have This Dream,” and it includes Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly, Ciara, Keyisha Cole, James Ingram, Jackson’s brother Jermaine, Shanice, the Rev. Shirley Caesar and the O’Jays, the prince said.

Missing are James Brown, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott and Lenny Kravitz, who Jackson spokeswoman Raymone Bain said in September had agreed to participate.

“We were wondering whether or not it was ever coming out,” O’Jays co-manager Andy Gibson said. “They recorded their part of it two or three months ago.”

The prince said the release has been delayed because additional artists wanted to contribute. But he declined to name those artists — “I’d like to keep that as a surprise” — or to name the company he claimed to have secured to sell the song via CDs and the Internet.

Prince Abdullah, 30, plans to release the song on his own 2 Seas label. “Michael did a wonderful track,” he said. “His voice was phenomenal.” He said the song, which Jackson wrote, “is a message of peace and help and caring. It’s a song of total oneness.”

Jackson has been living in Bahrain since his acquittal in a harrowing molestation trial last year, and now has a house there, the prince said. He didn’t know if Jackson plans to settle in the country permanently.

Several of the participating artists recorded their portions of the song Nov. 1, gathering at a Los Angeles studio, Bain said.

“James Ingram, Ciara, Snoop Dogg and Shirley Caesar were all there,” said O’Jays lead singer Eddie Levert. “Michael produced it on the phone from Bahrain. He talked to Shirley Caesar, he talked to James Ingram. He talked to everyone except me.”

“Overall, it came out very well,” Levert said. “It had a strong gospel feel. I think it’s really a great song. If radio plays it, it could do very well.”

Asked if the song’s release was a harbinger of a new Jackson album, Prince Abdullah laughed and said, “I will just say we’ve been very busy.”

“This is a raindrop before the thunderstorm,” he said. “He’s getting ready to come out with a lot of bells and whistles. He’s so energized. It’s explosive.”

http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/59643/jacksons-katrina-song-said-to-be-ready

 

So, from  Prince Abdullah’s comments, we do get a few choice hints of what the song might have sounded like:

Michael did a wonderful track,” he said. “His voice was phenomenal.” He said the song, which Jackson wrote, “is a message of peace and help and caring. It’s a song of total oneness.”

And this from Eddie Levert: “It had a strong gospel feel. I think it’s really a great song. If radio plays it, it could do very well.”

 

This Photo, Long A Favorite of Mine, Was Apparently Snapped During The London Sessions For "From The Bottom Of My Heart." Working Again and Having A Cause To Believe In Was Evidently Doing Him A World Of Good
This Photo, Long A Favorite of Mine, Was Apparently Snapped During The London Sessions For “From The Bottom Of My Heart.” Working Again and Having A Cause To Believe In Was Evidently Doing Him A World Of Good

Even though never released, the song apparently received sufficient notoriety to be placed among Wikipedia’s listing of charity songs for Katrina relief, where it is listed as having been recorded by “Michael Jackson and All Stars”:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_charity_songs_for_Hurricane_Katrina_relief

But sadly, the fate of “From the Bottom of My Heart”/I Have This Dream” seemed to have gone the way of so many planned projects during this phase. I can only guess that Michael’s soured relations with Prince Abdullah, resulting in an eventual court settlement, was probably a major contributing factor. To this day, the Prince is said to be sitting on a goldmine of unreleased stuff, including recordings for a CD that never materialized and a reportedly (but unconfirmed) massive, 600 page manuscript that was alleged to be an autobiography in progress. That these items do exist is, at least, proof that some of the snarkier media reports of the time (which accused Michael of being lazy and completely reneging on his promises by delivering nothing) were unwarranted. Apparently, Michael was not only working and working hard, but delivering, too-at least to a point. It’s just that not much was ever finished, and what was, apparently became the property of Prince Abdullah after the settlement.

Increasingly, Failed Friendships, Litigation, and Greed Seemed To Stymie Much of Michael's Creative Output-Not To Mention Many of His Best Intentions
Increasingly, Failed Friendships, Litigation, and Greed Seemed To Stymie Much of Michael’s Creative Output-Not To Mention Many of His Best Intentions

Whatever the circumstances, it is tragic indeed that not one, but two of Michael’s planned charity relief singles, both for two of the U.S.’s most tragic events in recent history-“What More Can I Give” for 9/11 victims and “From the Bottom of My Heart” for Katrina victims- ended up being sacrificed to greed and litigation red tape. Imagine how much money could have been raised for victims; how much good these songs could have accomplished!

Recording Snippet Said To Be A Demo of “From the Bottom of My Heart”-But Unfortunately, Minus The “Phenomenal” Vocal: 

It could probably be safely said that August 29th, 2005 was far from Michael’s happiest birthday, as he witnessed the images of the terrible devastation being wrought in his homeland. As I was watching documentaries on Katrina’s 10th anniversary the other night, I was also struck by something they said; the fact that one reason the hurricanes of the last decade have been so especially numerous and devastating has been due to the increased ocean temperatures. I couldn’t help but think that it had been exactly ten years prior to Katrina that Michael had prophesied many of these events to come in “Earth Song.” As David Nordahl and I had once discussed, Michael was well aware that we were in the time of the Earth Changes.

But if the devastation and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina did one bit of infinitesimal good, it was the fact that it shook Michael out of the apathy that had gripped him since the trial, and ignited in him the spark to once again, as he had said, “give a damn.” It reminded him that, personal tragedies aside, there was much worse suffering in the world, and that his work to heal the world-his real life’s mission- was far from over. There was still much work to be done. One can only imagine how the failure of this project, at a time when it was so desperately needed, must have chaffed him. But in reading about his enthusiasm for it, I am reminded again of that eternal optimism he had for humanity. When times were darkest, it was where he drew his strength.

On this August 29th, as we, the fandom, celebrate Michael’s birthday, let’s also not forget the terrible tragedy of Katrina and what happened ten years ago on this date. Ten years later, there is still no healing for many. I know that Michael would agree with me 100%-from the bottom of his heart.

Are We Losing The Heart of Michael? The Selling Off Of Neverland And What It Means For Us

"I Will Never, Ever Sell Neverland....It Represents The Totality Of Who I Am."
“I Will Never, Ever Sell Neverland….It Represents The Totality Of Who I Am.”

I will resume my series on Michael’s work in relation to Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” soon, but for now, circumstances have once again intervened and required a detour. Late Wednesday, shock waves were sent throughout the fan community by a statement from the Michael Jackson estate. It is with a heavy heart that I begin this post today.  First of all, here is the official statement that came late Wednesday night:

You will soon be reading news reports stating that Colony Capital has decided to sell Neverland. As the property manager, they have the right to do this. The Estate has issued the following statement in response to a media request for comment:

We are saddened at the prospect of the sale of Neverland which, under the agreement negotiated during Michael’s lifetime, Colony has the right to sell. The Estate will maintain Michael’s family home in Encino, including its iconic recording studio there. We continue to build upon Michael’s legacy as an artistic genius and humanitarian through his music and new projects such as the Michael Jackson ONE show in Las Vegas. We hope and trust that any new owners of Neverland will respect the historical importance and special nature of this wonderful property. Michael’s memory lives on in the hearts of his fans worldwide.

It is also important to the Estate that Michael’s fans understand that although the Estate has no right to stop or obstruct the sale, The Estate did explore a number of potential options for Neverland with Colony but zoning, financial and land use restrictions limited the alternatives and ultimately Colony made the decision to sell.

MJOnline
The Official Online Team of The Michael Jackson Estate™

In an apparent attempt to assuage concerns and accusations that the estate had not “done enough” to preserve its stake in Neverland, another statement was released on Thursday:

MJ Estate Additional Info- Last night, we sent you a message from the Estate regarding Colony Capital’s decision to sell Neverland. Many of you have inquired about the Estate purchasing Neverland. As you know, the Estate does not disclose the details of its business dealings but last night’s statement to the fans (not included in the comment to press) states “the Estate did explore a number of potential options for Neverland with Colony” but for the reasons stated none of those options were feasible. This sentence was included specifically for your benefit to let you know that the Estate tried to find a way to keep the sale from happening but for a variety of reasons, it was not possible. Zack O’Malley Greenburg broke the news in Forbes shortly after we sent you the Estate’s statement: http://www.forbes.com/…/michael-jacksons-neverland-is…/. He offers some further insight you might find helpful in understanding the situation. Like you, the Estate is sad and disappointed by Colony’s decision. Michael’s legacy is in his music, in his humanitarian efforts, and in his spirit. The Estate hopes that whomever the new owners may turn out to be, that they will continue to appreciate the property not only for its beauty but for its historical and cultural legacy as well. MJOnline The Official Online Team of The Michael Jackson Estate™

No sooner had the news broke, then the heated battles were waging on social media between the usual factions of estate haters vs.supporters. It all comes down to a few key questions: Just how much interest DOES the estate really have in Neverland, and are they being forthright in their claims that every feasible avenue was indeed exhausted-or is it, as some are claiming, a case of unburdening a troublesome asset that has little financial incentive or priority for them? OR is it all a big bluff? These questions are ones that are being raised everywhere at the moment, and the answers are as varied and complex as every aspect of Michael Jackson’s life. The full details of Michael’s 2008 deal with Colony Capital, which prevented foreclosure of Neverland and allowed him to maintain a stake in the property-but with the understanding that Colony Capital would maintain the full right to sell-may be best left to those with more legal expertise to unravel. For the layperson, Zach O’Malley Greenburg’s article, linked to in the above statement, may be a good place to start but it still leaves many questions as to whose interests are being best served. And perhaps it is a legal web I will best leave for those who have, as I said, more expertise with which to unravel it. What is known with certainty is that Michael Jackson, contrary to popular myth, never “gave up” Neverland. True, he never had a desire to live there again after the 2003 raids and the trial, although it has been said that he was also acting on the advice of his attorney Tom Mesereau who had warned him that he would never be able to live there again even if he wanted to; that Sneddon and company would continue their mission to drive him out.

neverland2But the truth is that even though Michael Jackson never again physically lived at Neverland after 2005, he never gave it up, either. Rather, he fought valiantly to keep it-or at least, to maintain some measure of control over it on paper-just as he fought throughout the last years of his life to maintain all of his valuable assets.  He could have easily sold the property in 2008, or earlier, and perhaps alleviated at least some of his financial headaches. But apparently, maintaining Neverland, and keeping it in his name, was important to him. Important enough to fight for it. What were his eventual plans for the property? We may never know for certain. It doesn’t seem likely that he ever intended on living there again. In fact, he had already set his heart-and his sights-on a luscious property in Las Vegas that he intended to purchase from the profits of This Is It and transform into his new vision-Wonderland.

Michael’s new “dream home” was said to be this Las Vegas property. He intended to purchase it from the proceeds of “This Is It”:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0MV7-pfqT8[/tube]

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQbKYZWtpNQ[/tube]

But Neverland had been too hard won, and as he had told us, represented the totality of who he was. Having put his whole heart and soul into Neverland, it was not something he could easily just walk away from. Perhaps it represented too much for him to be able to just give it up. The big question is: Did Michael, in his efforts to hang onto the property, get suckered into a bad deal? I have seen a lot of talk to that effect. Basically, the terms of the agreement that Michael signed to in 2008 would be what passed into the hands of the estate after his death. As much as we might fault Michael (or shoddy advice from Tohme) about signing an agreement that gave Colony Capital the right to sell at their discretion, there are still a number of factors to keep in mind. My understanding is that Michael maintained an 87.5% interest in Neverland (with Colony Capital maintaining a smaller 12. 5% interest) which, upon his passing, would have reverted to his estate. If true, this would mean that any decision to sell would have to be a mutual decision of both parties. The key, however, may be in a 2003 decision to  initiate a non-renewal option on the Williamson Act, which until then had protected Neverland-just as it protects all agricultural California landowners-from massive tax liability, provided the land remains used for agricultural purposes. Under this agreement, the contract would have expired around 2013. Well, this is 2014. So maybe this IS an important piece of the puzzle that makes good sense. You can read more about Neverland and the Williamson Act here:

http://mjandjustice4some.blogspot.com/2012/11/neverland-protected-by-williamson-act.html

The irony is that when the above blog post was written, in 2012, there was much optimism that the estate would reapply for the Williamson Act when it expired. Apparently, however, upon the contract’s expiration, the decision was made not to reapply. If we go back to why Michael ever agreed to tie this asset up with Colony Capital in the first place-especially under the terms that he did-we have to remember that dying and leaving it all behind for others to unravel probably wasn’t exactly in his plan. Tom Barrack supposedly said to him when the idea was proposed, “Don’t have me do this…unless you’re really interested in building a program going forward to create some revenue for yourself.”

Message Of Welcome Carved By Michael
Message Of Welcome Carved By Michael

Michael obviously had high hopes-right up to the very last-that he could generate the revenue again to somehow make everything turn out all right. At the very least, he probably looked at Neverland as an asset that would benefit his children one day. But it is also possible that he was thinking about the potential revenue he could generate for himself, in his own lifetime, by maintaining control of this asset. Even if Michael never set foot on the property again, he could still generate a sizeable yearly income just from leasing it-a practice he had actually been doing, under the radar, for years. Here is a video clip where he discusses (besides Marc Schaffel) the leasing of Neverland property to local cattle farmers:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0qfBB0Rnjg[/tube]

There are some reports claiming that Michael understood, from the get go, that the intent was to ultimately sell, but that with an estimated $70 to $80 million to be gleaned from such a sale after renovations and increased property values, it would have been quite a financial windfall for him-and his children. I don’t know if there is any truth to those reports, and I tend to believe Michael’s words that he would never sell Neverland. Whatever the case, Michael’s untimely death changed the game plan considerably. But what about Tom Barrack, the man who agreed to “bail” Michael out in 2008? Back in 2010, I did an in-depth post on Barrack and Neverland when an article ran in “New York” about Barrack’s partnership with Rob Lowe and the business of investing in “distressed celebrities.” Unfortunately, just as with everything I wrote prior to 2011, that post is currently inaccessible, but the “New York” article on which I based it is still available. While the article did a good job of humanizing Barrack and letting us get to know the man beneath the “gleaming” bald dome, it also left no doubt that, for Barrack, this was all part of a successful business model built on the idea of investing in “artificially depressed” celebrities and properties.  The following passage is excerpted from Benjamin Wallace’s “New York” article:

Over the past two years, Barrack has been lining up deals that target celebrities and entertainment properties whose value he believes to be artificially depressed. In some cases, that’s because they haven’t yet figured out a way to monetize their assets. But mostly it’s because the investment is, in the classic sense, distressed—individuals like Jackson or Annie Leibovitz whose financial mismanagement has obscured their future revenue potential, or properties like the Miramax film library, which Disney is unloading at a time when no one can agree on what a studio archive is worth. This summer, Barrack created a new $500 million media-and-entertainment investment fund, working with his friend Rob Lowe, who is a partner in the fund. Together they have been on something of a shopping spree—and generating a little tabloid coverage while they’re at it. In one TMZ appearance, a paparazzo’s telephoto captured Lowe and Barrack, shirtless, checking their BlackBerrys on a yacht in the Mediterranean. In a second, the two men were video-ambushed as they entered the Mayfair restaurant C London for dinner with owner Giuseppe Cipriani and Formula One’s Flavio Briatore. Barrack has explained the timing of his new direction by musing publicly that some of the investment sectors in which he amassed his wealth can no longer generate extraordinary returns. The world right now is “an environment that has very little visibility, and whatever you guess will surely be wrong the next day,” he says, glancing at his BlackBerry. “Everybody has been abjectly wrong if they’re trying to make macro bets.” The only thing to do is position yourself for opportunities—stand in the stream and wait for fish to swim between your legs. That’s how the Neverland—(At this point in the conversation, Barrack was interrupted by the arrival of his partner Rob Lowe).

You can read more of the article here:

http://nymag.com/news/business/69782/

I suppose there are two ways one could look at Barrack’s practice. Some might call it savvy business dealing (and after all, isn’t taking advantage of opportunity part of every successful business model?). However, it could also be viewed another way as well-that is, simply taking advantage. And taking advantage of someone who has fallen onto hardship-however temporarily–is certainly not the most ethical practice in the world. In Wallace’s piece, it isn’t exactly made secret that Barrack’s modus operandi is to take advantage of distressed situations with an eye towards the profit they will eventually turn. It doesn’t make Barrack a crook, necessarily, but the point is that just because something is legal doesn’t make it ethical. The tragedy is that Michael-and Neverland-was ever put into such a vulnerable position to begin with, and for that, the real blame must go all the way back to Tom Sneddon. Today, the property for which Barrack initially invested $23. 5 million is guaranteed to fetch him anywhere from $50 million on the lower end of the spectrum, to $70-$80 million on its highest end. That should be good for at least an additional yacht or two to sail on the Mediterranian. The upside of the situation is that a sale on the higher end will probably guarantee Michael’s kids at least a $20 to $30 million windfall, once Colony Capital takes their end. But as some sources have reported, a sale on the lower end could possibly mean they end up with nothing. However, this is not really an issue of what will line the children’s pockets. Michael’s children are already wealthy. It’s an issue of losing something that may be far more valuable to them than money-their link to their childhood and that magical, wonderful kingdom he created. But there is another reason why Neverland may hold special sentimental value for them. It was much more than just their childhood home. It was the only permanent home they ever shared with their father. It was the last place they could ever truly call “home.” The tragedy for the fans in the loss of Neverland is nothing compared to the tragedy this must be for them. Perhaps, again, not so much for what it is-or was-as for what it represents. Had Michael lived, they might have been content to move on, because any home they eventually made with him-whether it be “Wonderland” or elsewhere-would have been “home.” But as it stands, Neverland has probably loomed large in their imaginations as a connection to a time and place when life was much more innocent, fun, and happier-and, of course, magical. But the subtitle of this post is: What does this mean for us? And that is where I would truly like to focus. Several months ago, someone kindly sent me two leaves from Neverland.  I assume they must have come from a tree on the property. I sat for quite some time before beginning this piece, inhaling their woodsy fragrance and hoping to draw from their essence the inspiration on how to even begin to assess how I feel about this news. I try to look at it from all angles; to keep my balance in perspective, but I cannot overcome the empty sadness.

 

neverland4Even though we know that “Neverland,” as such, really died in 2003, and has stood mostly as an empty, abandoned shell since 2005, there was still the comfort of knowing it was “there”; that it was still a part of Michael, still in his name, and that any time one felt up to making the pilgrimage to the gates, they would still be there (for me, this has been on my “bucket list” for over five years). As long as the property remained in limbo, there was always the hope that something good might come of it. There had been talk of many proposed projects and ideas-a museum, a Graceland-like mecca for fans, a state park, an art school for teens, even a children’s hospital (though I don’t know how seriously the latter was ever really proposed). In the end, as we have been told over and over, none of these ideas have proven “feasible” given the reality of Neverland’s zoning and geographic location. “Los Olivas isn’t exactly Memphis,” Zach O’Malley Greenburg has stated, and he’s right. Graceland is situated in a wonderfully convenient location adjacent to the interstate, just a few miles south of downtown Memphis. It is a location that can easily accomodate the many thousands of visitors Graceland receives per year. That being said, however, there are many such rurally located tourist attractions that manage to do quite well. The D.H. Lawrence ranch in Taos, New Mexico comes to mind (and it, too, requires a trek up some very treacherous mountain roads) but I don’t think we can even begin to compare the number of average visitors to a place like the D.H. Lawrence ranch to that which would descend upon Neverland, should those gates become open to the public. But I honestly do not think most Michael Jackson fans are really concerned that the place become some huge commercial asset-in fact, most would probably prefer that it remain exactly what it is at present, even if going there must feel a bit like visiting a ghost place. That is, a quiet and tranquil place where Michael’s spiritual aura can still be felt. For most of us, that is enough. But apparently, the estate can only see the viability of hanging onto Neverland if it is generating a profit. This is what I really read between the lines of their statement. In saying every option had been exhausted, it seems what they are really saying is that every feasible option to turn Neverland into something viably commercial and profitable had been exhausted. So, in the end, I suppose, it must have come down to a choice: Either to hang onto something of great sentimental and historical value to the estate, at the cost of draining the estate’s resources, or to let it go. Apparently, they made their decision but I think it is a huge mistake. Understand that even though I’m not an estate hater, I am also not one who blindly accepts their every decision without question, and I believe those questions do need to be raised, especially when we look at the implications of what is potentially going to be lost IF this sale goes through.

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They like to to tell us that the business of an estate is to generate money and to protect its assets for the heirs. It is true that an estate must make money. But they also have a responsibility for protecting and preserving the historical legacy, especially when we are talking the estate of one of the most culturally iconic performers of our time. To be sure, having Neverland sold might not exactly be the end of the world as we know it. As some have said, it may all depend, ultimately, on who buys it. Yes, it “could” end up in the hands of some very benevolent benefactor who will fully understand and respect its legacy and importance to fans-or, at least, its importance to his kids, which is really what should be our utmost concern. It would be wonderful to think that someone might buy the place who would actually consider opening it up to fans, or giving us that museum (though, no shocker, that would probably end in a lawsuit with the estate!). I even heard one very ingenious idea of turning it into a bed and breakfast establishment. I’m sure that would be a windfall for anyone, with guaranteed bookings up to ten years in advance! (And, heck, there ought to be enough guest cottages on the property to make it a perfectly feasible idea! And imagine…for an extra fee, getting Michael’s master bedroom!).

neverland8Over time, there have been rumors of many celebrities, from Justin Bieber to Lady Gaga, who have reportedly been interested in purchasing Neverland. I can’t really imagine Justin Bieber, after all of his antics, being a viable candidate (I am sure the neighbors of Los Olivas would probably be none too thrilled!) but Lady Gaga, I am sure, would at least respect the property’s connection to Michael. But while it would be wonderful to envision such a “best case” scenario, the simple truth is that we have no such guarantees. The new owners might be people who would care about and respect the property’s legacy.

But then again, they might not. What if Neverland falls into the hands of someone who could care less about Michael Jackson or his fans, and in fact, would do everything in their power to strip and dismantle all reminders of Sycamore Valley Ranch as the infamous Neverland? I am sure that, for many of us, that is our worst nightmare scenario-the idea of Neverland being taken over by some indifferent or cold hearted individual who would strip away all physical reminders and ties to “Neverland.” Even if Barrack has worked hard to restore Neverland to its “former glory” and has respected Michael’s vision, as he claims, that is no guarantee that any new owner will feel an obligation to do likewise. Imagine the beautiful flower gardens gone; the clocks taken down; the Giving Tree perhaps chopped down, and cattle grazing where the Ferris wheel once stood. Imagine those magical gates being torn down to make room for something else-a new, much colder, and more imposing barrier that says nothing. The scary thing is that we simply don’t know. The above scenario is certainly the worst case scenario, but it could happen, and there are no guarantees that it won’t. But even if Neverland is lucky and does fall into the hands of an owner who respects and values it as Michael Jackson’s home, it doesn’t change the fact that Neverland will no longer be in Michael Jackson’s name. It will no longer be under the control and protection of his estate; it will no longer belong to the family. And that, for me, is the saddest part of all. Neverland-if for nothing else, its historical value-should remain in the control of the estate. For me, it simply isn’t good enough to “hope and trust” that the new owners will respect and honor the property’s legacy. Does anyone think that Elvis Presley’s estate would simply “hope and trust” that someone would come along to take care of Graceland? Recently, a petition has begun circulating on Change.org to save Neverland. Although I am somewhat skeptical about the success of petitions, I signed it in the spirit that no turn should be left unturned. This is what I commented:

It is important that Neverland be kept within the control of the estate and of Michael’s heirs. It is much too important a part of his legacy to be turned over to other hands. Even if the future owner(s) were to honor the home’s legacy, there are no guarantees once it is passed on to the hands of others. It could end up going through countless owners, who no doubt over time will chip away until there is nothing of Michael left. The Neverland property has just as much historical value as Hayvenhurst, if not more. Michael composed many of his biggest hits on its spiritual grounds, in his beloved Given Tree. And yes, it became tainted over time but even that sad history, too, is part of the historical legacy of NL and vital for future generations to understand not only Michael’s great vision for healing children, but what he had to sacrifice and endure as well. Nothing represents the full breadth and scope of Michael’s magic, endurance, trials and tribulations like the 2700 acres of NL. Those acres are the heart of Michael; to sell it is like ripping the heart from him, more surely than the coroner’s scalpel. Consider: Michael went from a 3-room house in Gary to Neverland. There is nothing else-no other home or landmark-that physically commemorates this achievement Hayvenhurst, after all, belonged to all the Jacksons. Neverland was not only Michael’s one and only permanent home, it was his own creation.

To sign the petition to save Neverland:

http://www.change.org/petitions/the-estate-of-michael-jackson-don-t-sell-neverland?recruiter=1776996&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition

There have been many similar “Save Neverland” campaigns and petitions started in the past. I found a few such petitions on Google, all from several years back, many with as few as a little over a hundred signatures. But now it seems there is a new sense of urgency; a sense that “this is it.” The reality is looming that Neverland could indeed really be gone forever now. This petition alone has garnered over FOUR THOUSAND  signatures and counting, not to mention that many others have started up as well.

neverland gates
There Is A Sense Of Urgency This Time, A Sense That Neverland May Indeed Be Gone Forever

To expand further on my comment,  Neverland not only stands to this day as the only permanent home that Michael Jackson ever owned, it is also the only truly physical testament to what he accomplished in going from that tiny, three room house in Gary, Indiana to a 2700 acre estate. It is, in fact, an insult to both Michael’s memory and to his accomplishments to even insinuate that Hayvenhurst is more worthy of preservation than Neverland. They should both be maintained, but again, it is Neverland that represents the “totality” of who Michael was. Over the past two days I have heard many arguments and reasons as to how we should view the potential sale and loss of Neverland. All of them have validity to some degree. Some feel that Michael set the example when he walked away from Neverland and (presumably) never looked back. And there is something to be said for the ability to just “let go.” The reality is that Neverland has sat as an abandoned shell for over six years. But although I have not been to Neverland personally, I have been told that its energy can still be felt. And I believe this very strongly, as it is part of my own Cherokee belief and my knowledge that Neverland is indeed sacred ground. It was sacred ground for thousands of years before Michael ever sat foot on it, as it was a place that Chumash Indians used for ceremonial grounds. But Michael definitely left the stamp of his own energy and presence there. Part of my personal Cherokee belief is that spirits never completely disconnect from earth or from their physical embodiment. Spirits will always maintain a connection to the places where they were happiest. If the property is taken over by someone else, it won’t take away the fact that Michael’s energy and presence is there. But over time, that energy will become diluted and dispersed, especially if it senses it is no longer welcome there. As so many have sadly noted for the past five years, one of the most tragic aspects of being a Michael Jackson fan is the fact that we have no real “center” where we can come together to feel his presence. Forest Lawn is where his body lies, but it’s not where his spirit dwells.

Where does Michael’s spirit reside, really? It is an impossible question to answer. If you are Christian, you may say he is in Heaven, or whatever is your spiritual equivalent. For most of us, we can say that he exists in our hearts, and that Neverland as a concept is something that no one can put up for sale.  So if Neverland as an idea-as a place that lives in our hearts-cannot be taken away, is it worth it to fight for an empty house and a couple thousand acres of land that even Michael himself had not set foot on for years?
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That may depend on personal view. I have been in a few of the same places that Michael has been. I can say I have been inside the same hotel room that he once stayed in. I sat on a bed he slept in, but other than the bragging rights of being able to say I sat on Michael Jackson’s bed, I can say it pretty much felt just like any ordinary bed. There was no “magic dust” that rolled off the sheets; no fairy dust under the pillows. I have even ridden his Ferris wheel from Neverland, and presumably sat in his favorite seat (No. 13)-at least so they told me. It was exciting, but again, having my rump on the same spot where Michael’s rump once sat still did not impart anything extraordinary or magical. It felt like any, ordinary Ferris wheel seat.

I try now to apply this same common sense logic to Neverland. It was just a house he lived in; the grounds were just grounds he once walked on. But we all know, Neverland was so much more than that. Neverland was Michael.

The analogy I used-likening it to the moment when his heart was removed by the autopsy scalpel-may be unpleasantly graphic for some, but I stand by it. For me, that is an apt analogy as the sale of Neverland is exactly just that.

I can’t say I am totally shocked by this turn of events. I think a lot of us had seen it coming for years, but like everyone, I held out hope that eventually Neverland might be used for some good purpose that, of course, would honor Michael’s vision for it. As crass as it sounds, I always loved the idea of making it into a “Graceland” so that it would become accessible to everyone who wished to visit. But I would have been equally happy to see it become an art school or something equally productive-again, as long as it was within keeping with Michael’s original vision for the place. That could encompass a wide range, from recreational fun to spiritual healing.

I suppose the worst thing it could do would be to sit, abandoned. But there are some who say even that is not a bad thing. In the quiet stillness of its abandonment, one can still go there and find it a peaceful place to meditate, and to connect with Michael’s spirit.

neverland9
Not everything can have a dollar price. I feel the estate has dropped the ball on this one.  But I also have to admit that if I were pressed to ask what else should they have done-and how to offer up realistic solutions for this dilemma-I am not sure I would have those answers, either. Not without a lot of thought. I see and hear all of the well intentioned fan initiatives to “buy back Neverland.” I know such initiatives are well intentioned, but the reality is that unless a fan just happens to be a multi millionaire, it is doomed to fail. However,  I just feel that selling it shouldn’t have to be that answer. And I am not consoled by reminders of saving Hayvenhurst, or the success of Michael Jackson One. New albums and Cirque du Soleil shows will come and go. They are exciting in their way. But all pale when compared to the immanence of Neverland, and what it represents. Those artificial gates in the One and Immortal shows will never compensate for the loss of the real thing.

Yes, it is possible that something good may come out of this. But it will not be the same. It is what Shakespeare meant by a “sea change.” Neverland will be transformed. In the best case scenario, we will still recognize it, and let’s hope that is the case. But the reality is that it could become something completely unrecognizable. I am reminded again of the climactic scene from Ghosts where Michael slowly disintegrates into nothingness. His legacy is not going to die, but it sometimes seems, just as with his physical remains, that much of what he left is slowly turning to dust.
[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEk6-Z1yqiw[/tube]

Some will say it should not matter, as long as the music survives, and maybe the short films. But that is still only a part of Michael Jackson’s legacy, and maybe not even the most important part. The real essence of who Michael was-the father, the humanitarian, the man with a grand vision for himself, for the world, and its possibilities-is embodied by the grounds of Neverland.

It’s not to say we will lose the spirit and essence of Michael without Neverland. But it may be important to note that what we will lose is the closest physical representation of it that we have.

That is something worth thinking about. And yes, it should matter to all of us who care about him. No exceptions.
ETA (08/04/14): I saw this shared on Twitter last night, and found it so sickening that I wanted to also share it here (not that I enjoy sharing sickening things, that is, but sometimes they are necessary). It’s no secret that Barrack and Colony Capital have been leasing Neverland’s grounds for some time, usually for short term events such as meetings and weddings. I have not found anything that states that they are not within their legal rights to do so, as per the terms of the agreement but, if nothing else, this hits home the reality of what is happening-and will continue to happen, especially as the property goes on the market. Neverland is being invaded by people who have NO RESPECT for anything it stands for, as evidenced by the snarky comment below from a Miss Lauren Roxborough. “Happy Easter from the creepiest place on earth!” she mockingly and proudly tweeted, after being allowed privileged access onto those sacred grounds (and not just sacred because Michael lived there-Neverland has been sacred ground for thousands of years to the indigenous people of Santa Ynez Valley). It sickens me to think of disrespectful trespassers like this woman being allowed to walk the grounds of Neverland. But this may be only a hint of what the future holds for Neverland once it is gone, and no longer in the control of people who care about its legacy. I am not posting this here to stir bad feelings, or to rub salt in the wound, but rather, to show the reality of Neverland’s present and the possible reality of its future. I would rather see the gates closed permanently and the house razed to the ground than to have people like this in it.

More Student Essays on "Black or White" and "Earth Song"

earthsong11I promised you more student essays on “Black or White” and “Earth Song” and here they are. (Not to mention, these are easy posts to do while I am recuperating from a particularly vicious flu bout). As always, I find it fascinating to glimpse how Michael’s work is viewed through the eyes of the current generation, although at least one essay I will include today is from a student who was old enough to remember the “Black or White” premier.

Enjoy, and please feel free to comment. My students do visit here from time to time, and they always appreciate the feedback on their work.

The Cry of a Star by Sierra Adams, Eng 102 Sec 402

Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video premiered on MTV, BET, and FOX on a Sunday night, the main time families around the world view television together. Millions tuned in to see the “King of Pop’s” new hit. The eleven minute video had people buzzing all over the world. The first seven minutes showed Jackson dancing and singing of equal rights for all races, but the last four minutes is what created the upheaval. Jackson turns from a black panther into a human and provocatively dances, grabs his crotch, and smashes out car windows. The overall question is did Jackson decide to come back into the limelight with a vengeance, or was he really creating a statement about racism?

Jackson’s “Black or White” video was his reemergence back into the industry. It was a teaser for Dangerous, Jackson’s first album in four years. Dangerous later became Jackson’s third number one hit album in a row. The video was so overwhelming and provocative that it created an uproar, and many people developed a suspicion of his intentions. Critics questioned Sony and the producers about the video being a publicity ploy, and they defended Michael’s actions explaining that when he gets into the music there is just no stopping him. MTV, BET, and FOX also participated in creating an appetite toward the music video by airing Jackson specials and replayed old videos in the days preceding it. Some sources from MTV and FOX said that they were obligated to refer to Michael as the “King of Pop” in ads promoting the video before they were allowed to show “Black or White.” Michael Jackson and his producers bluntly stated that the ending of the video was not a publicity stunt, but was part of the overall message of racial harmony. I believe that Michael’s video was meant to shock viewers and get their attention. I do not think his intentions were a hundred percent fixed upon making a statement against racism, but I do believe it was his main focus.

black or white sexy
“But this was an awesome way of self expression, and he looked very sexy. Jackson’s point was overshadowed by the small minded people of America”-Sierra Adams

“Black or White” was a marketing tool for Jackson, but it was also used to bash racism. Jackson basically kills two birds with one stone by acting over the top to get attention on racism, but it backfires because some viewers miss the point. The Black Panther dance-the reason he turns into one-is because it is the same name as the civil rights activists (The Black Panthers). At the time, his skin color had changed but he was making a point that he was still black. The bits edited out are when he smashes the windows with a Nazi symbol, “KKK Rules,” and “Nigger Go Home” graffiti on them. He’s going against any kind of racial, religious, or cultural hate. A perfect statement for the “Black or White” video, but TV propaganda meant it was all edited, so he could not get his message across. But this was an awesome way of self expression, and he looked very sexy. Jackson’s point was overshadowed by the small minded people of America. When you tie his ending of the video to the beginning, he was saying that it should not matter if we are black or white. We are all created equal, and he ended it with the dance that shows his hatred of each racist group.

Michael eventually apologizes to viewers stating, “I deeply regret any pain or hurt that the final segment of ‘Black or White’ has caused children, their parents, or any other viewers.” Jackson’s pride was hit hard when critics bashed his new video without realizing the deeper and darker meaning. Jackson was not a dumb man. He knew that it would create a ruckus, but he still wanted to get the point of hating racism across. He was rebelling against racism and he wanted to do it with a bang. He was not going to tolerate racism and hatred against another person’s ethnic background or nationality. Unfortunately, his point was overlooked and eventually the video was edited to only show the happy and cheerful first seven minutes. Michael Jackson was ridiculed throughout his entire life. The media criticized him about his skin because they believed he was trying to become white. In actuality, he had vitiligo (the loss of brown skin pigment). This made Michael very self conscious. Michael had to visit therapists to talk about how he viewed himself and learn to love himself for who he was. I believe his lack of self-esteem stems back to how he was raised. Jackson’s father was a failed musician and he became obsessed with making his children successful. He made them practice for hours, and the Jackson children often felt inadequate for him. When they did become successful he tried to control their careers even as they became adults. Michael was slammed and bad mouthed by the media constantly, but he still found ways to be positive and help others. I think we can all learn from him because not every person we encounter is going to love us. The important thing is that we stand up for what we believe in even if it means being hated for it.

In conclusion, Michael was an amazing artist that brought more to the table than just good music. Later in his career, he decided to lash out on inequality and the wrong people do to the world. “Black or White” was a song to bash racial inequality and promote equal rights for all. His point was not interpreted well in the beginning, but after analyzing the video many begin to see his purpose. The video also helped him achieve publicity and sell Dangerous when it hit the shelves.

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Symbolism of “Earth Song,” by Robert Price, ENG 102 Sec 401

In Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” video there are many points to which symbolism is displayed. Most of the symbols seem to drive home the same point. The basis of the video and song are understood easily by the majority of the population that enjoyed Michael Jackson’s music. Michael Jackson was in fact one of the most successful musicians in modern history and could be remembered for all time for his contributions to music. Michael Jackson was not just as a musician but as a self-proclaimed artist it is only logical that he would put as much of an imprint of himself in his work as possible; however, not knowing Michael Jackson personally leaves many unanswered questions as to some of the symbolic meanings of his work “Earth Song.”

The video starts off with different settings from around the world, it seems. Each area has been negatively affected by some factor. The factors seem to be somewhat displayed but could this be swaying the opinion of the audience? The African group that is looking over the corpse of an elephant who has been killed for what it seems for no more than its tusks, yet there is no indication as to where the cause of the problem stemmed from. The group that lived in the forest also experienced a life and cultural changing event. The forest was shown as being cut down by man, but no reason is given as to why the forest is being cut. The family in what seems like a European setting is clearly affected by war, but why? All of these events show how negative things can happen to this world, but none of them clearly point to the cause or motives for the action. The causes for all of these events make it appear that the people directly affected by the acts were innocent bystanders, but what if the tables were turned and these people were the direct cause of these problems? Would people have a different feeling about the song? Let’s say the African tribesmen overhunted their lands or made money off of European big game hunters. Would it change anyone’s perspective? Even though the video does not show a single exchange of money, it seems to display that the cause of greed is to blame for these horrible acts.

The video allows the viewer to see a variety of cultures, sexes, and ages. It does not limit the pain and suffering to a single group. From the African plains to the European village the video shows that problems are not just limited to one part of the world. The problems are not limited to a single age group. The problems are not limited to males or females. These problems are portrayed on a larger than life scale which affects all walks of life. Does this drown out the emphasis of the problem or amplify them? It seems that in all fairness, one, being Michael Jackson, would not want to single out any one group for threat of a protest against his work, but at the same time not want to sacrifice the integrity of his work. The point could be a message in itself or a mere pleasing notion to calm the mass viewer’s opinions.

The display of corruption is not shown in the video, which leaves the mind to wonder as to why the problems have truly erupted. There is not a display of wealth really shown anywhere in this video. From the clothes everyone is shown wearing in the video, it would suggest that the affected people have not been truly indoctrinated into the twentieth century. The closest display of modernization would be the family affected by war but almost suggests that the acts have already been committed. Could the video suggest that all of the problems these people are facing have been committed by their predecessors? Could the attire by the cultures express a meaning of purity before the modern age? Even though the clothing may truly be a display of a timeless collaboration of eras, it only shows one aspect of those times. One thing the video is missing from each group it focuses on is wealthy people. In some way it may seem that the rich are immune to such suffering and pain. Maybe it is an indication that the cause of these problems is because of the rich society. Even Michael himself is shown wearing torn and tattered clothing. Not a single dollar bill or gold coin is exchanged. This may suggest that these problems do not stem from greed alone but possibly from human nature. The absence of wealth from the video could very well be an indication as to the cause of many of these problems or just seen as a clutter and less driven of a depiction.

earth song25The storm in the video has to be one of the single biggest mysteries of the entire production. Where did it stem from and what is its purpose? All of the different groups drop to their knees and grab the soil in what seems like an attempt to revitalize mother earth. While it may be conceived that all of these groups could be attempting to revitalize the earth, it could also be perceived that these people could have given up all hope and be digging themselves a shallow grave upon which they could join their now deadened world around them. Shortly after the storm begins Michael Jackson started saying “what about us” as if the storm is a way of the world doing an entire reset on the pain caused by its inhabitants. The storm shows the world restoring to its previous state as the trees are being put back in place and the wild animals begin to roam once more. With the world resetting itself, does this point give everyone a chance to correct the problems that got them to this point, or does it give a chance to do it all over again?

Many of the symbols displayed are just what viewers would expect from a quality piece of artwork and that is unanswered. So many of the points portrayed could be interpreted in a different way and that is the way Michael Jackson would have wanted it. To be a true artist, one has to be a magician and not reveal the secret of the show. The more points one person makes the more questions another person will have. The answers to the riddles will now forever be sealed in the memory of the mastermind. Could all of these symbols actually be purposeful and carry true in-depth meaning, or just a lucky decision in an attempt to make a quality production? The work may have very well been an attempt to make the world question its intent, and if that is the case, the intent was met extremely well.

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Michael Jackson: Much More Than The King of Pop by Steve Hardiman, ENG 102 Sec 402

Michael Jackson’s life and legacy remain a constant debate amongst the public. Depending on the source, Jackson could be depicted in many different ways. However, what cannot be disputed and what differentiates him from other pop icons was his commitment in helping those less fortunate and tackling social issues. Throughout Jackson’s career he used his status as “The King of Pop” to bring significant cultural problems to the forefront of mainstream dialogue. Although the same can be said for a handful of other singers and songwriters, no one could match the effectiveness of his delivery method. Filled with provocative gestures, over the top theatrics, and an unparalleled ability to dance, Jackson was not only the King of Pop, but a devoted activist with the largest platform in the world. The best example of Jackson’s prowess as an entertainer and activist is the song “Black or White.” In “Black or White,” Jackson looks into the lifelong struggles he and so many other African Americans endure to their race. Jackson also mentions the escalating gang wars in the United States and ongoing territorial disputes in the Middle East, due to ethnicity or religion.

On the surface, much of Michael Jackson’s dancing and antics may seem like a show or a cheap tactic for attention, but this was far from the case. Michael understood that in order for his message to reach beyond the pop music genre, he needed to be innovative, bold, and controversial. Jackson knew that he needed to create a persona with limitless reach, establishing the largest platforms for his performances and music videos. If Michael was a conservatively dressed, mildly theatric artist, his ideologies would most likely have ended at the music fringes. Recognizing this, Michael spared no expense creating grandiose concerts and compiling his music videos. Using his natural abilities and all the theatrics, Michael’s reach and influence stretched far beyond a pop star. While the conversation may have started about his controversial antics and videos, the curiosity and debate led people to the lyrics, and from the lyrics they would inevitably consume the message he was trying to convey.

black or white natives
“Michael Isn’t Asking For Equality, He Is Demanding It”-Steve Hardiman

“Black or White” is one of the most watched videos of all time. Most people would be hard pressed to find someone who hadn’t seen it, or at minimum, knew the chorus. In this song, Michael Jackson makes a loud statement, not only for African Americans, but for all sects and nationalities. The chorus and the initial theme of the song are seen as a plea for equality. However, upon looking deeper into the lyrics, or coupling them with the video, it is apparent that Michael isn’t asking for equality, he is demanding it. Not only demanding it for him, but for all races, and all people. In the line, “I ain’t scared of your brother, I ain’t scared of your sheets,” he takes a direct shot at the Ku Klux Klan and racism in general. When he says, “Protection for gangs, clubs, and nations/causing grief in human relations/it’s a turf war on a global scale/I’d rather hear both sides of the tale,” take aim at gang wars in the major cities of the United States and the constantly disputed territory of the middle east. Jackson is pushing for patience and understanding rather than jumping into wars. Michael’s bold video for “Black or White” removes any subtleties that, however unlikely, might exist from the radio or lyrics. With each verse, sometimes with each line, there is an incredibly blunt, unapologetic image from the video. From the faces changing from black to white by flashing through all of the races in between, to the dancing with indigenous peoples in the jungle, tap dancing, crotch grabbing, destruction to the streets, all the way through Michael morphing in the shape of a black panther. There is a lot written about the various images, their meanings, importance to the song, and deeper subliminal intentions of Michael. Of course the black panther and cat, in some way, represents The Black Panther organization. Clearly the burning cross was about the KKK and coincided with the line “ain’t afraid of no sheets.” His edgy dance moves and tap dancing could mean any number of viable ethnic messages. However, while there is a slant to his message due to his particular race, the intended message is the one that’s easily remembered. Just like the title says, it doesn’t matter if you are “Black or White” or anything in between. Organizations that do not stand for equality should not be tolerated, be it a country, gang, police, or sect. Every word and image was chosen for a specific reason, some of them apparent, others are debatable. More importantly, the idea of equality is force fed to the viewer by the sights and sounds. Opinions ranging from good, bad, or indifferent, as long as people watch, listen, and discuss the song, Michael’s objective was met. Years later, in 2013, we are still at it. Debating and analyzing the song, keeping the idea of equality in our thoughts.

In conclusion, Michael Jackson’s impact on the world could not be overstated. He sold millions of albums; he remained at the center of pop music from the “Jackson 5” and even after his death through the present. He lived a flamboyant, controversial, but most of all, impactful life. Although his merits did not receive the same publicity as his controversies, Michael Jackson, through his stardom, shed light on so many prevalent issues, he spent countless hours visiting terminally sick children and financing their procedures. Throughout his life he spent untold amounts of money helping the less fortunate. As seen through “Black or White,” Michael did not fear the scrutiny he endured from his outspoken and divisive convictions. If there was an important issue to be dealt with, Jackson gave all of himself to combat it. Jackson used every avenue to express himself and his messages: images, lyrics, dancing, and his attire. Michael Jackson made so many songs, produced bestselling albums and performed on the biggest stages. Throughout Michael’s adult life, he developed and harnessed his immense popularity and wealth, directing it towards helping the needy and the environment. For all his accomplishments as an entertainer, he was equally important as an activist.

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"If there was an important issue to be dealt with, Jackson gave all of himself to combat it"-Steve Hardiman
“If there was an important issue to be dealt with, Jackson gave all of himself to combat it”-Steve Hardiman

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Black or White”: The Mystery of the Panther Dance by Tanya Stallworth, ENG 102 Sec 402

I remember sitting in front of the television back in 1991 waiting for Michael Jackson’s new video to premier on MTV. People were talking about it because it had been years since he had a new song. I was just excited because I was a big fan. I was only ten years old but I loved his music. So sitting at my Dad’s we patiently waited for the video. Finally the video came on. I had a million questions for my Dad and he explained to me about the meaning behind the video. He said Michael Jackson was showing us that racism was bad and we should all love one another. A simple answer that was understood by my ten year old self. We were dancing to the song and having a great time and when we thought the video ended, there was Michael in the alley morphing from a panther. This is where the video got interesting. I always loved his dancing so here I was in front of the television watching him then I got confused because he started screaming and yelling and breaking things. As a ten year old I was utterly confused. As an adult I have a better understanding of what is going on.

black or white car
“As a ten year old, I was utterly confused”-Tanya Stallworth

In the beginning, Michael morphed from a panther to himself. The panther symbolizes the Black Panther party. I believe he was a strong follower of their beliefs for the equality of black people in America, being a civil rights activist. Cats also are very independent and they move with stealth and grace. In the original video I didn’t remember graffiti on the windows that were broken by Michael Jackson in the video, then later I found out they were added due to censoring issues after the video was aired originally. The graffiti that is added basically shows that Michael was angry about the racism that is going on around us. Honestly, even before they added the graffiti, if you understood Michael’s work you would know he was against racism. He was always talking about loving one another. The dancing, oh the dancing! Michael Jackson is an artist plain and simple. He expresses himself through his music, which is his art. He was also a dancer. I remember the Oprah interview where he said he just moves to the beat. In this particular situation there was no music. So since there wasn’t any music I believe he was doing a dance interpretation of how he felt about the situation at hand, racism.

There was a lot of criticism about the fact that he touched his crotch. Honestly, I have no answer for that because Michael Jackson always touched his crotch when he danced. I think he did it because he knew it would make someone angry. Now I have to agree with Rev. Kauffmann when she spoke of the statement of contempt that he portrayed when he zips his pants during the dance sequence. As an African American I always hear things about “the white man this” and “the white man that” so I can relate to the fact she said that he was basically saying that whites wanted blacks to be quiet and not propagate. I think he was telling them you can’t shut me up! I have learned about the history of tap dancing in Black history classes that I have taken over the years and as fantastic as the form of dance is, the origin is an interesting one. Dating back to slavery when the slaves were on ships and transported to America they were forced to exercise by dancing. Over time, it evolved by being fused with European dance styles into tap dancing as we know it today. So I believe that he used tap dancing to symbolize slavery and racism.

There were also different symbols of events in black history. One that stands out the most is the one that is stated in Rev. Kauffmann’s essay about the riots in Chicago after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in the 1960’s. In the end Michael Jackson morphed back into the black panther, walking away an independent, graceful and stealthy black man into the wild-or as we know it, America.

"When Michael Spoke, Everyone Listened"-Tanya Stallworth
“When Michael Spoke, Everyone Listened”-Tanya Stallworth

True enough this video has been interpreted many ways by many people over the years and will be for many years to come. What I can honestly say is that when Michael spoke, everyone listened. Years after his death people are still listening. Now let’s hope they hear his message. Stop the hate, love one another, and heal the world.

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A True Lament by John Estes, ENG 102, Sec 402

A look back at the history of mankind reveals all the problems and injustice we have endured on this earth. While various religions and groups of thinkers have tried to make sense of our sad history, it seems that individuals who are burdened by these things are the ones who really lament the times we live in. Someone who laments is someone who is sad about the present circumstances they live in and who uses their words to attempt to bring about change. Every age has had someone who sees injustice or other wrongdoings and stands up to address these issues and stop them. Even the words of a song can have the power of a lamentation and a desire to change the world. Changing the world might seem ambitious, but that is what Michael Jackson was. Never was this truer than in Michael’s epic masterpiece “Earth Song.” While none of Michael Jackson’s songs are ordinary, “Earth Song” is especially significant to him on many levels. “Earth Song” is a true lament in every sense of the word.

earthsong22The first thing to notice about the song is how downbeat it is. It is very sad when Michael begins to ask questions about the various injustices that go almost unnoticed every day. The way he sings it is very beautiful but also haunting. He comes across as someone who is truly burdened by the state of the earth. He reminds us of how people are hurting the earth and each other. But Michael had to go through his own journey of revelation and spirituality before coming to this conclusion. He was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and was made to adhere to their rigorous doctrines. What makes this religion different from others is what they believe about “End Time” and the apocalypse. Michael was taught to believe that these events were inevitable and that God would take care of all the sin and problems on the earth when these events took place. As an adult, he began questioning these doctrines. As he saw the world with its many problems and social injustices, he also saw the beauty that we may one day return to completely. Of course, this was a very difficult time when Michael was struggling with his faith and the beliefs he had grown up with. Ultimately, he broke away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, coming to the revelation that if we want social change, we must be the ones to make it happen. These were the events that led to Michael Jackson’s lament “Earth Song” and to his newfound beliefs about the world and the change we could bring to it.

The song’s call for a change in these circumstances is also what makes “Earth Song” a true lament. There are several lines in the song that use the word “you” to directly address the listener. Michael is trying to get the point across that although we may be the ones who have let these problems happen, we are also the ones who have the power to stop them. In fact, this is not limited to just one country or one problem in particular. Michael has the whole world in mind when he calls for change. He is telling us that our acknowledgement of the sorry state of the world must also be accompanied by deliberate action to reverse course. When Michael lists these problems facing the world, all of the evil we have done to it seems so senseless. All of the war, destruction, racism, prejudice, death, and disease seem so out of hand and impossible to counteract. But what makes “Earth Song” a happy song as well as a sad one is that we do have the power to bring about change. This is what Michael wants the listener to grasp in this song. This is not merely some fun song to listen to, although it is very enjoyable on that level. But this is a song with a specific purpose in mind. Michael put several years and much hard work into this masterpiece, so it is only appropriate that we as listeners give thought to the words of the song and their meaning. It is especially important to fans because of its link to Michael Jackson’s own journey and spiritual struggle to arrive at these ideas. Toward the end of the song, Michael asks if we really do care about all of the injustice we see around us. He is putting his all into making us understand his lament. It should not be a personal lament, but one that we should share with Michael. The view of the world is one that we need to join. Michael always believed that we could accomplish great things if we tried. During his lifetime, he gave to charities and visited sick children in the hospital, doing everything he could to change peoples’ lives even outside of his music career. He truly practiced what he preached.

"During his lifetime, he gave to charities and visited sick children in the hospital, doing everything he could to change peoples' lives even outside of his music career. He truly practiced what he preached."-John Estes
“During his lifetime, he gave to charities and visited sick children in the hospital, doing everything he could to change peoples’ lives even outside of his music career. He truly practiced what he preached.”-John Estes

Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” should be considered a true lament. It is a song that laments the atrocities done on the earth and to it. Michael’s breaking away from his religion, his travels around the world, and his spiritual journey have culminated in this epic masterpiece of music history. Even after his unfortunate death, Michael’s song is still inspiring people to bring about social and environmental change. The song is not about preaching at its listener, but rather it is pleading with the world to heal itself. We do not have to wait on God to bring about apocalypse on the earth in order to change it; God can work through us and use us to heal the world. This is very similar to God giving his message to prophets about something that needs to change or bad things will happen. Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” is certainly a message to show us about our actions. That is truly what makes it a timeless song for us to think about as well as to enjoy its beauty.