Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Father and Son: Together Again, But The Wounds Remain

“I like that song he did about the animals”-Joe Jackson

I realize this blog has not been active in several months, and first of all, I would like to express my gratitude to those loyal readers who have remained patient and faithful. After a series of setbacks, personal issues and other factors that have kept me out of the saddle for some time, I am slowly getting my groove back and catching up on all things MJ.

However, it saddens me that my return blog post could not be under happier circumstances. As we all know by now, the observation of Michael’s ninth death anniversary was marred by more sad news with the passing of his father Joe Jackson.

Normally I have always written a post to commemorate each passing year without Michael, but for some reason, this year I really struggled. What could I possibly say that I have not already said better in the last eight years? A nine year anniversary is a frustratingly odd number, not like the bench mark of, say, a ten year anniversary. Still, it is “almost” a decade. It is long enough that a baby born in 2009-the year Michael left us-would now be entering third grade (and, no doubt, still recognizing the iconic beat of “Billie Jean”).  It is more than enough time to reflect on what a decade without Michael Jackson has meant for us, and for the world.

For sure, that light has not dimmed. Thousands of roses and floral arrangements decked Holly Terrace. Social media blew up with remembrances and the hashtag #9YearsWithoutMichaelJackson. No sooner had Joe Jackson drawn his last breath than a new “duet” featuring Michael Jackson and Drake was blowing up the charts (more on that topic to come). The last few months has seen an explosion of television specials and documentaries (of varying degrees of quality, it might be added, but the sheer fact that they continue to be made is an attestment to the continued drawing power of Michael’s name).

Perhaps best of all, the anniversary came and went in relatively quiet, dignified fashion. No newly invented “scandals” invented by the likes of Radar Online rocked the headlines. Perhaps with the Wade Robson case officially dismissed for good, the incentive just wasn’t there. A sign of progress? Is the world finally ready to let Michael Jackson rest in peace? That would probably be wishful thinking, but at least it was nice to have a relatively quiet anniversary in which the world only remembered that we loved and lost him.

However, it was by no means an uneventful anniversary, as the media “death watch” over Joe Jackson had already kicked into high gear. Speculation that Joe might actually pass on June 25th was rampant, and didn’t we just know the media was salivating over that golden prospect, already thinking what headlines that would make!

Was Joe Jackson-The Ultimate Showman-looking to upstage his own son’s death anniversary? It’s cold-but some were speculating just that!

The “coincidence” of Joe possibly passing on his son’s death anniversary wasn’t just being talked about by the media, however. Among colleagues at work and even in private conversation, many were speculating: Could it happen? It would have seemed strangely fitting, in a bizarre kind of way, for this to have been the final chapter of what had been a lifelong and complicated father-son saga.

According to at least one tabloid story, Joe was hoping to “hold on” long enough to see his son’s ninth death anniversary. But many could not resist speculating that Joe Jackson-ultimate showman to the end-was already envisioning what a story it would make if he bowed out on the 25th. Well, we can’t presume to know what was going through Joe’s mind in those final hours. Joe had been in failing health for years, having already suffered a series of strokes. The thin and frail man who appeared occasionally in recent interviews and public appearances was a shadow of his former, robust self.

Joe was appearing and sounding increasingly frail in recent photos and interviews:

I had met Joe back in 2010 at the King of Pop Fanvention in Merrillville, indiana and spent most of that weekend seeing him at various functions. At the time, he was  already eighty-two but  nevertheless was the picture of vitality. (I know because I still have a vivid memory of trying to catch up to him and being literally outpaced by an eighty-two year old man who could still strut fast enough to make a  fit, 48 year old woman winded!). The Joe Jackson I had seen in more recent years bore little resemblance to that man.

For all the world knows, it could well have been the grief precipitated by the approach of the nine year anniversary that exacerbated his already failing health. But, whether it was indeed sad coincidence or the last breath of Joe Jackson’s infamously manipulative and stubborn will, he managed to make it close enough. Joe Jackson passed on June 27, 2018 just two days after Michael’s ninth year of transition.

Unfortunately, his death brought out some of the best and worst of an already divided fan community, for just like everything else in the Michael Jackson fandom, Joe Jackson has been a polarizing figure, either respected and admired as the iron rampart behind the Jackson family or villified as an abuser. As someone who has heard all of the stories from both sides, it’s hard to know how to filter all of it to come to some sort of middle ground. As I have said often enough, based on my own experience, I witnessed many sides of Joe the one weekend that I spent in his presence. I knew the moment I was in his presence that he was every bit the intimidating figure his children described. I know he would have terrified a sensitive child-he terrified me! Over the years, I have gotten pretty seasoned about approaching celebrities. But I shook in my shoes when Joe Jackson stood in front of me, and it wasn’t anything he said or did. As Michael said, it was just the fact that he could give you a look and you knew instantly where you stood.

But the very next day, Joe was seated behind me when Jennifer Batten, Michael’s lead guitarist, was conducting a seminar. He asked her to play a song for him. “In all the years you played for my son, I never got to hear you.” She played a song for him, and when I next stole a glance at Joe, he was visibly fighting tears. Abruptly, in the middle of the song, he got up and walked out. I honestly believe that he was still old school enough to believe that a man should not cry in public.

He Always Seemed To Genuinely Enjoy The Time Spent Among The Fans Every August In Gary, Indiana.

I was further surprised that weekend when Joe actually gave the ok for me to interview him for this blog; however, I misheard the location where we were supposed to meet (the Star Cafe’, NOT the Starbucks!) and due to that stupid mistake, was forever robbed of the chance I might have had to sit one on one with the man, however briefly. This would have been interesting because it would have been more of an informal conversation over breakfast than a formal interview. I will always regret that mistake because I can tell a lot about a person within a few minutes of talking to them. On the other hand, when I look back on it, I always wondered why I didn’t pursue the opportunity more aggressively. Sure, I had screwed up-very unprofessionally-but it wasn’t as if I couldn’t have explained what happened and requested another opportunity. For some reason, I didn’t and looking back on it now, I am still not sure why. Perhaps it was because I really was feeling very nervous and scared about doing the interview (almost as if I was relieved when I didn’t see him waiting in Starbucks). I realized that somewhere between the very intimidating reputation and the sheer force of the man’s physical presence, I had turned from a confident writer and journalist to the state of a terrified six year old child! In short, maybe something in my subconscious will prevented me from pursuing it any further (i.e, did I simply chicken out?). It wouldn’t have been the first time. This was a man who could bring the biggest superstar in the world shaking to his knees. Many stories from those who worked closest with Michael attest that the sheer knowledge that Joe Jackson was on the premises would be enough to make the color drain from his face. “I don’t want to see him,” would be the usual response, leaving it for some unlucky employee to be the go-between. Those stories always bothered me, and still do. I felt sorry for the abused son who evidently had felt so traumatized that this kind of  avoidance was the only way he knew how to cope with it. At the same time, though, I couldn’t help feeling sympathy for a father who simply wanted to see his son. (Michael, of course, would have said it was not that simple; that this was about Joe wanting something else from him, and that was probably true, also, at least most of the time).

The next day, a Sunday, I saw Joe again at the Jackson house in Gary. This time, it was more of a family reunion type of event, with the public invited, of course. The tough guard was down. Joe was just uncle, cousin, grandpa, great-grandpa, brother. He was cutting birthday cake with one of his nieces, smiling and laughing at some family joke. Joe really had a great smile that lit up his face, and his entire demeanor changed. I realized that in his older years, Joe’s face had settled into very harsh lines and the media loved to play that up, always posting only the most unflattering and sinister looking, scowling pics. They loved demonizing him just as they similarly loved playing up Michael as “the freak.”  But among family, he could let his guard down and just be Grandpa Joe.

Young Joe Jackson Was A Cutie Like His Son. The Media Loved To Demonize Him By Always Using The Most Unflattering Pics.

One thing I do know is that Joe always gave back to the city of Gary, Indiana. The man was a walking contradiction-intimidating, yes, but also a man who genuinely enjoyed being sociable among Michael’s fans. He was tough, but also had his moments of unexpected tenderness. People who knew Joe best say that he had mellowed with age, and I realize this would have been the version that I met. By then, he was only a shadow of the man who had once terrified his kids, and only a shadow of the force that had swept them from poverty to world fame. But the last vestiges of that gale force remained.

There is a lot that the world still doesn’t understand, or properly acknowledge, about Joe Jackson. The media tears him down without ever once considering the world of the Depression era South that shaped him. Michael himself came to recognize this, and spoke about it eloquently in his Oxford speech on forgiveness. Joe was a Black man growing up in the Jim Crow era South, which in itself tells us all we really need to know. But there was so much more. He was also the son who had to grow up too fast and learn to be the man of the family when his beautiful but emotionally unstable mother, Crystal Lee, abandoned the family. He developed his aspirations for a better life while taking care of his siblings and steering them through the Depression. He would go on to raise nine children in one of the toughest industrial cities in America, and later, as perhaps the very first African American “stage father,” he fought an uphill battle against a white dominated music  industry that would never allot him the respect he deserved (Joe always knew this, and to a large extent, it shaped his character, the final indignity that firmly hardened whatever layers of vulnerability remained intact). No matter what we say about Joe Jackson, we have to acknowledge that he always fought as firmly for his family as he fought with and against them.

It is not my place to either defend or villify Joe. Only the Jackson children really know what they endured and what they feel for him. If Michael’s own words are taken into account, his were the conflicted feelings that are almost always the product of a complicated parent/child relationship. It is a tough thing to deal with because along with all of the hurt and anger there is guilt as well-the guilt of knowing this is your parent, whom the Bible teaches us to love and respect-and yet knowing this does not eradicate those feelings. It only adds to the confusion and pain. It is a feeling shared the world over by all of us who know what it is to love a parent and yet know that we simply can’t be in the same room with them for more than five minutes without feeling like we might burst a blood vessel. And then we hate ourselves  even more for feeling that way, despite whatever the parent has done.

Michael Opened Up Candidly About His Feelings For His Father In His Spech at Oxford, 2001:

Michael and Joe did eventually come to a hard won “understanding” but it is doubtful those wounds ever healed completely. In his old age, Joe Jackson had learned the hard way that we are all products of the mistakes we have made, and for better or worse, we live with those consequences. But I think in his own way, he was at least trying. The moment when he took his son’s hand at the 2005 trial was a symbolic gesture to the world that “we are united and we stand together” but it also went much deeper than that. It was, finally, the simply show of affection that Michael had craved from his father his whole life. It would not be enough to permanently seal the damage, and indeed not even enough to bring about a permanent closure to their rift. But it was something-a gesture; however small.

There has also been one other memory that I have continued to go back to in the week since Joe passed. I remember that Joe was once asked which, of all Michael’s solo hits, was his favorite. The question automatically disqualified anything from The Jackson 5 or Jacksons era. It could only be something from Michael’s adult solo career. And I’ll never forget how Joe’s answer both shocked me and yet taught me that there was so much more to the man than I thought I ever knew. You see, I was thoroughly expecting that he would have said “Billie Jean” or “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” or something similar from the Quincy Jones era, in which Michael had stayed closest to his r&b/Motown roots. Instead, he said, “That song that he did about the animals” and I knew he meant “Earth Song.” I would never in a million years have thought of “Earth Song” as something that Joe would have even liked, let alone singling it out as his favorite. But I remembered that Michael had always said that his father loved animals, and that in fact his own love of animals had come from his father.

It reminded me of one of the many joys that this journey of discovering the man Michael Jackson has been all about. It is not always about the big things, but those moments of little discoveries that make you rethink everything you thought you knew about someone. Only in this case, it said more about the man he simply wanted to call “Dad” for all of his life. Anyone who loves animals can’t be all bad.

This week, in whatever form these things take, father and son have been reunited. It is not for us to speculate on what that means for either soul. I can only say that I hope Michael was there to greet him and guide him home. Death brings understanding to all things, and Michael no longer has to be that scared child cowering in fear, for he is awash in God’s love and grace.

It Was A Small Gesture, But It Meant Everything

I always dreaded the inevitable time when we would no longer have Michael’s parents with us. Katherine and Joe are both, in their own way, institutions. Between them, they created and nurtured a musical dynasty. Like stalwart war horses, they seemed destined to stick around forever. They have endured a lot and have shared many struggles. They represent the values of “The Silent Generation,” a generation shaped by the struggles of  The Great Depression and the trauma of World War II, a generation that is rapidly thinning in number but from whom we can still learn much.

They shared the bittersweet triumphs of their children’s success and the shared pain of their darkest chapters. It sometimes seemed as if they were both going to go on forever, but even with the benefit of great genes (they both had parents that lived well into their nineties and early hundreds) and all the best medical care that money can buy, we knew it couldn’t be. Sooner or later, one of them would have to go. It is sad, though, to see the start of this chapter. It is one thing to see many of Michael’s friends (and frenemies!) passing, but the loss of Joe-and inevitably, Katherine too-signifies something else, a much deeper kind of loss. As his parents, they have signified that connection that we call the mortal coil. Now that coil has been broken. Katherine remains, but Joe’s passing is a sad reminder that her time with us, also, is limited and growing shorter by the day.

Although I never met Michael, I am grateful that I was blessed with the opportunity to spend time in the presence of both of his parents. In both cases, those occasions were made possible due to Joe and Katherine’s continued support of their home town and community. In both cases, it allowed me a glimpse-however briefly-of the man and woman behind the public facade.

I knew that everything Michael had ever told us about Joseph Walter Jackson was absolutely true. But as always, “truth” can contain many facets. Joe was not a perfect parent. Where he excelled at providing and driving his family to succeed, he failed at providing emotional support and stability. To Joe, being able to put bread on the table said, “I love you.” Only very late in life did he seem to finally “get” that bruises don’t heal just because the discoloration goes away, or that those he loved maybe needed to hear it once in awhile, too.

Joe With Paris

Hopefully it was not a lesson learned too late.  The touching bedside vigil for Joe-which included Michael’s children-is a testament to the fact that love and forgiveness are indeed stronger familial bonds than hate, pain or holding grudges.

 

I know that words are easier written than put into practice. I know that just because someone died it does not automatically wipe the slate clean. But I think now is a good time to take a cue from the family and let them have their space to grieve and to assess for themselves what Joe meant to them (yes, Bette Midler, I am addressing you, too!).

The legacy of Joe Jackson will continue to be a complicated one, marred by the legacy of abuse, and will no doubt continue for many years to both cloud and divide the fan community, who will always uphold him on the one hand as the man who “made” Michael Jackson and by the same token, as at least one of those responsible for his emotional destruction. It is not surprising that even Michael’s own speeches about the man are peppered with these same conflicting emotions-love, admiration and respect on the one hand; guilt, fear, anger and hatred on the other. All of it comes through, loud and clear-all of it equally genuine, and equally valid.

How then, do we really determine the legacy of Joe Jackson? Is it possible to admire what he accomplished, while refusing to whitewash his actions? Even the movie An American Dream, so long considered a classic staple and often accepted as Biblical truth about the Jacksons’ upbringing, depicts a driven man whose determination for success often came at the expense of his children’s emotional well being. This was a tyrant who literally blew up, going into a fit of rage, if the kids missed a step or someone left a dirty towel by the pool. At one point, he traumatically forces a terrified Michael to board an airplane during a storm. But this was also the same father who was there, in a heartbeat, when Michael was severely burned on the set of the Pepsi commercial. Making a stand to a reporter, who asked him how he felt, Joe asked him if he had any kids. The reporter replied “no.” “That’s my son in there,” Joe said. “My son.”

This was not just a scripted moment from the film. It was emblematic of everything this complicated father/son relationship stood for. The love was there, but too often it was “tough love”  and not the language of love that Michael understood. As a baby boomer, Michael was already of a different generation, the generation that gave us Ward Cleaver and the era of “let’s talk it out” parenting. But I think as Michael grew older, he came to realize that we don’t get to choose who our parents are. They come to us, given by God, faults and warts and all.

We can’t always love them as unconditionally as they may love us. But in time, most of us learn to accept what we cannot change about them and to forgive what can be forgiven.

It’s all we can do.

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

 

“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.