Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Just What The Hell Is A “Respectable” Death, Anyway?

The Media-Fueled "Rivalry" Is Adding A Macabre Final Chapter.
The Media-Fueled “Rivalry” Is Adding A Macabre Final Chapter.

I was starting to feel, finally, that it was time to move on from the MJ/Prince-related topics, but with the toxicology reports from Prince’s autopsy finally in, and with the sense of closure that comes from having an official cause of death, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to comment on yet one more point of comparison between these two artists for which the media has seen fit to compare, whether fairly or not. I am talking, of course, about the matter of their deaths.

Propofol-Use

Fentanyl Citrate, a CLASS II Controlled Substance as classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency in the secure area of a local hospital Friday, July10, 2009. Joe Amon / The Denver Post (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

At least, with the toxicology reports in, we now have some answers as to what killed Prince-acute fentanyl toxicity. We also know that  according to the coroner’s report, it was a self administered fatal dose. That puts to rest at least one question-we know now that all of the rumors of Prince having died of a drug related death are true, and we know the drug that was the culprit. Frankly, I never bought the story of the flu (yes, the flu can certainly be nasty, but let’s get real, the chances of it killing an otherwise healthy 57-year-old with access to the best in medical care just does not compute) but it still leaves a lot of puzzling and disturbing questions, of course, which I’m sure (just as we saw with Michael) will result in continued investigations, as well as  endless conspiracy theories, tabloid stories, and future books to be written. The fact that Prince died alone, with no apparent witnesses, will no doubt only further serve to deepen the mystery of “what really happened.”  And we still don’t know the full story of the circumstances that led him down this path. The only thing we can fully ascertain is that chronic pain-the debilitating chronic pain of a performer’s body that has come from years of wearing the body down through high intensity performances-and lack of adequate health care are the primary causes. (And yes, I am aware that this may sound contradictory to what I said earlier, but there is a vast difference between being able to afford adequate health care and actually having it). And by lack of adequate health care, I mean the lack of anyone with medical credentials who cares anything for this person’s well being other than as a never ending supply of cash. If looked at from that perspective, then yes, Michael and Prince at least died with that much in common. But I think we have to be very careful about lumping both of their deaths into the same tragic mold. Yes, we might say both came to very tragic ends, but the manner in which both died bear very striking differences that have to be considered. If we rely solely on media reports, however, we are never going to get that truth. You see, the media loves nothing better than stories of tragic, fallen superstars who ultimately do themselves in due to their own inability to cope. Just look at how the media continues to perpetuate the false story of Michael Jackson having died from a “prescription drug overdose” with every story written about him, despite having had full public access to the autopsy report for nearly seven years (and yes, even despite a fully televised trial leading to the conviction of his doctor Conrad Murray on the charge of manslaughter!).

Recent Typical Media Headline From ibtimes.com:

Like Michael Jackson, Prince Was Overprescribed Drugs By ‘Friendly’ Doctor: Report

 

The truth of Michael Jackson’s death has become, unfortunately, muddled by this inaccurate reporting. Remember Michael’s own words: “If a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes the truth.” The truth, as verified by his official autopsy report, is that Michael Jackson did not die from anything even remotely resembling a prescription drug overdose. His death was a result of acute propofol intoxication, administered by another’s hands (hence the reason why his death was officially ruled as a “homicide”). In this regard, we might argue that dying from propofol intoxication is still a drug-related death. But propofol is a surgical anesthetic; it is not a prescription drug. Part of the issue I have with this constant repetition of the erroneous “death from a prescription drug overdose” is that, first of all, it is patently false; secondly, it is lazy journalism, and third, it conjures for the uninformed reader a sense that Michael, like so many troubled celebrities before him, simply self administered his own end, whether willfully or accidentally, with a handful of sleeping pills. Or else they are left with the stereotypical image of another junkie shooting himself up with a fatal overdose.

Slowly but surely, the media is writing the narrative of his death that suits them.
Slowly but surely, the media is writing the narrative of his death that suits them.

To be sure, many celebrity deaths have occurred just that way, and it is no less tragic. But what I find most disturbing in the case of Michael Jackson is the media’s determination to write the narrative of Michael’s death in the manner that suits them, while blatantly ignoring all readily available evidence that either contradicts the narrative or makes it a lot more difficult to explain. It is certainly much more convenient-and less troublesome-to simply throw around the “death by prescription drug overdose” phrase than to do any actual research or to ask the tough questions. It irks me even more when such quotes are thrown into otherwise positive pieces about Michael’s art or humanitarianism. It bothers me because even when such pieces are sympathetic (as a lot of them are) it is still perpetuating false information. The danger in this is that, just as Michael prophesied, it is a falsification that is slowly becoming an accepted truth through sheer dent of repetition. When even well meaning writers and journalists are blindly repeating the “prescription drug overdose” lie (not because of malice but because they have simply been led to believe it is an accepted fact) we know it has become a problem-at the very least, it is a problem for those of us who care about truth and who care about justice. With another June 25th anniversary fast approaching, I am dreading what I know will be another onslaught of death anniversary “tribute” articles that will no doubt, once again, continue to perpetuate the “Jackson died from an overdose of prescription drugs” lie. Already, since Prince’s death in April, there has been no shortage of articles relating his death to Michael’s. I imagine that as June 25th approaches, we will be seeing a lot more of these memorial tributes that will no doubt laud their artistry on the one hand while, in the same breath, condemning them for what will be perceived as their shared inability to cope with the pressures of fame and addiction.

Allow me to back up a bit and talk about what prompted this post. On April 21, 2016, the day that Prince died, Nancy Grace hosted a call-in segment in which she was asked about the possibility of foul play in Prince’s death. Granted, it was the caller who invited the Michael Jackson comparison but it was Nancy Grace who chose to give the off-the-cuff and grossly misinformed answer that no, their deaths (like their lives) couldn’t be compared. Prince, she said, had died a “respectable death” and “wasn’t strung out on drugs; he didn’t need propofol to go to sleep.” She went on to speak of Prince as being “normal like us” (my reaction to that: since when?” and further insulted Michael’s work ethic by needlessly adding that “Prince went to work everyday” (never mind, I suppose, that Michael died while in the midst of a grueling rehearsal schedule). She also made a point of saying that Prince was someone who had remained “in control” of his life.  Actually, I would agree with that statement but for reasons quite different than hers.

I know that I am probably going to get an onslaught of comments about how we shouldn’t get worked up over anything Nancy Grace says, and that her opinions are basically worthless. But all the same, the comments are troublesome because they serve as a microcosm for the media in general and for the prevailing attitudes and double standards in reporting on Michael Jackson’s life or death. It also troubles me because this was the same woman who covered the Murray trial extensively for HLN and who knows the in’s and out’s of all the ugly information that surfaced in that trial; the same woman who went on nightly tirades against Conrad Murray for leaving Michael to die, as she put it, “surrounded by his own urine.” Her rants then were all in favor of Murray’s conviction, and Michael was the victim whose life had been taken. Now, suddenly, three years later,  she seems to have conveniently forgotten all of that, and it’s back to Michael’s death as an orchestrated will of his own inherently weak character.

Vitriolic (But Truthful!) Response to Nancy Grace’s Comments From a Prince Fan

Well, it wasn’t even within twenty-four hours of Nancy Grace’s tirade when the reports began to leak that Prince’s death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose (among many other crazy rumors that quickly spread throughout the media and tabloids). I bided my time, however, determined not to prematurely jump on that wagon until the official toxicology reports were in. Now that they are, I have to ask-is Nancy Grace eating another crow sandwich? And does it taste as nasty as the one she had to swallow on June 13th, 2005?

Don’t get me wrong, Prince’s death was a terrible tragedy. So was Michael’s. Any death, we might argue, is tragic unless, maybe, for the people who get to make it past ninety and who expire peacefully in bed surrounded by family. My real issue-and motivation for writing this piece-is that when it comes to the celebrity world and untimely deaths, it seems ludicrous to somehow hold up one celebrity’s manner of death as superior to another’s. And of all the “MJ vs. Prince” points of comparison-some fun, some intriguing, some ridiculous and some just inane-this comparison is probably one that has to rank among the most disturbing. It only goes to show that even when it comes to the manner in which a celebrity exits this life, Michael is still somehow held to an unfair double standard. Prince certainly didn’t die anymore or less of a “respectable” death than Michael Jackson, and depending on one’s view of these things, there were certainly many commanalities as well as important differences.  In this post, I would like to look at some of those important differences, and why their deaths cannot be simply lumped into the same category. But I will also examine those important commonalities, as well, which I do think must serve as a vital warning of what is happening in the medical profession in regards to celebrity care.

First of all, we have to keep in mind that we still do not have all of the facts yet about Prince’s death. Many media outlets have been falsely reporting that Prince’s official autopsy report has been released. It hasn’t. We still do not have a full autopsy report, nor the toxicology report. What has been released to the media is simply a coroner medical report press release, and that press release only states some very basic information. It does not go into the full clinical details of the autopsy procedure or its findings. So it is not a lot to go on, actually. But for the time being it is all we have. And based on that information, we  at least know the official cause of death as well as the official coroner ruling-accidental (a key component I will be examining).

However, Michael Jackson’s full autopsy report has been public record for some time, as well as his full toxicology report, and those documents are a key component for looking at important differences in how he and Prince died, and why they died. While much of this information is going to be old news to MJ fans, it bears repeating here due to the media’s reluctance to discuss the real facts of Michael’s death. That reluctance has continued to perpetuate myths that are only growing-rather than diminishing-with every passing year, especially given the media’s refusal to treat with any degree of seriousness the official coroner ruling of “homicide” (let alone the fact that prosecutor David Walgreen had lobbied hard to get a charge of second degree murder against Conrad Murray, rather than manslaughter).

But let’s look at what we have, and what we do know.

Michael Jackson Coroner Medical Report:

michael autopsy3

Prince Coroner Medical Report:

prince_autopsy_report

As these two official documents show, their manner of deaths were completely different, and rendered under completely different circumstances. The only similarity is that both died from some form of chemical toxicity. But Prince’s death was ruled to be caused by a self-administered fatal dose of fentanyl, a powerful  opioid whose potency is roughly equivalent to heroin, and in fact, is often mixed with heroin or sold as a heroin substitute.  The coroner ruling of the death was accidental. If we rule out all of the various theories of suicide and murder (although I don’t think those can ever be ruled out completely) this means that Prince, acting of his own free will, chose to administer the drug that ended his life. He probably didn’t mean to die (though I have to admit, I do find many of the details around his death a bit odd, such as the all black clothing and being found in the elevator: that could have only been intentional or else one of the greatest coincidences among pop star deaths) but the end result was the same.

Now let’s look at what Michael Jackson’s coroner medical report reveals. The cause of death is listed as ” acute propofol intoxication.” Propofol, usually marketed under the brand name of Diprivan, is not an opioid but a surgical anesthetic. It can, of course, mimic some of the effects of an opioid, but its general purpose is to render unconsciousness, not euphoria. And unlike fentanyl, it is seldom used for recreational purposes (as Wikipedia reports, largely because of the monitoring that is required to use the drug safely). In the small percentage of cases where the drug  has been known to be used recreationally, it has mostly been by-surprise, surprise!- those in the medical profession, whose work allows them easy access to the drug. Obviously, for the casual drug user, even if the effects of injecting propofol were worth the risks, the sheer unavailability of propofol outside of a hospital setting makes it an unlikely choice for simply “getting high.” It is not, in other words, to be confused with painkiller opioids or prescription meds that can be easily obtained with a prescription (legit or otherwise). This brings us to the second important difference between how Michael and Prince died.

Michael’s death was ruled as a “homicide,” meaning he did not die by his own hand-an important distinction. The medical report clearly spells out: “Intravenous injection by another.” And although Murray’s defense tried to make the argument that Michael had self injected (among many conflicting and confusing theories they desperately offered up at trial) the report clarified exactly why and how the ruling of “homicide,” rather than “accidental,” was justified. Indeed, it is naive to think that the medical and coroner professionals who were putting this report together would not have considered the possibility of a self administered injection. Thus, considerable space was dedicated in the report to explaining the reasons why the determination of of a homicide ruling was appropriate, and why the idea of a self administered injection was all but impossible:

michael autopsy 7 standard of care

 

michael autopsy 6 standard of care

It was this official ruling which paved the way for Michael’s death being investigated as a homicide, eventually resulting in the conviction of Conrad Murray.

But what about the so-called “benzodiazepine effect?” Would that not justify the claims of a “prescription drug overdose” death? Not exactly. The report clearly states that the benzodiazepines detected were not direct causes of death, and are consistent with the reports of what Murray had given him that night. Even further revealing is the toxicology report. Of all the chemical substances that were tested for, only six came back positive (discounting Lidocaine, which is simply a drug used to prepare the area of injection for propofol, and is routine procedure for its administration, especially for patients with smaller veins who are exceptionally sensitive to pain-as Michael reportedly was). If we discount propofol-the known direct cause of death, the Lidocaine (standard procedure) and Ephedrine (generally only used as a mild stimulant-Michael had died as a direct result of cardiac and respiratory depression, so we can rule that out)) this leaves only the drugs we already know, via Murray’s statement, that were administered to Michael that night by his hand, and most of those, including midazolam, are also part of routine procedure in conjunction with the administering of propofol:

michael toxicology2

 

But what about those who will argue that Murray was merely abiding by Michael’s wishes? If I have heard that argument-“If it hadn’t been Murray, it would have been some other doctor”-once, I have heard it a million times. For Conrad Murray, it remains his personal mantra; indeed, his entire defense was built on it. He has already given a media interview to Inside Edition  since Prince’s death, claiming that “Prince’s doctor will need  to get  a good attorney” (why the media even continues to give this man a platform is beyond me, but that is an old argument I have already beaten in many previous posts).

Why Does The Media Continue To Give This Convicted Killer A Platform?
Why Does The Media Continue To Give This Convicted Killer A Platform?

This is precisely why the Michael Jackson death case remains so muddled-and it is the loophole through which the media continues to justify its relentless insistence on lumping his death with other similar celebrity self-administered overdose deaths (Prince’s included). But even if we grant that Murray wasn’t the first doctor to introduce to Michael the idea of using propofol as a sleep aid, we still have to consider the peculiarities of this particular case. During the AEG trial, it was revealed that Murray had been administering this “treatment” to Michael on a nightly basis for over two months, an unprecedented experiment in the human body’s tolerance for this drug, and which had resulted according to expert witness  testimony during the trial as a kind of slow, systematic poisoning. Whether it was intentional or not is beside the point.  However one looks at it, the end result was the same-Michael had died as a direct result of his treatment at another’s hands. Any reasonable person would see this goes well beyond the more typical scenario of a doctor (or many doctors) whose biggest culpability is writing excessive prescriptions for their celebrity patients. We could argue, certainly, that those doctors are still culpable for those deaths, but it is a far more distant culpability than the direct actions of a physician who takes his patient’s life with his own hands, and as a direct result of his own actions. One can argue that the patient still makes a conscious choice when they decide to take the prescribed pills, especially in excessive dosage. In Michael’s unique case, the drugs were being directly administered by a doctor who certainly should have known better, and who had an obligation according to the Hippocratic oath to look out for the well being of his patient (regardless of how much money he was receiving, or what the patient may want).

But we also cannot afford to completely dismiss the similarities of their deaths. Both the untimely deaths of Michael and Prince are part of the new wave of musician deaths that have resulted-not from recreational drug overdoses as was common in years past-but as a result of prescription drugs and/or as a direct result of physician malpractice and greed. From an Inquisitor article on the rise of celebrity prescription overdoses (yes, again, another article that lumps the death of Michael Jackson in with all the other “celebrity prescription overdose deaths, but bear with me-this part of the article is worth quoting):

The Perfect Storm

A “perfect storm” is defined as a rare combination of events or circumstances that converge to create an unusually bad situation. In the case of these celebrities, in pretty much every single case, their perfect storm consisted of the same three attributes: access to doctors that would prescribe them anything; money to be able to afford it; yes-men surrounding them who didn’t have the courage to tell them they shouldn’t do it, and a lot of alone time, or a combination of the last two.

CNBC reported on a survey that was released by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found “44 percent of Americans said they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers.” Most Americans believe the government is not doing enough to provide health care resources for the people who are addicted to prescription painkillers (66 percent), or heroin (62 percent).
Read more at http://www.inquisitr.com/3061420/celebrities-prescription-drugs-and-the-rise-in-overdose-deaths/#7eGJGcOk43614srE.99

 

What we do know of Prince’s situation is that he had actively sought help for his addiction, but that “help” arrived too late. His body was discovered by the son of the addiction specialist who had arrived into town that very morning to begin rehabilitation therapy. The media was also quick to pounce on another morbid fact after the medical report was released: The paparazzi shots taken of Prince as he left a local Walgreen’s pharmacy on Wednesday evening, April 20th, 2016, evidently show him wearing the same black clothes he would later be found in, and most likely carrying the bag containing the fatal contents.

The Mantra of The Paparazzi: "You Just Never Know When That Random Pic You Snapped Is Going To Prove Valuable"
The Mantra of The Paparazzi: “You Just Never Know When That Random Pic You Snapped Is Going To Prove Valuable”

While this post may have been inspired, to some extent, as a defense reaction to Nancy Grace’s comments and my continued irritation with the media’s continual insistence on ignoring the facts of Michael Jackson’s death, it is definitely not my intent to pass judgement on Prince for the way he died. Rather, I think we do owe it to ourselves to examine their commonalities. However we may add or subtract the details, the fact remains that we have lost two amazing music legends way too soon, and it is a crime against humanity if we don’t at least pause for a moment to ask ourselves why we lost both Michael Jackson and Prince before either could make it past their fifth decade. Both deaths occurred without reliable witnesses, compounding the mystery and speculation. The only ironic difference we might note is that if Prince hadn’t been left alone-if someone had been on the premises to witness the onset of a medical emergency-he would probably be alive today. On the other hand, if Michael had been alone (without Conrad Murray present) he would probably still be alive. Personally, I have my own theories about the circumstances of Michael’s death, as I related in this post last year, and conversely, I have found some of the circumstances surrounding Prince’s death to be disturbing and puzzling as well, but since the official accounts are all that we can go on without entering the realm of conspiracy theories, that is where I will leave it for now. Ultimately, the thing they shared most was pain-not necessarily emotional, though we can’t ignore that aspect of it-but the sheer physical pain of a dancer’s body that has worn itself down through years of demands. By far, one of the best (certainly one of the most profound and sympathetic) pieces to come out since Prince’s death was an article from Lorraine Berry titled “Prince Did Not Die From Pain Pills-He Died From Chronic Pain.” I would highly urge everyone to click on the link and read the article in its entirety. I can only quote a small excerpt here, but it is an excerpt that certainly highlights what I have said here:

Prince was not addicted to pain medication. Prince had a medical condition — chronic pain — which is criminally under-treated. It is also a medical problem that is more likely to be reacted to with stigma and condescension, even challenges about the patient’s moral character, or, if male, masculinity. Pain is still the condition that we treat by telling its sufferers to just “suck it up,” or “maintain a stiff upper lip,” or to stop acting like a “wuss.” And yet, when someone dies from complications of the disease — for that is what chronic pain is — we react with shock and pity and anger that the person died from a drug overdose. Some outlets make money off our confusion about overdose and medications and our fascination with drugs.

In another interesting excerpt, Berry notes the racial discrepancies in the medical profession for dealing with pain and very real medical issues:

Into the mix must surely be added the element of race. Prince was a black man. Strong racial disparities in how doctors and other medical staff respond to pain in the emergency room has been documented. For example, a recent study published in one of the most prestigious pediatrics journals studied the treatment of appendicitis, a condition that is often initially suspected after a “chandelier test.” In medical slang, if a doctor places her hand on the pain point in the lower abdomen affected by the pain of an inflamed appendix, the patient will try to jump up into the metaphoric chandelier on the ceiling above their head.
And yet, even here, black kids cannot get a break.

“Our findings suggest that there are racial disparities in opioid administration to children with appendicitis,” wrote one of the lead researchers, Dr. Monika Goyal.

“Our findings suggest that although clinicians may recognize pain equally across racial groups, they may be reacting to the pain differently by treating black patients with nonopioid analgesia, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, while treating white patients with opioid analgesia for similar pain.”
Similar studies have documented that African Americans’ chest pain is less likely to be diagnosed correctly as a heart attack. Other studies have attempted to measure whether African Americans have a “lower pain threshold.” Similar studies about why women’s pain is not taken seriously in emergency rooms have also been produced.

However, while treating Prince’s death with unusual insight and compassion, even Berry is guilty of trying to hold his death as somehow “above” Michael Jackson’s when she casually lumps Michael’s death in with Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, etc as typical celebrity “drug deaths” from heroin and other illegal substances. Ironically, she chastises the media for “pushing Prince toward that precipice over which we have pushed Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, Michael Jackson, and every other artist who has died from drugs in the past century” while she, herself, contributes to the continued confusion and media misrepresentation of Michael Jackson’s death. In some ways, as much as I loved the rest of her article, it is merely another variation of a trope we have seen far too often, and far too disturbingly, in the last two months-the need to build Prince up by tearing Michael down. But when this even comes down to the manner of their deaths, I say something has to give.

First, we need to look at the facts. Second, we need to get past this societal tendency to judge-not only in judging other peoples’ pain, but in judging their tolerance for pain as well as the methods they may choose to cope. When I look at the deaths of both Michael and Prince, and the means by which both were taken out, one fact stands abundantly clear above all others-both died as a result of craving oblivion. That is what both fentanyl and propofol provide. I have long wondered (and granted this is just a personal theory of mine) if part of Michael’s attraction to propofol over other means of sleep aids may have been desire for the complete, dreamless state it provides (even dreams are a state of consciousness, and can be terrifying; propofol simply brings on a state of temporary non-existence). And we cannot begin to understand why either of them died until we are prepared to understand the root causes of their need to obliterate pain and to have oblivion from the demands of consciousness. In that regard, I think we have a long, long way to go-and until we get there, maybe it is best to refrain from our shallow judgments. How do we begin to judge what is a “respectable” death, especially in the celebrity world? I’m reminded of the comments which that old geezer Gene Simmons recently took heat for, when he likewise tried to claim that “David Bowie’s death was a tragedy; Prince’s death was just pathetic.” Aside from the fact that he was speaking out prematurely (Prince’s autopsy results weren’t even in at the time) there are simply too many fallacies in a statement like that. How do we know that even David Bowie’s liver cancer wasn’t a direct or indirect result of his lifestyle and his partying days? The answer is simply that we don’t.  Every death, ultimately, has its cause-even a so-called “respectable” death like cancer. In the end, it all comes down to a common factor-the lungs stop breathing, and the heart stops beating. That is all. Death shows no favoritism, either in who it claims or how, or why. True, some deaths are perhaps more avoidable than others, and that is the gauge by which we tend to judge them, especially for celebrities whose entire lives have already been an open book for our greedy consumption. In the case of Michael and Prince, we owe it to both of them to continue putting the pressure on unethical doctors who take advantage of the vulnerabilities of celebrity patients. Their deaths and the circumstances that led to them are indeed very different in many critical ways-certainly we can’t afford to overlook the crucial difference between a homicide case and a self-administered accidental overdose. But it is equally irresponsible to ignore their tragic similarities.

CfncmkLWEAEP4IwPerhaps, ultimately, we owe it to both of them to stop comparing their deaths, especially simply for the sake of exploitative sensationalism , or simply to add yet one more final, macabre chapter to the “Who Is Better” rivalry.prince-1-671x377

 

If we have to talk about why they died, we had better be prepared to look equally hard and critically at our own failings, and journalists, especially, must be held accountable for inaccurate reporting that tries to cast every premature celebrity death  in the same mold. If not, then we are better served by investing our energy and focus to where it matters most-cherishing their lives and celebrating the legacy they left.

Blurring The Lines: The Michael and Prince Saga (Reprinted From Allforloveblog Jan 2011 With An All-New Introduction and Conclusion)

13043347_1179399478777502_4582345209130623983_nBack in early 2011, I ran a two-part series on the saga of the “MJ vs. Prince” rivalry. With Prince’s recent death having ignited, again, a lot of those comparisons (in both good and negative ways) it seemed an appropriate time to re-visit the series. I have now combined both parts into one post, as well as revising and updating much of the original content. At the time, I wanted to cut through a lot of the myths of the “who is better” question which has always been (and remains) more of a media-fueled competition than anything. But in so doing, it still begs a lot of questions as to why and how those comparisons even began and, perhaps more importantly, what it says about how we continue to view the black male artist.

efjo8y

To be sure, the music world has always been rife with these kinds of competitions, going all the way back to the 1950’s when people debated who truly deserved the “King of Rock’n’Roll” title-Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry or Little Richard? It continued through the 60’s as fans debated the virtues of the poppy Beatles over the darkness of The Rolling Stones. But in the 1980’s when Michael Jackson and Prince became the two biggest selling male artists of the decade, race became a factor in a way that we had never seen before.

princeonbike

The stakes had changed completely. No longer was this a competition between white and black, or between two British groups of similar working class backgrounds who, expanding upon the blues tradition they both shared, then took very divergent musical paths. This was a case of two black men arising out of humble beginnings in midwestern America-both of the same generation, born the same summer-to completely change the face of the pop music scene, and along with it, to challenge all of the rules and expectations about what a black man’s “place” in the music industry was expected to be. And while it may be true that artists like James Brown had blazed that trail long before either Michael or Prince, the level of commercial crossover success that his prodigies Michael and Prince achieved twenty years later is something that even The Godfather of Soul could never have fathomed. But therein may lie one of the biggest fundamental differences between the two. While both were apt pupils in the school of James Brown and Jackie Wilson, it may be argued that Michael remained truer to those roots, whereas Prince, early on, was more often touted as “The Second Coming of Jimi Hendrix”-an exotic, flashy black man on guitar who shared Hendrix’s fascination with apocalyptic, astral themes.

with james brown
While Both Artists Obviously Came From The School of James Brown, It Could Be Argued That MJ Remained Truest To Those Roots…

Nevertheless, when the Purple Rain soundtrack became the only album in the mid 1980’s big enough to take on the phenomenal success of Thriller (and when it began to look as if it was going to be a virtual toss-up of whose posters graced the most bedroom walls of every white teenage girl in America) the media couldn’t resist-and the “rivalry” was born.

prince_l
…Prince Often Seemed More Like The Reincarnation Of Jimi Hendrix

 

hendrix2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was of the same generation as Michael and Prince. Of course, this meant that just as with any kid of my generation, I had grown up with The Jackson 5. But Michael’s adult solo career, coinciding just as Prince’s career was taking off, also coincided with my own coming of age. As a young adult, I loved the music of both Prince and Michael Jackson, but like a lot of young people of the era, my preferences and loyalty for one or the other tended to vascillate, depending on whatever stage I was in at the moment. Early on, I had loved Michael’s funky grooves. But by the mid 80’s, as I entered my rebellious “headbanger” stage, Prince seemed more my poison of preference. He seemed harder edged, and his more “out there” avant garde style suited my dark mood at the time. Indeed, looking back on it now, it seems much of the “who is better” rivalry has its roots in what was then a very “rockism”-born agenda to tear down Michael Jackson’s success. And what better way could that be accomplished than pitting his popularity against another black artist who seemed to have more “rock” credibility?

agsdgTo be sure, both men were well aware of how they were being pitted against each other. Their rivalry was never personal; both men made it very clear through the years that their respect for one another was genuine and enormous. They were never exactly “best buds” but their paths in life did cross often; they hung out together on a number of occasions, shot baskets together at Paisley Park; even played a competitive ping pong match for the affections of Sherilyn Fenn. Nevertheless, to some degree the competition did play into their respective egos. 7afb4e57d407eef06f66ea00aae15c7d

Like all successful artists, both had a keenly competitive streak. They were both driven perfectionists who kept close watch on every innovative career move the other made, like two calculating players at chess, each watching for the chance to call “checkmate” on the other. It was not malicious in nature; rather, it came from a deep welled, instinctive drive for survival in what they both recognized as a cutthroat business. More to the point, though, each inspired the other to dig deeper and to work harder. When thinking back to the famous literary rivalry between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, it has been said that “they each envied in the other what they didn’t have in themselves.” In the case of Michael and Prince, it seemed more a case of each envying-and perhaps even fearing-what they both saw in themselves when they looked at each other.  It may be argued quite fairly that Michael’s “toughened up” harder image of the “Bad” era owed much to Prince, but what is most interesting is how their lives and career trajectories seemed to travel very parallel paths, but in opposite directions-for example, how Michael who had been raised as a very devout Jehovah’s Witness and had purposely maintained a squeaky clean image and stage persona, broke away from the faith and began to go for a more “bad boy” image just as Prince-formerly the “dirty boy” of the two-was entering a much more spiritual stage and cleaning up his image.  Throughout the 90’s, as Michael Jackson seemed to be sowing many of the wild oats he had not given himself permission to sow in the previous decade, Prince was settling into the path that would eventually culminate in his conversion to the same faith that Michael had rejected. In short, he was becoming more of a prophet and less of a boy toy for “Darling Nikki.”

Michael Jackson and Prince both had a major hand in pushing the envelope of what defined a male black pop artist, with hits that blurred the lines between pop, hard rock, and funk. They were both innovators in the field of video (though I think few would argue that Michael has the edge there), both became respected legends with numerous music awards, both fought their own corporate battles against the record industry, endured similar personal tragedies, and sought spiritual answers-even embracing the same religion, though at different times in their lives. They have both been subject to media scrutiny regarding their sexuality and sometimes gender-fluid appeal. In both cases, their untimely and unexpected deaths ignited a global outpouring of shocked grief and affectionate nostalgia that, just as quickly, became marred by ghoulish media sensationalism.

What exactly was the essence of their appeal? Maybe it was the comeuppance for all those years that pretty white boys like Elvis Presley got to steal the music and corner the market, while managing to get all the girls, and of course it was all perfectly “safe” since guys like Elvis were sanitized, white…and “safe.”

But for all their commonality, it was their differences that really fueled the fire of the “rivalry.” Although I will argue that their differences were perhaps not as pronounced as many think, and in some cases complete myths (such as the incorrect assumption some Prince fans have that Michael didn’t write his own music or play instruments) we can’t ignore the fact that their differences are what eventually compelled most fans to choose allegiances, depending on personal tastes and preference.

MICHAEL IN THE EARLY 80’S WAS THE CUTE, CLEANCUT BOY NEXT DOOR

PRINCE WAS THE DIRTY BOY YOU MET IN A BACK ALLEYWAY AND DIDN’T DARE TELL MAMA ABOUT. BUT….

Early on, Michael came across as more of a cleancut, Disney-esque personae. Even though early videos like Billie Jean and Beat It made it evident that he had definitely sexed up and toughened up his Jackson 5 image, it still never felt dirty. Even when his music rocked out, it still maintained a pop sheen. Prince, by contrast, came across as much edgier, more like an updated Jimi Hendrix than a pop artist. He played electric guitar. He sang dirty, raunchy lyrics-and what’s more, he gave the appearance of really meaning them!

…ALL OF THAT WAS ALL ABOUT TO CHANGE!

…AND HOW!

In short, despite all their elements in common, they seemed-at least deceptively, at first-to be polar opposites. In the mid 80′s, the lines seemed very clearly drawn. Michael Jackson was like a one-man version of The Beatles-poppy, polished, clean and happy. Prince was like the one-man version of The Rolling Stones-dark, dirty, a bit dangerous and full of angst.

Or in other words, if you asked most girls in the 80′s which guy they would bring home to meet their mothers, the answer most certainly would have been Michael Jackson. Prince was more like the dirty boy you met up with in a backalley and didn’t dare tell anyone.

But it wouldn’t take long for those clearly drawn lines to blur considerably.

Just as The Beatles gradually became darker and more angst-ridden as the 60′s progressed, so, too, did Michael eventually become a darker, angrier, and more sexual persona. By the same token, as Prince became more spiritual in his personal life, he reinvented himself onstage to become more of a prophet than a boy toy for Darling Nikki.

As far as arguing “who is better” I think that is really a moot point that doesn’t interest me. Both have a legacy that is untouchable. Both have proven their mettle by the sheer number of awards won between them and their respective record sales. Between them, they have both written some of the most enduring pop classics of the past thirty years. If it’s true that Prince played more instruments than Michael and was better at it, it is equally true that Michael Jackson’s dance talent alone put him in an entirely different stratosphere. Nevertheless, contrary to the popular myth perpetuated by many Prince fans, Michael Jackson did play instruments. He was quite competent on piano and guitar, and in fact, the posthumously released track “Don’t Be Messin’ Around” prominently features Michael playing piano. True, he did not consider himself a “musician’s musician” in the technical sense; he was very honest in appraising his own talents in that regard, which he recognized to be fair but nothing special. However, what Michael did possess was an uncanny ability to compose entire arrangements which would come to him completely intact in his head, and for which he could famously beat box into a recorder, noting the sound of every single instrument and where it was supposed to go.

As songwriters, one of the common myths is that Prince was more prolific. However, this isn’t true, either. Both Michael and Prince have been two of the most prolific songwriters of our generation. It has often been said that Michael wrote literally hundreds of songs for every album he did.  The only reason it appears that Prince was the more productive of the two is because many more of his songs were released, either on his albums or covered by other artists,  whereas Michael, being the picky perfectionist that he was, tended to hold back more, often sitting on songs for years if  he didn’t feel they were up to his standards. And both would receive arguably the same amount of criticism, from many of the same factions, as they each evolved with less danceable, funky grooves and more socially conscious work.

prince-piano-300x219

 

 

 

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Few Would Dispute That Prince Was A Musician’s Musician. Here Is One Of His Best Guitar Performances, From The 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards:

But Michael Was No Slouch, Either. Check Out His Bossa Nova Style Piano Playing On “Don’t Be Messin’ Around”:

 

Birth and Family Names:

Prince Roger Nelson and Michael Joseph Jackson both entered the world during the summer of 1958. Baby Prince arrived just a little over two months before Michael, on June 7, 1958 (Michael would arrive August 29th). Interestingly enough, Madonna would complete the trilogy of Future 80′s Superstars Born During the Summer of ’58, arriving just a few weeks before Michael on August 16th. Both Michael and Prince made their auspicious debuts in midwestern America. Unlike Michael, Prince came from a relatively small family of only two siblings, himself and a younger sister. Michael would begin working by age five; Prince would not become a star until adulthood. However, they both displayed amazing aptitude and talent at very young ages, and both had fathers with musical backgrounds. Joe Jackson played guitar in a local group called The Falcons. Prince’s father, John Nelson, performed in a jazz group called the Prince Rogers Trio. Both were pushed into musical careers more by their fathers than their mothers. Of course, we all know the story of how Joe Jackson pushed his sons into becoming the phenomenal Jackson 5. Likewise, Prince’s father was quoted as saying, “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_(musician)

The somewhat unique first name that John Nelson chose for his son was also a name that had been handed down for years in Michael’s own family, on his maternal side. Prince Albert Screws (later changed to Scruse), Michael’s maternal grandfather, bore the name, as did his father before him. Although Michael himself would be given the common name of “Michael,” he retained the tradition with the birth of his own sons, who would carry on their great-grandfather’s name.

Two different families; three different generations of Prince!

MICHAEL JACKSON’S MATERNAL GRANDFATHER, PRINCE ALBERT SCRUSE

PRINCE ROGER NELSON

 

MICHAEL JACKSON’S SONS, PRINCE MICHAEL AND PRINCE MICHAEL II (AKA BLANKET)

And…you want a REAL Twilight Zone moment? Prince’s mother’s maiden name was Mattie Shaw. Michael Jackson’s maternal grandmother bore the very similar name of  Martha (Mattie) Upshaw!

In Touch With A Higher Power:

Both Michael and Prince displayed at a very young age an indication that they were extra sensitive children with an ability to tap into a spirituality far beyond their years. Before Michael was even ten years old, he would cry at the images of starving children on TV, and told his mother that when he got big enough, he would help all the children of the world (and he did just that!). Prince was said to have been born with epilepsy. But at a very young age, the seizures mysteriously vanished. Later, he would recount in an interview an incident that occurred before he was even old enough to remember.

“My mother told me once day I walked up to her and said, ‘Mom, I’m not going to be sick anymore,’ and she said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘Because an angel told me so.’”

http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20275184,00.html

Awards And Accolades:

There’s no doubt, as far as music awards go, that Michael won more. Michael Jackson has 18 Grammys to Prince’s 7, and additionally, 26 AMA awards (as compared to Prince’s 4 wins), 40 Billboard awards, and 13 World Music Awards. In all, Michael’s number of awards won totals an impressive, whopping 387!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_awards_received_by_Michael_Jackson

However, Prince did win the one award that would elude Michael Jackson throughout his life-the Academy Award! (For Purple Rain as Best Original Song in 1985).

A bit of trivia: What is the one award they both won, and the same number of times? Answer: The Golden Globe Award. They each won once, Michael for Ben in 1971, and Prince for “The Song of the Heart”, from the movie “Happy Feet,” in 2007.

For a complete list of all awards that Prince has won or been nominated for:

http://www.aceshowbiz.com/celebrity/prince/awards.html

The Curse of “The Big One”:

Where do you go once your own album has been not only the biggest selling album of the decade (in Michael’s case, of all time) but one of its two most iconic albums of the decade? For Michael and Prince, living up to Thriller and Purple Rain would be the two biggest challenges of their respective careers. For both, every subsequent album would be held up to these two. Although in my opinion, they both went on to better work, their commercial success-or lack thereof-would always be gauged by these two albums-the albums that both defined, and ultimately, confined them.

The Girls In The Band:

Female guitarists were still a novelty in the early 80′s, when Prince hired Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin to be part of The Revolution. Never one to be outdone by Prince, Michael’s answer was the blonde bombshell Jennifer Batten.  In both cases, these very talented and independent female guitarists allowed themselves, to some extent, to be “molded over” into the fantasies of their respective male leaders. Although it’s never been expressly stated that Michael was trying purposely to keep up with Prince, Jennifer Batten herself said when I attended her Q&A session at the Fanvention in 2010 that Michael had a very specific image in his mind for what he wanted in a girl guitarist-and she, the mousy little gal with the glasses and brown hair, was made over in that image! While Wendy and Lisa played on every man’s lesbian fantasy, Jennifer offered up her own somewhat gender bending contrast to Michael’s male energy, as the Nordic rock goddess with chops of steel!

WENDY AND LISA

JENNIFER BATTEN

 

Madonna:

Prince performed a duet with Madonna on her 1989 album Like a Prayer and played guitar on several tracks, including the title track. It is unknown if he became a Madonna Boy Toy although I’m sure Miss “Express Yourself” at least gave it her best shot, if I know her!

DID MADONNA MAKE A BOY TOY OF MICHAEL? WELL, WE KNOW SHE WAS DEFINITELY GIVING IT HER COLLEGE ALL!

Michael and Madonna had planned to shoot “In The Closet” together, but ultimately, disagreed over Madonna’s gender-bending concept for the video . As to whether she ever succeeded in making Michael her Boy Toy, it is unknown  although she did confess at one point they were “sucking face.”

Dirty Diana vs. Darling Nikki:

As if it wasn’t enough that they were already considered rivals in every respect, they each even came equipped with their own respectively immortalized groupies! While Prince’s “Darling Nikki’s” sexcapade antics  may have sent Tipper Gore into a frenzy, and expedited the formation of the PMRC and those “Explicit Warning” stickers we still have even today, Michael’s “Dirty Diana” was a whole other brand of Medusa, an ambitious, soulless,  siren of a groupie who could literally lure a man to his ruination. While Darling Nikki was masturbating with magazines (a relatively healthy and harmless pursuit), Dirty Diana was on the phone telling your wife “he’s sleeping with me”  and plotting your demise!

For this round, at least, we have to give it to Michael. Darling Nikki might show you a really good time, but Dirty Diana would strip your flesh bare, eat you alive for breakfast, and pick her teeth with the leftover bones! Dirty Diana lived up to her name, and played far dirtier than Nikki ever could!

But their two most well-known groupies also reflect something very fundamental about the way both performers (at this stage of their careers) viewed women and sex. Prince had adopted the stereotypical, macho rock ‘n’roll personae which basically states that all women are playthings to be enjoyed in their own good time. Michael’s approach, as so often in his 80′s songs about women and sex, is the moralistic, cautionary tale approach. In other words: Lust comes with a heavy price, and moral consequences.

At the end of the Dirty Diana video, Michael opens the limo door to find HER there, in the backseat, waiting. The sudden, discordant, ominous note; the look on his face, says it all. Interestingly enough, an online reviewer analyzing this video’s criteria for the “Ten Things Every 80′s Video Must Have” noted how Michael did NOT look happy to find Dirty Diana in his backseat. The implication seemed to be that here was one more bit of evidence that Michael Jackson was asexual or didn’t like girls. To that person, I would highly suggest going back and watching the video again, and really paying attention to the MESSAGE! The reason his character does not look happy in that moment is because he knows he  has just walked into the trap, and that his soul’s been had!

Which perhaps leads me to my next category:

Love, Sex, and Witnessing For Jehovah:

The greatest parallel in the lives of Prince and Michael Jackson cannot be underestimated: They have both served as devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, though not at the same time. In fact, it’s very interesting that Prince actually became a Jehovah’s Witness long after Michael had broken away from the church. Michael had been raised as a JW from an early age, and throughout most of his young adult life, was a devout believer and follower. Prince, on the other hand, who had been raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist, converted to the JW faith in 2001.

From: Sean O’Hagan, “Royal Blush”, published in The Observer, 4 April 2004 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,11710,1186112,00.html; viewed 15 November 2005):

Given all that has happened, then, it is perhaps unsurprising that, like many pioneering black artists before him, Prince has sought solace in the church. Though he was brought up as a practising Seventh Day Adventist he has recently, like Michael Jackson before him, become a Jehovah’s Witness.The story of his conversion broke in typically surreal fashion last October, when a newspaper in his hometown reported how a married couple had answered their door to find Prince proffering a copy of the Watchtower. Though they were orthodox Jews, and it was Yom Kippur, they were also Prince fans. They welcomed him into the house where, with his friend Larry Graham, erstwhile member of Sly & theFamily Stone, one of Prince’s core influences, he spread the word of Jehovah for 20 minutes before moving on to the next house.

Although he has always spoken openly about his religious beliefs – ‘The Cross’ from Sign ‘O’ the Times was a veritable hymn – and his conversion had been signalled in retrospect by his recent album The Rainbow Children, which can now be read as a paean to his new-found faith, the media viewed his outing as further confirmation that Prince was now second only to Michael Jackson in the pop oddball stakes.

What this means in terms of his musical direction is probably of interest to none but the most diehard of Prince fans. The rest of us, many of whom anticipated Prince’s Eighties releases with the kind of excitement that only attends the work of the truly gifted, now look forward to the release of yet another Prince album with a mixture of resignation and wishful thinking.

‘You hope against hope for him to come back and cut it like he used to,’ says DJ Norman Jay, a man who played at several Prince parties in the Eighties, ‘but with every hyped record that turns out to be just another Prince album, that hope diminishes. He’s the classic illustration of the old A&R adage that if you give an artist total creative control, you’ll destroy them. He’s been allowed to release far too much stuff, and he’s probably surrounded himself with people who are all telling him everything he touches is great. That’s a recipe for pure self-indulgence even – especially – where genius is concerned.’

http://www.adherents.com/people/pp/Prince.html

It’s interesting to note the overall, sarcastic  tone of this article (aside from the “second to Michael Jackson in the pop oddball stakes”).  It’s the same sort of “criticism” that would befall Michael as he attempted to broaden and evolve his artistry in the 90′s and beyond. In the case of Michael and Prince, they would both be criticized for the rest of their careers for daring to stray away from being happy “song and dance” men. However, the reasons for their artistic evolvement were, I think,  fundamentally polar opposites.

For Michael, the break from his childhood religion probably gave him more personal and artistic freedom than he had ever known, but at a heavy price. That price was the floundering, doubt, and insecurity that came from letting go of the firmest anchor he had known-his faith. For years afterward, he would be torn by feelings of guilt over that decision, although  in his later years it was rumored that he found peace in traditional Christianity.

The upside was that the break finally freed him of many of the restraints that had held him back. As he became more liberated sexually in his personal life, this was also reflected in a newfound maturity and freedom in his art. He could finally explore many of the themes he had always wanted to, without fear of censor or being de-fellowshipped. His onstage and video personae became more sexual, ironically, just as former “Bad Boy” Prince was becoming more evangelical and “cleaning up” his image.

For someone who had always expressed a fascination with apocalyptic imagery in his work, Prince’s newfound religious  zeal seemed cemented with albums like Sign O’ The Times.  (Not to mention, I heard he alienated much of his female following by his insistence that the missionary position is the only sanctified sexual position for a man and woman, but that’s an old story and I haven’t been able to find anything that verifies it). This is a quote from a very bitter website that seems to be authored by a frustrated ex-fan (and I will apologize to Prince fans for using this as a source of reference; however, perhaps it’s fitting that as a study in the parallels between the two, we can also note how they have both been subjected to this level of scrutiny):

Quoted from The G Spot, November 8, 2010

“That’s the saddest thing of all – Prince lost his mojo by being lame and getting scared of death and dying.”

http://www.dannyhaszard.com/prince.htm

This reminds me very much of the same type of criticism that has been heaped upon Michael Jackson for taking on themes such as the media and his persecution.

In short, as both artists began to explore more personal and global themes, they became criticized for self-indulgence and egotism.

Which also brings us to another element in common: Both of them had songs featuring apocalyptic visions, since it could be argued that Michael’s “Earth Song” was the environmental equivalent of “Sign O’ The Times”, reflecting the prophecy of the Earth Changes as much as Prince’s song reflected the global crisis of humanity.

As for personal relationships, despite both being linked to a string of high profile celebrity relationships, they have shared through the years an almost identical reticence when it comes to the press and doing interviews. Both were married and divorced twice. Michael was married to Lisa Marie Presley in 1994, and divorced in 1996; and Debbie Rowe, married  in 1996, and divorced in 1999. Prince was married to Mayte Garcia in 1996, and divorced in 1999 (ironically, their marriage began and ended exactly the same time as Michael and Debbie’s), then married Manuela Tesolini in 2001. They divorced in 2006.

THE SOMEWHAT ANDROGYNOUS SEX APPEAL OF BOTH HAS LED TO THE INEVITABLE SPECULATIONS REGARDING THEIR SEXUALITY

 

First Child and Tragedy:

Sadly,  Michael and Prince share something else in common. They both lost their first child-within the same year! Debbie Rowe suffered a miscarriage in early 1996 and lost the baby that would have been her first child by Michael (Michael’s son Prince would be conceived later that year, on the couple’s second try). I found a really nice video where Debbie Rowe talks about the miscarriage (a subject she has rarely spoken out about) but, unfortunately, embedding for this video has been disabled. However, you can watch it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWJPUh1CgXI

DEBBIE AND MICHAEL LOST THEIR FIRST BABY, A LITTLE PUBLICIZED FACT

Meanwhile, Prince’s son by Mayte Garcia-Boy Gregory- was born the same year, but died of  Pfeiffer syndrome after only one week.

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,295564,00.html

Independent attempts to verify the child’s birth and death proved difficult. A birth certificate wasn’t filed with state authorities until Dec. 6. But while Garcia was listed as the mother, ”Father’s name” read, ”Mother refused information.”

Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Star Tribune tracked down what it believes to be the baby’s death certificate, filed Nov. 4. It states that a ”Boy Gregory,” born Oct. 16, died Oct. 23 of the extremely rare Pfeiffer syndrome type 2 — a condition in which the skull’s bones fuse together, causing pressure on the brain.According to the certificate, the death occurred at Children’s Health Care Minneapolis, which is affiliated with the hospital where the child was born, and was followed by cremation. The mother’s name is listed as ”Mia Gregory,” the same initials as Mayte Garcia.

At press time, local officials were investigating whether the death certificate was filed under a false name — a misdemeanor in Minnesota. A source at EMI, Prince’s new label, says execs have urged the singer to make a statement, but nothing has materialized.

While Prince’s lawyer, Londell McMillan, maintains that the artist ”expects extraordinary privacy,” one unguarded moment can be found on Emancipation. On the song ”Sex in the Summer” (originally titled ”Conception”), Prince included a recording of his then-unborn child’s heartbeat.

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PRINCE AND MAYTE GARCIA WOULD ALSO KNOW THE PAIN OF LOSING A CHILD. THEIR SON BOY GREGORY DIED JUST ONE WEEK AFTER BIRTH

In a situation like this, it would be pointless to argue which is more tragic. For Prince, who at least got to see his baby son and hold him in his arms, the loss must have surely been devastating. But knowing how desperately Michael wanted a child by 1996, Debbie’s miscarriage must have been every bit as traumatic. Losing a child is still losing a child, and if one has any doubt, one need only ask a parent who has just been delivered the news of a miscarriage. I don’t know about fathers, but I know for mothers a miscarriage is often a scarring emotional trauma that never heals. For a sensitive father like Michael, I’m sure he probably took the loss as hard as Debbie, if not moreso.

And reading the EW article, one can surely sympthaize with Prince as he had to attempt to hide the very personal and painful details of his son’s death from that nosy, probing cow Oprah Winfrey!

Famous Feuds:

As was alluded to just a few days ago in “The Invincible Saga,” Michael and Prince were both known for their notorious and very public battles with their record labels.  Michael’s battles with Sony are well known to fans

However, Prince had already blazed that trail almost a decade before, in his epic battle with Warner Brothers over his creative output and control of his name. In 1993, he famously appeared in public with the word “slave” written on his cheek, and then changed his name to an unpronouncable symbol:

“The first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros… I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name. The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about. This symbol is present in my work over the years; it is a concept that has evolved from my frustration; it is who I am. It is my name.”-Prince

Recent articles since Prince’s death have now tried to put a completely different spin on his battle with Warner Brothers, labeling it-in at least two articles I have seen-as Prince’s “heroic stand against the music industry.” They tend to forget that, at the time, the same media was treating him like a deranged lunatic for this stand, just as they would do to Michael a decade later. Michael’s own vindication would come almost another decade later, when the infamous Sony hacking and leaking of emails revealed much of what he told us in 2002 to be true. Eventually, Prince would regain his publishing rights from Warner Brothers. Michael, of course, maintained control of his Sony/ATV catalog-the catalog that made him one of the wealthiest and most powerful players in the industry-until the end of his life and beyond. However, for both Michael and Prince, this is a part of their legacy that is far from over. Only last month, MJ fans were shocked and outraged to learn that the estate would be relinquishing ownership of the catalog back to Sony.

And already the conspiracy stories have begun that are questioning the timing of Prince’s death after having regained his publishing rights from Warner Brothers.  And while the media had a virtual field day speculating on the status of Michael’s finances at the time of his death, it is starting to appear that Prince’s financial straits may have been even more dire. With no apparent will, his heirs are going to be in for a tough battle to maintain his assets.

Business Moguls:

But let’s not let these issues cloud our judgment of what they accomplished as business moguls. Both  were not only the most successful male black solo artists of the decade-or the most successful, period, for that matter, regardless of race-but also highly successful business moguls who shook things up in a heretefore white-dominated industry. With the possible exception of Berry Gordy, there had been few black entrepreneurs in the music industry who had successfully managed their own labels and companies. In 1985, Prince launched his own label, Paisley Park Records, with the support of Warner Brothers. Acts such as Sheile E., The Time and George Clinton would be among the biggest names on the label. In 1994, incensed by Prince’s public feud with the label, Warner Bothers retaliated by pulling distribution of the label. However, Prince would go on to launch another label, NPG Records.

Michael Jackson, of course, became one of the richest and most powerful men in the music business with the successful acquisition of the ATV catalog in 1985, and then later as co-owner of Sony/ATV publishing. Michael Jackson was also founder of his own production company, MJJ Productions, which later became Michael Jackson Co. LLC, and now MJJ Productions, LLC  and Inc.

They both served as models of  black artists who could not only be  successful , but could also take control of their success. Unfortunately, however, as both would learn the hard way,  they were still very much commodities of the corporate entities that controlled them-and who would fight tooth and nail to see to it that they remained “in their place.”

The Superbowl:

Both artists played the Superbowl halftime show, and both delivered performances that rank unarguably among the greatest Superbowl halftime shows. Fans, of course, will debate as to who ultimately delivered “the” greatest halftime Superbowl performance. Critics seem to be evenly divided between the two, although credit is generally given to Michael as not only being the first superstar half time performance (and thus setting the bar by which all others were measured) but also as the “game changer” who set the standard. After all, his choreography of “Heal The World”-which took an aerial view to be truly appreciated in all its grandeur-was a jaw dropping feat that would take years for other artists to even come close to challenging.

But equally unforgettable is the sight of a diminutive Prince, with nothing but his guitar, standing drenched in the rain as he delivered one of the most soulful renditions of “Purple Rain” ever!

A “Colored” Man Is Still Judged By The Color Of His Skin:

Although the media was unquestionably much crueler to Michael Jackson (no contest there, sorry!) both performers came under media scrutiny as a result of not “looking” black enough. The whole notion is as ludicrous as comparing a tanned, olive complexioned Italian to a pale Norwegian and arguing that the Italian is “not caucasion.” Yet, at various times, Prince and Michael Jackson both found either their racial identity or their loyalty to their race in question.  Because of Prince’s light complexion and the fact that not much is known about his immediate family, a rumor has persisted for years that he is biracial. Early press releases listed him as “mixed” although it seems those sources have been largely discredited. Prince himself has always identified himself as a Black man, although conceding that his father had a mixture of Italian blood, as well. Early photos reveal Prince obviously did undergo the knife. At the very least, he had certainly had a nose job at some point, and quite possibly other procedures as well.  Whatever the aesthetic reasons for these changes-whether it was to look more passably “biracial” or to create a face that would more easily conform to show business standards of “beauty”-or simply to fulfill a personal or artistic whim-cannot be said.

 

EARLY PHOTO OF PRINCE, PRE-COSMETIC SURGERY.

Since The Jacksons, on the other hand, had been in the spotlight ever since Michael was a child, there was little doubt as to his Black heritage, although his father Joe-like Prince’s dad-is mixed and there is prominent Native American blood on both sides. However, it was the skin disease vitiligo that resulted in the most dramatic change, transforming him over a course of roughly ten years from his natural coppery brown, to the lighter bronze of the Bad era, and finally, the porcelain, translucent, fish belly white of his last twenty years. Sadly this little-understood disease would be the cause of much ridicule and public scorn of Michael Jackson in the media. He was accused of bleaching his skin and hating his race. Even when his autopsy report confirmed that he did indeed have vitiligo, the media mostly ignored this finding and have continued to perpetuate the myth of an “alleged” disease.

The accusation was ridiculous on many levels. Michael certainly couldn’t deny being black; after all, he had grown up in the public eye! Secondly, there was never a time in his life when he didn’t look black. Even in the most advanced stage of his disease, and after he had mostly de-pigmented remaining color, he still looked like what he was-a black man without skin pigment. People who say he “erased” all traces of his ethnicity have not closely observed his face. Michael was always proud to be a black man. His disease was something he could not help. And the insecurities that drove him to cosmetic surgery were rooted in other issues that had little to do with race. People who knew him intimately claim it stemmed from insecurity over his looks. However, in more recent years, there have been many interesting and enlightening discussions on the possibility that his evolving looks may have had less to do with the popular body dysmorphic theory, and more to do with the desire to use his face as a canvas for his art. This is certainly an interesting theory that I have kept an open mind to and am quite interested in exploring further, but since Michael himself never really gave us a definitive answer on the subject, such theories at best can only remain just that-theories and conjecture.

MICHAEL IN TRANSITION. THOUGH HIS SKIN GOT WHITER DUE TO VITILIGO, THERE WAS NEVER A TIME WHEN HE DID NOT “LOOK” BLACK.

“We’re called colored people because we come in so many different colors, from light as my hand to dark as your shirt (to Martin Bashir, who is wearing a black sweatshirt). My father has blue eyes.”-Michael Jackson.

Victims of the Vindictive:

It goes without saying, they have both been on the receiving end of vindictive ex-friends, ex-employees, ex-fans, and hack journalists with an axe to grind, all looking to make a quick buck. The following are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I suppose one could argue that it all goes with the territory of being rich and famous. However, it seems that Prince and Michael have both had a more-than-usual share of backstabbing friends, fans and associates. With “friends” and “fans” like Bob Jones and Alex Hahn, who needs enemies?

So now that we’ve looked at some of their many parallels, there is still one burning question: What did Prince and Michael Jackson really think of each other?A great source, by the way, which I highly recommend is this Vibe article from June 2010:

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history

Mainly, I have found it a great source for timelining the Michael/Prince saga, as well as the source of many great quotes from both artists on how they felt about each other. In researching Part Two, I am relying heavily on the Vibe source which I will also intersperse with other articles and my own commentary.

CYNTHIA HORNER (Former editor of Right On! Magazine from 1976-2005; Currently writes and edits for Hip-Hop Weekly): I met Michael back in 1976 and he was one of the shyest people that I’ve ever dealt with. It was a little difficult to interview him because even though as a professional entertainer he realized he needed the press, he wasn’t somebody that knew how to relate to the media in terms of being open with information. He was just super shy unless he was around his family. But he picked up the fact I was shy as well, so he kind of embraced me and we became friends. He and Prince were quite similar because Prince was shy as well. If you were a journalist he would give you the same monosyllabic answers that Michael did. But Prince would also speak in riddles a lot of the time; he was very evasive. He would never answer any of my questions [laughs]. He wanted to keep his privacy protected at all cost.

****

ALAN LEEDS: Michael wasn’t a musician in the classic sense. He approached his music differently from the way Prince did although Michael could write a great song as well. But Prince was arguably a musician first. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Prince saw Michael as a symbol of where he wanted to go in terms [of notoriety]. Michael was one of the few artists on the planet that Prince did respect in that sense. (my emphasis).  Once we realized that he was in the process of writing what was the original idea for the film Purple Rain as he was scribbling in notebooks during his 1982 tour for 1999, we knew he wanted more. The word was beginning to spread: “Hey, Prince really thinks he’s writing a movie.” I don’t think any of us took it that seriously because it didn’t make sense that somebody who at that point only had a few pop hits was going to be able to get the funding for a film. But it certainly revealed an ambition he had and to his credit Prince would go on to pull it off.

CYNTHIA HORNER: I would give Michael copies of the magazines and he would see certain people in the book and ask me lots of questions about the artists he was interested in. And that’s how he was introduced to Prince. After that, I started to let Michael listen to some of the Prince music I had and he was intrigued. At that point, I realized that there was somewhat of a rivalry developing. Michael had been in the business longer, so naturally he didn’t want to get replaced by the newcomer.(my emphasis).

ALAN LEEDS: Prince went to a James Brown gig [in 1983] with Bobby Z, his drummer at the time, Big Chick, who was his security guard, and I think Jill Jones, who was one of his protégés. By now, everybody knows what happened at that gig. I don’t think Prince realized that Michael was going to be there. James looked a little puzzled in that video when Michael whispered in his ear, “Hey, bring Prince up.” And of course Prince didn’t really know what to do either. He went to the guitar first but he fumbles with that because it was left-handed. He played a few licks, did some dancing and knocked over a prop by accident. Now I always wondered if Michael intentionally brought Prince up to put him in that position just to say, “Hey, you think you’re on my ass? Well follow this, motherfucker [laughs].” (my emphasis). Bobby Z called me and said, “Oh boy…he made an ass of himself tonight.” He said Prince didn’t say a word the whole way to the hotel.

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history-pg-2

Here is the (in)famous and historic moment in which we see James Brown, Michael Jackson and Prince all together on the same stage. To my knowledge, this is the only time Michael and Prince ever performed together-if you can call it that!

It would be great to think of their one and only onstage face-off being this great, monumental event in which each gave it their equal all, but it didn’t quite pan out that way. Looking at the vid, here is how it appeared to go down:

At the beginning of the clip, James brown calls Michael to the stage. Michael comes up and starts to sing a tender ballad, until the band throws him a curve that forces him to go into an impromptu James Brown parody (which he pulls off brilliantly, of course. My only complaint-it was all too brief!)  We can see he is whispering something to James Brown, so I’m assuming this is the moment of Prince’s “setup.” As per Alan Leeds’s description, Prince does the guitar thing briefly, then as if to say, “Screw this!” rips off his shirt and begins a totally off the wall, impromptu routine that culminates with the accident.

It’s easy to look at that clip and say Prince upstaged Michael that night, as at least one article has spun it since Prince’s death. Certainly it was the flashier performance (and the one that ended with the biggest bang!). However, in hindsight, there is method to Michael’s polished control. For starters, I think Michael was smart enough to realize that you don’t upstage James Brown! You just don’t. I’m sure Michael could have easily pulled his best “Billie Jean” routine out of his pocket and stolen the show, but he chose the path of reserve. In the end, he came off as the classier, more controlled performer who left you wanting more, whereas Prince…well, the video speaks for itself. It was a classic example that bravado and flash doesn’t always equate the greatest performance. In the end, as Jay Z points out, Prince succeeded that night in mostly embarrassing himself (as to whether he was fried out of his mind on drugs, as some have speculated, I will leave for others to decide). Did Michael intentionally set Prince up that night? Or did he just think it would be all in the name of good fun and sportsmanship? Part of me wants to say the latter is probably a little too naive to swallow, while the other half of me says the former is probably a little too extreme. I don’t think he intentionally set Prince up to make a buffoon of himself that night (Prince seemed to manage that quite well on his own!) but perhaps it was a way of forcing the impending rivalry to a head, so to speak-even if subconsciously.

MICHAEL, WHO BRAVED DARING HEIGHTS DURING HIS PERFORMANCES, DIDN’T THINK IT TOOK MUCH DARING TO WRITE ABOUT MASTURBATION!

As the head-to-head battle between Thriller and Purple Rain began to heat up, Michael and Prince were keeping even closer tabs on what each other was up to:

ALAN LEEDS: Before we set out on the Purple Rain tour, it was a case of Prince wanting to see what Michael and the Jacksons were doing in terms of production, lighting, staging and everything with the Victory tour. We charted a jet with a couple of his bodyguards and Jerome Benton from the Time and Leroy Bennett, who was Prince’s lighting and production designer for his tours. We flew to Dallas to the old stadium where the Cowboys played. There was a feeling in our camp that while what they were doing was a very solid stadium production, there was nothing really cutting edge about the technology. The Varilites, which was a brand name for a type of computerized lighting, was the gold standard in the industry at that time. And we made sure we had all that shit. But the Jackson’s production didn’t. Prince had a lot of respect for Michael, but he was mildly impressed with the show.

QUESTLOVE: Michael attended many of the Purple Rain concerts. I have the four Purple Rain shows that were in Los Angeles in ’84. And now that I realize that Mike was in the audience, I often watch it to see if I can spot him [laughs]. But it makes you think. Why was Mike there four nights in a row? You have already created Thriller, you’ve done the Moonwalk, you’ve done the groundbreaking videos and you’ve sold a million a week. You are officially in the Guinness Book of World Records. For all intents and purposes, Purple Rain sold 15 million units, but it was hardly the 33 million that Thriller went on to sell. So why are you this curious to who is behind you?  Then I realized that you can’t be that successful without being competitive. Michael knew Prince was a serious threat. (my emphasis).

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history-pg-2

J. Randy Taraborrelli added further fuel to the “Prince and Michael rivalry” when he wrote that Michael walked out of a screening of Purple Rain, citing that Prince “looked mean,” couldn’t act and that he didn’t like the way he treated women. (For the record, there is a scene in Purple Rain where Prince’s character strikes Appollonia. However, the movie is also portraying how the cycle of violence is perpetuated when one comes from an abusive background, and that one has to work to break the cycle-something I believe Michael certainly would have related to!).

Michael also had some choice comments about Princes song “Jack U Off” from the Contoversy album, saying he didn’t see how anyone could write about something so private. 

Michael Didn’t Approve Of Prince’s “Jack U Off.” But Give A Listen To “She Got It,” An Unreleased Track From Dangerous And Unarguably Michael’s Most “Prince-esque” Song Ever:

But let’s be fair. While Michael was supposedly taking potshots at Prince, Prince was also getting in his fair share of digs. This verse from Prince’s song “Life o’ The Party” doesn’t make much of a mystery as to who “the other guy” is:

But it ain’t nothing if it ain’t fun
My voice is getting higher
and Eye ain’t never had my nose done
That’s the other guy… Prince

Hmmm. Never had his nose done? Well, in Part One I printed an old pic that clearly shows evidence that Prince did have cosmetic surgery. I will offer up again for your perusal. Photographs don’t lie!

 

Now I’m not going to bs about it. Michael obviously had a lot more cosmetic work done than Prince. Still, for Prince to take that particular potshot was an especially hypocritical case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Despite cheap potshots, Michael time and again expressed a willingness to work with Prince. Through the years, several projects were proposed that would have brought The Gloved One and The Purple One together (sorry, couldn’t resist the bad tabloid-esque pun!). Not one of them panned out. And in every case, it was because the ball had been dropped in Prince’s court and he refused to pick up.

Case in point: “We Are The World.” It’s common knowledge that Prince was supposed to have been part of the project, but on the day of recording, pulled a “No Show.” (He did, however, compensate his no-show by giving the project another song to use, 4 The Tears In Your Eyes).

Then came “Bad”-and the first actual, sit down meeting between Michael and Prince! (Well, officially this was their “first” meeting although according to this site, Prince is the unnamed dinner guest in Latoya’s autobiography who presented Michael with the strange, voodoo-ish gift of charms and feathers!

 

DID PRINCE ATTEMPT A VOODOO HEX ON MICHAEL?

OR WAS LATOYA TAKING LESSONS FROM MAUREEN ORTH ON “HOW TO WRITE SENSATIONALISM?”

According to Taraborelli, the planned “duet” for “Bad” was yet another Frank DiLeo-planted publicity stunt, but one that Michael had agreed to. The “trick” would be in getting Prince to go along with it, as well.

I’ve heard Quincy Jones tell this story many times. If you happen to own the Special Edition of Bad, there is an entire bonus track where Quincy Jones talks about that “historic meeting,” and although he doesn’t specifically mention that it was all a publicity stunt, nothing he says denies it, either.

Here’s an excerpt from Taraborelli’s account of that first meeting:

Quincy arranged for Michael to meet him {Prince} feeling that the two were creative geniuses and should know one another, whether they ever sang together or not. According to writer Quincy Troupe, “It was a strange summit. They’re so competitive with each other that neither would give anything up. They kind of sat there, checking each other out, but saying very little. It was a fascinating stalemate between two very powerful dudes.’”

 

However, Prince did agree to listen to a tape of the song. After hearing the first line-”Your butt is mine”-he declined the offer. By his own account, Prince told Michael he wasn’t going to be singing that line to him, and Michael sure wasn’t going to be singing it to him! He was also reported to have said that Michael didn’t need him for the song to be a hit (which turned out to be true!).

Prince talks to Chris Rock about turning down the offer to duet on Bad:

“YOUR BUTT IS MINE!”

“WAIT A MINUTE…WHO’S SINGING THAT LINE TO WHO?!”

Michael allegedly did take the rebuffs as a kind of snub, but didn’t dwell on it. He moved on and did his thing. As for Prince, despite what he says in the Chris Rock interview about “no rivalry”-and no matter how much he has claimed in the years since about how much he respects Michael-I can’t help but feel that it was some degree of jealousy and arrogance on his part, at least at that time. (Perhaps, as with all things, maturity brought some degree of hindsight and wisdom). My honest take is that, at the time-when much of his appeal was based on being the polar opposite of Michael Jackson-he may also have been afraid of alienating his fanbase. At the same time, he may have sensed that Michael was looking to win over that segment of his fanbase, and perhaps saw this as a real threat.

With both being the reticent, shy, sometimes cryptic artists that they were, it’s really hard to pinpoint what either was thinking. But I’m going to educate a guess that at least in the mid 80′s, when both were at the peak of their fame and both had youth and testosterone on their side, the rivalry was a bit more than just lip service.

ALAN LEEDS: But the thing about Michael coming to Prince and wanting him to do “Bad,” that really pissed him off. Prince was like, “Oh, he wants to punk me out on record. Who does he think I am, crazy?” He couldn’t get outside himself enough to realize that it was the kind of thing that probably could have benefited both of them. (my emphasis).  Still, it would have forever been Michael’s video with Prince as just a guest. So that captured what the relationship couldn’t be. They were like Ali vs. Frazier. And the media couldn’t get enough of pitting these guys against each other.

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-vs-prince-oral-history-3

SHERILYN FENN, HOT ENOUGH TO INSPIRE…A PING PONG MATCH?

Apparently, the rivalry was occasionally more than just a professional one. The infamous ping pong match came about when Michael was trying to snag the attention of Prince’s girlfreind Sherilyn Fenn. (Ah, now we get to the real nitty-gritty of the situation! In addition to “forcing” him to sing “your butt is mine,” it seems Michael was also trying to make a cuckold of poor Prince!).

QUESTLOVE: There’s the now-infamous story about a ping-pong match between Mike and Prince in 1986 while Prince was overdubbing Under The Cherry Moon and Mike was working on Captain Eo. And they were both vying for the attentions of Prince’s girl Sherilyn Fenn, who back then was the hot shit. It was a ping-pong game gone bonkers. He said that MJ played like Helen Keller. [Editors note: Prince’s drummer Bobby Z has gone on record about MJ’s and Prince’s good-natured showdowns in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “They’d shoot hoops at [Prince’s] Paisley Park,” Bobby Z said of the unlikely pair. “Prince had a deep-seeded competitive nature, so it’s easy to see where he would measure himself against Jackson’s success.”]

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history-pg-2

But what was it about Michael’s playing that actually prompted the Helen Keller comment? That story apparently came from engineer David Z, who witnessed the match:

“Michael drops his paddle and holds his hands up in front of his face so the ball won’t hit him. Michael walks out with his bodyguard, and Prince starts strutting around like a rooster. ‘Did you see that? He played like Helen Keller.’”

http://newsroom.mtv.com/2009/06/29/michael-jackson-vs-prince-the-forgotten-rivalry/

If Michael was guilty of trying to steal Prince’s girl, however, Prince was also guilty of making a move on Michael’s sister, if Latoya is to be believed (of course, to hear Latoya tell it, every man was trying to make a move on her!)

From Latoya Jackson’s autobio, 1978

Having grown up surrounded by so many brothers, I liked men as friends but was totally unversed in deciphering the nonverbal cues between men and women.

Shortly after Prince released, “Soft and Wet,” he shyly introduced himself to me at a roller skating party. “Hi.”

“Hi,” I said nonchalently.

“I’m Prince.”

“Yes, I know.” There was no mistaking the large brown eyes, downy moustache, and straight black hair. Although I was sitting down to put on my skates, he was barely my height.

“I just want you to know that I’m madly in love with you,” he whispered passionately.

“Oh.” I thought this was his way of complimenting someone. I had no idea of his real intentions until he said, “I have all your pictures and everything, and I like everything about you.” His voice trailed off as if he had run out of words.

“Oh… that’s nice.”

Most girls would have kissed him or slapped him. Me? I stood up, offered a cheery “Well, hope you have a nice time tonight!” and skated off.

http://lacienegasmiled.wordpress.com/category/bromance/prince/

Their  sports rivalry also carried over to shooting hoops at Paisley Park, acording to  Bobby Z:

http://newsroom.mtv.com/2009/06/29/michael-jackson-vs-prince-the-forgotten-rivalry/

One can only wonder if those matches were anything like the Jackson/Jordan match in Jam!

Considering that Prince was only 5’2 compared to Michael’s 5’9 (neither exactly basketball championship measurements) I can only imagine those games were nothing to cheer about, but I would have loved to have been a fly on the court during those matches! (As Michael would say, there was probabably “cheating like crazy!”).

Prince comments famously on Michael Jackson’s abilities as a fighter and rival:

QUESTLOVE: You recall that ill-fated duet Eddie Murphy did with Michael called “Whatzupwitu?” I have five hours of raw footage during filming for that video. Michael and Eddie had a green screen behind them, so somewhere in that second hour, the conversation turns to Prince. And Eddie is like, “Yeah man…Prince is a bad motherfucker. I’m glad I’m working with you, but another dream I have is working with him too.” And I don’t even think that Mike knew the camera was on him and he goes, “Yes, he’s a natural genius.” And then four beats later, Michael says, “But I can beat him [laughs].” (my emphasis).

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-vs-prince-oral-history-3

Apparently, Michael made one last attempt, in 1996, to reach out to Prince for a collaboration. I am not sure what the nature of that proposed project was. But despite mounting career problems of his own by the mid-90′s, Prince, it seemed, still couldn’t quite swallow his pride enough to accept the offer.

Would he have done things differently had he known, then, that time was running out? We’ll never know.

“WHY DID PRINCE JUST PLAY HIS BASS IN THE MIDDLE OF MY FACE?”-MIKE SEEKS AN ANSWER TO ONE OF LIFE’S MOST PERPLEXING QUESTION!

Michael, for all his bravado, appeared to be  the one who felt the stings of the repeated rebuffs and the nastier aspects of the rivalry the most:

WILL.I.AM (Leader of the Black Eye Peas; Has performed live with Prince and produced several tracks for Michael Jackson): I had a show with the Black Eyed Peas in 2008 and then late that night I performed with Prince at the Palms Hotel. I called Michael just before the show and I was like, “Hey Mike, I’m in Vegas.” I told him about the performance at the Palms with Prince and asked him if he wanted to come. He was a bit apprehensive at first, but I told him, “Let me call Prince to see if everything is OK.” I sat down with Mike after I finished a song with Prince and he comes down off the stage playing his bass and comes right to our table… ripping the bass in half! It was the coolest experience I’ve ever had. I was with both of my heroes. While we were working on new material for his album,MJ asked me why people didn’t think of him in the same way they thought of Prince as a serious songwriter. It was a shock to hear that coming from such an iconic artist. (my emphasis).

http://www.vibe.com/content/michael-jackson-prince-oral-history-pg-4

The above is an important revelation. Michael was well aware that his talents and accomplishments as a songwriter did not get the same respect as Prince, despite being inducted into the Songwriter’s hall of Fame (an honor that, ironically, eluded Prince). It also says that on a very deep level, he wanted to be taken seriously as an artist, not just as a great showman. He wanted Prince’s level of artistic respect; he craved it in the same way that a person may crave bread even if given caviar. Considering that they were both driven and prolific artists who created some of the most critically acclaimed and enduring pop classics of our time, it’s understandable why Michael would feel so keenly the brunt of the difference made between them. Perhaps if he had been merely a showman-rather than one of the greatest songwriters of our age-it wouldn’t have hurt nearly as much. But Michael knew the truth.

Prince himself has always been quick to defend Michael’s artistry, referring to him more than once as a ‘sheer genius.”

And perhaps, in a way, Michael did get the last word in, after all!

In 2008, Will I Am invited Michael to a Las Vegas concert where The Black-Eyed Peas were to be performing with Prince. It was to be the last time the two legends would meet face to face.

Will I Am talks about that concert (and other memories of Michael here):

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8123506.stm

This account of the concert and what went down that night, as told in an interview with Will I Am, was translated from a German article:

A few months ago,I was with the Black Eyed Peas in Las Vegas. Prince calls me, he played in a Casino and asks “, you want to perform with me tonight?” Sure, I say, of course! On the next day his assistant called me and said: “Prince would like to know if you want to come along this evening too.” Want to? What’s more cool than to play with Prince? Right, to play with him two days in a row! A few minutes later I get a further call: “Hey, it’s Mike, wat are you doing?” Mike? Michael Jackson? Wow! He had changed studios at that time, from Ireland to Las Vegas. I say: “Hey, I’m playing with Prince here tonight.” – “Prince? That is great!” – “you should come!” – “really? That would be cool!” – “that would be really cool!” – “Okay, I’ll come.” Imagine that : I’m playing with Prince, and Michael Jackson sits in the audience! Holy ish! What chance is there to get a call from Prince and then one from Michael Jackson within ten minutes ?

Sp: that chance is zero.

Will.i.am: Right. Okay, I head for the concert in the early evening and – get stuck in traffic! I think by myself, @#$%, this is the worst time to be stuck ! So I jump out of the car and start to run. I make it at the last second into the club. Everything goes smoothly, after three minutes I ‘m back from the stage, Prince still yells in the microphone “Give it up for Will.i.am!”, I creep into the hall and sit down to the table of – Michael Jackson. So he really came! “What did you think of me?”, I ask him. He answers: “I did not know that you rapped.” Now I ask you? The man lets me fly to bloody Ireland for a few photographs , and he doesn’t even know that I am not only a producer, but also a rapper! I say: “Have you never heard my music, or looked at my videos? I @#$#%’ am the main rapper of the Black Eyed Peas!” Anyways. Besides Michael Jackson sits the actor Chris Tucker, and then Prince comes down from the stage to us…

Sp: … and sees Michael Jackson sitting at the table with you?

Will.i.am: Yo. He had his bass still strapped on and stops at our table. So there we sit : Michael Jackson, Chris Tucker and I. Prince stands directly before Michael Jackson and improvises on the bass: Slap! He does nothing- nothing! – and says nothing! Simply plays . What a scene! When Prince is again back on stage, Michael Jackson says to me: “Prince played his bass in the middle of my face! What’s up with that?” Now now, I say: “you are finally incognito here! Imagine that Prince would have said: ‘, and by the way Michael Jackson sits here.’ The people are already excited because of Prince, let alone, they would know that you are also here!” Yep, that was it then, the craziest night of my life.

http://prince.org/msg/7/312585

Now, as to how much you can credit hearsay, I don’t know. But I have heard (unconfirmed) that Michael also said that evening something to the effect that he was glad he never needed a guitar to prove he had a penis.

Ouch.

As far as ON THE RECORD, Michael never commented publicly about Prince, just as he very seldom commented on any fellow artists. To answer the question of how they got along, I don’t think (despite what Bobby Z insists: http://www.drfunkenberry.com/2009/06/27/prince-michael-jackson-were-friends/) that they were ever truly friends. I can’t see them as “best buds.” I think what they did have was a very deep-rooted, sometimes begrudging, respect for each other, coupled with a fierce sense of competitveness-equally true on both sides. The few times their paths did cross, they were always cordial to each other, though the underlying tension was almost always palpable. I’m sure at times they did have an easy camraderie. I could easily see them shooting hoops; maybe sharing a shot of Crown and a joke or two. They would have had the kind of bond that comes with simply understanding their shared level of celebrity. Perhaps in those rare moments when the world wasn’t watching-when they could let their masks and their guards down long enough to simply be Michael Joseph Jackson and Prince Roger Nelson,  however briefly-they were able to find that kinship. But for how long, or how often, we’ll probably never really know.

Two rare, fresh-faced pics: Michael and Prince without their famous makeup:

 

When Michael left us on June 25th, 2009, there was a lot of speculation as to whether Prince would join the ranks of celebrities issuing official statements. The closest he came was simply this very brief, laconic statement given in a French interview:

“It is always sad to lose someone you love.”

In typically cryptic Prince fashion, perhaps that was all that needed to be said. Since then,  he has, as always, been content to let the music do the talking, incorporating several Michael Jackson songs into his live concert performances as tributes.

Was he being sincere in referring to Michael as someone he had loved?

I would say to the best of his ability, that answer is yes.

UPDATE: I wrote and compiled all of the above over five years ago in 2011, obviously long before Prince’s tragic passing on April 21st this year. My purpose then was to present a balanced account of their “rivalry” as well as personal friendship, while pulling no punches. Going back over some of what I wrote at the time, I was tempted to edit a few passages in hindsight. But then, I thought, no, it really wouldn’t be doing any favors to either of them to sugarcoat the truth. It doesn’t in any way lessen the enormous respect I feel for both of them. It simply shows the human frailties of both, and also, the fact that both could never have succeeded to the heights that they did without the ego and massive competitive streak that it takes to be a successful performer.

In the week since Prince’s death, we have seen much of the same global outpouring of shock and grief that we saw in 2009. Michael Jackson fans have felt that pain; for us, it is another loss that has struck that cultural nerve. For years after losing Michael, many of us felt that still having Prince around was at least a kind of consolation-that at least some of the magic of our youth was still with us. Now it is only an empty void.

The Fan Memorials In Front Of Paisley Park Bring Back Painful Memories For MJ Fans
The Fan Memorials In Front Of Paisley Park Bring Back Painful Memories For MJ Fans

In the last week, I like many others have been guilty of “Prince cramming”-suddenly curious to learn as much as I can about an artist I loved but admittedly took too much for granted while he was here. It was the same phase of discovery I went through with Michael, as I became more and more amazed at such a gifted artist and amazing human being that I had somehow never allowed myself to get to know better in life. Likewise, I have now found myself learning so much about Prince that I had never really paid attention to before-his humanitarian work, which, like Michael, often went under reported and under the radar; the depth of his private pain, suffering and courage as he kept creating in the face of often debilitating pain, always putting his bravest face forward for his fans; or just how sarcastically funny he could be in interviews, such as this 2014 interview on the Arsenio Hall Show.

In typical fashion, many MJ and Prince fans have tried to reconcile the enormity of this double loss as only those of us who lived through those times truly can-with a healthy dose of humor. In that spirit, here are some of my favorite captions of the past week that have turned some of the tears to chuckles.

On that note, good night sweet King and Prince.

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Our Holy Trinity of Pop Has Lost Another Jewel

Prince Has Joined Michael In Heaven. I Have Few Words Right Now. RIP.
Prince Has Joined Michael In Heaven. I Have Few Words Right Now. RIP.

You can’t be an MJ fan without having also been touched by the genius of Prince. For my generation, those of us who were so devastated when we lost our dear and magical Michael, the lone consolation was that we still had Prince. I still remember the heat of that fan based rivalry which dominated most of the 80’s. I still remember going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum and noting the irony of both Michael’s “We Are the World” jacket and Prince’s “Purple Rain” coat being displayed side by side-the temptation to play up their rivalry, it seems, could never be resisted. Thriller and Purple Rain were the two biggest albums to come out of the 80’s; no one could touch this royal pair-the King and the Prince. No one ever will. They were the two most beautiful and talented men to come out of my generation. The world for me has once again grown just another degree colder. Part of me smiles through tears at the thought that Michael must be saying, “Oh no, does this mean I gotta compete with this guy again?” Another part of me says no, they are embracing as only brothers in Heaven can.

As a tribute, I will repost again in a few days my two part series on Michael and Prince.

For now, I wish to put aside all of the rivalry nonsense and extend my heartfelt prayers and condolences to his family and fans who are now having to go through what we went though in 2009. I will write more when I can better articulate my thoughts on this. Right now it is just too soon. I want to just sit and listen to “Purple Rain” for awhile.