Category Archives: Video

Michael Jackson, the #MeToo Movement, and “Leaving Neverland”-Pt 1

Michael And Corey Feldman, The Friend Who Has Continued To Insist “Michael Is Not THAT Guy.” Then Who Is “THAT” Guy And Why Is Hollywood Protecting Him At Michael Jackson’s Expense?

Over a year ago, I had started a post on Michael Jackson and the #MeToo movement. At the time, Corey Feldman’s campaign to raise awareness of pedophilia in Hollywood was receiving a lot of press (most of it negative, sadly), as well as the recently surfaced tape where he could be heard clearly stating to Santa Barbara County investigator Deborah Linden in 1993 that Michael Jackson was not “that guy” and named his actual abuser, actor Jon Grissom. This was also about the same time that the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted and an explosive New York Times article revealed that Weinstein had been guilty of planting negative stories about Michael Jackson in the press (as well as other celebrities) to cover his own crimes. And best of all, it was around this time that Wade Robson’s and Jimmy Safechuck’s civil case against Michael Jackson’s companies was finally dismissed in court for once and for all.  At the time, many fans had been elated with this apparent turning tide, thinking surely now the media would catch on to how Jackson had been set up through the years. Indeed, my initial angle of the post had been as a kind of “karma catches up to all” piece. It seemed that while #MeToo was resulting in the downfall of many of the rich, famous and powerful-and exposing some of the tactics of its dirtiest in the business- it just might prove to be Michael Jackson’s saving grace. Finally, it seemed, many of the dirty players who had set him up and had contributed to the lynch mob that pursued him so relentlessly were finally being exposed. I am so very glad now that I put the piece on the backburner, so as to allow time for more perspective to be gained. As it turned out, the worst was far from over; in fact, they were just warming up!  As it turned out, their dirtiest tactics yet were still up their sleeve.

This Isn’t About Wade…It’s About The Victim’s Right To Be Heard!

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The rumblings started last year when journalist Louis Theroux made a sarcastic tweet in response to the Michael Jackson art exhibition Off The Wall in London, questioning (and I am paraphrasing here) why Michael Jackson was not receiving closer scrutiny in the #MeToo era (as if Michael Jackson had not already been under the glare of this kind of scrutiny for over two decades!). Then, for some inexplicable reason that still defies logic or understanding, Richard Marx (he of the famous mullet back in the 80’s and some hit songs that have been mostly forgotten now) went on an anti-Jackson Twitter rant on the occasion of Jackson’s Diamond Birthday celebration.  These issues, while annoying enough, could be handled. If there is anything Jackson fans have learned, it’s that there are always going to be opinionated jerks who know nothing about the Michael Jackson allegations or his 2005 trial who will nevertheless be willing to spout their ignorance. This is nothing new.

But when the documentary Surviving R. Kelly aired and dream hampton made the inexplicable decision to somehow lump Michael Jackson into the fray just because he happened to have recorded a song R. Kelly wrote (or maybe not, if the plagiarism stories are to be believed), that faint rumble grew into an outright explosion. Nevertheless, it was an explosion that seemed peculiarly questionable. After all, many artists have collaborated with R. Kelly through the years and have recorded his songs.  And, frankly, why wouldn’t other musicians want to work with him? R. Kelly’s genius as a songwriter and musician has never been in question. The artists who have worked with him is a long list that includes, among many others, Chance the Rapper, Lady Gaga and Celine Dion, but out of all of them, it was only Michael Jackson that BlackLivesMatter co-founder Patrisse Cullors chose to emphasize in a tweet that was as bizarre as it was hypocritical:

Two pedophiles Michael Jackson and collaborating – the type of rape and abuse inside of Hollywood is astonishing

One has to ask: Why was Michael Jackson being villified for simply recording what he thought was a beautiful love ballad (which it is) and why was nothing said about Kelly’s other collaborators? For that matter, I want to go deeper with this. While it’s good that this kind of sexual predatory behavior is being held accountable, are we not creating a very slippery slope if we’re going to start trying to make an example of every artist, actor, etc who just happened to work with or had any business dealings with an accused celebrity? Is this now guilt by mere association? And how fair is it to expect that just because one celebrity works with another on a song that they somehow are privy to that person’s private doings?

After the airing of the doc, Lady Gaga (quite hypocritically, I really would like to add) immediately distanced herself from the whole affair by publicly renouncing her duet with R. Kelly, “Do What U Want” and removing it from public streaming. Don’t get me wrong; I like Lady Gaga. But I do question the suspicious timing of this sudden “awakening” that she had done wrong in simply recording a duet with a controversial performer.

But therein lies the difference. Performers like Lady Gaga, who are still alive, have the choice and the option to speak out about such matters; to defend themselves or to take action if necessary. Michael Jackson has no such recourse.

Lady Gaga Hypocritically “Cancelled” Her R. Kelly Collaboration In The Wake Of The “Surviving R. Kelly” Fall Out. BUT AT LEAST SHE HAD THAT OPTION!

How do we really know what he would feel-today-about having recorded “You Are Not Alone?” Would he also renounce that choice, in hindsight, if he could? in all honesty, we simply don’t know. The bottom line is that he simply doesn’t have that choice. He can’t defend his actions or past choices from twenty years ago as with these other celebrities, and it was highly irresponsible for this production to make a blatant issue of a track that Michael simply, and quite innocently, recorded because he liked the song.

Would Michael Today Renounce His Decision To Cover “You Are Not Alone?” We Don’t Know. But We Must Also Remember That He Doesn’t Exactly Have That Choice Anymore.

But, as it turned out, the stir created by Surviving R. Kelley was just the hint of much worse to come.

On January 9, the news of a four-hour hit piece, Leaving Neverland, rocked the fandom. It came as no surprise that this was Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck at work again. But the more disheartening news was that this one-sided mockumentary was going to get the star treatment via a coveted spot at the Sundance Film Festival and a premiere on both HBO and UK Channel 4 (HBO, as it turned out, was a major sponsor).

The documentary has since had its premiere, and under the auspices of what appears to be some rather shady circumstances, all of which I will touch on shortly. But before I get too deep into that muck, let me back up and talk a bit about Corey Feldman and last year’s events (all of this is more connected than what may seem apparent at first).

Corey Feldman, who was also one of the child stars in the 80’s that Michael Jackson befriended, has been working hard with little success to obtain funding for a major motion picture he has wanted to make exposing Hollywood’s pedophile ring and revealing what he says is the truth about what happened to him and his friend Corey Haim (in the day, they were a pair known affectionately as “The Two Coreys”).

But the biggest problem with Corey Feldman’s story is that no one, it seems, really wants to hear him, let alone to take his accusations seriously. In this era of the #MeToo hashtag where even the hint of an allegation has been enough to destroy the careers of many powerful men (the New York Times alone listed 51 as of November 2017), it would seem that Corey Feldman’s revelation of names would be a media bombshell. The fact that Santa Barbara officials simply sat on this evidence for nearly twenty-five years without doing anything (all simply because Tom Sneddon and Deborah Linden were too preoccupied on their witch hunt for Jackson) would appear, logically, to be yet another of the kind of bombshell stories that the media loves. But again, other than Dr. Oz and a few low key publications-the silence has been deafening. And the same players who worked so vociferously through the years to silence/ignore Feldman’s accusations (instead preferring to shift the spotlight onto Jackson as a red herring) are still apparently hard at work to make sure that Feldman’s campaign-as well as what it could potentially reveal about Jackson’s innocence and their guilt-remains silenced. Or at the very least, as low key as possible. To put it another way, the hypocrisy continues, as rampant as ever.

Corey Feldman’s interviews, which not only exonerates Jackson fully but even indicated that the accusations against Jackson may well have been initiated by actor Jon Grissom in an attempt to cover up his own abuse of Corey Feldman as a child!

Granted, that is not nor has ever been the sole purpose of Feldman’s campaign, which is about justice for himself, for his friend Corey Haim, and all other victims of Hollywood pedophilia. But by the same token, Feldman has made no secret of the fact that at least part of his modus operandi is also to clear his friend Michael Jackson’s name, for once and for all.

Vindication will come when my best friend’s perpetrators are behind bars, when the people that molested me are behind bars and when my good friend Michael Jackson is fully exonerated in the public opinion because he was never a predator-Corey Feldman

In searching through all of the various interviews with Feldman on Youtube , I found this one published by Studio 10 that I think is one of the best at most concisely summarizing and encapsulating this issue.

One thing Feldman states here that I found especially compelling is the fact that child stars are subjected to at least two very serious forms of physical and psychological abuse. One, of course, is the simple fact of being robbed of childhood by being forced to work at a capacity that even many adults would not be able to handle, all while giving up most of their earnings to their parents. The result? If the parents are unscrupulous, the child actor may well reach eighteen to find that they have nothing to show for all those years of hard labor but empty pockets (Feldman claims here that only about $40,000 was left of the millions he earned as a child star). Then, as if those issues were not enough, they are often compounded by sexual abuse. In the above interview, Feldman says he had tried to commit suicide as a child twice, and this was before any sexual abuse had even occurred! “This was before I was molested; that was my psyche going into the molestations!” he states.

The video then segues into a segment regarding the importance of Michael Jackson’s friendship, which as Feldman has stated on numerous occasions, was actually an oasis away from his abusive situations. This isn’t surprising. Throughout his adult life, Jackson reached out to both former and current child stars. The experience of shared childhood stardom was the basis of his close friendship with Elizabeth Taylor. He also reached out to many former child stars, from Shirley Temple to Mickey Rooney and many others.  He also formed a close bond with Liza Minnelli, whose mother Judy Garland was a child star (Garland herself had passed away while Michael was still a small child, but I believe he was able to feel an extension to her through alliance with her daughter). With these adults, Michael was able to form a bond, and that bond was the shared pain, suffering, and unique experiences that could only come from being a child star. In the same spirit, he often reached out to those he knew were currently part of that same grist mill. This included then current child stars like Feldman, Corey Haim, Macaulay Culkin and others. The reasons really don’t seem that far fetched to comprehend. With the adults, Michael was able to commiserate about what it had all meant. With the children, there was still a chance–that is, a chance that at least one adult in their lives could provide them a sense of normalcy.

This leads to a very disturbing possible conclusion. If the bond between Jackson and Feldman was as close as he claims-and if he really was treating Michael as his confidante and the only adult in show business he could really trust-is it possible that Michael Jackson may have come to know too much? (I don’t want to claim credit for this idea; my fellow MJ advocate Helena espoused this same theory in a very interesting blog post from 2017).

But if this is true, was someone (or many someones) trying to shut him down?  As has already been speculated, it seems very odd that actor Jon Grissom-who Corey Feldman has repeatedly named as one of his actual abusers-was the one who initially tipped off Santa Barbara officials that Feldman was spending “too much time with Michael Jackson.” Yet this is what actually appears when one looks up Grissom’s biography on IMDB:

Jon Grissom has a criminal record that includes a 2001 arrest for child molestation charges. He was found guilty of the crime in 2003 and served time. He is also in violation of “Megan’s Law,” which requires sex offenders to register with the state.

 

The truth is that, back in 1993, Santa Barbara officials (more specifically, Tom Sneddon and Deborah Linden) were far more concerned with spinning this friendship with Michael Jackson into something sinister than hearing the truth about who Feldman’s abusers actually were. This is a claim that Feldman has made for years, but the Santa Barbara sheriff’s office denied that Feldman had ever actually named names-that is, until the actual tape of that 1993 interrogation surfaced!

Here is a transcript from Feldman’s 2017 interview on The Today Show:

I sat there and I gave them the names; they’re on record. They have all of this information, but they were scanning Michael Jackson. All they cared about was trying to find something on Michael Jackson-”

“Who you said by the way did not abuse you-” (Matt Lauer)

Michael was innocent, and that was what the interview was about in 1993. I told them he is not that guy, and they said ‘well maybe you just don’t understand your friend’ and I said ‘no, I know the difference between pedophiles and somebody who’s not a pedophile because I’ve been molested. Here’s the names, go and investigate…’-Corey Feldman, Matt Lauer interview

This is the same interview, by the way, in which Feldman later noted the aggressive manner in which Lauer tried to shame him for refusing to name names. Matt Lauer, it should be noted, was the same interviewer who was first willing to give Wade Robson a platform back in 2014, and at the time of this interview with Feldman was only a few weeks away from becoming himself yet another casualty of #MeToo. 

But this wasn’t the first time Corey Feldman had faced public ridicule and shaming for trying to out Hollywood’s pedophile ring. Years ago, on an episode of The View, Feldman was raked over the coals by Barbara Walters who disdainfully told him, “You’re damaging an entire industry!”

Isn’t it interesting, however, that these were some of the same people who were so quick to pounce on, believe, and even perpetuate the allegations against Michael Jackson? Isn’t it interesting that they never held his accusers to the same level of accountability? What gets me most in re-watching this clip is how Walters doesn’t even seem genuinely surprised or shocked by the allegations (her lame “And they’re still working in this business” notwithstanding) but, rather, disgust at the messenger. The reasons, of course, why Walters and others (for she is by no means the only one!) continue to defend and hold the silence is because they themselves are dependent upon “the industry” for a living. If the industry is destroyed, they go down with it.

Michael Jackson, for all his fame and record sales, was never a Hollywood “insider.” The fact that perhaps he wanted to be (for this did seem to be one of his most persistent ambitions; his last uncharted frontier, so to speak) is beside the point. In fact, this ambition may well have been part of his undoing. He was never going to be guaranteed that level of protection and loyalty because he wasn’t a “member of the club.” He was a musician; an oddball; an outsider knocking for admittance. Although #MeToo has definitely changed the playing field somewhat, it still remains true that when a musician is accused of a crime (particularly a Black musician) he or she is far more likely to be swept under the bus. Next up on the hierarchy: Black actors, then White musicians, and finally White actors. But once you get into the realm of White powerful Hollywood execs, then you are treading into very dangerous waters indeed! However, at the time the 1993 accusations serviced, Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly “just” another African-American musician and entertainer. He was already owner of the ATV catalog and had just signed what was, at the time, the most lucrative recording contract in history, one that was guaranteed (at least according to the terms of the contract) to give him a stake in the film industry. There was a time when Jackson was clearly being courted by the likes of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and some of Hollywood’s most powerful elite.  So what went wrong?

The truth-and this is coming from someone who has spent her entire life as a movie geek who loves Hollywood-is that Hollywood is a notoriously hypocritical place, but then this could also be said for much of journalism and the media as well. When an accusation is made, the first impulse of all those not immediately affected is to instantly distance themselves publicly from the pariah as much as possible, lest their own reputation be tainted by the association.  Granted, this is not always of the celebrity’s own volition. They are often acting on the advice of their own PR firms in order to protect their own brand. However,  it has also been proven that this can take the form of deflecting (i.e, finding a scapegoat who can take the focus off of themselves) and the notorious Harvey Weinstein was apparently a master at it.

This brings me back to the original question raised. If, in the early 90’s,  child stars like Corey Feldman did not yet have the maturity or emotional capacity to stand up to their abusers or to blow the whistle, did some feel threatened enough by Jackson’s close friendships with Feldman and other child stars to want him permanently removed from any position of power or authority he might have had in that kind of situation? By turning him into the object of suspect, perhaps? I realize this is a tough question to raise; even harder, of course, to prove. But it is certainly not a theory without some merit.

The proverbial “proof in the pudding” actually came with an  explosive December 2017 New York Times article I mentioned previously, “Weinstein’s Complicity Machine.” I have quoted here the relevant (for our purposes) passage:

Over dinner in West Hollywood in late 2003 or early the next year, the men had discussed a plan to help Mr. Weinstein avoid embarrassment. While married to his first wife, he had become involved with someone else, Mr. Benza discovered. A clerk at a Los Angeles art studio where he commissioned a gift for Mr. Weinstein — a painting of a reimagined “Hollywood” sign reading “Harveywood” — volunteered to Mr. Benza that a friend, Georgina Chapman, was seeing the producer. Mr. Weinstein, who would later marry Ms. Chapman, was separated and wanted to keep the relationship confidential until he was divorced, according to his spokeswoman, Sallie Hofmeister.

Mr. Benza, then between jobs, had a suggestion. “I could supply your P.R. girls with a lot of gossip — a lot of stories — and if people come at them with the ‘Harvey’s having an affair story,’ they can barter,” Mr. Benza recalled telling Mr. Weinstein. “He said, ‘A. J., it’s got to be good stories,’ and I said, ‘Don’t you worry about it.’”

Collecting a monthly retainer, Mr. Benza said, he reported items on Roger Clemens, Michael Jackson and others and sent them to Mr. Weinstein’s communications team, though he didn’t know whether they were used to trade away stories about the producer. Mr. Weinstein’s spokeswoman said the payments to Mr. Benza were for public relations work during Miramax’s dispute with Disney.

After 10 months, Mr. Weinstein said, “I think the coast is clear; I think we beat this thing,” according to Mr. Benza, who recently had a brief stint as a writer for American Media and also runs his own gossip podcast, “Fame Is a Bitch.”

 The “Mr. Benza” of the article was none other than gossip columnist A.J. Benza, famed for his sordid stories about the rich and famous, and particularly nasty stories about Michael Jackson. It was revealed that Weinstein had also worked closely with Dylan Howard, editor of Radar Online and National Enquirer, to create “smoke and mirrors” stories about other celebrities including (most notoriously) Michael Jackson. This gets doubly interesting when it is recalled that it was Dylan Howard who became the foremost “go to” person in the media for Wade Robson’s attorneys, especially the stunt they pulled in 2016 with fabricating a “fake news” story of child porn that was never found at Neverland.  

With all of these forces at work, is it any surprise to learn that the new documentary Untouchable-exposing Harvey Weinstein’s crimes-was premiering at Sundance Film Festival on the exact same day as Leaving Neverland? Dear readers, do you recall seeing anything in the press this weekend about Untouchable? Neither do I. Oh yes, there were a few mentions on some very low profile outlets, but other than that, not a peep. Compare that to the media frenzy that surrounded Leaving Neverland and you get the idea. Something feels very rotten in the state of Utah right about now. Leaving Neverland was a very, very late, last minute addition to the lineup, barely making it under the wire of the deadline, and it seems there was quite a tremendous pull to get it on the bill.

Standing In The Que For “Leaving Neverland.” It looks like a lot of nice, ordinary folks but don’t be fooled. A significant number of media “plants” were in place to ensure a non-controversial Q&A for Robson and Safechuck.

Preliminary reviews have started to come in, and in the next part of this post, I will share some very critical thoughts on this film and the reactions it has garnered. Also, now that we’re getting a better idea of what is actually in the movie-and maybe more interestingly, what is not-I will be in a much better position to start critiquing it. Stay tuned. Part 2 is coming…

Dan Reed, Wade Robson and James Safechuck at the Q&A. Full dissection coming…this is gonna get brutal!

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Thoughts On MJ’s Diamond Birthday: He’d Still Be Putting The “Sex” In Sexagenarian!

This week marked the occasion of what would have been Michael Jackson’s 60th birthday. It was a day long marked on the calendars of fans across the world, and in the countdown to August 29th, 2018-with diverse celebrations spanning from Las Vegas, Nevada to Brooklyn, New York to all corners of the globe-the excitement was palpable.

Unfortunately for this particular fan (yours truly) Michael Jackson’s 60th birthday, which fell in the middle of the week, passed as just another day of work in the classroom. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t quietly reflecting and celebrating in my own way. As I periodically checked into my social media accounts, I was heartened to see no less than three MJ-related hashtags trending worldwide, simultaneously. Truly, the world still loves Michael Jackson, and always will. As the week of celebrations played out, many thoughts crossed my mind and I wanted to share a few here, for what they’re worth, both good and bad.

When Michael Jackson was born in the late summer of 1958, he officially joined what many consider to be “The Holy Trinity of Pop” who all made their world debuts in that particular summer. Prince was born first, on June 7, 1958. Madonna arrived a few weeks later, on August 16, 1958, and only a little less than two weeks later, baby Michael arrived to complete the triptych. It has always kind of boggled my mind that these three icons, who collectively would change the face of pop music and popular culture in the 80’s, were born in such close proximity. Clearly, in the summer of 1958, God was already planning the pop cultural zeitgeist that would be the 1980’s. But even though Michael may have been the youngest and last arrival of the three, his life path was already set to make him the one that was predestined to lead the way. Chronologically, he was the last of the trio to arrive, but he was the first to be thrust into the world’s spotlight. While both Madonna and Prince were going through the rites of a normal childhood, Michael was already singing and performing by age five. By the age of ten, he would be a Motown recording star. And from age eleven to the day he died at fifty, an internationally known legend. It was he-the youngest born-who would actually inspire and help create the path that Madonna and Prince followed. Michael Jackson may have been the last one of this particular pop trinity to be born, but he was already a veteran of show business and a very old soul by the time his fellow “summer of ’58” birthmates had caught up to him.

Michael Was Already A Veteran Performer And An Old Soul, A Decade Before Fellow Summer of ’58 Birthmates Prince And Madonna

That came at a high cost. During the time of his drug rehab stint in 1993, Elton John was quoted as saying that Michael was “damaged.” Even though I have always been outspoken against attempts to publicly psychoanalyze Michael, this quote has never been one that put me on the defensive. Was Michael damaged? Absolutely. How could he not be? How could anyone thrust into the world of entertainment and performing at such a young age not be damaged? I don’t know of any child stars, living or dead, who have not been damaged individuals. Michael knew this as well as anyone, which was also why he formed such close alliances and friendships with other child stars throughout his life (both former and current).  He recognized the kindred spirit of these individuals who had suffered through the same things he had endured.

Would He Have Ever REALLY Been Happy Doing Anything Else?

But conversely, Michael Jackson was born to be a performer, and as much pain and damage as he may have suffered, I honestly don’t think there was anything else he ever wanted to do differently, or could have done better. (Indeed, I’ve tried to imagine other occupations he might have pursued, but it is virtually impossible to imagine Michael Jackson as anywhere but on stage). Living the life of a performer, a pop icon, was something that Michael would have an intense love/hate relationship with for the rest of his life.

In an interview once, Katherine Jackson said of her son, “I think about my son every day, and how his life turned out.” That statement always struck me because when Katherine said “how his life turned out” you could tell by the sad expression on her face and pained tone of her voice that she was NOT thinking of the fame, or the glory, or the big houses and millions of records sold. She was thinking, instead, about all the crap he went through and the high price he paid to achieve those things-including, at the end, his own life.

Thus, I can’t ever celebrate Michael’s life or legacy without remembering, to some extent, the sacrifice he made to bring his gifts to the world. It came at the expense of any kind of normalcy his life might have otherwise had. Imagine a life in which Michael Joseph Jackson might have quietly and uneventfully come of age in Gary, Indiana, working in a steel mill, perhaps, and marrying some local girl. Could we imagine him buying a small, modest house-perhaps one not unlike the one he grew up in, in a neighborhood not too far removed from Jackson Street? Could we imagine him becoming a father at a much earlier age (because he would not have been detained from this ambition by a rigorous life of recording, touring, and focusing on a career) so that he would have actually raised his family by middle age, rather than just starting it? Could we imagine him as a grandfather at fifty, instead of the father of small children? Could we really imagine him walking idly out in his slippers to get the morning paper? Would Michael Jackson have been happier living that life? It’s one of the great “What if” mysteries, as we’ll never know. The thing about most adult performers is that they go into their profession by choice. Child stars like Michael do not necessarily get that choice. Even if we can argue that there are children who already exhibit a love of performing, singing or dancing, it doesn’t mean they have the adult capacity to make those kinds of life defining choices for themselves. Michael was a kid who loved the attention of being in the spotlight; he knew he loved singing and dancing and the way people reacted to him when he did it. I don’t doubt the stories that he actively begged to be part of the Jackson Five. And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Michael, at age five-with his cunning show business intuition already coming into blossom-didn’t intentionally plan his recital of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” as a way to finally convince Joe and Katherine that he had the chops to front the group.

But at age five, he could not have had the adult capacity to see past those moments of initial gratification to understand what he was really committing himself to-an entire childhood essentially sacrificed. No, make no mistake, that choice was made for him.

By The Time Michael Was An Adult, He Could Have Made A Choice To Take A Different Path. He Chose To Keep Performing.

Even so, Michael could have clearly chosen a different path as an adult. By the time he was twenty-one, he had made enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life. He could have chosen to drop out of show business. He could have gone on to college. He could have taken the quiet path of least resistance, satisfied with the fame he had achieved as a member of the most influential boy band of all time.

Instead, he made Off The Wall and Thriller. The rest is history.

I was reflecting on all of this when I saw the mural advertising Spike Lee’s Brooklyn birthday block party, and I think it is the reason I fell in love with this mural.

It beautifully depicts what we might call the “Two Halves” of Michael, the innocent and bubbly child merging with the shattered and disillusioned-but still beautifully strong; still invincible-man. It also reminded me that those who truly love and “get” Michael Jackson are the ones who fully embrace who he was and what he represented at all stages of his life. His “changing appearance”-as the media has always loved to dub it-was not so much a reflection of some body dysmorphic disorder (the most popular ongoing theory) as it was simply the morphing of one shell into another. While the world often applauded the artistic daring of artists like David Bowie, Madonna, Prince and others for constantly reinventing themselves, it seemed that the world often wanted to keep Michael forever frozen in time, always either the eternal, cherub boy with an Afro singing “ABC” or the young man with the jheri curl and single white glove, moonwalking across our TV screens to “Billie Jean.” Not for Michael the artistic luxury and indulgence of reinvention. He was part of our nostalgia, collectively representing the memories of a generation. Perhaps it would be fairer to say Michael was allowed at least one major transformation. His chrysalis from an awkward teen phase into the megastar, hungry-eyed phenomenon that was Michael at the height of the Thriller era was nothing less than spectacular.  To this day, I can still remember how he dropped every jaw of my generation, all of us who assumed he was just this has-been kid who dropped off the radar when The Jackson Five had their last hit. How many times do child stars really get a second chance to become adult superstars? Michael truly beat every odd on that one, and in so doing, instantaneously became an icon of not one, but two distinct generations, in the early 1970’s helping to establish Blacks in mainstream pop radio, and in the 1980’s, leading the way to break Black artists into the MTV era.

Michael’s 60th birthday also brought on another sentiment, as well. I was feeling nostalgic thinking of the good times I have had at some of Michael’s past birthday celebrations in Gary, Indiana. Every year, there is always a big block party around the family house on Jackson Street, and up until this year, members of the Jackson family including Michael’s kids and mother Katherine, have taken part in this annual celebration. To my knowledge (and someone may feel free to correct me if I am wrong) but I do not believe any of the family visited Gary at all this year. Instead, the focal point of Michael’s birthday celebration seems to have shifted to the glitzier allure of Las Vegas. While I’m sure the Diamond celebration was lovely-and I do want to make it out to see the One show at some point- I can’t help but feel a bit sad to see the spotlight shifting away from the city that the family has always called “home.” Don’t get me wrong. I realize that Michael himself spent very little time in Gary, only returning (I believe) a couple of times throughout his entire adult hood. For him, there may not have even been that much in the way of personal attachment to the town. After all, the family had left and moved to California by the time he was ten years old, and most of his formative memories would have been in the Encino community where the family settled. His memories of Gary would have been, at best, the sporadic memories of a very young child. But I think that is an important and vital part of what makes any trip to Gary special for me. For me, when I stand in front of the Jackson house and  gaze at the side bedroom window that I know was his- where he often stared out in wonder at the Christmas lights of their neighbors- or when I walk the back alley where he and his brothers used to race their go carts, or the abandoned field behind Garrett Elementary school where he would have played, I am reminded that this was the last vestige of Michael’s innocence; the last time when he would truly know what it was like to be a normal child doing normal child things.

Vids Like These Exploit The “Urban Decay” Reputation of Gary-Fairly or Not

As a tourist destination, of course, it would probably be an understatement to say that Gary leaves a lot to be desired. The town certainly has its own beauty (including those breathtaking old Gothic Revival churches) but anyone who comes into Gary expecting five star hotels and restaurants is certainly going to be in for a letdown. The town’s economic decline, as well as its reputation (undeserved, I think) as one of the most crime ridden cities in America has not exactly made it a tourist mecca for Jackson fans, and those who do come often consider it as some sort of daring venture; a challenge on a par with “Survival.” Most are content to grab a few, quick pics in front of the Jackson house and be on their way, back to the safety of their air conditioned vehicles and out of “that neighborhood.”

Indeed, many of the comments and reviews left from “fans” who have visited the house seem to sadly bear this out. Here are a few typical reviews that were left on the TripAdvisor website:

You can drive through a neighborhood of closed and dilapidated buildings to see this little house that is not open to the public. Whatever monument used to be in the yard is gone now. The town of Gary has disintegrated into a slum area. You can’t even find out the story of the Jackson family here. Run away!-Melodycthomas

Area was so bad and run down with broken windows caved in roofs burnt out houses and burnt down buildings broken windows abandoned houses galore and a few sketchy people milling around that we turned around before getting to the dead end destination afraid to go further. We Decided to take a second run at it from a different street only to find exactly the same thing with abandon cars more burnt out houses run down houses a motorcycle went by A couple of slow cars and a few people about very very sketchy. Turned around a second time as we were coming up to the dead end again where the house is. Shocking how this is how the town honours those who have done so much for them. Very disappointing-berrypocket

Well don’t expect much. The entire house is gated from the public. You can drive by, stop and take a picture by the gates…but that’s it. Don’t think you’re going to peer into the house or even touch the door (lol). The property has been well maintained (especially compared to other homes in Gary). I guess its okay to just say…you saw the house where the Jackson’s grew up…right????-NickiNi

Granted, I am cherry picking a handful of the worst reviews (most of them are pretty decent and written by fans who understand that going to the Jackson house kind of is what it is) but these were the ones that leaped out at me and made me feel both sad and a little angry that some seem to have such an apparent sense of entitlement about visiting Michael’s childhood home and town. Michael Jackson’s life began as a poor Black child living in Gary, Indiana. What exactly are some of these people expecting when they come to visit-Graceland, for crying out loud? And come to think of it, even though Elvis’s birth home in Tupelo is just as small and humble as Michael’s childhood home in Gary, you don’t see half the number of complaints about “the neighborhood” or “I would visit the Presley house but I’m afraid of getting mugged in that neighborhood” or “If you visit the Elvis Presley birth house, don’t go alone.” Yes, I’ve heard variants of all these comments through the years leveled at the Jackson house and its neighborhood, and just about every time I have ever visited Gary, despite the fact that in my personal experience, I have never been treated less than warmly and cordially by the local residents. At worst, some of the old folks of the neighborhood may sit on their porches and stare at you curiously-or maybe pay you no mind at all, seeing as how most of them have gotten used to all of the traffic of the curious coming through. Yes, it is a poor community, but that is all the more reason why it needs to be appreciated, for we cannot begin to appreciate what Michael Jackson accomplished in his life without acknowledging where he came from, and in so doing, understanding the obstacles he and his family had to overcome.  To appreciate Michael’s legacy, we have to understand and appreciate where he came from. When we see the hospital where he drew his first breath as a crumbling ruin, or his childhood playing field overgrown with weeds and abandoned, or his childhood home-well tended but so, so tiny, only then can we appreciate the magnitude of what this man achieved with his life. The various states of decay in which one may find these monuments of Michael’s childhood, however, only serve to remind us of the ephemeral and transitory nature of life and indeed existence itself. For me, they are bittersweet reminders that Michael himself has long transcended these very places and the boundaries they represented-he had already done so in life, and death has only added another, final layer.

Throughout the last decade, various organizations in and around Gary have tried to host annual conventions and other events to celebrate Michael’s birthday and to draw tourism to Michael’s birth town, but invariably, all seem to have eventually petered out, while annual fanventions continue to flourish in big city meccas like London and Vegas. Eventually, even the last remaining fanvention in Gary had shifted its locale to the more “tourist friendly” Chicago. And with the passing of Joe, who had remained a consistent Jackson presence and supporter of keeping the Jackson legacy alive in Gary, it seems the last of what has already become a very fragile tie may have been broken. I hope time proves me wrong.

 

Lastly, to think of Michael being sixty years old is certainly a mortality wake-up reminder. Wow, wasn’t it just yesterday that I remember music critics writing lines such as, “These young performers like Michael Jackson…” Where does the time go? When you realize that the guy whose poster you hung on your bedroom wall as a teenager has now officially joined the ranks of the sexagenarians, it definitely has a way of putting things in perspective.

We Know That At 60, He’d Still Be Putting The “Sex” In Sexagenarian!

Wait a minute, did I say sexagenerian? Well, you know if he’d lived he would still be the one putting the “sex” in sexagenarian! Yeah, I had to go there.

Happy 60th, Michael. We still love you more!

Father and Son: Together Again, But The Wounds Remain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Was A Small Gesture, But It Meant Everything

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

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

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

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

Joe With Paris

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all we can do.