Category Archives: Criticism/Analysis

Student essay on bad

bad6Last summer, I added Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video to the music analysis/research unit of my English 102 curriculum. As most of my readers know, my classes have been dissecting the “Black or White” video for years. More recently, I had added “Earth Song” to the curriculum, but had also debated the idea for some time of adding “Bad” which I felt could make an interesting companion piece to “Black or White”‘s racial themes. I had started using “Bad” in American Lit to help illustrate and enrich the theme of Langston Hughes’s essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, and having had much success there, felt inspired to add it to English 102 (also, I had spent the better part of the summer writing on the “Bad” short film and the story of Edmund Perry myself for an upcoming anthology collection on Jackson’s works) so perhaps I was feeling especially inspired to discuss it in the classroom. In any event, however, I have discovered as an educator that Michael Jackson’s songs and short films-many of them replete with social conscious messages that still resonate with us today, and what’s more, remain relevant today-are important works for facilitating analytical class discussions and debates.

On that note, I wanted to share with you an exceptionally insightful essay written by Bethany Pittman, who used Elizabeth Amisu’s excellent analysis as one of her required sources:

The Superhero in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” by Bethany Pittman

Released on September 7, 1987, Michael Jackson’s pop funk song “Bad” was a number one hit within one month. Originally written to be a duet, it was included on the album Bad and was received with mixed reviews from members of the black community. Many were unsure what to think about the video; however, Jackson’s intent was to improve the relationships between the black and white communities. Jackson’s character, Daryl, is an embodiment of both these communities and the consequences he faces because of that. By comparing Jackson’s character in “Bad” to Harry Potter and Superman, Elizabeth Amisu is painting him as a superhero – one that is creating a radical, cultural movement in the black community.

It is clear that the video is making a statement in the black community even from the first scene. Jackson’s character is one attending an all white school where he is doing exceptionally well academically. Later in the video when he is surrounded by his black friends he is mocked for this; attending this school is something that is simply unacceptable for his friends since it puts blacks and whites on the same level. His friends believe that the white community is filled with snobby rich people, completely opposite of the environment in which they have been raised. During the train scene, the sole black female has her head and eyes covered while looking down. The rest of the white males and females are uncovered and looking out of the windows. Jackson’s character does the same, showing that he is used to being immersed in the white community regardless of his skin color. These two examples show to the audience that it is possible for the black and white communities to exist together without harm; this even creates a more educated black community in the case of Edmund Perry. Based on the true story experiences of Edmund Perry, “Bad” showcases a black male standing up to his friends for what he believes is the right thing to do.

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Continuing on through the beginning of the music video Jackson’s character undergoes peer pressure from his friends. When Jackson’s character says that he does not want to participate, his friend repeatedly asks him “Are you bad?” This is paired with taunting about how Jackson’s character has lost his respect with his friends by being sent to a “sissy school” within the white community. In her article, Amisu claims that Jackson’s character “is going from safety to conflict”, the “safety” being the upper class school, and “conflict” being Daryl’s home and friends (Amisu). She compares this transfer of protection and shelter to Harry Potter’s first train ride to Hogwarts. While Daryl is returning to his home where he was raised and Potter is departing to Hogwarts for the first time, they are both faced with challenges once they reach their destination. They both are moving between different communities with different societal standards and cultural norms. By drawing this conclusion, Amisu is presenting the audience with the idea that Daryl is accepted in both communities, furthering a cultural movement in the black community.

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Amisu goes on to show this bilateral personification of Daryl in her analysis of his clothing during the dancing scenes. She states that “Jackson is simultaneously Clark Kent and Superman, both a shy introvert and an inspiring showman” (Amisu). The “shy introvert” is referring to Jackson’s character at school. He is one that follows the rules and excels academically; one that pays attention in class and is eager to learn. The “inspiring showman” in Daryl is brought out when his friend continues to taunt him and ask him “Are you bad?” Daryl is frustrated and shows that he is indeed “bad” by performing inspiring and insistent dance sequences throughout the video. Much like Superman, Daryl is existent and accepted in two completely opposite communities. Rather than the civilian and superhero communities, Jackson’s character is portrayed in the white and black communities.

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Amisu also presents an interesting idea of perhaps Daryl was being taunted as not “bad” enough because he did not want to be associated with the black community anymore. Perhaps he had lost pride in his roots and his current friend group after being submersed in the culture of the white community. Daryl assures his friends that he is still “bad” even though he does not agree with their actions. He shows how being “bad” can be a good thing – a stand of confidence and individuality. This portrays Daryl as his own kind of superhero.

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He is representing both the black and white communities simultaneously, and is standing up for what he believes is right. By doing this he is showing that there is a moral obligation for society to follow regardless of skin color. Aisha Harris claims the meaning of the song “Bad” is about Daryl “making his own place” in the world (Harris). In the video, by encompassing both communities, indeed Daryl has created his own ideas, morals, and place in his world. He is fighting for individuality within the togetherness of the two different communities.

While Jackson has had many songs that have stirred viewers and formed mixed reactions, “Bad” was one that has always been targeted specifically towards the black community. Based on a true story, it emotionally appealed to viewers and brought into light the racial divide still occurring two decades after the ending of the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson’s character, Daryl, is an artistic embodiment of the combination of the black and white communities and sends a message to the audience about the importance of unity within society. This unity gives him the individuality and courage to say that he is indeed “bad” and can stand up for himself against his friends. Daryl’s character is one that can be considered a superhero for he is not afraid of merging two different ideas and cultures while still maintaining his unique independence.

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5 THOUGHTS ON “STUDENT ESSAY ON “BAD”: THE SUPERHERO IN MICHAEL JACKSON’S “BAD” BY BETHANY PITTMAN”
Monika
SEPTEMBER 17, 2016 AT 9:36 PM
Great!…finally the genious behind Michael’s work is being discovered ….I give dedicated every day work for it and makes me happy that it comes to light around the globe ��…hugs from me
REPLY
kerryhennigan
SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 AT 2:44 AM
Thank you for bringing Bethany’s essay to our attention, Raven. Great that you are providing the opportunity for people to learn and appreciate Michael’s art in-depth.
REPLY
Esmeralda Rokaj
SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 AT 9:26 AM
I believe that “Bad” also touched upon the stereotype that black people are supposed to be ‘dangerous’ and criminally tough.

Daryl’s friends plan to attack that old man at the subway station. When one of them asks Daryl “Are you bad?” he also means “Are you black enough to do this?”. What Daryl does later on by saving the old man and dancing, shows that being black or bad shouldn’t be related to crimes. He does want to put black and white people on the same level, that being the level of morality and duty towards society. This isn’t devided by race or anything else. It’s everyone’s duty and this is important on fighting one of the biggest racist remarks towards black people.

The friendly hand grabbing at the end means that we can and must work together to reach that level of equality, not only on rights, but on responsibilities too.
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Kimberly Cales
SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 AT 2:51 PM
Such beautiful work!!! I am proud to have been able to enjoy this piece.
Thank you!!!!
REPLY
Elizabeth Amisu
SEPTEMBER 19, 2016 AT 6:16 AM
Dear Raven,

Thank-you for publishing this beautiful piece. I am delighted to know that Michael Jackson Studies has found such success with your students, especially with regards to culture, ethnicity and social issues. Michael Jackson’s art is still so relevant and resonant. To my mind he becomes more so as the years progress. I particularly enjoyed Bethany’s points about Michael Jackson and cultural mobility, the idea that Jackson’s work really can be used to forge more transition and mutability between cultures, instead of the ‘cultural appropriation’ we see so often today. The quote, ‘Daryl, is an artistic embodiment
of the combination of the black and white communities and sends a message to the audience about the importance of unity within society’ stayed with me for some days since I read this piece. You are surely doing magnificent work with your students.

Best wishes,

Elizabeth

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.

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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.

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…Prince Often Seemed More Like The Reincarnation Of Jimi Hendrix

 

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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.

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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.

971d6486b50aee75a3cfa01beeecd635
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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s:

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Student Essays on “Earth Song” and “Black or White”

earth songLast fall brought a particularly strong crop of student essays on “Earth Song” and “Black or White” and I wanted to share with you some of the best essays I had the pleasure to read. These essays span three sections of English 102 and, with but one exception, were all written by students whose average age, eighteen, means they were not even born when Michael Jackson first released these songs over twenty years ago.  Yet I think you will find their views to be quite profound and enlightening. They are products of a new generation, one that has come of age in an era of increased environmental awareness and racial tensions, and in which the gradual deconstructive critical assessment of both of these great works continues to gain momentum.

Over the course of a semester, I read literally hundreds of essays. It’s easy for some to fade from memory after a few weeks, once the grading process is done. But then there are always those few that stick with me long afterwards. These are some of the best of those, and I hope you guys will enjoy them as much as I did.

It may be worth noting that  the first essay mistakenly identifies “Earth Song” as Jackson’s final work. It wasn’t, of course. Possibly Miss Woodard was confusing this fact with our class discussion of “Earth Song” as the last song that Jackson performed, an understandable point of confusion. This was a correction I noted when I returned her paper; nevertheless, as always, I present their pieces here with as few editorial corrections as possible, as I believe it is important to let these students’ voices speak for themselves, even if that includes the occasional, small factual or grammatical error.  In general, I do not think it would be fair to hold these kids accountable for facts that only seasoned Jackson aficionados would know. Also, I am not always in every case necessarily looking for only positive pieces. You will find below that there is the occasional more critical approach, but I think it is fair criticism that has been grounded in thoughtful reflection of the work. What I look for is overall evidence of critical thinking, profound reflection, and the degree of original  enlightenment they are able to bring to the piece. In some cases, the more critical pieces were able to lead to some very engaging class discussions and/or dialogues between myself and the writer, especially on the topic of Michael and spirituality. I hope you will enjoy these as much as I did. Many more will be forthcoming in the months ahead.

Jackson’s Powerful Love for the Earth by Emily Woodard

Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” was Jackson’s final work, expressing his passion and love for all creatures, bemoaning the evil and cruelty that mankind brought into the world.  It is a plea for people to break through their apathy and heal the planet. “Earth Song,” unlike most other of Jackson’s work, took seven years to produce, and during those seven years he was unable to consistently eat or sleep, plagued by the restless urgency he felt to convey this important message across the globe. Jackson grew up in the Jehovah Witness faith – encouraged by his devout mother, and he seems to address the Christian God many times in his final work.   Jackson still believed in helping others, and being a good person, although his faith at his time of death is not completely clear.  Jackson’s earnest “Earth Song,” sends a message of great anguish, and heartbreak, even as he committed himself to spreading the message of hope.  “Earth Song” is a powerful expression of the Earth’s tremendous grief, and sorrow, expressed through Jackson’s lament, and his addresses to God, and to mankind.

The first message- hope- is demonstrated by Jackson’s intense emotion, and puissant feelings for the earth and all living creatures on it. Eleanor Bowman exclaims in the blog entry “In my Veins I’ve Felt the Mystery” that “although there is so much anger and pain in Earth Song, there is also hope, but this hope really is only revealed in the film, which shows Michael singing the Earth and nature back to life (Bowman).  At this point in the film, Jackson expresses his devotion to the planet and asks the audience to care, and love the planet as he does, to gift Earth with hope.  The first biblical reference says, “The heavens are falling down, (What about us?), I can’t even breathe, (What about us?)” (Jackson).  Jackson uses this part to symbolize a world tragedy or great losses.  From Bowman, Eleanor says, “And, when he cries out “What about us?” he identifies not only himself, but all of us, his listeners, with the disempowered and dispossessed” (Bowman).  The magical intensity Jackson creates for the Earth involves caring for all living creatures by asking “what about us,” referring to himself, and everybody else watching these terrible tragedies around them.

He rails against the fact that the world has been “torn apart by creed” (Jackson). We have sacrificed the planet, justifying war, destruction and cruelty based on religious separatism. People of the planet have been cruelly apathetic to the tragedy, turning a blind eye to the pain. And God does not hear the cries of the Earth. He asks God, “What about all the peace, that you pledge your only son” and asks why He has failed to notice the dying planet, suffering children, and casualties of war (Jackson).  At the same time, he’s asking his listeners the same questions. How can we all turn a blind eye to the suffering?

In the music video, Jackson is portrayed in a Messianic pose, spread eagled between two burning trees and sacrificed to the violence of a healing storm. He faces down the fiery storm, stomping out his anger to the “What about us” lyrics. His sacrifice and bravery in the face of the storm brings about a global healing. Trees rise from destruction, oceans are teaming with life, animals and people are resurrected.

His lyrics and imagery ask the audience “Where did we go wrong” and “Do we give a damn?” Bowman insists that Jackson is rejecting the Christian God, explainin“… the themes of environmental degradation and man’s inhumanity to man, our wars  on nature and each other”- he is saying that these two tragedies are related, that they arise from a single source – the transcendent god of the Judeo-Christian tradition, whose worldview and value system led his only son to the cross, whose worldview and value system brought Abraham to the brink of disaster, and whose worldview and value system are destroying the planet and leading us toward self-destruction. Earth Song is both an acknowledgement of the dire situation we find ourselves in and a recognition that we have all been betrayed” (Bowman).

In fact, his refrain “What about us” isn’t an infantile plea for attention, but a cry for people to take responsibility for the state of the world. Stop looking to a remote God for the answer – those promises have not been kept – and instead look to each other. “What about us” is a cry for personal responsibility and his music video images back up this interpretation. He is sacrificing himself to bring about change in the world. And everyone should do the same – take a stand against greedy consumption of Earth’s treasures and make a difference.  It’s a common theme in his later work, telling his listeners to be the change they want to see in the world. Open your eyes, see the pain and anguish, destruction and pollution, understand the part you play, and your power to make change. Heal the world.

Jackson seemed to have felt deeply the pain of others, and hoped to find a way for his art to help. His heartbreak is clear, as is his hope, and fear that we would continue to look the other way, even if the direction of our gaze is the heavens, as our Earth cries out in agony.

Michael Jackson’s Message of Racism and His Personal Fight by Octavia Gregory

black or whiteMichael Jackson was a musician who turned the tables in the music industry. Emerging in the early 1990’s, after releasing himself with his family’s band, “Jackson Five”, Michael became any woman’s dream and one of the most loved artists in his time, even until this very day. His experiences with racism, discrimination and hatred influenced a lot of his early music. The most pivoting, eye opening song of 1991 was Michael Jackson’s, “Black or White”. This song was so shell shocking, when the music video premiered on MTV, the world went wild. This song is still extremely prevalent in this day and age, especially with the new generation of race debates and political correctness.

Michael’s experiences with racism started at an early age. One of his most prevalent memories was when he went to visit his mother and stepfather in Mobile, Alabama in the early 1980’s. Him and his bodyguard went into a local store and his guard told him to stay put but he didn’t listen. He ended up going into the gas station and by the time his bodyguard came out, he found Michael on the floor being beaten by the gas station’s owner, a white male in his thirties, kicking him in his head and body. The store owner claimed that Michael was stealing a candy bar, but, from eye witnesses, it was said that he was just beating him because he was black. That is one of the many instances that shaped Michael’s views on racism.

He and his brothers, the Jackson 5, didn’t have a pleasant stay at Mobile, Alabama that year. When they arrived at the hotel, there was KKK paraphernalia left out to scare the brothers from being n Mobile. It frightened them but didn’t stop them from doing what they came there to do. This experience influenced the one line in Michael’s song, “Black or White”, saying “I ain’t scared of no sheets”, referring to the sheets the KKK wears. He’s not afraid because, the fact that the KKK feels the need to hide their face just express their hatred only shows that member of the KKK are cowards and live amongst us; they are our doctors, lawyers, and people we sit next to on the bus. This was Michael’s true message in his fight against the KKK and racism as a whole, that African Americans aren’t afraid of it because it seems to them that the KKK are more afraid of them and when it comes down to it, they will win the fight.

Jermaine Jackson wrote in his book, “You Are Not Alone: Michael: Through a Brother’s Eyes”, ​about the trip to Mobile, Alabama that, “It made us more determined to kick some butt onstage, because we soon recognized the importance of being black kids performing for black fans who could now identify with us. We were carrying the torch for our forefathers, winning respect for every black kid with a dream. The screams and cheers that night felt like a lot more than just Jackson mania: they felt like defiance and victory. As Sammy Davis Junior had said in 1965: ‘Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to go and get insulted.’” Michael’s whole purpose in his music career was to inspire the black youth of then and now and hope to make a difference, and he did just that.

The problems going on in America today of racism have been going on, even since before Michael’s time. Some would argue that racism doesn’t exist anymore, but professing that ignorantly diminishes the problems and discrimination that African Americans still face today or have ever faced. The blow up over the past two years of Black Lives Matter has affected and changed the views of many of our black youth and even other cultures. It has been a movement that has awakened many and I believe that this is what any black activist has been waiting for, for the black youth to wake up.

Michael Jackson was a big activist and if he was still alive he would be front and center in the news speaking out and being active with the black community. He was never afraid to speak his mind, even though some believe that he may have talked too much and that is what lead to his death. Nonetheless, Michael could never be silenced and his message lives on until today. In the article, “Messenger King: Michael Jackson and the politics of #BlackLivesMatter”, by D.B. Anderson, she speaks about Michaels song “They Don’t Care About Us” and how “The song was, in large part, a response to the failure to convict police officers of the videotaped 1992 Rodney King beating, but also to his own terribly degrading experience of police brutality in 1993. To re­read the criticism of the song today is to shake your head in disbelief at its disingenuousness. It’s obvious that for some in power at the time, this was a dangerous song, and the objections merely an attempt to deflect.” This is perfect evidence that Michael would’ve been on top of every police brutality incident to come forth, and would probably have a huge impact of change.

Michael had struggled with racism his entire life and it showed in his music. He was a very passionate man and is missed by many. His message will live on forever and he played an important role in the racial change that has gone on in this country. He stayed strong willed and unchanged by every racist and person who falsely accused him, whether it be about his unseen vitiligo or the message he spoke. Michael Jackson’s message to everyone will live on forever, “If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with.”

Good or Bad, Not Black or White by Eric Harrison

blackorwhite2It was 1991 and there were many problems going on in society dealing with race. Michael Jackson was in his 30’s and he too had already had to deal with many of those problems in society. He was able to take his frustration out in a positive way though. One of the most memorable songs he made about the racial tension going on during those times was Black or White. This song was so controversial because of the music video that people were missing the point he was making. It doesn’t matter if your black or white.

The music video starts out just like most of the popular videos in the early 90’s. Popular actors, family at home, and a whole lot of dancing. For the actor Michael Jackson got Macaulay Culkin who played the kid in all of the Home Alone movies. Like most young kids Culkin ends up getting into an argument with his parents and blows his dad into the Sahara Desert after bringing his amplifier downstairs and playing his guitar on max! You’re probably wondering what that has to do with racial tension, and the answer is simple. It isn’t about what race someone is. There is always going to be good and bad people regardless.

Once the song starts you can see Michael dancing with people of all different races. African, Asian, Native American, and Mexican to just name a few. What stuck out to me the most during this part of the video is the fact that everyone is getting along. These are all good people having a good time to a good song. Michael Jackson pulls off a couple of his dance moves and you start to get a sense of well being. It makes you start to wonder why can’t everyone just get along. Now there is nothing controversial at all with the first half of the music video. It changes tone quickly and so does Michael.

All of the sudden you see Michael dancing in front of pictures of fire. This is a drastic change from dancing in the middle of the street with the whole neighborhood. The mood really changes when you see tanks firing their rockets and you get a sense of  being on the edge. Macaulay Culkin is then seen rapping with some other kids that happen to be black. This is a strong message and he uses kids for a reason. Kids aren’t born being racist, and Michael wanted to make sure that parents know this. This is also why he has Culkin arguing with his dad rebelling in the first scene. Families play a big role in kids belief system. In Raven Wood’s article “The Seeds of Black or White: The Sub Theme of Parental Authority” she says, “ The role of a parent, after all, is to be a parent, not a best friend. Parents and children both have to realize this, and to accept the boundary.”

Michael goes on to show us what happens when parent’s aren’t that authority figure that kids need so much. To emphasize this he morphs into a panther which is a fierce animal that black activists have related to. They would call themselves The Black Panthers. When he morphs back into a human it has started storming outside and you get a bad vibe. This is where a lot of people were starting to get confused. They didn’t understand what this had to do with the racial conflicts going on at that time. Michael continues to do a more aggressive style dance than he was doing earlier in the first half of the video. He is playing the role of anyone who has been hated on because of their race. He not only dances in the middle of the street but he also jumps on top of a car and continues to dance all the while breaking out the windows of it. This is an extreme message that’s very strong. I can see why people would not like this part of the video because most people didn’t want to think that this is what the ignorance of racism is causing. A lot of people just wanted to sweep everything under the rug and continue living life like they have been even though there have been numerous riots and lives lost. People from all races have to deal with racism in one form or another.

Michael Jackson wrote this song to help bring awareness on racism and the problems that it causes. Black or White had one of the largest viewing crowds for the premiere of the video. It was shown on prime time television across the world. People weren’t expecting such a strong message to be shown in this music video and it really raised some eyebrows. Michael was ahead of his times with many of his songs and this was no exception.

There are many messages in the music video for Black or White by Michael Jackson. He is able to portray this message not only through lyrics, but also through the different themes of the scenes in the video. The main thing that stuck out in this video wasn’t the violence in it. It was what led up to the violence. The main thing to me was how powerful a parents influence is over their child. The fact that kids aren’t born racist, but there are so many racist people alive is appalling. Michael being so up front with this video notched him a spot in history for the right towards equal rights. Today things are a lot different than they were back then even though we still have issues. Videos like this have become more common place today, and it wouldn’t have been as big of a controversy now as it was then. Although times have changed one thing still remains the same. It’s about good or bad not black or white.

“Earth Song” by Shekeler Atchinson

Cd3IYdfXEAAuV5NMichael Jackson, one of the greatest song writers of all times, composed “Earth Song.” This song, “is indisputably the most popular green-themed tune ever. It remains Jackson’s best-selling song in the U.K.”(Pasternack) I feel like this song expressed his pain of not understanding why an all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving God would allow suffering and pain to exist. He saw God creations full of turmoil and destruction. Although, what a person have been taught to believe matters in their understanding about God and their own life. One article read, “Raised a Jehovah’s Witness, he was taught to believe in a God that was rigid and demanding (including the commandment not to celebrate holidays or birthdays).” (Vogel) “Earth Song,” clearly expresses Theodicy in Michael understanding.

Michael is not alone in not fully understanding why God would allow evil and suffering to exist in this world, especially when scripture teaches that God is love. I believe Michael would have understood better by pondering over the question, when did evil and suffering began? When God created the heavens and the earth, after each creation, the bible says, “Then God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Bible) However, God did not make man as a robot, but to have a free will to choose.  Adam and Eve chose the one thing God told them they must not eat, the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, knowing good and evil were passed to all generations. Suffering and evil came into this world due to sin. “Let no one say when I am temped, I am tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself temp anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is full grown, bring forth death.” (Bible) It seems like Michael’s religion had left him to believe that God was all about pain as quoted by one article, “Earth Song,” wasn’t about faith or triumph; it was about pain and indignation.” (Vogel) Michael seems to be walking in the dark, because he could not understand why God would allow bad things to happen. However, scriptures teaches, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Bible) Which simply means, God’s purpose and reasons for allowing suffering and evil to exist is so far beyond our understanding. What Michael needed to understand, so many times we have to trust God when what is happening do not make any sense. However, as a child of God, we have God’s promise that, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Bible) In the beginning of creation, God did not created evil and suffering, but because He is omniscient, He knew man would sin and evil and things would be a part of this world. Suffering or evil working by man did not surprise God.  God also had a plan in place to redeem mankind along with His creation of the heavens and earth.  It is so sad that with the gift of music God gave him, he had to express misunderstanding of the God he apparently wanted to know. It’s true no religion has all the answers, the bible say, “We only know in part and we prophesy in part.” (Bible)

Finally, I wonder before his life ended did he come to the knowledge of knowing that in God’s timing He would right all wrongs. I wonder did he know the scripture, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth has passed away. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There will be no more pain, for the former things has passed away.” (Bible). I wonder did he get to know the savior of the world, Jesus. In my opinion, the greatest evil and suffering done on earth is when Jesus Christ, God Son, was crucified. Yet, God allow it to happen because it was a part of God plan to save mankind. The people who were committing this evil act, did now realize they were right in line with the will of God. I believe that everything that happens in this life is not without reason and purpose. An all-powerful God, can prevent everything bad from happening, so why don’t He? Again, this is where your faith in God has to work. “Faith is the substance of things hope for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Bible) Michael’s life seems to have been a life of spiritual struggles. I hope that before he gave his last breath, he saw Jesus.

Michael Jackson and his Earth Song by Thomas George

earth song2Michael Jackson was a famous pop artist known for his ridiculously catchy songs and intense dance moves. Among some of his works are Thriller, Bad, and Billie Jean. He was however, more than an artist that could pump out catchy tunes and moonwalk. He was very active in civil rights and concerned about the Earth’s environment and how humanity has effected it. Jackson wrote Earth Song as a way to try to open the eyes of the many people that could here his message and inspire healing.

In a quick analysis of Earth song, it is deeply rooted with both antiwar and environmental aspects. Both of which are still hot topics today and as attempts grow to improve upon these aspects, one line that stands out is, “what have we done to the world.” This small lyric means that all are to blame for the conditions of the Earth. And even as Jackson sings the song, he sings it with more of a grieving, guilty voice.

It took Jackson seven years to create Earth Song and the song itself was different from other songs of its type as Joseph Vogel writes in his book Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus:

Social anthems and protest songs had long been part of the heritage of rock-but  not like this. ‘Earth Song’ was something more epic, dramatic, and primal. Its roots were deeper; its vision more panoramic. It was a modern-day “sorrow song”                       haunted by voices of the past; a lamentation torn from the pages of the Old Testament; an apocalyptic prophecy in the tradition of Blake, Yeats, and Eliot. (4).

Earth Song eventually became the most popular environmental anthem ever and reached the top of the charts in over fifteen countries. Earth Song sold over ten million copies. Even with its success the critics did not know what to make of it. It was completely different from what was normally heard on the radio. It was rock, opera, gospel, and blues. It was not a traditional anthem by any means. The song proposed a world with out division and wanted balance and harmony. (Vogel 5)

Jackson was raised Jehova’s Witness and believed in a very strict God. He did not celebrate birthdays or holidays. Jehova’s Witnesses believed that Armageddon was an upcoming event that could not be stopped and only prepared for. As well only few Jehova’s Witnesses will survive the Armageddon as the religion calls for only 144,000. (Vogel 25) Jackson spent years devoted to understanding his faith, he would reach out to church leaders for advice. But in 1987 Jackson decided that he could no longer stay with the church and resigned. (Vogel 25-26)

With the Jehova’s Witness religion behind him, he had a new outlook on the way he viewed himself, the world, and God. In Vogel’s book Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus, he quotes Jackson on his new views on God:

“It’s strange that God doesn’t mind expressing Himself/Herself in all the religions of the world, while people still cling to the notion that their way is the only right  way,” he wrote in his 1992 book Dancing the Dream. In another piece, in place of                his prior conception of the afterlife, he writes: “Heaven is here/Right now is the moment of eternity/Don’t fool yourself/Reclaim your bliss.”(26)

Jackson’s new views helped him artistically. It further inspired him to view God not as strict but more as an inspiration to try and heal the Earth and not focus on an inevitable unstoppable Armageddon like he believed in the past. (Vogel 26)

Although Jackson was known more for his catchy songs and wild dance moves, he was deeply moved by the conditions of the Earth. He created Earth Song in the hopes that it would inspire healing of the Earth itself. Earth Song may have opened up many people’s eyes as to what humanity is doing to the Earth which was Jackson’s intent.