Where Michael Got His Looks: Michael Jackson's Beautiful Grandmother, Crystal Lee King- Jackson!

crystal leeThis photo of a youthful Crystal Lee King-Jackson caused quite a sensation when it was first posted by Yashi Brown on her Twitter timeline. For those of you who, like me, have always thought that Michael never exactly looked like either Joseph or Katherine, and have wondered where did those dazzling eyes, cheekbones, and wide smile come from-look no further! Mystery solved. Michael may have inherited a lot of great characteristics from his mother, and may have borne a somewhat passing resemblance to his father (which I believe, without cosmetic surgery, would have become more pronounced as he aged) but it’s clear that from this youthful photo of Crystal Lee King -Jackson, Michael’s paternal grandmother, “that face” that we know and love so well obviously owes a huge debt to those Lee/King genetics. And it doesn’t even stop at the face. Check out the hands with those long, lovely fingers!

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The Beautiful Face and Features of Crystal Lee King-Jackson Have Lived On, Obviously!
The Beautiful Face and Features of Crystal Lee King-Jackson Have Lived On, Obviously!

On Mother’s Day in past years, I have written many tributes to Katherine Jackson. But this year I thought it would be interesting to go a generation back, to the mother of Joe Jackson, and reflect on the life of the very beautiful but troubled young woman who turned many mens’ lives inside out-for better and worse.

Unfortunately, Crystal King’s own life is somewhat shrouded in mystery, and perhaps it is ironic that what little we do know has come down to us filtered through the eyes and memories of the man her actions affected most-her son Joe Jackson. Under such circumstances, it can be easy for a son’s bitterness to taint his memories of his mother, and ultimately to cloud her own story.  We may ask: How fair is it, really, for a woman-especially a girl growing up in rural Arkansas at the turn of the century-to have her entire history  and identity to be shaped and molded by the males in her life? It is an interesting paradox, especially when we look at this photo of what appears such a vibrant, sassy and confident young woman who looked ready to take on the world in the 1920’s.

Crystal was born in either 1900 or 1907 (accounts seem to vary between these two years and I have not been able to verify which is accurate, though 1907 would put her closer to the right age when she met and married Samuel Jackson). She was only sixteen and a mere schoolgirl-but quite wild by most accounts!-when she caught the eye of her handsome and distinguished teacher, Samuel Jackson, said to have been the first African-American teacher in the state of Arkansas. Theirs was a romance that would have been much frowned upon today, with the thirty-year-old Jackson, a man in a position of authority and power, courting his sixteen-year-old student. But it was a different time and era. Opportunities for women were scarce, and a man like Jackson would have been viewed as a “good catch.”

But what happened to Crystal is what often happens to young girls forced to grow up too soon; to marry and have babies and take on adult responsibilities long before they are either physically, emotionally, or mentally ready for such responsibilities. She broke, and ultimately rebelled.

After marrying Samuel, Crystal gave birth to five children in fairly quick succession, the oldest of those children a son named Joseph Walter Jackson. There was little understanding in those days of postpartum depression and its effects on young mothers, much less sympathy. Regardless of whatever shock their bodies and minds may have borne; regardless of whatever dreams they may have been forced to give up, young women were expected to smile graciously under their load, to bear the pain and to keep the husband and children happy.

The Teacher And The Student-Many Years Later, Of Course
The Teacher And The Student-Many Years Later, Of Course

Something ultimately snapped in young Crystal, and her life took a downward spiral turn that never quite righted itself. Joe Jackson would grow up with memories of a mother who too often wasn’t there; who disappeared without word for long stretches, leaving him ultimately as the man of the household. Drug addiction and even rumored prostitution became Crystal’s reality (the prostitution, no doubt, a necessity to feed her addictions). Joe remembered his mother as someone who would re-enter his life again, from time to time. Samuel still had his “thing” for her and would always take her back, like the prodigal wife and mother,but these reunions were always short-lived. By the time Joe was twelve, they had separated for good.

I don’t know if Crystal ever completely conquered her demons and found some measure of peace and happiness, but after leaving Samuel permanently, she eventually settled in East Chicago, Indiana, where her son Joseph reunited with her in 1949. It was there that he met young Katherine Scruse, and the rest is history.

Joe Jackson And His Mother, Sometime In The 70's. Though Reunited, Their Relationship Was Always A Troubled And Bitter One
Joe Jackson And His Mother, Sometime In The 70’s. Though Reunited, Their Relationship Was Always A Troubled And Bitter One

But even though Crystal Lee King Jackson lived to a fairly ripe old age (she died in 1992, having lived long enough to see many of her grandchildren become famous) her relationship with her eldest son remained a troubled one. Joe Jackson has stated that those early experiences, of being abandoned by his mother and left to take over as head of the family, scarred him and had much to do with forming his own hardened layers in order to survive. He learned not to show emotion. He learned not to cry. He had to learn how to be tough, and not to be perceived as weak.

Thus, a young man who became hard because he could never really love or understand his mother became, in turn, a hardened father who could never really allow his children to love or understand him. Such is the cycle of family pain and abuse.

Looking back at the photo of this vibrant young woman, one can’t help but wonder if Crystal’s life might have turned out very differently had been allowed to pursue the education that was duly disrupted when her own teacher fell in love and lust with her. Or would she have still been a doomed soul whose ability to drive men to distraction became her own undoing?

Janet, Also The Face Of Her Grandmother Crystal
Janet, Also The Face Of Her Grandmother Crystal

Whatever one may ponder about the life of this beautiful but ultimately tragic young woman, or how differently it might have played out had she been born in another era, one thing can’t be denied. Her genetics live on in the eyes and smiles of her famous grandchildren. I can see so much of her, especially in Rebbie, LaToya, Janet, Randy and, most especially, Michael. Genetics are funny that way. I still remember quite vividly that moment from a few years ago when I came face to face with LaToya and how it tripped me out for just a moment because it was “those” eyes; Michael’e eyes, just in a different face. There are some, certain things we can’t deny. Family and genes are right at the top of the list.

Love "Em Or Hate 'Em, Family Is Family...The Eyes Don't Lie!
Love “Em Or Hate ‘Em, Family Is Family…The Eyes Don’t Lie!

It is true that no woman shaped Michael’s life more than his mother Katherine Jackson. But let’s not forget that his family history and legacy-as is true of all of us-was shaped by the lives, sacrifices, heartaches and joys of many women and many mothers. Their blood and their tears are the rivers that flow in our veins.

As Michael might have said, they are the ones who create our HIStory.

126 thoughts on “Where Michael Got His Looks: Michael Jackson's Beautiful Grandmother, Crystal Lee King- Jackson!”

  1. Children often resemble their grandparents more than their parents, especially when they’re very young. Shiloh Jolie – Pitt looks very much like Jon Voight, and Julian Thicke looks far more like his white grandmother Gloria Loring than his biracial mother Paula Patton. When PPB have kids, it wouldn’t be surprising if they resemble MJ more than their parents.

    I remember reading somewhere – maybe in that German-published autobiography of Joe Jackson – that his parents’ relationship was very much frowned upon in their community, and his father married his mother to keep from being run out of town and/or prosecuted.

    In at least one US Census, Crystal King is listed as white. She doesn’t look white at all in that photo, but racial designations back then were left to the census taker. Maybe he was having an off day!

    1. She may have been mixed. Joe Jackson has always claimed to have white ancestry, but I can’t remember off the top of my head which side of his family he claimed it came from. Crystal looks very light-skinned to me in the young photo.

      1. More than likely both sides of Joe Jackson’s family have white ancestry. Joe’s green eyes are proof of that. There was a tremendous amount of race mixing during slavery. After emancipation, it was not unusual for well-off white men to have both white and black families, even avowed racists like Strom Thurmond, who made little effort to hide his black daughter. Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist who was a consultant for the show Who Do You Think You Are, has said that of the thousands of genetic tests done for African Americans by Ancestry.com, every single one had white ancestors, even very black-appearing people like Whoopi Goldberg, Emmitt Smith, and Don Cheadle. The only black subject on WDYTYA and Finding Your Roots who didn’t have any white ancestry was Oprah Winfrey, who turned out to be one-eighth Native American.

          1. that’s so true everyone thinks just cause your light skin, Or real beautiful you have to be mixed with white, Black people are beautiful with out the help of white color…yes indeed my daughter is light skin and beautiful long hair down her back, both parents are black.

      2. According to Joseph Jacksons book his mother is half black/half white, so JJ has in any case white ancestors !

      3. I do not know how accurate this is but Ancestry.com new app called We’re Related has me related to Michael Jackson , saying that I am his 7th cousin 1 times removed . It is claiming our common ancestor is Nathaniel Pendleton. The Pendletons were from Culpeper , Culpeper County, Virginia. When looking side to side both our families . I know the names of Michael’s parents , now His grandparents but confused when it comes to a Emeline Williams and Emeline’s parents were George Morton Williams and Gertrude Somerville Long. i have been researching my tree long enough to not believe everything i see on Ancestry.com. if my research proves that i am indeed related to the Jacksons it would mean that all of them have white in them. In 2015 i found my biological family and if this true . The Jacksons would be part of my biological blood line.

        1. That’s fascinating! It could certainly be possible. I have found Ancestry.com to be pretty accurate in most cases, though as you say, not a 100% reliability. Fortunately in our family, there was so much oral history about our relatives that I never had the need to consult such a resource but in recent years, I have gone on there out of curiosity and most of what I find there about my ancestors is accurate based on what I know. The downside of it is that I haven’t been able to find anything on there BEYOND what I already know, which means I am left with many of the same cold trails that I came upon twenty years ago. But for people who have not had the fortune to grow up in families where that oral tradition was kept alive by grandparents and great-grandparents, etc, Ancestry.com does provide an invaluable service (and it can also help to verify and authenticate information, as well).

    2. Because of slavery history, most black people have white Gene, I read Joe’s mother Chrystal Lee’s grand mother’s grand mother was a White daughter of slave owner, had a daughter with a black slavery. Chrystal looked like black more though.

      Joe’s father Samuel Jackson’s mother is 3/4 Native Indian; Samuel’s father was 1/2 Native Indian +1/2 black. This made Joe 62% Native Indian.

  2. I also see her in Paris, but I see more and more Michael in Paris as she grows up, so that stands to reason.

  3. Michael’s hands and smile are identical to Joseph Jackson, and Joseph’s hands and smile came from his mother. It’s interesting how supposedly Michael didn’t want to look like his father and did plastic surgery with this goal, but he didn’t alter the things that have more resemblance to his father. In my opinion, Michael was a good mixture of his father and mother. He don’t like like neither of them “the most”, he combines elements of both.

    Paris, on other hand, looks very much like her mother, but with Michael’s facial bone structure and smile. She has long fingers too like Michael. I remember when she said in her old instagram how she thought the shape of her eyes looked like Michael’s eyes. This is becoming more visible now that she’s older. Genetics are very interesting.

    1. I’m not sure if Michael was really trying to eradicate his father’s features. That is a common theory that has been put forth (which I think had its beginnings with Taraborelli) but I don’t think (feel free to correct me if I am wrong) we have Michael on record anywhere stating that this was his motivation for having cosmetic surgery. However, Michael used to make jokes about his father being “ugly” and looking “like a bulldog.” Joe may have made fun of Michael’s nose, but it seems Michael was also capable of dishing out some harsh teasing. I don’t think those comments were entirely fair because Joe was a very good looking young man, but as he got older he developed heavy jowls and his face settled into those very harsh lines which makes him appear even meaner than he actually is. It seems he wore that scowl for so long that it kind of settled permanently on his face (lol). But if you go back and look at his young photos, he is strikingly handsome-and, yes, you could see a lot of Michael in his face. I agree that, physically, Michael had traits of both his parents but it seems the genetics from his father’s maternal bloodline were especially strong. However, I also see a lot of striking resemblance between Joe and Samuel.

      1. “I don’t think (feel free to correct me if I am wrong) we have Michael on record anywhere stating that this was his motivation for having cosmetic surgery”

        There is something about that on the Glenda tapes, but that part is not totally clear so it’s not 100% conclusive. But it sounds like he says at one point “cause I don’t want to look like Joseph”.

        1. It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to those. I’ll have to go back and review it. I do remember one part where they were discussing his face and Michael said, “Yeah, I’m happy with my face and stuff” but he didn’t sound particularly convincing, more like, “I’d rather not talk about this subject.” This may have been before or after the coment about Joseph. Like I said, it’s been awhile since I’ve listened to those but you may be right.

          1. Yes, that’s the part. Here is it around 7:24. He mumbles the word after ” Because I don’t wanna look like…” and I have seen transcripts transcribing it as ” Because I don’t wanna look like a girl” and also ” Because I don’t wanna look like Joseph”. To me it sounds more the latter, but I cannot be sure.

          2. I am sure he says “Joseph” here. But all the same, it is interesting, as Roger said, that the features that looked most like Joseph were the things that never changed.

  4. I always love your historical posts.
    I, too, could never find Katherine or Joe in Michael but the resemblance to his beautiful grandmother is stunning. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to believe that Crystal probably had the 5 children by the time she was in her mid 20s. That alone could have driven her over the edge especially since the marriage was unhappy. (What does anyone know about getting marred at 16?) Michael sang often of the plight of women in repressed or desperate circumstances. There may be more of Crystal in her sensitive, empathic grandson than physical beauty.
    Thanks for a great post.

    1. Thank you, I enjoy writing these also.

      It’s a sad story. Joe and his siblings basically grew up with an absent mother who flitted in and out of their lives. But I also see her as a victim; a teenage girl trapped in a marriage and with a responsbility she wasn’t ready for. Joe always felt like he was the son of a mother who didn’t really want him. That’s a hard thing for any kid to deal with. He, in turn, grew up to be an emotionally absent father. Michael talked about this in his Oxford speech. Eventually, it seems Joe forgave his mother, or tried to. Michael, in turn, had to learn to forgive his father. I don’t know why I felt such a strong compulsion to relate Crystal’s story this Mother’s Day, but I kept looking at that photo of her-and thinking of those eyes as Michael’e eyes, looking at me from an earlier time and place-and I felt I had to do this. Maybe it is partly because being able to forgive our mothers and our fathers is such an important lesson to be reminded of on both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I was reminded as I was typing this of Dick Lourie’s beautiful poem “How Do We Forgive Our Fathers.” The sentiment here could just as easily be applied to our mothers, as well:

      How do we forgive our Fathers?
      Maybe in a dream
      Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
      when we were little?

      Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
      or making us nervous
      because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

      Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
      For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

      And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
      Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
      for shutting doors
      for speaking through walls
      or never speaking
      or never being silent?

      Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
      or their deaths
      saying it to them or not saying it?

      If we forgive our Fathers what is left?

  5. Thanks so much Raven for this fascinating and informative post!
    I had never read anything before about Michael’s paternal grandparents. There is most definitely a striking resemblance between Michael and his Grandmother Crystal Lee King.
    I wonder if Michael actually spent any time with her?

    1. I’m sure he probably did. I was just thinking how all of Michael’s grandparents died in fairly quick succession around the same time period, in the early 1990’s. They all had lived well into their 90’s or were nearly 90. Samuel Jackson lived to be one hundred. From all indications, Joe and Katherine are following in that tradition. Michael did indeed come from a family blessed with strong genes

    1. Yeah, there were several pics I was torn between using. But I don’t think his looks ever really changed that much, even after surgery. His eyes and smile were the same (and that’s where I really most see the resemblance). His nose was the only feature that really went through a radical change. But I was also thinking the same thing and looking through a lot of childhood and teenage pics of Michael. I agree it would be a good idea to include a pic from when he was younger.

  6. Beautiful woman , sad story particularly on mothers day. Every family has their cross, the bigger the family the more fun and tragedy.
    Its interesting that Joes father was also more or less a single father as were Tito and Jacky , also due to tragic circumstances and Michael. Though Michael seem to have made a deliberate choice to be a single parent , we dont really know his motives. And if he knew Joes story and how it affected him, why he would keep his own children from having a mother in their life . Children will always have a longing for an unknown parent as Joe and Paris’ attempts to connect with their mother shows.

    All the Jackson brothers have strong family features. Michael imo is a perfect mix of both parents, sometimes or at some ages tending more towards JJ other times more towards KJ, like in the 2005 court photos. But they all have the wide set doe eyes which comes straight from grandma Crystal. However Janet has the combination of it all – cheekbones, eyebrows smile- which imo makes her more than anyone else her grandmas spittig image .
    http://media.photobucket.com/user/constanttual/media/janet7.jpg.html?filters%5Bterm%5D=janet%20jackson&filters%5Bprimary%5D=images&sort=1&o=299

    I think that in his private calls with GStein Michael used his conflict with Joe as an excuse for his plastic surgery. In those days plastic surgery was not as accepted as today . In the O interview he had no qualms to tell all about his father but never said any of that . Instead he went into defense mode, saying that if all the people in hollywood who had plastic surgery would leave there would be no one left in town. He also said that as a perfectionist he was never satisfied with his looks . In the DS interview LM said that it was art . So what is the truth?. To me it is a disturbing thought if the motive for his plastic surgery was indeed to erase the resemblance to his father ( subs to his mother ) It didnt work out anyway. Those genes are way too strong.

    Thanks again for an interesting piece of Michaels family history.

    1. I’m not sure, however, that Michael really made some sort of conscious, concerted effort to keep his children from having a mother figure. The arrangement with Debbie was understood, more or less, to be a surrogate arrangement. The situation kind of was what it was. I think had it been a situation where it was a traditional marriage, where he fell in love with a woman and babies came naturally second to the fact, it would have been much different. But I think he reached a point where he didn’t entirely trust Debbie or her motives. And I don’t know as she really wanted to play an active role in their lives as their mother. At least she always put up a good front of saying that was the case, and that has only changed in very recent years after Paris reached out to her.

      1. In many parts of the world, including the US, a “traditional” marriage consists of a bride and groom who scarcely know each other, and may not have even met before the ceremony. Typically they start producing babies immediately, and may grow to love each other as the years pass. Or not. Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco celebrated the baptism of their twins this weekend, even though they have an infamously frosty relationship. But he had to marry her or someone similar to produce an heir, since his half-African son, and half-American daughter didn’t qualify because they were born out-of-wedlock.

        Throughout history, people have formed families for many reasons, with love being pretty far down the list. Michael’s arrangement with Debbie Rowe wasn’t all that unusual. Apparently Michael tried to keep up a semblance of a ‘normal’ family life, with those professional photos of Debbie holding her babies, but the facade fell apart early on, perhaps because she showed little interest in the children, and kept taking him to court for more money.

        1. I guess what I meant was “traditional” in the contemporary American sense. Of course, arranged marriages are still practiced all over the world and even still in the U.S. though usually only among the wealthy and elite. Marriages of convenience are still quite common, also, as for example where a couple might marry just to combine their assets. But I think most of us in the U.S., at least, have the idea of marriage as a union between two people in love who want to build a life and family together. I don’t think Michael was ever interested in that kind of life with Debbie. He may have been genuinely fond of her at one point, and I believe he was, but essentially what he wanted was a surrogate to bear his children. I think he WANTED a real family-hence the facade-but as you said, it crumbled pretty quickly. I think the whole thing was partly to spite LMP, and partly because he really did want children and realized he wasn’t getting any younger. He had the means to provide for them, and probably felt it was now or never if he was ever going to be a father. If he’d sat around waiting eternally for Miss Right, he would have probably ended up dying childless.

          1. Well he did have a family ( LM +kids) and was still married to LM when Prince was on the way. So it seems he was more interested in having children for his own than having a traditional family consisting of two parents. Two of his brothers were single fathers and were doing fine and he was used to having children around and taking care of them. And indeed DR wanted no part in raising the children.
            In a way his marriage to DR was a marriage in the true historical- traditional sense of the word. a contract establishing the rights and obligations between spouses , for their children ,their properties etc.
            At the time it was the easiest way to arrange those things. Children born in wedlock are automatically ones children and parents automatically get parental rights . But also spousal rights on divorce. Which DR imo exploited despite being lavishly compensated.
            It could have been Kleins idea to have DR get the children for Michael.
            Elizabeth Taylors tweet to Klein comes to mind when she blasted him about the Jpeiffer debacle telling him how convenient it was for a doctor to not only supply women (naming DR ) but also men.
            By the time Blanket was born California already had very progressive laws on surrogacy which made it easier for (single)parents to get parental rights for a child born trough surrogacy.

          2. No one really knows all the circumstances of Blanket ‘ s birth, which, in my opinion, is as it should be. It was an incredible invasion of this child’s privacy for Frank Cascio and others to discuss how he came into this world. (Although I have a sneaking suspicion that maybe Cascio was throwing us off the scent.)

            The doctor who delivered Blanket also had no right to tell interviewers about his mother and the delivery. It was a clear violation of HIPAA. But there’s no downside – Klein and others revealed Michael’s personal medical info at every opportunity but were never sanctioned for it.

            As for Debbie Rowe, I doubt that she colluded with Klein. She would have had to share the money, and that’s not her style.

          3. ‘No one really knows all the circumstances of Blanket ‘ s birth’
            Except what Michael told in Bashits LWMJ .

            “It was an incredible invasion of this child’s privacy for Frank Cascio and others to discuss how he came into this world.”

            That is where I started to doubt his intentions and integrity . It was insensitive and pretentious to take the liberty to tell the world, true or not, something the child – then only 7- may not even know and that Michael would never approve him to do. He could have told it himself in LWMJ if he had wanted to.

            Many never got sanctioned for what they did to Michael under the pretence of medical or other care.
            I had hoped at least AEG and the ‘Team’ of handlers would get some responsibility for their gross negligence leading to or facilitating the circumstances that led to Michaels death.
            I did not have my hopes high for a black family to get justice in the corrupted Ca justice system. They do not stand a chance as AEG has its tentacles tightly in the state and is a huge investor and employer in all kinds of projects and businesses , mostly in SoCal that the state would never want to challenge.
            http://www.lacclink.com/news/detail/aeg-continues-to-move-forward-with-additional-downtown-development

    2. As for Janet looking the most like Crystal, my husband actually thought that Crystal’s pic was a photo of Janet! But I have always thought that Michael and Janet look alike.

  7. Nice article until the plastic surgery business. Whatever work Michael did have done was his business and no he didn’t change as much as people like say he did ad nauseam. There is so much evidence out there, comparison photos etc… that in fact he did not change the way everyone likes to make out.
    There is so much more to discuss about this man. Why the endless speculation? Especially from fans.

    1. My article doesn’t mention surgery other than to acknowledge, briefly, that without it he probably would have resembled his father even more as he aged. We know that Michael had cosmetic surgery. Acknowledging that fact has nothing to do with invading his personal business. It’s not as if this is an article trying to analyze how much surgery he had.In fact, I stated here (and have written countless articles backing up this belief) that his face never changed that much. This was a very popular post I wrote that dealt with that very topic:

      http://www.allforloveblog.com/?p=5924

      1. Whatever Michael did was always his business but that does not stop fans from talking about him 24/7 about any subject.
        Unlike choices he made in private, plastic surgery affected how he looked , which is usually the idea of having ps and taking the pain and discomfort of it.
        Furthermore it was not a secret , he talked about it in interviews ,not once but many times and by doing so he put it out in the public domain.
        Last but not least I do not see why plastic surgery should be a taboo in 2015 and why talking about it especially in the context of his resemblance to his grandmother should be a problem. There are other subjects discussed here and on other blogs that qualify much more as speculation than this one.

        The extend to which his looks changed is up for debate. I personally think he changed alot, not only due to the ps but because of the total picture, including skin colour and hairstyle .

    1. Thanks for the link, Suzy. I’ll have to catch up on this; it looks like it has sparked a lot of debate here! I can’t weigh in on the discussion until I have read it myself, which I will try to do later today.

  8. Thanks, Suzy. I was about to post a link to that article, where Toni Bowers eloquently expresses the vicissitudes—in a balanced way, I think—of both Michael’s suffering AND his joy:

    “The amazing
    thing is not, finally, how weird Michael Jackson was or how difficult
    his life was, but how great was his capacity for delight, his
    generosity, his ability and determination to bring joy to others.
    Endlessly curious, delighted with people, and thrilled by the beauty of
    the world, he just had so much fun. He suffered, yes; he
    faced down and endured painful experiences. But that’s what makes his
    exuberance so remarkable, and makes the fact that he brought (and
    continues to bring) pleasure to other people so precious. No matter
    what, he danced. We need to remember and honor that, and dance along.”

    Los Angeles Review of Books, “Dancing With Michael Jackson: Baltimore and its Discontents”

    http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/dancing-with-michael-jackson/

  9. The essay is discussed on the dancing with the elephant blog with reference to ‘citizen journalism’.
    I understand and agree with the authors analogy of what is happening now to black men in the US to Michaels own experience. It may be interesting for those who do not know much about Michael and the prejudice he endured. But to me and probably most MJ supporters it was more of the same. I am also critical to some things she writes as she allows herself the same ‘platitudes ‘ that she so critizices and alot of armchair psychology, while psychology is not even her metier

    I agree with this:
    “To cite the peculiarities or failures of the person you are brutalizing as a way to explain (excuse? extenuate?) the brutalization is a way of blaming the victim. It allows you to ignore how your own behavior and habits of thought accommodate brutality, if only through passivity. ”

    But this? Anyone else who had called MJ a narcissist would be called a hater.

    “To say so is not the same as saying that Michael Jackson was not remarkably vulnerable to abuse or that he didn’t make serious errors. He was, he did. Sentimental, reticent, and overly accommodating as victims of childhood abuse so often are, isolated, fragile, NARCISSISTIC, STRANGE, and filthy rich, terrified of confrontation, spottily educated while burdened with genius, and used to his family making a meal of him, Jackson was, as Steven Spielberg famously put it, “like a fawn in a burning forest.”

    And to quote Steven Spielberg of all people who accused Michael of antisemitism and contributed to Michaels public crucifixion finished it for me.

    No offence, but I was more impressed by a video on the same blog about an African American man telling what it means in real life to grow up as a black male in the US and what it does to ones psyche. It is good to let black people speak for themselves sometimes.

    http://video-subtitle.tedcdn.com/talk/podcast/2015/None/ClintSmith_2015-low-en.mp4

    1. It’s far from the worst that has been written about Michael, but I also have reservations about the essay. I was shocked by the Charlie Hebdo cover, although I shouldn’t have been. The Europeans have demonstrated that they are just as racist as Americans, and the Brits in particular have a hatred and resentment of Michael that is downright outlandish. If a black American magazine had a cover illustration of the murdered Charlie Hebdo staff captioned “Free at last”, the outrage would be swift and massive.

      1. Charlie Hebdo is the kind of magazine I would not touch with a pole. Just bottom feeding “humour” IMO. That, of course, does not excuse what was done to them. But because they were murdered some people mistakenly think they were some noble freedom fighters. They were not. They were bottom feeders counting on people’s worst instincts just like tabloids do.

      2. The cover was being used in this piece to make a point, however, and the point was loud and clear. Sometimes it takes the graphic and disturbing to get readers’ attention, and the use of that image and its relevance to the article was quite spot on. There are some people who still need to be shocked out of their complacency and passivity and to see a graphic depiction of just how low some sunk in their hatred and persecution of Michael. I think Bowers used the image to serve that purpose.

  10. As a publication, Charlie Hebdo’s main purpose seems to have been to shock people: indeed, as many people as possible, in an “equal-opportunity” fashion. (This is one of the vaunted functions of political satire.) Matter of fact, some people were so shocked with what they perceived as the consistent denigration of Muhammad, that they shot and killed 10 people in the magazine’s Paris office this winter. From a New York Times editorial:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/opinion/the-charlie-hebdo-massacre-in-paris.html?_r=0

    The Charlie Hebdo Massacre in Paris
    By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
    JAN. 7, 2015

    “The editors, journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo reveled in controversy and relished hitting nerves. The magazine’s editorial director, Stéphane Charbonnier, who was killed in the attack, had scoffed at any suggestion that the magazine should tone down its trademark satire to appease anyone. For him, free expression was nothing without the right to offend. And Charlie Hebdo has been an equal-opportunity offender: Muslims, Jews and Christians — not to mention politicians of all stripes — have been targets of buffoonish, vulgar caricatures and cartoons that push every hot button with glee.”

    1. ” The magazine’s editorial director, Stéphane Charbonnier, who was killed in the attack, had scoffed at any suggestion that the magazine should tone down its trademark satire to appease anyone. For him, free expression was nothing without the right to offend. And Charlie Hebdo has been an equal-opportunity offender: Muslims, Jews and Christians — not to mention politicians of all stripes — have been targets of buffoonish, vulgar caricatures and cartoons that push every hot button with glee.”

      What is the purpose of satire? It’s defined in the Oxford dictionary as “The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” The failings and inconsistencies of religious hierarchies, and the foibles of political officials, whom we give power over our lives and property, are fair game for satirists. Making fun of Michael Jackson because he suffered from a disfiguring disease is not satire. It’s cruelty. It’s making fun. It’s racism, pure and simple.

      1. Yes, it is cruelty; and in the context of the pervasive Islamophobia in Europe and the U.S., publishing derogatory images of Prophet Muhammad can just as easily be construed as a form of cruelty.

        Dictionary definitions of something like “satire” will seldom suffice to give us a broader understanding of the complexities of situations like this one.

        1. There is no evidence that Islamophobia is “pervasive” in the US. Muslims are not routinely dragged through the streets and beaten to death or beheaded, which happens to Christians in Pakistan. Muslims are free to build mosques and worship as they please, unlike Christians just visiting Saudi Arabia, where possessing a Bible can get you jailed. Muslim women can cover their heads and their faces in public places, unlike in France.

          Lots of Americans find the Muslim religion problematic and unappealing – I do – but that doesn’t mean we’re filled with hatred and loathing of Muslims. I feel the same way about Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I don’t hate Katherine Jackson.

          At any rate there’s nothing complex about that horrible Charlie Hebdo cover. It’s racism, in all its simple, dreary reality.

          1. Considering CHs ‘nothing is sacred’ MO, the cartoon at Michaels death was no surprise , as were many worse “obituaries” by ‘respected’ authors. CH only became known to a wider public because of the cowardly attack by extremists who imo are a bigger threat to society. But I have always found them dispicable as their only reason for existence is to offend. Which has nothing to do with freedom of speech and everything with excercising power and supremacy because they own the media.

            But labeling someone with a personality disorder that is attributed to people who lack conscience or -at all , is as damaging especially when it is done subtlely. It has nothing to do with acknowledging his human flaws or “balance” and is something that an author who is not in the field of diagnosing disorders , never met the man or showed an interest in him when he was alive , should not afford herself. For those who do not know what narcissm is , it is not simply selflove, but part and parcel of sociopathy. It is not different from the lifelong labels that he has been plagued with by so called experts to explain ‘symptoms’ that they have a hard time to grasp. Writing positively does not excuse that, nor does ‘curiosity that is to be eagerly sought’

          2. SERIOUSLY, Sina? Of all that was said in that article, *this* is what you choose to dwell on?

            SMH.

          3. I agree that a line has to be drawn when it goes so far as labeling someone with what is actually a personality disorder, and stating it as fact. Many people make this assumption about Michael based on popularly held perceptions. I can see where, in life, many people assumed Michael to be egocentric and narcissistic. After all, this was a guy who did float a 30-foot statue of himself down the Thames, and who bragged every chance he got about having beaten Beatles records and Elvis’s records. The PR machine was always all about making him appear larger and more grandiose than life. He surrounded himself with portraits of himself, usually depicting him as a kingly like figure. But what some perceive as narcissism could also have been, from his end, simply feeling the need to over compensate and to have to stand and shout to be noticed and RESPECTED in a world where every odd was against him as a successful black entertainer. I, too, somewhat take offense when I see labels like “strange,” etc being tossed around even in an otherwise positive piece because the danger is that it is reinforcing for many readers a kind of reality about Michael that may not be a reality at all. Certainly in my own research, through actually listening to Michael speak on his views, I haven’t found a “strange” individual at all. I think that Bowers was referring to the overall public perception of Michael. I don’t know of too many artists in history who didn’t have their eccentricities, and yet are celebrated without reserve for what they gave us. Michael should be allowed that same courtesy but, as always, the double standard seems to prevail. I was just thinking about this the other night after watching the latest Jimi Hendrix biopic “All By My Side” and with the rash of other celebrity biopics that have been released recently. Other icons can be portrayed as drug users and even wife beaters yet are still celebrated without reserve (and yes, I’m including James Brown here, as much as I love him) while Michael Jackson, it seems, is always held up to the most ridiculous standards.

            I agree that even when journalists write what is mostly a positive piece, there will usually be aspects of it I don’t agree with. But I found long ago that, especially when it comes to the media, the “no quarter” approach isn’t always productive, and can even be counter productive (there are some journalists who have backed away from writing about Michael at all, due to angry fan reactions). I think it is largely because Michael was such a public figure, people often feel they DO know him enough to make these kinds of judgments. Sometimes they believe they are being genuinely sympathetic, and Bowers certainly has good intentions (trust me, I’ve seen enough of the venomous pieces about Michael to note the genuine stamp of malice when i see it) and may not realize that some of their comments may be misguided. I don’t think we should necessarily throw out the baby with the bathwater when a journalist is trying to take steps in the right direction. This will be a battle won not in large steps, but in many small forward ones.

          4. I believe that religious extremism in ALL of its manifestations is something to be avoided and denounced. Following from this, some of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates here in the U.S.—devout Christians—scare the living shit out of me.

            I apply some skepticism to your claims, pending more detailed information. Exactly WHICH Pakistanis have dragged WHICH Christians through the streets and beat them to death? HOW regularly? And from WHAT source(s) have you gotten this information? (Ditto for the idea that possession of a Bible in Saudi Arabia gets one jailed.)

            Does permission to build mosques necessarily negate the realities of Islamophobic behavior? This makes no sense to me.
            ____________________________

            Although Michael Jackson fandom plays out on a vastly different scale, and although it’s a different situation by several orders of magnitude, I *have* observed that some of his fans speak as if they believe they possess of the *only* correct, definitive version of MJ’s “truth.” To that extent, they do resemble—to my way of thinking—a kind of fundamentalism.

            We probably both have a lot to learn about Muslims, France, and the U.S. (I know *I* do, anyway.) To that end I’m reading an intriguing article by Rafia Zakaria, called “Writing While Muslim: The Freedom to be Offended.” (Like Toni Bowers’s article, it appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books).

            Zakaria writes:

            “It happened on the Paris Metro. A woman clad all in black, with a severe but striking face, sat across from me and stared. It was mid-morning, and there were few others around. For three stops at three stations she kept up her unrelenting gaze. I smiled, and then I squirmed, but I could not stop her. She stared and stared, and then just as she neared her station, she scowled and turned up her nose as if I smelled and hissed a few words I could not understand. I worried that she would spit. Then she turned on her high-heeled pumps and left.

            “I had never felt more filthy and unwanted. This was the mid-1990s, and I had been only a day in Paris. I was a teenage bride, and a few days earlier I had taken my first plane trip from Pakistan, where I had been born and raised. …… I remember these details exactly because I analyzed them to death: why had she been staring, what was wrong with me, what had she said with such disdain and disgust, and how could I have caused it? My then-husband, who had been raised in America, told me that the French did not like Muslims, that it was probably the henna patterns that gave me away — that and my brown skin. I could not get rid of the latter, but for the rest of the trip I wore the only long-sleeved shirt I had, and tried as best as I could to hide my hennaed hands.”

            If this isn’t racism, then I believe it’s something very much like it.

            The international writers organization, PEN, recently awarded a prize to Charlie Hebdo for freedom of speech—an award Zakaria opposed. She continues:

            “…… in writing while Muslim, my commitment to the secular and the rational is already considered suspect. To open with the story of experiencing that ‘othering’ gaze in a Paris Metro years ago can reinforce the idea that Muslims globally are an irrational group, people in need of modernization and secularization, that they cannot make arguments based on reason, and cannot consequently recognize the necessity of the absolute freedom of speech. The Muslim subjective is not only deemed irrelevant to the Charlie Hebdo debate, it is considered a signifier of cultural insufficiency, even of latent terrorist sympathies….

            ” [….] the sidelining of moral injury to Muslims as a result of Hebdo’s depictions of the Prophet reveal a double standard when set against examples of liberal moral outrage at certain practices found in the non-Western world. Judgment often exists at the intersection of reason and moral aversion; similar constructions by Western liberal theorists are permitted this hybrid, but not Muslims…. I, like most Muslims, prize free speech. The issue here is not a free speech issue — it is not an issue of whether Charlie Hebdo or anyone else has the right to draw offensive cartoons — the question is whether it is right to commend such offense, to give a prize for the offending of a minority by a majority.”
            _______________________________

            Read the rest of the article here:
            http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/writing-while-muslim-the-freedom-to-be-offended-charlie-hebdo

            By reading Rafia Zakaria, I think we can see some of the broader issues that are at stake in the whole Charlie Hebdo matter. Beyond our own immediate sense of slight and insult, we need to recognize that other people, with other interests, may have different (and equally valid) claims to ask that *their* moral injuries be taken seriously, and that *their* sensitivities be honored.

            This is not a zero-sum game, and it is NOT a matter of winner-take-all.

            I maintain it’s worthwhile to learn from people who are different from ourselves; whether we understand that difference in terms of race, religion, national identity—AND ALSO, significantly—sexual orientation and gender identity. In doing so, we can assume responsibility for our own blind spots and perhaps begin the process of overcoming our own ignorance.

            We asked no less of the journalists who slandered Michael Jackson, and the public that consumed what they produced. I propose we hold OURSELVES to the same high ethical standards that we demand of others.

          5. Nina Y F says, “I apply some skepticism to your claims, pending more detailed information. Exactly WHICH Pakistanis have dragged WHICH Christians through the streets and beat them to death? HOW regularly? And from WHAT source(s) have you gotten this information? (Ditto for the idea that possession of a Bible in Saudi Arabia gets one jailed.)”

            The practices of the Saudis are not secret. Likewise there are many, many media reports and first hand accounts of repression and persecution of Christians in Muslim countries, with photo and video evidence. 60 Minutes recently did a story on attacks on Christian Copts in Egypt and destruction of their centuries – old churches. If you are unaware of these incidents it’s because you are ill-informed. Skepticism is one thing, but ignorance of the facts is quite another.

            Ms. Zakaria’s account of her encounter with a mean white lady on the Paris Metro may have been very upsetting to her, but it’s not particularly compelling to black Americans. It happens to us all the time. We even have a name for it – “the hate stare”. Racism? Probably. But not quite in the same league as the snarling dogs and the fire hoses. At any rate, the antics of some unpleasant white woman in France years ago are not proof of “Islamaphobia” in the US today.

            Nina Y F says, “Beyond our own immediate sense of slight and insult, we need to recognize that other people, with other interests, may have different (and equally valid) claims to ask that *their* moral injuries be taken seriously, and that *their* sensitivities be honored.”

            The moral injuries of French Muslims are not more important than the moral injuries inflicted on black Americans in general and Michael Jackson fans in particular by that CH cover. I feel personally injured because I no longer feel much sympathy for the fate of the CH staff. And that’s wrong, a serious moral failing on my part. But I’m being honest, perhaps to my detriment. I tend to judge people by how they treat Michael Jackson, in death as in life. It’s reductive and simplistic, but it works for me.

          6. Simba, you may dismiss Zakaria’s claims about the “mean white lady”; but as she states *explicitly,* this story about her personal experience is simply a point of departure for a much larger and more encompassing reflection: how the West in general tends to view Muslims.

            “The moral injuries of French Muslims are not more important than the moral injuries inflicted on black Americans in general and Michael Jackson fans in particular by that CH cover.”

            I agree that the moral injuries of French Muslims are not “more” important than the moral injuries inflicted on black Americans IN GENERAL. (Anyway, is this a competition? And if so, who gets to decide the “winner”?)

            But what about the moral injury suffered by Michael Jackson fans upon seeing that Charlie Hebdo cover? No. I. Just. Can’t.

            In this, I’m reminded of an exchange I had with another fan a couple of years ago (who might be your twin). I opined that the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial (in the murder of Trayvon Martin) was vastly more significant than the outcome of the AEG wrongful death suit that was going on concurrently. When she asked why, I must admit my jaw dropped. As it’s dropping even now, when you say: “I tend to judge people by how they treat Michael Jackson, in death as in life…”

            Having spent my entire life following social justice movements (and occasionally being involved as an activist), I just can’t behind a “cause” whose scope is restricted to *one* person only—and a deceased person at that. Not when the lives and well-being of millions of people who are living today and yet to be born, are at stake.

            So this brings me to a question I’ve wondered about for a long time. Has Michael Jackson, one extraordinary individual, become so potent as a *symbol* of suffering, that his mistreatment can be seen as something larger (more egregious, more evil) than the brutality of *millions* of black people—and other people of color—-who daily experience the abuses of white supremacy?

            If so, how would people here explain this? I’m genuinely curious about how this has come about, because I think this really *does* represent a very different worldview than mine. (I suspect its basis is in religion.) Raven, Simba?
            I’m specifically asking about Michael’s role as a *symbol* of suffering: the kind of suffering that might encompass many other peoples’ experience, and elicit a chorus of sympathy that’s potentially larger or higher in volume than the abuse of “average” citizens might arouse. How, in your view, does this work?

            Another question: what if Michael’s name were cleared at long last, and we could feel reasonably secure that his reputation was thoroughly cleansed of whatever vestiges remained of those allegations? (All those stories of wrongdoing that surround John Lennon, Bill Cosby, and the 8 other men from a list I linked a few weeks ago would remain…. but never mind *them.*) Would this new state of affairs substantively improve conditions in which people are living in the world? What aspects of peoples’ lives *would* it improve? (For example: would it stop police officers across the country from murdering young, black, mostly poor men?)

            As to the slain Charlie Hebdo staff: I can well understand the perspectives of people like Mia MacKenzie (who runs a blog called “Black Girl Dangerous”), who lamented her “compassion fatigue,” the sheer exhaustion she felt in the aftermath of the massacre at the school in Newtown, Connecticut. I completely sympathize, and agree with, her question: why is this very public outpouring of grief, support, outrage, mourning, etc., so rarely—if ever—extended to the deaths of black children? I think it’s an important question.

            But as to this intense focus on justice as applied to Michael Jackson ALONE, I admit I’m at a loss. He’s but one of a number of people whose “cases” I would argue for—and an atypical one, at that. I guess I’m just a *different* kind of fan. While most of my waking moments have been consumed with reading, writing, and pondering his life and work, when it comes to questions of social justice, I find my real interests as a concerned citizen (and a sometime activist) lie elsewhere. I just don’t place Michael at the center of my moral universe.

            And as I said: I suspect this difference has a lot to do with the fact that I have a different (negligible) religious orientation than most. I believe our attitudes toward religious belief have become the underlying foundation—a world-view, or philosophy—that informs all the ways we prioritize our moral regard for events and people in the world, and the symbols we choose to represent those priorities.

            As a lifelong nonbeliever who has, since my earliest years, been immersed in social justice issues, I believe the *symbolism* (though not an understanding of the realities) of Michael Jackson’s oppression and suffering may be lost on me.

          7. Nina, why does it have to be “either-or” in your mind? I don’t get your continious outrage about people caring (on MJ blogs and websites, no less) about the injustices done to Michael. One can care about those as well as other injustices of the world. In my mind these things aren’t mutually exclusive.

            I also do not know what your assumptions about other’s religious beliefs have to do with anything. I, for one, am an atheist.

          8. “Simba, you may dismiss Zakaria’s claims about the “mean white lady”; but as she states *explicitly,* this story about her personal experience is simply a point of departure for a much larger and more encompassing reflection: how the West in general tends to view Muslims.”

            I don’t dismiss Zakaria’s experience. On the contrary, having experienced it many times in my life, I can attest to its authenticity. But the “mean white lady” was most likely hating on what she could see – Zakaria’s hennaed brown skin – not what she might infer – Zakaria’s religion. That particular point of departure does not necessarily lead you to Islamaphobia.

            (All due respect to her feelings, but I read Zakaria’s piece and found it unfocused and illogical, as did many of the commenters.)

            “I agree that the moral injuries of French Muslims are not “more” important than the moral injuries inflicted on black Americans IN GENERAL. (Anyway, is this a competition? And if so, who gets to decide the “winner”?)”

            I’m not talking about moral injuries “in general”. I’m talking about that Charlie Hebdo cover. But if you insist on making the comparison, “in general”, French Muslims get their feelings hurt; unarmed black Americans get shot dead.

            “But what about the moral injury suffered by Michael Jackson fans upon seeing that Charlie Hebdo cover? No. I. Just. Can’t.”

            You just can’t what? If you cut a fan, do we not bleed?

            ” I opined that the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial (in the murder of Trayvon Martin) was vastly more significant than the outcome of the AEG wrongful death suit that was going on concurrently. When she asked why, I must admit my jaw dropped. As it’s dropping even now, when you say: “I tend to judge people by how they treat Michael Jackson, in death as in life…”

            There is no material or moral difference between the outcomes of the Zimmerman and AEG trials – it’s crystal clear, black lives DON’T matter, whether those lives belong to an unarmed teenager or a millionaire musical genius.

            I will probably never encounter Quincy Jones, Oprah Winfrey, or Chris Rock in real life, but their treatment of Michael informs me that, despite their triumphant accomplishments, their fame, their wealth, they are opportunistic, insecure, venal individuals. Randy Phillips was fired by AEG because of his treatment of Michael. Wade Robson will never work with stars again because of his treatment of Michael. Nobody in the music business cares if they’re nice to their mothers.

            What more do you need to know about anyone who would mock a person with a medical condition?

            “Has Michael Jackson, one extraordinary individual, become so potent as a *symbol* of suffering, that his mistreatment can be seen as something larger (more egregious, more evil) than the brutality of *millions* of black people—and other people of color—-who daily experience the abuses of white supremacy?”

            Not larger than. Emblematic of, like Trayvon Martin, or Tamir Rice, or Eric Garner.

            ” I find my real interests as a concerned citizen (and a sometime activist) lie elsewhere. I just don’t place Michael at the center of my moral universe.”

            So don’t. This is a fan forum for a musician. There are so many other sites where one can be a social justice warrior, and I participate on them. But I’m here for Michael Jackson.

          9. “This is a fan forum for a musician…. I’m here for Michael Jackson.”

            As I am. But it turns out that this musician—perhaps more than most—requires fans’ defense, often in terms that are highly racialized. As long as there’s a felt need to combat racism in MJ’s name (or to restore his honor by invoking the persistent problem of racism), one inevitably becomes some sort of “social justice warrior.” It can’t be helped.

      2. Not to mention, true satire is the act of exposing what is pompous, weak, corrupt or ridiculous with the desire to change said behavior. Otherwise, it is just lampooning, a term that I think people often confuse with satire-including many of those like Hebdo who are presumably hiding behind that label. I agree. The MJ cover is not satire, but pure cruelty at its lowest.

  11. The larger meaning of this article, and its real value (in my view) can be found in the ways Toni Bowers brings Michael Jackson into conversation with the wider world—and in particular, with U.S. culture as a whole, whose foundation remains, to this day, strongly embedded in histories of white supremacy.

    She notes that Michael embodied the kind of generosity, openness, curiosity, and general *esprit de corps* that is rarely modeled for people in our society; whether they are fans of Michael Jackson, or not.

    More broadly, I envision this openness as an acknowledgement that there are—and always will be—significant gaps in our knowledge, and that people almost always turn out to be more complex than we may at first realize: even while we may find some momentary comfort in placing them on an “enemies” list. (For instance: we may strongly disagree with something a prominent person has said in one context. Yet in another context, that person may reveal to us a valuable insight, even one that might be worthy of a quote!)

    In my view, her piece advocates the lively sense of curiosity toward what we have yet to learn about other people *and* about ourselves, as individuals who are invariably members of the larger culture or “body politic.” Moreover, this curiosity is to be eagerly sought: even, or especially, if the knowledge that comes with it doesn’t particularly flatter our our self-regard, or tally with the sense of “absolute” certainty that we bring to things we may think we know.

    As Bowers writes,

    “Jackson’s experiences and those of the many, many people of color who have recently run afoul of the police and died for it are not the same. But they are, in certain ways, related. They are disgraceful in similar ways, and for similar reasons. They expose similar pathologies that are eating away at us, and make us see more than we want to see about ourselves.”

    For me, the idea goes some way toward a much-needed process of bringing about a different social and political consciousness, one that is not based on white supremacy and other forms of bigotry that continue to dog us: and one that Michael might have envisioned when he sang, “if you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make a change.”

    1. This goes back to what I am reminded of in the classroom every day. I spend countless hours exposing young people to the views and writings of individuals who were certainly flawed human beings (and I am one of those lit teachers who believes in emphasizing the life of the individual as well as the work, and to understand the context of the times in which the individual lived and wrote). I often see so many students-I assume from fundamental backgrounds-who are resistant to studying a writer’s work; who will say, “This person was a drug addict” or “This person was a homosexual” or “This person was an adulterer” and “therefore there is nothing of value I can learn from this person.” If I accomplish little else, I hope to instill in them how much they are impoverishing themselves and their lives with those kinds of attitudes. Our artists, in all their beautiful and corrupt humanness, have so much to teach us, and again to quote that saying I love so much, if we waited for all of our art to come from perfect human beings, we would wait a long time indeed-as in, forever. Great art isn’t born out of perfection, anyway; never has been and never will.

      Once again, having just wrapped up another unit of teaching Michael’s songs, I am amazed to learn how much students really do not know much about him. Aside from being known as a great entertainer, or someone who was accused of child molestation, or as someone who used to be popular a long time ago but then became a “nutcase” it is always a revelation to many to learn what he endured; what a fighter he was, or even what his values were and the message he was truly trying to get out to the world. And Although today’s kids are a lot more media savvy than previous generations, it is still often a revelation to them to learn the full extent of the media persecution against Michael Jackson and how that has, ultimately, shaped their views of him. It is never more gratifying to me than when I hear a kid say, “I never knew this about him…” or “I never really thought about what it was like for him…” I think a lot of them really do come away from the unit with both a better understanding of the man and his art but, also, about the system and how false perceptions are formed. I am thinking back mainly to what you said in your third paragraph, about how we can learn to take something of value from a person even if we don’t agree with everything about their life or every choice they made. For all I know, they may still walk away thinking Michael was “weird” or “strange” or even guilty, and I can’t control that, but I do know they will at least walk away with a much richer understanding of his complexity, and that is an immensely satisfying thought.

      1. “I am amazed to learn how much students really do not know much about him”

        I am not that amazed. Most people even on MJ fansites and forums started to learn about him after he died and even on fansites or blogs people sometimes ask about things that I assumed was common knowledge . Also , Michael is from our generation. This generation has their own heros . Their attraction to MJ is mostly ‘vintage’ ; The interest that was spiked after june 25/09 , has more or less died down .
        And unfortunately it is the caricature of him that is stuck in the public consciousness , which is a hell of a job to turn around . That is why I hate misinformation about his character.

  12. Raven, I’m sure that your students are having a wonderful experience, and appreciate what you have introduced them to through Michael Jackson’s work. It’s true that none of us can control what others think; but to at least be able to provide the sense of a rounded person and artist— in lieu of the cardboard cutout that had been lodged in many peoples’ imagination—must be tremendously satisfying for all involved.

  13. I was reading again through Bowers article Dancing with Michael Jackson. I always do that in case I missed something or misinterpreted, and giving things a second thought always helps to see different angels. I was about to post a comment when my eye fell on @Nina Y Fs comment that made me decide not to make the effort anymore or else it might have ended in a kind of discourse that I do not mind having here but not on that platform.
    It is interesting that Nina / you conveniently left out the ‘word/ concept” that I was critical about and why I did that. But since the comment was made on a public board , refered to the public discussion we had here and probably my criticism of the article , I thought it appropriate and fair to repost/.requote the relevant part of the comment here and let it speak for itself.

    “To be quite honest, many fans (in my view), far from seeking “objectivity,” want to read things that will simply corroborate their (uncritical) worship of this man. In fact, this dynamic occurred TODAY, when I shared *this very article* on another site. One fan trashed it because she objected to ONE word/concept that Dr. Bowers used. (She discarded the entire spirit of this article, choosing instead to focus her attention myopically on what has by now become an all-too-familiar refrain: the disrespect with which Jackson has been treated.)
    To be sure, there’s the immensely painful history of Michael Jackson’s treatment by the institutions of this culture, as Toni Bower has herself stated EMPHATICALLY in her article (but not strongly enough, I guess, to please this particular person)! But there have also been a lot of UNREASONABLE demands made by many of the fans I’ve encountered: people whose zealous insistence on seeing *their* version of Jackson validated has, tragically, made them unable to *receive* a gift when one comes along. The net result is that all too often these fans cannot respond in kind to the real generosity that has been extended by those who—like Susan Fast and many, many other writers—have shown themselves sincerely interested in honoring Jackson’s legacy.

  14. Sina, the portion of my comment you’ve cited (which I admit was something of a diatribe) was preceded by this. I wrote:

    “On various sites devoted to fan discussion, I personally have shared a LOT of articles by serious scholars and authors—texts that, in my view, presented in-depth, respectful, and *intriguing* insights into a WIDE range of of Jackson’s artistic work, as well as his cultural significance.

    “I’ve found, over these five years of repeated attempts to share “positive” material, that I immediately got pushback from overzealous fans who, in their overwhelming need to combat all those years when MJ was mistreated, roundly rejected these texts and their authors. Why? Sometimes a mere word, or sentence they perceived as “negative,” was enough to make them decide that their entrenched grievance was justified. In many cases, I suspected that people would SKIM the article in search of an offensive word, and completely disregard the tone, intent, and significance of the piece *as a whole.*

    “There has NOT in any way been a trusting, collaborative relationship between reader and writer. For this to work, the reader MUST be willing to meet the writer on some kind of mutually agreeable grounds.”
    ___________________________________________
    I stand by what I said here, Sina; and I thought it would be counterproductive to either name names, or to proffer the specific (disputed) word on that blog. (You might have done so yourself; but to me, it’s not that noteworthy that Toni Bowers used the word “narcissistic” (horrors!) in connection with Michael Jackson). My sense is that most Los Angeles Review of Books readers who encounter her piece, and who are perhaps not familiar with Michael’s story, would instead have an distinct, vivid impression of his brilliance, his innocence of wrongdoing, and the culpability of the white supremacist society within which he carried on in creating the conditions for his tragic death.

    If it’s any comfort to you—or whether (more likely) it’s simply more evidence of my abiding tendency to “make trouble” everywhere I go in the online Michael Jackson fan world—you are far from the only person I have confronted about the tendency to skim, not read; to pull one word, or one sentence, out of context, and quite *against* the spirit of the entire article. I was nonetheless glad to see that there were some who appreciated Toni Bowers’s thoughtful and well-written piece, some of whom may have simply disregarded whatever detail of her portrait of Michael they might have taken exception to (because of the overwhelmingly favorable and sympathetic tone of the whole). Others responded enthusiastically, perhaps, because they understood—-as I do—-that unalloyed, over-the-top praise of ANY public figure, including Michael Jackson that’s offered without acknowledgement of his very human, and very *laudable*, complexity, will tend not to be taken seriously and dismissed as a “fluff piece”; at least by thoughtful readers.

    You’re far from the first person I’m saying this to, Sina, here or elsewhere. I DO consider it intellectually dishonest to condemn the whole of a writers’ well-thought-out, balanced, and *sincerely* engaged assessment of an artist’s life and work on the basis of ONE awkward description of that artists’ personality. For context, this is what Toni Bowers wrote, in the midst of an article that did what few writers are capable of doing: asking readers to see Michael Jackson’s immense social and *political* significance in the context of the cataclysmic events of our time:

    “These media outrages and countless others were (and are) routinely explained via reference to Jackson’s peculiar character. He brought it on himself, we are told, with that confounding public persona — rather like an unarmed, racially marked teenager who “looks threatening.” But recourse to that kind of narrowly personal explanation deflects attention from the real problems, pervasive racism and systemic injustice. To cite the peculiarities or failures of the person you are brutalizing as a way to explain (excuse? extenuate?) the brutalization is a way of blaming the victim. It allows you to ignore how your own behavior and habits of thought accommodate brutality, if only through passivity.”

    Blow-by-blow details about Sneddon, Dimond, and the rest of the lot notwithstanding, I can’t think of many approaches to writing about what befell Michael that are a better example of “vindication” than what Toni Bowers has done here. Would you condemn Bowers’s entire effort because she happened to quote Spielberg? Or use the word “narcissistic”? Come on.

    1. Nina Y F says, ” In many cases, I suspected that people would SKIM the article in search of an offensive word, and completely disregard the tone, intent, and significance of the piece *as a whole.*”

      Just because others disagree with your assessment of a writer’s work, you can’t assume that they “skim”, or don’t understand the intent. They may simply disagree with what’s written.

      For example, Dr. Bowers describes Michael as “Sentimental, reticent, and overly accommodating as victims of childhood abuse so often are, isolated, fragile, narcissistic, strange, and filthy rich, terrified of confrontation, spottily educated while burdened with genius, and used to his family making a meal of him”. These are her opinions, not facts, and in the aggregate, they convey an image of Michael that many fans find both offensive and unrecognizeable.

      Was he “sentimental” when he moved on past Quincy Jones, or “overly accommodating” when he demanded the re-mix of Thriller? How many “spottily educated” people can discuss the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or have thousands of books in their personal library? Any human being subjected to the psychological torture inflicted on him might be “fragile”, but Michael was a demanding perfectionist who could be tough as nails in the studio.

      As for “narcissism”, that’s a tough call. He certainly had an ego, and he was aware of his achievements, which is a pretty generic description of most of us. The thing is, America likes its Negroes aw shucks humble. While Michael has often been called shy and reticent by those who knew him, he was still the King of Pop, a moniker that enrages some to this day – how dare this black man call himself a king! I suppose naming all of his children Michael could be described as egotistical, but most people thought it was charmingly quirky when George Foreman named all of his sons George. But then Foreman has that humble act down pat.

      Narcissism implies a personality disorder that makes a person totally self-involved and uncaring about the needs of others. No one could ever describe Michael that way.

      The comments on Dr. Bowers’ article from knowledgeable fans are as informative as the piece itself. Perhaps more, as they are detailed as well as passionate.

      1. Nina Y F says, ” In many cases, I suspected that people would SKIM the article in search of an offensive word, and completely disregard the tone, intent, and significance of the piece *as a whole.*”

        The whole idea is so pathetic and absurd I am past waisting energy on this.

        1. “spottily educated” ?
          This is what the man himself said about his education in his Oxford speech.

          “I suppose I should start by listing my qualifications to speak before you this evening.
          Friends, I do not claim to have the academic expertise of other speakers who have addressed this hall, just as they could lay little claim at being adept at the moonwalk – and you know, Einstein in particular was really TERRIBLE at that.

          But I do have a claim to having experienced more places and cultures than most people will ever see. Human knowledge consists not only of libraries of parchment and ink – it is also comprised of the volumes of knowledge that are written on the human heart, chiselled on the human soul, and engraved on the human psyche. And friends, I have encountered so much in this relatively short life of mine that I still cannot believe I am only 42.”

          1. In all fairness to Bowers, isn’t that pretty much the point she makes in this passage?

            “In the United States, we tend to understand difference as pathology. We are uncomfortable with anyone who exceeds our categories, disturbs our prejudices, or calls the bluff on reigning platitudes. Michael Jackson and his music did all that at once, on many levels. What is most important, though, and should not be forgotten, is that he did it with joy. To dwell over-long on Jackson’s suffering would be to forget his indomitable playfulness and strength of will. The amazing thing is not, finally, how weird Michael Jackson was or how difficult his life was, but how great was his capacity for delight, his generosity, his ability and determination to bring joy to others. Endlessly curious, delighted with people, and thrilled by the beauty of the world, he just had so much fun. He suffered, yes; he faced down and endured painful experiences. But that’s what makes his exuberance so remarkable, and makes the fact that he brought (and continues to bring) pleasure to other people so precious. No matter what, he danced. We need to remember and honor that, and dance along.”-Toni Bowers

            I know that she meant “spottily educated” in the sense of having had little formal education. As his former teacher Felicia Childress has stated, as a child Michael was smart and eager to learn, but she witnessed within a single school year how that early eagerness and brightness was soon replaced by a child who was absent most of the time and, when he was in class, so tired he could hardly stay awake. That was the price of a singing career and he was already paying it even back then. But Michael never stopped learning and never really stopped being that bright, inquisitive kid. He simply found ways over time to take control of his own learning. I’m sure he had good teachers (we know how highly he regarded Rose Fine, for example) but, let’s face it, we know books and grades were hardly the family’s top priority, and I don’t think they were Michael’s either, at least not as a youth. As he matured and had children of his own, of course, I think that formal education became a lot more important to him. He was largely, as we know, self educated but there is no shame in that. Many great artists, politicians, civil rights leaders, etc have been self educated people.

            But to get back on point, I really don’t see that much disparity between Bower’s words and Michael’s own. He himself was stating here, in his own words, that he was aware of his limitations in terms of formal education but that he felt as if he had earned the equivalent of a doctorate in all that he had experienced, in all of the people who had enriched his life, and the fact that the vast panoramic scope of his life had enabled him to have what he felt the greatest education of all. If we look at the gist of what Michael is saying in that speech, and then look at what Bowers wrote, it seems to me to be the same idea, more or less: “To dwell over-long on Jackson’s suffering would be to forget his indomitable playfulness and strength of will. The amazing thing is not, finally, how weird Michael Jackson was or how difficult his life was, but how great was his capacity for delight, his generosity, his ability and determination to bring joy to others. Endlessly curious, delighted with people, and thrilled by the beauty of the world, he just had so much fun. He suffered, yes; he faced down and endured painful experiences. But that’s what makes his exuberance so remarkable…”

            I have said pretty much the same thing myself, at various times, though in different words, of course. Which is to say, basically, that no matter how much we might think of Michael Jackson as a scapegoated victim, the fact remains that his was a vast and complex life not only full of great tragedy and sorrow, but also one of incredible triumphs and incredible pinnacles; high’s that most of us could not even begin to fathom, a life that included world leaders and dignitaries as personal friends; playing to sold out stadiums all over the world, winning countless awards and seeing many lifelong ambitions fulfilled. We thought he was broken many times, but he always came back, reminding us “I’m still standing though you’re kicking me” and that he was, indeed, “invincible.”

            Even though we might not agree with Bower’s psychoanalyzing of Michael, I find that the piece overall is really a tribute to the resiliency of his spirit and what that resiliency and joy of spirit can still teach us, especially in these very troubled times. We should not forget that even in the midst of one of his most vitriolic (but truthful!) speeches, he still said, “What would we be like without a song? What would be like without a dance, joy, and laughter?”

          2. “I’m sure he had good teachers (we know how highly he regarded Rose Fine, for example) but, let’s face it, we know books and grades were hardly the family’s top priority”.

            I disagree. I believe that the Jacksons did make education a priority, while working around their hectic schedule. When they moved to LA from Gary, the kids were enrolled in good schools. In the Jacksons mini-series, there is a scene where all the boys stream into the kitchen to sit around the table and do their homework. I was struck by that scene. I felt that producer Jermaine Jackson was making the point that education was indeed important to the family, even when they were already famous. Joe Jackson has talked about how he took pride in the fact that his father was a teacher. From early childhood, Michael was a voracious reader. This is not a family that disdained books and grades.

            I know that my dwelling on the racism angle makes a lot of people uncomfortable, as perhaps it should, but I don’t have much patience for the willfully naive view that Michael was persecuted because of some nebulous “difference”. (I certainly don’t agree with Bowers’ claim that he had a “pioneering queer persona”. Writer’s need to stop trying to make fetch happen with that term – to the general public, queer means gay and nothing but.) All in all, the piece was very positive. Now comes word that a Rolling Stone editor’s Michael biography is coming out this fall. Lord help us all.

          3. Oh no, absolutely and I did not mean to imply that they disdained books and grades. I do believe they ensured their children’s education as much as they could around their hectic schedule but, still, the music careers were the bread and butter and I can’t say I would blame them. If education had indeed been a TOP priority, however, then Michael wouldn’t have been falling asleep in class due to having been out all hours of the night performing in clubs. I don’t think Joe and Katherine intended to instill any idea that education wasn’t important, but once the children’s careers took off and along with it, the money and fame and new lifestyle which was beyond their wildest dreams, the biggest priority inevitably became getting the boys to their next gig, interview or recording session. When Michael was always talking about not having a normal childhood, this, too, was part of that sacrifice.

          4. As to the Rolling Stone editors’ biographer, here is what I wrote on another site, C…—oh, I mean, Simba. Here’s some information:
            ______________________________
            “MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson,” by Steve Knopper

            I have another book by Knopper, his 2009 “Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age.” (You can get a used paperback copy here for as little as 9 cents.) He begins his story in 1979, which marked the decline of the disco era.

            Judging by Knopper’s past writing, I suspect this biography will be chock full of music industry details. About Michael he writes (in the book’s Prologue, “Disco Crashes the Record Business, Michael Jackson Saves the Day, and MTV *Really* Saves the Day”:

            “Although record companies’ sales had climbed from just under $1 billion a year in 1959 to a Saturday Night Fever-fueled record of $4.1 billion in 1978, the antidisco backlash lingered from 1979 to 1982. CBS Records laid off two thousand employees and drastically cut its artist roster and budgets. Susan Blond, a publicity executive at CBS-owned Epic Records, says the company lost three hundred employees on her first day. Her staff eventually disappeared entirely. Blond’s boss, CBS’ flamboyant attack-dog chairman, Walter Yetnikoff, declared the industry “in the intensive care ward.”

            “But then came the savior.

            “The former Motown child superstar arrived in a black leather jacket spilling over with belt buckles. He danced like a backwards angel, screeched and squealed, and — inexplicably — wore one white glove. In late 1982, Michael Jackson almost magically restored the music industry’s superstar clout by releasing one record.

            “[…]

            “Thriller, like Off the Wall before it, wasn’t just brilliant music — it was brilliant business. Michael Jackson had effectively replaced disco by absorbing the dying genre into his own brand of dance music. Steve Dahl’s Chicago demolition-turned-riot may have killed disco commercially, but the fans were still alive — and Jackson was a master of providing the slinky rhythms to warm their hearts. The melodies catch in your head in the perfect way. The bass lines sound like poisonous snakes. The rebellious anger in “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” is palpable but never over the top.

            “It was the right album at the right time: All seven of its singles landed in the Top 10, the album lasted a ridiculous thirty-seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and it went on to sell more than 51 million copies — the best-selling album in the world until the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits surpassed it (in the United States, anyway) in 2000. Thriller singlehandedly rescued CBS from its late ’70s doldrums — the company’s net income jumped 26 percent in 1983, to $187 million — pushing fans back into record stores and propping up the industry.”
            _____________________
            Anyway, it seems likely Knopper’s biography will focus on the business end.

            Lord help us.

          5. @ Raven Your last article about the Sawyer interview had a lot of ‘suffering, injustice and media wrongdoing’ and I did not hear anyone complain that we were ‘dwelling on his suffering”. The article before that was about a hypothetical situation that could have caused him even more suffering or ( ‘what if …..”) and noone complained .
            This article was about Michaels grandmother and had ‘some suffering’ and no one complained . Someone writes an article and I criticize certain parts – which I am entitled to – and all of a sudden this turns into a ‘dwelling on his suffering’ meme .
            I do not see what one has to do with the other .
            It was MADE an issue because some here will throw all kind of fallacies and fits when someone does not agree with them.

            And are we really so one dimensional that we cannot talk about his suffering and at the same time enjoy his music ?

          6. Yes, Sina. That’s exactly my point. We can indeed walk and chew gum at the same time.

            At least, I know I can…. in between “throwing all kinds of fallacies and fits”!!

      2. “How many “spottily educated” people can discuss the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or have thousands of books in their personal library?” (Simba)

        John Lennon, to name one. According to one biography I’ve read, he had thousands of leather-bound volumes in his house (it was very important to him the they be leather-bound!) It’s not uncommon for people who grew up working-class (people of all races and on both sides of the Atlantic) to stockpile books, perhaps in the hopes of compensating for the “spotty education” they received. We know that John Lennon went to art school; I don’t remember whether or not he graduated.

        If one has the money (and even sometimes if one doesn’t) it’s really no big deal to amass a lot of books. In their memoir “Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days,” Michael’s bodyguards, Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard state that they once bought the entire contents of a used bookshop in LA, amounting to a *prodigious* number of books (I forget the exact number). They then proceeded to build shelves for all these books in Michael’s house in Las Vegas.

        At one time, it was said, Michael had some 10,000 books. I probably have close to that number. Out of all those, how many have I read? The tiniest fraction!

        As for Michael’s ability to discuss Emerson (or any other topic), we have the word of some who knew him, loved him, and had an interest in portraying him as a learned man. Don’t get me wrong: I’m NOT saying he wasn’t learned, and I’m NOT saying he wasn’t capable of discussing Emerson (or another philosopher) with astuteness and complexity.

        But this says nothing about a “spotty education.” He was, without a doubt, curious—and he undertook to educate himself. That’s what’s important, and that’s what counts.

  15. In the end, I think Bowers’s article is the very *furthest* thing from an indictment of Michael Jackson. I see it, rather, as an indictment of the larger society that surrounded him—and which necessarily includes us. And through all the viciousness that engulfed him, Bowers maintains, Michael actually succeeded, in an extraordinary way–“with joy,” as Bowers says—to maintain his humanity and dignity in the face of his persecution.

    On one point I will agree, Sina. I think Bowers’s description of Michael as “narcissistic” is incorrect, from a clinical point of view, certainly; and even as the term is popularly understood. I don’t view Michael Jackson as having a particularly “narcissistic” personality.

    I would say this, however. People who *expect* others to know the exact same things they know about a particular topic; who *excoriate* other folks for not having found identical sources that they have made use of; who *begrudge* other researchers for having missed a detail of an artist’s life that they have acquired, a bit of minutiae that may be irrelevant to the overall thesis, anyway; who *derail* another writer’s sincere efforts at grappling with big-picture thinking about an issue; and who *insist* that another person share, in every detail, their own (narrow) agenda—such a person, I believe, could easily be considered “narcissistic.”

    We all have these tendencies; it’s not an unusual trait, after all, to seek out like-minded people who we agree with. But at the same time, I believe in approaching reading about Michael Jackson as an opportunity to actually *learn* something.

    And I’ve found that many folks seem instead to be more interested in policing the boundaries of the fan community (a group of people that consists, perhaps, of as many as a BILLION souls), and examining everyone’s passport to make sure they are “one of us” instead of a suspicious, sinister, perhaps even dangerous alien. (*Supporter* or *hater*? *Friend* or *enemy*? What’ll it be?)

    I firmly believe that Michael Jackson was brought down because he was “othered” by a society that fails to honor and value difference. Under a system of white supremacy, his difference was, in the first instance, his blackness. But it went on from there, as his “otherness” followed other lines as well.

    So: are we going to learn from this experience, as Toni Bowers suggests we might? Or will folks continually repeat the same pattern of *othering* others—-Muslims, transgender people, those who challenge the status quo, or even all the geniuses with us today and yet to be born— whom we’ll reject on the basis of their (unacceptable) difference?

    Will we allow the next brilliant artist, or the next impoverished shoplifter, to be skewered (and possibly murdered), the better to maintain a “safe and secure” enclave within which we might (we imagine) enjoy our unwavering certainties about the world and all its people?

    Because I do believe, my friends, that that way lies madness; and, eventually, mutually assured destruction.

    I’ll conclude as Bowers did:
    “Got the point? Good. Let’s dance.”

    1. This reminds me of a thought that occurred to me the other night when I was watching “Marilyn In Manhattan,” a documentary on the period in which Marilyn Monroe formed her production company in New York (I watch a lot of celebrity documentaries and biopics, as you can ascertain!). Even though it was largely a positive piece intended to showcase how Monroe went against the “dumb blonde” stereotype and was in reality a savvy businesswoman, self educated and underrated dramatic actress, large segments of it still ended up focusing on the inevitable tragedies and controversies of her life. And, knowing what I do about Michael and the media, one can’t help but wonder how much of ANYTHING we hear, read, or see about a celebrity is actually true. This seems especially so as decades pass and the “legend” of the life takes over from the reality; as memories grow fuzzy and as more of the people who actually knew them first hand pass on, and as what has gone down historically becomes accepted as a kind of general “truth.” For figures like Marilyn Monroe, or any celebrity who dies young, who seems to have had a troubled life, and especially one who dies under tragic/mysterious circumstances, the tragedy always seems to cast a long shadow over all of their accomplishments. No documentary about Monroe, it seems-even one whose intended focus is supposed to be on how this “dumb blonde” pulled a fast one over 20th Century Fox and bucked the Hollywood system-can resist innuendos about the Kennedys or wallowing in gossip about failed marriages, drug overdoses, and conspiracy theories about her death. The tragedy, it seems, has become inextricably linked with the name. I think there is even a kind of romantic, morbid fascination we have with tragic figures, and of course the media feeds into it.

      Whether we like it or not, I think that Michael’s legacy is fated along similar lines. He was a huge star but also a controversial figure; he died young and under mysterious circumstances, and had a troubled life (though I resist the popular media narrative that tends to cast all the blame on the victim). Like Monroe and others, I think there is probably always going to be this kind of fascination with the “tragedy” of Michael Jackson’s life and that, to some extent, the tragic as well as controversial aspects of it will probably always be, in some ways, inexorably linked to his name and his achievements.

      I, for one, would hope that his life and legacy is never reduced to anything more than simply being one more great but troubled, tragic figure. However, I do believe that as with Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and others, it will be impossible for future generations to ever totally be able to separate the man and artist from the myth of the tragic figure. Over fifty years after Monroe’s death, they are still writing books and producing films and documentaries that are probably as much myth as truth. In theory, it would be wonderful to believe that future historians, journalists, biographers and filmmakers will only tell Michael’s story with 100% accuracy, truth and honesty, but as we can see, it hasn’t happened for any celebrity yet. And it seems the bigger and more tragic the story, the more the myth actually grows over time, while the individual and the real human being behind it-whoever they were-recedes further into the mist.

      Anyway, I only bring that up because I think it is interesting to study how other celebrities-especially huge, larger than life cultural icons-have historically been portrayed in the media and how their stories and legacies continue to be shaped and molded by it. For me, it provides an interesting paradigm and context for understanding, likewise, how history will most likely remember Michael. But one thing stands clear, and that is the fact that nothing anyone can say now, fifty years after the fact, can tarnish the impact of these artists’ body of work. People can say what they want about Marilyn Monroe. All of it falls like rain on glass because when we watch her films, she still dazzles. As long as those images remain, all of the gossip and innuendo just seems like so much white noise.

      I think it will be likewise with Michael. People will say what they will, but his music and what he accomplished-what he ultimately MADE of his life-is going to live forever. Like all artists, he created something much bigger than himself, and something that will certainly outlive him by many decades and perhaps even centuries.

  16. I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head here, Raven; and this is very much what I’ve been saying all along. In the context you describe here, Michael Jackson’s story both is and *isn’t* typical of how such lives and deaths are enshrined in the collective consciousness.

    For all these iconic figures, the script has been written in advance: it only remains for the star to play out their own singular version of the same mythological story. In fact, our culture seems to *demand* it. I’m glad you’ve provided this important piece of the “puzzle,” as you compare Michael’s life story, his “star text”—-as it’s called in some circles—-to that of other people who occupy a similar place in the pantheon.

    You’ve seen a lot of celebrity biopics, and I’ve been reading up on an academic sub discipline called “Celebrity Studies.” I felt it was important to look into the whole phenomenon, because I was curious about what motivates our culture’s taste for these public tragedies. Taken as a whole, it’s really a fascinating tale, like the Greek tragedy brought up-to-date. Though the details differ, the basic structure of the story remains the same: the rise, the pinnacle, the decline, and the fall.

    In the U.S. in the 20th Century, we have only to look at the stories that have surrounded Marilyn, Elvis, Judy Garland, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Princess Diana, Kurt Cobain, and so many others: then we can see how the story of the “brilliant, tragic figure” plays out.

    Even to this day, the supermarket shelves frequently carry new tabloid exposés that promise to “get to the bottom” of what caused Natalie Wood’s mysterious death at sea.

  17. Tragedy often implies that the tragic figure, who falls from high to low estate, had a tragic flaw, flew too close to the sun., etc. that her or his fate was somehow self-inflicted, brought on by hubris, for example. That, this is a just world and that if you fall, it is your own fault. The viewer of the tragic drama or the tragic life hopefully learns from what is witnessed, and avoids the behaviors that brought about the hero’s tragic end.

    This is not the case with Michael Jackson. His story is one of injustice done to him. The tragedy is not his, but ours. His troubles arose primarily from a flawed racist society (which is what Bowers’ piece is about). And, unless we can change, we are the ones fated to fall from a high to low estate.

    My reaction to what was done to him is not “pity and fear,” but rage, and a strong desire to put things right. And, one of the ways to do that is to make sure that his myth, which all of us who write about him in books and articles and on blogs and in comments, etc. are making, is a departure from the idea that his life was in any way tragic. I want to ensure that MJ s not viewed as a tragic figure, but as someone who exhibited enormous strength and courage, someone who was unfailingly loving and compassionate, someone who stood up to the powers that be SUCCESSFULLY! Someone who is providing us with a model of how to BE in the world, rather than how not to be. And someone whose art is powerful enough to bring about the changes our society so desperately needs.

    Even tho’ he paid a high price., he was willing to pay it, and he never backed down.

    Michael Jackson is a hero.

    1. Eleanor says, “My reaction to what was done to him is not “pity and fear,” but rage, and a strong desire to put things right. And, one of the ways to do that is to make sure that his myth, which all of us who write about him in books and articles and on blogs and in comments, etc. are making, is a departure from the idea that his life was in any way tragic. I want to ensure that MJ s not viewed as a tragic figure, but as someone who exhibited enormous strength and courage, someone who was unfailingly loving and compassionate, someone who stood up to the powers that be SUCCESSFULLY!”

      Thank you so much for this. Beautifully articulated and right on the money. It’s so important that those of us who share this point of view participate in blogs and online discussions. Whatever the truth of their lives, Marilyn
      Monroe, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, et al, did not have slime balls like Stacy Brown making a cottage industry out of making up salacious stories about them. On the contrary, they have been protected by the media to a large extent. The only protection Michael needs is the truth.

      1. Maybe they did, Simba. Or maybe they didn’t.

        But the “truth” is, it really doesn’t matter, decades down the pike, what one or another venal or incompetent press agent, manager, or tabloidist had to say about them. Their “star texts” are littered with people who praised them to the skies, as well as those who ground them into the dirt. What we remember—as Raven implied earlier—is their brilliance.

        We still cling to what we *believe* we know about Marilyn, Elvis, Judy, and the rest—which is invariably a combination of fact, fiction, fancy, myth, truth, exaggeration, falsehood, and a whole melange of other tropes. And through it all—as Raven implied earlier—it’s their incandescent brilliance that shines to us.

        So if you are asking for some kind of pristine “truth” about Michael, as protection, then you are asking him to be placed in some special category in the “firmament”—-a special place in heaven, so to speak.

        Maybe it’s just that Michael Jackson’s life and death occurred within more recent memory. But Stacy Brown has been no more “emblematic” of Michael’s legacy than, say, Joe Vogel. Or Toni Bowers—or yourself.

        What can it mean to ELEVATE these people (Stacy Brown et. al), as so many of Michael’s supporters have done? Do you really want to *credit* them in this way?

        Let’s try to imagine the people (besides “us fans”) who may happen upon Bowers’s article in the Los Angeles Review of Books. How many of those people, do you suppose, have ever heard of Stacy Brown? Why should they now?

        If someone does a full-fledged investigative piece, then that’s all to the good. We need a good exposé about what really happened to Michael during the two major legal entanglements. This would be quite useful not only to enhance Michael’s own public image, but to expose the interconnected, nefarious deeds of law enforcement personnel, tabloid writers, photographers, music business administrators, miscellaneous other journalists, courtroom staff (including Sneddon), and other assorted backstabbers.

        Yet for some supporters, it often seems as though the bearing of a personal grudge against this rogues’ gallery is more important than writing an account that might *positively* position Michael in a more favorable light vis-`a-vis the general public.

      2. “Whatever the truth of their lives, Marilyn
        Monroe, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, et al, did not have slime balls like Stacy Brown making a cottage industry out of making up salacious stories about them. On the contrary, they have been protected by the media to a large extent.” (Simba)

        We may not be ardent fans of these figures, as we surely are ardent fans of Michael Jackson’s. So we may know relatively little of their biographies, and we can’t be expected to have heard of all the “Stacy Browns” or other destructive figures who could have existed in their lives—or played a large role in disrupting them.

        I’m sure that hard-core fans of Elvis, Marilyn, etc. know a lot more than we do about their struggles. But the fact that we, the uninitiated, AREN’T aware of all the venal people in these stars’ lives, is *in itself* worth noting.

        I think it means that such destructive figures, along with many of the harmful effects they had on these stars’ legacies, will gradually wear off—perhaps over a long period of time. What will remain in the end is the story of their genius (tragic AND triumphant), and an assessment of their historical significance.

        Look at all the special tribute issues LIFE and other popular magazines have put out in recent years about the Beatles, about Dylan, Elvis, about John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, and many other stars, including politicians. Talk about a cottage industry! (Several of these special tributes devoted to Michael Jackson have also appeared since his death. ) These publications all paint, more or less, the same basic—and hugely superficial—picture, which accounts for their uniformity: “The tragedy! The triumph! The glory! The horror!” For better or worse, they speak to a readership that’s probably on the high end of what might be called the “lowest common denominator.”

        In fact, I would WELCOME a more complex and nuanced story about Michael’s life than the superficial accounts these publications put forth on a regular basis. In my view, it’s relatively unimportant whether any report is a “negative” or “positive” one, or whether it paints its subject as “tragic” or “heroic.” What I think matters more is the way any writing can afford readers fresh insights about an artist like Michael Jackson (who is largely inseparable from the person), his significance to world culture at the time he was active—and, above all, WHY he still matters.

    2. This is somewhat the point I was trying to make, especially in regards to figures like Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Elvis, Janis, etc. There is a fascination with celebrity tragedy-which the media feeds on, obviously-but in most cases, these people are always portrayed somehow as victims of their own tragic flaws. Sure, there are the usual passing nods to the pressures of fame, but beyond that, the usual narrative is that of a genius but unstable and damaged personality whose own weakness of character somehow (whether it be addiction, depression, inability to cope, emotional trauma from troubled childhoods, etc) brings about their downfall. Then, their lives are held up as an example of what NOT to be. It is almost always a play on the same old variant of “What a wasted life” or “What a waste of potential.” And the viewer or reader, inevitably, is left with a sense of pity or regret, but rarely admiration (after all, those who supposedly succumb to their “demons” are usually not considered strong enough for true heroic status). What we see, however, is how rarely any sort of responsibility is taken for these fallen lives, even the very media who hounded and chased them. It is much easier to cast blame to the victim and attribute it to a weakness of character than to really take that good, long, hard look at ourselves. So in that regard, it IS disturbing now that I see the determination to cast Michael into that mold. Again, it is a way of delegating responsibility, especially on the part of the media. On June 25th, 2009, Michael’s body was hardly cold before the media “tributes” began rolling out, all of them focused on “The Tragedy of the Fallen King” (a paraphrase to aptly sum up the gist of all those articles) but very few actually asking of themselves or readers the truly tough questions.

      I think we are only just beginning to understand the true price he paid-not as a victim, but as a hero unwilling to compromise.

  18. Raven, you say,
    “Then, their lives are held up as an example of what NOT to be. It is almost always a play on the same old variant of “What a wasted life” or “What a waste of potential.” And the viewer or reader, inevitably, is left with a sense of pity or regret, but rarely admiration (after all, those who supposedly succumb to their “demons” are usually not considered strong enough for true heroic status). ”

    Eleanor, you say:
    “Tragedy often implies that the tragic figure, who falls from high to low estate, had a tragic flaw, flew too close to the sun., etc. that her or his fate was somehow self-inflicted, brought on by hubris, for example. That, this is a just world and that if you fall, it is your own fault. The viewer of the tragic drama or the tragic life hopefully learns from what is witnessed, and avoids the behaviors that brought about the hero’s tragic end.

    “This is not the case with Michael Jackson. His story is one of injustice done to him. The tragedy is not his, but ours. His troubles arose primarily from a flawed racist society (which is what Bowers’ piece is about). And, unless we can change, we are the ones fated to fall from a high to low estate.”
    _____________________

    Some element of the oft-repeated narrative—the “tragic decline and demise of his/her own making”—-is deeply rooted in the mythology of these huge stars, including Michael. But at the same time, I believe we need to make some important distinctions between different kinds of cautionary tales and the ways they assign blame and responsibility. I can see at least two things going on here.

    First, there’s the mystical, mythological tale of Icarus—who “flew too close to the sun,” as you mentioned, Eleanor. This and other such cautionary tales have, in one form or another, served human societies from the earliest times. There are stories about tragic figures, villains, and heroes: terrible things befell them, but they triumphed over adversity nonetheless. These tales, in one version or another, have spoken to the need for social cohesion across cultures and over centuries of history. The vestiges of these ancient gods/goddesses, in our monotheistic lives, can be seen in all the Marilyns, Elvises, Kurts, Judys, Michaels, and Janises who are elevated to cult status. The rise to greatness, the decline, the fall, are all part and parcel of these people’s stories. And the public (ourselves) *require* these figures to appear periodically, so that they can take on these roles for us—possibly as a way to salve our own inevitable sense of regret and sadness about the (necessary) failures of our own lives. I think we feel a mixture of pity, regret, AND—especially—admiration when we contemplate these figures—and Michael doesn’t differ much from the others in this respect.

    The more these people’s brilliance, artistry, and cultural achievements form part of the narrative, the greater the possibility that people/readers/viewers will see them as *triumphant* rather than merely tragic. That’s why I believe a continued weight that’s placed on Michael’s victimization in these discussions is, on the whole, unhelpful. And the public will not listen to a detailed enumerations of “facts,” no matter how accurate it is, about the media, the courts, Sneddon, Dimond, Sawyer, etc., etc., etc. This is why I appreciate Bowers’s more balanced take.

    A second kind “cautionary tale” appears here, though—one that’s more quotidian—has to do with some versions of the “American Dream,” and the way notions of race (and also, importantly *class*, which people rarely talk about) are put forward as an instructive example of the way people are “supposed” to live their lives…. and the penalties for not doing so.

    As you said, Eleanor and Raven, the idea that “this is a just world,” that the entire burden of responsibility lies with the individual, that if someone doesn’t “succeed” (or succeeds, and then falls) it’s their own damn fault, that the person just didn’t try hard enough, that they were brought down by weakness of character, etc.

    I agree that this these beliefs lay the groundwork for some of the most pernicious ideologies the human community has ever faced. And whenever these arguments are advanced, it seems, we invariably find some kind of double-standard in the ways these dicta are applied, involving race, gender, class, and an assortment of other categories by which we judge people. It’s victim-blaming, and these views are myths (not truths), just as surely as is the myth of Icarus.

    But I see it as part of the whole ideological landscape—a nightmare we’re all immersed in. This is where I differ from most here. To me, this nightmare (in the US, anyway, and in many other parts of the world) *disproportionately* affects blacks and other people of color rather than white people; women rather than men; poor people rather than rich; LGBTQ people rather than straight or heteronormative ones; etc. Opportunity, freedom from abuse, and safety of life and limb are not evenly applied here, and those who believe it is are captive to a myth that’s actually a delusion.

    When it comes to class, especially, I think this is the part of Bowers’s argument that seeks to *differentiate* Michael Jackson from Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray, and so many others like them.

    1. To the haters of the world, there isn’t a dime ‘ s worth of difference between any of them. “Black” trumps “class” every time.

      1. Undoubtedly, Simba. “Black” trumps “class” every time.

        And that’s why there’s no appreciable difference between, say, the 1999 case of Amadou Diallo, the Guinean working-class immigrant, shot 41 times by the NYPD and killed—and the violence done to Henry Louis Gates, distinguished Harvard professor and TV personality, a decade later.

        As we know, Gates was also harassed and arrested, on suspicion of “burglary” (he was “breaking into” his own house!). Yet we know the outcome. The charges were dropped, and he and the arresting officer were invited by President Obama to a “beer summit” at the White House rose garden.

        Both are black men, and from the perspective of the cops’ initial encounter with each of them, there was no difference there: the same *optic* was in gear. As to the separate outcomes of these cases—which do involve questions of life and death—I guess we’re supposed to believe that class played no role.

        For that matter, that the ONLY difference between Michael Jackson and Prince, or between Michael and other rich, famous, black stars, was that Michael bought the Beatles’ catalog. “End of story.”

        Right.

        1. One of the most interesting aspects of the Diallo case was how his family circumstances turned our usual perception of Africans on its head. Diallo wasn’t a poor working class immigrant. His father was a wealthy art importer who lived in Thailand much of the year. His mother was sophisticated, beautiful, and chic. In his country, Diallo was definitely upper class. Not that it mattered to the cops. All they saw was black.

          1. “In his country, Diallo was definitely upper class. Not that it mattered to the cops. All they saw was black.”

            All the cops saw was black; that’s true, Simba. I’m sorry if you’ve had to explain this simple, self-evident reality to 100 clueless white people before me—or, more like 1,000. I *get* it. That’s why I wrote, “… from the perspective of the cops’ initial encounter with each of them, there was no difference there: the same *optic* was in gear. ”

            I still say, despite Diallo’s affluent background, “he sold videotapes, gloves, and socks from the sidewalk along 14th St…” as of the time he was assaulted. (This is according to Wikipedia—which is, admittedly, not necessarily the most accurate source of information.)

            Diallo pulled a wallet out of his pocket, and the cops thought it was a gun. But this happened in a working-class Bronx neighborhood, whereas Gates made his home in an affluent neighborhood in Cambridge, Mass. Class, age, credentials, and fame all factor in to the two different outcomes of these cases. (Henry Louis Gates was a middle-aged man, and not youth of 22; and he was starting his PBS television show at the time.)

            Had Diallo survived, would President Obama have invited him and his cop assailant to beer at the White House? I wonder. Class matters.

            The ways Michael Jackson’s experience with the law *differs* from (as well as resembles) that of Brown, Gurley, Scott, Gray, and numerous other black men, should be taken into account here. For one thing, his (relative) privilege afforded him his own private security team.
            ___________________

            “….the absolute conviction that you and you alone possess the key to understanding Michael Jackson, and indeed all the problems of the world. Your snarky attacks on me and Sina for daring to disagree with you indicate that.” (Simba)

            Nah. We simply have some long-standing disagreements, Simba, that extend back some five years. (You and Sina have both “attacked” me here, too; to wit, the snarky ad hominem: “maybe you’re just going through something.”)

            As to “me and me alone” possessing the “key to understanding Michael Jackson…” Uh-unh. Far from it. That’s YOUR game, and the game of many other fans who believe the possession of that key is even possible.

            I’ve consistently argued against what I believe to be the inherent folly of looking for that key. And this has been precisely my point: that NOBODY possesses the “key” to understanding Michael Jackson. And nobody ever will. I’ve stated why I believe this to be true, six ways from Sunday.

  19. It’s interesting what different material each person derives from the experience of reading a writer’s words. Here’s what I select from Toni Browers’s article:

    “To dance with Michael Jackson, to take his outstretched hand, is about more than honoring a difficult, extraordinary life and immense gifts — though it is high time we did that without grudging, judging, or telling lies. It is something we must do for ourselves and for each other — not in an attempt to keep ourselves safe from the present pain and danger, but to move farther into the most perplexing aspects of our own lives, and confront them with joy. It is a way of choosing the kind of future we want, and the kind of people we want to be.

    “Dancing with Michael Jackson will mean letting go of hatred and fear, acknowledging beauty in what seems strange to us, and being willing to take a chance. It will demand that we deal with other people imaginatively, empathetically, in what we think of as our own space, and with respect. In these ways, the dance Jackson invites us to dance is a kind of ethical practice. It is a way of living up to our creeds and professions, and of taking responsibility for our privileges.”

    Yes. ^^^This is what I’ve been trying to say for a very long time.

    1. “In  these ways, the dance Jackson invites us to dance is a kind of ethical practice. It is a way of living up to our creeds and professions, and of taking responsibility for our privileges.”

      “Yes. ^^^This is what I’ve been trying to say for a very long time.”

      And I’ve been trying to say for a very long time that I have no interest in this view of Michael Jackson as some kind of nurturing social worker. Michael was the ultimate solo act. He didn’t invite anyone to join in his dance. He was “up there”, way above the rest of us, and he knew it. Maybe that’s why he was simultaneously so loved and so hated.

      1. “Michael was the ultimate solo act. He didn’t invite anyone to join in his dance. He was “up there”, way above the rest of us, and he knew it. Maybe that’s why he was simultaneously so loved and so hated.” (Simba)

        C.. … I mean, Simba: maybe it’s *you* who want to be the “ultimate solo act.” And maybe that’s what you are. I wouldn’t doubt it.

        In any case, it’s quite possible you’re assigning that role to Michael Jackson as your proxy. Way up there, above the rest of us, and knowing it. And there’s no doubt that he was so loved and so hated: sometimes by the same person!

        You’re welcome to do with him what you like, of course. He’s *your* Michael. No one else’s.

      2. I respect your views, Simba, but I have to confess I am a little confused by this statement. What about Michael’s message via “We Are The World,” “Heal The World,” “Earth Song,” “Man in the Mirror” and all the other great, philanthropic messages he delivered to us through his music, poems and speeches? The idea of “healing the world” through the nurturing of love and caring for each other and of the planet was at the very heart of his entire modus operandi. Maybe I am just misinterpreting what you’re saying or need additional clarification, but Michael himself always stressed the importance of sharing his gift for song and dance as a way to bring about joy and healing-that is, healing from suffering and pain. He wasn’t naive enough to think that a song and a dance could heal the world, but he knew it was an awfully good place to start. He dedicated a lifetime to bringing that message to people of all races and all creeds and nationalities, all over the world. He implored the audience at Exeter to take the hand of the person beside them and “tell them that you love them.” To say he is someone who considered himself “above the rest of us” conveys, to me, the very kind of of narcissism that was being debated so heatedly as an offensive aspect of Bowers’s piece. On the other hand, if we are talking about Michael the PERFORMER who loved being at center stage, who took pride in beating all other artists’ records, etc that is, to me, an altogether different aspect of him and of his personality-I call it his artist persona-but one that is not mutually exclusive of his genuine desire to use his talent and gifts to help make a better world. In my estimation, they are both extreme aspects of a very complex individual. He could also, as we well know, be quite militant when the need arose, so I would never equate him to being a kind of hippie/drippie sort who was preaching only peace, love, and flowers. That much I agree with. He was certainly well aware of his “star power” (that thing that did set him apart and above the rest of us)and the fact that when he entered a room, he was always going to be the center of attention. That was the kind of attention he’d been getting ever since he was a tyke. He knew he commanded that kind of attention, and I’m sure it would be naive to think that didn’t have an impact on how he viewed himself and his place in the world. He also knew how to make that power-that gift-work for him to achieve his goals. At the same time, however, this was a man who implored us, in song after song and message after message, to take better care of ourselves and the planet and each other-and, of course, didn’t just give lip services to those ideas, but who actively rolled up his sleeves and got his hands dirty to do it. And, in short films like “Beat It” and “Bad” the underlying message of both was that of uniting warring factions through the power of song and dance.

        I am not necessarily disagreeing with you. Like I said, I’m just a bit confused by the statement and maybe need more clarification. I can understand if you have no interest in the view of Michael as “some kind of nurturing social worker” (everyone is entitled to their own) but, then, to some extent didn’t he take on that very role by founding Heal The World and spearheading other organizations to help people? What of his tireless efforts to help in the fight against AIDS and so many other problems plaguing humanity? I’m not sure about the “nurturing social worker” aspect of it, but Michael did have a reputation as a humanitarian and philanthropist. When we think about it, what are some of the most iconic images associated with Michael Jackson (other than the obvious ones like gloves and fedoras)? The “Heal The World” logo comes immediately to mind. Today, productions like the Immortal tour and One carry on the tradition of using the globe as a symbol of world unity, and bringing on children of all nationalities to represent the idea of global unity, peace, and healing. These were the images and messages that many people all over the world associate with Michael Jackson. And if the world is finally waking up and realizing what a great humanitarian and philanthropist we lost when Michael Jackson exited the world, is that really such a bad thing? I don’t know. I guess from my perspective I just have a hard time faulting that idea, but again, maybe I am oversimplifying/misinterpreting your comment.

        1. Raven says, ” Maybe I am just misinterpreting what you’re saying or need additional clarification, but Michael himself always stressed the importance of sharing his gift for song and dance as a way to bring about joy and healing-that is, healing from suffering and pain. ”

          I hope I can make myself clear without offending anyone, which may be impossible. There is a picture of an open air performance space packed with thousands upon thousands of people as far as the eye can see. Peeking out from around the curtain is one slim solitary figure -Michael, who knew that those thousands were waiting just for him, and that when he emerged, they would scream and shout, many would cry, and some would even faint. This was a man who was well-aware of his power. It wasn’t narcissistic. As Muhammad Ali said about himself, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up”, and Michael could back it up in spades. That’s why he, in all sincerity, offered his services to the State Department to help get those two journalists released from North Korea.

          And that’s why he could exhort others to Heal The World. He cared, and he knew he had the power to influence others. But his philanthropy, laudable though it may be, was not his main interest in life. He didn’t spend his days administering charities. He never took months or years off to care for the sick and dying, as the soprano Teresa Stratas did. I’m so glad he didn’t, and that instead, he concentrated on being the greatest entertainer in the world.

          I confess that I really don’t care much for Heal The World or Earth Song. I find Earth Song especially depressing and off-putting – when India Carney sang it on The Voice, I knew she was doomed, even though she was arguably the most talented and accomplished singer in the competition. I just hated it when Michael brought little children on stage with him while he sang. Not because I don’t care about kids. I do. But I had zero interest in Michael Jackson as mournful nanny. If I want to see kids, all I have to do is look out the window. I greatly preferred the singer composer of hard driving songs like Blood On The Dance Floor, Who Is It, and Billie Jean.

          Michael was invested in doing good for the world, and obviously it resonates with many, including many of the participants on this site. But I don’t see anything wrong with putting forth a contrary view. I’m not demanding that anyone else agrees.

          1. Interesting points. I’m not the hugest fan of “Heal The World,” either, as you well know, though I respect what Michael was trying to accomplish with it. Also, with HTW it depends on the circumstances for me. For example, when I participated in the group singalong in Gary outside his home (with Paris leading us like a choir director, lol) it was an altogether different experience from listening to it on record. Obviously, it’s a song meant for that kind of communal experience. I do love “Earth Song” because it’s just, overall, a grittier song, with that whole dramatic buildup and the apocalyptic call-and-response breakdown. It IS a rather dark and depressing song, however (but I like dark, Goth-inspired stuff).

            Your description of Michael coming out onstage is spot on. When Michael came out, every eye was on him. That epic moment when he comes out and just stands there for minutes on end, while the crowd goes nuts, is the perfect example of it. Michael came onstage like a god, no holds barred.

            But when I think of Michael inviting us to “join in the dance” I think of people like Dimitri Reeves, and all the countless clips I see of children imitating his moves, and all the tribute artists (who have only to bust out a familiar MJ move to bring smiles to faces) as well as all the dancers across the world who are inspired by him. There is a man in my community who randomly pops up at gas stations and convenient store parking lots and dances like Michael. We jokingly call him “Gas Station MJ.” I’m sure some people think he’s a little bit nuts, but as soon as he starts to dance, people are laughing and clapping and joining in. At any event I go to, nothing spreads joy and dancing more quickly than the familiar beat of a favorite MJ song.

            I believe this metaphoric sense of “joining in the dance” is probably closer to what Toni Bowers was referring to in her piece. But now it is serving an even more important function, as we have seen from so many of these demonstrations, with dancers taking up the mantle of Michael’s music to show unity, defiance, and strength. It’s very true that Michael OWNED a stage when he walked out on it. But beyond that stage, people danced to his music. They danced to it in the streets (and still do). They danced to it in good times and bad (and still do).

            I was thinking of some of those tribute videos that have been released since Michael died (even some of the official videos that have been released to promote the new music). They always strike me as a little cheesy, with all of these fans dancing to Michael’s music. This isn’t really what we want to see, of course. We want to see Michael up there, bigger and larger than life. But he’s not here, so it’s this sense of the community now taking up the dance-not to replace what is irreplaceable, of course, but simply to keep it alive.

            So I’m of two minds on this because I get what you’re saying. On the other hand, I think I know what Bowers was trying to convey. But given that Michael himself spoke and sang so much about “healing the world” it’s understandable that many people do view him as a philanthropist as much as an entertainer.

            Interestingly, I’ve had many debates with people who believe that, because Michael was a rich pop star who never gave up that lifestyle, that he couldn’t have been very sincere about what he preached. I know that isn’t what YOU are saying, but it’s what some believe. These debates have sprang up from people of all walks of life, including even some of my own students (as I am preparing to post yet another round of my student’s essays, I am reminded of one particularly bright but challenging student last year who saw “Earth Song” as an exploitative piece by a “false prophet”). I see it much differently. I had another student whom I think came closer to the truth. She said she believed that Michael was someone who had a calling from God, and who had been given the ability and talent to move people on a mass scale, in order to spread His message, but was torn between this genuine calling and the personal satisfaction he got from performing and being so loved and admired. Perhaps the way he eventually reconciled it in his mind was that the best way he could serve his calling was to do exactly what he was doing. He had a platform that reached millions, and in the meantime, could also do something that brought joy to himself and others. He wasn’t St. Michael, of course. I think he was just a guy with a very big heart who loved being a star and loved performing but, at the same time, wanted to use his gifts in the best way possible for the greater good.

  20. Nina Y F says about Michael, “As for Michael’s ability to discuss Emerson (or any other topic), we have the word of some who knew him, loved him, and had an interest in portraying him as a learned man.”

    From the LA Times in 2009:

    “He loved the poetry section,” Dave Dutton (book seller) said as Dirk chimed in that Ralph Waldo Emerson was Jackson’s favorite. “I think you would find a great deal of the transcendental, all-accepting philosophy in his lyrics.”

    “Largely an autodidact, Jackson was quite well read, according to Jackson’s longtime lawyer. “We talked about psychology, Freud and Jung, Hawthorne, sociology, black history and sociology dealing with race issues,” Bob Sanger told the LA Weekly after the singer’s death. “But he was very well read in the classics of psychology and history and literature . . . Freud and Jung — go down the street and try and find five people who can talk about Freud and Jung.”

    http://www.latimes.com/la-et-jackson-books27-2009jun27-story.html

    These people had no vested interest in “portraying Michael as a learned man”. Maybe, just maybe, he actually was a learned man.

    Nina Y F says, “This is where I differ from most here.”

    Could be that’s the problem, the absolute conviction that you and you alone possess the key to understanding Michael Jackson, and indeed all the problems of the world. Your snarky attacks on me and Sina for daring to disagree with you indicate that. Or maybe you’re just going through something.

    1. C.. … I mean, Simba: maybe it’s *you* who want to be the “ultimate solo act.” And maybe that’s what you are. I wouldn’t doubt it.
      In any case, it’s quite possible you’re assigning that role to Michael Jackson as your proxy. Way up there, above the rest of us, and knowing it. And there’s no doubt that he was so loved and so hated: sometimes by the same person!

      You’re welcome to do with him what you like, of course. He’s *your* Michael. No one else’s. ”

      “This is where I differ from most here.”

      I should have said that I do not waste my time on YOU. I try to stick to discussing CONTENT not the people who say it. But I have to tell you this.
      Your selfrighteous, paternalistic inflated sense of moral and intellectual superiority are trademarks of supremacy .
      You are constantly talking about looking in the mirror. When have you last looked in the mirror? Take this as a suggestion for selfreflection. You really need it.

  21. “Your selfrighteous, paternalistic inflated sense of moral and intellectual superiority are trademarks of supremacy .
    You are constantly talking about looking in the mirror. When have you last looked in the mirror? Take this as a suggestion for selfreflection. You really need it.” (Sina)

    Okay, Sina. I’ll take it under advisement! But in fact, I DO look in the mirror, all the time. I’m well aware of my shortcomings.

    I also know the ways that people who “go against the grain” may be perceived. I can be an irritant because I like to delve deeply into things, rather than remaining at a level where one usually finds the general consensus about a particular subject. And I also think it’s important to observe fine distinctions between one phenomenon and another.

    For instance, there seems to be this recurring, and extremely vexing question, which people keep returning to again and again and again: why was MJ, more than others, so pointedly singled out for punishment by the corporate media and the law?

    So I shared my thoughts, comparing MJ’s place within the imaginary pantheon of ancient gods, to his position within a more modern myth: the so-called American Dream. I was interested in exploring the different implications that these two kinds of social fantasies might trigger, and how each of them contributed to the way Michael was made to “take a fall.”

    I wanted to look for an alternative to the model of the “bad media” vs. “good fans–Us” fantasy that I find often pervades these conversations.

    So when I pursue these lines of thought, I may more resemble a surgeon than an anesthesiologist. Ouch. Maybe I’m just looking for a different kind of conversation than what’s available here.

    1. ‘I like to delve deeply into things, rather than remaining at a level where one usually finds the general consensus about a particular subject. And I also think it’s important to observe fine distinctions between one phenomenon and another.

      It is not your ‘delving deeply etc I was refering to and you damn well know it. And if you do not it is even more tragic.

      ‘So when I pursue these lines of thought, I may more resemble a surgeon than an anesthesiologist. Ouch.
      Maybe I’m just looking for a different kind of conversation than what’s available here.’

      I cannot say ‘be my guest’ as I am not the host here.
      But if I were I would .

    2. These, too, are topics I am very interested in. I think we do have to examine both ends of that spectrum. On the one hand, it’s good to take a step back and examine the bigger picture-how Michael fits historically within that pantheon. On the other hand, there are aspects that are unique to Michael-to HIS story and situation alone-which have to be examined. I like examining all of those things, from as many angles as possible, both within historical contexts (where those obvious parallels and precedents exist) as well as those aspects that are unique to Michael’s story.

      As I’ve said before, conversations here will often take on a life of their own because we are made of up of many different fans, readers, and writers from all over the world with many varying (and passionate) points of view. It’s a given we won’t all agree all of the time.

      1. I very much agree, Raven. I also like to look at it from as many angles as possible. Oxymoronic as it may seem, I believe Michael’s story both *was* and *wasn’t* unique, in all these ways.

  22. A lot of food for thought in this blog post and the comments. And, thank you so much Raven for posting the photo of the lovely Crystal Lee King Jackson. Her looks certainly seemed to be carried over into succeeding generations. MJ’s heritage was fascinating and complex, as was he, as are most of us.

    A couple of comment threads that got my attention had to do with the objectivity of fan opinions of MJ vs. academic judgements and the significance of MJ’s education — or lack of same.

    Academics so often get where they are by supporting the cultural narrative, not by bucking it. We have to pass through the gates kept by other academics, whose job it usually is to uphold the existing cultural standards. In my opinion, Michael Jackson, in his person and in his art, was offering a radically new cultural narrative, one that questioned most of the assumptions that academics have based their whole careers on. For example, back not so many years ago, like back when MJ was coming into his own, the cultural narrative still supported the supremacy (white, male) of western civilization. Because MJ was offering a completely different narrative, highfalutin’ critics were often blind to the significance of what he was doing on a conscious level, and hostile to him on an unconscious level — because he was and in many cases still is challenging everything they stood for. Fans, on the other hand, reacted to him viscerally and as he was “sending out a major love,” responded in kind — and “got him” in a way that people who had an intellectual agenda, who wanted and want to use him to prove a point, without ever taking him seriously enough to listen to his music or watch his videos, could not.

    As to his education… well, it is true that he had very little formal education in the areas of general knowledge, but, at Motown, he had the best education in the world in his chosen career, and he took full advantage of it, learning from the greats. If he had been a student at Julliard or at a young dancer at the American Ballet Theater, no one would think anything at all about his devoting 90% of his time to music or dance. But, that is not all he did. On his own, and at an early age, he made a pretty thorough study of film, as well. And, he had seemingly limitless curiosity about everything and the drive to satisfy his curiosity through reading and getting in touch with people who were experts in their fields. And, as he himself pointed out, as a young performer, he got to travel all over the world and see things first hand that most kids, most people, only get to read about. And that is the best education in the world. Because it allows you to see your own culture from the point of view of others, and it allows you to make comparisons.

    Looked at from a contrarian point of view, conventional educations are a sort of brainwashing; attending school regiments us and our thinking, sorting us out, preparing some of us to work for the man, others of us to be “the man.” Colleges and universities install and instill the existing cultural narrative. I think a conventional education would have been a stumbling block for MJ; it would have gotten in his way. I think he was exposed to and independently sought out exactly what he needed to be Michael Jackson.

    1. ‘I think a conventional education would have been a stumbling block for MJ; it would have gotten in his way. I think he was exposed to and independently sought out exactly what he needed to be Michael Jackson.’ Eleanor

      I totally agree. Van Gogh was also an autodidact whose body of works was created in just a decade. His work today is among the most sought after and commercially exploited, one sold for over 80 million$. Ironic for a man who died pennyles. Most people do not even know that he didnt have a ‘formal’ education in arts.
      Michael was also an autodidact, but like van Gogh, it does not mean he did not study . Having the talent is only a part of the story, it has to be recognised, cultivated, developed, practiced. Aside from reading many books about various subjects, he was disciplined and instilled to be the best at what he did and he did till his last day, dancing as well as singing. He intensively studied his peers and predecessors, looked for the best to work with, learned from them and kept developing. To reach that level of artistic freedom to express oneself AND the skilled instrument performance, does not require an academic study, on the contrary , it takes a drive and mind-set that an academic approach would stand in the way of and that many academics sorely miss. Still today some call him a dance man and not a dancer.

      That said, I am very much pro education for us lessers who miss the talent and drive of a real artist . It provides us with technical and professional skills and a’birds eye view’ but it is also a time when you have no obligatons yet ,are free to experiment live away from controling parents and family, interact with peers, build up friendships and today fortunataly it is not as an isolated laboratory anymore , but very much in touch with the real world.
      Although I think the merits of college life are overrated, that is what Michael probably missed most, things like building friendships outside his family . not the study itself because he did study and how.
      This interview, just him and Bret Rattner conversing is one of his best : casual, unbothered, no pc, no filters(very outspoken as to what he thinks of record companies.) He talks about his favourite music , his inspirations and learning process.
      From .8.55 , BR: which are the things that could help someone who wants to break into the music business
      MJ: “Believe in yourself, study the greats and become greater, be a scien-tist,disect, disect, believe in yourself, no matter what others say, some of the greatest men where treated like that., laughed at. They made jokes about Henry Ford, said he was ignorant because he didnt have a college degree and dropped out of school. They even took Ford to court to prove his intelligence.“

      1. Sina —

        Thanks so much for this interview. I loved it. I loved what he said and I loved just hearing the sound of his voice. As you said, relaxed and at ease. What a catholicity of taste he had!

      2. I love that interview as well. I stand by what I said in the post analyzing the Diane Sawyer interview. I think Michael gave his best interviews when they were candid and a bit off the cuff, rather than the big, splashy, rehearsed interviews with big name celebrity journalists. Although he was honest in those interviews, he was also usually tense due to feeling like he was being put under a microscope. These kinds of interviews really do offer a glimpse of a whole, other side to him which very few have actually seen.

    2. Great points. And I think if we really look at what the basis of education is, it is all about being pushed out of one’s comfort zone, of being exposed to new and different ideas. Since my field is, of course, primarily education (with journalism as a sideline hobby) I actually see the purpose of formal education as expanding horizons, exposing students to new ideas, and pushing them out of their comfort zones of knowledge. If we don’t do that, then we have failed as educators. Michael was able to live a life that pushed him well beyond that comfort zone of knowledge and experience. It is the very kind of education that students sitting in a classroom can only hope they are achieving the equivalency of.

      Also, on this subject, it is worth noting that Michael was a huge financial supporter of many institutions of higher learning for African-Americans, such as Fisk University where he received an honorary doctorate degree. http://www.allforloveblog.com/?p=6034

      1. To ‘dwell ‘ some more on Michaels education. What if Michael did have formal education.
        I am afraid he would have ended up being an office clerk in the steelmill company his father worked at.
        Because there is no way his parents could have afforded higher education with nine kids.
        What a loss that would have been

        “Michael was able to live a life that pushed him well beyond that comfort zone of knowledge and experience. It is the very kind of education that students sitting in a classroom can only hope they are achieving the equivalency of.”

        Absolutely ! Not only students but I cant think of any other popstar or anyone else for that matter who had this incredible life experience.

        As for the interviews there are a few good ones that I always go back to . It would be nice to have a compilation of them from since his J5 days , to let him tell his own story.

  23. Raven says,
    “I think if we really look at what the basis of education is, it is all about being pushed out of one’s comfort zone, of being exposed to new and different ideas….. I actually see the purpose of formal education as expanding horizons, exposing students to new ideas, and pushing them out of their comfort zones of knowledge. ”

    Exactly. And we can only hope to continue our efforts, Raven. Across the spectrum of institutions of higher ed, teachers who are committed to these ideas have had to deal, more and more, with administrators who don’t *get it,* and who are exclusively focused on the “bottom line.” As I’m sure you know, there are a lot of debates going on about the role of these overpaid administrators, whose ranks have swelled tremendously in recent years. In general, they tend to regard colleges and universities not at places where people can challenge received ideas and produce new knowledge, but as a training ground where a cadre of young people to learn conformity and compliance to a system of increasing economic injustice.

    Michael did receive an honorary degree from Fisk University, where he stated that everyone who wanted a formal education should be able to receive one. But I’ve always thought that what is really important—far more crucial than acquiring degrees or formal credentials—is a person’s curiosity and genuine desire to learn.

    This inquisitiveness has characterized some of the smartest people I’ve ever known; including those who never went to college at all, but continued to read on their own in an endless pursuit of new knowledge. (Some people, myself included, can’t afford to travel much.) This pursuit of knowledge, for sure, is one thing Michael consistently showed us.

    In that spirit, here’s something (slightly) unrelated; it goes to one element of *our* pursuit of knowledge of Michael himself. A few years ago, I thought of compiling a Table of Contents—something like a list of chapters—of a kind of fictional MJ “dissertation” I wanted to write. Strictly for amusement.

    I think I was bored with always hearing that “King of Pop” moniker, so I came up with a number of other honorary titles which I’ve been adding to: things like “Monarch of Butterflies,” and “Ambassador of Excess,” etc. That’s a separate project. But for this one, I got as far as a dissertation title and a handful of chapter titles. I hope it’s *visceral*!

    “MICHAEL JACKSON and the EROTIC GAZE: A STUDY OF THE SEXUAL ECONOMIES OF POP PERFORMANCE MODES”

    1. “Buckles and Zippers: Pop’s ‘Ambassador of Excess’ Enters his ‘Bad’ Phase”

    2. “The Liquefaction of his Hips: Glittering Belt Buckles Undulate Through Specatators’ Sensoria”

    3. “ ‘Sweet, Seducing Sighs:’ Caresses of Golden Honey Through Jackson’s Lachrymose Larynx”

    4. “Fine and Dandy, with a Difference: Jackson’s Languid Poses, Moon-Drenched Eyes, and Rippling Muscles”

    5. “Girding His Loins in Brisbane: Jackson’s Use of Wide Leather Straps in his “Bad” Performance “Down Under,” 1987

    6. “Enticement / Incitement / Seduction: Jackson ‘Whooooos’ Lustful Fans in Buenos Aires and Beyond.”

    7. “Visible Desires: Jackson’s Pelvic Undulations, the Allure of the Implicit, and the Spectatorial Frenzy” in his Concert Performances

    8. “The Implosion of ‘The Force’: Orgasmic Consciousness and the ‘Never-Enough’ in Jackson’s “Don’t Stop”

    9. “Tongues of Fire, ‘Human Nature’ and the Dissolution of the Self/Other Through Jackson’s Rhythmic, Ritualistic Dance”

    10. “Pools of Resplendent Fury: The Infinitude of Jackson’s Eyes in his “Invicible” Phase

    11. “Jackson’s Ferociously Erotic Netherworlds: ‘I Feel a Faintness Coming On When I Look at You’ “

    12. “Jackson in/as Ventriloquist of Eros: Liking the way he stares, Loving the Way He Makes Them Feel”

    13. “The Erotic Register of the Uvula: and Spellcasting and Shimmering Across the Immensity of Jackson’s Vocal Range”

    14. Wanting Access to his Glottis: the Heeee-heeeees, Sighs and Moans of Michael Jackson’s Vocal Oeuvre.

    15. “ ‘I was a Michael Jackson Voluptuary’: the Memory of Tender Pouts, Glistening Perspiration, and Woozy Dreams”

    16. “Wanting Michael: Intensities of Encounter with Michael Jackson During Fans’ Onstage Caresses”

    17. “Languorous Longings in ‘Off the Wall’ and ‘Thriller’: Silks, Snakes, and Skins”

    18. “Captain EO Disrobes: Throwing off the Cape of Inhibition, Rising to the Occasion”

    19. “Jackson’s Shimmering Rhinestones and Desire-Drunk Eyes: Rocking With an Admirer All Night. “

    20. “The Party People, Night and Day: Exploring the Roots of Eros and Dionysus in Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ ”

    21. “The Lanky Swagger of Jackson’s Supple Stage Presence: Performing Amorous Grooves in ‘Smooth Criminal’ ”

    22. “ ‘If it Aches You Got to Rub It’: the Divan in Jackson’s Velvet-Lined Backstage ‘Closet’ ”

    23. “It Ain’t Too Much For Me” in Bucharest: anticipating the Skyrocketing Climax of Jackson’s “Dangerous” concert, 1992

    24. “Smooth, Gentle Undulations: the Liquefaction of Jackson’s Waist and Midsection at Wembley Stadium, 1988

    25. The Yellow Shirts and the Silver Buckle: How Fans ‘Came Together‘ through Michael Jackson’s film “Moonwalker.”

    26: “Locating the Textures of Michael Jackson’s Monarchy: the Sinewy Arms and Skin-Hugging Bodysuits of a King”

    27.”Just ‘Human Nature’: Taking a Bite Out of Jackson’s Succulent Apple ”

    28. “ ‘Why, Why Does He Do Me This Way?’: Pantomime and Serpentine Gesture in Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”

    29. “Get Off the Wall and On the Floor: the Lessons of a Tuxedo-Clad Disco Svengali”

    Any ideas?

    1. Each and every one is an essay I would love to read, lol! I like the “Ambassador of Excess.” As far as ideas, I’m a little brain dead after writing all day but maybe I’ll come up with a few later when I’m a bit recharged or maybe others can chime in. #5 is quite intriguing, lol!

      BTW, off topic but I finally got around to reading and commenting on your Film Noire post over on Dancing With the Elephant. (This has been quite a heavy day of multi-tasking and catching up!). I’m still about halfway through the piece but I’ll finish it tomorrow.

  24. Well. I just want to get back to the genealogy which is one of my passions and main interests; not that I don’t find all the above fascinating as well! When reading one of the books about Michael, i.e. ‘A Visual Documentary 1958-2009. The Official Tribute Edition’ by Adrian Grant; in the Jackson family tree on Page 7, it shows that Samuel Jackson and Chrystal Lee King had four children, Joseph Walter, Luther, Lawrence and Verna. What was the name of the fifth child? I haven’t found anything in any other book. And yes, it is obvious where the Jacksons, particularly Michael and LaToya, got their stunning good looks from; from Chrystal. I loved this simply fascinating article. I’ll have to go back now and read the unread rest of the other 109 comments!

    1. It seems to depend on the source. Some sources I have found say five; others only four. I found a source posted by a Jackson family member that gave the number as five. I am wondering if perhaps there was a child that died in infancy? For example, if one looks up the number of children Joe and Katherine had, the number is sometimes listed as nine and sometimes as ten, depending on whether the count includes Brandon (and for Joe, 11 if the count also includes Jo’Vonnie). I’ve always believed that Brandon should be counted because he was born alive (as opposed to being miscarried or stillborn)according to Katherine’s account. She remembered hearing him cry, but then went unconscious from the drugs. By the time she came around again, she was told her son had died and had already been buried. She didn’t even get to attend the funeral. If memory serves me, I believe she said it was Crystal who took the only photos that ever existed of Brandon. She took photos at the funeral, but then those pics were lost and Katherine said she never got to see what her son looked like.

      When I was in Gary one of Joseph’s brothers was a guest. They called him “Martin” and I was confused about that at first but later realized this was Luther (full name Martin Luther Jackson, but apparently everyone knows him as “Martin.”). I believe one of them died in 2010, which would had to have been Lawrence since Luther was obviously alive and well in 2010 when I saw him.

  25. Thank you , Raven for answering or trying to answer a difficult question. All a bit varied. Sad about Brandon, and how awful for Katherine. She must have been very upset. Doesn’t sound good at all what happened and how it turned out. Thank goodness it wasn’t Michael, but I don’t think Fate would have allowed that!

  26. Off topic , but Michael related . I just read that Louis Johnson one of the Brothers ( Louis and George ) Johnson passed away at just 60. The BJ were a very famous funk group in the 70s/80s and Louis is ranked one of the worlds best bass guitar players .(I love Strawberry letter 23 ).
    Michael did back ground vocals on one of their albums and I read that he also co wrote with them.
    Louis played on Off the wall , Thriller and Dangerous, but he is most famous for playing the iconic bassline on BillieJean.

    “When I went to the session with ‘Billie Jean,’ I took like 10 basses and I lined ’em up. I’d say, ‘Michael, pick one,’ ” Johnson told Rolling Stone. “He’d pick one with the zebra wood on it. It had 12 different kinds of wood, different layers. It was dark brown and tan and light-colored, and it looked like a tiger or a zebra. Michael picked it because it sounded good. I hotrodded it. I beefed it up and put extra magnets underneath the pickups. I did all the things I knew how to do to get the best sound. That’s how come the bass sounded like that.”
    (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/22/entertainment/feat-obit-louis-johnson-brothers-johnson-rs/)

    Interestingly Louis Johnson is one of Michaels collaborators who was interviewed in 2013 by Steve Knopper for his upcoming book “MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson.”
    That is one point for Knopper, at least he did proper research with first hand interviews, no second hand information.

    Louis Johnons rendition of Billie Jean febr 2009

    Strawberry letter 23

    1. Very sad to hear. I well remember The Brothers Johnson and, of course, Billie Jean wouldn’t have been half the hit that it was without that iconic bassline. It is a sad reminder that Michael’s music wasn’t “just” great because of him; he also had a lot of great talent behind him.

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