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Duality and Michael Jackson: How One Rock Critic's Perspective From The Early 80's Proved Startlingly Prophetic

Michael Jackson In 1984, Already Recognized As A Man Of Many Complexities

Recently I was researching some info on the 1982 video “Say, Say, Say” starring Michael and Paul McCartney. In the course of my research, I was linked to a very fascinating (but mostly forgotten now) book from the early 80’s-“Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music And Society, 1954-1984 by popular culture and rock critic James M. Curtis. I was very intrigued by Curtis’s passages on Michael Jackson, which seemed to me not only very insightful for someone writing about Michael in 1984, but also startlingly prophetic in many ways.

I recall that in 1984, Michael Jackson was just beginning to stake a claim as a subject worthy of serious study by rock critics. Up until then, he had been largely dismissed as a child/teen bubblegum star. But in the early 80’s, as it became very apparent to music critics that the now grown up Michael Jackson was someone worth watching, it was not surprising that the serious music pundits would begin trying to analyze his appeal, especially as it was spilling over into previously untouched territory-the mostly white, suburbian youth market. It wasn’t that Michael Jackson was the first black artist with crossover pop appeal, nor could he even be argued as the first black artist to make a name for himself in the white-dominated world of rock-Jimi Hendrix had already blazed that trial, long before Michael. But Michael Jackson was the first black artist whose record sales and commercial appeal actually threatened to usurp the heretefore unshakable thrones of Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. That was something new-and a bit sinister in the minds of many.

In 1984 Michael Jackson was still at the height of his “Thriller” fame. There was as yet no major controversy attached to his name. Vitiligo hadn’t yet turned him “white”; although he’d had some cosmetic procedures done, his changing apearance hadn’t yet attracted attention to itself.  The makeup, long hair, false eyelashes, and eyeliner (which would later induce many to speculate on his masculinity) were still several years away-yet already, the term “androgynous” was being applied to him, and writers like James M. Curtis were already commenting on what they attributed as Michael Jackson’s “androgynous appeal.” In 1984, it would still be several more years until Michael evolved into his very calculated “Peter Pan” persona; before “Childhood” became his personal anthem-yet already, in 1984, Curtis was aptly writing about what he perceived as a burgeoning “child-man” persona. Lastly, it was still over a decade before Michael would tell us in songs like “Is It Scary” and “Threatened” that he was essentially holding his dark inner self up to light in order to cast a mirror on the duality that dwells within us all-and himself. But Curtis was already onto it, noting that even in works as early as “Thriller” and “Beat It” Michael was already presenting himself as the embodiment of both Dr. Jeckyll and Hyde-and Dr. Hyde, it goes without saying, is almost always more interesting in some ways than the goodly Dr. Jeckyll.

Well, he’s certainly far more intriguing. For the very same reason that Shakespeare’s Iago upstages the noble Othello, we are always more fascinated with darkness than good. And Michael seemed to understand that this duality would form the essence of his adult appeal.

James M. Curtis’s analysis of Michael Jackson’s dualities are divided into three sections: The Child/Man, Man/Woman, Good/Evil, and even as Singer/Dancer.  I will look at each of these three sections-examining what Curtis has to say, then following up with my own commentary/analysis. In most cases, I agree with him, but there are other points I disgaree on, and I will try to elaborate on some of those points as I go through.

First of all, let’s look at the commentary that originally compelled me to look up James M. Curtis’s passages from “Rock Eras” on Michael Jackson in the first place-namely, this Wikipedia passage regarding his statements on “Say, Say, Say” and that video’s prsentation of Michael Jackson as the “Child/Man”:

Two authors later reviewed the short film and documented two central themes. The first is a “Child/Man” theme; the role of both a boy and an adult, which writer James M. Curtis states Jackson plays throughout the music video for “Say Say Say”.[37] Curtis writes that the bathroom scene involving the shaving foam is reminiscent of boys copying their fathers. He adds that the scene marks “the distinction between Michael’s roles as a Child and as a Man”. The writer also highlights the part where the singer supposedly becomes strengthened with a miracle potion, a further play on the “Child/Man” theme.[37] Furthermore, Curtis observes that Paul and Linda McCartney seem to act as if they are Jackson’s parents in the short film.[37]The author also notes that in a scene where Jackson is handed a bouquet of flowers from a girl, it is a reversal of one from City Lights, a 1931 film starring Charlie Chaplin, whom the singer greatly adored. [37]


I googled Curtis’s book to follow up on what he had to say about Michael Jackson and the Child/Man theme. I found out then that the Child/Man was just one of several dualities that Curtis had already pinpointed as already evident in Michael Jackson’s work and persona as early as 1984. Due to copyright laws, I can only excerpt small, brief passages, but I’ll provide the links and page numbers so that you can read these passages in context with the original.

On page 322, Curtis has been describing the dual personae that Michael presents in the “Thriller” video, as both good boy and werewolf/bad boy, noting that by turns, Michael is both “one of them” (the ghouls) and one of us. Yet he seems to relish equally in either role-and either identity.

Like the myth of Frankenstein and his creator which preceded it, the myth of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde creates a dramatic image for the schizophrenia of the modern world. We are, and have been, fascinated by split personalities because they speak deeply to the split which we sense within ourselves. Michael’s capacity to combine these oppositions within a single persona thus has great appeal, for we think that if he can do it, so can we.-James M. Curtis, p. 322,  Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music And Society, 1954-1984.

However, what follows after this is a very in-depth take on how Michael Jackson, having succesfully joined the escutcheon of aloneness and isolation inherent to rock stardom, may suffer the fate of being the eternal child if he does not at some future point more fully embrace the “Man” as opposed to “The Child.”

Michael In "The Wiz": Technically Still A Child, But Ready To Prove Himself A Man...It Would Not Be An Easy Transition

Rock stardom is so intense and so exclusive that it cannot sustain a relationship. hence, Michael can succesfully represent aloneness. Moreover, his alonness clarifies the way his persona combines four oppositions of personal attributes…{W]hile he was still legally a child, Michael appeared in The Wiz [1978}, Motown’s remake of the Judy Garland classic The Wizard of Oz (1939). Like Michael, Judy Garland became a star as a child, and the Child constituted a signifigant part of her persona. The trouble was, her persona did not allow for growth, and her career in the fifties was often a lament for lost innocence. I mention Judy Garland here because her self-destructive personality anticipated the self-destructive personalities of rock stars. This similarity may explain the reappearance of her A Star is Born, which came out at the very beginning of the rock era in 1954, in a rock version starring Barbra Striesand and Kris Kristofferson(1976).

Judy’s fate may await Michael. Unless he becomes more of a Man, and less of a Child, his ability to perform will suffer, and at forty he could find himself singing “Billie Jean” as a lament.-James M. Curtis, p. 324, “Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music And Society, 1954-1984.”

Okay, here’s a good moment to take a pause and look at what Curtis is actually saying here. In hindsight of all we now know about how Michael’s life turned out, it’s easy to look at that passage and say, Yep, he had it right on the money. Well, yes and no. I certainly wouldn’t agree that Michael’s ability to perform ever suffered. But what we did indeed see as Michael approached forty was an almost defiant  intensification of the “lost innocence” theme. In fact, Michael would come to embrace this theme in an almost martyr-like fashion, playing the victim and often seemingly rationalizing what the world and media were perceiving as his increasingly “eccentric” (and, as some would insist after the allegations- even “sinister”) behavior.

But lest we get too caught up in thinking of this as simply one more part of Michael’s very complex persona, let’s not forget the very tragic lesson of Conrad Murray’s audio recording and Michael’s own words-painful reminders that for Michael, this “lost innocence” was no act; it was a very tragic reality for him.

However, I do know exactly where Curtis is coming from; or at least, the position he was writing from in 1984. In many ways, the early 80’s was a very awkward transition period for Michael Jackson. To the world at large, he was still very much little Michael from The Jackson 5. We had not yet quite conditioned ourselves to thinking of him as an adult-yet. Videos like “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” “Say, Say, Say,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” presented us with a young man who was obviously not a child anymore, but by the same token, most of us weren’t really quite ready to let go and think of him as a full-fledged adult yet, either.

This period represents an interesting time in which we can literally see the transformation from Child to Man taking place, with the videos often toeing the line between innocence and the burgeoning sex appeal of a man. Yet it was an envelope they were still being careful not to press too far-not yet. Not until they’d had a chance to see how America and the world would react to the new, grown-up Michael Jackson.

With female child stars, we often see this transitional period as a phase in which the child star is increasingly allowed to become more provocative. We’ve seen this over and over-Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, etc. With male child stars, it is often not as blatant, but looking back now and observing this period in Michael Jackson’s career, it seems to be a stage in which Michael-former child star and America’s Sweetheart- was testing the adult waters, while still being very careful and cautious not to alienate the audience or the fans who had made him famous-not yet, anyway.

"The problem With Being A Child Star Is, They Don't Want To Let You Grow Up"-Michael Jackson

Michael himself often said that the problem with being a child star is that “they don’t want to let you grow up.” There is truth in this, to be sure. What we would see with Michael Jackson for the rest of his adult solo career was an attempt to bridge the gap between Child and Man. However, we also have to keep in mind that Michael recognized the importance of the Child persona to his artistic integrity. Contrary to Curtis’s assertion that Michael would be artistically stymied by age forty, Michael actually proved that the Child would remain an artistically crucial and vital opposition to the Man.

But let’s get back to what Curtis had to say in 1984 about Michael’s sexual image, a passage that transitions into the discussion of the Man/Woman duality:

This second opposition in Michael’s persona does not so much contradict the first one as complement it. You first sense the feminine quality in his sexuality when you watch him lead the gang in the “Beat It” video in a series of aggressive bumps and grinds. Then, after doing this classic stripper’s move, he…flashes the audience. There’s no other way to describe it. He turns to face the camera, and whips open the sides of his unbuttoned jacket, only to close them again. Then, too, there’s a suggestion of traditional stereotypes of feminine sexuality in the cover photo for Thriller, where Michael sprawls langurously before us in his white suit with a couple of curls artfully arranged across his forehead. And let’s not forget that Michael is the first rock star in history who had a nose job.-James M. Curtis, p. 324, “Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music And Society, 1954-1984.”

The Scene That Used To Turn Me To Goo...There, I Admitted It!

I seriouly have to question whether Curtis knew for a fact that no other rock star before Michael had ever had a nose job! But those are some pretty interesting and “descriptive” comments regarding Michael’s body language in the “Beat It” video. There’s another very erotic scene in that video (I’m sure you all remember this shot!) where Michael is sitting poised on the edge of a pool table, and as he mouths the phrase “Beat it” turns to the camera with sensually parted open mouth, not so much singing as panting the words into the camera (that’s the scene that used to turn me to goo as a teen watching this vid!). A lot of the sexuality in that video  did seem very amped up and over-the-top, which begs the question: Why? Perhaps in addition to making the simple and obvious statement, “Hey, look at me, I’m all grown up and ready for action!” Michael was also, on a deeper level, bridging those oppositions-the duality of the video’s masochistic gang violence theme with the feminine sensibilities to “beat it.”

 Well, of course, that was only a small taste of what was to come in the next few years…Mr. Curtis hadn’t even seen the crotch grab yet! (Then again, kind of makes you wonder if the crotch grab wasn’t Michael’s answer to James M. Curtis! “Ok, dude, you think THIS is feminine?!”).

In "Beat It" The Sexuality Was Definitely Amped Up A Notch. But Was This Also A Subtle Message About Sex and Gender Roles?

But let’s get back to the point Curtis is actually making here, which he goes on to explain in more depth. As he explained, Michael Jackson may have come along at just the right time, when we, as a nation and a society, were reexamining all of the traditional roles of masculinity and femininity. He also acknowledges that Michael’s brand of androgynous appeal was certainly nothing new to rock.

This androgyny of Michael is not new, even among rock stars. David Bowie was probably the first major rock star with an adrogynous persona, but Mick Jagger also prances to mind as someone who learned to dance by watching Tina Turner, and who preens himself like a caricature of a woman onstage. Mick even poses as a cheap hooker on “Tattered”:”I can’t give it away on Seventh Avenue.” And before Mick, and the picture of the Stones in drag, there was Elvis. Specifically, Andy Warhol’s Elvis, which turns him into such a pretty boy that he comes across as feminine, even if he is holding a six-gun in each hand.

So Michael’s androgyny represents a culmination of the ambiguity which previous superstars have hinted at; but now, that ambiguity finds resonance in a much larger audience. If the opposition Child/Man enlarges Michael’s audience to include children, the opposition Man/Woman enlarges it to include teenyboppers. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 are starting to discover boys, but they’re still uncertain about the whole thing, so they like stars who are a little like themselves, a little feminine. They definitely do not want an idol who is a macho man. In the late 70’s, this section of the market was putting pictures of Shaun Cassidy and Scott Baio on their walls; by 1984, it was Michael Jackson.-James M. Curtis, p. 325, “Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music And Society, 1954-1984.

Frankly, I’m not sure that Mick Jagger’s brand of androgyny is the best comparison to Michael Jackson’s. Mick has always been very much the arrogant, prancing, flaming peacock onstage-not that there’s anything wrong with that! It’s Mick’s particular schtick and one he’s been doing to perfection for almost fifty years. However, if you compare a typical Mick Jagger performance to, say, Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” performance, you can see they are really coming from two totally, different spectrums as live performers-and that Michael Jackson is actually the much more dynamic of the two (perhaps again, precisely, because he embraced so many oppositions!). While Mick Jagger is a consummate performer and showman, he’s also mostly a one-trick pony onstage, whereas Michael was capable of many personas, all of which might be glimpsed and experienced in the breadth of a single show-even a single performance!

Perhaps in 1984 the choices of comparison were a bit more limited. As the 80’s progressed, and androgyny became more the norm in rock than the exception, it seemed at times that Michael was actually following the trend more than setting it. For sure, I think this goes a long way in explaining his increasingly androgynous late 80’s/early 90’s look in short films like Dirty Diana and Give In To Me, where he seems to be merely copying the pretty boy, hair metal look already popularized by bands like Motley Crue and Poison…or, considering the time period, merely blending in with the crowd.


Michael's Increasingly Androgynous/Glam Look of The Late 80's/Early 90's Probably Had As Much To Do With The Popularity Of Bands Like Poison and Motley Crue As Anything Else
Vince Neal of Motley Crue



 However, the popularity of this look-not just with Michael but with so many artists of the period-also raises another interesting question that Curtis fails to address. In fact, his whole analysis of the appeal of androgyny to young girls really smacks of a white, middle-aged male’s attempt to try to reconcile the erotic appeal of this seemingly “feminized” black man to females. Because the truth is, if the appeal of andogyny simply stems from some primordial fear of “maleness” that we females sense only at a certain age (puberty) that we’re not ready for, then why do women continue to find androgynous men sexy well into middle age and beyond? Or as I once put it to someone who was trying to argue this point with me, if the so-called “macho man” is supposed to be our society’s ideal of sexiness, then why is it always the skinny, long-haired, pretty boy in the band who seems to get all the action? Are we all simply closet lesbians, or is this indicative of something deep within the feminine psyche that the average male just doesn’t seem to “get?”

Michael Jackson seemed not only to “get it”, instinctively, but as the years progressed, he seemed to allow himself to more fully and-at times- brazenly embrace his feminine opposition. We saw the hair get longer; the makeup and eyeliner heavier; the public voice higher, as his physical appearance seemed to blur the lines of distinction between male and female-or, perhaps more accurately, our culture’s perceived definition of male and female. This seemed to come to a head in the gender-bending “Scream” video, in which Michael and Janet played on the whole idea of male/female identity (and perhaps also poking fun at the tabloid headlines that continually tried to portray them as being the same person!)

On The Set Of "Scream"...Taking Androgyny To New Heights

But-and this is where so many male critics have often been left scratching their heads in wonder!-the more androgynous Michael seemed to become over the years, the huger his international fan base became-especially among women. (And conversely, it seemed, the more the tabloids tried to convince the world that he had carved his face into a freak!). Talk about duality and opposition-so here is a man who is supposed to now look like a freak of nature, according to all the tabloids, yet women all over the world were still screaming, crying, and fainting in his presence like never before-certainly not the sort of mass reaction from the opposite sex one normally associates with someone who has been labeled “a freak!”).

When The media Tried To Say He Was a Freak, Michael's Female Fans The World Over Still Saw Only A Beautiful Man

However, I’m digressing. Let’s focus back on what James M. Curtis has to say, because I think he actually manages to explain the secret of Michael’s androgynous appeal quite well, and in the end, also redeems himself a bit for some of the things I questioned earlier:

But Michael is not a performer with limited appeal, like Shaun Cassidy, and he is not a sitcom star like Scott Baio. What keeps him from coming on like a wimp is the suggestion of evil in his persona. The suggestion of evil balances the goodness of his Child image, and of his role as a peacemaker in the “Beat It” video. -James M. Curtis, p. 325, “Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music And Society, 1954-1984.”

Now before anyone gets ruffled feathers, it might do to explain exactly what Curtis means by Michael’s “evil” persona. What he is referring to is actually not so much “evil” (which I personally think is a rather strong word choice) but simply the balance of “bad” vs. “good,” of “purity vs. impure”; of “light” vs. “dark.” Or perhaps more simply, the “bad boy” vs. “good.” This duality was, after all, a major essence of Michael’s appeal-that this same guy who could be so aggressively sexual and “all Man” onstage could then be so seemingly shy and “Child-like” off. It’s the same quality that keeps us endlessly debating what type of person Michael was; what he was or wasn’t capable of doing, saying, thinking, etc. But more importantly, it’s the opposition between good and bad; between moral and immoral; between the purity of childhood and impurity of adulthood that exists within all of us.

Curtis offers up a very interesting take on the single black glove that Michael wore at the American Music Awards and Grammy Awards that year. He points out that the character Khan in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) wore a single, black glove, its purpose being to denote that the character was “unbalanced.”

Most people didn’t notice how Montalban created that effect, but Michael did. Yet when Michael wears a single black glove, it creates balance, not imbalance, because of the implicit goodness in the Child part of his persona. As Paul McCartney once said in an interview on MTV, “Nice fella, Michael; talented, too.”That image as a nice fella, as a mere Child, could stifle Michael as it stifled Judy Garland. He seems to have some awareness of this danger, and so is creating room for growth in his persona.-James M. Curtis, pp. 325-326, “Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music And Society, 1954-1984.”

In an interesting sidenote to the black glove story, Michael later gifted this same black glove to David Smithey, a 14-year-old boy suffering from cystic fibrosis who died one month later, in May of 1984:

14-Year-Old David Smithey Received Michael's Black Glove and "Beat It" Jacket One Month Before His Death in May of 1984

In a passage which I will summarize because it’s too long to quote verbatim, Curtis returns to the duality which  Michael represents in the Thriller video. We see him as a good guy, then as one of the monsters. In the climactic scene, the girlfriend-Ola Ray-escapes to her house, only to find that even there the monsters are still trying to attack! Michael emerges from this scene as the good guy, after all-“it was only a dream.” But then, in the final scene, turns sneakily back to the camera with the cat eyes once again!

Which is the “real” Michael?

The answer remains purposely elusive, just as it would for the rest of Michael Jackson’s career.

So we were wrong about Michael; we were limiting him by dismissing him as sweet and harmless. That delicately featured face and sweet voice conceal, and occasionally reveal, a demonic quality which is not illusory but inherent in him. That is to say by helping us recognize a demonic quality in him, he is also recognizing that quality in ourselves.-James M. Curtis, p. 326, “Rock Eras:Interpretations of Music And Society, 1954-1984.


"We Were Limiting Him By Dismissing Him As Sweet And Harmless"-James M. Curtis

There is more. Curtis goes on to write about the future difficulty Michael may face in reconciling his artistry with the Jehovah’s Witness church (a dilemma solved when Michael broke away from the church a few years later, though I think the split remained an integral part of his personal conflict for years afterward). There is also a very interesting comparison to the lyrics of “Billie Jean” with that of the Miracles’ “Shop Around” which seques into a very nice segment about the future of music and visual art-interesting stuff, coming as it did at a time when Michael was at the forefront of this new, musical innovation known as music video.

Quoting video director Julian Temple, he says:

For rock video to progress, it’ll have to get to where the movie musicals of the 40’s were, when directors and composers worked together to create a vital third entity between the music and visuals. It’ll have to become more of a two-way street between directors and musicians.”-James M. Curtis, quoting Julian Temple, p. 329, “Rock Eras: Interpreations of Music and Society, 1954-1984.”

That Michael Jackson, in 1984, was already recognized as one of the pioneers of this art form no doubt explains why an entire chapter is dedicated to analyzing Michael Jackson’s then-current appeal. Already, he was the embodiment of the ultimate duality, bridging both music and visual artistry in a way that had never been done before.

And through this new medium, we would continue to be at turns fascinated, repelled, intrigued, titillated, enchanted, and kept guessing by this wondrous, magical Man/Child…for many delightful years to come.

You can check out more of James. M. Curtis’s book here:

More Of Michael In Memphis: A Very Special Story


A big thank you to morinen for sending these extra goodies to add to “Michael In Memphis.” I intended to add these to “Michael In Memphis”  but didn’t have enough space left, so I just decided to make a new post. Anyway, this is a very special story that I think deserves its own recognition!

But first, here’s an interesting souvenir left by Michael and Lisa Marie after their Memphis zoo visit. Hmmm…a little MJ/LMP humor, maybe?

And, turns out, there was a correlation between the St. Jude’s hospital visit and the Dutch fans in the record store. Remember the Dutch fan in the video, Jeroen Noppen, and the little girl with Michael and Lisa in the St. Jude’s video? Well, there was a very sad but touching story about the aftermath of that visit, and one that shows just what a generous and huge heart Michael had:

The other side of Michael Jackson

By Noppie  |  Posted February 27, 2010  

iReport — In October 1994 I organised a special tour to Memphis for Dutch Elvis Fans to attend the Elvis Aaron Tribute Concert in the Pyramid. We were aware of the fact that Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley would be present. Through my contacts at Graceland, I informed if there would be a possibility to meet the couple. But, they told me that that would be impossible. No person could meet the famous couple. We met in Memphis all kind of other famous artists and stars. On October 8th, we attended the concert in the Pyramid and, indeed, Michael Jackson & Lisa Marie Presley were introduced by John Stamos to the audience. They were there with Priscilla Presley and Janet Jackson. The audience went mad and this was a special moment. This tribute concert was one of a kind and very special. We met in our hotel, the former Ramada Inn down at Union Avenue, a mother who was there with two children. One of the children was suffering cancer and the child would be treated at the St. Judes Hospital in Memphis. It was very hard to see that young girl, knowing that her life would end soon. Later, during our stay in Memphis, we visited a record-store in Memphis. Suddenly we were surprised and astonished. Who walked in that store? Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley with a couple of body-guards! Of course my group went crazy, but I told them to keep quiet. I walked to one of the bodyguards and told him that I was a travel-agent and had 14 Dutch Elvis Fans with me and asked if it would be possible to take a picture from Michael and Lisa Marie. The body-guard went to Michael. Talked with him shortly, returned to me and asked; “where you from?” I responded “Holland, the Netherlands”.  Again, the bodyguard went to Michael and spoke shortly with him, returned to me and said; “No problem to take a picture, but let them first alone and do their shopping.” After a while, the bodyguard came up to me and told me that we could take some pictures. We took our cameras and position to take some pictures. Michael and Lisa Marie stood posing for us. Suddenly, the bodyguard came up to me and said; “What are you doing?” I was surprised and answered; “You told us, it was alright to take some pictures?”. The man answered; “Yes, but you can also say hello and talk with them.” So, the strange thing happened. We met Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. We talked with them for more than 20 minutes, could take pictures and let them sign cd’s. I spoke with Michael and I told him that I attended two of his concerts in ‘De Kuip’ in Rotterdam in 1988. He answered; “Oh, yes Amsterdam”.  But later he himself corrected it in said; “No, no it was Rotterdam.”  Also he was amazed that I knew that his tricks came from Siegfried and Roy. It was all amazing. He was shy, but relaxed. We could take pictures and also to the other people from my group, he was friendly. With Lisa Marie I spoke about the fact that I organised tours fro Dutch Elvis fans to Memphis and that I met her mother, Priscilla, a couple of times and the first one, was in Amsterdam. Other people were not allowed to come nearby and were surprised why we could talk with Michael and Lisa Marie. After more than 20 minutes we said goodbye and the couple left the store and left us behind. We went immediately to a photo shop and let our special photos printed. This was amazing. In Holland the news spread and we reached the media. The next day, I went by at Graceland. Bridget, receptionist at the office at that time, welcomed me and I showed her the pictures. She almost fell of her chair. “Wow!” And she screamed and yelled. I gave her one of the pictures. Later, I learned, that she placed the picture on her office-desk and that Priscilla Presley noticed this and also wanted a copy of that picture. Our meeting with Michael and Lisa Marie was special. We were the only people, who were allowed to meet and talk with them. But, I already mentioned the woman who was in the hotel with her little girl! The last evening in Memphis, my best friend, Gerwin, came in the room late in the evening. I was already asleep and wondered what he was doing with that woman. He woke me up and I saw that the woman was crying. Gerwin told me that I must do something and arrange some things. First I didn’t understand what he was talking about. Then came the story. Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley visited the St. Judes Hospital in Memphis and had also little gifts for the children. They also gave the little daughter of the woman we had met in our hotel a Barbie. But, this doll was stolen and although the girl was only 3 or 4 years, she knew that this was something special and she cried, cried and cried. Giving her just another doll would be no option. My friend knew I had my contacts at Graceland and wanted me to do something for this little girl. At that moment I could do nothing and early that next morning we flew back to Amsterdam. We gave that mother a couple of the pictures of our meeting with Michael and Lisa Marie and I told her, that I would try to do anything to take care of this matter. Back in Holland, I immediately send a fax to Patsy Andersen, at that moment PR Manager of Graceland, and explained the story. She told me, she would try to contact Michael Jackson as soon possible. Every day, my friend Gerwin, asked me if I already had heard something. I told him that it would be probably easier to get in touch with the President of the USA, than with Michael Jackson. On Christmas Eve, 1994, my telephone rang. It was Bridget from Graceland. For me it was not uncommon that I was called by Graceland and I thought that they wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas. I spoke shortly with Bridget and she connected me with Patsy. Patsy told me that she had good news and bad news. The good news was that Michael finally responded and had sent a box with gifts for that little girl. Patsy immediately went to the hospital. When she came to the St. Judes Hospital she learned that the little girl passed away, the day before! Patsy traced through the hospital the address from the mother. Patsy informed Michael Jackson. As I learned later, Michael received this shocking news and sent another package with gifts to the mother and the other child and also he called himself that woman. He apologized and spoke a long time with that woman. This is a very rare, but real, story about the other side of Michael Jackson and I wish I could get in contact again with that woman.

Thank you again, morinen, for finding and sharing that wonderful story!

Michael In Memphis

On The Roof Of Woolco's In Memphis...The Only Safe Haven For This Teen Sensation!

You’ve all heard of the six degrees of separation, right? Though I never had the fortune to meet Michael in person, it never ceases to amaze me to learn just how closely our paths often (nearly) intersected. I’ve mentioned before how I only very recently learned that one of my best friends had a brother in California who used to do cosmetology work for the Jackson family. And, of course, I have written about Michael’s family ties to Alabama, my home state-and a place he visited often. In 1984, Michael, along with his brothers, rehearsed for the Victory tour in Birmingham, which meant for two whole weeks Michael Jackson was less than two hours down the road from me. It was no secret, of course, that he was here-the local news broadcasts made sure we got all the latest updates on “Michael sightings.” But alas, I was not able to take advantage of this golden opportunity to do a little Michael stalking-in those days, I barely had transportation to get to the corner store, let alone a two hour road trip. But since those days, I’ve developed a very avid interest in Michael Jackson’s ties to the South and his time spent here.

Last weekend I did get to go on a very amazing road trip to Memphis, which is about a four hour drive by car-a perfect straight shot for a weekend getaway of barbecue and Memphis blues-and if you’re smart, you can do it for a bargain price!  Memphis, of course, is one of those famous music cities that every music lover must experience at least once in their lifetime. The long list of iconic musicians who have either hailed from Memphis or called Memphis home is an exhaustive one-W.C. Handy, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, just to name a very few. Then, of course, there is the biggest name of all that everyone associates with Memphis, Tennessee-Elvis Presley.

As we strolled Beale Street, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds- including all of the stars of every performer who had ever graced the stage of The Orpheum, the cement hand prints of Jerry Lee Lewis, and the memorials to Sam Phillips and Johnny Cash- I couldn’t help but wonder if Michael Jackson had ever walked the streets of Memphis. It would stand to reason that he had-after all, he had one very, very big connection to Memphis-and we all know what that connection was!

From 1994 to 1996, in fact, Michael had good reason to be in Memphis. For awhile, however brief, it was Michael’s hometown. Well, by marriage, that is.

Shortly after I returned from my trip, I saw this article, posted by Orthodiva on the website Positively Michael. The article originally appeared in The Daily Helmsman, an independent University of Memphis newspaper:

Michael Jackson Mania

By Michelle Corbet

News Reporter
Published: Monday, November 21, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 15:11

Sheila Guerrero’s collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia occupies an entire bedroom, with items ranging from dolls and posters to sleek white gloves.

Sheila Guerrero, 17, and her friend couldn’t afford a ticket to the show, but they convinced a TV cameraman to take them past security to use the bathroom. The two friends waited anxiously in the bathroom several hours for the show to start.

People began to arrive around 7 p.m. They started asking if anyone knew where Michael would be. A woman told them he was supposed to be in Suite 7. So, clad in their Looney Tunes t-shirts and blue jeans, they made their way through the crowds of ball gowns and tuxedos to look for their beloved King of Pop.

As they waited outside of Suite 7, security started to gather. Ten minutes later, the elevator door opened and Guerrero knew it was Jackson from just a glimpse of his right satin-covered shoulder.

She started to scream and cry.

The former Jackson Five front man came up to her and said, “Aw, don’t cry. It’s okay.”

Guerrero, a junior journalism major, willingly admits that her wedding day didn’t compare to that moment.

Aretha Shotwell and Sheila Guerrero have been “Michael Jackson friends for life” since junior high school.

“Our friendship has been greatly influenced by our love for Michael because we both got a chance to see him at the Pyramid, and that is a memory only the two of us share,” Shotwell said.

Guerrero and Shotwell met Michael Jackson when he came to the Pyramid with Lisa Marie Presley for an Elvis Tribute concert in 1994.

Guerrero started her own fan club, “Michael Jackson Fans Speak Out,” in 2009 to support the pop singer faced with child molestation allegations. Most recently, she flew to Los Angeles to be present in the trial investing Michael Jackson’s death.

Guerrero decided to go to Los Angeles at the time of the Michael Jackson trial for her birthday. She knew the trial would be ending near her birthday, Nov. 4. Guerrero arrived in L.A. Thursday, Nov. 3, and by Monday, Nov. 7, the jury had reached a verdict. Conrad Murray, Jackson’s former doctor was guilty.

Michael Jackson fans were chanting in the streets. Guerrero described it as pandemonium.

Guerrero was quoted in several articles written by CNN and Daily News Los Angeles the day after the trial results. There are numerous videos of Guerrero on NBC Los Angeles and, most notably, an interview by CNN correspondent Jane Velez-Mitchell.

During the interview, Guerrero expressed her happiness, thanked God and said, “Michael deserves justice, his family deserves justice and his fans deserve justice.”

Velez-Mitchell spoke with Guerrero while the crowd waited for the verdict.

“She said, ‘When we get the verdict, I want to interview you first,'” Guerrero said.

“I was so proud and excited for her. I happened to be watching that channel, and I saw the interview so I sent her a text message,” Shotwell said.

David Evans, professor of American folk and popular music, said Memphis’ own Elvis Presley would be the closest precedent to Michael Jackson and the type of fans who follow him.

He said Marilyn Monroe and Jim Morrison also have a cult following similar to that of Michael Jackson. Evans described such celebrities as having unexplainable charisma and artistry.

“He’s different from the others, as he started as a child star and always retained something of that child quality in his persona. He sort of drew the image of the charismatic performer to a younger age level. He appealed as a dancer as well as a singer-songwriter. He’s a cult figure of the video age and essential things about him, like age and gender, had a lot of ambiguity,” Evans said.

Guerrero’s love for the King of Pop started in her childhood when Michael Jackson was topping the charts with “Thriller.” But her favorite song is “Keep the Faith,” from Jackson’s “Dangerous” album.

“I would listen to that song when I was going through tough times at home or in my neighborhood,” Guerrero said.

After Jackson’s death in 2009, Guerrero started a non-profit organization, “Stop the Hurt. Start the Healing.” The group’s focus is to continue Michael Jackson’s mission to heal the world by helping those who are less fortunate.

“I always wanted to do something meaningful, I wanted to continue his legacy of humanitarianism,” Guerrero said.

“Stop the Hurt. Start the Healing” is having its third annual Christmas toy drive for Hope House Day Care. Guerrero said Hope House is one of the few facilities that care for children with HIV. Guerrero’s group will be at the Wal-Mart on Austin Peay Highway collecting toys on Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to noon.

“We have it the first week of December to commemorate world AIDS days,” Guerrero said. “Michael Jackson was on advocate for AIDS and sick children.”

Guerrero continues to do charitable works through “Stop the Hurt. Start the Healing,” and is already planning her next trip to L.A.

“She has accomplished a lot over the years; everything she does through her foundation is in honor of Michael, and she wants to continue on with his legacy,” Shotwell said.…6#.Tswcrlb4J-E

Seeing this article right on the heels of our trip to Memphis last weekend, I became curious and started researching what I could find on Michael’s times in Memphis. The story about Michael attending the Elvis Presley tribute show at The Pyramid intrigued me, since The Pyramid was one of the sights we took in (you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen this architecturally unique beauty of an arena which sets right on the banks of the Mississippi!).

The Pyramid, Where Michael Attended An Elvis Tribute Show In 1994. This Beautiful, Unique Structure On The Banks Of The Mississippi Stands Out Against The Memphis Skyline!

I happened to remember that, long ago, I had seen a video of Michael and Lisa Marie, along with Janet and Priscilla Presley, at an Elvis tribute show. What I recalled most about the video was how loudly the crowd cheered for Michael-and how utterly ticked off Priscilla looked, apparently irritated that Michael was getting louder cheers than either her or Lisa (or perhaps maybe because Michael milked it a little longer than Mama Priscilla thought “proper,” lol!).

I wondered if this was the video of that night at The Pyramid. Well, a little googling and…voile’! It was.

So I had some fun watching it again, just for the heck of it. You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Watch this video and you can pretty much see, within those few seconds, the entire history of the Jackson/Presley marriage played out-along with everything that probably went wrong with it! Michael is the only one who seems genuinely happy to be there; he’s frisky and playful with Lisa, and of course, loving the attention from the crowd. But is he loving it just a little too much? You can read the expressions on Lisa’s and Priscilla’s faces, loud and clear! And here is Lisa, sitting right in the middle between Michael and Priscilla-just as one can imagine she positioned herself throughout the marriage! But notice how it is Priscilla that she takes her cues from. And it is Lisa who smooths over the awkward moment by whispering to her mother that they should all stand again.Looks like Priscilla was more than a bit tiffed at her son-in-law getting so much attention and adoration at her ex-husband’s tribute show!


This find led me to other videos. Apparently, Michael and Lisa Marie’s October, 1994 and September, 1995 visits to Memphis were especially well documented-and a source of never ending fascination for the local media!

In 1995, they visited The Memphis Zoo. The commentary for this video was a tad snarky, though I did have to laugh at the analogy of a Michael Jackson sighting to that of “a rare species” and the comment about Lisa looking so miffed. “Maybe Michael wouldn’t buy his lovely wife a snowcone.” Oh, and he apparently wasn’t one for sitting down until the train was fully stopped!


They also visited a record store where the couple made the day of several Dutch fans when they signed autographs and posed for pictures. If you watch closely, you can also catch some other rare images of Michael and Lisa in Memphis:


Jeroen Noppen was one of those lucky fans that day. In this video, he talks a little about that experience although it is in Dutch (if someone can translate, I’d love to know exactly what he says!). The part about Michael begins at about 5:44:


Of course, Michael never visited any city without taking time out for the sick and needy children. Memphis, home to St. Jude’s Hospital, was certainly no exception. Here is a rare clip of Michael and Lisa visiting St. Jude’s. Michael spent a lot of time with this little girl in the video, whom he teased about being “more shy than me.”


More of Michael and Lisa at St. Jude’s:


And here is a clip that gives a little more background story on this visit as well as highlighting other interesting bits of trivia about the couple’s time in Memphis. Apparently, they had plenty of papayas and melon at the hotel-Michael liked his fruit on the exotic side!


Ironically, a very young Michael Jackson was also in Memphis long before marriage to Lisa Marie, the very same year that his famous, future father-in-law died there-1977. A local Memphis DJ recalled that visit, which ended with Michael and his brothers being forced to take refuge from fans atop a Woolco department store!,0,662059.story

One can only wonder if a 10-year-old Lisa Marie might have been among that crowd, checking out her future husband.

Well, I don’t know about that, but I did do some more digging and found this very interesting and touching account of that 1977 visit:

 Michael Jackson On the Roof Of Woolco In Memphis, Tennessee, In 1977


Robot A. Hull

29 Jun 2009

When Michael Jackson appeared on the roof of Woolco in Southgate Shopping Center in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1977, he had no idea that one day he would be wed to the daughter of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and that he would even vye for the King’s throne.

Then, Michael was not yet the beknighted King of Pop. In fact, he was more one of the Five, and not yet the grand amalgamation of pop cultural touchstones that he would become.

As the story has been told, the Jackson 5 were appearing that evening in concer and had just visited the South’s great R&B radio station, WDIA. Michael and his brothers were eager to please their fans, and that would mean going into the community to sign autographs. So WDIA planned a remote broadcast at a Woolco in the Southgate Shopping Center on South Third.

Although Woolco was selling Jackson 5 recordings, the manager of the store had never even heard of the group. As a result, nobody at this particular Woolco had anticipated what would happen when they opened the doors of the store despite the fact that the store was actually selling tons of their records.

Of course, hundreds, then thousands, of fans rushed in to meet the young pop icons. One estimate is that at least 10,000 people had been waiting in the parking lot to see the group.

The WDIA handlers decided to put the Jackson 5 on the roof for everyone’s safety.

Up there, Michael and his fans waved and dropped autographs down to the crowds. People were screaming one name: MICHAEL! MICHAEL! MICHAEL!

Many of the fans were angry because they had not gotten a chance to get close to the group. The enormous crowd gathered into a storm, and people began looting the Woolco store, completely cleaning it out. The store was torn apart.

Eventually the Jackson family paid for the damages.

One eyewitness who was present at the Great Michael Jackson Woolco Riot describes the event through a similar experience that occurred in Memphis in 1977:

“The best way to explain it is like when Elvis Presley died.

I was in Sessel’s Grocery Store as a sacker across the street from Graceland when people heard Elvis died. People stopped their cars in the middle of traffic in front of his mansion and got out and prayed.

People fell out in the aisles of the grocery store in tears. There were post cards with Elvis’ picture on them. People took them and walked out of the store with the post cards and put them on the store front glass. People took fruit, busted the glass out, never removing the photo from the glass, cutting themselves.

Traffic was backed up for five miles in 2 directions. You had to drive nearly 30-40 miles to get home when you would normally just drive 2 miles.

To say that people didn’t love Elvis those days was blasphemy.

Just today a young girl heard me playing Micheal’s music. She said didn’t I know he was dead and she thought he was a freak.

Someday as you grow older you will learn the very meaning of your words and how your very words can influence a world like his did. Because When Micheal died, I lost a friend, a friend that had lost his way.”

Woolco ceased operations in the United States in 1982. Michael died in 2009. Somewhere in between Michael Jackson became bigger than life.

Hey, he even married Dead Elvis’ daughter! Fucking amazing!!

Flash forwarding now to 2009, Memphis reacts to the death of Michael Jackson:


Despite the infamous Presley/Jackson rivalry that fans from both camps have been perpetuating ever since Michael and Lisa married in 1994 (and even long before, when Michael began breaking Elvis’s records) it’s clear that Memphis loves Michael. He may not be “King” here-in the heart of Memphis, it does no good to argue who their “King” is-but the town that Elvis called his throne nevertheless  has a definite soft spot for its favorite son…er, son-in-law, that is.