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Rebutting Wyman and "The Education of Michael Jackson"-Part One

In 1991, Michael Asked The Question: "Why You Wanna Trip On Me?" That's Because By '91, Everybody Was!

Ever notice there are some writers who just stick under your craw with their dogged determination to either dehumanize Michael Jackson on the one hand, or to continue to perpetuate old cliches’ and worn out myths about him on the other? Bill Wyman is one of those who has been very subtley at it for years, while masking himself as one of those “fair and balanced” writers just because he acknowledges Michael Jackson’s musical genius (but then, let’s face it, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Michael had unique, musical genius). Anyone can acknowledge his musical talent. But in the last twenty years, most have been only too willing to jump the bandwagon of diminishing his humanity, and judging from two articles I recently compared-one going all the way back to 1991, and the other as recent as 2009-Wyman has been no exception.

“I Want Me Back: The Education of Michael Jackson” was a jewel I discovered when I was researching my recent article on Michael’s honorary doctorate degree. Naturally, googling and searching the net for any and all articles pertaining to Michael’s formal education led to some surprising discoveries, since such searches will naturally cross reference many other related articles. So on discovering this, I decided it was worth filing away for future reference-and rebuttal.

Something that is always interesting to me is to find old, original  articles written on Michael from various eras, especially that transitional period from the late 80’s into the 90’s when we can actually track the beginnings and rise of the “Wacko Jacko” caricature, and how it came to be created. And please forgive me for using that offensive term; however, we all know it was-and continues to be-a term that was/is actually used, so if I use it in the context of trying to analyze its origins and why/how it all came about, bear with me. It is as necessary as understanding why the “N” word exists, and we can’t get to the truth without sometimes dealing with the unpleasantries of truth.

Bill Wyman’s “I Want Me Back: The Education of Michael Jackson,” while full of inaccuracies and based mostly on speculation and questionable sources, does at the very least serve as an interesting time capsule piece, taking us back to that era when “Black or White” had just been released, when the controversy over the video was still fresh on everyone’s mind, and to a time when people were starting to ask a lot of questions about Michael Jackson, questions that we have to understand AT THE TIME did not have any ready answers forthcoming (for example, in ’91 it would still be another two years before Michael would come forward to tell the world he had vitiligo-an explanation that should have ended all of this nonsensical speculation about skin bleaching then and there, but as we know, did not). However, it’s not so much Wyman’s ignorance on the subject that I call into question-after all, no one in 1991 really understood what was happening to Michael’s skin, or why his color was apparently changing-but rather, his quickness to accept unsubstantiated sources and explantions for truth. Sadly, it’s a phenomenon that has remained all too prevalent when reporting on Michael Jackson.

It is interesting for another reason, also, in that it reveals that perhaps the seed was already being planted for the Chandler accusations a full TWO years prior. I’ll explain more about that when we get to that particular segment of the article.

It’s not that I disagree with the entire article. Most of what he writes in the early passages are not really up for dispute, though there are some small things I call into question. It is the latter half I am mostly concerned with. But for the sake of context and historical interest, I will include the piece in its entirety.

First of all, if you’re interested in reading the full piece without my commentary, here is the link:

But now let’s pick it apart and separate truth from fiction. What I will do, to make this easy to follow, is to quote a paragraph or two from Wyman’s article (which will be block quoted) followed up by my own commentary and analysis, which will not appear in quotes. Boldfaced passages in the quoted sections are my emphasis. It’s a rather long piece, so hopefully this format will make the task somewhat easier to break down.

Look at them one way and you see the Jacksons–the working-class Gary family that produced the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson–at an extraordinary pinnacle of money and power. About a year ago, 25-year-old Janet–the former child star of the TV show Good Times, just a toddler at the time of the Jackson 5’s biggest success–closed a deal with Virgin Records that industry analysts estimate was worth between $30 and $50 million for perhaps only two albums. The same month, her brother Michael signed the largest entertainment deal of all time, worth not a billion dollars, as Sony’s PR apparatus crowed, but as much as $50 or $60 million per album, if Jackson’s records sell at their current rate. There are people who deplore such figures, but it’s not clear why–both Michael and Janet deserve their money, and probably more: Janet generated somewhere in the vicinity of $75 million for her last two album releases, Michael somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million, not counting singles. Has ever a pair of siblings–working independently, no less–achieved such reward or recognition?

Those two deals–which make the pair arguably the highest-paid artists in any medium, ever–were indeed the culmination of a vast family saga; but it is the Jacksons’ tragedy that both Michael and Janet have, in certain key ways, repudiated their family. They both remain in contact with their brothers, sisters, and parents, but they’ve separated themselves artistically and financially. The five oldest brothers’ singing group, the Jackson 5, was managed and controlled by their father, Joseph Jackson, an assembly-line worker and frustrated musician. The Jackson 5 were supposed to be a classically happy family; when they established themselves as a draw in Las Vegas, the show ultimately featured all nine kids, including the 5 (Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael), younger brother Randy, and the three girls: Rebbie, La Toya, and Janet, the youngest, who even at the age of five was bringing down the house with an imitation of Mae West. When Jermaine married Berry Gordy’s daughter, Hazel, the show-business wedding of the year was widely viewed as the coming together of two dynasties.

At this point, I have no dispute with the article, as Wyman is mostly stating well known facts. Obviously, Michael and Janet were (and remain) the most succesful solo artists of the Jackson clan, and it was almost a running joke in the family as to who would top who and land the biggest record deal. However, Wyman is also employing a very sneaky and well known tactic that has been used over and over with writers who intend, ultimately, to create a hit piece on Michael. In acknowledging that Michael’s subtantial rewards for his musical contributions are justified, he is simply setting the stage so that when he flips the coin to then discuss how tragic it is that his personal life has disintegrated into such a circus, no one can accuse him of being unfair or unbalanced. He sets the stage here  by building up to a convenient way to introduce the dysfunction of the Jackson family-which, of course, is inevitably where most hit piece writers and journalists always begin when trying to analyze the root causes of Michael’s “demons” (in itself an overused phrase that has played itself out every time a sensationalistic writer is looking for a convenient way to label the issues Michael dealt with in his life). The insinutaion is clear-Michael’s “education” began at home.

But the truth was of course much different, as a couple of new books confirm. J. Randy Taraborrelli’s well-researched Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness (Birch Lane Press) and La Toya (Dutton), the amusing if untrustworthy autobiography of the family’s second-oldest sister, both portray the family as a fetid swamp of pain, manipulation, and destructiveness. Joseph, evidently, was a feckless father and an unceasing tyrant, beating both the boys and the girls regularly: the children spent their early years terrified of him, their later years holding him in cold contempt. (To the children he was always “Joseph,” never “father”.) The adored mother, Katherine, tried to control her husband’s temper, and, failing, took solace among the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was an unfortunate choice for a number of reasons, among them the religion’s insularity: it only served to isolate the children even further from anything vaguely like normality. Joseph was reputedly a rabid womanizer and had at least one child outside the marriage; his attempts to have his extrafamilial progeny meet his legal children were treated with scorn and disgust, at least by Michael and the daughters. His values were passed down efficiently to most of his male progeny, whose marriages disintegrated amid charges of adultery and, in several cases, physical abuse. It’s a dark picture, and could be even darker: In The Magic and the Madness, which was published before La Toya, Taraborrelli details the negotiations that went on between Michael and La Toya over what were supposed to be allegations in her then-unfinished book that both she and Michael had been sexually molested as children. In the end, neither allegation was included in La Toya’s book; the book was dedicated, however, “to all the children of the world and to people who have suffered any form of abuse.”

The disparity pulling at the Jacksons–the happy aggregation trotted out for the PR photos versus the unhappy internal one torn by strife–finally began to wear the family down. Flailing, their actions increasingly took on the flavor of dependency: they became addicted to Michael, whose disproportionate financial success eventually transformed him from the second-youngest brother to the de facto head of the family. By the mid-80s, the artistic affairs of the rest of the family were essentially moribund–yet still the Jackson household buzzed with potential activity. Promises of millions poured in for the family or the brothers to do just about anything–anything, that is, that Michael would do, too. The most comical scenes in Taraborrelli’s book come when Korean representatives of the Unification Church visit the family’s Encino manse, Hayvenhurst, to persuade the Jacksons to tour South Korea. As Taraborrelli tells the tale, the Koreans promised $7 million, $10 million, $15 million for just a few nights of music–nights that would, of course, include the music of Michael Jackson. Absolutely, said Joseph, who routinely made deals on the basis of things he wished would happen. Great, said the Koreans, here’s a Rolls-Royce. And one for you, and you, they said to anyone–family or staff–who got within reach. Michael was done touring with his brothers, but by this point neither the Koreans nor the Jacksons were ready to take no for an answer. The Koreans finally announced a $1 million cash bounty to whichever family member signed Michael up for the tour. This might have been more difficult than it was, but the biggest pop star in the world, with a net worth far into the hundreds of millions, still lived at home. Things were approaching a fever pitch–Michael’s bodyguard got $500,000 from the Koreans, the bodyguard’s girlfriend a Rolls-Royce–when the family, crazed like a junkie, finally persuaded their ace in the hole, Katherine, to beg her son to help his brothers once again. He caved in–only to have the Koreans back home balk at the money their representatives had been offering. The tour never happened.

Balanced Biography Or Tabloid Trash? One Thing's For Sure, By 1991, This Book Was Influencing The Way EVERYONE Thought About Michael Jackson...For Better Or Worse

Well, here is where things start to get interesting. This is going to be an article all about dishing dirt, innuendo, and gossip. Who woulda thunk it, right? Of course, given that the average reader is far more interested in dirt, innuendo, and gossip than artistic achievements, maybe we can’t really fault Wyman for that. But notice that in the very first sentence of this passage, he identifies his two main sources for all of the dirt, innuendo, and gossip that will follow, all of which he will pass off as fact without apparently having bothered to check any other sources. Furthermore, it’s interesting that he even notes that Latoya’s autobiography is “untrustworthy” and will acknowledge in a succeeding paragraph that Taraborelli’s biography is flawed (“not a great biography,” he states, and even acknowledges his own doubts that Taraborelli had much acquaintance with Michael beyond a professional interview) yet, for all those fully acknowledged doubts, still proceeds nevertheless to quote from both sources as gospel.

For the record, I am not totally anti-Taraborelli, as some are. It’s just that I’m also not one of those who automatically takes everything he has written about Michael Jackson as gospel, either. I have used his book as a source, just as I have read and used many books on Michael, but the trick to using any book or writer as a source is having the ability to think critically and to trust what is reliable information as opposed to what is unsubstantiated innuendo. Any hack writer can tell you that relying on unnamed “sources” is one of the oldest tricks in the book for allowing license to write most anything-after all, how is anyone going to be able to verify the word of an “unnamed source” or the reliability of their information? Tabloid writers have known this trick for years!

There is also a very good reason why Taraborelli has continued to revise and rewrite this biography. To his credit, he has been willing to revise and reexamine some of his earlier held beliefs and theories, such as Michael’s intimate relations with women. On the negative side, this biography has been monumental in establishing what has become many firmly entrenched media myths about Michael Jackson. Taraborelli was largely responsible for perpetuating the myth that Michael used skin lightening products (which then gave his detractors all the ammunition needed to purport the ‘skin bleaching” myth) and was a victim of body dysmorphic disorder. While I do believe Michael had this disorder to some degree (I remember David Nordahl telling me that Michael was always convinced he was “so ugly”) too often it has been exaggerated and lumped in with any discussion about his cosmetic surgeries, further perpetuating the false myth that he was a cosmetic surgery “victim” when the reality was that he was never, at any time, the disfigured and virtually unrecognizable “freak” that the media liked to portray. I also believed Theresa Gonsalves when she told me that Taraborelli intentionally twisted her account of her friendship with Michael.

Though She Would Later Betray Michael In '93, Latoya's 1991 Autobiography Spared Her Brother Much Of The Scathing Criticism Of The Rest Of The Family

As for Latoya’s autobiography, I do believe there was a lot of truth to it, even though some things may have been exaggerated. We have to keep in mind she was still under the abusive influence of Jack Gordon when she wrote it, and that Gordon actually attempted to extort the family in exchange for the book not being published. The demands went unmet, so the publication proceeded.

In some ways, knowing Michael came from such a dysfunctional upbringing has made me feel a lot closer to him on a personal level, because I endured many of the same things that Michael, Latoya, and the other kids experienced. But there is another truth to keep in mind as well, an oft-repeated saying that nevertheless bears repeating here: Every family, to some extent, is dysfunctional. Who can really, honestly say they come from a “normal, happy” family-and who defines what is normal, or happy, anyway? As a show business family, the Jackson’s lives have been held up for public scrutiny, with every domestic drama and dispute becoming tabloid fodder. And, no doubt, the family members themselves have contributed to this by using their relationship with the press and unique position to air the family’s dirty linen every time a personal spat arises.

Note the loaded phrase (boldfaced above) where Wyman, paraphrasing Taraborelli’s account of the Korean concert promotors, refers to the Jacksons as being “crazed like a junkie” over the Rolls-Royces and other perks being offered. You can see here that the roots are being laid for the media’s current tendency to label the Jacksons as a greedy, money grubbing family, a stigma that has stuck to this day and which has been used against them in many unjustifiably cruel ways. Just for example, in the days and weeks right after Michael died, at a time when normally you would expect people to be sympathetic, the media instead seemed to be using his death as an excuse to shift their disdain for Michael onto his family (and sadly, we are seeing the same thing happening now with his children). Sometimes we might hear a word of sympathy expressed for Michael’s elderly mother, but in general, the reports were very snarky as reporters seemed more caught up in trying to find ways to bash the family and accuse them of some greedy ploy (a trend that continues).

Love Them Or Hate Them, But No One Can Deny They Are The Closest Thing We Have To American Music Royalty

I’ll just say here that I am very much aware of some of the things Michael had to say in private regarding certain family members. But regardless of whatever Michael may have felt or said in the privacy of his home, to his most trusted friends and confidantes, that doesn’t change the fact that there has been a real paradigm shift in the way the media has represented this First Family of American Music, and I say this without reservation because the Jacksons are deserving of our respect. This is a family that overcame incredible odds, that broke racial barriers,and established a musical American dynasty. The closest white equivalent we have to them is The Osmonds, but come on! The Osmonds aren’t even remotely in the same league as The Jacksons. Whatever dysfunction may exist within should not detract from their accomplishments or their very deserved recognition. Yet I’ve always suspected that some of this may, in part, be racially motivated, that perhaps the idea of America’s most powerful musical family just happening to be an African-American family was maybe a little too threatening for some.

Anyway, I am digressing. Let’s turn our attention back to Wyman:

Taraborrelli was an editor at Soul magazine when the Jacksons broke big. There’s no sense in his book that he’s had anything but the rarest professional interview with Michael in the years since, the most recent of these a bizarre early-80s session in which Michael required all questions and answers be routed through sister Janet. Taraborrelli’s book is not a great biography, and it could be fleshed out more with reporting from the real world–there’s little perspective from the record companies, for example, or the industry generally. But he obviously has a lot of sources around the Jackson household, and he gives an accordingly ferocious insider’s view of this benighted family. Katherine Jackson, long suffering, was fond of saying that she wished they were back in their little house in Gary. Life there was no picnic either, it turns out, but about halfway through this long and lacerating book you want to grant her just that one wish.

Michael Jackson is a difficult person to figure out, because he doesn’t play by the rules other “superstars” do. He’s not an “artist” in the sense that he has anything to say, or feels a need to play a certain sort of music in a certain way. He’s not really an “interpreter,” either: you don’t get the sense that he records a tune because he feels an affinity with it, or because he thinks he might add some meaning to it. All of these common motivations are subordinated to what he does best (and better than anyone else), which is sell records. In this sense he is the most perfect of pop stars.

Ooh boy, where is Joe Vogel when you need him? Well, okay, I will grant this one to Wyman for two reasons-first of all, it’s his opinion, which he’s entitled to, and secondly, this was still some time before the HIStory album would prove beyond a doubt that Michael was an artist with plenty to say, about a lot of things. But even here, at the time of Dangerous, Michael was already making a a very strong stance on social issues such as racism, poverty, hunger, and AIDS (which he alludes to in “Why You Wanna Trip On Me” and even “Gone Too Soon,” which is not just a syrupy ballad, but a song dedicated to Ryan White, an AIDS victim). Not to mention, this article was written a full six years after “We Are The World” and four years after the huge success of “Man In The Mirror” (and how anyone could overlook that performance as being the work of a master interpreter, as well as “Human Nature,” I have no idea!). Clearly, it’s erroneous then to claim that Michael was “not an artist” based on the grounds that he did not have “anything to say.” More likely, I would either chalk this up to a case of severe short-sightedness (that Wyman was one of those so busy focusing on Michael’s dance tunes that he missed everything else) or-dare I say it?-a purposeful attempt to downplay Michael’s importance as an artist.

"I Had To Tell Them I Ain't Second To None"-Perhaps It Was No Coincidence That Michael Proclaimed Those Words in '91 As Well

Speaking of Joe Vogel, this is a piece that anyone inclined to believe Wyman’s “opinion” should read, and you will see that I’m not so far off base in wondering about the true motivations of writers who, through the years, have been so quickly and shallowly dismissive of Michael’s work:

Here is the thing. When writers and so-called “critics” are praising the “genius” of Michael’s musical accomplishments, they are usually without fail referring to Thriller and sometimes Off The Wall, both albums that are heavy on dance tunes. Off The Wall is a brilliant disco album; Thriller is noted for its mostly feel good tunes like the title track and “Billie Jean” (even if albeit  that is a pretty dark song if you really listen to it!). Critics universally embraced these albums but one also has to wonder if this wasn’t partly because they were only willing to accept Michael as a “song and dance” man, and that once he began pushing the envelope with more social and controversial topics-once it was no longer just about fun and good times-they began downplaying his importance and his impact.

It is also interesting, from a historical perspective, to note that this article came out right about the time that the Dangerous album was creating those first, early ripples; those first indications that Michael’s music was about to go in a much darker, more personal, and more political direction.

Additionally, one could counter his statement that Michael didn’t feel the need “to play a certain sort of music in a certain way” as a compliment to Michael’s diversity, his willingness to experiement with and embrace many styles, and his refusal to be pigeonholed as any certain “type” of artist. Had Michael never attempted to evolve beyond Off The Wall and Thriller, he most assuredly would have been criticized for that, as well. There can be no doubt that some of the musical chances he took were genius moves that paid off-for example, the Eddie Van Halen guitar solo on “Beat It” not only gave his music a new, harder edged flavor, but also (and this was where Michael was very smart!) opened the doors for his music to be played on hard rock radio stations-something that had never happened before! I can remember even now how almost apologetically some hard rock radio dj’s played that record, admitting they never thought they would be playing a Michael Jackson record on their station. But play it they did. And in heavy rotation. Whether it was the industrial sound of “Morphine,” or the power ballad-inspired “Give In To Me” or the New Jack Swing of “Jam,” perhaps it did seem at times that Michael was simply latching onto whatever current trend was fashionable. But by the same token, his versatility and flexibility also ensured that he would continue to evolve.

The next several paragraphs of Wyman’s article I will let stand, as most of it is simply non-controversial fact without need for rebuttal. The one exception is that he erroneously refers to “Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)” as a ‘minor” hit from the early 70’s, when in fact this was a MAJOR hit for the Jacksons from the Destiny album, released near the end of the decade in 1978. One might also take issue with his statement that Michael was “far too attuned to current tastes to release a timeless album” (I think history has aptly proven otherwise!) but those are relatively minor quibbles. I will reserve my energy for where it really counts, which is still to come!

He learned the skill at the feet of the master who eventually broke his heart–Berry Gordy, who dropped a career as a boxer for music, first as a record-store owner, then as a first-rate songwriter (he wrote Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite”) and finally as the founder and force behind one of the most evocative names in music, Motown Records. Under Gordy’s tutelage Jackson learned cynicism early–that the truth doesn’t matter (Taraborrelli has him shaving a couple years off his age, for example, and agreeably promulgating the fictitious story about Diana Ross’s “discovery” of the Jackson 5), and, more importantly, that money matters over all. Motown’s usual artist contract was exploitative even by the standards of the day, surpassing the infamous achievements of the seminal blues labels through the simple expedient of getting all the exploitation down on paper. Joseph Jackson didn’t read the contract he signed for the boys; he thought he was committing them for one year but in effect Motown locked them in for five; their royalty rate amounted to roughly a dime per album–say $100,000 for a million records sold–minus whatever the label spent on the band, for recording and just about anything else.

If you think great art comes at a cost, and sometimes it’s the artist who pays, you’re probably sanguine about the conditions that produced the unaccountably memorable music the Jackson 5 created. When the Motown production squads (in this case it was a label exec, Deke Richards, and a couple of songwriting finds, Fonce Mizell and Freddie Perren, d.b.a. “The Corporation”) melded with the young Michael Jackson’s voice and delivery, the result was magic, plain and simple. The band’s first three singles went to number one: “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and, of course, the group’s recording debut, “I Want You Back,” the Motown masterpiece whose breathtaking intro and exuberant, preternaturally knowing lead vocal (Michael was 11 years old!) combine to create one of the most beloved and acclaimed moments in American popular music.

It’s an industry truism that a teen act has a life span of about two years. The Jacksons pushed a bit on these limitations, but eventually succumbed nonetheless, though Michael continued to have occasional solo hits. The boys and their father pushed at Gordy and Motown to allow them to record their own songs, but Gordy held fast: he hadn’t built the largest black-owned corporation in America by giving away publishing money. Like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross before them, the Jacksons fought bitterly with the label; and like most of its talent, they thought about leaving.

Around this time, Taraborrelli reports, Michael himself went to talk to Gordy–a brazen move by a 16-year-old, and an early sign of independence–but got little in the way of satisfaction. Indeed, Gordy responded to the Jacksons’ leaving Motown for CBS by exacting an almost biblical revenge: he took from the family both a brother–Jermaine, Berry’s son-in-law, stayed with Motown–and their name: though the group had been the “Jackson 5” before Gordy had ever heard of them, they’d given ownership of the name to Motown with their contract. At CBS’s Epic Records they became the Jacksons.

The Jacksons weren’t exactly failures in their later years–in the early 70s they had two passable hits, “Dancing Machine” and “Shake Your Body [Down to the Ground],” and later albums, with Michael’s participation, went platinum. But they weren’t really stars anymore. Taraborrelli’s book is good on the uncertainties and pathologies that plagued the family during these years. There seems to have been a widespread understanding in the family that Michael was special, but there was an equally widespread commitment to keeping that specialness at the service of his brothers, and by extension the rest of the family. It was 1979–four years after the move to CBS–before Michael Jackson got to make his first real solo album.

When he did, he produced a gracious pop stunner called Off the Wall, and sold six million copies of it on the back of four top-ten hits. His second adult solo album, Thriller, produced seven top-ten hits and sold a reputed 40 million worldwide, which was of course the most any album had ever sold. And his next one, Bad, which arrived in 1988 after four years of extremely negative publicity and significant changes in the nature of pop music, sold a good 20 million and produced five number-one singles.

You don’t have to like any of these albums (the adult Michael Jackson is far too attuned to popular tastes at any given moment to make a timeless album) to appreciate Jackson’s marvelously assured sense of himself. Despite his occasional PR flubs and his increasingly bizarre offstage life, Jackson has a consistent and immensely valuable ability to make himself the center of a defining pop moment. Sure he strains occasionally; but when he pulls it off–as in his legendary appearance on the Motown 25 TV show, or his recent video for “Black or White”–you have to admire his willingness to risk it all when the stakes are high. The story of the Motown special is a case in point. Gordy had a lot riding on his anniversary show–given his strained relations with almost all of his former stars, he was having trouble putting together a bill that would honor rather than embarrass him. (If you recall, both Linda Ronstadt and, inexplicably, Adam Ant ended up being guests.) Jackson agreed to perform on the show–Gordy had to ask him in person–but demanded both a solo spot and editing control over his segment. Taraborrelli says Jackson created the choreography at home the night before the show. The result, of course, was Jackson’s concussive performance of “Billie Jean,” perhaps the single most dramatic TV rock ‘n’ roll performance of all time and one of the primary catalysts of Thriller’s two-year-long selling spree.

Where Wyman seems to analyze Michael most accurately, and fairly, is in the following passage, although by this point, if you haven’t guessed it already, I am more than a bit weary with seeing every single fact attributed to Taraborelli (as for how great of a job Tarabrelli does at “separating the truth from the rumor” that is a matter of dispute). Also, it’s worth noting that the apparent “source” for his information on the Women’s Wear Daily ad was a typically semi- snarky Rolling Stone article from 1987, “Is Michael Jackson For Real?”, which you can read here:

But back to Wyman:

Even after this success, the family kept Michael tied down with various forms of emotional blackmail. He reluctantly participated in two Jacksons albums, Triumph and Victory. Then, in the worst misjudgment of his career, he was persuaded after bitter and recriminative battles–again the family pulled out Katherine to plead with him–to go along with his father’s plans for what would turn out to be the famously flubbed Victory tour. The brothers without Michael could barely fill a theater, but with him the tour became a financial juggernaut with no one really in charge. There was layer upon layer of management: Joseph and Katherine, boxing promoter Don King, MCA chief Irving Azoff, New England Patriots owner Chuck Sullivan, others who came and went and sued, and of course the looming presence of Michael, who apparently tried to keep the damage to himself at a minimum. The initial method of selling tickets–$30 per, to be sold in blocks of four through postal money orders only–was a scandal in itself. While the family came out of it financially well and Michael announced early on that his portion of the proceeds–perhaps as much as $5 million–would go to charity, Sullivan lost his shirt and the PR cost was enormous and lasting. A few years later, after the release of Bad, Jackson prepared for his first genuine solo tour: similar shenanigans threatened, but he headed them off. According to Taraborrelli he paid his mother $1 million to keep out of it.

Michael Jackson’s private-life idiosyncrasies are by now legend. Taraborrelli does a great job in separating the truth from the rumor: he confirms, for example, previous reports that Jackson himself was involved in planting at least some of the best tabloid fodder, most notably his supposed preference for sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and his alleged campaign to buy the Elephant Man’s bones. (Jackson brilliantly parodied the tabloids’ interest in him in the seminal “Leave Me Alone” video.) We can now debate which is weirder: wanting to spend your nights in a hyperbaric chamber, or getting a kick out of having people think you do.

There are three areas of Jackson’s private life, however, that give one pause. The first is relatively minor: like many other rock stars today, he has become efficiently, almost ruthlessly adept at making money off his name. Jackson got out of his father’s financial clutches before Thriller: with its proceeds he started investing in music publishing, most notably by purchasing the rights to John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s Northern Songs. Music publishing generates money hand over fist and can only increase in value. Jackson is fabulously rich and getting richer all the time, yet he has also been a leader in selling his name to the highest bidder. For every Pepsi deal there has been an embarrassing debacle, like Jackson’s short-lived alliance with LA Gear. Taraborrelli’s book doesn’t even bother to mention one of the tackiest merchandising moves ever made by a major star (and boy is that saying something), an ad placed in Women’s Wear Daily, of all places, announcing in screaming headline type that “MICHAEL JACKSON’S NAME IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR LICENSING.” “Put the most powerful name in American entertainment to work for you,” the ad suggested, helpfully providing several product possibilities: from underwear, mugs, lunch buckets, and hosiery to “small electrics” and “domestics” (Michael Jackson maids?). Is there nothing Jackson won’t do for some sort of price? The U.S. Department of Transportation wants to use “Beat It” in a drunk driving commercial? Fine–as long as the president will give me, let’s see, how about a humanitarian award?

Now even if, like me, you think unimaginably rich rock stars shilling for shoe, beer, and soft-drink companies is a pathetic sight, there are a number of extrafinancial benefits and rationalizations to be made that put Jackson’s deals in a better light. For nearly 15 years his financial dealings were in the hands of people who did not have his best interests in mind, with the predictable results. You could argue, theoretically at least, that it is better for the commodity, so to speak, to have control over itself than to be at the service of another entity: in this sense, the Pepsi commercials, models of the form, are as much a commercial for Michael Jackson as they are for Pepsi. Similarly, while on one level an ad deal is merely a sellout, making the largest advertising deal of all time can become a PR plus. Repeatedly conveyed in The Magic and the Madness is Jackson’s lack of patience with being slighted or coming in second. Off the Wall was a very big record in an industry reeling after the bottom fell out in the post-Saturday Night Fever years–yet it was never number one on the charts and was for all intents and purposes ignored at the Grammys. (Jackson made sure that CBS’s promotional muscles were put to use for Thriller, which eventually spent 37 weeks at number one and swept the Grammys as well.) Still, there is an excess, a tendency to overkill, in some of Jackson’s dealings that someday may backfire.

It’s somewhat hard to fathom now just how huge of a deal this was in the 80’s and early 90’s, when music stars “selling out” to corporations became a polarizing issue in the industry. I remember at the time that Michael’s Pepsi commercials were huge; there was no escaping them. You couldn’t watch TV-especially MTV-without seeing them in heavy rotation, at least a dozen times a day. And no matter how catchy or creative the commericals (including my personal favorite, where Michael esapes the crowd via hitching a ride on a helicopter) there was the undeniable stigma of “sellout.” At the time, I was more a part of the rock scene and so I recall distinctly how many artists used this as an opportunity to take potshots at huge, commercially succesful “pop stars” like Michael Jackson-stars who, in their estimation, represented the worst of mainstream commercialism. (Of course, rock’n’roll was not immune to commercialism, either, as evidenced by some of the controversy back in the day over bands like ZZ Top and Genesis using big name sponsors to promote their tours).

And there is little doubt that Neil Young was taking a jab at Michael Jackson when he sang the famous line, “I ain’t singing for Pepsi/ I ain’t singing for Coke.”

Neil Young’s “This Note’s For You” (1989) took a sharp jab at Michael, as well as other artists singing for commercial products:


While I have always been a huge Neil Young fan, and I support his right to express his own artistic views, I nevertheless now believe firmly that this is a very narrow way of looking at things. After all, there are two schools of thought as to how one can view product endorsement and the commercial licensinig of one’s name and image: One is that, yes, you can look at it as selling out. BUT you can also look at it as someone who is simply, as Michael once put it, doing “good business.” No doubt, Michael made some of the most brilliant business moves of any artist in history (for example, the purchase of the Beatles catalog) but there were some debacles along the way as well. However, overall, his business savvy in making his name and image into a markeatble commodity was unparalleled in the business. It increased his fortune-but it also, perhaps, set him up for a huge downfall as his power in the industry also became unparalleled, in a way that no other black performer had.

Neil Young’s snarkiness aside, Michael Jackson’s Pepsi commercials in the 80’s were undeniably some of the best and most creative commercials ever aired:


A good case in point is the Rolling Stone article mentioned above. While acknowledging many of Michael’s accomplishments, the article also harps on his eccentricities (with much undo attention given to Bubbles and what Michael was wearing, as opposed to any actual intelligent discussion of his music or business ventures),  and when it does mention them, attributes much of the credit of his success to Dileo and Branca. It additionally comes replete with this clincher:

“Michael Jackson Won’t Drink Pepsi-Cola, but he sure wants you to.”

However, I do like this quote from David Williams which comes near the end of the piece:

“…They think he’s shy and he’s evasive and all this. No. He’s just fucking scared and tired of people bugging him. He’s a little sweetheart, and people would eat him up if he let them.”-David Williams, quoted in Rolling Stone, September 1987

Coming up in Part Two, I’ll be analyzing what Wyman had to say in 1991 regarding Michael’s relationships with women, his relationships with boys (interesting because, like I said, this predates the Chandler accusations by two years, and leads me to wonder if these media speculations were already planting the seed for those accusations) and that pesky issue of vitiligo which no one in ’91 understood-yet. I will also look at a much more recent article by Bill Wyman to see how much, if any, he has reassessed his opinions since 1991.  Has the ability of hindsight made him any wiser, or as with so many of his ilk, simply that much more dug in?


My Friend Michael: Just One Fan's Honest Review

Warning: This review WILL contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet but plan to, consider yourself forewarned!

Well, as I mentioned here before, I did end up receiving Frank Cascio’s book “My Friend Michael: An Ordinary Friendship With An Extraordinary Man” for Christmas. I also promised a full review after I had finished reading it.

Back when I did my article on Christmas Shopping For The MJ Fan On Your List I mentioned how polarizing this book has been in the fan community. I haven’t seen much easing up in that regard, but I will note one thing I’ve observed for the most part-those fans who thoroughly trash the book, along with Frank Cascio, will usually admit they haven’t even read the book. Most of them will say they refuse to read it; a refusal based on their own personal feelings against the Cascio family and/or some of the more sensational publicity this book garnered on release. Typically, every media review of the book honed in on what is actually one very small and isolated portion of the book-Michael’s drug use, especially that of propofol. When the book came out, it was at the height of the Murray trial and of course, this was the one topic the media cared about the most-and the one aspect of the book that every reviewer seemed eager to pounce on.

I think based on these early reviews, many fans had an automatic, knee-jerk response to the book and its author. Of course, none of that has been helped by the controversy over the Cascio tracks on the “Michael” album. Ever since then, Frank has been lumped in with his brother Eddie to become-like many of Michael’s acquaintances-a somewhat controversial and polarizing figure.

But regardless of how one feels about Frank Cascio personally, one fact is undisputable: Michael Jackson was a very big part of this young man’s life, for many years. Frank was there when many of the darkest chapters of Michael’s life played out. He knew both Jordan Chandler and Gavin Arvizo, and as one of the many boys who formed that circle of friends in the early 90’s that included McCauley Culkin and others, Frank was in a unique position to tell that side of the story.

I said when I received the book that I would read it with an open mind. The bottom line is that, yes, there are some things that may be unsettling to some fans-if they are still clinging to some idealized version of who Michael was. Since that’s never been an issue with me, I frankly wasn’t shocked by some of the book’s “revelations.” But I think the bigger picture here is that the book does exonerate Michael on many bigger and more important issues.

However, that isn’t to say that I didn’t read between the lines and also find some fault with the book. But overall, I honestly think the worst thing Frank is guilty of is what I call the “Insider’s Syndrome.” It seems to be something that no aquaintance of Michael’s was immune to. Without fail, everyone who knew him seems to want to think of themselves as Michael’s closest friend and most intimate confidante. And along with that, often the idealized belief that they could have somehow “saved” him. Granted, in Frank’s case, he did know Michael in a way few people ever got to.  And certainly it would be arrogant and presumprious of me-or anyone-to sit here and say I know better than Frank what Michael did or thought or said. That’s not my intent. However, I did sometimes catch myself reading between the lines and second guessing some of the assumptions he makes-for example, that Michael’s marriage to Lisa was a sham (even if they did have sex-according to Frank, the sex was just a by-product, not so much that they actually loved each other, but because Michael wanted kids…and well, frankly, she was there and available) or his assertion that Michael never had sex with Debbie (insisting that Prince and Paris were both conceived in vitro; so yes, according to Frank, Michael is indisputably the biological father of all his children,  but he never touched Debbie). To be fair, he makes it very clear that his assumptions are based on what Michael told him; he wasn’t there in the room, of course. But by his own admission, he also admits several instances where Michael lied to him-so who’s to say? I’ve read some fan reviews of the book where people have said, “How would Frank know the details of Michael and Lisa’s marriage; he was just a kid?”

According to Frank Cascio, Michael Said He Had Sex With Her...But That Was All It Was.

Yes, but…let’s not forget that Michael and Frank remained close friends well into Frank’s adulthood. I’m sure Michael probably talked to him about these things, if not at the time, maybe later.

But I did question, for instance, if he was really with Michael when Michael supposedly “chose” Blanket’s mother out of a donor catalog-or that it was actually he who made the final choice! I’m just very suspicious by nature when someone claims to have been right by Michael’s side through every major important move and decision of his life. I’m willing to give to Frank that he was there for a LOT of it-but to hear him tell it, he was practically Michael’s shadow! (Let’s just say, some of it I bought, and some I took with the proverbial grain of salt).

When I was reading the part about Michael and Lisa’s marriage, I couldn’t help but think back to what David Nordahl told me in our interview last year. David, who was another of Michael’s closest friends (for over 20 years) and very loyal, spent over two weeks living with Michael and Lisa at the Trump towers in 1994, and by his own account, Michael and Lisa were “very much in love.” I have no reason to doubt David’s sincerity, so for me, that casts an automatic cloud of suspicion over Frank’s claims that Michael told him he had married Lisa just to satisfy bin Talal (an Arabian businessman who Michael apparently had many dealings with, and who was also apparently insistent on Michael having an image as a family man-at any rate, according to Frank, this bin Talal seemed to be Michael’s magical explanation for a lot of things).

But there is also another possibility, which is that Michael may have told Frank this after having become bitter over the breakup with Lisa; perhaps as a way of salvaging his own pride. (Oh, well, I never loved her anyway; I just married her because bin Talal wanted me to).

With The Entire Cascio Clan

Now see, this is where Frank’s book gets interesting for me. It’s not so much what he writes, but the little, subtle things one can pick up between the lines. Or as I call them, the gray areas. For it’s often in those gray areas that one really finds the truth, or the closest version to it. What a reader can take from this is that there is often some element of truth in all sides of a story-in this case, a marriage that may have indeed been a sham-or started out that way. But nevertheless, perhaps Michael and Lisa did have genuine love, of a sort-and certainly had sex. So in that regard, the marriage was absolutely real! Michael could be manipulative and at times, did stretch the truth-but he was 100% honest and up front about the things that really mattered in his life, and this is what all readers need to keep uppermost in mind. Michael apparently never lied about the things that were most important-his innocence of the allegations, his vitiligo, the paternity of his children, and that ever pesky little question of his true sexuality. It doesn’t bother me in the least if the truth of the matter is that he never really wanted to marry either Lisa or Debbie. Michael wanted children-not necessarily a wife and children. But regardless, he did have a very real bond with both Lisa and Debbie. And as Debbie herself has said, so what if theirs wasn’t a traditional family or traditional arrangement? It was their decision, and their life.

Michael Was Undergoing Painful Vitiligo Treatments That Called For Up To 50 Facial Injections Per Doctor Visit

This is just the beginning. There are other very telling details that give a reader pause for thought, or that may make them question certain beliefs about Michael they have thought to be true. Just to give another example, one of the more controversial aspects of the book is that Frank writes candidly (but also, I should add, very sympathetically) about Michael’s struggles with painkiller dependency and the Demerol shots he was receiving from Klein.  But he also reveals that Michael was undergoing a very excruciatingly painful treatment for vitiligo that involved regular treatments of over fifty facial injections per visit.

I haven’t had time yet to research this treatment as thoroughly as I would like, but I did have some very interesting links that were provided to me by shelley (thanks!):

And then there is this document, in which Tom Meserau refers specifically to a vitiligo treatment Michael was receiving that involved injections:

The reason I find this interesting is because if this is true, it provides one more instance in which Michael is actually vindicated by the revelation of this information. Remember how the media had a field day with the Demerol story, and how they were speculating why anyone would receive that much Demerol just for botox injections? But could it be that the injections Michael was receiving were not for botox at all, but rather legit if albeit experiemental vitiligo treatments? I don’t know about you guys, but personally, the thought of having 50 needles injected in my face would certainly be enough to make me want a shot of Demerol! And remember, I had quoted before from Dr. Treacy who said that Michael did have hyersensitivity in the facial area due to past surgeries, and therefore always requested some form of sedation before any cosmetic or dermatological procedures:

There are other  examples of what I call “gray area vindication”  throughout the book, instances in which we can see how certain myths about Michael may have gotten their start, but also getting the whole story of the truth that often lay behind those stories.

Just for example, Michael did refer to wine as “Jesus juice” and often did drink wine in soda cans, just as was alleged by the Arvizos during the trial. But it was not for the sinister reason that the Arvizos and DA tried to insist in the trial; it was not for the purpose of enticing children to drink with him. Rather, it was something he did to protect the children around him, as he did not want to set an example of drinking alcohol to them. Also, because being the very private person that he was, he didn’t necessarily want everyone to know his business. However, sometimes it’s important to know the truth if it means the difference between exoneration and allowing false notions to stand. Personally, it doesn’t bother me to know Michael liked his wine, whether in soda cans or not; I would personally find it a lot more disturbing if he had gone around drinking openly in front of kids!

The important thing one has to keep in mind when reading a memoir-especially a memoir of one’s experience with a famous person-is that no matter how honest this person is, in the grander scheme of things, their story is simply their version of the reality they lived. The root word of “memoir” is “memory.” But by our very human nature, our memories are often selective; occasionally even distorted. Our versions of events are filtered by our own biases and whatever baggage we associate with those memories. Memoirs have to accepted as what they are-one individual’s reality and perception of events. Memoirs can be entertaining, engaging, and even thought-provoking. But they can’t-nor shouldn’t-always be taken as gospel. However, I think if a reader approaches this book with a fair and open mind, they can certainly learn about the man Michael Jackson that Frank Cascio knew. And I do think Frank is being honest and open in presenting us the man, Michael Jackson, who was his friend and mentor. Like I said, it may not necessarily jibe with the idealized version of Michael that many fans have. But we have to keep in mind, this was Frank’s experience and the Michael Jackson presented in this memoir is the man he knew. Ultimately, however, memoirs of this type always end up being as much about the person writing them as about the subject in question. We have to keep in mind this isn’t “just” Michael’s story. It’s also Frank’s story and what it was like to come of age as a young man living in the shadow of Michael Jackson. When you realize that your whole life has revolved around Michael Jackson since the age of four, how does one find their own identity and purpose in the world? How do they manage to forage their own path? For Frank Cascio, that question has probably been his biggest life challenge.

Frank also does a good job of debunking the whole false notion which emerged after the Bashir crock, which was that Michael routinely had kids over for sleepovers at Neverland. In simple truth, the infamous “sleepovers” never happened, at least not as they have come to be portrayed. The sleepovers involved entire families-families who often traveled over great distances to be at Neverland. Michael’s enormous bedroom suite became a kind of informal, focal gathering place for these families, where people watched TV, played games, or simply talked until everyone fell asleep, exhausted. With the candor of an insider’s persective, Frank tells the truth about what those nights spent at Michael’s house were…and more importantly, what they were not.

Contrary To Popular Myth, Michael DID Alter His Behavior With Children After The '93 Allegations. The Accusations Left Him Permanently Scarred, And Fearful Of Being Accused Again.

And contrary to what some cynics say, Michael did alter his behavior around children following the ’93 Chandler allegations. He never again allowed young children-especially boys-to be in his bedroom unchaperoned (the parents were always present) and in most cases, he was careful from then on to always make sure that any child he was around was accompanied by an adult. One of the small but significant details that my boyfriend and I have noticed is that throughout the HIStory tour, when he would do the Heal The World finale, he never held hands with the boys or picked them up; it was always the girls that he would single out. Obviously, the first allegations did their damage. He was scarred emotionally by the accusations-but he also learned from them. That he would come to be accused again would come about, not because of any undue carelessness or blatant disregard and arrogance on Michael’s part-as has often been erroneoulsy reported- but because he was too kind-hearted to turn down a child in need of help.

was Michael Jackson Slated To Be The Original Simon Cowell? Perhaps Yes, Had Plans For The Show "Hollywood Ticket" Materialized

There are also a lot of interesrting but little known facts that I discovered from the book. For example, did you know that in the early 2000’s, before the debut of “American Idol”, that Michael was being slated to do  his own weekly talent show, one in which he would have been the judge? Apparently the project, tentatively titled “Hollywood Ticket” fell through, mostly due to waning interest on Michael’s part (anyway, we all know Michael wasnt’t fond of being on TV; he probably got cold feet over the idea of being on national TV every week and the obligation of having to be a weekly judge and mentor) but I have to say, it certainly would have been interesting had the project gone through. Sadly, though, this seemed to be the story so often in Michael’s last decade, so many projects that never materialized, and the saddest of all, knowing that it was often his legal issues and the mismanagement within his own ranks that led to these aborted projects.

Frank Cascio’s experience with Michael Jackson was a unique one from the beginning. It wasn’t an aquaintance he sought out, or even one that he made on his own. Imagine, if you will, that you are a small child, and your parents just happen to be best friends with a world famonus superstar. This was how Michael Jackson came to be part of Frank Cascio’s life. Imagine said superstar becomes your mentor and greatest teacher; now flash forward many years, and you find yourself as a young adult not only working for him, but even at times having to reverse the father/son role, which is a sad reality that happens for many of us as we grow up and realize our parents or even our “parent figures” aren’t the perfect people we envisioned as children, but rather, imperfect human beings just like ourselves. I can see why some fans have concerns about the book. There were a few things that I questioned-even if it’s true, why the need to include it here if it serves no real purpose? Why not keep some things private? Just for example, I don’t know that the whole world necessarily needed to know that Michael experimented with marijuana. It’s not that I’m a prude and really, these days, smoking a little pot isn’t really frowned upon that much more than drinking beer. But as we know too well, the media has always been prone to judge Michael by a different standard than other celebrities. That’s really the whole issue when it comes to making these kinds of private details public-we all know how the media loves to sensationalize and run with any story on Michael Jackson. This knowledge is, in turn, I believe, why so many fans are prone to feel very over protective about what is written about Michael. It simply comes from long experience with knowing how the media has always loved to portray Michael Jackson. What is seen as harmless behavior for most celebrities somehow becomes damning when it’s Michael Jackson. (However, if you are curious about this, I’ll  just say that you’re probably going to find it quite funnny when you discover just who it was that turned Michael on to pot…hint: It certainly wasn’t any of his heavy metal stoner friends!).

Did Some of Michael's Luckier Female Fans Make It To "Never-Never Land?" Frank Says Yes. But The Occasional Encounters Were Always Very Discreet

Again, some will fault Frank for this revelation, just as they have for some of the things he reveals about Michael’s private sex life (though nothing too graphic; however, he does say that Michael had quite a few, casual encounters through the years, even with some fans…well, lucky them, I guess). However, I’ll stress again that the importance of knowing this information is that, violation of privacy or not, it does help to exonerate Michael in perhaps a far more crucial way, which is the knowledge that his only sexual interests were in adult relationships with women-not children, and certainly not with boys.

I think for Michael there was always a sort of “disconnect” from the human being that he was, and this sort of idealized vision he had of himself, or rather, the person he wanted to be. Sometimes it’s easy to look at some of his words vs. his actions and call them hypocritical, but that’s oversimplifying a very complex issue. As far as Michael’s stance on drugs and casual sex, he wasn’t just making a public stance when he spoke against them; that was really how he felt. As Frank says, Michael detested the typical drug-seeking, groupie-chasing pop lifestyle. He didn’t want to “be” that or to “become that.” He wanted to be a decent role model for young people to look up to. He also  didn’t want to be a cheap womanizer like his father and brothers, and the few times when he gave in to temptation, he wasn’t proud of it.  And also, his very religious upbringing played a large role in shaping his adult character-both for better and worse. I think Michael’s biggest overall problem, perhaps, was that he seemed to have a hard time just letting go and giving himself permission to be human. And when he did, there always seemed to be a measure of guilt which only compounded matters for him. I’ve heard people say he was a hypocrite because he claimed to be a vegetarian, but loved KFC (well, how many of us have ever tried to stick to a healty diet with the best of intentions, only to fall off the wagon sometimes-or even to enjoy an occasional indulgence?). I’ve heard people say he was a hypocrite because he spoke against recreational drug use, yet look at how he died (forgetting that his death had nothing to do with a recreational high, but rather was the culmination of years of pain and seeking ways to numb it). I’ve heard people say a lot of ignorant things, but the truth is, nobody knew that the pressure he put on himself to be perfect was more damning than anything anyone else could do or say. Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that he never seemed to realize that he didn’t have to be perfect for us to love him.

Personally, I think the book does a great job of balancing the idealized Michael Jackson with the human one. Michael didn’t walk on water and he wasn’t God. His bled like everyone else. But there is a very poignant passage in the book which I’ll quote here, since the quoting of brief passages are allowed for review purposes:

Michael’s skin disease, along with his difficult childhood and the molesation allegations, were conditions or circumstances that he did his best to survive, and the plastic surgeries he had on his nose were, like so many of his eccentricities, attempts to exert some kind of control over his own destiny and happiness. Those surgeries didn’t make him normal. And, in many people’s eyes, they didn’t make him beautiful. What they did do was make him Michael.

I bolded that last sentence to make a point. We could say likewise that Michael’s very human flaws didn’t make him good or bad, beautiful or ugly. But they did make him Michael. What emerges from this book is a portrait of a very beautiful, generous, talented, and  intelligent but vulnerable man who had been battering his wings against the iron bars of the gilded cage ever since he was five years old-he had learned how to fight, and how to survive, the only way he knew how. His way wasn’t always the best or most admirable way, but it was his way.

Michael and Frank, Still Friends To The End, Although Michael's legal Problems And The Arvizo Trial Would Drive A Wedge Between Them. They Reconciled, But The Scars Were Slow To Heal.

And it was the totality of this very complex humanity that made him who he was. If it achieves nothing else, I think “My Friend Michael” does a wonderful job of capturing that very complex humanity and allowing us all to get to know the man behind the myth a little better. There were many times while reading this book that I laughed out loud (you have to read all about the midnight excursion of the haunted hotel in Scotland; that part is hilarious); there were also many times that I cried. But most of all, I felt inspired. Through the pages of this book, one gets to know the great friend that Frank had in Michael-and when it’s over, we miss him all over again. We feel the ache of that emptiness; the void that has been left. We are reminded anew of how poorer we are for his loss; but also, how enriched we are for having had him among us for a little while.

ETA: (1/14/12): I thought this might be a cute addition to the review. In the book, Frank mentions that he was with Michael at the Virgin Megastore record signing in 2001. Like most fans, I’ve watched the videos of this very well-known event, but until now hadn’t paid much attention to Frank’s role in it. He was just one of the guys sitting to the side. But knowing what I do now, I was curious so I went back to this video series. Of course, the entire eight-part series is available on Youtube, but the one I chose to highlight here is Part 5. At 3:45, a fan is talking to Michael (they discuss a recent bout with larngytis, among other things) and then he asks, “Is that the famous angel? Angel Frankie?” Then, at both 6:51 and 9:29, you can see Frank and Michael cracking each other up as they exchange a couple of private jokes between them (I suspect they might have been joking around about some of the girls in line). It’s very funny and cute to watch, and you really get a feel for what their relationship was like when you watch them interacting here.


ETA: (4/26/12): A very good interview with Frank about the book:

Michael and Marilyn-Pt 1

Samantha Morton and Diego Luna Play Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson Impersonators In The 2007 Film "Mr. Lonely"

Over the holiday weekend I finally had the opportunity to see “My Week With Marilyn,” a movie I had been waiting patiently to see for over a month. The film has already received rave reviews and several Golden Globe nominations, most of the accolades being deservedly for Michele Williams’s outstanding performance as Marilyn. But as I was drawn into Williams’s captivating, childlike persona as Marilyn, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between Michael and Marilyn. In the past, I’ve written several articles that draw parallels between Michael and other celebrities, including Johnny Depp, Prince, and Jim Morrison. So now I’ve decided to look at the amazing parallels between Michael and Marilyn-and on the way, have made some surprising discoveries!

After seeing the film, I began researching the reviews, as I tend to do. You see, I have this weird tendency to do things in reverse. For example, waiting until after I’ve seen a film-rather than before- to see what the critics have said. Anyway, I discovered an interesting split between the reviews of professional film critics and the reviews of hardcore Marilyn fans and purists. Well, naturally, hardcore fans and puritsts are always harder to please. By nature, they’re going to be much more selective and picky about details, factual inaccuracies, etc; the sort of stuff that most casual moviegoers won’t even notice or ncessarily even care about. Film critics are more concerned with the overall quality of the film itself, and granted, “My Week With Marilyn” is a beautifully made and entertaining film. But the more I researched the life of the real Marilyn Monroe after coming away, the more I’ve come to realize why many of her fans are lambasting this film-for the same reason, I think, that no Michael Jackson biopic will ever satisfy us. Trying to capture the essence of a complex, dynamic personality and life into a two hour flick is never easy. Even if one suspends belief and is willing to accept that this film is just one young man’s fantasy of his “dream woman” (his reality of who Marilyn was) it still bears the burden of yet one more inaccurate portrayal of the legendary screen goddess. Or perhaps it would be more fair to say, just another one-sided portrayal that plays up her vulnerable weaknesses at the expense of a woman I have (since) found far more fascinating, a very smart and savvy businesswoman who had embarked on her own production company by age thirty; who managed to succesfully wage a war against her studio (Fox) to dictate her own financial terms and creative decisions; who is credited with contributing to the downfall of the crumbling studio system; who dedicated hours in acting studios perfecting her craft (even sitting in on classes she was not required to attend). But for all this, the image of the “dumb blonde”-the fragile, vulnerable, child/woman persists. It was a persona she had so carefully and thoroughly created that somewhere along the way, the “real” Marilyn became lost to it.

Michael And Marilyn Both Received The Andy Warhol Treatment...Reserved For Only The Greatest Pop Icons

When Michael died, it wasn’t long before journalists were making the inevitable comparisons of him to Marilyn Monroe. Most, like this Ken Ackerman blog, played up the obvious-albeit cliched’- parallels of Michael and Marilyn as fragile and vulnerable victims of fame. And typically, in those early days and weeks following Michael’s death-when every journalist was all too eager to write about his death but without the facts from the official autopsy even confirmed-they immediatly jumped on the “drug overdose” comparison.

We don’t know the full cause of Michael Jackson’s death. Drugs and sycophants loom large, and accounts point to a lonely person exploited, pressued, finally broken by relentless over-exposed, the bubble existence of celebrity fame.

“A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night,” Marilyn Monroe said back in the 1960s when she, like Jackson, epitomized the bubble existence. “Dogs never bite me. Just humans.”

"Dogs Never Bite Me. Just Humans"-Marilyn Monroe

On August 5, 1962, she too died suddenly of cardiac arrest. She too was achingly young, just 36 years old, beautiful, talented, bursting with personality and vulnerability. The autopsy found eight milligram percent of chloral hydrate and 4.5 milligram percent of Nembutal in her system, and blamed her death on “acute barbiturate poisoning,” resulting from accidental overdose.

Michael’s death, of course, turned out to be much more complex than just another case of a tragic celebrity overdose. Writers and reporters were quick to lump him into the category of another Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland or Heath Ledger-to the extent that it must have been an embarrassing twist when the official coroner report came back listing the death as a “homicide.” But neverthless, they were still able to salvage a field day out of the tragic circumstances that led to that homicide. (Coincidentally, Marilyn-like Michael-had been plagued by chronic insomnia, exacerbated by stress-the very same combination that had led Michael to go to such desperate lengths). And as with Marilyn’s death, Michael’s would be subjected to similar speculations and conspiracy theories. Many of Marilyn’s fans have never been satisfied with the simple “drug overdose” ruling, and it’s easy to dismiss their theories as conspiracy theory nonsense…or was so in the past. But perhaps if Michael’s homicide has served an ultimate purpose, it’s to open the eyes of many to realize that sometimes things in the celebrity world aren’t always as simple or cut and dried as they seem.

Whether Or Not Michael And Marilyn Were Complete "Innocents" Is Debatable, Perhaps...But For Sure, They Were Both Surrounded By Leeches and Vultures Who Took Advanatge Of Their Vulnerabilities

One of the scenes from “My Week With Marilyn” that gave me a shudder was when one of the characters commented that the people around Marilyn kept her drugged in order to keep her compliant, so that they could more easily control her. It made me shudder because I suspect Michael was being victimized in much the same way by the vultures and enablers around him. However, I learned on researching after the film that Marilyn wasn’t quite as vulnerable or unaware as these people liked to think (same as with Michael) but perhaps, like Michael, she had gained too much power and control. People feared her; they wanted to keep her “in her place.” (Sound familiar?).

But let’s put aside their deaths for a moment and look at the commanalities of their lives. After all, it is in their lives, and not their respective deaths, where they have the most lessons to teach us. And not just lessons about fame or how we regard celebrities, but in the illusions we build around them-illusions in part perpetuated by the celebrities themselves, but then magnified by the media, to the point that the illusions become accepted as truth by the public.

Marilyn wasn’t a child star, but did share with Michael a dysfunctional and abnormal childhood that scarred her into adulthood. The facts of her childhood have been well documented enough-she never knew who her father was, and her mother was committed to an insane asylum. As a child, Marilyn was shuffled from foster home to foster home. Michael, on the other hand, knew who his family was, and the Jacksons certainly provided a more stable family life or him than what Marilyn had. But in Michael’s case, the dysfunction within the family and working from age five-often in some of the most unsavory environments imaginable for a young child-did their share of damage.

Both Michael and Marilyn seemed to compensate for their childhood traumas by developing similarly childlike personas in adulthood. For Marilyn, the fragile and naive sex kitten was an easy image to fall into; it wasn’t exactly original (the blonde bombshell goes back at least as far as Jean Harlow and Mae West, but West always had a savvy adult sensibility to her act; you never doubted she was all woman!) whereas Marilyn’s image was the carefully calculated, innocent sex-child who seemed virtually unaware of the effect she had on men-and here, I could probably go into a whole psychological case study on the appeal of  the duality of innocence and sexuality, but that would be far too complex a subject to get into. However, the 1950’s in particular seemed a ripe time for this combination. I’ve read a lot of interesting case studies about how the sex goddesses of the 50’s probably would never have evolved in any later era. Women like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Brigitte Bardot-ample and big-busted on the outside, but sweet, pliable and childlike within-appealed to a sexually conservative time when urges were still repressed, and women were expected to be little more than sexual children/playthings subjugate to the desires of males. But for Marilyn, I think the role represented something deeper.

Norma Jean Baker, Before She Had Invented "Her"-Marilyn Monroe!

Norma Jean Baker did more than just become Marilyn Monroe-she created her! The persona became a convenient shield and protector of the “real” Norma Jean. By many accounts, “Marilyn” was also a persona she was capable of putting on and taking off at will.

Though experiencing one of the peak periods of her life and career, Marilyn was plagued by insomnia to such a degree that a bottle of Seconal was always in reach. More significantly, she was apparently unable to reconcile her image as sex goddess “Marilyn Monroe” with her own identity; she regarded “Marilyn Monroe” and her true self as two different entities.

Actor Eli Wallach has remarked how she could walk through the streets of New York City and not be noticed and then, in a moment’s time, make some inner adjustment to transform herself into the beautiful, breathy, and sensual movie star that everyone recognized. Heads turned, traffic stopped, and fans came running. “I just felt like being Marilyn for a moment,” she would say. is a scene in

There is a scene in “My Week With Marilyn” where Marilyn, in the midst of what has been an idyllic and rare, laidback day in the country suddenly finds herself surrounded by fans who have caught on to her presence. “What do you think,” asks Williams, mimicking Marilyn’s childlike voice, “should I be ‘her?”  And instantly she strikes a Monroe pose, as the predictable chaos ensues. However, what the scene fails to depict-as I’m sure was the case in real life-was just how striking the shift was when Marilyn decided to go into “Marilyn Monroe” mode. What her friends have described in real life was a woman who could shift those gears as effortlessly as changing socks-depending on whether she felt like being “Marilyn” at that moment, or not.

Michael, likewise-whether consciously or subconsciously-developed an alter ego “child persona.” I discussed the duality of Michael’s child/man personas (in addition to his other oppositions) in this post a few days ago:

Although this isn’t to say that I think Michael’s childlike persona was entirely an act; it wasn’t. I do believe, however, that “the child” was simply one facet of a very complex personality-and for whatever reason, it was the public facet he purposely chose for the protection of Michael, The Man. Like Marilyn, the sweet, playful, and innocent child was inherent to his appeal, yet at times made him a seemingly puzzling and somewhat threatening contradiction when the Adult asserted itself.

Michael Seemed To Cultivate An Image Based On Whimsical, Childlike Innocence

That Michael was perfectly aware of the difference between his public and private personas is evident in this story credited to Lisa Marie, who seemed quite taken aback (but in a good way) to find that Michael in real life was apparently quite the  smooth talking Mack daddy who spoke in a low voice, liked his Crown Royal, and knew perfectly well how to seduce a woman, as per this exceprt from “The Magic and the Madness” quoted on the Lacienga Smiled blog:

He truly was misunderstood, he told her. “I know you think I’m gay,” he said. “But I’m not. I get tired of people thinking I am gay. But, oh well, fuck them. I know you’ve heard a lot of things about me, in fact, he continued, but most of it isn’t true. And that stuff that is true, you shouldn’t hold against me.” He winked at her.

“Hey, I’m a married woman,” Lisa said. “And you’re coming on to me.”

“Yes, but are you happy?” Michael asked.


“See?” Michael remarked. “I knew that. You look like a woman who needs to let go and have some fun. You look like a woman who needs to hook up with me.”

Lisa recalled, “I thought to myself, Wow, this is a real guy. He swears. He’s funny. I told him, ‘Dude, if people knew who the hell you really are, they would be so surprised. People wouldn’t think I was so crazy for being into you if they saw who you really are; that you sit around and you drink and you curse and you’re fucking funny, and you have a bad mouth and you don’t have that high voice all the time.’”

He said, “Well, just don’t tell them.” I thought he was normal and that everything you saw of him publically was just a mask.”

 Also, just as Marilyn seemed to know instinctively when to turn “her” on and off, so Michael, likewise, seemed to have the ability to switch the public “Michael Jackson persona” on and off at will. Many of his friends have commented on the fact that, while Michael usually went out disguised (or at least semi-disguised) in public, he always wanted to make sure that he would be recognized-unless, of course, the goal really was  to just blend in and not be recognized. Michael seemed to have the capability to do both. There are photos of him in complete disguise where he is totally unrecognizable from the public at large-and even a few photos where, even completely UNDISGUISED-he seems to have no problem walking amongst the crowd. In these photos snapped in Paris, France in 1999, Michael is disguised but clearly recognizable as he casually strolls the Paris streets, yet as is clearly shown, he is managing to do so completely unmolested by the crowd:

There is an amusing story I recall reading where one of Michael’s friends said Michael was donning a disguise to go out, but was insistent that his trademark “baby strand” curls be visible. The friend tried to reason with him that if he did that, he might as well not even bother with the disguise-the curls would be a dead giveaway! However, Michael was adamant. The curls remained visible…and the predicatable chaos ensued!

Perhaps, like Marilyn, there were times when Michael simply needed to “be Michael” for awhile-and times when he needed to shut him off. In the Paris photos above, it seems he’s making a conscious effort to blend in, but just like Marilyn, he could choose to give the entire game away with a simple gesture; a simple proclamation of “Here I am”-or more aptly, here is “him”-a gift to be bestowed, or taken back at will.

Choosing To Turn "Him" On: Michael Greets Adoring Fans In NY

But the bigger question is: What purpose did the personas serve? Right now I am reading through Frank Cascio’s book, and will review it here in a few days once I am finished. But one thing Frank spends a great deal of time talking about-both in relation to himself and Mchael-is the idea of compartmentalization. He uses that term to describe his life with Michael vs. his so-called “normal” life at home with friends and school, but Michael himself also seemed adept at being able to compartmentalize different apsects of his life and persona, depending on what the moment dictated. This may explain in part some of Cascio’s confusion as he attempts at various times in the book to reconcile the “Man” Michael Jackson with the “Child” persona he remembered so well from his own childhood; as he said at one point, perhaps it was because being a child himself, that was how Michael chose to relate to him. As Cascio grew older, and was able to see more of  Michael “The Man” it seemed to become difficult at times to reconcile that they were one and the same-yet different.

There are a lot of crazy theories out there as to why Michael may have developed his childlike persona. Read, for example, what a couple of posters theorized  on this discussion forum (btw, the original topic of this thread was Michael’s use of the soft, high-pitched voice as opposed to his “real” voice. One poster had put forth the question of why he talked that way-the resulting discussion was predictably hilarious and ill-informed, but nevertheless, provided some interesting “theories”):

Ragman wrote:

I noticed that he had a high-pitched voice.
However, it wasn’t so much about HOW he spoke but what he talked about.
He seemed very like a pollyanna or whatever the male version is.
Not quite earthly. He seemd quite out of touch, to put it mildly.

Agreed.The whole package was all pointing in the same direction,which was childlikeness. That was my impression of it, anyway.He was unique in my experience in that respect.I don ‘t remember seeing anyone like that before.I wonder whether being terrified of his father
had anything to do with it
. On a talk show,he said that he was so afraid of the beatingsthat he got from his father, during the early years of his career, that before each musical performance he went in private and vomited.Possibly, that might not have been good for his mind.



Michael Spoke Candidly About His Childhood Abuse In The Martin Bashir Doc “Living With Michael Jackson”

While I wouldn’t give too much credence to these theories, it’s interesting that the one poster seemed to think that childhood trauma could have played a part in the development of the childlike persona as a coping mechanism. It didn’t take much googling to find that many had likewise attributed Marilyn’s childlike-yet-sexual persona as a result of childhood trauma. This excerpt is from a blog on Marilyn’s childhood sexual abuse:

Too Long a Silence: Marilyn Monroe’s History of Sexual Abuse

When I first learned that Marilyn Monroe expressed openly that she was sexually abused as a child, I was surprised because I had heard no mention of it until I was healing from my own abuse. At the same time I was not shocked because I knew of her drug and alcohol problems, emotional problems and her need for sexual attention.

Marilyn’s demeanor, voice, and many other characteristics emulated a sexualized little girl. Her screen persona was childlike and innocent, but she gained attention and affection through a sexual persona. This is the epitome of many sexualized and sexually abused children –gaining attention and affection from their abuser and applying that behavior to obtain favors, attention from others, and some form of ‘love.’ This pattern often follows them into adulthood.

Was "Marilyn" An Identity Created To Help Cope With The Trauma Of Child Sexual Abuse?

I don’t think that Michael was sexually abused as a child in the same way that Marilyn was (though there are some who have tried to put forth that theory, for reasons and agendas of their own); however, I do agree with something Frank Cascio said, which is that Michael was a sexually abused child in the sense of simply being exposed to too much at too young of an age (i.e, forcing a five-year-old child to witness adult sex acts, which Michael himself said occurred frequently throughout his childhood, is in itself considered sexual abuse of a child). However, even without the element of child sexual abuse, the physical abuse alone, coupled with the constant fear of his father, was trauma enough for any child.  

While I don’t wish to get caught up in the idea of playing Freud, it’s quite feasible that Michael and Marilyn may have subconsciously developed their personas as a means of protection and coping; in a sense, they were both children seeking protection from an adult world of dirt, abuse, and exploitation. As superstar adults, their personas enabled them to maintain control in a chaotic environment where, often, it must have seeemed, there was little else of themselves they could control.

MJ: Joseph used to beat us all the time and… (inaudible)dance… would…. He would, he would just ..get to me. And I bought into that, he was like, “Oh you put on a few pounds.” The only thing that I could control in my life, what with Motown… ’cause they tell you- in the interviews, when we used to go on Carson or Mike Douglas or whatever back then, when we used to do interviews as the Jackson Five, you know when you’re in this kind of business they kinda like, they like…ok girl…. “Do you have a girlfriend?” “No.” Do this… You know got, it’s like, they dictate to you everything. What you wear, what you sing. ‘Cause back then we weren’t allowed to sing our own stuff and do our own stuff. They dictate to you what you can wear… If you’re on an interview, if you’re going on Carson, “This is what you say, this is what don’t say.” The only control I had over my life was eating. I had no control. We had no control. *clears throat* I didn’t, I didn’t… I wasn’t like my brothers. People, they’re angry and they take it out on others. I was angry and hurt, and I took it out on myself. And being brought up with Joseph and stuff like that.. when we were rehearsing on 2300- where we used to live. It’s like, If I danced wrong, if I sang the wrong note, I’d get the hell beat out of me, I’d get thrown in the basement. So instead of taking that out on other people, I withdrew and I’d take it out on myself. There was nothing I could control in my life but my eating.-Michael Jackson, Excerpt From The Glenda Tapes

In Part Two, I will examine the flip side of their “Child” personas, and will look at how they both managed to use their very adult wiles, intelligence, and business savvy to outwit both Fox and Sony, respectively. But for both of them, there would be a heavy price to pay.

ETA: As a related footnote to this piece, I just wanted to say more about the film Mister Lonely, which we downloaded tonight and I was able to see for the first time. Admittedly-and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this as an MJ fan-but I didn’t even know about this film until I started researching for this article. I really thought, judging from the premise-a dark romance between a Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe impersonator-  and the clips I saw, it was going to be some horribly cheesy flick, but then I figured, well, it couldn’t possibly be WORSE than Man In The Mirror (the movie), lol. Well, I’m happy to say I was wrong-to a point. Granted, yes, it is a bizarre little film (though no moreso than most artsy little independent films of this type) but overall, a very sweet, charming, funny, and strange little film about identity, the cult of celebrity, and finding one’s path. What’s more-considering this was made in 2007 and released in 2008, well before it had become “fashionable” to portray Michael Jackson in a positive light-this film does just that. Its very clear that this young man, in taking on Michael Jackson’s “identity” is able to impart a very positive and healing influence on everyone he touches (granted, he’s not even a particularly good MJ impersonator, but I think that’s the whole idea-and part of the movie’s charm).  He seems to view the entire world with a sense of innocent sweetness, wonder and awe, and by doing so, draws you into his character and into his world; thus it’s no surpise that of all the celebs in the film,  it’s “Michael Jackson”  who endears himself most to the hauntingly tragic “Marilyn Monroe” and gives her one last glimpse of love and hope. I can’t help but wonder what Michael thought of this film-and also noting the irony (intentional?) of so many of his own “heroes” just happening to have their own roles in this-Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, Shirley Temple, etc. If you’re one of those MJ fans who, like me, doesn’t mind indulging in a bit of whimsical fantasy now and then, I think you’ll really love this little movie! Here is the trailer I found on Youtube: