How does one become a Michael Jackson “Person”? I’m sure there are any number of ways to finding oneself including MJ on the journey. As a simple example, one young woman told me she grew up immersed in popular culture at a time when Michael was playing a major role in it, that she was proud that he was involved and that he was one to admire and his talent was unquestionable.
For my part, being a few years older than Michael, I of course knew of the Jackson 5 and one could hardly miss Thriller, Billie Jean and Bad. But other than his greatest hits, I have to admit I largely was unaware of Michael’s career and his impact on music and popular culture. Perhaps it was because his music came under the pop genre that I never paid much attention. Pop wasn’t to be taken seriously in my view, blues and rock and roll was where it was at.
At any rate, probably 99.9% of my becoming an MJ person had to do with the existence and access to computers and the internet. One day late in August 2010, browsing the video site YouTube, which at the time I had no personal history with, a video of Michael’s was just one click away. Later I learned August was the anniversary of Michael’s birth which was perhaps why one of his music videos came up and not something else. A second click brought me to the 30th anniversary concert, Madison Square Gardens, NYC, 2001 at which Elizabeth Taylor introduced Michael as a great humanitarian. If anyone in popular culture is going to get my attention, the aspects of their character that have to do with what they are giving back to the world is a huge draw. What was Taylor referring to? I was soon to find that the proceeds from entire tours had gone to charity and to the Heal the World Foundation, to learn of the visiting of children in hospitals and orphanages around the world and of the creation of Neverland, Michael’s home, and it being made welcoming as a retreat and outing for sick and/or underprivileged children.
Wanting to find out what MJ was like as a dancer and during live performance on tour, it wasn’t long before I came across the Live in Bucharest concert and then watched everything I could find featuring his moves. Later looking up Jackson 5 videos, it was evident the years and years spent honing his stage skills from early childhood on.
In writing this I’m noticing what drew me in first. Someone else might have been drawn in by the music first, but for me it was MJ’s humanitarian side, then his dancing and performance style as a solo artist and yes eventually I began to absorb the music itself. I was to discover, that no matter which song Michael Jackson either wrote himself, was given or collaborated on, I liked them all. Unusual for me, as is more often the case, just one or two songs of a recording artist will grab me, not their entire catalogue. Early on I recognized his genius encompassed musicality far beyond just one genre. Just now looking it up, I find it included soul, R&B, disco, funk, gospel, synthpop, hiphop, rock, New Jack swing, and adult contemporary.
From here I recall my research mushrooming in any number of directions simultaneously. I needed to know about it “all” and how it “all” started: the history of his childhood and family background; the influences he cited, which again led to weeks, months of researching anyone whom he had credited like Sam and Dave and of course James Brown; his years performing with his siblings and family and learning all about Motown and all the performers and groups, Michael’s musical contemporaries, coming out of Barry Gordy’s Hitsville, many of whose songs were familiar to me as a child growing up in the 60’s with a radio clamped to my ear listening to an American station in the middle of the night.
Having always been a voracious reader with a wide range of reading interests and biography, autobiography and memoirs some of my favourite reading material, it was time to reread Moonwalk, although I found little of interest in 2010 otherwise. The library shelves were bare in comparison to other contemporary artists such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Elvis.
Back to the internet, I could find endless entertainment in the Jackson 5 performance years, leading me to set up another social media account on Twitter wanting to have some connection, however illusory, with people who had lived and breathed and worked with MJ, his brothers being all alive and right there a “tweet” away. Another Jackson family member, Katherine, was also of particular fascination for me. In MJ interviews I noted his chosen speaking voice. From whom did he learn to become so soft spoken and articulate? Perhaps they had drilled him at Motown or was Katherine’s example, his initial template to emulate?
And so it went. l was thrilled to catch the Cirque du Soleil – Michael Jackson The Immortal show in Vancouver in November 2011 and again in August 2012. It was a treat to be able to see in action people who had once worked with Michael, Sugarfoot Moffet, Greg Phillinganes and Jamie King. A spectacular show with the live band, the acrobats, the dancers, the visuals, I felt MJ’s artistic integrity had been ensured by involving so many who had originally worked alongside Michael.
I thought that my journey as a Michael person would be a solitary one. After all, at the time, I lived north of the 60th parallel, in Whitehorse, Yukon so I thought it highly unlikely I would find anyone to share my obsession. However I was wrong. After leaving the Yukon I received an email from my former boss, with “Michael Jackson” in the subject line. I thought my boss was teasing me, as he had caught me once in his office practicing The Drill.
I used to have a bit of fun at the bakery where I worked. On the front counter, rested a basket of white gloves which we used to take the freshly baked loaves of bread off the shelves. One day a new customer asked me what they were for. “Oh,” I offered, “we’re all Michael Jackson fans, stick around long enough and you might catch us breaking into Billie Jean.” For a moment I think she believed me. But I digress.
The “Michael Jackson” email was to introduce me to Wendy, still living in Whitehorse, who having found Michael was searching for others to relate to. Corresponding via email I felt that at least I was not entirely alone on the MJ path. After a miss a year ago, when Wendy and I were to meet at the Jackson family home in Gary, Indiana, the stars aligned, and some would say Michael, finally made our meeting happen and the two of us, as it always is between Michael friends, found our time all too short. I relish more get togethers to come in the future.
Several years ago it was Wendy who had introduced me to the In the Studio with MJ seminars offered world wide by one of MJ’s former sound engineers, Brad Sundberg. A story teller extraordinaire, he invites other artists who once worked in some capacity with Michael, in the studio to share their stories. I have thus far had the privilege of meeting the genius who is Brad Buxer, musical director on tour and collaborator with MJ and Michael Prince, the understated and self described “knob twister” in his working relationship with MJ.
For someone like me who would never have thought much about the anatomy of how a recording is made, and to hear the break down of a completed piece on the best studio equipment out there at near MJ decibels are experiences I never imagined to have. These workshops can be quite addictive and with content being switched up from time to time I’ve had more fun than a person should be allowed at two of these events, one in Boston, another in Toronto. In Boston I was able to thank Joe Vogel, the author of The Man in the Music, letting him know in my opinion it should be on every library’s book shelf. Speaking of books, Elizabeth Amisu’s The Dangerous Philosophies of Michael Jackson is on my to read list. Happily there is now considerably more literature on library shelves to gain new insights into the legacy left by Michael and I seriously need to catch up on the never ending source of information from other media, such as The MJ Podcast.
Recently, I’ve had the distinct privilege of meeting self described MJ devotees, Brenda, author and Siren, artist, who graciously and generously opened their hearts and homes to me and included me on their respective Michael paths intertwined beautifully one with the other. For them, Michael is a remarkable before and after, life altering, muse creating, all encompassing experience. They can tell it better and they have, through their art, books, charities, blogs, posts, etc. If Michael’s oft stated “all for L.O.V.E.” were an embodiment, it would be in these two.
Interesting the intersection of our paths crossing was because of a tree planted by Brenda and Siren in Michael’s memory in Calgary, happening to also be old stomping grounds of mine from life times ago. When I contacted Brenda on line, I thought I was simply getting directions to Michael’s Love Tree with no expectation to actually meet. Having experienced much loss in the way of friends who I thought I would have for a lifetime, it is reassuring and gratifying to find that any new friends some of whom I will meet because of Michael will be for life.
The journey of life can sometimes take on a treacherous turn or two. On the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s birth in 2018, I was to discover a “Michael dream” I had in 2014 had powerfully much greater significance than the initial lighthearted interpretation. That being a happy premonition of a dear friend, Aija, and me making a journey to New York before “knowing” anything about making the trip. While taking a break from the reason for being in NYC, being the People’s Climate March, the largest climate change march in history held September 2014, we found ourselves sitting on a memorial bench dedicated to Michael Jackson at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. The 2014 dream was to go several layers deeper when on August 29, 2018, Aija, after a life long exhausting battle with mental illness, took her own life. My new Michael friends, Brenda and Siren, saw me through the initial shock and remembering the dream, I was to feel and still do, “held up like the River Jordan”. If I can in some small part bring forward Aija’s care and love for her art, for others including children and especially her son and for the planet, at the NYC march she began writing the lyrics for Our Climate Song, then I will be doing well.
How or why a public figure’s life has enduring impact on one’s own is of interest to me and I was asked why, in my case, “Michael”. I identify with Michael and his journey, through my own and I have duly noted the many similarities, parallels and passions of our lives: our ancestors repeatedly geographically displaced, for Michael in both his African and native American roots; both from every large families, 10 and 9 respectively, one of whom passing at birth; both from very strict religious families and breaking away from same while retaining what really mattered; both with fathers who raised children with the old adage of “spare the rod spoil the child”, being a girl in my family saved me; both starting to work at a very early age, Michael had a few years on my ten; both capable of being incredibly naive but still sharp as tacks; both having lies, beliefs, and judgments made of us resulting in being turned upon and enduring through it all, because “lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons” and finally having a raison d’etre of giving back which in Michael’s capacity to dream big included, “healing the world starting with the children”.
When I found that one of Michael’s ancestors on his father’s side included a shaman of the Choctaw tribe, it was of great personal significance to me as I have no doubt of the power of what we bring forward on our DNA. My own passions, specifically when it comes to ecological concerns tied in as they do with reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters, have evolved along side that of Michael’s who said, “Our goal is to change the world. To change world consciousness about children, the ecology and the planet, to make it a better place for everybody, starting with the children. ‘Cause that’s the future we live. And I’ll stick with it forever until it’s done'”.
Galvanized by a dream I had in 1997 having personally by that time spent half a lifetime living off “the fat of the land” I have and will continue to participate in any action supporting indigenous peoples’ and all of our (those with or without language), rights to clean air, clean water and clean food sources, to step back and give nature a chance. To fight for all species of which humans are only one to have a place in the biosphere. As one example only, twenty-three years after the release of Earth Song, it is heart breaking to see footage of an orangutan fighting a bulldozer and realizing personal habits and actions on one side of the globe affects whether an orangutan is left an orphan or not, has a home or not. So yes, I too will stick with it forever. Jane Goodall has said one of her reasons for hope for the planet is social media and the instant relay of information. That twitter account and other social media is now useful far beyond a purely entertaining medium.
Michael will always be “just another part of me“. Aside from his music sustaining me through a heavy turn, MJ has been a reminder to also keep the journey light, impish and carefree. Recently a psychic, who knows nothing of my Michael interest, informed me I have a helper from the other side who is a prankster and loves making jokes. “Does that make sense? He wants you to lighten up.” I laughed out loud. Again on the more serious side, Michael reminds me, through Siedah and cowriter’s memorable song to “make that change” whenever possible while at the same time to just allow for that sheer escapism that Michael often talked about wanting to provide through his artistry.
Someone recently said to me, we are so tremendously lucky to have lived at the time of the music scene of the last half of the last century. So I am always happy to celebrate that my happening to be around when Michael happened to be around just so happened to coincide. Right now I am really, really celebrating another musical legend and whom I like to imagine was a friend to Michael during his life, Freddie Mercury, through the bio-pic Bohemian Rhapsody, but that’s a whole other story.