Right Back: An Article on the Ruthless Actions of the Michael Jackson Estate

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Anyone who has authored a book on Michael Jackson and was spurred on to do so by a deep, grateful adoration of the man and a desire to seek justice for him will tell you how motivations such as these are not conducive with the wishes of the Michael Jackson Estate. They will say how when writing their book, they made the conscious decision to sacrifice financial gain at the expense of honouring their principles. They will explain how their books are – truly – labours of love fuelled by wanting – no, craving – to disseminate truth in an effort to counteract misinformation promulgated by the Estate.

I learned this the hard way.

To be clear, I do not regret having written The First Book of Michael. On the contrary, composing the blog that became the book was a wonderful experience. It involved my forging deep, lifelong relationships with fans of a like-minded ilk; friendships that flourished out of a mutual understanding of the importance in protecting and promoting Michael Jackson’s truthful legacy.

I’ll also freely admit to having revelled in the praise my words garnered, with comments I received from people who had been close to Michael – in which they admired my apparent spiritual affinity with him – making me feel nothing less than ecstatic. The way such reviews lifted my heart and encouraged my passion for writing was – and I mean this with absolute sincerity – all and more I could have asked for as recompense for my efforts and sacrifice.

In the introduction to The First Book of Michael, I write how the “book is my heart”. And it truly is.

What I am about to divulge is not some indulgence in martyrdom, nor is it an attempt to elicit sympathy. I’m not sure what it is, to be honest; but I feel compelled to put it down nonetheless. Perhaps it’s merely an expression of closure; an acknowledgment of discovering clarity at the end of an arduous journey.

You see, the months I spent collating and editing the blog into something that resembled coherence were some of the darkest periods I have ever lived through. With naive determination, I was entirely convinced that the efforts I ploughed into the book would ultimately prove worthwhile.

This obsession with seeing the project through resulted in the relationship with the mother of my daughters disintegrating into irredeemable animosity; a heartbreaking consequence of this being prolonged periods in which I was refused access to my beloved children.

Writing the book became a double-edged sword. But I had gone too far to turn back. I existed alone in a dark, rented room: my sole raison d’être being the book’s completion. I didn’t have a job. I ended up months behind with rental payments. I began hiding from my live-in landlord, keeping my curtains closed during the day and creeping out at night. I became anxious. I became depressed. I became homeless. I sacrificed everything in faith that the eventual benefits would make all the suffering worthwhile.

It can be hard to remember who oneself is whilst enduring hardship, and I’m so happy that I will forever have the book as a record of my positive intentions and bravery in times of real pain. Indeed, I look forward to the day when my daughters can read it for themselves.

Whilst I certainly possessed no aspirations of overnight wealth and stardom, I must confess that in the back of my mind there existed the quiet hope that writing the book might lead to opportunities through which I could embark on a fruitful career doing what I love.

Upon publication, however, these dreams were instantly, brutally rendered redundant.

I had pre-empted the release date with increasingly-excited promotional blog posts counting down to what should have been a joyous occasion. Instead, it became the day my work fell prey to coordinated, premeditated sabotage.

Perfectly timed to inflict maximum damage, a tongue-in-cheek article I had written years previously for an alternative music magazine was unearthed and widely distributed amongst the Michael Jackson fan community. An insidious witch hunt ensued in which I was maliciously attacked on social media using images of my children. I was slandered as a hater. My estranged children and my late hero. My desperately missed and lamented loves – the crutches I’d relied on to embolden my determination to complete the project – suddenly became the very things used to undermine me and my work.

My naivety concerning the depths the powerful, paranoid Estate patsies would dive to in order to discredit a book on Michael Jackson contrary to their propaganda was ruthlessly exposed.

Aspirations annihilated. Time I could have spent with my two young children forever irretrievable.

Sales figures were negligible. It was an excruciating anticlimax. My bank account was closed down due to debts incurred as I’d struggled and failed to make ends meet whilst writing the book.

Still, I persisted. I refused to be bullied and chose to throw all my energy into promotion that would counteract the actions of the saboteurs.

I was fortunate to find a friend who watched as I doggedly continued in efforts to make some sort of success of the book. Out of kindness and as a last ditch attempt at promotion, my friend funded a trip to Italy to appear at MJ Day. It was a beautiful occasion. But it marked my acceptance of defeat.

Yet, the obsessive, incessant online promotion I had been undertaking had been the sole factor keeping me (just about) emotionally afloat. My relinquishing hope for the book and acknowledging its failure left me utterly distraught. Life spiralled from bad to unbearable.

It has taken me two years to fully recover.

I sometimes entertain the idea of one day publishing a polished, updated version of The First Book of Michael, one that incorporates the many blog posts I wrote subsequent to its publication. But I’m not ready for that yet. It has taken time and space to be able to reflect upon the experience with any sense of objectivity at all.

However.

Battle-scarred I may be. But I’m also rested, wiser, empowered and eager.

Eager to resume my role as a thorn in the Estate’s side.

As Michael once put it: I’m right back where I wanna be.

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It Is Scary – Article on the latest posthumous Michael Jackson release

Let’s get one thing straight. Michael Jackson’s place in the canon of pop horror is indisputable and infinitely assured. This aspect of his legacy is frequently demonstrated in full glory throughout contemporary popular culture. Michael’s dedication to the quality of his art means no further assistance is required. Take the recent cinematic remake of cult demon clown classic, Stephen King’s IT.

The movie takes place in the late eighties and involves the adventures of a gang of young teenagers. The tangible zeitgeist of the film and the age of its protagonists naturally lends itself to the incorporation of Michael Jackson as a cultural reference.

The first scripted nod is a straightforward allusion to Michael’s hair having caught fire during filming for the Pepsi commercial. The second reference is somewhat more subtle, however. It is part of some throwaway dialogue used to demonstrate typical childhood chat of the era. As the gang walk into a room, they wistfully discuss how “he’s in a rollercoaster with a chimpanzee then he dances with the elephant man’s bones… it’s fucking cool”.

The third homage is found within the visuals during a scene in which IT becomes manifest through a projector screen. It is vividly evocative of the sequence in Ghosts when Michael assumes the role of a giant demonic force. Too evocative to be coincidence.

The denouement of IT shows the gang defeating (or have they?) the demon through discovering the power they can wield by overcoming their respective fears and working together as a team. It mirrors the final scenes in the original version of Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, when children rebuild the destroyed Maestro character through their innocence and love.

The comparisons are genuine and poignant. Stephen King co-wrote the Ghosts screenplay, after all.

I’ve written much about Michael Jackson. In all honesty, I have little left to say. I’ve said my piece.

Yet.

There’s one thing that reliably provokes me enough to write again about Michael Jackson. One thing that really gets me blood-lusting after those in an unjustly esteemed position. One recurring thing that inevitably, biennially rears its grotesque head just to ruin every other Christmas for me.

The news of the latest MJ estate ruse.

The spirit-rinsing predictability of yet another cynical repackaging of Michael’s much-milked music, created solely with the intention of further lining the fat, bloodied pockets of the conmen that accelerated his demise, at the expense of the great man’s artistic integrity.

The hoodwinking.

The audacity.

The free chalk.

Alas, there is no free chalk on this occasion.

No. This time the cheap gimmick is a glow in the dark vinyl edition. Less useful for scribbling offensive graffiti on the walls of Branca’s office. But nice and shiny nonetheless. Perfect, in fact, for those fickle, deluded, magpie anti-fans determined to assist the estate in its attempt to discover how viciously a barrel can be scraped before it ceases to qualify as a vessel anymore. They want to help break the record.

Still. Though there might not be free chalk with this one, neither is there included any songs performed by an imposter. Which – considering the ostensible theme of the project being Gothic Michael Jackson – begs the question as to why Cascio-produced, estate-endorsed, fake as a three dollar bill track Monster hasn’t been included?

Especially as it seems that whichever genius compiled the tracklisting appears to have quite rapidly run out of thematically relevant ideas. Apparently due to a dearth of knowledge concerning Michael’s discography.

Is It Scary? You know, the one about being scared of ghosts and stuff? No. Scared Of The Moon? You know, the one about being scared of the moon and stuff? No. Little Susie? You know, the one about the murdered child and that?

Nah.

Leave Me Alone? You know, Michael’s analogous lamentation about suffering at the hands of the tabloid press? Dirty Diana? You know, the sex-sodden ode to a lifetime of having to deal with groupies? Unbreakable? You know, the defiant comeback track in which Biggie’s posthumous rap was specifically sampled so as to optimise Michael’s rage at the unjust state of things?

Yeah! All of those! Why not? Hell! Chuck in Butterflies whilst we’re at it!

Well.

At least some people are actually scared of butterflies.

Imagine the extent of the cognitive dissonance any fair-weather fans will have to muster when handing over their money to obtain this contrivance? The magnitude of self-chicanery required to counteract the aching immorality inherent in such a soulless purchase?

Now… that.

That is scary.

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Tattoo Bad: An Article in Defence of Paris Jackson

Show me a scar and I’ll show you a survivor. Show me someone who can proudly exhibit their scars, and I’ll show you a hero.

Michael’s face was adorned with scars. Scars from his acne-plagued adolescence. Scars from his plastic surgery. Michael was riddled with insecurities about his facial appearance. Many of Michael’s idiosyncrasies manifest as a consequence of these scars. His use of long wigs as a masking device. The wearing of a wide-brimmed hat as a masking device. The Aviator sunglasses as a masking device. The mask. A masking device.

Yet he persisted. He continued to show himself to the world.

The days of tattoos as the exclusive hallmark of angry, wayfaring bikers are long gone. Possibly to said subculture’s chagrin.

For at least two decades now the trend for inking one’s heart on one’s sleeve has been prevalent in mainstream society. When the trend began, most people visited parlours and selected from a pre-sketched gallery of quasi-tribal symbols or oriental lettering. The joke being that there must also be people in China walking around with the word ‘LINEN’ or something equally banal indelibly inscribed on a buttock. Proudly wandering around half-naked, oblivious to the bland truth, but satisfied that it definitely increased their sex appeal.

So… what exactly does that wrinkled depiction of Donald Duck on your ankle mean to you?

Well. It might mean that you had the time of your life in Marbella. And there’s no shame in that. For to be enjoying a moment to the extent that one feels compelled to honour it with a permanent visual reminder is a beautiful thing.

Many of us will forever carry these scars. And whilst many of us might also now feel somewhat less confident about their sex appeal, as a needled mnemonic, as a nostalgia spur – they hold a treasured place in one’s personal history.

And therein lies the entire point of tattoos.

In the same way there is a sense of identity in having Michael Jackson as one’s idol, there is a sense of identity in a tattoo. Those prudes that self-righteously ridicule the choices other people make in their attempts to fill the void of self (so long as no-one is hurting anyone else), should probably take a look at what they themselves are choosing in order to satisfy their own vacuum. Those that dismiss The Inked and feel superior in “not having to ‘resort’ to visual reminders” of who they are, are quite simply and very markedly missing the point.

Are you a mother? Then that is a huge portion of your identity. Do you have stretch marks? Those beautiful scars of pregnancy? If you’re in the demographic that judged Paris Jackson for acquiring ink, it’s probable.

To expect Paris Jackson to somehow not be representative of her generation and its trends is both cruel and bizarre. Considering her unorthodox upbringing, it’s a testament to her own strength of character and her dad’s adept parenting that she is.

Paris Jackson is a self-harm survivor. She has emerged from an adolescence the tabloid scrutiny of which can only be rivalled by the experience suffered by her father. Indeed, she exhibits his fortitude. Paris’ tattoos are a proud gallery displaying adornments for her adored and lamented father as well as expressions of her uniqueness. In the same way Michael used love and the embracing of individual expression to combat his insecurities, so does his daughter.

As if it should ever have been the case that the sensitive teenager was forced to defend her choices, Paris remarked:

Today i can look at my inner forearms and see art that has meaning for me. I don’t see a dark past anymore. My scars and past of self-hatred have been covered by loving marks, creativity, ingenuity… and depth.

The pricking pain of the inker’s needle can be a panacea for the burning lungs of an agonised soul. We can be certain that Michael isn’t scowling down upon Paris from his celestial abode. More likely, his brow is furrowed in disappointment at those who would hurriedly explain away his very own atypical, oft-inexplicable choices without a second’s thought, yet assume some kind of right to nanny by-proxy and by-tabloid his beloved daughter.

Judgement under the guise of concern. Isn’t that what Michael had to so-often endure?

It is absurd to deny Michael’s own daughter this assertion of devotion to her father. Especially  from middle-aged whingers whose sense of self is entirely based on Michael as their idol. Paris is his actual daughter for God’s sake.

Of course, there’s a whole other debate to be had about whether or not the trend for tattoos is in itself indicative of an increasingly insecure and terrified world. That the fear of expressing oneself through having an actual personality is instead tentatively made manifest through wearing superficial hearts on sleeves. However, lest we forget the many ancient, more ‘spiritually intelligent’ civilisations that incorporated the art-form of inking skin into their cultures.

Warriors in particular were traditionally well-adorned.

To acquire a tattoo is a courageous decision, irrespective of any underlying reason. Indeed, those that acquire ‘MJ’ tattoos are consciously inviting inevitable ridicule. And perhaps the fact that it was social pariahs such as bikers who were the ones once synonymous with being heavily inked is significant.

Besides, it’s not like Michael ever had any tattoos, eh?

Oh.

Apart from those on his face.

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The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

Leave Me Alone: A Short Film Rich In Symbolism

The Leave Me Alone video is a trip. Not merely one aboard a rocket and a rollercoaster, but also in the psychotropic sense. Watching it is like dropping LSD then getting lost in the Dangerous album artwork – witnessing the rich, exotic imagination of it all becoming animated before your very eyes.

It starts with Michael being ejected from a trailer park, foreshadowing the subsequent short film Michael would release, Black or White – when the fat, patriarchal embodiment of North America is blasted into Africa for an educational experience. Upon the doorstep of the trailer van is thrown the tabloid junk that distracts the masses from the real problems of the world. This motif in the Leave Me Alone short film would later be echoed in the Dangerous track Why You Wanna Trip On Me.

In Leave Me Alone, the sun is setting on Michael’s Barnum-comparable circus. The red stars that appear on the rollercoaster presage those on the Dangerous album cover. Michael pilots a rocket and laughs gleefully as he loses the dogs in suits in pursuit of him – the same dogs that during the video’s denouement are attempting to keep him tied down. Michael the Gulliver-esque giant frees himself from their constraints with the same gleeful ease we witnessed as he danced fastened to a ball and chain accompanied by the reanimated bones of a stylised Joseph Merrick in an earlier scene.

Immortal and omnipotent in legend. Unconstrained by physicality or death.

The short film is fertile with symbolism:

Pirates attempt to down Michael’s rocket; during the sequence in which Elizabeth Taylor is featured, Michael stops singing out of respect for her; there’s a rotating barber’s pole – very feasibly a reference to Michael’s recent hair loss and subsequent reliance on wigs; there’s a haunted mine, a goldfish bowl and a peacock – the latter of which Michael had been fond of using as an emblem for racial equality since The Jacksons’ Destiny album; Michael rescues Bubbles from slavery; he bursts through doors that when closed form a broken heart.

Long before conspiracy theorists were over-analysing pop music videos for signs of Illuminati messages, Michael was incorporating such themes into his art:

There is a perspicacious incorporation of Orwellian CCTV; there’s a Baphometian pushmi-pullyu; there are pyramids and reptiles aplenty – even an alligator controlling a piano that spins atop its snout. Other things spin: Michael’s brain, rom which cascade depictions of a cookie, a nose, a scalpel and planet Earth. Polarities of importance? Or how both personal and macrocosmic issues carry equal importance?

By the final “Make that change” of the Bad Tour, Michael’s exorcising of the significance of commercial success as a barometer for self-worth was in full swing. After unsuccessfully throwing his all into efforts that would surely ensure Bad outsold Thriller, it seemed to dawn on him what an impossible, self-defeating aspiration it was. Sales of Thriller were a phenomenon, insurpassable due to the project’s uniquely perfect storm of brilliance, endeavour and happenstance.

So, rather than let the obsession control the rest of his career, Michael psychically discarded the shackles. The Leave Me Alone short film was a segue into the Dangerous project. It showed Michael embracing his responsibility as “The World’s Strongest Man” – as a poster in the video depicts. Michael focused his energies on humanitarianism and philanthropy: “There’s a time when you’re right… / There’s a choice you must take”.

This emancipation from his self-imposed standards of success (a liberation that cannot have pleased his record company) enabled Michael to grow artistically. Quincy Jones’ expertise as Executive Producer was bravely, poignantly abandoned, allowing Michael to experiment with different musical genres on the Dangerous album. The themes of which are loneliness, humanitarianism and self-fulfilment.

Dangerous was Michael’s coming-of-age magnum opus, in which he courageously incorporated religiosity. In the song Jam, Michael laments the confusion in creed and its incongruity with world peace, proclaiming, “She pray to God, to Buddha, then she sings a Talmud song.” Michael began using the Sign Of The Cross in his choreography (often followed by a crotch grab). The lyrics of the song Dangerous both quote the Bible and describe a woman as “divinity in motion.” In Will You Be There, Michael begs us to remember that he’s “only human”, whilst also, with the words “lift me up, lift me up” implores that we elevate him as a totem for peace.

Divinity exists. Inside every human. But Michael was the most famous one that ever lived, and the reality of divinity is evident in this man’s choice to use his peerless fame as a catalyst for peace.

And whilst the dogs in suits might continue to chase, we can forever throw our heads back in untouchable glee.

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The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

The Ides of March: An Article on the Sale of Michael Jackson’s Catalogue

March 15th was a fitting date for the announcement that Michael Jackson’s precious fifty-percent share of the Sony/ATV music-publishing catalogue had been sold to Sony Music at a knock-down price. At a depreciated cost that coincidentally and conveniently just about covers the Estate’s IRS tax fine. With an extra two million thrown in perhaps as a bonus for the architect of the Estate’s deliberate mismanagement.

For March 15th marks the Ides of March. The day Julius Caesar uttered the words “Et tu, Brute?” as he recognised his friend Brutus amongst the assassins that had conspired to murder him.

Of course, there would have been no “Et tu, Branca?” – Michael had long-since realised that the duplicitous lawyer was no friend of his. What with Michael firing him for conflict of interest, due to his representing Sony Music as Michael protested against the company. As well as Michael screaming at people who even mentioned Branca’s name, insisting that Branca was in cahoots with Sony Music and Sneddon in helping bring about the child molestation prosecution.

Furthermore, in his song ‘In The Back’ it takes no wild stretch of imagination when considering who Michael is referring to as he sings of how he is still trying to “deal with the fires that they made”. Indeed, a lifetime of litigation is inevitable when its your own lawyer conspiring against you. Neither is it far-fetched to imagine who the “Johnny” might be that Michael references in ‘Superfly Sister’ – “Johnny” who is “begging pretty please, keep that brother on his knees.”

Yet – I’ll say it again – in the will that was signed by Michael whilst he was provably three thousand miles away, John Branca was granted stewardship of Michael’s Estate in the event of his death.

Such a tragic turn of events how it has become Michael’s true fans that will never buy anything again that they release in his name. The thought of lining the pockets of those criminals makes me feel physically sick.

Michael was killed for his catalogue. He explicitly told us that this would happen.

Julius Caesar’s death marked the start of a civil war, though how there can possibly be a civil war between Michael Jackson fans is beyond me. I simply cannot begin to imagine the mindset of any faction that defends this egregious undermining of Michael’s life work and wishes. Who are these people? Can there really be enough of these avaricious imbeciles in order to form an army? Regardless, their battle is immoral; their Estate built on sand.

Branca has succeeded in both his straight-faced farce and in his aplomb as a conjuror – he has offered just enough glittering explosions to distract just enough people to support him as he saw Sony Music over the finish line.

And Branca is continuing with this technique, with Michael’s children taking the heat. After once again going public with her anti-Sony stance, Paris suddenly became the victim of a media smear claiming that her boyfriend was racist.

Also in the same week, Prince launched his own production company, ‘King’s Son Productions’.

And in this lies some hope.

For in the civil war of Roman times, the throne was ultimately won by Julius Caesar’s son.

 

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The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

Holding On: Seven Years Since I Saw Michael for the Final Time

My instant reaction to the announcement of Michael’s appearance at the O2 was to leap on the first available train down from the Lake District to London. I bought an umbrella to present to him and decorated it with gold ‘MJ’ lettering, a drawing of a butterfly and the words ‘Welcome Back.’

I was drunk on excitement. I was going to see Michael again!

Michael’s words were meant to ignite a year of intermittent encounters with him. Yet there was a tangible uneasiness amongst fans. Something seemed terribly amiss.

Michael was killed mere weeks later.

The subsequent inquest into how this happened revealed that behind the scenes of the O2 press conference, Michael had been being bullied. That Randy Phillips had hit Michael and screamed at him “so hard the walls were shaking”, complaining the reason why a terrified Michael was taking so long to take to the O2 stage was because “we still have to get his nose on properly.” Referring to Michael as “the freak.”

Of course, us fans knew none of this. And in spite of our reservations, we chose hope and the seductive thrill of anticipation.

After all, Michael was back.

The consequent ‘This Is It’ project was an empty hearse. A soulless vehicle. It was a snuff movie that took advantage of the world’s grief at Michael’s death, in order to feed the greed of those that coerced Michael into cooperating with the project by using his vulnerabilities and insecurities against him.

In the opening of the ensuing AEG case, the defence threatened “to expose the ugly of your family and your son.” Katherine’s lawyer, Brian Panish asked her, “And how does it make you feel to hear that they’re going to tell everyone that your son is a bad person?” To which she replied, “Makes me feel real bad, because I know my son was a very good person. He loved everybody. He gave to charity. He’s in the Guinness Book of Records for giving the most to charity of all the pop stars. I’m so nervous. I’m sorry.” Panish also asked, “And why is it that you’re here to testify today?” Katherine replied, “Because I want to know what really happened to my son, and that’s why I’m here.”

The distressing details Katherine Jackson had to endure as the court described her son’s physical and mental demise towards death evoked tears, both for justice and remorse. Her recounting the moment she learned Michael had died was nothing short of harrowing,

“Everything went dark, and I just heard screaming.”

A majority of the jury agreed that AEG Live escaped prosecution on a mere technicality.

The Estate refused to support Michael’s mother and children in the lawsuit against AEG.

‘This Is It’ tickets sold out in record time. Hundreds of thousands of people continued to queue and crash websites even after a million had already been sold. A dearth of confidence after the media’s attempted assassination of Michael after the 2005 trial had crippled Michael.

This record-breaking reaction that demonstrated how much he remained loved by the public must have provided Michael with some solace and happiness in his final days.

I hold onto this.

 

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The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

Infinite Echo: Remembering my First Michael Jackson Concert

Four pairs of unblinking eyes had watched her reading out the numbers on the newly-acquired credit card. My mum settled the phone back in its cradle and looked up at the four unusually silent and well-behaved children perched apprehensively on the couch across the room.

“Okay, kids…”

She piqued the moment with a mischievous pause.

“So… who wants to go to a Michael Jackson concert in the summer holidays?”

We blinked.

We shrieked.

We leapt into her lap and smothered her with kisses of ecstatic gratitude, each of us promising we’d never be naughty ever again.

My mum had recently been discharged from hospital, where she had spent months recovering from illness. This was her way of apologising for not having been around. Not that she ever needed to.

Immediately – in our naivety – my brother and I began fantasising about which songs Michael might perform. Would the concert simply consist of each song from the Dangerous album? Played in order? We had no idea. My brother was ten years old. I was twelve. This was our first ever gig. Our comprehension of a pop concert had been informed purely through perpetually-repeated viewings of the Moonwalker version of Man In The Mirror. As far as we could vaguely appreciate such an abstract event, the ensuing experience would most-likely entail us weeping ourselves unconscious, before being dispatched from the crowd by a conveyor belt of hands and into the custody of some burly men at the front. Strange men, who apparently preferred to throw water at people rather than watch the Michael Jackson concert happening behind them. Even though they all wore Michael Jackson T-shirts.

We four siblings had already been Michael Jackson fans for five years. But the idea of going to see Michael live in concert set our fan status on fire, instantly rocketing us far and away into the stratosphere.

We were somewhat excited.

Our appetite for all-things Michael became insatiable. We collected everything. We studied him. We imbibed him.

Roundhay Park, Leeds – the scene of the shout. August 16th, 1992 – the day with an infinite echo.

And the infuriating view of a fluorescent shell suit.

We were walled-in by adults making early-nineties fashion mistakes.

Alone, my mum had brought four young children to a Michael Jackson concert. I can only imagine it was our delirious level of excitement and regular reminders of our oath to never misbehave again that helped made the scenario manageable for her.

That neon cage is all I can recall prior to Michael’s arrival on stage. My brain was no-doubt drenched in adrenaline. (Although I know that the support act went by the quite ironic moniker of D’Influence.)

But the memory of the crowd’s roar announcing Michael Jackson was now amongst us is invincible. It remains the loudest sound I have ever heard.

Michael Jackson.

The Michael Jackson.

I couldn’t see a thing. It was bewildering. I felt terrified.

The smash of glass.

Michael had kicked things off.

I turned to look at my mum. Her face was beaming.

I felt exhilarated.

Whenever I could manage, I stole glimpses over the shoulders of the garish giants that jumped around me. With the Jumbotron providing a contingency view.

The details I can recollect are few. I remember feeling embarrassed at not knowing the lyrics to Human Nature for the call-and-response section. I remember instinctively turning to my brother as the words “My footsteps broke the silence of the pre-dawn hours…” began to emanate, to find him looking right back at me; whereupon we both simultaneously screamed “Heartbreak Hotel!” Although, of course, it wasn’t. Unbeknownst to us, Michael now used that spoken intro for Smooth Criminal instead. And as that song’s bassline burst open, the mutual exclamation “Smooth Criminal! Ha ha!” was our delighted response.

During the denouement of She’s Out Of My Life I remember laughing at hearing a man shout, “Cheer up, Michael! She’s not worth it mate!” I remember marvelling at the dancing skeletons in Thriller – from my hindered perspective, all I could see were the puppets, not the puppeteers. I remember Billie Jean. Because two men hoisted my younger brother and youngest sister onto their shoulders so they could see the show better.

Yeah. I remember that.

I remember my mum worrying that Workin’ Day And Night and Beat It were too noisy; before relaxing again in the beauty of Will You Be There.

But most of all, I remember Man In The Mirror.

At its climax I witnessed my hero fly.

I watched Michael Jackson fly.

At least, as far as I was concerned as a twelve year old boy.

The magic. The atmosphere. The adoration.

I became a mere one of millions privileged to see the uniquely superlative spectacle that was a Michael Jackson concert.

The stage lights faded for the final time. Michael Jackson had left the stadium. Fireworks blossomed in the sky, stroking strobes across the faces of a dazzled crowd.

We made our way out of the arena. On our own feet – neither crying nor unconscious. But awestruck and soul-altered all the same.

Little had my mum known what a profound impact the experience of seeing Michael Jackson in concert would have on her young children.

The echo of it.

And she reckons she’s still paying off that credit card.

 

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The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

Changes: An Article on Michael Jackson and David Bowie

A maelstrom of loss swirled around, yet its winds were incapable of evaporating the sadness that saturated status updates on social media. Grief unifies, but in doing so makes such a day weigh heavy. The following morning, tabloid newspapers emblazoned the same garish image of the deceased across their front pages, whilst the broadsheets opted for more respectful, sophisticated tributes.

The news of David Bowie’s death was gut-wrenchingly familiar to Michael Jackson fans.

Michael had been a great admirer of Bowie’s, and had known him most of his life. There is a picture of the pair together during the Jackson 5 years, at a party the Jackson family had thrown for Al Green; as well as pictures of the two of the two chatting backstage during Bowie’s 1983 Serious Moonlight tour, with Michael dressed in his Sergeant Pepper garb.

The concept of creating an alter ego and the engendering of enigma – with Michael’s adoption of Sergeant Pepper regalia being an example of this – was something Bowie had been the vanguard for. Bowie pirouetted through myriad identities and musical genres which, as well as enthralling, also discombobulated his audience: who was he?

It is the same principle behind why esteemed actors attempt to keep their true personas a secret by rarely giving interviews: should the audience begin to intuit who they are, it becomes that much more difficult to convince the spectators of any fictitious character they might assume for a role. Said actors need to be as much of a blank slate as possible in order to successfully transform.

And should the audience begin to imagine you as one thing, the switching to an alter-ego has the added benefit of tripping up the expectations upon the embarking of a new project. Or, in the terminology of Michael Jackson’s career, ‘era’.

It was an idea seized upon and utilised by eighties popstars – whose successes, partly as a consequence of adopting this tactic, endured to longevity. Popstars like Michael, Prince and Madonna. The practice continues today. (Just take a look at the evolution of Miley Cyrus and her male counterpart Justin Bieber. Although I think Madonna might have ran out of identities now as she seems to be recycling them. I’m not sure how many times now she’s bestowed the world with the revelation of her being bisexual.)

Madonna also went to see Bowie on his Serious Moonlight tour and said in an interview following the show,

“[Bowie] was definitely an inspiration… He constantly changed. He was more like an actor. He kept coming up with new ideas and new images and new feelings and thoughts to get everybody else stirred up.”

Madonna has repeated this homage since Bowie’s death, saying,

“I want to pay tribute to a man who inspired my career… he changed my life when I went to see him in concert in Detroit… he showed me that it was okay to be different… He opened the door for transgenders and made people feel like it was okay to be different, and it didn’t really matter if you dressed like a boy or a girl… what matters is on the inside.”

Bowie is seen as avant-garde in his advocacy of those that felt ostracised by orthodoxy due to their sexuality, dress or lifestyle. Throughout his career, he defied convention. He provided his audiences with a kaleidoscope of characters, each reinvention used as a means to embolden himself enough to have the confidence to appear on stage. Without the armour of a stage persona, Bowie admitted to feeling uncomfortable. This adoption of an alter ego to – paradoxically, perhaps – enhearten himself with the ability to express his individuality, also has the byproduct of giving his art the gravity of capacity for interpretation, and thus the power to inspire on an individual level. This capacity for flexibility also enabled Bowie to engage in juxtapositional career moves, which stratified his appeal to an ever-expanding fanbase. On the one hand, he could duet with Bing Crosby or narrate the introduction to Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman animation, whilst on the other, collaborate with Iggy Pop or Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame (a band, incidentally, that Michael was also a huge fan of, with them being the inspiration, musically, for his song Morphine).

Of course, when Michael reappeared with a new image for a new era, it wasn’t merely his wig that had changed. Michael embraced his skin disease and used it as both an excuse to alter anything he was insecure about as well as a basis for a new image for a new project. Michael’s continuing successes reinforced this behaviour. As Bowie said about his continuous changes, “I got quite besotted with the idea of creating character after character.”

As Lisa Marie Presley states during the Diane Sawyer interview, “[Michael] resculpted himself; he’s an artist.” A statement Michael then endorses with the words, “I’m a performer.” The philosophies of Bowie and Michael demonstrate that judging anyone by their physicality is farcical.

Michael was also different insofar as where Bowie assumed a different persona for each phase in his career, Michael could switch alter egos between songs during a single concert. Just watch on the Bad Tour how he transforms from a hunched, self-conscious figure into a strutting embodiment of self-confidence the instant the first chord of Dirty Diana is struck.

This is what the poet Keats called the chameleon quality – the ability to “tolerate a loss of self and a loss of rationality by trusting in the capacity to recreate oneself in another character or another environment.”

In a similar vein, many of Bowie’s songs don’t overtly draw from his own experiences, with the focus being instead on fantasy characters. One of the techniques he used when writing songs was the ‘Hunter S. Thompson method’ in which he drew inspiration from randomly retrieved words. This approach, however, is markedly different from Michael Jackson’s, in which the inspiration for his lyrics were most often drawn from his own life, albeit with the utilisation of fictional protagonists.

(Even Smooth Criminal (originally titled Al Capone) may well have been inspired by Michael’s introduction to the Mafia around the time of its writing; what with the period also inspiring such lyrics as “Just put your dime on the line baby, I own you… / Somebody said, give up instead on how you feel / One blow to the head is all you need”. With that last line feasibly a reference to the Pepsi burning incident that had recently occurred. With the success of Thriller, Michael encountered a murky world indeed.)

Bowie’s song Kooks (‘kook’ meaning “eccentric person”) from the 1971 album Hunky Dory, was written after the birth of his son, and anticipates his child growing up in unconventional circumstances. The song is an anthem for the acceptance of diversity and nonconformity and rallies against the rigid, stifling stuffiness of the traditional, sterile patriarchal system. Bowie and his then-wife divorced in 1980, with the singer gaining custody of his son. Bowie had been one of the first artists to openly express the idea of the inaccuracies of gender polarisation, and was also now leading the way for unorthodox familial arrangements. Something Michael Jackson ultimately exemplified. 

In the early eighties, MTV had yet to begin airing black artists in regular video rotation. Rick James publicly denounced the channel as racist after its refusal to play his hit Super Freak. Michael’s Thriller video galvanised the change in attitude, along with Bowie’s now-celebrated confrontation with the contemporaneous MTV veejay Mark Goodman. Bowie audaciously ambushed a live interview with his enquiry, “Why are there practically no blacks on the network?” Before highlighting the fact that “There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV… Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair… to make the media more integrated?”

Ironically, it was only when Bowie teamed up with legendary black producer Nile Rodgers, that he achieved transatlantic commercial success (with the album Let’s Dance – the title track being released as a single accompanied by a video depicting a message of racial tolerance). With Nile Rodgers being a man who cites Thriller as one of his favourite albums of all time.

Michael’s Remember the Time video was conceived in response to Spielberg’s refusal to cooperate in the production of a movie that celebrated a time in history when the wealthy, innovative, powerful societies of the world were black.  Michael hired the model Iman Abdulmajid to play the role of the Pharaohess who would grant Michael his first on-screen kiss. Iman also just happened to be David Bowie’s wife. (Michael also employed the services of another black model in the subsequent In The Closet short film.)

Iman and Bowie were extremely active in their campaigning for many humanitarian causes, especially children’s charities. Bowie’s musical canon is peppered with songs inspired by a concern for the welfare of humanity, such as Fantastic Voyage and When the Wind Blows. Any legacy worth its salt contains such material – a bequeathal of the chance that future generations will discover their art and be reminded of the importance of love and respect for their fellow human beings.

Bowie gave a renowned concert in front of the Reichstag in June 1987, a year before Michael performed there – with both artists’ presence igniting riots on the other side of the Berlin Wall, and hence expediting its fall, and freedom for those in East Germany.

Concerning concerts, in March a memorial concert for Bowie will take place at New York’s Carnegie Hall. A mere three months after his death. It’s seven years now since Michael died. The Estate still haven’t managed to arrange a tribute concert for him.

Also, now Bowie fans have experienced the sense of loss unique to being bereaved of one’s hero, it would be interesting to find out their opinion on how they would feel if the Bowie Estate now attempted to release songs recorded by an imposter. To have to contend with problems of the ilk of our latest one, in which the director Spike Lee is claiming that Janet Jackson – the multimillionaire married to a billionaire – declined to partake in his forthcoming Off The Wall documentary because of tensions between the family and the Estate caused by money. Janet Jackson is not interested in money. She has enough money. Janet Jackson is interested in justice and due reverence for the legacy of her late brother.

There are other important differences between the suffering currently being experienced by David Bowie fans and that which Michael Jackson fans endure, with the former faction not having to contend with the malicious digging up of controversial subject matter their idol might have once said.

Racism remains, but our heroes inspire us to persist in our fight to see changes.

As Bowie himself said, “It’s not the politicians who will end oppression. It’s the radicals, with the stink in their clothes, rebellion in their brain, hope in their heart and direct action in their fist.”

Cover

The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

Michael’s World: An Article on Using Michael Jackson’s Fame to Achieve World Peace

Ten years ago I had a talk with my father that became a rather strange source of comfort. The conversation concerned the worries that had begun to prey on his mind after I had been born.

I was born in 1980. It was the tail-end of the Cold War – an era of fear endured by an entire generation that passively imbibed perennial threats of nuclear war, subconsciously absorbed the sabre-rattling propaganda engineered to cultivate artificial differences. So as to create an arbitrary division between those members of the human race living west of Berlin and those that lived to its east.

The term ‘Cold War’ had been coined a mere seventeen months after the official end of World War II – thirty-three years prior to my birth. My dad became terrified by the potential for nuclear Armageddon, with the twitchy fingers of world leaders hair-raisingly close to a hair-trigger button capable of annihilating millions of innocents. One of whom was his newborn son. And by fulfilling his biological obligation to reproduce had now also been introduced to a hitherto-unknown dimension of love.

Yet he was powerless to protect against the whims of psychotic politicians. There was a dawn of realisation of him as a disposable pawn thrown down at the feet of capricious mercy, a recognition of the gravity involved in his having to solely rely on the tenacity in his capacity to hope.

The Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror. The battlefront has crept eastwards, but it remains that the tensions lie between east and west. Tensions tightly and ominously loaded with the potential for unthinkable disaster. The USSR may have been dismantled, but allies are easy to rally amongst nations confronted by the actions of imperialistic crusading that craves omnipotence for its ideologies; sovereign countries patronised by capitalist-driven democracies intent on thrusting themselves unsolicited upon cultures with incongruous belief systems constructed over centuries of highly successful self-rule.

So, yeah. Comfort.

Why did the conversation with my father act as a source of solace for me? Because through it I theorised that global tumult was simply a consequence of toothless fearmongering tactics employed to control societies. That though the volatility of world politics was a constant, surely no Government would ever be so recklessly insane as to initiate Mutually Assured Destruction. Indeed, the technological advances made since the end of the Cold War (officially over in 1991) mean the weapons once utilised to terrify that particular generation of humanity can now be considered as relatively endearing in their benignity. When compared to the capability for destruction contained within their contemporaneous counterparts.

Of course, at the time of the conversation, I was as yet unaware of the unique dimension of love that the privilege of parenthood provides. And now that I am a father myself, that theory which once brought me comfort now causes me to cringe in its naivety.

And I feel the powerlessness.

Bestial acts committed by humankind are indefatigably relayed to us via the all-pervasive, all-seeing media. These horrific demonstrations of brutality which the human race uses to shame itself are borne of a dearth of humility – a virtue vital for reaching compromise. 

Yet the truth is that we are not animals. We have the capacity for civility. We uniquely wield the ability for thought and imagination. We are bestowed with the power to create and solve. It is our gift as a species. But it also our curse. It is also why we are unique in our capability to exercise premeditated acts of evil. It is also why we destroy and deceive.

The onset of terror that arrived with fatherhood was a huge motivation in my writing The First Book of Michael. The most famous man to have ever lived offered himself to the world in an effort to be adopted as a totem for peace. And in my powerlessness, I decided that trying to promote this notion was the most effective thing that, in my own small way, I could do.

The magnitude to which Michael Jackson became a recipient of adulation was unprecedented. People flocked in their millions to experience his talent and hear his message, regardless of his morphing physicality. A physicality that on sight instantly undermined expectations of gender, race and age. And over thirty years of harmonising crowds comprised of tens of thousands of people all hailing from disparate cultural backgrounds, Michael was uniquely positioned to appreciate the absurdity of perceived differences. He routinely observed how love effortlessly transcends prejudice.

Michael Jackson helped galvanise the fall of the Berlin Wall. Citizens of East Germany bravely defied authority and risked imprisonment just to get as close as they possibly could to Michael’s concert in the West.

To love Michael is to be oblivious to his physical transformation. There is no requirement to justify the cynicism of those that speculate salaciously about and sneer at a special human being who dedicated his life and career to promoting love as a solution to the world’s problems. Michael was just Michael, and the joy, hope and escapism his artistry elicited in those that loved him meant that the puerility of the superficiality expressed by those that didn’t understand was meaningless in its very essence. Future generations will balk, bewildered at the absurdity of the idea that twentieth century American law dictated how a person’s standard of public toilet was determined by a person’s particular skin tone. Similarly, they will also appreciate how Michael was just Michael, his physicality irrelevant.

Michael’s mission was to attempt the laying of foundations for an eventual future incarnation of humanity. One that innately understands the fundamental right of each and every individual to feel comfortable within their own skin. Without fear of prejudice. Because it will no longer exist.

Michael purveyed the idea that this can be achieved through forming a society built upon an absolute reverence for childhood, in the prioritising of providing environmental circumstances tailored to enable the potentiation of the child. Through them possessing the right to make mistakes on their journeys to self-actualisation, content in never having to question whether or not they are loved; to not be forced to live laboured by the shortcomings of their parents. Shortcomings a consequence of the parents themselves having been deprived of the opportunity to fulfil their potential. A bold mission to terminate the cycle of adults having to search for alternative means of filling spiritual vacuums created by an absence of feeling loved as children. To know that being loved is an automatic consequence of living as their true selves.

We can be liberated human beings, we need not acquiesce to the artificiality of authority, to dictats our sense of humanity is innately repulsed by, yet are obeyed as a result of our being manipulated to fear each other.

Of course, Michael’s plan of action to create peace amongst the human race is vulnerable to being dismissed as nothing but naive, unworkable, nebulous idealism – what with Idealism as a concept forever undermined. But Idealism is maligned only by those terrified in their secret awareness of how Damoclean their assumed position of superiority is. Their arrogance is a manifestation of their fragility.

Something they wouldn’t have to worry about in Michael’s world.

Cover

The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV

 

Happy Christmas: Thank You (For Leaking Michael Jackson Gems)

Rumour has it that the flood of rare material the Michael Jackson fan community have recently been graced with is down to a dispute between hardcore collectors. The leaked footage and audio contain some of the things most coveted by the fan community (as well as other stuff we weren’t even aware of) – including Bad tour in Tokyo and Rome, the making of Seeing Voices, the Oprah interview, 2 Bad outtakes, the 1993 Addams Family version of Ghosts, Triumph tour in Atlanta and the second-leg Dangerous tour rehearsals.

It was the latter that created the most discussion, however.

The last song Michael rehearses in said footage before a stand-in takes his place is The Way You Make Me Feel, which he sits out and directs from the front of the stage – choosing to speak the lyrics rather than sing them. The initial reaction to this unusual rendition of the song was of it being a curiosity to savour – as if Michael were reciting poetry.

Sadly, the truth is far more sombre .

During the break prior to the track, Michael can be heard plaintively informing Debbie Rowe that he is in pain, with the suggestion being that he is soliciting pain relief. Michael had recently undergone surgery on his scalp – the Pepsi burning a decade previously was still (and would be until his dying day) heavy with repercussions. Michael found solace through the painkillers – emotional as well as physical. A fact with tragic consequences when considering what was just around the corner.

The footage is a poignant glimpse behind the scenes. Of course, we’d already seen Michael out-of-sorts on stage during the second leg of the Dangerous tour – him evidently unconcerned about reaching his own (albeit uniquely stringent) professional standards.

But upon discovering that Michael was not even capable of completing rehearsals – never mind an entire leg of a tour – we suddenly become enlightened with information that is little less than harrowing.

My last blog post discussed Michael’s reluctance to adlib due to his desire to create the perfect show. Such was Michael’s sadness during the second leg of the Dangerous tour, Siedah Garrett felt comfortable enough to improvise on stage by wearing a wig during I Just Can’t Stop Loving You. To try and elicit laughter from Michael.

I love Siedah Garrett.

As tired as Michael was during the second leg, the rage he was feeling at the injustice of what was happening in his ‘private life’ (a farcical description when it comes to Michael) was nevertheless evident when observing the innovation and energy in his improvised dance spots. Fred Astaire was the first to describe Michael as an “angry dancer” and this anger was never more apparent than in footage from stage performances at this point in his life.

Michael’s embracing of rage, combined with the technical dancing abilities instilled in him as a child (ruthlessly so – which formed part of the rage) is what – ironically enough – provided the ingredients that formed his universally appreciated talent as a dancer. Michael painstakingly mastered the technical abilities of his craft under the orders of his father and pressures of record company executives. He then matured as an artist and put his personal spin (no pun intended) on it. And in doing so, he created something unique, deserved and iconic – his very own genre of dancing. One day ‘Michael Jackson Dancing’ will be as respected as other esteemed styles of dance.

After the spectacular professional success of his childhood, Michael Jackson never needed write nor perform another song ever again. Prior to Thriller, prior to the Bad tour, his status as a musical legend had been indelibly scribed into the history books. Indeed, this is the reason why he has two entries in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the effect of such a childhood also meant that Michael was cursed to never feel satisfied without the love from a crowd.

Yet, I believe Michael grew to appreciate this – which is why he began to concentrate his efforts on using his unprecedented fame for humanitarianism rather than the promotion of his artistry.

I would like to give my personal thanks to whoever is bestowing our community with these wonderful rarities – material that provides us with the priceless gift of intuiting Michael’s humanity through his art.

Thank you!

This is a happy Christmas!

 

Cover

The First Book of Michael by Syl Mortilla is available in paperback and on Kindle at http://amzn.to/1GycUw1 and for all other eBook devices at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/511371

Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV