Michael Jackson — the Enigma of HIStory
In Loving Memory of Michael Jackson
"The Time Has Come.
IS NOW I SEE AND FEEL THAT CALLING ONCE AGAIN, TO BE PART OF A MUSIC
THAT WILL NOT JUST CONNECT BUT, MAKE ALL FEEL ONE, ONE IN JOY, ONE IN
PAIN, ONE IN LOVE, ONE IN SERVICE AND IN CONSCIOUSNESS" ~ MICHAEL JACKSON ’09
In life and death, the King of Pop made a mark on the world, most notably with his undeniable talent
By Mark Brickley, Noozhawk Contributor | Published on 11.17.2009
We turned to see the dazzling white
Bentley automobile. It was moving slowly along Solvang’s main street,
Copenhagen Drive. As the English-designed classic slowed for a stop light, the
car’s tinted rear window began to open, inching down. Suddenly, there he was.
The shy smile, hand gently waving, aviator sunglasses, his golden silk shirt
flowing in the breeze. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, was out for an afternoon drive.
We waved, calling his name, a
magnetic force pulling us toward him. Then the light turned, and just as
quickly he was gone. Leaving us to daydream about our lucky sighting and muse
about his mythic celebrity.
What was it about Jackson’s life and
death that intrigued, captivated and stunned so many of us? His androgynous
persona was juxtaposed against two short marriages, three children and an
extraordinary career that spanned four decades. Perhaps we became spectators to
his astounding public vulnerability. For most of us, our inner lives and
personal dramas are private affairs. Not Jackson’s. His life astonished and
amazed us. Again and again.
To his legion of fans, Jackson
seemed to have discovered a formula to make what is invisible real. His lyrical
alchemy was magical, a pathway into pop’s subconscious.
Jackson’s other worldly musical
novella, Thriller, would become the biggest-selling album of all time.
While his music would transform the way pop culture is perceived, Jackson’s
internal world ultimately would begin to unravel as he faced an anxious future.
But Jackson would survive. Four
years after his acquittal, questions would again swirl around his highly
anticipated "THIS IS IT!" London shows. It had been 12 years since Jackson had performed an extended run
of concerts. Could he fulfill his fans’ frenzied expectations and silence
skeptical critics? We will never know.
When pop icons die, suddenly or
tragically, it can fragment our personal “hard drive.” They become a part of
us. We know their lyrics by heart and stand in line for hours to capture the
best concert seats. A real part of our lifeline may be shattered, that
connection severed. The intimate influences of pop stars may be amplified more
than we are aware of — or will admit. It feels true that we don’t understand
their precise effect on our lives, until they are gone.
The aftermath of Princess Diana’s
tragic ending foreshadowed the reaction to Jackson’s passing. Each caused
emotional shock waves, a tsunami of angst.
As Jackson’s startling death was
confirmed by his brother, Jermaine, the nonbelieving collective gasp was
audible. The communal distress was monumental and genuine. It was as though for
a moment in time, our lives actually stopped. We were stunned and couldn’t
immediately recover our balance.
The family had witnessed the impact
that Jackson’s abrupt passing had produced. Fueled by ravenous media fervor,
his death caused waves of emotion and propelled instinctive behavior in devoted
fans. While the tabloids speculated about autopsy results, Jackson’s admirers
were flying into Los Angeles by the hundreds, arriving from numerous foreign
counties. The momentum seemed to be building each day. Compelled to be near his
last vestige, Jackson’s saddened devotees streamed to his country manor and
camped at his rented Beverly Hills mansion.
The family wrestled with how they
could create a memorial that would equal the public’s expectations and capture
the extraordinary impact of Jackson’s life and fame. As his mother shared her
fears about Jackson’s wandering soul, the momentum to stage a significant
public event took shape. Speculation about both the memorial and Jackson’s
burial taking place at his rural estate turned out to be unfounded rumor.
The Los Angeles Staples Center was the logical
choice. Owned by concert promoter AEG, it was the location of
Jackson’s final rehearsals for the London ‘02 Arena shows. The “This Is It!”
concerts would be the most expensive and technologically advanced extravaganzas
ever produced, featuring 22 stage sets. At the time of Jackson’s death, British
ticket brokers were offering seats to his sold-out shows for 16,500 pounds
The announcement was made. Jackson’s
memorial would be aired live at 10 a.m. July 7, 2009. The event would be
broadcast worldwide, made available for free through MTV to
all major media outlets. Working on an impossibly tight schedule, AEG’s staff
would work through the weekend to practice the memorial’s complex timing cues
and rehearse the growing list of invited musicians, singers and guest speakers.
At the news conference, it was
emphasized that the memorial’s main purpose was to recognize and reach out to
Jackson’s millions of fans. The memorial was to be “all about them.” One of the
memorial’s most remarkable features was the Jackson family and AEG’s decision
to make thousands of tickets available to the public. The randomly selected
Internet lottery winners would pick up their tickets at Dodger Stadium,
never having to leave their cars.
A few tickets eventually would show
up for sale on Internet sites, but the great majority of ticket holders would
no more consider selling than auctioning off a prized heirloom. More than
15,000 public audience members would view the memorial from either the Staples
Center or next door at the Nokia Theatre on an
oversized video screen. All three Jackson sisters would later appear in person
to thank the Nokia’s fans.
Los Angeles police estimated they
would need to plan for a million fans converging on the memorial’s downtown
site. With repeated warnings that all roads leading to the Staples Center would
be closed except to those with tickets, the initial forecasts turned out to be
wildly overstated. Other than legitimate memorial ticket holders, there were
nearly as many members of the media present as unticketed fans. Defying
prediction, there were no arrests in the area surrounding the Staples Center
Jackson’s memorial was one of the
most extraordinary “live” events ever staged. It was as dramatic as a
presidential inauguration or royal funeral. The marquee listing of A-list
celebrity presenters included superstar vocalists, music industry legends, pro
athletes, actors, politicians and renowned religious figures.
Like a traditional African American
rite, the memorial’s structure allowed for deliberate pauses in the service to
let the audience absorb the experience. During these “resting periods,”
Jackson’s images, words and music would flood the arena’s video screens. The
event included both uplifting gospel selections and songs picked by guest
artists, personal remembrances and inspirational oratory. Neither those at
Staples nor the TV audience knew exactly how the Jackson family would bring the
memorial to a close.
Finally, the appointed hour had
arrived. The lights were dimmed within Staples, leaving the audience hushed and
still. Jackson’s golden casket moved forward, covered with a bouquet of red
roses. It was slowly escorted to the stage’s apron by pallbearers, including
brothers Tito and Jermaine Jackson. Each wore a sequined
glove on their right hand.
As the last strains of the choir
subsided, Mariah Carey with duet
partner Trey Lorenz segued into the great Jackson Five hit: “I’ll Be There.” With her eyes
closed, Carey reached toward the sky as if her fingers could gather Jackson’s
music from above. The memorial had truly begun.
Lionel Richie’s stunning performance of the
gospel “Jesus Is Love” with backing from the Andrae Crouch Singers followed. Industry icon Berry Gordy then told the story of how
10-year-old Michael, covering “Who’s Loving You,” had outsung Smokey Robinson. It was a song Robinson had
written. He nodded a resounding “Yes!” from the audience. Gordy said Jackson
had “accomplished everything he dreamed of.”
The camera panned to a grand piano
as Stevie Wonder settled in to sing the medley
“Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” and the gospel “They Won’t Go When I Go.”
Wonder paused, saying, “This is a moment I wish I didn’t live to see coming,”
and wondered, “God must have needed him far more.”
Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant approached the podium. Johnson’s
story about how he and Jackson sat on the floor in the Neverland kitchen, eating KFC
chicken, tickled the audience. Bryant reminded us of Jackson’s humble
beginnings in Gary, Ind.
Dressed in a brilliant white gown, Jennifer Hudson took the stage. Her rich, soaring
voice reached every corner of the arena. Hudson sang the beautiful gospel “Will
You Be There?” Next, New York’s fiery orator, the Rev. Al Sharpton, described Jackson’s
working-class roots, highlighting his outreach to Africa.
Rock guitarist John Mayer followed, playing an extraordinary
instrumental version of Jackson’s song “Human Nature.” Mayer’s soulful,
understated rendition was an astonishing tribute, showcasing his extensive
Close friend Brooke Shields shared her lifelong memories of
Jackson, including his mischievous presence. Echoing a theme of his cherished
book, The Little Prince, Shields said Jackson “believed that what’s most
important is invisible.” She revealed that Jackson’s favorite song was composed
by Charlie Chaplin for
the movie Modern Times. On perfect cue, Jermaine Jackson stepped forward
to sing a heartfelt rendition of “Smile.” Both Martin Luther King Jr.
and sister Bernice offered their blessings, placing Jackson’s passing into the
With a yellow rose in his lapel,
R&B singer Usher began his tribute to the
musical strains of “Gone Too Soon.” With a hand resting on Jackson’s gold
coffin, he removed his dark glasses to sing through his tears. Robinson chose
to speak to the audience rather than sing, concluding, “The world will never
After 12-year-old Shaheen Jafargholi
performed a spirited version of the Jackson Five’s “Who’s Loving You?” memorial
co-producer Kenny Ortega related
that Jackson was impressed with the English “Idol” contestant’s voice. He had
planned to have him sing during the “This Is It!” concerts.
More than two hours into the
memorial, we began to wonder what was planned for the finale. Of course, we
knew. It had to be a rendition of “We Are the World.” Co-written with Richie in
Jackson’s Encino bedroom in 1985, the tribute raised millions of dollars to
combat world hunger. It was reprised in medley with “Heal The World.” Vocalist
Judith Hill sang Jackson’s part with the choir’s backing harmonies. The stage
swelled with the addition of Jackson family members, dozens of smiling children
and the event’s musical stars, who sang the chorus again and again, “We are the
world, We are the children.”
As its repeated crescendo slowed and
faded, brother Marlon Jackson
stepped to the mike. He told of once seeing a strange looking man with makeup
and buck teeth buying CDs in a local music store. He only realized the man was
his brother because of the shoes the odd man was wearing. His brother always
wore the same shoes. Out of disguise, Michael Jackson could not walk across the
street without a crowd forming around him.
It was Jermaine Jackson’s difficult
role to say the final goodbye. He did it with simple grace, “We thank you very
much.” But it wasn’t quite over. Jackson’s 11-year-old daughter unexpectedly
stepped to the mike. Her spontaneous, tearful outpouring felt unscripted, “Ever
since I was born, he has been the best daddy.” Paris reminded us how deeply those left behind
are affected by the death of a parent.
As Jackson’s casket disappeared into
the shadows, a lone microphone was silhouetted against the darkened stage. We
had witnessed history. It was a transfixing and unforgettable tribute. A last
rite for the Emperor of Pop, the most famed entertainer of all time.
It’s ironic that during his memorial
there were no pictures shown, nor mention made of Jackson’s most inventive
endeavor, a domain transformed by his fortune. He proclaimed it Neverland. Its
metamorphosis from a Santa Ynez Valley cattle ranch began in 1988. Jackson
would live within its aura for 16 years. Neverland would become the most famous
personal residence in the world. And for good reason. It was Jackson’s
invisible world come true.
Neverland’s ornate-gilded iron
entrance gates were one of the estate’s pièces de résistance. At twilight, they
began to glow. Bathed in blue neon, the Neverland script swept back and forth.
Jackson’s full name was etched in color against the night sky. The gate’s
intricate gold-crowned emblem was bathed in deep crimson. It felt as though you
were entering a fantastic new paradise.
Once inside, the rolling lawns and
manicured pathways circled around a two-acre lake. Its central fountains shot
100 feet skyward as swans glided by in lazy circles. Jackson’s main home and
guest cottages blended into the estate’s landscape. It was a dream space that
filled one with a sensation of déjà vu. Jackson had created his own vision of Eden.
Jackson revealed that his
inspiration for Neverland came from Peter Pan’s fantasy island home, “Never-Never
Land.” Once completed, the estate would incorporate motifs from Disneyland, including a
massive working clock made from floral designs and boxed hedges.
Jackson said he wanted his home to
be a place where underprivileged and sick children could escape their problems,
at least for a short while. The image of Jackson and wife Lisa Marie Presley
walking hand in hand, trailed by dozens of excited children, was a legacy
Jackson hoped Neverland would provide.
When kids were present at Neverland,
snow-cone carts would dot the famous carnival midway. It held 18 full-size
amusement attractions, including an oversized Ferris wheel and colorful
carousel. When in residence, Jackson was often seen driving the miniature
racing go-karts. A small, rideable railroad train circled Neverland’s grounds,
blowing its whistle to pick up passengers at the replica train station.
Neverland’s zoo had an impressive
animal collection, including elephants, giraffes, monkeys, orangutans, tigers,
white llamas and an aviary of multicolored parrots. It also housed miniature
horses, a brown bear, pink flamingos and Bubbles, the famous chimpanzee. Jackson was once
photographed holding a baby lion cub on his front lawn.
Down another pathway was an
oversized arcade. Children and adults alike played pinball and popular video
games, no quarters required. The estate’s video library held hundreds of
previously released motion-picture titles. If you were lucky, you might be
Jackson’s guest to view a new film in Neverland’s movie theater. Before sitting
down in the plush red-velvet seats, a full-sized concession stand beckoned
company with popcorn, candy and soft-serve ice cream.
In the main house, the rooms and
hallways were enlivened by life-size mannequins, from a Star Wars
Wookiee to replicas of yesteryear’s movie stars. Just inside the front door, a
life-size plastic-molded butler offered guests cookies from a silver platter.
Jackson explained the figurine’s presence: “I used to be lonely, painfully
lonely, you have no idea, even during Thriller. I would walk alone at
night and ask perfect strangers to be my friend, and they would say, ‘You’re
Michael Jackson!’ It’s not what I wanted, not to see the external me. So the
mannequins were my company, my companions.”
Jackson’s home also had rooms
containing one of the world’s largest doll collections. A glimpse into
Jackson’s personal bedroom revealed a bedspread made of small gemstones. It
cast a luminous glow, like thousands of tiny mirrors. The mansion was filled
with Louis XIV faux furniture,
elegant inlaid floors and elaborate rococo candelabras. His art collection
featured oversized Dutch Master-style paintings in gilded frames. Many depicted
Jackson’s likeness. Despite tabloid headlines, neither a “hyperbaric chamber”
nor golden Egyptian sarcophagi were on display at Neverland.
While Jackson gathered an eclectic
collection of belongings, first impressions could be deceiving. Seeming to
choose impulsively and spontaneously, Jackson’s trips to bookstores were
legendary. He would come home with dozens of titles, including coffee-table
books and magazines. Few knew Jackson was a voracious reader. He had an
enormous library, read constantly and was interested in a diverse range of subjects,
from architecture to art and poetry.
Neverland also was designed as a
space where Jackson could focus on songwriting and develop choreography that
became a hallmark of his concert performances. His recording and dance studio
was one of the few places in Neverland rarely seen by the public.
While living at Neverland, Jackson
released his 1991 “Dangerous” album. His 1993 Super Bowl concert marked the
first time a halftime performance had received higher ratings than the game
Jackson’s subsequent 1995 hit
single, “You Are Not Alone,” became the first song to ever enter the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 1. His reissued 2001
album “HIStory” included 15 new songs. While Jackson collaborated with other
writers, including Rod Temperton, Quincy Jones and Paul McCartney, his solo songwriting credits also
were impressive. They included, among many others, “Beat It,” “Billy Jean,”
“Bad,” “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and
“Will You Be There?”
Jackson repeatedly stated that he
believed in maintaining a childlike nature, not just to enjoy life but to get
to the source of his creative process. “Everything I do is inspired by
children, from songwriting to choreography,” he said. His response to a
question from a visiting 8-year-old girl was revealing. She asked: “Can you do
your moonwalk?” Jackson responded: “The moonwalk? I learned it from you.”
Jackson was the first to admit he
didn’t invent the dance step that he made so famous. It was originally
performed by Cab Calloway in 1932
and again captured on film in 1955 by legendary tap dancer Bill Bailey. Both pantomime artist Marcel Marceau and soul singer James Brown performed their versions of the
Jackson’s moonwalk was first seen in
1983, when the Jacksons reunited for Motown Records’ 25th anniversary concert. The
audience went wild as he floated effortlessly across the stage in his sequined
jacket and black fedora. He appeared to defy gravity.
Jackson’s ingenuity as an artist was
highlighted by his unique ability to integrate highly fueled pop music with
complex “signature” dance moves. His energy level and skill as a dancer were
simply stunning. He left it all on stage. There was never a laid-back attitude
attributed to his shows. His performance goals were focused on building the
concert’s momentum, song by song, finally reaching a frenzied finish. Jackson
said he wanted to leave the audience both “spent and in awe.”
If Jackson ultimately became the
prisoner of an illusory lifestyle, his captivity would have been voluntary.
It’s likely that Jackson was precisely who he desired to be. He chose his
destiny deliberately. He lived a life most mortals would hardly want to escape.
Ultimately, his Neverland exile was self-imposed.
Perhaps Jackson’s underlying anxiety
and insomnia were symptomatic of the paradox that many pop/rock superstars
face, that fame and fortune don’t provide immunity or insulation from mortal
problems. Rather, those human dilemmas become magnified and complicated by a
celebrity’s iconic status. Only in fiction or fantasy can one escape the trials
and dimensions of free will, with its challenging choices and uncertain fate.
The symbols of shadow and light help
describe Jackson’s life. His dramatic five-decade saga was an artistic enigma
etched with joy but trailed by agony and perhaps regret. It was this dichotomy
that revealed his flaws and measured his shortened lifetime. Will Jackson’s
legacy be defined by those dark edges or by his astounding creativity?
Within this matrix of memories
perhaps we will recall the imagery that made Jackson incomparable: his
omnipresent black umbrella shading the sun, the majestic Neverland oak tree he
climbed to find his “magic creation space,” a wardrobe and style unlike any
other, fans choosing to keep their London concert tickets as souvenirs rather
than receive refunds, his soft voice, gentle smile and — forever — the music.
Sleep well, Michael. Now, it’s as
easy as 1-2-3.
— Noozhawk contributor Mark
Brickley is a freelance writer in Carpinteria.
The timeliness of death has nothing to do with one’s age, but it has
everything to do with God who made them, and
who takes them in death at His appointed time. Therefore, being always of good courage, knowing that while we are
at home in the body we are absent from the Lord – for we walk by faith,
not by sight – we are of good courage; to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8).
Keep the Faith.