Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
His influence today proves him to be one of the greatest creators of all time, but Jackson’s art—like that of many black artists—still doesn’t get the full respect it deserves.
The point of his ambition wasn’t money and fame; it was respect…
Zack O’Malley Greenburg, Forbes Staff
Sammy Davis, Jr. once said that “everything Michael Jackson does on stage is exactly right.” The King of Pop indeed left some big leather loafers to fill, but judging by the crowd’s reaction at MGM’s Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour is doing an admirable job.
Among those in attendance for Saturday night’s performance: Cee Lo Green, as well as Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles. Seated within view of the reporters assembled to chronicle the show, the couple laughed and smiled as acrobats and dancers swirled across the stage–zombies popping out of coffins, contortionists emerging from giant books, even a performer dressed as a giant white glove–all while a live band blasted out the soundtrack beneath Jackson’s soaring vocals.
“We have all done our best to make this a celebration of his essence in his absence,” musical director Greg Phillinganes told me shortly after the show’s debut. “His passion for humanity … his commitment to excellence, his flair for the big show, we’ve tried to incorporate all those factors.”
Immortal is the highest-grossing live show in the country for the second week in a row, bringing in just shy of $2 million per night in Vegas. That’s over half a million dollars more than the next-highest earner, Taylor Swift, according to concert data provider Pollstar.
It’s all the more impressive given that the Jackson show has been parked at the 8,500-seat Mandalay Bay Theatre for much of December; Swift has been playing arenas more than twice that size, as Immortal will soon be doing when resumes its trek across the North America. An international leg is set to follow in late 2012.
A joint venture between the Michael Jackson estate and Cirque du Soleil, Immortal opened in October and is already approaching $100 million in ticket sales. That should come as no surprise, given the extraordinary spectacle that audiences witness with each performance.
The show begins with a spotlight illuminating a mime clad in all white; his shell-toed sneakers and backwards hat make him look more b-boy than sad clown. As he cozies up to an image of Michael Jackson that fills a giant video screen at the back of the stage, the pictures melts away to reveal the band, and a troupe of dancers streams onto the stage.
The mime serves as a guide throughout the performance, starting with Jackson’s early years and the song “Have You Seen My Childhood.” There’s a miniature hot air balloon and a Jackson Five montage complete with dancers dressed as Marlon, Tito, Jermaine, Jackie and Michael–oversized afros included. As the show continues, a replica of the Neverland gates rolls out, followed by performers dressed as Bubbles the Chimp and some of the other animals that once resided in Jackson’s private zoo.
Next comes the “Smooth Criminal” segment. The screens behind the stage turn black-and-white, revealing a video of Jackson outsmarting a series of detectives as they try to track him down. All the while, tommy gun-toting dancers decked out in fedoras and pinstriped suits mimic and elaborate upon Jackson’s moves, culminating in a flurry of pyrotechnics and mock gunfire that leaves only one dancer standing.
Perhaps the most impressive is the scene that comes next. The surviving gangster rips off her white suit to reveal nothing more than a shimmering bikini–and proceeds to ascend a slim tube that extends 30 feet or so into the air. Upon reaching the top she launches into an aerial pole-dance, contorting herself into positions that would seem impossible even on solid ground. At some point, she manages to hold herself perpendicular to the structure, supported by nothing besides her own strength.
Pushing the boundaries of the human body are trademarks of Cirque du Soleil, and that’s one of the many examples in which Immortal lives up to its lofty expectations (There’s also a scene where one acrobat lifts a partner into the air using only a strap hanging from his mouth; in another, a green dancer folds herself into a pretzel-shape and walks on her hands).
There’s a bit of tongue-and-cheek humor, too: at one point, Michael Jackson’s trademark black loafers appear as Mini Cooper-sized characters, each manned by a single dancer.
Though Immortal pays homage to Jackson’s biggest hits–”Thriller,” “Billie Jean” and “Man in the Mirror,” to name a few–it also showcases some of Jackson’s later work, including the environmental anthem “Earth Song” and the oddly prescient “They Don’t Care About Us.” The latter of features scores of stomping robots with dollar signs emblazoned on their metallic chests, an idea dreamed up years before the birth of Occupy Wall Street.
Immortal features quite a few mashups of Jackson’s music, so it’s only fitting that the show ends with a parade of dancers hoisting flags that bear the combined symbols of various nations.
The production’s narrative arc does jump around a bit, as one might expect given the diverse nature of Jackson’s oeuvre. But Immortal’s architects managed to connect everything in a generally coherent manner–quite an achievement, given the staggering array of individual songs and mashups that made the final cut.
At any rate, the show has clearly passed the necessary tests in Vegas. Plans are already in the works to renovate the Mandalay Bay Theatre, which currently houses the Lion King, to accommodate a modified version of Immortal in time for a 2013 opening. If this month’s run is any indication, it should be a bonanza for MGM, Cirque du Soleil and the Jackson estate.
Though Jay-Z and Beyonce ducked out as the performers were taking their final bows on Saturday night, it’s clear that another superstar–Michael Jackson–will be staying in Las Vegas for quite some time.
Published: 9/29/11 11:31 AM ET
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two years since the world first mourned the loss of the King of Pop. While some of his fans expressed remorse on June 25, 2009, many knew that the cost of Michael Jackson’s death went far beyond his impeccable music. Although entertainment remains severely devoid of Michael’s unmatched talent, perhaps even more profoundly, many charities and innocents around the planet no longer have the ability to benefit from his overwhelming generosity. And for his children and family, Michael’s departure was and is felt on the deepest level as the daily battle to carry on without him continues. This week, as the involuntary manslaughter trial for Dr. Conrad Murray (his doctor at the time) gets underway, it’s important to keep in mind precisely who the accused criminal is — and who the victim was.
During my teenage years, I had the pleasure of first being introduced to Michael. Both blessed to have received mentorship and guidance from the late great Godfather of soul, James Brown, we quickly formed a kinship and bond that was virtually like family. Even though I focused on advocacy/activism and he on creating incredible music, we were on the same social and political page and worked through our respective fields to bring light to inequality wherever and whenever we viewed it. Our friendship lasted through the decades, through all of the ridiculous false accusations and through a media frenzy that tried its hardest to paint him as somehow odd or peculiar when he was only highlighting our own abnormality as a society.
In 1984, during Michael’s Victory Tour, I took on the role of his community relations director. Working in such a capacity, I again witnessed the unprecedented reaction people from all walks of life had towards this man, his music and impact in the world. And whether it was openly reminding all of us to ‘heal the world’ or quietly giving away hundreds of millions of his own wealth to the impoverished, Michael’s imprint everywhere was remarkable. And yet, many still attempted to portray him as somehow peculiar.
Dr. Conrad Murray is on trial this week. Accused of violating standards of medical care by leaving Michael unattended and failing to call 911, his defense will do whatever they can to keep him from serving jail time. They’ll argue his innocence, his years of service and most importantly, they will attempt to put Michael on trial yet again. Already this week, we heard the defense argue that Michael died from a combination of tranquilizers and a surgical anesthetic he took without Murray’s knowledge. Defense attorney Ed Chernoff even stated that Michael took enough prescription drugs to ‘put six of you to sleep’ and then somehow he self-administered Propofol (anesthetic usually used in hospitals). It is an outrageous statement compounded by the fact that it is Dr. Murray himself that stands accused of administering Propofol in excessive quantities and then leaving Michael unattended.
Great talent comes with great consequences. As an artist, when you are so intricately in touch with emotions, and think and feel on a deeper level than most, you are often viewed as an outsider when you don’t conform to conventional norms. That is the double-edged sword Michael dealt with throughout his lifetime. I had the unique pleasure of getting to know him for years and working with him on a host of issues. In 2002, Michael came to our National Action Network headquarters in Harlem as we marched together to Sony Music along with hundreds of supporters to demand his right to ownership of the very masterpieces he created. And I watched as many often tried — and of course failed — to vilify him over and over again. As I told Michael’s children during his funeral in ’09, there was nothing strange about your daddy, it was strange what your daddy had to deal with.
As the strangeness unfortunately plays out yet again in another court drama over two years after Michael’s passing, let’s be sure to remember precisely who is on trial here.
Dr. Conrad Murray, Not Michael Jackson is on Trial
Published by Earl Ofari Hutchinson on September 28, 2011 at 3:23pm
Dr. Conrad Murray’s defense, his only real defense against the charge of involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson, is a simple one. He says that Jackson in effect killed himself. That he was so hopelessly drug addicted that he pumped himself up with the fatal drug or combination of drugs that killed him. The unstated is that given Jackson’s world renowned aloofness and eccentricities his self-destruction was all but foreordained. With anyone else and in any other circumstances, this would be a laughable defense.
The indisputable fact is that Murray is a trained physician. He was hired by Jackson specifically to administer and supervise his medications and medical care. He did not say no to Jackson’s continual use of the potentially lethal drug. He did not summon medics immediately when Jackson went into his fatal coma. No matter how self-destructive and on the edge one may want to believe that Jackson was, and that he did have a long history of drug use, it’s the wildest stretch to hold a patient responsible for his own death with his doctor literally in the next room. But Jackson is not just any patient. Since the day he was hauled into court in 2005 on child molestation charges and the day months later he was acquitted on all counts in the case, Jackson’s name has been synonymous with controversy.
The acquittal in the child molestation charge meant nothing to millions. Many still quietly whispered and many others openly slurred him as a child molester. His deep withdrawal from public view after the trial did not stop the endless swirl of malicious questions about his actions, motives, and alleged perversion. His death didn’t change things either.
Millions of Jackson fans mourned, agonized, and were infuriated by his death. Countless others dredged up, and hurled the same old, vicious accusations at Jackson as a freak, kook, and, of course, child molester. President Obama walked a fine and circumspect line in reacting to Jackson’s death. He sent the ritual condolences to Jackson’s family. But he also made veiled references to Jackson as a controversial figure when he noted that there were aspects of his life that were sad and tragic. The White House did not issue any formal statement on his death and when then White House press secretary Robert Gibbs asked if one would be forthcoming he testily replied “Because I just said it.” That officially ended the Jackson matter for the White House. Other politicians had no such reservations. They openly pilloried Jackson even slandering him as a “pervert” who did not deserve any public acclamation, but disgust. Jackson’s name, fame, and controversy are plastered all over what goes on in and outside the courtroom in the Murray trial.
There are the tearful and heartfelt reminiscences and reminders from fans and court observers about Jackson’s towering importance to the music and creative artistry world, and his continuing rapturous influence on millions. The legal experts meanwhile endlessly speculate on the evidence in the case and whether it measures up to the high bar of criminal culpability. Ultimately, Murray’s legal fate and Jackson’s celebrity name will rest in the hands of the jurors. Both are connected because not one of the jurors selected dared plead ignorance of not having heard of Jackson. The prosecutors and defense attorneys didn’t go there and try to determine the depth of the juror’s pro or anti Jackson bias. Some of the jurors made it clear that they were Jackson fans, or that they thought he was a great entertainer.
None expressed any misgivings about Jackson. The only misgivings were whether the criminal justice treated the rich and famous with kid gloves. More than one thought this is the case. Whether this means that the jury is so pro Jackson that Murray doesn’t stand much chance of acquittal is another matter. Indeed it should not matter. The jurors are charged with one thing, and one thing only, and that’s to strictly weigh the physical evidence and testimony and determine whether Murray did what the prosecution says that he did and that’s cause Jackson’s death. That’s the sole standard that any jury should be charged with in determining guilt or innocence in any criminal case. However, it would be the pinnacle of naivety to think that facts alone determine trial outcomes in celebrated trials. Countless studies and surveys of criminal cases involving celebrities show that money and fame do play huge role in these cases.
Money allows celebrities not only to hire the best and brightest of attorneys, but to tweak and massage the message of innocence of their celebrity client outside the courtroom. Murray used his celebrity name by dint of his association with Jackson’s death to get a crack legal team, and insure that they spin away his innocence outside the courtroom. A big part of that is their hit on Jackson that he killed himself. By any standard this shouldn’t fly. But given the always lurking undercurrent of controversy and doubt about Jackson from so many, they’re banking that they can put Jackson not Murray on trial. And this definitely shouldn’t fly.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson
By Sophie Duvernoy Wed., Aug. 17 2011 at 11:00 AM
The interior of Michael Jackson’s art studio, which he shared with friend and artist Brett-Livingstone Strong
Until now, Michael Jackson’s art collection was shrouded in mystery. It was said to be stuck in a legal dispute over possession. Then, people speculated that buyers such as Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberté were interested. It’s been valued at the staggering (and slightly unbelievable) sum of $900 million.
One crucial fact: Jackson’s art collection isn’t art by other people — it’s mainly drawings and paintings that he created himself. So what does that art look like?
Yesterday, LA Weekly was the first to visit the (until now) top-secret Santa Monica Airport hangar that Jackson used as his studio and art storehouse. The collection is currently owned by Brett-Livingstone Strong, the Australian monument builder and Jackson’s art mentor through the years, in conjunction with the Jackson estate.
Though the entire art collection has been mired in disputes and battles for rights, Strong claims that he is working with everybody — the family, the estate, as well as others — to exhibit and publish as much of Jackson’s work as possible.
According to Strong, he and Jackson formed an incorporated business partnership in 1989, known as the Jackson-Strong alliance. This gave each partner a fifty-percent stake in the other’s art. In 2008, Strong says, Jackson requested that his attorney sign the rights to Jackson’s portion of the art over to Strong. Now, Strong is beginning to reveal more and more of the art as he goes ahead with Jackson’s dream of organizing a museum exhibit.
Some of Jackson’s original drawings hanging on the wall. Prints of these were donated to the L.A. Children’s Hospital.
Strong gave us a tour of the hangar, beginning with the Michael Jackson monument that Strong and Jackson co-designed several years ago. It’s perhaps bombastic, but designed with good intentions and the rabid Jackson fan in mind. Strong explains, “He wanted his fans to be able to get married at a monument that would have all of his music [in an archive, and playing on speakers], to inspire some of his fans.”
The current design is still in the works, but it’s conceived as an interactive monument — fans who buy a print by Jackson will receive a card in the mail. They can scan this card at the monument, and then have a computer organize a personal greeting for them, or allow them to book it for weddings. Jackson initially thought it would be perfect for Las Vegas, but Strong says that Los Angeles might have the honor of hosting it — apparently, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recently paid a visit and made a few oblique promises.
The Michael Jackson monument mock-up, featuring miniature pilgrims and a bridal couple
As for Jackson’s art, the contents of the hangar barely scratched the surface of the collection, as Strong estimates Jackson’s total output at 150 to 160 pieces. A few large pieces hanging on the walls had been donated as reproductions to the L.A. Children’s Hospital last Monday, along with other sketches and poems.
In all of his art, certain motifs kept cropping up: chairs (usually quite baroque), gates, keys and the number 7. His portrait of Bubbles, his pet chimpanzee, shows a monkey-like face vanishing into a cushy, ornate lounge chair. “He loved chairs,” says Strong. “He thought chairs were the thrones of most men, women and children, where they made their decisions for their daily activity. He was inspired by chairs. Rather than just do a portrait of the monkey, he put it in the chair. And you see, there are a few sevens — because he’s the seventh child.”
Jackson, who was a technically talented artist — and completely self-taught — fixated on these motifs, elevating everyday objects into cult symbols. Strong added that Jackson’s sketchbooks are completely filled with studies of his favorite objects, in endless permutations.
MJ’s portrait of George Washington — he initially planned to do a series of all of the presidents, but never continued it.
But Jackson also created portraits: a small sketch of Paul McCartney, and a large drawing of George Washington, created as Strong was working with the White House to commemorate the bicentennial of the Constitution back in 1987. He also sketched self-portraits — one as a humorous four-panel drawing charting his growing-up process, and a darker one that depicts him as a child cowering in a corner, inscribed with a sentence reflecting on his fragility.
As an artist, Jackson preferred using wax pencils, though Strong adds, “He did do a lot of watercolors but he gave them away. He was a little intimidated by mixing colors.” Some surviving pencils are archived in the hangar; Strong moves over to a cabinet on the far wall of the hangar and pulls out a ziploc bag containing a blue wax pencil, a white feathered quill and a white glove that Jackson used for drawing.
Jackson turned to art as times got hard for him. “His interest in art, in drawing it, was just another level of his creativity that went on over a long period of time,” Strong says. “It was quite private to him. I think he retreated into it when he was being attacked by those accusations against him.” The sketches and drawings certainly reveal an extremely sensitive creator, though it’s clear that Jackson also had a sense of humor.
Jackson’s art was kept under wraps for such a long time simply because of the pedophilia scandal, which erupted right around the time that he was looking for a way to publicize the works. “A lot of his art was going to be exhibited 18 years ago. Here’s one of his tour books, where he talks about exhibiting art. He didn’t want it to be a secret,” Strong says, pointing at a leaflet from the 1992 Dangerous World Tour.
Strong and Jackson wearing matching leather and velvet jackets, celebrating their artistic alliance.
Prior to that period, Jackson and Strong had met and become fast friends. This marked the beginning of Strong’s mentorship, in which he encouraged Jackson to create bigger paintings and drawings, and exhibit his work. The idea behind their Jackson-Strong Alliance was that Strong would help Jackson manage and exhibit his art. Notably, the alliance birthed Strong’s infamous $2 million portrait of Michael Jackson entitled The Book, the only known portrait Jackson ever sat for.
In 1993, everything blew up. At the time, Jackson and Strong were both on the board of Big Brothers of Los Angeles (now known as Big Brothers Big Sisters), a chapter of the national youth mentoring organization established in L.A. by Walt Disney and Meredith Willson. They had planned out a fundraising campaign involving Jackson’s art. Strong explains, “We thought that if we would market [his art] in limited edition prints to his fans, he could support the charities that he wanted to, rather than have everybody think that he was so wealthy he could afford to finance everybody.” When the pedophilia scandal erupted, Disney put a freeze on the project. The artwork stayed put, packed away from public eyes in storage crates.
Jackson’s sketch of an airplane at the Santa Monica airport
As for the spectacular appraisal of $900 million for Jackson’s art collection, Strong says that it derives from the idea of reproducing prints as well. The figure was originally quoted by Eric Finzi, of Belgo Fine Art Appraisers. “The reason somebody came out with that was because there was an appraisal on if all of his originals were reproduced — he wanted to do limited editions of 777 — and he would sell them to his fan base in order to build his monument, support kids and do other things. You multiply that by 150 originals, and if they sold for a few thousand dollars each, then you would end up with 900 million dollars.” Fair enough, though now Strong says he has gone to an appraiser in Chicago to get that value double-checked, and they arrived at an even higher estimate.
The story of Jackson’s art ends up being quite a simple one, though confused by so much hearsay and rumor. Strong and the Jackson estate will slowly reveal more works as time passes, and an exhibit is tentatively planned for L.A.’s City Hall. Negotiations with museums for a posthumous Jackson retrospective are still underway, but Strong has high hopes. He’s even talking of building a Michael Jackson museum that would house all of Jackson’s artwork.
Jackson’s sketch of the White House doors, to which he added the following quote from John Adams: “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men [MJ’s addition:] or women rule under this roof.”
We’ll leave you with Strong’s own description of Jackson at work, during the time where they shared a studio in a house in Pacific Palisades:
He was in a very light and happy mood most of the time. He would have the oldies on, and sometimes he’d hear some of his Jackson Five songs. He’d kind of move along to that, but most of the time he would change it and listen to a variety of songs. He liked classical music. His inspiration to create was that he loved life, and wanted to express his love of life in some of these simple compositions.
I came to the studio one day, and we had a Malamute. I came into the house, and I heard this dog barking and thought, Wow, I wonder what that is. I go into the kitchen, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I see Michael up in the pots and pans in the middle of the center island. He’s holding a pen and paper and the dog is running around the island and barking at him, and he says, “He wants to play! He wants to play!” He’s laughing, and I’m laughing about it as I’m thinking to myself, “I’m wondering how long he’s been up there.”
Michael Jackson’s dedication to art: so strong that he’ll end up perched on a kitchen island.
“Michael Jackson continues to inspire people in every corner of the world as someone who chose to use the extraordinary gifts and talents he was blessed with to deliver messages of hope, love and peace. Michael’s legacy is more than his remarkable artistic accomplishments. It also includes an indescribably unique spirit that still connects Michael today with countless fans in a way that knows no borders, no cultural barriers and which speaks a common language of unity and compassion. Our thoughts and prayers are especially with his children as we fondly remember the Michael Jackson whose friendship, humor and kindness joyously touched so many lives.”
Remembering Michael Jackson: The Global Humanitarian
One of the most generous humanitarians to ever have graced this planet with their physical presence returned to the essence 2 years ago, today. Although much mention is not made of it – while still physically alive, the generous Michael Jackson donated millions of dollars, as well as countless hours, to numerous charities and other organizations which assisted many others in need…
Read more >>> Hip-Hop Wired
Those “Crazy Michael Jackson Fans:” Maybe we should listen?
By Rev. Barbara Kaufmann
Read article > >> InnerMichael.com
Michael Jackson Tribute Poem, “We Had
Recited For the First Time by Legendary Author Maya
Los Angeles, California – The Michael
Jackson Tribute Portrait has released rare footage of Maya Angelou reciting “We
Had Him,” the poem she wrote for Michael Jackson at the time of his passing. The
reading of this beautiful and powerful poem was staged exclusively for The Michael Jackson
Tribute Portrait as a gift to fans worldwide on the occasion of the one year
anniversary of Michael’s passing.
This beautiful and powerful poem was first read at the
Staples Center Memorial one year ago by Queen Latifah, but it has never been
read for the public by the poem’s author, Dr. Angelou, herself … until now!
When Dr. Angelou recently heard about The Michael
Jackson Tribute Portrait (a one-of-a-kind, interactive work of art made from
hand drawn dots – one dot = one
fan), she contacted artist David Ilan to express how much she loved
it. She invited him to
her home in Winston-Salem ,
North Carolina , so she could
endorse the tribute and make an announcement to fans worldwide to commemorate
the one year anniversary by getting their free dots in Michael’s Tribute
Portrait. The Monday before the July 25 one year anniversary, David Ilan
traveled to Dr. Angelou’s home from
Angeles with Michael’s
In a prestigious and touching ceremony, Dr. Angelou was
presented with a dot in her name next to Michael’s dot in the portrait. This is
the area of the portrait reserved for family and friends. She spoke about
Michael in front of the Tribute cameras and, as a gift to the Tribute and to
fans around the globe, she recited her poem “We Had Him.” This is the first and only time Dr. Angelou has
recited her poem for the public.
The video of Dr. Angelou reciting her poem for Michael
has just been released on YouTube. The announcement of its release was made
simultaneously to Michael’s fan clubs around the
In this never-before-seen video, Maya Angelou states, “I
don’t believe that Michael would be surprised to find this gigantic tribute, the
largest in the world. I think he would be delighted, I think he would feel
humbled, I think he would be humbly over the moon to know about this tribute,
but I don’t think he would be surprised.”
Jerry Biederman, the Co-founder and Executive Producer
of The Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait said, “It is our goal to have this great
video be seen by every person on the planet who loves Michael Jackson. You can
help us by sharing this far and wide to your friends, on Facebook, MySpace,
Twitter … you name it. It starts with us, and with luck and faith, this video
will travel the globe many times over for generations to come! Michael’s legacy
is in our hands.”
To get YOUR dot, go to http://www.MichaelJacksonTributePortrait.com
* * *
The Michael Jackson Tribute