A lot of people in my life have wondered over the years what it was about Michael Jackson that I loved so much. What they didn’t know was that I wasn’t unique. The media lived to say that Michael was a has-been that no one cared about anymore post-Bad era. Having been part of the fan community for nearly 2/3rds of my life, I can say this was categorically untrue, as clearly evidenced by Michael recently selling out 50 concerts (750,000) tickets in five minutes flat. While it is true that he had a more favorable reputation overseas, his USA fan base was quite extensive.
I remember the things most people do about Michael Jackson in the 80s… I remember listening to the Thriller album and jumping on the bed to the tracks with my babysitter. I remember a friend of ours who had ‘The Making of Thriller’ on VHS. I used to hide my five-year old face behind the pillow. That video is damn scary at that age. I don’t recall anything about the Bad era at the time oddly enough. My re-introduction to Michael Jackson (and ultimate fandom) resulted from “Dangerous”. I was a strong advocate against racism and frequently wrote pieces about the topic. I remember hearing ‘Black or White’, the only song on the radio at that time professing the same ideals I believed in. That’s what initially got me started. I bought the album and every track blew my mind. It was the premiere of the ‘Black or White’ video that first caught my eye. Michael literally bought a prime-time slot on FOX (right after the Simpsons) just to premiere the long version of his first video off the album. I admit I initially tuned in largely because of Macaulay Culkin who I thought was the cat’s meow. Every 11 year old did! The second I saw Michael, poor Macaulay was but a distant memory. I was transfixed. I’d never seen anything like him. Visually, musically, artistically, in any format. But what truly cemented me as fan extraordinaire was the Oprah Winfrey interview in 1993. I have seen just about every recorded interview of Michael since day one, as I own one of the largest private collections of Michael Jackson footage in the country (I’m willing to bet money on it). Of all the interviews I’ve seen, this was by far the best. They say a great interview is supposed to show you what it’s like to be that person. I have never seen Michael Jackson in rawer form. This is a testament to Oprah. Every other interviewer since (Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Martin Bashir, etc) treated Michael like a freakish animal they despised. They had a judgment and it clearly showed. Who wouldn’t be terribly uncomfortable and not able to be themselves? Oprah approached Michael as the human being he ultimately was. And naturally, she was delivered gold. There was so much about that interview that stung me a certain way. I guess we chose to appreciate people we can relate to. While 99% of people didn’t seem to get Michael, for whatever reason, I did. When I heard him talk about the alienation that was part of his life, the rumors, the judgment, just wanting to do good in the world and being met with so many roadblocks, it paralleled my childhood at the time. It was the first time I realized that I wasn’t alone, odd as that sounds. I was a misunderstood artsy kid. I just wanted to entertain people and make them laugh, but most didn’t understand and the laughs tended to be on me. There was this discrepancy between who I was and who people thought I was, and it seemed there was no way I could shake my label. It was also the first time I realized the power of being different. I’d always viewed it as a negative, as kids never ceased to take every opportunity to point it out. They tried to make me feel bad about it, and overwhelmingly succeeded. But when I saw Michael Jackson that night, the pain in his voice and the conviction in his soul, I suddenly was overwhelmed with strength. I realized that people who were “different” were blessed and had the ability to change the world and shape perception. They are in essence leaders and people who take our species to new and exciting places, testing the boundaries of what was possible. Suddenly my “flaw” had value and was something to be proud of. The effect it had on me was something I can’t put into words. It literally changed everything.
I’m not the first person to hear about Michael’s “healing” effect. I had a good friend in New Jersey, Diana, who was a cancer patient. She was battling a form of rare cancer and survived, crediting Michael’s music and the power of his message with giving her the strength to keep fighting. Countless stories like that have been echoed by fans everywhere and I’m sure that will long continue. Most dancers all site him as their major influence. Many of the biggest artists of our day also claim they wouldn’t be doing what they have were it not for him.
His good deeds also changed countless lives. I’d like to talk about that for a second, because it’s one of the most understated and precious qualities the man had. You never heard about it in the media, and the rare time it emerged, it was usually met with “I’m sure he just did that to promote a concert” or some such refute. It’s not surprising he never publicized his charitable work. He didn’t do it for career advancement, he already had that in abundance. The truth was that Michael Jackson had one of the biggest hearts in the business, in spite of having been the most famous man of his time as well as once being among the wealthiest and certainly most successful. He never forgot his roots as a small town poor boy from Gary, Indiana. Michael made the Guiness Book of World Records many times, not just for his countless musical achievements but for being the world’s most charitable pop star, having donated to over 40 worldwide organizations including his own. There were small stories, not counted by the press but by his fans or anyone lucky enough to bump into him on the street. Here are a few.
-There was a boy from the Middle East that Michael met at an orphanage. He needed a liver transplant which cost $250,000 to save his life. His family couldn’t afford it. Michael footed the bill and supposedly kept in touch with him via letter.
-It is well known that Michael started charity work very early in his life and always used his parents home and Neverland to send busloads of terminally ill children over and frequently visited orphanages and hospitals on every stop of his tours. He particularly took every opportunity to meet with dying children and tried to give them incentives to hold on. Such as, giving a young fan an article of his clothing and telling them he was performing in concert at such and such a time and wanted them to be there wearing that piece. He frequently wore the things they made him in remembrance once they past, such as wrist bracelets. The armband he famously wore around his jackets represented sick and dying children and he wore it as a reminder. At Neverland, he had beds built into the walls of his theater for kids that were so terminally ill they had to lay down and couldn’t sit or stand so they could watch movies. I’ve been inside of one of these there and the room also included volume controls so they could adjust the feature to their liking as well as small details like a jar of potpourri to add a touch of home.
Michael was no stranger for doing nice things for people in any condition, as evidenced by tales of people who met him over the years. I remember a guy named Brian I knew from college. He worked at the Virgin Megastore in Orlando. He claimed that when Michael came through there one night, he bought 20 DVDs for every employee that helped him and hung out in the DJ booth with the employees for hours. When he was walking around Church Street Station, he spent hours on the streets mingling and chatting up passerby’s. While he was known for being shy, he had his moments. Rarely around press, but always around fans and everyday folk. He was also known for renting out huge theater multiplexes and even Disney World (who else can do that?!) for his family and friends. He was on a commercial flight in the 90s and an old woman fell. He was the first person on the plane to rush to her and help her up, came back and checked up on her throughout the flight, and offered to drive her and her husband in his limo to their home upon the plane landing. I was at Michael’s 45th birthday party and I recall an instance where a girl got so excited seeing him she lost her shoe. Michael saw it, picked it up, went over to her and bent down on one knee and slipped it on her foot Cindarella style. The media liked to chalk Michael up as an egotist. This was absolutely untrue. I’ve never seen an artist with more humility towards their fans, he even bowed to them in thanks constantly and invited them to hang out in his hotels and wherever he went when possible. I never heard one single bad story, though I did hear he gave great hugs and squeezed you as tight as you squeezed him.
I saw Michael in person four times. The first was in 2001 the week of September 11th at Madison Square Garden in NYC. I remember seeing the black umbrella surface surrounded by countless bodyguards. He strolled the entire length of the auditorium just to create the kind of mass pandemonium and panic only he could. He always knew audience. The Jackson Five reunited, I never thought I’d ever see that. Not to mention Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Macaulay Culkin, and a zillion other legends one would be so lucky to watch. I’ll never forget the show was plagued with technical problems and Michael picked up the long pauses by cracking jokes and being funny. He was actually hilarious and had an amazing sense of humor and was tremendously charming and engaging. Each time I saw him, he was nothing like I’d read about or expected. As previously mentioned, I was at his 45th birthday bash. It was held at the gorgeous Orpheum theater in downtown LA. Crowds blocked off the streets and a live marching band even strolled through illegally just to pay their musical tribute. Inside was a two-hour long fan tribute. It was a Michael Jackson celebration party planned and orchestrated by the fans. A lot of people outside the fan community don’t know, but his fans usually planned big parties in major cities around the world on his birthday. On occasion, he would show up to one and freak everyone out. This was the case that day. I remember the fans screaming and the usual pandemonium, but he quietly sat in the wings and gave his undivided attention to the fans performing. He wasn’t there for an ego trip and made that very clear by focusing on the acts on hand and giving little attention to fanfare. He wanted to support the fans and watch them perform for a change. Eventually he went up at the end of the night and said a few humble words.
The last two times I saw him were court related. I had long been a disbeliever that he was a pedophile. Not because I was a fan and didn’t want to believe it or couldn’t have, but because I actually didn’t get my news from National Enquirer. The facts of the matter were that in both cases, the “accusers” had parents with criminal histories for suing for false claims. They claimed everything from being kidnapped and held against their will to Michael trying to steal the family and jet them off in hot air balloons to South America. It was the most ridiculous thing ever and the court transcripts were readily available everyday. A great experiment was to read what happened in court then read what papers were reporting. It was unbelievable. Very George Orwell 1984. The public ate up every ounce of it and a lot of friends in my life accused me of being stupid or gullible for not believing the same thing they did. I can tell you that I’ve read more on the topic than just about anyone and can absolutely say as a reasonable intelligent person (and objectively) that I in no way believe he was guilty. An odd appearance and a Peter Pan complex do not make anyone necessarily criminal. ::For a full markup of reasons Michael isn’t guilty and for photographic evidence that Michael did indeed suffer from Vitiligo, the rare skin pigmentation disorder, check out previous entries of this blog:: The day of the first arraignment, I was handed a white envelope by the Nation of Islam, who were working as Michael’s bodyguards at the time. It was an invitation to lunch at Neverland that day, one of the most surreal and greatest experiences I ever had. I was able to roam the ranch for hours, going wherever I wanted and doing what I wanted (within reason, haha). The second time I went to see him at the courthouse, he bought us all pizza. My vote for his innocence was not affected by this generosity, though it was a great example of the humanity I’d heard about.
(I will post about my trip to Neverland in a future posting for anyone interested. I can copy-paste the details from my e-Diary).
Overall, being a fan meant for me so many things. I’ve never seen anyone in my life with half as much talent. I’ve never seen anyone who can sing like that, move like that, do anything to that caliber. The thing I admired the most about Michael was his ability to retain humility in the face of everything he experienced, and to continue to believe in himself and in humanity no matter how much they trampled him. He never stopped doing good things and caring about the world, and that made me care about him. I wish the rest of the world had seen what I’d seen and I don’t think people will even begin to fathom what the world has just lost, even in a time of complete unoriginality in entertainment and a lack of basic goodness floating around in the business.
My heart is heavy and my thoughts are profound tonight. I have great sorrow for the Jackson family in particular, many of whom I have met and seen and had varied experiences with, all positive. My thoughts are especially with Michael’s mother Katherine, the heart of the family, who must be taking this the worse of all. At Neverland, the main road within the ranch was called “Katherine St.” I think it said a lot. Also, my heart goes out to Michael’s children, who despite their masks and rumor, are said to be extremely normal well-behaved polite kids who loved their dad. Michael put his life on hold for them since they were born, and I’m sure they were incredibly loved.
And to Michael himself, I’m not sure words really begin to describe how truly awe-inspiring you were and how truly special you were. You were on in a billion, and I will always be grateful to you for the sacrifices you made to entertain the world and the selflessness you held so true. Thank you for being you. If there’s a heaven, I’m sure there’s a giant place for you there, and that you’ve left behind penny-loafers no other entertainer can wear.
Rest in Peace, Michael.