Celebrating Invincible, Part 3: That Amazing Voice

Joie:  I have been a Michael Jackson fan literally for as long as I can remember. Michael has been the one constant in my life from my earliest memories at age three. He was just always there. And I can remember being absolutely mesmerized by the sound of his voice. I have very vivid memories of sitting in the basement of our house when I was about 7 or 8 years old, on the floor in front of the very large stereo speakers, album cover in hand while I listened intently as he sang to me. Every day, I would spend hours down there alone – just me and the stereo and my albums – volume as high as I could get it without my Dad shouting for me to turn it down before I blew out the speakers. There was just something about that voice that captivated me and I have remained fascinated by it my entire life.

Michael is always revered as being a musical genius; he is always touted for his electrifying live performances, his gravity-defying dance moves, his astronomical sales records. But oftentimes, his amazing voice seems to take a backseat to all of that and I’ve never really understood that because he truly is one of the most talented vocalists to ever play the game, and Invincible is the perfect album to talk about when highlighting his broad vocal range.

Michael’s long-time vocal coach, Seth Riggs, explained once that Michael had an extraordinary vocal range. Riggs described him as a high tenor, or Countertenor with a range of 3.6+ octaves. E2 to B5, or 44 notes by the middle of the 1980s. And by the ’90s, Riggs said that his range had expanded to 4 octaves, allowing him to reach a few additional lower notes while still maintaining his highest ones. And that was all before utilizing falsetto – a technique used by male singers to reach notes outside of their usual (normal) range. Add to that the fact that Michael also had the ability to sing in staccato, singing complex rhythms in perfect timing.

Now, I am no student of the voice, by any means. But, what all of that technical mumbo-jumbo says to me is that Michael had one incredibly versatile vocal range and it only got better with age. And his massive body of work – and Invincible in particular – is evidence of that. In fact, it is the thing that I love most about this wonderful, incredibly underrated album:  the fact that it allows the listener the opportunity to hear Michael’s entire vocal range, from the smooth falsetto of “Butterflies” to the surprisingly rich baritone of “2000 Watts.”

Willa:  I’m certainly no expert about this either. In fact, I know very little about the technical aspects of singing and making music, but here’s an interesting YouTube video that gives an idea of his vocal range. And apparently that incredible range was no accident. I mean, part of it was sheer, innate talent, as we can see in the songs he recorded as a child. “Ain’t No Sunshine” just knocks me out. But there are also few singers – especially pop singers – as knowledgeable and as dedicated as he was to protecting and improving his voice.

Joie:  No, it wasn’t an accident, you’re right. He worked tirelessly at maintaining and perfecting that God-given talent.

Willa:  It’s true. Back in the 1980s, he planted a story in the media that he was sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber (one of his first media hoaxes – the first of many) and someone asked his sister Janet about it. She said she hadn’t seen a hyperbaric chamber around the house anywhere, but that if he was using one, it probably had something to do with his voice. He was just fanatical about caring for his voice. And Will.i.am tells a story about working with him in the studio. They had just about finished up this one song but decided they needed to add a little five-second snippet of his voice. Will.i.am says he warmed up for over an hour so his voice would be fully “open” when he recorded that five-second piece. Will.i.am says he couldn’t believe it, but of course, while that little segment took less than a minute to record, it would be preserved forever as part of that song, and he wanted it to be just right.

And he had an amazing range not only in the pitch of his voice, but in the texture of his voice as well. There are moments where his voice sounds so beautiful to me, just indescribably beautiful. But then there’s “Privacy,” where his voice isn’t beautiful at all. In fact, it’s really rough and raspy, almost gruff. My son has been running cross-country, and that’s how his voice sounds after a really hard run – really raspy and ragged. It reminds me of that expression of being “run ragged” – he’s been running so hard his voice has become ragged. And that’s how Michael Jackson’s voice sounds in “Privacy,” like he’s just been “run ragged” by the press and paparazzi. And of course, that supports the meaning of the song. I’m always fascinated by his ideas and the many techniques he uses to convey his ideas, and in this case, he’s conveying meaning not only through the words he’s singing, but through the texture of his voice as he’s singing those words.

Joie:  That is very true, Willa. He was really great at bending his voice in order to convey a certain mood or feel. His voice really was his instrument and he was a master at it. His range was so versatile and yet, so distinctive at the same time. For example, on “Butterflies” his vocal performance was so crystal clear and beautiful, gliding effortlessly from the smooth tenor in the first verse to the sweet falsetto that we all love so much in the second verse. His vocals on that song propelled “Butterflies” to #13 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and to #2 on the Hot R&B Hip/Hop Singles chart. And that was all on airplay alone since Sony refused to release it as an official single. He repeats this tenor to falsetto movement on the very next song, “Speechless,” where his magical voice just soars above the building climax. But the a cappella snippet that opens the tune really sets the pure, innocent tone for the entire song – once again, using the quality of his voice to convey the mood that he’s going for.

Willa:  Absolutely, and that’s such a great example. You know, it takes a lot of courage to expose your innermost feelings and let yourself be honest and vulnerable, and Michael Jackson had that kind of courage. It’s one of the things that has drawn me to him for so many years, since I first heard “Ben” as a little girl, and we see that honesty and vulnerability in the a cappella intro to “Speechless.” Then the strings come in, and the other instruments, and the choir, and it becomes incredibly lush and beautiful. And then at the end the instruments and background vocals drop away, and he’s alone and emotionally vulnerable again. It’s like he’s dropping all the pretense and letting himself be emotionally naked. It’s almost too much for me.

Joie:  Another great example is the song “Shout.” Now, I know that this one isn’t actually on the Invincible album but, it was intended for Invincible and only missed being included by a hair when it was replaced at the last minute by “You Are My Life,” and it was released as the B-side to the “Cry” single. But I mention it here because it is another great example of how Michael frequently used the quality of his voice to convey the mood and paint a picture. Before even processing what he’s saying, you instantly get the sense that this is a song about indignation and frustration at the world’s problems – all through the quality of his voice. But “Shout” is also a wonderful example of his ability to sing in staccato. Something he does better than most, executing complex rhythms in perfect timing. We’ve seen him do this many times in the past on songs like “Jam” and “Tabloid Junkie.” It is almost like he’s rappin’ and he’s really good at it. You know, I heard him say once in an interview that he wasn’t very confident in his rappin’ ability but, I think this song shows that he shouldn’t have been so apprehensive about it. I’m not saying that he was a natural rapper by any means but, I do think he could certainly hold his own and I think this song proves it.

But, for me, the real revelation of Invincible has got to be “2000 Watts.” There is no doubt in my mind that if this song had been released on the posthumous Michael album instead of Invincible, there would have been a vicious outcry from fans insisting that this song wasn’t him. There has been a great deal of speculation over the years that his voice was somehow digitally altered for this song but, that is not the case. The rich and surprisingly deep baritone on this track is all Michael (with an assist from Teddy Riley on the speaking parts) in his natural voice – no digital tinkering added. And it is amazing! This has got to be one of my all-time favorite songs simply because it does showcase just how versatile, adaptable and skillful Michael really was with his instrument – which is that amazing voice.

Willa:  OK, so here’s an embarrassing story. I was driving the first time I listened to Invincible – I bought the CD, unwrapped it while walking out to my van, popped it into the car stereo, and listened to it as I was driving home. So I’m driving and listening, “2000 Watts” comes on, and there’s this guy singing a fairly deep intro. I’m waiting for Michael Jackson to come in with the tenor part, but the intro is lasting a really long time. And then the song’s over. So I thought, oh, I must have been distracted by driving and missed the main part of the song, so I hit the replay button. The song starts up again, there’s the intro, more intro, more intro, I’m waiting for the tenor part to start, it’s not coming, and then the song is over again. What the heck? So I actually pulled over into a parking lot, dug out the liner notes, and read, “Lead vocals:  Michael Jackson, Background vocals:  Michael Jackson.” I was stunned. “That guy” singing the low “intro” part was him, and I hadn’t recognized him at all. I couldn’t believe it. Michael Jackson’s voice has been in my head for over 40 years, since I was 9 years old. There are times when his voice feels as familiar to me as my own hands. And I had just listened to him sing “2000 Watts” twice and hadn’t recognized him.

As you know, I love his lower voice. His high voice, when it’s soaring as it does sometimes, is so incredibly beautiful to me, and there are these lovely high trills scattered throughout Invincible that I simply love, like right after the bridge in “Don’t Walk Away.” But his low voice just does something to me. The first time I heard it was on “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough.” I was a teenager, and that song was a revelation. The line “I’m melting like hot candle wax” has been making me blush for more than 30 years now, and his low voice on that song definitely adds to the mood. It is so sensual.

Joie:  Willa, you blush so easily! But, I know what you mean. That low rumble in the background of “Don’t Stop,” towards the end where he sings, “Don’t stop, Baby…. Come on, Baby…. Don’t stop, Darling,” – really, really HOT!!

Willa:  Heavens, Joie! You just completely fogged up my bifocals. Oh my. So, what were we talking about? Oh that’s right, that amazing but unsettling low voice on “2000 Watts.” To me, that voice feels completely different somehow from his low voice on “Don’t Stop” – it’s conveying a different mood and expressing a different idea. As you pointed out, the voice on “2000 Watts” doesn’t even sound like him at first, and I wonder if that startling unfamiliarity is intentional.

There are several recurring themes on Invincible. One is the theme of inarticulateness we talked about last week – this repeated idea that he’s unable to speak or communicate in a meaningful way so that others understand him. Another is the theme of alienation – that he’s the same person he’s always been, but we can’t recognize him. He’s the same, yet he’s become alien to us. We see that theme suggested over and over on Invincible, in everything from the album cover art, to lyrics, to his voice on “2000 Watts.” I played that song repeatedly the first few days I had Invincible, and I literally had to train myself to recognize that low growling voice as his voice. It felt really important to me to do that because it was so unsettling to hear his voice and not recognize him.

Joie:  It’s really interesting to me that you say that because, for me, it wasn’t that I didn’t recognize his voice. Just the opposite in fact. It immediately sounded like Michael to me – just Michael singing in a decidedly lower tone of voice than we were used to hearing him. But, it works. And it works great! And, as you said, I LOVE this lower voice of his. I only wish he had used it a little more often so that the world could be aware of what the fans already know…. which is the fact that he really did have such a wonderful and varied vocal range.

Well, since we began this series with the first song on the album, it’s sort of fitting that we end it with the last song on the album so, next week, we’ll be wrapping up our Invincible celebration with “Threatened.” And since it is Halloween week, the spooky nature of the song will be perfect!

About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on October 20, 2011, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. This is brilliant piece!!!!! By the way 2000 Watts also happens to be one of favourite songs on the Invincible. I am going to say it… Michael sounds absolutely SEXy!!! I cannot begin to tell u how many times I have played that song on repeat. Anyway, you have both captured the essence of Michael’s unique, and supernatural vocal range in your article. His voice has been always mesmerizing, and takes you to higher universe. It is hypnotic and soothing. His voice was a musical instrument, and he was most certainly one of the most gifted vocalist our time. Thanks for writing this Wila and Joie 🙂

  2. Joie, I think you knocked it out of the park when you said Michael’s “amazing voice seems to take a back seat” in his “electrifying performances”. To me, that is the hallmark of a great musician. The music comes first, all the other stuff in their bag of tricks is there just to serve the music, nothing else. Michael has the incredible vocal range, millions of different “colors” to choose from and technique out the wazoo allows him to do whatever he wants to serve the musical ideas he is expressing. He seems unlimited, whatever he wants to do he can. If he needs to get louder or softer, shorter or longer, breathy or resonant, playful or intense, he’s got everything at his disposal to use. Far too many vocalists these days give performances where you go “oh wow, they have a big voice”. Well, who cares? So what? Is this a stupid human trick I’m supposed to be impressed by? Michael NEVER tries to impress you with his vocal prowess, he serves the music ONLY. That is a truly great vocalist in my mind.

    • “Michael NEVER tries to impress you with his vocal prowess, he serves the music ONLY. That is a truly great vocalist in my mind.”

      Ultravioletrae, I could not agree more with this statement. Very well said! Michael was something of a ‘slave to the rhythm’ so to speak in that his bag of tricks as you call it was there to serve the music and not to impress us. IF he impressed us along the way, that was just icing on the cake. But it wasn’t his primary goal. And I think the same could be said for any of the greatest artists from any age, from Tchaikovsky to Picasso.

  3. Ultravioletrae, you took the words right out of my mouth! One of my favorite quotes about Michael appears in “Michael Jackson for the Soul” by Lorette C. Luzajic: “Michael Jackson didn’t need to play a musical instrument. Michael Jackson WAS a musical instrument.”
    In my opinion, Invincible is his finest work, and it saddens me to try and imagine what else he might have had in store for us. On this CD, he does so many different things with his voice, it’s almost as if we are hearing different people. Truly amazing work!
    @ Willa & Joie, please don’t stop at three entries on this great work!

    • Midnite Boomer, we have one more coming up next week when we’ll talk about “Threatened.” That will end our month-long 10th Anniversary celebration. But don’t you worry – both Willa and I LOVE this album so much. I’m sure we’ll revisit it often!

  4. Willa, don’t worry about your embarrassing moment! The same thing happened to me. My mom grudgingly (sadly aside from my cousin and uncle, I’m the only MJ fan in my family) handed me a copy of Invincible for my birthday and I eagerly popped into the CD player and turned it up as loud as my family would allow. I was listening to 2000 Watts, and waiting breathlessly for Michael’s voice to pop up. At first I thought, “Wow, this is some long intro.” And then I realized that the song was over and that it hadn’t switched out of the low voice. I asked my cousin, who was there for the weekend, celebrating my birthday, and she said, “Oh, that’s Michael’s voice.” I looked at her disbelievingly. I wasn’t used to Michael’s lower voice.

    Yes, he did have the most AMAZING range! I can get 2.5 if my voice is in tip top condition, which it is not at the moment, due to seasonal allergies. Wow, that’s incredible! I didn’t know that his range was 4 OCTAVES without falsetto! Holy cats, Batman!

    I can’t wait for the discussion on Threatened, that’s definitely one of my favorites from the album.

  5. I also did not recognize MJ on 2000 watts. I never tire of listening to him, because his voice is an entire orchestra of different sounds. Percussion, strings, he is all of that and more.

    • Thanks, you guys! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who didn’t recognize him. It’s pretty disconcerting, isn’t it? And Sandra, it’s really true that “his voice was an entire orchestra of sounds.” Some of his beatboxing is amazing. But to me the most important thing about his voice is how he used it to convey emotions and ideas. His voice can really take you places. . . .

  6. Amazing I love every word you talked about MJ is an entertainment Master I love him so much i wrote a song for him check it out if you’ve got some time

  7. After reading your blog entry, I just happened to read an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “When Sheer Power is Not Enough, a Cultural Conversation with Andreas Scholl”. Mr. Scholl sings opera as a countertenor. The last few paragraphs in the article jumped out at me:

    The singer attributes continuing interest in his voice type to various factors, including “hearing something you haven’t heard a hundred times before.” The appeal, he concedes, is not based on raw power. “Next to a heldentenor, we can’t compete,” he said, drawing a contrast with Wagnerian heroes. “We have to express not with vocal strength, but with detail.”

    A certain shock value—”the appeal of breaking the conventions,” as he terms it—must also be recognized. “How can a heroic character sing with the voice of a woman?” Mr. Scholl asks rhetorically, before proceeding to explain that such concerns were irrelevant when the bulk of his repertory was composed. More important is the effect such music exerts on modern sensibilities when sung by a countertenor.

    “You don’t stand for the stupid cliché of the masculine hero; you instead represent his full humanity,” Mr. Scholl said of his art. “The complete human would be someone who integrates both male and female elements, and a countertenor does that. That’s what I like, that the countertenor can be a figure of identification for men and women—because challenges to humanity are not exclusively male or female.”

    • “The complete human would be someone who integrates both male and female elements, and a countertenor does that. That’s what I like, that the countertenor can be a figure of identification for men and women—because challenges to humanity are not exclusively male or female.”

      Wow, Sandra, that is so interesting. You know, Michael Jackson really liked to blur that rather artificial boundary between masculine and feminine (and between a lot of other rather artificial boundaries, as well) but I never really thought about that in terms of his singing voice. That’s really intriguing to me. Thanks for sharing that article.

  8. Joie and Willa,
    I have been away from my home and easy computer access for about 2 weeks and have not been able to follow your wonderful posts. I have just caught up and I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed your discussion of “Invincible” which I regard as Michael’s best album (although I love every one of them and like a mother choosing between her children, I would hate to really have to pick a favorite!)

    I especially love this discussion of Michael’s incredible vocal range and amazing ability to create so many different sounds and emotions with just that beautiful instrument of his voice! I admire some other artist’s voices but I honestly can say that no one else’s music has the effect on me that any song of Michael’s does. It is as if his voice just reaches out and grabs hold of me no matter what he is singing. There is a magical quality to it. I don’t know how else to explain it. I tire of listening to most other artists after a while but I have to listen to Michael every single day or I just feel empty inside.

    I find it interesting that so many people associate Michael with only his high vocal range. Maybe that is because they were brainwashed by so many ridiculous tabloid accusations about what he did or didn’t do to keep his high vocal range. So many of his songs actually do include his low range also. It amazes me that people were so easily convinced by the tabloid lies. I love that wonderful low, sexy voice. Your examples were wonderful. Another of my favorites is part of “Blood on the Dance Floor” and when he sings “In the Closet” live on the History Tour. I’m melting a little bit just thinking about them!
    I completely agree with your comment regarding “2000 Watts”, if it had been on the “MICHAEL” CD, everyone would have been calling it a fraud! Michael’s voice was a living, changing creation, never stagnant, always beautiful in every form!

    I just finished reading Joe Vogel’s “Earth Song” that just came out in paperback. His description and explanation of every aspect of this song, including the unbelievable vocal perfection that Michael displayed in this song is wonderful. I can’t wait to read “Man in the Music”! Congratulations on having your excellent interview with Joe Vogel be included as part of the “Earth Song” book.

    I’m so glad to be back and I look forward to your next discussion about “Threatened”. A great choice for Halloween week. I just saw the Cirque du Soleil show in Detroit last weekend. I drove 5 hours to see it and it was completely worth it. It was an absolutely amazing performance and tribute to Michael from the first note to the last sound of applause! It stirred every emotion in me. I will definitely have to see it again. I did love the “Ben” number! Made me think of “Dancing with the Elephant” for just a few moments.

    • I just finished reading Joe Vogel’s “Earth Song” that just came out in paperback. His description and explanation of every aspect of this song, including the unbelievable vocal perfection that Michael displayed in this song is wonderful. I can’t wait to read “Man in the Music”! Congratulations on having your excellent interview with Joe Vogel be included as part of the “Earth Song” book.

      Hi Joyce. I’m with you – I loved Joe Vogel’s “Earth Song” book, and think his description of Michael Jackson, alone in the dark, recording the vocals may be my favorite part. I just love that image of the sound engineers at the mixing board, unable to see him, but blown away by the sheer power of his voice coming out to them through the darkness. Wow! And the interview with Joe was a lot of fun. He’s so knowledgeable about Michael Jackson’s music and creative process, and a really nice guy too.

  9. Add me to the list…I certainly thought I would recognize his voice in ANY presentation, and 2000 Watts blew me away…mainly because I did not realize it was him!! And like so many have said, I find myself listening to it simply to hear the very unusual, rare sound from Michael that is completely sexy and captivating.

  10. I have to thank you because I am a little embarrassed to say, but i had never heard “shout,” didn’t know about it at all… what an awesome addition, I LOVE that song for the added diversity of what i know to be Michael’s voice…. If i wouldn’t have read this blog i wouldn’t be enthralled with the beat and the points that are not as classically Michael yet thoroughly him like 2000 watts

  11. ” I have to listen to Michael every single day or I just feel empty inside”.

    Hi Joyce, I do too. Although, my daughters love Michael too, when they get in the car they do seem like they need their teenage variety. I absolutely do not tire of Michael…

    “I find it interesting that so many people associate Michael with only his high vocal range”.

    Thanks for saying this, Joyce and me too!

  12. One more thing…thank you Joie and Willa for bringing attention to the song, “Shout”. I also was unfamiliar with it. Wow, there is so much dimension…I’m still taking it all in!

    • Monica and Mare, I am so happy that we could help point you to Michael music that you had never heard before. You are so welcome!!

  13. I have to say I was a little taken aback that someone who professes to be a Michael Jackson fan would perpetuate a tabloid media mentality that Michael, himself, generated some of the unkind stories that circulated about him for publicity. Michael certainly didn’t need to manufacture publicity for himself. During the ’93 Oprah interview he became quite agitated when she brought up the hyperbaric chamber story. He vehemently explained that with the money he’d gotten from Pepsi, after he’d been burned, he bought the hyperbaric chamber (which promotes faster healing for burn victims) and donated it to the burn facility where he’d been treated. He stated that he had been “tinkering around with it” exploring it, seeing how it worked and got in it to see how it felt. Someone snapped a picture while he did this and sold it to a tabloid and the story evolved about him sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber. MIchael was quite distressed to have to address this ridiculous story yet again. Surely, you’re not saying Michael was lying. I’m always amazed at what some “fans” perpetuate about Michael. It’s irresponsible remarks like that which fuels the media’s insatiable appetite to make derogatory remarks about Michael – “see even the fans agree he did such things.” I am disappointed in you.

    • Hi cjg. I think this is a really complicated but really important topic and deserves a long answer – in fact, I imagine Joie and I will be addressing this topic in more than one blog post in the future. But I feel like I should begin by explaining that I come from a long line of tricksters and pranksters on both sides of my family tree, so that probably influences how I see this.

      My maternal grandfather was a conservative Republican sheriff who never touched a drop of alcohol in his life, and in every way was a very law-abiding citizen. But he was also a storyteller and a prankster and one of my favorite people in the whole world. He just loved people – loved traveling and meeting new people and hearing their stories – and was just full of mischief all the time. He was great fun to be with and loved jokes and funny stories, and was always up to something.

      My dad is the same way. I can remember one day when I was in first grade, my dad staggered into the kitchen with his hand over his heart and told my mom he’d been shot. My mom, who knows my dad’s personality very well, said, Yeah, right, sure you have, but my dad said, No, it’s true, and slid his hand down so she could see all this red oozing through his shirt and onto his hand. My mom had time for just one moment of panic before he explained to her that he’d accidentally stuck a red ink pen into his pocket with the lid off, and the ink had bled all over his shirt.

      So was my dad lying when he told my mom he’d been shot? I don’t think so. In fact, I don’t think my dad has ever once lied to my mom, though he’s told her things that weren’t true many times (like that he’d been shot). What I mean is that my dad has never intentionally misled my mom for devious purposes, which is my definition of lying, but he’s definitely a trickster – one of the things my mom loves most about him, actually – and in that sense he’s stretched the truth fairly often. But I personally wouldn’t call that lying.

      I think it’s fairly clear that Michael Jackson had that same kind of trickster personality. In that heartbreaking interview with Oprah after he died, his mother says that, as a boy, “he always teased, and he would always laugh and have fun with his brothers” and “was always playing jokes.” Michael Jackson himself told Rabbi Boteach, “Are you kidding? That’s my most favorite thing in the whole world, to prank people.” And I don’t know how much you’ve read about him, but even his closest colleagues – people who loved him and worked with him for years – openly acknowledge that he himself tricked the tabloids into believing that he slept in a hyperbaric chamber and wanted to buy the Elephant Man’s bones. He planted those stories himself.

      So in answer to your question I would say, no, I don’t think he lied to Oprah. In fact, from what I can gather, pretty much everything he told her is factually true. He was burned filming the Pepsi commercial, I think he bought the burn center a hyperbaric chamber to help treat burn patients, he was curious about it and climbed inside, his picture was taken as he was lying inside, and “someone” sold that picture to the tabloids. He just didn’t mention to Oprah that that “someone” was himself.

  14. As I have always been a fan of Michael Jackson and as it became evident early on that the media (“legitimate” or tabloid) soon targeted him as a favorite whipping boy it became my policy to not view or read stories about MIchael that did not come from Michael directly. I very much believe in having it come from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, especially concerning certain people, like Michael. Even then the interviews I would watch which involved Michael directly usually deteriorated into the same verbal attacks and distortions in which Michael would end up fighting to defend himself as they tried to twist his words around as we watched. It was usually too painful to watch them attack him (as I don’t believe public floggings or crucifixions are entertaining) and I would quit watching as much as I wanted to see him. Yes, I know Michael had a phenomenal sense of humor, which is well documented. I know when fatigued of the same nonsensical questions rooted in tabloid fodder he could be sarcastic if not down right facetious at times in his responses. I will never lend any legitimacy to someone who violated the ultimate code of trust (that between a clergy person and individual) by taking intimate discussions made in confidence and sold in order to make a quick buck off of that individual when he is not here to say yay or nay about what is presented (if it was OK with Michael then let me see the legal documents he signed waivering his right to confidentiality of what was recorded in essentially private THERAPY sessions allowing them to be published and why wait until he has died to do so). As for colleagues – names please and documentation of Michael himself saying this to them. I will NEVER be convinced that Michael would ever pursue any interaction with the tabloid press for ANY reason. I believe that is a story the PRESS developed to try to justify their inexcusable albeit immoral treatment of this man they couldn’t wait to crucify at every turn while taking great pleasure in doing so. Blame the victim – that is their game. So, no I do not believe it is appropriate to promote this belief about Michael and the press.

    • Hi cjg. I understand your frustration with the press where Michael Jackson is concerned. Throughout his entire solo career the press, both tabloid and mainstream alike, took great pleasure in trying to tear him down. But, as crazy as it may sound, it is common knowledge that during the early part of his solo career, Michael himself was responsible for some of the wild stories about him – most notably the hyperbaric chamber story and the elephant man’s bones. But we can all either choose to believe that or not.

      And that is the beauty of Dancing with the Elephant. Willa and I want this blog to be a place where we can all gather and talk about our views of Michael’s art. And in doing so, we can all agree to disagree. Because we’re not always going to have the same point of view. In fact, Willa and I disagree quite often and I actually share your views about the Rabbi. But we don’t have to get angry with one another in the process and we can look past our differences in opinion and just focus on the art and the love behind it.

      Aside from Willa’s comment about the hyperbaric chamber, what did you think of the rest of the post? She only brought it up to point out how fanatical his sister Janet said he was about maintaining his voice. So, tell us your thoughts on Michael’s voice. What do you think about his impressive vocal range?

    • And just to follow up on what Joie and ultravioletrae both said, it’s true the press was both mean-spirited and extremely biased in how they treated everything about him, so cjg, I think you’re right to be skeptical. In fact, I wish more people (including reporters) had been more skeptical of some of the vicious stories that were spread about. So I’ll try to do a little research and gather some concrete information about the hyperbaric chamber story and other alleged hoaxes, and post what I find.

  15. I can understand where you’re coming from cjg because the press has been so vicious towards Michael and I believe it continues to this day, even as we watch the trial for his homicide. What other homicide victims get this kind of treatment? Of all the studies that need to be done on Michael Jackson’s work, I believe the first order of business is the analysis of how the media covered his life and his work. I get so infuriated by this!

    I have been a Beatles fan since I was a child, and I was always delighted with the playful pranks the Beatles would play on the press. I remember McCartney once, so serious, trying to convince a reporter that the group was actually bald! And it wasn’t until after the Anthology that I realized Lennon was playing a silly game when he claimed the name “Beatles” appeared to him in a dream on a flaming pie. I always believed that! Apparently they did a lot of that, and in later years they thought they should set the record straight. I think it’s hilarious personally. I remember a little back lash against them, untrue stories (it was reported they were drying out when in fact they were creating Sgt. Pepper) and record burnings when Lennon stated they were more popular than Jesus. But NOTHING like what Michael constantly endured, no comparison.

    I think Michael’s playful pranks are hilarious too, very silly, very funny. I get a chuckle out of them. But why is it they take anything Michael does and use it to vilify him? There is something very deep seated and vicious about the way he was interpreted and I really don’t fully understand it. Jermaine said the wheelchair photo was a prank Michael devised, so that when he came out full force on TII, everyone would be even more amazed. I have laughed out loud about that! Why don’t people see this as it is, light hearted and funny? I see why Michael defended himself to Oprah about the hyperbaric chamber, he was totally misread and it got so ugly, dark and evil.

    I hope to dig deeper into this topic at some point. It is so troubling. How could someone so fun and funny and full of goodness get so much hostility directed towards him? All I can say is this – darkness hates the light.

    • Hi ultravioletrae. I agree! In fact, I wonder if that sort of playful sense of humor isn’t closely tied to creativity, because it sure seems like a lot of super-creative people have it.

      btw, one of my favorite Beatles quotes is from their first visit to the US. A reporter asked them soon after they landed if they had any advice for American youth, and Ringo, I think it was, immediately said, “Buy more Beatles albums.” I love that!

  16. I just wanted to say that I do understand the feelings that cjg expressed. I think all of us who love and support Michael Jackson are very sensitive to what has been and continues to be written about him in the media. I think ultravioletrae makes an excellent point about Michael’s sense of humor and playfulness. I also think Michael’s PR people encouraged some of these early crazy stories just to keep people talking about Michael. Unfortunately that is often what PR people do especially in the music industry and showbusiness world! It is just a sad commentary on our society that a negative or ridiculous story such as the hyperbaric chamber story will always get more attention than what should have been a more newsworthy story, the fact that Michael took the time while he was a burn patient himself, to visit other burn patients and learn more about the facility and the treatments involved in serious burns which inspired him to offer support through his generous donation. What story still gets talked about more?

    I like to think that Michael did get a good laugh out of this ridiculous story when it first appeared whether he instigated it or not. Unfortunately the media refused to see this gentle, playful side of Michael and instead chose to continue down the path of presenting cruel and meanspirited interpretations of just about anything pertaining to Michael.

    If only the media would have focused on Michael’s amazing vocal range and all of his incredible creative talents like this post originally was meant to do! That could have filled the pages of many magazines.
    I look forward to reading more of your wonderful discussions about Michael’s creative genius. Thanks!

  17. Randy Taraborrelli’s description of how the hyperbaric chamber story got its start is provided below. It’s really long but I thought it was important, so quoted it at length. It’s important to remember that Taraborrelli’s biography was first published in 1991, before the molestation allegations came out and the media coverage became really horrible. And here’s a link to the September 29, 1986, Time magazine article, which quotes Frank Dileo and corroborates that aspect of Taraborrelli’s account.

    The following is taken from pp. 355-360 of Taraborrelli’s biography:

    Earlier, in 1984, when Michael was burned while filming the Pepsi commercial, he saw an oxygen chamber at Brotman Memorial Hospital called a hyperbaric chamber, used to help heal burn victims…. When Steven Hoefflin [his plastic surgeon, who helped treat his burn injuries] told him that he had a theory that sleeping in this machine could prolong life, Michael became fascinated by it and, immediately, wanted one for himself. The cost was about $200,000.

    Though Michael could well afford it, Frank Delio talked him out of wasting his money on such a contraption. “Well, I’d at least like to have my picture taken in it,” Michael decided. When Frank arranged for Michael to be photographed in the chamber, at the hospital, word began to spread that he was interested in the chamber and, eventually, the story found its way to the tabloid, National Enquirer. “I had a phone-in from a source in Los Angeles who said that Michael was seen going to a hospital and taking pictures in this chamber,” said reporter Charles Montgomery who worked for the Enquirer at the time. “It sounded like a sensational story. I wanted to be the one to break it.”

    Charles met with Frank Dileo and asked for details. “He didn’t want to discuss it, told me to get lost,” Charles said. “I got some information on the phone from Steven Hoefflin, but not much. Without cooperation, the story had to be put on hold.”

    Not for long, though. . . .

    When Michael heard that the Enquirer was asking questions about him, his wheels started turning. Earlier in the year he had given Frank Delio and John Branca a copy of a book about P.T. Barnum, his theories and philosophies. “This is going to be my Bible and I want it to be yours,” he told them. “I want my whole career to be the greatest show on earth.”

    Michael’s idea was to promote the story that he was sleeping in the hyperbaric chamber in order to prolong his life to the age of 150…. John Branca thought the idea was odd, but it seemed harmless enough as far as publicity stunts go.

    It fell upon Frank Delio to find a way to disseminate the fabricated story. He called Charles Montgomery and gave him the information he had sought earlier and, to make the story even more irresistible, he promised a photograph of Michael actually in the chamber—as long as Charles could guarantee the weekly’s cover. He also made Charles promise not to reveal his source for the information.

    “I honestly didn’t know if the story was true or not,” Charles Montgomery said. “But Michael Jackson said it was true, his manager said it was true, and his doctor verified it. How many more sources do you need? Then, there was a picture. It turned out to be a great shot, the guy laying there in the chamber. We knew what they were after in giving it to us, though. They said they wanted us to use words like ‘wacky’ and ‘bizarre.’ We knew the Captain EO thing was coming up, and figured he was probably trying to promote some kind of sci-fi image. Still, it was a good story.”

    With the Enquirer in place, Frank wanted to strategize a way to distribute the story to the mainstream press, but without anyone knowing he was involved with it….

    As it happened, Frank’s Sunset Strip office was next door to that of leading show-business publicist Michael Levine. Frank invited Michael to his home in Encino and told him about his idea, but with a few embellishments. Frank took Michael’s idea a step further. He wanted the press to believe not only that Michael was sleeping in the chamber, but also that he and Michael were locked in a strong disagreement about its safety, and that Frank did not want him to take the machine on the road with him during his next tour. Michael Levine was told that if he wanted to represent the story to the media, he would have to do so without having any contact with Michael Jackson—and without informing the media that he (Levine) was involved in any way. In other words, Michael Levine’s task was to publicize one of the most ridiculous stories ever concocted without anyone knowing he was doing it….

    With Michael Levine’s assistance, word of Michael Jackson’s exploit quickly spread around the globe, a perfectly orchestrated public relations coup. If his goal was to appear “wacky” . . . he certainly achieved it. The hyperbaric chamber story was carried by the Associated Press and the United Press International. It appeared in Time, Newsweek and practically every major newspaper in the country. Television and radio news covered it. Suddenly, the words “hyperbaric chamber” were on the lips of many people as they gossiped about crazy Michael’s plan to live to 150 and how he and his manager were fighting about it.

    When contacted by the Associated Press, Frank Dileo confirmed the report. “I told Michael, ‘That damned machine is too dangerous. What if something goes wrong with the oxygen?’ But Michael won’t listen. He and I are in disagreement about this. He really believes this chamber purifies his body—and that it will accomplish his goal of living to be a hundred and fifty.”

    And to Rolling Stone: “Michael knows if I tell him something, it’s the truth. I don’t have to agree with things if I don’t want to. In other words, because I know this is eventually going to come up in this interview anyway, the hyperbaric chamber. I’m one hundred percent against that. I don’t want it around. I’ve spoken about it publicly. Some managers couldn’t have that conversation with their artist. They’d be too afraid. He respects my opinion. He doesn’t always listen.”

    He added to Time, “I can’t figure him out sometimes.”

    Even Michael’s plastic surgeon, Steven Hoefflin, got in on the act and said he tried to talk Michael out of “this wacky idea.” However, Michael ignored everyone’s fears and made room for the chamber in his bedroom.

    When Joseph Jackson heard the story on the TV news, he ran up to Michael’s bedroom to see if Michael had a hyperbaric chamber in there. “But I didn’t find anything,” he recalled. “So I figured, well, either the story is untrue . . . or the chamber is on its way.”

    “I don’t think I allowed Michael to have that thing in the house,” Katherine added.

    Michael’s family was obviously not let in on the joke….

    “I never asked him about that chamber thing,” Janet said. “I have no idea what that was about. It’s not in the house, or I would know it. But knowing Michael, if he is doing something like that, it probably has to do with his voice.”

    “I realized then that Michael Jackson liked to see himself portrayed in an absurd, bizarre way,” Charles Montgomery said. “In the years to come, I would do the biggest number of stories on Michael in the Enquirer. Before I ran anything, I would always check its accuracy with people close to Michael. I almost always had full cooperation from his camp. Michael is one of the smartest entertainers in the business. He knows how to get his name out there. He knows about PR. He knows how to control his career. I think he’s brilliant.”

    Michael was astonished by the way his fiction made headlines. Many untrue stories had been written about him in the past, and he had been angry about them. Now, he was extracting his revenge against the media. “I can’t believe people bought it,” he said of the hyperbaric chamber idea. “It’s like I can tell the press anything about me and they’ll buy it,” he added, as if recognizing the full potential of his communications power. “We can actually control the press,” he concluded. “I think this is a major breakthrough for us.”

    Once, Frank Dileo was asked about the wisdom of doing whatever he could to make Michael seem as incredible as possible or, as he put it, “to keep him as popular and in demand as anyone can be.” “Might all this hoopla damage the singer’s already fragile psyche?” asked reporters Michael Goldberg and David Handleman for Rolling Stone.

    “It’s too late anyway,” Dileo responded. “He won’t have a normal life even if I stop.”

  18. Just another comment on Michael’s voice: in Butterflies, there’s a strong contention that the song is actually completely vocalized using the very top of his expansive tenor range, and that his falsetto may not have been employed at all–or at least very little–within this particular song. There’s a distinct difference between one’s range and one’s falsetto (though I cannot elaborate on any particulars–I am just a novice on this subject). The difficulty with elaborating on Michael’s upper register and his lower falsetto is that they are essentially the same.

    By the way, I love Dr. Stillwater’s book, “M Poetica,” as a fine arts and humanities buff, the book really had me smiling. I’m not yet 21, but it was my intent to write on Michael’s work extensively if I had the fortune to establish my own writing career. Between Dr. Stillwater and Joseph Vogel, I am proud to say that I’ve a wonderful foundation to build upon.

  19. Seth Riggs said Michael’s vocal range is at least 4 octaves.

  20. aldebaranredstar

    Hi, I am reading these comments and am intrigued by the discussion started by cjg regarding the ‘stories’ of Michael sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber to stay young and wanting to purchase the Elephant Man’s bones, both of which were used extensively (ad nauseum) by the media to portray him as ‘wacko.” The references to these two stories have continued, unbelievably, to this very day!!! They seem to be part of the de rigeur Michael media portrayal, so I think it really is important to sort out once and for all whether he in fact started these ‘stories’ himself or whether they were started by others.

    This is what I have read: he got in the hyperbaric chamber and was photographed, and the person developing the film sold the photo to the tabloids and the story about the purpose (to stay young) was invented (rather than talking about Michael’s charity in buying the hyperbaric chamber for the burn unit). In fact, I never realized that the hyperbaric chamber was a very useful medical tool, not only for burns but for people with emphysema–the media made a joke out of this valuable medical therapy.

    The second ‘story’ about the Elephant Man’s bones–where did that come from? I read that Michael was fascinated with the life of the “Elephant Man’ and also the movie. There are strong parallels to his own life, being seen as a ‘freak’ and ostracized, put on display and exploited. He went to visit a museum where the bones were kept and other artifacts because of this interest and identification.

    He publicly denied (to Oprah) both stories–that he tried to buy the bones or the “I sleep in a hyperbaric chamber” story. Actually, these two ‘stories’ reveal a lot about Michael if they are seen correctly and not distorted as they were by the media: the connection to the Elephant Man and the humanitarian purchase of the hyperbaric chamber both reveal Michael’s compassion.

    I so agree with Ultravioletrae that the media’s barbaric exploitation and persecution of Michael needs to be fully exposed. This leads me to one of the major exploiters of Michael in the media–R. Taraborelli. Willa, if I could convince you to doubt what Taraborelli says and not to use him as a source, I would be so happy. I don’t know why you give this person any credence. Flo Kennedy, a prominent black radio host and a longtime friend of the Jackson family, said in an interview where she takes on Diane Dimond that Taraborelli interviewed Michael once when he was 16 and that is it as far as contact. Taraborelli has said so many awful things about Michael over the years, including that he was a child molester, that he is just part of the tabloid mentality. When he first published his ‘biography’ Michael asked for an advance copy before publication and it was denied, so from that time on, there was no contact between Michael and him. This guy is just a celebrity hunter–he has written lots of celebrity ‘biographies’ (check it out at Amazon)–he is not credible or sympathetic to Michael–he is just making a buck off him, just like Diane Dimond.

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