Hold Me, Like the River Jordan

Willa:  Joie, you know how you get a song in your head sometimes, and it just keeps running through your mind?

Joie:  Yes. That can really drive you crazy! Especially if it’s a song that you don’t particularly care for.

Willa:  Right, like an advertising jingle. The old Oscar Mayer jingle does that to me sometimes, and I’ll go around for days thinking, “Oscar Mayer has a way with B – O – L – O – G – N – A.” And sometimes it’s just because there’s a catchy melody that grabs me. But sometimes, if I think about it, I realize there’s a reason why that particular song has caught hold of me. Like I went around singing the Schoolhouse Rock song about the Preamble to the Constitution pretty much all winter, and then realized my son was studying the Constitution in school.

Joie:  That’s funny! It is amazing how the mind works sometimes.

Willa:  It is funny, isn’t it? Anyway, that’s been happening to me for a couple of weeks now with “Will You Be There.” It’s always been one of my favorites, but something about it just seems to be speaking to me right now because it keeps running through my mind. Though I have to say, if you’re going to have a song stuck in your head, that’s an awfully nice one to have!

Joie:  Can’t argue there; what a great song! That one wouldn’t drive you nuts at all.

Willa:  Oh, it’s lovely, from those first beautiful notes to the opening lyrics to the swelling orchestration. And then the choir joins in, with his voice weaving around overhead – I just love it. It reminds me of walking by a river and watching a swallow swoop around just above the water, catching insects. The choir is the river with their big, full, flowing sound, and Jackson’s voice is the swallow dipping and diving just above it.

Joie:  Hmm. You paint a nice picture. And I agree; it is a beautiful song. And I just love the opening of the full version of the song, with the Beethoven prelude. Beautiful! You know, I don’t think many people realize that piece of music is taken from Beethoven’s famous “Ode to Joy.”

Willa:  Oh, so you’re talking about the version from the Dangerous album, right?

Joie:  Yes.

Willa:  I was thinking about the videos – the MTV 10th Anniversary one and the Free Willy one – and they don’t have the prelude. And it’s so interesting you should mention it, Joie, because I was thinking about the intro also, but in a really different way. I was focusing on the opening line of the lyrics – “Hold me, like the River Jordan” – and how much it sounds like an old slave spiritual. It even has the rhythm of a spiritual. You know how “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” begins with two long slow notes followed by a long pause, and then picks up the pace with quicker notes after the pause? Well that’s exactly how “Will You Be There” begins. So even though it’s a modern song, it’s like it has older music echoing through it, and you can really imagine those opening lyrics being sung 200 years ago.

But now that you’ve mentioned the prelude, it’s spun me off into a totally different place. You know, if you think about it, it’s really fascinating what he’s doing in that intro on the Dangerous version. We should talk to Lisha about it sometime and get some professional insight, but it begins with a musical quotation from Beethoven, as you say, so it evokes the classical genre. But then we hear the first line of the lyrics, and both the language and rhythm of those lyrics evoke a spiritual. That seems like such a contrast but somehow it works, and it works beautifully. Who else but Michael Jackson could pull off a juxtaposition like that and have it feel so right? It sounds like such a contradiction putting together those two widely divergent genres – you kinda think there’d be a jolt going from one to the other – but in his hands it feels perfectly natural, and precisely right.

Joie:  Willa, it’s so interesting that you say that because, in the classical Beethoven piece is a chorus singing lyrics in German. The English translation of those lyrics reads:

Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.

So the lyrics of this portion of “Ode to Joy” read very much like a hymn, or an old slave spiritual, as you said.

Willa:  Wow, that’s really interesting, isn’t it? To me, the music of that choral part has a very different feeling – it doesn’t feel like a slave spiritual to me at all – but the lyrics really do read like a hymn, don’t they?

Joie:  Yes, they really do. So, while on the surface they may seem like two very different and contradictory directions, they are actually not so far apart when you dig a little bit deeper. And you’re right; who else but Michael Jackson could pull off a juxtaposition like that and make it feel so natural and authentic? In his book, Man in the Music, Joe Vogel says of the song,

The nearly eight-minute piece is essentially an epic film score, rooted in black gospel but fused with classical music and rhythm and blues. It is yet another example of Jackson’s remarkable ability to draw from disparate musical styles and make them work together.  

This ability to ‘draw from disparate styles’ and bring differences together is the heart of his genius, in my opinion. He did it not only with music, as we’ve talked about before, but he did it with people as well. Bringing together all colors, all nationalities, and all generations.

Joe goes on to note in his book how much intros meant to Michael by quoting one of his long-time collaborators, Brad Buxer. Joe writes,

‘He was brilliant with that stuff,’ says Brad Buxer, ‘Intros and outros were really important to him. The intros were almost as important as the song itself.’

So, this beautiful intro with the angelic strains of the Cleveland Orchestral Chorus singing the very hymn-like words over Beethoven’s incredible 9th symphony wasn’t chosen randomly. I believe Michael probably knew very well what the English translation of that piece of music was and used it deliberately because, as Brad Buxer pointed out, to Michael, “the intros were almost as important as the song itself.”

Willa:  That’s fascinating, Joie, and we can really see it in “Will You Be There.” And you know, what you’ve just shared about the hymn-like qualities of that Beethoven section has me thinking about the divide between “high” art and popular art that we’ve talked about before, and that Nina mentioned in the comments last week. It’s like he begins by evoking a hymn from two very different sources – the high art of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and the folk art of a slave spiritual – but then brings them together to form this beautiful song.

So I think you have it exactly right, Joie, when you say his ability to “bring differences together is the heart of his genius.” We saw that in “Black or White,” as Lisha explicated so amazingly when we talked to her a couple months ago, and we see it again here. And as you said so well, Joie, this ability to cross boundaries extends from musical genres to demographics: “Bringing together all colors, all nationalities, and all generations.”

I think this insistence on crossing those boundaries was partly a deliberate artistic decision, as we’ve been talking about the past few weeks, but I also think it was just the way his mind worked. He really didn’t see the divisions that break the world, and us, into little separate categories – or he saw them but refused to acknowledge them. He refused to respect the boundaries between rock and rap, classical music and spirituals, just as he refused to respect the boundaries between black and white, masculine and feminine, young and old, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist.

Joie:  I agree with you completely, Willa. I think that’s just the way his mind worked. I think he saw all those boundaries you mention and just completely, and very deliberately, chose to ignore them because they don’t matter anyway. And I think the lyrics to the song itself bear witness to that. To me, this song is all about friendship and brotherly love and being there for one another. And the differences between us just don’t matter. As he sings,

Hold me
Like the River Jordan
And I will then say to thee
You are my friend
  
Carry me
Like you are my brother
Love me like a mother
Will you be there?

Willa:  Oh, I love those verses! I think the first two lines, especially, are among his best, and I agree these verses can be interpreted as talking about brotherly love and being there for one another, as you say. But there are other interpretations as well, and it gets back to a question I find myself asking every time I listen to “Will You Be There”:  who is he talking to in this song?

For example, could he be praying to a higher power and asking a spiritual question when he sings “Will you be there?” To me, the first two lines, especially, and that word “Thee” kind of suggest that. But then he goes on to sing, “You are my friend,” and that doesn’t feel like a prayer. That feels different, like he’s talking to humanity and encouraging us all to take care of one another, as you mentioned. But then comes the following verse:

When weary
Tell me, will you hold me?
When wrong, will you scold me?
When lost, will you find me?

And that sounds like a prayer again. Even the cadence of those lines sounds Biblical to me.

Joie:  You’re right, Willa; they do sound Biblical. And going back to what you just said about it sounding like a prayer except for the line, “You are my friend” … you know, many Christian religions draw on the philosophy that God – or Jesus, more specifically – is our friend, and that we should approach Him in prayer in that way. As if we are talking to a close friend. So that interpretation of this song is completely valid and supported by the lyrics.

Willa:  Oh, that’s interesting, Joie. So maybe that isn’t a contradiction. And then as the lyrics continue, they become very personal, I think:

Everyone’s taking control of me
Seems that the world’s
Got a role for me
I’m so confused
Will you show to me
You’ll be there for me
And care enough to bear me?

And that verse sounds like he’s talking very specifically about himself – not humanity as a whole. But again, who is he speaking to? Is he talking to his fans, and asking us if we’ll be there for him through the hard times? (“Will you show to me / You’ll be there for me / And care enough to bear me?”) Or is this a prayer for spiritual guidance? (“Seems that the world’s / Got a role for me / I’m so confused”)

Joie:  Again, I think you’re right here, Willa. It does sound extremely personal. And strangely foreboding, given the legal troubles he found himself in soon after the song’s release as a single in 1993. He could very well have been talking to the fans, asking us if we would stand beside him or even carry him when things became too much for him to bear. It certainly feels that way when you listen to the song.

But by that same token, he could also have just as easily been talking to God and asking for divine guidance and intervention. And, you know, the video for this song and the footage of it performed in concert would seem to support this as both end with an angel, suspended above the stage seeming to fly through the air as she makes her way to him. And as the song ends she lands behind him, gracefully steps towards him and lovingly envelops him in her wings.

Willa:  That’s an excellent point, Joie, and looking at things that way, it seems significant that he included the angel in the MTV concert, which was his first live performance of this song, I think, in 1991. So it’s like it was part of his original vision for this song. And I have to say, I love everything about his MTV performance, from his quiet peace sign to the crowd at the beginning, to the “Women’s Rights Now” slogan spray-painted in a swirl of color on the roof of the car, to the children’s choir and women’s choir and men’s choir, to his lower voice in the opening lines, to his higher voice as it begins to soar, to the fluidity of his elegant dancing throughout and the choreography of all the dancers, to the protective angel at the end holding him and symbolically keeping him safe. I love it all.

And you know, when I ask myself, Who is he talking to?, I see different answers coming forward at different points in the song and find myself answering, All of the above. I think this song is a spiritual quest and a plea to humanity for brotherly love and an honest question to his fans about whether we’ll be there for him through the hard times.

Joie:  I think I agree with you, Willa. The answer is ‘All of the above.’ At least, it certainly feels that way. And I can’t help but wonder if that was his intention all along for this amazingly beautiful song.

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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 June 6, 2012, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 57 Comments.

  1. WOW! You ladies touched on one of my favs this week.

    I too agree that “all of the above” could be checked for the “who he is talking to?” question. I must add that I sometimes think it could be more personal, as a call to his family and friends or maybe even a love interest. Then again, maybe that is just me projecting what I’m feeling at any given time.

    Does anyone know more about when or how the song was created? Did Michael ever talk about it in interviews?

    Oh and Willa: Schoolhouse Rock! A blast from my childhood. Thank You!

    • Boy, Destiny, do I have a treat for you! I love Schoolhouse Rock, and still remember a lot of the lyrics to their songs about nouns and pronouns, conjunctions and interjections (“Hey! That’s not fair / Giving a guy a shot down there!”) and “Three is a magic number” and “I’m just a bill” and … and … and … I love them!

      Anyway, here’s one about a young musician saving her money to buy a guitar and some amps, and about halfway in she does the moonwalk past a music store:

  2. Great conversation, I second (or third or fourth) ‘all of the above’. I always believed Michael intended for this song to have all of those possible meanings. I also personally am moved by what I cannot believe is simply coincidence, and that is that we have this child who starts out touching us with the purest, most angelic voice, telling us “I’ll Be There”, “just call my name, I’ll be there to comfort you”, etc. And he grows into this man who finds himself really honestly asking “will you be there for me”, and so sadly, it often seemed the answer was no. The two sides of that coin and the truth they tell about his life are very poignant for me.

    • Wow, Kris. I hadn’t thought about that before but, you’re right. He promised us that he would be there – and he always was. But we couldn’t return the favor for him. Sad. So much about Michael’s life seems so bittersweet when you really sit back and think about it.

      • Not just bittersweet, Joie, but tragic — and the tragic flaw was not in him, but in us. I love this post — and this song, and thanks so much for the link, but it has almost brought me to tears. What a loss. But, then as Kris points out he seemed to be dealing with this concept — and both sides of the coin — for a very long time — and, in his music and his art, he is there and here for us. Now, we just need to be there for him — his memory and his legacy. Which is, of course, what dancing with the elephant is doing,

        • “Now, we just need to be there for him — his memory and his legacy. Which is, of course, what dancing with the elephant is doing.”

          Thank you so much for saying that, Eleanor.

    • Wow, Kris, I’m with Joie. I never put those together before either: “I’ll Be There” and “Will You Be There?” That is heartbreaking, isn’t it? It’s almost like he’s continuing a conversation begun by his younger self. Wow.

      I’m really going to have to go back and listen to those two side by side and think about this.

  3. This song does seem foreboding. It’s almost as if he sensed the dark times looming ahead, and this was his frightened plea – to a loved one, fans, God, the world – to be there for him. To not abandon him. More than anything I hear a cry of loneliness in “Will You Be There”.

    And then, when “Best Of Joy” came out I felt strangely like it was a response to “Will You Be There”.

    wasn’t it i who carried you around
    when all the walls came tumbling down
    when things would hurt you
    we are forever…

    It’s interesting that he started working on “Best Of Joy” during the Dangerous era too (I think – you can see the song mentioned in his old notes of the Dangerous era). But it was only recorded in 2009, as his last song, and sounds symbolic, as if after all his trials and tribulations he finally found inner piece and reached the point of absolute trust with this mysterious soulmate of his.

    • Oh, Morinen! You have just touched on a song that is so close to my heart. I love, love, LOVE “Best of Joy” for so many reasons! I would love for Willa and I to talk about it sometime. That song fascinates me and I find that I can not listen to it without crying. And they are both tears of joy and tears of sorrow. I have never had a song effect me that deeply before.

  4. Is MJ singing to God?

    That’s an interesting question (an who knows – a topic for a future blog post?)
    WYBT is not alone in that conversation…

    The NYTimes reviewer of Invincible claimed ”Speechless”
    ”may be a love song to God. ”! [ http://goo.gl/slbuW ]

    • Musubana, I agree with you. WYBT would not be alone in that conversation. There are several MJ songs where he could easily be talking to God or about God.

  5. Michael Jackson is the real pop king. He is still alive in our mind, he is not died. How many days the world will live, he will alive in his songs. Because songs are so nice that people will not forget till his death.

  6. This is, what Michael said about writing Wil You Be There:

    “I wrote “Will You Be There?” at my house, “Neverland” in California… I didn’t think about it hard. That’s why it’s hard to take credit for the songs that I write, because I just always feel that it’s done from above. I feel fortunate for being that instrument through which music flows. I’m just the source through which it comes. I can’t take credit for it because it’s God’s work. He’s just using me as the messenger..” .~Michael, Ebony Interview, 1992

  7. Midnite Boomer

    WYBT is the song that changed my life, and I have been studying it now for some time. Some additional thoughts:
    (1) The opening from Beethoven’s 9th. Beethoven’s 9th was the first time a composer put a chorale into a symphony. I think Michael’s use of those 4 lines is symbolic in many ways, but he is also saying, “I too am doing things that have not been done before” (as he goes on to demonstrate with the remainder of the song, in ways that you have pointed out.) Additionally, Beethoven was seen as a transitional composer, between the older “classical” music and the newer “Romantic” movement. Michael is also considered, in some circles, to be a transitional artist.
    (2)The line “Do you sense the Creator, World?” is also symbolic, as Michael said, he bound himself to his work. I think he is asking us, if we do sense him in his work. (For me, it is hard NOT to!)
    (3)The River Jordan. This reference has long puzzled me. What would it mean, to be “held like a river?” (I’d be interested to read others’ thoughts on this). A river can completely engulf someone. The allusion, though, is to a transformative experience: in the Judeo-Christian Bible, most events that happen at the River Jordan are life-transforming events…too many to list here. Jesus was baptized there. I take the reference to mean, the song you are about to experience is full of love: in a way, you (the listener) are about to be “baptized in love.”

    Great post, ladies…but way too short! 🙂

    • Hi Midnite Boomer — I have always had the image of Michael floating on his back in the River Jordan — his body/mind buoyed up by the water — and the comfort of his faith — which I think he was beginning to rethink and re-evaluate. The levels of aloneness this man was dealing with are so vast that I can’t even begin to imagine them.

      • Midnite Boomer

        Ahh, Eleanor…hold me UP (like the River)…wow, your response just triggered this. We are being upheld by faith…ooh, this song just keeps getting richer as it continues to reveal more. Thank you!

    • Hi Midnight Boomer. The parallels you identify between Beethoven as a “transitional composer” and Michael Jackson are really interesting, with both incorporating diverse elements into their work (such as a chorale, “black” rock and “white” rap, found sounds). And both expanded and to some extent redefined the genres in which they worked.

      The question about the River Jordan is interesting too. Like Eleanor, that lyric gives me a sense of being held up and supported by the river. A river is powerful, and it holds you in a powerful way, and it’s a force of nature, so you are being held up and supported by a force of nature.

      But ironically, when you are being held by a river, you don’t feel like you’re being held – not like it feels when you are being held by “a mother,” as he mentions later. I’m not sure if I’m making myself clear, but when you are in a river, you are being held and supported very powerfully, but you don’t feel it – just as the narrator in this song is being supported very powerfully by some spiritual force larger than himself but perhaps doesn’t feel it? And so he questions, Are you there, and “Will you be there” if I need you?

      I don’t know if that makes any sense or not, but that’s the feeling I take away from that line – as kind of a reminder to himself that he is being held and sustained and supported, and powerfully supported, even if he doesn’t always feel it.

      • “when you are in a river, you are being held and supported very powerfully, but you don’t feel it”–

        Hi, Willa–I have to say that I do ‘feel’ the water–I feel it very lovingly all over my body; in fact, this is one of my favorite sensual delights. Once you have been skinny dipping in the moonlight–that is the most wonderful thing! Yes, it can feel like ‘a mother.’ Because the water, the ocean, is in fact the mother of all life. I even love hot baths!

        • Just to add that many rivers are sacred, or at least were once regarded that way, like the Ganges and the Jordan, and bathing in them is (or was) a spiritual experience.

  8. what a fantastic way to start my day – thank you soooo much. For me this is one of Michael’s most beautiful and deeply spiritual songs. I hadn’t seen this youtube video, only the whole MTV awards one, and only the Visions version, and this You tube is way way much better – I really miss the angel on the Visions version, and feel that it/she was very important and symbolic. Also Michael appears to be crying as he speaks at the end, which is not so clear on Visions. I agree with all of the above, and have always felt that it was an Ode to God cos of all the Biblical references, and language, but perhaps also aimed at his fans, cos I know when he asks right at the end will you be there?, i always answer Yes – can’t help myself cos I feel he is asking me in person somehow.

  9. Wila and Joie you couldnt have selected a more poignant song than this one. This song happens to be one of my favourite MJ Songs of all time, and the best time to listen to this song is in the morning. I love love this song, and thank you for discussing it in your blog. His voice is a masterpiece and the lyrics are prophetic. This song often brings me closer to Michael whenever I listen to it, I can hear every note, and I can feel his passion, and expression. LOVE IT TO PIECES… : )

  10. What a wonderful discussion. Thanks so much.

    And Joie, when you said —

    “… you know, many Christian religions draw on the philosophy that God – or Jesus, more specifically – is our friend, and that we should approach Him in prayer in that way. As if we are talking to a close friend. So that interpretation of this song is completely valid and supported by the lyrics.”

    I thought about the Quakers and the Sufis (although Sufism is not Christian, but Islamic).

    The Quakers are also known as the Friends of God, so they see G/god as their friend. And, Rumi, in his poetry, addresses God as Friend. So “Friend” could mean G/god; however, in using the term “Friend” for God, both the Sufis and the Quakers put a little different spin on the traditional understanding of the nature of G/god. I primarily only know about Sufism from Rumi, but he seems to see the Friend in the material world — in nature; the Quakers (I was once a Friend) talk about “that of god in every man/woman” which is why the Quakers are pacifists and do not take sides in war and why they do not believe in hierarchies or titles, etc. Michael Jackson clearly saw all humans and the nature we inhabit as having value, which is just another way of saying that he seemed to understand that the sacred resides in us and in the material world — not outside of nature.

    That being said —

    To me this song is about Michael’s growing sense of alienation — alienation from his family and his church — separations which were necessary for his artistic – and personal — development, but which must have left him feeling so alone. Also, alienation from “normal” human life, a growing understanding of the price of his extraordinary fame.

    I think he is also expressing the alienation and aloneness that all humans feel at one time or another in life — the reaching out we all do to friends, family, and even whatever we believe in — whatever belief sustains us — wondering if we can continue to believe — “Will You Be There For Me?” — will I be able to continue to have faith?

    Ultimately, there is no single or simple answer, and like others who commented before me I tend to go with “all of the above.”

    • Caro Attwell

      Very interesting Eleanor to put a more religious slant on it. I was also a Quaker and all that you say is so valid, and we know that Michael studied the worlds’ religions, so I entirely go along with all the comments from a religious and spiritual point of view. Having also looked at most of the worlds religions, for me there is a distinct difference between religion and spirituality, and I deeply feel that Michael got that distinction also, which is one of the reasons I am so drawn to him and his work.
      However, like Michael, I am confused!! I have just looked at the Youtube video again posted with this blog, and the Visons version, and am really struck by the differences in the same footage??? In Visions there is no angel and no little boy ‘signing’, and during the spoken last part Michael is obviously crying in the Youtube but not in the Visions version? i can understand different camera angles, but not these disparities. Did he perform it more than once for MTV? He could not have recorded a different ending for Visions cos he had already passed when it came out?? anyone else noticed these differences and know why and how?
      It doesn’t detract from either performance for me – Michael is just wonderful howeverb -ut it does have me wondering what is what here!

      • I can’t help you out of your confusion vis a vis the different versions of WYBT, Caro, but I would love to comment on the religion/spirituality issue and how it relates to MJ’s worldview and value system.

        I used to prefer the term spirituality over religion, but when I began to think environmentally, I was troubled by the spirit/matter dichotomy — as if spirit were good and had value, while matter was bad and had no value; this dichotomy seemed to set up a whole series of dichotomies which also seemed invalid: humanity/nature; mind/body; reason/emotion; male/female; white/black; mental work/physical work — where the first term is good and has social/cultural value, while the second term is bad and has no social value.

        In his poem to Planet Earth (thanks aldebaran), MJ addressed this western assumption that the material world, the planet is nothing more than

        “a cloud of dust
        A minor globe, about to bust
        A piece of metal bound to rust
        A speck of matter in a mindless void….”

        And concludes that “this isn’t true.”
        But that earth has “a part/ In the deepest emotions of [his] own heart…”
        That the earth is “Alive with music, haunting [his] soul.”

        I think his understanding that the earth is not spiritless matter, but that nature is alive, that the life force within nature was flowing through him as it does through all life, is the controlling image of his perception of reality — and so we all — and all nature — are “just another part of him.” Yet, he actually had to exist in a culture that is all about division and alienation, that makes it very hard for most of us to see connections, so not only was he alienated from family and his faith and by his fame, he was alienated in having a perception of reality that differed significantly from that of western culture; but, convinced of the truth of his insight, he had to share this truth in everything he was and did.

        So, I really believe “Will You Be There” reflects a crisis that I once would have called “spiritual.”

        • Caro Attwell

          Goodness me Eleanor you have hit the nail so on the head, so to speak. What immense understanding you have. I didn’t mean to imply a right/wrong duality between religion and spirituality – I too am pretty much beyond that also – and certainly in WYBT Michael also did, but you have put a whole new slant on Planet Earth, which I already love and thought I understood. I get that All Is One and that is how Michael saw things and that is what he is trying to teach us in so many of his songs and short films, and how most people don’t get it, and that must have been really hard for him on so many levels. So many of his songs reflect his frustration, and we need to understand his message now, and I for one truly admire even more his courage to express his truth. It is now 11.15 p.m. so need to sleep now, but you have certainly given me a great deal to think about – thank you.

  11. Willa and Joie,

    I cannot begin to describe how my mind was regaled by your very illuminating analysis of “Will You Be There”. I believe Michael is supreme in this MTV show, the entire production, that is, his great music, fusion of gospel and modern elements, amazing dance, superb chreography, beautiful lyrics, lighting effects, choice of costume, facial expression, all contribute to producing, for me, the most beautiful staging of a song ever.

    The lyrics seem to be loaded with several layers of meaning, Michael may be addressing the Creator, or some beloved figure, or perhaps those whom he believed to be loyal. One does not detract from the other, although careful reading leads to the first two being more legitimate. Moving from the artistic to a more personal level, what strike me is how prophetic these lyrics are. Michael was obviously psychologically suffering, perhaps more research will help us know why, although quite a lot is already public knowledge.

    What further struck me is how Michael’s choreography allows one believe these interpretations all at once, for example, how he moves across the levels of the stage, how he uses Christian symbols so effectively, Nureyev precisely expressed this notion: “You see the hand of God”, (quoted from Dance Magazine).

    We would like a little further detail on the spiritual and gospel nature of the entire song, what the historical, cultural, aesthetic and personal roots are. Michael is obviously a highly spiritual, deeply cultured man, far beyond most of those who claim to be leaders in the former. “Will You Be There” deserves every attention.

    May we all be capable of contributing to better appreciating what Michael stands for, so much needed during these dark times.

    Gihan

    • Beautiful comment! Yes, he moves across so many levels physically and metaphorically and musically–from the car to the angel, from Beethoven to gospel and rock, including so many religious elements and his beloved children as well. This poem is in Dancing the Dream (1992), but without the final spoken words that I guess were added later. The poem in DTD ends:

      Kiss me
      Face me and kiss me
      And when my heart is breaking
      Will you still care?
      Will you be there?

      Lift me
      Lift me up carefully
      I’m weary and falling
      I know you’re there
      But do you still care?

  12. ultravioletrae

    Outstanding! Funny you should mention songs that get stuck in your head. They’re often referred to as “ear worms.” This was a topic of discussion at a recent conference on music and the brain. CNN mentioned MJ in their report about this conference! http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/26/health/mental-health/music-brain-science/index.html

    The first time I remember hearing WYBT was years ago at a church in Detroit. I went with a couple of other musicians and we heard a very fine black gospel choir perform for the Sunday morning service. I had no idea WYBT was a Michael Jackson song until years later! It was so appropriate and so convincing as a gospel church song, I assumed that’s what it was and never questioned it as being anything else.

    Similarly, when I listened to the Beethoven prelude in WYBT and the way that it segues into the “Angel’s Intro,” (1:08) I never questioned the ethereal sound of The Andrae Crouch Singers as being anything else other than the Beethoven! I just thought, why haven’t I noticed that beautiful part of Beethoven 9 before? And I’ve performed this work many times! There are actually two parts to the WYBT choral intro, the Beethoven, then “Angel’s Intro,” on the vowel sound “O,” (this is in the MTV video) before the piano intro begins. Michael Jackson really is positioning himself right next to Beethoven and I do believe he was making a incredibly bold statement about the artificial boundary between “popular” art and “high” art. He might have even been placing himself in historical context as a composer.

    (If you want to hear the Beethoven intro as heard in the Finale of the 9th Symphony, it’s here at l:38 – 2:29 http://youtu.be/NJ1McdLKDj4 also, “Ode to Joy” usually refers to this melody introduced earlier in the movement at 2:40 http://youtu.be/OKFLs3f3Nag)

    I think Dancing The Dream reveals a lot about Michael’s spirituality and beliefs. Quite a few see the yogic philosophy in this book and in many of his songs as well. According to the ancient sages of India, the Creator and creation are one in the same thing. The Creator dwells in all of creation. There is literally only one consciousness, the Creator, and any appearance of separateness is strictly an illusion. So, it makes perfect sense to me that when Michael sings this to his audience in this spiritual song, he singing to the Creator (the Divine) and creation (us) all at the same time. For Michael Jackson, a boundary of any kind seems intolerable. He is wired for this kind of expansive thinking. So for example I hear “you’re always in my heart,” as meant for the Divine, humanity, and all of creation in a single stroke.

    Btw, the “Angel’s Intro” at 1:08 may have spiritual significance as well. 108 is a holy number in India. Mantras are chanted in rounds of 108 and prayer beads have 108 beads to help spiritual aspirants keep count. Deities are also given 108 names and many practice chanting the 108 names of their deity daily.

  13. Another thoughtful entry this week with wonderful comments.

    It is interesting how WYBT begins with Beethoven’s musical excerpt about God and, as the spiritual begins, moves to the Jordan River, where men who are broken emerge purified and reborn. And yet MJ asks to be held “like the river,” not to emerge from it.

    It is almost as though a reverse baptism is hinted at. The biblical story of Jesus’ baptism has him emerge from the Jordan, and as he does, the heavens open revealing the spirit of God. Instead, MJ has the heavens open at the beginning of this song, only to then have him be held by the Jordan, as though in need of purification. He is (or maybe we are) not yet transformed. He (or we) clearly needs help in this rebirth.

    That this songs ends with the spoken word, to me, solidifies your idea that WYBT is a prayer – to the divine, to humanity and to our individual souls: “I’ll never let you part; for you’re always in my heart.”

    By the way, I first heard this song without Beethoven’s intro, and find it even better with this musical excerpt. That he used Beethoven’s piece is not surprising; it is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller, which celebrates the idea of joy as a bond of unity for mankind. It is this joy, this bond, that redeems us.

    Check out the link to the poem and its musical history in this article reprinted from Fidelio Magazine:

    http://www.schillerinstitute.org/fid_91-96/931_Schiller_Ode.html

  14. This song has always hit my heart as a hymn and a prayer. Michael grew up with so much bible training that I believe it was engrained in him, and there are times I hear this song and it brings to mind Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. I am not saying Michael Jackson was Jesus, but I do think he had an idea of what his path might be.

  15. WYBT was written when Michael was having a sort of crisis with his Jehovah’s Witness upbring. The elders of that particular church were questioning why Michael was acting ‘too secular’ ( the video for Thriller they seemed to have a problem with). So Michael too me anyway was sort of asking God ‘will you be there for me even if the elders aren’t?’ that is what I took away from it anyway. A beautiful post about a beautiful song.

  16. This is my all time favourite Jackson song. To me, this song is definitely a song of worship. Especially the bridge, where he says “everyone’s taking control”, he then asks for guidance. Who from, except God?

    And in the live performances, it ends with the angel wrapping her wings around him, like he was looking for that divine comfort.

  17. I agree–everything in the MTV piece is perfect, from Michael’s looks to the dancing to the voice to the choirs to the melody to the angel. The whole package grabs you right in the heart. I love the way Michael stretches his voice up and down the scales so effortlessly. I could never understood why so many people thought he could only sing high (feminine) tones, when he sings low tones in Man In The Mirror, 2000 Watts, and the ethereal Will You Be There, among others. I love his entire range. He gave so much of himself, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

  18. Thanks so much for all these thoughts…. and for that amazingly rich connection with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Chris, Midnite Boomer, Willa, ultravioletrae, and all of you.

    I’ve always been profoundly moved whenever I thought about that special link between “I’ll Be There” and “Will You Be There,” separated by an unusually eventful twenty-two years.

    “I’ll Be There” was, I think, the ballad Motown concocted for the Jackson 5, as the fourth of a string of hits beginning with “I Want You Back.” And here’s a little boy, singing from his heart and promising everlasting, enduring friendship—“Just look over your shoulders, honey!”—as if he alone could be expected to carry the entire world on those shoulders, taking care of all the world and its suffering, ameliorating everyone’s loneliness. His address in this song is to the same multitude—his public (which will come to include vastly more people than just his fans) whose ears he hopes to reach in “Will You Be There.”

    “Hold me
    Like the River Jordan
    And I will then say to thee
    You are my friend

    “Carry me
    Like you were my brother
    Love me like a mother
    Will you be there”

    As you say, Willa, a river may hold us, as we float; it also carries us, transporting us somewhere else, as the lyrics imply. And the mother, the brother, the friend, are all figures that can comfort, hold, and transport. A few things crystallize in a later stanza:

    “But they told me
    A man should be faithful
    And walk when not able
    And fight till the end
    But I’m only human…”

    The invocation of both “walking” and “fighting,” clearly under duress (“when not able”)—remind me of the fragile limitations of our bodily existence, and especially the onerous demands of our lives beyond the thresholds of childhood where we may reasonably expect to be “carried” (though Michael could not). Adult life is the time when we’re required to carry ourselves: to *perform*, even when we are ill, or depressed, or otherwise “not able.” Barely capable of scraping ourselves off the floor yet another time (we’ve been struck down so often already!) we laboriously try to get back on our feet, putting one foot in front of the other, forever hoping for that blessed moment when we’ll no longer need to make that journey on our own, but can be *held* or *carried*—for at least one step—toward our uncertain destination.

    The song is his supplication to that “friend,” in whatever form, and wherever it can be found: perhaps in the natural world (the river), or in the world of human companionship, or even through connection with divinity. He wanted, finally, reciprocity: or at least a reprieve from his labors, after his long years of service, “carrying” *us* on his vocal chords and of “being there” for *us.*

    Like “I’ll Be There,” so many of the songs of his teen years and youth reiterate this pledge, this promise; while also letting us know that the whole enterprise was at times shaky; time and again he expressed, through his lyrics, doubt about his ability to manage, to keep it all afloat—to “hold” himself together, or to find the strength to “carry” himself and us.

    • Hi, Nina, I am reading this comment– “his public (which will come to include vastly more people than just his fans)”–and I am wondering how you regard MJ’s fans? Are they in your view limited or misinterpreting him? Could you explain further? Also, who are these ‘vastly more people’?

      • Hi Aldebaran.

        At one time, all over the world, Michael Jackson’s name was on everyone’s lips, whether or not they were fans of his.

        He probably enjoyed as close to 100 % name recognition, globally, as any single person has ever done, or is likely to do again. In a sense, he resided in some part of everyone’s consciousness. He was an inescapable force in the life of nearly everyone on the planet!

        A person couldn’t easily avoid his presence, however they may have felt about him or his music. So I guess that’s what I mean by “his public.”

        • yes, true. But why do you say ‘Will come to include vastly more people”–why are you using the future tense? Are you saying he will get 100% name recognition again? It seems, actually, that he already has that, no?

          I am just not sure what you mean. Could you try again to explain it? Thanks.

      • I guess I was talking about the little boy of “I’ll Be There” fame, one-fifth of the Jackson 5, who—though already an international star—had yet to experience the gigantic fame that would be his in the future.

    • Kris and Nina, I’ve been thinking about “I’ll Be There” and “Will You Be There” ever since you suggested the connection. Viewing them together is so poignant, like a call and response across the years between his younger self and older self. Thinking about that reminded me of this “duet” between his younger and older selves singing “I’ll Be There”:

      I’m not sure when this was filmed, but judging by his look I would say it was around the same time as In the Closet, which was released in 1992 – so around the same time as “Will You Be There.” (The MTV performance was in 1991, and its official release as a single was in 1993.) It really does seem that he saw this song in a similar way to what you’ve been suggesting so beautifully – as a response to a promise made by his younger self years before.

      And Nina, like you I’ve always been struck by this verse:

      But they told me
      A man should be faithful
      And walk when not able
      And fight till the end
      But I’m only human…

      One of the things that’s so moving for me about Michael Jackson is that he was so aware and open about the struggles he faced, particularly with the very public life that had been thrust upon him, and the cultural role that had been assigned to him. His creativity was the wellspring of his life – I sense he loved the life of an artist – but that life was a heavy burden for him as well, and we see him struggling with that in this verse, I think.

      • Willa, this clip gives me chills every time I see it. And it’s a freaking Pepsi ad. Truly, though, if these were the only two Michael Jackson songs a person ever heard, you would still fully know his heart. The entire arc of his life and who he was is contained in these two songs.

      • What a wonderful discussion, thanks so much to all. Wow. So much to think about here that it sent me back “Dancing The Dream” as Aldebaran mentioned earlier to compare the song lyrics to the poem. Here’s another stanza that isn’t in the song:

        Save me
        Heal me and bathe me
        Softly you say to me
        I will be there
        But will you be there?

        This repeats and then as Aldebaran pointed out the poem ends with:

        Lift me
        Lift me up carefully
        I’m weary and falling
        I know you’re there
        But do you still care?

        After reading that, it makes the Pepsi ad even more heart breaking, seeing/hearing him address that wounded child that still resides within him. I’m really blown away by this.

  19. Being Sunday morning have now had time to read alll this wonderful blog again, and am reminded at the end of Footprints in the Sand, where there are two sets of footprints until the end where there is only one, and the person says to God, “where were you when I need you?” and God says “that is when I carried you” – too beautiful. WUBT and I’ll Be There remind me of that. Love the links people have made and having listened to both back to back there is a definite connection – as someone said, Michael took the first song further. How much this man has given us, and yes, it is now our turn to give back to him. Great news that the Can’t stop loving you single is heading for number 1 – really sad that we can’t get it here in South Africa, but looking forward to the Bad 25 collection in the hopes that it will be included on that. Have a happy Michaeling Sunday.

  20. “I think his understanding that the earth is not spiritless matter, but that nature is alive, that the life force within nature was flowing through him as it does through all life, is the controlling image of his perception of reality — and so we all — and all nature — are “just another part of him.” Yet, he actually had to exist in a culture that is all about division and alienation, that makes it very hard for most of us to see connections, so not only was he alienated from family and his faith and by his fame, he was alienated in having a perception of reality that differed significantly from that of western culture; but, convinced of the truth of his insight, he had to share this truth in everything he was and did.” Eleanor

    “I think Dancing The Dream reveals a lot about Michael’s spirituality and beliefs. Quite a few see the yogic philosophy in this book and in many of his songs as well. According to the ancient sages of India, the Creator and creation are one in the same thing. The Creator dwells in all of creation. There is literally only one consciousness, the Creator, and any appearance of separateness is strictly an illusion. So, it makes perfect sense to me that when Michael sings this to his audience in this spiritual song, he singing to the Creator (the Divine) and creation (us) all at the same time. For Michael Jackson, a boundary of any kind seems intolerable. He is wired for this kind of expansive thinking. So for example I hear “you’re always in my heart,” as meant for the Divine, humanity, and all of creation in a single stroke.” Ultravioletrae

    I am now reading the comments and the original post (thanks!) and I so much appreciate the above comments by Eleanor and Ultravioletrae. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that the perception that “nature is alive” is the “controlling image of his perception of reality” (as Eleanor says) and that we see so much of his spirituality and beliefs in Dancing the Dream (as Ultravioletrae says).

    I would like to add that MJ’s experience (btw I use ‘MJ’ as a shorthand so I don’t have to write his name every time) is entirely unprecedented in the number of live concerts he gave to so many people in so many countries. (The figures are something like 500-800 concerts in over 50 different countries to audiences of over 10 million.) This gave him an experience and a vantage point that we can only imagine. I believe that these experiences put him into a state of consciousness and awareness, coupled with his curiosity, intelligence and sensitivity, that made it hard for him to communicate what he was feeling, thinking to those of us who did not understand. In other words, this experience liberated him in a way that those of us who are stuck in our limited mindsets cannot imagine. I think it also made him feel, as Eleanor says, alienated–“I’m living lonely!” (from Stranger in Moscow). As Ultravioletrae says, “He is wired for this kind of expansive thinking.”

    I have lived in 7 different countries, so I know that this experience that I have had (on a small scale vs. MJ’s) has given me another way of thinking and looking at things that is very hard to share with those who have not had them. So I am just guessing what MJ’s experiences did to his consciousness and how it affected him.

    • I totally believe MJ had “another way of thinking and looking at things.” So much so, he seems to be part of a new world view that is an even bigger leap for human beings than when we moved from mythic thinking (the world is flat) to rational, scientific thought (the world is round and here’s the proof.) I think MJ is an example of a totally inclusive, all encompassing thought system that has arrived on the planet just in the nick of time. We have problems that can only be solved through this expanded way of thinking. Global warming cannot be solved by any one person, group or nation. It requires us to think together as one human system. Our economic structure is similarly intertwined, and solutions have to based on this new all inclusive way of acting as one system. Most don’t think this way yet, but I believe music is one of the ways that we begin to adopt new strategies and world views. It’s crucial to at this point in time to go beyond the boundaries we have constructed for ourselves. They just aren’t working.

      • Hi ultravioletrae and aldebaran– I’m not sure that we will ever move beyond the mythic, just change one myth for another. And, for me, Michael Jackson is a mythic being, larger than life, and filled with cultural truth. He is “the boonbringer, a Joseph Campbell term from Hero With a Thousand Faces, I think (got to find my copy). I agree with you completely that MJ had “another way of thinking and looking at things…a new worldview” and value system. I also believe that through his music, his dance, his being, he shows us the way out of the terrible dilemmas we have created for ourselves. It is very affirming to be, on this blog, in the company of so many others who understand his significance.

        • Great point Eleanor, about the word mythic. I guess it has several different meanings, but my favorite is the Joseph Campbell way of thinking about myth. I adore it. Yes, what a pleasure to be in the company of others who understand just how important and significant Michael Jackson’s work is! The comments here are outstanding, every single one. Always look forward to hearing what everyone has to say.

      • Great comment, and I agree – MJ had a very holistic framework. A holistic vision, and a holistic methodology.

  21. Yes, Ultravioletra–amen to that–they are not working! Actually, I think that this was Michael’s ‘meta-art’: a “totally inclusive, all encompassing thought system,” an “expanded way of thinking” and music does indeed seem to be the vehicle. I am very interested in the conference you attended in Chicago. I read the CNN article and posted a link to it on this blog earlier. Would you be willing to share some of the important points made there at the conference–either with the entire blog or with me (you can get my email from Willa)? I would love to know more about this breakthrough work on music and the brain. I read in the CNN article that music as a language may predate spoken language. This is how Michael was able to unify us so well by reaching us on levels that go beyond language, using rhythm, sounds, visual images, gestures, and the beat.

    Another point is that just being in such enormous multitudes is itself mindboggling and right there takes one to another level. I attended one major gathering of about half a million people (Altamont), and I can tell you it was astounding and mind-altering to be with that many people. And Michael did this over and over, hundreds of times. He talked about how hard it was to come down from this energy level, which he described as being at the ‘apex’–we can only try and imagine what it was like.

  22. About the Beethoven opening referring to the Creator. “Seek Him beyond the starry canopy! Beyond the stars must He dwell.” And Michael’s words in EarthSong: ‘I used to dream, I used to glance beyond the stars, Now I don’t know where we are.” And the ending of WYBT: “In my joys, and in my sorrows, in the promise of another tomorrow, I’ll never let you part, You’re always in my heart.” The Ode to Joy refers to the birth of the daughter of Eros [Cupid] and Psyche; her name in Latin ( Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, where the story appears, is in Latin) is Voluptas, which means Pleasure or Joy (referring to both earthy and spiritual bliss, the union of Love (Cupid) and the Soul (Psyche). Apuleius’ highly influential tale of Cupid and Psyche is at the root of the Ode to Joy.

    Michael speaks about his joys but also his sorrows (at this point his tears appear)–his sorrows are personal and also more than personal (as anyone who reads Dancing the Dream knows about). There is something in all this, including the enfolding angel, that reminds me of Jesus Christ, and not only the Garden of Gethsemane, as one person commented, but also the crucifixion, where Jesus speaks the poignant words “Eli, Eli, lama sabathani,” or “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”

    “I used to dream”–but maybe I dream no more? Maybe the Creator and I have lost our connection and I no longer see the Creator “beyond the stars.” This same phrase is used in both the Beethoven intro and Michael’s EarthSong.

    (I am not, of course, saying Michael is Jesus.)

    • aldebaran, thanks so much for the information on Ode to Joy, specifically that it is about the birth of Voluptas who is the offspring of Psyche and Eros. I didn’t know that. It ties in with what I was thinking today about Michael’s use of “you” which in WYBT and in so many of his songs seems to be deliberately ambiguous. Is he addressing his lover, his fans, his children, Nature/God?

      When I was in college, we were taught that there were four very different kinds of love — eros (erotic/romantic love), philios (friendship), storge (mother/familial love), and agape (love of god). Hands down, agape was the “highest” type — or so we were taught. Then came philios, then storge, then eros (the “lowest”). I think Michael is telling/showing us that all these types of love are of equal value. In his music (and his life), he cherishes women, his children/all children, friends — and he wraps these different kinds of love up in an all encompassing love, the love the universe expresses in its dance of life and the love he expresses in his art.

      I don’t think MJ is Jesus, either. But, today, I don’t think we need Jesus. We need a new hero, a new savior, to give us a new way of seeing and being — and I think MJ is a good candidate. His reach is truly global, and he was/is the only public figure I know of to really speak truth, to tell it like it is, and to offer hope through an alternative way of being in the world. Who else even holds a candle to MJ in terms of bringing joy and inspiration to the world? Who better shows us the error of our ways — but in a loving, compassionate way? Our joys and sorrows are his — which makes them, as you say, “more than personal.”

      We need to reprogram our souls and I can’t think of a better programming mechanism than MJ’s music. Which brings this meandering comment back to your discussion of music and the brain.

      • Hi, Eleanor, I enjoyed reading your comment. When you discuss the ambiguous nature of ‘you’ in WYBT and “an all encompassing love,” I was reminded of Plato and his discussions of the nature of love in the Symposium and the Phaedrus. Both dialogues speak of how Eros, Love, draws the soul (Psyche) up the ladder, so to speak, of the various forms of love. In the Phaedrus, Plato speaks of Eros, or Love, nurturing, through love, the growth of the wings of the soul. Psyche is depicted with wings, butterfly or bird wings, similar to an angel, and of course, Eros or Cupid has wings. It is interesting that Michael is shown in the embrace of the angel (the wings form a heart around him) in WYBT and in another film he himself has wings (not sure the name of that one). In Plato, Eros begins his work on the soul as erotic love but that evolves into a love that gradually develops the nascent wings of the soul (this growing of wings also signifies immortality or the reaching of Mt Olympus; Psyche is a mortal but once married to Eros becomes winged, and later Voluptas is born).

        “Sic rite Psyche convenit in manum Cupidinis, et nascitur illis maturo partu filia, quam Voluptatem nominamus.” “Thus did Psyche with all solemnity become Amor’s bride, and soon a daughter was born to them: in the language of mortals she is called Pleasure” (trans. Erich Neumann).

        I agree Michael is a good candidate for the kind of hero or savior we need “in these dark times” (as one person commented in the last post). Perhaps by using these visuals, these “sign acts,” he is putting it all together for us–the “angel” voices in the intro (as Ultravioletrae describes them), and then the descending angel that enfolds him. There is also ‘the book’ in the performance–the book could be the Bible or perhaps more likely the book where we find the names of the saved and the damned. And I believe the earth appears as a ball that a dancer lifts. We are getting a lot of religious references here that go beyond religion (I like the 108 reference that Ultravioetrae brings out as well).

        Ultravioletrae speaks of 2 intros–Beethoven’s 9th leading into the angel voices of the choir–then the beat starts, the drums. So great. I agree Michael was intending to lift us up and “reprogram our souls.”

  23. The multiple discussions of boundaries expressed on this site intrigue me. WYBT seeks to go beyond our boundaries and actually erase them. The 3 distinct levels of symbolism in the structure of its music support this. The first, Beethoven’s excerpt, references the divine and, as such represents a symbol of perfection and our spiritual aspiration. The next level transitions to the human community with the angelic chorale giving way to the grittier call and response choir, where the lyrics “I’m only human” appear. This section calls into focus those boundaries that afflict humanity, pulling us away from our divine selves. Here, the use of call and response – a spiritual mainstay – is used to combine sound and emotion into one feverish focus, affirming the importance of the community. This community answers by offering its support – “I will be there,” and feels blessed to do so, “I will feel blessed” – and a way back to the divine. The third level is that of the self, or soul, who – upon reflection (or prayer) after receiving the support of the community – is reunited with the divine: “You’re always in my heart.” Thus, we – collectively – have no boundaries: we are one, divine. Ultravioletrae said it well: MJ is “singing to the Creator (the Divine) and creation (us) all at the same time. For Michael Jackson, a boundary of any kind seems intolerable. “ In one song he has taken us from the expanse of the universe, to the shelter of the community to the interior of the self and shown how we are one.

    The pull of Beethoven’s 9th symphony is a universal symbol of brotherhood: it was played after the Berlin Wall came down and during the Tiananmen Square protests. It is heard at the Olympics and is the anthem of the European Union. It is a song with the power to unite and is boundary erasing – perhaps this is why MJ used its musical symbolism to begin his song.

  24. Hi, Chris–I loved your commentary on WYBT. Thank you. Yes, Beethoven’s #9 has a strong power to unite with its call of ‘Freude!’ or ‘Joy!’– a call to union or dissolution of boundaries that divide us from each other, from creation, from the divine, from ourselves. What you say about the chorus offering the support of the community as a way back to the divine is profound. This is poignant in that the community, at least the immediate one of the public at large, did not support Michael in his last years. The ‘call and response’ brings back echoes of the function in ritual of the chorus, which later develops into Greek tragedy, where the chorus is almost a superego type of character commenting on the action of the characters undergoing the tragedy, which is also a way of informing and transforming the community through the power of art.

    Michael was constantly trying to transform (change) and unify us, and liberate the best in ourselves and the world. He spoke of the ‘playfulness of life’–the kind of joyful play that we see when beings are truly happy.

  25. We’re a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your web site provided us with useful information to paintings on. You have done an impressive task and our entire community will likely be grateful to you.

  26. WOW!!

    you guys are wonderful! this is the first time i came about on this blog site and I am so happy i did.
    THANK YOU all for your idea of Will You be there – my favorite MJ song ever.
    It always sounded to me like a crying out for help, like a reaching out to the world and a testimony of brotherly/motherly LOVE; a commitment of mutual support and love…

    But, man, was I in for a treat tonight?

    you guys had given this song a total different dimension and helped me rediscover Michael’s genius once again.

    Many thanks to all of you sharing opinions!

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