Trust in Me

Joie: Today, Willa and I are joined by our friend and contributor, Lisha McDuff. Thanks for spending time with us today, Lisha. What have you been up to?

Lisha: Well, Joie, I’ve been pretty busy! Can you believe I just graduated from the University of Liverpool with a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies?

Willa: And her dissertation was on Black or White!

Joie: Congratulations on that achievement!

Lisha: Thank you so much.

Joie: So ladies, I’ve been thinking about the first time we all sat down for a chat when we talked about how many of Michael Jackson’s songs can be described as a “sonic sculpture.” And I was thinking that there is a song out there that we have never really talked about before that is a perfect example of this “sonic sculpture,” and that’s “Morphine.” It has always been one of my favorite MJ songs. I love it for so many reasons, but mainly because it’s simply so aurally fascinating to listen to.

The subject matter of the song is a little bit of a departure from what we normally see from Michael Jackson. It’s a bit darker in tone than what we’re used to, but part of me feels that the music is so fascinating because the subject matter is so dark. Like this is something he did purposely in order to convey a certain emotion, or evoke a certain mood about the song. Does that make sense?

Willa: It does – it makes a lot of sense. I hadn’t thought about “Morphine” specifically as sonic sculpture before, but I think I know what you mean, Joie, and I wonder if it feels so “sculptural” in part because of the abrupt transitions from the first part into that very different middle section, and then from the middle section back out to the last part. Those transitions are so rough and abrupt, almost violent, that they really call attention to the structure of this song in a way most songs don’t.

Joie: I like how you describe that, Willa. “Violent” is a good word to use here because it truly does feel that way.

Willa: It really does. When transitions flow easily from one part of a song to the next, a lot of times you don’t even notice – you just drift along with the flow of the song. But that isn’t the case here. We’re forced to notice the architecture of this song because the transitions – the seams between the sections – are so glaringly obvious. And I think those rough transitions are really important to both the feeling and meaning of “Morphine.”

Lisha: It’s interesting that I hadn’t necessarily thought of “Morphine” in terms of sonic sculpture either, but now that you’ve mentioned it, Joie, you’re absolutely right. It does makes sense to approach it that way. There is a lot going on in this song – all kinds of industrial noise, machinery, and electronic sounds swirling around all over the place. I hear a buzzing sound vibrating right through my head much of the time, and at other times I strain to hear a far-off conversation, as if it is behind a door at a distance.

We know Michael Jackson was interested in how the ear can judge distance and identify the location of sound in space. His recordings spatialize sound in such fascinating ways. “Thriller,” is a great example of this, recorded and mixed by Bruce Swedien. Another is Disney’s Captain EO, which was the first 5.1 surround sound film ever made. Michael Jackson also experimented with a 3D binaural recording process known as “holophonics,” which was trademarked by Hugo Zuccarelli. The pillow talk introduction to “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” is an example of holophonic sound.

Zuccarelli’s recordings are like ear training exercises that demonstrate how recorded sound can be manipulated to occupy a specific location in an imaginary sonic space. You need headphones to get the full effect, but here is an example of a sonic sculpture titled “Haircut”:

It’s really interesting to listen to “Morphine” with this kind of spatialization in mind. I’m really glad that you encouraged us to approach the song as sonic sculpture, Joie.

Joie: Thanks for sharing that example, Lisha. It’s really interesting to listen to.

Willa: It really is! I swiped my son’s headphones and listened to that clip, and the way the sounds seem to occupy specific points in space and even move around you is amazing! It really reminds me of the slamming door and footsteps walking across the sound space in “Thriller,” as well as a lot of the background sounds in “Morphine,” like the knocking and television sounds off in the distance.

Joie: There are all sorts of wonderful and interesting sounds going on in the background of “Morphine,” some of them very surprising and unexpected. At times I even think that I hear what sounds like water dripping incessantly from a faucet. Do either of you hear that?

Lisha: No, I don’t! Where is that one? I missed it!

Joie: Maybe it’s a sound that I’m oversimplifying as dripping water because my mind can’t easily label it, but I hear it in the first half of the song running at measured intervals in the background. Interestingly, I don’t hear it after the abrupt middle section of the song.

Lisha: Wait a minute, Joie! I think I know what you’re talking about and what a wonderful description of that sound! I think you mean a percussive sound that occurs in the far right portion of the sound field just after the rhythm starts. It happens on the upbeat of 4 and then it occurs every 8 counts after that. Is that the one you mean? It does sound like a slow drip from a water faucet!

Joie: Yes! That’s it!

Lisha: That’s the fun of listening to these tracks, there is always something new to discover.

And as you pointed out, Willa, there are two separate and distinct sound worlds happening here, like another song has been dropped right into the middle. “Morphine” could very well be Michael Jackson’s best rock/heavy metal vocals ever, but suddenly in the middle section there is a relaxed, gentle vocal accompanied by piano, flutes, and strings. It is a startling contrast that makes for an interesting sonic experience, but a very challenging one – it certainly deals with a difficult subject, that’s for sure.

Joie: You know, I almost feel that the subject matter is one of the most interesting things about this song. I happen to be a pretty big fan of rock music in general. I love “80s hair metal” for instance, and I could (and often do) listen to bands like Aerosmith and Guns N Roses all day long. And as any fan of rock music will tell you, drug use is a big staple as far as musical themes go in that genre. In fact, in many genres.

But one of the things that set Michael Jackson apart from the rest is that he typically didn’t sing about things like drugs and sex. So “Morphine,” with its blatant, in-your-face look at drug use – from the drug’s point of view no less – is quite jarring. Every bit as jarring as the abrupt transitions that Willa mentioned earlier.

Lisha: You’re making an excellent point. Drug use is a conspicuous topic in rock music from the 1960s onward and illegal, recreational drug use is often characterized as a positive, mind-expanding experience. This seems to reflect some of the core values of rock, such as spontaneity, authenticity, and an opposition to rigid rule-following and authoritarian thinking.

However, I think “Morphine” comes from an entirely different point of view and expresses a very different set of values. “Morphine” does not address or promote recreational drug use. Instead, it problematizes legal, pharmaceutical medications that are prescribed by physicians to treat patients with serious medical concerns.

Willa: That’s true. This isn’t your typical “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” song by any means. It isn’t talking about getting high. Instead, “Morphine” is focusing very specifically on doctor-facilitated drug addiction, or even doctor-induced drug addiction.

Joie: And the lyrics in that abrupt middle section are very telling, and very personal, I think. Every time I listen to this song, I can just imagine Michael lying on a doctor’s table as these words are softly spoken to him:

This won’t hurt you
Before I put it in
Close your eyes and count to ten
Don’t cry
I won’t convert you
There’s no need to dismay
Close your eyes and drift away

Can’t you just imagine that? A doctor assuring him that “I won’t convert you into a junkie – just close your eyes and drift away from the pain.”

Lisha: Oh, I certainly can imagine that! The music in this section is soothing, but so sad and haunting at the same time. The doctor is offering some welcome relief from severe pain, but I get this sinking feeling that the situation is much more complicated than what the doctor is willing to represent.

And I agree with you, Joie – this song feels deeply personal. I noticed in the liner notes that Michael Jackson wrote, composed, performed, and produced this song. He also did most of the arrangements himself and he even takes a turn on percussion, drums, and guitar.

Willa: Really? I didn’t know he played guitar …

Lisha: Well, maybe not in the strictest sense of the word, but I’d be willing to bet he knew his way around on it. One of his closest musical collaborators, Brad Buxer, talked about Michael Jackson’s relationship to musical instruments in an interview with the French magazine, Black & White. He said Michael Jackson was a fantastic musician and it wasn’t really necessary for him to have a high level of proficiency on any particular musical instrument. According to Buxer, “He instinctively understood the music. It was just part of him …”

Buxer played keyboards and piano on “Morphine,” but didn’t collaborate on composing the song, as he did on others. Michael Jackson had worked out the entire record in his head and communicated what he wanted to hear to Buxer:

He sang all the parts, whether the piano in the middle of the song, or those sheets of synth on the chorus. Everything is his. On this song, I simply carried out his ideas.

I am also thinking about what you said earlier, Joie, when you described the lyrical content of this song as a personification of the drug itself. That’s such an interesting idea and I thought of lines in the song that could easily be read that way:

Trust in me
Trust in me
Put all your trust in me

But I think there is another strong possibility here too – that the lyrics represent a doctor who is encouraging a patient to have complete faith in their experience and expertise as a medical professional.

Willa: That’s true, those lines could be interpreted either way – as encouraging the patient to trust the drugs or trust the doctor – and it’s chilling either way. I hadn’t thought of those lines as referring to the drug itself – that’s a really interesting way to look at that, Joie – but it makes perfect sense. I mean, just imagine Michael Jackson looking at a bottle of propofol, for example, and thinking those words: “trust in me” to give you a good night’s sleep. Or think of Dr. Conrad Murray speaking those lines. It’s really frightening either way.

Lisha: Yes, it is. And the theme of trusting the doctor happens again, about a minute and a half into the song (1:32 and repeats at 4:16). I hear what sounds like a knock at the door and a woman saying in a very stern, authoritarian voice, “you heard what the doctor said.” This is an audio clip from David Lynch’s 1980 film The Elephant Man. It’s taken from a scene in the film when the Elephant Man is frightened, distrustful, and reluctant to comply when asked to follow the doctor into his office. The head nurse intervenes and commands him to do as “the doctor said.”

Here’s a clip of the movie. The scene in the doctor’s office begins at 15:02 and the audio portion sampled in the song is at 16:25:

Willa: Wow, Lisha, you’re right! I didn’t know that – that he was sampling The Elephant Man in this section – but you’re right, he does. That seems very significant to me.

Lisha: To me, too. It feels like a really important part of the song.

Willa: Oh absolutely. Apparently the story of John Merrick (or Joseph Merrick – he’s been called both names) really resonated for Michael Jackson. You and I talked about that a while back, Joie, in the Leave Me Alone post. So it’s significant for that reason, but also thematically, I think – how it ties in with the idea of a doctor not always acting in a patient’s best interests.

I just watched The Elephant Man again after not seeing it for, heavens, years and years, and I was struck by how much it focuses on Dr. Treves. He’s on screen nearly as much as Merrick is. And while he rescues Merrick from the abusive Mr. Bytes, who was exhibiting him as a carnival sideshow, Dr. Treves’ motives aren’t purely benevolent either. As an older doctor says,

I for one am sick and tired of this competitive freak-hunting by these overly ambitious young doctors trying to make names for themselves.

Over the course of the movie, as Dr. Treves begins to see Merrick in a more sympathetic way, he begins to question himself and his reasons for seeking out Merrick and befriending him so publicly:

I’m beginning to believe that Mr. Bytes and I are very much alike. It seems that I’ve made Mr. Merrick into a curiosity all over again, doesn’t it? But this time in a hospital, rather than a carnival.

He goes on to say,

My name is constantly in the paper. I’m always being praised to the skies. Patients are now expressly asking for my services.

All because of the publicity he’s gained from being the Elephant Man’s doctor. And that horrible scene where he puts Merrick on display for the auditorium full of doctors feels very similar to how Merrick was put on display in the carnival.

So in his own way, Dr. Treves has made a career for himself out of publicizing Merrick’s physical afflictions, just as Mr. Bytes was doing. And it seems to me this somewhat predatory relationship between doctors and patients is a key element of that middle section of “Morphine.”

Joie: Wow. Willa, I’ve seen The Elephant Man many, many times; I just love that movie. But I’ve never thought about it in terms of “Morphine” before. That’s a really interesting parallel you’ve drawn.

Lisha: It really is, and I am very interested in how much the movie focuses on Dr. Treves. At about 1:37 minutes into “Morphine,” just after we hear the nurse bark out “you heard what the doctor said,” I think I also hear the voice of Dr. Treves, played by Anthony Hopkins. Do you hear the male speaking voice in this part as being that of Dr. Treves? It’s off to the right and at a distance, so it’s very hard to make out.

Willa: I think so. It’s a British accent and it sounds like his voice to me, though I can’t make out the specific words. And then there’s the sound of raucous laughter, like from a television soundtrack. There’s laughter in The Elephant Man too, and it’s not happy laughter. In fact, it generally means something exploitative is happening to Merrick. In fact, throughout the movie, laughter is almost always a cruel thing.

Lisha: Yes, it sounds like there could be a laugh track right after Dr. Treves’ voice, possibly suggesting these medical problems are a source of entertainment for some? It’s incredibly cruel.

In terms of sonic sculpture, I noticed how this sequence is spatialized from left to right. The knock is heard in the left side of the sound field, the nurse’s voice is in the center, Dr. Treves voice is on the right, and the laugh track sound is even farther to the right. It kind of swirls around the listener/patient in the story and gives the feeling of being disoriented and vulnerable.

Willa: Oh, that’s an interesting interpretation, Lisha. It feels that way to me too.

Lisha: It seems that just about everyone had a predatory relationship with John Merrick, including his doctor. It’s not hard to imagine why Michael Jackson identified with him so strongly. There’s the Carny who exploits Merrick as a freak show attraction, the hospital employee who profits from bringing crowds in at night to view him, the upper class who are eager to be associated with him when it is fashionable to do so, the mean-spirited mobs who taunt him. And of course, I couldn’t help but notice a strong parallel to Michael Jackson when women scream and go crazy at the sight of him, too.

Willa: That’s a really good point, Lisha, and the movie explores that in subtle ways, I think – both the fear people feel toward Merrick as well as the complicated yearning for the Other. There’s that horrible scene where the two young women from the tavern are forced to kiss him and then kiss the lecherous man who brought them. And then there’s the much nicer scene where he meets the actress who befriends him. They trade lines from Romeo and Juliet, and then she kisses him and says, “Oh Mr. Merrick, you’re not an Elephant Man at all. You’re Romeo.” She also gives him a glamorous photo of herself, which he places beside his bed.

And then a lot of women, especially the nurses, want to mother him. Dr. Treves’ wife seems to feel this too. She begins to cry when he shows her a picture of his absent mother, saying,

She had the face of an angel. I must have been a great disappointment to her. … If only I could find her so she could see me with such lovely friends here now. Perhaps she could love me as I am. I tried so hard to be good.

In the movie it’s implied that his mother abandoned him because of his afflictions, though apparently in real life she suffered physical disabilities as well, and loved him and cared for him until her death when he was 10. Either way, he lost his mother’s protection at a young age, and other women tried to step in when he was older and care for him the way a mother might have – something we see with Michael Jackson also. So Merrick’s relationships with women are very complicated – just like his relationship with his doctor, Dr. Treves.

Lisha: Yes, I agree.

Willa: So I don’t mean to get off track, but you know those buzzing and popping “electricity” sounds at the beginning of “Morphine” that you guys mentioned earlier? They evoke very specific images for me, and I was wondering if they do the same for you. It sounds to me like electricity running up two diverging wires and then popping at the top, which for me means one thing: Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory! Do you know what I mean? And Dr. Frankenstein is so interesting to think about in terms of this theme of predatory doctors.

Here’s a trailer from the 1939 classic, Son of Frankenstein, with Basil Rathbone as Dr. Frankenstein, Boris Karloff as the monster, and Bela Lugosi as Ygor. It shows the scene where those zapping electrical currents bring Frankenstein’s creation to life. You can hear buzzing and zapping sounds throughout, and you can very clearly see those diverging wires with the electrical current arcing between them at 1:03 minutes in:

Lisha: Wow, that’s brilliant! I was wondering what those sounds might be depicting. I think you’re really onto something here, Willa, especially when we think about the song as sonic sculpture. When I listen to the opening of “Morphine” through headphones, I notice that the electrical buzzing sound is right at the top center portion of the sound field – it feels like it’s actually buzzing inside my head.

Willa: I know what you mean, Lisha. It feels that way to me too.

Lisha: Now that I think about it, it feels like I could be in the middle of one of Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments! What is so interesting is that the location of the sound not only changes the physical and emotional effect of the sound, the location also creates a literal meaning.

Willa: Oh, that’s interesting, Lisha! I see what you mean – it’s like the location of the sound all around us kind of positions us as listeners on the table, like we’re one of Frankenstein’s experiments. And of course, in “Morphine” we’re in the same position. “Morphine” situates us so we’re lying on the table, listening to a doctor tell us to relax as he injects a drug into our veins.

Joie: Willa, I love that Frankenstein imagery because I’ve always gotten the same feeling from those “electricity” sounds. And I think the fact that those sounds conjure up the same imagery for both of us is significant.

Willa: I think so too.

Lisha: I’m also thinking about the sound of water dripping that you identified, Joie, and I noticed that when the Elephant Man makes his first appearance in the film, I can hear the sound of water dripping in that dark, damp basement he is kept in. (In the movie clip posted above, it is around the 12:00 minute mark.) I guess it’s impossible to say what the sounds in “Morphine” were actually intended to depict, unless someone can tell us what the thought process was. But when you add all this up, it definitely begins to paint a picture.

Joie: As you said, Lisha, it’s impossible to know for certain what the intention was, but … it certainly seems that it all fits, doesn’t it?

Lisha: It does to me.

Joie: And Lisha, I never would have thought about that water dripping in The Elephant Man. Great catch!

Willa: Me neither, but all these connections between The Elephant Man, Frankenstein, and “Morphine” make perfect sense, don’t they? Just looking at the doctor/patient relationships, there are so many parallels between them – between Dr. Treves and John Merrick, Dr. Frankenstein and the monster he creates, and the doctor injecting morphine into the veins of his patient, who seems to represent Michael Jackson himself since the lyrics indirectly refer to the scandals surrounding him.

In all three cases the doctor has a privileged social position (in the case of Dr. Frankenstein, he’s a baron as well as a doctor) while the patient is a social outcast – a “freak,” a “monster,” a man accused of being a child molester. Yet in all three cases, the more we learn the more we sympathize with the “freakish,” “monstrous” patient and come to distrust the distinguished doctor treating him.

Joie: That really is interesting, isn’t it? Especially with the story of Frankenstein where we are left to question which one is really the monster, the doctor or his patient. I think this is a theme that Michael Jackson obviously identified with a great deal.

Willa: Oh, I agree. I think this is a very important theme for Michael Jackson. We see it explicitly in the lyrics to “Monster” and more subtly throughout his work. Over and over we see this impulse to take us inside the minds of those who are perceived as “monstrous” or outcast and encourage us to see things from their perspective. And you’re right, Joie, that’s a central theme of Frankenstein also – at least, it is in the novel. Some movie versions handle it differently. But in the novel, our feelings keep flipping upside-down as our sympathies shift back and forth between Dr. Frankenstein and the being he created.

That’s something we see in “Morphine” also – this emotional tension as our feelings pull us first one way and then the other. And it manifests itself on several different levels, like in the unusual way this song is structured, as we talked about earlier. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems to me this functions in a very complex way – in part because our emotions, our intellect, and our physical affect are often at odds with each other.

What I mean is that if I just listen to this song without really thinking about what it means, I feel very unsettled during that turbulent, pounding opening section. It’s so jarring and industrial, and his voice is practically screaming. And some lines of the lyrics are sharp as knives, like “I hate your kind, baby / So unreliable” and “You hate your race, baby / You’re just a liar.” It’s so painful to me to hear him sing those words, and imagine what it must have felt like for him to hear comments like that.

Then that beautiful middle section comes in and I start to relax. I have to say, I love his voice in this section. It’s just lovely, with the simple tinkling of a piano, followed a little later by strings and flutes, as you mentioned, Lisha. It’s all very simple and soothing and beautiful.

And then the jarring, pounding, industrial sounds start up again as we’re yanked into the third section, and it unsettles me all over again.

Joie: And I believe that unsettled feeling was his intention here.

Willa: I think so too. So the structure of “Morphine” has a significant emotional, even physical, effect but I think there’s more going on here.

If I were to interpret this song without thinking about the lyrics, I would assume that the first and third sections are depicting an industrial, mechanized, artificial world, and that the middle section is an escape into nature – into the “real” world, the natural world.

But that isn’t true. The lyrics flip that around. The first and third sections are depicting the “real” world, the harsh reality of his world after the 1993 allegations came out and the publicity machine turned against him, and the middle section is what’s false and artificial – a drug-induced escape from the real world.

Lisha: It is temporary relief from agonizing pain, but even that momentary escape is problematic.

Willa: Exactly. So there’s a dissonance between how these three sections feel and what they mean, between what’s perceived as “real” and what isn’t, and that’s so interesting to me.

The overall result is that when I listen to this song, I’m kind of a mess, frankly. The first section puts me completely on edge. Then that soft middle section begins and my body begins to relax – but at the same time, my mind is saying, Danger! Danger! Don’t succumb! Then the third section hits and I don’t know what to do. I want to escape all that jarring, abrasive confusion and I kind of want to go back to the relative quiet of the middle section, but I know I shouldn’t.

So my mind, body, and emotions are all confused and in a state of conflict – which is an approximation of the experience of addiction, I imagine.

Joie: I think that was a wonderful analogy of addiction, Willa, and really thought provoking. Just like “Morphine” itself.

Lisha: The song captures the reality of the situation quite well. In the case of a severe injury or agonizing pain, the suffering of the patient simply has to be addressed. It’s the only compassionate thing to do, and I can feel that in the soothing effect of the music in the second section. Yet, there is something so terribly sad, haunting, and dark about that music, too.

Willa: Oh, I agree.

Lisha: It’s a feeling of not knowing which is worse, the treatment or the illness, the solution or the problem, the painkiller or the pain. Those contrasting musical sections could just keep repeating in an endless, vicious cycle.

Willa: Yes, just like the cycle of addiction. So in a very real sense, Michael Jackson isn’t just singing about addiction in “Morphine” but recreating the physical and emotional experience of addiction, and forcing us as listeners to experience it for ourselves.

Lisha: As you said so well, Joie, it’s a thought-provoking sonic sculpture.

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 March 13, 2014, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 53 Comments.

  1. Excellent as ever, I writting from Argentina. I dónt miss any conversations about Michael Jackson, a huge human being!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    thanks to both of you for this blog


  2. Well, I am off to buy a new, better set of headphones now. Oh, and watch The Elephant Man again.

    Interesting your thoughts on the middle section (“Relax, this won’t hurt you…”) and the doctors. I used to think that this section was about the actually drugs talking to the person about to be injected.

    Thanks for another great post.

  3. Question for you: what are the words spoken near the end of the song (around 5:24) right after the repeated phrase “you’re takin morphine”? To me it sounds like “hear me?”

    I love the sound effect throughout the first and third part of the song that reminds me of something plastic being squeezed.

    Here is what Joe Vogel had to say about Morphine:
    In a 1997 review, The New York Times’ Neil Strauss concurred ( regarding the album Blood on the Dance Floor): “There is real pain and pathos in these new songs… Jackson’s pain is often the world’s merriment, and this is probably true of his new songs, which fret about painkillers, sexual promiscuity and public image. In many of them, Jackson seems like the elephant man, screaming that he is a human being… In keeping with Jackson’s darker mood, the music has grown more angry and indignant. With beats crashing like metal sheets and synthesizer sounds hissing like pressurized gas, this is industrial funk… Creatively, Jackson has entered a new realm.”

    In the gritty, haunting “Morphine,” Jackson tackles a subject he never had before: drug addiction. To a relentless, industrial funk beat, the singer lashes out in visceral bursts of anger, aggression, and pain. “Is truth a game daddy,” he screams out at one point. “To win the fame baby/It’s all the same baby/You’re so reliable.” The rage and disappointment, combined with its ear-assaulting sound (music critic Tom Sinclair described it as “alternating Trent Reznor-style sturm und clang with Bacharachian orchestral pomp”), make for a jarring listening experience, particularly for those accustomed to the breezier melodic pop of Off the Wall and Thriller (though it should be noted that songs like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and “Billie Jean” were already beginning to uncover the complexity, paranoia and pain represented in these later tracks). But “Morphine” is best viewed as an experiment — both sonically and lyrically — in representing the experience of physical/psychological pain as well as its temporary release via narcotic pain relievers like demerol and morphine (both of which Jackson has been reportedly addicted to, on and off, since the early Nineties).

    This experience is also brilliantly conveyed in the song’s form: About mid-way through the track, the grating beat subsides, symbolically representing the pacifying effect of the drug. “Relax, this won’t hurt you,” Jackson sings soothingly from the perspective of the drug.

    These verses are perhaps some of the most poignant (and tragic) Jackson has ever sung. Beyond the literalness of the drug itself is Jackson’s persistent yearning to escape from pain, loneliness, confusion, and relentless pressure. In this brief interlude he beautifully conveys the soothing, seductive, but temporary release from reality. There is a sense of pleading, of desperation, before the high abruptly ends, and the listener is slammed back into the harsh world of accusations and anguish. Sputnik Music described this musical sequence as a “moment of absolute genius.” The song, written and composed entirely by Jackson, is one of his most experimental and brilliant creations. It is a confession, a personal intervention, a witness, and a warning.

    [Note: This analysis of “Morphine” was written before Michael Jackson’s death. It becomes all the more tragic given reports that narcotics like demerol and morphine may have contributed to his passing.]

    (Copyright by Joseph Vogel, from Man in the Music: An Album by Album Guide to Michael Jackson)

    • “Question for you: what are the words spoken near the end of the song (around 5:24) right after the repeated phrase “you’re takin morphine”? To me it sounds like “hear me?”

      Hi sfaikus! I was also wondering about that as well. To my ear, it sounds like “Jonny?” I noticed that Brad Buxer, Bill Bottrell and assistant engineer Jon Mooney are all given a credit for background vocals on this track – I’m pretty sure because they scream “morphine” with Michael Jackson! Wonder if he says “Jonny?” as some kind of inside joke with Jon Mooney? I don’t know.

      Does anyone else have a theory?

      • ok, I’ll take a guess. I hear “Johnny” too and in my mind I link it with John Merrick (even though his name was actually Joseph, in the movie he is called John and also in Treves’ account). So is there a chance it’s Merrick’s mother calling him: “Johnny”? or another female? I know it isn’t in a British accent but just a wild guess.

        I think it’s the Andrae Crouch choir singing “Morphine”??

        Re the ‘industrial’ part–I do not find it jarring b/c it has that wonderful beat. It rocks! It’s the soothing “relax, this won’t hurt you” that seems more threatening because ultimately it’s false, not real, not authentic. It will hurt you.

        The lyrics are very interesting b/c the ones that are out there are clearly not accurate. For example, one lyric in the first verse ends with (in written form) “I need your body.” But that is NOT what we hear. What we hear is “I hate your Bible,” which is much more flagrantly hostile, and is confirmed by the hand-written lyrics that were auctioned off.

        I think the references to ‘daddy’ are important. What I hear is “a razor blade, Daddy” and “you’re throwing shade, Daddy.”

        I think the song is about hand-wringing (“O God, he’s taking demerol”) without understanding why he is taking demerol/morphine. So a bunch of people are talking about it w/o really knowing what it is they are talking about. And in the process the addict (MJ?) in what seems the only ‘I” statement in the song, says, “I’m going down.” The song coalesces all the forces that drive one to take morphine–all the ‘you’ and ‘your’ that create the sickness: “You make me sick, baby.”

        The singer looks for healing/escape from the sickness (mental, physical, spiritual) and finds nothing there except the reality of the pain and the anger and morphine.

        I think it’s a tough song b/c there’s so much there–thanks for the wonderful discussion!

        • “And in the process the addict (MJ?) in what seems the only ‘I’ statement in the song, says, ‘I’m going down.’ The song coalesces all the forces that drive one to take morphine–all the ‘you’ and ‘your’ that create the sickness: ‘You make me sick, baby.'”

          That’s a really good point, stephenson – in fact, we could do a whole post on the pronouns alone! It’s very interesting how the pronouns – and therefore the point of view – constantly slip around in “Morphine.” At times the “I” is harshly condemning the addict, at times the “I” is the addict, or someone concerned about the addict, or a doctor enabling the addict – or even the drug that’s entering the addict’s veins, as Joie suggested.

          That phrase “I’m going down” is really meaningful as well, since it echoes the last words Evan Chandler ever spoke to him: “You’re going down, Michael. You’re going down.” Chilling.

          • Yes, the shifting pronouns really destabilize the narrative IMO. At one point i hear, “She’s taking morphine.” If that’s true, then it’s another layer.

            Btw, the voice saying “Johnny” doesn’t sound like MJ’s voice to me. It sounds to me like a female voice, as you said, a mother checking in on a child. (I read that Merrick enjoyed female company, once they were brought into his life by Dr. Treves.)

            In Michael Bush’s book he talks about how MJ would add details to the costumes (like the armband and the letters CTE) just to see if people were “paying attention.”

            In the website sfaikus gave us (thanks!!), they explain some drug terminology in the song–like the words “flag” and “bump.” These refer to snorting and injecting drugs like coke and heroin.

        • Excellent point that “Johnny” could refer to John Merrick! And those handwritten lyrics are fascinating, aren’t they? It shows how Michael Jackson worked and re-worked those lyrics. I agree it would be very interesting to do a study of the pronouns, especially because we can see he chose his words so carefully.

          I’m glad you brought up the Andrae Crouch choir. To be honest, I really don’t hear them on the record, although they are clearly credited for performing on this track. On the 2nd verse (“You got place, baby”), I hear reinforcement on the last word of each stanza, on the words I hear as “liar,” “survival,” “rival” and “undesirable.” I hear this in the same place on the last verse too, but it’s unclear to me who is singing. I assume it’s the Andrae Crouch choir because they are credited, but I would not have guessed that from listening to the record. Maybe it’s because I associate the Andrae Crouch choir with Bruce Swedien’s recordings of them? The choral sound on “Man In The Mirror,” for example, is a totally different sound. “Morphine” is not one of Bruce Swedien’s tracks, it was engineered by Keith Cohen, Eddie De Lena, Mick Guzauski and Tim Boyle, so the approach is entirely different. I hear untrained voices foregrounded in the chorus screaming – not singing – “morphine”! But perhaps the chorus is faintly heard in the background? Not sure at all.

          Just to be clear, the term “sonic sculpture” is taken from Bruce Swedien’s book, “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” on page 105. I’m assuming it is a term that Jackson fans may be familiar with. Swedien says in his book “for me to be satisfied with a soundfield, it must have proportions of left, right, center and depth.” But that is not to imply that the concept of the soundfield is unique to Swedien or Michael Jackson – engineers and popular music scholars have been interested in the sound placement for some time. However, I do think it is an element of Michael Jackson’s work that needs to be carefully considered, because it is used in such fascinating and clever ways. “Morphine” is a great example of this.

          • I seem to recall that during the NYC seminar Brad showed a clip of the Andrae Crouch choir singing “Morphine!” In any case, Brad would know.

            BTW, Is anyone going to Brad’s L.A. seminars upcoming in June?

          • Oh how I wish I could Stephenson but it’s a bit far from Cape Town ha ha!! You guys are so lucky to access to these kinds of workshops in the States – I hope you appreciate it.

          • Re the lyrics, yes, they are fascinating and seem to suggest that he was looking at the song more generally abiut addiction rather than exclusively related to his own situation. For example, the hand-written lyrics talk about crack and heroin and use lots of street terminology for drug use (still there in the final version).

            So it seems in the final version that we hear he revised it to be more about non-street drugs, i.e. prescription meds, although he still used the words like “bump” “cook” “flag” (he got flag, baby) that were street slang.

            “Relax, this won’t hurt you” is such a lie. And he knew it.

          • Just curious, do the words “flag,” “cook” or “bump” appear in handwritten lyrics? I really wish we could see his final version!

            I hear “flack” as the same diction as “back” and “attack,” which are meant to rhyme, so I’m inclined to think he meant to say “flack” not “flag.”

            Also, instead of “cook” the word sounds more like “cut” (2:01), with a heavy emphasis on the “uh” sound. “Bump” is very ambiguous to me, I can’t really tell what is being said, but it seems those two words are meant to rhyme with the “uh” sound in “what” of the next line (I’ve gotten what, baby?). So could the rhyme could be “cut”, “but/bump” “what/wut” or actually even “cut,” “f*ck*,” “what”??? *she asks sheepishly*

          • Re flag, cook, bump–I think they appear in various online lyrics but I don’t see them in the few pages of hand-written lyrics on the mjjcollectors site. The lyrics you find when you do a search are not definitive of course, so I think trying to identify all the actual sung lyrics is a challenge!!! (Maybe someone can take it on?)

            I transcribed what I could from the handwritten lyrics on mjjcollectors (4 pages). The crossed out lyrics I put in parentheses :

            “relax this won’t hurt you it’ll take the edge away open your eyes no need to pray. Don’t cry it won’t convert you Before I stick (put) it in close your eyes and count to ten.

            He caught heck baby up to his neck baby He oversexed baby I (he) hate your Bible I know your God baby Know where you are baby Took bad too far baby I ain’t your rival
            A hot fit baby go dig your ditch baby The (his) dogs a bitch baby (aint that a stitch baby) Say he confused baby He got the blues He’s feelin used (mental abuse) baby so unreliable

            He hot shit go dig your ditch You make me sick baby (he wanna fix) so unreliable! He got jacked baby He kicked the back baby on booze and crack baby (he caught heck baby he get no respect baby He red neck baby) A hot sweat that what you get No room to let (I hate your kind) He sniff the line baby He hates your kind (what yours is mine)”

            Maybe there are more handwritten lyrics out there b/c there are more lyrics in the song–lots of them.

          • @stephenson Yes, that would be a great idea to try to make an accurate set of the lyrics! I tried, but was stumped on a number of words, like the ones we discussed in the 2nd verse.

            The handwritten lyrics are great because they establish that the rhyme scheme happens in 3s and falls right on beat 3 – heck/neck/sexed – God/are/far – fit/ditch/bitch – confused/blues/used, etc.

            (Bjørn, are you listening??? Did I get that right???)

          • BTW Stephenson: yes, I plan to go to Brad’s seminar in LA, and I have a ticket for June 24. And yes, Caro, we are fortunate! More later…

      • This may be a stretch, but I’ve heard it expressed that it could be the name “Tommy” (as in Motolla) with whom Michael had problems over the years. Michael’s music was so beat driven, it’s only after thorough examination of his lyrics, most of which unfortunately happened only after he died, that we see how willing he was to bare his soul through his music.

  4. Second link I referenced above is no longer working, so here is another one re handwritten Morphine lyrics:

  5. For some reason I always thought he was saying “Mommy”. One of my favorite Michael Jackson songs. Very well written analysis. I too feel as though it could go either way, the doctor speaking to him..the drug speaking to him…and also I feel parts of it could be him speaking to himself, almost scolding himself….why are you hooked on this stuff, why can’t you be stronger, but in the end he gives in because the drug relieves him of the pain. Thank you again for some thoughtful conversation and analysis on yet another very under rated Michael Jackson masterpiece.

  6. Here is an interesting discussion of the Morphine lyrics in the forum. It seems that there is no agreement on what the lyrics are, and there are multiple versions. The meaning of the song changes significantly with all the lyric variations.!

  7. Congrats Lisha – well done.

    Thanks for a great post as usual. I have said this before, but it amazes me that one can listen to a Michael song over and over and just never hear all of it!! I have been listening more and more with headphones since I started reading these blogs, and yet there is still more that I have missed!!!!! These blogs are so fantastic for helping us to really ‘get’ Michael’s music – thank you.

    I have always liked this song but it is even more poingnant for me now after reading this blog and knowing what happened to Michael through the latest trial – it is almost like he had a premonition or something. A song to point people to who call him an addict I think.

    Just a comment on the intro to I Just Can’t Stop Loving You which you also mentioned. I had only heard a part of it in a concert in Japan which Michael whispers a bit of bit before the song, and always wondered what it was. I then found out in Spike Lee’s BAD 25 dockie when the whole intro is played when the song is discussed. I just love it – get goosebumps every time I hear it – and wonder why it was not included on any of the versions on CDs that were issued? Anyone know why not?

    Going to read all the other items posted and get back to you later.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Caro!

      I agree with you that the information from the AEG trial really sheds new light on this song. Debbie Rowe’s testimony was especially persuasive to me. The painful medical procedures Michael Jackson endured due to complications from injury, discoid lupus and keloid scarring forming on the nerves, are nothing less than horrific to me. The common narrative – that Jackson acquired a taste for painkillers and simply could not overcome it – is nowhere even close to the truth, to my way of thinking. I had no idea that suffered so much and for so long. It would have been inhumane not to address to the pain, addiction diagnosis or not.

      Brad Sundberg discussed IJCSLY in his seminars and said that radio stations hated the pillow talk intro, which was a big part of the decision to get rid of it. He also said that Michael Jackson continued to work on his recordings long after they were released to the public and became successful hits. They usually worked in the studio for a full year after a record was released, making radio edits, dance mixes and new mixes of the songs. As a result, there are probably 7 or 8 different versions of the “Bad” album in circulation, unmarked.

      • Thanks for the info about the continued working on albums long after they were released – I didn’t know that but it explains a lot. I still think that intro is very special, and personally would have loved for it to have remained.

  8. “what are the words spoken near the end of the song (around 5:24) right after the repeated phrase ‘you’re takin morphine’? To me it sounds like ‘hear me?'”

    Interesting discussion, sfaikus, ultravioletrae, stephenson, Terry. That short sound bit has always caught my attention too. When I listen to this song in my van, I’ve always heard it as “Honey?” and assumed he was calling out to one of his kids. But I just listened with headphones on and it did sound more like “Johnny?”

    I think one reason that one word is so striking is because of his tone of voice. We’re plunged into this cyclone of sound, and then we hear his voice quietly calling someone – Honey? Johnny? Mommy? It’s very poignant to hear that small questioning voice in the midst of all that chaos.

    It feels especially poignant to me because his tone of voice seems so familiar. It’s the same voice my mom used to use with me when she’d lean into my bedroom at night to check in with me before going to bed, and it’s the same tone of voice I use with my son now. It means I can’t see you in the dark, but are you there? are you safe and sound? are you settling down and going to sleep?

    That’s how I hear that word – that he’s concerned about his kids and checking in on them – which adds another huge level of worry to a song about addiction. If he can’t control his addiction, what does that mean for his children?

    • I like your analysis of that spoken word, Willa. His tone of voice – so vulnerable, questioning, almost yearning. I am glad that so many of you have found it as mysterious and compelling as I have. I read in one analysis of the morphine lyrics that the confusion over what are the “proper” lyrics might have been intentional, to let the listener fill in the meaning according to his own approach to the song.

    • “I think one reason that one word is so striking is because of his tone of voice.” I agree with you, Willa. It’s a different voice that the one he is singing with before and after – and it is foregrounded – the sound is much closer to the listener than the singing part is. It kind of pops out at you. I also agree the voice seems very familiar, which is why it sounds like to me he was probably calling out to Jon Mooney, the engineer, as they were working and later that was spliced into the recording. Would love to know more about this. It’s an interesting riddle.

  9. I agree that he sounds very vulnerable and maybe for me that is why I hear him say Mommy….because when we were having a bad dream, or in pain, or just feeling unloved–at our most vulnerable, often we call out for the one person that we think will give us the most love, our mothers, thus “Mommy” – thanks again…..been listening to the song again.

  10. Midnite Boomer

    Thank you, Willa, Joie, and Lisha for a wonderful perspective on Morphine. I always am enriched by your dialogues here. And I especially appreciate the information on the nuances of sounds that might be missed on a cursory listening.
    Here are some of my earlier thoughts on the song. I think there is a larger message here, one that is political. The drugs, Morphine, Demerol, and talk…all lull us into inactivity while making us able to totally ignore what’s going on in the world around us. They help us avoid the “painful truth.” It’s another metaphor for “drinking the Kool-Ade.” The person starts out with the high-quality, top-of-the-line drug, Morphine. Interestingly, this drug is also used to improve lung circulation in a condition known as pulmonary edema. It helps the person breathe more easily. So we can be lulled into inactivity and “breathe easier” thinking everything is OK. When that doesn’t work, we switch to Demerol, certainly an excellent pain reliever in its own right, but it’s lower quality, and actually synthetic (whereas Morphine is the real thing). But the switch is a difficult one (“Oh God, he’s taking Demerol!”). So when the “real deal” isn’t available, or no longer satisfies, we switch to something else. Finally, if drugs don’t do it, we can sit around and lull ourselves into oblivion by talking, having convinced ourselves that by talking we are actually accomplishing something.
    To me, it’s one of the most scary songs that he wrote.

    • Hi Midnite, I agree there is something scary about “Morphine.” I can never relax into it – it’s just so unsettling. I also feel like there is a larger message in there somewhere, ignoring a “painful truth” about doctors and pharmaceuticals, so I liked how you interpreted this.

  11. He got flat baby [flatlined–he died]
    kicked in the back baby
    a heart attack baby
    I hate your Bible

    A hot kiss honey
    He dug the ditch baby
    You make me sick baby
    So unreliable

    I felt a swine baby
    all down the line daddy
    I hate your kind baby
    so unreliable

    A hot buzz baby
    He’s one of us baby
    Another drug baby
    You’re so desirable (desiring)

    Trust in me, Trust in me, put all your trust in me
    You’re doing Morphine

    (you heard what the dr said)

    You got placed baby [put in your place]
    kicked in the face baby
    He hate your race baby
    You’re not the liar

    Just every lick baby (??)
    You’re dog’s a bitch baby
    You make me sick baby
    Your dog’s a rival

    You never cut for me [cut the drug ]
    You never bump baby
    I got you up baby
    Your just a rival

    A razor blade daddy
    right up your leg daddy
    You’re throwing shade daddy
    so undesirable (undeserving)

    Trust in me, trust in me, just in me
    You’re doing morphine

    relax this won’t hurt you before I put it in, close your eyes and count to 10
    Don’t cry I won’t convert you
    There’s no need to dismay close your eyes and drift away
    demerol, demerol, o god he’s taking demerol,
    demerol, demerol, o god he’s taking demerol

    He’s tried hard to convince her
    To give him over what he had
    Today he wants it 2x as bad
    Don’t cry I won’t resent you
    Yesterday you had distrust
    Today he’s taking 2x as much
    demerol, demerol, o god he’s taking demerol,
    demerol, demerol, O my his god is Demerol (he’s got his Demerol)

    (You heard what the dr said]

    He got shit baby
    The dog’s a bitch baby
    you make me sick baby
    you are a liar

    Is truth a game daddy
    deep in the vein baby
    It’s all the same baby
    You’re so reliable

    Trust in me Trust in me
    put all your trust in me
    He’s doing Morphine

    you just sit around just talking nothing
    and takin morphine
    Go baby
    you just sit around just talking nothing
    and takin morphine

    you just sit around just talking nothing
    and takin morphine

    you sit around


    you takin morphine
    you just sit around just talking nothing
    and takin morphine
    I’m goin down, baby
    You talking morphine
    Go, baby
    do it

    ????? Lisha, how does this compare to what you have?

    • Quick work stephenson! Very interesting. Do you think someone dies in this song? I’ve heard that idea before, but I’ve never thought of it that way. Curious how you would interpret that.

      It would take a while for me to come up with what I thought were accurate lyrics for this song, they are not at all clear to me. The vowel sounds are emphasized, consonants are very hard to make out. Everyone seems to hear something different.

      For example, in the opening line I hear “He got flack, baby.” I notice how “flack” rhymes with “back” and “attack” and how the diction on the “ck” is similar on all three. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I actually hear the “ck” on any of those words. It’s just not clear. When I look at the handwritten lyrics (Working Lyrics #1 on the MJJ Collectors site, I see that at one time “He caught heck” was the opening line to the song. Since “he got flack” and “he caught heck” have similar meanings, that’s another reason I would probably go with “flack” instead of “flat.” But, to be honest, I don’t hear a “ck” or a “t” sound clearly.

      The next two lines – “Kicked in the back, baby / A heart attack, baby” seem pretty clear. But the next line is very ambiguous to me. Is it “I hate”? Or possibly “I ain’t”? Is it “bible,” “rival” or even possibly “father”? “I hate your bible”? “I ain’t your father/rival”?

      And I wonder if either “bible,” “rival” or “father” is meant to match up with the sound of the last word in the other stanzas. I don’t hear the “ble” at all in “unreliable.” To me it sounds more like “unreli-a…” The end of the word seems to be implied, which makes it rhyme better with “rival” or “father” (faw-tha). The end of the next stanza I really can’t make out. And the last word of this verse sounds more like “desirous” to me, rather than “desirable,” but the “s” isn’t really audible either, so it’s difficult to say. But father/un-re-li-a/desirou(s) sound similar. I need more clues!

      • Yes, I agree it’s hard b/c there’s distortion in the background and foreground, so some words are unclear. I listened a bunch of times til I had to take a break. Re ‘flat”–that’s what I hear and it does go along with ‘heart attack.’ (Someone died of a heart attack). “Bible” and “rival” rhyme and “liar” and/unreli–(able)” somewhat rhyme (they all have long I vowel sounds).

        “I hate your Bible” is in the handwritten lyrics as well. I hear it pretty clearly.

        Yes, I am starting to think someone dies of drug abuse (the “he” in the song). There are references to street drugs, as well as demerol/morphine– lines and snorting and injecting drugs–razor blade, bump (a line of coke) cut, right up your leg (shooting into a vein in the leg). And the singer (“I”–‘I hate your kind”) is angry about all the enablers who let it happen (the “You” and “Your”)–the dealers/doctors (“Trust in me put all your trust in me”)/ and the ineffective hand wringers, some of whom maybe were saying let’s pray, read the Bible about it, etc, as a solution (I hate your Bible). The singer/narrator could be an addict too of course but not necessarily–someone familiar with the world of addiction.

        I don’t hear ‘father’ but I will listen again for it.

        Morphine was released in 97 so I don’t think at this point in time MJ was deep into a drug addiction himself. Yes, he went into rehab in 93 but after his marriage to LMP and the settlment re the civil suit, it seems he was back in the flow of his life to a considerable degree-HIStory released in 95–a lot of great creative work going on. Ghosts was released in 97 too. Also his former manger said it wasn’t til the Bashir mess hit in 03 that he started taking the sleep/prescription meds, etc, as a necessity, rather than once in a while. (I think the keloid mess was around the Dangerous tour and the surgery was in 93.)

        Do you have any sources on this, Lisha?

        • I recommend reading Debbie Rowe’s testimony from the AEG trial if you want to dig deeper into the issue of why doctors were prescribing medication for him and why he had little choice but to take it. I know some fans are very sensitive about this and have a lot of concerns about MJ’s privacy. I do too. It’s painful to see how much of his personal information has been exposed.

          On the other hand, I think it’s important to get at the truth and try to dispel some of the mythology. I’ve certainly noticed that the truth tends to be kind to Michael Jackson and historians won’t have a problem digging deeply into his personal life. The court testimony is some of the best unmediated information we have. But still, it presents a dilemma for me.

  12. “A hot kiss honey” could be “a hot fix honey”–“he dug the ditch” (he died?).

  13. I’m going to move this post over to the lyrics thread, but for now I went ahead and wrote out my best guesses for the lyrics based on listening to the track with headphones. I compare what I have with stephenson’s, the Max Jax thread, other possibilities and online lyric websites. If anyone hears more possibilities, I would love it if you could hit reply and let us know so I can add your thoughts in when I move this over to the other thread. I included timings to make it easier. Here the key for how I marked my text:

    *very ambiguous lyrics*
    [other suggestions for lyrics]
    (implied syllables)
    {ad libs}


    Verse 1

    0:37 He got flack baby [flat, flag?]
    Kicked in the back baby [kick?]
    A heart attack baby
    *I ain’t your father* [I hate/ain’t your bible/rival, I need your body?]

    0:47 *A hot fit honey* [fix, bit, bitch, kick, kiss?]
    He dug the ditch, baby [He’s just a bitch?]
    You make me sick baby
    So unrelia(ble) [unrelying, unbeloved?]

    0:56 *I felt a swine baby* [Another swine, I felt the swine, I’m such a swine?]
    All down the line dabby [daddy, darling?]
    I hate your kind baby [Uncage your God?]
    So unreliab(le) [unbeloved?]

    1:05 *A hot fuzz, baby* [fuss, buzz?]
    He want the buzz baby [He’s one of us?]
    Another drug baby
    You’re so desirous [desirable, desiring, deserving, You so desire?]

    Chorus 1

    1:15 Trust in me
    Trust in me
    Put all your trust in me

    You’re doin’ morphine


    Verse 2

    1:43 You got place baby [You got a place, They got place?]
    Kicked in the face baby
    He hate your race baby [You hate your race?]
    You’re not the liar [You’re just a liar?]

    1:52 *Just ad lib baby* [Just every lick, Just add lick, Your every lick?]
    Your dog’s a b*tch baby
    You make me sick baby
    You talk survival [You’re dog’s a rival, You soul/sole survivor?]

    2:01 *She never cut from me* [You never cut for me, She never cook for me?]
    *Another f*ck baby* [you/she never bump/cut/f*ck, another bump/cut?]
    I’ve gotten what baby? [I got you up baby, I had to work baby?]
    You’re just a rival [You just a rival?]

    2:11 A razor blade, daddy [Always to please daddy?]
    Right up your leg dabby [baby? Right up and leave daddy?]
    You’re throwing shade daddy [shame?]
    So undesira(ble) [undeserving?]

    Chorus 2

    2:20 Trust in me
    Just in me
    Put all your trust in me
    You’re doin’ morphine

    {go on babe}



    2:48 Relax, this won’t hurt you
    Before I put it in
    Close your eyes and count to ten

    Don’t cry, I won’t convert you
    There’s no need to dismay
    Close your eyes and drift away

    Demerol, demerol
    Oh God he’s taking demerol
    Demerol, demerol
    Oh God he’s taking demerol

    3:25 He’s tried hard to convince her [trying?]
    Til they’ll won’t know what he had
    [To give him over/more-of what he had? To be over what he had?]
    Today he wants it twice as bad

    Don’t cry, I won’t resent you
    Yesterday you had distrust [his trust?]
    Today he’s taking twice as much

    3:44 Demerol, demerol
    Oh God he’s taking demerol {hee}
    Demerol, demerol
    Oh my he’s got his demerol [his god is demerol, Oh my oh God it’s demerol?]

    {Hee, Hoo, Ew!}


    Verse 3

    4:26 You got shit baby [he got shit?]
    Your dog’s a b*tch baby
    You make me sick baby
    You are the liar [a liar?]

    4:35 He’s screwed the game daddy [Is truth a game, You shoot the game?]
    Deep in the fame baby [deep in the vein, To win the fame?]
    It’s all the same baby [Your called a saint?]
    You’re so relia(ble) [beloved?]

    Chorus 3

    4:45 Trust in me
    Trust in me
    Put all your trust in me

    4:52 She’s doin’ morphine


    4:58 You just sit around just talkin’ of it
    You’re takin’ morphine {hoo, go on baby}
    You just sit around jive talkin’ about it
    Just takin’ morphine {hoo, hoo}
    Just sit around just talkin’ nothin’ about it
    Just takin’ morphine [You’re takin’ morphine?]

    5:24 Johnny? [Mommy, Honey, Tommy, Hear me?]

    5:26 You just sit around just talkin’ about it
    You’re takin’ morphine

    {hoo, hoo}

    5:35 You just sit around just talkin’ of it
    And takin’ morphine

    {hoo, hoo}

    5:45 {Something’s goin’ down baby, hoo} [I’m goin’ down, You’re goin’ down?]

    You talkin’ morphine

    {go on baby – hoo, hoo}


    {do it! hoo}

    6:06 She’s takin’ morphine [He’s takin’ morphine?]

    • Wow, Lisha/ultravioletrae, this is awesome! And thanks for posting it to the Lyrics Library also.

      So I should probably explain that almost all the lyrics we have posted there came from the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC) database, with their approval. My understanding is that, wherever possible, they took lyrics from liner notes, but those aren’t available for some songs. And even the liner notes are clearly wrong sometimes. So our hope is that the Lyrics Library can be a place where we work together to try to get some understanding of what the lyrics may be, and what they may mean.

      But that doesn’t mean we’re trying to say, definitively, here are the official lyrics. Sometimes there’s ambiguity or a multiplicity of meanings, and as sfaikus suggested and you’ve shown so well, that ambiguity/multiplicity can be an important part of the song.

  14. Nice work, Lisha!!! (I listened to the point I considered taking morphine myself! only kidding). Seriously, this looks great and you’ve put it together with all the possibilities and the timings too. Wonderful!!

    I did read that some people heard “get him outta here” towards the end of the “You heard what the dr. said” sections.

    • “I listened to the point I considered taking morphine myself!” Me too, now you know what a musician’s life it like!

      If I hadn’t seen those handwritten lyrics, I would swear these are scratch vocals. And maybe some of them are. I definitely feel like some lyrics are deliberately vague and confusing – as a part of the overall effect.

  15. Thanks Willa, Joie, and Lisha for a really good discussion of Morphine — a song I love because it seems to capture the tragedy of MJs life — the duplicity he had to deal with, the pressures, just everything. And thanks to Stephenson for your interesting comments — especially the idea that someone dies in the song.

    Today, I was listening to it in the car and thinking about this discussion and it suddenly hit me that maybe Morphine is a foreshadowing of Michael’s own death. You know the news people at first said he had a heart attack — and the song mentions “a heart attack baby” — and then I was hearing “propofol, propofol, oh god he’s taking propofol” instead of demerol, and then I was hearing Conrad Murray saying, “Relax, this won’t hurt you…”

    It unsettled me so much that I almost ran off the road. No wonder the song affects me so much. It really hurts. He sang it and didn’t realize what he was singing about at a conscious level, while understanding completely at another level, which gives the song so much incredible power.

  16. I always found this part compelling….

    “He’s tried hard to convince her
    To give him over what he had
    Today he wants it 2x as bad
    Don’t cry I won’t resent you
    Yesterday you had distrust
    Today he’s taking 2x as much”

    In my personal analysis, it reminds me of Elizabeth Taylor, who came to his rescue so to speak and got him into rehab…..when you think about this, he was a person who scorned drugs–and now to be dependent on them, even though this is not a recreational drug that he is using by any means..but still for him, it must have been hard on his conscious going through this and I think personally this song is what this is about….his struggle – physical and emotional…

  17. Eleanor–that’s so uncanny what you wrote–wow! And it makes sense that this song is a premonition or foreshadowing of the 09 tragedy. The part about propofol is disturbing (it has the same # of syllables as demerol and rhymes), and you know Murray must have said things like “Trust in me” and “Relax, this won’t hurt you.” That puts a whole new layer of interpretation on the song–thank you for that insight. Gives me goosebumps.

    Terry, you make an excellent point about Elizabeth Taylor being a likely presence in this song, and that’s so true about how MJ went from never using meds for sleep and pain to being forced to use them and eventually becoming dependent on them. What a shocking thing for him given his background and the morals he grew up with. I agree the song is about “his struggle–physical and emotional.”

    Here is a video of Elizabeth speaking about his dependency and how she went to his aid in Mexico City and flew him to rehab (in London). I love how she says, “I am a friend of Michael Jackson’s and I support him with all my heart.”

    • Ja Stephenson and Eleanor gave me goosebumps also as I read some premonitions into the song as well. He was very fortunate to have a friend like Elzabeth, and she was fortunate to have access to the lovely man we would like to have known as well – what a privilege for them both..

      Have enjoyed going through all the various lyrics posted, and I do think that Michael made them a bit ambiguous. When you listen to a lot of his other songs, his diction is perfect, and it is almost like he is slurring on purpose under the influence of Morphine!!

      • I just got to chime in about the line at 5:24.

        From day one I have always heard this as “Know what I mean?” And not just a single word or name.

        This moment happens right after a shout of “Morphine” and it’s clear to my ear that what comes next rhymes. The endings “mean” and “phine” definitely rhyme.

        I’m not hearing anything close to Jhonny, Mommy or Honey.

  18. Hi yensid98. The word/phrase I was talking about is no more than two syllables, and it’s an isolated sound that doesn’t rhyme with anything. All this makes me wonder if we’re talking about the same spot. What I hear is a spoken word that rises at the end, like a question, and it’s “in front of” the other sounds, as Lisha/Ultravioletrae described it. On this link it occurs at 5:31:

    btw, you can change the settings in this link so it plays in HD. I don’t know if that helps clarify sounds or not, or just the visuals. …

    • Just gave a listen of the 5:31 mark of that link and we’re (well you and I at least) are talking about the same moment in the song. I definitely hear the rise at the end, like it’s a question. I’m also hearing a definite long E sound near the end which to mind is creating a rhyme with the ending of the word morphine.

      The “Know what I mean?” lyric I am hearing is spoken very quickly.

      Now I’ve bee hearing it this way since 1997 when the album was released. My mind is probably just conditioned at this point to hear the question “Know what I mean?” so it’s difficult for me to hear an out-of-nowhere name shout out. If it is a name I’d love to find out why it’s seemingly said as a question.

      People hear so many different lyrics in this song that one has to wonder if that was part of the point MJ was trying to get across. Or were the lyrics in a kind of state of flux and not as important to him in this song as the emotion conveyed through the music?

      • “People hear so many different lyrics in this song that one has to wonder if that was part of the point MJ was trying to get across.”

        I think that is exactly it! Great point, yensid98. The vagueness fits with the theme of the song, doesn’t it? I’ll include your comment when I move my post over to the lyrics thread. I agree that “Johnny?” sounds like an “out-of-nowhere name shout out.” Really out-of-nowhere. Or, possibly it is a John Merrick reference, as stephenson said? At any rate, I’d love to know what is being said and why.

      • ”People hear so many different lyrics in this song that one has to wonder if that was part of the point MJ was trying to get across”
        @yensid98, @ultravioletrae

        I’m quite sure the ”fluctuating” lyrics are intentional.
        I once read that a ”classic” is a piece of art that has many possible interpretations. That’s why it’s still interesting and relevant. Michael Jackson knew everything about art.
        We’re still discussing whether Mona Lisa smiled or not.
        In 100 years people will probably still be trying to wring out meanings of the lyrics of Morphine! 🙂

  19. There are parts of the lyrics that are clear (the interludes between the clashing industrial music) and this seems to be a part of a deliberate musical separation between ‘what the doctor says’ (relax this won’t hurt you, trust in me, etc) and what the angry singer says and feels. So one the one hand, there is calm, and on the other the atmosphere is thick with anger and accusations (you make me sick, you are a liar, etc). This fuzzyness of the lyrics conveys the experience of the taking the drug and fighting it at the same time–the mental turmoil and confusion, desperation–and helps the listener to feel the same thing–how the mind is in a kind of chaos.

  20. Awesome work! Thanks for the wonderful information, it helped me a lot in learning about MJ’s ‘Morphine’ song. Your work is appreciated 🙂 <3.

  1. Pingback: 2. Morphine | Joseph Vogel: Ember a zenében

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