Don’t Let Go of My Hand

Willa: So this week Joie and I wanted to talk about a song that’s a favorite for both of us: “Whatever Happens” from the Invincible album. I was so glad you suggested it, Joie, because I absolutely love this song.

Joie: Now that’s really funny to me, Willa, because I remember you suggesting this song, not me. And when you did, I was really happy because it’s been one of my favorites from the start.

Willa: Really? I suggested it? Wow, Joie, I’m sorry – I have this middle-aged brain and it’s not always super reliable. I was sure you’d suggested it, and I remember being excited about it.… Anyway, I think I’ve told you this before, but after Michael Jackson died I played this song a lot. For some reason, it was really comforting to me, just hearing that beautiful voice sing, “Whatever happens, don’t let go of my hand.”

Joie: Actually, I don’t think I knew that, but I can understand it perfectly.

Willa: Yeah, it’s like it conveyed something I really needed to hear right then. But I loved it even before he died. It tells a complicated story that isn’t resolved at the end, so it’s bittersweet, as many of his songs are. And you know, one thing that’s interesting about this song is that, in it, we see the intersection of two important themes for Michael Jackson. The first is the problem of communication between men and women, which runs throughout his songwriting – especially on the Invincible album. We talked about that a little bit during our month-long celebration of Invincible. And the other is the problem of work, and how crushing it can be to the spirit to work in an unfulfilling job.

Joie: Ok, first I want to say that I loved that month-long celebration of Invincible so much. Those posts are still some of my most favorite that we’ve ever done, and I know it’s because I just completely adore that album from start to finish!

But enough gushing … because you just said something that sort of puzzles me. I never think about the theme of working an unfulfilling job as a Michael Jackson staple. I’m probably going to be smacking my head in a moment, but besides “Working Day and Night” I can’t think of any song where this theme has played a major part, so please explain.

Willa: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a staple – it’s not something he focuses on in song after song, like he does with some other themes. But he does touch on it every so often, and he focuses on it pretty extensively in “Working Day and Night,” like you said, and in “Keep Your Head Up.” As he sings in the opening verse:

She’s working two jobs, keeping alive
She works in a restaurant night and day
She waits her life away
She wipes her tears away

It’s part of “Slave to the Rhythm” also, though there’s more going on than that. The main character isn’t just working in an unfulfilling job during the day. When she comes home at night she’s also slaving away for an unappreciative husband. And it’s central to “Whatever Happens,” of course.

Joie: Ok, I see what you mean now, and you’re right, it is a theme he touches on more than once.

Willa: And over a long period of time. “Working Day and Night” was released in 1979 and “Whatever Happens” in 2001. That’s more than two decades.

But you know, it’s really interesting to compare these two songs because they’re both addressing a similar scenario – a man toiling away in a dead-end job because of the woman he loves – but they couldn’t be more different. In “Working Day and Night,” his girlfriend is encouraging to him to put in the hours on that job because she wants his money. But the situation in “Whatever Happens” is much more subtle and much more complicated than that.

Joie: I agree that the situation in “Whatever Happens” is much more complicated than the high-maintenance girlfriend in “Working Day and Night.”

In “Whatever Happens” we are introduced to a couple in love – presumably a husband and wife – who obviously love and care very deeply about one another, but they are in the middle of a crisis of some type. And although we are never told exactly what the conflict is between them, we know immediately that it’s a pretty serious issue, as he sings in the opening verse:

He gives another smile
Tries to understand her side
To show that he cares
She can’t stay in the room
She’s consumed
With everything that’s been going on
She says,
“Whatever happens, don’t let go of my hand”

So right off the bat, he tells us that the man is trying very hard to understand her side of things, but the woman is so upset about the situation that she can’t even stay in the same room and discuss it. But at the same time, she begs him not to let go of her hand, no matter what.

Willa: What a terrible situation! And you’re right, Joie – she’s “so upset … she can’t even stay in the room to discuss it.” You know, as many times as I’ve listened to that song, I never got that before. But you’re right, she leaves the room when he tries to talk to her – and that’s really important because, whatever the crisis is, the real problem is that they can’t seem to talk about it. We see that in the second verse also:

“Everything will be all right,”
He assures her
But she doesn’t hear a word that he says
She’s afraid
Afraid what they’ve been doing’s not right
He doesn’t know what to say
So he prays,
“Whatever, whatever, whatever
Whatever happens, don’t let go of my hand”

So he tries to talk to her – tries to tell her “Everything will be all right” – but she either can’t or won’t listen to him: “she doesn’t hear a word that he says.” So by the end of the verse he seems to give up. Instead of talking to her, he’s praying.

They both really care about one another, obviously, and they don’t want to break up. The first verse ends with her saying “don’t let go of my hand,” as you said, Joie, and the second verse ends with him praying the exact same words. And by the end, in the ad libs, Michael Jackson is singing, “I said, yeah, don’t you let go, baby.” So the pronouns shift from “she says” to “he prays” to “I said.” I swear, someone could write a book simply about his use of pronouns, and how he’s constantly shifting point of view.

So we look at this situation from her perspective and his perspective, and they both truly want to be together, but you can just feel them tearing apart. It’s really tragic. Neither one wants it – we can see that very clearly – but they don’t seem to know how to stop it.

Joie: It does seem like a very heartbreaking song on some level, doesn’t it? And in the third verse we see that theme of working a dead-end job that you mentioned before when he says:

He’s working day and night
Thinks he’ll make her happy
Forgetting all the dreams that he had
He doesn’t realize
It’s not the end of the world
It doesn’t have to be that bad
She tries to explain,
“It’s you that makes me happy”

So here is where we see the main difference between this song and “Working Day and Night,” because unlike the girl who only wants his money, the woman in this song isn’t interested in the things the man’s money can buy her. Instead, she keeps trying to tell him that he is what makes her happy, not the money or the things, just being with him. But he doesn’t seem to understand this, and instead he’s focused on spending all of his time working to buy those “things” when he could be focusing on following the dreams he once had, and on the love that they presumably once shared.

Willa: Yes, though is he working just to buy extravagant things, or does his paycheck pay the rent? or the mortgage? or buy clothes for the kids? Just making ends meet can be really overwhelming when you’re on a tight budget – so overwhelming it’s hard to remember your dreams. And Michael Jackson seemed very aware of that fact – that, ironically, sometimes it’s the ones we love most who end up trapping us in an unfulfilling life. For example, he sings this in “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”:

If you can’t feed your baby
Then don’t have a baby
And don’t think maybe
If you can’t feed your baby
You’ll be always trying
To stop that child from crying
Hustling, stealing, lying
Now baby’s slowly dying

So he’s telling this person that, if she has a baby she isn’t able to care for financially – at least not yet, not at this point in her life – then she could become trapped in a life of “hustling, stealing, lying” to try to support her child. We don’t know, but it could be kind of a similar situation in “Whatever Happens.” It could be the man in the story is giving up his dreams and working in a boring job because they really need the money.

Joie: Well, that’s certainly true, Willa. And I know from experience that men tend to internalize that kind of thing, and carry it around like they have the entire world sitting on their shoulders. They let it become their whole existence until they’re just crushed by the depression and the stress of trying to make ends meet. And I think you’re right, I believe that is what’s going on in this song, at least in part. And I feel like I identify with the woman in this song. I understand what she’s going through, trying to make him understand that worrying about the money – or lack thereof – is no way to live. They still have each other. They could still find a way to pursue their dreams and focus on the love they share, instead of always obsessing over the lack of money. It gets frustrating trying to keep a man in a positive frame of mind when money is extremely tight.

In fact, now that I think about it … I’m seeing that first verse a lot differently. When he says,

She can’t stay in the room
She’s consumed
With everything that’s been going on

Before I said that she was so upset that she couldn’t even stay in the room and discuss their problems. But now, looking at this song in a new light, I think she can’t stay in the room not because she’s upset, but because she’s frustrated and angry. She feels like she’s beating her head against a brick wall trying to make him understand that their money problems are “not the end of the world.” And I think this interpretation is supported by that third verse you mentioned earlier.

Willa: Wow, Joie, that’s a really interesting way of approaching this – that it’s highlighting a cultural difference between men and women, and “that men tend to internalize that kind of thing, and carry it around like they have the entire world sitting on their shoulders.” That really jumped out at me when you said that because it ties in with something he expresses in “Working Day and Night”:

You say that working
Is what a man’s supposed to do
But I say it ain’t right
If I can’t give sweet love to you

I’m tired of thinking
Of what my life’s supposed to be

So he’s questioning that expectation that men are supposed to bury themselves in work and be the providers – which is a terrible burden, especially if they’re stuck in a job they don’t like. But many men do it because, as he says, “working / Is what a man’s supposed to do.”

Joie: It is a terrible burden, Willa. I’m sure we can all relate to working a job that we hated at some point in our lives. If we’re lucky, that happens at the start of our adult lives when we’re young, and then we go on to discover what it is that we really love to do and are able to transition into a job that we enjoy. But for many people it doesn’t always happen that way, and it’s unfortunate. And it can cause some really distressing issues in our personal lives. In fact, it could even be detrimental to our health, both physically and emotionally.

Willa: That’s true, or even change our personalities to some extent. Our dreams are a big part of us, of who we are. They help define us. If we give up our dreams, we lose that part of ourselves, and it changes us.

Joie: That’s very true, Willa.

Willa: So the woman in “Whatever Happens,” she obviously loves this man – a man who had dreams – but now he’s giving up those dreams, so he’s not quite the same person she fell in love with. But he’s making that sacrifice for her, or thinks he is. As the narrator sings in the last verse you quoted, Joie, “He’s working day and night / Thinks he’ll make her happy / Forgetting all the dreams that he had.” But she doesn’t want him to give up his dreams.

Joie: No, she doesn’t. And she keeps trying to explain that to him, but he’s not getting it because all he can see are their money issues.

Willa: It does seem that way, doesn’t it? Though the song begins with the lines “He gives another smile / Tries to understand her side / To show that he cares,” as you quoted earlier. So he’s trying to see things from her perspective. But he doesn’t seem able to, and she doesn’t understand him either – can’t even listen to him – so they’re both really frustrated.

It’s a really complicated situation, and you can genuinely feel for both sides. This is not a simple story of a good guy and an uncaring woman taking advantage of him, which seems to be the situation in “Working Day and Night,” or a good woman and an uncaring man taking her for granted, which is what we see in “Slave to the Rhythm.” Rather, it’s a much more complicated story that explores all the conflicting emotions of two people who love each other deeply and want what’s best for the person they love – they truly want to make each other happy – but they can’t understand each other, can’t even see what the other person really wants and needs. So they’re pulling against each other and struggling to resolve it without tearing themselves apart.

You know, Joie, actually, thinking about all this … I’m thinking maybe you’re right – maybe I did suggest this song. I know I was thinking about it quite a bit while we were doing our last post on “Someone Put Your Hand Out” – specifically, when we were talking about that line that refers to “handicapped emotions.” There were quite a few people – even people who seemed to genuinely like Michael Jackson – who suggested he was in a state of arrested development. Specifically, they seemed to think that because he maintained a childlike wonder, he never matured psychologically beyond the level of a child.

For example, here’s an interview with John Landis, and it’s obvious he feels great affection for Michael Jackson. But he also says he was like “an incredibly gifted 10 year old” and that he was “emotionally stunted”:

I have such mixed reactions watching this. I have some good feelings for him because he clearly cared about Michael Jackson and is very upset that he’s gone, but I’m also just stunned at some of the things he says. I mean, John Landis is known for creating adolescent comedies like Animal House and American Werewolf in London, and there are some funny scenes, but have you seen Kentucky Fried Movie? I hate to be critical, but my goodness … talk about juvenile …

Joie: I don’t know, Willa, I think it’s a really nice interview. I think we get to see John just being John, and I love the fact that he gets emotional and doesn’t try to hide it or explain it away. He talks about Michael wearing his heart on his sleeve, and yet here he is wiping tears because his friend is gone.

Willa: That’s true.

Joie: And yes, I have seen Kentucky Fried Movie, and Animal House, both of which I find very juvenile. But I’ve always loved An American Werewolf, so I understand what you’re saying, but I think what he’s getting at is that Michael wasn’t so much “juvenile” as he was “childlike.” You know there’s a difference between movies with juvenile humor and movies with childlike charm. One is very immature jokes with sexual connotations while the other is sweet, innocent fun and adventure. So when he calls Michael a “really talented 10 year old,” to me he’s saying that Michael had a very “childlike” nature and thought process.

Willa: Yes, but he also says he was “emotionally stunted” and “had all kinds of issues.” I haven’t seen all of John Landis’ movies by any means, but as far as I know he never created anything as emotionally complex as “Whatever Happens.” I mean, he’s a professional filmmaker, but has he ever made a film with the emotional depth or nuance of Billie Jean or Smooth Criminal or Stranger in Moscow? Or what about the profound psychological insights of Ghosts – or Thriller, for that matter? He directed Thriller, but whenever he talks about it he doesn’t seem to realize it’s anything more than a cheesy monster movie. And yet he describes Michael Jackson as a “gifted 10 year old.” How is that possible, that the man who created Kentucky Fried Movie calls the man who created “Whatever Happens” – a poignant, exquisite song that explores the heartbreak of two adults struggling through painful, difficult emotions – “emotionally stunted”? That just feels completely backwards to me.

Joie: Well, I haven’t seen all of his films either, but I have seen several. And while I agree completely that we wouldn’t normally think of someone who is labeled as “emotionally stunted” as being able to create works so emotionally complex as “Whatever Happens,” “Billie Jean” or “Stranger in Moscow,” I would argue that John Landis is actually brilliant at what he does. You know, everybody thinks that comedy is easy and horror always gets a bad rap … but there is actually a great deal of skill and mastery needed to scare people half to death or make them laugh, and do both in really intelligent – or juvenile – ways. I mean, they may not have been Oscar contenders, but John Landis is responsible for some of the most iconic films in our culture. You named two of them: Animal House and An American Werewolf in London. But there are others too, like The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, and Coming to America. All five of those films are beloved by millions of people.

And, Willa … I stand by what I said in our last post on “Someone Put Your Hand Out.” I believe that Michael did have what he himself called “handicapped emotions” in that song. I believe that he was able to express himself so beautifully in song, with lyrics that were poignant and full of complex emotional depth and “profound psychological insights.” But I also believe that on some level, at the very core of who he was, Michael was, if not “emotionally stunted,” emotionally handicapped.

You have to think about how he grew up. He had a childhood that not many of us could ever truly comprehend. He was never allowed to really play or interact with other children his age because he was always working. Always being groomed to think about work, to think about how he was perceived by the audience, and how to make the performance better. That was his life from age three. He didn’t learn things like how to properly interact with others his age. He didn’t learn the normal social cues that other children learn at the various life stages. Willa, there is a reason why he never had a “normal” courtship or married life with either of his two wives, and there are lots of quotes out there from people who believe that Michael was sort of an asexual being. Well, I can’t speak on that, but I do believe that he was simply unable to express that kind of real feeling or emotion unless it was in a song, or in a video, or on a stage. I believe that unless it had to do with a performance, it just wasn’t in his repertoire. The performance was his life. His life was the performance. So, in that sense, I think the term “emotionally stunted” is accurate.

Willa: Wow, Joie, I’m astonished. I guess this is one of those areas where we’re just going to have to agree to disagree, because I disagree completely. I have a lot of friends who are not coupled up in long-term relationships, and there is absolutely nothing “emotionally handicapped” about them. Things just didn’t work out that way for them, or they chose not to live that way. But I disagree that says anything about them psychologically, and I also disagree with the assumption that if people aren’t coupled up then that’s evidence there’s something wrong with them.

In fact, I think that assumption is really dangerous, and one of the biases Michael Jackson had to fight against. I think a lot of people assumed there was something wrong with him, and that maybe he really was a pedophile, simply because he wasn’t married or have a long-term girlfriend. And I think he understood that. As the Mayor tells the Maestro in Ghosts, “You’re weird, you’re strange, and I don’t like you. You’re scaring these kids, living up here all alone.” I think the Mayor is simply echoing what a lot of people were saying about Michael Jackson back then – that he was “weird” and “strange” and scary simply because he lived alone.

By the way, it’s interesting how the Maestro responds to the Mayor in Ghosts. He says, “I’m not alone” and then brings a host of fantasy people to life, so the townspeople can see the figures who have been populating his imagination. In other words, he’s not alone because of his art, and his life is full because of his art.

Joie: I think you’re misunderstanding me. I’m not saying that because he wasn’t in a long-term relationship that something must have been wrong with him. In fact, I shouldn’t have even brought up his romantic relationships at all, but I was attempting to illustrate my point. A point which you ignored completely in your rush to defend how he lived his life. But you’re right in saying it’s dangerous to make assumptions about a person’s psychological makeup by looking at their relationship status – and that’s not what I was doing. I’m sorry if it came off that way.

Willa: I’m sorry, Joie. I guess I did misunderstand you. I should have asked you to clarify, rather than jumping in and preaching you a sermon. I’m sorry about that.

Joie: Well, that’s ok. But the point I was trying to make is that Michael didn’t grow up like other kids. He didn’t spend time with other kids his age – at any age! Besides his brothers, he was always in the company of adults, talking about adult things like work and how to do the work better, and how to become the best at it. He never had a chance to learn all of the subtle, nuanced social cues that most 5 year olds learn from other 5 year olds. Or the ones that 8 year olds learn from other 8 year olds. Or the ones that 12 year olds learn from other 12 year olds, and so on, and so on, and so on. So, in that sense, he was emotionally, and socially, stunted.

Willa: Well, I think I have a better idea now of what you mean, Joie, and you’re right – I don’t think anyone else has ever had a childhood like he had. Not only was he a child star, but he was put in the difficult role of being a representative of black America when he was only 10 years old. If he did something wrong, it wasn’t just damaging to him and his reputation – it also reflected badly on an entire race of people. That’s a huge additional pressure – something Shirley Temple and Elizabeth Taylor and Justin Bieber never had to think about. That pressure only intensified as their success – the success of the Jackson 5 and him personally – grew, and he had a very controlling father who was determined his sons weren’t going to mess up. As you said, Joie, it’s hard to even imagine what that was like – what his childhood was like. But while I agree he had an extremely difficult childhood, and it must have had an effect on him, I still disagree that he was left “emotionally stunted” because of all that.

Joie: Well, that’s ok too. It’s ok to disagree about things. But I think something you just said sort makes my point for me. In talking about Ghosts, you said, “He says, ‘I’m not alone’ and then brings a host of fantasy people to life, so the townspeople can see the figures who have been populating his imagination. In other words, he’s not alone because of his art, and his life is full because of his art.” This is exactly what I meant when I said that the performance was his life, and his life was the performance. That’s what it was all about for him, and yes, he lived a beautiful and fulfilled life because of it. But, Willa … someone who lives their life completely inside their own imagination is by definition socially – and therefore emotionally – stunted to some degree.

Willa: I think I see what you’re saying, and I agree that in a lot of ways “the performance was his life, and his life was the performance,” as you said. Especially after the 1993 allegations, his life and his art became intertwined in ways that are hard to untangle. But I don’t think he lived his life entirely in his imagination. His imagination enriched his life – and ours as well – but it didn’t replace his life. That wasn’t what I meant when I quoted that scene from Ghosts.

I think that, because of his art, Michael Jackson had a rich, full, rewarding life – he had a kind of emotional self-sufficiency that we aren’t really used to – but he also repeatedly emphasized the connections between us, and how important it is to honor those connections. That’s a different way of being in the world – one that I find both intriguing and inspiring.

It seems to me that a lot of times people are kind of desperate to couple up because they’re lonely or because there’s an emptiness in their lives, and they think sharing their life with someone else will make that loneliness and emptiness go away. We like the romance story where two incomplete people meet and complete each other – where two halves come together and, between them, form a whole – and where everything else is sacrificed to the ideal of romantic love. But ironically, I think this can actually lead us to be “emotionally stunted,” to use John Landis’ words, because in that model we only learn to be half of a whole, not a fulfilled, self-realized person on our own. We see that a little bit in “Whatever Happens,” where this man is limiting himself and sacrificing his dreams to be what he thinks the woman he loves wants him to be.

On the other hand, in America, especially, we have the story of the rugged individual – the loner, the cowboy, the tough-as-nails private investigator – who doesn’t need anyone, and doesn’t really connect with anyone. That’s subtly suggested in “Whatever Happens” also, by the genre of this song. The beginning, especially, sounds like a western. I can easily imagine that intro being used as the soundtrack to a Clint Eastwood movie – one where the mysterious hero rides into town alone, rescues a girl (who inevitably falls in love with him, and just as inevitably dies), gets rid of the bad guys, and then rides off alone.

Those are two competing cultural narratives, and most people pick one or the other. They’re either the rugged individualist or the hopeless romantic. But Michael Jackson is subtly critiquing both of those models, I think – not just here but repeatedly in his art – and he seems to be working toward a different model. It’s one where we find fulfillment within ourselves – something he found through his art – but where we still care deeply for others and value the connections between us.

Joie: Well, I disagree with some of what you’ve said here about romantic love, but mostly I disagree that the man in “Whatever Happens” is limiting himself and sacrificing his dreams to be what he thinks his woman wants him to be. I think he’s limiting himself and sacrificing his dreams because he feels he has no choice financially. He has a family to provide for, and being emotionally stunted by romantic love has nothing to do with that. I’m also not sure I agree that most people choose one or the other between those two cultural narratives you just described. I think it’s possible for a person to be both. But I understand what you’re getting at where Michael is concerned.

Willa: Well, you’re right that I’m talking about these as models, so they’re an extreme. As with any model, few people fit them entirely. Few people are a Clint Eastwood character – the self-reliant individual who doesn’t need anyone, and doesn’t want anyone dependent on them. And on the other hand, few live the romantic ideal we see on screen so often where a person is really only half of a couple, and their sole source of happiness comes from the love they share with their romantic partner.

But I do think that, in general, people tend to see themselves as one or the other – as an autonomous individual or as defined in large part by their relationships. And as with so many dichotomies, Michael Jackson seems to be suggesting a different way. He’s not dependent on others for fulfilment – he finds that within himself through his art. But then he shares that with others, and the connections he feels through his art – to his audience, to the long line of performers who came before him, to the deep rhythms of the cosmos that he talks about in Dancing the Dream – are integral to who he is. As the song says, “You’re Just Another Part of Me.”

So before we go, I wanted to mention a new book that just came out – or actually, Book One of a trilogy. It’s The Algorithm of Desire by Eleanor Bowman, a regular contributor here. In fact, she discussed some of the ideas she was working on for her book in a post with us last spring. To quote Eleanor,

Book One … investigates the role of creation myths in the construction of a society’s perception of reality, how creation myths program a society’s views and values of the world, and how a culture’s worldview and value system promote, or threaten, collective survival.

Eleanor’s ideas are fascinating, and Book Three of her trilogy focuses on Michael Jackson. As she says, he “not only understood the predicament we find ourselves in, but showed us how to ‘heal the world.’” I’m really looking forward to that.

Book One of the trilogy is available now through Amazon, and Eleanor is offering it for free from May 8th through 12th.


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 May 8, 2014, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I love this song too, but I have always had a totally different idea about the story being told. I think of the man and woman as having an affair, and the crisis is that the woman finds out she is pregnant. Nothing to do with money. The problem is that “She’s afraid, Afraid what they’ve been doing’s not right”. They have been cheating on their spouses. And now she is pregnant, so “Whatever happens, don’t let go of my hand”.

  2. Here is the translation from a French interview with Gil Cang, co-writer of “Whatever Happens”. It supports my theory that the song is about an unwanted pregnancy:

    BOS: Hello Gil, you are the creator of the song “Whatever Happens, can you tell us the story of this track appearing on Michael Jackson’s album Invincible released by Epic / Sony Music in 2001?

    Gil Cang: Geoffrey and I wrote the song in my “studio room” in 1999…

    BOS: Did you write “Whatever happens” especially for Michael Jackson?

    Gil Cang: The song was first offered to artist Mario Vasquez (who was signed to Atlantic and later featured in “American Idol” performing “Whatever Happens” at the audition). He recorded the song, but it was never released.

    BOS: What happened next?

    Gil Cang: Mario Vasquez went to Teddy Riley’s lawyer to see if Teddy would be interested in producing him. It didn’t work out, but Teddy thought the song would be great for Michael. He played the song for Michael, and Michael loved it.

    BOS: Did you meet Michael Jackson and Teddy Riley? Did you watch the song’s evolution from your demo to the final version on Invincible?

    Gil Cang: I was not in the studio, and I have not met any of them.

    BOS: How was your song selected? Did you suggest any other demos to Riley, and if so, do you remember their names? Did they record any other demos or final versions?

    Gil Cang: Riley didn’t select anything else. They recorded this song among 200 songs they worked on for Invincible, and they kept it. An honor for me because I’ve always been a huge fan.

    BOS: Do you know if “Whatever Happens” was planned as a single by Sony Music?

    Gil Cang: Unfortunately, the song was never released as a single because the promo campaign was stopped after only 2 songs from the album. “Whatever Happens” was planned as the 4th single from Invincible. But still it is my musical dream come true.

    BOS: What is this song about, and what do you think is Michael Jackson’s version about?

    Gil Cang: I love Michael’s version. The song is about a girl who discovers that she is pregnant. People mistake the first sentence of the song, it’s actually “He gives a nervous smile,” not “He gives another smile.” It always makes me nervous! They had it wrong in the album booklet.

    BOS: Who sings and plays instruments on the demo?

    Gil Cang: Geoffrey Williams sings, and I play instruments.

    BOS: Who decided to invite Carlos Santana?

    Gil Cang: It was their idea.

    BOS: When listening to your demo and the final version on Invincible, there is no real difference in melody, text, etc. Why are Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson credited? Was it a copyright issue, as in “Give us credit, otherwise you will never see your song on the album?”

    Gil: Exactly.

    BOS: Gil, thank you for this short interview, “Whatever Happens” remains one of the major titles on Invincible and it is very much appreciated by the public.

    Gil: Thank you.…hanson…/1791

    • Wow, sfaikus, that’s really interesting! It never occurred to me that the song was about an unplanned pregnancy (either because of an illicit love affair or not) so that’s interesting to consider. I still think there are money issues involved, primarily because of those lines in the third verse about “He’s working day and night / Thinks he’ll make her happy / Forgetting all the dreams that he had.” But an unplanned pregnancy would certainly intensify any money problems, wouldn’t it?

      I was also really struck by the discussion about who actually wrote “Whatever Happens,” and who got credit for it, and why. I always thought song credits listed writers by how much they contributed to the final work, and Michael Jackson isn’t just listed in the credits – he’s listed first, followed by Teddy Riley. So I thought Michael Jackson was the principal author, with significant contributions by Teddy Riley and others. But according to Gil Cang, who’s listed third in the credits, the song (meaning lyrics and melody) was pretty much complete before Teddy Riley ever heard it.

      Thanks a lot for sharing this, sfaikus. I need to look into this some more and find out more about it, if I can – for both this song and songwriting credits in general.

  3. Hello Willa and Joie!

    Congratulations on a superb analysis concerning the complexity of emotions that so shape our decisions. This raises the question as to what extent rational thought determines decision making in our lives, or rather, misinterpretation, perhaps lack of enlightenment, is more decisive for most people. Michael was obviously fully aware of the strain this provokes and its nuances.

  4. So this is completely off topic, but I was just reading an article about Xscape in The New Yorker, and it says this:

    The tracks were handpicked from the Jackson vaults by L. A. Reid, which is slightly strange—Reid co-wrote the infamous “Word to the Badd,” Jermaine Jackson’s 1991 broadside against Michael—but also entirely defensible, given Reid’s familiarity with the Jackson family and Jackson’s legacy.

    Is that true? Was L.A. Reid involved with “Word to the Badd”?

    • In his book, Jermaine Jackson claims that Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds wrote Word to the Badd. He claims that he was angry with Michael and sang the song as a form of therapy and never expected it to be released, which strains credulity.

  5. It is very interesting when you guys discuss Michael’s relationship in relation to his emotional maturity. I think it has been engraved into most of us that “the right way” to live is to find a partner and get settled, and most people do think there is something wrong with a person if they don’t see it that way. With Michael it was just another way that he didn’t fit into pre-made boxes and social stereotypes 🙂

    Remember Michael’s conversations with the rabbi – Michael was very clear about what he wanted and what he thought worked for him and the rabbi kept yapping that he sure did need a wife to feel grounded or whatever. Just another example of Michael talking to someone who cannot imagine anything outside his own paradigm. And when you read those conversations its Michael who has a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of things than the rabbi who prides himself of being an advisor to others.

    It seems to me that Michael figured that a traditional married lifestyle simply didn’t work for him – not with the way he wanted to live and create. Maybe with his top priorities being his art and his children, he didn’t think he could also prioritize a long-term full time relationship. I think its a sign of emotional maturity to understand your limitations and needs 🙂 we know Michael was seeing different women in his last decade, he just chose not to get into a committed twosome.

    • Hi Gennie. I haven’t read Rabbi Boteach’s book in a long time, but you’re right – he did keep telling Michael Jackson he should get married, didn’t he? I should read that again.

      And I agree that Boteach’s book is “another example of Michael talking to someone who cannot imagine anything outside his own paradigm. And when you read those conversations its Michael who has a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of things than the rabbi who prides himself of being an advisor to others.” I felt that frequently while reading his book as well, on many different topics. For example, Rabbi Boteach kept encouraging him to “be normal” as a way to rehabilitate his image, while Michael Jackson seemed to have a much more sophisticated understanding of what was really going on, what it means to insist that people “be normal” to be accepted, and what the implications of that are – especially if, because of race or some other reason, you are not part of the dominant majority. Some people who are marked as Other try to overcompensate and be overly “normal,” but that was never Michael Jackson’s path. …

      • I haven’t read the “MJ Tapes” that Boteach put out, except for snippets here and there online, but I agree there is so much pressure to be ‘normal’ and not make waves. MJ satirized that in ‘Ghosts” when he created Pleasant Valley, a place for nice normal people, and the Mayor who attacked him as ‘weird’ and wanted to throw him out of town.

        There is a technique used on Fox and other news sites to raise an issue by attributing it to “Some People,” as in “some people say that . . . .” Or it could be presented as “Most People,” but it is a way to try and give credence to an idea by claiming it is somehow a majority view. There was an attack on Bill Nye re climate change on CNN recently where the interviewer kept talking about “the public doesn’t accept climate change, etc..” As if we can take a poll and determine reality. I guess we need to remember our human history– for example, people like Copernicus, who were excommunicated for going against the prevailing scientific understanding. It would seem often there is a huge resistance to any change in a comforting belief–such that the Earth is the center of the universe and the sun revolves around it–whether it’s true or not.

        I like what Steve Jobs said about the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do! There is another Boteach book ‘Honoring Child Spirit,’ that I have read, and in it MJ talks about the ‘terrible price’ he paid for resisting pressure to be the way other people wanted him to be. Kind of reminds me of the essay in your reading room section titled “MJ Wasn’t Normal. So What?”

      • Hi Willa!
        I totally agree, the first time I was reading this book I remember being pretty angry at how arrogant and patronizing Boteach was towards Michael, he almost reminded me of the mayor character “we are normal people, with normal kids, live by the book” kind of attitude all over. Not to mention how he would constantly answer his own questions instead of letting Michael give his answer. A big part of the book is the rabbi monologue followed by “uh huh” from Michael. I always wondered how Michael picked these kind of pushy know-it-all people to be around him..

        I get the same feeling at times from Taraborrelli’s book, he just doesn’t understand why Michael doesn’t act and live more “normal” and avoid all that trouble all together. At times he is almost gleeful about Michael’s trouble that come from being different like with that strip search where he wrote something like “now Michael will have to learn what its like in the real world”. I was so shocked by that sentence, like really the real world is supposed to be about humiliating and torturing innocent people just so they remember their place?

        Boteach also constantly yapped about how Michael pretty much caused his own demise by refusing to follow his advice (the nerve!).

        • Taraborrelli “just doesn’t understand why Michael doesn’t act and live more ‘normal’ and avoid all that trouble all together.”

          Exactly! I agree completely, Gennie. Why can’t he just be normal? That’s the underlying message in a lot of the criticism of him, in the press (even now), in most academic articles about him, in Taraborrelli’s book, and in Boteach’s book. In fact, there’s even a discussion about this in Boteach’s book. He writes that the very last time he met with Michael Jackson, one of his managers said, “You want to make Michael normal.” And Boteach seems to accept that as obvious – of course it’s good to be normal

          And you’re right – the implication by Taraborrelli, Boteach, Sullivan, and others is that he brought the false allegations on himself by not acting “normal.” After studying the evidence they conclude he’s innocent, or probably innocent, but still blame him for allowing the false allegations to gain currency by not being normal.

  6. Just as I’m enjoying Xscape (which we received May 9th here in Europe), there’s a new allegation against MJ:

    Sigh. No matter what, the next few months are going to be tough for fans of the man!

    • Talk about kicking a man when he is down. DD just can’t let go of MJ’s private parts.

      Guess she’s run out of material.

      I guess until some judge rules that a dead man is truly dead and can’t be sued, these folks will just keep coming out of the woodwork. I can’t believe a suit can be brought forward when MJ is not around to defend himself. I thought a person in this country had the right to face his accuser at trial. Well, how exactly is Michael Jackson supposed to face his accuser when he is dead?

      Just downloaded Xscape myself and am getting ready to devote my full attention…

      • I do hope you’re right, Eleanor! That DD is just making up the story.
        But I have to say yet another allegation is quite unsettling. 😦
        How can we be sure of the truth if yet another young man should come forth with a similar story?

        There’s a judge going to decide about the WR case in June.
        You’re right – until that decision has been reached, those sad allegations are a sad waste of time.

        Let’s enjoy Xscape! 🙂

    • “Sigh. No matter what, the next few months are going to be tough for fans of the man!”

      You’re right, Bjørn. The next few months are going to be very hard. Whoever is behind this seems to be running a fairly sophisticated media campaign. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the allegations came out the day before the new album release.

      btw, you’re way ahead of me on Xscape – I just received the CDs in the mail …

  7. Yes, Eleanor–DD is obsessed for sure! Timing is very suspicious too–so mean.

    Let’s just forget the haters, though, b/c Love Never Felt Soooo Goood.

  8. Here’s the new official video for LNFSG (feat. JT)

  9. the idea that whatever happens may be about an unwanted pregnancy ties in with other things. 2 white elephants is a short story. MJ fans need to look up. there are two white elephants ont the cover of the dangerous album in each of the upper corners.the short story 2 white elephants is supposed to reference an unwanted pregnancy as well. I’ve been working on finding evidence to a theory…and it is just a theory…that Michael may hae had a relationship with Diana Ross, and that there may have been an unwanted pregnancy. without proof though it is still just a theory. I don’t even know where the suspicion came from, it really just occoured to me one day. if early in Michaels adult life, something like this had occoured it would explain alot about his desire to have children, be around children, create a family, whether it be the chandlers, or the arvizos, or Lisa Marie Presleys children, or the Children he had later in life Prince, Paris and Blanket. we hear Debbie Rowe talking about Michael walking around with baby dolls because he wanted children so badly. We have Abortino papers, which was written around the time of Dirty Diana… I really feel something happened here and I hope someday there is more information available on this.

    • Hi Diana, your comment about a white elephant story is interesting, so I did a search and found a Hemingway story called “Hills Like White Elephants”. The story is very ambiguous. One article discussed the symbolism:

      A white elephant symbolizes something no one wants—in this story, the girl’s unborn child. The girl’s comment in the beginning of the story that the surrounding hills look like white elephants initially seems to be a casual, offhand remark, but it actually serves as a segue for her and the American to discuss their baby and the possibility of having an abortion. The girl later retracts this comment with the observation that the hills don’t really look like white elephants, a subtle hint that perhaps she wants to keep the baby after all—a hint the American misses. In fact, she even says that the hills only seemed to look like white elephants at first glance, and that they’re actually quite lovely. Comparing the hills—and, metaphorically, the baby—to elephants also recalls the expression “the elephant in the room,” a euphemism for something painfully obvious that no one wants to discuss.

    • Diana, are you aware of the English palm reader who, from studying Michael’s hand, detected indications that he had had a great romance or love affair in his early twenties, which would have been around the time that he was filming The Wiz in New York with Diana Ross? This man is quite elderly and knows very little about Michael’s life. Of course that could just be a plausible guess, as many young men experience their first real love at that age.

      But curiously, this man insists that although he had heard that Michael had three children, his palm indicates that he had four, with the first one born some years before the others. If Michael fathered a child at a young age, a child he had to give up, or not publicly acknowledge, it would also tie in with his obsession over fatherhood. (I don’t believe B. Howard is his son!)

  10. also i wanted to speak abou the often used theme of hand holding in michaels work. first thoug there is a quote somewhere about when Michael first held tatum o’neals hand and it being like magic. the act of hand holding is an underrated display of emotional and spiritual expression. it creates a connection with another person. we also have the words don’t let go of my hand in whatever happens, and the song hold my hand with akon, and the end of the can you feel it short film where people of all races are holding hands. we have the cry short film with everyone holding hands. sometimes when i cant even think of how to communicate with someone how i feel i get the urge to just hold their hand and feel they will understand me this way. i really feel it creates a spiritual, almost psychic connection between people just to hold hands. and i believe this is something Michael was trying to convey too.

    • Yes, Diana, I agree, hands were very important to Michael. And, just think of how expressive his hands were, how he used them so powerfully and constantly as he sang and danced, and how significant his glove is to his identity.

      Also, I agree that the song being about an unwanted pregnancy makes sense to me. I had often wondered if the line “what they’d been doin’s not right” refers to getting an abortion. Maybe unmarried sex leading to an unwanted pregnancy… don’t know. But whatever it is, those lines are heavy with grief and anxiety.

  11. about screwy smuley boteach…what i feel he doesn’t get is maybe michael felt he had something to teach shmuley through these conversations, and shmuley being the arrogant idiot he is thought he was teaching Michael…

  12. I swear the recent allegations by wade and whoever…are orchestrated somehow to try to get the fanbase to reunite in support of all things Michael again ( the xscape alum). has anyone noticed that these allgegations have been mostly unreported except on the internet and other places where only MJ fans are likely to find out about them. usually Nancy Grace would be having a field day…but no metion at all on her show… woerd how these things tend to happen in tandem with a new release…

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