Here We Go a-Michaeling

Willa:  Happy holidays, everyone! For our first Christmas here at Dancing with the Elephant, Joie and I wanted to do something special so we wrote a post about Michael Jackson and his ideas about childhood and creativity. Then the following year, we did a Christmas post about his song, “Childhood,” and the beautiful video he made for it.

We’d like to continue that tradition this year by talking with Veronica Bassil about her warm and insightful book, That Wonder in My Youth: Michael Jackson and Childhood. Veronica has a Ph.D. in English and American literature, and this is actually her third book about Michael Jackson. She’s also the author of Michael Jackson’s Love for Planet Earth and Thinking Twice about Billie Jean.

Thank you so much for joining us again, Veronica!

Joie:  Welcome, Veronica. You’ve been busy!

Veronica:  Yes, you’re right, Joie – I have. I feel as if I have been Michaeling pretty much nonstop since he left us in 2009. And it’s been great to share that journey with you both and your wonderful blog participants. I’ve learned so much from these discussions. I feel as if we have all been together on this “great adventure,” exploring the various dimensions of MJ’s art and in the process building a better, fuller, and more accurate understanding of who he was and what he was communicating.

So I am very happy to join you now to discuss That Wonder in My Youth, which incidentally I noticed was the title for one of your previous posts. I think it’s such a haunting and powerful line from MJ’s “Childhood” – “I’m searching for that wonder in my youth.”

Joie:  It is an interesting line, isn’t it? So I’ve been wondering, what was it that made you want to write about this aspect of Michael’s life? Can you tell us a little about what drew you to focus on his childhood?

Veronica: Sure, Joie, I’d be glad to. I considered that removing the encrustations of media disinformation that had constructed a false picture of who MJ was and what his art was about was critical to revealing his true stature as an artist and a person.

For example, in terms of his music, he was to a large extent portrayed as just a lightweight pop star, and then later as a has-been lightweight pop star, when he is in reality a powerful musical innovator, poet, and philosopher (by this I mean a visionary thinker on the deepest level). He is a modern-day Socrates who questioned and challenged the status quo, the beliefs of “Normal Valley.” His challenges provoked discomfort, and like Socrates, he became a thorn in the side of those who wanted to maintain existing social norms and beliefs. Interestingly, Socrates was also accused of corrupting the young and put on trial. Found guilty, he was sentenced to death as an old man in his 80s.

MJ’s work to focus our attention on the plight of children worldwide was distorted or disregarded. Instead of investigating our real-world commitment to children, many found it easier to attack the messenger and criticize his very being.

In an effort to correct this false media persona, my first book discussed MJ’s passionate environmentalism, which I saw (as did others, Joe Vogel especially) as central to his work. Then the allegations of course were and sadly still are a huge stumbling block that keeps people from appreciating him and his art. So that was my second book, using the accusations in “Billie Jean” as an access point. In this recent book, I tackled the third major stumbling block when it comes to MJ – namely, his views on children and childhood, including his own experiences as a child.

Willa:  Oh, that’s interesting, Veronica. I’ve read all three of your books and enjoyed them individually, but hadn’t put that together – that each one is addressing a “major stumbling block” to understanding and appreciating Michael Jackson and his work.

Veronica:  Thanks so much, Willa, for reading my work! Yes, the three books tie together. MJ has been so profoundly misunderstood and misinterpreted, and his effort to focus the world’s attention on the need to care about children and learn from them, seeing them as teachers and guides, is at the top of the list. His philosophy grew out of his own childhood experiences, which he saw as deprived of the normal pleasures and carefree days of childhood, and this gave him insight into the sufferings and neglect of children worldwide.

By the way, I have been reading the book Michael Jackson, Inc. by Forbes writer Zack O’Malley Greenburg, and he says that in 1966 (when MJ was 7 or 8), he was doing 5 sets a night, 6 nights a week, on top of going to school and rehearsing! That is so amazing.

Willa: Really? I had no idea. I mean, I knew he and his brothers worked very hard to succeed – were forced to work hard to succeed – but that’s really troubling that a second grader would be working that much. I’ve read Greenburg’s book also, but somehow that went right past me – or maybe I just didn’t stop to think about what it meant. He really didn’t have time to experience childhood in a normal sense, did he?

Veronica: No, he didn’t, and I think even we, his fans, don’t fully grasp what that kind of childhood work was like and how it affected him.

Willa:  Yes, and I’m afraid I’m one of those people. I try to understand, but just when I think I’m starting to get a good picture of what his life was like as a child star, growing up with that extreme level of fame and hard work and harsh discipline from his father, I hear something like that and realize, no, I still don’t get it. I still have no concept of what it was like for him.…

Veronica:  MJ talked about it quite a lot – for example, in his autobiography Moonwalk – and he makes this point again in “Childhood” when he sings about “the painful youth I’ve had.” But I think it’s easy to underplay or discount it, perhaps because his experience is incomprehensible in that it is so far from our own.

In terms of MJ’s awareness of the plight of children in general, I’ve been reading Losing Our Way, an important book recently published by former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, and he talks about how the USA was for a time number 1 in child poverty of all industrialized countries. It is now number 2 after Romania.

Willa:  That’s shocking. I didn’t know that.

Veronica:  Yes, it is scandalously shocking. One in 5 children (23 percent) in our nation live in poverty today.

Joie:  I’m actually aware of that statistic, and it is shocking.

Veronica:  Yes, Joie, I agree. Herbert also writes that since the recession of 2008, billions upon billions of dollars have been cut from our public school budgets. This means eliminating or curtailing supposedly “nonessential” programs that are actually vital, such as music, art, band, foreign languages, sports, and early childhood education programs. This lack of care and nurture of children is what MJ wanted to draw our attention to on a worldwide scale, as well as his focus on the enormous value of children, how they can show us a new way. As he says so wonderfully in his Grammy Legend Award speech of 1993:

The magic, the wonder, the mystery, and the innocence of a child’s heart are the seeds of creativity that will heal the world. I really believe that. What we need to learn from children isn’t childish. Being with them connects us to the deeper wisdom of life, which is ever present and only asks to be lived. They know the way to solutions that lie waiting to be recognized within our own hearts.

I absolutely love this speech, and his reference to “a child’s heart” is so important. Incidentally, the Immortal version of “Childhood” includes 2 passages. Here’s a link to the full speech:

Willa:  I agree – what he is saying in this speech is crucially important, and I think this is one way critics really misunderstood what he was saying. When he talked about wanting to retain the childlike part of himself, critics tended to interpret that as meaning he was reluctant to grow up and be a responsible adult. But that wasn’t what he was saying at all. He felt very responsible about trying to help solve the many problems that face our world.

And this is the critically important part: he felt that connecting with the creativity and “deeper wisdom” of childhood would help us solve those problems. Susan Fast talks about this in her Dangerous book:

In the collection of short films that accompanies Dangerous, Jackson says in a preamble to “Heal the World”: “Being with [children] connects us to the deep wisdom of life, the simple goodness shines straight from their hearts.”

Many conventional ideas about childhood link it to the future through the belief that children enter the world as empty vessels, that there is, therefore, an opportunity – or obligation – to educate them, “fill” them, shape them, in order that they will hopefully produce a “better” future … that they will fulfill the dreams of their parents, and that they will carry on family lines.

But Jackson rarely talks or sings about children in this conventional way … For him, there was a utopian impulse in children not because they represent the future, the hopes and dreams of adults, the continuation of a “normal” progression of time and family, but because their honesty, simplicity and innocence center adults, bring us back to feeling, to good affect; “now, when the world is so confused and its problems so complicated,” he says in the same preamble, “we need our children more than ever.”

So as Susan emphasizes, Michael Jackson isn’t saying that we can create a better future by molding children into better people – into the people we want them to be. Just the opposite. He’s saying that when we spend time with children, it “connects us to the deep wisdom of life” and makes us better people.

We really see this in the Heal the World video, where we see children playing in war-torn areas around the world as soldiers watch, and then the soldiers throw down their rifles. And we see it more subtly in the Jam video, where he juxtaposes images of children playing, dancing, making music against images of urban poverty. Importantly, he explicitly talks about solving the world’s problems in the lyrics of “Jam,” like in these opening lines:

Nation to nation
All the world must come together
Face the problems that we see
Then maybe somehow we can work it out

And in the chorus he goes on to say that the way to solve these problems is to “jam” – meaning to play like children, to connect creatively with one another and find innovative solutions. So he seemed to see this childlike wonder and playfulness as a powerful force for social change, and thought it was very important for adults to reconnect to the childlike parts of themselves to tap into this creative force. As he says in the passage Susan quoted, “now, when the world is so confused and its problems so complicated, we need our children more than ever.”

Veronica: Amen to that, Willa! I agree with what you just said so well and with what Susan Fast wrote. The word “center” here is very important: “their honesty, simplicity and innocence center adults, bring us back to feeling.” This is one place where we can see MJ as a philosopher. When he talks about the “playfulness of life” and the “deeper wisdom of life” in the Grammy speech, what is he really telling us? We need to look closely at this speech, which is a condensed form of insights that are reflected elsewhere – for example, in the Heal the World introduction, in Dancing the Dream, and maybe throughout his entire work.

Here I’d like to quote from a wonderful book, The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. In the final chapters, he talks about the Tao of Lao-tzu and the Tao te Ching. The Tao (pronounced “dow”) is translated as “the Way,” a way of balance, or being at the center of extremes, also called The Middle Way. Singer uses the example of a pendulum that will, when pushed, swing one way to one extreme and then back again to the other extreme to the same degree. Eventually it will come to center, to a balance point, where it rests. Singer also uses the analogy of sailing, where the balance point of the energies is more complicated because it involves the wind, the sail, the rudder, and the tautness with which sailor holds the ropes.

He suggests that our entire planet lives within a balance of energies known as “The Way” and that if we humans can stop going from one extreme to the other and find the center, we can reach our full potential.

First you have to realize that since everything has its yin and yang, everything has its own balance point. It is the harmony of all these balance points, woven together, that forms the Tao. This overall balance maintains its equilibrium as it moves through time and space. Its power is phenomenal.

If you want to imagine the power of the Tao, examine how much energy is wasted swinging sideways. Suppose you want to go from point A to point B, but instead of walking there directly, you move from side to side like a sine wave. That would take you a long time, and you would waste a lot of energy…. When you spend your energy trying to maintain the extremes, nothing goes forward. You get stuck in a rut. The more extreme you are, the less forward movement there is…. In the Tao of sailing, the balance point is not static; it’s a dynamic equilibrium. You move from balance point to balance point, from center to center. You can’t have any concepts or preferences; you have to let the forces move you.

In the Way, nothing is personal. You are merely an instrument in the hands of the forces, participating in the harmony of balance. You must reach the point where your whole interest lies in the balance and not in any personal preference for how things should be.

How does this relate to MJ and his feelings about children? Children, MJ believed, were fully present to life – they were in effect living the Tao, the Way. He expressed some of these ideas regarding what might be called philosophical Taoism before, for instance, in 1983:

In this interview at Hayvenhurst, Michael describes his creative inspirations and how he “plays off of life”:

You can feel the energy, everything around you. You can feel it. The energy from the moon, or the plants, everything around you. It’s wonderful.

I mean, nature, animals, and all those things, are very inspirational to my work. I play off of those things, and children, and it stimulates ideas, creates all kind of things. I just can’t tell you. I think the majority of my success is from these sources. Some people say, “Well, go into detail.” But it’s hard. You really can’t. It’s just the whole world. You just play off of life.

I think it’s the same for what inspires painters, sculptures, and people of the arts. It’s the whole world, though. It’s magic.

Willa: That’s a wonderful description of his creative process! And it really does go hand in hand with Singer’s description of “dynamic equilibrium,” doesn’t it? – where, he encourages us to be in tune with “the energy, everything around you,” as Michael Jackson describes it.

Veronica: Singer writes about moving in sync with the forces of the Way. He compares the Tao to the eye of a hurricane, a balance point of forces that swirl around it. The forces of movement outside and the balance inside are part of this centering. MJ spoke about the need to “keep moving” – to keep growing, evolving, and creating – and he repeatedly advised musicians to let the music create itself. He said if I try and write a hit song, nothing will happen – I have to let it “drop into my lap.”

When I create my music, I feel like an instrument of nature. I wonder what delight nature must feel when we open our hearts and express our God-given talents. The sound of approval rose across the universe and the whole world abounds in magic. Wonder fills our hearts for what we have glimpsed for an instant: the playfulness of life….

MJ calls himself “an instrument of nature” – echoing the idea he expressed before about “playing off of life.” In both passages, he appears to be speaking about the Way, the balance, the harmony of life that children are more in tune with, when he speaks about “the deeper wisdom of life” and the “playfulness of life.”

Here we come back to that key word “wonder,” one that appears so significantly in the line in “Childhood.” Wonder, mystery, magic, creativity, a child’s heart, nature – all these seem connected to something MJ called “the playfulness of life” and that he saw as a gift that children had to offer our “wounded world.”

Willa:  Yes, that phrase “the playfulness of life” is interesting, isn’t it? And the fact that he attaches such importance to it – to this spirit of play. We don’t usually think of play as important, but repeatedly we see him linking this spirit of playfulness with creativity and a sense of personal well-being – and with global well-being as well.

Veronica: The importance of play in our lives, from children to adults, is undervalued. In my research I came across the work of Dr. Stuart Brown, co-founder of the National Institute for Play, who affirms that play is as biologically essential as sleep or dreams, and equally necessary for adults and children. Play is a universal language of higher intelligence species and is important for neurological and social development. Play promotes memory, stress management, and resiliency, and is one of the Rights of the Child adopted by the U.N.

In the USA, maybe because of the strong influence of the Puritan work ethic, we are just way too serious! We need to play more, and MJ promoted this in his own life – for example, in the creation of Neverland and in the way he brought children and children’s issues to the forefront, perhaps more than any other performer has ever done. Dr. Brown also says that we must incorporate play into our lives fully, and realize that the opposite of play is not work but depression.

Willa: Wow, that’s really interesting. I never looked at it that way. Maybe instead of prescribing anti-depressants, doctors should encourage their patients to play more!

Veronica: Sounds good to me! In so many ways, our lives are impoverished by a lack of play.

But seeing the problem, as MJ sings in the lines from “Jam” you quoted, Willa, is what we tend to avoid, because it’s sometimes painful to see “what’s going on” (to quote Marvin Gaye), and the corporate mass media is an all-too-willing vehicle to distract us (via consumerism, celebrity gossip, scandals, and so on). MJ, however, was not afraid to “speak truth to power.” In the Grammy speech he goes on to connect worldwide problems, such as wars, terrorism, and incarceration, with the fact that “children have had their childhood stolen from them.”

Willa:  Yes, and this is another critically important point, I think. Michael Jackson not only tells us that reconnecting with childhood can help solve the world’s problems but, on the flip side, that many of those problems directly result from a loss of childhood, as you say.

Veronica: Yes, absolutely. MJ had made the same point earlier in “On Children of the World” from Dancing the Dream:

We have to heal our wounded world. The chaos, despair, and senseless destruction we see today are a result of the alienation that people feel from each other and their environment. Often this alienation has its roots in an emotionally deprived childhood. Children have had their childhood stolen from them. A child’s mind needs the nourishment of mystery, magic, wonder, and excitement. I want my work to help people rediscover the child that’s hiding in them.

Willa: I’m so glad you shared this quote, Veronica, because this is the crux of the issue, isn’t it? We live in a “wounded world” because “of the alienation people feel from each other and their environment.” I think that’s exactly it.

And as he says, “Often this alienation has its roots in an emotionally deprived childhood.” Or this alienation can appear in adults who may have had happy childhoods but have lost the “deeper knowledge” they had as children. In fact, often we find ourselves encouraged to cast aside that “deeper knowledge” as childish, and focus on adult concerns like earning money, building a career, being respectable.

Veronica: This is so true, Willa. In terms of Singer’s analysis, we go to an extreme and lose the balance point. This “senseless destruction” and alienation cause great pain. Too many of us have some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from not being nurtured or encouraged enough as children or from feeling pressured by social norms to abandon our childlike values, like spontaneity, creativity, magic, open-heartedness, as we grow up. Michael wanted to recast our social and personal tendency to disregard children into a deep respect and appreciation for what they have to offer.

It’s interesting that an artist so extraordinarily gifted himself would be disregarded in the same way children are often disregarded. There is an irony in that, while asking us to see children and their gifts more clearly, he himself was misperceived precisely for his very playfulness in his personal life and in his art.

Willa:  I agree.

Veronica: To get back to the song “Childhood,” it is so poignant to me when MJ sings,

No one understands me
They view it as such strange eccentricities…
‘Cause I keep kidding around
Like a child, but pardon me …

He was actually modelling for us the values he wanted to see. It’s interesting too that in “Childhood,” he gets really animated and excited when singing about play:

Have you seen my childhood?
I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
Like pirates in adventurous dreams,
Of conquest and kings on the throne …

Have you seen my childhood?
I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
Like fantastical stories to share
The dreams I would dare, watch me fly …

The fact that we, as adults, often no longer experience play, adventurous dreams, and wonder was something MJ spoke about a lot, particularly in conversations with Schmuley Boteach. (He refers to a book on childlike values that he was working on with Boteach in his Oxford Union Speech of 2001. Boteach published these conversations in Honoring Child Spirit, a book I might not have read but someone I respect recommended it, so I took a look and discovered a lot of valuable discussion there.)

MJ reveals to Boteach how much he thinks adults have shut down and lost the natural playfulness and creativity that they once had as children. He even persuaded Boteach to climb a tree with him and sit in its branches to recapture those lost feelings!

MJ: The world is gift-wrapped for them [children] and everything is a new experience and they know it is all out there waiting for them and all these different categories of fun, a wonderful fantastical mission to take. Why do they [adults] lose it? Why does it go away? You felt that way, you remember feeling that way. Can you go back to that place?

SB: The only time I felt like that again is when I was with you watching Toy Story on Thanksgiving, and at Neverland, when we went to the tree that morning. We climbed up and spent a full hour there, just hanging out. And I have to say, it was pretty liberating. Two grown men, hanging out in a tree house. It was memorable.

MJ: Isn’t that wonderful? Everybody should have that experience and never feel that I am too old to climb a tree.

Willa: And he invited Martin Bashir to have that same experience. Near the beginning of Living with Michael Jackson, he climbs his “Giving Tree” and encourages Bashir to climb with him. Here’s a clip:

It’s interesting that in talking to Bashir, he explicitly links the childlike joy of climbing the tree with his creativity. As he tells Bashir, “I’ve written so many of my songs in this tree. I wrote ‘Heal the World’ in this tree, ‘Will You Be There,’ ‘Black or White,’ ‘Childhood.’”

As he climbs he calls down to Bashir, “Aren’t you coming?” but Bashir says, “No way.” He’s intrigued, though, and does end up climbing a short way, but then stops – either because he’s worried about falling, or worried he’ll look ridiculous on camera. Later, when they’re both back on the ground, Bashir quizzes him about it in a somewhat mocking way, and then in voiceover asks, “So how had this singing and dancing genius arrived in this surreal place that is his life today?”

So Bashir doesn’t understand what Michael Jackson is saying – and more importantly, he doesn’t seem to want to understand. He wants to look down at him from the privileged position of a respectable adult and criticize him.

Veronica: Thanks for this comparison, Willa. What a contrast between MJ and Bashir here! Bashir had closed down to childlike value to a huge degree and had become a stultifying, judgmental adult. That was what was truly “surreal.” MJ looks so peaceful and happy sitting up high in his “Giving Tree.”

Willa:  Though he also seems a little self-conscious to me, like he knows Bashir is judging him.

Joie:  You know the truly interesting part in all of this? At least, to me anyway … is the fact that he understood that no one was taking him seriously, and that no one was going to take him seriously in this endeavor. He even addressed it in “Childhood” when he sang the simple words,

Before you judge me
Try hard to love me

He knew that people were going to listen to that song and roll their eyes in a sort of, “Oh, he’s at it again” attitude.

Veronica: Yes, that’s a good point – he sure did perceive and anticipate that judgmental criticism. But the next line of the song is an instruction (these lines are in the imperative, or command, form) to “Look within your heart, then ask / Have you seen my childhood?” I think MJ took a heart-centered approach and tried to speak to people on that level and ask them to respond on that level. And look at the fans and how much they responded to that. When he says in This Is It, “Love is important,” he knew that love was the way to reach people on the deepest levels.

Here is another snippet from Honoring Child Spirit:

SB: You are very successful, so you can afford to forgive people and remain childlike. “But me?” someone can say, “I live in a trailer park. How can I forgive people? Life is bitter for me. G-d has let me down. I have no time for my children. I am a single mother with two jobs to support my kids.” What would you say to someone who says, “Come on, Michael. This is not realistic. You want to be like Peter Pan? You want to take me to this fantasy land called Neverland. Get real. I can’t go to fantasy land. I have children to support. My husband beats me.” What would you say to someone like that?

MJ: I would think they should try to find the truth about the power of love, and the way that I think it should be done, without sounding selfish, the way I have discovered what real bliss is. I think if they even gave it a chance they would feel it.

Willa:  That is so interesting! I haven’t read this book but I looked up this passage in Google Books, and here he’s specifically talking about “a childlike way of being,” right? So he seems to be saying that maintaining those childlike qualities within ourselves not only can help solve problems on a global scale, but on a personal level as well. As he tells Rabbi Boteach, it can lead to “real bliss.”

Veronica: Yes, it’s in the chapter called “Love and Guidance,” where MJ and Boteach discuss loving children and guiding them, and learning from them too. MJ says, “They are my teachers. I watch them and I learn. It’s important for us to try and be like them and imitate them. They are golden.” In another place he says, “They are the sunshine of the world.”

Joie:  Here’s a question that I’m fond of asking during these types of discussions. Do you think, ladies, that the public at large will ever “get it”? Will they ever open themselves up and receive the message that he tried so hard to impart? Because I have to be honest and say that, sadly, I don’t think they will. I always wonder if the tide will ever turn where Michael is concerned. If he will ever be seen as the truly remarkable artist, thinker, and visionary that he was, or if his image and his legacy are tarnished forever. And I’m actually an optimist in my everyday life, but about this, I’m just not sure anymore.

Veronica: Well, I think the general public, and by that I mean people who are not MJ fans and advocates, are lacking a true picture of who MJ was. They are lacking information. They have been fed lies from the tabloids for decades. Remember how MJ called it junk food? They have been eating all that junk food and don’t have the real nourishment that would come from eating healthy food – meaning true information.

Recently, I gave a talk at a gallery about my book. I was a bit worried that some media-indoctrinated people would show up and harass me, but luckily, it was my friends who came. But few of my friends have read my books, and they don’t know much about MJ either. During the talk, one person commented that Michael had “mutilated” his face. I recognized that this came from the relentless tabloid-type stories (for instance, see Susan Woodward’s reference to the Daily Mirror article that MJ sued them over), but I stayed calm and just said, “Well, plenty of women love ‘mature Mike’ and if you go on YouTube you can find videos about that.” I also referred to This Is It, which some people had seen. And I kept going. This same person just sent me an email, which I quote, unedited:

Thanks for sending this beautiful video [a link to the Childhood video]. Veronica, I have a new perception of who Michael was and an understanding of what happened to him that, perhaps, explains his actions. His is a very sad story …

Thanks again. Your presentation was far more enjoyable than what I expected. At first I wanted to come because I was interested but, primarily, because I wanted to be there for you. After hearing your talk, I was very glad I attended because I learned so much!

So many misperceptions about MJ can’t be changed in a short talk, but we can open up fissures in the biases that people have absorbed from the media. As MJ advocates spread their knowledge outside the fan community more and more, it slowly ripples out.

I remember when, in the early 90’s,  Bill Moyers asked Oren Lyons, the Onondaga Faith-Keeper of the Iroquois nation, if the Native American tradition was basically finished in the modern world, and Oren replied (I am paraphrasing here),  “As long as there is one person to talk and one person to listen, the stories will continue.” That is so hopeful – and true.

In my opinion, it is on this fundamental level of person to person, heart to heart, where deep change occurs. Yes, there is a lot of doubt and skepticism out there, but with true information, people can learn. And the other hopeful thing is of course MJ’s music: “If you want to know me, listen to my music. The love is stored there and will not die.”

Willa:  That’s beautiful!  I hadn’t heard that before: “The love is stored there and will not die.” So he must have believed that his image would be redeemed someday, and that his ideas might spark significant change in the future.

Veronica: In my talk, I emphasized the reasonableness of MJ’s thinking – namely, that if we want a better world, we have to take better care of our children. We have to love and value them, nurture them, and learn from them. We have to honor them and listen to them. I read some passages from the beautiful conclusion to MJ’s Oxford Union speech – here is a link to that speech:

Someone commented afterwards how impressed she was with his “intelligence and articulateness.” Well, this is no surprise to us, but it is for people who have been told lies for decades. I remember being shocked after MJ’s passing when Larry King asked someone, “Was Michael Jackson intelligent?” I mean, it blew my  mind that he even had to ask that question! We have our work cut out for us, but I think people are becoming more receptive to MJ’s messages, particularly on subjects like children and the environment. He was so advanced in his thinking, light-years ahead, and we are starting to catch up at last.

Willa:  Yes, I think so too, and I strongly believe that someday he will be seen as the most important artist of our time. And that day may not be too far away. I mean, perceptions of him seem to have changed dramatically since he died, and they’re continuing to evolve as people like your friends, Veronica, learn more about him. Thank you for sharing that story. We just need to keep “Michaeling,” as you say, until everyone “gets it,” as you put it, Joie.

Joie:  Well, that’s all for this post, and we want to thank Veronica for joining us. Willa and I also want to thank you for your continued support over the last three years.

As some of you may remember, when we began this blog it was a weekly feature, and we were so overwhelmed with all the love you guys heaped on us. We were truly surprised at the reception we received, and we quickly came to recognize what an awesome platform we had built for exploring new and thought-provoking ideas about the way Michael Jackson’s art is perceived. But after that first year, we also realized that in order to do it justice we couldn’t keep up the weekly schedule and still bring you the quality posts we wanted to. So we switched to posting on a bi-weekly schedule, and that worked well for us for a time. However, as the circumstances of our lives change, we need to acknowledge that this blog needs to adapt to fit our changing lives.

So we have decided to take a more laid-back approach and post when the inspiration strikes. We have some fun and interesting topics lined up for the coming year, and we still hope to post fairly frequently – we will just have a less structured posting schedule. We hope you understand, and we look forward to your continued support in the new year. Thanks again!

Willa: Yes, and thank you, Veronica, for joining us for this special holiday post. We really appreciate it, and hope you have a warm and wonderful Christmas today, and a very happy new year.

Veronica: It was my honor and pleasure to be with you, and I look forward to more great discussions ahead. Happy holidays to you!

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 December 25, 2014, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.

  1. Thank you to Veronica for her great insight and courage to write her books on Michael Jackson. And, to Willa and Joie, make no mistake, your writing makes a difference to Michael’s legacy. Keep up the great work.

    • Thanks for your kind words, tabccb, and I agree that Willa and Joie have made a huge difference to Michael’s legacy!

      You mentioned the word ‘courage’ and yes, it does take some courage to advocate for MJ, especially in the days when he was under so many attacks. Luckily, things are gradually getting better, thanks to all the excellent work people have been doing. We also have access to many sources that weren’t available before.

      I feel this is really a great time to be studying MJ and his work–and big kudos go to this wonderful blog as a place to celebrate MJ’s thought and art.

  2. Thanks for the interesting post. Veronica, your books are in ebook format, right? No hard copy format? I was holding off buying them in hopes of getting a printed version. I am still hoping for Willa’s book in hard copy.
    I am sad that you won’t be posting as often, but I realize it is difficult to publish quality material on a rigid schedule. Post when the fires are burning in your imagination!

    • Hi, yes, in ebook format at the moment. I have been thinking about trying to get them in print form though, so maybe I can work on that for 2015. I agree that a physical book is still important.

  3. A very happy, creative, plenty of joy 2015 for all of you, Veronica, Willa and Joie.

    At last I can say Hi Veronica! It’s been some time, and I remember your excellent comments during a time when I used to frequently participate in this wonderful blog.

    I appreciate the time and effort necessary to produce these incisive conversations, I wish you would continue to do so even if not regularly, but at least please try fairly frequently. Not only is the information on Michael valuable, but also the numerous references to particularly capable authors and experts is essential. A thought that occured to me just now, what happened to the project on children that began at Oxford? It would have been a great opportunity for Michael to annihilate those biases that clouded his reputation, and offer a lot more chances for children’s needs to be heard.

    A little request, could the works you ladies wrote be available in printed format?

    Looking forward to your next exciting converstion!

  4. I love and look forward to your blog. I have been a fan of MJ since I was 8 years old and I am the same age as as Willa 🙂 . This blog was great and since I have been a Family Childcare Provider for 26 years in my home I truly understand what MJ meant. Like him I love and enjoy children and have all my life. They bring joy and peace and happiness by their forgiving and loving hearts and the true fulness of their hearts. They make you remember the joy of childhood and how much fun simple things can be and what a joy play can be even as an adult. Thank you and please continue this great blog even if you have to do it less often.

    • “Like him I love and enjoy children and have all my life. They bring joy and peace and happiness by their forgiving and loving hearts and the true fulness of their hearts. They make you remember the joy of childhood and how much fun simple things can be and what a joy play can be even as an adult.”

      Well said, Wanda! I think one thing MJ loved about his fans was that they understood the important value he placed on kids, the love he had for them.

    • “I have been a fan of MJ since I was 8 years old and I am the same age as as Willa”

      Hi Wanda. It sounds like, in terms of Michael Jackson, we’ve lived parallel lives! It’s hard to believe sometimes that I’ve been listening to his music for over 40 years – pretty much my entire life. I have such vivid memories of dancing with my friends to “Rocking Robin” as a kid, and then listening to “Ben” over and over on my little portable record player in my bedroom at night. Or watching Billie Jean and Thriller over and over on MTV with my college friends, or Captain EO at Epcot Center with my brother … or This Is It in a movie theater with friends after he died, friends who didn’t really know much about him but still cried. …

  5. Thanks for this enlightening post. You know, I have often heard that quote from Michael that if people really want to understand him, all they have to do is listen to the music. But I don’t think I had ever heard the follow-up sentence, which is crucial to what he actually meant by the quote: “The love is stored there and will not die.” I was just engaged in a discussion earlier about how Michael seemed to be many things to many people; an enigma that keeps us endlessly analyzing and pondering. Yet he was right. We don’t have to look any further than the music to find it all there.

    Veronica’s book and continuing discussions have really helped me learn to appreciate “Childhood,” a song of Michael’s I never personally cared for. I suppose I was one of those rolling my eyes-“Good grief, here he goes again.” But the song is much more than a mere self-serving rationalization (I think this was its biggest reason it irked so many initially). It is really an instruction on how to reconnect to that lost childhood so that we can all be better adults. “Look within your heart then ask “Have you seen my childhood?” is an easy line to gloss over and to lose sight of within the song’s overall context. We think that he is referring to his own childhood (which for most of the song he is) but here he is daring the listener to ask if they have seen their own childhood. The implication is that in looking for our own lost childhoods, we may reconnect to the better part of ourselves and thus become better adults.

    I know that the song “Scared of The Moon” has been discussed previously on this blog. I hope I am not being too off-topic in bringing it up, but it, too, is a song about childhood from a very different, and darker, perspective. In that song, he addresses how we carry the traumas and fears of childhood into adulthood; how the traumas and scars of our childhoods shape even our adult selves. It would be interesting sometime to do a discussion comparing/contrasting those two compositions (hint hint?). I have heard that he wrote the song for Brooke Shields, but much of it seems autobiographical for Michael, also. We know that he often felt a kinship with others who had been forced to give up their childhoods, so the parallels are not surprising. In her most recent People Magazine interview, Brooke said that the only time she ever saw her mother sober was early in the mornings before school. She expressed a wish that she could have known her mother without the haze of alcohol always between them. This paralleled Michael’s desire to want to understand his father. In both cases, they shared a fear of a parent who was a mystery to them. In both cases, the parent they feared was also the dominant parent who controlled much of their destiny.

    So it seemed that, while acknowledging childhood as a kind of ideal state, he was also acknowledging that it can be a scary time as well, when one is haunted by inexplicable fears and the inability to be in control. As adults, we can sometimes better understand and rationalize those fears (I used to be terrified of a silhouetted pattern of the shrubbery outside my bedroom window when I was a kid; against my white curtains, one particular branch took on the shape of an evil old woman in a rocking chair). Being an adult, I now understand what the source of the shadow was-yet the fear it ignited was very real, and to this day, certain triggers can still invoke that fear. The evil, old woman in the rocking chair was very real to me as a child, and deep in my heart where my blackest fears reside, she still holds power.

    Michael understood that childhood is both our happiest, most wondrous years but at the same time, because of that very innocence and the ability to perceive things so much deeper-can also be the source of our greatest pain, traumas, and fear.

    • Hi, Raven–(it’s me, Veronica, but with a different user name). What you say here is so important: “It is really an instruction on how to reconnect to that lost childhood so that we can all be better adults.” I agree the line ‘Have you seen my childhood” is asking us to look within our hearts as well–“look within your heart then ask . . . . ” Absolutely. The song is evoking many childhood memories that we can all relate to–the painful ones and the adventurous dreams. MJ’s voice is very beautiful and the addition of the orchestra backing him up and a little taste of a children’s choir in there too really make it quite a gorgeous and meaningful song. I am glad you like the song better than you did before!

      It was interesting that the Pope made this year’s Christmas message about the plight of children worldwise. He spoke about how we have hardened our hearts to suffering of others, especially the children.

    • “You know, I have often heard that quote from Michael that if people really want to understand him, all they have to do is listen to the music. But I don’t think I had ever heard the follow-up sentence, which is crucial to what he actually meant by the quote: ‘The love is stored there and will not die.'”

      Hi Raven. I had the exact same reaction. I’ve heard the first part of that quotation many times but never heard the second part, and it’s “crucial” to understanding what he meant, as you say. I always interpreted it as a message to interviewers to stop focusing on his life and look at his art instead. But when you hear the entire quotation, it means so much more than that: “If you want to know me, listen to my music. The love is stored there and will not die.” That is such a powerful statement – both defiant yet deeply hopeful – and demonstrates his faith in the power of art to endure and touch other people across time as well as across deep cultural divisions.

      So I would love to talk about “Scared of the Moon”! It’s such a haunting song. Maybe we could do it together?

      btw, when I was a little girl, I would run really high fevers sometimes (something my mom did when she was a child, and my son still does – it’s a family thing, apparently). Anyway, when I was running a high fever, I would have the same experience you’re talking about, where shadows in my room would become really scary images. I haven’t had that experience in decades, but I still remember it vividly – in fact, it makes my heart pound just thinking about it. So I agree completely that “while acknowledging childhood as a kind of ideal state, he was also acknowledging that it can be a scary time as well, when one is haunted by inexplicable fears and the inability to be in control.”

  6. Veronica, Willa, and Joie: I don’t know if you ever saw this piece, but it was published in June 2009 in the comments section to an obituary that appeared, I believe, in The Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post.

    I was unfamiliar with Michael Jackson at that time–even scornful perhaps, having only ever encountered him through media caracitures, but this comment (essay, really) blew my mind and changed my life. It addresses the “childlike” essence of Michael that led to such cruel misperceptions and ultimately terrible persecution of him.

    “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)

    “In the days immediately following his tragic death, almost all commentators chose to focus on the ostensible polarity of Michael Jackson’s legacy: “a genius in his art, but a disturbed human being.” If mainstream gurus are good at anything, it is turning truth on its head and, in the process, eviscerating all that is pure. It is not in Michael Jackson’s musical artistry that his foremost greatness consists, but it is in fact in his beautiful humanity. His music is only just one manifestation and expression of that humanity. Most eulogies have had it all backwards. Michael’s legacy is not limited to an artistry that is somehow soiled by a troubled or troubling life. Michael’s greatest legacy is his loving character and the lessons it teaches us, through his ultimately tragic life, about the true face of an often brutal and ugly world.

    “In Michael Jackson, we see innocence and purity rarely seen in an adult. Jackson’s “childlikeness” is perplexing to many people, but it is precisely this trait that sets him apart from an adult world that has learned so effectively to be cold and calculated, smart and shrewd, proper and professional. Adults seeking to improve themselves would need only to emulate Michael and become more childlike.

    “If Michael was guilty, his sin (borrowing Dylan’s prophetic words) was that he knew and felt too much within. People who feel deeply often seem odd or insane, but, like Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, their superficial lunacy usually conceals a deep understanding of the human heart. Michael’s intense capacity to feel allowed him to be a loving, caring and responsive human being. He was far more capable of love than are most adults. Unfortunately, this acute sensitivity also made Michael extremely vulnerable and susceptible.

    “Michael’s bizarre appearance and eccentric behavior were, paradoxically, far more sensible than the “normal” behavior of most “normal” people within the confounding context of a world that is itself upside down. All of Michael’s strange gestures and attitudes make perfect sense given one profound premise – that the world is pure, innocent and harmless. Of course those of us who have “grown up” have learned that the world is not pure, innocent or harmless. Hence the tragedy of Michael Jackson. His actions seem irresponsible and disturbing when interpreted through the categories of a deranged world, but they were almost always selfless and innocuous.

    “The truth is, Michael had the eyes and heart of a child who saw in one dimension – that of pure love. When he saw that someone desired something from him, he gave selflessly, paying no heed to logical consequences or reasonable caution. The dictates of propriety and convention were, as they ought to be, totally subordinated to the dictates of love. It made perfect sense to him to give joy to others, even if this exposed him and his own actions to spiteful, selfish manipulation and ridicule by others.

    “Michael was not willing to assume, as most adults are conditioned to do, that someone he approached could have a tarnished nature. He gave others the benefit of the doubt, approaching them as if approaching angels and children. When he met demons, thus, he was utterly exposed and likely devastated. This (i.e., the sudden realization that the person he had hoped was an angel could in fact be so malevolent), no doubt, brought him much suffering. Michael never allowed himself, it seems, to draw the seemingly rational and sensible conclusion that most adults have drawn from repeated experience: that the world is generally malicious. In other words, Michael’s purity was such that if he met nine people, all of whom turned out to be vile, he would still greet the tenth as an angel. This defies reasonable human logic, but remains steadfast in its adherence to the greater logic of divine love.

    “Michael surrounded himself with children not because he was perverted, but because he saw in them the hope for a world which had grown to be far too mature. What he loved in children was the “purity of heart” of the Beatitudes. He tried desperately – in only seemingly irrational ways – to protect this adolescent purity from a world whose hideous cruelty he felt in his very own flesh. If the fact that he saw nothing wrong in expressing love toward children in emotionally intimate ways attests only to his purity, our inclination to assume that he was a pedophile and our willingness to assume that love is a pathological deviation can only attest to our essential impurity.

    “In a world that has fallen to pieces, it only makes sense that (to quote Dylan once again) what’s bad is good, what’s good is bad. Thus, love is a pathological disturbance, whereas cold, rational remoteness defines the new “humanity.”

    “Michael created and surrounded himself with a world fit for a child because he felt that this is the ideal we should aspire to – an ideal that we so woefully fail to live up to. It was also, incidentally, a way for him to compensate for the pain that was so ever-present to him – the pain of his past and present, the pain of his visceral, personal experience. Michael was sensitive – perhaps hyper-sensitive – and in so being, he felt far more directly and deeply than most others do. Agony led Michael to an absolute moral response. However unrealistic and idealistic it might seem to a practically minded adult, this response – this Neverland world that eradicated the pain of reality through one sweeping contradiction – was totally reasonable for Michael. Michael was the perfect mixture of a child’s innocence and an old-man’s sagacity. He saw both much less and much more than the average person does. Quincy Jones was therefore profoundly astute when he famously described Michael as both the oldest and youngest man he knew.

    The Bashir Interviews: Casting Pearls before Swine

    “When I first watched Martin Bashir’s notorious “Living with Michael Jackson” special, first aired in 2003, I could not help but cry. I felt as though I was witnessing the public humiliation, flogging and crucifixion of a helpless child. My first thought was, “why did Michael agree to do this? He should have refused!” Upon some reflection, however, I realized that Michael was willing to expose himself (repeatedly) to Bashir’s sadistic onslaught precisely because of who he was. Michael assumed Bashir’s intentions were pure. He wanted to believe that Bashir would not manipulate what had been said, and that the journalist’s wish was simply to share the truth with the world. Why not believe this to be the case? Why assume that the interviewer’s instincts could be self-interested or impure? Would that not be admitting that the world is ugly – that the world is not and will never be Neverland?

    “The contrast between Bashir and Michael really could not be greater. Bashir went out of his way to appear reasonable and measured. Michael, on the other hand, had little regard for how he appeared. His main concern was the truth of how he felt. To many people he appeared “crazy.” The truth, of course, was just the opposite. Bashir was consistently cynical, sardonic, judgmental, and seemed to exhibit a pathological indifference when, again and again, he picked at Michael’s raw, open wounds. He showed no regard for the human heart and its anguish. If he had any concern for Michael’s torment, perhaps he was too proud to show it. Bashir concealed his cruelty behind a façade of intelligent, reasonable and intellectual professionalism, as if he were merely a skilled journalist in the disinterested pursuit of truth. But it is when things sound perfectly civilized and appear so prim and proper that we should be most wary and suspicious. If we pay close attention, we see that Michael possesses the genuine and good heart and is quite reasonable in all he stands for, whereas Bashir is the true sociopath.

    “Bashir conducts his hurtful interviews all the meanwhile adhering to the highest professional protocol and journalistic etiquette. At one point in the broadcast, Bashir reflects: “Confronting Michael wasn’t going to be easy, but now it had to happen,” as if this shift to difficult personal subject matter were the result of some inescapable logic, which dictates that truth must be unearthed, whatever the human toll. It is not relevant or important to Bashir how personal the truth may be, whether it has any important humane or useful significance to anyone, or what the human consequences of the pursuit of that truth might be. The single thing that matters is the successful exposure of facts, which will presumably secure for Bashir great pride among his peers. The value of supreme objectivity in the persistent pursuit of truth evidently outweighs the value of a real human being.

    “In yet another disingenuous attempt to establish his superior ethical and professional credentials, Bashir explains that his questioning is inspired by a “worry” for Michael’s children. Meanwhile, Michael sits and writhes in obvious discomfort. Seeing this, Bashir, ever the objective scientist in hot pursuit, does not desist but rather intensifies his inquest. Michael, the victim, is increasingly desperate and begins to crack. His humanity is bared for all to see. Michael’s legs tremble with anxiety. Under duress, Michael opens up and his emotions spill over. He laments a crazy world in which children are given guns and computers even as they are deprived of human contact and compassion. Defenseless in his innocence, and so pure that he cannot fathom the foul logic of mature reason, Michael describes the act of sharing one bed with a child as an expression of care and love. How fair-minded propriety dictates that care and love are in fact deviant behavior is rightly incomprehensible to him.

    “Why does it mean so much to you?” asks Bashir, seemingly concerned. But there is a just barely palpable accusatory tone: “Wouldn’t a normal, rational person care less…? Perhaps you care so much because you are demented or perverted…?” The proper question, of course, is how anyone could ever be indifferent to the plight of children in an alienating world? How could anyone care less? Bashir’s rationality has itself become a pathological deviation. Bashir stands in judgment over a phenomenon he cannot understand, because he has grown up beyond where he could ever comprehend the simplicity of a pure heart. His logic is far too sophisticated and proud. When we have grown up to the point where we are actually capable of dispassionately analyzing a tragedy without breaking down and crying about it, we have then truly lost our humanity. Erecting ideals like Neverland in an effort to cope with dismal reality is not a moral failure. Properly seen, it is just a symptom of or testament to the pathological state of the world. The moral failure is the dismal reality itself.

    “Bashir is the sort of person who could stab a person and, with cool and calm demeanor, go on to ask why the victim is in pain. He is “disturbed” by Jackson’s ostensibly eccentric behavior and “concerned” for the children, all the meanwhile inflicting psychological torture on the father. The manipulative journalist exploits Michael’s sensitivity. He throws Michael off balance and then points to his angst as evidence of character flaws. At times his interrogation borders on sadism. Knowing it will open painful wounds, he nevertheless pries into Michael’s demons. Perhaps what Bashir was really looking for in his ideal subject was a cold hard rock rather than a human being. What he found instead was a saint.”

    • Wow, Ara! I never read that before. Powerfully written.

    • Hi Ara. Thank you for sharing this. I especially love this part:

      It is not in Michael Jackson’s musical artistry that his foremost greatness consists, but it is in fact in his beautiful humanity. His music is only just one manifestation and expression of that humanity. Most eulogies have had it all backwards. Michael’s legacy is not limited to an artistry that is somehow soiled by a troubled or troubling life. Michael’s greatest legacy is his loving character and the lessons it teaches us, through his ultimately tragic life, about the true face of an often brutal and ugly world.

      btw, I did a little searching and found that this was written by Filip Panusz and titled “A Tribute to Michael Jackson.” It was published by The Michael Jackson World Network on September 24, 2009 (here’s a link) but maybe other places as well?

    • Thanks for this, Ara, and thanks for identifying the author and giving us a link, Willa.

      It’s a brilliant analysis. Bashir was so devious. In the clip Willa posted we see that so clearly in his voiceovers and even in his question to Michael–so you like climbing trees and water balloon fights more than sex?? Why bring up sex (with the subtext that MJ is somehow deviant or asexual) in the context of MJ’s sharing that climbing trees and play in general was an inspiration to him and helped him creatively, connecting him to the deeper wisdom of life and the energies of the Tao?

      When Panusz writes: “In Michael Jackson, we see innocence and purity rarely seen in an adult,” it reminds me of the lines in “Is It Scary”:

      “But if you want to see
      The truth, the purity
      It’s here inside a lonely heart.”

  7. Ada well spoken,deep and exceptional insight.

  8. First of all I have to say thank you for discussing Michael and his body of work the way you do.
    I’m about one and a half years behind in reading your blog. Sometimes following the links to videos, articles or books make me stay away for a while, but I always enjoy to come back to get deeper insights. Each time it feels a bit like coming home.

    I recently read Veronica Bassil’s book “That wonder in my youth” and was very pleased to see that it was written with the empathy and compassion Michael deserves.

    Both, the song “Childhood” and the short film, have always touched me deeply. Lines like “I’m searching for the world that I come from” really got to me and gave me the sad feeling that he had never belonged anywhere.

    Being a child he had the time schedule, work ethic of an adult. He lived in the company of adults, without being treated as one – of course. At the same time he was only a bystander, a guest in the world of other children. He could never really bond with them, build friendships and be one of them.
    When he became an adult, he was singled out again – by his fame, his wealth, by the things that went on in the minds of others and by all the obstacles which made it impossible for him to do ordinary things.

    It’s true a lesser man would have become cynical, cold or would have tried to adapt himself to the strangeness of this world.
    Despite being ridiculed over and over again by people who were unwilling to listen, he never stopped talking about his innermost feelings and own experiences regarding the importance of nurturing the spirits of children.

    It’s almost a miracle that Michael preserved his sensitivity and his ability to see and feel magic and wonder.

    And even though he had never experienced it himself the way he needed to, he installed it in his music, his voice, his performances, speeches and short films in a way, that touched us so deeply in so many ways.

    • “Being a child he had the time schedule, work ethic of an adult. He lived in the company of adults, without being treated as one – of course. At the same time he was only a bystander, a guest in the world of other children. He could never really bond with them, build friendships and be one of them.”

      Hi timelessSky. Your words that “he was only a bystander, a guest in the world of other children” really made me stop and think. He was an Outsider in so many ways – “an animal in a cage” as he told his mother, put on display for curious onlookers when he was only a child – but I never really thought about the fact that he was also “a guest in the world of other children.”

      What you say makes perfect sense, and actually I feel that very strongly when watching the Childhood video – that he’s a spectator watching the children in the boats experience the wonder and imagination of childhood in a way he never could – but I hadn’t verbalized his feelings in quite that way before. But you’re right, he’s an Outsider once again, this time to “the world of other children,” and in the video you can feel that intense longing to join them and be part of that world he was excluded from when he was a child.

      • Was also glad to have the second sentence of Michael’s quote about love being stored there and never dying. I am reminded how he answered in several interviews that like Michelangelo he bound his soul to his art and that like classical artists of today that we listen to such as Debussy etc., his music would live on as theirs had. He was so right as I think time and understanding of him will tell.

        timelessSky’s words about Michael being a guest in the world of children initially made me feel very sad, but then I remembered Neverland, and how he loved being a host to children, and thereby letting them be ‘guests’ as he never had. Feels like another way of him successfully reclaiming his childhood. Am remembering lots of videos I have seen of Michael playing with children at Neverland and all of them having a wonderful time. This too, for me, is a very important part of his message that will never die. Always be like children in your adult heart – be loving, innocent, accepting and open to the magic in the world as a child is and your life will be much richer. I know mine is since I made a conscious decision to not only hear Michael’s message but to live it as best I can.

        • “Am remembering lots of videos I have seen of Michael playing with children at Neverland and all of them having a wonderful time. This too, for me, is a very important part of his message that will never die. Always be like children in your adult heart – be loving, innocent, accepting and open to the magic in the world as a child is and your life will be much richer. I know mine is since I made a conscious decision to not only hear Michael’s message but to live it as best I can.”

          Beautiful!! I so agree this is an important and enduring message from MJ to us all–and we will live a happier life this way and a create a happier world as well!

          Thanks for your kind words about my work–I appreciate them so much.

  9. This blog was a wonderful Christmas present to wake up to. Thank you all very much indeed.

    I loved Veronica’s book and gave it 5 stars on Amazon, and would have given more if I could. It is one of the most insightful and touching books I have ever read, about Michael or anyone else, and the one I have cried over most.

    This song almost always made me cry when I watched it, though I loved it, and still do. The short film is wonderful too. . So after a few listenings and viewings I decided to ask my own inner child what was going on. Well it has taken 3 years or so, but thanks to this song and Michael’s inspiration in my life, I have healed that lost part of my own childhood that also grew up too soon, and now delight in the purity and innocence that Michael experienced – not to such a great extent, but then who could, he was so special – but much more than I could have imagined without his help.

    Thanks Ara for the article. I think more and more people are at last ‘getting’ Michael and his messages that are indeed in his songs – how could people not see that is beyond me!! Let’s hope that as more people ‘get’ him, then his message will be understood, and then we can indeed Heal The World, and ourselves, as he wanted us to do.

    Alternate Thursdays will not be the same anymore, but I look forward enormously to your blog Willa and Joie as and when it appears. Please keep up the good work – it is vital to so many of us who seek to know the real Michael.

  10. Willa,Veronica and Joie your insight into Michael Legacy and his positive Messages to the world won’t be forgotten and will be understood in the years to come also thanks to your high level of knowledge of his thinking and the love and respect you show for him . He deserves so much to let him be free of the false news about him. I thank you very much for your hard work and the desire to let us be informed. All the best to you for the New Year.

    • Hi Sugarfelice,
      many thanks for giving me the opportunity to know about the amazing blog “All For Love”. it was very kind of you

    • Thanks, Cleis, for your kind words and wishes that MJ will in time be freed from the false media-created persona that he was forced to endure and struggle against. That is my wish too–may it be so!!

  11. Yes, Veronica, I already have a fully developed file on all aspects of Michael’s life meant to shed light on the “inner’ Michael. I do quote quite a lot from this blog, and seek to produce educated work in order to have an exhibition organized for my art concerning him. It is a wonderful adventure, I love to focus on his large sad eyes and gorgeous hands. I love using settings that may be considered surreal, they are actually inspired by the 19th century Symbolist Movement. You will soon be seeing them, especially when my own website will be ready, which will also have a blog loaded with my own review of books, articles and painting material. Thanks for the kind words and encouragement, I appreciate it!

  12. Just read that in the HBO One-Night Only show that was cancelled when MJ collapsed durimng rehearsals, one of the highlights of the 2 hour special was to be a performance with Marcel Marceau miming and MJ singing “Childhood” in a kind of duet. That would have been so fantastic to see!!!

    Here’s a quote and a link:

    “At the end of our number for ‘Childhood’ – a duet,” adds Marceau, “he came to me singing ‘Have you seen my childhood?’ And with a wave of his hand showed the way. We ended the piece together… as one body in motion together. It was very, very pure. Poetic. To me, Michael Jackson is a true poet; a great poet of song. [He] is also an extraordinary dancer, and a showman with a great respect for the theater, music, and film. Michael [was] very happy with the work we did together on ‘Childhood’.”

  13. The second snippet from ”Honoring the Child Spirit” made me think of ’Keep Your Head Up’. If this is really a MJ song, it may be his artistic reply to Boteach’s question! Note that both are talking about a woman with two jobs…

    Let’s compare:
    SB: You are very successful, so you can afford to forgive people and remain childlike. “But me?” someone can say, “I live in a trailer park. How can I forgive people? Life is bitter for me. G-d has let me down. I have no time for my children. I am a single mother with two jobs to support my kids.”…

    KYHU, 1st verse:

    She’s looking for a job and a finer place to stay,
    She’s looking for the hope and the empty promises,
    She’s working two jobs, keeping alive,
    She works in a restaurant during day,
    She waits her life away,
    She wipes her tears away.
    She hides inside every time she feels this way,
    And she’s… inside, every time her baby cries.

  14. Re. Socrates and Michael: Interestingly, MJ himself makes the comparison:


    • Hi, Bjørn, thanks for the link–I was struck by this passage about the library at Neverland:

      “And there were places that he liked to sit, and you could see the books with his bookmarks in it, with notes and everything in it where he liked to sit and read. And I can tell you from talking to him that he had a very – especially for someone who was self-taught, as it were, and had his own reading list – he was very well-read.”

      Helps me imagine Michael reading quietly and intently in the comfort of his home.

      Thanks, too, for reminding me of the conversation MJ had with Sanger about Socrates! I read Sanger’s comments before, but the significance that MJ brought up Socrates’ jury trial in the context of his own jury trial didn’t hit me. At the time I didn’t see the connections between the 2 people accused and the charges they faced.

  15. Hello WIlla, Joie, and Veronika! I am very late to the party. Blame it on the holidays, my daughter being home from college, am almost lethal injury of my beloved horse (he is healing and well), and of course the boogey. What a great post as always! I am hanging my head in shame as I have not read Veronika’s books, but I also am joyous as I know have more to look forward to.
    I have not read the post in its entirety but wanted to respond before you next post goes up tomorrow:
    I work as a clinician in public mental health and so much of what Michael talks about when he points out childhood and children is EXACTLY the direction we, as the mental health field, are now moving toward when treating trauma, anxiety, depression, and many other conditions. We teach mindfulness- which is basically the ability to be in the moment and me aware of your being- your thoughts, your emotions, you physical self. If you think about children and animals that’s where they are: in the moment! They do not plan too much about the future, they don’t care about the past- they are truly present in the current moment. In our Western society, we have for centuries been trained away from this. We are to think about the past- to plan about the future. But we escape the point of control- the present. We miss so much beauty and so much wonder. As Michael pointed out over and over (most recently I noticed it when I re-read sections of Dancing the Dream) there is beauty and miracles all around. And we miss it. It is almost as if we have become afraid of the emotions the moment creates. Children are very much in touch with that part of their brain- good, bad, ugly- you KNOW what a child feels (I am talking healthy, non traumatized child).
    How interesting that what Michael was so often ridiculed for is now actually something we try to teach people as we guide them toward healing.
    Part of mindfulness is also to be curious, to have fun, to laugh…again…making me think of those wonders of a child Michael pointed out as so very valuable.
    When I talk to my clients about these concepts, I smile, and I somehow feel his message, and therefore him, with me. So, your post, really was what I needed in the past weeks! Thank you!

    • Hi, Birgit, I am so glad you brought up the mindfulness in this connection. I agree that we have for centuries been trained away from “being in the moment” and instead encouraged to direct our attention to the past or future. (Is there is a right brain/left brain dichotomy here–where we are heavily developing one side of our capacities and not the other?) From what I have read, music is being used therapeutically more and more to help people with various mental and physical problems–Michael was indeed ahead of his time!

      Thanks for bringing up animals too–and of course Michael loved animals as well as children and nature. Animals have to be in the moment–aware of the present–in order to survive b/c, as you said, it’s “the point of control”–really ALL we can control.

      I found this comment very thought-provoking: “It is almost as if we have become afraid of the emotions the moment creates.” Michael had such great emotional sensitivity and expression. The fear of emotions and the lack of knowledge of mindfulness cause much suffering, but wonderful that you and others are helping people to find a new way.

      I hope your horse is doing well and healing from his injury!

  16. Hi Veronica, Willa, and Joie –

    I, too, am coming late to the party — because I am still recovering from my annual Christmas/New Year’s house party which this year almost did me in. I can hardly think, much less read or write.

    But, I wanted you to know that I think this post was beautiful and really captured MJ’s deep understanding of childhood, which so many misunderstood and dismissed as, well, “childish,” when it was anything but.

    I have always linked MJ’s understanding and valuing of children and childhood to Wordworth’s idea of the child who “trails clouds of glory,” who is the father of the man (or mother of the woman). Children possess a sense of wonder that adults all too often lose – and children seem to have a connection to nature that they lose as they mature. And, I think your post captures MJ’s attitudes toward and understanding of childhood perfectly.

    And thanks, Veronica, for completing the quote ““If you want to know me, listen to my music. The love is stored there and will not die.” Like Willa and Raven, I wasn’t aware of the second sentence, which is so important. MJ’s understanding of love was as deep and complex as his understanding of childhood and children. And, it informs every note of every song — even his most angry ones, as even his anger arises from compassion and love.

    • Hi, Eleanor–I can relate to what you said about recovering from the holidays!! And thanks too for your kind comments.

      I agree Michael’s approach to children can be compared to Wordsworth’s–the idea that children are closer to God and have an innate knowledge that adults too often lose. He loved poetry, and I wish we had a complete list of the books he had in his library–maybe one day. I feel sure he read the Romantic poets, including Wordsworth.

      Great point that “even his anger arises from compassion and love”!

  17. “So we have decided to take a more laid-back approach and post when the inspiration strikes. We have some fun and interesting topics lined up for the coming year, and we still hope to post fairly frequently – we will just have a less structured posting schedule. We hope you understand, and we look forward to your continued support in the new year. Thanks again!”

    Hi Joie and Willa –

    I am so sorry you are not going to post regularly, but I understand. But maybe you could still post regularly, but at longer intervals??? Once a month? I really look forward to a new Dancing With the Elephant post. And there’s still so much to say. Especially with the world in the fix it is in – socially, politically, economically, politically. And I really think he and the love he stored in his music are the key to change. We need Dancing With the Elephant and MJ now more than ever.

    Not to put too much pressure on……

    I really do understand. But, selfishly, I NEED you!

    • Hi Eleanor I was just about to add my voice to yours as I missed the fortnightly post this morning, when low and behold my phone pinged and there is a post – cosmic choreography at its best!!!! Off now to see what it is all about.

      Happy New Year

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