Scared of the Moon

Willa:  This week I am thrilled to be talking about “Scared of the Moon” with Raven Woods. Raven has an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing, and she teaches writing and literature courses at Alabama A&M University and Calhoun Community College. She’s also a freelance journalist and writer, and teaches seminars on Michael Jackson’s music and cultural importance.

She’s also the creator of AllForLoveBlog, which was the first site Joie and I added to our blogroll when we started Dancing with the Elephant. It’s a favorite for both of us, and it’s still the first place I turn whenever there’s breaking news in the Michael Jackson universe. I know I will find important information, thoughtful analysis, and a community of voices sharing ideas. In addition to current events, AllforLove also provides fabulous, rarely seen photos (that’s another reason I check in frequently!), important historical information, and insights into Michael Jackson’s music, dancing, and videos.

Thank you so much for joining me, Raven!

Raven:  Thank you so much for inviting me. And I would like to return the compliment by saying that I think Dancing with the Elephant is one of the best blogs for anyone who is interested in Michael’s art foremost.

Willa:  Thank you, Raven. I really appreciate that. Coming from you, that means a lot!

So I’m excited to talk with you about “Scared of the Moon” and I don’t mean to get us off track, but I was very intrigued by something you said in a recent post:

It was during the Dangerous era that Michael seemed to solidify the concept for his live performances which often began with the “masculine” (he would come on tough, as a persona who was very masculine, angular, and hard, with military-esque trappings) and, over the course of the performance, would evolve to a more feeling, flowing, ethereal “feminine” persona (a transition that, like the Dangerous album’s concept, usually transpired with the performance of “Heal the World,” “Will You Be There” and the other spiritual “message” songs).

Michael’s onstage persona during the first half of his Dangerous tour performances was always somewhat distant and cold; he would often wear a perpetual sneer. The moves are often blatantly sexual (a lot of crotch grabbing, etc). By the time the metamorphosis is complete, he is smiling, interacting with children onstage; the fencing shirt replaced by a flowing white shirt that accentuates his ethereal quality. His dance moves have become fluid and graceful, rather than angular and hard.

I had never noticed that before, Raven, but you’re right – his concerts from Dangerous on did tend to begin with a hard-edged “masculine” persona and move toward a softer, more “feminine” persona. We see it all the way up to This Is It, which documents his plans for the 2009 London concerts. Apparently, those concerts were going to begin with him in a spacesuit and then move to something called “The Drill,” a very militaristic performance of “Bad” and “They Don’t Care about Us,” before moving to softer songs like “Earth Song.”

Raven: Yes, This Is It, from all indications, was going to be a continuation of that formula. I think he liked that arc. It seemed to suit his artistic vision.

Willa: I agree. And we see a similar movement in his later albums as well, as you pointed out with Dangerous. HIStory begins in a rather in-your-face way with “Scream” and “They Don’t Care about Us,” but ends with the much softer “Smile.” And Invincible begins with the hard-driving trio of “Unbreakable,” “Heartbreaker,” and “Invincible” but concludes with softer songs like “The Lost Children” and “Whatever Happens,” though it does add a little edge at the very end with “Threatened.”

I had never noticed that structure before, but now that you’ve pointed it out, Raven, I keep seeing it, like in his performance at the MTV 10th anniversary celebration in 1991, or his Superbowl performance in 1993, or his performance at the 1995 MTV awards, or his 30th anniversary concerts at Madison Square Garden in 2001.

That movement from a hard, even militaristic opening to a much softer conclusion seems very significant, especially since he returns to it so often. And how wonderful that he enacts it during the halftime show at the Superbowl!

Raven: Oh yes, that Superbowl finale with “Heal The World’ has to be, hands down, one of the greatest moments in live TV.

Willa:  Absolutely!

Raven: As you know, I have been doing a very in-depth review of Susan Fast’s book Dangerous and that was why the topic came up, because she aptly points out how this arc forms the central concept of the Dangerous album. This seems to have been where the pattern begun, and from there, it became a kind of blueprint, almost, for all the albums and tours that followed.

As always when discussing and analyzing art, of course, it is hard to say how much of this was intentional, conscious choice and how much of it may have simply evolved organically and subconsciously. I know this because, as a writer, I often don’t see certain themes or emerging patterns in my own work until I’ve written them and have had time to step back and reflect on them – or until someone points them out. But once I am aware of them, I know they were not entirely accidental. Rather, they are the result of things buried in my subconscious that are being worked through.

But for sure, Michael was well aware (keenly aware, I am sure!) of the overall flow of his albums and performances; how the flow of one track to another, for example, impacts the listener (or the performance) and sets the overall tone and mood. He definitely liked the idea of taking listeners on a journey, and the arc was part of that journey. Susan Fast refers to it as Michael’s desire to create utopianism, and I don’t think that is a far-fetched concept. It seemed to permeate most everything he did, at least from Dangerous forward.

Willa: I agree, though I’d never noticed that arc before you – inspired by Susan – pointed it out. But I’m really intrigued by it now. For one thing, it provides a very different way of interpreting his use of military imagery – not as something he was advocating, but as something that would later be transformed into something softer and more nurturing.

So getting back to “Scared of the Moon,” what started this conversation was something you said in a comment a while back where you compared “Scared of the Moon” to “Childhood”:

“Scared of The Moon” … 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.… I have heard that he wrote the song for Brooke Shields, but much of it seems autobiographical for Michael, also.… 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.…

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.

Raven, I was really struck by everything you said. I love “Scared of the Moon” – it’s a truly beautiful song – but it’s very unsettling as well. Partly, that’s because of the subject matter, a child threatened by nameless fears, but also because it seems so contrary to how he usually talked about childhood. Your comment perfectly captures the ambivalence I feel whenever I listen to this haunting song, and helps explain why it’s so disturbing as well as exquisitely beautiful.

Raven: Exactly. Although it certainly is a very beautiful song melodiously, it is also one of his darker songs about childhood, though perhaps not as dark as “Little Susie,” which was about the murder of a child.

Willa:  That’s true. There’s also “The Lost Children” and “Hollywood Tonight” – they’re both pretty dark as well – and “Do You Know Where Your Children Are.” That’s a very troubling song. It’s about a young girl who’s trying to escape an abusive stepfather, and the lyrics are pretty explicit about that: “she is tired of stepdaddy using her / Saying that he’ll buy her things, while sexually abusing her.” So she runs away to Hollywood, but ends up “selling her body” just to survive. In the end, she’s arrested for prostitution, even though “she’s only 12 years old” – and Michael Jackson just sounds heartbroken as he sings those words, as if he can hardly bear it.

So even though he frequently spoke up for children and repeatedly emphasized the importance of childhood, he didn’t hesitate to show the harsh realities many children face.

Raven: Your reference to “Do You Know Where Your Children Are” got me to thinking about how the subject of child prostitution has been handled in other pop songs. One example that leaps immediately to mind is the Nick Gilder classic “Hot Child in the City” (a song I remember well from my teen years) about a 15-year-old runaway who has turned to prostitution,

What’s interesting about this song is that, just as what Michael is doing with “Scared of the Moon” Gilder uses a deceptively poppy, sweet melody to cloak what is actually a very dark subject.

I remember when this song was a huge hit and it was largely because when young people my age were listening to it, we were hearing its catchy hook and not really paying much attention to the words – or if we did, we just took it as a song about a pretty girl catching boys’ eyes as she walks down the street (not exactly new subject matter in rock’n’roll; songs like Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman” had been playing on that motif for years). I don’t think anyone really caught on that this song was about a kid who is selling her body and is being preyed upon by an older guy (the narrator of the song who says “we’ll talk about love”) or if we did think about it, we just kind of brushed it off – after all, it was a much less politically correct era in terms of underaged sex. I also have a very vivid memory of a video to the song that depicted a child wearing a wig and an oversized, adult evening gown, walking the streets. But again, because the song’s hook was so catchy, I suppose we could argue that it belied the very dark reality of its subject matter – or that it somehow made the dark subject matter more palatable, which perhaps was the idea.

In the case of “Do You Know Where Your Children Are,” though it has a catchy riff, it’s a somewhat ominous and gritty riff, preparing us for the reality of the song’s subject matter. The effect he achieves with “The Lost Children” is similar. Here the intent is not so much to create a dark mood, but rather, one of sadness and heartbreak. It’s a prayer that all of the “lost children” will somehow find their way, and the music intensifies that sadness and longing.

That is what makes “Scared of the Moon” even more puzzling to me; it’s as if the lyrics and melody do not “fit.” Yet we know the master’s skilled hands and ear are at work, and what he is achieving with this song must be purposeful.

Willa: Yes, I agree – and actually, the fact that they don’t “fit” heightens the eeriness of the song. It underscores the feeling that something is dreadfully wrong below the beautiful surface.

Raven:  As you know, so much of Michael’s body of work was about trying to either recapture or maintain the innocence of childhood. In the song “Childhood” he is advocating that, as adults, we should look within our hearts and ask ourselves if we have seen our childhood – the idea being that, if we can recognize our inner child, it can pave the way for a healthier adulthood.

But in “Scared of the Moon” it is the opposite, a recognition that it is also the scars and traumas of childhood that shape us as adults. It is a recognition that childhood, in addition to being a magical time of innocence and wonder, can also be a scary and frightening time. For sure, it is the period that most shapes and defines who we become as adults – for better or worse. The very reason that childhood tragedies strike such a resonant chord with us – when we hear of children being murdered, beaten to death, starved, sexually abused, or caught in the crossfires of violence – is because this is supposed to be the most innocent, carefree time of their lives. If a child can’t be innocent, happy, or carefree during the first decade or so of their lives, then when on earth is that going to be possible for them? The answer is never. Once the damage is done, it’s for life.

I have often wondered if this was the reason Michael deliberately chose such a deceptively sweet, wistful melody to pair with lyrics that are, by contrast, so dark and tinged with fear. The song’s luscious arrangement gives it the quality of a lullaby, but just as we are settling in too comfortably, we realize that this is not a comfortable place we are being taken to.

Willa:  That’s an interesting way to interpret that, Raven. It’s like the “sweet, wistful melody,” as you called it, evokes images of childhood the way it’s supposed to be, while the lyrics evoke a very different reality. And part of the tension of the song is the contrast between the two.

Raven: Exactly. And in something like “Little Susie,” for example, he goes with an intentionally Gothic sound that fits the theme of the song. There is no ambiguity regarding the place that the song is going to take us.

Through the years, “Scared of the Moon” has given rise to many interpretations, largely because the moon can be said to symbolize so many things. Because the moon is associated with night, it can symbolize the terrors of darkness. The song’s protagonist is a female child (as we know, he claimed to have written the song for his friend Brooke Shields) who lies in fear of unnamed terrors in the dark. But interestingly, the moon – even though it is providing “beams of light” – is no source of comfort in that darkness. Indeed, it seems to be the source of her fear.

Willa:  And that’s a really important point, I think. It’s not unusual for kids to be scared of the dark, but generally the moon is seen as reassuring, almost like a friend in the darkness. I’m thinking of children’s stories like “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown:

And there’s a wonderful story my son loved when he was little called “Owl and the Moon” by Arnold Lobel:

In both of these stories, the moon is a kind of companion who stays with you in the dark, so you don’t feel so alone. But that isn’t the situation in “Scared of the Moon,” so again there’s a sharp contrast between what we expect and what the song actually says – like the contrast between the melody and the lyrics that you described earlier.

Raven:  I’ve heard speculations that it is a song about childhood sexual abuse, but I’m not sure what I make of those interpretations or their validity. It could be possible.

Willa:  Yes, I’ve heard that also, and it makes sense – it makes her fears understandable. And childhood sexual abuse was an important issue for him and something he did address in his songs, like in “Do You Know Where Your Children Are,” as we mentioned earlier.

So I think that’s a perfectly valid interpretation, but I tend to see this song as more ambiguous than that, more open-ended. It’s almost like he’s trying to describe those nameless fears many children have, that are so terrifying in part because they’re nameless – because children can’t label them and analyze them, and in that way drain them of their power.

Raven: But also, the term “lunacy” is often one associated with mental illness. This would seem to be borne out by the song’s lines:

The feeling of terror
She felt as a youth
Has turned from a fantasy
Into a truth
The moon is the enemy
Twisting her soul
And taking its fearful toll
Scared of the moon

But now there are others
Who sit in their room
And wait for the sunlight
To brighten their gloom
Together they gather
Their lunacy shared
But knowing just why they’re scared
Scared of the moon

The key phrase seems to me to be “their lunacy shared” which could refer to a group of people in an institution (or it could just refer collectively to every individual with a scarred childhood that has carried over into adulthood). Either way, it seems that the fears are still there. As adults, they are better able to hide those fears in light of day, and they now understand the reasons behind them. But that knowledge doesn’t make the fears any less potent.

Willa:  Those verses are really perplexing, aren’t they? And I see what you mean – I get the impression of a mental asylum also. And that goes back to a very old idea that the moon could cause a kind of temporary madness that would then fade as the moon faded from sight. In fact, the words “lunacy” and “lunatic” come from “luna,” the Latin word for “moon,” which is also where the word “lunar” comes from in phrases like “lunar eclipse” or “lunar month.”

We see this ancient idea acted out in Thriller when the Michael character transforms into a werewolf or werecat. He doesn’t just undergo physical changes but mental changes as well. As he begins to transform, he tells his girlfriend, “Run away!” because he can feel the madness coming on and knows that soon he won’t be able to control his actions. And he can’t. After he’s fully transformed, he chases and attacks her.

So interpreting this section of “Scared of the Moon” as a type of madness or mental illness brought on by the moon seems valid to me, but I wonder if it could be interpreted more metaphorically also. I mean, Michael Jackson was so linked to the moon. His signature dance was called the “moonwalk,” which is also the title of his biography. His only feature length film was Moonwalker, with the moon appearing as a very important symbol of change and creativity, even magic. We see this idea in the Childhood video also, where the moon seems to represent imagination and creativity – specifically, the intense imagination of childhood. Joie and I talked about that a little bit in a post a while back.

He expresses this idea in Dancing the Dream also, like in the opening paragraphs of “Dance of Life”:

I cannot escape the moon. Its soft beams push aside the curtains at night. I don’t even have to see it – a cool blue energy falls across my bed and I am up. I race down the dark hall and swing open the door, not to leave home but to go back to it. “Moon, I’m here!” I shout.

“Good,” she replies. “Now give us a little dance.”

But my body has started moving long before she says anything. When did it start? I can’t remember – my body has always been moving. Since childhood I have reacted to the moon this way, as her favorite lunatic …

That word “lunatic” takes us back to the idea of a kind of madness evoked by the moon, but he doesn’t use it in a negative way. Just the opposite. It’s a wonderful madness that the moon inspires in him – a kind of creative ecstasy. And it’s clearly something he cherishes.

The fact that the moon is generally such a positive image in Michael Jackson’s work, used repeatedly to represent imagination and creativity, is another reason “Scared of the Moon” is so unsettling to me. It just feels wrong to hear a Michael Jackson song where the moon is “the enemy.” And that makes me wonder if we can interpret this a different way.

For example, maybe the main character in “Scared of the Moon” is someone who’s scared of her own imagination, scared of letting herself go and expressing herself creatively. So something that should be nurturing to her (the moon, her imagination, her own artistic nature) has become frightening to her.

Raven:  It is interesting to compare Michael’s “Scared of the Moon” to “I’m Open,” a track from Pearl Jam’s 1996 album No Code. This is the only song I have found that comes similarly close to Michael’s message in “Scared of the Moon.” Note the lyrics spoken in the song’s opening monologue:

A man lies in his bed, in a room with no door
He waits hoping for a presence, something, anything, to enter
After spending half his life searching, he still felt as blank
As the ceiling at which he’s staring
He’s alive, but feels absolutely nothing
So, is he?
When he was six he believed that the moon overhead followed him
By nine he had deciphered the illusion, trading magic for fact
No trade-backs…
So this is what it’s like to be an adult
If he only knew now what he knew then.

Willa: Oh, that’s really interesting, Raven. So in this song we see a man who’s completely lost touch with the moon – and also with his emotions and his inner life. “He’s alive, but feels absolutely nothing.” He had that connection when he was a child, when “he believed that the moon overhead followed him.” But then he traded “magic for fact” and lost that connection.

So like the main character in “Scared of the Moon,” he seems to be repressing parts of himself that should bring him joy. But while the things she’s repressing seem to terrify her, he feels nothing at all. He’s “as blank as the ceiling at which he’s staring.”

Raven: With the main character in the Pearl Jam song, it seems to be more of a case of lost innocence. He’s lost the magic of childhood. It is the idea of something being irretrievably lost once we are an adult and have, as he says, “deciphered the illusion.” Now that you have pointed this out, I am thinking that, thematically, this is actually closer to what Michael was stating in “Childhood.” And, also, in the video for that song we see children in a boat gliding towards the moon.

Willa: Oh, that’s a good point. Like his character in Childhood wistfully watching as children sail away on their imagination, the main character in “I’m Open” wistfully remembers his own childhood, and wishes “he only knew now what he knew then.”

This is an idea Michael Jackson frequently mentioned – that children have a deep knowledge that adults have lost. As he said in an interview when he was only 22,

One of my favorite pastimes is being with children, talking to them and playing with them.  Children know a lot of secrets [about the world] and it’s difficult to get them to tell.  Children are incredible.  They go through a brilliant phase, but then when they reach a certain age, they lose it.  My most creative moments have almost always come when I’m with children.  When I’m with them, the music comes to me as easily as breathing.

So in this one small comment, he’s expressing some really profound ideas: that children have knowledge of the world that adults lack, and that this knowledge is linked to creativity.

Raven:  Yes, and you know, there has been so much said about how we are never so close to our spiritual natures as when we are children. This was what William Wordsworth meant in “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” and his famous line that the child is “Father of the Man.” His entire point of that rather lengthy piece is that we are born with all our inherent qualities of divinity, grace, and perception.

Children, as we know, are much more perceptive of the spiritual and natural world, as well as much more receptive of it. Children, for example, often display psychic abilities which they tend to lose with age – for example, the ability to see auras, or ghosts. I have read many accounts where adults will recall that, as children, they once saw someone’s aura. Often, adults have childhood memories (sometimes comforting; sometimes frightening) of commuting with the spirit world. But unless an individual is especially sensitive, they tend to lose this gift with age. It’s as if we lose something of our spiritual selves the minute the world takes over and consumes our bodies and minds, as what happens in adulthood. Part of what we lose as adults is the ability to sense magic and wonder in the world. Everything now has a rational explanation. For many kids, it may be a comfort to get older and realize there is no monster hiding under the bed, but the trade-off is in realizing that, likewise, Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are not real, either. In most of his songs about childhood, Michael was usually lamenting the loss of that childhood innocence and wonder. But here he seems to be singing about another childhood rite of passage, and that is the fear of unknown and inexplicable terrors.

As you said, Michael used the moon symbolically throughout much of his career as something that was associated with magic and the imagination. In the Pearl Jam song, the moon is somewhat serving this same function – it represents something wondrous and magical, as compared to the emptiness and mundaneness of adulthood. I think that the characters in both songs may be experiencing some sort of trauma. Mental illness can produce terror in some (such as hallucinations, or flashbacks to past traumatic events) or it can also produce complete inertia and numbness.

In the case of “Scared of the Moon” I am not quite sure if the moon is intended to merely symbolize her terrors, or if it is, literally, the thing that she fears.

Willa:  Yes, I wonder about that also.

Raven: Judging from the lyrics, I would register to guess that in childhood, the moon was the literal source of her fear (as children often fear things irrationally); in adulthood, she may no longer fear the moon itself, but she fears what it represents symbolically. It stands for all those inexplicable fears of childhood.

Willa:  Oh, that’s interesting. So instead of seeing it as an either-or question, you interpret it one way when she’s younger and the other way when she’s older. I hadn’t thought about that, but it makes a lot of sense.

Raven: In “I’m Open” it seems that the character has withdrawn emotionally from the world. That, too, can be a defense mechanism against trauma, but it does seem that in childhood, at least, the moon was a friend and a comfort, much like “Goodnight Moon” and “Owl and the Moon.” In that regard, it does differ markedly from “Scared of the Moon” where Michael even explicitly sings, “The moon is the enemy / twisting her soul.”

It is interesting in the fact that it seems so very opposite of Michael’s own feelings about the moon, which he always expressed as something that was, for him personally, something very benevolent. But then again, if he did intend for this to be a song about his friend Brooke Shields, perhaps we have to be careful about trying to project too much of “Michael” into it. As I am always reminding my students, we have to make the distinction between author, narrator, and character – or in this case, lyricist and character – and not assume they are automatically one and the same. In all likelihood, this was a very personal song between Michael and Brooke, which may have had something to do with why it went unreleased for so long. It could have been that Michael was not entirely comfortable with releasing something he had written for a friend that was so intensely personal. It would be interesting to know what Brooke’s thoughts on the song are.

I know that Brooke had a very troubled childhood. She not only began working at an even younger age than Michael, but also had to deal with an alcoholic mother. I believe I mentioned in my blog comment (the one that sparked this conversation) that in her recent People magazine interview she said that the only time she ever saw her mother sober was early in the morning before she went to school. Her mother would be drunk by the time she got home again, and her drunkenness only progressed into the evening and nights. Reading between the lines, it seems like the only time she felt safe, secure, and sure of her mother’s love was in those early morning hours, when the day was fresh. It seems that she lived in fear of darkness descending; as the day wore on, her mother became a bigger terror.

Willa:  That’s a really interesting way to interpret that, Raven. It’s almost like, as the moon rises, her mother’s demons come out through her binge drinking. So if we apply that to the character in “Scared of the Moon,” maybe her fear of the moon is actually her fear of what could happen if her mother loses control.

Raven:  I would imagine that she and Michael probably had many deep conversations about these fears. And, of course, they had common ground, for Michael spent most of his childhood in fear of Joseph.

I am sure you remember the story Michael recounted about the time Joseph scared them all half to death by putting on a frightening mask and coming in through their bedroom window. Joe said that it was to prove a point – to “scare” them into closing and locking their bedroom window at night, rather than leaving it open for any prowler to climb through. But if that was his intent, his child “psychology” backfired horribly. Michael said the incident caused him to be afraid of the dark and to have nightmares about being kidnapped for years afterward.

Michael respected his father, but as we know, he also feared him. “He can just give you a LOOK,” he said, and I know he was telling the truth because, from what little time I was around Joe in 2010, I got “the look” and realized if I had been a child, this man would have terrified me. I was an adult and shaking in my shoes because when Joe gives you “the look” as Michael put it, it can make you feel like a gnat! (But to set the record straight, I saw many sides of Joe that weekend, including when he sat behind me and struggled not to shed any tears during a tribute, so this is not to judge him, but only to reinforce what Michael said). To be honest, I never felt closer to Michael – or more empathy for him – than I did at that moment, standing before the man who made him (literally and figuratively, I suppose) and having those steel blue-gray eyes pierce my soul.

Willa:  So Raven, now you have me terribly curious. When was this? And what were the circumstances? How did you end up spending a weekend with Michael Jackson’s father? And why on earth did he give you “the look”!

Raven: This was in Gary, Indiana, during Michael’s birthday weekend in 2010. Joe was a guest of the Fanvention that year. I had a media pass which gave me access to a lot of the events where he was attending. I half suspect that I got “The Look” because I was wearing a media badge. I recall that when I got close enough to him to ask a question, he just glanced down toward my badge and scowled, ignoring me like he didn’t even hear me (this, I have since learned, is a coping strategy that the entire family seems to have for avoiding the press or questions they don’t want to answer). So I didn’t actually talk to him that weekend, but I was in the same room with him quite a bit – more than enough to observe him. I probably should add that I could have interviewed him if I hadn’t blown my chance! I was told I could meet with him in the hotel restaurant, which was called The Star Cafe. But I misheard and went to the Starbucks instead!

Willa:  Oh no!

Raven:  By the time I figured out I was in the wrong place – and that she actually meant The Star Cafe which was right across from the Starbucks – it was too late. So I’ll never know if Joe and I might have gotten past our initial awkward encounter.

My experience with Katherine two years later was similar. I was in the same room with her, but never actually got face time. I had been told before I left that an interview might be possible, but once I got there, was informed that Katherine wasn’t going to do any press. Still, I treasure those experiences because I got to be around both of Michael’s parents and it afforded me a good opportunity to really observe both of them. And I can say that both of them are exactly as their children have described them! No exaggerations.

Willa:  Wow, that’s amazing. I can’t imagine being in the same room with either of them. You know, there are a thousand questions I’d love to ask them, but if I actually saw them in person, I wonder if I’d really be able to ask …

Raven: Yes, and the toughest part is that you never really know what kinds of questions are totally off limits. You can choose to play it safe and ask the generic kinds of questions that you know will only net the same ol’ answers, or you can take the gamble of asking the really juicy questions that you really want to know – but which are apt to get you completely iced out. I usually start with a few “safe” questions to feel the subject out; if they seem comfortable, I may go for the tougher ones. But it also depends on how much time has been allotted.

I would say, however, that although Joe has a much crustier exterior, he actually seems to be the more amiable of the two. Katherine is much more reserved; she is very shy and doesn’t really enjoy doing press, and seems very embarrassed to have too much attention focused on her. She will usually prefer to sit in an inconspicuous corner in the back of the room, avoiding the fanfare as much as possible. Joe, on the other hand, seems to enjoy meeting the fans and the adulation – unless you cross him in some way, which I apparently did without even realizing it.

But to steer this back to the point, Michael did have a deep-rooted fear of his father. All of the Jackson children did, and as a result, they came to dread evenings and nights when they knew he would be home. Whatever the deep rooted, underlying causes, a fear of the darkness and of night did seem to plague Michael into adulthood, although it was not consistent. For example, he loved taking nighttime walks around Neverland. By his own account, he would often go out at night to sit in The Giving Tree. He seemed to be at peace with his infamous insomnia when not under the pressure of touring – in fact, he took advantage of those dark hours to engage in some of his most intense creativity. (I am just the opposite. I have to do my most intense creative thinking in the mornings, and am usually “braindead” by night!) But Michael was very much a night owl who seemed, on the one hand, to welcome the dark hours.

On the other hand, however, it seemed he also sought ways to avoid it as much as possible: Keeping a light on all night, for example (and often, what fitful sleep he did get was beneath a glaring light) and a distraction such as TV or a computer – these are all, to some degree, means of avoidance, a kind of artificial environment that simulates daytime comforts as a way of postponing or avoiding absolute darkness. I understand completely, because it is the same reason why I immediately turn on the TV when I check into a hotel room if I am alone (oddly enough, I don’t indulge this habit if I am with someone). It’s a way of creating an artificial comfort zone, so we don’t feel so alone. I sense that Michael had these fears of being alone in total darkness.

Willa:  That’s really interesting, Raven. So it’s like, for him personally, the moon and nighttime in general played a fascinating double role, as a time of creative inspiration but also fear. But in his previous work – meaning his songs and poems and videos before “Scared of the Moon” – he’d only expressed the positive role the moon played for him, as muse and creative spark. So maybe “Scared of the Moon” is balancing that out by presenting the other side, and expressing hidden fears that he hadn’t expressed before – a time of night terrors where the moon is “the enemy.”

Raven: I had another interesting revelation on this topic last week when I assigned one of my classes to read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I am sure you are probably familiar with the story, but for those who don’t know, it is a story Gilman wrote in 1892 about a woman with postpartum depression who is confined by her well-meaning but controlling husband, who is a physician, to the “bed rest” cure. The “cure” backfires, however, because her confinement slowly drives her insane. With nothing better or more fulfilling to do day in and night out, she starts to obsess over the patterns in the hideous, yellow wallpaper that decorates her room. Eventually, she starts to hallucinate and imagines that within the wallpaper’s patterns she sees women, trapped like herself, within it. This irrational fear and obsession starts to eat away at her sanity. Eventually, she starts to dread her nights alone with the wallpaper worst of all:

There is one marked peculiarity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself, and that is that it changes as the light changes.

When the sun shoots in through the east window – I always watch for that first long, straight line – it changes so quickly that I can never quite believe it.

That is why I watch it always.

By moonlight – the moon shines in all night when there is a moon – I wouldn’t know it was the same paper.

At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it as plain as can be.

I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.

By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is so puzzling. It keeps me quiet by the hour.

It does not take astute readers long, however, to learn that the narrator and the woman “behind the pattern” are one and the same. This passage, likewise, bears a striking similarity to the girl Michael is singing about in “Scared of the Moon.” In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator likewise becomes “scared of the moon” because she starts to dread when the moon’s light will play on her mind and eye, transforming the pattern of the wallpaper into the bars of her own prison. It is, of course, the illusion she fears, rather than the moon itself. But again, it is that idea of the moon as the thing that is synonymous with nighttime fears and all which we suppress in light of day.

Willa:  That’s a fascinating connection, Raven. Those lines you quoted really remind me of the opening lines of “Scared of the Moon”:

Alone she lays waiting
Surrounded by gloom
Invaded by shadows
Painting the room
The light from the window
Cuts through the air
And pins the child lying there
Scared of the moon

And another similarity is that both are told in a way that’s very sympathetic toward the main character. The woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” is also the narrator and she seems so trustworthy, so reasonable, that it comes as a terrible shock to learn that she has apparently slipped into madness – pushed there by being locked in isolation day after day.

And we really sympathize with the girl in “Scared of the Moon” also, who may be suffering from a type of “lunacy” also. Mental illness is frightening, so we may try to distance ourselves from people who suffer from it. But both Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Michael Jackson encourage us to identify with their characters, and experience the fears they experience. That’s interesting. Thank you for sharing that, Raven, and thank you so much for joining me!

Raven: My pleasure. Thank you again for inviting me.

Willa:  Oh, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

I also wanted to add a quick note following up on our last post. Vanity Fair has removed a number of Maureen Orth’s articles – including “Losing His Grip” and “Neverland’s Lost Boys” – from their website. So thank you sincerely to everyone who contacted them. It seems to have made a difference. I hope Vanity Fair will now do the right thing and print a correction or retraction. I think journalistic ethics and integrity, as well as common decency, demand it.

Advertisements

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 February 12, 2015, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Thank you Willa and Raven. When you mentioned that Michael had written the song with his friend Brooke Shields in mind, another layer of meaning that occurred to me is the deep-rooted concept of the moon as the “feminine” — in Roman mythology, Luna reflecting soft light while Sol transmits the “masculine” direct energy of the sun. Also, “the moon” is used in nature-centered cultures as a euphemism for menses, with the synchronous relationship between the menstrual cycle and lunar rhythm. When I listen to the song and the vivid lyrics, and the gentle tone that Michael uses, it’s as if he’s taking a nurturing, parental, comforting role to encourage young women to embrace their power of the feminine, and all that it entails. Even his use of the term “enemy” holds meaning in this context as our modern culture demonizes a woman’s menses as “the curse.” Then in the last verse, a Michaelian twist, with a shift in perspective to the “others” who are scared of the moon, that is, scared of the feminine — and allow their fear to manifest as domination, violence, and destruction.

    What a mind, what a heart, what an Artist. L.O.V.E.

    • That is an interesting take, Flora. In Native American culture, a woman’s menstrual cycle is referred to as her “moon time.” Traditionally, a woman’s “moon time” was a period of about five to seven days in which she was considered “unclean” and men, including her own husband, brothers, uncles etc would not go near her, nor touch anything she touched. It was actually more out of respect than fear. They respected the power that a woman supposedly had during her moon time; however, it was considered very bad luck for a man’s weapons to be in the proximity of a woman on her moon time. It was believed that her power during this time would render their weapons useless. For women, it was not an entirely unwelcome time. It was kind of like a little vacation, in fact. It was a time when she could be secluded away from her family and, instead of working and taking care of kids and performing sexual duties, could have precious time all to herself. Often, she might have a separate lodge-a “moon lodge”-where she would spend this time. Other women might join her there, if they were also on their moon time, so it would become a time of bonding for these women. These traditions are still very much in practice in Native culture. I know because I am half Cherokee, and although I am not as much of a practicing traditionalist as I once was, I used to partake in a lot of traditional ceremonies. Women today are still not allowed to go into a sweat lodge if they are on their “moon time.” One of the most initially frustrating experiences I had was once when I traveled several miles to attend a sweat ceremony, only to get there and have my menses begin! But they had a special “moon lodge” constructed for just this purpose, and it was actually very nice. I wasn’t in there for days (more like a few hours, lol) but they had it decorated very cozily with meditation candles, relaxing music and things to read. It was as good as being at The Hilton, except it was in the middle of the woods!

  2. I am especially captivated by your comments about MJ’s masculine and feminine presentation. What comes to mind right away for me is the “Ghosts” short film. The Maestro character has long flowing hair and a soft flowing shirt. His nemesis the Mayor, also played by Jackson, presents as an ultra-stereotypical man, in a suit and tie and with short hair. A lot of room for interpretation there! One of the many wonderful things about Michael Jackson is that he gave us so much to think about.

    • Wow Susan, that’s a really interesting way to look at Ghosts! And it does kind of match up with that “arc” that Raven is talking about, I think.

      His performances from Dangerous on begin with him as a very authoritarian sort of figure (I’m thinking specifically of the “soldier” who stands so rigidly at the beginning of his Superbowl performance, or the soldier-type character in “The Drill” from This Is It) and the Mayor is definitely an authoritarian figure. And then, as Raven described, “By the time the metamorphosis is complete, he is smiling, interacting with children onstage” and is wearing “a flowing white shirt that accentuates his ethereal quality.” That’s a really accurate description of the Maestro, isn’t it? Interesting!

      So it’s almost like, in Ghosts, the pre-transformation persona he portrays early in his concerts and the post-transformation persona he plays later on are brought together and put into conflict. That’s an interesting way to look at that.

      • “His performances from Dangerous on begin with him as a very authoritarian sort of figure . . . and then, as Raven described, “By the time the metamorphosis is complete, he is smiling, interacting with children onstage” and is wearing “a flowing white shirt that accentuates his ethereal quality.”

        Almost like Michael transforming from father to mother in the course of his concerts (or) from authoritarian Joseph to nuturing Katherine.

        Just a thought.

    • I have always been very fascinated by that whole presentation in Ghosts, with the idea of “Michael” having a face-off with “Michael”, via these two very different personas. They are both him, yet almost like alter egos of each other.

  3. Hello Raven and Willa,

    Really thought-provoking discussion on an unreleased track. These relatively unknown songs really are a treasure trove. Would you agree that these songs are actually part of an entire genre of songs Jackson wrote about childhood, being a child and the heartaches of youth? For example there’s ‘Carousel’ a track about falling in love at the circus which doesn’t seem to be fixed into an adult perspective.

    Anyway, keep up the good work and kudos on getting the Vanity Fair pieces taken down.

    Eliza

    • “Would you agree that these songs are actually part of an entire genre of songs Jackson wrote about childhood, being a child and the heartaches of youth?”

      Hi Elizabeth. Yes, I would definitely agree. I’m not sure I would include “Carousel” though, but I just listened to it again and I see what you mean about it “doesn’t seem to be fixed into an adult perspective.” There’s something kind of whimsical and fantastical about it, isn’t there? That’s interesting – I’ll have to think about that.

      • I went back and listened to Carousel again, also. It seems like that one might be more of an adolescent perspective, which I suppose could still qualify it as a “childhood” song, depending on how technical we want to get with our definition of what counts as “childhood.” I could see this as a boy of about 12-14 who has become infatuated with a girl for the very first time. Of course, even pre-adolescent boys can have crushes. With Michael, it’s hard to say because singing about falling in love with a girl on a carousel wouldn’t have been out of character even for his adult persona. This is an interesting one to ponder.

      • Hello Willa, Sorry this reply has been so long… I just realised how I can see all my replies on WordPress. 😛 – Yes, I know what you mean… but if we look at the lyrics ‘I lost my heart on the Carousel to a circus girl’ – it’s not that likely that adults frequent carnivals.. it’s more like a youth or childhood… but the lyrics ‘two different peope in love for an instant’ make it even more ambiguous. Perhaps not quite childhood but immature… after all who falls in love in an instant? It makes me think very much of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and how they are very young characters (14 and 15). They fall in love in a moment and a scene before, Romeo is madly ‘in love’ with Rosaline.

  4. this article was so good I did not want it to end

  5. Some years ago we were talking in a forum about the songs where the melody and the lyrics don’t seem to fit.
    Scared Of The Moon and Little Susie certainly belong into that category. In Little Susie the lyrics are pitch-black, yet the melody is hauntingly beautiful. At least the intro tells you that something is coming up that you might not like.
    Normally a song about a murdered child is something I wouldn’t want to listen to. I would rather skip it. But then there is Michaels voice…It made me connect with the song. It is so soft and despite the tragedy he doesn’t sound angry, frustrated or aggressive. It feels like with his voice he is softly covering the child with a blanket; giving her in death what she lacked in life.
    It’s like he is gently carrying her away.

    I always find it so fascinating how he uses tools like special sounds, melodies, certain kinds of lyrics, his voice and/or visual aspects like performances or his short films to draw your attention to his songs. Once you are hooked, it’s like you can step into the song and discover that it’s not just a song, but a profound piece of living art.

    When you start thinking about the lyrics of Scared Of The Moon you end up being puzzled that Michael choose so powerful words to accuse the moon of being an enemy – even if he wrote the song describing someone else’s experiences. At the end of the song the listener is left with an eerie feeling which is in stark contrast to what we feel when reading Michael’s description of the moon in DTD.
    I guess the only thing the moon can be accused of is, that its light is able to fool the very sense we humans rely on most – the vision. The moonlight is able to shift your perception. Light and shadow work in a way that they trigger fears. This, plus the tales of monsters or criminals, can make you feel uneasy up to the point that you start believing that something so beautiful and innocent as the moon can be an enemy.

    In a way the song shows that whatever or whoever is influencing the perception, can make people believe anything.
    (This also reminds me of the great points Willa made in her book while comparing Michael’s pictures.)

    Scared Of The Moon was released on the Ultimate Collection. The booklet says it was taken from the book “Scared of the moon” by Michael Jackson. Do we have any further information about that “book”?

    • ‘When you start thinking about the lyrics of Scared Of The Moon you end up being puzzled that Michael choose so powerful words to accuse the moon of being an enemy – even if he wrote the song describing someone else’s experiences. At the end of the song the listener is left with an eerie feeling which is in stark contrast to what we feel when reading Michael’s description of the moon in DTD.’

      This also puzzled me since all his other songs and poems on nature, the moon and the stars are in awe, respect and love for nature and very positive. Until I realised the song was co written by Buz Kohan who also wrote Gone Too Soon. Which was the song that inspired Michael to work with Buz.
      Both songs have the same melancholic feel and reference to nature – the moon, the sun – as a metaphor or the cause of emotions: loss, fear, abandonment. So I wonder what was Michael’s input and what was Buzz’s.

      Like The Loss Of Sunlight
      On A Cloudy Afternoon
      Gone Too Soon

      Like A Sunset
      Dying With The Rising Of The Moon
      Gone Too Soon

      Gone Too Soon

      • It is interesting that both songs reference the onset of night (and the appearance of the moon) as a negative thing, although in “Gone Too Soon” it does not seem to be so much about fear of the moon (or darkness) as simply the regret of seeing something else beautiful-a sunset-die. The entire theme of that particular song seems based on the metaphor of a day that is dying; the idea of brevity, and the fact that the light of day always gives way, inevitably, to night. To me, “Gone Too Soon” seems to be more about regret and sadness, whereas “Scared of the Moon” seems to be about genuine fear. All in all, that is very much a Romantic concept-the idea of projecting our human emotions onto nature, whether in a positive or negative sense.

        Whenever I know that Michael collaborated with someone on a song, it is always interesting to me to try to figure out exactly how much of the song is purely “Michael.” I have learned through the years that even on songs that were not credited to him, he still often had a tremendous input into the finished product (for example, how he kept pushing Siedah Garrett to come up with a stronger bridge for “Man in the Mirror”). I have also heard a rumor (though have not been able to confirm) that he contributed much more to the “Thriller” track than most people know (which wouldn’t surprise me; the song really sounds like pure Michael to me). But then again, I think Michael was always drawn to collaborators whose vision meshed well with his own. I have always been amazed by the fact that even when he did covers, he seemed to choose songs that still reflected his values

        • Sina wrote: “Scared of the Moon” “was co written by Buz Kohan who also wrote Gone Too Soon. … Both songs have the same melancholic feel and reference to nature – the moon, the sun – as a metaphor or the cause of emotions: loss, fear, abandonment.”

          And Raven wrote: “that is very much a Romantic concept – the idea of projecting our human emotions onto nature, whether in a positive or negative sense.”

          This reminds me of a poem Buz Kohan wrote for Michael Jackson in 2004, when he was under investigation for the Arviso accusations. It uses the image of a fierce storm to convey his inner turmoil at what was happening: “Big storm blowing / Danger growing / Wind coming up from every side.” But then that’s followed by the stillness that follows a storm. Here’s a beautiful reading of that poem:

    • I haven’t been able to find any info on the book. However, if anyone is interested in the origins of the song and its recording process, Damien Shields did a very good write-up on it back in 2013. It’s very interesting that Michael was actually considering “Scared of the Moon” for Invincible at one point. http://www.damienshields.com/scared-of-the-moon-the-little-song-that-could/

    • “I guess the only thing the moon can be accused of is, that its light is able to fool the very sense we humans rely on most – the vision. The moonlight is able to shift your perception.”

      Hi timelessSky. That’s a really interesting point about moonlight shifting our perceptions – and actually, that’s something Charlotte Perkins Gilman highlights in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Repeatedly in that short story, the main character talks about how the room she is confined to (the wallpaper of that room, in particular) looks very different by moonlight than it does by the light of day. Gradually, she seems to slip between two worlds: the everyday rational world of sunlight and the dark, mysterious world of moonlight. And while that second world contains madness, it also contains tremendous imagination and creativity.

      This connection between madness and creativity is an old one – just think of Edgar Allan Poe, who Michael Jackson deeply admired, or the Romantics, or the ancient figure of the fool who issues wise truths. Madness and creativity are both connected to the moon, and they’re both connected to an ability to dramatically shift perception. In fact, I think that’s one of the primary functions of the artist, the true artist – to shift our perceptions and lead us to see our world in a new way.

      That leads me to wonder again about the role of the moon in “Scared of the Moon,” and if the main character isn’t frightened of her own creativity, and the altered perceptions brought about by the moon/her creativity.

  6. I do love to read these discussions; they are always very thought provokiing, and send me back to the music for another listen!

    I understand that Michael was quite a fan of Roadl Dahl stories. ‘Scared of the moon’ reminds me of the beginning of ‘The BFG’ (Big Friendly Giant). I’ve skipped some parts (indicated by …), but the main narrative starts like this:

    ‘Sophie couldn’t sleep.
    A brilliant moonbeam was slanting through a gap in the curtains. It was shining right on to her pillow………………..Sophie closed her eyes and lay quite still. She tried very hard to doze off. It was no good. The moonbeam was like a silver blade slicing through the room on to her face…………………. Perhaps, she told herself, this is what they called the witching hour.’

    There are other parts of this book (The BFG) that remind me of Michael. In one chapter, the giant says:

    ‘Sometimes, on a very clear night’, the BFG said, ‘and if I is swiggling my ears in the right direction’,- and here, he swivelled his great ears upwards so they were facing the ceiling -‘if I is swiggling them like this and the night is very clear, I is sometimes hearing faraway music coming from the stars in the sky’.

    • That is an amazing passage. It would be interesting to know if this could have indeed been the genesis of Michael’s song, or at least a part of that process. I think that in most cases, when a work of art is created, it is a result of many factors coming to a head. Perhaps someone has an experience; then they read a passage in a book (or see a scene in a movie) that re-triggers that experience. There are so many things that can influence a work of art. I can definitely envision Dahl’s stories having an impact on Michael.

  7. Sorry to come late to the party. Been away for a few days and returned to find my two favourite blogists in one wonderful combination – fantastic.

    I just loved this written by TimelessSky – ‘ It feels like with his voice he is softly covering the child with a blanket; giving her in death what she lacked in life.
    It’s like he is gently carrying her away.’

    I feel like that whenever I listen to Michael – he covers me in blanket and carries me away!!

    I too find it fascinating when he writes so-called ‘black’ lyrics to wonderful music like in Scared Of The Moon and Little Suzie, and many more like Abortion Papers – a fantastic tune that one just has to dance to, but the words ………… Billie Jean, Monkey Business, Cheater and so so many more. He had a real talent for contradiction. as in this song and Dance of Life – making us dance the socks off our feet on one level while hitting us on another with really thought provoking lyrics to knock our minds socks off, if only we would listen – so many people didn’t!! their loss I know.

    Have just been to stay with a friend 100 kilometres outside of Cape Town where there are no street lights, and the night sky is really clear and visible. I always sleep with my curtains open and when there is a full moon it always wakes me up, and I think of Michael dancing on the beach. My friends house is a couple of streets away from the sea, and I have never plucked up the courage to down and dance on the beach in the moonlight. Perhaps one day I will, rather than just being bathed by the moonlight and listening to the sea in bed for a while.

    Thanks for a wonderful post. Lovely to be Dancing With The Elephant again – you brought some (moon)light in the darkness of missing you.

  8. Thanks, Willa and Raven. Interesting discussion of a song that is so troubling to me that I can hardly stand to hear it. But, at the end of the day, I think it is a song about child sexual abuse.

    I don’t think MJ had any problems with the moon, just think of the lyrics to You Are My Life —

    You are the sun
    You make me shine
    Or more like the stars
    That twinkle at night
    You are the moon
    That glows in my heart
    You’re my daytime my nighttime
    My world
    You’re my life

    So, the only way I can explain this song to myself is that the child associates the moon with something terrible that happened to her, and the verbs he chooses in the opening verse provide clues to what that terrible thing was

    Alone she lies waiting
    Surrounded by gloom
    Invaded by shadows
    Painting the room
    The light from the window
    Cuts through the air
    And pins the child lying there
    Scared of the moon

    She is waiting, but for whom? Someone must visit her in the night.
    She is surrounded, can’t escape.
    The gloom is invaded by shadows. Will her body be invaded?
    The light cuts. Will something cut into her?
    She is pinned by the moonlight. Or will her small body be pinned under a heavier body.
    And she is scared, not of the moon, but of this person who visits her in the moonlit night.

    To me, this is an absolutely brilliant song about childhood sexual abuse, the incredibly lovely melody emphasizing, by contrast, the incredible ugliness of the act, the ongoing terrorizing abuse.

    The girl goes into denial, dumping all the memories of her abuse into her unconscious (the moon is a symbol for the unconscious). And all that is left is her terrible fear of the moon, because these things happened to her at night in a room filled with moonlight. Moonlight that in other times other places is seen as beautiful and romantic but which illuminated not her lover, but her father, not a romantic encounter, but an abusive one. Daddy loves her. Sick sweetness.

    Years later, she realizes that what she had relegated to the realm of fantasy, really happened to her. And, that it has happened to others, others who end up in her support group — possibly in a mental asylum.

    That’s what it means to me. And that’s why I just have the hardest time listening to it. Probably the best depiction of child sexual abuse I’ve ever encountered.

  9. Hi all; thanks, again, for a stimulating and important discussion!

    Though we may often be tempted to wrest a few known facts from Michael Jackson’s life (or our feelings about it) and apply these to his songs, I think it’s important to bear in mind what Raven tells her students, and what I sometimes tell mine: there are indeed important distinctions to be made between the author, the narrator, and the character of any given text.

    It becomes all the more crucial to remember this, I think, in the case of “Scared of the Moon” because —to name only one caveat—it’s not unlikely that Buz Kohan wrote these lyrics. I wish I knew more specifics about his process of working with Michael (not only for this song, but also for “Gone too Soon,” which was also a collaboration between the two, as Sina mentioned). Plus, Kohan worked with Michael on the tribute song “You Were There,” which MJ performed at the televised show honoring Sammy Davis Jr. on his 65th birthday:

    While I don’t know how their work together proceeded, or who was responsible for what aspect of any of these songs, we do know that Buz Kohan was a television writer whose credits include the “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever” TV special. I recently watched the 3-disc set that came out recently about that show, which includes the show in its entirety, as it was broadcast in 1983; some rehearsal footage; and a discussion among Suzanne dePasse, who served as executive producer; Suzanne Coston, another of the show’s producers; Don Mischer, who directed it; and Buz Kohan, who wrote it. His writing for the show included the host, Richard Pryor’s, introduction before each act appeared, and Marvin Gaye’s spoken-word performance on black music and its history.

    This leads me to think that it was Buz Kohan who was mainly responsible for the lyrics for “Scared of the Moon” and the other songs they worked on together, while Michael composed the music. But I could be mistaken here!

    In any case, even if Michael did have a large part in writing the lyrics, we might bear in mind that he stated in his autobiography “Moonwalk” that he worked from his *imagination*, rather than his own lived experience—-although sometimes it is difficult to visualize how the two might be separated. The song’s lyrics don’t necessarily indicate that he does (or doesn’t) have “problems” with the moon: after all, a major portion of his art, and the art of many writers, consists in imagining what it’s like to be *another* person, with *their own* feelings—-which may be very different from the author’s!

    More often than not, poets, visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, and other artists will use some element—possibly a symbol, like the moon, or the sun, or a particular musical note, or the color blue, for instance—in *fundamentally* different ways in different contexts, depending upon the intent of the piece in which the element appears. So the moon may not necessarily, in all instances, represent the unconscious.

    At any rate, “Scared of the Moon” may have been written at a very different time than “You Are My Life,” where the moon—as you point out, Eleanor—appears in under a very different aspect. And as it does, again, in that section of “Dancing the Dream.”

    In his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth stated:

    “I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced….”

    To map the work of an artist like Michael Jackson onto the biography (or conversely, to derive an interpretation of his work based on what we know about his life) is to minimize the *creative labor* he brought to bear on the construction of his songwriting, his vocal work, his dance: in short, the finely-crafted qualities of his creative work, developed over years of assiduous practice and study.

    I believe we tend to get carried away in imagining that a symbolic interpretation of Michael’s work (mainly, his lyrics) might afford us access to Michael himself: the deepest recesses of his consciousness, that profound place we most wish to reach, that will—we hope—provide us with the ultimate key to who this man was. But art is, above all, the product of thought and feeling; not necessarily a document of the events of the artists’ life, nor even a map of their unconscious mind. Whatever the unconscious sources of a writer’s texts may be (in lyrics or poems, for example) these are most often destined to remain obscure and unknowable: to the writer him/herself, as well as to the reader.

    • What Michael said in Moonwalk imo is true for arts in general . An artist has his imagination, he may use , his real life experience like Michael did with History , but doesnt need real life experience to tell a story or create art. There are writers, musicians, performing artists , painters who have a boring 9 to 5 life, yet are capable to write / create the most compelling , captivating work . Some of the artists who died young , Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Tupac didnt have much life experience yet left behind some of the most artistically ‘mature’ work . I agree that it also takes away from the artists ceative input to attribute his work solely to personal experience. Art can exist on itself without explanation , meaning or purpose.
      Michael found it had to explain his creative process of songwriting. ( he said it came from above, it already existed and fell in my lap etc) If it was all from his own experience he could have just said that. But exactly because it was not autobiographical made it hard for him to explain . I agree with this .

      “But art is, above all, the product of thought and feeling; not necessarily a document of the events of the artists’ life, nor even a map of their unconscious mind. Whatever the unconscious sources of a writer’s texts may be (in lyrics or poems, for example) these are most often destined to remain obscure and unknowable: to the writer him/herself, as well as to the reader.”

      It would be interesting to do a Q and A with Buz Kohan and hear it from the horses mouth as he is the co creator of this work.

  10. Nina is right of course – we can only speculate as to the meaning of Michael’s songs, but how wonderful is it to share these discussions and to learn and share info about him. I just love it.

    Eleanor’s interpretation is valid but I wonder?………………………..I had to take a fairly long drive this morning and so listened over and over to Scared to hear it with fresh ears. The music is so haunting isn’t it. When thinking about who wrote some of the lyrics to his songs, I can hear Michael saying as a little boy “I only sing a song if I mean it”, so whether he has written the words or not, I feel that he has a strong connection with them, else he wouldn’t record the song. I have a friend who was molested by her father at night and for years she was scared of the night and the dark, not the moon.

    It seems to me that he is rather referring to actual lunacy, which is a condition (hate to say illness) in its own right, which does affect some people pretty badly. . Not saying that I am a lunatic, though some of my friends may disagree ha ha!! as per Michael’s ‘her favourite lunatic, but not just hers’, but for years even when I am not aware of the moons cycle, I find it difficult to go to sleep on the nights of the full and new moon, and my grandfather was notorious in the family for roaming around the house unable to sleep with the full moon.

    Either could be correct I feel, but again I am in awe of just how clever Michael was to weave such lyrics with such music so that we actually sing along and listen, and don’t easily forget what he is saying to us.. There can’t be too many other musicians who do it so well, if at all.

  11. Hi Nina –

    So interesting that you bring up the Preface to Lyrical Ballads as I have been thinking about it a lot lately relative to MJ. I confess to being a Wordsworthian romantic and often think I have found my soul mate in MJ. It is also interesting that Raven brings up Wordsworth in the discussion.

    I don’t believe that this song was in any way autobiographical (I don’t know), but I do think it brilliantly depicts the experience of chid sexual abuse and its aftermath – whether or not he wrote it. But, we know MJ didn’t sing a song if he didn’t mean it, so he probably agreed with what it has to say. And the way he sings it….. absolute genius!

    And of course the unconscious is not the only symbolic interpretation for the moon, but it does fit the song. She’s scared of her unconscious and what lies buried in it.

    Final analysis, I have to go with my gut reaction to the song, which is almost revulsion and go from there – and figure out what about the song brings that reaction in me — and, as always, in the business of interpretation, the interpreter herself has to be figured in. I am not a victim of this kind of abuse myself, but have known others….

    The line that really gets me is –

    And pins the child lying there…

    I imagine a butterfly with a pin though its body.

    He pins his listeners with the sadness in his voice and the way he draws out “lying there” and the pause that follows….

  12. That pause has also been a source of discomfort and mystery to me, Eleanor, but more at the level of musical sound.

    “…And pins the child lying there….[pause]
    Scared of the moon.”

    The pause, or interval between “lying there” and “scared of the Moon,” as Michael sings it, is voiceless—, and marked only by a delicate series of ascending piano chords. It brings me a sense of expectant anxiety.

    And in other verses it appears too:

    “And causes her mournful cry……
    Scared of the moon”

    “But there she lies shivering…..
    Scared of the moon”

    “Returning on beams of light…..
    Scared of the moon”

    “And taking its fearful toll…..
    Scared of the moon”

    “But knowing just why they’re scared….
    Scared of the moon”

    I think I respond first and foremost to musical sound; and I don’t find there’s a gap or discrepancy between the lyrics and the feelings evoked by the music itself—which, to me, is redolent of something beautiful and yet at the same time sinister.

    Certainly the melody and arrangement of the song are beautiful, and reminiscent of a lullaby. But at the same time (in my hearing), they’re quite eerie and haunting, much like certain musical themes I heard as a child that frightened me…. though I can’t quite put my finger on what those were.

    A song like “Scared of the Moon,” composed in a minor key, is no aberration when it comes to childhood emotions of gloom and doom. It’s part of a great tradition of children’s literature and music that includes works like Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” (1886) and passages of “Peter and the Wolf” by Sergei Prokofiev (1936). These suites were meant to teach children about music by highlighting different orchestral instruments as “characters”—a bird’s song represented by a piccolo, etc. They highlight different emotional registers in music, which are exemplified by particular instruments and/or musical motifs.

    Not all music for children is meant to evoke sweetness and light; many pieces use sound motifs that are decidedly eerie and menacing. In literature and music, the sad, strange, and even fearsome and violent aspects of life have been couched as lessons in musical history or the instruments of the orchestra; and many of these sounds evoke sadness and desolation. Even Disney’s animated film “Fantasia” has elements of that.

    In “Scared of the Moon,” Michael’s voice is quiet and tremulous, seemingly full of trepidation…. It sounds eerie, almost as though he is impersonating a child’s voice, and even slipping somewhat out of tune as (another) child might sing. And certainly the chorus, where his voice is doubled—two layers singing the same notes in a high register, is uniquely disquieting:

    “Scared of the Moooo—–oooo—oooon,
    Scared of the moon….”

    As a whole, “Scared of the Moon” also makes me think of the music in *Night of the Hunter,* a 1955 film where Robert Mitchum plays an evil man intent on harming two children, a brother and sister—and Lillian Gish is in the role of a woman who serves as their protector. There’s the song that the little girl sings at the beginning of the clip, and later, “Hush Little One, Hush,” sung by a female voice. Also rendered as a lullaby, it nonetheless registers an edge of unease.

    The movie also has beautiful, expressionistic cinematography; I recommend seeing it in its entirety.

    .” I think of both “Childhood” and “Scared of the Moon” as very pictorial songs, even cinematic. I always thought Michael could have written an operetta or suite for children where these songs, among others, might episodically tell a story.

    The lore of the full moon has permeated all mythologies: it’s known as the time of hauntings, when creatures like ghosts, goblins, witches (and werewolves) are at large. And as you’ve pointed out, Willa and Raven, in the “Thriller” film a shot of a full moon (with Elmer Bernstein’s “creepy” score) immediately precedes Michael’s nightmarish transformation into a yellow-eyed werewolf/werecat. More than other celestial bodies, the moon is represented as a locus of mystery, hauntings, even madness (lunacy). The moon governs the movement of the tides, and is associated with menses, as you point out, Raven; in popular music, it’s a staple of romantic ballads, calling up all the emotions—-elation, longing, even sadness—associated with romantic love (hence, the “moon-spoon-June” rhymes).

    Lyrically, “Scared of the Moon” also reminds me of the 1964 Beach Boys’ song, “In My Room,” conveying an interior space that represents a youthful world of isolation and private fantasy, for good and ill:

    “There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
    In my room, in my room.

    “In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears
    In my room, in my room

    “Do my dreaming and my scheming, lie awake and pray
    Do my crying and my sighing, laugh at yesterday

    “Now it’s dark and I’m alone but I won’t be afraid,
    In my room, in my room.”

    There are lots of other examples, associations that I’m sure we can come up with—music that sounds innocuous enough now, but whose sound (not to mention lyrics) may have scared us as children.

    When I read the lyrics of “Scared of the Moon” as a whole, Eleanor, it seems quite possible that the lyrics are telling a story about child sexual abuse, as you say. At the same time, it seems to open itself up to multiple interpretations. Is the menace coming from within, or without? The indeterminacy of these lyrics is what makes it a continually unfolding mystery.

    • As you say, it is quite cinematic –
      And this is what I see –

      A deeply troubled woman is talking to her therapist, telling her that she is “scared of the moon,” and she doesn’t know why. The therapist begins to probe, and ask her how she experiences moonlight, and the scene changes to her childhood room, where she felt surrounded by “invading” shadows, and the moon’s light as cutting and pinning her, and then, they are back in the therapist’s office, and the therapist takes it from there..drawing the scary memories out…

      To me, it is so well done that it is almost too well done … terrifying.

      But that’s just one woman’s take.

    • Hi Nina. I watched the clip from Night of the Hunter the other day and keep thinking about it, and just watched it again. The feeling of menace – that something evil is afoot in the world – is so disturbing. And the image of children floating down a river is such an apt metaphor for what many children experience. Children have very little control over their lives, far less than adults. So much is beyond their control – their parents’ attitudes and beliefs and behavior toward them, their family’s economic status and social class, their religious practices and teachings, the environment that nurtures or threatens them. So much of their lives is like floating down a river, waiting to see what the future brings and what will happen to them.

      I’m still trying to sort out my feelings toward “Scared of the Moon.” To me it’s less menacing than Night of the Hunter, and more sorrowful. Like you and Eleanor, I definitely feel something threatening about her fear of the moon, but it’s unclear to me if that threat is from within (her vivid imagination, her fears, her possible loss of sanity) or without (a shadowy figure who enters her room in the dark). And actually, that ambiguity is part of what I love about Michael Jackson’s work …

  13. I think it’s true, Willa, about the theme of children adrift; and also about ambiguity, as you say. I value the kind of ambiguity you’re talking about, where multiple sensations and interpretations are possible. That’s certainly true of Michael Jackson. The best films can achieve that, too.

    I suppose we can say that the richest and most accomplished art, in any medium, is capable of providing that experience of ambiguity.

  14. SOTM is a lyrical masterpiece, but much of the credit , should be given to Buz Kohan ,this is one of the things i get troubled with mj, many of his songs have co writer’s, i just simply dont get why he wouldnt write his own songs

    just for thought- 70% of lyrics were by Buz Kohan
    michael was the one who came up with the tune.

  15. @kittuandme re. MJ and co-writers

    I’d like to chime in on this one. I think many fans like to think of MJ as an ”allround genius” who could do everything on his own. This is an image we’ve inherited from the Renaissance/Romanticism (think about Leonardo da Vinci as the ulitmate ”Renaissance Man”). It’s basically the idea that a man (or a woman) is an ”island”. You could lock a genius into a room with the right equipment, then open the door a couple of years later, and voila!

    I think MJ’s real genius was how he saw that ALL PEOPLE are connected. (Even Leonardo da Vinci relied on the interaction with other people to create his art.) Michael Jackson understood this on a profound level, and in spite of all the accusations of narcissism and megalomania, he ALWAYS emphasized his connections with other people. Look at photographs of him. It’s very rare to find photos where ONLY MJ is depictured. It’s always about MJ AND someone: MJ and Nelson Mandela, MJ and Elizabeth Taylor…

    Unlike Elvis, MJ wrote many songs on his own. But I also think that he understood the great impulses that come from synergy and collaboration. I think he often brought in teams (some of the songs on Invincible have really many writers) on purpose – not because he was unable to do the songwriting himself, but because he felt that many minds think better than one (even when that one mind is mindblowingly brilliant!) I often wonder if Michael Jackson’s real project was to put an end to individualism. In a world that’s all about connections, not isolated egos, who would go to war?

    • i get what u r saying but still, he should have written more songs by himself it would simply allow for more critical analysis otherwise for ex i had come to debate with many people saying beyonce is better than michael , and she has like 12 writers on the same song ,general public will catch hold on things like that , like most of his critics do. plus if u take like his top 10 songs 8 of them will be his composition.but at most time i tend to lean towards the critics , his lyrics arent that gud maybe that’s why theres many co writers.

      • “his lyrics arent that gud”

        Hi kittuandme —

        I think there’s a reason for that. MJ was interested in direct appeals to emotion, and words are an indirect way to get to emotion, while rhythms and sounds, of music, of nonvocal verbalizations, etc. are very direct. He was no Cole Porter, but he wasn’t trying to be. He wasn’t into being clever with words (even tho’ he often was — “Remember to always think twice, don’t think twice” — his goal was not to dazzle with his intellectual gifts (which he had in spades), but to move you, to engage your emotions at a very deep level. What he was all about was not all about him,but all about his audience, and all about using his art to bring about significant and much needed change. The kind of lyrics that draw attention to themselves and their cleverness, that are appreciated first on the intellectual level, would have been a diversion from his overall goal.

        His genius included recognizing the genius of others and using those talents in conjunction with his own to further his own ends. He did what he did, and what he did was fabulous. It doesn’t seem productive to second guess what MJ should or should not have done, especially not where his music was concerned.

        My advice, take charge of the argument and change the conversation.

  1. Pingback: Reading Michael 03: No, I mean I´m different - Karla Schmidt

Tell us what you think...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: