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kottke.org posts about Michael Jackson

Some Observations on Leaving Neverland

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2019

I watched Leaving Neverland last night in one four-hour sitting…as in I literally didn’t leave the sofa. Completely riveting. Here are some thoughts I have about it.

1. At its heart, this is not actually a movie about Michael Jackson. It’s about two men, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, whose lives were utterly ruined by a man they idolized & trusted. Their childhood innocence ripped away. Their families torn apart. Their current families left wondering if they can be trusted with their own children. As the movie progresses, Jackson almost fades into the background and the viewer is just left with these men, feeling and empathizing with them and their families.

2. One of the things I was most struck by, especially in the early part of the film, was the way the two men and their families described Jackson in almost a tender, loving way. There was little on-camera anger and lashing out (although there undoubtably was during their still-ongoing recovery process). I was left with a feeling of unease that in a deep and complicated way, these two men still care for Jackson. That feeling’s gonna stay with me for a loooong time.

3. As I’m writing this post, one of Jackson’s songs echoes in my head: “Heal the world / Make it a better place / For you and for me.” I have no idea what to make of this or how to process it.

4. It is pretty simple. Unless you’re willing to perform complicated mental gymnastics to bamboozle yourself into conspiracy theory land, the plain truth is that Michael Jackson was a pedophile. You can feel however you want about that — he was a monster, he was a man broken by his own abusive childhood & twisted by the vortex of fame — but you cannot simply dismiss it. Maureen Orth covered previous accusations about Jackson for Vanity Fair; her recent article is a good short summary of the facts.

5. If you’re a famous actor who spent lots of one-on-one time with Jackson when you were a child, why would you ever in a million years tell anyone that he sexually abused you?

6. A statement released by the Jackson estate said that Leaving Neverland is “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death”. Who knows if they actually watched the film because it is the opposite of a sensationalistic hit piece. This isn’t Michael Moore bombast. The film is careful, methodical, and, aside from some slightly ominous music at times, quite respectful towards Jackson given the circumstances. As Wesley Morris writes, “‘LEAVING NEVERLAND’ is long but delicately, patiently done — and so quiet; you can practically hear yourself listening.”

7. No One Deserves As Much Power As Michael Jackson Had by Craig Jenkins:

If you don’t believe that Jackson touched anyone inappropriately, you have to reckon with the fact that he knowingly coerced families into allowing their children into his orbit while incrementally driving their parents away; that he nudged them out of the picture as they got a little older, only remembering to call when he needed someone to testify in a court of law. You have to listen to the Robson family explain how Jackson’s machinations pried the young boy’s parents apart, how the singer convinced them to move to Los Angeles from Australia, how Robson’s father committed suicide because they left him.

You come away from the film with the sense that Jackson was, at a minimum, a troubled and deeply manipulative person, more so than we’d ever imagined.

8. In Michael Jackson Cast a Spell. ‘Leaving Neverland’ Breaks It., Wesley Morris grapples with his fandom of Jackson (just as he did with Bill Cosby last year).

The story was that Jackson never molested anybody. And we stuck to it, and it stuck to him. And the question now, of course, is what do we do? It’s the question of our #MeToo times: If we believe the accusers (and I believe Wade and James), what do we do with the art? With Jackson, what can we do? Wade became a successful choreographer who’s made a career out of teaching his version of Jackson’s hydraulic bounces, whips, and stutters to Britney Spears, ‘N Sync, Cirque du Soleil and rooms full of aspiring dancers. “Look Back at It,” the big single from A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s No. 1 album from January, is built out of two Jackson hits. Michael Jackson’s music isn’t a meal. It’s more elemental than that. It’s the salt, pepper, olive oil and butter. His music is how you start. And the music made from that — that music is everywhere, too. Where would the cancellation begin?

9. Where does the cancellation begin? I have no idea about the music; I love so many of his songs (my kids are fans too, which is a whole other thing I don’t know how to deal with) but “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” now has a second sinister meaning that I will never be able to shake. I will say this though: I’ve posted a number of things about Jackson on kottke.org over the years that are unrelated to the sexual abuse allegations. Not anymore. It’s time to hear other stories.

Leaving Neverland

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2019

Set to air on HBO starting March 3rd, Leaving Neverland is a two-part documentary film about the experiences of two men who were befriended by and allegedly sexually abused by Michael Jackson as young boys. Here’s the trailer:

Leaving Neverland is a two-part documentary exploring the separate but parallel experiences of two young boys, James Safechuck, at age ten, and Wade Robson, at age seven, both of whom were befriended by Michael Jackson. Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 37, and Robson, now 41, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, the film crafts a portrait of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of his own.

As this quick timeline of abuse allegations against Jackson notes, both Safechuck and Robson previously denied that Jackson had abused them.

Robson, by this point a choreographer for stars like Britney Spears, testified that he had spent the night at Neverland more than 20 times but that Jackson had never molested him or taken a shower with him.

James Safechuck, who had met Jackson as a young boy in the 1980s when he was cast in a Pepsi commercial, also denied publicly that he had been abused, although he was not called to testify.

David Ehrlich saw the film at Sundance and was completely convinced by the stories of the two men.

It may not be much of a secret that Michael Jackson acted inappropriately with a number of young boys, but there’s no way to prepare yourself for the sickening forensic details presented in Dan Reed’s four-hour exposé. It’s one thing to be vaguely aware of the various allegations that were made against the King of Pop; the asterisks that will always be next to the late mega-star’s name. It’s quite another to hear the horrifyingly lucid testimony that stretches across the entire duration of “Leaving Neverland,” as two of Jackson’s most repeat victims bravely lay bare how a universal icon seduced them away from their realities, splintered their families beyond all recognition, and leveraged their love for him into a disturbing litany of sexual acts.

The eloquent and straightforward “Leaving Neverland” was made for no other reason than to give shape to a nebulous cloud of rumors, many of which were floated in public before they were silenced behind settlements, and none of which a jury was able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. In the wake of Reed’s film and the shattering interview footage that it exists to share with us, there’s no longer a reasonable doubt. There’s no longer any doubt at all. Not only do the documentary’s two main subjects perfectly corroborate their separate accounts in all of the most tragic of ways, but they do so with a degree of vulnerability that denies any room for skepticism.

Other stars who previously had private or ignored abuse allegations leveled against them — Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Woody Allen, Louis CK — have been judged more harshly and their accusers have taken more seriously in recent years, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Jackson after the documentary airs.

How Michael Jackson Made a Song

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2018

In Michael Jackson’s transition from child singer to the electrifying King of Pop, Evan Puschak argues that Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough from Off the Wall marked an inflection point. The song was a combination of the 70s sounds of funk & disco but mixed with other elements to make a pop hit that culturally belonged more to the 80s.

Michael Jackson’s prototype of Thriller

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 23, 2016

When the song that became Thriller was first considered for the album that also became Thriller, it was called Starlight and had totally different lyrics.

We need some starlight starlight sun
There ain’t no second chance we got to make it while we can
You need the starlight some starlight sun
I need you by my side you give me starlight starlight tonight yeah

Songwriter Rod Temperton explains:

Originally, when I did my Thriller demo, I called it Starlight. Quincy said to me, ‘You managed to come up with a title for the last album, see what you can do for this album.’ I said, ‘Oh great,’ so I went back to the hotel, wrote two or three hundred titles, and came up with the title ‘Midnight Man’. The next morning, I woke up, and I just said this word… Something in my head just said, this is the title. You could visualise it on the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as ‘Thriller’.

That story reminds me of the scene in the hot tub in Boogie Nights where Eddie Adams chooses his stage name:

I just want a name, I want it so it can cut glass, you know, like razor sharp. When I close my eyes, I see this thing, a sign. I see this name in bright blue neon lights with a purple outline. And this name is so bright and so sharp that the sign — it just blows up because the name is so powerful … It says “Dirk Diggler.”

Thriller and Dirk Diggler. Both great names. (via @aaroncoleman0)

The origins of the moonwalk

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2014

We all know Michael Jackson invented the moonwalk on-stage during a performance of Billie Jean at the Motown 25th Anniversary show. What this video presupposes is, maybe he didn’t?

What the video shows is that as early as the 1930s, performers such as Fred Astaire, Bill Bailey, Cab Calloway, and Sammy Davis Jr. were doing something like the moonwalk. Now, Jackson didn’t get the move from any of these sources, not directly anyway. As Jackson’s choreographer Jeffrey Daniel explains, he got the moves from The Electric Boogaloos street dance crew and, according to LaToya Jackson, instructed Michael Jackson.

Which is to say, the moonwalk is yet another example of multiple discovery, along with calculus, the discovery of oxygen, and the invention of the telephone. (via open culture)

How to make your own slow jams

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 26, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, a slowed-down version of Dolly Parton’s classic ballad “Jolene” went viral. A lot of people who heard it loved it, a few people didn’t, but everyone seemed to agree that it was like listening to either an entirely new song or the same song again for the first time.

One of the things that’s eerie about this is that if you listen closely, everything is just a little bit out of tune. There’s conflicting information about exactly how much the track has been slowed. Some people have said that it’s simulating a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, which is certainly the most common way people who lived with record players heard popular songs at slower speeds. But that would actually be quite a bit slower and lower than this.

The other figure I’ve seen (forgive me for not citing everything, I’m typing as fast as I can) is “Jolene” has been slowed by 17 percent, which sounds about right and would explain why all the notes seem just a little bit sharp. Here’s the formula for slowing or speeding up a recording to shift the pitch but generally stay in tune:

(2 ^ (semitones change/12) - 1) *100 = Percent Change

So — as one does when procrastinating from remunerative work — I made an Excel spreadsheet.

If you want to drop two semitones, you shift the speed down by 12.2462 percent; drop three, you shift by 18.9207 percent, which significantly changes the track. To imitate a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, that’s about 25.926, but very few records still sound like something a person actually made at this speed. All of these slowdowns are interesting, even the ones that don’t work.

You can do all of them in the free/open-source audio processing app Audacity; it’s very fast and very easy. (If you want to get freaky, you can also use Audacity to change pitch without changing tempo, or vice versa, or to start out slow and go fast, and all manner of lesser and greater perversity.)

But after messing with Audacity for longer than was strictly necessary, I can tell you that some songs and transformations work out better than others, and they tend to be those that share a lot of the same characteristics as Jolene:

And so, here are some of the results:

I described this Prince track as sounding like the slowest, sultriest, funkiest Sylvester song you’ve ever heard.

Mazzy Star surprised me. I always thought Hope Sandoval’s vocals were gorgeous but a little warbly, which gave them character, but that’s almost entirely a production effect. When you slow it down, you can really hear how clean and sustained her notes are.

My Bloody Valentine is the best example of that fractal quality. You can slow it down almost indefinitely and it still sounds like My Bloody Valentine. At this rate, though, it really just turns Bilinda Butcher’s vocals into Kevin Shields’.

There’s more at my Soundcloud page, including The Breeders’ “Cannonball,” “House of Jealous Lovers,” Hot Chip’s “Over and Over,” Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” (which I actually sped up), and more. (Finally, if slowing a track down and posting it online somehow breaks copyright, let me know and I’ll take them down.)

Update: Andy Baio tips me to a second remix of “Jolene” that slows down the track, but corrects the pitch. Sounds great.

Update 2: Here’s Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” slowed from 127 BPM to 110 BPM, leaving the pitch as-is.

Thriller

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2010

Vanity Fair has an article about Michael Jackson and the shooting of the Thriller video, a point in time when he was at the top of his game but already showing signs of his future troubles.

Jackson faced a critical moment in his personal development: would his new mega-success and wealth spur him to grow, becoming more confident and independent, or to withdraw further into his gilded fantasy world? His “Thriller” friends marveled at his paradoxical qualities: simultaneously sophisticated as an artist, canny to the point of ruthlessness in business dealings, and breathtakingly immature about relationships. “I dealt with Michael as I would have a really gifted child,” says Landis, “because that’s what he was at that moment. He was emotionally damaged, but so sweet and so talented.”

Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2009

Winners in the Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition have been announced. Evan Roth, a noted Michael Jackson enthusiast, came in first. I like the second place entry only slightly more:

A gold-plated wind turbine powers an interactively-lit dance floor and speaker system. Michael Jackson’s music plays day and night for the fans that congregate in these remote sand flats.

MJ tshirts are the new Obama tshirt

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2009

A collection of Michael Jackson tribute shirts worn to the recent Spike Lee-hosted birthday party for Jackson.

Tron Legacy trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2009

They’re making a new Tron movie. And it looks like it might not suck! (via @dburka)

Update: The Tron Legacy trailer and Michael Jackson’s Beat It match up pretty well, don’t they?

Eternal Moonwalk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2009

This is pretty awesome: a bunch of videos strung together to make it seem like one long moonwalk. In tribute to Michael Jackson, of course. What’s amazing is that for the 4-5 minutes I watched, there was not a single decent moonwalk…just people shuffling backwards. (via vsl)

Update: Matt Zoller Seitz analyzes Eternal Moonwalk and finds much to love about it.

Eternal Moonwalk is also an incidental tutorial in the basic properties of cinema. It returns motion pictures to their origin point, when the medium’s core appeal was the chance to watch strangers performing, their bodies moving from Point A to Point B, their familiar or amusing actions serving as an emotional connection point, a reminder that we’re members of the same species inhabiting the same small world.

Michael Jackson dead at 50

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2009

From the NY Times:

L.A. Times Reports Jackson Is Dead | 6:24 p.m. The newspaper cited “city and law enforcement sources.” The networks and CNN are also broadcasting the news, citing the Times story.

The LA Times story is here but isn’t loading right now. Twitter is melting down a little. RIP, King of Pop.

Update: The LA Times story is loading now. Here’s what it says:

Pop star Michael Jackson was pronounced dead by doctors this afternoon after arriving at a hospital in a deep coma, city and law enforcement sources told The Times.

Update: My favorite Michael Jackson performance is from the MTV Awards in 1995.

It’s not a groundbreaking performance or anything — it’s like a greatest hits package — but I had it taped on VHS and watched it many many times, wondering how a person could move like that.

Off the Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2009

The items up for sale in the forthcoming Michael Jackson auction indicate that Jackson spent the 80s fashioning Neverland Ranch into a cross between Buckingham Palace and Ricky Stratton’s house in Silver Spoons. (via clusterflock)

“Thriller” is 25

posted by Adam Lisagor   Dec 03, 2007

Epic Records/Legacy Recordings is releasing a 25th Anniversary Special Edition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” with bonus tracks including remixes by Akon, will.i.am, and Kanye West.

There’s a nice interview on NPR with Chris Connelly, who reviewed the album for Rolling Stone in 1982.

An alternate album cover for the original Special Edition of “Thriller” can be found on wikipedia, for a look at what could have been.

Legendary mime Marcel Marceau died Saturday at

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2007

Legendary mime Marcel Marceau died Saturday at age 84.

Michael Jackson borrowed his famous “moonwalk” from a Marceau sketch, “Walking Against the Wind.”

I tried to find video of that sketch but came up empty.

Update: Here’s some video of Marceau teaching wind walking to a class…and miming with Michael Jackson. (thx, andy & mike)

Update: Here’s a better video of Marceau doing his wind walk, from a Mel Brooks movie no less. (thx, manuel)

The White Glove Tracking site needs your

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2007

The White Glove Tracking site needs your help in finding Michael Jackson’s white glove in all 10,060 frames of Jackson’s performance of Billy Jean. “Rather then write unnecessarily complex code to find the glove in every frame of the video I am asking for the assistance of 10,060 individual internet users to simply click and drag a box around the glove in one frame.” Don’t stop ‘til you get enough (white gloves located).

Patented Michael Jackson moves

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2006

You know that patented move that Michael Jackson does in the Smooth Criminal video where he leans and looks like he’s going to tip over but then he doesn’t? Turns out Jackson actually did patent that method back in 1993. The drawings are pretty funny.

“Every Halloween in Lexington, KY, they block

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2005

Every Halloween in Lexington, KY, they block off the streets and recreate Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

Partying like it’s 1999

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 1999

At 4 minutes ‘til midnight, they started playing Prince’s 1999, just like I had predicted. And I didn’t mind….even though I thought I would have. The dance floor was packed and everyone was jumping and swaying and screaming the words to the song.

“Gonna party like it’s 1999!”

Actually, it was probably the most fitting venue for the song, the very same First Avenue nightclub where Purple Rain was filmed and where Prince himself used to play.

I did a small piece for {fray}: my resolution for 1999.