We are in a small studio located at a musical instruments rental center on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. The room is crammed with people sitting in rows of chairs in front of a low stage. On stage, Brad Sundberg, Michael Jackson’s assistant engineer and the organizer of this event, and his friend, sound engineer Brian Vibberts, are occupying two tall bar chairs. Brad Buxer, Michael long-time musical director is sitting behind a keyboard. MJ’s engineer of later years Michael Prince is looking at the screen of his MacBook. Michael’s touring bass guitarist Sam Simms has not yet arrived; he would join us a little bit later. With that, a trip to the past, full of stories and music, begins.
A small but cozy room inside the underground-style Fish Fabrique club in St. Petersburg is almost dark. The only light is coming from a laptop screen. The beat-up walls are decorated with the portraits of the most famous man on the planet, and there’s his cardboard lifesize silhouette standing in the corner near the stage. The room is filled with the achingly beautiful clear tenor supported by nothing but a guitar and a drum machine. It floods the room up to the roof, and the walls seem to disappear leaving everybody one on one with this voice and the sparkling magic granted to the singer by Mother Nature. Sixty people from all corners of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine greedily hang on every sound coming from large powerful speakers. Tears are running down the girls’ cheeks, some cover their faces with their hands to muff their sobs a little. Twenty four years later, we’re witnessing the birth of a masterpiece. This is just one of many special moments happening at In the Studio with MJ, a Brad Sundberg seminar, and the voice coming from the speakers belongs to Michael Jackson.
I’ve dreamt about attending this seminar since the very first day I heard about it. Partly it was because of rare demos and videos, and partly because I always wanted to talk to the person who worked with Michael so close for so long. So, when Elena Zelikova announced that Brad Sundberg was coming to St. Petersburg, I knew I could not miss the chance. What I did not know then was that the heavens prepared another surprise for me – I would not just be a guest of the seminar. I would be Brad’s translator.
The phenomenon of Michael Jackson continues to be surprising and amazing even after the performer’s death. Aside from the commercial potential of his music, the public seems to be in great need to keep seeing Michael’s image, not just hearing his songs. The new generation of the singer’s fans shows huge demand for Jackson’s presence in the modern reality, even if it’s just in the form of a hologram.
This article from Dangerous Zone fanzine, 2001, tells the story behind Michael Jackson song “They Don’t Care About Us,” and the music videos for it. It also offers an analysis of the meaning of the song and the videos, and their importance in Michael’s career.
And yet another scandal. “They Don’t Care About Us” even managed to break the controversy record previously set by “Black or White” – because this time there were two scandals at the same time. First, the US Jewish community was disturbed by the lyrics because it allegedly contained anti-Semitic words (the lyrics to this song is being discussed to this day). Then the Brazilian government did exactly what the good old Communist governors in the USSR used to do – “we maintain that everything is fine in our state, and whoever doesn’t think so will be silenced.” And even Pele, a nice man, a great football player and a national hero, supported this point of view. Perhaps, the most irritating thing for everybody was that Michael Jackson, who had been indifferent to politics up to that point, suddenly released a song that manifested his views very directly: “You know I really do hate to say it, the government don’t wanna see…”
While we are waiting to see what Michael Jackson will tell the world in his upcoming Invincible album, let’s recall one of his boldest works that suddenly displayed a clear and simple public stance of the “most apolitical” performer on the planet.
This article from the Dangerous Zone fanzine (issue #10) takes us back to the anti-Western propaganda of the Soviet Union which also stigmatized Michael Jackson, despite his overly positive image at the time. The article is interesting because it demonstrates how rapidly Michael’s art spread across the world and influenced the youth – exactly the effect the Soviet Russia government feared the most. The period described in the article covers the beginning of the 80s, the times when Jackson-mania was reaching the USSR through the “iron curtain”. There’s an interesting blog, Michael Jackson in the USSR, which shows many examples of how Michael’s style was copied by Soviet musicians, while the Soviet press treated him with contempt, calling him “a pop marionette” and an instrument used by the capitalist world to divert the Western youth from pressing global problems.
Eras have changed, ideologies have collapsed, the old country exists no more, and the Soviet propaganda sounds silly today, but Jackson’s art keeps influencing young people who have been embracing it for two generations.
Hungarian magazine “Story” published a surprising article about Bela Farkas, the young man from Hungary, whose life Michael Jackson saved 20 years ago. The story was prompted by a happy occasion: Bela recently became a father.
The young man on the picture is Bela, the same little boy whom Michael and his then wife Lisa Marie met in a children’s hospital in Budapest in 1994 (Bela’s story was briefly told in one of the previous articles). He never gave an interview before – this was his first conversation with journalists in 20 years.
Bela was born with a serious anomaly: an undeveloped hepatic lobe, a life-threatening condition that required a liver transplant. Such surgeries were not performed in Hungary at the time and were very expensive abroad. Bela’s parents abandoned him at birth, so he had no hope to get the money.
When Michael visited the hospital, he asked doctors why the boy was so thin and yellow in the face and was explained Bela’s condition. Michael immediately said that he would pay for the surgery. It was a rare occasion when Jackson’s charitable act received publicity and media coverage.
Stopped walking, looked at me and said:
– Ok, give me your card.
His name was Michael Jackson.
I was a music student in Los Angeles and that was my first week in America. The story that precedes this scene and its continuation is kind of simple, except for the magic that surrounds it.
They were my first days in M.I. (Musicians Institute), a college of music in Los Angeles where I studied from 1993 to mid-1994. I had just found a place to live for rent, in a garage of a house in Highland Park – 15 minutes from downtown Hollywood. A quiet home where I lived the 16 months I spent there, whose gentle owner became a great friendship I carry to this day.
In the first week of school, I had the opportunity to take some classes with Jennifer Batten, Michael’s guitarist at the time, who rocked the world with her virtuoso guitar solos and amazing energy.
On my first Saturday in the U.S, after my first day in college, I was invited by Jorge Briozzo, the gentle owner of the house, to know the Santa Monica beach, since I did not have a car. Very cool.
“Michael was the first artist who jumped into the canvas and became a part of it, where every moment of life is part of the show. Who else can live like this, dammit?”
(Eddie Murphy, actor) Read more
Media always paid a lot of attention to rumors about Michael Jackson’s personal life, his financial troubles and lawsuits thrown at him, issues of his skin color and plastic surgeries. Sometimes they were generous enough to write about his music. But very rarely did the media report on what Michael considered his main mission and purpose on Earth – on his efforts to help suffering and unfortunate children. This side of Jackson’s activity remained unpopular with the press – partly because Michael himself never flaunted his charitable acts. He believed that by publicizing a good deed you are devaluing it – that’s why he never invited journalists to cover his charitable efforts and never talked about them on press-conferences (unless it was required for raising money for a good cause). And only because media followed him relentlessly, there were occasional reports about his visits to hospitals and orphanages. But many testimonies to his kindness were never printed in newspapers or filmed by TV crews. They remained known only to live witnesses of those events – to people, some of which spoke about their experience with Michael Jackson for the first time after his passing.
This article is a compilation of stories of people who received help from Michael Jackson. Often, these are touching and sad stories. Stories that show the side of the artist rarely seen by the general public.
Michael Jackson inspired artists in various genres. Many modern musicians and dancers chose their professions because of the effect of Michael’s music upon their lives. But there are some who were inspired not just by his music, but by his personality and the persona he created of himself.
Alena Galayko, 30, is an artist from Moscow, Russia, and a big fan of Michael Jackson. I’ve known Alena for 8 years, but I only got to really know her after having seen her wonderful paintings. When you look at her works dedicated to Michael, you are amazed by how alive and real they are. Alena is a rare artist who is able to not only depict Michael’s face on her canvas, but show his soul.
Alena says that she’s not used to being open about her affection for Michael, but she’s agreed to talk to us.