MJJC: Were you a Michael Jackson fan before you met him? How did your perception of him change after you met him / worked with him / toured with him?
Siedah: I had been a Jackson 5 fan my entire life. In fact, during my childhood, Michael Jackson was my play husband. I began to love Michael when he became a solo artist, and I really fell in love with him when he decided to record my song. It was then that I realized that he was more socially conscious than anyone had given him credit for.
MJJC: What was your first impression of Michael?
Siedah: He was so cool, so unexpectedly approachable.
MJJC: Where did the idea of Man In The Mirror come from?
Siedah: Two years before I wrote the song, I was in a writing session with composer John Beasley. In the heat of our session, he decided to answer an incoming call and responded as if he really wasn’t busy at all. I was seething. I then heard him say ”The man? What man? Oh, the man in the mirror.” That phrase stuck in my mind, and I wrote it down in my lyric book of random ideas. Two years later, as my new writing partner Glen Ballard was searching for sounds on his synthesizer, I came across the notation in my lyric book, and it just jumped off of the page.
MJJC: How long did it take to write "Man in the Mirror"?
Siedah: Literally 15 minutes for the first verse and chorus. It just poured out of me. It was almost like it wrote itself.
MJJC: Did you write other songs for Michael that never made it onto his albums?
Siedah: Yes, I wrote a song called “Innocent Side” that I submitted at the same time as “Man In The Mirror”, but it was not selected. The only other song that I wrote for MJ was “Keep The Faith”, which he co-wrote, and which he then recorded on his Dangerous album.
MJJC: Siedah you are a great songwriter, can you comment on Michael's songwriting skills. Which song(s) do you consider his best?
Siedah: Michael was an incredible writer, and I think he was in his songwriting prime when he wrote for “Off The Wall”. I love everything he wrote for that record.
MJJC: What was it like to work with Michael in the studio?
Siedah: It was a unique learning experience. Michael was a complete perfectionist, although he would only have to do a few takes, each take was amazing.
MJJC: What was the best part of being on tour with Michael?
Siedah: Watching him every night on stage was absolutely amazing. Also being able to see the world at the highest level possible. It was almost like traveling with Jesus.
MJJC: Did you ever see Michael do something that shocked you or took you by surprise either on stage or off stage?
Siedah: Yes! Every night! And I often did things that surprised him, like when I put on a blond wig without his knowledge to perform our duet.
MJJC: Was it hard to concentrate on your singing when Michael was rubbing your thigh during I Just Can't Stop Loving You on the Dangerous tour?
Siedah: Wow! The very first time he did it, it took me by surprise. After that, I began to expect it.
MJJC: It has been rumoured that the Dangerous Tour was to continue in the US after the final 1993 dates in Australia. Do you know if there is any truth to this?
Siedah: I really don’t know.
MJJC: What was it like to hang out with him, when you guys were not working? Was he a different personality when not on stage or in the recording studio?
Siedah: Absolutely. He was very serious about his craft, so, when working there was no fun and games. However, when not working, he was fun, relaxed, engaging, ridiculously creative, extremely aware of world issues, and a true artist in every sense of the word. He seemed to take to me because I was always myself when around him, never phony or intimidated. He would constantly say to me, "You so crazy!" In fact, he had a pet name for me, Miss Gayrree.
MJJC: What was the most memorable conversation you ever had with Michael?
Siedah: We were in the studio recording on the day Fred Astaire passed away. Michael was deeply saddened and shared with me just how much he loved and was influenced by Fred and his incredible dancing.
MJJC: Did Michael ever confide in you when something was troubling him? Did you ever have some real deep serious conversations with him (other than when you were working on songs)?
Siedah: Yes, we talked about the plight of African-Americans in this country, and he surprised me with his knowledge of African-American issues. Also, he once told me that the happiest he ever is in life is when he is on-stage performing.
MJJC: If you could describe Michael in only one word, what word would that be?
MJJC: A lot of people have said Michael had a great sense of humor. What are your personal experiences of this?
Siedah: Once, while in the studio recording our duet "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", he began tossing popcorn in my face in an effort to make me mess up. Producer Quincy Jones, not seeing this, began to chastise me for flubbing the takes. Michael, on the other hand, was just CRACKING UP!
MJJC: Over the years, especially in the 2000s, did you keep in touch with Michael?
Siedah: No, I hadn’t spoken to him in 17 years. I didn’t really reach out to him, not until 2009 when I knew he was making plans to go back on tour. I caught up with him on the phone during the Michael Jackson week on American Idol, four weeks before he died. He congratulated me on my Grammy win and Oscar nomination. I later saw him at his tour audition three weeks before he died.
MJJC: Where were you when you first got the news that Michael had passed away? And what was your immediate reaction?
Siedah: I was home in my kitchen making lunch when I heard the news on the radio. I called a fellow MJ alumnus to question whether it was real or a hoax, but then shortly found out that it was the truth. I was devastated, physically and emotionally.
MJJC: What would you want Michael fans all over the world to know about him, as someone who knew him personally and professionally?
Siedah: Michael was genuinely compassionate and caring. I feel that during his lifetime he was under-rated and under-appreciated, and unfortunately ostracised. Thank God he has been exonerated after his death.
MJJC: Is there anything you want to say to the members of MJJCommunity and Michael Jackson fans in general?
Siedah: I want to say that Michael Jackson fans are the most loyal fans on the entire planet, and he really, really appreciated them, as do I. Other than that, I would say please support my new tribute song to MJ, entitled “Keep On Lovin’ You”, where I share my feelings about my life and experience with Michael, available on iTunes on September 11th. Thank you for continuing to love him and appreciate him.
MJJC EXCLUSIVE Q&A WITH BILL WHITFIELD AND JAVON BEARD,
AUTHORS OF REMEMBER THE TIME: PROTECTING MICHAEL JACKSON IN HIS FINAL DAYS
MJJC: What made you want to write a book?
Bill & Javon: We wrote Remember the Time because we had a story to tell about the Michael Jackson we knew. If you’re a Michael Jackson fan and supporter, you deserve to know him more on a personal side, not just who he was but what he endured as a man, and as a father. You deserve a true account from those that were there, not from those who can only repeat what they heard second-hand.
We wrestled a long time with whether or not was should write a book. Fundamentally, we agree with those who say Mr. Jackson deserves his privacy and deserves to rest in peace. But ultimately we came to the conclusion that his fans deserve to know and, hopefully, in some way it will bring closure to some and truth to others. We also felt an obligation to tell the world about our time with Mr. Jackson because there really is no one else to tell this part of the story. During the time Mr. Jackson spent in Las Vegas, between his return from Ireland and the start of “This Is It,” there simply weren’t a lot of people around. Very often the only people there were us, Mr. Jackson, and the three
children. Mr. Jackson has been robbed of the opportunity to tell his own story, and the children were too young to really know a lot of what was going on at the time. That leaves us. If the world ever wants to fully understand what happened to this beloved and incredible man, this is a story that needs to be told. We already know how Michael Jackson died. Our aim is to help people understand why.
MJJC: How long did it take you to write the book? Was it a challenge putting the experience of protecting Michael Jackson into words? Please tell us about this experience.
Bill & Javon: The longest and hardest part of the process was finding the right publisher who understood our approach and our philosophy. When he was alive, Mr. Jackson’s world was full of vultures looking to take advantage of him in every way possible. We saw that with him and we saw it again after he passed away, in the way people approached us about our story. There was a long, on-and-off process of interviewing possible collaborators, close to two years. Once we found the right partners, people that we trusted and felt comfortable with, the actual writing of the book actually took about a year. We spent several days sitting down, reminiscing and just telling our story, and then over the next several months, spent hours on the phone going over chapters, making edits, and so forth.
In the beginning, it was difficult talking about our experiences. Often times it made us angry, thinking, “Was there more we could have done?” It was also painful to relive some of the bad things that happened to him. He was not at peace a lot of the time, because of how bad he was portrayed in the media, because there were so many people he couldn’t trust. We always wanted to shield him from it, but there were some things you just couldn’t control. But the more we wrote and relived the moments we shared with Mr. Jackson, the more we knew we were doing the right thing.
MJJC: Most books about Michael are written with lots of sensationalism. Yours is not. Why is that, and why have you taken the approach of a general spoken account?
Bill & Javon: Sensationalism was the opposite of what we wanted to write. First of all, our time with Mr. Jackson was not “sensational” in either a good way or a bad way. There were no big tabloid scandals, but there weren’t any sold-out stadium concerts, either. Most of our two and a half years with Mr. Jackson were a quiet time when he was focused almost entirely on raising his children and giving them a home. There was a lot of tension and drama going on with his family and with his business affairs, but no big spectacle, so telling our story is an opportunity to see who the man really was away from the cameras.
We always tell people we didn’t work for the King of Pop. We worked for Michael Jackson. Those were two different people. It was only at the very end when the machinery of This Is It started winding up in Los Angeles, that we saw the tabloid spectacle take over, and not in a healthy way. But we were not a direct party to that. We stayed in Vegas, handling some of Mr. Jackson’s business there, and we were slated to rejoin him in London to handle security on the estate he was going to rent.
We chose to tell the story in the way we did, through our own personal, conversational voices, to give readers the sense of being there as things happened. A lot of what you read about Michael Jackson either puts him on a pedestal or throws him in the gutter. We wanted a book that gave Mr. Jackson his proper respect and honoured his legacy, but also a book that was down to earth and showed him as a real, everyday person because that’s what most people misunderstand about him. The tabloids always wanted to paint him as some kind of cartoon, but behind the King of Pop spectacle, there was a real human being who was full of great love and generosity, but who also suffered from pain and loneliness. We wanted to show the world that real human beings because Michael Jackson deserves to be treated like a person.
We also chose to tell the story from our own point of view in order to avoid all the second-hand speculation and the recycling of tabloid stories that other Michael Jackson books always rely on. Given the way, the media treated Mr. Jackson’s life, to this day we don’t really trust anything written about him that we didn’t witness first-hand. Other than referencing well-documented information about Mr. Jackson’s past (like how many albums Thriller sold) and using some basic facts established in public records (like how the mortgage on Neverland was handled) the book is strictly an account of what we saw and heard and what our reactions and feelings were. We wanted it to be as honest and real as possible.
MJJC: Lots of people from Michael’s past have used knowing/working with him to make money. Can you tell us if that was your motivation for writing this book?
Bill & Javon: Money was and never has been our motivation. We turned down cash offers from tabloids that wanted us to dish dirt on the more scandalous elements of Mr. Jackson’s life. (We didn’t actually have much dirt to give them, because that’s not the man that we knew.) As we discuss in the intro to the book, we did not sell this for a huge advance to a big publisher looking for tabloid secrets. We went with a small publisher who was willing to pay a modest advance to take a chance on the kind of book we wanted to write. We also did not take any of the upfront money ourselves. We invested it in making sure Mr. Jackson’s story was done well. We paid most of it to a writer, Tanner Colby, a New York Times bestselling author, who we felt would handle the story with the respect it deserves. The rest of it went to cover various expenses, like travel to meet with our editors and so forth. The only way we will make money from this book is on the back end. If you, the fans, decide that we have done a good job and this is a book you choose to support, that will be our reward.
MJJC: What was your opinion of Michael before you started working for him? Did your opinions change after working for him?
Bill & Javon: Both of us were always huge fans of Michael even before working for him. Bill still has all the old 45 singles from growing up with the Jackson 5. Javon literally had “Smooth Criminal” set up as his ringtone when he got the call to come and work for Mr. Jackson. Neither of us ever believed the allegations made against him or any of the other crazy things printed in the media. He always seemed so sweet and soft-spoken, like he couldn't hurt a fly.
Unfortunately, as with many celebrities whose lives are distorted by the tabloids, you don’t believe what’s being said but you don’t have the personal knowledge to say different. So when we were given the opportunity to work for him, we paid more attention to him and his actions and we saw things that validated what we’d always wanted to believe about him. We saw how much of a hands-on father he was, how he cared so much for the less fortunate. So, our opinions of him didn’t really change, but it was nice to learn that the Michael Jackson we supported as fans were not the Michael Jackson that had been reported in the media.
MJJC: Did Michael have a favourite radio station/songs to listen to while in the car/SUV?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson only listened to classical music in the car. Sometimes, if one of us had the radio on an R&B station, he’d ask us to leave it, but otherwise, it was pretty much always classical—with one exception. There was one song that happen to come on the radio, and after hearing it he had us go to Best Buy and purchase it for him. Then he played it over and over again in the car, singing along in the backseat—and he sang that song with conviction. It was a song that really spoke to him and the challenges he was dealing with. But for that, you have to read the book.
MJJC: Did Michael ever invite fans inside his home to hang out?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson often invited fans in to visit Neverland, but the houses he rented in Las Vegas were not the same. They were not homes he wanted to show off and entertain in. They were just places to stay, really. So we never had the fans come inside. Most of the time we spent visiting with the fans was in the car, on the way in and out of the house. We’d always stop and he’d say hello and chat for a bit.
While living in Las Vegas, Mr. Jackson was looking for a new limousine, and one summer evening we arranged for him to take a test drive in an SUV stretch limousine. The vehicle seated sixteen people. As we pulled out from the driveway, there were about five fans sitting outside the gate. Mr. Jackson directed the driver to stop the vehicle, rolled the window down, and asked the fans if they wanted to go for a ride. Then he opened the door and they jumped in. We drove around for about 45 minutes, and Mr. Jackson and his fans just casually chatted. As nerve-racking as it was for us as security, all went well. He loved it and so did they.
MJJC: Did you ever hear Michael talk without his falsetto?
Bill & Javon: No. Mr. Jackson always spoke in the same quiet, soft-spoken voice he used in public.
MJJC: Michael loved reading a lot. As far as you know, did he like novels or did he prefer to read autobiographies or books that tell real stories? If he preferred novels, what was his favourite genre?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson read just about anything he could get his hands on. We were constantly taking trips to Barnes & Noble, dropping five, ten thousand dollars on books in a single night. If there was a particular preference he had, we couldn’t say. If there was one book we saw him reading most frequently, it would be the Bible.
MJJC: Can you tell us the differences between the public Michael and the private Michael?
Bill & Javon: The public Michael Jackson was an entertainer. The private Michael Jackson was a father, a son. The public Michael was very image-conscious. When he knew he was going somewhere and there were going to be a lot of cameras, he would fly in his hairstylist and get a one-of-a-kind outfit made by a top designer. He would spend 4 to 5 hours just preparing himself for the cameras and the bright lights. The private Michael just loved being with his kids, watching movies, eating popcorn, and walking around the house in pyjamas without a care in the world.
MJJC: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Michael Jackson?
Bill & Javon: The business side of Mr. Jackson’s life was an ongoing machine. Through his management and his legal representatives, his days were often pre-scheduled with conference calls and meetings. Each day an itinerary was prepared for Mr. Jackson of where he needed to be, who he needed to talk to. Sometimes he followed the schedule the letter, and other times he said the hell with the schedule and he did whatever he wanted to do.
MJJC: In protecting Michael, what was the scariest thing you saw him do that caused you to worry about his safety?
Bill & Javon: To be honest, in the beginning, the biggest challenge was you guys: the fans. As with every celebrity we’ve worked for, it’s always about keeping the fans and the crowds at arm’s length. Everybody is a potential threat. Of course, Mr. Jackson’s relationship with his fans was different. He’d roll the car window down and wave people over to chat, to hang out. Being security, our natural instinct was to try and get in between to act as a buffer, but Mr. Jackson would always wave us aside and say, “Be nice to my fans. They’d never let anything happen to me.” He knew that his fans were his greatest supporters and protectors.
Other than that, because of his children’s safety, Mr. Jackson was hyper-vigilant about security. Having been one of the most famous men on Earth his whole life, he knew everything there is to know about personal protection and privacy, so it was rare he put himself in any kind of dangerous situation. He was mindful of the fan who shot and killed John Lennon. He knew some people were overly obsessed with him and he was afraid of someone using their being a fan to get close enough to harm him. So Mr. Jackson may have let his guard down to be close to his fans, but as his security team, we never did.
MJJC: How did Michael cope with all the tabloid trash that was written about him? How computer-savvy was Michael? Did he use the internet often? What websites did he visit? Were his children allowed to use the television or the Internet?
Bill & Javon: He didn’t cope with it. He refused to. He shut it completely out of his life. He didn’t want his children exposed to it. Since various talk show hosts still mocked and joked about him, there was no broadcast or cable TV in that house. They only watched movies and shows on DVD. The only newspapers he read regularly were the Wall Street Journal and the Robb Report because neither of those has tabloid news in them. Whenever we went to newsstands and bookstores, his managers would let us know if any current newspaper or magazine was saying negative things about him. If there were, one of us would go in advance to remove all those issues from the racks. For the same reason, he never went on the Internet and never allowed the children on it unless they were monitored. The only web surfing he did was a few times after Bill showed him how to shop and bid on eBay for collectible items.
Having cut himself off from the media, one of Mr. Jackson’s primary “news” outlets was you, his fans. He read every single letter he received; we’d take him on long drives and he’d sit in the back and go through the mail. He’d get letters from people telling about their personal experiences in China, in the Middle East, from all over the world. They gave him suggestions on what he should sing about. Those letters were his inspiration and his connection to the outside world.
MJJC: Tell us a little more about Michael's relationship with his kids. How did Michael discipline his children?
Bill & Javon: It won’t come as any surprise to MJJCommunity members that Mr. Jackson was a kind and loving father. What people may not know is just how attentive and engaged he was in every single aspect of their upbringing. He was up on all the state-mandated homeschooling requirements, and he sat down every week with the school teacher to go over her lesson plans, making sure the kids were meeting and exceeding all the necessary goals. If we left the house and it was cold out and Blanket didn’t have his hat and mittens, we’d get a call, “Come back to the house. You forgot the mittens.” He was present for everything, in every way. It’s safe to say that being a father was the most important thing in Mr. Jackson’s life at that point, more than recording, performing, you name it. The kids came first no matter what.
To be honest, Mr. Jackson didn’t have to discipline the children very often. For the most part, they were very well-behaved, very courteous, and always “please” and “thank you” for everything. Blanket was the wild card, the rebel. When one of them did misbehave, or if one of them did poorly on a school assignment, he might sit them down and give them the responsibility talk, or he might take away some of their privileges, like cancelling a movie night or something like that. But even that was rare. He was an excellent father and he raised those three kids with good character and good values, and you can see that in the way they’ve dealt with the enormous pressures that have been put on them since he passed away.
MJJC: Did Michael ever go to nightclubs while living in Vegas?
Bill & Javon: In Vegas, Mr. Jackson was very focused on being a father, helping the kids with their homework every night, and being up early to make them breakfast and get them dressed for school in the morning. So there weren’t a lot of big nights out. We went to one Prince concert on the Strip, and Mr. Jackson declined an invitation to go backstage and talk with Prince. It was late and his kids were still up, and he knew they wouldn’t go to sleep until he got home. So we took him straight home.
We did go to one nightclub when he was staying at the Palms in January of 2008. Mr. Jackson just wanted to hang out and do some people-watching. This club had a VIP balcony that overlooked the crowd, so we set it up for him to go down there. We were in the club for maybe two to three minutes when the deejay started playing one of his songs; they were mixing it, cutting it together with a bunch of other tunes. Mr. Jackson was bopping his head along, and he said, “Wow, I didn’t know that they still played my music.”
We were like, what?! We told him, “Sir, they still play your music all the time. In bars, clubs, everywhere.”
He said, “Really?”
He seemed surprised. He’d been out of the spotlight and beaten up by the tabloids for so long, at that point that he was really worried that maybe the world had moved on, that he wasn’t as popular anymore. It really made him happy to hear his songs in the club like that.
MJJC: What was the happiest you saw him? What was the saddest?
Bill & Javon: The happiest we ever saw him was during the quiet, simple moments, like when we’d sneak him and the kids into the movies so he could see a big action movie on opening day and enjoy it with a big audience like a regular family, or during the months we spent in Virginia when he and his kids stayed in this house with a huge backyard. From a distance you could see the four of them running around the house, playing and laughing. It was good hearing him laugh. He did so loudly, too.
The saddest we ever saw him, hands down, was when his brother Randy crashed through the front gate with his car and sat in the driveway, demanding money, ruining Mr. Jackson’s chance to attend Elizabeth Taylor’s birthday party. You have to read the book to get the whole story, but after that happened, Mr. Jackson disappeared into his room and we didn’t see or hear from him for three days.
MJJC: Did Michael ever teach you the moonwalk?
Bill & Javon: He never showed us how to moonwalk, but he did tell us how he did the lean-in on “Smooth Criminal.” Amazing!
MJJC: Who in your opinion was a really good friend of Michael’s? Who stood by him through good and bad? Who was the person Michael spoke to most often on the phone?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson’s mother was probably the only one who unselfishly stood by him through all the madness. There were those like Miko Brando, Chris Tucker, Eddie Griffin and Rev. Jesse Jackson that visited him a few times, and their friendships appeared to be genuine, but it was his relationship with his mother that he cherished and valued most.
MJJC: Did Michael tell jokes?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson had a great sense of humour. He would often joke and laugh with his kids and with us. We definitely made an effort to capture that in the book, because a lot of what’s written about him doesn’t show that wonderful side of him.
MJJC: Was there ever a time when you saw Michael get particularly angry for one reason or another? Can you tell us about a time when he lost his temper?
Bill & Javon: Mr. Jackson was famously non-confrontational. He didn’t like conflict, but given the way he was treated by the paparazzi and some people in the industry, he had a lot to be angry about. Sometimes it would come out. Most of the time, we worked for the sweet, gentle man who sang “Heal the World,” but every now and then we’d see the guy from “Scream.”
One afternoon in the spring of 2007, Mr. Jackson was on Bill’s cell phone for a conference call with his manager and his lawyer. We heard a loud crash in the security trailer and ran around to the kitchen to see that he’d hurled the phone through the plate glass door, shattering it into a thousand pieces. He had his head in his hands, saying, “They’re all devils. I should have my father come and kick their asses.” Then he offered to buy Bill a new cell phone.
There was one other occasion, in Washington, DC, when Mr. Jackson saw a security camera that he thought was taking secret video footage of his children. “Lost his temper” doesn’t begin to describe his reaction, but for that, you’ll need to read the book.
MJJC: How often did Friend and Flower visit Michael? Have you heard from either of them since the memorial?
Bill & Javon: Friend and Flower only visited while we were staying in Virginia, and separately of course. Since the memorial, Bill has occasionally communicated with Flower via email, usually around the anniversary of Mr. Jackson’s passing or on his birthday.
MJJC: Did he appear healthy/ready for the This Is It concert? Was he scared? Apprehensive? Didn’t want to do it but had to commit?
Bill & Javon: For the most part, Mr. Jackson always appeared in good health, but he often mentioned that he wasn’t up for the same kind of rigorous, athletic performances he gave during the Bad and Dangerous tours. He was fifty years old, and some of those years were pretty rough on him. His voice was in great shape, as amazing as ever, but these promoters were making physical demands that he knew he couldn’t live up to. When the idea was floated of doing fifty shows, we heard him on the phone saying, “I can’t do fifty shows.” He said it like these people were crazy to even for asking him to do it. But whatever was going on with his business affairs, he’d been backed into a corner where he was being told he had no choice. It was not something he did with great enthusiasm.
MJJC: You said you spoke with Michael just before he died. Did he seem happy? Can you talk about your last phone call with him? What is the last thing that Michael said to you?
Bill & Javon: Our last conversations with Mr. Jackson were just brief calls about everyday, work-related matters. Nothing terribly significant was said because nobody knew what was going to happen. Javon’s last conversation with Mr. Jackson was several weeks before he passed; Mr. Jackson called to check up on some things he had in storage in Las Vegas and asked how Javon’s family was doing, which he always did. Bill’s last conversation with Mr. Jackson came a few days before his passing. He seemed to be in good spirits. We were in Vegas, working on plans for security at the London estate, and Mr. Jackson called because he said he wanted us in LA and wanted to make arrangements for us to get there. We didn’t get to LA in time.
MJJC: What do you miss most about him?
Bill & Javon: We mostly miss the quiet, simple moments, just watching him enjoy life as a father, like watching him trying to comb Paris’s hair and not doing it that well, or telling Blanket not to wander off, or helping Prince and Paris with their little sibling spats. We also miss taking long rides with him and just talking about whatever came up. He’d ask us to turn the radio down and he’d ask us about our families and how our kids were doing. We’d see a girl walking up the street and he’d ask if we thought she was cute and if we said she wasn’t our type he’d say we needed glasses ‘cause she was fine. We also miss the excitement of being around him and never knowing what the day would bring.
MJJC: Finally, is there any message you want to send to the members of MJJCommunity and Michael Jackson fans in general?
Bill & Javon: The fans should know that, other than Mr. Jackson’s mother and his children, they were the number one priority in his life. He always cherished the support they gave him through all the ups and downs, and he loved them for never turning their back on him. He always knew that without the fans, there would be no King of Pop. He owed it all to you. And we owe you, too. As stated in the book, there would be no book without the support and love of Mr. Jackson’s fans. We wrote Remember the Time for you. It feels good knowing we are supported, and without you, none of this would have been possible. Much love to all of Mr. Jackson’s fans and supporters.
Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days is on sale on June 3rd in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It will be available in India on June 15th.
MJJC: You occasionally call out celebrities who call Michael a drug addict, and we love you for it. However, you seem to stay silent when your own family calls Michael an addict. What is the truth? Are you at odds with certain family members that continue to call Michael a drug addict? Have you ever told them to stop it or to try and word their comments better?
Jermaine Jackson: I'm not at odds with anyone because everyone accepts that Michael died due to Propofol intoxication, and he used it because he was desperate to sleep, not because he was addicted.
I personally felt it was important to point out the difference between Michael's one-time addiction to painkillers, and the sensationalist addiction talk of him being "a junkie" that the media and Murray wrongly attached to his death. That was why I wrote what I did and why I called out all the bull crap during the trial.
My siblings shared private conversations and concerns with our brother about his addiction around 2001/02 time, and they are entitled to talk about it, but talking about that period does not mean they are calling him a drug addict in 2009. He wasn't.
MJJC: Why do you and many in your family continue to downplay what Michael said was abuse in the hands of Joe? Obviously, Michael was deeply affected by it. You and your family always say it's discipline when it's not. Don't you think Michael has a right to tell it how he lived it and how for him it was abuse, whether you agree with it or not?
Jermaine Jackson: Yes, Michael had the right to tell it, and so do I because I experienced the same discipline from Joseph. I was disciplined. I was not abused. He treated us the same and I don't apologize for attempting to place all of this into context. In every family, there will be different perspectives of the same event. I have given mine.
I will say this: I read many biographies that invented what Joseph was supposed to have done. The majority of it was pure fantasy or wildly exaggerated. It was designed to paint him as evil. Joseph has never been evil. Michael would agree with that.
I don't dismiss Michael's experience and feelings. What I have tried to do is balance what happened and do what Michael tried to teach us all: be more understanding and more compassionate. That's why I used his Oxford University speech in the book because he didn't have the judgment or vitriol that some fans have for Joseph. He forgave him. He didn't judge him. He also loved him and history deserves to know that.
MJJC: What made you feel that Tohme Tohme was someone worthy of meeting Michael and to be in business with? What were your thoughts of Michael being on tape saying he doesn't like Tohme and how he controls everything Michael does including his money and keeping him from seeing anyone he didn't want Michael to see?
Jermaine Jackson: I've explained this over many pages in the book because I know how concerned fans have been and I wanted to explain everything from the very beginning. The full story is in there. I can't go over it all again. But the biggest misunderstanding is that I introduced him to Michael as some kind of partner or manager. That's not true.
I first met Tohme-Tohme as someone who could help fund the Crystal City project (described in the book) which I was working on with Michael around 2007 time. I had four meetings with Michael to get down our vision on paper. He was all about it.
I met with Tohme-Tohme to find a consortium to raise the $5-6 billion we needed. Not once did I mention to him that Michael was involved in this project. Not once.
Soon afterward, I heard that Neverland was in trouble. There was the talk of foreclosure. That was the first time I went to Tohme-Tohme about Michael (April 13th 2008) because if this guy could find billions for a leisure project, he probably knew businessmen who had $23-24 million to save Neverland. That was my thinking.
Long story short, Tohme-Tohme introduced me to Tom Barrack at Colony Capital. Make no mistake; Tom saved my brother's financial ass. Folk out there have no idea how close to the wire things got.
From that moment on, I wasn't part of the equation and Tohme-Tohme turned against me. He was no friend of mine and I know that he became no friend of Michael's. But, from April 2008, the choices and the appointments that were made had nothing to do with me. Michael was his own man with his own mind.
MJJC: Why was Tohme-Tohme allowed at UCLA Medical Centre and even allowed to speak on June 25th, after Michael Jackson had fired him?
Jermaine Jackson: I don't know why he was there or who authorized it. When I arrived, he was already there in the corridor, but you've got to understand that I wasn't thinking about any of that, or why he was allowed to speak. That day was a blur.
MJJC: What is your opinion about Tohme-Tohme now?
Jermaine Jackson: My opinion of him? He was the same as everyone else who came and went in Michael's life - he didn't understand the revolving door he was caught in. I do think his heart was in the right place but I think the access went to his head. His manner was too sharp and fiery for Michael in the end.
MJJC: Do you believe Dr. Murray’s actions on June 25th directly caused Michael's death or do you hold Latoya's view of what happened? In other words, who do you think is responsible for Michael's death?
Jermaine Jackson: With the wrongful death lawsuit going on, this is not something I want to get into, but I'll say this: Murray was the person who injected the fatal dose of Propofol, but that fact doesn't remove questions that I still have. Also, Michael's death was preventable by others, long before those early hours of June 25th, 2009. He was dead long before he died and no one did anything and no one alerted us, his family. Had I known what I know now, I'd have been in there shutting it down and getting him to a hospital.
MJJC: Why were you taken aback by Michael not naming his brothers, sisters and father in his Will? Was it because he took care of the family in life that you believed naturally he would do the same in case of death? Was this something Michael ever discussed with the family?
Jermaine Jackson: Who says I was taken aback? We didn't discuss Michael's death. Why would we? The rest of the family has had musical careers and we've got and always had our own money.
Michael did what a father should in a will - he took care of his kids, and he also named our mother. By including her, he included us. The lioness takes care of her cubs, and that philosophy has always been understood in our family.
MJJC: What do you think about the individuals that Michael appointed to run his Estate? And are you happy with his choice? Why does it seem as if your family is forever going against the Estate, by initiating projects without Estate approval and making hostile remarks to the press about the people running the Estate?
Jermaine Jackson: No Jackson needs anyone's approval to initiate a project that celebrates or remembers our own brother. We were not appointed hypothetically in 2002. We were appointed by blood at birth.
MJJC: Why you and your family always say that you wanted to work with Michael again for albums and concerts when everybody knows that Michael didn't want to work with his family anymore? For example: on October 29, 2008, you announced a Family reunion. The next day, Michael released a statement that he didn't have any plans to reunite with his siblings. Why did you make that announcement without conferring with Michael first?
Jermaine Jackson: Who says that "everybody knows he didn't want to work with us anymore"? They cite one date and one example and apply it forever??
Everybody doesn't know, because Michael had agreed to do one "final" concert with the brothers and that was because Mother wanted to see us all on stage one last time in her lifetime, not thinking that Michael would pass before her.
He made that promise to her, not us, and we hadn't really spoken about it. But that concert was included in the many plans he had for after This Is it, including spot-dates in China and a performance at the Super Bowl 2010 (plans made prior to John Branca's return)
MJJC: Your ex-wife, Margaret Maldonado, said you were intensely jealous of Michael. Suzanne de Passe said a similar thing on Oprah in 1993 about the brothers being jealous of Michael. Were you, or were you not jealous of Michael at any point in your life? And what do you make of others who knew you personally, stating that you were jealous of your brother?
Jermaine Jackson: Too many folks listen to what others say. I don't care what others think they know, and it doesn't matter if they know me personally or don't - they can't know what I'm feeling on the inside. There is not one person out there who can say with any truth that I have said, shouted or complained about Michael in any jealous way. There were differences from time to time, but never jealousy.
I remain as proud of Michael as I always was when he was alive, and this is one reason why I wrote the book - to hear about our life and our journey in my words, no one else's.
MJJC: In your book and your media interviews promoting it, you were adamant about the importance of family and how individually you were weaker compared to how you were collective as a family unit. It was a theme that you related to Michael's professional career, when you talked about how music industry outsiders tried to separate him from his brothers and that this was not a good outcome. How do you explain then why you were the first brother to break away from the family group when you stayed with Motown to pursue a solo career rather than follow your father and brothers to their better record deal at Epic? If your career had blown up and been as successful as Michael, do you think that you would have been so keen to return to the family group?
Jermaine Jackson: I don't think I'd thought too much about me leaving the Jackson 5 until it came to the book, and it was pointed out to me that my leaving could have been an example set to Michael. If it's okay for me to break away, it was okay for him to break away. I see that in a way I never did before.
But I use Joseph's story about the tree and the branches...how we are stronger when tight together, not separate. If you read the book, you'll see how lonely I was and how all I wanted was to reunite with the brothers. Regardless of success, I was always keen to return to those roots.
That is a different thing to people in Hollywood who surrounded Michael and wanted him in isolation. I lay it all out in the book for folk to make up their own mind and ask themselves one question: Michael was a superstar in his own right, but was he better off as a person when isolated from family? I'll tell you now: had family been at The Forum or Staples for This Is It, those rehearsals would have been stopped long before and Michael would still be with us today.
MJJC: In your book, you wrote that you did NOT write "Word to the Badd" but in 1991, you DID interviews--both live and print--where you in no uncertain terms stated that you wrote the song. For example, in a Times interview, you said: “I wrote this song--and it came from the bottom of my heart--was to help my little brother get a grip on reality. “. Which version is the truth? And regardless do you accept any responsibility for the song Word to the Badd? Even if you didn't write it, wouldn't you agree that singing/recording it is just as bad?
Jermaine Jackson: I have heard how some folk are keen to pin me to this kind of reported word or the odd sentence on video. The bottom line is that I didn't write it and everyone involved knows I didn't write it, regardless of what I said or didn't say in this interview or that interview. No one mentions the interviews where I said I didn't write it, do they??!
The true story is the one I've told many times, and the one that is in the book. I accepted responsibility a long time ago and my remorse was true. It is a shame to me that some fans cannot move on from this in the same way Michael did. But honestly, what matters to me is that we straightened things out as brothers.
MJJC: If you really have vitiligo as you stated in your book, what prevented you from coming out when everyone doubted Michael had the disease? Don't you think that it could have benefited Michael if you would have come out to his defense and said you had a vitiligo spot once, instead of mocking your brother in a song about his skin change?
Jermaine Jackson: For us, it was nonsense to hear all those tabloid lies about Michael bleaching his skin but I'll say what Michael said: if we spent our time extinguishing every rumor and every lie that was ever said or written, none of us would have had lives.
When I first started writing the book, I didn't intend to include anything about this. We are (as a family) very private. But I mentioned it one day and my ghost-writer thought it was significant. We talked about it and I agreed to include it after being persuaded that it was important information.
MJJC: You claimed in your book that Michael didn't own a cell phone. There are many pictures, bodyguards, friends confirming Michael did own and use cell phones. Is it possible that Michael simply didn't want to talk to you?
Jermaine Jackson: Folk's interpretation of a photo doesn't mean that Michael owned his own cell just because he was pictured with one. To the best of my knowledge, there was no cell you could call Michael direct on unless it was someone else's.
MJJC: What was going through your mind when you thought that telling everyone there was an 'escape plan' [if Michael was found guilty in 2005] was a good idea? Any escape or leaving the country during a trial (before or after the verdict) would have been a felony. Do you regret writing that?
Jermaine Jackson: Why would I regret writing it??! Once again, this is an example of newspapers misreporting what I had written in the book. I didn't say there was a plan "if convicted". I said it was a plan I had after the first few days of evidence. I didn't say it was rational, but it was the way I was thinking without the benefit of hindsight.
It didn't occur to me how right or wrong it was. This was a time when my brother was pursued, arrested, and put on trial for something he didn't do, and I was supposed to sit back and trust the system that was screwing him? I had zero faith and I had nightmares about an innocent man going to jail. I have written in the book about the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing in that context. It's the truth, and I don't regret writing the truth.
MJJC: To what extent, Michael owes his success to you and the rest of your family? Do you believe Michael's legacy is his own and stands apart from the Jacksons or Jackson 5 legacy?
Jermaine Jackson: To the same extent that Paul McCartney owes his success to The Beatles. Michael's platform was the Jackson 5. Everyone comes from somewhere.
Michael's legacy is his own and he stands in his own remarkable light, and we feel proud as brothers to have shared in his early days because the Jackson 5 days are part of the Michael Jackson success story. History can't separate them.
MJJC: While the Jackson family is an amazing musical force and they are American musical royalty, is the Jackson family aware that many fans do not see the Jackson family's legacy and Michael Jackson's legacy as one and the same - especially overseas, where Michael's fan base is so large? How do you think you can grow your Jackson family legacy without alienating Michael Jackson fans?
Jermaine Jackson: I think I've partly answered this one with the previous question. We don't wish to alienate anyone, because Michael had the most amazing fans who are fiercely proud of his legacy as much as we are. Michael's legacy and the Jackson legacy are interwoven without being one and the same. I think that's the best way to put it...our legacy started off on the same track and then Michael's track separated and went on its own way to create another legacy on top of the Jackson 5 legacy.
MJJC: After all the privacy and protection Michael insisted on for his kids, why is your family promoting the kids and disregarding their privacy - especially with public Twitter accounts that expose them to haters. Do you see how putting the kids out there seems to fans to directly contradict everything their father wanted for them as children/young people? Some fans feel Michael's wishes are being disrespected. Please help us understand.
Jermaine Jackson: We are not disregarding their privacy, and Michael's wishes are not being disrespected. Those kids are fiercely protected.
Michael entrusted his children to our mother's care because he knew the love, care, and attention they would receive. As any parent knows, it is a fine line between saying "no" and respecting your child's wishes. As they grow and evolve, so must the decisions are taken that affect their lives, development and ambitions.
MJJC: Are you aware that the internet blog where Jordan Chandler retracted his allegations against Michael is a hoax? In TV interviews you and Mrs. Jackson when defending Michael from the child abuse allegations use this argument to prove Michael's innocence and because it is false it has the opposite effect of making viewers continue to question the accusations against Michael. There are so many good arguments to support Michael's innocence and it is extremely frustrating for fans and extremely damaging towards your brother when an argument that is clearly a lie is used.
Jermaine Jackson: I don't know what Internet blog is being referred to??
Michael's attorney Tom had a witness that was prepared to testify that Jordan Chandler had told him the allegations were untrue (should he have appeared as a witness in 2005) The boy had privately retracted it, and Tom was going to prove it. I think that's as good as any argument can get!
MJJC: Do you still feel strongly against the Cascio tracks? If so then do you or any other family members plan to take issue with any future MJ albums that include any more Cascio tracks?
Jermaine Jackson: For now, I'll say what I've always said on this issue: when has Michael's music and voice ever been released with a question mark over it, as to whether it's 100% him? I think the truth will come out one day but no, that first album is not 100% Michael and no one can talk to me about the authentic sound of my own brother's voice.
MJJC: This is kind of random, but did Michael ever express any interest in Islam or becoming a Muslim? There were many rumors swirling around in the months after his death that said he was a Muslim
Jermaine Jackson: Michael did not convert to Islam. He was curious about it and I gave him many books to read about Islam. I write in the book how, during his 2005 trial, he returned to the Kingdom Hall to pray. It's fair to say that he died a Jehovah's Witness.
MJJC: What is the worst prank Michael ever played on you?
Jermaine Jackson: Buckets or bottles of water balanced on the top of doors. Water, water, water. Every prank I ever remember involved a soaking!
MJJC: What do you miss about Michael most?
Jermaine Jackson: That's simple: his smile. He had a smile like no one else.
MJJC: If you could say just one more thing to Michael, what would it be?
Jermaine Jackson: It wouldn't be one thing, it would be many things. Many private things, but I would probably remind him how brilliant his London concerts were going to be because his self-doubt worried about that. That's the saddest thing for me: that his death confirmed the lie that he wasn't ready or fit enough to perform again when the truth is that he was going to produce the most amazing show on earth and prove everyone wrong with the comeback of all comebacks.
MJJC: Do you plan to release a solo album of new material and would you ever do a show/tour of your own hits/new material?
Jermaine Jackson: I always have plans and ideas and I'm always working on new material. I'm not finished yet!
MJJC: Is there a reason why we are mostly only seeing Marlon, Jackie, and Tito together? Do you think you will ever work with your brothers again?
Jermaine Jackson: You only saw Marlon, Jackie, and Tito last year because I was busy writing my book, and then there was the trial. I hold dear the hope that you will see the brothers working as one again.
MJJC: What do YOU plan on doing for Michael and his legacy for years to come?
Jermaine Jackson: My book was the first thing I could do to honor his memory and fight for the truth in a way that he never got the chance to. Looking ahead, my goal will be to always preserve his legacy on the highest level in any appropriate way that I can.
As MJJC we hope that the readers can understand the importance of this Q&A. As Michael Jackson fans we had questions, we had concerns about issues related to the Jackson family and Taj Jackson agreed to take questions and answer them to the best of his ability so that we can fix misunderstandings and overcome negativity and realize that despite our difference of opinions we are all on the same side - Michael Jackson. As MJJC it's our hope that we can all move towards a more positive and harmonious future. Enjoy !!!
MJJC: Many believe MJ wasn't close to his family for many years before he passed. Some have put the timeline as far back as Off the wall. Janet has confirmed this in her interviews prior to his passing, while Latoya & Jermaine's book reinforced this notion. Can you tell us how close was MJ to his family in general? How often did you have contact with him & the children before June 25th? How often did you see MJ after he returned from Bahrain?
Taj Jackson: Well I think that answer depends on which family members you are talking about. I know that my uncle Michael had never stopped being close to us (me and my brothers). I also know that my uncle Michael was always extremely close to my Grandma.
Yes, I know some members of my family weren't as close to my uncle in the later years as before, but for us that never was the case. I talked to him and saw him very often.
MJJC: There have been some questionable ventures that included Michael’s children such as children being listed in the contracts as a condition, promoting products/charities that are involved in a legal fight with Estate, giving interviews to journalists (ie: Frauke Ludowig) that made disparaging remarks about MJ before. What do you think of your family putting Michael's three vulnerable children out into the spotlight every time something MJ's related happens? MJ went to extreme lengths to protect his children from the media, so why just a year after his death have his children begun to appear on TV in interviews all around the world, have pap photos of themselves appear constantly in the media, and have public Twitter accounts which are picked up by gossip websites like TMZ. As his nephew do you think this is what MJ would have wanted for his young children? Do you ever think that maybe Michael wanted his children protected?
Taj Jackson: We are really trying to do our best with the situation in front of us, but we are only human. It's always easier to sit back and judge. But no one else is really in our shoes.
As for his kids, they are his legacy now. They are the ones that can and will carry on the MJ name and message. We don't force them to do that, they are proud to do it.
MJJC: Are the adults aware of the ongoing cyberbullying Paris & Prince have been subjected to on Twitter? (Unsavory characters have tweeted them the autopsy picture, made crude jokes, cursed and ridicule the children). Why are the children allowed to be on Twitter when so many hate on them? Are they being monitored when they go online? Are there a concrete and serious steps being taken to protect the children against cyberbullies?
Taj Jackson: We take cyberbullying VERY seriously and appropriate steps have always been taken when warranted. However, the last thing we want Prince, Paris, and Blanket to feel is that they are being imprisoned. No matter how much we want or try to protect them, there will always be people out there full of jealousy and hate.
MJJC: Do you feel, in your heart of hearts, that THIS GLE/JA-TAIL “MICHAEL FOREVER TRIBUTE”, was worthy of MJ? Do you really believe the lineup was the best for the greatest entertainer? Were the fan's concerns about the tribute taken seriously?
Taj Jackson: No tribute will ever truly be worthy of MJ. He is undoubtedly the greatest of all time. However, that doesn't mean that there should never be any MJ tributes. Personally, I think there should be MJ tributes all the time. My uncle should ALWAYS be celebrated.. not just for his musical contribution, but for the incredible person he was.
I did this tribute for my uncle. And knowing my uncle… he would have much rather have seen his mother and kids there…and his own brothers, sister, and nephews 3T up on stage performing a tribute to him, then ANY other big named artist(s).
MJJC: We now learn GLE has filed for bankruptcy on October 8th, THE NIGHT OF THE TRIBUTE. What steps will you & your family take, to make sure GLE/JA-TAIL respects their commitments to the workers? Did the charities receive their promised donation?
Taj Jackson: I am not GLE, and don't have all the details on what exactly transpired, therefore I can not comment on this yet. Sorry. I really hope there is more info in the near future.
MJJC: Since you were a consultant to the estate, you must not believe the will is fake. But do you know why some in your family would think the will is fake, but never went to court to legally challenge it? Have you ever discussed the issue with your family? What is their thinking, and how did they come up with the belief that the 2002 will wasn't signed by MJ? Has the Jackson family cooperatively decided to start working with the MJ Estate or are some still holding out and considering them an enemy?
Taj Jackson: I still am involved in the Estate. And regarding these questions, I can only speak on my behalf. Or things that I was personally part of.
I think us (the family) vs them (the Estate) mentality is very dangerous and non-productive. When you compete or consider someone the enemy, then there has to be a clear winner and a loser. Why would I want my uncle's Estate to fail? Communication is the key though and for the longest time, there was definitely a lack of it on both sides. It also doesn't help the situation when you hear someone say go "Team this" or "Team that". For me, it's all about my uncle's legacy and not a game. The only team should be Team MJ.
Also, the Jackson Family is a huge family and although we are a family unit, it is still made up of many individuals. Please remember, one person does not speak for the whole family or represent the whole family.
MJJC: Paris and Prince openly support other Artists' music and Albums and even Jackson family endeavors on Twitter but no mention at all of their Dad's new releases. They have even been tweeted questions from their followers but refuse to reply. Seeing how they are vocal of how proud they are of their dad's accomplishment, raises a lot of questions. Have MJ's children been forbidden to support Estate ventures for their dad?
Taj Jackson: MJ's kids have never ever been forbidden to support Estate ventures. They have been to and supported many ventures that the Estate was directly behind. They are VERY proud of their dad's accomplishments.
MJJC: Do the oldest two know and understand the estate is theirs? Their dad's legacy? His gift to them?
Taj Jackson: I'm sure someone has told them all of this, but I would never have that conversation with them. I'm focused on their health and happiness. It is my job to make sure that they become something my uncle would be proud of.
My brothers and I have gladly put our music career on hold for over 2 years in order to make sure my Grandma and our 3 cousins were doing okay. That is our number one priority. And it's the least we can do considering everything our uncle did for us.
MJJC: Every new venture bring forth to capitalize on MJ's fame, arts, notoriety, not sanctioned by the MJ estate, is by definition, undermining MJ's wishes and taking money from his rightful heirs. Why are the children used in projects which are against the MJ estate's interest and so in effect against the children's long-term interest? Two examples - GLE tribute which appeared to ignore the Estate completely in their planning for the concert and tried to embarrass the executors and MJ himself by offering $100K to MJ's children who have been provided with untold wealth from their father, also public involvement of the children in the Heal the world foundation which is in a costly and lengthy lawsuit with MJ estate. Do you think it is fair or ethical to use these young children in that way? Do you understand how it is viewed from the outside that the children are being asked to endorse products that go directly against MJ's wishes in establishing an estate for them?
Taj Jackson: This is another family vs estate debate…. so I think I'll pass on this one
MJJC: Do you understand the concern fans have over the people (such as Dieter Weisner, Marc Schaffel, Melissa Johnson, Howard Mann aka Henry Vaccaro aka Vintage Pop) that had fallouts with MJ being in business with both your grandparents now? Anything you want to tell us about this?
Taj Jackson: That's a very interesting concern… but going by those rules, there would definitely have been no "This is It" movie or soundtrack, or "Michael" album, or "MJ" Julien auction either.
MJJC: Are people, outside or inside of the family, taking advantage of your grandmother? Many fans believe Katherine Jackson is used as a front because fans love her & respect MJ's deep affection for her. But many fans have woken up to the game being played, and the GLE revolt has shown that. Is it now clear to the family, that most fans will not blindly support a questionable venture, just because Katherine Jackson or MJ's kids are used as the selling point?
Taj Jackson: Is this a question or a statement? Not sure. But I will still try and answer it.
People will believe what they want to believe. People will support what they want to support. People will think what they want to think. I always try and do my best to keep an open mind and see both sides of the story.
MJJC: Do you think Michael would be happy with the various book releases, merchandising deals, and tributes that the Jackson family has endorsed in the last twelve months? What's your response to those who claim that the family has been cashing in on Michael's passing?
Taj Jackson: This question reminds me of when my brothers and I first started promoting 3T back in the day. All the French promo posters and billboards said "Nephews of Michael Jackson". The next time I saw my uncle I started to apologize to him about this. I started to tell him that we didn't tell Sony France to put that on all the advertising. He stopped me before I could finish and I'll never forget his response, He said, "Applehead don't ever apologize, you are my nephews, flesh, and blood and I love you. You are a Jackson. Be proud and wear that name like a badge of honor. I'm counting on you guys to carry on this legacy when I'm done."
So…. my uncle Michael considered his legacy to be a piece of the Jackson legacy. For him, it had always been about the Jackson name living on. And I don't believe family can "cash in" on their own name.
MJJC: Even before your uncle was officially declared dead on 25th June, your family through its spokesman, Oxman, and various family members since, has made the serious allegation to the media that Michael Jackson's problem with overmedication was so bad that you as a family were attempting interventions. Can you clear up this confusion with fans as it severely impacts MJ's reputation, especially as a father?
Taj Jackson: If someone goes out and speaks on your behalf without your agreement or knowledge, does that make him your spokesman? Brian Oxman is not the family spokesman and he definitely does not speak for the entire family or me.
MJJC: About Cascio Tracks: How can you be so sure that the voice in the tracks is not real? Do you have any evidence to support that besides your own ears? Did you guys seek out experts to analyze the tape and have forensic evidence? If you believe the tracks were fake, why did you not take legal action? Did you talk to Eddie Cascio or any member of the Cascio family about the tracks before or after the album fiasco? Do you tried to reach out to each other and hear both sides of opinion and tried to sort things out? Why did you feel you had to involve the public by bringing the fight on Twitter? Do you take some responsibility for the major division this has created within the fan community? Do you reckon, some will forever question the veracity of every new project?
Taj Jackson: That's a very sore subject, the Cascio Tracks. But just know, A LOT went on behind the scenes before things went public and plenty of time before the "Michael" tracklist was even finalized. I really shouldn't say anymore otherwise I might say things I'll later regret.
MJJC: You have tweeted that Michael's fans don't understand and that we only know part of the story. We can understand how that must be frustrating, equally from Michael's fan base perspective it is also frustrating when we reach out to the family and don't get any feedback. The fans look to the family for support and answers to various questions, but it appears there is not if much if any response from the family. What can the family and the fans do to correct the breakdown in communication'? Would the family be willing to establish an official line of communication and if so, what method of communication would the family be comfortable with? It would be great to see a dialogue between the fans and family.
Taj Jackson: That's a tough situation. I'm not sure anyone in our family wants to be the messenger or liaison anymore. People always want to blame or kill the messenger when something goes wrong…lol
Every problem, concern or incident would lie squarely on that person's shoulders. No thanks. As much as I would love to help with that now. I've been there… done that. That's not for me… I would rather put that energy into my uncle's mother and kids.
MJJC: Did MJ ever record his own solo version of Why? If he did, what can you tell us about Michael’s original demo for WHY? Do you think it could see a release?
Taj Jackson: No, unfortunately, it doesn't exist. There were only my uncle's backgrounds on the demo. There is a Babyface version of Why with MJ backgrounds though.
MJJC: We all know MJ was an amazing person, what do you love most about him?
Taj Jackson: His heart. Period. "Amazing person" is totally an understatement. His care for children and the world was not a gimmick, it was who he really was. If I could be a tenth of the man my uncle was, I would be happy with my life.
MJJC: What's your favorite memory of MJ?
Taj Jackson: One favorite memory is the time my brothers and I spent with him in Nagasaki, Japan. There is a Dutch Village Theme Park called Huis Ten Bosch. We had such an incredible time there and laughed so much during that trip. I am blessed and lucky to have so many great and happy memories with him. Enough memories to last a lifetime.
MJJC: How was it like to work with MJ? Was MJ still being like an uncle when working or he was just pure professional?
Taj Jackson: He was absolutely a creative genius. Every time I worked on something with him, it never ever felt like work.
For example, the music video shoot for "Why". My first worry was that my uncle was playing around just a little too much…. cause he kept trying to make us laugh every time the camera was rolling. But afterward, I understood exactly what he was doing.
I was way too serious for the video, thinking in my head…this is a music video with Michael Jackson…
But that was never the relationship we had with our uncle. Our relationship with him was filled with love, fun, respect, and mutual admiration. And the video at the end of the day captured that perfectly.
MJJC: What is the single most important advice MJ had given you or your brothers, and you would like to share with his own kids?
Taj Jackson: We have shared almost everything my uncle has ever said or taught us with his own kids.
The single most important advice he has ever given me is to truly believe in my dreams. Also to be appreciative of and grateful for what I have and always give back to the world…to those less fortunate… and stand up for those without a voice.
Brad Sundberg was the technical director to Michael Jackson for nearly two decades. He recently announced a series of seminars to take place this June in New York called "In The Studio with Michael Jackson" ( thread here: http://www.mjjcommunity.com/forum/th...ichael-Jackson)
We reached out to Brad Sundberg to talk about Michael's music as well as talk about his ""In The Studio With Michael Jackson" seminars. You can read his answers below. Also, check the end of Q&A for information about seminars and how to get tickets to them.
MJJC: What exactly is the job of a technical director and what did this position entail, as you worked in this role on some of the MJ albums?
Brad Sundberg: There is the short answer and the long answer. The short answer is “be ready for anything.” The long answer would go something like this: My responsibility was to have whatever recording studio we worked in, anywhere in the world, be up to Michael Jackson's quality. I worked very closely with Bruce Swedien (not just on MJ albums, but also Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, among others), and his attention to detail is second-to-none. Every microphone, every patch-point, every machine and device in the studio had to test and (if possible) calibrated to perfection. It was not uncommon for this process alone to take 1-2 weeks before the projecting would even start. The funny thing is that so few production teams do this, yet it is a vital part of the reason our projects sounded so good.
Additionally, I would be involved in day-to-day recording, setting up microphones, headphones, booking studios, keeping tapes organized, getting Michael’s hot water ready for his vocals, transcribing Michael’s lyrics for the liner notes, even making coffee! With various production teams working on the same project, it made for long yet very rewarding days. The hard work and dedication were also very rewarding in that I was privileged to see and be a part of so much musical history being created.
MJJC: Were you a fan of Michael's before you started working on his team back in the Captain EO days?
Brad Sundberg: As I kid growing up in Santa Cruz, CA in the 70s, I listened to a lot of music: Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, etc., but I also loved dance music like Abba, The BeeGees, Gloria Gaynor, Blondie, Donna Summer and of course Michael Jackson. I found myself sort of “dissecting” songs as I listened to them because I wanted to understand every sound, every reverb, and effect. I played the “Thriller” album until it was scratched and worn out, so I bought another copy. The depth of sound blew me away, even before I understood recording. Yes, I was a fan.
MJJC: What are your top 3 favorite songs from Michael and why?
Brad Sundberg: That’s a tough one, but here goes:
1) Human Nature. I have always loved that song, and my friend Steve Porcaro knows it. We recorded a follow-up to it called “Someone Put Your Hand Out,” but it didn’t quite make the “Dangerous” album.
2) Smooth Criminal. The bass line, the groove, David Williams insane rhythm guitar, Jerry Hey’s horn section, Quincy directing this who’s-who of musicians and Michael front and center… it’s an amazing piece of work! I wish you could have been there.
3) Lady In My Life. It was never a single, but what a record. Speaking from a technical standpoint, it is like a 5-minute recording class. Every sound is pure and simple. From a musical standpoint, I am a huge fan of Rod Temperton. I have worked with Rod for years, and he is a pure genius. Beautiful song.
4) I know, you only asked for 3, but I’m feeling generous. Streetwalker. This is the little engine that could. That song blew me away every time I heard it, but Quincy didn't like it. I remember driving home from the studio one night after Michael recorded the lead vocal, and I was listening to it in my car, with the sunroof open at like 3 in the morning. I nearly blew the speakers out, singing along at the top of my lungs. It may not be the most well-crafted songwriting, but that groove grabs you and will not let you go.
It isn't fair to have a list that doesn't include Will You Be There, Who Is It, Earth Song, Stranger In Moscow, Billie Jean, Startin’ Something, She’s Out Of My Life, Jam, etc. I never was good at following the rules.
MJJC: You said Michael commissioned you to bring music to virtually every corner of Neverland. What kind of music was played on the grounds of Neverland? What types of music were on the playlists that Michael created for those particular areas of the ranch?
Brad Sundberg: I don’t want to give too much away, but there was one unbreakable rule at Neverland: Michael would not allow his music to be played, despite my protests. But he was the boss, so his vote was stronger than mine.
The grounds (around the lake, main house, guest houses, etc.) played a custom playlist of classical and Disney favorites. In the amusement park, he selected songs by Janet, Yes, and Joe Satriani. Seriously. Even some Van Halen and Led Zeppelin were selected on certain rides. In the horse area and petting zoo behind the amusement park, we went with more traditional cowboy music. The trains also played primarily classical music.
MJJC: Of all the songs that you worked on with MJ in the studio, what was your favorite? Or what song had a creative process, from the demos to the finished song, that was impressive and just blew you away?
Brad Sundberg: Another tough one, because there are so many. I think I will go with Man In The Mirror. I was still learning my way around the studio, and it was an honor to be asked to sit in and watch, learn, and help on the Bad album.
Man in the Mirror was such a big song, such a huge production we all knew it was unstoppable. I was able to see the initial track being recorded, the various musicians bringing their talents, the layers of vocal harmonies, the Andre Crouch choir, and finally the commanding lead vocals with Siedah and Michael. There was so much talent in Westlake Studio D during that time that it was mind-blowing. Bruce and Michael would play that song at full, and I mean full volume (118 dB) to any guest that stopped by. People would be speechless, sometimes teary when the final note rang out.
MJJC: Can you tell us in detail exactly how the demo process was? What would MJ say to you after playing his ideas and how involved were the rest of you besides MJ; did you just do everything he said or was it collaboration with him listening to your input ideas with the arrangements?
Brad Sundberg: There was no regular or exact way the demos came to be, but it was not uncommon for Michael to ask one of us to work with him after a session on a new song.
We would bring in a keyboard player/programmer (John Barnes, Michael Boddicker, Larry Williams, Rhett Lawrence, Brad Buxer) and Michael would sing the groove and rhythm tracks to us. The programmer would translate Michael’s request into the drum machine. The bass and melody line would be added. Usually, we would record a scratch vocal, and some harmony vocals, just for reference. The whole process might take 3 or 4 hours, and the song was born. It was very collaborative, and many ideas were accepted and recorded. Not every idea was kept and used, but it was very much a group effort of kicking around ideas and trying them out.
MJJC: If you could describe the most difficult aspect of working as part of the production team on a Michael Jackson album- what would it be?
Brad Sundberg: SLEEP!!! The hours were rough, as I would typically be at the studio 2 hours before anyone else, and quite often 2-3 hours after everyone left. My day usually started around 9-10 am, and often lasted until 2 am, and I lived about 40 minutes from the studio. That’s not bad for a few days, but try it for 10 -14 months. Still, I honestly loved going to work. Once in the studio, the teams were great to work with. Good food, beautiful studios, great music, incredible talent – I didn't have a lot to complain about.
MJJC: Which project during your time working with Michael, would you say has impacted your career the most?
Brad Sundberg: Dangerous. It was a transitional time for me. I was running my installation business BSUN Media Systems (which I really enjoy), and working in the studio at the same time. Quincy was not part of the project, which felt odd. The music industry and what the public was listening to were changing, so Michael used three production teams on the project, which was brilliant.
On a technical level, we were making and breaking all of the rules with more tracks, more studios, bigger mixes, etc. I think the song Jam was something like 160 tracks on 4-tape machines, which had to mix on 2 consoles in 2 studios at the same time. It was nuts, but we made it happen. I suppose I would say it impacted my career (both in and out of the studio) in terms of not being afraid to try anything and pushing for perfection all the time.
MJJC: Over the years, working on the albums from Bad to Blood on the Dance Floor, how did MJ mature or change? How did he improve?
Brad Sundberg: During Captain Eo, he was still almost a kid, just 5 years older than me. I can honestly say that his humor, his level of trust, his commitment to excellence, and his love of performing and creating didn't change or diminish, if anything it blossomed with age. I think in the later albums he started experimenting with songs and sounds like Morphine and Ghosts. Darker themes, but great grooves.
MJJC: How did MJ work in the album selection stages, how did he choose the songs for his albums? Do you have some inside info about what and why the songs we know got chosen and not the ones that weren't? And are there any good examples of songs that almost made the cut on any album that we haven`t heard that you thought could have been a super hit today?
Brad Sundberg: The infamous cork board!! On every album I recall, he would have a corkboard on an easel in his lounge/office. Every song title was written on a 3 x 5 index card, and they would be tacked to the board, in order of strongest to weakest. These would move around on the board as new parts were added, new songs recorded, etc. Generally, depending on the project, this was Quincy/Michael/Bruce driven. Once the 15 songs would be chosen, the board was used more for song-order on the album.
As for songs that almost made it: My personal favorites were Streetwalker, Someone Put Your Hand Out, and Monkey Business.
MJJC: Do you remember any of Michael's songs that remain unreleased to this day and if yes, which ones are your favorites? Can you tell us a little about these unreleased songs?
Brad Sundberg: Sorry – I know many songs, but I am going to pass on that one.
MJJC: How good was Michael at operating the buttons and stuff in the studio, would he get more into that after you worked with him for some years?
Brad Sundberg: Michael was not technical at all. Zero! He might nudge a fader now and then, but he was not adjusting EQs or reverb settings. That said, I do think the studio was so comfortable for him, almost like going home. It was very safe and a place he could just work, laugh, and be himself.
MJJC: How many instruments could MJ really play? Which instruments were those and how good was he? (Honestly)
Brad Sundberg: He could play melodies on a keyboard, but I wouldn't call him a great player. Keep in mind when you have Greg Phillinganes and Randy Kerber on speed-dial, you don’t really need much more. Before my time he played the bottle-sound percussion on “Don’t Stop.” Michael’s instrument was his voice – we had plenty of talent to handle everything else.
MJJC: What did your tour prep for MJ's tours consist of?
Brad Sundberg: Tour prep was the time after the album was released (or in pressing), and the band was in rehearsals. Essentially we had to re-work the songs to make them easier for Michael to sing and perform their show after show. This is something I go into considerable detail discussing in my seminars.
MJJC: Please tell us more about “Keep the Faith” and how you had to scrap the original version and re-record a new version in an all-night session?
Brad Sundberg: Sorry I need to pass on that one for now, as it is one that I dig into in the seminar. I can’t give too much away! : )
MJJC: We would love to hear a story based on personal experience working with MJ. What is one of your most memorable?
Brad Sundberg: He was remarkably curious, and loved my daughters. When my daughter Amanda was just a toddler, my wife Debbie would bring her into the studio (during Dangerous) so we could see each other once in a while. Michael would be on the floor with Amanda, on her blanket, playing with toys and characters. He would say, “She’s in her own little world isn’t she?”
Another time we delivered one of the trains to the ranch. I had been installing a huge music system on the train, so it would be ready when Michael first saw it. He was beyond excited, laughing and smiling as we got it fired up. Deb and Amanda were at the ranch that day, and he held Amanda’s hand as the train made its inaugural circle around the ranch. He could not stop smiling.
MJJC: What is the fondest memory that you have of Michael (as a human being, not as an artist?)
Brad Sundberg: Make-A-Wish Foundation. When Neverland was ready for guests, we would start seeing guests from all over the world, who wanted to spend time with Michael. Many of these young guests were part of the Make-A-Wish program, and they were gravely ill. For Michael to take them on a tour a ranch, let them touch a giraffe or ride on the Ferris Wheel goes way beyond what many people are willing to do. This was their final wish, and he was making it happen. I remember their faces, their grateful parents, and knowing that there would be immeasurable grief in their future. Michael was giving of his time, which was a huge gift.
MJJC: Did Michael play some pranks on you? Any funny story that you can tell us?
Brad Sundberg: It isn’t really a prank, but there is a funny memory I sometimes share. I have zero dance skills, yet I love dance music. It was very common for us to be working on a song like The Way You Make Me Feel, Jam, Bad, Streetwalker, etc., and I would be doing a head-bob to the beat. Michael would burst out laughing, saying “Brad is groovin’!,” I couldn’t’ help it… the music was so strong! This was part of the reason he started calling me “Really Really Brad.” I loved his teasing, because he was so good-natured and light-hearted.
MJJC: In your memoir you say, "I could write page after page of simple acts of kindness I have seen firsthand." Can you remember a few? It's always warms fans' hearts to hear such stories.
Brad Sundberg: I already mentioned the Make-A-Wish visits on the ranch, but we also had visits in the studio from his friends and fans. We had some fans outside of the studio in New York during HIStory, and he brought them in for a tour and some autographs. During the recording of a kid’s choir in New York, he had me dress as Santa and we gave them all Christmas gifts. When one of our assistant engineers was going in major surgery, we had a huge family dinner in the studio in his honor, and Michael showered him with gifts and movies. But again, he did these things in person, which made it all the more meaningful.
MJJC: How did Michael change over the years, according to your impression? (I don't mean physically, or his alleged "eccentricities". I mean in your personal communication with him what kind of changes in his character did you feel?)
Brad Sundberg: I was not his best friend, but I like to think I was a trusted friend. During those years I did not see any change in his character, in his child-like love of music, movies, fantasy, architecture, paintings, games, laughter, nature, etc. I don’t remember a single time of him walking into the studio or seeing him at the ranch or on stage at Radio City Music Hall where he didn't greet me with a hug. The Michael I knew didn’t change, even as the world did.
MJJC: What has inspired you to come forward and share your experiences working with Michael, with his fans?
Brad Sundberg: After Michael died, I read an article in a magazine about how crazy it was working with Michael: Chimps and Elephant-Man bones and snakes and so on. I didn’t know the author, nor had he ever been to the studio or the ranch. It was always un-named sources and tabloid vomit. I got tired of the press and people who wanted to make a quick buck saying and writing whatever they wanted, with no shred of truth behind their words. I wrote a few articles about my years with Michael, and they were well-received.
A group of fans in Paris approached me and asked me to put together a seminar and really explore our years in the studio and at the ranch. I began writing a book (currently in the works), which tries to recap a story that took 18 years to live. Being totally honest, I want to try to document what it was like to work with one of the most unique entertainers in modern history. No speculation, no deep theories, just an introduction to someone I had great respect for and considered a friend. Yes, it might be for the fans, but it is also for my kids, and maybe Michael’s kids. I want them to know what it was like to be there and to be part of such an amazing journey.
MJJC: What can fans hope to walk away with from your "In the Studio with Michael Jackson” seminars? What will be the highlights of the seminars in NYC and in Paris?
Brad Sundberg: I am hoping the above answers give you a clue. I was part of something very special. I wasn’t special, I was just part of an amazing team, at an amazing time. No two seminars are exactly alike. New memories surface, new stories are told. I hope when someone leaves the room after the seminar, they feel as though I have introduced them to a friend.
MJJC: Michael has fans everywhere and unfortunately despite the desire to attend, many fans will not be able to go to seminars because of the distance, are there plans to share the content in a book or do other seminars at different locations around the world?
Brad Sundberg: Yes, and yes! The book is in the works, but the crazy thing is that the seminars actually help bring those memories back into focus, so I want to do a few more before the book is finished. We are offering seminars in New York and Paris this year, with groups in Germany, Norway and the UK also expressing great interest. I hope to have a really cool one in LA in January, at Westlake, where it all started.
MJJC: Do you have anything you want to say to the members of MJJCommunity or Michael Jackson fans in general?
Brad Sundberg: Michael truly loved his fans. There is no tribute show or seminar or movie that can replace the talent that he was born with. I was blessed to have known him, and I cherish the memories of watching him practice a circular moonwalk in the studio, or singing scales with Seth or watching him from the wings on stage in front of 100,000 screaming fans. I can hear his laughter as if he were sitting across the room from me. He was a professional, a perfectionist, an entertainer, a singer, a dancer, a dad, and a friend. I miss him, and I know you do also. Thanks for letting me share a few memories with you.
My name is Brad Sundberg, and I first met Michael Jackson during the recording of Captain Eo, in 1985, at Westlake Studios in Los Angeles. I was asked to join Michael’s team as an engineer the following year for the production of the “BAD” album in 1986. Then came the tour (I worked with Michael and the band to restructure the new songs for live performance), the dance mixes, the short films, and so on. Next came “Dangerous”, Michael’s first project without Quincy Jones. Another year in the studio, another tour, more remixes, and short films. Then came “HIStory,” which we recorded in New York. We were at the worldfamous Hit Factory for nearly a year, followed by tour prep for the “HIStory” tour. Along the way, many of the songs for “Blood On The Dancefloor” were recorded and mixed.
When Michael sang “Man In The Mirror,” I was there. When Michael sang vocal warm-ups before a session, I was there. From setting up the vocal microphone and headphones to making sure the water was hot enough for Michael’s favorite drink, much of was handled by me. I didn’t hear stories or rumors or interview people about working with Michael, I was simply there, doing my job. (Michael even gave me the nickname, “Really, really Brad” in the credits of the “BAD” album.) It was an honor and a priceless education to be part of his studio team.
When Michael bought Neverland Valley Ranch and wanted to turn it into his amazing home, he brought me up to start designing music and video systems to make it magical. He would call me on the phone at all hours and describe a new ride or idea that he had: The petting zoo, the trains, the outdoor theater, music around the lake, music on the stagecoach, on and on. He loved that ranch, and it always made me happy when he would get excited about my work. I wasn’t his best friend or confidant; I just had enormous respect for Michael, his music and his love of people. I can honestly say I have never known anyone like him.
The Studio With Michael Jackson is a seminar I put together to give you a chance to hear what it was like in the studio, how we created many of the songs, and be free to ask questions. There will be music… a lot of music. You will hear how some songs went from a demo to a finished product. You will hear Michael talking to his producers, and see video and photos from our studio days.
If you are fan of Michael Jackson and are curious about what it was like to work with him in the recording studio with the best professionals in the business, you will enjoy this seminar. If you appreciate the amazing sounds and layers that you hear in his albums, you will enjoy this seminar. If you are curious about what it was like to work with one of the most creative forces in the entertainment industry, yet also one of the kindest men I have ever known, you will enjoy this seminar.
I invite you to spend a day with me and hear the music and the stories of what it was like to work with a friend of mine. His name is Michael Jackson, and I hope you will join us.
For booking information please contact me via the Facebook page.
MJJC is happy to bring you DDA (and soon-to-be Judge) David Walgren's answers to MJJCommunity's Exclusive Q&A.
From the start, we have stated that not all of the questions would be sent to DDA Walgren. I and some members of MJJC Case team selected the final set of questions. We have omitted hoax/believer questions and questions about civil trials as they were irrelevant.
I have also notified that due to DDA Walgren being a prosecutor, in this case, there could be questions he cannot answer. These topics included different possible charges, restitution, and evidence-related questions.
Enjoy the answers and please join me to say a big thank you to DDA David Walgren for generously agreeing to this Q&A despite his busy schedule.
MJJC: Before the trial would you consider yourself as a fan of Michael Jackson’s music? If yes, what is your favourite song of MJs?
David Walgren: Before the trial, I had great respect for Michael Jackson as an artist and enjoyed his music. However, as I learned more about him and his life, I came to really enjoy two songs in particular: Human Nature and Earth Song.
MJJC: Can you share some of the thoughts that you personally had on 6/25/2009 when the world learned of Mr Jackson's death? Did you ever imagine at that time you could become the lead prosecutor in Michael Jackson’s death?
David Walgren: When I first learned of Michael Jackson’s death, I was in shock. My first thoughts centred on his relative youth, and the tragic loss of his children and other loved ones. At the time, I did not give any thought to any potential criminal prosecution.
MJJC: What was your perception of Michael Jackson (if you had one) before working on the case? How has the knowledge of facts changed, if this is the case, your opinion of him as a person (for the better or the worse)?
David Walgren: Prior to the trial, my perception of Michael Jackson was simply that he was a very gifted artist and, although I was aware of various media accounts regarding his personal life, I do not typically follow that type of reporting. Now that I have learned so much more about him as a person, I have come away with great admiration for him as a loving and dedicated father to his children.
MJJC: Media reported that Michael Jackson’s kids especially his son Prince might be called to testify. Was there any truth to these rumours? Did you interview the kids and under what circumstances you would have called them to the stand?
David Walgren: I will say that I was always reluctant to call any of Michael’s children to testify at the trial and any media reports stating differently were based on pure speculation. My feeling was that the children had already had to experience enough trauma and I did not want to compound that by having them endure testifying in such a highly publicized setting about such an emotional and painful experience.
MJJC: We asked Dr Shafer what he thought of you and he praised you saying “He is brilliant, dedicated, and absolutely honest. He worked incredibly hard. I think he got about 4 hours of sleep every night of the trial. Part of my job was educating Mr Walgren in science. By the time of the trial, he was occasionally correcting my calculations! He was so effective when dealing with expert opinion in part because he truly understood the scientific principles”. Can you tell us a bit about your work with Dr Shafer? How hard was it for you to learn all of the medical and scientific aspects of the evidence presented and how many out-of-court hours he would estimate he worked on getting up to speed?
David Walgren: Dr Shafer is a brilliant, compassionate, and giving individual who pursues all science with the goal of ascertaining the truth. It was a privilege and honour to learn from someone so skilled in his field. I also spent long hours reading medical articles and other scientific publications. My goal was not only to learn the science but to be able to present it to members of the jury in a manner that they would understand. To the extent I was successful in doing that, I owe a great deal to Dr Shafer and the tremendous amount of work he put into the case.
MJJC: Casey Anthony's Defense Team said they utilized case pertinent online resources while preparing for their case. Did Michael Jackson fan sites/ blogs and social networks play any role in your preparations?
David Walgren: Fansites, blogs, and other social media did not play a large role in my preparation. Although I was aware of some of these sites, I tried to approach this case as I would any other—by being as prepared and knowledgeable as possible in regard to the evidence and the law. Toward that goal, I tried to avoid distractions that would take time away from my goal.
MJJC: Many Michael Jackson fans still have an issue with the open release of Michael Jackson’s autopsy photo. Why was it necessary to show a picture of MJ on a gurney and an autopsy photo in open court for a manslaughter trial? Why couldn't the pictures of Michael's body be only shown to the jury in court and not on live TV to avoid the massive reproduction of them all over the internet?
David Walgren: All evidence admitted at trial must be presented in open court and since the court had ruled the trial would be televised, such evidence became public.
MJJC: What are your thoughts on why Conrad Murray recorded Michael Jackson on his phone?
David Walgren: I have not been able to come up with any reason why Conrad Murray would have made and saved that voice recording other than, as Judge Pastor stated, it was to serve as an insurance policy that Conrad Murray could one day use against Michael Jackson.
MJJC: If Conrad Murray took the stand, what would be the top 3 questions you’d have asked him and why?
David Walgren: If Conrad Murray took the stand, I would have had a great number of questions for him and I think it would have been very enlightening but I cannot narrow this to a list of top 3 questions because it would be a series of questions delving into all aspects of the events preceding June 25, 2009, the events of June 25, 2009, the events following June 25, 2009, as well as the defendant’s subsequent recorded interview with the police.
MJJC: From the beginning, even prior to the trial, were you confident that you had a strong case against the defence? Was there ever a time when things seemed to get complicated and you thought you might not get a guilty verdict?
David Walgren: After I had thoroughly reviewed the evidence in this case, I was astounded by the complete lack of competent medical care provided to Michael Jackson by the defendant. I also believed the defendant was guilty of gross negligence. However, I never allow myself to get confident in a particular outcome. I always work until the very end because if the case is not presented well by the jury, justice will not prevail, no matter how confident the advocate may be.
MJJC: Despite the evidence brought at the trial, despite the verdict of guilty, some people still think that Murray has been wrongfully convicted and that he is kind of fall guy for acts perpetrated by others. What would you say to these people?
David Walgren: There were two people in the room on the night of June 25, 2009. One was Conrad Murray, a medical doctor who is supposed to heal and care for people, and one was Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson put his life into the hands of Conrad Murray and Conrad Murray abandoned him. I do not believe Conrad Murray was wrongfully convicted, nor do I feel he is a fall guy for others.
MJJC: At the press conference you couldn't answer the question of which case in your career was the most difficult one. Have you thought about it? Which case was the most challenging and why?
David Walgren: This is a difficult question to answer because each case is so unique. Some are more complicated than others. Some are more emotionally taxing than others. Some simply last longer than others. Each case presents its own set of challenges and I am unable to single out a particular case as the most challenging.
MJJC: Could you give some advice to young law graduates in this difficult period of economic crisis?
David Walgren: The best advice I could give is to not give up. If the search for a job is difficult, just keep trying and be persistent and doors will eventually open.
MJJC: We heard recently that you have applied for the position of L.A. County Superior Court Judge. Why did you make a decision to become a Judge? Beyond that do you have any plans such as getting into politics?
David Walgren: I have been a Deputy District Attorney for 16 years and have now submitted my name for consideration to be a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge. I feel that my courtroom experience, my personality and temperament, and my ability to be fair and compassionate make me qualified to serve as a judge and I look forward to taking on new challenges in my legal career.
MJJC: Were you aware of the intense amount of admiration and support, you were receiving from the Michael Jackson Fan Community, and that it continues to this day? Did it surprise you to find out that most of the fan community has such great admiration for you? What do you think of such admiration?
David Walgren: When I would arrive to the courthouse in the early morning hours, Michael Jackson fans would yell words of support as they waited outside for a seat in the courtroom. The fans would also line the hallways of the 9th floor and extend words of support and gratitude. I was also made aware of various internet sites and videos that were supportive of what was occurring. Although I did not react at the time, these gestures were very kind and very much appreciated.
MJJC: Do you have anything you want to say to the members of MJJCommunity or Michael Jackson fans in general?
David Walgren: Considering a great deal of emotion involved in the trial, I feel the Michael Jackson fans conducted themselves very well. They were respectful of the process and patiently waited for justice to be served. I admired their dedication and loyalty to Michael Jackson and to the extent possible, I hope the trial gave them some level of closure.
Our sincere thanks go to David Walgren for taking time out to speak with MJJCommunity
Dr. Steven Shafer's answers to MJJCommunity questions. Dr. Shafer will be answering questions about Michael Jackson, himself (Dr. Shafer), and Conrad Murray's trial in general.
Questions about Michael Jackson in general
MJJC: Have you ever listened to Michael Jackson’s music and if yes, what song is your favorite?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I grew up listening to Michael Jackson’s music, just like the rest of the world. Thriller was the only album that I knew well, and “Beat it” is my favorite track from it. The message and the music both appealed to me.
MJJC: What was your opinion about Michael Jackson before this trial?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I knew very little about his personal life, other than the occasional sensational headlines. I intentionally read nothing about his life before the trial, because I did not want to introduce bias into my testimony. I’ve read a lot since the trial.
MJJC: Did your opinion about Michael Jackson change during and after this trial? Positively or negatively, what is your current opinion about Michael Jackson?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes. During the trial, I saw him as a patient, just like many patients I’ve cared for. During the trial, I had no mental image of Michael Jackson as an icon or famous entertainer. He was a patient who died to receive medical care. It was important to keep focused on him as a patient.
Having said that, I was conscious that his interactions with Conrad Murray were, in part, a tragic side effect of his wealth. I spent 20 years on the faculty at Stanford University, and more recently at Columbia University. Patients who are very wealthy often choose a big-name medical center. Most wealthy patients are very kind and decent people. However, I occasionally encounter a wealthy patient who believes that because he or she is rich, he or she can simply tell me how to give anesthesia. That is what they are used to giving orders and having people say “yes.” I believe that Michael Jackson fell into this trap: believing that he could tell doctors what to do and expect them to say “yes.” This doesn’t excuse his doctors for saying “yes.” However, wealth and fame can be a curse.
My opinion of Michael Jackson is that he was an immensely gifted musician, entertainer, and genuinely compassionate individual. However, he was thrust into (well deserved) stardom as a youngster and spent his entire life under the glare of public scrutiny. That does not seem like a blessing to me. To me, it seems like a tragedy. He never lived a normal life.
MJJC: During the trial, the defense and various media outlets repeatedly called Michael Jackson a "drug addict". Based on your knowledge and research in this case, would you say that Michael Jackson was a "drug addict" or not?
Dr. Steve Shafer: “Addiction” is a lay term, not a medical term. The correct medical term is substance dependency. You will find an accurate explanation of this in Wikipedia. You can also find a good description at http://www.csam-asam.org/pdf/misc/DS..._diagnosis.doc.
I think Michael Jackson likely had a dependency on sedatives at the time of his death because he was receiving intravenous sedatives every night. That type of regular exposure is almost certain to cause dependency.
MJJC: Can Dr Shafer render an opinion on the chronic condition of Michael’s lungs (respiratory bronchiolitis, multifocal chronic interstitial pneumonitis, chronic inflammation)? Some TV doctors (Dr. Drew) alleged that it could be due to continuous/long-term Propofol use. However, MJ is known to have Pleurisy at 1977 and reported to say “he had a blister on his lungs” in later years. Could it be caused by the Propofol or could it be related to his Lupus?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Propofol is commonly used for infusions in intensive care units. I am not aware of any primary effect of propofol on the lungs. However, because Michael Jackson’s trachea (windpipe) was not protected while he was receiving propofol, he could have regularly inhaled small amounts of saliva or regurgitated stomach contents while anesthetized from propofol. That can damage the lungs and produce chronic inflammation.
Questions about Dr. Shafer in general
MJJC: Since your father passed away during the trial, was it hard to do the testimony? (and please accept our most sincere condolences for your loss)
Dr. Steve Shafer: I’ve shared with some members of the MJJCommunity my personal story about my father’s passing. I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that for me, the trial brought me an unexpected gift: the chance to be with my father when he died. Had it not been for the trial, I would have been in New Jersey. As it was, I was at his bedside, offering love and morphine. (I can only hope that one of my kids decides to take up a career in anesthesia.)
During my testimony, I felt that my father was beside me. It gave me confidence, particularly during cross-examination. I knew that since my Dad was with me, I’d be OK.
MJJC: During testimony, we learned that you drank Propofol. Did you drink it before you conducted the scientific research? What prompted you to drink it yourself?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I knew that the defense would reject animal studies as not applying to humans, just as Paul White did when asked about animal studies of propofol in urine. There is no way that I could conduct a human study in the US in three months, so I thought the best evidence I could get was to simply drink propofol and report if it had any effects. I knew the pharmacology well enough to be absolutely certain it was inert.
About a week later my colleague Pablo Sepulveda in Chile told me he would be able to conduct a clinical trial in volunteers. That made my drinking propofol completely irrelevant.
However, please remember that propofol is unique in the complete “first pass” metabolism. One should not try this with other drugs. Indeed, many drugs on the anesthesia cart would be fatal if consumed like that. This should not be attempted as a party trick!
MJJC: Any comments on Mr. Chernoff referring to you as a "cop"?
Dr. Steve Shafer: No, that’s his job. It didn’t bother me at all.
MJJC: During your cross-examination Defense asked: "Are you aware that everything you said here was merely your opinion?" In your answer you concluded that this was an interesting question- where does 'personal opinion' end and where does "Dr. Shafer" begin? So did you, Dr. Shafer, come to any conclusion in this conundrum? Do you consider it wise or even desirable to split your mind in the Dr. figure- and Steven Shafer? Is it even possible to do so? What would the result most likely be? Could there be considerable "strength" in a personal, honest opinion?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I thought about that question quite a bit afterward. I was not expecting it, probably because I am not an experienced expert witness. This was only the second time I have testified in court.
Mr Chernoff was playing to my scientific training. Scientists are reluctant to state that something is a certain fact. There is evidence and conclusions, but science is always open to new evidence and new conclusions. He's asking me “wasn’t your testimony entirely your opinion” was an invitation to say “yes”, based on my interpreting “your opinion” as referring to my scientific opinion. If I had answered “yes,” it would have opened the door for him to say in his closing statement “ Dr. Shafer himself admitted that his views were just his opinions.” That would play to the common use of “opinion” as mere speculation unsupported by data.
There were two aspects to my testimony: standard of care, and propofol pharmacology. I need to discuss fact vs. opinion for these separately.
Many aspects of the “standard of care” have been codified by organizations. For example, the American Society of Anesthesiologists has practice guidelines that very clearly spell out the standard of care during the administration of anesthesia. My testimony was based largely on those guidelines. One could argue that it was merely my “opinion” to represent the published guidelines of the American Society of Anesthesiologists as fact. However, it is a fact that they have published guidelines on the standard of care, and those published guidelines were the basis of my “opinion.”
There are aspects of the standard of care that are not covered by published guidelines because they are self-evident. I believe doctors should not lie. I believe Conrad Murray’s misrepresentation of the drugs that he gave to Michael Jackson was an unconscionable violation of the standard of care. Is it my opinion? Yes. However, I think every person on the planet shares my opinion that a doctor should not lie. Similarly, it is my opinion that doctors must place the interest of their patients ahead of their personal interests. That is my “opinion.” However, again I think it is an opinion that is universally shared. Can that be dismissed as “mere opinion?”
Regarding the scientific part of the testimony, my “opinion” is that of an expert in the field. The simulations I presented were mathematically accurate representations of pharmacokinetics. Baring a mathematical error on my part, the simulations show exactly the blood and effect-site propofol concentrations predicted by specific pharmacokinetic models for specific doses. The “expert” aspect is to decide what doses should be simulated, and whether these are likely scenarios. I did a lot of simulations and even shared with the defense my spreadsheets so that they could do simulations as well. I chose some over others based on data. That is an “expert opinion.” However, it is more scientifically precise to say “conclusion, based on the data” than to call it “opinion”, since the latter implies uninformed speculation.
MJJC: Did it amuse you like it did many when Dr. White was called "Dr. Shafer" several times in court by Prosecution, Defense, and even the Judge?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes. I think everyone was amused.
MJJC: Have you met any of the Jackson Family before, in between, or after the trial? If so did they ever ask you any medical questions?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I spoke with them briefly several times walking to or from the courtroom. They were very kind and offered condolences on the death of my father. I shared that we both had suffered loss, and offered condolences in return. I appreciated their kindness.
MJJC: Did your life change after this trial? If yes, positively or negatively?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I learned a huge amount from the trial, including:
• A lot about the pharmacology of propofol and lorazepam (I did a LOT of reading to educate myself on the issues, and to respond to claims made by the defense).
• Something about how the criminal justice system works. I was impressed by what I saw. In particular, the office of the District Attorney was absolutely honest and transparent. This was not a “game.” It was an attempt to determine the truth.
• Different approaches to discerning truth. In science, “truth” is determined by experiment, observation, peer review, and the ever-questioning nature of science. In science, the burden of proof is on the person making the claim. In criminal law, “truth” is determined by a jury that arrives knowing almost nothing, the exact opposite of peer reviewers. In criminal law, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defense can assert anything without evidence. I learned that both systems work.
I have received wonderful feedback from my professional colleagues. It won’t change me, but it has been rewarding.
I have had very kind letters from the Michael Jackson community. I did not expect these, but they have been appreciated.
MJJC: What do you think about Michael Jackson fans' love and appreciation towards you? Do you know that many fans publicly express their love and gratitude to you, and use your pictures and quotes to express themselves? What do you think about that?
Dr. Steve Shafer: It didn’t expect it! However, I do understand that not knowing what happened to Michael Jackson has been a cause of considerable pain to his millions of fans. If my testimony was helpful, and perhaps brought closure to his passing so they can again focus on his music and message, then I’m honored to have had the opportunity.
I have tried to answer many of the e-mails I have received. I am appreciative of the kind comments I have received from his fans all over the world.
MJJC: Now that the trial is over what’s next for Dr. Steve Shafer? Returning to practice? Teaching? Patient education and advocacy?
Dr. Steve Shafer: All of the above.
I did not watch the first two days of Paul White’s testimony, because I was back in the operating rooms at Columbia University giving anesthesia. I love clinical anesthesia. I love taking care of patients. We all need to define who we are. For me, it’s simple: I’m a doctor. I care for patients. If I ever stop caring for patients, I don't know who I am. That’s what I do.
Having said that, my work as Editor-in-Chief of Anesthesia & Analgesia requires about 60 hours per week. Even during the trial I would go home and read a dozen new submissions every night, assign editors and reviewers, and process another dozen decision letters. I will be doing that every day until my term as Editor-in-Chief ends in 2016.
I continue to teach. You will get a laugh at the most recent lecture I have given at Columbia: the role of clinical pharmacology (e.g., pharmacokinetics) in the trial of Conrad Murray.
Anesthesia & Analgesia is the largest medical journal in the field of anesthesiology. I use Anesthesia & Analgesia as a platform to advocate for patient education, patient care, and patient safety (http://www.anesthesia-analgesia.org). Only rarely does that involve my own writing? The Journal advances patient care through editorial policies anchored in doing what is best for patients.
I continue to pursue my own research, primarily modeling the behavior of drugs used in anesthesia. Much of this is now in collaboration with my wife, Pamela Flood, who is the chief of Obstetrical Anesthesia at the University of California in San Francisco.
I am actively involved in developing new drugs to improve the safety of anesthesia and pain management. In 2003 I co-founded a biotech company to develop better drugs for anesthesia and pain management. You can find it at http://www.pharmacofore.com. Our work is progressing well, and this also consumes some of my attention.
MJJC: How the medical community has responded/reacted towards you since your testimony?
Dr. Steve Shafer: The response has been uniformly positive. There has been a considerable appreciation that I spoke for the values that physicians hold, as well as for clearly explaining the medical and scientific issues involved. I didn’t testify to garner any attention or recognition, and it makes me a little uncomfortable. However, the validation of my testimony from my medical colleagues has been affirming that I did the right thing.
MJJC: Did the media approach you for interviews? If yes, why didn’t we see you on TV?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes, I was approached, but I don’t think the interviews were aired. I think the reason is that they didn’t like my answers. I was asked about what I thought Conrad Murray’s sentence should be. I answered honestly that I didn’t have the background to judge that. I said that our lawmakers determine the appropriate sentences for criminal behavior, and judges then impose sentences based on the dictates of the law. I said that this was really a question for Judge Pastor, who IS an expert. I don’t think they liked that answer. They probably hoped for something much more vengeful from me.
I was asked how I felt about my role in convicting Conrad Murray. I honestly replied that I don’t think I had much of a role. Conrad Murray gave Michael Jackson propofol in a bedroom, with no training, no monitoring, no backup, no accountability, abandoned him to talk on the phone, and then lied about his action. His guilt was obvious when the facts emerged in 2009, and it was just as obvious after my testimony.
MJJC: One of the most shocking parts of Dr. White’s testimony was when he admitted that he had not fully reviewed the current scientific literature on Propofol. Under cross-examination, he also admitted that had not completely read the journal articles that were used to create the Propofol simulations that he presented as the basis of his court testimony. As a scientist I found this to be extremely irresponsible professional behavior. Can you please discuss how you prepared for your testimony in this trial?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I spent dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of hours in preparation. I read well over 100 papers. I analyzed the data in numerous ways and even made my spreadsheets available to the defense. I did the “heavy lifting” that is expected of an expert. This isn’t unique to this case – it’s how I approach everything I do.
MJJC: Judge Pastor picked out Murray's recording of MJ as the piece of evidence that affected him the most during the trial. Was there anyone thing that affected Dr. Shafer in all the evidence that he looked at?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes, the consistency of Conrad Murray’s behavior. In the sentencing hearing, Judge Pastor outlined in detail Conrad Murray’s pattern of repeated lying, self-serving actions, and reckless disregard for the wellbeing of his patient. That was what I saw also.
MJJC: How did you decide to choose your profession? What did it start with?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Many physicians choose a medical career very early in life. I knew from the time I was 9 years old that I wanted to be a physician. The inspiration was my pediatrician. He seemed to know absolutely everything, and I was amazed at the breadth of his knowledge. Additionally, every year he spent several months on the “Ship Hope” practicing medicine in third world countries. I profoundly admired his sense of service to others. That was my role model
MJJC: Did any of your parents relate to a medical sphere?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I am the first physician in my family. My father was a management consultant, and my mother was a housewife. Both of them took pride in having a son who went to medical school. I became the family resource for all medical questions.
MJJC: Did your father know about your intention to take a stand in Conrad Murray's trial? If yes, what were his thoughts about it, if any?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes. He liked it a lot. He told me it made him proud. He was also aware that I was visiting him every day because I was in Los Angeles for the trial.
He watched my testimony on Thursday morning and died that evening.
Questions about the trial in general
MJJC: What do you think about DA Walgren?
Dr. Steve Shafer: He is brilliant, dedicated, and absolutely honest. He worked incredibly hard. I think he got about 4 hours of sleep every night of the trial.
Part of my job was educating Mr. Walgren in science. By the time of the trial, he was occasionally correcting my calculations! He was so effective when dealing with expert opinion in part because he truly understood the scientific principles.
As a taxpayer, it is amazing that attorneys like Mr. Walgren work for the State of California at a public servant’s salary. We are really getting our money’s worth!
MJJC: Did you see Judge Pastor give his sentencing statement? Any comments on that?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes, I watched it live. I smiled when Judge Pastor used specific words and ideas that I introduced in my testimony. Also, having read all of the documents numerous times, it was clear to me that Conrad Murray repeatedly lied. However, that was irrelevant to my testimony, and so I appropriately kept that opinion to myself. I appreciated hearing the judge, who is better able to judge Murray’s veracity than I am, layout the pattern of self-serving lies by Conrad Murray.
MJJC: Do you think Murray just made a 'fatal mistake' or do you think it’s something more?
Dr. Steve Shafer: The fatal mistake was saying “Yes” to Michael Jackson’s request for a physician to administer propofol. That was followed by innumerable other fatal mistakes, but it all traces back to the initial lack of judgment.
MJJC: Do you believe Murray got the appropriate charge of Manslaughter or do you believe what he did was much more serious than it should have been something like Murder 2?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I’m not qualified to judge this, and am very glad I was not asked for an opinion on this during my testimony. I am glad he was found guilty. That was important: doctors are accountable for their actions. We are not above the law.
I only gave one television interview after the trial, because I had to teach a course (www.nonmemcourse.com) immediately after the trial. I was asked what I thought about the fact that the worse possible sentence was 4 years in jail. I answered that I wasn’t qualified to render an opinion. I think they wanted a much more bloodthirsty response because they never ran the interview.
MJJC: What kind of punishment would be appropriate in your personal opinion?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Emphasizing that this is just my uninformed personal opinion, I believe that he must lose his license, never practice medicine again, and be accountable to the Jackson family. Please let me emphasize again that criminal punishment isn’t something I know about.
MJJC: In his closing argument Ed Chernoff stated once more that "lack of record-keeping did not kill Michael Jackson". Would you find this a particularly irresponsible assumption- especially in light of your lengthy and detailed explanation of Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics? Would Ed Chernoff's closing argument be especially irresponsible and outrageous- considering that the assumed physician did not keep any records?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Mr. Chernoff’s statement is false. The lack of record-keeping did contribute to Michael Jackson’s death. Without records, Conrad Murray could not look for trends, such as seeing if larger doses were needed each day. Without records, Conrad Murray could not look at past doses to determine what was a safe dose, and what was a dangerous dose.
Record keeping re-enforces vigilance. When you write down the vital signs every 5 minutes, it forces you to keep an eye on the patient. Record keeping would have forced Conrad Murray to stay close to Michael Jackson and continuously write down vital signs (at a minimum he had the pulse oximeter on the finger and could physically count the rate of breathing and heart rate). Record keeping would have forced Conrad Murray to monitor the intravenous infusion rate. Record keeping might have kept Michael Jackson alive. Thus, Mr. Chernoff’s statement is false.
MJJC: Lots of hyperbole has been made of the IV tubing/matching/ non-matching. Could you explain in detail once more (with no defense attorney interrupting) why this has no bearing on the statements made by you?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I initially believed that the IV tubing that Conrad Murray purchased in large quantities from Sea Coast Medical was non-vented because I did not see the vent in the picture taken by the medical examiner, no vent is described in the product description from Sea Coast Medical, and I was unsuccessful in my initial effort to purchase the tubing from Sea Coast Medical. It turns out that it was vented, which I only realized after I physically examined the tubing in court.
However, the fact that the smaller infusion set was vented only increases the ease with which Conrad Murray set up the infusion and the ease of concealing the tubing set on the day Michael Jackson died.
However, it still comes back to the big picture: Conrad Murray was giving Michael Jackson an anesthetic drug in his bedroom with inadequate training, inadequate monitoring, and no backup. That is why Michael Jackson died. None of these issues changes the big picture.
MJJC: While watching the trial it felt like there was animosity or fall out between you and Dr. White. Are we correct about this? If yes did this fall out stem from the events of the trial or is there a history to this?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Paul has been a friend for nearly three decades. The Paul White you saw on television was not the Paul White that I have known since medical school. He has made many contributions to our specialty. It is my hope that his contributions are his permanent legacy, not his defense of Conrad Murray.
Paul has been a cherished mentor since I was a medical student. I was not his “student” as Chernoff stated, and I did not appreciate the implication that Paul taught me what I knew about propofol. However, Paul has given me counsel on everything from medical school to romance. I was expecting Chernoff to ask “Hasn’t Dr. White been a mentor to you?” I was ready to say “yes”.
MJJC: What did you think of Dr. White’s testimony and his behavior? Did anything he said change your opinion about your colleague? Were you surprised by the things he said and things he did (such as his comments to the media) or didn’t do (such as not doing his own charts, not overseeing the Beagle experiment)?
Dr. Steve Shafer: There were factual errors in Paul’s testimony. Paul is capable of an outstanding scholarship. I don’t know the dynamics of his relationship to the defense team that led to him not doing the heavy lifting that he usually does when it comes to checking the literature. I wish he had contacted me in advance. I would have been happy to help him review the literature and explain the science.
The different approaches of science and law to discerning the truth failed Paul. If this had been an argument over a scientific manuscript, Paul and I would have spoken directly, without attorneys trying to discredit either one of us. We would have lined up papers, and arguments, and “duked it out” by e-mail, or perhaps over an extended lunch at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. That would have worked and the science would be right (at least as “right” as we could get it). There would be no adverse consequences for either of us. As scientists collaborating to “get it right” we would have done well. The criminal justice system isn’t set up to allow scientists representing opposing sides to collaborate in an effort to find the truth.
MJJC: Are you still friends with Dr. White?
Dr. Steve Shafer: There may be some bruised feelings, but we will get past it. We have a lot of shared history.
MJJC: You worked with Dr. White and you are/were friends with him. So how it's possible to have 2 completely different opinions about what happened the night of 25 June 2009 from two close people?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Paul White admitted in court that he only considered self-injection scenarios. This severely limited the scenarios he considered.
MJJC: What do you think of your colleague Dr. White going out of his way to justify Conrad Murray's actions, from a medical point of view?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I don’t understand it at all.
Questions about Dr. Murray
MJJC: Did you purposely NOT refer to Conrad Murray as a doctor during your testimony? Have you heard the news reports about how furious it made him?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I was not aware of that. It would be very unlike me to refer to him as “Mr. Murray,” as my habit is to be respectful. I probably referred to him simply as “Conrad Murray”. If I never said “Dr. Conrad Murray”, then this is indeed a Freudian slip. I don’t see him as a doctor.
MJJC: Viewers at home could see Murray losing his temper when you started the IV demonstration, was that temper flare-up noticeable to you from where you were positioned in the courtroom?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I read about it, but I didn’t personally observe it. I was focused on the jury.
MJJC: If so, were you fearful of what Murray may do (i.e. did you think there was a possibility that he would physically attack you)?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Not at all.
MJJC: What are your thoughts on Murray as a doctor?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I believe he violated the fundamental trust between doctors and patients, and that he did so not in an isolated incident under duress, but intentionally and repeatedly. That is not something a doctor would do.
MJJC: Did you hear about and/or watch the Conrad Murray documentary.
Dr. Steve Shafer: No, I just heard about it.
MJJC: If so what are your thoughts about it. Do you feel that his participation in this documentary further proves Murray's lack of professional ethics and an unsuitable candidate for the medical profession?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I can’t imagine why he would participate in a documentary that would be shown prior to sentencing. Evidently, they filmed the attorneys swearing at each other, with Paul White and Conrad Murray on a couch in Flanagan’s home. It seems reckless for everyone involved.
Questions about the role of propofol in Michael Jackson’s death
MJJC: Based on everything you know, what do you think happened on June 25, 2009?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Michael Jackson died from respiratory arrest (his breathing stopped) while receiving propofol, exactly as the coroner reported. There was a contribution of the lorazepam, also as reported by the coroner. The coroner got it right.
MJJC: How convinced are you that MJ was on a drip that night?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I’m completely convinced. Murray admitted to using a drip every night. He said he was trying to wean Michael Jackson. I don’t believe him. The urine propofol levels suggest massive doses, more than 2000 mg, as I explained in my rebuttal testimony. The blood levels show anesthetic concentrations of propofol. It all fits with an infusion (drip).
MJJC: If we disregard Murray's police interview, in your professional opinion, how long was MJ gone before Murray finally found him? Some experts are under the impression that the delay in calling 911 can only be explained by him knowing MJ was already dead.
Dr. Steve Shafer: I think he was already dead, but that is really speculative. I don’t believe anything Conrad Murray says, and there are no records. My guess that he was dead is based on the limited window between stopping breathing and death (10-20 minutes). Murray would have to observe him in that window to have a chance to revive him.
MJJC: There are some rumors that Michael actually ate a meal the night he died in Murray's so-called "care". Do you think Michael was fasting for the required time? Or was this yet one more deviation from the standard of care by Murray? What are your thoughts on this?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I’m not aware of any data suggesting Michael Jackson ever fasted. It doesn’t come up anywhere in the record. My guess is that he ate because he would likely be hungry after a vigorous rehearsal.
MJJC: What do you think about June 19th (Kenny Ortega's email describing Michael- chills, seeming lost), and June 21st (hot and cold symptoms described by Cherylin Lee). What could those symptoms come from?
Dr. Steve Shafer: It is hard to know. The defense proposed that those might be withdrawn from Demerol, and that is correct. It might also be withdrawal from lorazepam. Propofol withdrawal hasn’t been described, because nobody other than Michael Jackson has ever received propofol night after night for insomnia. However, at least in theory, it could be propofol withdrawal.
However, it could also be the usual sort of illness: the “stomach flu” or a bad cold. There is no way of knowing.
MJJC: Do you have an opinion about June 23rd and 24th, when Michael seemed to be feeling great? What could this improvement come from?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I don’t know. After the trial, I watched “This Is It.” There was obvious excitement and exuberance as rehearsals were nearing the end, and the tour was approaching. It could simply be excitement and exuberance in expectation of the tour.
MJJC: Does it surprise you MJ didn't die sooner than June 25th after finding out Murray was given MJ Propofol without proper equipment for 2 months (according to Murray) prior to MJ's death?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes. I think that is quite surprising. We don’t know if there were prior close calls, because there are no records.
MJJC: May 2009 audio recording of Michael in which he was slurring his words attracted a lot of attention. In an interview, Dr. Murray said Michael was under the influence of Propofol during that recording. However, some people say Propofol does not cause slurred speech. What do you think about that recording? Any idea what drugs can cause that speech?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Sedatives cause slurred speech. This could have been caused by midazolam, lorazepam, or propofol.
MJJC: Do you think there was a chance for Michael to be in good health and to continue normal usual life after such a long respiratory arrest even if paramedics could reanimate him?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Definitely, if they arrived in time.
MJJC: This is a hard question but we have to ask. When there is an overdose of Propofol and it causes death as it happened to Michael, does the person suffer? Do they feel pain? Or is it like dying in your sleep that you feel nothing?
Dr. Steve Shafer: It is an easy question to answer: there is no suffering from a propofol overdose. The person falls asleep quickly and comfortably. The brain is deeply depressed, and the brain never returns to consciousness.
MJJC: If Michael had been your patient and asked you for Propofol to help him sleep, how would you have responded? What would you suggest to him? Would you have recommended he see a sleep specialist?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Absolutely the right question to ask! I would have referred him to a sleep specialist. He had a very serious sleep disorder that was threatening his tour, his ability to perform, his ability to create music, and potentially his life. It needed urgent care from someone who knows what he or she is doing.
MJJC: Do you know what the long-term effects of using Propofol would be? Murray has indicated that MJ was using Propofol for 6 weeks, apparently for sleeping 8 hours or so a night. Have you ever read about case studies of patients doing this or, as it was put forward in the trial, was MJ an experiment?
Dr. Steve Shafer: This was an experiment. I don’t think any other patient in the world has ever received this. There may be long-term effects – that is a question that can’t be answered without clinical research. I don’t know what effects to expect, but it seems likely that tolerance and dependence would develop.
MJJC: How about even longer terms such as months or even years taking of deep sedation of Propofol, could it affect human health and any organs? Is it possible to take Propofol for a long time and don’t have any associated negative side effects?
Dr. Steve Shafer: We don’t know – the studies have not been done.
MJJC: There might not be enough information to have a clear picture of what was going on, but we would like to know your opinion about what Murray was prescribing to Michael (from late 2006), the amounts of midazolam, lorazepam, and flumazenil Murray was buying, and the possible consequences of such a treatment.
Dr. Steve Shafer: I am not sure what amounts you are referring to. I am aware of the drugs that Murray purchased in 2009, but I did not review his previous treatment of Michael Jackson, because it didn’t relate directly to the questions I was trying to answer at the trial.
MJJC: According to his police interview, it seems that Murray knew he shouldn't mix Lorazepam and Propofol, so we are confused about their use together. Why would Dr. Murray or anyone mix those together?
Dr. Steve Shafer: There is nothing wrong with giving lorazepam and propofol at more or less the same time. Anesthesiologists routinely give midazolam at the start of an anesthetic, and propofol a few minutes later. Midazolam and lorazepam are closely related. You just have to know that the effects are “synergistic”, meaning that you need to reduce the dose of propofol when you give a lot of midazolam or lorazepam.
MJJC: Do you have any idea about how much lorazepam had he been given and when?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes, he gave a lot. The lorazepam levels in the blood were high enough to contribute to the cause of death, as stated in the coroner’s report, and as emphasized by the defense. As accurately stated by the defense, the lorazepam concentration in his blood was enough to put most of us to sleep. There were 8.4 milligrams of lorazepam in his autopsy urine, and another 5.8 milligrams of lorazepam in the urine that was recovered at the scene, which presumably was from the same night. So Michael Jackson received a lot of lorazepam. However, because there are no records, and I don’t trust what Conrad Murray says, it is hard to be more precise.
MJJC: Dr. Kamangar said that dependency would be faster if benzos were given IV. Now was this a "treatment" that would have made him highly dependent on benzodiazepines? If Michael had survived, would he have been able to recover from this?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes to both questions. Intravenous drug use typically results in faster dependence. Regardless of the degree of dependency, one can recover from it with appropriate treatment. The big problem for Michael Jackson would have been whether he would be willing to stay away from intravenous sedatives for the rest of his life. Without a change in life priorities, it is often very hard to wean individuals who are dependent on drugs.
MJJC: After spending what must have been hours of going through Murray's police statement, then the evidence itself, did you feel shocked with the results you were coming up with - the amount of propofol that had to have been given by Murray to obtain the blood results found at autopsy, the botched attempt by Murray to create his own Tate Gallery of Modern Art drip, etc.?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Since Conrad Murray ordered staggering quantities of propofol to give to Michael Jackson, and Michael Jackson had an anesthetic concentration of propofol in his blood, I expected the simulations to confirm that he received anesthetic quantities of propofol. They did.
MJJC: During your testimony, you have stated that MJ first had a respiratory arrest and then a cardiac arrest. Dr.Steinberg also testified similarly based on Murray’s own words (that there was heartbeat/ blood pressure when he found Michael). We have seen the defense argue that it might have been a cardiac arrest rather than a respiratory arrest first. Even in the Murray documentary, they showed a scene between defense lawyers that they planned to ask you if a direct cardiac arrest was possible but later decided to not ask that question as they were afraid of your possible answer. Can you elaborate on this a little?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I cannot find any evidence that the scenario outlined by the defense, instant cardiac arrest in 90 seconds, has ever occurred. I have spent hours looking for such evidence, including searching the medical literature and communicating with company officials who tracked propofol adverse events. To the best of my knowledge, this has never been reported. Not even once.
I also do not believe any anesthesiologist has ever seen this. There is no mechanism by which lorazepam and propofol would act together to cause instant death. If the Judge had permitted it, I believe the trial could have been extended for several years while every anesthesiologist in the United States took the witness stand to testify that this scenario was complete bunk.
Consider the absurdity of claiming that 25 milligrams injected over 4 minutes was so safe that almost no monitoring was required, while the same dose injected over 1 minute was so toxic as to cause magical instant death! It makes no sense.
Of all the misrepresentations by the defense, the assertion of magical instant death from a small dose of propofol is the most harmful to patients. It is false. Asserting instant cardiac death from a very small dose of propofol can only be expected to increase the anxiety of patients requiring sedation and anesthesia.
MJJC: As far as we can understand from the Defense line of questioning and Dr. White's testimony defense theory of what happened on June 25, 2009, is as follows: Murray gave MJ Valium and then 2 doses of Lorazepam and 2 doses of Midazolam. As MJ was unable to sleep Murray gave him a bolus of 25mg Propofol. During the night/day (unclear when) MJ swallowed 8 pills of Lorazepam unknown to Dr. Murray. MJ was moving around the room even though he had an IV and a condom catheter on and with all these medications onboard, he self-injected an already filed and left on the nightstand syringe that had 25mg of Propofol. What can you say about the Defense’s version of the events?
Dr. Steve Shafer: The primary point is that it doesn’t matter. Michael Jackson would be alive if Conrad Murray had not committed multiple egregious and unconscionable violations of the standard of care. He was administering a general anesthetic to Michael Jackson in his bedroom, with no training, monitoring, or backup. He abandoned his patient. When he returned, his patient was either dead or nearly so. It speaks for itself.
We know that Michael Jackson received a lot of lorazepam. Maybe he took pills. Maybe Conrad Murray gave him more intravenously than he admitted to. We do know is that there was not enough unmetabolized lorazepam in Michael Jackson’s stomach to suggest recent ingestion. We do know that there was evidence in the room of large doses of intravenous propofol administration. We do know that the amount of unchanged propofol in the urine suggests administration of well over 1000 mg (100 MLS) of propofol. Thus, the defense scenario is not consistent with the physical or autopsy data for either lorazepam or propofol.
MJJC: Dr. Shafer, you said at the trial that probably at the time of death the drip was still on and that would explain why the propofol concentration on the femoral blood was so high. But Dr. White said that he would doubt the propofol could still be infused once the blood circulation has stopped. Could you expand on this, please?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I claimed that Michael Jackson died during the infusion, which is why the blood concentration was as high as it was. He didn’t have to die at the end of the infusion, and there is no reason to think that he did. He simply died during the infusion. The 100 ml propofol bottle was empty, I expect that he died before the bottle was empty, but that by the time Conrad Murray found him the bottle had run out as well.
I was surprised that the defense claimed that my simulations required that Michal Jackson die at the end of the infusion. There was no such requirement. I was disappointed that Paul White went along with this.
MJJC: In case there was cardiac arrest initially and not subsequently after respiratory arrest as Murray told the police, that cardiac arrest could have been caused by a sudden high/fast dose from the drip since there was no infusion pump to regulate the rate of the drip?
Dr. Steve Shafer: No. The heart is quite a reliable organ. It can stop suddenly, but not from anything propofol does. What makes the heart stops abruptly is: 1) an arrhythmia, typically from an acute heart attack, 2) something that completely blocks circulation, such as injection of a large dose of air, or a blood clot from the legs that suddenly blocks flow into the lungs, 3) administration of a large dose of intravenous potassium, which interferes with the electrical activity of the heart. Propofol will stop breathing, and it will drop the blood pressure. Neither of those will cause the heart to abruptly stop. As far as I can tell, nobody has ever seen a patient’s heart suddenly stop from any dose of propofol.
MJJC: According to Walgren's words during closing arguments "we don't know whether Michael awoke, yelled for help and choke while Conrad Murray wasn't in his bedroom, and we'll never know" and to Alberto Alvarez's testimony that Michael's eyes and mouth were wide open, I want to ask you: could Michael suffered before death and could he really yelled for help and choke while dying? And if no, why his eyes /mouth were open if he died sleeping?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Michael Jackson did not suffer. He died because he stopped breathing. He was unconscious at the time. If he had been conscious, he would have been breathing.
It doesn’t mean anything if a patient’s eyes or mouth are open or closed after death. I witnessed my own father’s death during the time I was testifying. I was at his bedside. He was in and out of consciousness for about two hours before his death. My last communication from him, an “OK” sign with his hand, was about an hour before his death. After he died, I noted that his eyes and mouth were both open. I closed them.
Questions about propofol in general
MJJC: Do you feel that your testimony helped alleviate patient concerns about Propofol or are things more or less the same?
Dr. Steve Shafer: It may have helped, but only a little. On Friday when Paul White testified I was working at the “Allen Pavilion,” a regional hospital run by Columbia University that serves a low-income area of Manhattan and the Bronx. I was caring for an elderly man who asked what drug he would get. I told him “propofol.” As usually happens, he asked if that was the drug that killed Michael Jackson. I told him that propofol didn’t kill Michael Jackson, Conrad Murray killed Michael Jackson. I also said that propofol was a very safe drug. He said, “I heard that doctor say that on television, but I don’t believe him.”
I told him I was the doctor he saw on television. He thought that was hilarious: the doctor in blue scrubs, wearing a surgical hat, with a stethoscope around his neck working in this clinic for poor patients might be the “famous” doctor he saw on television. “Yea, right” was his answer. He didn’t believe me for a second. However, he was reassured by my “joke” about being the doctor he saw on television, and everything went well.
MJJC: Can a person become dependent or addicted to propofol? If yes what kind of dependency is it physical or psychological?
Dr. Steve Shafer: There is not much data about this, because propofol must be given intravenously, and it really burns, which discourages abuse. However, there have been a number of deaths of anesthesiologists and other health care personnel from propofol abuse. Based on this, I am reasonably confident that it is addictive.
MJJC: Why would someone even have the idea to use Propofol as a sleep aid? If it is only to be used for surgery then why would anyone suggest giving it someone to get some sleep?
Dr. Steve Shafer: The mechanism of action of propofol is the same as drugs like Ambien that are commonly used to induce sleep. This is a reasonable research question. However, it should never be put into practice until it has been studied in a proper research setting. After that work has been done, it should only be used with appropriate documentation and precautions.
MJJC: Are the drug companies who make Propofol looking into testing Propofol for sleep? Do you think there will be more research studies about Propofol being used for sleep?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Yes to both questions.
MJJC: What are the known effects on the nervous system & the brain of long-term Propofol use?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Not a lot, because it is rarely used for long-term use. I have been able to find one report of a patient who received propofol in the intensive care unit for 51 days. This is from the conclusion of the article: “To our knowledge, this report represents the first documentation of propofol used for long-term sedation in a mechanically ventilated pregnant patient and the longest duration of continuous infusion propofol published in the medical literature. Propofol was used for 51 days with no documented maternal adverse events.” (Tajchman SK, Bruno JJ. Prolonged propofol use in a critically ill pregnant patient. Ann Pharmacother. 2010;44:2018-22)
This patient was weaned from propofol over several days without adverse consequences. So administration for 2 months appears to not have long-term consequences, at least based on this example, and the fact that Michael Jackson continued to function at rehearsal. However, those are just two data points. More research needs to be done if one contemplates the development of propofol for long-term use.
MJJC: Does one get a "restful sleep" from Propofol? We have heard experts contradict each other on this.
Dr. Steve Shafer: The contradiction reflects the state of science. I received propofol for anesthesia about a year ago, and I have given propofol to thousands of patients. There is often a feeling of having slept well after awakening from propofol.
However, studies suggest that propofol sleep it is quite different from normal sleep, and is not “restorative” the way that normal sleep is restorative. For example, dreams are important in brain function. Patients don’t dream on propofol, except at the time of awakening. My interpretation of the data is that propofol might be OK for getting a patient off to sleep, but that maintaining a patient on propofol for sleep (as we sometimes do in intensive care units) probably is denying patients restorative sleep.
MJJC: Do you agree that Propofol should be re-classified as a controlled substance?
Dr. Steve Shafer: No. I think this will hurt patients. In emergencies, we need propofol immediately, and in large quantities. I am opposed to placing obstacles in the way of doctors caring for patients unless there is a clear benefit. Conrad Murray could have still obtained propofol for Michael Jackson because doctors can order controlled substances. Since most propofol abuse is by doctors, making it controlled won’t limit the ability of doctors to abuse it. It will just impair their ability to care for emergency patients.
MJJC: Do you think now the anesthesiology community will be more careful in how they promote and teach one to use Propofol?
Dr. Steve Shafer: We already take this very seriously. We are very involved in teaching the safe use of sedatives to our medical colleagues. This will continue. Perhaps they will be more receptive to the importance of safe sedation. However, nothing we can do will reach a doctor who does not put patients first.
MJJC: Do you think the medical community has learned from Michael’s death in regards to prescribing to a powerful wealthy person and wrongdoing by a doctor?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Absolutely. I mentioned this above. I am aware of this because I occasionally see this in my practice. Doctors serve patients by acting as doctors. That is a message for doctors and patients alike.
MJJC:Can you explain “Propofol lollipop” a little more?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Propofol absorbed from the stomach never reaches the brain, because it is all removed by the liver. However, the blood supply to the mouth and esophagus (above the diaphragm) does not return directly to the liver. Instead, it just goes to the heart, and from there goes everywhere including the brain. So a propofol lollipop would provide propofol to the venous blood, and from there to the brain. Paul White and I discussed this at one of the breaks prior to his testimony. It is a reasonable idea, provided the dose was adequately controlled.
Should this ever become available, then I would reconsider my position on classifying propofol as a controlled substance? My current view is highly influenced by the fact that it only works when given intravenously, and that really burns!
MJJC: What does Propofol taste like?
Dr. Steve Shafer: It has the consistency of skim milk, and tastes like a very medicinal salad dressing.
MJJC: Beagle Propofol experiment done by the Defense has made PETA and MJ fans angry. We don’t expect that you have any direct information about the Beagle experiment but as the humans weren’t affected by drinking Propofol, is it safe to assume that the Beagles were unharmed as well?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I think it is very unlikely that any harm came to the beagles. There should be no effect from drinking propofol. However, I am uncomfortable that neither the experimental protocol nor the results of the experiment were presented in court. I believe that when animals or humans participate in trials, there is an ethical obligation to write up and publish the research to add to the body of knowledge. It is the increased knowledge that morally justifies the research. I wrote our human study up for publication, asked Paul White to review it, and gave it to the defense. I believe they should have done the same with their beagle study.
MJJC: We heard the theory of some of the Benzos or/and Propofol that were given to MJ by Murray can be used for people with drug addiction to help them off their addiction to other drugs such as Demerol, Is this true? Can you comment on this?
Dr. Steve Shafer: There is a technique of rapid detoxification that involves placing patients under general anesthesia for a long period of time (hours to days) and pharmacologically reversing opioids with “opioid antagonists”, drugs that chemically block the effects of Demerol and similar drugs. This is controversial, but it probably works in some patients.
Questions about Demerol
MJJC: Was the amount of Demerol Dr. Klein give to Michael normal or was it too large a dose?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I can’t answer without knowing why Demerol was given. Dr. Klein did not testify at the trial. I’m uncomfortable offering an opinion without more information.
MJJC: Does your answer change if you consider MJ’s history (burn victim) with the drug? Do you think it was excessive?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Again, I apologize, but I don’t want to render an opinion without knowing why Dr. Klein was administering Demerol. This probably reflects my caution as an Editor-in-Chief of a medical journal. Medical editors are reluctant to render a public opinion unless they are confident they understand the facts.
MJJC: In your opinion, does Demerol aggravate insomnia as a side effect? Did it play any part in Michael's physical and mental health? What was the best treatment for Michael's insomnia?
Dr. Steve Shafer: There are three questions here. I’ll answer them in order:
Demerol’s chemical name in the United States is “meperidine.” In many countries, it is known as “pethidine.” Meperidine has a metabolite, “normeperidine”, that is a nervous system stimulant. As a nervous stimulant, I would expect it to exacerbate insomnia.
The coroner examined both blood and urine for meperidine (Demerol) and normeperidine. Neither could be detected. Thus, meperidine did not play a direct role in Michael Jackson’s death on June 25th. However, you asked a more general question about “play any part in Michael’s physical and mental health.” It is a good question, and I will again need to apologize for not answering it. I have not read Dr Klein’s medical records or heard a detailed explanation of Michael Jackson’s care. I am uncomfortable speculating without that information.
Sleep disorders are complex, and treating them is a specialized branch of medicine. It is my understanding that any drug that affects the level of consciousness can exacerbate sleep disorders. There is a nice description of sleep disorders, and the treatment of common sleep disorders, at http://www.sleepfoundation.org/artic...s-and-insomnia.
Questions about lorazepam, flumazenil, and ephedrine
MJJC: Could the free lorazepam detected in the gastric liquid be explained by the stomach hemorrhage caused by CPR or even by accidental mixing of adjacent blood at the time of autopsy (as it was suggested by the Coroner, Dr Rogers in the preliminary, though not mentioned again during the trial)?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Maybe. However, free lorazepam would be expected simply because molecules like lorazepam would be expected to cross from the blood into the stomach, just like they cross into all tissues. That is how the lidocaine and propofol got into the stomach. Lorazepam should behave just the same way.
Additionally, the enzyme beta-glucuronidase is secreted by the wall of the stomach into the stomach fluid. Beta-glucuronidase is the enzyme that would turn lorazepam glucuronide back into lorazepam. So blood could account for it, but most of it is likely the simple diffusion of lorazepam from the blood into the stomach.
MJJC: Is there any other reason for Flumazenil to be administered apart from reversing the effects of benzodiazepines (in this case Lorazepam)?
Dr Steve Shafer: No.
MJJC: Does it even make sense to give a person Flumazenil who according to Dr Murray only received 4 mg of Lorazepam, to begin with?
Dr. Steve Shafer: The most critical part of any resuscitation is to move air in and out of the patient’s lungs. The problem with giving flumazenil is that it distracted Conrad Murray from the critical task of moving air in and out of Michael Jackson’s lungs. If there were several people were involved in the resuscitation, then giving flumazenil would have made sense. However, since Conrad Murray was alone, any interruption longer than a few seconds was too long.
MJJC: Can you explain your consideration of the Lorazepam levels, in more detail?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I’ll answer as well as I can, but I’m not sure exactly what you want to know. The lorazepam levels were high enough that you or I would have been very sleepy from them. However, patients become tolerant to lorazepam and related drugs (the “benzodiazepines”). Since Michael Jackson had a fairly high concentration, and according to Conrad Murray that was not enough drug to induce sleep, he must have been tolerant.
The defense wanted to attribute Michael Jackson’s death, in part, to oral lorazepam. The problem with this theory is that there was only a minute amount of lorazepam in Michael Jackson’s stomach. To explain this minute amount, the defense alleged that Michael Jackson swallowed lorazepam about 5 hours before the time of death. If that were true, then the lorazepam concentration would have peaked about the time Conrad Murray claims Michael Jackson was pleading for more drugs to fall asleep. So that argument doesn’t make sense.
MJJC: According to the autopsy report there was ephedrine found in Michael's body. It's a drug that aggravates insomnia. How does ephedrine go with benzos and propofol, could it subdue the effect of these drugs?
Dr. Steve Shafer: There was a bottle of capsules composed of ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin in the room. Ephedrine is sometimes used in resuscitation. Since there was ephedrine in Michael Jackson’s autopsy urine, as well as the urine that was found at the scene, I would assume that the ephedrine was from oral ingestion, and not from the administration as part of the resuscitation.
Ephedrine can reduce the effects of propofol and benzodiazepines on blood pressure and heart rate. Chronic ephedrine might aggravate insomnia.
Question about medical research in general
MJJC: Judge Pastor referred to Murray as making Michael Jackson part of a “scientific experiment”. This could, unfortunately, dissuade patients from feeling comfortable participating in clinical trials and other types of beneficial scientific and medical research. Can you discuss the important intersection between the research of scientists and the clinical practice of physicians?
Dr. Steve Shafer: I’ve performed dozens of clinical trials. I don’t think this will adversely affect recruiting patients into clinical trials, because this “experiment” bears no resemblance to a scientific study. I think “experiment” is an accurate term because it correctly implies that Conrad Murray had no idea what he would find day after day of propofol administration. So this was an experiment that he was conducting every day to see how Michael Jackson would respond. However, I don’t think anybody would confuse this experiment with a proper scientific experiment.
The larger question you ask is about the intersection between research and practice. This is an important question, and (fortunately) one that has been given very careful consideration. The answer goes back to the Nuremberg Code, which followed the trial of Nazi doctors guilty of atrocities at the end of World War II. You can find an excellent account on Wikipedia. This was updated by the Belmont Report, published in 1978. Again, there is an excellent account in Wikipedia. As explained in the Belmont Report, “research” differs from clinical practice in that research is a systemic investigation intended to create generalizable knowledge. “Systematic” means that the investigator intentionally gathers data to answer a question. Generalizable knowledge means that the investigator believes the information gathered is useful to others and intends to “generalize” the knowledge, usually by publishing it. If you Google “Anesthesia & Analgesia policy in institutional review board approval and informed consent for research” you will find an editorial I wrote in March on the subject.
Questions about insomnia
MJJC: Decades of lies, slander, deceit, inhuman treatment from the media and public misconceptions had caused Michael immense hurt, pain, and anguish resulting in insomnia. We know Propofol was not the answer, but what do you think he should have done (medically) to treat it?
Dr. Steve Shafer: He should have been in the care of a sleep medicine doctor. He had a terrible affliction, one that requires expert care.
MJJC: Do you think the meditation that Murray was talking about in his police interview could really help Michael to sleep?
Dr. Steve Shafer: Maybe. Conrad Murray mentioned both propofol and lorazepam. These are both sedatives that act on the same receptor in the body, the “GABA” receptor. Most sleeping medications also act on GABA, the exceptions being antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl) and melatonin. So I would expect these drugs to induce sleep. However, they should not be used to maintain sleep, because the drugs interfere with some of the brain function that is required for sleep to be “restorative”, meaning that it refreshes the brain.
MJJC: Anything you want to say to the members of MJJCommunity and Michael Jackson fans in general.
Dr. Steve Shafer: Once your questions about Michael Jackson’s tragic death have been answered, I encourage you to set it aside. Conrad Murray has been convicted. We have a reasonable understanding of what happened. It’s time to return to the bonds that brought the MJJCommunity together in the first place: your celebration of Michael Jackson’s life, his message, and his music.
I appreciate the opportunity to address your questions and hope that the answers are helpful to the MJJCommunity.
We approached Andy Picheta for a Q&A and he has agreed to it. Below you can find Andy's answers to our questions. Enjoy
MJJC: Why did you decide to write this book? Why now? What do you hope your book will accomplish?
Andy Picheta: The process of Michael Forever was a huge, funny, tragic, and bizarre happening that needed telling. I hope my book serves as a lesson to entertainment entrepreneurs: to respect the talent, and the fans. I hope it reaches a wide audience and makes a lot of people laugh a little. Why now? – couldn’t write it earlier, and would have forgotten a ton of stuff if I’d written it later
MJJC: How did your key partners in this project (Chris, Jeffre, Parojim) really feel about MJ? Would anyone call himself a hardcore fan? A casual fan maybe? Was it anyone’s motivation to actually really pay a tribute, or was it all just business?
Andy Picheta: As a professional, I approach every project with a real desire to do the best I can. I’m not a fan of Michael Jackson in the same way you are. I’m dispassionate but very aware that Michael (as every artist I have worked with) put his heart and soul into every lyric, all his talent into every dance step, and did everything to his utmost. I therefore can do no less with my work; it is crucial for me to respect the artist when filming or staging their work. I too put my heart and soul into the film or show, because to do less would be unprofessional and disrespectful. I want the best I can deliver, to be sure to do the right thing at the right time. I’m not unique in this; the desire to do the best possible was exhibited by everyone who worked on the show, from Ron Weisner to the assistant’s assistant. It’s why we stuck it out to the end.
I came to understand, however, that Jeffre Phillips and Chris Hunt were not driven by these motives. They had spotted a chance to create an MJ product without understanding that the fans were the key to its success, and their approach was to ignore you all, to the point of treating you with contempt. (eg deleting Facebook posts, refusing to face you or meet you, belittling your opinions in the media). The approach of Jeffre and Chris wasn’t about good business, it was arrogant, naked greed. Their actions were governed by their understanding of what they could legally get away with, not by what was right. Their response to challenges was not negotiation, but battle. I’m delighted the film has been taken away from them because I know they would not and could not make anything good from it.
This passage is from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. The lead character and narrator Marlow describes some gold prospectors he meets at a river station in the Congo. I quote it in the book too, as I think it describes Jeffre and Chris perfectly.
“They called themselves the El Dorado Exploring Expedition...their talk was of sordid buccaneers: It was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage. There was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole batch of them and they did not seem aware these things were wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire with no moral purpose at the back of it then there is with burglars breaking into a safe"
MJJC: Clearly there were even issues prior to the announcement. What stopped you from throwing in the towel at any stage?
Andy Picheta: I’m not the quitting kind. Once I’ve committed to something I give it my all. The film takes over, grows a life of its own that is bigger than all the individuals driving it forward. I go into this in the book. Projects of this nature are all about the process. First, you have the idea, then you develop it and do the deals with the people you need, and finally, when enough is known, when the structure is in place, you announce it to the public. With Michael Forever, the deals weren’t done and the finance was flawed, but we all believed, prior to the announcement, it could yet come together. On a personal level, I couldn’t walk away from a fantastic credit. Later, I couldn’t abandon a friend, and finally, I understood I had to assist those that wanted to do the right thing with the project.
MJJC: In your book, you unfairly compared fans' reactions to Cirque du Soleil Immortal (which began on October 2nd, 2011 during the Murray trial) and Michael Forever. You complained that it wasn't fair, that fans seem to not have a problem with the timing of the Cirque show ...Did you know Cirque du Soleil Immortal was announced back in November 2010? The premiere date was selected/known almost a year BEFORE a trial date was known. Contrary to Chris Hunt who chose the date, knowing in advance the trial had been set for October. Also, there was a huge difference in a touring tribute act to a family taking the stage and singing, dancing,0 and smiling during the trial. Do you now understand why fans weren't as harsh towards Cirque as GLE?
Andy Picheta: Yes I do. The Michael Forever tribute was in the early planning stages towards the end of 2010, and the original date, August 27th, was chosen then. But yes, I certainly see your point about the family involvement, and now understand the effect their performances of Michael’s music had on the fan base. The estate did want Katherine and the children to go to Toronto for the premiere of Immortal. Fortunately for everyone, they didn’t want Latoya and the brothers to sing there. Interestingly, I don’t think Jeffre and Chris knew about Immortal when they planned MF.
MJJC: You insinuated that the estate was behind Warner Chappell's injection on live to the air of the show. But they had every right to intervene to protect MJ's copyright. What prevented Chris Hunt & Jeffre, from getting proper authorization to use MJ's songs? Why couldn't they formally request permission to use the songs (like most smart business people would) instead of taking the chance and getting shut down?
Andy Picheta: I repeatedly argued for them to do just that and make a deal with Branca. The MiJac catalog was owned by the estate but administered by Warner Chappell, so the latter would naturally check with their client before any action. As of last week, of course, this catalog has been moved over to Sony ATV. I’d suggest the possibility that Warner Chappell lost the business partly because they failed to prevent Michael Forever from going ahead. As for what prevented Chris and Jeffre from going about this properly, well…
Greed, hubris, arrogance, mendacity, conceit, haughtiness…I could keep going but I’d need a thesaurus! I also believe they knew the estate would never sanction such a project but thought they could use legal loopholes to circumvent the need for Estate permission.
MJJC: How much was LaToya involved with this concert? Were ALL the Jacksons paid to pay tribute to their brother or uncle? Did any of them (3T, the 3 brothers, Latoya) ever come back and offer to help the employees who were never paid?
Andy Picheta: She rehearsed her ten minutes for six weeks. Her Svengali Jeffre Phillips was behind the whole thing, so I guess she was too. Yes all the Jacksons were paid, but no, they didn’t offer any help to anyone.
MJJC: Tell us more about MJ’s kid's involvement and who really pushed to have them there. Whose idea was it to use Michael Jackson's minor children to sell tickets? Whose idea was it for the children to give a speech on stage? Did the children want to do it on their own, or did someone e.g. the parojim, ask them if they would?
Andy Picheta: I look at photos and video of the three children on stage and I see Prince and Paris gamely battling through an ordeal, and Blanket hating every second. How old is he? Nine? I never forced my kids to do anything they didn’t want to do unless it was absolutely in their interest (like taking a bath now and again, going to the dentist, eating up their vegetables), and I was very uncomfortable at his discomfort. I wanted to go up on stage and gently lead him away. Sadly the kids were a part of the deal, possibly THE deal. Jeffre needed them for legitimacy, and he needed Katherine, as the legal guardian, to deliver them, and he needed Latoya to deliver Katherine. Stupidly, they were added to the terms and conditions of ticket sale (again a lack of experience by the in-house lawyer) which just wound everybody up more. So I suppose your answer as to who put the kids on the stage is: Everyone involved. Blanket’s unhappiness aside, however, I think you can tell the two older children really enjoyed being up there. They were and are innocent of all the dubious business practices around the show, as indeed were the performers and the crew. They were watching and taking part in a fine musical tribute, but one put together by the wrong people at the wrong time.
MJJC: How long did it take for organizers to realize that MJ fans are not, in many cases, Jackson family fans?
Andy Picheta: They still don’t get it. I feel and understand the frustration towards his family amongst the fans and the distrust of the organizers of Michael Forever.
MJJC: Did the family have any input into who was asked to perform?
Andy Picheta: Jeffre and Latoya would have talked to the three brothers about getting them onto the stage. Originally the brothers agreed only to ‘support’ the event. Their active participation was agreed upon later. Interestingly it was Ron Weisner who talked to Janet, and received Janet’s clear but diplomatic ‘no thank you’. Jeffre remained convinced that with more time he could have got Jermaine and Janet on board. Perhaps the fans can tell me if that would have made a difference. Generally, however, there didn’t seem to be any plan, just a mad scramble to turn a ‘wish list’ into some booked acts.
MJJC: Why did Stevie Wonder require an invitation direct from Katherine Jackson?
Andy Picheta: I don’t know. This was something Ron Weisner told me when I asked about Stevie for the show. I thought he would have been a cracking addition to the line-up, as did Ron.
MJJC: Do you know why Blanket seemed upset when he was on stage?
Andy Picheta: I can only guess that he didn’t want to be there, and was too young to mask his feelings. I think Paris and Prince enjoyed the experience.
MJJC: What happened to that 100,000$ that was given as a fund for MJ's kids, whose money was it, was that money actually given to Katherine since GLE had all those money problems?
Andy Picheta: Never got paid over to them. The money was sent to LA but then diverted to pay for artists. This is just one example of the money mess surrounding the project.
MJJC: Part of the money was supposed to go to charity, did they receive any?
Andy Picheta: Nope. The Princes Trust was down for a $60,000 minimum guarantee. They have yet to be paid. I’m sure the US charities are waiting too, although they don’t appear on any creditor lists I’ve seen.
MJJC: Did you have any dealings with Howard Mann?
Andy Picheta: I heard he was sniffing around this show, but I believe he was warned off, as was David Gest.
MJJC: What are the chances of employees getting paid and DVDs being released?
Andy Picheta: The two things are linked. The concert itself is a fine musical tribute to Michael. You can see the performers are proud and respectful of the material, and there are some stunning, amazing performances. Christina Aguilera paid fine tribute, Ne-Yo found the spirit of a younger Michael, and I will never forget Yolanda Adams’ rendition of ‘Earth Song’ – it’s as powerful as when Michael did it, but there’s more there too; a sense of loss, of longing, of grieving – it’s really, really beautiful, and it will blow your socks off!
The biggest point here, however, is what you think. I sense there’s a feeling of achievement amongst the fans, for putting a stop to some underhand shenanigans that were disrespectful to Michael’s memory. You showed your power and the crooked snake oil salesmen have been chased out of town. But those who worked on the show itself, especially the performers, knew nothing of the business background. For many of them, it was a genuine opportunity to honor (spelled the Brit way) his music. I hope you’ll want to see it, once Prince and Paris have control of it and the Estate approves it. If you do take a look, if you do decide that (with the crooks out of the way and Prince and Paris using Michael Forever as a starting point of a proper musical tribute) you can support it, those owed money for work done will be paid from the proceeds.
MJJC: If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently? What's the biggest lesson you have learned from this saga?
Andy Picheta: I’d be more forceful about my initial areas of concern: ticket prices, estate approval, music clearance. The biggest lesson is RESPECT THE FANS. I’ve never known such a high-handed, dismissive approach to an audience, the customer, as Hunt and Phillips showed throughout. Hindsight is never available when you want it, but if I could travel back in time I would: Insist the finance was robust enough to allow a free concert. Engage with the estate at an early stage. Involve the fans in the development of the thing,
And involve the elder Jackson children and make it their journey into the music of their father.
I would probably not change the date, as you need six months clear prep time – but with the fans involved from the start the feeling may have been ‘we won’t allow Murray to rob us of our tribute’ rather than ‘the organizers don’t care about our feelings at the time of the trial’. But such an inclusive, honest approach was beyond the abilities of Phillips and Hunt. I pushed it as far as I could, but in the mayhem, I found it impossible to go further.
Oh, and I wouldn’t hire Kiss. Or Alien Ant Farm.
MJJC: As 80% owner of GLE, why wasn't Jeffre included in the lawsuit or called to testify in the trial?
Andy Picheta: The lawsuit was filed in the UK. The financier's QuickDraw was suing GLE and Chris Hunt and Michael Henry. They could have gone for Jeffre as well, but only for giving the instruction to the ticket agency to hand the ticket proceeds to Hunt’s company Iambic. I’m not sure they have finished with Mr Phillips yet tho’, as an awfully large amount of money is unaccounted for in the US and I understand they may bring criminal charges as a result. Hunt and Henry didn’t call Jeffre as a witness, probably because they didn’t want to pay his airfare
MJJC: Are you worried about potential backlash from co-workers (Jeffre, Chris Hunt, etc) due to writing this book?
Andy Picheta: I am more concerned about the damage associating with them has done to my reputation in the industry. I welcome any backlash, as it will give me further opportunity to point out I was as taken in like everyone else, and to remind everyone that a judge in the English High Court of Justice found Hunt to be an ‘evasive and unreliable witness’. I found him an evasive and unreliable boss.
I am petrified of the Estate, however, and I hope they don’t shut me down. I asked permission of the Estate to use a picture of Michael on the cover, but they refused. I think that made for a more meaningful image, a better cover because the book’s not really about Michael, and the white fedora works well as a memory of him, and a hat is tipped in salute.
MJJC: What has become of Chris Hunt now, has he paid any of what he must as per the court judgment? Are you still friends with Chris Hunt?
Andy Picheta: I’m sure you’ll understand that I am no longer on his Christmas card list, deleted from his birthday salutation auto-reminder, de-friended on Facebook, and no longer considered as a suitable husband for his eldest daughter. So we don’t speak as often as before, but I can tell you Chris is in a whole heap of trouble. He has to account for the money he took illegally, probably pay most if not all of it back ($2.2 million), and he needs to find $1m, by September 7th, to pay QuickDraw’s legal fees. He also had to hand over all the recordings of the show. If he fails to do any of these he could be found in contempt of court and go to prison. He was a friend, and part of me feels sorry for how it turned out. But he was in the wrong and would not listen, so he brought it on himself.
MJJC: You were a bit harsh in your views about MJ fans. Michael's fans are quite a diverse group who are frequently dismissed as rabid and 'crazy'. While that element exists in any large number of people, there are many more who are quite intelligent, thoughtful, and protective of Michael's memory. Since you started your book with " For the fans of Michael Jackson: You were right" ...have your views of the fans softened a bit?
Andy Picheta: I respect the fans of Michael Jackson, and of every other artist I have worked for because the fans are the customers for what I am producing. Those of us who work in the industry are there to do a job, and even if we are fans we keep that in check, to stay professional. A track record in the entertainment business is crucial, and I perhaps should have thought more carefully about renting mine out to someone who had none. I regret any harshness; at the time it was an instinctive reaction to the harshness of the fans towards the show.
MJJC: Do you have anything you want to say to the members of MJJCommunity or Michael Jackson fans in general?
Andy Picheta: First of all, I am delighted to have the opportunity to be open and honest with MJJCommunity. Last year, before the show, I was tied to give the GLE line in my dialogue with you. I cover this in the book in some detail. I had no cause at that time to disbelieve what I was being told (about the financial arrangements the Estate had with Katherine for instance), but felt a discussion with the fans was long overdue. I was too optimistic as to what I hoped to achieve with that dialogue, as it was taking place far too late in the process. I see now why the fans consider the Estate a defender of Michael’s legacy, sometimes against his family.
I also write of how affected I was when lucky enough to film Michael nearly twenty years ago. I have never forgotten that experience and I know him to be one of the greatest writers/performers who ever lived.
I’d like to ask you to keep an eye out for Michael Forever (although it won’t be called that). When it has estate approval you can be sure Hunt, Phillips, and the Parojim have been completely exorcised from the project because the Estate has made it clear they will not countenance any dealings with them. This will leave some great performances, some new material, and a children’s homage to the music of their father.
And I’d like you to tell all your friends how much you enjoyed my book, and what a wonderful Christmas present it will make!
MJJC Note: You can order Andy Picheta's book "How I Paid Tribute to Michael Jackson: The story of Michael Forever The Tribute Concert" on Amazon by clicking HERE.
MJJCommunity recently sat down with Jeremy Meyers - Manager, Digital Editorial and Fan Relations at SONY BMG Commercial Music Group. This is what he had to say:
MJJC: Give us a bit of history about Jeremy Meyers?
JM: I'm 29, live in New York City. I've been a music lover all my life. I started in the music industry in 1999 at TVT Records, and at Sony Music in 2004. I'm privileged to be able to work on podcasts for the extensive catalog that Legacy Recordings is in control of, including, of course, Michael Jackson. I also run Legacy's blog(http://blogs.legacyrecordings.com/thesoundboard) and write our newsletters.
MJJC: Tell us how you became involved with the Thriller 25 project?
JM: Our digital team was tasked with doing more outside-the-box stuff than we'd ever done before for this project, and being an integral part of the team, decided that a groundbreaking podcast event would be just the thing, in order to try to tell the story of Thriller from every possible angle.
MJJC: Are you satisfied with the success of the project?
JM: I don't think we're ever completely satisfied with our work. There are things we could have done more of, but I'm very proud to have worked so hard with so many talented people on bringing innovative campaigns to life online for Thriller25.
MJJC: MJ Fans love T25! What more can we expect? More videos?
JM: Well, we're releasing Thriller on picture disc vinyl in September, and you should expect some surprises around Halloween.
MJJC: Thrillercast is really the first of its kind. Can you tell us a bit more information about it? How was it conceived?
JM: I've worked really hard with our producer (Joe Vella of Vella Interactive) to pull together a diverse group of people to be a part of Thrillercast. We came up with a 'dream list' of people we'd want to be a part of, then divided them into different categories (musicians, producers, choreographers, etc). We then approached each artist individually, through their publicists or managers, or directors. A large majority of people we asked immediately said that they'd love to be a part of it. The most interesting thing about the
whole project is how everyone seems to have their own "Thriller Story" about the first time they heard the album or saw the video. I hope everyone finds it as interesting as I do to hear people's stories! I think that listening to Thrillercast (and being a part of creating it) really gives you a much deeper appreciation for Thriller as a piece of art. There are a few big names still to come on Thrillercast, so stay tuned and please tell your friends about it!
MJJC: Have you met the King of Pop before? If so, can you share your experience with us?
JM: I have not, unfortunately. However, the head of Legacy Recordings has and was pretty much in awe of his presence, his passion for music and his business acumen.
MJJC: MJ Fans are dying to know the answer to this question: Will there be any new releases (new music) from Sony and Michael Jackson?
JM: Honestly I do not know. You can be sure, however, that if anything like that happens, you'll find out on michaeljackson.com! Also, be sure to pick up the Thriller picture disc vinyl when it comes out on September 30th.
MJJC: Thank you for answering our questions!
JM: No prob...happy to respond to follow-ups if you have any!
At MJJC we are happy to bring you this exclusive Q&A with Joseph Vogel, the author of "Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson " and "Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson's Magnum Opus".Here are Joe's answers to your questions. We - as MJJC- would like to thank Joe for his time and willingness to answer our questions. Also, we'd like to remind you that Joe Vogel's book "Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson " will be released on November 1. Do not forget to pre-order it. Also do not forget to buy and read "Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson's Magnum Opus" if you haven't already done so.
Question 1: It's distressing to hear the analysis of how "Earth Song" was never released in the United States. Could you expand on the cultural reasons for this?
Joe Vogel: Well, there have been various explanations, including that the album was underperforming in the U.S. But I personally find that hard to believe when the previous two singles were Top 5 hits. In fact, "You Are Not Alone" was the first single in the history of the Billboard chart to debut at #1. "Earth Song" was next in line and went #1 all over the world, but it wasn't released in the U.S. Hit singles increase album sales, so there are really only two explanations: 1) it was blocked in some way, or 2) it wasn't seen as viable in the U.S. because of its content. The people I spoke with mentioned both of these as possibilities. Either way is disturbing.
Question 2: How long did it take you to finish this Earth Song research? Are there any tidbits (didn't include in the ebook) you would like to share? Any fun stories about Michael during the recordings?
Joe Vogel: The foundation was already there since I had written about it for Man in the Music. I did research and interviewed about ten people over a period of 2-3 months. It was like putting a puzzle together. I started with a lot of questions and tried to recover, as best I could, the song's evolution and what Michael wanted to achieve with it. I tried to include all the interesting stories in the piece (or the footnotes). I personally love the story of him knowing he would "kill his voice" doing the ad-libs at the end of "Earth Song" and saving them until the final day of recording.
Question 3: Which score (sheet music) have you used for your analysis of the chord progression in the chorus?
Joe Vogel: I didn't use sheet music; the chords were explained to me directly by the musicians that worked on the song with Michael.
Question 4: Why did you imply that Michael was singing live at the "bridge collapse" concert in 1999? That was playback . . . while it was admirable that he kept performing when the set prop malfunctioned, he really had no choice. I don't want to seem like I'm harping on something or "missing the point" but I just felt that part was misleading and I want you to be able to stand up with 100% credibility.
Joe Vogel: Well, first of all, I don't agree that he "had no choice" but to keep performing. He absolutely had a choice and it is pretty remarkable that the show went on (including an encore performance). As for the vocals, in my book, I also don't point out that Michael is lip-syncing during the Motown 25 performance. I don't feel this is "misleading." I just feel it would distract from what is important about the performance. The bottom line is whether Michael was singing life or not, he could still convey the emotions and energy of the song, and he poured his soul into that rendition.
Question 5: My only concern was many of Michael's Fans are of the Jehovah’s Witness(JW) faith and felt his portrayal of their faith in that piece was inaccurate. I would like to ask Joe where he got the information for a statement he made about the JW beliefs? Who does he credit the info came from in that part of his study?
Joe Vogel: It wasn't my intent to offend Jehovah's Witnesses. I also don't pretend to be an expert on the Jehovah's Witness faith, though I have read about it (including its own official materials). In the piece, I was simply describing Michael Jackson's spiritual transformation, which I've researched pretty extensively. Michael's spiritual worldview evolved dramatically as the 80s went on. It wasn't just sadness about missing Christmas and birthdays; he was censored and threatened numerous times by church elders (including for Motown 25, the Thriller video, etc.). He felt a lot of frustration, anxiety, and sadness about certain teachings that wouldn't allow him to be who he was and express himself in a way he felt was natural. He came to doubt many of its teachings. He officially resigned in 1987. The reason I brought it up in my piece is that "Earth Song" began in 1988 and everyone who worked with him could tell his views about life had evolved. While I don't pretend to know all the intricacies of the JW faith, it is well-established that they believe in Armageddon and that the time of its arrival is set. Nothing people can stop it. So when Michael is saying, we need to wake up, we need to heal the world, do we give a damn? he is clearly trying to prevent the calamities and destruction that would be inevitable according to Jehovah's Witness doctrine. In both his songs and Dancing the Dream, his new worldview comes through and it clearly has transformed and given him a renewed sense of artistic purpose. So that's what I was trying to articulate briefly in my piece.
Question 6: Will you be including this study of Michael's Earth Song in your book?
Joe Vogel: No, they are separate, although I do write about "Earth Song" in Man in the Music.
Question 7: The Earth Song piece was very well written, and quite an interesting read. How does the style and content of this piece compare to your analysis of Michael's other popular songs in your upcoming book, Man in the Music? Although this piece is understandably much more extensive in terms the number of pages allotted to this one song, can we expect to feel that same sense of satisfaction and enlightenment after reading the sections on, say, Smooth Criminal or Remember the Time?
Joe Vogel: I would say they are pretty similar, though as you say, obviously I wasn't able to dedicate as much time and space as I did to "Earth Song" to every track. But every song gets covered in a way that I hope opens up some new insights about its creation and meaning.
Question 8: (For both the Earth Song piece and for your book) Did the estate give you access to any information or did you have to research and hunt it all down yourself?
Joe Vogel: The Estate was very helpful and has provided wonderful feedback/insights over the past two years. But there was a lot of hunting down as well. I tried to reach out to people we haven't heard from before, a lot of lesser-known collaborators. I wish I could have done even more. There are so many great stories to recover.
Question 9: I'd like to know if Joe has any information about what inspired Michael to write Little Susie. There have been numerous theories about where that song came from. Some say the song was based on a news story in 1979, others say it's based on a painting or poem, and some even say Little Susie is Michael. I'm just curious whether he has any info on this because it's been a mystery for years
Joe Vogel: I cover this a bit in the book. This may be a piece I explore in more depth later on (ala "Earth Song") along with "Michael McKlellan" and "Lost Children." They're all very fascinating.
Question 10: If possible, could you just give us an analysis on Little Susie and Is It Scary? At least give us your opinion on these two songs.
Joe Vogel: Sorry, you'll have to wait for the book. But I do cover them both extensively. Both are very impressive songs that show Michael's artistic versatility.
Question 11: What unreleased material would you be reviewing in his book? Do you give any details about the unreleased/unfinished classical project that Michael was working on?
Joe Vogel: I briefly discuss 5-12 non-album songs per chapter (many of which are songs that have been released in some fashion or leaked). I debated about how to do this because I really wanted the book to focus on what was released officially. But there are some outstanding songs that didn't make it onto his studio albums that I wanted to highlight for the more casual reader ("Streetwalker," "Blue Gangsta," "In the Back," "Do You Know," etc.). I also do discuss the classical project in the final chapter.
Question 12: Will the book cover the album by reviewing each song or talking about the album as a whole? Do you believe MJ's philosophy behind the creation of an album changed as he matured?
Joe Vogel: Each chapter covers the album as a whole (context, how it was made, release, reception, etc.) and then tackles each song individually. I definitely think MJ's philosophy evolved. This began in earnest during the Bad sessions but really revealed itself on Dangerous, which was the first time he acted as executive producer and was in complete control.
Question 13: Will Joe be including information such as the dates on which each song was recorded
Joe Vogel: I include the year each song was recorded and in some cases the month, but at this point, pinning down specific days would have been impossible.
Question 14: What would YOU like to see released during the duration of the MJ Estate/Sony deal?
Joe Vogel: Everything! Obviously, it will be teased out over a long period of time. But the historian impulse in me is simply anxious to see and hear all that Michael was working on. I've been fortunate to hear and see quite a bit, but there is a lot of material the Estate/Sony will be able to release in the future, from the behind-the-scenes footage to demos, to concerts, to drawings... Hopefully, at some point, fans will get to see the footage of "Earth Song" being recorded. I believe it was Matt Forger that told me he recorded Michael singing "Smile" in the studio. I would love to see that.
Question 15: Do you have any future interest in writing more pieces on Michael's music or life? Perhaps his relationship with his fans? Philanthropic activities? And so on.
Joe Vogel: Maybe. I have enough notes, research, and interviews to write several more books. But I'll have to see. As much as I am fascinated by Michael Jackson, there are other projects I would like to pursue as well. I may do some more pieces like "Earth Song" though, which don't take as long as a book and allow you to really go deep inside an individual song.
MJJC is happy to bring you the second Joe Vogel Q&A about his books and Michael's music. This Q&A is planned around the e-book release of "Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson" as well as Joe Vogel's new book "Featuring Michael Jackson.
MJJC: What peculiarity of Michael Jackson initially attracted and motivated you to delve into the study of his music? In other words, why did you decide to analyze specifically Michael's work rather than any other artist's work? I guess there are many reasons why you appreciate him, many of which you probably discovered during your work, but I'd like to know exactly what was, so to speak, the trigger
Joe Vogel: Michael Jackson was just so different. I’m fascinated by artists that defy conventions and categories, artists that can take us places we’ve never been before, and that challenge us. Michael, of course, paid a terrible price for being bold and different. When I started my book in 2005, the vitriol, hate, and deceit being directed at him were awful. If anyone takes a look at media archives from that time, the level of callousness and cruelty is appalling. And I remember watching it unfold and being really angry. At first, I envisioned writing a sort of alternative biography, something more humane and nuanced and objective than what existed at the time, but as the project developed I really felt strongly about letting Michael’s creative work be the focal point and revealing the man through the music.
MJJC: You started writing the “Man in the Music” book before Michael's death and we're going to interview him. Did you have questions prepared that you were going to ask Michael, and if yes, can you give a few example questions? Even if you had no questions prepared, what would you have asked Michael if you had the chance?
Joe Vogel: I did have questions prepared. Most were about the process. Michael was always so vague about his creative process. Of course, part of the problem was that so few interviewers ever asked him in-depth questions about his creativity. So my questions were all about details. I wasn’t as interested in sensational questions (how much plastic surgery?) or big questions (how do you want to be remembered?) as specifics (Tell me about these lyrics in “Stranger in Moscow” or this panther segment of “Black or White?). I wanted to show him the chapters I had done so he could see how it was laid out, and how it was all about the art, and then proceed from there in terms of filling gaps and gathering new stories.
MJJC: In your last piece "The Top Ten Michael Jackson Songs of All Time" you wrote, "If I were forced to gather together a group of songs to hold up against the best work of the Beatles or Bob Dylan or Prince, these are the ones I would bring." I'd like to know if you were asked to put together an album not for the fans, but for people who do not know Michael Jackson or have never appreciated his music, which songs would you choose to include in this album to make these people know and understand Michael Jackson, the artist, and the man, and his music?
Joe Vogel: In a way, that was part of the philosophy of my Top Ten list: What ten songs really showcase Michael’s genius, working in different styles from different parts of his career? But if I were to throw together a mix for a non-fan, I might do: In the Back, Butterflies, Cheater, In the Closet, Give in to Me, Morphine, Stranger, 2Bad, Human Nature, Little Susie, Will You Be There, Threatened. I’d probably go with a lot of lesser-known tracks because part of the problem with Michael Jackson is his classic songs are so familiar many people can’t hear them anymore.
MJJC: What has been the most surprising thing you have learned from your research on Michael Jackson?
Joe Vogel: I don’t know that there is one thing. I was really impressed with the intelligence that went into his work. I loved the stories about him tracking people down, calling in the middle of the night, going to an old folk’s home to visit Walt Disney’s massage therapist, and reaching out to all the people he respected or admired. He was so curious, which is such a great quality for an artist.
MJJC: Why do you think so many overlook Michael's work after Thriller/Bad?
Joe Vogel: That’s a very complicated question. Part of it was a backlash to his success, part of it had to do with race, and part of it was about his otherness and the media caricature that was constructed. And part of it was just sheer laziness. Critics latched onto a simple narrative—rags to riches to ruins—and couldn’t seem to find the intellectual acuity to move beyond that and recognize the evolution in Jackson’s art.
MJJC: Referring to Michael Jackson's music you often use terms like “he re-invented”. That sounds to me like an attempt to state - somehow - he has been the first to create something new in music while you are conscious that some other, although less publicized, musicians already did that before MJ. Is it correct? And if not, why you say he "reinvented" instead of "invented"?
Joe Vogel: Well, no one creates out of a vacuum so I think I’m sceptical of the term “invention” for any artist. You always draw from what comes before you. Michael didn’t invent R&B or soul or disco, but he stylized these genres in ways that hadn’t been done before. I actually think Michael did, for all intents and purposes, invent “pop” as we know it today; but I think he re-invented it with the Dangerous album. Similarly, I might feel comfortable saying, with qualification, that Michael “invented” modern music videos. Of course, they existed before Michael; but he had an enormously profound impact on what they became.
MJJC: What do you think about those rock journalists who write about “criteria” in music, stating that “innovation” and “influence” are the most important criteria to judge music and according to these criteria don’t consider Michael Jackson an important musician in pop history?
Joe Vogel: Innovation and influence are important criteria, but they are the criteria Michael meets in a major way. Look at the musical landscape today: Michael’s influence is everywhere. That being said, I don’t think Michael Jackson’s greatness is in any way tied to the existence of Justin Bieber, just as the Beatles aren’t assessed by their influence on the Jonas Brothers.
MJJC: Do you think Michael's artistry and his impact on pop culture will be thoroughly examined by more scholars in the future?
Joe Vogel: Absolutely. It’s already happening. There has been a proliferation of scholarship on Jackson over the past few years, including in journals and conferences. He’s being taught in many different fields—music, film studies, English, dance, visual studies, cultural studies, African American studies, etc.—at universities around the world.
What seems to be taking a bit more time is serious writing on MJ aimed at a more mainstream audience. This is an audience I have been trying to help build with my books and articles. There are still a lot of people for whom Michael is more of a celebrity or entertainer than a serious artist. It’s strange because Michael has such an enormous fan base, but the audience for this type of work is still relatively small. There is quite a way to go to catch up to the Beatles, Dylan, or even Springsteen and U2.
MJJC: Were you as frustrated as fans were for Michael being reduced to a tabloid caricature, and his music and achievements were basically dismissed? Do you think the tide is turning and people are finally seeing him as a brilliant showman and musician and his music is not dismissible?
Joe Vogel: The tide is definitely turning. There’s been an enormous shift in public perception since 2009. It’s very sad that’s what it took for people to be reminded of his genius, but that’s the way it often goes with artists of his calibre. I had the privilege of being a consultant for the upcoming Bad 25 documentary by Spike Lee and watching that footage was just incredible. The more people are exposed to Michael Jackson, the artist, the more his legacy will thrive.
MJJC: What is your favourite MJ album? Song?
Joe Vogel: My favourites change from month to month, year to year. My favourite album right now is Bad, especially the Bad outtakes and demos. My favourite songs right now: are “Destiny,” “Cheater” and “She Drives Me Wild”
MJJC: How are the Stranger in Moscow and Scared Of The Moon pieces you are working on coming along? Do you have any idea when they might be released?
Joe Vogel: Unfortunately, both are on the back burner right now. These types of projects are nearly impossible to find publishers for, so they present a lot of challenges. Most likely I would have to do them independently as I did for “Earth Song.”
MJJC: Who really wrote, "On the line"? Very confusing information Spike Lee said Babyface wrote the song, but Warner/Chappell's website & Ultimate, both list MJ as the writer.
Joe Vogel: My understanding is that it was co-written by Jackson and Babyface.
MJJC: Will you include new chapters in the paperback version of Man in the Music?
Joe Vogel: Umm…probably not new chapters, but definitely new material within existing chapters.
MJJC: After "Featuring Michael Jackson", what should we expect from you (regarding MJ and otherwise)? Do you have any more books about Michael planned? Such as books about Michael’s music videos or unreleased songs? Or even a book about Michael’s personal life?
Joe Vogel: There are endless projects that could be done on Michael (I have a few in mind), but my next major book will be on a different artist. No current plans to write on Michael’s unreleased songs or a biography.
MJJC Note: You can find Amazon links to Joe Vogel's books below and in near future, we will have another Joe Vogel surprise for you all. Keep following us and Joe Vogel
MJJCommunity had the exclusive chance to conduct an interview with Patrick Allocco who is a principal partner of AllGood Entertainment we thank him for taking this time out of his busy schedule to talk to MJJCommunity.
Thank you for sittingdown with MJJCommunity to tell your side of what's going on. We appreciate you taking the time to set the record straight and to tell Michael Jackson's fans what truly happened between All Good Entertainment and Frank DiLeo.
Q: Please tell us about your company, All Good Entertainment.
AllGood Entertainment, Inc., is a concert promoter based in New Jersey, who promotes concerts in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and South America. In 2007, he has started operations in the United Arab Emirates and India. We are a young and vigorous company, AllGood has produced successful shows in venues in New York and New Jersey as well as in Puerto Rico and Tobago in The Caribbean with Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Diddy, Julio Iglesias, Earth, Wind and Fire, Patti LaBelle, Natalie Cole, Paulina Rubio, John Leguizamo, Lindsay Lohan, and Raven Symone, among others. Our core competency is promoting significant one-off events and festivals.
Q: How did you come into contact with Frank DiLeo?
Shortly after meeting with Mr Joe Jackson in Las Vegas about the proposed Jackson Family Reunion Concert, my associate recommended that we follow up with Frank. We met Frank and his Partner, Mark Lamicka, in Nashville a few weeks later.
Q: Did Mr. Frank DiLeo at any time, represent himself as Michael Jackson's signatory agent/manager? Were you aware of Dr. Tohme R. Tohme being Michael's business manager?
The Dileo/Jackson contract speaks for itself; Frank and Mark both represented that he [Frank] had several phone conversations with MJ and that he was supportive of our event. Frank obviously executed an agreement that is binding upon Michael, Janet, and the brothers. Dr Tohme was always positioned as the spokesperson or business manager representing the financial interests of Colony Capital.
Q: Tell us about the concert that was planned by All Good Entertainment and agreed to by Frank DiLeo.
The proposed event was for one historic reunion for the world to see. The event would reunite all of the Jacksons’ on stage for a worldwide Pay Per View event to be held on or about July 2009. It was the single biggest offer to an artist in the history of the concert business.
Q: At any time did Frank DiLeo disclose to All Good Entertainment that Michael was already in negotiations with AEG via his business manager Dr Tohme R. Tohme?
No. We first learned of the O2 dates on January 7, when one of our Partners had learned from someone inside of AEG that the negotiations were very close to being finalized and that AEG expected to announce shortly after the Grammys. On January 21, we learned from an individual who had dined with Tohme the previous evening that MJ was committed to a “very big project” which we assumed was the AEG deal.
Q: Are you in any way, attempting to block the This Is It concert series from happening?
We are trying to secure our date for next year’s family reunion concert in Dallas. To that end, we will use every tool in our shed to enforce our contractual right to that event.
Q: On Nov 1st, 2008, Michael Jackson via his manager Dr Tohme R. Tohme released the following statement: “My brothers and sisters have my full love and support, and we’ve certainly shared many great experiences. But at this time I have no plans to record or tour with them. I am now in the studio developing new and exciting projects that I look forward to sharing with my fans in concert soon.” Did Frank DiLeo ever notify you of this statement?
No. The statement, however, was in response to a comment made by Jermaine while in Australia. We actually did raise the issue of Jermaine’s “Family Tour” comment with Dileo and he dismissed it as “Jermaine’s attempt at keeping the press focused on him.” The Tohme comment did not affect our proposal since we were contemplating a tour.
Q: Did All Good Entertainment retain Frank DiLeo for a fee of two million dollars to secure Michael Jackson and his family for the reunion concert?
Mr. Dileo would have received a total of $550,000 plus a commission.
Q: Were you aware that AEG was in negotiations with Michael Jackson and Dr. Tohme in Nov 2008, the same time when All Good Entertainment was in negotiations with Frank DiLeo?
We knew of several failed attempts by AEG to get MJ to commit to a “Prince” like a deal at the O2; we had no knowledge of any ongoing negotiations until January 7, 2009.
Q: Are you planning on filing a lawsuit in federal court against Frank DiLeo?
Very, unfortunately, yes – a lawsuit is now imminent and will be filed in Federal Court. I have made every possible effort to try to secure our concert for next year, but Frank Dileo has poisoned Michael on the idea and told me that “it’s not going to happen.”
Q: What would you like to tell Michael Jackson's fans about this situation? Do you feel like you have been defrauded?
I want MJ’s fans to know that we always put Michael’s and the family’s interests above our own. We were told by Michael that he had “another commitment” and he would perform our show as long as it didn’t conflict. When it was confirmed that he was talking about the London dates, we were always amenable to working around the shows. When MJ told us that he would perform our show when he came back from London, we agreed to a summer 2010 date. Unlike other individuals or companies who have filed lawsuits against MJ seeking astronomical damages, we are trying to put a historic amount of money back into his pocket through our one-night-only U.S. concert.
Our thanks go to Mr. Allocco for conducting this interview with MJJCommunity.