Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalk” Turn 30
Michael Jackson’s first book saw the light in United States at the end of February 1988 with a display worthy for the star he was. In the book, Michael discusses his personal and professional life and the publisher Doubleday described it as “candid”. With “Moonwalk” MJ traces an autobiography where he talks about his friends, his surgeries and his compelling rise to the category of a star. The book was another success for Jacqueline Onassis.
As an editor at Doubleday Books the former first lady presented Michael Jackson book as an idea that would be worth pursuing. The marketing department people were out of a different background and they had no idea about MJ but she got the approval. Rumours tells that her kids Caroline and John, Jr. suggested her to approach MJ. So she orchestrated the deal. Michael Jackson book would have been a bestseller.
Closing The Contract With Michael Jackson
She reached Michael’s to talk about the possibility of writing a book. Despite the reservation in which wrapped up his private life, he could not say no to the former first lady and actually Michael signed with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1984, before the “Victory” tour. Jackie achieved a coveted book contract with MJ.
Robert Hilburn helped Michael in the beginning. But it seem there were a difference of intent between MJ and Mrs. Onassis: he wanted to put together a picture book, while Onassis wanted a full-scale biography. After a clarification between the two, attorney John Branca ended Hilburn involvement in the book.
“She was the only person in America who could get him on the phone,” said Stephen Davis, one of the ghost-writers of “Moon Walk,” in an interview with Reuters. Michael considered the former First Lady a great woman and was deeply flattered when she approached him.
Writing The Book
The agony that accompanied its publication was great. Michael had agreed to write it with the help of a ghostwriter at the behest of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and editor Shaye Arehert spent several weeks in his house of Los Angeles and followed him on his tour in Australia, but writing the book went on for, like, four years. “While he loved books and carried them with him wherever he went, creating one was just not as exciting as finding the right note or step or guitarist,” explained Areheart. “So the writing of this book took a long time.”
Then came the anguish of shaping his story. Before this, he had never stopped to consider what it meant to narrate the critical events of his life. He struggled with the process and procrastinated for years. When he agreed to be interviewed, Michael dwelled on his childhood and the cruelty of his father. In fact, after Michael himself, his father Joseph emerges as the book’s most memorable character. Michael rejected the work of the first ghost-writer, and began consulting directly with Areheart. Eventually a second writer, Stephen Davis, was employed, although his name did not appear on the book’s cover.
After finally approving the contents and allowing the book to go to press, Michael had a crisis of conscience; worried that the memoir would alienate his family, he was especially concerned about his descriptions of the beatings he suffered at Joseph’s hand. Michael feared that had been too candid.
Then at the last minute he threatened to pull the plug on the book unless Jackie would have wrote the introduction. She complied though she complained about it for months–“I don’t know what to write.” Finally she wrote a two-paragraph introduction, which began with the line, “What can we say about Michael Jackson?”
The amount received by MJ was kept secret but according to a People Magazine article of that time, Onassis paid Jackson a $300,000 advance for the book.
The operation had been managed in complete secrecy, to where only a small number of top executives of the publisher knew the project, the manuscript was kept in a cash box and its different chapters were sent to the pre-printed by special couriers. MJ even had put a name in code to the autobiographer: Neil Armstrong, who was the first man to take a lunar walk.
For once, the measures worked, and the book reached the bookstores in plain surprise. It was printed on a paper heavier and more expensive than usual, carrying on each page a small drawing of the feet of Michael Jackson when he makes his famous moonwalk.
The Book Launch
As Doubleday was aware that Michael Jackson fans were not regular bookstores clients a formidable publicity launch was arranged, saturating above all the radio waves, with spots, promotions and broadcasting, with a bell in seven stations in the twenty-seven most important cities of the country, as well as advertising on television and videos, and even in bookstores, with some figures of the MJ in natural size able to hold in both hands nineteen books.
The promotions involved trivia and song contests, for which winners received copies of ”Moonwalk”. Those stations featured rock music and rhythm-and-blues. Somewhat similar promotions also runned on the top 19 national video shows, including the Turner Broadcasting System, Nickelodeon and VH-1. Both the radio and video promotions were arranged by Epic Records, Michael Jackson’s recording label.
At the beginning, three hundred thousand copies had been printed soon reaching 500,000 after the book topped the New York Times Best Sellers and quickly sold out the initial print. That was an extremely successful book.
The obvious next step was to print more copies and then prepare a paperback version. But MJ, “who had total control of the project, vetoed both plans”. “There was so much bad feeling when it didn’t go back to press,” Davis said. Relations between the two cultural icons were already strained because Michael had threatened to block the book’s publication unless Onassis wrote a foreword. Onassis, who as MJ, used to guard her privacy and did not want her name in any book she edited, reluctantly made an exception.
Michael planned to have his autobiography “Moonwalker” published in Europe to coincide his British tour dates. He added two further dates at Wembley on August 26 and 27 taking a total of seven nights in all — a record for the venue. Prince Charles and Princess Diana attended Michael’s July 16 concert at Wembley — benefit for Great Ormond Street Hospital The Prince’s Trust. The UK publishers was Heinemann.
Inside The Book
If “Moon walk” would have been written by any other Pop Star it would have probably been a dull affair—it’s really just a brief ramble by this bloke through what he’s done in the last 29 years and why he did it. “Moon walk”, however, is rarely dull for several reasons.
Firstly Michael Jackson was so famous and reclusive already at that time and had been years since anyone’s really known what he thought about anything, so even the little bit that “Moonwalk” gave away was fascinating.
Secondly Michael Jackson was not the slightest bit like any other pop star, or even like many other people—the picture he gave in “Moonwalk” is of someone obsessed with achieving certain things all his life to a degree most people could barely imagine.
At the beginning of the book, after an intriguing self portrait with his head covered by a “Billie Jean “hat and signed “MJ 1998” and the dedication to dancer Fred Astaire, he placed two quotes that sum a lot of what he tried to say in the rest of the book.
One by Beatles John Lennon in which he say he is just a channel for music and the only joy for him is when the music flows through him: “those moments are what I live for”.
The other—perhaps more revealing—is by Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb) who explains that to discover anything he would first study everything that has ever been done in the past to do with that thing, then says the three qualities you need to achieve anything worthwhile are “hard work”, “stick-to-it- iveness and common sense. Other two themes also come up again and again:
The first one is the price he paid. If you’ve believed all those newspaper reports about how off his trolley he’s supposed to be you’ll be surprised at how clearly he seemed to realize the position he was in—all the way through he empathizes how important what he does and how much he loves it. From time to time there are sad little references to how he’d like to be as the other people, to how lonely he is and to how difficult it is for him to find love. Occasionally you feel like giving him a kick and telling him not to be so wet and weedy but more often you feel like giving him a hug.
The other main theme is this amazing belief he could make people all around the world thrilled. Sometime you get the impression that deep down he thinks what had happened to him was in some ways terribly unfair—all he tried to do was to make people happy and harm no one, all he got in return was people calling him a freak or a loony. “I hope this book help clear up some misconceptions” say Michael Jackson at one point. Well, “Moon walk” was a superb start.
“I believe I’m one of the loneliest people in the world.” That’s just one of the many sad tales in the book that Michael Jackson wrote, and I pick out a few more “highlights” to explain why the book is such a “fascinating read”.
When Michael Jackson and his brothers used to rehearse in the family’s tiny house in Gary, Indiana, some other local “kids’ used to throw rocks at the windows as they played and teased them they never ever be successful. His first performance was in first grade where he stood up and sang–Climb Every Mountain – from The Sound Of Music. He remembers feeling a bit confused at how impressed everyone was after he’d done something that seemed so sample but also thrilled because he’d made some of his teachers so happy that they started blabbing.
The Jackson 5 would play in dodgy ‘strip’ dubs and -seedy’ clubs. As well as watching lots of women take their clothes off, in one club he and his brothers used to take turns peeking through a hole in the wall of their dressing room into the ladies’ toilet: “I saw stuff l have never forgotten” recalls Michael. On the same subject Michael adds, rather ominously. “I received quite an education as a child. More than most. Perhaps this freed me to concentrate on other aspects of my life as an adult..”
When the Jackson 5 were first starting off, no-one in the family was allowed to talk on the phone or more than five minutes in case anybody from a record company phoned up to offer them a record contract.
Once the Jackson 5 started to have hits like “I Want You Back” Michael would spend a lot of his time living with “veteran” songstress Diana Ross – she’d go shopping for pencils and paint with him. “She was my mother, my lover and my sister all combined in one amazing person” he coos. When she announced she was getting married Michael admit that he was a bit hurt and a little jealous …“it was hard for me because I had to walk around pretending to be overwhelmed that Diana was getting married to this man I’d never met …”
Before the Jackson 5 did interviews their record company Motown would sit in on the interviews, blocking any questions they thought were not suitable. Michael remembers that once they were bit narked at not being allowed to answer a question about Black Power (a big American black rights movement) so at the end they winked at the interviewer and quickly gave a black power clenched fist salute, the scamps…
Whenever they were on a tour, the Jackson 5 used to get up to pranks galore: they’d have fast walking races down hotel corridors, pillow fights, wrestling matches, shaving cream wars, would drop balloon and paper bags full or water off the balconies, order huge meals on room service for strangers and would booby trap their hotel room doors so that anyone walking in would get a bucket of water on their head. Phew, rock’n’roll eh.
Getting acne as a teenager was, claim Michael, one of the most ghastly things he’s ever had to live through… “a pimple for every oil gland”. As a result, he became subconsciously scarred: “My appearance began to depress me I couldn’t look it people when I talked to them”.
People did not worship Michael because his good at doing pop music. People worshipped and still adore Michael because he was very very good at being a star. He was doing it brilliantly until about 1987 and with up and down he’s still up there among the top six charismas.
Even though unremittingly cheapened by the tabloids Michael is still about as close as the pop carousel ever comes to mythology. But it is essential he remains fundamentally unattainable.
His autobiography should in theory expose how normal he was, how boring just like the rest of us, how he wiped his potty everyday and went down the shops and watches the TV and, er,” feeds the chimp”. There you are…He can’t do it. He might even be trying to do it but it’s not in his nature. He’s supernature. Michael Jackson was uncommon.
Once one gets over prose style, “Moonwalk” is pretty absorbing. The mildly-fashioned anecdotes concerning Jackie Wilson, Gamble and Huff, even ugly Quincy Jones, are entertaining. There are no great shakes but his memories of Billie Jean arriving by carrier pigeon from The Muse are sparkly enough and the tragic real-life heartbreak (Liza Minnelli, Liz Taylor, Brooke Shield, Diana Ross — “I’ve always loved her and & always will” are like cinnamon-flavoured news bulletins.
The pictures are great, and the print is so big is practically braille. He was a perfectionist about his records and his movies and every little “oof” or “wap” are precious; tingly; understanding. The book is written like a deckchair with woodworm, but Michael did what he was good at:“fascinate people”.
Is “Moonwalk” the true story of Michael Jackson?
No, it isn’t in my opinion. “Moonwalk” is an autobiography with all the unpleasant memories taken out. It gives to the reader the impression that Michael Jackson had been selective in the way he viewed his own history. And there are very good reasons for Michael’s reluctance to air any dirty linen.
He probably was conscious that his fans did love him more for his childlike Peter Pan personality. After all, his sexuality as performer, on entertainer, was and it is legendary. Why bother to spoil that?
In this book MJ was honest about his nose surgeries, his religious preferences and some various anecdotes but he remained an enigma. For a man with so much soul he had taken pains to conceal his own soul. The final impression is of a rather lonely fellow who is hell bent on perfecting career. He also show to be a genuinely nice and gentle man and maybe that’s more important than everything else.
Michael Jackson’s film “Moonwalker”
It was set for a 1988 spring release too. A full-length feature directed by Jerry Kramer with special effects by Colin Chilvers. It contains a series of set pieces put together and includes a section around the “Smooth Criminal” from the”BAD” album.
The film reputedly cost 22 million dollars. The film’s message is a slogan against drugs in general and against the exploitation of children-dealers in particular.
“Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis” – January 4, 2011 by Greg Lawrence
“MoonWalk” By Michael Jackson – February 1988