MJ Studies Today XLV

Abstract: Michael Jackson liked to create magic with his live performances which often included an actual “magic trick” or illusion devised especially for the King of Pop by a professional magician, some of whom became his personal friends.  In this month’s column, Kerry Hennigan looks at some of the illusions employed by Jackson in his shows and the individuals who helped craft them.


Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XLV (15-09-2019).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 7, no. 1 (2019). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xlv/.


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“Mind is the Magic” – Michael Jackson and the art of illusion and those who created it. By Kerry Hennigan

© Kerry Hennigan

For Michael Jackson, being on stage was a special kind of magic.  He would lose himself in the performance and hope that the audience was right there with him, escaping from their everyday existence by joining him on a musical magic carpet ride.  As early as 1982 he said in an interview: “I love to create magic – to put together something unusual, so unexpected that it blows people´s heads off. Something ahead of the times. Five steps ahead of what people are thinking.  So people see it and say: ´Whoa! I wasn´t expecting that!´” [1]

He wasn’t just speaking metaphorically.  When it came to mounting his solo world tours, an illusion or two was worked into each show.  Hence, we had the Thriller werewolf seemingly being impaled and going up in flames on the HIStory world tour, and Jackson apparently departing the arena via a jetpack at the end of each show on his Dangerous tour.  Magician and illusionist Franz Haray was only 20 when Jackson discovered him in 1984 after Haray sent him a video tape.  Haray went on to collaborate with other major performing artists and to enjoy international fame and acclaim, but his official website pays homage to the role Jackson played in his career and lists as one of his concert effects “Making Michael Jackson fly”. [2]

Jackson’s “flight” from the arena on the Dangerous tour involved a clever piece of misdirection that made it seem like Michael himself had taken off in a jetpack at the end of his final song, “Man in the Mirror”.  Kinnie Gibson, a professional stuntman, had received the call from Michael’s manager in 1993.  “We were the only rocket belt company in the world,” Gibson said years later. “There wasn’t anybody else to call.”  He subsequently joined the Dangerous tour for 43 shows.  (Gibson died of cancer in 2015, having been a hotair balloonist, a skydiver, pilot, and Chuck Norris’ stuntman for twenty years.)  [3][4]

In addition to developing ideas with magicians, Jackson made friends with them. In 1988, while in Germany on his Bad tour, he met Siegfried and Roy backstage.  The following year, when they were preparing for their Las Vegas show, Jackson loved to watch their rehearsals.  Siegfried asked the King of Pop if he would provide a theme song for the show, which would eventually run for 13 years at the Mirage.  “As I was talking to him, I noticed he was tapping out a tune with his fingers,” Siegfried recalled in an interview conducted after Jackson’s death. [5] The song Jackson recorded for them was titled “Mind is the Magic” which he wrote with Bryan Loren in 1989.  In 1995 he gave Siegfried and Roy permission for the song to be released on their German album Dreams & Illusions.  “Mind is the Magic” was eventually released as a maxi-single in Europe on 26 Feb 2010.

In April 2009, British tabloid The Sun reported Jackson had teamed up with another of his magician friends, David Copperfield, to create “a series of amazing stunts” for his This Is It tour. The paper reported that the two had met at Copperfield’s headquarters in California to draw up plans for highwire routines and a levitation stunt. [6]  This story was then followed by another saying the friends had fallen out over the fee Copperfield had placed on his services. The magician subsequently denied this.  “That release came out on April Fool’s Day and we thought it was a big joke,” he said.  “[Jackson] is a friend of mine from years ago. I haven’t spoken to him in two years and all this press started coming out.  No, there was never any money discussed or even working on the tour itself.  It’s amazing where that came from.  Don’t believe what you read.  A lot of it is totally made up.  I wish him well with the tour.  He has been through a lot.”  Copperfield continued, “We worked together over 10 years ago on one of his other tours so there was contact in the past, but for over 10 years there has not been any kind of working relationship at all.” [7]

It was Ed Alonso who worked on the illusions for This Is It. [8]  He revealed that for Dirty Diana, Jackson wanted a flaming bed with a pole-dancing aerialist “playing the part of the fire”. It was an elaborately plotted stunt that would have Jackson being pursued around the bed by the “fire woman”. Each time she touched the stage, illuminated crimson fabric would shoot skyward to simulate flames.  The scenario called for her to catch Michael and lash him to the bed posts with a gold rope.  A sheet of fabric would billow up in front of him, illuminating his struggling silhouette.  When the sheet fell, the magic trick would be triggered – the woman would be revealed as the one ensnared, and Michael would materialise on a stage in the centre of the arena, rising above the crowd on a cherry picker, long dust coat blowing up around him as the band launches into “Beat It”. [9]

The use of illusions in Michael Jackson shows did not stop when the icon passed away in 2009.  The legacy of his love of magic has been carried on in the Cirque du Soleil/Michael Jackson Estate collaborative production “Michael Jackson One” in Las Vegas. The show features a “Pepper’s ghost” effect that makes it seem like a shimmering golden image of Jackson himself is dancing with the principal cast members near the end of the show.  In an official statement the Estate advised:

“Stage shows have always used technology to create illusions that entertain in new and different ways – from the magician sawing a woman in half to the illusionist that makes a building disappear. All are intended to create the ultimate experience for the audience.  Michael is unique and technology can never duplicate such an amazing artist, which is why this illusion aims only to evoke the incredible energy and spirit of a special man in a way that will enhance rather than compete with the image of him each of us continues to carry with us. As the name of the show conveys and as we all know, there is only “ONE” Michael Jackson.”[10]

It seems only fitting that (now retired) Siegfried and Roy celebrated the latter’s 70thbirthday in 2014 by attending a performance of Michael Jackson One.  The local media reported that they were “blown away” by the show. [11]

Even in death, Michael Jackson’s ability to take audiences on a magic carpet ride remains undiminished.

Sources:

[1]  Colacello, Bob and Warhol, Andy “Michael Jackson” in Interview 1982 Published online August 31, 2011 at https://www.interviewmagazine.com/music/michael-jackson-1982

[2]  “Bold Beginnings” http://franzharary.com/biography/

[3]  KDAF-TV 18 Dec 2012 “Kinnie remembers the Dangerous Tour, and Michael’s ‘big heart for kids’” as reposted by https://www.facebook.com/UKlovesMJ/photos/michael-with-rocket-man-kinnie-gibson-and-his-children-kinnie-remembers-the-dang/520506138017784/

[4]  KLTV 16 July 2015 “RIP Kinnie Gibson” accessible on http://westernboothill.blogspot.com/2015/07/rip-kinnie-gibson.html

[5]  Stutz, Howard “Siegfried and Roy talk of friendship with Michael Jackson” in Las Vegas Review-Journal November 22, 2009 https://www.reviewjournal.com/business/business-columns/inside-gaming/siegfried-and-roy-talk-of-friendship-with-michael-jackson/

[6]  http://www.hotgossip.com/michael-jackson-and-david-copperfield-team-up/5539/

[7]  Cashmere, Paul “David Copperfield Was Never On Jackson UK Tour” June 10, 2009 archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20090818080443/http://www.undercover.com.au/News-Story.aspx?id=8486

[8]  Magician Ed Alonzo, on the magic for Dirty Diana for This Is It, 2009 https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=349892595192615&set=a.114034375445106&type=3&theater

[9]  This Is It Official Setlist https://michaeljacksonthisisit.fandom.com/wiki/Setlist

[10]  Estate of Michael Jackson statement on MJ ONEhttps://www.facebook.com/groups/michaeljacksonsghosts/permalink/10151523255329900/

[11]  Clarke, Norm “Roy Horn’s birthday bash full of surprises” in Las Vegas Review-Journal October 5, 2014 https://www.reviewjournal.com/uncategorized/roy-horns-birthday-bash-full-of-surprises/

Illustration:

Photo montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan using “Mind Is The Magic” maxi single ZYX Music, 2010 and Dangerous tour rocket man take-off, photographer unknown. No copyright infringement is intended in this educational, not-for-profit exercise.

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