We are the world….at what price?

 

We are the world….at what price?

4 comments.

It’s been 4 days since we said goodbye to the King of Pop – or as some would now call him, “The Greatest Artist that Ever Lived.”  Some were shocked by the news, most saddened and some don’t care at all.  Whatever your personal opinion of Michael Jackson, there is no denying the massive price this person paid for having so much success in his life.  And along with that success came the high price of pain.

For many, it is inconceivable that someone famous, wealthy or in the perfect relationship could have anything but joy in their life.  We have little regard for those who are in a better situation than us.  Yet this is a topic that bears discussion, for anyone reading this today who wishes for more success in your life will surely at some point be subjected to many of the same stressors that Michael Jackson did.  (though not to the same degree)

Many of you have written asking me to post on this topic.  Michael Jackson’s demons have been obvious for 2 decades or more.  It has shown greatly through his music.  As his star began to rise with his solo album “Off the Wall”, he wrote songs of life, happiness and joy.  It got more intense with Thriller, as his genius shone through his music.  That’s when the pressure started.  Beginning with the song Carousel (an extra track on Thriller album) Michael begins to show strain.  Consider these lyrics:


She’s from a world
of popcorn and candy
pony rides for a dime
little children laughing

I’m from a world
of disappointment and confusion
But I want her to be mine

I lost my heart
on the carousel
to a circus girl
who left my heart in pieces


While this could be interpreted many ways, I choose to consider these lyrics as an unconscious cry for help.  The carousel representing the throngs of people, opportunities and spotlight suddenly thrust in his face, going round and round in new and unfamiliar territory.  The girl representing fame, adoration and all things that artists want and need in order to have a sustainable public career.  Discovering that it was not as glamorous as it seemed to be, having his personal life suddenly out for display to millions of people when he was already in an emotionally overwhelmed state is like the girl who broke his heart.

Of course, the love of performing, perfecting his singing and dance moves, and pure passion for his work continued to drive him   Additionally his handlers, publicists, managers and advisors would have never said at that time in his career “why don’t you take a rest”  No way.  And so we got the next album, “Bad”.  Another great album, with more obvious cracks coming.


Consider these two tracks – “Man in the Mirror”  and “Leave me Alone”.  While the second is a pretty obvious title, Man in the Mirror clearly takes an introspective look at the world around.  He says:

I’ve been the victim of
a selfish kind of love
It’s time that I realize
there are some with no home
not a nickel to loan
could it really be pretending that they’re not alone?

As fame consumed him even more, Leave me alone became an interesting development in what I believe is a major shift in his ability to handle the pressures of success.  He says the words “Leave me Alone” 31 times in this song, and again refers to the “girl” this way:

There Was A Time I Used To
Say Girl I Need You
But Who Is Sorry Now
You Really Hurt, You Used To
Take And Deceive Me
Now Who Is Sorry Now
You Got A Way Of Making Me
Feel So Sorry
I Found Out Right Away
Don’t You Come Walkin’-
Beggin’ I Ain’t Lovin’ You
Don’t You Get In My Way

Here the same “girl” he was chasing takes on a very new and different persona.  But probably the most haunting lyrics came out of a song on the next album, Dangerous.  The song Will you Be There not just hints at, but begs for help.  Consider these lyrics:

Everyone’s taking control of me
Seems that the world’s
Got a role for me
I’m so confused
Will you show to me
You’ll be there for me
And care enough to bear me


At this point in his life, Michael Jackson could not even cross the street, go out in public, or go to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk.  Almost all normal human behaviors were now unavailable to him due to his fame.  If he went out, he would get mobbed.   When he did venture out, it was in costume.  The emotional downside of that kind of success – the lonliness, self-doubt, lowered self-esteem, regret, sorrow, pain and fear is rarely talked about.  But it should be.  After all, we all want success, do we not?  And yet, people are not taught how to manage emotions, relationships, finances, career, mental and physical health when suddenly on the fast track to success.

At the memorial service, Marlon Jackson bravely shared his thoughts about Michael’s inability to have a normal life:


The next stages of breakdown further showed in the spoken lyrics of Will you Be There, as Michael showed the emotional side of questioning life purpose.  This is a very emotional and important piece of life and certainly not only at the feet of people with a certain amount of public celebrity.  Questioning purpose is on the lips and minds of every successful executive, business owner, entrepreneur, and anyone with a fast-moving life or career.  Purpose is the all important question that we alone must answer – and it wasn’t clear whether Michael ever did get that answer for himself, as he spoke in the song:

In our darkest hour
In my deepest despair
Will you still care?
Will you be there?
In my trials
And my tripulations
Through our doubts
And frustrations
In my violence
In my turbulence
Through my fear
And my confessions
In my anguish and my pain
Through my joy and my sorrow
In the promise of another tomorrow
I’ll never let you part
For you’re always in my heart.


The descent further carried itself out in later albums with song lyrics such as “Scream”, “They don’t care about us”, “Blood on the dance floor”, “Morphine”,”Ghosts”, “Is it Scary?” “Cry”, “Privacy” and “Threatened”.  It doesn’t take much analysis to figure out the downward slide that these songs shared consciously or unconsciously with the audience.  This was a person in great pain.  It was a pain of fame, but most importantly a pain from the pure lack of emotional intelligence that was so sorely needed for him to have been able to enjoy life.


So while this is my own personal opinion on the lyrics, I will say this:  you do not have to be a celebrity to experience similar kinds of emotional breakdown as you experience sudden or increased success.  Emotional intelligence (your ability to manage and experience your emotions) is at the root of whether you will ultimately be happy in your life, purposeful in your work and passionate about your activities.  When you have these things, you will have the world….at the best price – peace.



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  1. Tina Caldwell says:

    Excellent analysis and perspective Stephanie. I have felt empathy for Michael for years as I grew up “with” him and so wanted to see the youngster we all knew grow into a man we all wanted to see. I read a blog post by Karen Swim (from her Words For Hire blog) discussing Michael and “Personal Branding” and comparing it to dating your audience. She asked the question “Will you casually date or embark on a fiery love affair?” The only problem is, I don’t think Michael had a choice; to start, I am sure he didn’t. I wonder if when he was old enough to make one, it wasn’t already to late to change his mind. My sentiments are the same as his brother, Marlon; hopefully now, finally, he is at peace.

    • Stephanie says:

      Thank you Tina for your thoughtful comments. I agree that Michael had a choice in his youth – and in his teenage and early adult years he certainly had no role model. Finally, hopefully, he is at peace.

  2. electromozzo says:

    OMG…totally!

  3. Excellent site. It was pleasant to me.
    stephaniefrank.com – cool!!!!

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