1 July 2018

Moonwalk (Book Review)

When I was a little girl, my favourite singer of all time was Michael Jackson. For my fifth birthday, I requested my aunt who worked at the radio to play one of MJ: s songs for me. That song may or may not have been The Way You Make Me Feel but this is where my memory deceives me. 

What I remember vividly is me and my friend going to the kitchen because we were too shy in the company of all the relatives and then dancing our faces off. This is the earliest memory I have of myself dancing.

I'm a 90’s kid and Michael Jackson with his dazzling outfits, his electrifying dance moves, and his in-you-face, larger-than-life stage persona became one of the symbols of my own childhood, and my introduction to the Western pop culture.

June 25th, 2009 is a day that has long ago made its way into the history books. The news of the sudden passing of the King of Pop literally broke the Internet, and the media circus that followed, not to mention the legal charges against MJ: s personal physician (which ultimately resulted in his conviction), as well as the obligatory conspiracy theories went of for years after his death.

But underneath all the headlines and speculations there was a multinational army of loving and grieving fans, and for many – myself included – MJ: s passing was a beginning of a rediscovery of his music, his art, and his enigmatic person.

In the months that followed, I had watched all the interviews that YouTube had to offer back then, bought the albums I didn’t already have, and saw some of his most iconic concerts caught on tape. That was also when I read two of Michael’s own books – Dancing the Dream which is an anthology of poems, and personal reflections and Moonwalk – his 1988, New York Times bestselling autobiography.

When I first read Moonwalk, I was imbued with this sense of awe that I was reading something that Michael had written himself. It was like he was speaking directly to his readers. Interviews, and documentaries are one thing, but a written word is something else entirely. This was Michael using his own words to talk about things he actually wanted to talk about.

That’s why I was a little disappointed when I read that Michael didn’t actually “write” Moonwalk. In the afterword to the 2009 edition, Shaye Areheart recalls working on Moonwalk with Michael and with Jackie Onassis. The idea was to write an autobiography, but after a lot of false starts, they finally decided that Areheart would ask questions and Michael would then record his answers on tape. Areheart would then transcribe the tapes, and the two of them would be editing the scripts together.

Thus, Moonwalk isn’t an autobiography in the traditional sense, but a result of a four-year-long collaboration between Michael Jackson and Shaye Areheart. I really recommend reading this afterword. Not only does Areheart give a first-hand account of how this book came to be but he also shares personal stories of working with Michael. It’s a very personal and most importantly non-sensationalist story.

What you need to know before getting into this book is that this isn’t a tell-all. Michael’s idea behind this book was not slander or sensationalism. This is Michael, having been abused by the tabloid media for decades, finally coming out to tell his story on his own terms.

Sure, the revelation that Michael had grown up in an abusive household stirred up quite a ruckus when the book came out, but that was just Michael telling the truth.

According to Areheart, Michael was a little gun-shy sharing his story with the world like this. He wanted to make Moonwalk happen, but there were certain parts of his life that he wanted to keep to himself. And I think this ambivalence shows in the final product. In telling his story, Michael is being honest but guarded. For instance, he doesn’t talk about his vitiligo. That was his choice. Just like he would say years later to Oprah Winfrey in that famous interview, “this is my medical history and it’s personal”.

Saying that privacy was important to Michael is like saying that the short film for Smooth Criminal is a visual masterpiece – it’s a gross understatement. Being deprived of this most basic of human rights from a young age, Michael went to great lengths to keep what little privacy he had as an adult. He recalls, for instance, how his father would charge young fangirls money to let them watch Michael and his brothers sleep in their hotel rooms. Michael always emphasized his right to keep certain facts to himself. And as fans we should all respect that.

Like I said, this book isn’t a tell-all. It is, however, a unique and intimate look at Michael’s own life and at the showbiz world that he had been a part of since he could sing and dance. At its heart, Moonwalk is about what Michael knew and did best – music. It’s not the personal revelations or the celebrities that take up the biggest part of the book, it’s the music. The idea and the inspiration behind some of his most iconic songs, the work and the time put in the songwriting process, and the little technical details that are alien to us laymen – that’s what this book is about.

Music is also Moonwalk’s greatest strength. You can read between the pages how much Michael loved creating and performing, and how much of his own heart and soul he put in his own work.

I love Moonwalk. It's a book that tells you so much about what kind of man and musician Michael was, and at the same time leaves you wanting more.