Michael asked me to write the book because we were close friends at the time and I was an experienced writer who could help him frame his authentic concerns and use his celebrity for a positive end. He desired to serve as a spokesman for the unmet needs of children, and I encouraged this desire provided that he directed his message to, and worked with, the children's parents. Those taped conversations were not the only manifestation of his concern. I took him to Oxford University, where he gave a well-received address about the need for a children's Bill of Rights. We also did a lecture together at Carnegie Hall about the need for parents to devote themselves to raising their children and not leave them to the proxy parenting of violent video games and mindless TV.
The manuscript based on the transcripts of our conversations revealed Michael Jackson to be a sensitive personality: thoughtful, knowledgeable, and deeply spiritual. Nevertheless, I withheld it from publication for two reasons. The first was the fact that by then my relationship with Michael had deteriorated, because I no longer felt I could influence him positively. He was reverting to being the superstar surrounded by sycophantic handlers who resented my advice to Michael to shift his focus to advocating for children in serious forums where his message might be taken seriously. I had begun to question whether I wished to maintain the public association with Michael that the book would only reinforce.
The second and much more important reason was Michael's arrest on charges of child molestation. Michael's eloquence in the book made me fear that his words might be interpreted by some people as the rationalizations of a pedophile. Furthermore, once he had been indicted it seemed that the book could not be published because in the manuscript, Michael discussed his relationship with the young cancer victim who would later become his accuser at some length, and it seemed that the book would be a distraction from the core issues of the trial which related to whether Michael had molested the boy of whom he spoke so lovingly several years after our discussions had concluded.
For example, Michael told me that he wished to give the boy, who had gone bald from chemotherapy, a sense of his own handsomeness:
"He was hiding and he was ashamed that he had a bald head and he had cancer. Everybody had made him feel like an outcast, and that's how he came here, and I want him to let go. He is such a beautiful child, he doesn't need that hat. I told him, 'You look just like an angel. Your voice sounds like an angel. As far as I am concerned you are an angel. What are you ashamed of?' "
Indeed, at Neverland, I witnessed Michael speaking to the boy and encouraging him never to be ashamed of his baldness, and I found it inspiring that Michael would try so hard to bolster the boy's self-confidence. Still, it seemed best to keep these conversations out of the public domain during the trial.
Our conversations shed light on three questions still lingering in the aftermath of the trial: Who is Michael Jackson and why is he so damaged? What is the nature of his relationship with children and with his accuser in particular? And finally, what should the public feel toward Michael Jackson: contempt, sympathy, or both?
I myself struggled with these emotions many times as we conducted our conversations. There was the time, for example, that Michael nearly brought me to tears when he suddenly told me:
"I am going to say something I have never said before, and this is the truth. I have no reason to lie to you, and God knows I am telling the truth. I think all my success and fame--and I have wanted it--I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That's all. That's the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved. I said I know I have an ability. Maybe if I sharpened my craft, maybe people will love me more. I just wanted to be loved, because I think it is very important to be loved and to tell people that you love them and to look in their eyes and say it."
The ancient rabbis of the Talmud proclaimed that words that emanate from the heart penetrate the heart. Michael's admission that the prime motivator for his career was to gain the love that had eluded him as a child pierced my heart like a dagger and drew us closer as spiritual soul-friends.
His many confessions of his ongoing quest, even as a man in his forties, to finally receive his father's approval and affection, seemed to be emblematic of a generation of children whose parents had put professional pursuits ahead of family stability. Michael said:
"My father was a great man because he was a great, great manager and he trained me well as a musician, as a showman. I couldn't miss a step.. he taught me how to work an audience, how to work a stage, how to feel your music when it is playing, how to move your body to the music. He wasn't even a dancer, but he understands music and show business. But... he never gave me a piggyback ride, he never threw a pillow at me or [did] something fun. [But] when I was about four years old there was a little carnival and he picked me up and put me on a pony. And because of that one moment I have this special place in my heart for him, for that one moment! I remember it. I remember it. I only got it one time but it made me really feel a lot differently about him and the world, because of that one moment. And that's the real truth. Imagine if this kinda thing could happen more often, the difference it would make to the lives of our families and children."
"I had an argument with Lisa Marie [Presley] in London because two little boys in England dragged another little boy to a train track and they beat him and I said I want to go visit them [this refers to the Jamie Bulger tragedy, where a 4-year-old boy was brutally murdered on train tracks by two 10-year-old boys].. I said I want to see them. [Lisa Marie] said, 'Are you crazy?' I said, 'I want to see these boys and I want to talk to them.' She said, 'You are just rewarding them for what they did, and it's wrong. I think you are wrong.' We were arguing. I said, 'Lisa, I don't think these boys have ever been hugged. I don't think anyone ever looked in their eyes and said, I love you. I really don't. They never had that. I just want to look at them and show that somebody cares.' She said, 'Look at what they did.' I said, 'I do care about that, but somewhere there is something wrong and something missing.' Then they found out the kids came from a broken family. The mother was never there and the father was like a gangster and a pusher and to pacify the children they let them watch movies every day with stabbings and killings. And that's where it comes from. No one to say, 'I love you, I love you. You're my baby,' and just hold them. "
Michael can be forgiven for a naïve belief that a lack of love is an excuse for murder, and that he could bring out the latent goodness in 10-year-old killers. But a man who believes that he can transform evil into goodness is treading on dangerous ground. In Michael's case, it was part of the slow development of a destructive Messiah complex, wherein he stopped seeing himself as an entertainer and began seeing himself as a savior. He believed that he possessed a special sensitivity that ordinary mortals lacked. Hence, while others might find it unacceptable for a grown man to share a bed with a child, he existed on a loftier plane that most mortals. This belief that ordinary rules of right and wrong did not apply to him is what ultimately led to the deterioration and ruin of Michael's life.
For all his sensitivity and for what I saw as his undeniable goodness, Michael Jackson went astray by believing that the everyday norms that applied to car mechanics and street cleaners did not apply to the King of Pop. Only in this context can we understand his shocking declaration on international television that platonically sharing a bed with other people's children is a loving act.
But the Michael Jackson that our taped conversations reveals-a tortured, damaged, but ultimately gentle and hopeful soul who refused to express hatred of his many critics in the press, who asked me repeatedly if I was spending enough time with my own children, who would come to me with questions about why G-d allows innocent children to suffer-is a man I'm not ashamed to say I once cared for deeply.
Our relationship did make me a better father in many ways. Michael would always ask me if I had told my children I loved them that day while looking them in the eye. He would ask if I ate dinner with them and if I had read them a bedtime story. While I did many of these things before meeting Michael Jackson, the influence of his perspective reinforced my commitment to them.
Some will find it ludicrous that a rabbi and father of seven would confess a debt of gratitude to Michael Jackson for teaching him to be a more available parent. But two of the essential messages of Judaism are, first, that one must show gratitude under all circumstances, and second, as Maimonides so eloquently expressed it, one must "accept the truth regardless of its source."
I can only hope that now that Michael has been vindicated in a courtroom, he will pursue the far more important vindication in life that has so far eluded him.