Yes, Schmuley Boteach has "branded" himself, in Dr. Drew Pinsky style, as "America's Rabbi." You've seen him on TV, in print, on his glossy website. From Oprah's guest chair to canting the An'im Zemirot, he's everywhere. For ten years he's been the most visible cleric in Hollywood, out-positioning even TD Jakes. Call it a calling. Call it rank self-promotion.
From 2000 to 2002 the rabbi counseled Michael Jackson in this millieu of ambivalence.
He taped the conversations. MJ's own words, thoughts, honesty, effusiveness, reticence, delusions. Nuff said. The result is The Michael Jackson Tapes
The topics ranged from lost childhood, to children (MJ's and those he had over to Neverland, problematically), to fear of Joseph, to Lisa Marie to women, to his brothers. And fame. Ego. Idolatry. His own, as Shmuley harps as a thesis. MJ was a Jehovah's Witness. Ego, worship of symbols and self are A-1 sins. And yet here was MJ, doing that. demanding adolation, bending of the rules. Not in cruely narcissistic way. No, with childlike prodding. Instance after instance, Shmuley pinpoints this one flaw, and the cumulative effect is stunning. Poignant. Aggravating. Fantastic nonfiction reading--even when you squint as Shmuley's seemingly self-serving reasons for not calling MJ out more forcefully in the interview sessions. In essence, he feared MJ might--and eventually did--dump the rabbi when things got to uncomfortable.
Shmuley posits in spiritual terms what Wanda Sykes put so indelicately: that Michael Jackson died not of massive opiates, but of Michael Jackson. The last 20 pages of the book are instructive, not reflective. For instance, Shmuley describes the sight of MJ's massive likeness floating down the Thames on a barge to be erected in London for the HIStory album. Then there is the interesting analogy to J.R.R. Tolkien's ragged Lord of the Rings character "Gollum." Once a pleasant, loving and lovable hobbit, Gollum lets the ring consume him, to the point that his appearance and mannerisms becomes grotesque, bizarre. Sound familiar?
Luckily Shmuley provides his own mea culpa on the dangers of celebrity. On the ring. Perhaps MJ just could not have been helped. I saw the film This is It as is closed Thanksgiving weekend. I think I can understand Shmuley's saddness. So can you, reading this book.