A producer who worked with Michael Jackson for more than three decades believes the pop singer's legacy should live on despite the aftermath of HBO’s wincing two-part documentary “Leaving Neverland," which delved into allegations from two men who claimed they were sexually abused by Jackson as children.
The pop superstar’s longtime music composer, arranger and producer Thomas Bähler opened up to Fox News about coming to grasps with the accusations against his friend, who died unexpectedly in 2009.
“Michael’s legacy is safe, I believe it will endure because his music and philosophy is so strong,” said Bähler, 75, who worked with Jackson for some 33 years — from childhood into his adult legendary status. “Think about ‘We are the World,’ ‘Heal the World,’ ‘Earth Song,’ ‘Lost Children.’ These songs are timeless, in regard to how they reflect his love and concern for humanity," he added.
Bähler said he believes it's important to separate the man from the music.
“He wrote about gangs, people that were isolated from society, that’s what ‘Beat It’ and ‘Bad’ were all about. In a way, it was an expression of having to earn your place and reflective of growing up in a large patriarchal family,” said Bähler, who has also collaborated with the likes of Elvis Presley, Cher, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand and Billy Joel.
“The first thing I felt from him was altruism, then his genius. He went to hospitals, sang for patients, and paid for operations for people he didn’t even know.”
As an extremely iconic yet complicated public figure, the fallout from the explosive HBO documentary has been mixed.
On a low note, since “Finding Neverland” aired, “The Simpsons” removed a hit 1991 episode featuring Jackson and a number of radio stations in New Zealand and Canada announced they would no longer be playing Jackson’s music. Furthermore, a string of other DJ’s have come out with declarations that they would remove his tunes from their rotation, rapper Drake is said to have quietly dropped a Jackson song from his set list and the Los Angeles Lakers are no longer including “Beat It” in the in-game entertainment list.
On the other side of the spectrum, Jackson supporters and his estate – who have vehemently denied any wrongdoing – have come out in droves to denounce the film, even buying “Michael Jackson Innocent” ads to blast across London buses, although they were removed days later.
But as audiences worldwide grapple with the question of whether or not it is appropriate to still listen to Jackson’s tunes in the face of such claims against him, for Bähler, who first encountered Jackson as an unassuming 13-year-old warming up his voice by singing “Climb Every Mountain” in the back of a Los Angeles recording studio, no allegation can erase decades of creative virtuosity and evolution.
According to Nielsen Music, Jackson’s combined album and song sales – both as a solo artist and member of the Jackson 5 – have increased ten percent as did his individual song sales. Over the past week, Jackson has posthumously sold 6000 albums and amassed 13,000 song downloads. Streaming services have also noted a bump – rising from almost 300,000 to 16.5 million over the past week, while his videos were watched online more than 1.2 million more than the week prior to “Leaving Neverland” being aired.
“When I first talked to him, he was a shy kid but had the awareness of an 80-year-old. There was loneliness that seemed unquenchable in him, that I believe eventually came out in his artistry,” Bähler said. “He started out as a bubblegum singer who went on to create songs that revealed deep emotion, his love for humanity and how the injustices in the world disturbed him.”
Most notably, Jackson went on to record “She’s Out of My Life” in 1979, which had been written by Bahler more than a year-and-a-half earlier. It became the first song recorded by Jackson after teaming up with legendary producer Quincy Jones.
“The last ballad Michael had recorded had been about a rat,” Bahler recalled, referring to the 1972 film “Ben” about a boy and his pet rat, of which Jackson had performed the theme song. “’She’s Out of My Life’ was a turning point. 'This song gives him adult emotions,' Quincy said. Up until that point, his music was mostly dance, bubblegum or puppy love.”
Before his sudden death almost a decade ago, Jackson’s music uniquely traversed the pop, classic soul and R&B charts – but at times became shrouded by accusations of sexual abuse. Jackson zealously defended himself against an array of such claims. In 2005 was acquitted in Los Angeles on all such charges, later prompting critics to question if the jury had been distracted by his celebrity status.
But, Bahler pointed out, Jackson never saw himself first as a singer.
“He had so many facets. If you asked Michael what he was,” Bahler said. “He would tell you he was a dancer.”
Nonetheless, the HBO documentary details the child sexual abuse allegations made against the singer by Wade Robson and James "Jimmy" Safechuck while they lived with the singer in his ranch during their childhood.
Safechuck and Robson alleged that Jackson groomed them as well as their parents when they were kids before sexually abusing them. Jackson's estate pointed out that when Jordan Chandler accused Jackson of sexual abuse in 1993, both Safechuck and Robson denied Jackson molested them. Robson reiterated his denial in 2005, when Jackson was on trial for allegedly sexually abusing Gavin Arvizo — for which Jackson was acquitted.
Robson explained in February on "Good Morning America" that he simply lived in fear at the time, claiming, "Michael's training of me to testify began the first night that he began abusing me. He started telling me, 'If anybody finds out, we'll both go to jail.'"