Read an Excerpt
I’ve always wanted to be able to tell stories, you know, stories that came from my soul. I’d like to sit by a fire and tell people stories – make them see pictures, make them cry and laugh, take them anywhere emotionally with something as deceptively simple as words. I’d like to tell tales to move their souls and transform them. I’ve always wanted to be able to do that. Imagine how the great writers must feel, knowing they have that power. I sometimes feel I could do it. It’s something I’d like to develop. In a way, songwriting uses the same skills, creates the emotional highs and lows, but the story is a sketch. It’s quicksilver. There are very few books written on the art of storytelling, how to grip listeners, how to get a group of people together and amuse them. No costumes, no makeup, no nothing, just you and your voice, and your powerful ability to take them anywhere, to transform their lives, if only for minutes.
I think I have a goody-goody image in the press and I hate that, but it’s hard to fight because I don’t normally talk about myself. I am a shy person. It’s true. I don’t like giving interviews or appearing on talk shows. When Doubleday approached me about doing this book, I was interested in being able to talk about how I feel in a book that would be mine – my words and my voice. I hope it will help clear up some misconceptions.
Everybody has many facets to them and I’m no different. When I’m in public, I often feel shy and reserved. Obviously, I feel differently away from the glare of cameras and staring people. My friends, my close associates, know there’s another Michael that I find it difficult to present in the outlandish “public” situations I often find myself in.
It’s different when I’m onstage, however. When I perform, I lose myself. I’m in total control of that stage. I don’t think about anything. I know what I want to do from the moment I step out there and I love every minute of it. I’m actually relaxed onstage. Totally relaxed. It’s nice. I feel relaxed in a studio too. I know whether something feels right. If it doesn’t, I know how to fix it. Everything has to be in place and if it is you feel good, you feel fulfilled. People used to underestimate my ability as a songwriter. They didn’t think of me as a songwriter, so when I started coming up with songs, they’d look at me like: “Who really wrote that?” I don’t know what they must have thought – that I had someone back in the garage who was writing them for me? But time cleared up those misconceptions. You always have to prove yourself to people and so many of them don’t want to believe. I’ve heard tales of Walt Disney going from studio to studio when he first started out, trying to sell his work unsuccessfully and being turned down. When he was finally given a chance, everyone thought he was the greatest thing that ever happened.
Sometimes when you’re treated unfairly it makes you stronger and more determined. Slavery was a terrible thing, but when black people in America finally got out from under the crushing system they were stronger. They knew what it was to have your spirit crippled by people who are controlling your life. They were never going to let that happen again. I admire that kind of strength. People who have it take a stand and put their blood and soul into what they believe.
I believe performers should try to be strong as an example to their audiences. It’s staggering what a person can do if they only try. If you’re under pressure, play off that pressure and use it to advantage to make whatever you’re doing better. Performers owe it to people to be strong and fair.
Often in the past performers have been tragic figures. A lot of truly great people have suffered or died because of pressure or drugs, especially liquor. It’s so sad. You feel cheated as a fan that you didn’t get to watch them evolve as they grew older. One can’t help but wondering what performances Marilyn Monroe would have put in or what Jimi Hendrix might have done in the 1980s.
A lot of celebrities say they don’t want their children to go into show business. I can understand their feelings, but I don’t agree with them. If I had a son or daughter, I’d say, ”By all means, be my guest. Step right in there. If you want to do it, do it.”
To me, nothing is more important than making people happy, giving them a release from their problems and worries, helping them to lighten their load. I want them to walk away from a performance I’ve done saying, ”That was great. I want to go back again. I had a great time.” To me, that’s what it’s all about. That’s wonderful. That’s why I don’t understand when some celebrities say they don’t want their kids in the business.
I think they say that because they’ve been hurt themselves. I can understand that. I’ve been there too.