Conversations with the ‘King of Pop’ Go Flat

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Newsroom

For readers who like their Dr. Phil filled with mysticism-lite, or their Deepak Chopra chock full of pop-culture dish, Shmuley Boteach’s new book, Honoring the Child Spirit (Vanguard Press; 2011), might be a worthwhile read.

Advisory: Only, however, if the reader desires a rehash of every self-help cliché on the shelf. The book, transcripts from interviews with the late musical legend Michael Jackson, offers few new insights into either Jackson or the Jewish self-help genre which Boteach, with his many books and Shalom in the Home television series, has cornered the market.

This is Boteach’s second attempt to weave gold from the straw of his conversations with the King of Pop; the first compilation included a diagnosis of Jackson’s many failings that struck Jackson’s defenders as a betrayal and Jackson’s detractors as a sympathetic defense of a modern day monster. The virulence of the responses to the first offering suggests that Boteach, right or wrong, had hit a compelling nerve.

In this collection, however, we witness a considerably lighter touch. Boteach mentions that he and Jackson grew apart because Jackson grew tired of being lectured to about his failures; included in the list was Boteach’s warning that “his prescription drug habit was killing him.”

But the star-loving cleric adamantly defends Jackson against those who would construe him as a pedophile. Unfortunately, at no point in the body of the work does Boteach engage Jackson with any of these issues and, as such, the work has an insubstantial feel.

The bulk of the text is conversation rather than Boteach’s interpretation. The dependence on the conversations to be self-evident is the book’s greatest weakness. Boteach’s invitation tantalizingly beckons, promising: “Your lost childhood awaits.”

Unless your childhood included a diet heavy on treacle, the invitation ultimately rings hollow. The conversations tend to meander, and Boteach proves here to be neither a deeply probing nor dogged interlocutor of Jackson. In fact, many of his questions seem to be leading Jackson, whose answers often begin by agreeing with Boteach’s statements.

The big insights offered by the conversations include statements that “God’s wonder is captured in a child” or “Children have the ability to become jealous. But if you explain it to them, it is like a clean new slate.”

These platitudes — and there are plenty that litter the book — provide neither insight into ourselves nor Jackson. If you seek such perceptiveness, Boteach’s earlier, more pointed and openly critical The Michael Jackson Tapes (Vanguard; 2009) is preferable. In it, Jackson’s platitudes are similar, but Boteach attempts to integrate anecdote and interpretation more effectively.

The work is not completely unsalvageable. To be fair, Boteach’s concept of the “Triple Two” — a family meal that is two hours long, with two invited guests, and the discussion of two important subjects — is interesting and applicable to a lot of folks who feel overwhelmed by the pressures of too long workweeks and overscheduled children’s activities. But the idea seems discordant with the tone of the interviews, which seem to dwell on no important subjects at all. Boteach’s family meal plan deserves a better platform for discussion and for dissemination.

And you deserve a much better book for your $22.95

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