“Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons provides the definitive review of his numerous ‘special friendships’. Armed with insights from a range of disciplines – psychology, sociology, moral philosophy – Carl Toms spent many years researching the megastar’s ‘boy-love’. He delves deeply into the sources of Michael’s enigmatic identity, soul and genius – while keeping a sceptical eye on the assumptions and values of the King’s detractors. Toms’ is the only book to examine thoroughly Michael’s trial on child abuse charges without losing sight of the increasingly well documented – but surprisingly little known or understood – facts about earlier allegations. It exposes the falsity of persistent efforts to whitewash the record by inventing for Michael a phoney ‘normal’, or ‘plain vanilla gay’, sexuality. Refusing to settle for the easy clichés about Michael’s ‘lost childhood’, Toms examines groundbreaking research into intimate man-boy contacts in order to illuminate the real nature of Michael’s ‘dangerous liaisons’ – and the surprising challenge they present to our moral certainties.”
(back-cover blurb to ‘Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons’)
‘Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons’ is a book that people either love or hate. A visit to its Amazon page suggests that this is a book that people either love or hate: all the reviewers there either give the book five stars or one star.
Those who hate this book seem to fall into two categories: people who have read it and been too offended to acknowledge the evident quality of its research, writing, and story-telling; and people who condemn the book without having read it (indeed Jackson fans launched a massive campaign to have the book banned and boycotted several months before it had even been published).
Those familiar with Tom’s blog, HereticTOC, or his classic ‘Paedophilia: The Radical Case’ will know to expect writing that is intelligent, informative, witty and lucid. Dangerous Liaisons has all of these qualities. But if there is one quality that I would like to specially dwell on here it is the last of these – the book’s lucidity.
At 624 pages Dangerous Liaisons is not a short book. A comprehensive account of Jackson’s many boy-loves and his trial could not be otherwise. It has a huge cast of characters and protagonists. And Tom had to reconstitute the true narrative of Jackson’s boy-loves – recondite, misreported and misunderstood – from fragmentary and often contradictory evidence and testimony. The trial alone required Tom to go through 13,000 pages of court transcripts and legal evidence with a fine-tooth comb.
In the hands of some authors all this could make for a challenging read…
But one of the many remarkable things about this book is how deftly Tom (maybe drawing on skills and sensibilities developed as a teacher and journalist) organises this complex material and communicates it lucidly and compellingly.
Indeed Dangerous Liaisons could be taken as a model of how to tell a complex story: from the micro-scale of his sentence construction to the macro-scale of the book’s structure Tom has taken every pain to make sure that the reader is never distracted from the momentum of the story. This means that, despite its complexity and despite the fact that we are all familiar with the outcome of the story, Dangerous Liaisons is as gripping as a well-crafted thriller.
Dangerous Liaison’s lends itself to multiple readings and perspectives. It can be read as a tragedy in which the mighty are toppled by betrayal and jealousy; at times it reads like a black comedy; it is a book of love stories, not infrequently spilling over into erotica as we get furtive glimpses of illicit contact and desire; it can be read as a meditation on the nature of childhood, and of the nuclear family imploding under pressure; it is an eloquent manifesto in defence of child love and child sexuality…
To love this book you don’t need to be a Jackson fan; nor do you have to be interested in the lives of the rich, the famous, and the weird; nor (I suspect) do you even need to be a boy-lover or a paedophile to appreciate this book.
All you need is an open and curious mind, and an interest in what it means to be a fallible, loving, struggling human.
Treat yourself to a copy: ordering is safe, simple and confidential, and Tom is very kindly offering a special discount price to all readers of ConsentingA̶d̶u̶l̶t̶s̶Humans (see the end of the interview for ordering options).
Thank you, Tom, for agreeing to do this interview.
In the first chapter you make it clear that you count yourself amongst Michael Jackson’s fans. Can you give us the history of your relationship with Jackson and his art? When did you first became aware of him? What was your response to his music? How does he fit into your wider cultural tastes?
Sneaky of me but, no, I didn’t say I was a Jackson fan. I said that in common with millions of his fans, I warmed to his gentle off-stage manner and hopes for a better world.
Does that make me a fan? I don’t think so. Not of his music, and certainly not of the more grotesque aspects of his celebrity lifestyle, fascinating as they are. The truth is that when I started work on the book I knew very little about Michael’s creative talents. My primary interest was in his sexuality, starting in 1993 when the news story of his allegedly – and I believe definitely – intimate relationship with a 13-year-old boy broke around the world.
Long before that, though, I guess it could be said I was rather taken with Michael when he was still a boy himself, shooting to precocious fame as lead singer of the Jackson Five with songs such as I’ll be There and Rockin’ Robin. It was the voice that did it for me, not the looks. It was the passion, the oomph – the raw excitement of love songs in an unbroken child’s voice on pub juke boxes in the boozy lunch hours of my early days in journalism. I got that from Donny Osmond, too, with Puppy Love, and his little brother Jimmy’s Long-Haired Lover from Liverpool. But Michael was far superior. His was the quality act, no question.
All this would have been in the early 1970s, so I guess from about ’73 to ’93 I simply forgot about Michael for a couple of decades. Off the Wall, Thriller, and his other solo albums meant absolutely nothing to me. Zilch! I have to admit to being completely bowled over, though, when I finally encountered him in one of his big live performances at Wembley Stadium, on the HIStory tour: he sure knew how to put on a show – the self-regard and sentimentality are questionable but not the spectacle.
As for how Michael fits with my other cultural tastes, he simply doesn’t. The only time I hear pop music is down at the gym where I can’t avoid it, so it’s just another form of torture like the treadmill and the weights. Actually, that’s a bit of a fib, there’s plenty of pop music I really enjoy, along with classical and other stuff – even Country & Western, would you believe – but I’d feel guilty about “wasting” time just to listen to anything pleasurable. Nerdy heavyweight reading is much more my thing – philosophy, psychology and such like, along with my own writing. I do remember dancing with wild abandon to Black or White with my boss’s wife though. That was a great night.
I agree that Jackson as a child was already a spectacular performer and musician – I’ve just put on a video of him singing ‘I want you back‘ and it gives me goose-flesh.
If it’s not indiscreet to ask – how did you end up seeing him live, if you were not a fan?
You could call it research, I guess. My book is not about the music or the fans but I felt I needed to know quite a lot about both in order to really get inside Michael’s life. Luckily, I knew someone who happened to be a true Jackson fan, the sort who went to his concerts all around the word and wrote knowledgeable articles for the fanzines. He took me along to fan club events, with their look-alikes and tribute bands, and got the tickets for us to go to Wembley together as well. It was great to be among all those rapturous fans, actually. Their passion for Michael is infectious. And although I was over fifty by this time I didn’t feel out of place as an oldie. Michael’s “cross-over” appeal is a generational thing as well as a racial one: the fans range from kids to grandparents.
How did your interest in Jackson’s sexuality evolve after the news first broke (in 1993) of his relationship with the 13-year-old Jordie Chandler? How and why did the project go from being an interest to becoming a book?
Even the earliest news stories gave strong hints that Jordie had been a willing partner in the relationship and that there had been a strong bond of friendship between the two. They needed each other. So, pretty much right from the start it seemed Michael could become a poster boy for Boy Love. The book potential seemed obvious.
A big advantage for me as an author was being a BL myself, especially if it takes one to know one – and it does if the reluctance of Michael’s fans and the music business even to countenance the possibility is anything to go by. The downside was being a complete outsider, by this time a known activist and no longer in a position to present credentials as a neutral, “objective” journalist. So I had next to zero chance of access to relevant witnesses, including Jackson and his family, the many boys in his life, and so on. I had to work more like an historian than a journalist. I had to sift and evaluate a huge amount of material in a process spread across nearly 17 years. In that time, I scoured many thousands of news stories, features, legal documents and the eventual 2005 trial transcript – that alone was over 13,000 pages – plus more than two dozen books eventually put out by family members (Jackson’s and Jordie’s), industry insiders and others.
The thoroughness of your research paid off: the book feels authoritative, but at the same time it is gripping, thought-provoking and witty – a combination that can only be achieved if the writer is in full control of his materials.
The book is published by ‘Matador’ – a self publishing service. Was self-publishing your first choice? Or did you initially seek a traditional publisher for your book?
Thanks, much appreciated.
My first choice was Harrington Park Press, who published Male Intergenerational Intimacy – a very sympathetic examination of MII by three writers well known for not shying away from controversy: Theo Sandfort, Edward Brongersma and Alex van Naerssen. So I figured Harrington might well be interested in further exploration of the MII theme with Michael Jackson as a high-profile case study.
I was right. After I sent a synopsis and some sample completed chapters, Harrington’s commissioning editor Vern Bullough emailed back to say he was interested, and so was editor-in-chief John De Cecco, whom he had consulted. It shouldn’t be that surprising, really, as Bullough was a historian of sexuality and De Cecco had for many years taught a very daring, all-varieties-welcome, sexuality class at San Francisco State University.
This was in 2005 and prospects looked good. By the next year, though, Bullough had died, sadly, and I was banged up on a 30-month sentence following a porn sting against me by an undercover cop. I wasn’t able to resume the project until 2009, by which time Harrington’s parent company Haworth Press had been gobbled up by a global conglomerate, Taylor & Francis. They weren’t interested in radical books, as demonstrated by the fact that at the last minute they ditched an up-coming title under the Harrington imprint called Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West. The big problem in that case was a chapter on pederasty by Bruce Rind, chief author of the only scientific text ever to be denounced by the U.S. Congress and Senate!
I tried other publishers but with no luck: the mainstream ones would have loved fresh revelations from Jackson insiders – so would I, especially from Jordie – but they weren’t in the market for analytical stuff. In the end I decided self-publishing might be best because that way I would retain control and there would be no last-minute hitches with people getting cold feet. I couldn’t have been more wrong about that, though!
Sorry it’s such a complicated story!
So, what went wrong with the self-publishing? I’ve noticed that Matador doesn’t include ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ in their ‘book shop’.
The publisher panicked and disowned the book. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be self-publishing but that’s not entirely how it works, depending on the sort of contract you have. What happened is that Matador’s parent company Troubador, which does academic publishing, took fright when they came under ferocious and sustained attack from Michael Jackson fans around the globe, deluging the company with thousands of hostile emails. This was some four months ahead of publication, right from the get-go when Amazon gave the book its website page. Michael’s fans are amazing. They have been primed for decades to pounce on anything they think casts doubt on the “innocence” of their idol, so my portrayal of him as a sexually active BL was bound to be anathema.
I wrote under a pseudonym, Carl Toms, because I thought reviewers would otherwise be prejudiced against even opening the book, given my controversial background. It was deliberately a thin disguise, though, a near anagram of my real name. I wanted to be known in due course as the author, once the review phase was over. In fact, I admitted my actual name in an endnote, saying the pseudonym was a matter of “branding strategy”.
Big mistake! It took the Jackson fans about three months to crack this one. That’s because they were quite content to condemn the book without bothering to read it. But it only took one sleuth among them to figure that Toms was a pen-name and to look for clues to my real identity in the book itself. Once they’d got that, it was an easy matter to dig up lots of dirt about me as a “convicted paedophile” as well as a controversial writer and activist. That’s when all hell broke loose. It gave them nuclear capability against Troubador. They contacted the imprint’s regular academic authors and institutional customers, urging them to boycott the company, warning these people that their own reputations would be tainted by further dealings with an outfit that promoted propaganda for child molesting.
By this time 1000 paperback copies of the book had been printed and advance orders were being taken. It had all been going extremely well until my name came out. The fans’ very public online antagonism had sparked interest elsewhere. Amazon were tipping it as a potential best-seller. Gardners, Britain’s top book wholesalers, gave it a four-star rating, whereas most self-published titles get no stars at all and very few books of any kind get four: it put me up there alongside bankable celebrity names.
I needed Troubador’s services to capitalize on this. They were contracted to do the marketing and distribution for me. They had a sales team doing what a traditional mainstream publisher does: actually flogging the book to bookshops.
Then it all went pear-shaped…
Why? What went wrong?
(in the second part of this interview Tom O’Carroll explains how and why things ‘went pear-shaped’ and the impact this had on him. Tom also reflects on Jackson’s status as a ‘poster boy’ for Boy Love, the effects Jackson’s attentions had on the families of his boy friends; we also touch (via a digression on English boarding schools) on a maybe more harmonious example of celebrity Boy Love, and discuss Dangerous Liaisons’ reception)
Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons
“… a profound cultural critique of received assumptions about childhood innocence, pedophilic ‘power’, and parental goodwill.”
– Thomas K Hubbard, classicist
Armed with insights from a range of disciplines, Tom O’Carroll (writing as Carl Toms) spent many years researching the late megastar’s boy-love for this 624-page in-depth study.
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