Once upon a time I was King of New York. King of New York for an entire week of my life. The week of August 4th, 1984. During that week my phone rang off the hook, but I was never there. Messengers piled rum and expensive scotch on the front desk of my condo’s lobby on 5th Avenue and 58th Street between the Plaza and the Park Lane. People sent limos to pick me up for breakfast, dinner and a number of lunches a day.
This was the week of the Jackson Victory Tour. And I had 100 promo tickets to give away. There were only 19,000 seats to be filled in two instantly sold out shows at Madison Square Garden, the most intimate venue in the 55 concert North American tour. To say these orchestra seats were in extreme demand would be the understatement of this century and the next.
I had organized and reorganized the list. I would have every creative director on Madison Avenue eating out of my hand if I played my cards right. And then the letter came from Ladonna Jones. And the hasty press conference we had to throw together in 24 hours. And Micheal’s statement:
“I want to talk to you about something of great concern to me. We’ve worked a long time to make this show the best it can be. But we know a lot of kids are having trouble getting tickets. The other day I got a letter from a girl in Texas named Ladonna Jones. She’d been saving her money from odd jobs to buy a ticket, but with the current tour system, she’d have to buy four tickets and she couldn’t afford it. So, I’ve asked our promoter to work out a new way of distributing tickets, a way that no longer requires a $120.00 money order. There has also been a lot of talk about the promoter holding money for tickets that didn’t sell. I’ve asked our promoter to end the mail order ticket system as soon as possible so that no one will pay money unless they get a ticket. Finally, and most importantly, there’s something else I am going to announce today. I want you to know that when I first agreed to tour, I decided to donate all the money I make from our performances to charity.”
That was the Michael Jackson I knew. The “Young Man” ( his code name for security purposes) who would pace like a caged cat back stage, going over every cue, every pause, every single beat. “No, no, no. On the second coda. At the turnaround. Layout the horn stabs. I want to put an off mike scream in that hole.” That was the Micheal Jackson I knew. So when Michael ended his statement, I headed straight for Fox Street in the South Bronx with my block of tickets. Half to the cops and the church. Half to the kids. Ten to the people I knew would never forget the experience.
The Michael Jackson I knew could do that to you. Make you reconsider your motives. Rethink your strategy. “It’s impossible. Why can’t we do it?” Michael would say like a kid conspiring to get you to run through a tunnel with him when you knew a train would be coming out the other end any minute now. But off you’d go.
It was several years later in Bob Jones’s basement helping him build his model train empire that I learned there were many influences that had pulled on Michael to step into the surreal world of image reinvention. Michael believed that the music for “Thriller” was “touched by the hand of God.” He would talk for hours with author Og Mandino about devine inspiration and the solumn responsibilities that went with it.
During the filming of “The Wiz” in New York City, Michael fell under the influence of the designer Halston and the idea of “being transformed” became an obsession. That and the acne and vitaligo outbreaks drove him to plastic surgery. Halston read Michael the Oscar Wilde classic “The Picture Of Dorian Gray.” From that an idealized portrait was commissioned. Halston called it “Prototype #9.” It was the blueprint of what the world would ultimately behold as Michael Jackson. And it was Bob Jones who created the public persona of “Wacko Jacko” and the sleeping chamber and “Elephant Man” press orgies that took the image into hyperdrive.
But on the night of August 4, 1984 there was only one thing on the minds of on all 19,000 of us jammed into Madison Square Garden. When would “Working Night and Day” be over? We had cheered and clapped and toe tapped our way politely through 14 golden oldies of the Jackson Five and Off the Wall Eras. Truth be told, few people were there for the old songs.
And then it was done. The house went dark. Just enough time for a frantic wardrobe change in total darkness. The first sign of life from the darkness were the apocalyptic power chords of Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein EVH Stratocaster. The darkness erupted into a blaze of light and where five had stood only moments earlier there was only one. Frozen in time. Then suddenly alive and electric. As the tempo of “Beat It” ramped up, the silver sequined rail thin figure was all over the stage at once. He had us up out of our chairs, then on top of our chairs, then suspended in mid air chanting, “Beat It! Beat it! Beat it!”
Those of us in the front got to see what no one else saw. The eyes of the Young Man. Wild one moment, lazer sharp the next. “They’ll beat you. They’ll cheat you. They’ll tell you it’s fair just beat It,” he ordered us. Then begged us. “Just beat it!” And from that moment forth, we believed that we could. No video could compare to being 20 feet away. No 125 track vinyl could contain the greatest solo of the VanHalen legacy.
But just three years later we all knew we had to help MJ beat it. My job was to help Bob Jones devise a “signature” for Michael. Like most of my collegues at Motown, Michael and Bob were proud of what I accomplished after leaving Motown and when they brought me back from time to time I was always handsomely compensated.
Unlike many of my collegues I will respect my non-disclosure agreements as to the nature of my work with Bob and Michael other than to say “The King of Pop” became an overnight global brand. The result of my work and my willingness to answer the red and gold cell phone with only one number in the memory chip at any time of day or night led to many, many amazing conversations that would go on for hours at a time. And every conversation would begin with. “Band-Aid,” (my security code name) you’re on the clock. Is this a good time?” I had been well briefed by Bob Jones that I was never to imply this was a bad time or the calls would cease, forever.
In 1984 I had no idea of the storm to come. Like everybody else in the Garden that night I was heart pounding to the devil’s own base line. You know the one. The backbone of every pop hit since 1984. Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, (repeat and vamp) Yeah, that’s the one. The one that has been playing around the clock somewhere in the world since the minute his departure was sanctified by CNN. 19,000 people churping “Boop-Boop!” “Boop-Boop!” “Boop-Boop!” “Boop-Boop!” And then that voice. That falsetto tenor. Cutting through the smoke from the fucking fog machines. Backlit by the lasers. That face from another planet burning itself into your memory banks because you knew you had never be that close to a god in your lifetime. This was not to be forgotten.
And it hasn’t been. I only want to share these moments with you in this feeble attempt to pay my respects to the greatest performer that ever lived. And say to all that will read this, even though the worst is yet to come. Please remember the following words when the snakes slither out from all of their rocks to feed on the flesh of their fallen idol.
Michael Jackson was a vibrant, spontaneous force of nature who lived for the opportunity to perform for his audience. If he wasn’t performing or preparing to perform he was despondent and totally self indulgent. Michael had no friends. He only had heroes. Steven Speilberg was a hero. When Speilburg was one of the first to turn away from him when the molestation accusations began, Michael was distraught. Dissappointment turned into distrust. Distrust to acute paranoia.
But never did any of that effect his adoration of children. He envied their innocence. He coveted the shelter afforded by their families. He told me that he befriended these children because as their friend he felt safe and protected by their parents. Most of the infamous “sleepovers” took place at the homes of the children. Michael confided that he would never scar those children the way he had been scarred. He told me once that the worst thing you could do to a child is to make him a party to a secret. “Secrets are the enemies of innocence,” he said in a late night phone call. “They come between a child and their parents. Secrets are a sin.”
These are not the thoughts of a predator. They are not the thoughts of a monster. I have seen real live monsters in this business. Michael was a master manipulator but not of the innocence of children. In my opinion Michael Jackson was the boy who never grew up. And we crucified him as his punishment for being that “Lost Boy. That Peter Pan..
Father forgive them. They know not what they’ve done.