I learned just a few days ago that the preparatory school that Michael attended, Montclair Prep, has sadly closed down as of July 15th of this year. This school has had a long proud history of helping to educate some of the best-known names in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.
It’s a lovely story and for the most part pretty accurate. But the man quoted, Mark Simpson, was never the “principal” of Montclair Prep. He is the nephew of this once great school’s founder, Dr. Vernon E. Simpson, who passed away in 2008. “Doc” as he was known, was very close with Michael and the Jackson Family. Mark Simpson wasn’t at the Prep in 1973. He was himself a high school age teenager at the time attending some school…somewhere…but NOT MCP. He didn’t hang around Michael. He wasn’t his classmate or his friend and wasn’t old enough to have possibly been on staff at the school…That dubious affiliation occurred more than 20 years later. Doc died and Mark, utterly without qualification (without even a college degree…let alone a PhD like his uncle) took over as “executive director” of the school, firing Doc’s hand-chosen successor Dr. Mike McDonnell – and by 2012, the 56-year-old “Prep”…once one of LA’s top prep schools, closed its doors…broke. I am sure that Dr. Simpson and Michael Jackson (RIP both) would equally as sad and angry as many of us. Another of life’s tragedies. We never seem to run out of them. Michael and his family wouldn’t know Mark [Simpson] if they tripped over him.
. . .
NO ONE wore uniforms at MCP in 1973. Michael as well as two other brothers (Marlon and Randy I believe) were given some latitude on the length of their hair (the Prep still had haircut standards then)but Michael dressed like every other boy on campus…Collared shirt…NO blue jeans…no jerseys, etc. But that stuff about being “excused” from wearing a uniform is bogus.
The source continued:
The school had a lot of interesting students:
–Cher (I worked with Sonny back in the 1980s and 1990s) who got tossed out of school but would have been class of 1963 (I think Sonny, who was a good deal older, used to pick her up off campus/after school);
–Frank Sinatra Jr., whose dad sometime made him hitchhike home without a nickel in his pocket; and people like
–Danny Bonaduce (“Partridge Family”)
–Eve Plumb (“The Brady Bunch”)
–Steven Dorff (“Blade”, among others); and
-Oscar Winner Curtis Hanson (screenplay for “LA Confidential”); and
–Paul Thomas Anderson (directed feature films: Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007), and The Master (2012). He has been nominated for five Academy Awards — There Will Be Blood for Best Achievement in Directing, Best Motion Picture of the Year, and Best Adapted Screenplay; Magnolia for Best Original Screenplay; and Boogie Nights for Best Original Screenplay.)
-The amazing pastry chef Nancy Silverton was in my class of 36 graduates. It was, to say the least, an amazing school.
I will tell you that the Jacksons took school seriously enough that Michael’s Mom was not above coming to campus for a sit down with Dr. Simpson if and when there was reason to do so. Doc treated ALL of his students alike. Michael and his brothers were expected to fulfill all of the same academic requirements as anyone else attending MCP. When the Jackson brothers professional commitments resulted in them missing too many days of school, Dr. Simpson (with a deep sense of regret) told them they would have to withdraw from the school if they could not meet the academic standards. And, so they left.
I spoke to Joe Jackson a couple days after Michael died ( I had been working on a deal for the 5 other Jackson Brothers to do some shows in the UK at that time…the deal ultimately falling apart) and we talked about MCP for a couple of minutes. Joe said it had been “good for him”. I think time there might have allowed for Michael to be a normal teenager, at least for a little while. Jon Blosdale (http://fineartmanagementnews.com/artists-biographies/beatles-animation-art/) , mentioned in the article is still a friend of mine.
I can tell you that Dr. Simpson DID think he was a great kid and it saddened him that Michael’s life away from the spotlight was so difficult. I never got the details (though I do know about a few things from other friends of Michael’s) but Doc said that “(his) dad was very hard on him”…Pity….not very fair.
. . .for Michael, it was a refuge. Once place in the world where he was “just another kid”
Montclair was like a family. I am sure Michael would be saddened that “his old school” is no more.
So there you go, straight from a real insider at Montclair Prep who knew its founder very well. No doubt Michael would be very sad about this school’s closing.
I’ve got a slew of things to share today. You may have heard, read or seen some or all of them already, but I’ll put them here anyway. First, I want to share a touching interview that Piers Morgan (who is typically not one of my favorite people) did with Katherine Jackson a few weeks ago. Click here to see the entire interview (embedding is disabled). You can just see the emotional pain on her face during some parts of the interview. One of the most heartbreaking and touching things Mrs. Jackson said during the interview was the following – and during parts of this she appeared to break into tears:
Every morning, all through the day-I think about Michael. If I wake up through the night, my mind is there. I just miss him, but being a Christian and believing in the Resurrection, I feel that I’ll see him again. I’m sorry I just … When they told me that he had 50 shows going on, I was concerned about those shows, I thought it was a little bit too much, because Michael hadn’t been on stage for about 10 years. And I called him and I told him, ’cause the way they had it structured, they said every other night that he’d be working … I just kept calling him telling him they had to change that schedule … They didn’t care about him, all they cared about was money.
Though I generally dislike Mr. Morgan, this was a very good interview, although difficult to watch at times because the deep grief Mrs. Jackson still feels is very evident.
This next item has to do with a rather personal letter that Michael wrote to Lisa Marie Presley during their relationship. The letter suddenly surfaced at Juliens for auction. Someone tweeted a very surprised Lisa Marie Presley about the letter and she asked them where they had found it. When she found out it was at Juliens, she immediately acted to have it removed from auction. I witnessed myself the twitter exchange between her and the person who had asked her about the letter. I will not post the letter itself here but I will post a letter/message from Juliens to someone who inquired about the letter’s source ie: who gave it to them. They clearly state that, contrary to wild accusations against Lisa Marie Presley, they did not obtain the letter from her. Judging by her reaction to the person who presented it to her, and by the letter/message from Juliens, I personally find it more than a laboriously contorted fantasy to believe that LMP somehow gave the letter to Juliens herself for sale. Such an accusation doesn’t even make any sense, as there is no logical reason she would do such a thing.
I am aware of some incredibly narcissistic jealousy and anger directed at Ms. Presley because she was Michael’s wife, and because in the heat of hurt and anger after their breakup she publicly said terrible things about him. I am aware that some people will latch onto any further excuse they can find or manufacture to justify that continued jealousy and anger towards her. However, it is both unfair and juvenile to demonize someone for something they did not do, no matter how you may dislike them, how jealous you may be of them, or how angry you may be at them for something else completely different that they did years ago.
All of Michael’s life, people demonized him for things he didn’t do. It ought to be obvious why this is not fair, ethical, or moral – no matter who the target of it is. Here is the message from Juliens stating that the letter did not come to them from LMP:
Message from Juliens regarding MJ to LMP personal letter
…you can tell them that it did not come from her and I can guarantee it.
That ought to be enough said about this issue. Those who wish to continue manufacturing speculation about this or continue to go on angry tirades against LMP may do so on their own websites, blogs, facebook pages or twitter accounts, but I won’t approve such comments here.
Moving on to the next debacle, Michael Jackson’s estate released a letter to fans regarding concerns about the quality of the upcoming ‘BAD25’ DVD of Michael’s 1988 Wembly Stadium performance. Though the concert was filmed using proper equipment and that high-quality footage is out there somewhere, the estate has not been able to locate it. Thus, the DVD will be sourced from a VHS tape that belonged to Michael, instead. The estate’s statement read as follows:
It is great to see the overwhelming support and excitement in the fan community for the upcoming BAD 25 release. A few questions have arisen regarding the Wembley concert DVD. Although the press release wasn’t the place for background details, here is more information:
• We know that Nocturne captured on Umatic tapes the footage projected onto the JumboTrons at the various concerts including Wembley. These tapes were turned over to Michael’s crew and we have confirmed with Patrick Kelly (who headed Michael’s film crew for the European tour) that everything from Europe was sent to LA to be put in Michael’s storage facilities. The same procedures were followed for the US shows.
• Unfortunately, record-keeping in the storage facilities was sporadic, at best, so we do not know what happened to a tape once it was sent for storage. In most cases, once a tape was pulled from the box it arrived in, it was not put back in the original box and where it wound up doesn’t always make sense. As a result, 25 years later not all of the Umatic tapes from the various shows can be located, notwithstanding that we have conducted an extensive survey of all of the storage facilities. So while we believe that the Umatic tape for Wembley was initially sent for storage, we have not been able to locate it. And with regard to the Umatic footage of other concerts, the audio is extremely problematic and therefore these concerts are unusable.
• We know that VHS copies of the Umatics were made when Michael wanted to view a particular concert, but because of the lack of record-keeping, we also didn’t know which concerts existed on VHS. We ultimately did find Michael’s personal VHS viewing copy of the Wembley show attended by Princess Diana and Prince Charles, but not the Umatic. Even finding this VHS felt like a miracle to us!
• So while we continued the search for the Wembley Umatic master, we also researched the audio recordings that existed from all of the concerts including Wembley. Fortunately, the Wembley audio recordings were made using a sound truck, and appear to be the only multi-track recordings from the tour. The other audio/visual recordings that exist, whether Umatic or VHS, are “front of house” mixes, and therefore there are no separate audio recordings that can be used to create a high quality listening experience. It is for this reason that the Wembley audio is the only one suitable to create a live album.
• If we were going to include a live concert DVD in the BAD 25 release package, we had only one choice, Wembley. And there were only two options for visual – the Umatics for a different show or the VHS for Wembley. It would certainly be less expensive for the Estate to be able to create a DVD from a Umatic tape than to spend the time and money to painstakingly restore/enhance the VHS footage, but then we would not be delivering a truly authentic experience and we truly believe that watching this concert with the high quality audio will create a magical experience for all the fans as it has for us. We ultimately chose a lab that has developed its own proprietary technology for doing this kind of work (including restoration for NASA of VHS footage) in order to make the visual experience the best it can be under the circumstances.
We also could have chosen to release the Japanese concert from the first leg of the tour as there is a master of that show; but that concert was essentially a reincarnation of the Victory Tour with only two songs – “Bad” and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” – added at the end. It isn’t what we believe the fans would want.
We could have elected not to release a DVD as part of the BAD 25 celebration (and hold out hope that someday we might find the Umatic of the Wembley concert) or we could share with the fans the chance to relive that magical night with pristine audio. We made the decision to go with the latter and provide the fans with the most authentic viewing experience. We believe that the fans will agree it was the right choice when the package is released in September.
John Branca/The Estate of Michael Jackson
It turns out that, contrary to what many of us had believed, ‘Dirty Diana‘ was performed at this concert. If you remember, Michael had initially considered omitting the song out of respect for Lady Diana who attended the concert, but it appears that he did in fact perform the song.
A previously unreleased song, ‘Don’t Be Messin’ ‘Round‘, will be accompanied by a June 5th CD release of ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You‘. This CD will be sold via Wal-Mart in the U.S. and will not be available digitally. More details about ‘BAD25‘ can be found here.
Speaking of ‘Don’t Be Messin’ ‘Round‘, Joe Vogel tweeted tonight that he will “have an article out on “Don’t Be Messin'” in the next day or so with fresh insights from those involved.” That is bound to be a treat, so if you haven’t yet, follow Joe on Twitter so you’ll know as soon as he publishes! If you haven’t heard it yet, here’s the demo, just as Michael left it:
If you haven’t read the interview MJJC did with DDA David Walgren yet, you might find it interesting. In case you didn’t know, DDA Walgren has now become a Superior Court Judge, so he’s moving up in the world. This man is extremely articulate and didn’t miss a beat during the Murray trial, so I’d not want to be a criminal in his courtroom! Here are a few quotes from that interview:
Before the trial, I had great respect for Michael Jackson as an artist and enjoyed his music. However, as I learned more about him and his life, I came to really enjoy two songs in particular: Human Nature and Earth Song.
• • •
Prior to the trial, my perception of Michael Jackson was simply that he was a very gifted artist and, although I was aware of various media accounts regarding his personal life, I do not typically follow that type of reporting. Now that I have learned so much more about him as a person, I have come away with great admiration for him as a loving and dedicated father to his children.
• • •
I have not been able to come up with any reason why Conrad Murray would have made and saved that voice recording other than, as Judge Pastor stated, it was to serve as an insurance policy that Conrad Murray could one day use against Michael Jackson.
Mark Ryden is an American painter born January 20, 1963. He was dubbed “the god-father of pop surrealism” by Interview Magazine.
There has been much speculation and suspicion about the meaning and symbolism of the Mark Ryden artwork on the cover of the ‘Dangerous’ album. Theories include messages about the occult to ‘Illuminati‘ and Freemasonry. I don’t personally subscribe to or pay much attention to all that, but the cover is certainly fascinating and it does, as Michael and Ryden evidently intended, leave people to wonder and interpret as they wish and they’ve certainly done that! This interview with Ryden is all over the internet, though I have been unable to find an original source for it.
Our friends at UK Loves MJ on Facebook has located one of the initial sketches considered for the cover. I’d never seen it before so thought I’d share it here:
One of the original 'Dangerous' cover sketches by Mark Ryden
I suppose the thing most people don’t know, and what surprised me, was how “normal” Michael Jackson was in person. His public image is so strange I did not know what to expect but when I met with him we had a very typical and relaxed conversation. We had many common interests we talked about. Maybe I am just a freak also.
-Mark Ryden, artist/creator of the Dangerous album cover
Michael only visited India once and performed there on November 1st 1996 at the Andheri Sports Complex as part of his HIStory World Tour. While in India, Michael stayed at the Oberoi Hotel.
The King of Pop arrived in Mumbai on October 30th, 1996 at Mumbai’s Sahar airport in his private jet. People had thronged the airport to catch a glimpse of him. Jackson was greeted by Sonali Bendre clad in a nine-yard sari and a Maharashtrian nathni (nose ring), standing with an aarti thali to welcome MJ, along with Raj Thackeray, Sharmila Thackeray and innumerable politicians who were there to receive Jackson. The actress welcomed Jackson by performing ‘aarti’ and applying ’tilak’ on his forehead, at the Mumbai airport. Outside, Raj had organised a performance by a troupe of lezhim dancers with dholaks, and they wore traditional Maharashtrian clothes.
The popstar, when being driven in a 20-car motorcade from the air port, stopped his Toyota to meet the urchins lined up along the highway to catch a glimpse of him. He picked up several children and hugged and kissed them. He then spent a few minutes with them before he proceeded to the Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray’s residence, Matushree, in Bandra East. Here he was presented with a silver tabla and tanpura, which are musical instruments from India.
During his stay at The Oberoi Hotel, Jackson surprised the entire staff by mingling freely among his fans, who thronged at the hotel to catch a glimpse of the ‘King of Pop’.”He greeted his fans with smiles and by blowing kisses and shook hands with as many of them as possible,” hotel sources recount.
According to Butler Manager, Sandeep Walia, who was attending to him with a team of three butlers, Michael loves sweet white wine. That is probably the only kind of alcohol that he consumed during his stay at the Oberoi. Apart from that, he loves orange drinks, Fanta being his favorite and a special German orange drink, Gatorade, which he carries with him. Michael drinks a lot of Diet Coke as well, prefers his drinks at room temperature. Jackson has a penchant for chocolates too, so The Oberoi made sure there were chocolates, of all shapes, sizes and flavours kept in every reachable corner of his room.
Michael Jackson likes a lot of festivity around him. The Kohinoor Suite at the Oberoi was decorated with flowers, balloons, confetti and bowls of sweets and chocolates to give it a spirit of celebration. While in his room, Jackson does not like to use the air-conditioner. He also likes his space. His body-guards have been instructed not to come close to him to give him enough space to move around. During his stay in Mumbai, Jackson relished several Indian cuisine, including South Indian and Mughlai.
Michael asked The Oberoi Hotel for an LLD player and a television, as well as a CD player for his personal use. He travels with his own library of CDs and LDs and spends most of the time indoors, watching films.
At Michael’s request, a high tea was organized at the pool side of the Oberoi where kids from orphanages were invited to meet and play with him. He gave them gifts and chocolates that he had brought with him. There was a party for kids organized in his room as well, on the day of the show itself. About 50 children were invited and he ordered cakes and burgers for them. He had the kids sit on his lap and played with them. He had asked the hotel to provide him with a few saris which he wanted draped around the sofas during the photo session with the kids, to give his pictures the ethnic effect.
Michael definitely had a predilection for Indian food. On his first morning at the Oberoi, he ate masala dosa and the day after that, he had spicy alu paranthas with butter. His other meals mainly comprised of butter naans, butter chicken, tandoori chicken and spicy vegetable curries. His personal chef was of Indian origin and she coordinated his meals with the other chefs at the hotel. According to the hotel staff, he got naans (enough for an army!), tandoori chicken, dishes cooked in butter gravy and lots of paranthas packed on the morning he was flying out of India.
Michael surprised the staff at the Oberoi hotel as he spent a lot of his time greeting and shaking hands with his fans who were swarming the lobby.
~ ~ ~
Below is video of Michael in India from the time he arrived at the airport. He is seen with the street children at 2.55 and receiving gifts at 5.32 along with footage of the concert. Michael is also seen at an evening event to meet dignitaries but only stayed a few minutes as he was saving his energy for the show later that evening. At the end of the video (7.15) is the pillow that Michael wrote on in the hotel room along with a message that he also wrote on a mirror in the hotel room that said “God Bless India My Special Love Michael Jackson“.
When Michael left the Oberoi Hotel while the hotel was preparing his suite for the next VIP guest, they found Michael’s gift to them: rather mischievously Michael had scribbled on the pillow he had slept on.
India, all my life I have longed to see your face. I met you and your people and fell in love with you. Now my heart is filled with sorrow and despair for I have to leave, but I promise I shall return to love you and caress you again. Your kindness has overwhelmed me, your spiritual awareness has moved me, and your children have truly touched my heart. They are the face of God. I truly love and adore you India. Forever, continue to love, heal and educate the children, the future shines on them. You are my special love, India. Forever, may God always bless you. -Michael Jackson
Bharat Shah, jeweller and film-financier, bought the pillow for a unstated amount of money in an auction held for charity.
Michael's love note to India, left on his pillow at the Oberoi Hotel
Upcoming concert of Michael Jackson in Mumbai was the big news. I had no plans of going for it. Few days before the concert, I got a call from my friend Shantanu Sheoreyi. He was involved in the event on an advisory capacity. “Mahesh, we need someone to document MJ’s visit and the concert, will you do it?” he asked me. “Will I do it? Whoa….I was on the next plane to Mumbai.”
Well, I reached a day before MJ’s scheduled arrival. I had discussions with people concerend which was followed by a visit to the stadium in Andheri where the performance was to be held. A large wooden platform was built. The entire stage would be transported in 2 Antonovs. I was told that his crew would put it up in 24 hours.
On the day of his arrival, we reached the airport ahead of time. I was to document his visit from his first step out of the plane. Few of us were escorted to the door of the skybridge. Actor Sonali Bendre had the honour of welcoming MJ. One page 3 type business tycoon wanted to be there too but he was unceremoniouly shoved away by the cops. The plane carrying MJ landed. Immigration officials went into the aircraft to complete the formalities. People started coming out. Suddenly I see a familiar face…my friend photographer John Isaac! – Hugs and “hey what are you doing here” exchanged. I learnt that John had accepted the assignment of documenting the life and work of MJ and was travelling with him!
Then MJ himself comes out. Wow the legend right in front of me, few feet away. He rushes out and I shoot pictures. Cars are waiting to whisk him away. A luxury van was waiting for him. I got into a SUV with a skyroof, so that I could stand up and shoot the motorcade. Yes, I rode in the motorcade with MJ. As we left the airport, MJ saw a whole lot of kids from the slums and asked the car to be stopped. We all jumped out. He wanted to get some video footage with them. There were three videographers shooting every move he made. Kids rushed and picked whatever they could find on the road – soiled cigarette packets, pieces of paper…and all for autographs. MJ was merrily signing on them, he didn’t forget to tell his video crew not to miss recording any of it ‘Make sure you are getting everything…..‘ he kept saying.
All roads cordoned off and we zipped to Bal Thackrey’s residence, that was MJ’s first port of call. There chaos reigned. Machine gun toting cops with walkie-talkies that had meter long antennae were not able to stop the horde of waiting press photographres from breaking the cordon and going inside. John and I were left out. Later, they took us inside. MJ got some gifts and nothing much was said. He sat with a distant expression on his face.
That evening, a dinner was organised at the Oberoi Towers where he was staying. Who’s who of Mumbai and entire Bollywood was invited. Menu was totally vegetarian. MJ was there on time, most of the who’s who weren’t. There was a small fucntion. MJ received a diamond-studded miniature Taj Mahal. Someone made a speech. A well-known character actor jumped to the dias, shook MJ’s hand and jumped like a monkey!! And MJ went back to his room. Neither did he talk to anyone nor did he touch the laid out food. Then the who’s who started landing up and they had to eat that vegetarian food! People hung around and ate muttering under their breath. The next day I read in newspapers how one of the music directors of Bollywood (The man who has a penchant for gold…no prizes for guessing who!!) was going to collaborate with MJ to produce an album and that MJ showed keen interest in his gold necklace. The fact was that he arrived fashionably late for the dinner and didn’t even get to glimpse MJ.
On his way out, MJ shook hands with one of the waiters. That chap fainted!
Next day – it was the day before the concert, MJ didn’t come out of his suite. I hung out with John Isaac in his room. The floor of the Oberoi Towers was occupied by MJ entourage and no one was else was allowed. John Isaac was born in Chennai. He worked briefly for Air India and went to NYC to become a guitar player. Instead he became a photographer and rose to be the chief photographer of the United Nations and a celebrated photojournalist. John was doing a lot of work for UNICEF. Audrey Hepburn, the then goodwill ambassador of UNICEF and a friend of John introduced him to MJ. John told me about MJ’s love for poetry and that they were planning on a book of MJ’s poems and John’s pictures. It didn’t materialise finally.
All day long the glitterati of Bollywood was descending to the hotel to ‘meet’ MJ. But no one was allowed to get into the lift even. Heartbreaks all over. Suddenly there was commotion. In the midst of tight security, a chap from Bihar managed to get into the hotel with a nicely packed muzzle loader on his shoulder! Don’t ask me how. So cops took him away and found out that he had come to Mumbai in search of a job. And he landed up in the hotel because some one told him he might find a job here.
MJ’s security detail comprising of several ex-marines was always very tough. After this incident they became paranoid. There was a lot of friction and temperature was always on the boil. Later we asked them why were they so worried. ‘Well, he is our bread and butter..we can’t let anything happen to him’, said the security in-charge. They were protecting him to safeguard themselves.
There was a plan of taking MJ to Madh Island. He wanted to visit the Mumbai centre of Nirmal Hriday. But some joker faxed a death threat. Security clamped down and vetoed any visit. MJ was inconsolable. He began to cry uncontrollably in his suite. It took some of his friends almost an hour to console him. That’s when I thought that he was trapped in a diamond studded platinum cage. However the death threat did not deter some of his crew from hitting the town. I think even some of his bodyguards took an evening off. The boss couldn’t step out of his room!
That evening there was photo shoot with a whole lot of kids. It was on the terrace of the hotel and then later we moved into his suite. I did a lot of portraits of his there. He didn’t interact with any adult. But did talk to many kids. Some of them didn’t talk to him. ‘Dadu he looks like ghost’, said a kid and refused to sit on his lap. That kid must be about 18-20 now! MJ had this massive 3D collage made from B&W pictures of his family. I heard him tell someone that he carried it with him everywhere.
MJ didn’t want to be disturbed. He meditated and just before the concert, met with the key people from the Indian side and took pictures. I had reached the venue well in advance. Had a choice of two places to shoot from – the ‘pit’ at the bottom of the stage or in front of the sound console. It had a direct view and I didn’t have to jostle for space. I chose the latter. VIP box too was there. Asha Bhosle, Sunil Gavaskar, Prabhu Deva.. and the thousands of fans were waiting for the performance to begin.
MJ’s stage was air conditioned and maintained at 16 degree centigrade. There were two massive AC plants pumping cool air. Massive air curtains in the front were keeping warm air out. There was a meditation room, if he chose to meditate during the break. It didn’t matter where he performed; the stage was exactly the same.
The performance was amazing. He was truly a great entertainer. Ashaji was on her feet, dancing! She asked all the younger women in the VIP box to dance along. I turned around to see Sunny Gavaskar grooving! Prabhu Deva told his fans that it was like watching his god!
I don’t have any more words to explain his impact.
Really nice profile shot of Michael by Mahesh Bhat in 1996
In the story and video below, a Mumbai girl talks about her dance with Michael. “I just wish he’d died with all the legacy he deserved“, she laments.
Thirteen-years ago (now 16 years), when Piya Thakkar stood in line to watch the historic Michael Jackson concert in Mumbai, little did she know that she’d come out a mini-celebrity herself.
It was an act Michael Jackson performed in every city during his History tour – dancing with a girl to his hit song ‘You Are Not Alone‘ and in Mumbai Piya was the lucky girl.
“Suddenly I was known as the girl who danced with Michael Jackson and I lost all other identity. I hugged him and he was trying to slow dance with me and then he just went down on his knees and I was so shocked,” says Piya Thakkar.
Some fans had to be pulled away by security, others cried, and still more sat down on the stage in disbelief. Piya showed her loyalty by refusing to bathe or change clothes she’d worn at the concert for days.
“I didn’t bathe for just about one-and-a-half days, but the number of days was exaggerated a little in reports, but then I realised I couldn’t go on like this so I got over it after two days,” says she.
It’s no wonder then that when the news of Jackson’s death flashed on TV screens across the world, Piya felt an almost personal loss.
“I’m not that much of a cry baby but for the past two-three days it’s been consuming me. I just wish he’d died with all the legacy he deserved,” she said.
And in making that wish for the late King of Pop, Piya is certainly not alone in the world.
Choreographer Ganesh Hegde, who did the opening act at Michael’s concert in 1996, recalls his meeting with Jackson “as the best one minute of his life”. “I met Mr Jackson in his green room which was pitch-dark, with a light flickering in one corner. He shook my hand and told me that he liked my performance very much. It was my biggest moment.” “Pop culture began with Michael Jackson and ends with him.”
Shobhaa De wrote later: “Those of us who were lucky enough to catch his concert will never ever forget the magic of those golden hours when Jackson enthralled a crowd with a performance that was staggering in its impact. It still makes my hair stand on end. I have never seen such energy, such commitment and such excellence. He was stupendously brilliant and I watched his final encore with tears steaming down my face.
When he repeatedly whispered, ‘I love you’ to the mesmerised crowd, you believed him of course, he loved us all. Individually, at that. It was one glorious evening. And I went away with the feeling, I had been privileged enough to witness a historic performance by one of the world’s greatest entertainers.”
“I remember him alighting from his private jet and his entourage came in four other planes. The airport came to a standstill for an hour with officers, aircraft crew and passengers coming to greet him,” says Sabbas Joseph, director, Wizcraft, which organised the concert. Even Anil Ambani lent his open roof car to the star.
Jackson’s entry into the hotel here was a grand affair with people from nearby offices coming to get a glimpse of him. “He asked for a free-standing, full-length mirror in the room and he signed it at the time of his departure. He also signed a pillow slip from his room.”
Jackson mesmerised the crowd and this is what made him so popular says Duane Woodman, a commercial pilot who attended his concert in Mumbai. “My most vivid memory of the concert is Jackson circling the stadium in a helicopter and then making an entry from a rocket capsule,” he says.
His moonwalk, in a gold and black suit, had girls gasping, says actor Prashant Raj. “But it was his Thriller, a youth anthem then, that got everyone going.”
Rony D’Costa, creative supervisor, Zee Motion Pictures, grew up listening to Jackson. “I knew I couldn’t miss it, but then I couldn’t afford the ticket. So a friend and I gate-crashed and stood near the barricade close to the stage. Michael was just five feet away from us. It was magical,” he says, recalling more funny instances from the concert. “There was an ambulance kept for emergency but it was at work throughout. Every time Michael screamed ‘I love you very much’ there were girls fainting,” he smiles.
As Raj Thackeray’s guest, MJ also visited Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s residence, Matoshree, in Bandra. The Thackerays presented him with a silver tabla and tanpura. There’s a lovely story connected with the visit. MJ had to go to the loo (bathroom) and was zapped when he stepped into the Tiger’s Indian-style toilet. No knowing how to use it, he had to seek Raj’s help to relieve himself!
“Michael Jackson has been my biggest inspiration for music as well as choreography. He gave me the reason to believe that even people like myself, who come from a very humble background can make it big with talent and hardwork.” Ganesh remembers: “In 1996, MJ had come to Mumbai for a concert and I was performing as the opening act. When he came backstage, there was a sudden commotion and all my dancers on stage turned their backs towards the audience to look at him! Later, he called for us in his room, where I told him that I was the choreographer for the act and he shook hands with me. I also told him ‘I love you’ to which he replied ‘I love you too’. He was really a great personality.”
India, like many other cities and countries around the world, has dedicated a statue of Michael, which they want to donate to Neverland. RC Golden Granites in Chennai, India has created a full size Michael Jackson Statue. The demise of Michael upset owner Mr.R. Chandrasekaran and so he decided to pay tribute to Michael by doing something different and made a statue.
“We want to do something different in that, so we built a Michael Jackson statue in single black granite which weighs about 3.5 tonnes and we want to send the statue to Michael Jackson’s foundation at Neverland. The statue was sculpted out of a single block of granite rock – 12ft height and weighs 3.5 tons. It took 45 days to sculpt the legend’s statue with six highly experienced chennai craftsmen in granite working round the clock.”
The Chennai-based granite firm spent $25,000 sculpting the statue out of a single block of huge rock that was quarried from a mine near Kanakapura, about 50 km from Bangalore. “We employed six artisans to chisel the granite into Jackson’s shape in 45 days at our factory in Kancheepuram. As black granite is brittle, the aesthetic art work was a test of patience, diligence and skill. His face and eyes were the most challenging as we wanted the statue to be expressive and poignant,” Chandrasekaran said.
“It’s a personal tribute to the greatest pop singer of our times! He lives in our hearts as he was on stage for years.”
You can see the statue briefly in this video:
Granite statue of Michael from RC Granite in Chennai, India
On June 6, 1990, musician Teddy Riley was supposed to be at friend and fellow band member’s birthday party. Instead, he spent the night at a Soundworks Studio on 23rd Avenue in Queens, working on grooves for none other than the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
“I told [the group] I had a lot of work to do,” Riley recalls. “Michael was my priority. I was going out to California to meet him soon, and he wanted me to bring my best work.”
It was a fortuitous decision.
Later that evening, Riley learned someone was shot on the dance floor at the party he had skipped. He was shaken. At just 23 years of age, violence and death were already becoming a recurring theme in his life. Within that same year, his half-brother and best friend both had also been murdered.
The rhythm track Riley worked on that night was aggressive, ominous, menacing. But it had no words, no title, and no melody.
The following Saturday he was on his way to Neverland Ranch to meet Michael Jackson. Riley was nervous. Jackson had already tried out a handful of people to replace legendary producer, Quincy Jones, including L.A. Reid, Babyface and Bryan Loren. None stayed on.
Jackson had high hopes, however, for Teddy Riley, whose street-inflected New Jack Swing style brilliantly fused jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip hop. Indeed, perhaps its greatest achievement was in bridging the divide between R&B and hip hop, a bridge, incidentally, that Jackson had been hoping to find since working on Bad.
Jackson listened carefully to the tapes Riley brought with him and instantly loved what he heard. The tracks used different chords than he was accustomed to. The rhythms were fresh and edgy. The beats swung with velocity and hit like sledgehammers.
Among several tracks Jackson listened to that day was the groove Riley worked on the night of the party. Jackson had no idea about the context. “He knew nothing about it,” Riley says. “I never told him anything about it.”
A couple of weeks later, however, Riley says he was shocked to learn Jackson’s title for the track: “Blood on the Dance Floor.” Riley got goose bumps. “It was like he prophesied that record. He felt its mood.”
Over the subsequent months, Jackson and Riley began working feverishly on a variety of tracks, sometimes separately, sometimes together at Larabee Studios in Los Angeles. “I remember he came back with this melody, ‘Blood on the dance floor, blood on the dance floor.’ I was like, ‘Wow!’ He came up with these lyrics and harmonies. Then we just started building it up, layer by layer.”
Riley used a vintage drum machine (the MPC 3000) for the beat. The snare was compressed to make it pop (“I want it dry and in your face,” Jackson used to say). It was a sound they used throughout the Dangerous album. “Listen to ‘Remember the Time,'” Riley says. “It’s very similar.”
Ultimately, however, “Blood on the Dance Floor” didn’t end up making it onto Dangerous. “It wasn’t quite finished,” Riley says. “There were still some vocal parts missing. Michael loved the song, but he would listen to it and say, ‘I like what you did here, but we still need this here.’ He was a perfectionist.”
As the Dangerous sessions continued, other tracks began to take priority, including “Remember the Time” and “In the Closet.” Jackson wouldn’t resume work on “Blood” until nearly seven years later. It was now January of 1997. Jackson was in the midst of his HIStory World Tour, and had decided to visit Montreux, Switzerland during a break between the first and second leg (according to news reports, while there he also tried to purchase the home of his longtime idol, Charlie Chaplin).
Here, at Mountain Studio, Jackson went to work on the old demo. “We took Teddy’s DAT (Digital Audio Tape) and worked it over with a four-man crew,” recalls musician, Brad Buxer. The completed multi-track, engineered, and mixed by Mick Guzauski, was modeled very closely on the last version Jackson and Riley recorded.
“When I heard it finished, I wished I could’ve been the one to [complete it],” Riley says. “But Michael knows what he wants, and he was happy with it.”
It was, in some ways, an unusual dance song. Like “Billie Jean,” its subject matter was dark and disturbing (in this case, a narrative about being stabbed in the back in the place he least suspected–the dance floor). Jackson’s clipped, raspy vocals evoke a sense of foreboding, as the electro-industrial canvas conjures a modern urban setting. Still, the song feels anything but bleak. The beat cracks out of the speakers like a whip and the hook is irresistible.
Jackson told Riley he believed the song was going to be a “smash.” “He explained it like this: A hit is a song that stays on the charts for a week or two. A smash is a song that stays up there for six weeks,” Riley says. “He felt ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’ was a ‘smash.'”
“Blood on the Dance Floor” was released on March 21, 1997. Strangely, the song wasn’t even promoted as a single in the U.S. Riley says Jackson didn’t mind in this case. “He figured people in America would find it if they really wanted it. He wasn’t worried about it.” Globally, however, the song thrived, reaching the Top Ten in 15 countries and hitting No. 1 in three (including the U.K.). It also proved ripe for remixes and received frequent play in clubs and dance routines. Left off Jackson’s two major studio albums that decade, “Blood” ironically became one of Jackson’s most durable rhythm tracks of the ’90s.
Fifteen years later, what makes the song unique? I ask Riley. “It was just a direct, aggressive sound for Michael. He always pushed for something stronger. But what was really amazing was how he pre-meditated the energy of the song. He knew what it was about even before I told him what happened that night. I’ve never witnessed anything or anyone as powerful as Michael.”
This is an interview with photographer John Isaac who shares his memories of working and spending time with Michael. John remembers going to Neverland to photograph Michael and his son Prince, and he remembers a surprise Michael had for his fans at the concert in Milan.
John says he cannot watch the TII film yet because of the immense grief it causes, but says he sometimes sees Michael on a clear, starry night.
[Translated with slight edits to make sense of translation]
Q: When was the first time you saw Michael?
One day I received a phone call. The voice said: “Are you John Isaac?” I said, “Yes” and asked who he was. The voice said: “Michael.” I said “Michael,” The voice said: “Michael Jackson” I said, “Who?” and hung up. A few seconds later the phone rang again, and Bob Jones was wondering why I had hung up the phone on Michael Jackson! I replied: “It was really him?” and handed the phone to Michael. He said he was a fan of my photographs. He bought a poster I created for UNICEF on which featured many children because he loved the pictures and wanted to meet me. He asked if I could go to Neverland and sign the poster. I said I could sign one and send it to New York, but he insisted that I go to Los Angeles. Three days later, they came to the Big Apple to film “They Don’t Care About Us” (prison version) and he invited me and my wife Jeannette to go see the movie. So we went and we met. The next day he asked me to spend the afternoon with him at his hotel in Manhattan and studied my photographic work.
Q: What is the best advice he gave you?
He once told me that I had a knack for photography and should continue to use it to help children around the world. He knew how much I cared about children. I took him to Brazil when they were finishing the video “They Don’t Care About Us“, and he said something I’ll never forget. “John, be my eyes and show me everything that I cannot see.” I was so excited that I made photos of children in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, while they were filming. I travelled in his private plane to Brazil. It was my first trip with him. Michael always supported me, he was aware of my provenance. One day he said we’ve both been to many different places and that is why we both love children. (John Isaac was born in India and spent 20 years working as a photographer of the United Nations, covering countries such as Vietnam, Rwanda, Sarajevo …).
Q: You’ve been to Neverland to take family photos of the first son of Prince Michael and Debbie Rowe. Please tell us more about this experience.
Debbie was not at Neverland, it was just Prince and Michael and I took pictures of father and son. I took the pictures with Debbie at a hotel in Los Angeles. I’ve been twice to Neverland. I drove an electric cart around the farm, saw movies in the theater, climbed on the train. I felt like a kid when I was there! One afternoon we saw a movie together. I was in the suite of Liz Taylor. Michael was very philosophical, often talked about philosophy and life. He asked me to tell him things about the children I had photographed around the world. When I worked for the United Nations, many stories of pain and suffering of all kinds of children. He was always very compassionate towards the less fortunate children.
Q: What is your favorite memory during HIStory World Tour?
At the beginning of the tour in Prague, I think he wanted me to photograph on the stage while he was singing “Heal the World.” I was scared up there in the spotlight with so many fans in front of me, my knees were shaking. I enjoyed meeting fans around the world while traveling with him. I must say that I met many fine young men. Michael would not have been who he was, if not for all the wonderful fans who adored him so much. Being next to the King of Pop to visit hospitals and orphanages was something I especially appreciated.
Q: How many photographic sessions did you do with Michael Jackson?
I’m not sure how many, but I know there were many. Some special calendars for Sony and other announcements. He also wanted to take pictures with children before each concert.
Q: You told us that Michael had a surprise for fans at the concert in Milan on June 18, 1997: The photo of Michael’s hands and Prince on the screens near the stage. Michael decided to do this? What did he say?
He said it was one of the most special photos I had taken of him and Prince. I captured his hand taking Prince’s hand and he told me that he liked it so much he wanted to show the fans in Milan. It is one of my favorite toos. Michael does not even appear – only his hand protecting Prince.
Q: What picture of Michael do you feel most proud of?
There are many photos that I like, but one I took during a rehearsal in Los Angeles which was published in a special book: Laurent Hopman – Captain Eo Productions (program memory HIStory World Tour – Limited Edition). Michael is at center stage and all the dancers are around with different poses, rehearsing. It looks like a painting. Michael really liked this photo too. All dressed in casual clothes. I have no copy of this negative image because I gave them all to Michael.
Q: Why does it sometimes take three cameras at the same time? Did Michael wanted special pictures? It also seemed that he took more photos of fans than himself?
I remember that he wanted every moment of his life to be saved. Sometimes he wanted a black and white and the other two cameras were color photos. Today, with digital technology, you can convert the color to black and white with no problem, but with the old negatives it was more complicated. I also had three different types of lenses, so I could shoot quickly without having to change them. After a first selection on my part, Michael chose his favorite, and he had good taste selecting the photos! Michael was delighted to see the photos of his fans. They were very important to him.
Q: How did you hear of his sudden death, what was your reaction?
I saw it on TV. I was very, very sad. I felt so sorry that it happened so soon. However, I know he’s up there shining like a star. Every time I see a clear sky at night, I see Michael.
Q: Have you seen the movie Michael Jackson “This Is It“? can you comment on that?
My wife bought me the DVD. I’ve only seen parts of it and I grieved Michael’s death so much that I could not keep watching. Maybe one day I will see it to the end.
Q: What are your plans for the future, John Isaac?
I am finishing a documentary about myself as a photographer. In Japan I’ve been documenting on the survivors of the recent tsunami. While I was in Japan, I met some of Michael’s fans who were very friendly. In addition, Kodak House is preparing a permanent collection of my photographs in their museum. Unfortunately, I have no footage of what I did for Michael on tour or with Michael’s baby. I gave them all to his managers.