Sunday, June 19, 2005

Jacko Comebacko; Or, How Can We Miss Him If He Won't Go Away?

Well, we've certainly taken enough cheap (though well-deserved) potshots at everyone's favorite child-molesting freak, Michael Jackson. Pravda recently had an interesting article on the likelihood of a (urp!) comeback by the self-crowned king of pop.

Jackson's fortunes as a performer were in a tailspin long before the words "Jesus juice" entered the popular lexicon. By 2000, Jackson had borrowed $270 million from Bank of America, apparently to fund a lifestyle that includes shopping sprees and the immense overhead of running his Neverland ranch.

To secure those loans, Jackson put up his share of a music catalogue that he co-owns with Sony, as well as the rights to his own music. Last month, Bank of America sold the debt to an investment firm that specializes in troubled loans, a clear sign that the bank was worried Jackson would default.

That's the thing that's always gotten me about this goofball. In the past, whenever his well-publicized circus of a life gets covered in the media, there's usually been someone to step in and defend the guy, saying something along the lines of how shrewd a businessman Jackson is, because he bought the Beatles catalog and made a lot of money on it.

I submit that there's a substantial difference between being a truly shrewd businessman, being possessed of significant skills and acumen and management expertise, and simply being lucky. Indeed, Jackson's been fabulously wealthy for over twenty years now, and the Beatles catalog appears to be about the only sensible thing he's ever done with his money, which he's since squandered on llama chow and video games for his preteen boyfriends.

He's not a shrewd businessman at all; he's not been underestimated by his detractors one iota. He's a fucking moron, and the only thing that's kept him going all these years is that he had an enormous bankroll to start with. You can do a lot of fucking around for a long time on a couple hundred million dollars.

And it's not as if his coterie of hangers-on and useless siblings were ever going to say anything to him. You think Tito and Jermaine were going to have a chimpanzee intervention and risk losing their spinner-rim allowance?

So now the llamas have come home to roost.

His last album, "Invincible," should have been called "Highly Vulnerable." It went double-platinum in 2001, which would be superb numbers for just about any other artist, but disappointing for Jackson, whose 1982 album "Thriller" was the second-largest selling album ever, with massive hits such as "Billie Jean" and "Beat It." Only one single from "Invincible" -- which reportedly cost $55 million to make -- even penetrated the Top 10. If Jackson wants to target the 18-year-olds who make up the sweet spot of the pop market, he'll be selling to a crowd that knows him mostly for the freak show of zoo animals and molestation charges that his life has become.

Yeah, if you're going to spend $55 million to make a single album, you better have the goods to recoup it. I worked on the fringes of the recording/music industry for years and I know how much it costs to do things. A good performer with good songs, who is prepared and understands how to record and mix and get things done in a professional manner, shouldn't have to spend 1/10th of that amount in an entire career, and that's recording in luxury vacation studios like Compass Point in the Bahamas, like Iron Maiden used to do in the '80s.

You show up for a few hours in the morning, lay a few tracks, go out and soak up the sun and drink banana daiquiris all fucking afternoon and get ripped, and do it all over again the next day. Two or three months later, you should have a pretty good album of tunes, without too many headaches. And that's pre-digital, before all this technology really democratized the ability to get a good produced sound without spending loads of money. It's really not that difficult. Anyone that tells you how hard it is to record and produce an album is full of shit. The hard part is writing a truly good, catchy, tight song in the first place. Everything after that is gravy.

I'd love to see a behind-the-scenes accounting of how this $55 million was spent; if I was a Sony exec I'd want Michael Jackson's multi-colored nutsack on a fucking plate. Here's a tip for you kids who might be thinking of entering the wonderful world of the music industry -- the most important word in the entire game is recoupable. The corporate studio functions like a bank, basically, for a performer that's cutting an album. They front you the money, sign you to a piddling royalty rate (I'd bet that even someone of Jackson's stature probably doesn't clear 25%), and then you don't see dime one from your sales until all the money the record company fronted you has been recouped.

You have any idea how many units of Invincible would have to move to recoup $55 million? Not only will Jackson never see a dime from it, chances are Sony will be lucky to make back even $10 million, much less $55 million. Especially considering all the promo Jackson insists on every time he takes a dump, and all that promo dough comes upfront out of the record company's budget. Neither Sony nor Jackson will ever see that money again; might as well have flushed it down a toilet, or given it to another of his molestation victims for a settlement.

So we've pretty well destroyed the long-standing canard that Michael Jackson is some sort of gifted businessperson, or even any good with money at all. Let's take a look at what his options are now, according to Pravda's experts:

· Say you're sorry. No exulting allowed. "He should apologize to the public for the lack of clarity about his actions," says Howard Rubenstein, a public relations specialist who once worked for Jackson. "He should appear modest and contrite. He should praise the American justice system, which allowed him to present his case."

Rubenstein isn't specific about the forum for this apology but feels it shouldn't be face-to-face with skilled interviewers like Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer. It was Jackson's decision to speak off the cuff to a TV pro -- Martin Bashir, a British journalist -- that landed him in this mess in the first place. The man needs a script, says Rubenstein, along with firm instructions to stick to it.

· Leave the country. "He should move to Paris," recommends Dan Klores, a public-relations specialist whose clients have included P. Diddy and Mike Tyson. That emotion is seconded by many in the damage-control biz. Jackson is still beloved in other countries -- particularly Japan. He is sure to find life abroad quieter than in Neverland ranch.

These are both actually good ideas, regardless of whether Jackson has any notion of picking up what's left of his career. And there's a good chance that one or both will happen. Of course the apology, again like virtually every dump this freak of nature takes, will have to be on his own freaky terms -- either some big overblown, overhyped navel-gazing media event, or some heavily-gauzed "intimate setting" clucking-hen-fest with some pseudo-journo like Diane Sawyer or Baba Wawa, neither of which is deserving of any remotely journalistic appellation.

(Seriously, if you've actually sat through anything either of these dimwits has shat on the TV screen in the past ten years, go to the bathroom right now, look yourself in the mirror, straight in the eye, and slap yourself as hard as you can. Go on, do it. We'll wait.)

As for moving out of the country, that would probably be good for him both financially and psychologically, but Jackson really doesn't seem to have the stuff for it. This is a guy who has literally spent his entire adult life having other people take care of him, and his financial circumstances are about to bring that to a screeching halt. Umbrella Holding Guy? Gone. Llama Patrol? Gone. Procurer Of Young Boys From Broken Homes To Fondle Between Rounds Of Super Mario Bros.? Gone.

More seriously, he'd have to sell the ranch, and despite the notoriety, the price will probably plummet now, because it's basically distressed property. The dipshits that will show up to a potential dipshit attraction simply aren't allowed out of the house with enough money to make such a purchase commercially viable.

· Think long-term. Jackson should take a hard look at the rehabilitation of former junk-bond magnate Michael Milken, says Mark Fabiani, who spun the media on President Bill Clinton's behalf during his impeachment crisis. Milken served time for finance-related crimes in the '80s. Since his release, he has quietly turned himself into a force in the world of medical research and charitable giving, largely through organizations such as the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

The key to this approach, according to Fabiani, is patience. "There are two really successful models for doing this," he says. "One is the 'Hail Mary' model, which Martha Stewart pulled off, where you do a bunch of dramatic things as soon as you're free and clear.

"The other is the Milken model. He's undertaken a years-long effort to regain his reputation and most people would say he's succeeded. But it took discipline."

Neither of these models is particularly analogous to Jackson's case. The Martha model requires money to throw into the publicity-machine incinerator. These people do not work on credit, Jackson is broke, and it's highly unlikely that they'll take a giraffe as collateral.

The Milken model is out because it requires intelligence and motivation. Milken basically transformed himself into sort of an idealistic motivational speaker, because that was the best use of his particular skill set at that point. Do you think Michael Jackson has even a single component of such a skill set? Can you imagine him trying to give a speech on anything besides himself? That's the only thing he knows, and nobody's going to pay to see that. We all know far too much about this creepy asshole as it is.

It's not clear that Jackson is capable of even attempting a return to form in the studio. One image-management expert who quit Jackson's network of advisers months ago because he didn't like the way Nation of Islam representatives kept showing up on their conference calls, thinks that he is now too unhinged to record again.

"People have no appreciation of the shape that this guy is now in," said this expert, who requested anonymity because he wants to continue to work. "I really doubt he's in the condition needed to make great music again."

This is the main problem for Jackson at hand, and kudos to Pravda for pointing out the elephant in the room. See, musicians make music. This sounds like some sort of cryptic Ayn Rand "A is A" crap, but it's true. Eddie Van Halen built a studio in his backyard early on because he wanted to be able to get up at 4AM and lay some tracks if he felt inspired. Yngwie Malmsteen reputedly keeps about 100 of his 150+ Stratocasters in various places throughout his Miami mansion (which also has its own custom-built recording studio) so that wherever he is in the house, there's always a guitar to pick up and play. Frank Zappa kept up his herculean 10-12 hours per day in the studio after he was diagnosed with the prostate cancer that eventually killed him.

Even a nobody schmuck like me, I have seven guitars within arm's reach of me right this second, and I frequently grab one to dick around with while I'm reading and surfing the internets. The point is not whether the music is commercially viable or even any good; the point is that musicians make music, because playing music is fun, even more fun than playing with young boys and llamas and fake noses.

Michael Jackson is not a musician, he's a performer, and there's a very important distinction there. He doesn't really play or compose per se, he buys songs from other people and adds his own stylistic grunts and giggles to it so it sounds like it's his song. He rents musicians to play it for him, and throws money at whoever the hip producer of the month is to make it sound contemporary.

We can debate the finer musical points on all this machinery required to crank out some chart-topping turd some other time, but the bottom line is that all these cogs in the machinery cost money, and Jackson has used up all his money and his goodwill. Who in their right mind thinks that it would be a career boost to play on Michael Jackson's next stab at Billboard glory?

The thing is, Jackson long ago decided that he'd rather be a chart whore than a great musician, so that's what he became. And now the well's pumped dry, because he felt that being seen hanging with Princess Di and riding bumper cars with 11-year-olds was more important than continuing to make music.

· Head to Vegas . Think Celine Dion, who has her own theater at Caesars Palace and packs them in for nightly shows. And she's Canadian!

Sounds good, except Vegas, for all its faults, is dead serious about making money, and no casino is going to shell out big bucks for a fucking flake like Michael Jackson. How many times per week is Michael going to call in sick, faking a sore throat, with a zoo animal braying in the background?

Vegas performers may be slick and cheesy and predictable, but they have work ethic, and they are expected to show up. I don't think any rational person expects Jacko to show up. It's telling that so far only Donald Trump has made any sort of overture in that regard. That should say it all. They deserve each other. Perhaps they can trade hair tips (i.e., swap toupées).

When it comes to recording, Jackson shouldn't pander to the hip-hop crowd, says Daniel Glass, the president of Artemis Records. "He should go in the other direction and make a really lush album of pop standards, using the songs he owns in the catalogues he controls."

Jackson owns half of Sony/ATV Music, which holds the copyright to hundreds of hits. These include tunes like the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," Glass notes -- catchy can't-miss music.

"I would put great artists in the choir, hire people like Eddie Van Halen for guitar solos," he adds. Would people buy it? "I think people like to buy great albums, and this could be a great album."

Uh yeahhhh, I think Eddie might decide he has to sort out his sock drawer that month. Again, the guy's got an aura of shit around him, the stench of Jesus juice and prepubescent monkey-butter. Who would want to associate themselves with that, without a lot of money that simply no sane person would be willing to float to a financial idiot like Michael Jackson?

It's just too bad Jacko's pushing 50 now, because with his ball-handling skills, he coulda had a fallback career in the NBA.

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