Over the past three days I have been frantically attending to an update of an Omnibus Press book entitled Michael Jackson: The Visual Documentary which was last published in 2005, just before the much publicised child molestation trial from which he was acquitted.
Until his death last week I hadn’t paid much attention to whatever might have been happening in the world of Michael Jackson but I now realise that in the intervening years he doesn’t appear to have done very much in terms of real work, no albums of new material, no concert tours, not many public appearances apart from the odd awards ceremony or shopping expedition. There is no real evidence of any new recordings, only vague statements about ‘writing new material’, though there’s probably something in the can somewhere. What he does seem to have done, though, is travel a lot, often with an entourage of 25 or more, including his three children and attendant nursing staff and personal doctors, from America to Bahrain, where he was based for a while though he and most everyone else on his payroll took trips to Dubai, Paris, London, Hamburg and Tokyo, and to Ireland where he rented a castle for a while, and back to Bahrain again, and finally to America where, having fallen out with his hosts in Bahrain, he settled for a while in Las Vegas before finally returning to Los Angeles. The enormous expense of this nomadic travel, the private planes, limousines and suites in five star hotels, the rented luxury homes with ten or more bedrooms, clearly explains why he was in financial difficulties. No one apart from Bill Gates and a few oil sheiks can afford to live like this, constantly on the run with huge entourages, yet he seems not to have cared one iota. Somehow the cost was paid from his mounting overdraft.
In the meantime he was the focus of all manner of expensive legal actions, from former managers and lawyers claiming unpaid fees, from financial institutions with million dollar claims for ‘restructuring debt’, from employees at Neverland claiming unpaid wages, from the mother of his two elder children claiming maintenance, legal fees and changes in visitation rights, from people selling Jackson memorabilia which may or may not have been stolen from his various homes, and from assorted bandwagon jumpers with spurious claims about being sexually assaulted, all of which were thrown out of court, but all this must have been costing Jackson big money too. Indeed, a whole Jackson-led legal industry seems to have developed to feed off him like a pack of vultures.
Crucially, his family are largely absent from this diary-style day-to-day reportage I’ve been editing. Also, he doesn’t seem to have had one key advisor on whom he could depend and who was loyal unto him in the manner of say, Paul McGuiness to U2 or Jon Landau to Bruce Springsteen. Managers come and go and when they go they sue.
In amongst the entries are odd announcements about this or that project, a Hurricane Katrina benefit record, a ‘new album’ that he’s ‘writing himself’, a business venture with some wealthy individual, a newly created label, but nothing seems to come of these plans beyond a press release dripping in hyperbole. Then there’s appearances at awards ceremonies where, reading between the lines, you get the impression that a new award has been created especially for Michael – the ‘Legend Award’, the ‘Diamond Award’ – purely in the hope that he’ll attend the event and thus boost publicity, which might or might not benefit some charity somewhere along the line, but you somehow know that someone somewhere will benefit financially from his appearance and it ain’t Michael. Also, invariably, there’s a controversy over his appearance, something goes wrong, and through no fault of his own other than that he seems to have appointed advisors who cannot discriminate between what is good for him and what is not, between integrity and schlock, Michael ends up with egg on his face and the tabloids lap it up.
The dreadful rootlessness of his lifestyle, the quagmire of endless trouble, the appalling uncertainly of everything surrounding him, not least the forthcoming O2 concerts, seems to me to be what has killed him, and although it makes me very sad I can’t help but think that he’s somehow better off out of it all.