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King of pop and who knows what else

We might never know the truth about Michael Jackson, but we might not want to.

Monday night, I had the journalistic equivalent of a fever dream: I was interviewing Michael Jackson. I sat on a stool in a resplendent kitchen de grandeur, with stunning teal tiling and exotic pots and pans hanging on the walls like gilded uvulas, all surrounding this little, lanky, blanched figment of a man, perched on his own stool like a pale crow with wintry plumage. He wore a smart, black dress shirt with silver-peg buttons and cufflinks and loose black slacks plucked straight from his moonwalking heyday.

I nervously tapped on my tape recorder and placed it on the stool next to me. Jackson, sitting across from me, was then descended upon by a team of cosmetic handlers, each tending to a different altered feature of the king of pop’s self-styled face. After their blitz, and throughout the interview, he was still pecking at his bangs incessantly.

Jackson’s face seemed less a freak-show exhibit than it did a painstaking anatomical sculpture – an exercise in curve, angle and edge even Donatello would scratch his noggin at. It was easy to see why he is so vain and protective; it did indeed appear fragile, as if it should be encased in museum glass.

The interview began awkwardly, which isn’t hard to fathom, I suppose. Jackson was guarded and coy with his responses as I embarked on the “Entertainment Tonight” track of questioning: a hodgepodge of personal and professional inquiry varying from what musical projects he has in the works to how he’s holding up under such intense scrutiny. Like any responsible cub reporter, I was careful to avoid hot-button topics that would set Jackson off or violate the gag order.

But soon, Jackson warmed up. “You’re a journalist,” he reminded me in his smooth alto twitter. “Be careful what you say. I want people to know the truth. The media, they lie. The tabloids, they’re just garbage. Garbage on paper. They invent things, they invent lies. The bigger the star, the bigger the target. I can’t really talk about it, but there’s a big conspiracy, very big and involved, and-“

“Does it involve Sony?” I asked, referring to the well-publicized acrimonious split between Jackson and the industry giant.

“I can’t comment, Adri,” he said in a near whisper, which made me happy I wasn’t an 11-year-old boy. “Just know that it exists. The truth will come out.”

Would the truth come out? Ever? Jackson has done so many off-the-wall (pardon the pun) things in his still relatively young life that it’s not a nautical-mile stretch anymore to believe anything said about him. Anything.

Sitting across from him in his kitchen, I began to sense the truth about Jackson perhaps existing in his own Never-Never Land – or an ethical no-man’s-land, where llamas run free, Peter Pan rules and 46-year-old faded showbiz hags sleep with a potpourri of boys from every geographic and economic stratum.

As we close the interview, I mention to Jackson that he seems playful, engaging and – this I keep to myself – decidedly uncreepy and, based on some lewd comments, decidedly heterosexual. He giggles in his stratospheric “hee-hee,” and I am escorted from this slice of carnival heaven in the Santa Ynez Valley of sunny California. When I find myself humming the opening bars of “Billie Jean,” I know this funny little guy’s legacy will be as complex as that of any president or world leader of the last century.

Who’s bad?

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected].

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