Redemption Songs: Michael Jackson (Pg. 6)
“Michael was very hard to impress,” says This Is It choreographer Travis Payne, who was blown away by the singer’s fluid dancing abilities despite his age, the same moves which revolutionized music videos in the early ‘80s. “He felt his dancing equaled to words . . . and he had to use the right words. That was a big deal to him. I’d show him something I’d think was amazing and he would say, ‘Okay, I see where you are going, but we should do this to it or try it like this or take away the leg part.’ He was always in control.”
And that control included pushing the envelope musically. Jackson wasn’t trying to present some sort of nostalgia trip. “He really had hoped during the London shows that he would be able to reveal some of his new material,” Ortega recalls. “The new songs were a big part of Michael’s time when he wasn’t at rehearsal.” Over and over Michael would excitedly tell This Is It’s production crew of his plans to return to the top of the pop charts with the music he and his team were making in Vegas. “Soon, soon . . . ” Michael would say to Ortega. “I want you to hear what we are doing.” But it was not to be. On June 25, 2009, the music stopped.
“I still get emotional thinking about it,” says an audibly choked up Teddy Riley. “I sent him a few pieces, which he said were taking him back to the days of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” It was going to the next level.” Riley described the material as Parliament Funkadelic meets Toto—a big sound. “We never got the chance to record it,” Riley adds. “But beyond the music, I miss my friend.”
“IN HINDSIGHT, HE might have had a romantic death wish about the way he wanted to exit this stage of life,” says best-selling spiritual author Dr. Deepak Chopra, who first met Michael in 1982, and kept in touch with him throughout the years. “Michael went through many phases,” Chopra says. “I’ve counseled people both in film and music industries, and their addictions are usually perpetuated by personal doctors in Los Angeles who will do anything for a fee. At times, Michael did want to be helped. He was very endearing, but he could be a manipulative fellow. Still, there was no one who had music in his blood like Michael.”
Whatever the circumstances behind Michael Jackson’s June 25 death, the unprecedented public outpouring of love for the singer has been extraordinary. According to John Branca, who oversees MJ’s estate, Michael’s mother Katherine didn’t want to see This Is It at first. Then she started getting calls from her friends telling her it was wonderful. Branca says she called the estate and said, ‘I guess we have a No. 1 movie.’” The documentary came in first at the box office, becoming the biggest-selling DVD and the No. 1 album. “All of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh, okay, maybe they knew what they were doing,’” says Branca.
Now that the record-breaking deal with Sony is signed and sealed, Michael Jackson’s estate now faces the arduous task of culling the diverse collection of unreleased and/or unfinished tracks recorded during the 2007-2009 sessions. Already leaked on the Internet is Akon and Michael’s syrupy sweet ballad “Hold My Hand,” co-written by Claude Kelly, who has crafted hits for R. Kelly, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus. will.i.am’s contributions includes the Latin jazz-tinged scorcher “The Future,” an infectious dance track reminiscent of Off the Wall; the aforementioned, soul-stirring James Brown salute “Miss You,” and “The King,” an all-star number that was to feature a legion of performers who were inspired by Jackson. “I said to MJ, ‘Let’s do a song with everyone that you have obviously influenced,” Will explains. “‘A collaboration with you as the King, and all of your subjects, like Ne-Yo, Usher, Omarion and Chris Brown.’ Everybody was signed off on the track.”
On this first-year anniversary of his death, what would Michael have made of his triumphant return as the King of Pop? Would he laugh to see himself scoring 14 of the top 20 selling albums on Amazon.com? Would he cry at the endless parade of tributes he inspired? Would he bob his head during Cirque du Soleil’s Fall 2011 arena tour set to his music? Would he smile at This Is It garnering critical raves for its riveting portrayal of a man who refused to fold in the face of countless obstacles?
Akon has his own theory. “Everything in Mike’s life was choreographed,” he says. “So he’s probably on some island right now just relaxing, waiting for the time to come back. I can deal with his death knowing that. One day I’m going to be somewhere going to the market and I might see him with that same disguise that he had on in Vegas. I would just say to him, ‘Don’t worry Michael, I won’t tell nobody.’”