In September 1987, I thought I had landed the big one, a career-making exclusive with a reclusive superstar.
I was a staff reporter for the Associated Press in Tokyo and what the Japanese were calling Hurricane Michael was coming to town.
It was a big deal. This was Michael Jackson's first world solo tour, and his first live performance since the successful Victory Tour with his brothers four years earlier.
But a lot had transpired in Jackson-ology since 1985, when the family performed live. Michael Jackson hadn't yet been accused of child molestation, but he was getting a lot of press for his increasingly oddball behavior. The extreme-sport plastic surgery press obsession was in its infancy. And he had just been in the news for publicly conveying a desire to buy the remains of Elephant Man, suggesting he identified with the horribly deformed Englishman who was then the subject of a successful art house film by David Lynch.
And of course, there was Bubbles, his pet chimpanzee. Bubbles had arrived in Japan on a separate flight. There were reports in the Japanese press, of course unconfirmed, that Michael Jackson had demanded that the wallpaper in his pet's room be changed, because Bubbles was hypersensitive to cigarette smoke. At the time, the Japanese would not have been characterized as leading edge anti-smokers, which made the incident all the more amusing. (American was already getting a reputation as a prude around the world, though eventually most nations got on board with the no-smoking thing.)
In what seemed to me a remarkable diss to Japan, Jackson had announced that he would kick off the tour not in America but in Tokyo, which he said would allow him the luxury of polishing his act. It seemed to suggest that Jackson, or his handlers, considered the Japanese easy to please.
No, his publicists said, it's just that Michael Jackson is, as you know, a perfectionist.
It was a zen koan: aren't you confirming our notion that this is a dig, however unintentional, at the Japanese.
Starting the tour in Japan, followed by Australia and then Europe, was clever from a public relations perspective. The press coverage, while ample, was far more manageable because most of the reporters were local. The Associated Press, to name the example I was most familiar with, was sending Japan-based reporters to cover the event. And I was given the assignment.
Jann Wenner's Rolling Stone magazine wasn't sending anyone to cover the opening concert, though it wanted someone on the ground. A friend had suggested me, and in my fleeting Almost Famous moment, I would file the main story about the concert for the storied music magazine. It ran in front of the book at some 400 words or so. I'd dictated it to the Rolling Stone editor from a telephone booth outside the stadium. Barack Obama hadn't invented the Internet yet.
Working with Jackson's handlers before the first concert, I developed a relationship with one of them, whose name I shall protect. We seemed to be bonding, and in the hours before the concert, I worked him. Next thing I knew he promised me an interview with Michael Jackson the next morning.
I was feeling pretty good about life. The press seats were great for the concert at Korakuen Stadium in Tokyo, home of the Yomiuri Giants, the Yankees of Japanese baseball. Jackson was in top form and the audience went wild.
The next morning I showed up at 8 a.m. at the Tokyo Capital Hotel, where Jackson was staying, and went to the meeting place the publicist had specified.
ABC's Good Morning America aired the night Jackson opened in Tokyo, half a day ahead of the U.S. time-zone-wise, and the best they could do was his composer Quincy Jones, who was in Japan with the star.
My heart was racing as he greeted me enthusiastically. It was real. The interview was happening.
Still smiling, he told me that Michael, unfortunately, couldn't make it. But the publicist figured since I had made the trip over, he'd line up someone else: Jimmy Osmond.
The irony. The cruelty. Jimmy Osmond was the youngest Osmond Brother, the band that competed briefly with the Jackson 5 as The Most Important Band In America.
Jimmy, who is 46 today and looks a lot younger, had by then reinvented himself as a broker to the stars. He handled the deal between Jackson and the Japanese television networks, among other things. He seemed like a great guy.
I felt like a jerk afterwards, like One Bad Apple but I told him 'no thanks' and left.
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