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That collective sigh of relief you heard in midtown Manhattan Tuesday was indeed coming from the Hit Factory recording studio. There, Michael Jackson played fifteen songs from his new album, called Invincible, for Sony Music/Epic Record executives. The album, which hits stores in September, was considered a hit by those who attended. In fact, since Michael owes Sony something like $30 million, the news was better than could have been expected.
Last night, at the Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner, Epic Records president Dave Glew was grinning from ear to ear. "It’s wonderful and amazing," he said, sitting with his wife Ann. Glew is one of the great and understated record company executives. When I responded by saying "You must be relieved," Ann jumped in with "And so is Michael."
The Glews are sleeping for the first time in a long time.
“Michael is singing better than ever. The ballads! The ballads are beautiful, and they’re all there. The dance songs are full of melodies. We’re going to get a single out by mid-July, at least 8 weeks before the album hits stores. Michael’s done his work, now we have to do ours. It’s all about how it’s marketed and presented. We know we have the adult audience, we have to work on the teen audience.”
To say Glew was exuberant is an understatement.
“Of course, now Michael will work on the videos. But it’s all his stuff, and he wanted to get it right.”
Song titles for the album include: Invincible, Unbreakable, Heartbreaker, Break of Dawn, Heaven Can Wait, Rock My World, Butterflies,2000 Watts, Speechless, Cry, Shout, The Lost Children, Don't Walk Away, Privacy and Threatening.
Michael's Concert Still Up in the Air
Still, Jackson still has some problems pending with his concert at Madison Square Garden planned for September 7th. Even though his people keep saying the date is on, they still haven’t struck a deal with the Garden, and that’s the problem.
I can tell you that if negotiations for the infamous Solo Career: 30th Anniversary Show work out, it won’t be for one show only. The word backstage is that Jackson and friends—including Michael’s brothers — want Monday, September 10th also for a performance. Both shows are to be taped for television airing later in the fall, after Jackson’s album is released.
Ironically, Michael’s rabbi friend, Shmuley Boteach, is an Orthodox Jew and will not be able to attend the show on Friday, September 7th. This may be part of the reason Jackson has asked for a second night.
As well, Boteach is not having much to do with the shows. And since Jackson does not have a manager, David Gest, a concert promoter from Los Angeles who grew up with Jackson and has included him in various charity shows over the years, has signed on as producer of the 30th Anniversary concerts. Gest, however, does not have much experience with large venues like the Garden, which seems to be accounting for part of the confusion with the booking of the dates.
“He does things one way and we do them another,” sniffed a Garden executive to me yesterday.
One thing Gest is good at: convincing past celebrities and Hollywood regulars like Barbara Eden, Patrick Swayze, and Robert Wagner to come across the country and make appearances at New York events. (I do not know if they are reimbursed, or put up, or come on their own dime.)
For a Whitney Houston charity event last year, which Gest produced at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, a gaggle of such types — including the great Angie Dickinson and songbirds Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. of the Fifth Dimension — all showed up in the audience. If nothing else, Gest should be able to provide a very amusing VIP situation for Michael: not exactly the hip, or hip-hop, but people who need hip replacements.
I am told that Houston has been contacted by Gest to appear with Jackson at least once in concert, although nothing formal has been arranged. “We want to do it,” said a source in Houston’s camp. “We like David. But nothing’s been worked out at all.”
Gest lists chairmen of the event as Elizabeth Taylor, Veronique and Gregory Peck, Kathy and Anthony Quinn, Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson. Since Anthony Quinn died last week, he probably will not be involved.
Interestingly, not one of the chairpersons — the living ones, that is — is African American. Quincy Jones, once Michael’s producer and friend and still certainly a major name in Hollywood, is conspicuously missing from the list.
But I am also told that Michael has asked BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) to co-host a post-concert dinner party along with a corporate sponsor (said to be a jewelry company) on September 7th.
Last night’s Songwriters Hall of Fame brought some big surprises, among them Whitney Houston showing up to honor her cousin Dionne Warwick. Houston, looking beautiful and relaxed, read from large index cards, then stood back and said, “You don’t know how proud we are of her.”
Houston’s mother, Cissy, and Warwick’s mom, Lee, are sisters. Also in the audience was Lee, as well as Dionne’s singing sister Dee Dee.
It was a night of celebrations as newly installed president Linda Moran pulled several rabbits out of hats and put on a joyous, stream-lined show. One highlight was watching Mrs. Maria Elena Holly, widow of rock great Buddy Holly, dancing on stage at the Sheraton Hotel during a jam session finale to Buddy's "Not Fade Away."
Other highlights included Billy Joel, who won the Johnny Mercer Award, thanking producer Phil Ramone for shaping his songs into hits. When I asked Ramone later if it was true, he replied, “If that’s what Billy said.” Ramone was clearly moved by the recognition. Joel noted that “Clive Davis found me in a piano bar in Los Angeles.” He also gave the audience a scoop, announcing that his daughter with Christie Brinkley, Alexa Ray, was writing and recording songs and “trying to sound like Christina Aguilera. I’m trying to get her to hit the note and stay on it. And I’ve given a tape of her songs to my friends at Sony.”
More on Monday from this wonderful New York night…
Meanwhile, Debbie Dannelly of Corpus Christi, Texas — who’s president of the Michael Jackson fan club — tells me that MJ’s fans are chipping in to buy him a gift.
Dannelly has commissioned a California artist named Nijel to sculpt Jackson for the fans. Dannelly is busy raising $5,000 to cover Nijel’s expenses — he’s contributing everything but materials — and so far about $1,200 has come in — mostly from European fans. The contributions are mostly in the $1-$10 range with a few exceptions. There’s no word on whether the donors will get to be there for the presentation.
“It’s supposed to be a surprise for Michael,” the very friendly and affable Debbie said. “If we don’t come up with enough money, we expect there will be someone who’ll come in at the last minute and save us.”
The Web site for Dannelly’s project is www.mjfanclub.net.
We got some email from readers yesterday questioning whether or not I knew that the movie Tomb Raider was based on a video game. Sure I knew it. And what’s your point?
Movies have to stand alone as cinematic endeavors no matter what material is their source. Lots of good books have been turned into bad movies. I’m sure there are good video games, and they could probably be made into some kind of acceptable film.
But the movie Tomb Raider does not conform to the standards that we use for excellence or even competence in filmmaking. There is no story, or rather the story presented is cobbled together from many previously produced, better films. The special effects are average. The dialogue is sub par. The movie has no texture or richness, and the director evinces little talent or artistry that would set his work apart from a video game or syndicated TV version of the same material.
Unfortunately — maybe because of the influence of video and TV over the last twenty years — standards are much different now. But a passionate movie-going audience should demand more of filmmakers than what we’ve been given this season. If you’re convinced that Blow, Pearl Harbor or Tomb Raider are acceptable movies, then I strongly urge you to rent Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Schindler’s List, or GoodFellas. See what came before when you make your judgements. For all I know, Tomb Raider is the best video game ever made. But it is one of the most abysmal, cynically constructed movies I have seen.
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