In a strange twist of fate, Michael Jackson's family members almost derailed the deal to restore him financially.
As I reported in this space last month, yesterday — February 17 — was a key date in Jackson's financial soap opera. It was the day a $70 million "put" or loan installment was due on Jackson's $350 million worth of loans with Bank of America.
The New York Times incorrectly reported last week that Jackson could be filing for bankruptcy on that date. The reporter there failed to read with care our January story, which outlined how Jackson's backers, Charles Koppelman and Al Malnik, had guaranteed the $70 million to Bank of America.
Of course, the two men came through with their promise. Yesterday the papers were drawn up between Jackson and Bank of America for the payment of the $70 million, with funding provided by Jackson's two leading dealmakers.
But now I'm told that a second proposal by Jackson's father, Joseph, with help from a brother, Randy, nearly derailed the Koppelman/Malnik plan.
A couple of weeks ago, Randy Jackson, according to sources, announced to Malnik that he'd been in touch with a Las Vegas businessman and entertainer named Tony Brown.
In turn, Randy Jackson claimed, Brown had managed to gain the confidence of an investment bank, which offered to undertake the entire Bank of America loan, including the "put." Michael would be free of his commitment to the bank, and to Malnik and Koppelman as well.
Joseph Jackson endorsed the deal, and consequently became allied with Michael's two previous managers, German Dieter Wiesner and Canadian Ronald Konitzer. Both of those men, who had been iced out of Michael's business life by the Nation of Islam, were suddenly back in the picture. In addition to them, my source claims, came a new party: journalist Daphne Barak.
Barak did not return messages sent to her through her publicist yesterday. But apparently at some point in the last two weeks, she crossed the line from journalist to quasi-manager, taking part in phone calls with Wiesner, Konitzer and Joseph Jackson regarding Michael's finances and making a deal through Tony Brown with the new investment bank.
This new twist is maybe the most interesting part of the story. Last Sunday, Barak — who portrays herself as the only TV journalist with access to the Jackson family — interviewed Wiesner on NBC's "Dateline."
There was no mention that in fact she may have been in business with Wiesner and his group and participated in phone conversations advocating one deal over another for Michael Jackson.
On "Dateline," Barak pestered Wiesner for answers to questions about Jackson's finances. But according to my source, she may have already known the answers.
Nevertheless, it didn't matter. Several days ago, I am told, Barak, Joseph Jackson, Wiesner and Konitzer called Malnik and Koppelman to say their deal with Brown had fallen through, and that they had failed to come up with the goods.
This means that Joseph and Randy Jackson's attempt to wrest control of Michael's financial dealings has also failed, and they are back to square one.
Meanwhile, my sources tell me two other very important facts relating to the ongoing Jackson saga.
"The Nation of Islam is still in control," is the first message. Despite newspaper reports from London, Michael and Debbie Rowe, the mother of his two eldest children, are not in a custody battle. They never discussed Debbie getting more visitations and the Nation of Islam backing away from Jackson.
"It never happened," said two sources of mine yesterday. I do wish the London tabloid The Sun would stop inventing these fantasies.
Second, Jackson did not stay at the home of California billionaire Ron Burkle last week, despite even more "published" reports.
"Not so," says my source, who claims that Burkle simply wanted the publicity.
Is there more? Oh yes, there is always more. It never ends, does it?
Norah Jones' second album, "Feels Like Home," sold just over one million copies last week, making it the biggest chart hit in about three years, since the last 'N Sync album.
"Feels Like Home" is the follow-up to Jones' Grammy-winning debut, "Come Away With Me," which is still very much on the charts after two years and also selling like crazy.
The daughter of legendary Indian composer/musician Ravi Shankar has really pulled off a coup with this huge return, and she has lots of people to thank at Blue Note Records, including president Bruce Lundvall.
She can also thank another legend, producer Arif Mardin, who never gets the credit he deserves.
Mardin produced dozen of classic recordings and hits at Atlantic Records during its heyday, including songs and albums by (I'm taking this list off his Web site) The Average White Band, Anita Baker, The Bee Gees, Judy Collins, Phil Collins, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Hall & Oates, Donny Hathaway, Chaka Khan, Melissa Manchester, Manhattan Transfer, Bette Midler, Modern Jazz Quartet, Willie Nelson, John Prine and Dusty Springfield.
According to the Web site, Arif has collected over 40 gold and platinum albums, over 15 Grammy nominations and six Grammy awards. I think this excludes the first Norah Jones album.
He's also produced countless Broadway albums, including "Rent" and "Smokey Joe's Café." And even though he's famous for his work with female vocalists, I think the Bee Gees' "Jive Talkin'" was probably his most important single because it pre-dated the group's "Saturday Night Fever" success and really set them up for it.
A couple of years ago, Mardin — who is probably in his 70s — was eased out of Atlantic very unceremoniously after four glorious decades. Nice, huh?
But Arif was the consummate gentleman. There were no gossip items. He simply readjusted his career and set to work with the great group at Capitol/Blue Note — Lundvall, Ian Ralfini, and company — and determined to have a hit.
Now he's had the last laugh, but he's also the last to say so.
So I'm saying it for him. One million, twenty-six thousand CDs in one week. It didn't matter about downloading or piracy. It was all about quality. Bravo, Arif!