The revelation Tuesday night from the Los Angeles Police Department that there's a new investigation of alleged child abuse into Michael Jackson does not come as a complete surprise. Over the years, Jackson has befriended many kids -- often boys -- besides the one in 1993 and the one currently at the center of the storm.
There's one in particular, a German who is now 23 years old, whom Jackson befriended when the young man was just a teenager. Jackson met him and his family through the music business in Germany more than a decade ago, and the then-teenager's devotion to Jackson became so intense that he even started to look like the pop star at one point.
The family, whom I have spoken to, has maintained a low profile so far and has not spoken out about Jackson or their relationship with him. Many Jackson fans probably do not realize that Jackson wrote the song "Speechless" from the "Invincible" album because he was inspired by the family.
The song's refrain: "Speechless is how you make me feel/Though I'm with you I'm lost and nothing is for real."
My sources tell me that Jackson first met the family in 1995 -- when the young man would have been 14 years old -- during the time of Jackson's live performance of "Earth Song" for German TV.
"From then on, [the boy] was always around," says my source. "At the start of the tour in Prague in 1996, during the whole 1997 tour, on theme park visits in 1996 and 1997 in Cologne, Germany. [The boy] was also with Michael for three weeks in Munich in February/March 1998, spent Christmas at Neverland that year."
In 1999, Jackson is said to have stayed at the German family's home in Hamburg.
When I asked the young man's father about the relationship several months ago, he said he didn't want to comment on it. I asked him if he didn't want to defend Jackson amid the current allegations, and he said he declined to do so. That doesn't mean Jackson is guilty of anything, but it wasn't a ringing endorsement.
There are more families with whom Jackson has maintained surrogate relationships. That means there are other children who are now old enough either to remember something that might have happened -- or to invent an incident to make money. Either way, it looks as though many closets could be emptied of skeletons before Jackson's trial starts this winter in Santa Barbara.
Back on February 22 a new young R&B star, Ricky Fante, played the legendary (and very much alive) Wilson Pickett on NBC's "American Dreams." Pickett was not paid for use of his likeness (none of the stars portrayed by actors on "American Dreams" are). But now it seems that more than just his personality was appropriated by Fante.
On Fante's debut album, set to be released by Virgin Records, a Pickett song called "It Ain't Easy" has turned up under its own name but with different lyrics. This was news to Pickett and songwriting partner Jon Tiven. They hadn't been approached by Fante or anyone representing him. "It Ain't Easy" appears on a very good Pickett album still in print called "It's Harder Now" from 1999.
"Imitation is the second highest form of flattery," quipped Nashville based songwriter/producer Tiven. "The highest is when they pay you."
On the Fante CD the credits read "all songs written by Josh Deutsch, Rick Fante, Jesse Harris, and Guyora Kats." Deutsch is an executive at Virgin who is also listed as the CD's producer. Harris wrote the Norah Jones hit, "Don't Know Why."
Could it be a coincidence? Maybe, but "It Ain't Easy" isn't the only song in question on the Fante album. Another one, called "Drive," appears to be a re-written version of a more famous song called "You Left the Water Running." That song was written by legendary R&B hit maker Dan Penn ("Dark End of the Street") with Muscle Shoals studio owner Rick Hall. "Water Running" appears on many R&B albums over the years, covered by a variety of artists.
The Fante album doesn't stop there for lack of originality. Another song is titled "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)," a title made famous by Jerry Butler in the early '60s. And yet another is "Love Doesn't Live Here Anymore," which sounds like "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and recalls the title of a better-known Rose Royce ballad "Love Don't Live Here Anymore."
A Virgin Records spokesperson insisted, "All the songs on the album are written by Josh Deutsch, Jesse Harris, Ricky Fante and Guyora Kats."
All of this recalls the mess Michael Bolton got into years ago when he lifted the Isley Brothers' "Love is a Wonderful Thing." There are lots of other examples, too, such as George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" (borrowed from the Chiffons' "He's So Fine") and numerous situations with Mariah Carey in which she settled similar claims and admitted no wrongdoing. (Case in point: her song "Emotions" was The Emotions' "Best of My Love.")
All of this comes at a bad time for Virgin Records, which was hoping to see a big hit in Janet Jackson's "Damita Jo" album. But that release, as mentioned here yesterday, has fizzled.
Virgin is an interesting place right now. Former Matchbox Twenty manager Matt Serletic is running the place and his brother, Dean, is a senior VP of A&R. The head of A&R is Lionel Ridenour, who last worked at the defunct Arista Records in a similar capacity. All of these people were installed by Atlanta's answer to Allen Grubman, entertainment attorney Joel Katz, who is also chief counsel for the Grammys. When I asked someone at EMI, the parent company, rhetorically, doesn't Katz have an office there, she replied, "Doesn't he?"
There's trouble in iPod land. Apparently customers are complaining that there's static when they touch the headphone jack. I'm surprised they're not complaining about the price, too, but that's another subject. If you're still looking for an MP3 player, I must urge you to check out Creative Labs' Zen Xtra. I purchased (no freebies) this 30GB jukebox last December and have found -- for price and function -- that it's just terrific. Creative Labs also has very good tech assistance, although they still lack an 800 number. Nevertheless, for the money and sound quality -- which far exceeds the iPod -- forget about Apple and look into a Zen Xtra.