The nasty nature of the Debbie Rowe-Michael Jackson custody case has been ratcheted up a notch or two since last week.
Recent court documents reveal that last April, Rowe gained significant ground against Jackson when a family court judge voided the previous "parental termination" order, which denied her any rights at all.
This gave Rowe a big leap forward in her efforts to be a part of the lives of son Prince Michael and daughter Paris Katherine.
Rowe is said to be more and more anxious about the children's situation, with Jackson at the Neverland Ranch as their father's child-molestation trial looms. Yesterday, Judge Rodney Melville stuck to his guns that the trial must begin on January 31, 2005.
But Rowe would be even more upset if she heard what I was told: that since the most recent police raid on Neverland, Prince Michael, who is 7, now understands that his father is in serious trouble.
He is now asking questions, according to my sources, although he and Paris do not know why the police came to their home in droves. They only know it has something to do with their father.
Michael's response, I am told, is that he is crying often and is very upset about the police raid.
Rowe's April win in family court came to light last week when Jackson's attorney in that case, Thomas Hall, filed papers asking the private judge, Stephen Lachs, to seal all court records.
In particular, Hall wanted financial papers sealed so that others — like Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon — couldn't have them subpoenaed for his case.
Hall's papers, though, contained enough extraneous information (including attacks on Rowe) that what was supposed to be private is now available to the public.
All of this comes as Jackson seems more and more unaware of what's going on around him.
For instance, yesterday his "team" launched the redesign of his Web site, www.mjjsource.com, including a $49.99 membership fee for fans.
In doing so, sources say, Jackson may have imperiled his network of fan clubs, including the mothership of them all, www.mjfanclub.net.
That club, profiled last year in the Los Angeles Times, was started by a legal secretary in Corpus Christi, Texas, named Deborah Dannelly, about eight years ago. Dannelly has registered 17,000 members and receives millions of "hits" a day on the site. (Her annual fee is only $35.)
Dannelly and her legions of Jackson followers are not exactly fans of this column. In her capacity as Jackson Fan No. 1, she is said to be the driving force behind many of the public protests that have been organized to support Jackson.
She is also said by sources to be running the clubs on a shoestring, with about a dozen worldwide volunteers contributing their services.
The new Jackson Web site does have a lot of interesting features, though, including a highlighted promise of an interview with Michael's brother and Svengali, Randy Jackson.
It also reveals the members of various "teams," starting with the sole member of "Michael's team" — his stylist for two decades, Karen Faye. There is no reference to his long-suffering assistant, Evvy Tavasci.
Under "legal team," the names of Zia Modabber and Steve Cochran — the two longtime counsels who left because they weren't being paid — are gone. Instead, Brian Oxman, friend of lead attorney Tom Mesereau and of Randy Jackson, is briefly profiled. No mention is made of his suspension from the California bar.
That's not all: A timeline of Jackson's charitable activities begins in 1984 but sputters at in 1999, with nothing listed in the last five years, including the singer's ill-conceived foundation for children with Shmuley Boteach.
And a list of albums and the numbers of copies they've sold completely omits the current box set, "Ultimate Collection." Maybe that's because fewer than 20,000 fans have snapped up the $50 souvenir, even though it contains four new songs.
Everyone's got a list, and so have we. Today, it's music.
1. "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" — U2
"Original of the Species" is such a classically beautiful pop song that the rest of the album almost doesn't matter. But "Vertigo" is a deserved hit, and "City of Blinding Lights" will be next. U2 — through not just perseverance and marketing, but also great skill, timing and talent — have become the Rolling Stones of this generation. They might as well give them the Grammy now instead of waiting til 2006.
2. "The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1" — The Beatles
The purists hate this box set, but reviving "Beatles '65" is enough for me. Yes, the artwork is cheesy, but the mono and "stereo" versions of the songs from these four albums each have their own lives and resonance. The "Rubber Soul"-"Revolution"-era Beatles is so entrenched, it's nice to see the beauty of "She's a Woman," "Till There Was You" and the underrated "I Saw Her Standing There" finally acknowledged. Now we just need the "Hey Jude" album.
3. "The Diary of Alicia Keys"
The best album released in 2004 by any individual performer. "If I Ain't Got You" is so much better than any other song released this year that if it doesn't win the Grammy, we are all in trouble. From a generation of poseurs, pretenders and just plain fakes, Keys is a shocking anomaly. Plus, she's great-looking. Cross your fingers that we'll have her for a long, long time.
4. "The Delivery Man" — Elvis Costello and the Imposters
He's a genius, but few really appreciate him. Elvis Costello is also strangely caustic no matter how friendly he tries to be, so there's no chance he'll ever be Kenny Rogers. He's an artist and he sticks to his guns. Thank goodness. "Monkey to Man" is the usual mix of glib, funny lyrics and catchy hooks, but I cannot get over the heartbreaking "There's a Story in Your Voice." But it is time for Costello to stop reissuing old albums over and over (I've bought his massive collection three times so far.)
5. "Suit" — Nelly
What is about Nelly and "Suit"? I mean, he doesn't sing, and the songs here are pastiches of old R&B glued together and then sung by others. I do mean others: Tim McGraw on "Over and Over," Teddy Pendergrass sound-alike Jaheim on "My Place," plus Anthony Hamilton and Ronald Isley. It shouldn't work, but it does. The irony is that Nelly hasn't got much to do with it. He should have just called it "Nelly Presents." He'd be the rap Sol Hurok (check the reference with your grandparents).
6. "Wildlife Dictionary" — Garland Jeffreys
This is my rediscovery album of 2004, although I never heard of it until this year. Jeffreys is a New York poet-rocker with Cuban-Puerto Rican flavorings to his rich neo-R&B sound. He had seminal hits in the late '70s, early '80s ("Wild in the Streets," "Matador"), then stepped away. Now a very youthful 61, he's only better than ever. This album, from 1997, is a joy to behold and a lost classic if ever there was one.
7. "Letters" — Butch Walker
From Atlanta, Walker fronted a group called the Marvelous 3, had a hit, disbanded and then became a hot producer for the likes of Avril Lavigne. Not exactly a hot trajectory, but at 35 he is a startlingly appealing singer-songwriter who can rock and sing like a mutha. His melodies can recall Air Supply and daytime soap themes, while his bass lines chug the whole business in new directions. "Mixtape" is the memorable single, but "Letters" is the kind of album from which new songs keeping popping up and you say, months from now, "Is that song on there? Huh!"
8. "Hopes and Fears" — Keane/"Final Straw" — Snow Patrol
No Travis or Coldplay this year, so these two bands — from England and Scotland via Ireland, respectively, will make do nicely. Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know" cements the deal with Tom Chaplin's breathy falsetto counterpointed by the sound of a child's piano-type keyboards. Very Soft Cell, Keane, and good for late nights. Snow Patrol is more manly, and ready for bar listening with "Run," a single that sounds like it might be an ode to Thunderclap Newman. I could listen to it over and over and never get tired of it.
9. "I Can't Stop" — Al Green/"Have a Little Faith" — Mavis Staples
The first marked the reunion of lazy, self-absorbed and massively talented Al with his mentor and guiding light, Willie Mitchell, and Mabon "Teenie" Hodges on guitar. Green obviously sees the value of this: His next release, in March, is with the same cast and said to even better, if possible. "My Problem Is You" is the standout, but the moral here is: Living is the best revenge. As for Mavis, just the fact that she doesn't have to sing "I'll Take You There" for the 9,000th time is news enough. Her singular voice more than makes up for some of the songs — she could sing the phone book and get ovations.
10. Guilty Pleasures: Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone"; No Doubt, "It's My Life"; Maroon 5, "She Will Be Loved"; Black Eyed Peas, "Where Is the Love?"; Babyface & All-Stars, "Wake Up Everybody"; Anita Baker, album "My Everything"; Damien Rice, album "O," including "The Blower's Daughter"; Vaneese Thomas and sister Carla Thomas, "A Woman's Love"; Ellis Hooks, "Holding Out My Love"; "The Libertines," as well as Libertine frontman Pete Doherty and a guy named Wolfman on "For Lovers," a one-off single.
11. Best unreleased record: "I've Been Thinking About You" — The Climates
What do I say about a CD that's given me so much pleasure? Will you ever hear it? Only if someone from a small, interesting label will take it on. Chili Chishilm and his pals from Memphis date back to the Sun Records era. They had a hit in 1967 called "No You for Me" b/w "Breaking Up Again" (Sun No. #404). Now they've finally made their album after 34 years, cut at Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios, and it's a "beaut." What a PR hook, too! Nonesuch, Sanctuary, Shanachie, YepRoc, Rhino, Def Soul Classics (if you exist) — here's a chance to make history.
Finally: Thirty years ago today I had the pleasure, at 17, of seeing my favorite high school English teachers marry in a beautiful ceremony at Yale University. Three decades later, with many accolades, awards, and protégés to their credit, Mary and Clayton Curtiss share a legacy of love and respect. Mazel tov!