Brace yourselves — they're back!
The Rolling Stones are determined to recapture the title of World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band from pretenders to the throne U2.
I'm told they will announce a new album and tour next Tuesday in New York. A press conference/concert has been booked for midtown, possibly Bryant Park.
A publicist will only say: "It's at a very accessible place."
In the past, the Stones have performed on a flatbed truck on Fifth Avenue in NYC. But they've been upstaged in recent years by U2, who took a page from the Stones' book by rolling on their own truck across the Brooklyn Bridge to announce their current tour.
The tour is set to start in late summer and hit New York in September, right before Paul McCartney's tour blows through town. Shades of the old Beatles vs. Stones rivalry!
A new Stones album may also be announced Tuesday, making it their 407th since 1965, or at least it feels that way.
But seriously, none of that matters, as long as we get a full version of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and maybe Billy Preston as a surprise treat.
The Michael Jackson trial resumes today with Rudy Provencio on the stand.
He was the friend of Jackson business partner Marc Schaffel who — the prosecution claims — has first-hand knowledge of the alleged conspiracy to keep the Arvizo family confined at Neverland and then ship them to Brazil forever.
Charming and humorous, Provencio was a welcome relief when he took the stand yesterday after two hours of testimony from a certified public accountant.
But Provencio will be in for a rude awakening today, because the going is about to get tough.
My sources say that although he was in Jackson and Schaffel's presence a lot in 2001, he was barely around during February and March 2003, when the alleged child molestation of Janet Arvizo's son is said to have taken place.
That's because his stepfather was dying of cancer in Temperance, Mich., not far from Provencio and Schaffel's hometown of Toledo, Ohio.
"He was around maybe two or three days," my source says, and it can be proven with phone records.
But phone records are a sketchy problem in this trial.
For example, the prosecution spent a lot of time over the past two days showing that Provencio — or someone using his phone — was on the phone a lot with Schaffel and Vincent Amen, two of the five unnamed, unindicted co-conspirators in the Jackson case.
The implication is that Provencio was chatting with those two about the plans for the Arvizos.
Wrong. I'll tell you something that Provencio managed to leave out of the little autobiography he recited for the assistant district attorney yesterday.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Provencio was in business with Schaffel, Amen, fellow Jackson associate Frank Tyson and Tyson's brother a whole year before any of them ever heard the name "Arvizo."
That's right. Corporation papers filed in New Jersey show that all five had a business called Steal the Stage, LLC.
The papers were filed in 2002. The project was designed to find songwriters and other artists à la "American Idol."
Jackson was not an officer of the corporation, but he agreed informally to support the project as a TV show if the five could get it off the ground.
Apparently, a treatment for a Steal the Stage TV show may be found in a computer that police confiscated from Schaffel's office. They just don't know it.
The calls back and forth between Provencio and Jackson insiders were about that show and other entertainment projects the group was hoping to launch, and not about the Arvizos, my sources say.
I wonder why Provencio didn't mention that he'd been friends and in business with all these people.
Meanwhile, the prosecution made another error yesterday when it showed phone records belonging to a Schaffel associate, Paul Hugo.
The calls on Hugo's phone — to Schaffel's house, to Tyson and Amen's phones, etc. — came from Brazil. The implication was that Hugo was down in Brazil readying a location for the Arvizo family's "one-way" trip.
But Paul Hugo did not make those calls. In fact, Schaffel, using a phone registered to Hugo, made the calls from Rio de Janeiro. He'd gone there for Mardi Gras, not to find the Arvizos a home.
This reporter only realized this when the prosecution flashed "Paul Hugo's" phone number on the overheard projector.
I recognized the number as one belonging to Schaffel from almost two years ago, when I called him about the Jackson charity single, "What More Can I Give?"
How did Schaffel get Hugo's phone? Sources tell me that Hugo bought a total of five cell phones in his own name, kept one and gave the others to Schaffel, to Jackson PR guy Stuart Backerman (search) and to Amen when the Neverland office didn't have enough money or credit to buy them on its own (more on this below).
Schaffel took the phone to Rio with him and kept it for over a year.
Anyone who did business with him will remember the name "Paul Hugo" flashing as the caller ID when Schaffel returned calls about Jackson.
Readers of this column know we started generating stories here about Michael Jackson's finances as long ago as 2001.
This was after an excellent piece in Penthouse (of all places) by investigative journalist John Connolly. Later this material was picked up and repurposed without credit in Vanity Fair.
Yesterday, a CPA hired by the prosecution to analyze Jackson's financial picture testified in the trial.
This, of course, was one of District Attorney Tom Sneddon's great aims — to embarrass the King of Pop and show him as a pauper who lives beyond his means.
Unfortunately, the accountant assigned this task, while very nice, had no real experience evaluating song catalogs or entertainment portfolios other than, he said, some work on David Bowie's finances.
For example, a verbal fight ensued between John Durros Bryan, the accountant, and defense attorney Tom Mesereau over how much Jackson's stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing is worth.
Even though Jackson has a 50 percent stake in the company, Bryan insisted he would get far less than that if the company were sold or if Jackson's share was bought out.
If the company is worth $1 billion, Bryan claimed, Jackson would get only $200 million. Sony would get the rest.
Well, Mr. Bryan, you are — to quote Janet Arvizo — incorrect.
My sources, who have been right on the money about Jackson and Sony for a long time now, explain it this way: Jackson and Sony are in fact 50/50 owners of Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Sony often makes acquisitions for the company. It recently bought Acuff Rose Music Publishing, a major country-music catalog, for example.
But Sony's deal with Jackson is that it must finance his half of such acquisitions.
"That creates a debt on paper," says my source.
But that debt, which is amortized over a 10-year period, is not counted against Jackson.
That's because the purchase of an acquisition is expected to turn a huge profit over several years, making money for everyone.
Jackson, in fact, has a $500 million stake in Sony/ATV. He has a Bank of America loan against it for $200 million. If the company is sold for a billion, or Sony buys him out, Jackson will be left with $300 million.
Of course, he has other substantial debts which would considerably winnow down that amount.
But Bryan was wrong, my source says, when he testified that if Jackson sold his stake, he'd not only be broke, but $40 million in debt because of his tax liability.
Frankly, the only thing Bryan said yesterday that was completely accurate was in response to Mesereau's assertion that Jackson had had offers to sell his Sony/ATV stake for $400 million — thus bailing himself out of hock.
Said Bryan: "If that's the case, then why doesn't he do it?"
Responded my source, who knows Jackson well: "Because he's crazy."
Jackson, in fact, just rejected a deal offered by Goldman Sachs and his former financial angels Charles Koppelman and Al Malnik.
The deal would have left Jackson with no debt at Neverland or on his own songwriting catalog, a 25 percent stake in Sony/ATV, $10 million in cash and a guaranteed $7 million-a-year income.
Why did he turn it down? He just didn't like it.
One true thing did come out of the long examination of Michael Jackson's finances yesterday.
Schaffel, who was earlier identified as having cashed checks for $1.5 million from a joint account with Jackson, clearly was reimbursing himself for money owed.
You may recall this column breaking the story of Schaffel's civil suit against Jackson for $4 million.
Thanks to John Bryan's testimony yesterday, we now know that around the time Schaffel was cashing those checks, Jackson had only $38,000 in cash for spending money — and bills totaling $10 million.
It was hard to imagine when the story of the lawsuit broke that Marc Schaffel was actually lending millions to Jackson.
But apparently Jackson's lack of liquidity was so pronounced at the time — February and March 2003 — that Schaffel was loaning him money and advancing money for the production of Jackson's rebuttal video and home movies, which were shown on the Fox broadcast network.