Where do I start? In the middle of Michael Jackson’s complex and pending financial disaster, the singer faces new trouble in a more serious venue.
Sources tell me that Jackson is being investigated by the Department of Justice for lying to get his kids new passports and taking them out of the U.S. illegally.
At the same time, Jackson’s lawyers asked the private ex-family court judge they hired last year to step aside in their custody battle with the singer’s ex-wife, Debbie Rowe.
Jackson and Rowe hired retired Judge Stephen M. Lachs to adjudicate their long-running and unique conflict over Prince Michael and Paris Jackson.
But according to sources, now Jackson’s lawyer Michael Abrams has filed a motion with Lachs asking him to recuse himself from the case, even though he was hand-selected.
The reason? Abrams is saying that Lachs is predisposed to Rowe. Sources on Rowe’s side, however, find that laughable, since the case has taken more than a year and gotten almost nowhere, thanks to Jackson first being on trial for child molestation and then leaving the U.S. with no intention of returning.
The Rowe-Jackson situation is complicated by the fact that Rowe is the only biological parent of the two kids. She married Jackson, had the children and then agreed to divorce and a settlement that contained a confidentiality agreement.
Jackson stopped paying her last year, claiming she’d broken the agreement by giving an interview about her horses to a syndicated TV show.
And there’s more: Rowe, according to sources, has filed a motion with Lachs claiming that Jackson took Prince and Paris to Bahrain in the United Arab Emirates without her permission.
This part of the story is tricky: at the time that Jackson decided to take the kids abroad, their passports were being held by the family court, thanks to the pending custody case.
Jackson -- according to Rowe -- lied to the passport service by saying he had sole custody in order to get new passports. This brought in the Department of Justice, which is taking the complaint seriously.
A source there told me, “We can’t comment on investigations or whether there is one going on. But there are specific laws about parents taking kids out of the country.”
The source also conceded that it’s easy for one parent to commit fraud by lying to the passport office and removing children illegally. Rowe, Jackson’s lawyers will argue, had no rights. But Rowe’s side can show that she had her parental rights restored by Judge Lachs about two months before Jackson split for Bahrain.
The judicial recusal is another thing, however. Judge Lachs has 10 days to decide if he will step down. If he chooses to stay, the matter goes to judicial review. One theory for Abrams and Jackson’s possibly next move is to buy time.
Jackson, sources tell me, is hoping to soon claim residency in Bahrain when his six-month stay is completed.
Meanwhile, I have to say how amused I am to see dozens of articles concerning Michael Jackson in the last two days based on reporting from this column. Almost none of them gave us any credit. But readers of this column know better, and not to trust other outlets. Many of them got the story completely wrong.
It’s not called "Gigli II." Jennifer Lopez -- the artist formerly known as J-Lo -- is shooting a movie with her husband Marc Anthony. Somehow, “El Cantante” (The Singer) has been going on under the radar for a couple of weeks now, but the indie film, budgeted at $10 million -- Lopez’s salary in some previous movies -- is shooting as you read this.
Lopez has made movies with real-life romantic co-stars in the past. Most notoriously, she made the hilariously awful “Gigli” with Ben Affleck.
Anthony has acted in films before, most notably in Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead.” He was very good in it, and has many other acting credits, including Paul Simon’s ill-fated Broadway musical “The Capeman.”
Lopez’s last movie was “Monster-in-Law,” in which she played Jane Fonda’s daughter-in-law. She has a string of mediocre, forgettable films on her resume including “Enough,” “The Wedding Planner,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “Angel Eyes” and “The Cell.”
“El Cantante” was announced in May 2004 as a project Lopez’s company would produce for Anthony. But now it seems like she plays the female lead. Anthony stars as Latin singing sensation Hector Lavoe, the Hispanic Frank Sinatra. Federico Castellucci, fresh from "The Sopranos," co-stars as his manager.
Leon Ichaso is the writer/director. His credits include “Pinero,” which starred Benjamin Bratt, as well as episodes of TV’s “Monk.” Simon Fields, who now manages Lopez and produces her films, is credited as producer.
Here’s what I have to say: believe it or not, I don’t think this is such a bad idea. Lopez could use an indie for some credibility at this point. Anthony can sing and act. Lopez can’t sing, but she can act. This could be a surprise success, you never know.
Here we go. The best of the year:
1. “Cold Roses” -- Ryan Adams
You know it was the best because the Grammys ignored it. “When Will You Come Back Home,” “How Do You Keep Love Alive” and “Meadowlake Street” are now logged into every one of my MP3 players. I guess Adams has a bad rep in some circles. Some people think he’s Bryan Adams. He’s not, trust me.
2. “A Time 2 Love” -- Stevie Wonder
Motown has done very little for Stevie, and my guess is he’ll leave first chance he gets. “A Time 2 Love” should have been a Grammy nominee. Fifteen sterling tracks include several memorable ballads. Where was Universal’s Doug Morris on this? Didn’t he say at Stevie’s sad little launch party that he was going to undertake this project “personally”? And the always charming Sylvia Rhone is about to get promoted. Not before you explain this disaster.
3. “Chaos and Creation” -- Paul McCartney
A Grammy nomination for Best Album. No sales. But McCartney found a melodic and lyric groove that was a little dark for him and it all worked. No single yet, but “How Kind of You” is starting to get a little airplay. It sounds great. My favorites: “This Never Happened Before” and “At the Mercy.”
4. “Get Lifted” -- John Legend
Is there a future for R&B besides Alicia Keys? Yes, and John Legend could be it. An album that just gets better and better with every listen. I think I could listen to “Live it Up” and “So High” 100 more times without ever getting bored. Dig the sample of The Staples Singers’ “Let’s Do It Again.” Thank you, John. And to think Kanye West had something to do with this. Go figure.
5. “Unpredictable” -- Jamie Foxx
Surprise! Jamie Foxx will be insufferable now, with an Oscar and a hit album. “Extravaganza” is a dynamite single, and there are plenty of well-produced tracks here that have nothing whatsoever to do with Ray Charles.
6. “The Emancipation of Mimi” -- Mariah Carey
Just the fact that Mariah was able to come back from her “Glitter” disaster is news enough. “We Belong Together” was the song of the summer, and now an extended version of the album has yielded “Don’t Forget About Us.” Benny Medina has to get credit, too. And Randy Jackson, who most people now think of as being from “American Idol,” is Mariah’s secret weapon.
7. “Suit” -- Nelly
Despite a lot of sampling, Nelly made a clever, smooth R&B album that makes sense. Where Kanye is stringent and annoying, Nelly seems to know that a clipped together production is simply fun, and that’s all. That’s why “Over and Over” with Tim McGraw is so much more appealing than any of Kanye’s posing. And Nelly is a nice guy, too. I’ll never forget him coming out periodically to bring Patti LaBelle water or comfort during the taping of her birthday special.
8. “Something to Be” -- Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas isn’t cool, but he’s hot. His solo album is filled with well-crafted, richly produced, hook-driven hits. They fall somewhere between pop-rock and pop-soul, which ain’t bad. “Lonely No More” remains the commercial standout, but I love “Streetcorner Symphony.” This is an album that will last past its expiration date. Another really nice guy, too.
9. “All That I Am” -- Santana
There will never be another “Caravanserai” or “Abraxas,” so “All That I Am” is going to have to do. Why not? The instrumental “Trinity” soars and makes the whole album. Anthony Hamilton, Steven Tyler and Michelle Branch make it a Santana party.
10. “No Direction Home” (Bootleg Series Vol. 7) -- Bob Dylan
Martin Scorsese’s documentary DVD was accompanied by this soundtrack CD. They are each totally invaluable chronicles of Dylan, huge hope chests crammed with gifts of all time. “Visions of Johanna” and “Masters of War” are now elevated to a status higher than we knew existed.
11. “Moonlight Serenade” -- Carly Simon
Her textured singing has always suited Carly Simon when it comes to classic pop songs. “Moonglow” is my favorite here, but you can’t beat the title track or “How Long Has This Been Going On?” What makes Carly’s renditions especially appealing is that much like Natalie Cole, you feel that she has a stake in the production, and a thorough knowledge and appreciation of the material.
12. "The Concert for Bangladesh" (Reissue)
Thanks to Olivia Harrison, George Harrison’s dedicated and devoted widow, we finally have a remastered album and movie. If you’ve never heard “Beware of Darkness” with George and the inimitable Leon Russell, savor the moment. This has to be in every rock library. And proceeds still go to UNICEF.
13. “The Body Acoustic” -- Cyndi Lauper
I just heard Cyndi and Sarah McLachlan’s version of “Time After Time” on WPLJ in New York. Bravo to them! The record stuck out among today’s junk as little gem. The rest of the tracks here do the same thing, and “Shine,” “I’ll Be Your River” and Cyndi’s Jeff Beck collaboration “Above the Clouds” are all standouts. Lauper is the next person who actually deserves to be a first ballot inductee in the Rock Hall of Fame.
14. “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise” -- Bettye Lavette
A great soul singer, generally unknown to the public but a cult favorite. Lavette records and records and impresses with her gravelly gift from God. There are nice surprises here, too, like Aimee Mann’s “How Am I Different.” How is Bettye Lavette different? Like Carla Thomas, Irma Thomas (no relation) and Ann Peebles, she’s the last of a rare breed. Embrace her now, while you can.
15. “A Bigger Bang” -- The Rolling Stones
The first really good Stones album through and through since 1981’s “Tattoo You.” “Rough Justice” was just smarmy enough to be a calling card. “Streets of Love” and “Biggest Mistake” should have been huge. Like Stevie Wonder, completely and miserably handled by a record company that either didn’t care or didn’t have a clue.
Special Mention, Best Single of the Year: Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”
Best Song of the Year: U2, “Original of the Species”
Best Movie Music: Howard Shore, “A History of Violence”
Are you sending those used paperbacks to Debbie Sporich's independent bookstore, called The Bookstore, in Dillon, Mont.? Email her here. The street address is 26 North Idaho St., Dillon, MT 59725. And listen, don't send junk. Debbie needs classics, literary treasures and classy bestsellers. She's got teenagers out there who are looking for impression-making stuff...
The Memphis Black Arts Alliance is one of the most impressive places I've ever been. This not for profit in the center of my second favorite city is so important for children. All their activities take place in the Firehouse Academy, a converted firehouse. E-mail them here and you can check out all the good they do at their Web site.
Finally, our old friends at the historic Hitching Post steak house, in the very real Old West town of Casmalia, Calif., are still fighting one of the craziest lawsuits ever. You can read about it at their site.
Better yet, if you should ever have the good luck to be anywhere near the Santa Ynez Valley, don't miss this wonderful spot. Along with the Far Western Tavern in nearby Guadalupe, and Chef Rick's in Orcutt, these are the places that make the area "Sideways" country...