The good ship Michael Jackson is sinking in red as you read this.
Jackson was sued yesterday by one of his old friends, director John Landis, who says he’s owed around a million dollars by the singer in royalties for their classic "Thriller" video. This comes on the heels of settling a $7 million lawsuit with Prince Abdulla of Bahrain.
Landis was one of Jackson’s last friends and supporters, so the suit is a last resort effort on his part.
At the same time, I am told that Jackson borrowed heavily again through Thomas Barrack’s Colony Capital so he could afford his $100,000 a month rental in Beverly Hills. The refi came as Jackson let Barrack become his partner in Neverland, where Colony now holds a $24 million note.
The few people left around Jackson who know his perilous financial situation are wondering why he borrowed more money and question where this is all going to end. One place might be bankruptcy court, as 50 year old Jackson — whose on paper 50% ownership of Sony/ATV Music is leveraged every which way — continues not to take any real responsibility for his own finances.
Certainly, the new questions are forming around Jackson’s mysterious manager and confidante of the moment, Dr. Tohme Tohme. He’s just the latest in a long line of people with various agendas who’ve passed through the former pop star’s life.
In the meantime, the Nederlander Organization has optioned "Thriller" to turn it into a musical. It’s unclear whether it’s just the storyline (such as it was) from that video, or the whole "Thriller" album that will somehow be transformed into one cohesive story. I guess it would include werewolves (Thriller), a pregnant girl who claims a star’s paternity (Billie Jean), a gang of West Side Story dancers (Beat It), and so on. Talk about connect the dots!
Yes, it’s January. But that’s no excuse for what’s happened in what can only euphemistically be called the record business.
According to numbers calculated by hitsdailydouble.com, the top 10 CDs sold a total of about 350,000 copies last week. Forget the rest of the "chart"—there isn’t one to speak of. After the top 10, the numbers trail off into oblivion.
Or more oblivion.
Last week the number 1 album, by the forgettable Taylor Swift, sold just under 62,000 copies.
Mariah Carey’s repurposed greatest hits, the biggest "new" release of the week, came in at number 10 with 27,000 copies sold.
At that rate, the industry might as well give the music away for free. Oh wait, they’ve been doing that for a few years now on the internet.
From what Mariah will get on those CD sales, she wouldn’t even be able to have both feet pedicured at the same time. And Sony’s cut isn’t enough to pay Rick Rubin’s car fare, let alone a whole company of execs or the rent at the old CAA headquarters.
All eyes then will be on Bruce Springsteen’s new CD for Sony, Working on a Dream, which debuted yesterday. Springsteen and the E Street Band will appear on the Super Bowl show on Sunday, hoping to get a sales bounce. Even if that works, the numbers won’t turn up for a week. When Springsteen’s first week sales are counted, the Super Bowl won’t yet have played a factor.
I downloaded Working on a Dream yesterday (there was no one left at Sony to send me a review copy) for $8.99 from amazon’s mp3 service onto my Zen X-fi. (Yes, readers, I live in the non Apple world just fine, thanks.)
It’s a very good album, with lots of catchy, well produced songs. It’s not The Rising or Magic, but who’s going to attain that quality every time out? The title track is a pop gem, along the lines of great Springsteen singles like "Radio Nowhere," "Hungry Heart" and "Tunnel of Love."
What I really like is Springsteen’s audacity: he starts the album with an eight minute epic, "Outlaw Pete," before getting into lighter fare like "My Lucky Day" and the sensational "Surprise, Surprise." Springsteen even has a song named after a John Lennon classic — "Tomorrow Never Knows" — sung like Bob Dylan. You gotta love it, since he makes it his.
But how exactly "Working on a Dream" will be marketed beyond the Super Bowl remains a mystery. Frankly, I would take "Surprise, Surprise," "My Lucky Day," and "Working on a Dream" and out them forward as singles all at the same time — just inundate radio with Springsteen’s rare take on pop. But, you know, no one asked me.
Here’s hoping that the Boss is wise enough to play all three of these songs on Sunday, in addition to Born in the USA, Born to Run, and maybe Radio Nowhere and Dancing in the Dark. Keep it short, simple, catchy, and introduce as much of the new stuff as possible. The new CD is part of a deal at Sony Music worth $100 million, so many corporate types will be clutching antacids on Sunday hopeful that the football audience rocks right over to their computers or a local record store.
Yesterday two kinds of terrific writers died, leaving big legacies.
Literary lion John Updike was 76, almost the last of a generation that can never be replaced. We’re pretty much down now to Philip Roth and a handful of others who mean anything (Doris Lessing. Joyce Carol Oates, Milan Kundera, VS Naipaul). By and large, being a man or woman of letters — what Updike was about — is almost completely over.
Updike’s misses were as good as his hits, and of those he had many including the Rabbit books, The Witches of Eastwick, and a number of early efforts including Couples, Marry Me, and A Month of Sundays. More like Henry James than you might think, he moved easily between long form fiction, short stories, poems, essays, and book reviews.
Updike’s work made it onto film occasionally. His collection of linked stories, Too Far to Go, was made into a wonderful TV movie with Blythe Danner and Michael Moriarity in 1979. Of course there’s The Witches of Eastwick. But his really landmark stuff, like Rabbit Run, was simply too elusive, textured and nuanced. To say that Updike will be missed is an understatement.
At the same time, James Brady was a bon vivant, an early outline maybe for Dominick Dunne. He knew everyone and everything, wrote about it all in the early days of Page Six, of Womens Wear Daily, Forbes, and Parade and in roman a clef novels. Jim — like the late Claudia Cohen and Neil Travis, like the perennials Liz Smith, Army Archerd, and Cindy Adams, set the tone for what people like this reporter do now. Rest in peace.