I got a kick out of reading Chuck Phillips' L.A. Times stories about Michael Jackson and the "What More Can I Give?" charity single.
Phillips is ordinarily 100 percent right on in his music industry stories. But on this one I would say Sony Music and Tommy Mottola, and probably Michael's now ex-manager Trudy Green, have put him on the spin cycle.
For one thing, Phillips has gotten tangled up on how the news that McDonald's was going to distribute the single made it into the press. In fact, this column exclusively reported the entire business, including Mick Jagger bowing out of Jackson's Washington, D.C., show and McDonald's agreeing to distribute the single — back on Oct. 13. The story was called "Jagger Exits Jacko Charity Show."
This reporter knew then that Mark Schaffel was the producer of "What More Can I Give?" But what happened after the story broke is now manifesting itself in the L.A. Times some nine months later. Talk about a gestation!
Green, Jackson's manager, and John McClain, Jackson's sometime manager who is, oddly, also an executive at DreamWorks Records, decided Schaffel had gotten too big for his britches. Not knowing him, but disliking him, Schaffel says the pair, along with Mottola, conspired to remove him from the project.
You'll see in Phillips' articles and another one on MTV.com that Schaffel "received a letter on Nov. 15 from Jackson's management and lawyers" releasing him from the project. The letter was from Green (who works for Howard Kaufman Management in Los Angeles). By this time, Schaffel counters, Jackson was so furious with Green following the poor release of Invincible that he wanted to remove her, not Schaffel, from his professional life. Green was acting on her own, and not for Jackson, when she sent the letter to Schaffel.
I spoke to Schaffel several times after Nov. 15 about "What More Can I Give?" I can assure you that he was still working with and for Michael Jackson right through February 2002. And he's still on the best of terms with him — much better terms than either Mottola or Green.
As for Jackson, he seems to be utterly clueless about what's going on around him. I feel sorry for him. He was used last year by Shmuley Boteach in charity schemes, so he's probably gun-shy about trusting outsiders. He may have been convinced Schaffel lied about his background in adult videos.
But as this column pointed out on Friday, much as it might be unseemly, adult video directors and producers work in mainstream pop video production all the time. Britney Spears, Mandy Moore and others have used Gregory Dark, an infamous porno director, to make their videos. Dark, who has directed videos for LFO, Ice Cube and the Counting Crows, according to Entertainment Weekly, told that magazine's Web site on February 4, 2000, that ''I don't deny that I did it, it's just that I also like people to know that I don't currently and haven't in a long time.'' EWonline surmised increased publicity wouldn't hurt his career: "I don't think people who buy records are too concerned about the background of the video's director.''
Billboard reporter Carla Hay was quoted in the story. And Steven Gottlieb of the music video trade the CVC Report told them Dark's rockers and hip-hoppers might be turned on by the notion of working with a porn director: ''A lot of those guys would be sort of excited by that.''
So what to make of all this? It's just another volley from Sony and Mottola's camp in a smear campaign against Jackson. Last year, Mariah Carey was "crazy." This year, Jackson cavorts with porno people. What will happen this week?
Expect more stories about Jackson as a pedophile, more of the racism talk, and an old canard is about to surface: that Jackson is an anti-Semite because of lyrics he used on the History album. Of course, when these stories come up, it will be conveniently forgotten that Sony backed Jackson 100 percent at the time.
In the end, though, as my friend in the music business puts it so succinctly: "It's not about the money. It's about The Money." And that's all it's about, friends. Don't let any of this stuff persuade you to think otherwise. Michael Jackson may be: crazy, a bad judge of his own behavior with children, addicted to plastic surgery and white as a sheet. But he made music that millions of people bought and now has very little to show for it. That's what we should be discussing.
The great pop singer Julia Fordham did her second New York show on Saturday night at Joe's Pub — and it was much better than her Wednesday night show. Maybe that's because she wasn't on drugs the second time.
Let me explain.
Coming into New York on Wednesday from Washington, D.C., Julia — whose lush, gorgeous voice never looks like it will come out of her petite, blonde-haired presence — lost her voice. Lost. Gone. Wouldn't even scratch out a sentence. Panicked, she and manager Lori Leve called all their friends in New York. In two hours, Fordham would have to take the stage.
To the rescue came famed throat specialist Dr. Gwen Corovin, whose star patients include Celine Dion. "She did a few things, they were disgusting and I can't tell you what they were, but let me say that cortisone shots work miracles," Fordham said later. At Wednesday night's show, Fordham floated above the stage in front of her standing room only audience — and still managed to put on a wonderful performance.
At Saturday night's show, her producer Larry Klein — whose work with former wife Joni Mitchell is legendary and admired — joined Fordham on stage for one tune. For her old hit "Happy Ever After," an audience member with outstanding harmony volunteered to help on the choruses and was a big success.
But in the end it's Fordham — whose new album Concrete Love is out on Vanguard Records with a cameo by India.Arie. She is really a performer in her prime, at her peak, and Concrete Love is a must-own CD for anyone who likes great pop music. A couple of the songs in particular — "Missing Man" and "Foolish Thing" — are stuck in my head and won't leave.