Jacko Speaks ... Finally

Michael Jackson | New Orleans Benefit | 'Wallace & Gromit'

Jackson Speaks Up: Eight-Hour London Deposition

Michael Jackson didn't want to, but he finally had to answer some questions on Friday.

He reluctantly answered questions posed to him in a deposition by the attorney for his former business partner, Marc Schaffel .

Schaffel has sued Jackson for $4 million, claiming he loaned Jackson money and bought him luxury items, but was never reimbursed.

I'm told the session, held in a conference room at London's prestigious Dorchester Hotel, lasted eight hours, with Jackson's lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, frequently objecting to questions asked by attorney Howard King.

Nevertheless, Mesereau did not ask Jackson questions himself.

Mesereau, I'm told, was upset by the appearance of another deponent in the Schaffel case, Jackson's former manager Dieter Wiesner.

The deposition was a unique one in that Jackson, sources say, refused to return to Los Angeles for it.

His attorneys petitioned the California judge in the case, saying that the beleaguered pop star didn't want come back to America from Bahrain, where he's been staying since his child molestation trial ended in June

There was no mention of Jackson having been in New York recently. More on that in a bit.

The judge OK'd the London deposition but required that Jackson — who is quite cash-poor and is depending on the kindness of his royal Bahraini friends — pay the expenses involved.

This meant flying Schaffel, King, Mesereau, Jackson's Houston attorney Michael Sydow, Wiesner, et al., plus entourages, to London in business class and putting them up at hotels.

Jackson, I'm told, cobbled together the cash from various sources at the last minute.

The actual questioning was said to be uniquely weird, with Jackson at first claiming not to know simple things such as what his business relationships were, what he owned or how he'd gotten it.

Schaffel, for example, bought Jackson a Lincoln Navigator and was supposed to have been reimbursed. Jackson, in this testimony, seemed initially unaware of the purchase, or that he'd ridden in the vehicle back and forth to court last spring.

The hedging, which may surface one day, since the deposition was videotaped, was eventually addressed when King produced itemized bills and receipts kept by Schaffel throughout his association with Jackson.

Jackson, meantime, is still facing at least three other court issues: a $48 million lawsuit brought by Darien Dash, the cousin of hip-hop entrepreneur Damon Dash; an ongoing custody/visitation fight with Debbie Rowe (search), mother of his two eldest children; and a civil action brought by a New Orleans man who claims to have a repressed memory of Jackson molesting him when he was underage.

Jackson is also still dealing with his former PR man Bob Jones and co-author Stacy Brown. Their book about Jackson, "The Man Behind the Mask," remains a sticking point for the singer despite his recent acquittal.

Jones' revelations and observations about Jackson — he worked for him for over 25 years — cannot be ignored. They are about as accurate a report on Jackson as we will ever get.

To stem the tide of bad press, Jackson recently announced he would record an all-star charity single for hurricane survivors.

Unfortunately, his efforts have so far produced little satisfaction.

I'm told everyone he's asked, including Stevie Wonder, has politely declined.

As it turns out, Wonder has a new single called "Shelter in the Rain," from which he is donating its downloading profits (from iTunes, MSN Music, etc.) to the American Red Cross beginning tomorrow.

If anything, that's the song celebrities should get together and record in a group. It's a winner.

The New Yorker, Woody Allen Raise $ for Katrina

Saturday night at Town Hall on West 43rd St. — a block or so from both its former, legendary offices and its new digs in the Condé Nast skyscraper — The New Yorker magazine gave a concert to raise dough for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

It was the crowning final event of the three-day New Yorker Festival, and it raked in between $200,000 and $300,000 in ticket sales, minus expenses. Not bad.

It's hard to imagine the magazine's late, storied and long-time editor William Shawn presiding over such an evening.

David Remnick, the guy who's made the magazine modern without sacrificing its integrity, opened the show nicely and without much fanfare.

What followed was quite an evening, marked by the knowledge that hidden in the monocultural audience were a pair of literary heavy hitters — Ian McEwan and Martin Amis — who'd come to observe the proceedings.

To balance them out, "Animal House" and "Blues Brothers" director John Landis and his wife were there, too, unnoticed.

Remnick and director Gregory Mosher did everything right with their show, "Parting the Waters." They had readers of the highest order.

Toni Morrison, Richard Ford and Calvin Trillin (who reminisced about once meeting his beloved late wife, Alice at the airport with a brass band) represented the literary end.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary-Louise Parker, Terrence Howard, Willem Dafoe and the multi-talented Patricia Clarkson — who stole the show by reading letters from Tennessee Williams — weighed in as the thespian representatives.

Morrison read from Flannery O'Connor, Dafoe from William Faulkner and Ford from Eudora Welty.

Hoffman got John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," the quintessential New Orleans comic novel, just right. Even though no one offered any Walker Percy, it all made sense. The actors were uniformly grand.

But it was the music that people came for, and music that they got. This time the show was really about New Orleans.

The New Yorker imported (apparently thanks to Condé Nast's deep pockets) Buckwheat Zydeco, Queen Ida, Leigh (Little Queenie) Harris, the ReBirth Brass Band and Walter "Wolfman" Washington and the Roadmasters for verisimilitude.

They also brought in Allen Toussaint, who'd spent a night in the Superdome; he did his much-covered number "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)."

Gary Louris and Mark Olson from the Jayhawks sang. Kevin Kline sat down at the piano and performed Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" solo. It was great.

A special treat: Woody Allen came with his band, Eddy Davis's New Orleans Jazz Band (the same guys featured in Barbara Kopple's terrific film "Wild Man Blues," and who used to play on Mondays at the old Michael's Pub).

Here's the thing about Woody: He's good ... better than you think.

Davis plays banjo, and the band also features a trumpet player and trombonist, each of whom any band would kill for.

Woody dressed like Leonard Zelig, wearing a white dress shirt and cream-colored slacks. He didn't look up or acknowledge the audience, content to concentrate on his clarinet.

It's no surprise that he's got rhythm, but more so, he's got soul. The band swung.

With his new film, "Match Point," getting buzz, this is Woody's much-deserved year

The rest of the evening was gravy: Lou Reed and his wife, Laurie Anderson, performed, as did David Byrne, who did a clever number titled "In the Future," which he said he'd last done in the '80s with Robert Wilson.

Elvis Costello emerged from the wings with his guitar and sang a powerful song (which he later told me he'd written that afternoon) called "River in Reverse."

Audra McDonald, the Broadway star with the magnificent voice, trumped everyone with a song a friend of hers had adapted from the writings of James Baldwin.

Michael Wolff, who's married to actress Polly Draper ("Thirtysomething") and performs/records with his own band, Impure Thoughts, was more or less the musical director, which meant a lot, considering the variety of people who came and went over a three-hour period.

The New Orleans musicians, of course, won the evening. They have no place to play now, since — to paraphrase Chrissie Hynde — their city is gone.

Buckwheat, Queen Ida, Queenie, Toussaint and Wolfman (his group is like the Average White Band meets the J.B.'s) — knocked the jaded, upscale audience out.

Here's an idea: Why doesn't some Broadway producer get Fats Domino and Irma Thomas in the mix and give them a long-running venue in New York? You could do a lot worse.

We're still humming Buckwheat & Co's big finale, "Walking to New Orleans," performed with the non-Southerners who stuck it out: Costello (bless his heart), McDonald and a couple of actors.

Wallace, Gromit and Bernie

We caught DreamWorks Animation's full-length feature "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" last night at a family screening, preceded by a party with hot dogs, pizza and face painters. It's a hit.

Soon-Yi Previn Allen, Woody's wife, escorted their two daughters.

Kate Winslet's 5-year-old daughter Mia came with stepdad director Sam Mendes.

"W&G" creator Nick Park sat in on the screening to see how little kids would like it. They adored it. More on all that tomorrow. ...

More tomorrow, too, about George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck." Its premiere Friday night at the New York Film Festival was a smash.

David Strathairn — after 25 years of heralded performances in everything from "The Return of the Secaucus Seven" to "Blue Car" — is finally headed to the Oscars. ...

TV is a vast wasteland, but here are three good signs: Mary-Louise Parker is starring in Showtime's "Weeds," Chris Noth is back on "Law and Order," albeit the "Criminal Intent" division and the splendiferous Alfre Woodard — too good for the medium — has joined "Desperate Housewives." Let's enjoy them while we can. ...

Last: a beautiful send-off by fans yesterday for the great Yankee centerfielder Bernie Williams. After 15 seasons, Sunday's game may have been his final one at Yankee Stadium.

He got three standing ovations and many chants. At the game's conclusion, most of the 56,000-plus in attendance stuck around and cheered him.

Why? He's always been a class act, in addition to being a sports hero. Congratulations, Bernie, and thanks.