There’s been a lot of publicity surrounding the 25th anniversary edition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (which really should have come out in November of 2007 if they had wanted to hit the real 25th anniversary of the album’s release). I moved to Los Angeles around the time “Thriller” hit the stores, so it’s an anniversary for me as well. I remember enjoying the videos for “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” in the dance clubs I frequented back then, and even went to see Disney’s re-release of “Fantasia” in 1983 just to be one of the first to see the video for “Thriller.”

But it wasn’t long before I got a little closer to Michael Jackson than seeing him on the big screen. My roommate from college, Tom Stepanchak, had just moved out to L.A. and gotten a job as a runner at dick clark productions. A few weeks after he started, he was given the job of taking the eight American Music Awards Michael won in January of 1984 to his home in Encino. Tom got a late start and was forced to bring the awards to our apartment for safekeeping overnight, planning to deliver them the next day. While we were protecting the awards, we took the liberty of getting some photographs of them… in our refrigerator, sitting beside a spare glove and with us holding the awards (while wearing sunglasses of course)!

The next day, Tom and I set out for Encino. We easily found the Jackson compound, which was just a block or two off of Ventura Boulevard. The gates opened and we drove a few yards to a parking area with the Tudor-styled house on one side and a second building in front of us.

At first, we had no idea where to go until La Toya Jackson pulled up behind us in her convertible and told us we should go into the office in the building in front of us. Naturally we went in the wrong door, going up a short stairway into a rehearsal room where aside from a few mirrors, every inch of wall and ceiling space was covered by posters and photos from the Jacksons’ career.

We quickly retreated back outside and went through the correct door to find Michael’s assistant sitting at a desk at the front of the room… and Michael himself dancing around a few feet behind her, holding up outfits in front of a mirror. Wanting Tom to keep his job, we pretended not to notice him.

Although that was the closest I would ever get to Michael Jackson, I did see him a few more times over the years. I went to the Jacksons’ Victory Tour stop at Dodger Stadium, then went to see Michael solo on his “Bad” tour at the L.A. Sports Arena, but was probably most impressed by the performance of “Dangerous” he did for the “American Bandstand’s 50th Anniversary” show.

While it may be too late, I’ve always thought that Michael could make a comeback if he would just go back to basics and concentrate on the music. He should stop trying to convince us that he’s still a huge star around the world or that he’s beloved by the world’s children. Let the music do the talking. He’s still admired by today’s biggest stars and producers in R&B and pop and could work with any of them at any time. He’s always one song away from getting back to the top of the charts.


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