Archive for June, 2009

GOODBYE MICHAEL

June 26, 2009

You know that legend about how celebrities die in threes? Well, when I woke up this morning and found out Farrah Fawcett had passed away, I said to myself, “I wonder who will be the third after Ed McMahon and Farrah?” I would never have suspected it would be Michael Jackson, although after hearing many stories over the years about how Michael barely eats anything, it certainly fits.

I first became a big fan of Michael Jackson in college, when songs like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” were some of the most popular songs at the school dances I attended. I moved to Los Angeles around the time “Thriller” came out, so I was here for the advent of Michael’s superstardom. 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.” I attended the shooting of the Pepsi commercial where Michael’s hair caught on fire and I even went to the Victory Tour’s stop at Dodger Stadium.

But I was able to I got a little closer to Michael Jackson than seeing him from the upper reaches of Dodger Stadium. 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 find Michael 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, singing to himself while holding up his famous band/military styled outfits in front of a mirror. Wanting Tom to keep his job, we pretended not to notice him.

Unfortunately, Michael became caught up in trying to outdo his success with “Thriller” every time he released a new album. He became a parody of himself and his legal problems certainly didn’t help. I always thought he could make a comeback if he would just put the emphasis back on his music, but that is not to be.

The last time I saw Michael appear live was at the taping of “American Bandstand’s 50th Anniversary.” As a favor to Dick Clark, he sang “Dangerous” in a truly breathtaking performance. It was exciting to be there, as it always was when Michael let his music and dancing do the talking for him.

IDOL INTERVIEW PARADE

June 18, 2009

Haven’t posted recently, but I have been typing up a storm! Writer Fred Bronson has been working his way through interviews with all of this year’s “American Idol” Top 10, and as always I tagged along. He’s done video interviews for hollywoodreporter.com (click on TV at the top of the page, then scroll through the video interviews. Kris Allen and Scott MacIntyre have been posted so far with more to come), as well as longer interviews with some of the Idols for their official press bios. It’s my job to type up the longer bio interviews, which has resulted in more than 100 single spaced pages so far!

The “Idol” interview parade started with the two-fer of Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta. Fred and I spent over an hour with Adam. I was fascinated to learn that for all of Adam’s confidence and mastery of the stage, his career has certainly seen it’s share of ups and downs. In fact, Adam really emphasized with the movie, “Slumdog Millionaire” because he realized that just like in the movie, all his trials helped prepare him for stardom. One of the low points was when he appeared in a production of “Debbie Does Dallas” at a Reno casino (don’t worry… we’re talking about a musical comedy version of the movie minus the sex). Adam admitted that the audience was a bit more interested in ogling the topless actresses than in hearing him sing. I was also intrigued to hear that Adam lived in my North Hollywood neighborhood when he first moved to L.A. from San Diego.

I have to admit I didn’t know much about Allison except for what I saw in her brief profiles on “Idol.” It turns out Allison didn’t quite start out as the rocker we know her as today. As a kid, she loved to sing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go” on for people. More recently, one of her high school bands was known for playing a rock version of the recent hit, “Bleeding Love.” I would love to hear that and wish she had sang it on “Idol.”

Last week, we spent an hour with Kris Allen to help Fred prepare for writing his bio. There’s little doubt the humble nice guy America fell in love with is the real Kris. Did you know that Kris has traveled all over the world doing missionary work and that he and his wife don’t even own a TV? In response to a question I asked about if he thought his dark horse status on “Idol” helped him win the competition, Kris said he always flies under the radar and his time on the show was no different.

We spent the most time with Scott MacIntyre and I learned that Scott’s “American Idol” stint barely scratched the surface of his life story. The problems he’s faced (visual impairment, kidney failure) have been mountainous, but fortunately he had the intellect and ambition not to let those challenges slow him down. Amazingly, he entered college at age 14 and later obtained a Masters Degree. But maybe what impressed me most about Scott is his determination to make sure that his appearances on “American Idol” are just the beginning of his music career. While in L.A. for tour rehearsals with the rest of the Top 10, Scott is not letting the grass grow under his feet one bit. He’s been taking non-stop meetings with both recording and music publishing companies.

Yesterday during the hour long lunch break for the tour rehearsals (yes, I heard a bit of one of the group medleys but I’ve been pledged to secrecy… I will say I can’t get one of the songs off my mind so I just put it into my Itunes!), Fred completed video interviews with Lil Rounds, Megan Joy, Matt Giraud, Michael Sarver and Anoop Desai. All of them gave great interviews, as being on “Idol” doesn’t just give the contestants lessons in stage presence. They also get plenty of practice speaking to the press. I am alarmed though by how many contestants cite Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” album as an influence on their music. For instance, if you ask Kris Allen what his earliest memory of music is, he remembers playing “Dangerous” as a kid while dancing around his room pretending to be the Gloved One.

Now don’t get me wrong… I enjoy MJ’s music as much as anyone, but I went to college when Michael was King of the Discos with “Off The Wall” and “Thriller” came out the year I moved to California so “Billie Jean’ was the big song when I first started going to nighclubs out here, so it’s hard for me to believe “Dangerous” is the album that set someone on the path to music stardom. I guess it’s the choice of a new generation!

DUBAI TO YOU

June 3, 2009

So I promised you the adventures of Brian, International Courier. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds, unless you think a 17 hour flight in Economy Class is glamorous!

I was hired by a company called Filmworks Dubai to bring four astronaut costumes from California to the Middle Eastern city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. There are signs of construction everywhere you look in Dubai, and one of the things they’ve built is an amusement park with a space theme called Stargate. They needed the spacesuits to shoot a commercial for the new attraction and they needed them fast.

Of course, when I informed my friends that I was off to Dubai on just a day’s notice, a few of them feared for my safety. I wasn’t too worried and when I actually got to Dubai, I found the city to be even safer and more comfortable than I imagined. True, I was getting the tourist’s eye view, but much of the city’s economy is geared towards tourism and the service is top notch. Every single person I met spoke at least some English, plus all the signs are in English as well as Arabic. What really amazed me was in the Hallmark Store at the Dubai Mall, every single card was in English. Every single one!

I had a few days to check out the city during the production of the Stargate commercial and saw quite a bit. My first stop was Souk Madinat Jumeirah. A souk is a traditional Arab market, although this particular souk, while designed with a traditional Arabic look, is part of a beautiful new resort and has many modern restaurants and bars which open out onto patio seating on a beautiful lagoon with a view of the famous Burj Al Arab hotel. The first thing I saw upon walking into the Souk were outlets for Cinnabon, Baskin Robbins and Starbucks. See what I mean about feeling right at home? Although I was a bit more experimental with the meals I had there, eating dinner at a Japanese noodle house and lunch at a Lebanese restaurant.

The next day I headed downtown for a look at two of the city’s new malls. First up was the Dubai Mall, billed as the world’s largest, and I believe it! It featured such highlights as a two story aquarium, dancing fountains like those at the Bellagio, and the biggest food court I have ever seen. And while I was stunned by the food court, most visitors would have probably been more impressed by The Gold Souk section within the mall, which features over 180 jewelry stores, one after another!

I next took a taxi to the Mall Of The Emirates. While not as amazingly large as the Dubai Mall, it does have an impressive claim to fame, an indoor ski resort called Ski Dubai whichhad attracted large crowds of teens and children skiing, snowboarding or just throwing snowballs.

Both malls were full of the same chain stores you see here in America. In fact, walking past the stores, you might not have realized you were even in a foreign country except for the many men and women in traditional Arabic clothes. I have to hand it to them: as a Muslim, you are suppoed to wear modest clothing to cover up your body. What this translates to is wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts in one of the hottest places I’ve ever been.

And speaking of hot, the next day I hit the beach and was in turn hit by a mild case of sunstroke. The problem was the water temperature. While in the U.S., you jump in the ocean to cool off, but in Dubai, it’s warm in the water. There was just no getting away from the heat, at least until I left the beach and recovered in a nearby covered courtyard with jets of cool water rising from the floor.

Sunday I visited Shindagha, the original site from which Dubai grew and which is preserved as a living history museum. Nearby is Dubai Creek, home of the traditional markets the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk. I also ate lunch at a cafe in Bastakiya, a site of traditional courtyard houses and art galleries. The cafe had complimentary copies of the local English language newspaper, The National, and I was happy to read the Lakers made it into the NBA Finals.

Finally on my last full day in the city, I checked out the Stargate attraction (which is due to open in three weeks and was full of workmen adding finishing touches) and watched the filming of the segment of the commercial using the astronaut uniforms I brought to Dubai. I’ve been on quite a few sets in my life and none of them have used the amount of bottled water they needed to keep the crew hydrated in Dubai!

After a long flight back to California, fortunately I was still awake enough to convince the customs agent that the astronaut costumes were not being imported for sale and should not be locked up until I can pay a broker to get them for me. I just hope that 32 hours after I woke up this morning in Dubai, this post is every bit as coherent as my argument!