THE KING OF POP
A Call From Michael
In late in 1994, I had been flying from LA to NY regularly to do photo shoots with Michael at Sony Music studios. Sometimes I would fly out on Thursday and stay until Monday or Tuesday, with the shoot day being on Saturday or Sunday. Once in awhile I would stay over the whole week and shoot two weekends in a row.
One late afternoon I was in my hotel and the phone rang, “Please hold for Michael” ……… His voice came on the line, “ Steve can you come over to the apartment, I want to talk to you?” “Sure Mike, I’ll be there in a half hour.” I walked the few blocks to Trump Tower where Michael was staying during the recording of the HIStory project. When I got to Michael’s floor, his chef let me in and promptly said goodbye leaving Michael & I alone.
After a few minutes of chatting Michael got down to business:
“Steve, do you know the song Smile?”
“I think so Michael, but I’m not sure…..”
“Here I’ll just sing it for you….”
To put my reaction in context, one has to realize that I was born and raised in a small city just north of Detroit, MI. I had never expected to go very far or do very much in my life, Though I had worked as an assistant for Michael’s personal photographer for 3 years, my rise to the position that I was now in was head-spinning fast. I’d had conversations with Michael, and was reasonably comfortable with the day to day working relationship, but here I was a kid from Port Huron, MI. and this man was singing a song for an audience of one. Me.
It wasn’t just the fact that he was singing for me, it was the absolute stunning clarity of his a cappella voice. The hair on my arms stood, I was moved almost to tears. The whole thing lasted only a couple of minutes, when he had finished, Michael asked if I knew anything about the history of the song. I took a couple of seconds to catch my breath, and mumbled some sort of response.
For the next few hours Michael educated me on Charlie Chaplin, and specifically his film “The Kid” and about Jackie Coogan the child actor who played opposite Chaplin in the film, and how Jackie’s experiences led to all of the laws that now exist protecting child performers. Michael was a wealth of information. We discussed how we wanted to approach shooting a single cover for the song, and settled on a couple of concepts.
The next several weeks were a blur of interviewing set builders, casting, and covering all of the details necessary to pull the shoot together. Michael didn’t need to tell me that he expected perfection out of this shoot. He inspired it in me in when he sang the song. We were both pleased with the results.