I just finished watching “Oprah Remembers Michael Jackson” and am feeling a bit melancholy. It actually aired yesterday, but I recorded it and finally got a chance to watch it this evening. Almost three months after his untimely passing, tears still frequently cloud my vision.
There is an autographed photo of Michael that hangs over the desk in our home – the end result of a trip that I made to Germany several years ago. Sitting here looking at it, I suddenly realized that I’ve never shared the story of that trip or how I managed to have my name handwritten by the King of Pop.
It was a very early morning in January of 2001 when I was startled awake by the telephone ringing. A man with a strong Asian accent asked for me by name. The combination of being half asleep and his broken English was making it very hard for me to understand what he wanted, but I finally figured out he was calling in reference to a Michael Jackson fan site that I had been running for a few years. Although I had closed the website a few weeks earlier, he had gotten my name by looking up the details of the domain name that I had been using. He talked for a few more minutes about how he was working on an official website for Michael Jackson and needed my help. He would email me with further details.
Needless to say, I was skeptical and a little taken back by the phone call. I soon received an email from him explaining that he worked with a company that was based in Germany. This company had recently signed a contract for exclusive control of Michael Jackson’s name in Europe – meaning that they alone had the right to market and sale official MJ merchandise in that part of the world. How any of this concerned me was even more amazing… he claimed they wanted to use my fan site as the basis for a new official Michael Jackson website and would simply enhance it by adding an ecommerce section to sell merchandise.
I was aware of one of the previous products that this German company had created and knew that they were legitimate. My ego was stoked that they would consider using any part of the website that I had created, but I was even more surprised when he asked if I would come to Germany to meet with his superiors and help with the project – all at his expense. He even attached a photo of himself with Michael Jackson for good measure. How could I say no?
The next few days were a whirlwind as my ex and I prepared for the trip of a lifetime. We had our passports expedited, our luggage packed, and were on our way to the airport within days.
Upon arriving in Frankfurt and meeting our contact, we were allowed a couple of hours of sleep at the hotel before being driven to meet the firm that was working on the website. It quickly became apparent that what I had been told over the phone and through email was false. My website wasn’t going to be used in any form or fashion.
Their lofty plans involved a state-of-the-art site with three-dimensional shopping and innovative Michael Jackson merchandise – everything from gold-plated statues of the King of Pop to MJ stereo speakers. I was disheartened but still excited to be involved first-hand in anything that was officially connected to Michael.
We soon met the man in charge of the endeavor – a man who would later manage Michael’s career and be indicted on conspiracy charges as part of the molestation trial. His infatuation with the star was made apparent by the photos of himself and the star lining the walls of his office, although I now believe his interest was motivated more by financial gain than anything else.
We were given a tour of the merchandising facility, where we saw computer-controlled machines stitching emblems on caps, various t-shirt designs, and even a prototype of the shopping environment being planned for the website. One rather nice man pulled me into a side room where he showed me unreleased photos of Michael’s History Tour and gave me a sample of one of their products. Michael had been there many times, they claimed, and even pointed out a couch where he had sat on his last visit. I quickly sat on it myself, beyond excited to be touching something that had been in contact with my idol.
The next several days made little sense to me. While the rest of the firm worked on developing the visual and technical aspects of the website, I was asked to compose a short biography. I was also given access to the aforementioned exclusive photos and asked to choose which ones I liked best.
As the days wore on, I began to wonder why I had been asked to come halfway around the world to perform such a menial task. Surely I could have emailed them what they needed, or they could have simply had one of their employees do the job.
I was constantly reassured by the original contact that he wanted me as a permanent part of the team. He insisted that they needed a fan’s perspective, because he felt that Michael’s fans would be able to detect if the site was only interested in taking their money. He talked of Michael’s upcoming album and the need for a correspondent to cover any tour that would surely follow. He suggested that I spend half of my time in Germany and the other half in America. He promised that I would meet Michael in person if I accepted.
A few days later, a meeting was called between me, my contact, and another member of the website team. I was offered the same amount of money that I had been making at my current job, but I already knew that I wasn’t interested. The thought of flying back and forth was enough to make me need a nerve pill, and I was getting a rather bad feeling about this whole project.
I took a day to think about it and then informed them that I wasn’t interested and I just wanted to go home. We had already been there for almost two weeks and I was exhausted, homesick, and disillusioned. A day or so later, I was on a plane headed for the U.S.
A couple of weeks passed by before a FedEx driver knocked on the front door and handed us a large envelope. Tucked inside were two photographs printed with an inkjet printer. Both were autographed by Michael Jackson. Written in ink across the top of mine were the words “For Brian, Michael Jackson.” The photo was one of the unreleased shots that I had chosen for the website team.
Over the next few years, there were times when I regretted my decision to turn down their offer. I wondered where it could have taken me, what possibilities could have been in store, if I would have met Michael in person. As the years passed and I watched his life and career spin out of control, I knew I had made the right decision.
I’m still not sure why they spent so much money on travel expenses just to get me to write a biography. Whatever their reason, the website never launched and they were soon up to their ears in legal trouble.
Now, eight years later, we all know the rest of the story. And as silly as it may seem, I have a sense of satisfaction just from knowing that even though he had no idea who I was, Michael Jackson wrote my name.