The first time I met Michael Jackson was backstage at The Forum in Los Angeles in early July 1980. He was at the QUEEN show that evening and came to see the band afterwards. He spent time with John Deacon and they talked about ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ which Michael says must be a single. He also spent time with Freddie. He was 22 years old and was like an excited teenager. He had really enjoyed the show and was still ‘up’ from it.
The next time was a couple of years later when Freddie had been invited to Michael’s house in Encino, just north of Hollywood. We arrived at the house, having passed a security tower at the gate. We got out of the car at a mock Tudor mansion, bricks at the lower level, and white stucco and wooden beams above. Michael came to greet us with a big smile, obviously proud of his house. Before we could go in, he insisted we accompany him on a tour of the grounds. I will never forget Freddie Mercury walking through mud, wearing white jeans and white tennis shoes, talking to llamas! We were shown all the animals and taken down to a pond where Michael had swans. Michael had a real love for these animals and birds; they were part of ‘his family’, as Freddie’s friends were part of his.
Michael took us into the house. I don’t know how many rooms there were in it. I do know that Michael lived there with his mother, Katherine, his two sisters, Latoya and Janet, and there were rooms for guests should anybody stay over. As we entered Michael’s bedroom, I was struck by three things, that gave an insight to Michael.. All around the room, on the floor were his gold and platinum awards for ‘Thriller’. They obviously meant a lot to him, he kept them close, but he didn’t need to show them to the world, he didn’t need to show everybody how good he was. The second thing was the large terrarium along one wall containing his snake. Much had been made in the press about this favourite creature, and he was in Michaels’s room, but under heavy planks of wood kept in place with many bricks. He may have been a ‘friend’, but kept very securely. Third and last was- in the middle of the room was a king-size mattress on the floor.
Freddie asked Michael “where is the bed? You have enough money to buy one!” Michael’s reply “when I sleep I like to sleep close to the earth”,
“But we are up on the first floor!” retorted Freddie.
We were shown through many rooms including a film room which had a vast library of films where I watched one, while Freddie and Michael worked, joined by Janet. Another wonderful situation was when Freddie was in the toilet, Michael took me to his video games room and we played the early version of table tennis. There were two players, one black and the other white. We started playing and Michael was the one who pointed out that we were playing the opposite colours – “I’m playing the white and you’re playing the black!”
On the way to the studio at the back of the ground floor we were taken through the kitchen where we were introduced to Katherine, Michael’s mother. She was very kind and hospitable. When Freddie asked for an ashtray, she produced a jam jar lid, as no one in the house smoked!
The work comprised of a Michael track, ‘State of Shock’, which only needed another vocal, which Freddie happily provided. When they had finished it really only needed mixing, but sadly after this session time was the enemy and Freddie and Michael never had free time together, so Michael got Mick Jagger to put his vocal on this and it was released in this form.
The next was a Freddie piece he was just working on at this time. There was a piano tune and Freddie had come up with a few words. Freddie sat at the piano and let Michael try the singing. Where there were no words written Freddie told Michael to ad-lib, which he did with words about love.
Michael then ordered in some food for us all. There were these large platters of cold meats, salads, bread, and fruit. We started in, but Michael wouldn’t touch any as he was a strict vegetarian at the time and would only have food made by his mother.
Work was started on a third track with a working title ‘Victory’. There was only one technician in the studio. There were no instruments set up and no musicians. Freddie and Michael worked in much the same way. At the start of a track they need a drum track to keep the beat, and then they add music and instruments to this. Michael had a clever idea for the bass drum beat. He and Freddie were in the control room with the technician and I spent 5 minutes banging a toilet door in perfect time!! Somewhere in Michael’s vaults there is a tape of me!!
The studio was a place of work for both Freddie and Michael, but watching them you could also imagine two children in a play room. Both of them would throw their hands in the air and burst out laughing when either of them made a mistake, but it really was a serious business too. Thinking back now to this time watching these two masters of their craft were together in one place putting this music together, gives me goose bumps.
Who was Michael Jackson for me? I met a beautiful young man. He and Freddie had much in common. He was confident, and already an incredible musician and performer. He was a resourceful technician and a considerate human being. He never once treated me any differently than he did Freddie. He thought of others in situations even though it might have had nothing to do with him. In the few conversations I had with him, I got the impression that he had few friends. He was working almost all of the time and had many professional connexions and associates. Maybe he was already a bit lonely, having to have so much security at that early age, and having to resort to bringing indoors the entertainment anyone else his age could go out for. He was only 3 years younger than me, but still hadn’t grown up! He still wanted so many of the simple things in life to bring him happiness, but did find some peace with his animals.