Updated: Aug 30, 2021
Michael Jackson, 12 years following your voice #10
With Matt Forger (& Michael Jackson) in Westlake studios
Eleven years ago, at this time, I was packing my bags for the United States. Something in the uncertain wind and sun of that afternoon takes me back.
At the end of my long interview with Bruce, the day after our meeting, in his beautiful suite at the Bristol Hotel in Paris, he invited me to come to his home in Florida. I was so afraid of flying... and I promised myself, to reassure myself, that I would never have to fly again. But I didn't count on Michael. Bea, too, had offered and insisted, so I said to myself, "We have to do it!" So the appointment was made for the summer of 2010.
After 15 hours of an interminable flight with a stopover in Houston, where we followed the sun all day, night finally fell as we landed in Los Angeles. Exhausted but unable to sleep, I remember looking up from my tray table, where I was trying to rest, to see, under the wing of the plane, those long luminous avenues that criss-crossed the city and that I had only seen in TV series.
I also remember, as I was leaving the airport, contemplating in the night these immense palm trees with their long trunks whose height I had never measured, in reality, compared to those, well known, of the south of France... I had the impression of being in a movie set and I was going to have this impression during all my too short stay.
It was a set deprived of its star, of its myth. A desert... yet filled with his shadow. Everywhere, limousines resembling his, from which he never got out.
Posters and magazine covers with his image, in some shop windows, his star on Hollywood Boulevard, but never the hope to meet him.
"Your rental car is right next door! Take this bus!" they had said at the counter, as I consulted the map of the mythical City of Angels where I struggled to realize my presence. Just next door, it was actually a 20-minute bus ride. Welcome to Los Angeles where everything is stretched in great lengths...
Bruce had opened his address book to me. Without my asking him. Simply according to my questions... "For this aspect, you should consult a tel.... He is a bit weird, eccentric, but very nice... Here is his number! For this point, call so-and-so from me, he is not in music anymore, but he was there and remembers everything! etc..." A great generosity. A confidence that touched me a lot.
That's why I had planned three first meetings for this trip. In Los Angeles, with Seth Riggs and Matt Forger and in Ocala, with Bruce.
The next day, despite the trip, I had to keep the first two. What the heck! I was so excited that I didn't feel any fatigue.
Matt was waiting for me to visit Westlake's C & D studios, where Michael had recorded many of the songs from Bad, Dangerous and HIStory. Instead of a two-hour tour, we spent four and a half hours there. Matt was so nice that I felt like I knew him. No ego, no distance or fatuity of any kind: he was generous, straightforward and seemed to me to be very honest and loyal to Michael. I never heard him judge him or lecture him on what he should or should not have done. At no time did he overdo it, or vent, as I have experienced at times. He simply answered everything, with kindness, sometimes racking his brains to find the details I was asking him about: his "Oh, Goshhh!" made me laugh. And then he got emotional. He shed a few tears. He said, "You know, Michael, he was a great artist, probably the greatest. But he was also my friend. That was before any peasant who met him in a studio or bar bathroom took the vice of calling himself a "friend" of Michael Jackson and claiming to "know" him. And then he would say to me, at the corner of a mixing booth or a recording room: "You know, he's still hovering here. I can feel him a lot. Can you feel him?"
And how could I not feel it? I had been there for a few hours, in this megalopolis where I had never hoped to set foot, where he had lived the essential part of his life and his career, closer to him than ever (except for the Negresco and the Côte d'Azur), in space as well as in time, next to a man who had known him for many years and who, above all, had loved him and continued to love him like a friend.
How could I not feel it, since I was walking where he had walked, since I was breathing the air of these studios that he had walked on with his moccasins and where he had breathed too? In front of me, behind the glass, the big studio where this dance floor-like stage had been made for him (Matt had been in charge of designing the studios to fit what MJ wanted and to look like a living space). I walked in. I walked in...
On my left, big Leslie cabins that I recognized (my musician father had some in our cellar), on my right, an organ that I immediately identified too, to the great surprise of Matt, who was obviously not used to be questioned about Michael's music by musicians - go figure, Bruce either... :( - a Hammond organ, so, no, THE Hammond organ of the solo of "Bad" ! Extraordinary... I was in a museum. A place of pilgrimage...
In this other studio, all of a sudden, Matt said to me : "Do you know that where you are standing is exactly where Michael was standing to record "They don't care about us" ? I jumped up and down and jumped back! Bursts of laughter from him. It was a reflex. I wished I had wiped my fingerprints off the carpet to restore his. There too, a hole in the space-time. An immense vertigo....
I saw the kitchen where the Friday "Family Night" meals were concocted, a tradition he had started during the recording of Bad and which consisted of gathering the wives and children of his collaborators to share Friday nights, the bathroom where sometimes some of Michael's finger or hand snaps were recorded, for the acoustics, the reverb booth, the multitrack used for Bad... It seemed to me that Michael would pop out of a room at any moment. In my head, ghosts were walking around, voices bursting, whispers, imaginary laughter. Later, when I saw videos of those Friday Family events, I saw those places inhabited by families, friends, and children playing, with Michael often standing back, as if shy, but observing with real pleasure, his eyes and face filled with a real joy, this family animation of which he was the instigator. I would have given anything to combine the real and the imaginary, the present and the past...
And then Matt took me upstairs to Michael's "boudoir". He had created and furnished it for him. It was a cosy little room where he could sit down, rest, isolate himself, while keeping an eye, through a glass provided for this purpose, on what was happening downstairs... Good Michael... Here too, I stared at the leather sofa for a long time. Matt told me that everything was still intact. I felt like he was going to materialize right there in front of me. I could see shadows inhabiting this place, opening or lowering the shutter, sitting deep on the couch and then getting up to peek through the glass at the work that was going on downstairs.
As I left, Matt gave me a hug. He told me again that he missed Michael. That he had lost a friend. He had tears in his eyes. Obviously, the hours spent talking about him, reminiscing about their work, their relationship, had shaken him. Everything was still fresh. It had only been a little over a year.
I told myself that a few months later, I could still have hoped to run into him, to see him, to breathe in some of the molecules he would have breathed before me. But a few months before, I didn't imagine for a second that he would leave, nor that I would be led to come here, in these studios whose name had so titillated my imagination on the back of LPs and cassettes. A few months ago, I was thinking in terms of eternity. Since the Pepsi accident that had traumatized me, Michael was the one who would always get away with it, the one to whom nothing could happen. I didn't even question it. A few months ago, I, the agoraphobic, the aviophobe, was hoping for dates of "This is it" in France so that I wouldn't have to overcome 2 phobias at the same time and thought that we would have a few more decades and a few dozen false-adults, like Johnny Hallyday, before we would really have to fear not seeing him anymore.
When I left these silent studios, where you could not hear anything that was going on outside, where you had the feeling of walking on clouds because the carpet was so thick, I realized that they looked like red stone sheds, that they were not marked by any sign, and that in front of them, thousands of people passed every day by car or on foot. And I felt dizzy.
Who could imagine that a part of the history of music had been shaped there? It seemed to me to be a metaphor for our world and its planes of understanding and reading. We can spend our whole lives missing things that seem insignificant, without seeing them, without dwelling on them or questioning them, just because we don't know. We don't have the keys to read. However, it is not because these things are not readable that they do not exist. This does not mean that we will live an unhappy life. But how much this life can be illuminated and rich if we know, if we see...