For Michael Jackson, the first indication Friday that this appearance would be different than most came when he realized there would be no sound check. For the uninitiated, it is that prelude to a performance before fans arrive, when the technicians check the levels and make sure all the equipment is working properly. It also gives the band a chance to warm up, the backup singers an opportunity to test their voices, and the lighting crew some time to experiment.
Of course, Michael had never played the Santa Maria courthouse before. As venues go, he seemed to be unimpressed with the acoustics. Maybe I’m just reading too much into his body language. Then again, I imagine it doesn’t take much for a pop star of his magnitude to get his nose out of joint, especially when the nose in question has been whittled down to the size of a sunflower seed.
Most of the world seems to realize that Michael Jackson is facing seven felony charges of child molestation, and two felony charges of using an intoxicant to help seduce a child in the same case. Yet apparently the news has not reached Neverland. I’m not talking about the ranch, but rather the space between Jackson’s ears. For Mike, this is nothing more than another tour stop. Make sure there are plenty of stuffed animals, bubble gum and soda pop in his dressing room, and don’t let anybody backstage unless Tito and Jermaine say it’s O.K.
On Friday, Mike showed up to court about 20 minutes late. Ordinarily, the only instance when a judge tolerates tardiness from a defendant is if police officers need that extra time to pry his hands off a bailiff’s neck. For someone who isn’t a disruption, who has attained some stature because of his celebrity, who has even taken the time to put on makeup and lipstick, a 20-minute lapse is insulting to a judge.
And this one, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, really let him have it. Said Melville: “Mr. Jackson, you started off on the wrong foot with me.” That’s telling him, judge. Why don’t you just ask him to sign a “Thriller” poster while you’re at it.
Mike then had the charges read to him, and he answered them with a “not guilty” plea. This was about the only moment Friday when Mike seemed somewhat in touch with reality. But of course, he has spent much of his life rehearsing, so it’s not surprising that he can nail a line when he has to.
After the proceedings, Mike went outside and met the audience. He was delighted with the reception. It probably reminded him of the enthusiastic response he received at the Motown anniversary show. In fact, he probably thought it WAS the Motown anniversary show. The fans outside the courthouse did everything to show their appreciation save for holding up lit matches and imploring him to do, “Never Can Say Goodbye.”
Cunning legal strategy
Instead of hurrying into his limousine, huddling with the defense team and examining the day’s events in order to tweak their strategy, Jackson danced on top of an SUV. This is an old law school trick. I believe it originated with Oliver Wendell Holmes. Send a message to the jury pool that your client could be nuts. In its ideal form, the tactic would involve Mike falling off the roof and breaking his ankle, or at the very least, forgetting the lyrics to one of his own songs. But defense attorney Mark Geragos probably is saving that for the preliminary hearing.
Deception could be brewing, however. Mike could be completely coherent and is mocking the entire process. He could be more shrewd and manipulative than I’m giving him credit for here. It may be his intention to turn this entire case into one giant Neverland party to detract from the seriousness of the charges. If enough potential jurors see Mike moonwalking out of court to the cheers of jubilant admirers, it may bring sympathy to his cause. In this vein, don’t be surprised to see a llama working second chair at the defense table, or Mike taking the witness stand dressed as Peter Pan.
While I leave open the possibility that the spectacle surrounding Mike is the result of his cunning, I still think it’s more likely that he’s out there in Mars Rover country. Before this, he indicated to a documentary filmmaker how mystified he is that anyone would question his habit of sleeping with young boys. He told “60 Minutes” that he was roughed up during his booking process in Santa Barbara, even though his demeanor was perky afterward, and audio tapes of the event suggested the Gloved One was treated with kid gloves. He also told Ed Bradley that he was repulsed by the police search at Neverland Ranch and would have trouble returning to it; after his court appearance, his handlers passed out invitations to fans for a party there on Friday.
This is all a show. And in any good show, the star performer likes to keep his fans guessing.
Busses in the “Caravan of Love” brought supporters from Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Security personnel from the Nation of Islam stood guard. Members of the singer’s family were there. Reporters from all over world joined in. You could feel the excitement. If it is proved that this man is indeed a child molester, then he’ll certainly have a lot of visitors and pen pals while in prison.
It appears that when Michael Jackson faces the music, his fans are guaranteed to get their money’s worth.
Michael Ventre is a Los Angeles based columnist who writes regularly for MSNBC.com.