Saturday, June 27, 2009

I can't imagine how long it will take to unwind Michael Jackson's estate.

It's been two days and I'm still processing Michael Jackson's death. I was surprised by how sad it made me; Michael Jackson hadn't been part of my consciousness in many years, and I'd stopped listening to his music well before his trial.

Someone said that Michael Jackson's death had given us his music back, and that is sad but true. A few years ago, a snowstorm left me in New York overnight, and I spent the evening with my friend Maeve in a wine bar where they were playing Off the Wall.

It had been years since I'd listened to that record, which was the soundtrack for every one of my school dances between 1979 and 1982 (when it was overwhelmed by Thriller). I still think it's nearly a perfect pop album, and think it holds up even better than Thriller.

"Wow, I had forgotten how great this record was," I said, and Maeve said, "I know, remember when Michael Jackson was cool?" We agreed that it was a shame that the man's strangeness and possible badness had made it almost impossible to listen to the music any more.

Now he's dead, people are rushing back to buy the old records. I just Googled "Michael Jackson sales soar" on Google News and got more than 21,000 hits; some of those are probably old, but you get the idea. Confess: did you go out and buy some of the old stuff yesterday? (I would have, but I am flat broke and facing some expensive car repairs. Maybe next month.)

Anyway, all of those sales mean additional revenue to Michael Jackson's estate, and it's an estate that will need every penny it can get. Jackson's indebtedness was legendary, unimaginable; The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that his debts totaled approximately $500 million.

His assets appear to have exceeded that, though, and his earning power was still staggering. The series of concerts in London was supposed to earn him $50 million, and the WSJ article speculated that a world tour could net as much as $400 million.

I can't begin to estimate the number of people who relied on Jackson for a living, either directly or indirectly -- start with his children, his parents, his bodyguards and personal assistants, his nannies, his lawyers, his accountants, and the number may hit four figures.

Over the next months or even years, an army of reporters will be watching as the estate gets fought over and parceled out, and it may well turn into a modern-day version of Bleak House. The Jackson children, currently with Michael's mother Katherine (79 and reported to be frail), will be like the wards in Jarndyce, suspended in a world of uncertainty about their expectations, obligations, and opportunities. As weird as Michael Jackson's own childhood was, his children's have been an entirely different magnitude of weird.

Bubbles the Chimp is reportedly living a quiet, animal-appropriate life at a sanctuary in Sylmar, California. He, at least, is taken care of.

Update: Rumor has it that the chimp in Sylmar may not be the "real" Bubbles, and that the original Bubbles may be living on in some terrible immortality of his own. Jennifer Lechner sent me this link. Yikes...

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