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I'm happy to be alive, I'm happy to be who I am

Michael Jackson

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interviews tv guide interview

The legend is almost too large to comprehend but never fails to fascinate. How to make sense of Michael Jackson, a man whose immeasurable talent is often overshadowed by tabloid headlines?

The former Jackson lead vocalist rocketed to solo fame with his 1982 album, Thriller (the video of the same name has been declared the greatest ever by TV GUIDE and MTV). Then, in 1993, claims of molestation brought against him by a 13-year-old boy- charges that were settled out of court for an undisclosed sum and which the singer has vehemently denied- heavily tarnished his platinum image. Still, Jackson presses on.

Seated in a New York City hotel suite, the notoriously shy pop star is charismatic and bubbly - a regular guy, even - as he discusses future projects, including an as-yet-untitled CD he describes as "happy, dance music, relationship stuff," and a reunion album with his brothers. And then there is "The Nightmare of Edgar Allan Poe," in which he will star as the 19th-century writer. Scheduled to shoot next year, Jackson says he's doing the film because Poe's "life is very interesting," adding, without irony, "I love an artist who doesn't play it safe."

tv guide reporter "Thriller" changed music videos forever. Where did you get the idea?
michael jackson

My brother Jackie came to my house and said, "Are you watching this show that's on TV? All they do is play music. It's MTV." I put it on and thought the concept was very interesting. What I didn't like were the videos that were a collage of images; I thought that if I were to do one, I would do something with a little more entertainment value. My dream was to make something with a beginning, a middle and an ending, like a short film.

tv guide reporter Did you ever imagine that Thriller and the videos from the album would catapult your career into the stratosphere?
michael jackson

I didn't really think about how the album would do; I just wanted to create what I would eMJoy seeing. And my main goal for [the video] "Thriller" was to do something that would be scary, fun and exciting.

tv guide reporter how do you look back on that whole era now'?
michael jackson

I see it as a happy time and a sad time. And an exciting time. Because it made a lot of my dreams come true. The notoriety was wonderful.

tv guide reporter You also said it was a sad time.
michael jackson

Yeah. If I don't get exactly what I'm looking for, I get very depressed.

tv guide reporter You mean the album still didn't live up to what you had envisioned?
michael jackson

Not completely.

tv guide reporter Which songs disappointed you?
michael jackson

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." Songwriting is a very frustrating art form. You have to get on tape exactly what's playing in your head. When I hear it up here [points to his head], it's wonderful. I have to transcribe that onto tape. "The Girl Is Mine" [his duet with Paul McCartney] wasn't completely what I wanted, but it's very nice. But "Billie Jean" is there. I worked so hard on that. I worked for three weeks on the bass lick alone.

tv guide reporter The glove, the white socks, the red leather jacket- who came up with those things?
michael jackson

The glove was just- I thought one was cooler than two. I love to accent movement. The eye goes to where the white is- you know, the glove. And the feet, if you're dancing, you can put an exclamation point on your movement if it has a bit of light on it. So I wore the white socks. And for the design of the jacket, I would sit with the people who made the clothes and tell them where I wanted a button or a buckle or a design. But I don't wear that look anymore. It's sad to get caught up in the past. That's why I don't put awards in my house. No gold records, no Grammys. They're in storage. I don't like to be puffed up with pride, cause I'd feel like I don't have any more things to reach for. And that's not true.

tv guide reporter Do you feel like your most creative period is yet to come?
michael jackson

I think the best work is coming, but I'd like to go into other areas, not keep doing album after pop album.

tv guide reporter Are there artists that are doing interesting things musically?
michael jackson

There's some wonderful creative ideas, but I don't think anybody's being innovative. They're mostly grab combing the old and trying to integrate it with the new.

tv guide reporter Is there anyone you'd like to work with?
michael jackson

There are a lot of artists I admire, but no.

tv guide reporter What is your favorite music?
michael jackson

You'd be shocked. This morning I was singing Rodgers and Hammerstein. That's the stuff I sing around the house- "My Favorite Things" from "The Sound of Music," and "Absent Minded Me," that Streisand song. I'm also a fan of the great old MGM musicals. I love show tunes. I'm a big fan of melody.

tv guide reporter What's your favorite song to perform?
michael jackson

"Billie Jean," but only when I don't have to do it the same way. The audience wants a certain thing. I have to do the moonwalk in that spot. [Laughs]I'd like to do a different version.

tv guide reporter Who's your audience today?
michael jackson

I don't know. I just try to write wonderful music; and if they love it, they love it. I don't think about any demographic. [The record company] tries to get me to think that way, but I just do what I would eMJoy hearing.

tv guide reporter Is there a new Michael for the new millennium?
michael jackson

Yeah, I have a couple of things planned. I think it's going to be totally different than what I did before. There's a song on the new album called "I Have This Dream." It's a millennium song about the world and the environment that I cowrote with Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster.

tv guide reporter Do you think you will tour again?
michael jackson

I don t think so. It takes a lot out of me.

tv guide reporter You rarely travel in public without a disguise. Why?
michael jackson

I don't see any other way. I've tried everything. Fat suits. Nuns. Clowns. Trick or treat is the best for me. And Mardi Gras.

tv guide reporter Do you think you'll ever be able to walk around freely just as yourself?
michael jackson

I do disguises for different reasons. I like to study people- be like the fly on the wall. Even if it's two old ladies sitting on a bench or some kids on a swing. Because I don't know what it's like to fit in an everyday life situation. One time I was in a record store, completely disguised, and these girls were pulling out my album, talking all about me. I was literally next to them. It was wonderful. I loved it. But if I go out as myself, I can't have fun. People always say, "Why don't we just go to a party?" Soon as I step in, the party's over- for me. It's a party for them but they're all putting their cards in my face, saying, "Remember me? I met you four years ago at..." And I say, "I don't remember." So I can't eMJoy the experience. They play all my songs. I didn't come to hear my music. And everybody starts chanting, "Dance!" Well, I want to see you dance for a change.

tv guide reporter Do you think, given all the negative press that you've had, that people will judge you solely on your music?
michael jackson

I don't think so. `Cause [the press] has made me out to be this monster, this crazy person who's bizarre and weird. I'm nothing like that.

tv guide reporter Is there anything you can do to change that impression?
michael jackson

Well, all I can do is be myself and create from my soul. But they take that and manipulate it.

tv guide reporter But what will make you seem OK to people who think, "He's weird; he has exotic animals in his house," or-
michael jackson

God created animals. And they're loving; they're beautiful. I feel the way [anthropologist] Jane Goodall does, or any of those naturalists. I don't find my interest in animals weird or strange at all.

tv guide reporter What about the plastic surgery?
michael jackson

All of Hollywood has plastic surgery! I don't know why they point me out. The press exaggerated it. It's just to my nose, you know. They want it to be everything. Just the nose isn't enough. Elvis had his nose done- Lisa Marie [Presley, to whom Jackson was married from May 1994 to January 1996] told me. They don't talk about that. They single me out. It's not fair.

tv guide reporter OK, well, now that you bring up Lisa Marie, I read that you said she regrets not having had your son and that she may still want to have a child with you. Is that true?
michael jackson

Well, I remember that's how she felt at the time. [Laughs] No matter what I say, I'm in trouble with this question- the next issue [of TV GUIDE]will probably say, "Well, Lisa said she doesn't ever want to see him again!"

tv guide reporter Are you two friends now?
michael jackson

Lisa's sweet. I like her very much, and we are friends. And who knows what tomorrow brings? I have no idea how she feels today. I'll just say that. She comes to my house and sees the children [from Jackson's second marriage, to Debbie Rowe, whom he wed in November 1996 and who filed for divorce in October 1999, and we talk on the phone, that sort of thing.

tv guide reporter Do you think you'll marry again?
michael jackson

That would be nice.

tv guide reporter What would make the third time the charm?
michael jackson

It just has to hit me. You have to see that person and go, "This is it. This is the one."

tv guide reporter Did you feel that way with both of your marriages?
michael jackson

Yeah. Of course.

tv guide reporter Do you wish you were still married?
michael jackson

Yeah, I do. But you have to do what's best. What happens happens. You have to respect that.

tv guide reporter Who are your closest friends?
michael jackson

Elizabeth [Taylor], for sure. We go to the movies every Thursday.

tv guide reporter You go to a regular movie theater?
michael jackson

I want to go to the Warner Bros. studio, and she refuses. She says, "No, I'm getting you out." So we go right into this area- which I can't say- and walk right in. And it's usually empty, because [most] people are working at the time. [The theater employees] go, "Wow, come on in," and we never really pay. And we're the ones that can afford it. [Laughs]

tv guide reporter Let's talk about your kids [Prince Michael, 2, and Paris Katherine, 1]. I have to ask about this business in the papers recently about you and Debbie not being the biological parents of your children, about her being implanted with another woman's egg and then impregnated by artificial insemination.
michael jackson

That's total garbage. It's just trash and not true.

tv guide reporter Do the kids live with you at Neverland?
michael jackson

They were at Neverland two weeks ago. I think they realized for the first time that it's their home. They used to always think it was some hotel resort. We stay in hotels everywhere. They didn't realize that the train and the train station is for them, and those rides are for them. Now they go, "We want to go to Neverland!"

tv guide reporter What are their personalities like?
michael jackson

Prince tells me all day that he has to make movies. So I bought him this video camera, I say, "What are we doing this time?" He goes, "Star Wars." So we put some figures on the table, make them move. And Paris is just now starting to talk and walk. She's very sweet. And I'm surprised she loves dolls. My sister Janet didn't like that sort of thing. She was a tomboy. I thought [Paris] was going to be like that, but she isn't.

tv guide reporter And you're changing their diapers and feeding them?
michael jackson

Yeah, I love it. It's a lot of work. I thought I was prepared `cause I read everything about child rearing, but it's so much more exciting than I ever imagined it would be. The only regret I have is that I wish I had done it earlier.

tv guide reporter Do you sing and dance for them?
michael jackson

That's how I keep them quiet it they're crying. If I just start dancing, they shut down.

tv guide reporter Do you want to have more kids?
michael jackson

Definitely. I told my father [Joe] I'm going to match his record. He had 10.

tv guide reporter What is your relationship with your father like now? You were estranged from him for a while.
michael jackson

I have the best relationship now that I've ever had with him. I think with age and time he's really mellowed out to become a nice person. He'll simply say to me, "How are you doing? Are you eating? That's all I wanted to know." Not, "Did you sign that con tract?" He just wants to know if I'm OK. I think that's really nice.... And my mother [Katherine] is like the perfect angel.

tv guide reporter At 41, are you happy?
michael jackson

Well, I usually am happy. I don't let anything get me down, no matter what. I like to hear the sound of water and birds chirping and laughter, you know. I love all the real, natural, innocent things. I would never go to a party or a club. I did that when I was a kid, and I don't care to do that anymore.

tv guide reporter I found it jarring to read a recent quote in which you said that if it weren't for your desire to help the children of the world, you'd throw in the towel and kill yourself. Do you really feel that way?
michael jackson

I always have. `Cause I would feel I have nothing to live for.

tv guide reporter Not even for yourself and your own creativity?
michael jackson

I wouldn't care. Everything I create is inspired by that kind of innocence. And nature, it's everything. It has to be. I mean, that's it.