Thursday, May 5, 2011

"'Michael Jackson likes my shoes''

Written and originally posted by  J. M. Jakszyk at his Tumblr website;

In May of 1987 I found myself in Los Angeles. I had been  sent, primarily, on one of those faintly ridiculous writing  trips that publishers are so fond of. You get a sniff of  success by accidentally writing a song on a big selling  album, and they just whip you off across the Atlantic. Once  there you are forced to try and write with confident career  obsessed Americans who write half a dozen songs before lunch  time on a daily basis. Anyway, while I was there I stayed  with a friend of mine called Larry Williams. Larry is not  only a brilliant saxophone player but a top notch keyboard  player as well. We had first met in ’83 when I was making a  solo album for Stiff records. The producer of that album had  suggested horns on a couple of tracks and said that the only  place to record horns was in the States and that the only  man for the job was Jerry Hey and the Seawind Horns. For the  uninitiated amongst you they were the section on all of  Quincy Jones productions including all the Michael Jackson  albums. In fact anything that features a flash and  incredibly tight horn section on an American record in the  Eighties and you can bet your life it’ll be Jerry and the  boys'. I got on particularly well with Larry during those  sessions and we’ve been firm friends ever since. As well as  the attempts at co-writing I was also to play guitar on  Larry’s own album for R.C.A. One day he said that Jerry and  the rest of the section were doing a session at the weekend  and why didn’t I drop by as I hadn’t seen the rest of them  for a year or so. I said that would be great and arranged to  meet him at Westlake Audio that Saturday.
 I arrived at Westlake and parked my hire car. I was  rather surprised at the amount of security at the Studio,  though. Normally these are pretty faceless buildings that  fans don’t much bother about. You can usually walk in  without much bother, but not today. ‘‘Who are you?” was the  rather sternly delivered question at the front desk. I  explained that I was a friend of Larry’s and was there at  his request. After a few minutes Larry came out to get me. As we walked down the dimly lit corridor towards the control  room I could see the tall, very thin not to mention very  pale, figure of Michael Jackson.
‘‘Michael this is a friend  of mine from England.’’
‘‘Oh hi,‘’ said Michael in his now  trade mark helium filled falsetto. I was a bit dumbstruck, I  have to admit. It’s not that I’d ever been an enormous  Michael Jackson fan, it’s just that you couldn’t help but be  aware that you were in the presence of not only a very  famous and instantly recognisable celebrity, but someone  you’re not likely to bump into at Safeways or anywhere else  come to that.
He’s a kind of musical Howard Hughes of our  generation if you like. After our brief introduction I  followed Larry into the control room and was further  introduced to engineer Bruce Swedien and producer Quincy  Jones.
Because I was Larry’s friend, and a musician and  shortly to be playing on Larry’s album, I earned a kind of  respect and kudos that I didn’t really deserve. They all  think he’s a bit of a genius and rather foolishly assumed  that as guitarist on his record I must be of some similar  standing.
Anyway the point is that they talked to me in a very  candid and friendly way that they wouldn’t have done had I  merely been Larry’s brother in law just hanging out for the  weekend. They were working on what was to become the ‘Bad’  album. The sound of the title track blaring out of the large  studio monitors was, needless to say, pretty damned  impressive. ‘’It sounds amazing’’ I said to Quincy. ‘’So it  damn well should’’ was his not unreasonable reply. He went on  to explain that with an unlimited budget and access to the  best players in the World something would be very wrong if  it sounded anything other than impressive.
Rather  surprisingly he followed this with ‘’You should hear some of  this stuff when it first comes in here’’ Tales of the most  basic of demos featuring just a one bar drum loop and a  hummed vocal line ensued. I found it all rather reassuring  quite frankly.
Michael snuck into the control room quietly  as the horn players started to do their stuff.
He lent  against the wall in a fairly motionless fashion, save for  the odd tapped foot. All he said was the occasional ‘’You  guys are great’’ as indeed they were.
As the day progressed  Michael would sporadically proffer a brief opinion but  always treated everyone with a great, almost deferential  respect.
It was rather like watching a well behaved child in  awe of his clever parents. His demeanour changed completely,  however, when he went out into the corridor and played  silly, childish games with a group of boy’s between the ages  of 9 and 12. This was, incidentally, some years before the  unproven allegations by the likes of Jordan Chandler.
Whilst  it did strike me as a bit odd at the time, I saw nothing  that would have lead me to the more lurid conclusions of the  tabloid press.
He just seemed relaxed and at home with them  and uncomfortable with anyone over the age of 25.
The Seawind Horns rattled off a number of impressive  sounding charts including the very complicated, fast and  almost super human licks on ‘Speed Demon’ (most of this  flash stuff was left off the finished version of that track  incidentally)
As they sailed through their work load and  afternoon turned to dusk outside, the control room began to  fill up with various family members and friends who had  turned up for a brief glimpse of the infinitely more famous  of the ‘Jackson’s available to them that afternoon.
Jackson’s  reaction to this was at first to get the tape op to turn the  lights down. The more people arrived, the more uncomfortable  he became. By the end of this procession, the lights were  barely on and he was now sitting in a chair situated in the  doorway of the tape store which was at the back of the  control room. You wouldn’t have known he was there.
The hangers on eventually left. Michael lightened up  considerably, had the lights turned back up and sat in the  control room with everybody else.
I was just sitting there  reading some technical magazine when I heard the Mickey  Mouse lilt of Michael’s voice say
‘’Gee, I really like your  shoes’’
I was wearing a pair of ridiculous pointy suede  shoes.
It was 1987 after all and I was in L. A not my local  Pub.
All the same I couldn’t quite believe that probably the  most famous human being in the World was starting an  informal chat with me.
‘‘I beg your pardon?’’ I spluttered.
‘‘I  said, I really like your shoes’’
“Oh. … er Thanks’’ I felt  like an idiot, but it was going to get worse.
’What do you  guys call those?’
This was more than a passing comment this  was an actual conversation.
‘’Er… call them? em well we call  these winkle pickers’’
They were probably called something  like ‘Suede Oxford 45′s extra angled leather upper tie ups  model 45643′ but winkle pickers is what my Dad would have  called them and it was the first thing that came into my  head.
He held his hand to his mouth and started to laugh  rather excessively.
It was a strange kind of giggly laugh.  The kind of laugh an 11 year old would laugh if his friend  had just farted in the headmasters study.
I was a bit  disorientated to be honest.
I’m in a top studio in L. A with  Quincy Jones, some of the worlds most accomplished musicians  andI’m having a chat with Michael Jackson, he’s asked what  I call the shoes he so admires, I told him and now he’s  laughing his head off at me.
In a state of panic I suddenly  realised that a childish American aphorism for male  genitalia is winkle.
Oh dear. Have you ever had that  experience when your brain and your mouth suddenly, and for  no apparent reason, decide to work independently of each  other? Your mouth is merrily saying one thing whilst your  brain is screaming ‘Shut the fuck up you tosser’ but the two  things have come uncoupled and there isn’t a damn thing you  can do about it.
I was having such a moment.’ ‘Ah no you  see…er…in…in England…er a wink…a winkle is a  ..well a small shell fish you see and um you have to er…  you have to get the thing out with um a pin or.. something  and…..’’
Bear in mind that all this errant nonsense is being  accompanied by hand movements.
Pretty useless hand movements  obviously, as I attempt to mime a winkle with one hand and  use my index finger as the pin
At last my brain eventually  re-docks with my mouth and the remaining language grinds to  a halt.
Then nothing.Michael’s not laughing anymore and the  entire room seems to be looking at me with a mixture of  sympathy and disbelief.
I pretend to carry on reading the  magazine and try to convince myself that no one noticed. 
Well, that was it then. My in depth conversation with  Michael Jackson. Within ten seconds I said the word  ‘Winkle,’ through no real fault of my own, and then  proceeded to humiliate my self in both sound and vision. 
Quincy Jones must have thought I was an unbelievable  musician at this point if Larry was prepared to put up with  a prat like me. The silence seemed to last at least 18  months.
Then as if by magic Michael said ‘‘Where did you get  em?’’
‘‘Those Winkle pickers, where did you buy em?’’
You know, in the same way that I irrationally panicked  and made an even bigger dick of myself than I would have  done, I was now about to react in the opposite way
I got  overly confident.
This was now much more than just a  friendly chat, me and Mike were mates now.
We’re talking  shoes at the moment, but he’ll probably be seeking my advice  on all sorts of other matters soon.
‘’Oh where did I get  them? Well, in London from a shop, called Shelly’s. Do you  know Shelly’s?’’
‘’But you’ve been to London right?  Course you have’’
“Oh yeah” he said
Shut up Michael I’m talking.  Thing is I’m off.
Only this time my brain and mouth are in  this together. They’ve got their collective feet on the  accelerator pedal and there’s no stopping them.
I’m almost  at the point of asking Michael what he’s doing for  Christmas.
‘‘Well, they’ve got this big branch on Oxford  street. You know Oxford Street don’t you?’’
‘‘Oxford Street,  let me think now’’
‘’Yeah you remember, when you went to the  big toy shop. What’s it called? Hamleys’’
‘‘Oh yeah, Hamleys,  right’’
‘’Well that’s in Regent Street and Oxford streets just  round the corner.’’
Everyone in the control room has now  stopped what they were doing and have started to listen to  this overconfident but inconsequential rubbish.
Maybe they  just sensed that very shortly I was about to say something  unbelievably stupid.
If so they didn’t have long to wait. 
‘‘Oh yeah you’ll love it and they have loads of different  styles’’
Here it comes
‘‘ Not only that Michael, but they’re  really cheap.’’

--- by  J. M. Jakszyk

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1 comment:

  1. I just so loved the amusing way Mr. Jakszyk narrated this story, left me in stitches ;)