I was a junior in highschool when my friend Michael Jackson asked me to go on tour with him. He was spending the summer in Europe staging the largest ever (at the time) rock tour for his latest album Dangerous. I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me go. We'd known Michael for a few years by then and grown quite close. He'd even come and stayed at our house in suburban Boston for a few days. Who could forget the time he clumsily tried to make his bed in the guestroom in the morning in an effort to impress my mother so he might be invited back? Or the ill-fated breakfast he tried to cook for my sister and I that we forced down our throats with strained smiles as he carefully watched us? Aside from being the biggest celebrity on the planet, he seemed like a pretty good guy, so eventually my parents relented and let me go.
To describe it in one word: impossibly awesome (because one word is not nearly enough). To be seventeen and the sidekick of the greatest rockstar the world had ever known was indescribable. Paris, Rome, London, Munich, Athens and more. Every city we went to essentially shut down to host him. Where Michael roamed, a million cameras followed. A buzz reverberated and the bright light of fame trailed. And I felt the halo effect, often donning one of his iconic fedoras, his signature sunglasses, and one of the countless slick tour jackets Pepsi supplied us with. Private planes, police escorts, marching soldiers (an inexplicable MJ favorite), Michael was more than happy to share his celebrity because he had more than he'd ever know what to do with. He joked that I could ride "shotgun" with him anytime I liked. He knew I was living vicariously through him and he was happy for it.
Arriving to stadiums hours before showtime, while he'd have to go through elaborate pre-show routines and wardrobe sessions, I'd wander out onto the stage where dozens upon dozens of sound techs, engineers, and roadies would be rigging the massive stage and prepping the show. Even four or five hours before showtime, thousands of fans would push as far forward as possible so as to get as close to MJ when the show began. You've seen the videos of crazy fans, dehydrated and dazed, having to be dragged out of the crowd by hustling paramedics. I saw it up close and personal -- even got involved once or twice when fans started dropping by the dozens.
During the show itself, sometimes I'd hang around just off the stage watching Michael kill it. The man knew how to perform and it was like a meditation to just to witness it. At other times, I'd hang in his dressing room, outfitted to the nines with candy, orange juice, and video games.
After the show, Michael would retreat back to the dressing room too and then be forced to stand around awkwardly and greet VIPs, celebrity guests, sponsors and others who'd earned backstage privileges. It was easy to see that he was far more comfortable singing and dancing in front of a 100,000 strong than socializing with a dozen.
After those formalities, he and I would retreat back to his hotel, usually the biggest and best suite in the whole city. Michael almost always had the place stocked with old movies, more candy, and more orange juice. Even as thousands of adoring fans chanted his name from the streets below, we'd chat about music, movies, video games, girls, and occasionally the meaning of life.
But then something unexpected happened. The awesomeness wore off for me. Believe it or not, I started to get bored of sitting up in that suite with just MJ. And then I started to feel claustrophobic. I was seventeen years old, in freaking Europe, surrounded by a rock band, sexy dancers who could bend in all sorts of ways and backup singers who hit octaves I fantasized about. They liked to rage every night after the show and openly talked about their exploits the following day. Soon enough, I gained the courage to ask Michael if he minded if I slipped out with some of the others after his shows.
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Gotham Chopra regularly blogs at www.intent.com
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