I remember Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, just newly and surprisingly married, standing backstage at the 1994 MTV music awards. It must have been Radio City Music Hall, but when I think about the stage, somehow it doesn’t seem like it was there. Memory is funny how it changes places and details and names to protect the innocent.
He was dressed in black, in the effete military style he’d always been known for, a five star general in a glitter glam army, and they were both beautiful, in the way the incredibly rich and famous always are. I was neither rich nor famous, and maybe not yet beautiful then, not yet anyway, and standing stiffly in a too tight neon pink satin Betsey Johnson miniskirt and black Lip Service vinyl corset top and chunky heels, I waited backstage as the newlyweds kissed for millions upon millions of viewers. My manager at the time also represented Michael Jackson, and I don’t remember why I was there really except that I was part of a very, very, very extended entourage, like an extremely distant relative by marriage, at the kiddie table of fame. When I was younger I tried to go to any kind of awards show or gala. It felt like what I imagine a royal ball must have been like to attend. It was very princess adjacent, and I got to watch the true royalty brush by me, and it seemed as if they were almost real.
He had lipstick on his face, and he was seized with a bad case of giggles. It would have been adorably cute, if it were not so surreal. Maybe our eyes met. I couldn’t tell behind the dark glasses. He was pale and lean, but still gorgeous, not yet oddly disfigured by countless surgical procedures, not yet completely demonized by a relentless and seemingly heartless media. This is when he was still a man and not yet a myth, not yet a showbusiness allegory turned rotten and lurid, not yet a morality lesson on what not to be, what not to become. This was a time before all the talk of the young terminally ill boys, the dark and sinister rumors that became synonymous with his music and turned the legacy of the once fantastical and dreamlike majesty of the Neverland Ranch into something unspeakable and evil.
He loved his chimp. He loved the elephant man. He was in love with Elvis’ daughter. And when I saw him, I held my breath, and the scent he left behind was like vanilla and honey and the laughter of angels. I had loved him so as a child, playing my LP of “Off The Wall” on my Mickey Mouse Club record player until the grooves ran smooth and the songs skipped. I love him still.