Sources: In The Studio With Michael Jackson – By Brad Sundberg | All Things Michael
“What was he really like?”
“Did he know you by name?”
“What was it like to be at Neverland?”
“Why would someone have an amusement park in the back yard?”
It’s already been more than 30 years since I first met Michael Jackson. I have been asked every type of question. I have had people react in disbelief and amazement. I have been put down. I have heard incredibly hurtful comments – for a laugh. But I have also seen warmth and compassion. I have met people that made me sad through their sadness at the loss, and others who were filled with joy to a point of contagiousness. In describing Michael Jackson, someone once said, “It’s so hard to describe him to people, because he isn’t like anyone else.”
I first met Michael in late 1984, working on the music for Captain EO. For the next 18 years there were countless weeks when I spent more time with him than I did my own wife, and months when I never saw him. Albums, tours, short films, special projects – I was there if he or the team needed me. And I swear this is true – I don’t remember a single day, a single project – that I didn’t love going to work.
Being around Michael I was blessed to see many things, meet many people, and experience things that might be considered special by some. Vocal sessions. Late nights of mixing. Rolling out plans for new areas of Neverland. Building a giant outdoor theater in his backyard and cranking up my Pearl Jam CD for us both to listen to. I don’t live in the past, but I can see it all like it happened this morning. I wish it did.
When you work so closely with Michael, sometimes it not the “big” things you notice, it’s the little things. Of course it is amazing when Princess Stephanie of Monaco comes to the studio, but is it any less amazing to go down the super-slide at Neverland with Michael after he sprays some crazy spray on your burlap sack so you almost break your legs due to the high speed jumps? Just writing those words fills my head with his laughter. Yep, miss that. A lot.
You might think that the studio was about work, and the ranch was about play. But it wasn’t that simple. They were both about pushing the limits, not being satisfied with “almost”. They were both work, they were both fun – but even the work was a labor of love. You wanted to hear that laugh; you wanted to see that smile.
I don’t remember the first time I saw Peter Pan in the window at ranch. There were statues everywhere, and Disney memorabilia and items from all over the world. Truthfully, I was never a huge Peter Pan fan. I liked the ride at Disneyland, but the whole Peter Pan “persona” wasn’t really my thing. But I knew Michael loved Peter Pan.
It’s hard to put exactly what I am trying to say into words, but let me try. There were times when Michael Jackson – the global superstar – wasn’t that obvious to me. He was just Michael – boss, client and friend. I worked for him, I worked with him, and I enjoyed his company. But every now and then I was reminded who he was. One of those times was at the ranch, when I saw Peter Pan in the window.
I don’t know what it was, or why it struck me like it did. Michael could afford a fleet of Rolls Royces, several mansions, etc. He had Disney dioramas inside the theater, Disney topiaries, even a steam train of the same vintage and scale as Disneyland. But that Peter Pan in the window was different.
There were several Peter Pans at Neverland. They could be found in the main house, in the train station, in the video library, etc. I don’t really remember Michael and I really talking about Peter Pan, except maybe the ride at Disneyland we both enjoyed. But the Peter Pan in the window always seemed special to me, like it was watching over the back yard – keeping an eye on things.
Truthfully I had almost forgotten about window Peter Pan until I saw this photo a few weeks back. Suddenly it was like I was standing in the spot, just outside that window, looking at Peter looking at me. I can hear the music, I can hear the train whistle… I can hear Michael’s laughter.
So what was he like? There is no simple answer, nor should there be. I can’t describe what the Grand Canyon is like in a simple answer. I can’t describe what music is like in a simple answer. Or a bold Cotes du Rhone. Or love. Or Peter Pan. I just know I love them all – each for a different reason.
I’ll make you an offer. I’ll do my best to to give you a day you won’t soon forget, if you’ll join me for a day in the studio. I’ll take you through the recording and songwriting processes. I’ll take you behind the scenes into Captain EO, Bad, Dangerous and HIStory. I’ll bring you on a surround-sound tour of Neverland – an amazing place that I had the privilege of helping create with some incredibly talented people. I will do all I can to introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Michael Jackson, and he is like no one you have ever met.
We’ll be at the Seattle Drum School in just 11 days, followed by Toronto in May, Germany in June and Spain in July.
Hear things you have never heard.
See things you have never seen.
Learn things you never knew.
Will You Be There?