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Michael Jackson, don't trust appearances

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Michael Jackson, 12 years following your voice #8

"Appearances are enough to make a world" Jean Anouilh

@ Renée Paul, artiste peintre, 2001, Coll. privée Olivia Vernick
@ Renée Paul, Elusive shadow

In this summer of 2021, I leave once again the surroundings of this mythical ship of the Promenade des Anglais, the Negresco, and I can't help remembering...

I was 15 years old when Michael had set up his bags for the Bad Tour and installed his entire team in a large part of this luxurious hotel, which did not belong to a standardized chain but to a single owner, and which was decorated with taste and splendor. Finally, with hindsight, I say to myself that this hotel resembled him because it contained parts of the history of France that fascinated him. Statues and paintings of Louis XIV, huge Burgundian fireplaces, 18th century furniture, copies of all kinds as well as huge blinged out chandeliers... This hotel - from which Prince would have fled, a few years later according to the legend, taking refuge in his limousine while having a nervous breakdown so that he would be taken to a hotel in Cannes instead, because the decoration had given him "an anxiety attack" (!) - thus suited him perfectly.

In the morning, I saw a group of tall black men running along the promenade, and it was explained to me that they were his bodyguard. I followed with envy those people who had the chance to get so close to him... I would have loved to slip into their pockets.

We lived a hundred meters away for the vacations and went swimming at two beaches of the Negresco. I would turn and turn and turn in front of the hotel, hoping to see him come out or stand on the balcony of his suite. There was always a group of people standing around, just like me, never the same depending on the time or the day.

Of course, I would have loved to go to the concert. We went by bus near the Charles Ehrmann stadium on the morning of the concert and a lot of people were there, already, in the heat. It was impressive! Some had obviously spent the night there, judging by their tents. I asked if we could go, but my mom thought it was very expensive and was afraid (we were both on vacation) of the crowd as well as the muggings. For my parents at the time, and probably for all parents of that generation, these singers were not serious. Listening to them was a waste of time. Besides, they shouted more than they sang... And as my father used to say, not without cynicism and humor: "Why does he always put his hand between his legs? If it scratches him, he can just scratch himself!" And my mother added: "These people won't put bread in your plate! You'd better go do your scales and work on your piano!"... Docile, I resigned myself to not going to this concert. Besides, I didn't believe in it... But I continued to listen to this "crazy" music, always with a little bit of guilt...

My mother easily made contact at the beach with other tourists or "locals". At that time, people were obviously not absorbed by their smartphone and rarely isolated behind invisible headphones. People talked to each other easily. Kids played together, moms chatted. Three ladies came regularly, with whom my mother had bonded. They were floor staff at the Negresco. What a boon!

During the 2-3 days that Michael was there, we tried to find out things... "Have you seen him?" "What is he doing?" "So what's going on today?" And so these ladies would tell us little things (seen or reported, I don't know...) because they didn't work "on his floor". Because it seems that he had privatized a whole floor of the palace to accommodate his numerous team and himself... that everything had to be "disinfected with bleach" before he arrived... and that dozens of bottles of Evian and Perrier were placed in front of each room "because he takes baths with it" (I quote...)... All this amused me. I said to myself at the time: "Why not? He does have llamas, boas, he's always doing amazing things... it's fun, he can afford it!" Until one day I asked them, "But why can't I ever see him? We spend hours in front of the hotel, he has to come in and out anyway! We never see him!" And then they answered me: "It's normal, he goes by the lift of the hotel, at the back of the building. Where we take the laundry and the garbage up and down. It's the only way he found to avoid running into anyone and people don't expect him to be there! And for good reason!

At that precise moment, I understood. I understood that a guy who wasn't "afraid" to go through a vulgar lift didn't care about disinfecting a floor with bleach or taking Perrier baths. That it was all nonsense, a kind of legend built around it, and that in reality he was much more like everyone else than they said and thought. And yet, for these ladies, that's as far as the thinking went... Jackson remained an original, an asceptic crank; the story of the lift did not make them put things in perspective.

I saw in Nice Matin, the day after the concert, the photo of the basket and I read the report. I suffered even more for having missed it all. Everything was within reach! What a frustration...

The only thing left was to swim to the front of his room or to sit there and wait... And I waited for him, Michael! I waited, as Jacques waited for Madeleine... At one point, on his balcony, there was movement, silhouettes, a silhouette especially, a curtain that moved with a shy shadow, then nothing more. A small movement of crowd, at the bottom of the hotel then nothing more either. I was in front, on the promenade, on the sea side. And at that precise moment, I said to myself: "There. That's all you'll see of Michael Jackson. Was it really him? I had a feeling, but I'll never know for sure. And I walked away. Resigned. Not knowing that I had sealed my fate and that the rest of my life would consist of justifying this sort of peremptory decision. I had put Michael in the "unattainable" category. For the second time, I had tried to reach him and missed (I had written and sent him a beautiful letter when I was 10, and the little girl had hoped for an answer that never came...): I would not try a third time. And every time I was then told "Michael is around, let's try to go see him", I always answered a categorical "No! It's no use, we'll never see him.

These nights of August 1988, I remember myself, in my bed, telling me: "You will never have slept so close to Michael Jackson in your life! (we were only a hundred meters from his hotel) and this idea alone was exhilarating. I decided to be satisfied with it and I engraved it in me so that I would never forget it.

When school started in 1988, I bragged to my friends: "Hey, I almost saw Michael Jackson this summer! I was right next to him!" Every year, I looked at this hotel like a theater set, inhabited by the shadow of his presence... To each new person brought to Nice, I told these anecdotes. In Cannes, where in the mid-1990s a blue and white yacht he shared with I don't know which prince or emir was anchored, I would spend hours staring at the ship, wondering if he was on it, if he was going to get off... Here too, rumors were rife. This yacht was quite recognizable by its colors and it was one of the few to have a helicopter. But it was also said that it had its own operating room and that there was a surgeon on board H24, in case he needed it. Who knows? Apart from sympathizing and envying him, I was a very hypochondriac, but for the rest, the page was turned. I had decided that Michael would remain a myth. And I took what was said about him with a grain of salt.

But I never imagined for a second that I would live without this myth, or that there would be an end to it, with eternal regrets. No, Michael would always be there. And if I ever changed my mind, or even if I ever got rid of the social phobias that would plague the next 22 years of my life, I could always try again...

That's what almost happened in 2009... But fate decided otherwise. Maybe things were meant to stay that way. Maybe I should not have seen him "in real life". Maybe it was necessary for him to remain this myth so that I would have the desire and the strength to start again from the beginning, to try to understand and to rub my pen with his magic wave and with a presence much stronger and more powerful than this poor world could have allowed...


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