Chasing Michael Jackson

My cat and mouse game with the King of Pop.

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I may be a little fella

But my heart’s

As big as Texas

—Michael Jackson

If you are a journalist, and you are a journalist of a certain age, covering Michael Jackson meant reconciling your personal childhood feelings about the Gloved One at the same time you were covering what amounted to a freak show. Because, let’s face it, in the later years before his death yesterday at age 50, that’s what you did, reporting about the King of Pop. You were on Wacko Jacko watch: Would he show up to court in his pajamas? Was he really wearing lipstick? Do you think he did it? All that talent, all that genius, almost obscured by all that drama.

Such a tormented soul.

Such a tremendous talent.

I remember covering Michael in 2004 as an arts writer for the Washington Post. He was making a tour through Capitol Hill, making nice with the Congressional Black Caucus and talking about AIDS in Africa and philanthropy, etc., etc. Not that the public was privy to any of this. “Covering” Michael Jackson on the Hill amounted to standing around and waiting for hours, and hours, and hours on end, interviewing fans who used to love him but were no longer sure he was a good role model. Keeping an eye trained on the door, lest the Altered One jet before you could get next to him. Feeling just a little foolish.

And then Michael did just that—jet—and suddenly, I was in hot pursuit. I was at once intrepid journalist and infatuated third-grader, dashing through the marble halls of the Rayburn House Office Building, caught up in the excitement of it all, past the security guards running interference, past the other reporters. I ran right up to the elevator, where he stood in the very back, obscured by his entourage.

I remember calling out his name. How he looked around, peering over shoulders, and how he then looked right at me. Through all this, he seemed to want a connection of some kind. I’m sure that he thought I was a fan, and in a way, I was, though standing there with my notebook and my tape recorder. I took it all in, the uber-pale skin, the carefully arranged pageboy of glossy, prefab hair. The strangely mottled red hand that lifted to push aside that hair, the caked-on lipstick.