We bumped into sometime-cohort Gideon Yago of The IFC Media Project this morning on the 6, where talk quickly turned to yesterday’s tragic passing of Michael Jackson. Amid the Jackson-fueled media barrage, we were struck by the sight of former MTV Newsman Yago back on screen discussing pop stars. Evidently, he was too: “The things that’ll bring you back out of retirement,” he cracked, adding that he was en route to Times Square to do additional spots discussing the Jackson story, following his CNN appearance yesterday with Anderson Cooper in which he recalled interviewing the pop legend who may or may not have been sober at the time (“my initial impression was… this guy is on something”) and pointed out Jackson’s tangled finances (“he was $400 million in debt as of last year” and “five months ago he was uninsurable”). Yago’s got a piece over at the Daily Beast about the cognitive dissonance that arises when celebrity news butts up against international conflict (Iran what?): He regales his account of interviewing Jackson four days prior to 9/11, at an event that had the then-junior reporter grateful he’d “experimented with acid in high school.”) More on that, the identity issues surrounding Jackson that may never be understood (but were notably absent from early posthumous coverage of the star), Jackson’s money men and the video Yago “can’t believe no one’s posted yet,” that somehow ties it all together. Suffice it to say, a lot got covered in four stops…
There was much to discuss: Jackson’s alleged Demerol use, the yet-to-be-determined fate of the portion of the Beatles catalog the star owned at the time of his death (which Jackson reportedly planned on bequeathing to estranged friend and former Beatle Paul McCartney), and how the media had been covering the pop star’s passing up to this morning.
We shared our own favorite moment of Jackson coverage absurdity (of which Yago acknowledged there were plenty): last night, when Larry King asked American Idol judge Randy Jackson where the helicopter carrying the deceased singer’s body was headed, as if the celeb had any way of knowing when no other news outlets had that info. Bummer to be the guy on the phone right then, huh, Randy? Some folks Yago pointed out it’d be worth hearing from today, to cut through the panoply of celebs reiterating the understandably massive outpouring of grief over Jackson’s sudden passing: The L.A. county coroner’s office, which will handle the autopsy of Jackson’s body reported to begin today, and key Jackson investors Yago mentioned on CNN yesterday (hint, hint, producers): “two billionaires, a guy named Tom Barrack, who worked for a company called Colony Capital [a real estate firm that holds Jackson’s $23 million loan on his opulent former residence, Neverland Ranch] and Phil Anschutz, who runs [event producer and concert promoter] AEG Live,” who “assumed a lot of [Jackson’s] debts” and “were the team that engineered this comeback” Jackson was slated to begin in London in two weeks with a massive concert meant to deliver the world’s top-grossing pop star back into touring after a 12-year hiatus.
A final point discussed as the 33rd St. stop neared was the pink elephant in the room of all those extolling Jackson for breaking racial barriers in reaching astronomical success as a young African-American artist: the complicated implications of Jackson’s more recent “odd appearance,” as many those offering reactions to Jackson’s life and death billed it. Yago marveled that no one had posted the following clip yet. In an algebra only a subway ride with a fellow media obsessive can provide: Middle East conflict+pop culture+Michael Jackson+=Loop closed.