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Remembering Michael

Stephen Davis collaborated with Michael Jackson on 'Moon Walk.' Stephen Davis collaborated with Michael Jackson on "Moon Walk." (Wiqan Ang for The Boston Globe/ File 2008)
By Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein
Globe Staff / June 27, 2009
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Of all of his superstar subjects, and there have been many, Stephen Davis says Michael Jackson was the most eccentric. Davis, who’s written several best-selling rock ’n’ roll bios, spent eight months interviewing the King of Pop before writing the singer’s 1988 autobiography “Moon Walk.’’ At Jackson’s request, the book, which went on to sell an estimated 200,000 copies, was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Yesterday, Davis, who lives in Milton, talked about his meetings with Jackson and, of course, Bubbles the chimp.

Q. You signed a confidentiality agreement when you took the gig?

A. Yes. Frank DiLeo was Michael’s manager. Remember, I have like 20 hours of tape of Michael Jackson telling me his life story. It was a piece of paper that, basically, said I can’t bootleg this thing, and we’d rather you didn’t say anything about the condition of the house or give out Michael’s home address or phone number. It was a pretty standard Hollywood confidentiality thing.

Q. What became of those 20 hours of tapes?

A. They’re in a safe place. They’re cassettes.

Q. Hope the safe place is climate-controlled.

A. It is, in fact.

Q. You were the third writer on this job, taking over after two others dropped out. Were you a Michael Jackson fan?

A. Sure. As a music fan and former editor of Rolling Stone, I knew those records. “Off the Wall’’ is one of the greatest records ever. I’ve been driving around this morning and the radio stations are blasting his stuff. Sounds great.

Q. Your Jaguar have a nice sound system?

A. Incredible. I have Alpine 490s. I’m going down the street listening to Michael and all the heads turn.

Q. Jackie O edited the book, but that didn’t end well, did it?

A. Michael made her write the forward. He basically extorted it from her. She didn’t want to do it. She was reticent to lend her name to anything. But he made her write it. She thought it was an intrusion and unprofessional. Then he wouldn’t let a paperback come out, so that sort of killed the relationship.

Q. You interviewed Michael at his mother’s house in Encino, the place before Neverland?

A. It was after “Thriller.’’ He was a 29-year-old kid who had more money than God. It was a fabulously extravagant compound complete with a zoo, a candy store, swimming pools, movie theater, playground, basketball courts. It was fantasy, like a miniature Disney. It was really cool.

Q. You would talk to him in his bedroom, right?

A. And sometimes in the living room, which was like a reception hall of some Saudi Arabian prince. There were chandeliers, fabulously expensive carpets. . . . Sometimes, a girl would come in and listen. That was [his sister] Janet [ Jackson]. Only Michael and Janet were living there at the time.

Q. You dealt with Michael before the molestation charges, but there was always a 12-year-old boy hanging around. The boy called “Rubba.’’

A. I never saw anything. And no vibe at all. “Rubba’’ was like a little leaguer. I wonder where he is today. (Affecting Jackson’s high-pitched voice) “Rubba, go get us two Ring Dings and a soda.’’

Q. So you think the charges were phony?

A. He was a Jehovah’s Witness. In all the time I spent with him, there was never any reference to his sexuality, his feelings for women - or men. I tried to pry, using my sharply honed journalistic skills to figure out with who or what he was having sex. I came up with nothing. He was almost otherworldly.

Q. So how do you explain the charges against him?

A. The first kid was the son of a dentist, and the guy used Ketamine to get his kid to talk. You know that stuff? You give it to someone and tell them their mother is a squirrel, and the next day they think their mother is a squirrel.

Q. You met Bubbles?

A. Yes. Early on, Michael invited my family over for lunch. My daughter Lily was 7 years old, and I asked Michael if there was any way she could meet Bubbles. Five minutes later, Bubbles shows up holding the hand of his trainer. I guess the monkey didn’t see too many girls because he grabbed Lilly’s hand and started dragging her out of the room. Michael then grabbed the other hand, and Lily became the rope in a tug of war between Michael and Bubbles. Michael said (affecting Jackson’s voice again) ‘‘Bubbles, where are you going with my girlfriend?’’ Finally, the trainer took out some sort of buzzer, a tiny little cattle prod, and zapped Bubbles.

Q. You also saw the infamous chamber?

A. Yes, he didn’t get into it, but I saw the hyperbaric chamber. It was near the bedroom. Michael had incredible stuff. The complete Sun Records 45s, the complete Beatles. That was when he owned Paul McCartney’s ass and wanted to make money by licensing Beatles songs. . . . Michael was a really good guy, but it was almost like he’d been hermetically sealed. I would say this: Everything you’ve heard about Michael Jackson is true, except the molestation stuff.

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