TONY COX, host:
I'm Tony Cox and this is NEWS & NOTES.
Michael Jackson emerged as the king of pop 25 years ago with an album that changed music forever.
(Soundbite of song "Thriller")
COX: "Thriller" is still the best-selling album of all time with more than 104 million copies sold worldwide. The former Jackson 5 star dominated the charts as a solo artist and Michael Jackson was on top of the world.
Fast forward several years and we're seeing Michael again. But this time, he's not on stage but on trial for alleged child molestation. His multiple plastic surgeries and other unusual antics made some view Jackson as more of a freak than a pop music phenom. He has stayed away from print interviews for the last decade, but in next month's issue of Ebony magazine, the king of pop breaks his silence.
Joining me now to talk about his exclusive interview is Bryan Monroe, vice president and editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines. Bryan, nice to have you here.
Mr. BRYAN MONROE (Vice President and Editorial Director, Ebony and Jet magazines): Oh, thanks for having me.
COX: Let's start with this. This is what you wrote in your article, the beginning of it, quote, "sitting on the sofa next to Michael Jackson, you quickly look past the enigmatic icon's light, almost translucent, skin and realize that the African-American legend is more than just skin deep," end quote. What do you mean by that?
Mr. MONROE: Well, you know, partly, a lot of attention has been paid - as you did in your opening - to his appearance and the changes that he's gone through physically and professionally and emotionally.
But we wanted to take time and really dig deeper and find out who is he now, especially he's about to turn 50 next year. He's 49, will be 50 in August. And, you know, thinking about Michael Jackson at 50, I think for those of us who grew up with him, it's kind of hard to imagine. So we wanted to try to dig a little deeper and find out who is he right now as a father of three, going through a very big professional transition, and really re-emerging on the public stage.
Mr. MONROE: We want to talk about his creativity process and certainly looking back at the historic "Thriller" album.
COX: Well so briefly Bryan, who is he now then?
Mr. MONROE: Well, you know, he came across - we spent the better part of three days with him. We did a big photo shoot, sat down and did an interview that was probably between an hour and an hour and a half long. So it was - we spent quite bit of time with him. And really getting a sense that, yes, he's absolutely a complicated individual. But he's also a much more mature artist than, I think, most of us realize, especially watching his past. And hearing him talk about the creative process, you know - what went into the making of "Thriller." We spent a lot of time - I think you remember the Motown 25 performance.
COX: Yes, I do.
Mr. MONROE: It was a historic when he, you know, really emerges on that world stage with the moonwalk. And he talked as through that whole episode and the fact that he wasn't originally going to do that. Barry Gordy had to talk him into it. And in fact the only the only reason he said he would do it is if he could perform "Billie Jean." And so he talked through how he actually choreographed - he and his brothers - on that performance including working with the camera man and producer on the TV show to pick every shot that would have shown on that special. It was really fascinating.
COX: Well, you know Bryan, there's so much that's been written about Bryan - about Michael Jackson. And a lot of what the public is interested in may or may not have found its way into your article, which leads me to this question as both a black journalist and a member of the Black Press: Does interviewing people like Michael Jackson, in this case - or even O.J. Simpson, in another case - does that put you in a tight spot?
Mr. MONROE: Not really. Partly because we at Ebony magazine and Jet magazine - there'll be another piece coming up in Jet pretty soon - the Johnson's family, Johnson Publishing, has had a long relationship with the Jackson family. And so, you know, this is not our first encounter with them.
But one of the things we wanted to make sure to do - because our interest is really in the music, in the process, in the creativity, we had scoured past interviews and didn't see a lot of another magazines going there. Many other publications in TV and radio go after salacious stuff and the gossipy stuff and the rumor stuff. And that's there and folks can deal with that. But we wanted to consciously take a different attack and look at both the person, the father, and the creative process.
COX: What kind of - and I know that Michael Jackson's people from my own personal experience with him covering him over the years…
Mr. MONROE: Mm-hmm.
COX: …that there are always agreements and limitations and ground rules. If you are willing, tell us what ground rules you've faced in this interview and secondly, is there a question that you didn't ask that you wish you had?
Mr. MONROE: Let's see. I'll take the second question first. You know, we had a chance to cover a lot of ground. I probably wished I would've gone even more into the relationship with he and his kids. Oddly enough, the - over the three days, one of his sons was there. He calls him Blanket. And…
Mr. MONROE: Yeah.
COX: That's what he calls him, Blanket?
Mr. MONROE: Yeah. His son's - his real name is Prince Michael Joseph Jackson Jr.
Mr. MONROE: But his nickname is Blanket. And he was not shrouded or, you know, have a mask on or anything. He was just there. As we walked into the room at the - they're staying in a hotel room, he had his son stand up and extend his right hand, shake our hands, introduce himself.
In fact, there's a little candy dish and he reached in and grabbed some Life Savers and handed it to me and said, would you like some? And I said, no, I'm good. Then the kid sat down and watched cartoons just like - you know, I've got two kids about the same age and I could see them doing the exact same thing. And I was struck by the father-and-son relationship there that appeared to be very, very authentic.
COX: Before you answer the first part of my two-part question, I just wanted to let you know that I've got less than a minute. So, was there anything specific that he said you just couldn't go into or he would not talk about in order for you to have the interview?
Mr. MONROE: Well, you know, we we've been working on this the last, gosh, eight months or so, and while, you know, we didn't' do anything in specific, we knew the story we're trying to go after and the tact we wanted to take and talked to them about it, and they were comfortable with that. But, you know, we were very clear. We're not out there to do hatcher(ph) job. Leave that for other folks. We wanted to really have an honest conversation about the peg. You know as a journalist you know that every story you got to have a peg.
Mr. MONROE: And this peg was the 25th anniversary of "Thriller," and, you know, also putting us back there, I mean, 1982 where we were as fans and consumers.
COX: All right. I got to stop you there, Bryan, because our time has ran out.
Mr. MONROE: Sure.
COX: But congratulations, first of all, on getting the interview in Ebony magazine with Michael Jackson. Bryan Monroe on Ebony magazine.
Mr. MONROE: Thanks, Tony.
Mr. MONROE: Sure.
(Soundbite of song, "Another Part of Me")
Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Singer): (Singing): We're sendin' out a major love, and this is our message to you. The planets are linin' up, we're bringin' brighter days. They're all in line waitin' just for you. Can't you see? You're just another part of me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.