Now that the doctor responsible for giving Michael Jackson his fatal overdose is on trial in Los Angeles, I thought it might be a good time to revisit one of the first post on this blog about the Dark Side of Hollywood…
It was reported last night on NBC news that a source close to Michael Jackson said the superstar was so distraught about being forced to do fifty concert dates in London, instead of the ten he wanted to do, that he may have accidentally killed himself through an overdose while trying to make himself too sick to carry out the contract.
The mere accusation of such a disturbing possibility shines a light on the reality of the dark side of Hollywood. When people talk about Hollywood, they are generally talking about the entire world of entertainment. Entertainment to the average person is fun-movies, music, dancing, television, sports, live theater, magic. It’s all the great stuff we pay to see or do because our participation takes us away from our day-to-day.
But for those who are the creators and producers of entertainment, a better term might be “Show Business.” There is the show. And there is also the business.
Michael Jackson loved the show. The same source on NBC reported he could talk about old movies, dance moves and music for hours, but when it came to negotiating contracts and the legal technicalities, MJ took a much dimmer view. Most artists do likewise.
That’s why Hollywood is full of people who make the business side of show business happen-agents, lawyers, producers, promoters, marketers, advertisers, accountants, banks, corporations, distributors, publicists, secretaries, assistants, drivers, construction workers, electricians…
For an artist, Michael Jackson was a very shrewd and intelligent negotiator. He was one of the first artists to maintain ownership of his own masters and publishing rights to his music (something Paul McCartney actually advised him to do). MJ took the advice so seriously that he also purchased the rights to half of the Sony music catalog that controls the Beatles music as well. No doubt this shrewdness grew out of the massive experience of Michael Jackson’s 45-year career and having been on the short end of negotiations early on.
But just because Michael was good at negotiating doesn’t mean he enjoyed it. Most artists don’t. The vision artists have of coming to Hollywood might include getting rich, but it rarely includes the minutiae and details required to actually make getting rich happen. Artists usually just want to be discovered-to have the chance to make their living doing something they love. They’ve seen the money come for others and they hope it will come for them, too, but someone else usually handles that. And that someone else gets rich too. Very rich. And usually that someone else is much more powerful than the artist-no matter who that artist is.
When the artist (the show) and the people running the business of that artist are in sync, Hollywood is at its best. Great art can be produced and the world can get to enjoy it. The artist grows wealthy and famous and the money flows. But when the artist and the people running the business of that artist get out of sync, lawsuits, threats, drug addiction, depression, sickness, exhaustion, confusion, disappearances, bad artistic products and even death occur.
This is the dark side of Hollywood. It’s what awaits every artist who comes here. Whether the artist falls victim to this dark side or not, he will certainly face it. Eventually, the artist, whose art most freely flows from his own willing creativity will find himself being forced to do something he doesn’t want to do because it interferes with the business side of his show.
Business people don’t really understand what it takes to create art. They’ve studied a system of rules, formulas, legalities, educated guesses and leveraged hunches to determine what they believe (or sometimes know) will create money. So as an artist, if your lyrics, your story, your jokes, your self-expression, your movie ending, your energy level, your friends, your family, your desire to try something new, your vision, your look, your new wardrobe, etc. doesn’t jib with their scheduling, market testing, product lineup, distribution policy, Asian market strategy, image consultation or calendar, etc., you’ll find yourself confronted with the dark side. And in the worst cases, that dark side cannot only kill your art, but it can kill you.
The dark side of Hollywood reminds me a bit of that that old fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs. The man takes and kills the goose in order to more quickly get at all the golden eggs inside. In the fable, there are no eggs inside the dead goose. The man learns his lesson about greed and patience and caring for precious possessions. The goose must keep living, be healthy, and take his good time to produce golden eggs one at a time. But in Hollywood they can kill the goose that lays the golden eggs and no longer get the new eggs, but instead sell Golden Goose t-shirts, make Golden Goose movies, sell GG collectibles, copies of other eggs, commemorative special edition DVDs of the Goose’s Best Golden Egg Lays, televise gala events of famous people talking about their Golden Goose experiences and sell advertising spots, play old Golden Goose movies and, of course, dress up a duck in goose feathers, paint some eggs gold and shove them up the duck’s ass-the people won’t know the difference when they pop out. Now, instead of one Golden Goose, there are twenty-all aimed at different markets, all saying and doing exactly what the surveys and market research says they should.
The dark side of Hollywood is that any artist, any art is first and foremost a product to sell. It’s one thing when the product being sold is a machine, a coffee cup, a wallet or a car. Such things can be marketed at will or disposed of without much consideration if it doesn’t sell well. It might seem another thing altogether when what’s being sold is a human being-his thoughts, ideas, dreams, visions…his music. But in Hollywood there is no difference.