08/29/1958 — 06/25/2009
DANCING WITH THE KING OF POP
The death of Michael Jackson on June 25 at age 50 brought back memories for at least two San Quentin inmates whose paths had crossed with his: Julian Glenn (Luke) Padgett and Michael Harris. Padgett was a dancer in one of Jackson’s famed music videos and Harris knew him through his entertainment connections.
Padgett remembers: “I got a chance to work and talk with the best showman on the planet on a professional level. He was fun, relentless, and focused during rehearsals for the Smooth Criminal video. Being on the set and dancing in that video with him was like taking a master class in dance and acting. Michael was highly disciplined and he commanded that same attitude from his dancers.”
After high school Padgett kept acting. “I auditioned for everything I could to pay the bills and to keep learning. Some jobs I got and some I didn’t, but I never quit.” It was at an audition for Disneyland at the Debbie Reynolds studio in Los Angeles where he stumbled onto an audition for a Michael Jackson video.
He didn’t get the job at Disneyland, but he did land a role in one of Jackson’s most innovative dance videos. “I was relentless at all auditions, especially that one. I told myself, ‘I’m getting this job,’ and I did!” said Padgett. “There was a lot of excitement the day Michael walked onto the set. The choreographer, Vince Patterson, came in with Michael. He talked with all of us for awhile, then he stepped on the set and we all went to work.”
Padgett remembers a special bit of advice: “One thing Michael said to me was to dance in the moment to be the music. I took that to heart.”
Padgett attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio, for two years while in grade school. In 1978 his family moved to Sacramento, where his mother put him into a summer program, Musical Comedy Workshop, at El Camino High School. “It was a summer stock acting program for kids who wanted to learn about theatre. We gained confidence, experience and it kept us productive.”
Padgett offered a concluding thought about Jackson: “He literally changed the landscape of music videos with Thriller and Smooth Criminal. His work gave this multi-cultural world visions of hope, love and peace. Enduring qualities this planet could always use more of.”
THE BOY, THE MAN AND THE BUSINESS
Michael Harris, co-founder of Death Row Records and currently the Editor-in-Chief of the San Quentin News, had this to say: “I was 11 years old when I was first exposed to Michael Jackson. But I actually met Michael years later through his sister, Janet, during my play producing days.”
On stage Michael was a brilliant performer, but was he that way in business? Harris answered: “It’s clear Michael fared better than most. A lot of people don’t understand the business of music. It’s a monster and it’s been known to eat its young. That said, there are certain steps people can take to protect their interest and their integrity in this business of music.”
Are there a lot of tragic stories out there? “There are lots of horror stories in this business mainly because artists didn’t do their homework. People need to understand that it’s a business, and in any business you venture into you must study what and who came before you.”
What about the old models of doing the record business with distribution and sales? “The old record companies of yesterday no longer exist. The new vehicle for distributing music is the internet, period! And Michael Jackson understood that superbly. Even after he died he broke internet and Billboard records, and the traffic was so heavy it crashed major music and informational web sites. Nobody could keep up with the pace and demand of Michael’s music.”
It’s been said that Jackson was a universal phenomenon—how so?
“Michael’s death affected the ‘new model’ in such a way that now the industry has no choice but to step up their game when it comes to digital distribution platforms. People were trying to get his music so feverishly that sites not only crashed from the traffic but also because website owners thought they were being victimized by internet terrorists, and to protect themselves they actually shut down their own sites.
Harris went on to say, “Jackson had a profound influence on MTV video. Prior to Michael MTV did not air videos with African American performers.”
“No. It’s Mike-tastic! Because afterwards various cultures came to see and believe that we’re not all that different. This is the ultimate display of appreciation of how the little man we fell in love with became the King of Pop.”