Music History

Music Journalist Steve Knopper Talks About His New Book on Michael Jackson

Veteran music journalist and Denver-based author Steve Knopper, who will speak tonight at the Boulder Book Store, recently released his latest book, MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson, through Simon and Schuster. The current music-business editor at Rolling Stone, Knopper is a Colorado native and worked for several daily newspapers before becoming a freelance writer in the 1990s.

His previous books include 2004's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Band and 2009's Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age.

MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson is the product of three years of painstaking research and more than 400 interviews, and is Knopper's attempt to write a book that didn't just focus on the more lurid and sensationalistic side of Jackson's life. He wanted to highlight the reason anyone paid attention to Jackson in the first place: his legacy of great artistic achievement in the realm of pop music, and the way his music was able to attract a worldwide audience. Knopper wasn't able to interview anyone in Jackson's immediate family, but he did speak with numerous collaborators, colleagues, people Jackson worked with at Motown, and artists who claim Jackson as a direct influence.

We recently spoke with Knopper about the process of putting his book together and about a surprise interview he was able to get with Donald Trump before Trump entered the presidential race.

Westword: In listening to all of Michael Jackson's music again at length for the last three years, is there a record that really stood out to you?

Steve Knopper: The record I rediscovered and thought of differently during this process was Dangerous. Of course I had loved “Billy Jean” and “Won't Stop 'Til You Get Enough,” and I was a rock writer when it came out. But I always associated it with the time when Nirvana took over the top chart position from Dangerous and Michael was descending and Nirvana and Peal Jam were ascending.

Maybe it was rockist of me, but I didn't really take it seriously enough. Going back and listening to it again, I realize how mature and complex and even difficult a record it is, and really interesting. It's the one that merits repeat listening to me, and you find out more things the more you listen. It's got intense party jams, ballads, gospel songs, songs mixed up between all three different styles. It rewarded repeat listenings, and it felt like a mystery. I had to listen to it again and again to figure out what the album was about.

You were able to speak with Donald Trump, who obviously had considerable contact with Michael Jackson in the past. What was he able to shine a light on that maybe you didn't know as much about?

A couple of things. He was present for some key moments in Michael's life. Michael lived in Trump Tower in New York, where he was recording the HIStory album, so Trump came into contact with him then. Also, when Michael and Lisa Marie Presley stayed at the Key Largo, and Trump owns that. He claims he was present for when Michael and Lisa Marie went up in the tower and stayed up in one particular tower for four or five days straight. That's one of the closest testimonies we have that maybe Michael and Lisa Marie actually did have relations.

In addition to that, he was insightful. He gave me this quote about how during the first part of Michael's life he was untouchable: he was the best singer, the best dancer, the best songwriter, the best businessman in all of entertainment and show business — he was the best entertainer. But in the last part of his life, the final fifteen or twenty years, it was the opposite. He made bad business decisions, he was on drugs, he had family problems and all these problems with the child-molestation accusations. Trump framed that for me, and I used that quote in the book.

Steve will speak about and sign his new book at Boulder Book Store this Thursday, November 5. The event starts at 7:30 p.m.. Vouchers to attend are $5 and are good for $5 off the author's featured book or a purchase the day of the event. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit the Boulder Book Store website.