Stephen King talks pop culture -- and tries to understand Michael Jackson

By Stephen King
Updated February 01, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Stephen King talks pop culture

I’ve been sick. Pneumonia. Three weeks of hospital time. Now I’m getting better. Did you miss me? After this column, you may not. But, if you remember way back at the start, I said I’d tell you exactly what I thought about American pop-cult, and if you didn’t like it…hey, grab a quarter and call someone who cares. As the punchline of the old fable about the turtle crossing the river says, ”You knew I was a scorpion when you picked me up.”

About a week after I got out of the hospital, I had to go back for X-rays. Since I was still too weak to drive, our longtime caretaker drove me. I’ll call him Josh. Josh is a late-forty-something pickup-truck guy, a gun guy, a woods guy, good husband, good daddy; a taciturn Maine Yankee, yes, but an all-around straight shooter.

On the ride to the hospital I happened to bring up Michael Jackson, who recently had been brought in by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department and fingerprinted. I said something fairly noninflammatory, as I recall — something like ”Michael’s really in trouble now” — and my taciturn Yankee caretaker and handyman…well…he just exploded.

They’d taken away the man’s living, that was Josh’s main scripture; had done it for no good reason and with no proof; had reduced him to doing what Josh termed ”idiotic TV interviews” to pay the salaries of his considerable staff and to maintain his properties, including what Josh called ”Nevermore.” (As a Poe fan, I relished that.)

I was fascinated to hear this guy — who lives with his family in a trim eight-room house — defend the opulent Jackson lifestyle. When I asked him about it, Josh shrugged and said, ”Michael Jackson was making tens of millions a year. He had every expectation of keeping on the same way for quite a while. Why wouldn’t he spend it on property? And if you’re gonna have property, you gotta have staff. So then they come and make a bunch of accusations, and he’s on the verge of losing everything he worked for.”

They. They. Who, I wanted to know, were they?

According to Josh, Jim Anderson, sheriff of Santa Barbara County, was They No. 1; Anderson had had a hard-on for Jackson for years. Enough so he’d brought the man in on charges that even legal eagles with absolutely no interest in the case (and no CNN aspirations) agreed seemed ”thin.” Then, Josh went on, there were the accusers — an unnamed child (sick with cancer, something Josh assumed Anderson would milk for the sympathy vote), his unnamed brother, and their as-yet-unnamed mother. It reminded him, Josh said, of the child-abuse uproar in the ’80s, when for a while every nursery school and day-care center in America was supposedly staffed by kiddie-abusing monsters.

I sat silently in my seat, wondering if Josh had ever read or seen The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman or The Crucible by Arthur Miller. I thought the answer would be no; during his time off, Josh is a Frasier kind of guy. But I thought he’d put his finger on something, and I still do. Nor was he quite done. As he turned into the hospital’s outpatient driveway, he mentioned They No. 3.