Concert in Moscow 1993

 


Samvel Gasparov, a movie director, tells the story about MJ' show in Moscow in 1993:

'I heard about Michael Jackson for the first time back in the 70's. I even knew some of his songs, but I never was a fan. When I worked as a truck driver, I used to listen to Georgian music. Later, when I went to college, I grew to like Joe Dassin, Charles Aznavour, Tom Jones, and Engelbert Humperdinck. But I always knew about Jackson, and I knew that he was a good singer. In the early 90's my dream was to make a movie called "Run brother, run". American filmmakers expressed some interest in the script, and in 1992 I went to Romania where we rented a foundation. As it happened, Michael Jackson was giving a show in Bucharest at that time, and I was introduced to his producer Marcel Avram by one of our mutual friends. Marcel asked me to help them tape Michael's concert, and I did what I could. It was a pleasure. The performance left me stunned. Jackson impressed me very much – he was a genius, that's no question. I was personally introduced to him, and I remember shaking his cool pale hand. On the second day at dinner I told Avram about my wish to make a movie in the USA and my need for money. I already had an offer for five movies and lodging in the US by then. "I like you", Avram said. "If you want, we can bring Michael to Moscow. Then you can organize a show and make some money." I thought it would be cool, but I honestly didn't believe it was possible. But soon after that Avram sent his people to Moscow in order to check out Dessa, the company I headed at the time. It was one of the first Russian private companies created for the purpose of movie making, and I had some good folks on my team.

Suddenly the project came to life. Money was pushed to the background in my mind. I was full of enthusiasm, I wanted to bring that joyful event to people – after all, it was the first time a big Star was going to visit Russia. Since the visit of Avram's delegation and till September 1993 we were busy with preparations. It was my first experience in show business, and I couldn't imagine that it would be that hard and unpredictable. I thought that all showbiz "sharks" would support me and help me with that project, but it turned out the other way round – they threw obstacles in my way and tried to prevent the show from happening. We felt that our efforts were not appreciated. We even got phone calls with threats. And we got attacked by the media: they wrote that I was the king of the liquor industry and the head of the Chechen mafia. They said I was organizing the show in order to sell vodka on the stadium. It was a nightmare! They also wrote garbage about Jackson – that he was a pedophile, and that I was going to bring not him, but his impersonator who would lip synch to his songs. But all this crap only turned us on. We decided that we would make the show happen no matter what.

Preparations were under way. We did our best to deliver things that the pop star's team had requested. For example, they had asked for black leather furniture, 45 bicycles, and a few computers. We had to veneer the whole field of the stadium, rent cars, book a president suit in Metropol Hotel for Jackson with his personal security and inner circle, and rooms in hotel Ukraine for the rest of the team… All the way I had a bad feeling that somehow it wouldn't work out even before Michael arrived.

We met Jackson in Sheremetievo-2 airport and then worked with him closely during all 3 days till the show. You may be surprised, but I have no photos of us together. I remember – it was, I guess the day before the concert – I saw a long line of American embassy employees in the stadium passage. Jackson was standing next to the wall, and those people approached him one by one in order to take a photo with him. With a forced smile he accepted their hugs. I just didn't want to be in that line. He was really nice to me and I could have used any other chance, but I just don't like that sort of thing. . When everyone runs after you, it must be unbearable. I think Jackson liked it that I wasn't trying to "make friends" with him too hard. For example, I never strived to seat closer to him, or start a small talk.

Michael was generally reticent and didn't make any decisions. During our meetings he sat in the corner and listened quietly. Negotiations were mainly conducted with Avram. It amazed me how this silent guy managed to drive the whole world crazy with his singing and dancing.. (That's me included – I had been literally blown away by that concert in Romania.) So, when I asked questions to Jackson, he didn't answer me right away. He glanced at Avram if the question was about the show or at the security manager if it was about a city trip, and only with their consent he answered "yes" or "no". He was surprisingly calm, unhurried and a little bit odd.

Once at 1 am he requested to be taken someplace where he could try a borsch [Russian national soup], so all of us had to drive to a restaurant near the Danilov monastery. They served splendid meals, but he only ate borsch and was very pleased with it. On another occasion, during a city tour, he liked the uniform of a police captain and asked where he could buy a set like that. We talked to the policeman and he kindly offered to present Michael with a set of the uniform. Indeed, the next morning the uniform was delivered to the hotel, and that made Jackson childishly happy. He found everything joyful just like a kid. 

He had a big dream to take a parade on the Red Square, standing on the Mausoleum. Of course it was an impossible thing to do, but we tried to meet his wishes and organized a parade of Taman division in Alabino [military garrison]. The authorities helped us to build a tribune where Michael would take the parade. After that he marched together with the troops while his people were taping it on camera. That day he was beaming with joy.  

He was like a big kid, really. I saw him sitting in his room, wheeling toy cars on the floor… You should have seen him around children! He seemed to turn into a different person; he was always happy to give them autographs. My good friend asked me to invite Michael to the ballet school his daughter attended. I didn't think he would agree, because his days were planned ahead – he was supposed to see the sights, go shopping, and meet the politicians and cultural figures. (By the way, many Russian pop stars asked me to introduce them to Michael, but I usually turned them down.) Nevertheless I conveyed my friend's request to Michael, and he agreed immediately. He canceled one of the city tours, and we went to the ballet school together. Children gave him a terrific reception; they danced for him and took photos. He was absolutely happy, and it seemed that he never wanted to leave. As to the president Yeltsin, Michael never had a chance to meet him, even though he wanted to, very much.

Ultimately, our "well-wishers" did a good job. Tickets sales were very poor. In fact, they were blocked in ticket offices: we made a few attempts to do a purchase ourselves, but every time we got "sold out" or "office closed" replies. On September 15, the day of the show, the stadium was almost empty. The rain had been pouring since morning. Near the subway station someone was spreading rumors that the show had been canceled because of the rain, so people went back home instead of getting to the stadium. Jackson was prophesied that he would break his spine if he went on stage that day. Then there came a report that Michael's team brought drugs to the stadium. Police officers with dogs came running around the place searching for the drugs. Having found nothing, the police left, but as soon as they left a message about a bomb on the stadium popped up! So they came back now searching for the bomb… It was crazy. People who were trying to throw a monkey wrench into our plans, succeeded. I understood that it was the end of it. Meanwhile the intelligence agents dragged a police officer who was found under the stage stairs. As it turned out, he sneaked under the stairs in order to tape footage of Jackson going on stage for a family archive. The intelligence agents are tough guys; they decided he was a hit man, so they tied him up, broke his camera and took away his service gun… Can you imagine the condition I was in?!  

So, it was raining, 50-60 people were standing in front of the stage under umbrellas, waiting. The concert was already out of the question. There was dead silence. I was sitting in my office with my team, feeling like a bundle of nerves. The project had failed, I had lost. The money we had had before that venture were at least enough for a short movie, but that day we lost that money too. I said goodbye to my dream of making movies… As I mentioned earlier, Dessa was the first private cinema company in the country. It wasn't like nowadays when every other rich guy can own a film studio…

It was then one of my associates came to me and said that an old woman was waiting for me. I was in a state of shock, in some kind of prostration, and I didn't care whom to talk to. . So I let her in. She came in from the rain, soaked through and crying. She was holding this huge drawing in her hand. It was a drawing of Michael Jackson made by her daughter. Actually it looked more like Che Guevara or Leo Tolstoy. The woman told me a horrible story about her daughter who was almost blind from birth – she could see only with one eye, and only 4% of vision. So she pleaded me to go to Jackson and take an autograph for her half-blind daughter.

I guess it was God who sent me that woman with the drawing… I took it and went to Michael. I swear I didn't think about the failed show then, or about the money I had lost. My only thought was, "What if this kid recovers her sight after she gets the Jackson's autograph, just from the sheer desire to see it?!" It happens, you know… I entered Jackson's office and saw Michael, who was sitting in his stage outfit, completely still, hands folded on his lap. Aside from him, there were his doctor, Marcel Avram, and chief bodyguard. They were surprised to see me with that sheet of paper and couldn't figure out what it was. I explained it to them through the interpreter. Marcel Avram exploded, "You must be crazy! You've just lost insane money! You've done such an enormous job, and it's all going to hell! Don't you have anything better to do?" I said, "Yes, I may have lost, but I need this signature. What if this kid gets her sight back? Think of it as if I paid all the lost money for the autograph!" Jackson, who was listening to our argument, suddenly said to Avram: "I didn't know my signature cost that much… I will perform. Just get people in there, please – I can't sing to an empty stadium. And we'll need a lot of towels to wipe the stage". Then he signed the drawing. I won't even tell you how that old lady greeted me… I don't remember how I got to Vladimir Aleshin, the director of the stadium, with a plea for help. Thankfully, he understood the situation and ordered to open the gates of the arena. All the ticketless audience that had gathered around the stadium (thank God, there were enough people out there) rushed inside. Meanwhile, my people together with a police officer found a kiosk shop that was selling towels, broke inside (it was late night and everything was closed already) and took two packs of towels. We wrote an explanation note for the owners, and left the police officer there to guard the shop from thieves.

Today, many years later, it's hard to explain what I was feeling at the time. When we had lost heart, everything suddenly came into motion. Jackson was going onto the stage. He had to go through a passage and up the stairs (those very stairs under which we caught the police officer earlier). Michael's bodyguard was escorting him, and they went extremely slowly – Jackson with his head bowed, incredibly calm. I thought, "Boy, how is he even going?" It seemed to me that he was walking up there for ages... He jumped out of the trap in the floor and froze on the stage in puffs of smoke. The rain poured down. The audience forgot to breathe." Let's interrupt the Samvel Gasparov's story for a minute and read the recollections of mrparker, a person from the audience: "…I was standing in the first row of the fan zone. I'd been waiting there for several hours already, soaked through to my briefs, sick of the Beatles music that was playing on the empty stage. And suddenly these huge black guys are coming out on stage (they were really huge, like a house or something) and beginning to wipe the stage with waffle towels. And so they wipe it for 20 minutes… 40 minutes… Someone from the audience shouts, 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING? DROP IT! IT'S RUSSIA!!!'

Nobody believes that the concert will happen. Everyone is POSITIVE that it's just another scam.

Then an exciting music starts and the huge screens on both sides of the stage show Jackson as he is going through passages with this very determined look on his face. Then something explodes, a man in the golden suit jumps out from the hole right in front of me (in 5 meters or so) and freezes still on the stage.

Silence follows. 'It's a doll!' someone beside me shouts.

And then we see the steam coming out of the doll's mouth. 'Jam' begins. Jackson darts off and starts dancing.

I have tears in my eyes as I'm writing it now – it was that cool. It was that unreal. The whole 2-hour show flashed by like a few seconds…"

'I think he knew how to preserve his energy somehow and then pour it all out at the audience… Michael exploded in the dance like thunder in the sky', Samvel Gasparov confirms. And as if following his cue, hundreds of speakers exploded around, the whole stadium exploded.. I haven't seen anything like that in my entire life. Tears of joy ran down my face. My friend approached me and offered me a bottle of vodka. I didn't even feel the alcohol at first, it seemed like cold water to me. I finished the bottle, got in the car and went home. I couldn't even stay at the stadium – I was so drained. I don't remember how I got home. That night my wife told me, "You won, the concert is happening! You did your job well. Screw the money! We can sell the house and the cars if we need to pay debt. The important thing is that you've won. He is singing, people are hearing him!"

Of course we had no revenue from the show. I met with Avram the next day, and he only asked me to cover their flight expenses – Jackson didn't demand his fee, which was supposed to be more than $400,000. It was a generous and noble gesture. I guess they understood that we simply didn't get a chance to do our job.

We saw them off to the airport and said our goodbyes. I didn't see Michael or Avram ever since. In 1996, when Jackson visited Moscow for the second time, I was out of town. If I hadn't been away, I would probably have paid him a visit.

That show in 1993 was a turning point in my life. It feels like I lost myself for a while. Of course, I didn't dream of Hollywood anymore, and Dessa ceased to exist. I dismissed my team… It's a pity that it turned out like that. What did my then enemies achieve? Nothing. The show did happen.

Now everybody is talking about Jackson again. I think people should just leave him alone. I don't believe in all those dirty stories around him, I don't. He was a man who went up on that stage because of a blind girl, overcoming all the obstacles, and delivered perfection! The world has lost a genius. It's so sad… There's no doubt that Michael Jackson will be remembered in history for hundreds of years, alongside with names like The Beatles and Elvis.'

 

 

On September 15, 1993 Michael postpones his flight out of Moscow, Russia, and instead goes to visit a hospital for mentally challenged children there, who rejoice at seeing him and fight for his attention. One of his aides says that the singer has asked for one of the children to be flown to America for care and treatment which Jackson will pay for. The singer holds a few children in his arms and on his lap, comforts and plays with them and wishes to entertain them: “I’d like to sing with them. We all know a song together”, he says, visibly emotional. He also visits children in a nearby orphanage, who will sing a song to him in Russian, turning him – the ultimate performer, into an attentive spectator.

 

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