Ron Weisner on Michael Jackson's Happiness, Shoving Jann Wenner, Passing on Madonna in New Memoir

Ron Weisner
Photo: Courtesy of Author

In Listen Out Loud: A Life in Music—Managing McCartney, Madonna and Michael Jackson, veteran manager Ron Weisner, 69, shares inside dirt about his handling some of the top music talent of his generation. His goal: “An honest story of my involvement with these remarkable artists and the play-by-play: the good, the bad and, sometimes, the very ugly,” he says. A sampler of some of his saltier memories in the book, out June 3 from Lyons Press/Globe Pequot Press:

Related Articles

Michael Jackson's Happiness:
"Do I think Michael Jackson was a normal person? Absolutely not. Do I think he as a pedophile?  No. Do I think he had issues? No question.  Do I think he was an unhappy guy?  In a lot of respects, yes.  Do I think he would've been happier if someone were looking out for him from the minute he left the Jackson Five until he died?  Emphatically, yes."

Meetings with Joe Jackson and the brothers:
"I was usually able to tell how the meetings were going to go as soon as I stepped through the door.  If the brothers were all wearing sunglasses, or if Joe [the Jackson, the family's patriarch] was grunting rather than talking, it wasn't going to be an enjoyable afternoon...Those chats usually involved lots of cursing, finger pointing, and accusations, especially from Joe: "Who's running this family? What do you know about taking care of my kids? They do what I tell them to do! You can't tell them what to do and get away with it, because I can have you disappeared in a minute! You Jews are just out for yourselves! You just want to get yours!"

"Massive confrontations between Joe and me were a weekly event. The best I could hope for was that we yelled at each other on the phone, rather than at the studio. When Michael was in a zone where he could make the magic, I wanted him to stay there, and Joe was an expert at rattling his sons. But the brothers never protested his machinations and intrusions, Michael included.  Why? Because their father petrified them.  He'd abused them their entire lives, and at that point, they were still scared. Even though they were grown men, there were times when I doubted that the brothers could ever  break Joe's hold."

On Michael Jackson’s Would-Be intervention:
“Michael on drugs was a shadow of his sober self, and even after the way he dumped me, I still cared about the guy. So I called LaToya and told her, ‘Let’s do this.  Let’s get him fixed.  I’ll put together a team, I’ll arrange for an airplane, I’ll find the right facility.  I’ll put everything in place and pay for it myself’… On May 15, two days before the kidnapping – and yes, that’s exactly what this was, a kidnapping — I got a call from LaToya, who was, to put it mildly, freaking out.  ‘You gotta stop it, you gotta stop it, you gotta stop it!’  So I stopped it all: the airplane, the rehab facility, the team, everything came to a halt.  I don’t know if the snatching — or the kidnapping, or whatever you want to call it — would’ve lengthened Michael’s life … but at the very least, it would’ve given him a chance.”
Michael and Paul McCartney's Publishing Battle:
"Michael spent a lot of time grilling Paul about how he built his publishing catalog. Paul, an easy going guy, answered every question patiently and in great detail, not knowing that three years later, Michael would buy the Beatles catalog right out from under him.  Paul felt betrayed by the way Michael's team handled the transaction, and the two didn't speak until 1989, when I got them together while I was managing McCartney. They made their peace, but it was an uneasy one.

Fighting for Quincy Jones to Collaborate with Michael Jackson:
“Michael and I wanted to hire Quincy Jones to produce his first solo record, but the honchos at  Epic Records balked. Epic felt Quincy was too old for Michael, who, in their minds, was a bubblegum kid who needed a bubblegum producer. Michael was adamant … we needed someone who had experience, a global view and a good relationship with Michael. Unsurprisingly, Joe Jackson … wanted nothing to do with Quincy; [he] recognized Quincy had become a surrogate father to Michael. Joe did everything he could think of to keep Q off the project.”

"In terms of how the labor was divided, Michael and Quincy didn't have a game plan....It was an ego-free collaboration; they followed whoever came up with the best direction. They did whatever was necessary to nail it, and they went as long as necessary; I can't tell you how many times I heard someone say, "Do it again."  This album was their life. They got into a zone, and the two of them became one."

 Michael Jackson and Skin Lightening For Album, Publicity Photos:
"No matter how the pictures came out, his first comment was always along the line of, "Can we lighten my skin tone?"  In order to keep the peace, the art director tweaked the shots to make him look incrementally less black. The first pass wasn't light enough for him. Nor was the second pass. Nor was the third. Looking at the fourth version of the photo, I said, "Michael, you're not white  We're not going any lighter. Accept it" And he did.  But not the next time around."

Phil Spector’s Rants:
Phil Spector was, as advertised, completely out of his mind, and every day or two, we’d be treated to the sound of a woman screaming, and the sight of said woman being chased to the elevator by a gun-toting Spector. And I sure as hell can understand why those women screamed the way they did. Whenever I was in a confined space with Phil, specifically in the elevator, I was scared shitless, especially when he’d go into one of his rants. The guy could rant about anything: the record industry, the weather, his crappy deli sandwich.”

The Curtis Mayfield Mess:
Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed in a 1990 stage accident. Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner wanted an interview. “[Curtis] hated to be seen this way … and never did interviews. Jann Wenner rang me up. ‘Ronnie, you’ve got to let us do this Mayfield interview. We want to talk about his legacy and impact on today’s generation of rappers and singers.’ I called back. ‘OK, Jann. And No. Pictures. Period.’ Guess what: one went into his magazine. A picture of Curtis in bed, colostomy bag in full view. I called Wenner. ‘You motherf—ing prick. I will never do anything for you or with you ever again.’ The following year I ran into Wenner at some industry schmooze-a-thon. ‘Was that picture of Curtis necessary?’ Before he could answer, I gave him a shove and stomped off. I haven’t seen or spoken with Jann Wenner since.”

Passing on Madonna:
Weisner was divvying up clients with his former management partner, Freddy DeMann. “When we got to Madonna’s name, I said, ‘You can have her. You belong together.’ The second those words left my mouth, I felt like a huge ... weight had been lifted from my shoulders ... I didn’t like Madonna and Madonna didn’t like me. Don’t get me wrong: I have a lot of respect for her as an entertainer and a businesswoman. She learned early on how to manipulate the press, create controversy, push everything up to the edge and beyond and turn it into commercial domination. I knew that if she didn’t implode, the sky was the limit. And I was right. I just didn’t want to be around it.”

Madonna Complaining in Italy While Shooting Her "Like a Virgin" Video:
"Every time we packed up the cameras, she bitched. Every time we got into a boat, she bitched. "You're all a bunch of fucking idiots," she'd tell the Italian crew, who was busting its collective hump to get her video in the can. "You're wasting my time. You're wasting our time. Now quit sticking it to me and hurry up."  I asked Freddy, "What the hell's her problem? We're in Italy. It's more fun than being in Long Island City. What does she have going on that's better than this?" He just shrugged."

Sha Na Na's Procter & Gamble Deal:
Re convincing Procter and Gamble execs to finance the Sha Na Na tv show: "I called Pierre Cossette back and said: 'Here's the deal. Have your people pick them up at the airport in a limo, then drive into Manhattan, and have the driver head north down Sixth beginning at 30th Street at exactly 2:45.  Then tell him to drive uptown five blocks very slowly.'   'Why?'   "I set it up so every billboard they see during that five-block ride will have a huge picture of Sha Na Na.  Suddenly, we had a sponsor.  Best $1300 I ever spent."

This story originally appeared in the new issue of Billboard, pick-up your copy here.