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Michael Jackson Remembered: Mark Romanek on Experiencing "Scream"

July 9, 2009 1:09 PM ET

Mark Romanek

The first record I ever owned was "The Love You Save." I was 10 years old and just getting interested in girls and the song made me feel like love and sex must be a very complex and risky proposition because it required elaborate traffic-safety metaphors. I played it over and over. When I was making the "Scream" video with Michael, I kept thinking, life is so strange, because if you had told the 10-year-old version of me that one day he'd get to meet and work with the little boy singing on that record he'd have thought you were completely insane.

I remember getting to chat with Michael between takes of shooting "Scream." You got over his unusual appearance pretty quickly, and he just seemed like a cool, easy-to-talk-to guy. He really focused his attention on you, which is something that very charming people do. We talked about our favorite movies. I was impressed with his knowledge of foreign cinema. When it came time to perform for the cameras, the transformation from this relatively regular guy to some sort of divinely possessed super-being was really astounding, metaphysical — hard to fully comprehend. The chance to experience the phenomenon of his gift from only a few feet away gave me chills. It was the treat of a lifetime.

Michael was one of those mega-gifted artists who obviously valued the craft of what he did very highly. When you bought a Michael Jackson album, you knew that it would sound pristine, that listening to it would be a rich, sonic experience. He always worked at a state-of-the-art level of craftsmanship — seemingly without compromise. Artists like that are so rare. I find them hugely inspirational. It seemed like his career was perhaps on the verge of taking a cyclical up-turn — that maybe he was about to make some really great new music. I'm sure a lot of people feel cheated by this lost possibility. I know I do.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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