Say what you like about it, but Facebook is actually a pretty great invention. For example, without it I would never have known that a friend of mine from high school spent an evening as a security guard for a Michael Jackson show.
The time is October, 1984. MJ and his brothers are out on the road for what would be The Jacksons’ final North American tour. Mild-mannered college sophomore Ken Hoffman is drafted into filling a position usually reserved for guys at least twice his size. The experience will be one that will stay with him forever.
“Michael Jackson's death a few weeks ago brought back the memories and experiences I had working as security for one of his concerts at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, GA in 1984. This tall, skinny, conflict avoider was never meant to be a bouncer, but a college friend of mine was buddies with a security guy for the Victory Tour concert. He excitedly informed several of us that more security was needed for the show, and of course, I quickly declined. But a few days before the concert I reluctantly agreed to fill in for another friend who had to back out. I say reluctantly because my memory from other concerts I had seen was of the security guys grabbing people off the stage, manhandling them if necessary, and generally doing a lot more tackling than I really desired.
The cover of The Jacksons' 1984 album Victory.
“I really wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into as we drove over to the stadium to meet the head security guys and to be prepped for our assignments for the show. Given where we usually had to park for baseball games, it seemed pretty cool to be able to drive up next to the stadium. The regular security guys who worked all the events were already in the meeting room, and I think we were given some general instructions, but higher priority to me, we were handed official tee-shirts to wear. I snatched my bright yellow shirt enthusiastically, without trying to look overly eager for this piece of proof of what I was about to do. I unfolded it and saw the big black block letters STAFF on the front ... hmmmm, flip it over … crap, same thing on the back. Nothing about the Victory Tour or about Michael Jackson, not even a picture of a sequined glove to connect this shirt with the momentous occasion in which I was about to participate.
“I don't recall any other specific instructions from that meeting, but I remember I was assigned to go with one of the regular security guys who would tell me my job. My security guy, who I'll just refer to as Bubba, looked the part of the bouncer with the giant biceps, crew cut, and no nonsense scowl on his face, and I followed him out to our post, which was on floor level at the end of an aisle about 40 yards from the stage. Bubba told me that all we really had to do was to keep anybody from getting past us down the aisle and heading toward the stage. Still, I continued to maintain those visions of having to tackle and wrestle some fanatical Michael Jackson fans until I saw the crowd filing in and realized that the majority of the 30,000 concert goers seemed to be parents and their kids. Concert security was going to be a piece of cake!!
“Yeah, that misperception changed pretty quickly. Soon after the concert started I found myself face to face with an angry mom yelling something at me about paying $15 apiece for tickets and her daughter not even being able to see Michael from their seats in the upper deck. Why couldn't she have picked Bubba to yell at about this. He was standing 3 feet from me, but I guess the skinny guy was the more logical target. And as I squinted up into the nether reaches of the upper deck where her waving arm and finger seemed to be indicating that she had come from, I had to agree with her that, "No, I couldn't really make anybody out up there in that section", and "Yes, if I couldn't see anybody up there, her daughter probably couldn't see Michael Jackson down here."
Harlem's Apollo Theatre
April 24, 2002
“Throughout this exchange, I could feel Bubba staring at us, and about the time I decided that I had better tell her to take her daughter back up to their seats in nose bleed territory, Bubba told me I could escort them down toward the stage for a closer look and then walk them back up. Wow, Bubba had a heart, and I had a bouncing job perfectly suited for me!
“Of course I assumed that once I had walked one child down toward the stage that the flood gates would open and hundreds of parents and kids would demand the same treatment, but this didn't happen. Over the next 30 minutes or so I escorted a couple more kids down the aisle, but nobody else attempted to come down. And it was during these trips toward the stage that my concert experience completely changed. Facing Michael Jackson and being so close to him was one of the most electrifying things I had ever felt. There was such incredible intensity and passion in each step, arm gesture, and facial expression. He was impossible to turn away from. I had to get closer to the stage.
“And I did. I mean it wasn't like Bubba needed me, and I figured I could still look official standing about halfway down the aisle and with the ready excuse, if Bubba asked, that I had stationed myself there to catch anybody that might have slipped by him. With my back toward the stage and neck twisted around so I could still see the show, I stayed at this self-assigned post for awhile, but it just wasn't close enough.
“All the security guys surrounding the stage shared the same physicality as Bubba, but nevertheless, I cautiously kept backing up row by row until I had inserted myself in a gap in their ring of protection. Nobody said anything to me. I couldn't believe it. I got to experience the rest of the concert from this vantage point where I could absorb myself completely in the phenomenal performance of Michael Jackson.
The King of Pop announcing his O2 Arena concerts.
March 5, 2009
“I don't recall anything else about the show, or even where security went or how we exited. Back at school, my buddy who I had filled in for was convinced that the tee-shirt should be his since he had signed up. I gave it to him without much angst. It wasn't like I was going to wear that bright yellow thing with the block STAFF and no Michael Jackson reference around campus anyway. I could still feel throughout my entire body that intensity and emotion that drew me toward the stage, and that was a feeling I figured I'd always remember.
“And I was able to recapture that feeling as I watched the many videos and performances of Michael Jackson as they were replayed for days after his death. Kind of wish I had the tee-shirt now though!”
Great story Ken!
So anyone else out there have an interesting brush with MJ story to tell? How about sharing it with us? Just hit the "leave a comment" button and let 'er rip!
To help jog your memory, here's a complete list of shows on The Jacksons' Victory Tour from The Michael Jackson Fan Club Web site.