Look, when you get an email with that offer, you say yes. It’s just a fact. And thus do I find myself on a bus yesterday evening with 20-odd publicists, journalists (OK!, In Style, Vibe, Entertainment Weekly, etc.), and TV/radio people, a merciful lack of ironical “LOL Michael Bolton” condescension polluting the air. There are people on this bus who are not his publicists who can tell you about his fairly recent records (including Bolton Swings Sinatra and A Swingin’ Christmas); they express genuine curiosity re: his new one, One World One Love, which is out in May and features songs written with both Ne-Yo and Lady Gaga. It’s playing in the bus right now, in fact, but later tonight Mike will blast it for us in his own personal home studio. But not before he piles us into his living room and plies us with Grey Goose cocktails, scallops, giant wheels of cheese, and actually quite engrossing small talk.
I have no interest in blowing up Michael Bolton’s spot by seeding Mike’s Apartment-esque clues as to his house’s location or major architectural features; suffice it to say that while it’s clearly the home of a famous multi-millionaire, there’s no heated-driveway MC Hammer-type shit. Instead, you walk in and immediately to your left is a framed poster touting his sales of 52 million records worldwide, joined by all sorts of other memorabilia: Grammy envelopes, gold records, photos of Mike with various luminaries (the Reagans, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson), a signed pic of Bill Clinton alongside a White House menu and a handwritten note from Hillary (“Michael, he really wants to play with your band”), etc. It all seems pretty megalomaniacal until we realize this building isn’t his house, but his adjacent recording studio, which makes more sense in terms of decor.
And then there’s this:
Kanye and Kenny G, together at last. Michael will later explain that he got the College Dropout award because “Never Let Me Down” was his song originally; he admits that initially his daughters had to tell him who Jay-Z was.
Soon we are summoned to the actual house, a short walk up a gravel path past the tennis court. Waiters with trays full of lobster, lamb, bruschetta, crab cakes, and little plates of spinach gnocci materialize; a Grey Goose specialty bar is set up in one corner of the lavish study and/or great/living room, in front of the luxe bookcase holding the Encyclopedia Britannica. There’s a shitload of Grammys and American Music Awards and what have you in a glass cabinet in the corner; he’s got the really good edition of Scrabble, the one where the board rotates.
Michael mills around, making small talk. His golden tresses are no more; he is wearing a swank jacket, a crisp white shirt halfway-unbuttoned, and demurely ripped jeans. “He has the relaxed demeanor,” someone notes, “of someone who has been famous for a really long time.” Eventually our host ambles over, and we chat. (Out-of-context thing I said to Michael Bolton, in a fake-announcer voice: “Michael Bolton is… JACK THE RIPPER!”)
One of my journo companions has noted, on a nice table next to some enormous orchids, a lovingly framed and clearly sentimentally valuable old photograph of what turns out to be a 14- or 15-year-old Michael with members of his old band, the Nomads, leaning against a Porsche his friend “Richie Rich” owned. Which leads Mike to reminisce: About his days singing in bars despite being way underage, about the British Invasion, about the culture wars re: long hair, about his label’s uneasiness when he sang Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” It weirded them out, apparently: Should a white dude be singing black music? Wasn’t that sacrilege? They only relented when Otis’ widow, Zelma, lavished Michael’s cover with praise after she saw him do it on Showtime at the Apollo; said praise (“It brought tears to my eyes,” etc.) has been printed out and hung on the walls of his studio along with that other stuff.
Two hours pass, and with 20 minutes left before we’re supposed to scram, everyone suddenly realizes our actual purpose here, and so we shuffle back to the studio house to hear some of One World One Love. As the title suggests, there’s some reggae-ish accents, but it’s definitely still Michael Bolton: Dramatic piano melodies, pretty-hard-for-soft-rock pulsing drums, and bombastic choruses that sound designed to burst forth from volcanoes, military helicopters, the mouths of gods. Mike’s still a yearning belter type, but he’s slightly less histrionic and forceful these days, just a touch more subdued. Susan Boyle’s audience is basically his audience, so he might as well take it back. In between tracks he chats about working with younger musicians, about bringing people together, about The Process. “In writing there’s a saying: Dare to suck.”
He covers both Van Morrison and Terence Trent D’Arby, but the main hook here is his team-ups with Ne-Yo and Lady Gaga, one tune apiece. (Just songwriting, no duets, alas.) Michael has dutifully talked about Gaga a lot tonight; their song is called “Murder My Heart” and gets the biggest whoops out of his assembled audience, saddled with that awkward task of listening to someone’s music while he’s standing right there, everyone’s brows furrowed in concentration. Synths, bombast, vague menace. Climactic line of chorus: “You’re so beautiful it’s tearing me apart/You murder my heart.” Cheers, whoops. “GUNSHOT!” one of the journos yells.
Time to go. “You have to perform tomorrow,” one of his handlers notes. “And get some sleep.” Michael thanks us graciously for our time, noting that this has all been really surreal. Tell me about it. Early, chatting about Otis Redding, he’d waxed philosophical about his thirst for sonic adventure: “I want to look back on my career and say, ‘I went there.'” I can say this now, too, about Michael Bolton’s house.