If we've learned anything in the weeks since Michael Jackson's death it's that he reinvented pop music in the 1980's. Any trip down the cable dial is loaded with daily reminders of how the immensely talented child star evolved into a phenomenon of historic proportions in his twenties.
It appears he was also an inventor in the purest sense of the word.
The day after Jackson died I received an e-mail from Ron Gerber, a reliable source on both pop music and inventions. He forwarded a copy of Michael Jackson's 1992 United States patent for a method of creating an anti-gravity illusion on stage.
Ron's day job as a patent engineer with Altura Law is impressive enough, with a bundle of patents under his belt. Ron's bio page describes his skills "designing, modeling, tolerancing and documenting optical and mechanical systems for the data storage and telecommunications industries."
But Ron "BoogieMonster" Gerber first came to my attention years ago because of his hobby, a weekly radio show on KFAI-FM which puts some of the best acts in music under a microscope. His program is a trivia treasure trove that traces tunes as they evolved from versions that didn't catch fire to ones that did. It also shines a light on the fact rockers who don't always hit it out of the park.
When I first showed the patent documents Ron sent my way to co-workers the reactions ranged from "yeah, right" to "whatever" to "you're trying to say there's no Santa Claus."
That particular co-worker thought this was an illusion that allowed Jackson to perform his famous 1983 moon walk. Nope. That was pure talent. And it was a move originated by other gifted performers, though never to so much acclaim.
This particular patent, on the other hand, formally documented a system that gave Jackson the ability to lean forward beyond his center of gravity. Apparently a moving hitch on the floor of the stage could pop up and slide into a discreet slot inside the heel of Jackson's shoes, temporarily securing him as he leaned outward.
Not being a theater guy I'll have to trust that this was unique and original enough to be awarded a patent in 1993, which it was. Most of the genius bottled up inside Jackson was never described in legal or engineering terms, and most likely couldn't be.
In the coming months we'll probably learn a lot more about what led to Jackson's demise in that Los Angeles mansion June 25th. Exactly what made him tick, during the era of the trials by tabloids and by courts of law, we'll never know completely.
Thanks Ron, for revealing the secret behind a little piece of the magic.
Copyright 2009 by KARE. All rights reserved.