“If you take one of my jackets and hang it around the room with fifty other jackets, how would you know it’s mine?” This time Michael hadn’t called on the phone to propose his riddle of the day. It was a week- day in 1988, and he asked this simply yet loaded question to Dennis and me, while marveling at the workshop we had built beneath our home. It was rare to have Michael over, as we usually met him wherever he was – the Ranch, the studio, on set, on tour. But I think Michael, once in a while, liked to see where our conversation to his magic was made: in a modest 60 x 40 room tiled and plastered in the spirit of Tuscany.
Dennis and I thought about Michael’s concern that his clothes weren’t signature enough. Anyone else who walked around with dinnerware on their jacket might assume people would recognize them. By now we were in Michael’s head, though, so we knew that it was a progression with Michael. Nothing could stay the same for very long. We always needed to add something that could stand out and, at the same time, make people ask, “Why?”
So we added an armband.
2 and a half inches wide and 18 inches long, the color of the armband always changed. The world stopped to see what color the armband was and what the fabric was made of. There was even a time when Nancy Grace, the legal commentator on HLN, spent prime-time national news hours trying to figure out what it meant. Michael was playing P.T. Barnum again, manipulating the press and teasing his fans with more “What does it mean?” and “Why did he change it?” It looked too important to not mean anything. Regardless of what it came to mean, the armband started as the solution to ensuring Michael could be identified with just one glimpse of his sleeve.
Coming up with the armband was an improvisation. Michael’s riddles forced us to create instantly without thought. He taught us not to overthink, just do. He tapped the limitless “play” aspect of our minds.