Michael Jackson



Chapter One – Just Kids With A Dream



I've always wanted to be able to tell stories, you know, stories that came

from my soul. I'd like to sit by a fire and tell people stories - make them

see pictures, make them cry and laugh, take them anywhere emotionally with

something as deceptively simple as words. I'd like to tell tales to move

their souls and transform them. I've always wanted to be able to do that.

Imagine how the great writers must feel, knowing they have that power. I

sometimes feel I could do it. It's something I'd like to develop. In a way,

songwriting uses the same skills, creates the emotional highs and lows, but

the story is a sketch. It's quicksilver. There are very few books written on

the art of storytelling, how to grip listeners, how to get a group of people

together and amuse them. No costumes, no makeup, no nothing, just you and

your voice, and your powerful ability to take them anywhere, to transform

their lives, if only for minutes.


As I begin to tell my story, I want to repeat what I usually say to people

when they ask me about my earliest days with the Jackson 5: I was so little

when we began to work on our music that I really don't remember much about

it. Most people have the luxury of careers that start when they're old

enough to know exactly what they're doing and why, but, of course, that

wasn't true of me. They remember everything that happened to them, but I was

only five years old. When you're a show business child, you really don't

have the maturity to understand a great deal of what is going on around you.

People make a lot of decisions concerning your life when you're out of the

room. So here's what I remember. I remember singing at the top of my voice

and dancing with real joy and working too hard for a child. Of course, there

are many details I don't remember at all. I do remember the Jackson 5 really

taking off when I was only eight or nine.


I was born in Gary, Indiana, on a late summer night in 1958, the seventh of

my parents' nine children. My father, Joe Jackson, was born in Arkansas, and

in 1949 he married my mother, Katherine Scruse, whose people came from

Alabama. My sister Maureen was born the following year and had the tough job

of being the oldest. Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, LaToya, and Marlon were all

next in line. Randy and Janet came after me.


A part of my earliest memories is my father's job working in the steel mill.

It was tough, mind-numbing work and he played music for escape. At the same

time, my mother was working in a department store. Because of my father, and

because of my mother's own love of music, we heard it all the time at home.

My father and his brother had a group called the Falcons who were the local

R&B band. My father played the guitar, as did his brother. They would do

some of the great early rock ¦n' roll and blues songs by Chuck Berry, Little

Richard, Otis Redding, you name it. All those styles were amazing and each

had an influence on Joe and on us, although we were too young to know it at

the time. The Falcons practised in the living room of our house in Gary, so

I was raised on R&B. Since we were nine kids and my father's brother had

eight of his own, our combined numbers made for a huge family. Music was

what we did for entertainment and those times helped keep us together and

kind of encouraged my father to be a family-oriented man. The Jackson 5 were

born out of this tradition - we later became the Jacksons - and because of

this training and musical tradition, I moved out on my own and established a

sound that is mine.


I remember my childhood as mostly work, even though I loved to sing. I

wasn't forced into this business by stage parents the way Judy Garland was.

I did it because I enjoyed it and because it was as natural to me as drawing

a breath and exhaling it. I did it because I was compelled to do it, not my

parents or family, but by my own inner life in the world of music.


There were times, let me make that clear, when I'd come home from school and

I'd only have time to put my books down and get ready for the studio. Once

there, I'd sing until late at night, until it was past my bedtime, really.

There was a park across the street from the Motown studio, and I can

remember looking at those kids playing games. I'd just stare at them in

wonder - I couldn't imagine such freedom, such a carefree life - and wish

more than anything that I had that kind of freedom, that I could walk away

and be like them. So there were sad moments in my childhood. It's true for

any child star. Elizabeth Taylor told me she felt the same way. When you're

young and you're working, the world can seem awfully unfair. I wasn't forced

to be little Michael the lead singer - I did it and I loved it - but it was

hard work. If we were doing an album, for example, we'd go off to the studio

after school and I might or might not get a snack. Sometimes there just

wasn't time. I'd come home, exhausted, and it'd be eleven or twelve and past

time to go to bed.


So I very much identify with anyone who worked as a child. I know how they

struggled, I know what they sacrificed. I also know what they learned. I've

learned that it becomes more of a challenge as one gets older. I feel old

for some reason. I really feel like an old soul, someone who's seen a lot

and experienced a lot. Because of all the years I've clocked in, it's hard

for me to accept that I am only twenty-nine. I've been in the business for

twenty-four years. Sometimes I feel like I should be near the end of my

life, turning eighty, with people patting me on the back. That's what comes

from starting so young.


When I first performed with my brothers, we were known as the Jacksons. We

would later become the Jackson 5. Still later, after we left Motown, we

would reclaim the Jacksons name again.


Every one of my albums or the group's albums has been dedicated to our

mother, Katherine Jackson, since we took over our own careers and began to

produce our own music. My first memories are of her holding me and singing

songs like "You Are My Sunshine" and "Cotton Fields." She sang to me and to

my brothers and sisters often. Even though she had lived in Indiana for some

time, my mother grew up in Alabama, and in that part of the country it was

just as common for black people to be raised with country and western music

on the radio as it was for them to hear spirituals in church. She likes

Willie Nelson to this day. She has always had a beautiful voice and I

suppose I got my singing ability from my mother and, of course, from God.


Mom played the clarinet and the piano, which she taught my oldest sister,

Maureen, whom we call Rebbie, to play, just as she'd teach my other older

sister, LaToya. My mother knew, from an early age, that she would never

perform the music she loved in front of others, not because she didn't have

the talent and the ability, but because she was crippled by polio as a

child. She got over the disease, but not without a permanent limp in her

walk. She had to miss a great deal of school as a child, but she told us

that she was lucky to recover at a time when many died from the disease. I

remember how important it was to her that we got the sugar-cube vaccine. She

even made us miss a youth club show one Saturday afternoon - that's how

important it was in our family.


My mother knew her polio was not a curse but a test that God gave her to

triumph over, and she instilled in me a love of Him that I will always have.

She taught me that my talent for singing and dancing was as much God's work

as a beautiful sunset or a storm that left snow for children to play in.

Despite all the time we spent rehearsing and travelling, Mom would find time

to take me to the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah's Witnesses, usually with

Rebbie and LaToya.


Years later, after we had left Gary, we performed on "The Ed Sullivan Show",

the live Sunday night variety show where America first saw the Beatles,

Elvis, and Sly and the Family Stone. After the show, Mr. Sullivan

complimented and thanked each of us; but I was thinking about what he had

said to me before the show. I had been wandering around backstage, like the

kid in the Pepsi commercial, and ran into Mr. Sullivan. He seemed glad to

see me and shook my hand, but before he let it go he had a special message

for me. It was 1970, a year when some of the best people in rock were losing

their lives to drugs and alcohol. An older, wiser generation in show

business was unprepared to lose its very young. Some people had already said

that I reminded them of Frankie Lymon, a great young singer of the 1950s who

lost his life that way. Ed Sullivan may have been thinking of all this when

he told me, "Never forget where your talent came from, that your talent is a

gift from God."


I was grateful for his kindness, but I could have told him that my mother

had never let me forget. I never had polio, which is a frightening thing for

a dancer to think about, but I knew God had tested me and my brothers and

sisters in other ways - our large family, our tiny house, the small amount

of money we had to make ends meet, even the jealous kids in the

neighbourhood who threw rocks at our windows while we rehearsed, yelling

that we'd never make it. When I think of my mother and our early years, I

can tell you there are rewards that go far beyond money and public acclaim

and awards.


My mother was a great provider. If she found out that one of us had an

interest in something, she would encourage it if there was any possible way.

If I developed an interest in movie stars, for instance, she'd come home

with an armful of books about famous stars. Even with nine children she

treated each of us like an only child. There isn't one of us who's ever

forgotten what a hard worker and great provider she was. It's an old story.

Every child thinks their mother is the greatest mother in the world, but we

Jacksons never lost that feeling. Because of Katherine's gentleness, warmth,

and attention, I can't imagine what it must be like to grow up without a

mother's love.


One thing I know about children is that if they don't get the love they need

from their parents, they'll get it from someone else and cling to that

person, a grandparent, anyone. We never had to look for anyone else with my

mother around. The lessons she taught us were invaluable. Kindness, love,

and consideration for other people headed her list. Don't hurt people. Never

beg. Never freeload. Those were sins at our house. She always wanted us to

give , but she never wanted us to ask or beg. That's the way she is.


I remember a good story about my mother that illustrates her nature. One

day, back in Gary, when I was real little, this man knocked on everybody's

door early in the morning. He was bleeding so badly you could see where he'd

been around the neighbourhood. No one would let him in. Finally he got to

our door and he started banging and knocking. Mother let him in at once.

Now, most people would have been too afraid to do that, but that's my

mother. I can remember waking up and finding blood on our floor. I wish we

could all be more like Mum.


The earliest memories I have of my father are of him coming home from the

steel mill with a big bag of glazed doughnuts for all of us. My brothers and

I could really eat back then and that bag would disappear with a snap of the

fingers. He used to take us all to the merry-go-round in the park, but I was

so young I don't remember that very well.


My father has always been something of a mystery to me and he knows it. One

of the few things I regret most is never being able to have a real closeness

with him. He built a shell around himself over the years and, once he

stopped talking about our family business, he found it hard to relate to us.

We'd all be together and he'd just leave the room. Even today it's hard for

him to touch on father and son stuff because he's too embarrassed. When I

see that he is, I become embarrassed, too.


My father did always protect us and that's no small feat. He always tried to

make sure people didn't cheat us. He looked after our interests in the best

ways. He might have made a few mistakes along the way, but he always thought

he was doing what was right for his family. And, of course, most of what my

father helped us accomplish was wonderful and unique, especially in regard

to our relationships with companies and people in the business. I'd say we

were among a fortunate few artists who walked away from a childhood in the

business with anything substantial - money, real estate, other investments.

My father set all these up for us. He looked out for both our interests and

his. To this day I'm so thankful he didn't try to take all our money for

himself the way so many parents of child stars have. Imagine stealing from

your own children. My father never did anything like that. But I still don't

know him, and that's sad for a son who hungers to understand his own father.

He's still a mystery man to me and he may always be one.


What I got from my father wasn't necessarily God-given, though the Bible

says you reap what you sow. When we were coming along, Dad said that in a

different way, but the message was just as clear: You could have all the

talent in the world, but if you didn't prepare and plan, it wouldn't do you

any good.


Joe Jackson had always loved singing and music as much as my mother did, but

he also knew there was a world beyond Jackson Street. I wasn't old enough to

remember his band, the Falcons, but they came over to our house to rehearse

on weekends. The music took them away from their jobs at the steel mill,

where Dad drove a crane. The Falcons would play all over town, and in clubs

and colleges around northern Indiana and Chicago. At the rehearsals at our

house, Dad would bring his guitar out of the closet and plug it into the amp

he kept in the basement. He'd always loved rhythm and blues and that guitar

was his pride and joy. The closet where the guitar was kept was considered

an almost sacred place. Needless to say, it was off-limits to us kids. Dad

didn't go to Kingdom Hall with us, but both Mom and Dad knew that music was

a way of keeping our family together in a neighbourhood where gangs

recruited kids my brothers' ages. The three oldest boys would always have an

excuse to around when the Falcons came over. Dad let them think they were

being given a special treat by being allowed to listen, but he was actually

eager to have them there.


Tito watched everything that was going on with the greatest interest. He'd

taken saxophone in school, but he could tell his hands were big enough to

grab the chords and slip the riffs that my father played. It made sense that

he'd catch on, because Tito looked so much like my father that we all

expected him to share Dad's talents. The extent of the resemblance was scary

as he got older. Maybe my father noticed Tito's zeal because he laid down

rules for all my brothers: No one was to touch the guitar while he was out.



Therefore, Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine were careful to see that Mom was in

the kitchen when they "borrowed" the guitar. They were also careful not to

make any noise while removing it. They would then go back to our room and

put on the radio or the little portable record player so they could play

along. Tito would hoist the guitar onto his belly as he sat on the bed and

prop it up. He took turns with Jackie and Jermaine, and they'd all try the

scales they were learning in school as well as try to figure out how to get

the "Green Onions" part they'd hear on the radio.


By now I was old enough to sneak in and watch if I promised not to tell. One

day Mom finally caught them, and we were all worried. She scolded the boys,

but said she wouldn't tell Dad as long as we were careful. She knew that

guitar was keeping them from running with a bad crowd and maybe getting beat

up, so she wasn't about to take away anything that kept them within arm's



Of course, something had to give sooner or later, and one day a string

broke. My brothers panicked. There wasn't time to get it repaired before Dad

came home, and besides, none if us knew how to go about getting it fixed. My

brothers never figured out what to do, so they put the guitar back in the

closet and hoped fervently that my father would think it broke by itself. Of

course, Dad didn't buy that, and he was furious. My sisters told me to stay

out of it and keep a low profile. I heard Tito crying after Dad found out

and I went to investigate, of course. Tito was on his bed crying when Dad

came back and motioned for him to get up. Tito was scared, but my father

just stood there, holding his favourite guitar. He gave Tito a hard,

penetrating look and said, "Let me see what you can do."


My brother pulled himself together and started to play a few runs he had

taught himself. When my father saw how well Tito could play, he knew he'd

obviously been practising and he realised that Tito and the rest of us

didn't treat his favourite guitar as if it were a toy. It became clear to

him that what had happened had been only an accident. At this point my

mother stepped in and voiced her enthusiasm for our musical ability. She

told him that we boys had talent and he should listen to us. She kept

pushing for us, so one day he began to listen and he liked what he heard.

Tito, Jackie, and Jermaine started rehearsing together in earnest. A couple

of years later, when I was about five, Mom pointed out to my father that I

was a good singer and could play the bongos. I became a member of the group.


About then my father decided that what was happening in his family was

serious. Gradually he began spending less time with the Falcons and more

with us. We'd just woodshed together and he'd give us some tips and teach us

techniques on the guitar. Marlon and I weren't old enough to play, but we'd

watch when my father rehearsed the older boys and we were learning when we

watched. The ban on using Dad's guitar still held when he wasn't around, but

my brothers loved using it when they could. The house on Jackson Street was

bursting with music. Dad and Mom had paid for music lessons for Rebbie and

Jackie when they were little kids, so they had a good background. The rest

of us had music class and band in the Gary schools, but no amount of

practice was enough to harness all that energy.


The Falcons were still earning money, however infrequent their gigs, and

that extra money was important to us. It was enough to keep food on the

table for a growing family but not enough to give us things that weren't

necessary. Mom was working part-time at Sears, Dad was still working the

mill job, and no one was going hungry, but I think, looking back, that

things must have seemed one big dead end.


One day Dad was late coming home and Mom began to get worried. By the time

he arrived, she was ready to give him a piece of her mind, something we boys

didn't mind witnessing once in a while just to see if he could take it like

he dished it out, but when he poked his head through the door, he had a

mischievous look on his face and he was hiding something behind his back. We

were all shocked when he produced a gleaming red guitar, slightly smaller

than the one in the closet. We were all hoping this meant we'd get the old

one. But Dad said the new guitar was Tito's. We gathered around to admire

it, while Dad told Tito he had to share it with anyone who would practice .

We were not to take it to school to show it off. This was a serious present

and that day was a momentous occasion for the Jackson family.


Mom was happy for us, but she also knew her husband. She was more aware than

we of the big ambitions and plans he had for us. He'd begun talking to her

at night after we kids were asleep. He had dreams and those dreams didn't

stop with one guitar. Pretty soon we were dealing with equipment, not just

gifts. Jermaine got a bass and an amp. There were shakers for Jackie. Our

bedroom and living room began to look like a music store. Sometimes I'd hear

Mom and Dad fight when the subject of money was brought up, because all

those instruments and accessories meant having to go without a little

something we needed each week. Dad was persuasive, though, and he didn't

miss a trick.


We even had microphones in the house. They seemed like a real luxury at the

time, especially to a woman who was trying to stretch a very small budget,

but I've come to realise that having those microphones in our house wasn't

just an attempt to keep up with the Joneses or anyone else in amateur night

competitions. They were there to help us prepare. I saw people at talent

shows, who probably sounded great at home, clam up the moment they got in

front of a microphone. Others started screaming their songs like they wanted

to prove they didn't need the mikes. They didn't have the advantage that we

did - an advantage that only experience can give you. I think it probably

made some people jealous because they could tell our expertise with the

mikes gave us an edge. If that was true, we made so many sacrifices - in

free time, schoolwork, and friends - that no one had the right to be

jealous. We were becoming very good, but we were working like people twice

our age.


While I was watching my older brothers, including Marlon on the bongo drums,

Dad got a couple of young guys named Johnny Jackson and Randy Rancifer to

play trap drums and organ. Motown would later claim they were our cousins,

but that was just an embellishment from the P.R. people, who wanted to make

us seem like one big family. We had become a real band! I was like a sponge,

watching everyone, and trying to learn everything I could. I was totally

absorbed when my brothers were rehearsing or playing at charity events or

shopping centres. I was most fascinated when watching Jermaine because he

was the singer at the time and he was a big brother to me - Marlon was too

close to me in age for that. It was Jermaine who would walk me to

kindergarten and whose clothes would be handed down to me. When he did

something, I tried to imitate him. When I was successful at it, my brothers

and Dad would laugh, but when I began singing, they listened. I was singing

in a baby voice then and just imitating sounds. I was so young I didn't know

what many of the words meant, but the more I sang, the better I got.


I always knew how to dance. I would watch Marlon's moves because Jermaine

had the big bass to carry, but also because I could keep up with Marlon, who

was only a year older then me. Soon I was doing most of the singing at home

and preparing to join my brothers in public. Through our rehearsals, we were

all becoming aware of our particular strengths and weaknesses as members of

the group and the shift in responsibilities was happening naturally.


Our family's house in Gary was tiny, only three rooms really, but at the

time it seemed much larger to me. When you're that young, the whole world

seems so huge that a little room can seem four times its size. When we went

back to Gary years later, we were all surprised at how tiny that house was.

I had remembered it as being large, but you could take five steps from the

front door and you'd be out the back. It was really no bigger then a garage,

but when we lived there it seemed fine to us kids. You see things from such

a different perspective when you're young. Our school days in Gary are a

blur for me. I vaguely remember being dropped off in front of my school on

the first day of kindergarten, and I clearly remember hating it. I didn't

want my mother to leave me, naturally, and I didn't want to be there.


In time I adjusted, as all kids do, and I grew to love my teachers,

especially the women. They were always very sweet to us and they just loved

me. Those teachers were so wonderful; I'd be promoted from one grade to the

next and they'd all cry and hug me and tell me how much they hated to see me

leave their classes. I was so crazy about my teachers that I'd steal my

mother's jewellery and give it to them as presents. They'd be very touched,

but eventually my mother found out about it, and put an end to my generosity

with her things. That urge that I had to give them something in return for

all I was receiving was a measure of how much I loved them at that school.


One day, in the first grade, I participated in a program that was put on

before the whole school. Everyone of us in each class had to do something,

so I went home and discussed it with my parents. We decided I should wear

black pants and a white shirt and sing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" from The Sound

of Music . When I finished that song, the reaction in the auditorium

overwhelmed me. The applause was thunderous and people were smiling; some of

them were standing. My teachers were crying and I just couldn't believe it.

I had made them all happy. It was such a great feeling. I felt a little

confused too, because I didn't do anything special. I was just singing the

way I sang at home every night. When you're performing, you don't realise

what you sound like or how you're coming across. You just open your mouth

and sing.


Soon Dad was grooming us for talent contests. He was a great trainer, and he

spent a lot of money and time working with us. Talent is something that God

gives to a performer, but our father taught us how to cultivate it. I think

we also had a certain instinct for show business. We loved to perform and we

put everything we had into it. He's sit at home with us every day after

school and rehearse us. We'd perform for him and he'd critique us. If you

messed up, you got hit, sometimes with a belt, sometimes with a switch. My

father was real strict with us - real strict. Marlon was the one who got in

trouble all the time. On the other hand, I'd get beaten for things that

happened mostly outside rehearsal. Dad would make me so mad and hurt that

I'd try to get back at him and get beaten all the more. I'd take a shoe and

throw it at him, or I'd just fight back, swinging my fists. That's why I got

it more than all my brothers combined. I would fight back and my father

would kill me, just tear me up. Mother told me I'd fight back even when I

was very little, but I don't remember that. I do remember running under

tables to get away from him, and making him angrier. We had a turbulent



Most of the time, however, we just rehearsed. We always rehearsed.

Sometimes, late at night, we'd have time to play games or with our toys.

There might be a game of hide-and-go-seek or we'd jump rope, but that was

about it. The majority of our time was spent working. I clearly remember

running into the house with my brothers when my father came home, because

we'd be in big trouble if we weren't ready to start rehearsals on time.


Through all this, my mother was completely supportive. She had been the one

who first recognised our talent and she continued to help us realise our

potential. It's hard to imagine that we would have gotten where we did

without her love and good humour. She worried about the stress we were under

and the long hours of rehearsal, but we wanted to be the best we could be

and we really loved music.


Music was important in Gary. We had our own radio stations and nightclubs,

and there was no shortage of people who wanted to be on them. After Dad ran

our Saturday afternoon rehearsals, he'd go see a local show or even drive

all the way to Chicago to see someone perform. He was always watching for

things that could help us down the road. He'd come home and tell us what

he'd seen and who was doing what. He kept up on all the latest stuff,

whether it was a local theatre that ran contests we could enter or a

Cavalcade of Stars show with great acts whose clothes or moves we might

adapt. Sometimes I wouldn't see Dad until I got back from Kingdom Hall on

Sundays, but as soon as I ran into the house he'd be telling me what he'd

seen the night before. He'd assure me I could dance on one leg like James

Brown if I'd only try this step. There I'd be, fresh out of church, and back

in show business.


We started collecting trophies with our act when I was six. Our lineup was

set; the group featured me at second from the left, and Jackie on my right.

Tito and his guitar took stage right, with Marlon next to him. Jackie was

getting tall and he towered over Marlon and me. We kept that setup for

contest after contest and it worked well. While other groups we'd meet would

fight among themselves and quit, we were becoming more polished and

experienced. The people in Gary who came regularly to see the talent shows

got to know us, so we would try to top ourselves and surprise them. We

didn't want them to begin to feel bored by our act. We knew change was

always good, that it helped us grow, so we were never afraid of it.


Winning an amateur night or talent show in a ten-minute, two-song set took

as much energy as a ninety-minute concert. I'm convinced that because

there's no room for mistakes, your concentration burns you up inside more on

one or two songs than it does when you have the luxury of twelve or fifteen

in a set. These talent shows were our professional education. Sometimes we'd

drive hundreds of miles to do one song or two and hope the crowd wouldn't be

against us because we weren't local talent. We were competing against people

of all ages and skills, from drill teams to comedians to other singers and

dancers like us. We had to grab that audience and keep it. Nothing was left

to chance, so clothes, shoes, hair, everything had to be the way Dad planned

it. We really looked amazingly professional. After all this planning, if we

performed the songs the way we rehearsed them, the awards would take care of

themselves. This was true even when we were in the Wallace High part of town

where the neighbourhood had its own performers and cheering sections and we

were challenging them right in their own backyards. Naturally, local

performers always had their own very loyal fans, so whenever we went off our

turf and onto someone else's, it was very hard. When the master of

ceremonies held his hand over our heads for the "applause meter," we wanted

to make sure that the crowd knew we had given them more than anyone else.


As players, Jermaine, Tito, and the rest of us were under tremendous

pressure. Our manger was the kind who reminded us that James Brown would

fine his Famous Flames if they missed a cue or bent a note during a

performance. As lead singer, I felt I - more than the others - couldn't

afford an "off night." I can remember being onstage at night after being

sick in bed all day. It was hard to concentrate at those times, yet I knew

all the things my brothers and I had to do so well that I could have

performed the routines in my sleep. At times like that, I had to remind

myself not to look in the crowd for someone I knew, or at the emcee, both of

which can distract a young performer. We did songs that people knew from the

radio or songs that my father knew were already classics. If you messed up,

you heard about it because the fans knew those songs and they knew how they

were supposed to sound. If you were going to change an arrangement, it

needed to sound better than the original.


We won the citywide talent show when I was eight with our version of the

Temptations' song "My Girl." The contest was held just a few blocks away at

Roosevelt High. From Jermaine's opening bass notes and Tito's first guitar

licks to all of us singing the chorus, we had people on their feet for the

whole song. Jermaine and I traded verses while Marlon and Jackie spun like

tops. It was a wonderful feeling for all of us to pass that trophy, our

biggest yet, back and forth between us. Eventually it was propped on the

front seat like a baby and we drove home with Dad telling us, "When you do

it like you did tonight they can't not give it to you."


We were now Gary city champions and Chicago was our next target because it

was the area that offered the steadiest work and the best word of mouth for

miles and miles. We began to plan our strategy in earnest. My father's group

played the Chicago sound of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, but he was

open-minded enough to see that the more upbeat, slicker sounds that appealed

to us kids had a lot to offer. We were lucky because some people his age

weren't that hip. In fact, we knew musicians who thought the sixties sound

was beneath people their age, but not Dad. He recognised great singing when

he heard it, even telling us that he saw the great doo-wop group from Gary,

the Spaniels, when they were stars not that much older than we. When Smokey

Robinson of the Miracles sang a song like "Tracks of My Tears" or "Ooo, Baby

Baby," he'd be listening as hard as we were. The sixties didn't leave

Chicago behind musically, Great singers like the Impressions with Curtis

Mayfield, Jerry Butler, Major Lance, and Tyrone Davis were playing all over

the city at the same places we were. At this point my father was managing us

full-time, with only a part-time shift at the mill. Mom had some doubts

about the soundness of this decision, not because she didn't think we were

good but because she didn't know anyone else who was spending the majority

of his time trying to break his children into the music business. She was

even less thrilled when Dad told her he had booked us as a regular act at

Mr. Lucky's, a Gary nightspot. We were being forced to spend our weekends in

Chicago and other places trying to win an ever-increasing number of amateur

shows, and these trips were expensive, so the job at Mr. Lucky's was a way

to make it all possible. Mom was surprised at the response we were getting

and she was very pleased with the awards and the attention, but she worried

about us a lot. She worried about me because of my age. "This is quite a

life for a nine-year-old," she would say, staring intently at my father.


I don't know what my brothers and I expected, but the nightclub crowds

weren't the same as the Roosevelt High crowds. We were playing between bad

comedians, cocktail organists, and strippers. With my Witness upbringing,

Mom was concerned that I was hanging out with the wrong people and getting

introduced to things I'd be better off learning much later in life. She

didn't have to worry; just one look at some of those strippers wasn't going

to get me that interested in trouble - certainly not at nine years old! That

was an awful way to live, though, and it made us all the more determined to

move on up the circuit and as far away from that life as we could go.


Being at Mr. Lucky's meant that for the first time in our lives we had a

whole show to do - five sets a night, six nights a week - and if Dad could

get us something out of town for the seventh night, he was going to do it.

We were working hard, but the bar crowds weren't bad to us. They liked James

Brown and Sam and Dave just as much as we did and, besides, we were

something extra that came free with the drinking and the carrying on, so

they were surprised and cheerful. We even had some fun with them on one

number, the Joe Tex song "Skinny Legs and All." We'd start the song and

somewhere in the middle I'd go out into the audience, crawl under the

tables, and pull up the ladies' skirts to look under. People would throw

money as I scurried by, and when I began to dance, I'd scoop up all the

dollars and coins that had hit the floor earlier and push them into the

pockets of my jacket.


I wasn't really nervous when we began playing in because of all the

experience I'd had with talent show audiences. I was always ready to go out

and perform, you know, just do it - sing and dance and have some fun.


We worked in more than one club that had strippers in those days. I used to

stand in the wings of this one place in Chicago and watch a lady whose name

was Mary Rose. I must have been nine or ten. This girl would take off her

clothes and her panties and throw them to the audience. The men would pick

them up and sniff them and yell. My brothers and I would be watching all

this, taking it in, and my father wouldn't mind. We were exposed to a lot

doing that kind of circuit. In one place they had cut a little hole in the

musician's dressing room wall that also happened to act as a wall in the

ladies' bathroom. You could peek through this hole, and I saw stuff I've

never forgotten. Guys on that circuit were so wild, they did stuff like

drilling little holes into the walls of the ladies' loo all the time. Of

course, I'm sure that my brothers and I were fighting over who got to look

through the hole. "Get outta the way, it's my turn!" Pushing each other away

to make room for ourselves.


Later, when we did the Apollo Theater in New York, I saw something that

really blew me away because I didn't know things like that existed. I had

seen quite a few strippers, but that night this one girl with gorgeous

eyelashes and long hair came out and did her routine. She put on a great

performance. All of a sudden, at the end, she took off her wig, pulled a

pair of big oranges out of her bra, and revealed that she was a hard-faced

guy under all that makeup. That blew me away. I was only a child and

couldn't even conceive of anything like that. But I looked out at the

theatre audience and they were going for it. applauding wildly and cheering.

I'm just a little kid, standing in the wings, watching this crazy stuff.

     I was blown away.


As I said, I received quite an education as a child. More than most. Perhaps

this freed me to concentrate on other aspects of my life as an adult.


One day, not long after we'd been doing successfully in Chicago clubs, Dad

brought home a tape of some songs we'd never heard before. We were

accustomed to doing popular stuff off the radio, so we were curious why he

began playing these songs over and over again, just one guy singing none too

well with some guitar chords in the background. Dad told us that the man on

the tape wasn't really a performer but a songwriter who owned a recording

studio in Gary. His name was Mr. Keith and he had given us a week to

practice his songs to see if we could make a record out of them. Naturally,

we were excited. We wanted to make a record, any record.


We worked strictly on the sound, ignoring the dancing routines we'd normally

work up for a new song. It wasn't as much fun to do a song that none of us

knew, but we were already professional enough to hide our disappointment and

give it all we could. When we were ready and felt we had done our best with

the material, Dad got us on tape after a few false starts and more than a

few pep talks, of course. After a day or two of trying to figure out whether

Mr. Keith liked the tape we had made for him, Dad suddenly appeared with

more of his songs for us to learn for our first recording session.


Mr. Keith, like Dad, was a mill worker who loved music, only he was more

into the recording and business end. His studio and label were called

Steeltown. Looking back on all this, I realize Mr. Keith was just as excited

as we were. His studio was downtown, and we went early one Saturday morning

before "The Road Runner Show," my favourite show at the time. Mr. Keith met

us at the door and opened the studio. He showed us a small glass booth with

all kinds of equipment in it and explained what various tasks each

performed. It didn't look like we'd have to lean over any more tape

recorders, at least not in this studio. I put on some big metal headphones,

which came halfway down my neck, and tried to make myself look ready for



As my brothers were figuring out where to plug in their instruments and

stand, some backup singers and a horn section arrived. At first I assumed

they were there to make a record after us. We were delighted and amazed when

we found out they were there to record with us. We looked over at Dad, but

he didn't change expression. He'd obviously known about it and approved.

Even then people knew not to throw Dad surprises. We were told to listen to

Mr. Keith, who would instruct us while we were in the booth. If we did as he

said, the record would take care of itself.


After a few hours, we finished Mr. Keith's first song. Some of the backup

singers and horn players hadn't made records either and found it difficult,

but they also didn't have a perfectionist for a manager, so they weren't

used to doing things over and over the way we were. It was at times like

these that we realized how hard Dad worked to make us consummate

professionals. We came back the next few Saturdays, putting the songs we'd

rehearsed during the week into the can and taking home a new tape of Mr.

Keith's each time. One Saturday, Dad even brought his guitar in to perform

with us. It was the one and only time he ever recorded with us. After the

records were pressed, Mr. Keith gave us some copies so that we could sell

them between sets and after shows. We knew that wasn't how the big groups

did it, but everyone had to start someplace, and in those days, having a

record with your group's name on it was quite something. We felt very



That first Steeltown single, "Big Boy," had a mean bass line. It was a nice

song about a kid who wanted to fall in love with some girl. Of course, in

order to get the full picture, you have to imagine a skinny nine-year-old

singing this song. The words said I didn't want to hear fairy tales any

more, but in truth I was far too young to grasp the real meanings of most of

the words in these songs. I just sang what they gave me.


When that record with its killer bass line began to get radio play in Gary,

we became a big deal in out neighborhood. No one could believe we had our

own record. We had a hard time believing it.


After that first Steeltown record, we began to aim for all the big talent

shows in Chicago. Usually the other acts would look me over carefully when

they met me, because I was so little, particularly the ones who went on

after us. One day Jackie was cracking up, like someone had told him the

funniest joke in the world. This wasn't a good sign right before a show, and

I could tell Dad was worried he was going to screw up onstage. Dad went over

to say a word to him, but Jackie whispered something in his ear and soon Dad

was holding his sides, laughing. I wanted to know the joke too. Dad said

proudly that Jackie had overheard the headlining act talking among

themselves. One guy said, "We'd better not let those Jackson 5 cut us

tonight with that midget they've got."


I was upset at first because my feelings were hurt. I thought they were

being mean. I couldn't help it that I was the shortest, but soon all the

other brothers were cracking up too. Dad explained that they weren't

laughing at me. He told me that I should be proud, the group was talking

trash because they thought I was a grown-up posing as a child like one of

the Munchkins in The Wizard Of Oz. Dad said that if I had those slick guys

talking like the neighborhood kids who gave us grief back in Gary, then we

had Chicago on the run.


We still had some running of our own to do. After we played some pretty good

clubs in Chicago, Dad signed us up for the Royal Theatre amateur night

competition in town. He had gone to see B. B. King at the Regal the night he

made his famous live album. When Dad gave Tito that sharp red guitar years

earlier, we had teased him by thinking of girls he could name his guitar

after, like B. B. King's Lucille. We won that show for three straight weeks,

with a new song every week to keep the regular members of the audience

guessing. Some of the other performers complained that it was greedy for us

to keep coming back, but they were after the same thing we were. There was a

policy that if you won the amateur night three straight times, you'd be

invited back to do a paid show for thousands of people, not dozens like the

audiences we were playing to in bars. We got that opportunity and the show

was headlined by Gladys Knight and the Pips, who were breaking in a new song

no one knew called "I Heard It Through The Grapevine." It was a heady night.


After Chicago, we had one more big amateur show we really felt we needed to

win: the Apollo Theatre in New York City. A lot of Chicago people thought a

win at the Apollo was just a good luck charm and nothing more, but Dad saw

it as much more than that. He knew New York had a high caliber of talent

just like Chicago and he knew there were more record people and professional

musicians in New York than Chicago. If we could make it in New York, we

could make it anywhere. That's what a win at the Apollo meant to us.


Chicago had sent a kind of scouting report on us to New York and our

reputation was such that the Apollo entered us in the "Superdog" finals,

even though we hadn't been to any of the preliminary competitions. By this

time, Gladys Knight had already talked to us about coming to Motown, as had

Bobby Taylor, a member of the Vancouvers, with whom my father had become

friendly. Dad had told them we'd be happy to audition for Motown, but that

was in out future. We got to the Apollo at 125th Street early enough to get

a guided tour. We walked through the theatre and stared at all of the

pictures of the stars who'd played there, white as well as black. The

manager concluded by showing us to the dressing room, but by then I had

found pictures of all my favourites.


While my brothers and I were paying dues on the so-called "chitlin'

circuit," opening for other acts, I carefully watched all the stars because

I wanted to learn as much as I could. I'd stare at their feet, the way they

held their arms, the way they gripped a microphone, trying to decipher what

they were doing and why they were doing it. After studying James Brown from

the wings, I knew every step, every grunt, every spin and turn. I have to

say he would give a performance that would exhaust you, just wear you out

emotionally. His whole physical presence, the fire coming out of his pores,

would be phenomenal. You'd feel every bead of sweat on his face and you'd

know what he was going through. I've never seen anybody perform like him.

Unbelievable, really. When I watched somebody I liked, I'd be there. James

Brown, Jackie Wilson, Sam and Dave, the O'Jays - they all used to really

work an audience. I might have learned more from watching Jackie Wilson than

from anyone or anything else. All of this was a very important part of my



We would stand offstage, behind the curtains, and watch everyone come off

after performing and they'd be all sweaty. I'd just stand aside in awe and

watch them walk by. And they would all wear these beautiful patent-leather

shoes. My whole dream seemed to center on having a pair of patent-leather

shoes. I remember being so heartbroken because they didn't make them in

little boys' sizes. I'd go from store to store looking for patent-leather

shoes and they'd say, "We don't make them that small." I was so sad because

I wanted to have shoes that looked the way those stage shoes looked,

polished and shining, turning red and orange when the lights hit them. Oh,

how I wanted some patent-leather shoes like the ones Jackie Wilson wore.


Most of the time I'd be alone backstage. My brothers would be upstairs

eating and talking and I'd be down in the wings, crouching real low, holding

on to the dusty, smelly curtain and watching the show. I mean, I really did

watch every step, every move, every twist, every turn, every grind, every

emotion, every light move. That was my education and my recreation. I was

always there when I had free time. My father, my brothers, other musicians,

they all knew where to find me. They would tease me about it, but I was so

absorbed in what I was seeing, or in remembering what I had just seen, that

I didn't care. I remember all those theatres: the Regal, the Uptown, the

Apollo - too many to name. The talent that came out of those places is of

mythical proportions. The greatest education in the world is watching the

masters at work. You couldn't teach a person what I've learned just standing

and watching. Some musicians - Springsteen and U2, for example - may feel

they got their education from the streets. I'm a performed at heart. I got

mine from the stage.


Jackie Wilson was on the wall at the Apollo. The photographer captured him

with one leg up, twisted, but not out of position from catching the mike

stand he'd just whipped back and forth. He could have been singing a sad

lyric like "Lonely Teardrops," and yet he had that audience so bug-eyed with

his dancing that no one could feel sad or lonely.


Sam and Dave's picture was down the corridor, next to an old big-band shot.

Dad had become friendly with Sam Moore. I remember being happily amazed that

he was nice to me when I met him for the first time. I had been singing his

songs for so long that I thought he'd want to box my ears. And not far from

them was "The King of Them All, Mr. Dynamite, Mr. Please Please Himself,"

James Brown. Before he came along, a singer was a singer and a dancer was a

dancer. A singer might have danced and a dancer might have sung, but unless

you were Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, you probably did one better than the

other, especially in a live performance. But he changed all that. No

spotlight could keep up with him when he skidded across the stage - you had

to flood it! I wanted to be that good.


We won the Apollo amateur night competition, and I felt like going back to

those photos on the walls and thanking my "teachers." Dad was so happy he

said he could have flown back to Gary that night. He was on top of the world

and so were we. My brothers and I had gotten straight A's and we were hoping

we might get to skip a "grade." I certainly sensed that we wouldn't be doing

talent shows and strip joints much longer.


In the summer of 1968 we were introduced to the music of a family group that

was going to change our sound and our lives. They didn't all have the same

last name, they were black and white, men and women, and they were called

Sly and the Family Stone. They had some amazing hits over the years, such as

"Dance to the Music," "Stand," "Hot Fun in the Summertime." My brothers

would point at me when they heard the line about the midget standing tall

and by now I'd laugh along. We heard these songs all over the dial, even on

the rock stations. They were a tremendous influence on all of us Jacksons

and we owe them a lot.


After the Apollo, we kept playing with one eye on the map and one ear to the

phone. Mom and Dad had a rule about no more than five minutes a call, but

when we came back from the Apollo, even five minutes was too long. We had to

keep the lines clear in case anyone from a record company wanted to get in

touch with us. We lived in fear of having them get a busy signal. We wanted

to hear from one record company in particular, and if they called, we wanted

to answer.


While we waited, we found out that someone who had seen us at the Apollo had

recommended us to "The David Frost Show" in New York City. We were going to

be on TV! That was the biggest thrill we'd ever had. I told everyone at

school, and told the ones who didn't believe me twice. We were going to

drive out there in a few days. I was counting the hours. I had imagined the

whole trip, trying to figure out what the studio would be like and how it

would be to look into a television camera.


I came home with the travelling work my teacher had made up in advance. We

had one more dress rehearsal and then we'd make a final song selection. I

wondered which songs we'd be doing.


That afternoon, Dad said the trip to New York was cancelled. We all stopped

in our tracks and just stared at him.


We were shocked. I was ready to cry. We had been about to get our big break.

How could they do this to us? What was going on? Why had Mr. Frost changed

his mind? I was reeling and I think everyone else was, too. "I cancelled

it," my father announced calmly. Again we all stared at him, unable to

speak. "Motown called." A chill ran down my spine.


I remember the days leading up to that trip with near-perfect clarity. I can

see myself waiting outside Randy's first-grade classroom. It was Marlon's

turn to walk him home, but we switched for today.


Randy's teacher wished me luck in Detroit, because Randy had told her we

were going to Motown to audition. He was so excited that I had to remind

myself that he didn't really know what Detroit was. All the family had been

talking about was Motown, and Randy didn't even know what a city was. The

teacher told me he was looking for Motown on the globe in the classroom. She

said that in her opinion we should do "You Don't Know Like I Know" the way

she saw us do it at the Regal in Chicago when a bunch of teachers drove over

to see us. I helped Randy put his coat on and politely agreed to keep it in

mind - knowing that we couldn't do a Sam and Dave song at a Motown audition

because they were on Stax, a rival label. Dad told us the companies were

serious about that kind of stuff, so he wanted us to know there'd be no

messing around when we got there. He looked at me and said he'd like to see

his ten-year-old singer make it to eleven.


We left the Garrett Elementary School building for the short walk home, but

we had to hurry. I remember getting anxious as a car swept by, then another.

Randy took my hand, and we waved to the crossing guard. I knew La Toya would

have to go out if her way tomorrow to take Randy to school because Marlon

and I would be staying over in Detroit with the others.


The last time we played at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, we left right after

the show and got back to Gary at five o'clock in the morning. I slept in the

car most of the way, so going to school that morning wasn't as bad as it

might have been. But by the afternoon three o'clock rehearsal I was dragging

around like someone with lead weights for feet.


We could have left that night right after our set, since we were third on

the bill, but that would have meant missing the headliner, Jackie Wilson.

I'd seen him on other stages, but at the Fox he and his band were on a

rising stage that moved up as he start his show. Tired as I was after school

the next day, I remember trying some of those moves in rehearsal after

practising in front of a long mirror in the bathroom at school while the

other kids looked on. My father was pleased and we incorporated those steps

into one of my routines.


Just before Randy and I turned the corner onto Jackson Street, there was a

big puddle. I looked for cars but there weren't any, so I let go of Randy's

hand and jumped the puddle, catching on my toes so I could spin without

getting the cuffs of my corduroys wet. I looked back at Randy, knowing that

he wanted to do the things I did. He stepped back to get a running start,

but I realised that it was a pretty big puddle, too big for him to cross

without getting wet, so, being a big brother first and a dance teacher

second, I caught him before he landed short and got wet.


Across the street the neighbourhood kids were buying candy, and even some of

the kids who were giving me a hard time at school asked when we were going

to Motown. I told them and bought candy for them and Randy, too, with my

allowance. I didn't want Randy to feel bad about my going away.


As we approached the house I heard Marlon yell, "Someone shut that door!"

The side of out VW minibus was wide open, and I shuddered, thinking about

how cold it was going to be on the long ride up to Detroit. Marlon had beat

us home and was already helping Jackie load the bus with our stuff. Jackie

and Tito got home in plenty of time for once: They were supposed to have

basketball practice, but the winter in Indiana had been nothing but slush

and we were anxious to get a good start. Jackie was on the high school

basketball team that year, and Dad liked to say that the next time we went

to play in Indianapolis would be when Roosevelt went to the state

championships. The Jackson 5 would play between the evening and morning

games, and Jackie would sink the winning shot for the title. Dad liked to

tease us, but you never knew what might happen with the Jacksons. He wanted

us to be good at many things, not just music. I think maybe he got that

drive from his father, who taught school. I know my teachers were never as

hard on us as he was, and they were getting paid to be tough and demanding.


Mom came to the door and gave us the thermos and the sandwiches she had

packed. I remember her telling me not to rip the dress shirt she had packed

for me after sewing it up the night before. Randy and I helped put some

things in the bus and then went back into the kitchen, where Rebbie was

keeping one eye on Dad's supper and the other on little Janet, who was in

the high chair.


Rebbie's life was never easy as the oldest. We knew that as soon as the

Motown audition was over, we'd find out if we had to move or not. If we did,

she was going to move South with her fiance. She always ran things when Mom

was at night school finishing the high school diploma she was denied because

of her illness. I couldn't believe it when Mom told us she was going to get

her diploma. I remember worrying that she'd have to go to school with kids

Jackie's or Tito's age and that they'd laugh at her. I remember how she

laughed when I told her this and how she patiently explained that she'd be

with other grown-ups. It was interesting having a mother who did homework

like the rest of us.


Loading up the bus was easier than usual. Normally Ronnie and Johnny would

have come to back us up, but Motown's own musicians would be playing being

us, so we were going alone. Jermaine was in our room finishing some of his

assignments when I walked in. I knew he wanted to get them out of the way.

He told me that we ought to take off for Motown by ourselves and leave Dad,

since Jackie had taken driver's ed and was in possession of a set of keys.

We both laughed, but deep down I couldn't imagine going without Dad. Even on

the occasions when Mom led out after-school rehearsals because Dad hadn't

come home from his shift on time, it was still like having him there because

she acted as his eyes and ears. She always knew what had been good the night

before and what had gotten sloppy today. Dad would pick it up from there at

night. It seemed to me that they almost gave each other signals or something

- Dad could always tell if we had been playing like we were supposed to by

some invisible indication from Mom.


There was no long good-bye at the door when we left for Motown. Mom was used

to our being away for days, and during school vacations. LaToya pouted a

little because she wanted to go. She had only seen us in Chicago, and we had

never been able to stay long enough in places like Boston of Phoenix to

bring her back anything. I think our lives must have seemed pretty glamorous

to her because she had to stay home and go to school. Rebbie had her hands

full trying to put Janet to sleep, but she called good-bye and waved. I gave

Randy a last pat on the head and we were off.


Dad and Jackie went over the map as we drove away, mostly out of habit,

because we had been to Detroit before, of course. We passed Mr. Keith's

recording studio downtown by City Hall as we made our way through town. We

had done some demos at Mr. Keith's that Dad sent to Motown after the

Steeltown record. The sun was going down when we hit the highway. Marlon

announced that if we heard one of our records on WVON, it was going to bring

us luck. We all nodded. Dad asked us if we remembered what WVON stood for as

he nudged Jackie to keep quiet. I kept looking out the window, thinking

about the possibilities that lay ahead, but Jermaine jumped in. "Voice of

the Negro," he said. Soon we were calling roll all over the dial. "WGN -

World's Greatest Newspaper." The Chicago Tribune owned it.) "WLS - World's

Largest Store." (Sears) "WCFL . . ." We stopped, stumped. "Chicago

Federation of Labor," Dad said, motioning for the thermos. We turned onto

I-94, and the Gary station faded into a Kalamazoo station. We began flipping

around, looking for Beatle music on CKLW from Windsor, Ontario, Canada.


I had always been a Monopoly fan at home, and there was something about

driving to Motown that was a little like that game. In Monopoly you go

around the board buying things and making decisions; the "chitlin' circuit"

of theatres where we played and won contests was kind of like a Monopoly

board full of possibilities and pitfalls. After all the stops along the way,

we finally landed at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, which was definitely Park

Place for young performers like us. Now we were on our way up Boardwalk,

heading for Motown. Would we win the game or slide past Go with a long board

separating us from our goal for another round?


There was something changing in me, and I could feel it, even shivering in

the minibus. For years we'd make the drive over to Chicago wondering if we

were good enough to ever get out of Gary, and we were. Then we took the

drive to New York, certain that we'd fall off the edge of the earth if we

weren't good enough to make it there. Even those nights in Philadelphia and

Washington didn't reassure me enough to keep me from wondering if there

wasn't someone or some group we didn't know about in New York who could beat

us. When we tore it down at the Apollo, we finally felt that nothing could

stand in our way. We were going to Motown, and nothing there was going to

surprise us either. We were going to surprise them, just like we always did.


Dad pulled the typewritten directions out of the glove compartment and we

pulled off the highway, passing the Woodward Avenue exit. There weren't many

people on the streets because it was a school night for everybody else.


Dad was a little nervous about whether our accommodations would be okay,

which surprised me until I realised the Motown people had picked the hotel.

We weren't used to having things done for us. We liked to be our own bosses.

Dad had always been our booking agent, travel agent, and manager. When he

wasn't taking care of the arrangements, Mom was. So it was no wonder that

even Motown managed to make Dad feel suspicious that he should have made the

reservations, that he should have handled everything.


We stayed at the Gotham Hotel. The reservations had been made and everything

was in order. There was a TV in our room, but all the stations had signed

off, and with the audition at ten o'clock, we weren't going to get to stay

up any later anyway. Dad put us right to bed, locked the door, and went out.

Jermaine and I were too tired to even talk.


We were all up on time the next morning; Dad saw to that. But, in truth, we

were just as excited as he was and hopped out of bed when we called us. The

audition was unusual for us because we hadn't played in many places where

they expected us to be professional. We knew it was going to be difficult to

judge whether we were doing well. We were used to audience response whether

we were competing or just performing at a club, but Dad had told us the

longer we stayed, the more they wanted to hear.


We climbed into the VW, after cereal and milk at the coffee shop. I noticed

they offered grits on the menu, so I knew there were a lot of Southern

people who stayed there. We had never been to the South then and wanted to

visit Mom's part of the country someday. We wanted to have a sense of our

roots and those of other black people, especially after what had happened to

Dr. King. I remember so well the day he died. Everyone was torn up. We

didn't rehearse that night. I went to Kingdom Hall with Mom and some of the

others. People were crying like they had lost a member of their own family.

Even the men who were usually pretty unemotional were unable to control

their grief. I was too young to grasp the full tragedy of the situation, but

when I look back on that day now, it makes me want to cry - for Dr. King,

for his family, and for all of us.


Jermaine was the first to spot the studio, which was known as Hitsville,

U.S.A. It looked kind of run-down, which was not what I'd expected. We

wondered who we might see, who might be there making a record that day. Dad

had coached us to let him do all the talking. Our job was to perform like

we'd never performed before. And that was asking a lot, because we always

put everything into each performance, but we knew what he meant.


There were a lot of people waiting inside, but Dad said the password and a

man in a shirt and tie came out to meet us. He knew each of our names, which

astounded us. He asked us to leave our coats there and follow him. The other

people just stared through us like we were ghosts. I wondered who they were

and what their stories were. Had they travelled far? Had they been here day

after day hoping to get in without an appointment?


When we entered the studio, one of the Motown guys was adjusting a movie

camera. There was an area set up with instruments and microphones. Dad

disappeared into one of the sound booths to talk to someone. I tried to

pretend that I was at the Fox Theatre, on the rising stage, and this was

just business as usual. I decided, looking around, that if I ever built my

own studio, I'd get a mike like the one they had at the Apollo, which rose

out of the floor. I nearly fell on my face once running down those basement

steps while trying to find out where it went when it slowly disappeared

beneath the stage floor.


The last song we sang was "Who's Lovin' You." When it ended, no one

applauded or said a word. I couldn't stand not knowing, so I blurted, "How

was that?" Jermaine shushed me. The older guys who were backing us up were

laughing about something. I looked at them out of the corner of my eye.

"Jackson Jive, huh?" one of them called out with a big grin on his face. I

was confused, I think my brothers were too.


The man who had led us back said, "Thanks for coming up." We looked at Dad's

face for some indication, but he didn't seem pleased or disappointed. It was

still daylight out when we left. We took I-94 back to Gary, subdued, knowing

there was homework to do for class tomorrow, wondering if that was all there

was to that.


Chapter Two – The Promised Land



We were jubilant when we learned we had passed the Motown audition. I

remember Berry Gordy sitting us all down and saying that we were going to

make history together. "I'm gonna make you the biggest thing in the world,"

he said, "and you're gonna be written about in history books." He really

said that to us. We were leaning forward, listening to him, and saying,

"Okay! Okay!" I'll never forget that. We were all over at his house, and it

was like a fairy tale come true listening to this powerful, talented man

tell us we were going to be very big. "Your first record will be a number

one, your second record will be a number one, and so will your third record.

Three number one records in a row. You'll hit the charts just as Diana Ross

and the Supremes did." This was almost unheard of in those days, but he was

right; we turned around and did just that. Three in a row.


So Diana didn't find us first, but I don't think we'll ever be able to repay

Diana properly for all she did for us in those days. When we finally moved

to Southern California, we actually lived with Diana and stayed with her for

more than a year on a part-time basis. Some of us lived with Berry Gordy and

some of us with Diana, and then we would switch. She was so wonderful,

mothering us and making us feel right at home. She really helped take care

of us for at least a year and a half while my parents closed up the Gary

house and looked for a house we could all live in here in California. It was

great for us because Berry and Diana lived on the same street in Beverly

Hills. We could walk up to Berry's house and then go back to Diana's. Most

of the time I'd spend the day at Diana's and the night at Berry's. This was

an important period in my life because Diana loved art and encouraged me to

appreciate it too. She took the time to educate me about it. We'd go out

almost every day, just the two of us, and buy pencils and paint. When we

weren't drawing or painting, we'd go to museums. She introduced me to the

works of the great artists like Michelangelo and Degas and that was the

start of my lifelong interest in art. She really taught me a great deal. It

was so new to me and exciting. It was really different from what I was used

to doing, which was living and breathing music, rehearsing day in and day

out. You wouldn't think a big star like Diana would take the time to teach a

kid to paint, to give him an education in art, but she did and I loved her

for it. I still do. I'm crazy about her. She was my mother, my lover, and my

sister all combined in one amazing person.


Those were truly wild days for me and my brothers. When we flew to

California from Chicago, it was like being in another country, another

world. To come from our part of Indiana, which is so urban and often bleak,

and to land in Southern California was like having the world transformed

into a wonderful dream. I was uncontrollable back then. I was all over the

place - Disneyland, Sunset Strip, the beach. My brothers loved it too, and

we got into everything, like kids who had just visited a candy store for the

first time. We were awestruck by California; trees had oranges and leaves on

them in the middle of winter. There were palm trees and beautiful sunsets,

and the weather was so warm. Every day was special. I would be doing

something that was fun and wouldn't want it to end, but then I'd realise

there was something else to do later that was going to be just as enjoyable

and that I could look forward to just as much. Those were heady days.


One of the best parts of being there was meeting all the big Motown stars

who had emigrated to California along with Berry Gordy after he moved from

Detroit. I remember when I first shook Smokey Robinson's hand. It was like

shaking hands with a king. My eyes lit up with stars, I remember telling my

mother that his hand felt as if it was layered with soft pillows. You don't

think about the little impressions people walk away with when you're a star

yourself, but the fans do. At least, I know I did. I mean, I walked around

saying, "His hand is so soft ." When I think about it now, it sounds silly,

but it made a big impression on me. I had shaken Smokey Robinson's hand.

There are so many artists and musicians and writers I admire. When I was

young, the people I watched were the real showmen - James Brown, Sammy

Davis, Jr., Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly. A great showman touches everybody;

that's the real test of greatness and these men have it. Like Michelangelo's

work, it touches you, I don't care who you are. I am always excited when I

get a chance to meet someone whose work has affected me in some way. Maybe

I've read a book that has touched me deeply or made me think about things

that I haven't focused on before. A certain song or style of singing can

excite me or move me and become a favourite that I'll never tire of hearing.

A picture or a painting can reveal a universe. In the same vein, an actor's

performance or a collective performance can transform me.


In those days Motown had never recorded a kids' group. In fact the only

child singer they had ever produced was Stevie Wonder. So Motown was

determined that if they were going to promote kids, they'd promote the kind

of kids who were good at more than just singing and dancing. They wanted

people to like us because of who we were, not just because of our records.

They wanted us to set an example by sticking to our schoolwork and being

friendly to our fans, reporters, and everyone who came in contact with us.

This wasn't hard for us because our mother had raised us to be polite and

considerate. It was second nature. Our only problem with schoolwork was that

once we became well known, we couldn't go to school because people would

come into our classrooms through the windows, looking for an autograph or a

picture. I was trying to keep up with my classes and not to be the cause of

disruptions, but it finally became impossible and we were given tutors to

teach us at home.


During this period a lady named Suzanne de Passe was having a great effect

on our lives. She worked for Motown, and it was she who trained us

religiously once we moved to L.A. She also became a manager for the Jackson

5. We lived with her occasionally, ate with her, and even played with her.

We were a rowdy, high-spirited bunch, and she was young herself and full of

fun. She really contributed a lot toward the shaping of the Jackson 5, and

I'll never be able to thank her enough for all she did.


I remember Suzanne showing us these charcoal sketches of the five of us. In

each sketch we had a different hairstyle. In another set of colour drawings

we were all pictured in different clothes that could be switched around like

Colorforms. After we all decided on the hairstyles, they took us to a barber

so he could make us match up with our pictures. Then, after she showed us

the clothes, we went down to a wardrobe department where they gave us

outfits to try on. They'd see us in one set of clothes, decide the clothes

weren't right, and we'd all go back to the Colorforms to "try on" some more.


We had classes in manners and grammar. They gave us a list of questions, and

they said they were the kinds of questions that we could expect people to

ask us. We were always being asked about our interests and our hometown and

how we liked singing together. Fans and reporters alike wanted to know how

old we each were when we started performing. It was hard to have your life

turn into public property, even if you appreciated that people were

interested in you because of your music.


The Motown people tested us on the answers to questions we hadn't heard from

anyone yet. They tested us on grammar. And table manners. When we were

ready, they brought us in for the last alterations on our sleeves and the

trimming of our new Afros.


After all that there was a new song to learn called "I Want You Back." The

song had a story behind it that we found out about little by little. It was

written by someone from Chicago named Freddie Perren. He had been Jerry

Butler's pianist when we opened for Jerry in a Chicago nightclub. He had

felt sorry for these little kids the club owner had hired, figuring the club

couldn't afford to get anyone else. His opinion changed dramatically when he

saw us perform.


As it turned out, "I Want You Back" was orginally called "I Want To Be Free"

and was written for Gladys Knight. Freddie had even thought that Berry might

go over Gladys's head and give the song to the Supremes. Instead, he

mentioned to Jerry that he'd just signed this group of kids from Gary,

Indiana. Freddie put two and two together, realised it was us, and decided

to trust fate.


When we were learning the Steeltown songs back in Gary, Tito and Jermaine

had to pay special attention because they were responsible for playing on

those records. When they heard the demo for "I Want You Back," they listened

to the guitar and bass parts, but Dad explained that Motown didn't expect

them to play on our records; the rhythm track would be taken care of before

we put our vocals down. But he reminded them that this would put more

pressure on them to keep up their practice independently, because we'd have

to duplicate those songs in front of our fans. In the meantime, all of us

had lyrics and cues to learn.


The guys looking after us in the singing department were Freddy Perrin and

Bobby Taylor and Deke Richards, who, along with Hal Davis and another Motown

guy named "Fonce" Mizell, were part of the team that wrote and produced our

first singles. Together these guys were called "The Corporation." We went

over to Richard's apartment to rehearse, and he was impressed that we had

prepared so well. He didn't have to do much tinkering with the vocal

arrangement he'd worked out, and he thought that while we were still hot, we

should go right to the studio and cut our parts. The following afternoon we

went to the studio. We were all so happy with what we got that we took our

rough mix over to Berry Gordy. It was still midafternoon when we arrived at

his studio. We figured that once Berry heard it, we'd be home in time for



But it was one in the morning when I finally slumped in the back seat of

Richard's car, bobbing and steadying my head all the way home to fight off

sleep. Gordy hadn't liked the song we did. We went over every part again,

and when we did, Gordy figured out what changes he had to make in the

arrangement. He was trying new things with us, like a school chorus master

who has everyone singing their part as if they're singing alone, even if you

can't hear him or her distinctly for the crowd. After he was through

rehearsing us as a group, and he had reworked the music, he took me aside,

one on one, to explain my part. He told me exactly what he wanted and how he

wanted me to help him get it. Then he explained everything to Freddie

Perren, who was going to record it. Berry was brilliant in this area. Right

after the single was released, we went in to cut an album. We were

particularly impressed with the "I Want You Back" session then because that

one song took more time (and tape) than all the other songs on the record

combined. That's the way Motown did things in those days because Berry

insisted on perfection and attention to detail. I'll never forget his

persistence. This was his genius. Then and later, I observed every moment of

the sessions where Berry was present and never forgot what I learned. To

this day I use the same principles. Berry was my teacher and a great one. He

could identify the little elements that would make a song great rather than

just good. It was like magic, as if Berry was sprinkling pixie dust over



For me and my brothers, recording for Motown was an exciting experience. Our

team of writers shaped our music by being with us as we recorded it over and

over, molding and sculpting a song until it was just perfect. We would cut a

track over and over for weeks until we got it just as they wanted it. And I

could see while they were doing it that it was getting better and better.

They would change words, arrangements, rhythms, everything. Berry gave them

the freedom to work this way because of his own perfectionist nature. I

guess if they hadn't been doing it, he would have. Berry had such a knack.

He'd just walk into the room where we were working and tell me what to do

and he'd be right. It was amazing.


When "I Want You Back" was released in November 1969, it sold two million

copies in six weeks and went to number one. Our next single, "ABC," came out

in March 1970 and sold two million records in three weeks. I still like the

part where I say, "Siddown, girl! I think I loove you! No, get up, girl,

show me what you can do! " When our third single, "The Love You Save," went

to number one in June of 1970, Berry's promise came true.


When our next single, "I'll Be There," was also a big hit in the fall of

that year, we realised we might even surpass Berry's expectations and be

able to pay him back for all the effort he had made for us.


My brothers and I - our whole family - were very proud. We had created a new

sound for a new decade. It was the first time in recording history that a

bunch of kids had made so many hit records. The Jackson 5 had never had much

competition from kids our own age. In the amateur days there was a kids'

group called the Five Stairsteps that we used to see. They were good, but

they didn't seem to have the strong family unit that we did, and sadly they

broke up. After "ABC" hit the charts in such a big way, we started seeing

other groups that record companies were grooming to ride the bandwagon we

had built. I enjoyed all these groups: the Partridge Family, the Osmonds,

the DeFranco Family. The Osmonds were already around, but they were doing a

much different style of music, like barbershop harmony and crooning. As soon

as we hit, they and the other groups got into soul real fast. We didn't

mind. Competition, as we know, was healthy. Our own relatives thought "One

Bad Apple" was us. I remember being so little that they had a special apple

crate for me to stand on with my name on it so I could reach the microphone.

Microphones didn't go down far enough for kids my age. So many of my

childhood years went by that way, with me standing on that apple box singing

my heart out while other kids were outside playing.


As I said before, in those early days "The Corporation" at Motown produced

and shaped all our music. I remember lots of times when I felt the song

should be sung one way and the producers felt it should be sung another way.

But for a long time I was very obedient and wouldn't say anything about it.

Finally it reached a point where I got fed up with being told exactly how to

sing. This was in 1972 when I was fourteen years old, around the time of the

song "Lookin' Through the Windows." They wanted me to sing a certain way,

and I knew they were wrong. No matter what age you are, if you have it and

you know it, then people should listen to you. I was furious with our

producers and very upset. So I called Berry Gordy and complained. I said

that they had always told me how to sing, and I had agreed all this time,

but now they were getting too . . . mechanical.


So he came into the studio and told them to let me do what I wanted to do. I

think he told them to let me be more free or something. And after that, I

started adding a lot of vocal twists that they really ended up loving. I'd

do a lot of ad-libbing, like twisting words or adding some edge to them.


When Berry was in the studio with us, he would always add something that was

right. He'd go from studio to studio, checking on different aspects of

people's work, often adding elements that made the records better. Walt

Disney used to do the same thing: he'd go check on his various artists and

say, "Well, this character should be more outgoing." I always knew when

Berry was enjoying something I was doing in the studio, because he has this

habit of rolling his tongue in his cheek when he's pleased by something. If

things were really going well, he'd punch the air like the ex-professional

boxer he is.


My three favourite songs from those days are "Never Can Say Goodbye," "I'll

Be There," and "ABC." I'll never forget the first time I heard "ABC." I

thought it was so good. I remember feeling this eagerness to sing that song,

to get in the studio and really make it work for us.


We were still rehearsing daily and working hard - some things didn't change

- but we were grateful to be where we were. There were so many people

pulling for us, and we were so determined ourselves that it seemed anything

could happen.


Once "I Want You Back" came out, everyone at Motown prepared us for success.

Diana loved it and presented us at a big-name Hollywood discotheque, where

she had us playing in a comfortable party atmosphere like at Berry's.

Following directly on the heels of Diana's event came an invitation to play

at the "Miss Black America" telecast. Being on the show would enable us to

give people a preview of our record and our show. After we got the

invitation, my brothers and I remembered our disappointment at not getting

to go to New York to do our first TV show because Motown had called. Now we

were going to do our first TV show and we were with Motown. Life was very

good. Diana, of course, put the cherry on top. She was going to host "The

Hollywood Palace," and big Saturday night show; it would be her last

appearance with the Supremes and the first major exposure for us. This meant

a lot to Motown, because by then they had decided that our new album would

be called "Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5." Never before had a superstar

like Diana passed the torch to a bunch of kids. Motown, Diana, and five kids

from Gary, Indiana, were all pretty excited. By then "I Want You Back" had

come out, and Berry was proven right again; all the stations that played Sly

and the Beatles were playing us, too.


As I mentioned earlier, we didn't work as hard on the album as we did on the

single, but we had fun trying out all sorts of songs - from "Who's Lovin'

You," the old Miracles' song we were doing in the talent show days, to



We did songs on that album that appealed to a wide audience - kids,

teenagers, and grownups - and we all felt that was a reason for its big

success. We knew that "The Hollywood Palace" had a live audience, a

sophisticated Hollywood crowd, and we were concerned; but we had them from

the first note. There was an orchestra in the pit, so that was the first

time I heard all of "I Want You Back" performed live because I wasn't there

when they recorded the strings for the album. Doing that show made us feel

like kings, the way winning the citywide show in Gary had.


Selecting the right songs for us to do was going to be a real challenge now

that we weren't depending on other people's hits to win crowd. The

Corporation guys and Hal Davis were put to work writing songs especially for

us, as well as producing them. Berry didn't want to have to bail us all out

again. So even after our first singles hit number one on the charts, we were

busy with the follow-ups.


"I Want You Back" could have been sung by a grownup, but "ABC" and "The Love

You Save" were written for our young voices, with parts for Jermaine as well

as me - another bow to the Sly sound, which rotated singers around the

stage. The Corporation had also written those songs with dance routines in

mind: the steps our fans did at parties as well as those we did on stage.

The verses were tongue-twisting, and that's why they were split up between

Jermaine and me.


Neither of those records could have happened without "I Want You Back." We

were adding and subtracting ideas in the arrangements from that one mother

lode of a song, but the public seemed to want everything we were doing. We

later made two more records in the vein, "Mama's Pearl" and "Sugar Daddy,"

which reminded me of my own schoolyard days: "While I'm giving you the

candy, he's getting all your love!" We added one new wrinkle when Jermaine

and I sang harmony together, which always got an enthusiastic response when

we did it from the same mike on stage.


The pros have told us that no group had a better start than we did. Ever.

"I'll Be There" was our real breakthrough song; it was the one that said,

"We're here to stay." It was number one for five weeks, which is very

unusual. That's a long time for a song and the song was one of my favourites

of all the songs we've ever done. How I loved the words: "You and I must

make a pact, we must bring salvation back . . ." Willie Hutch and Berry

Gordy didn't seem like people who'd write like that. They were always

kidding around with us when we weren't in the studio. But that song grabbed

me from the moment I heard the demo. I didn't even know what a harpsichord

was until that record's opening notes were played for us. The song was

produced thanks to the genius of Hal Davis, assisted by Suzy Ikeda, my other

half who stood next to me song after song, making sure I put the right

emotion and feeling and heart into the composition. It was a serious song,

but we threw in a fun part when I sang "Just look over your shoulder,

honey!" Without the honey, that's right out of the Four Tops' great song

"Reach Out, I'll Be There." So we were feeling more and more like a part of

Motown's history as well as its future.


Originally the plan was for me to sing all the bouncy stuff and Jermaine to

do the ballads. But though Jermaine's voice at seventeen was more mature,

ballads were more my love, if not really my style - yet. That was our fourth

straight number one as a group, and a lot of people liked Jermaine's song "I

Found That Girl," the B-side of "The Love You Save," just as much as the



We worked those songs into one big medley, with plenty of room for dancing,

and we went back to that medley when we performed on all kinds of TV shows.

For instance, we played on "The Ed Sullivan Show" three different times.

Motown always told us what to say in interviews back then, but Mr. Sullivan

was one of the people who drew us out and made us feel comfortable. Looking

back, I wouldn't say Motown was putting us in any kind of straitjacket or

turning us into robots, even though I wouldn't have done it that way myself;

and if I had children, I wouldn't tell them what to say. The Motown people

were doing something with us that hadn't been done before, and who was to

say what was the right way to handle that sort of stuff?


Reporters would ask us all kinds of questions, and the Motown people would

be standing by to help us out or monitor the questions if need be. We

wouldn't have dreamed of trying anything that would embarrass them. I guess

they were worried about the possibility of our sounding militant the way

people were often doing in those days. Maybe they were worried after they

gave us those Afros that they had created little Frankensteins. Once a

reporter asked a Black Power question and the Motown person told him we

didn't think about that stuff because we were a "commercial product." It

sounded weird, but we winked and gave the power salute when we left, which

seemed to thrill the guy.


We even had a reunion with don Cornelius on his "Soul Train" show. He had

been a local disc jockey during our Chicago days, so we all knew one another

from that time. We enjoyed watching his show and picked up ideas from those

dancers who were from our part of the country.


The crazy days of the big Jackson 5 tours began right after the successes we

had with our records. It started with a big arena tour in the fall of 1970;

we played huge halls like Madison Square Garden and the Los Angeles Forum.

When "Never Can Say Goodbye" was a big hit in 1971, we played forty-five

cities that summer, followed by fifty more cities later that year.


I recall most of that time as a period of extreme closeness with my

brothers. We have always been a very loyal and affectionate group. We

clowned around, goofed off a lot together, and played outrageous pranks on

each other and the people who worked with us. We never got too rowdy - no

TV's sailed out of our hotel windows, but a lot of water was spilled on

various heads. We were mostly trying to conquer the boredom we felt from

being so long on the road. When you're bored on tour, you tend to do

anything to cheer yourself up. Here we were, cramped up in these hotel

rooms, unable to go anywhere because of the mobs of screaming girls outside,

and we wanted to have some fun. I wish we could have captured some of the

the stuff we did on film, especially some of the wild pranks. We'd all wait

until our security manager, Bill Bray, was asleep. Then we'd stage insane

fast-walk races in the hallways, pillow fights, tag-team wrestling matches,

shaving cream wars, you name it. We were nuts. We'd drop balloons and paper

bags full of water off hotel balconies and watch them explode. Then we'd die

laughing. We threw stuff at each other and spent hours on the phone making

fake calls and ordering immense room service meals that were delivered to

the rooms of strangers. Anyone who walked into one of our bedrooms had a

ninety percent chance of being drenched by a bucket of water propped over

the doors.


When we'd arrive in a new city, we'd try to do all the sightseeing we could.

We travelled with a wonderful tutor, Rose Fine, who taught us a great deal

and made sure we did our lessons. It was Rose who instilled in me a love of

books and literature that sustains me today. I read everything I could get

my hands on. New cities meant new places to shop. We loved to shop,

especially in bookstores and department stores, but as our fame spread our

fans transformed casual shopping trips into hand-to-hand combat. Being

mobbed by near hysterical girls was one of the most terrifying experiences

for me in those days. I mean, it was rough . We'd decide to run into some

department store to see what they had, and the fans would find out we were

there and would demolish the place, just tear it up. Counters would get

knocked over, glass would break, the cash registers would be toppled. All we

had wanted to do was look at some clothes! When those mob scenes broke out,

all the craziness and adulation and notoriety became more than we could

handle. If you haven't witnessed a scene like that, you can't imagine what

it's like. Those girls were serious . They still are. They don't realise

they might hurt you because they're acting out of love. They mean well, but

I can testify that it hurts be mobbed. You feel as if you're going to

suffocate or be dismembered. There are a thousand hands grabbing at you. One

girl is twisting your wrist this way while another girl is pulling your

watch off. They grab your hair and pull it hard, and it hurts like fire. You

fall against things and the scrapes are horrible. I still wear the scars,

and I can remember in which city I got each of them. Early on, I learned how

to run through crowds of thrashing girls outside of theatres, hotels, and

airports. It's important to remember to shield your eyes with your hands

because girls can forget they have nails during such emotional

confrontations. I know the fans mean well and I love them for their

enthusiasm and support, but crowd scenes are scary.


The wildest mob scene I ever witnessed happened the first time we went to

England. We were in the air over the Atlantic when the pilot announced that

he had just been told there were ten thousand kids waiting for us at

Heathrow Airport. We couldn't believe it. We were excited, but if we could

have turned around and flown home, we might have. We knew this was going to

be something, but since there wasn't enough fuel to go back, we flew on.

When we landed, we could see that the fans had literally taken over the

whole airport. It was wild to be mobbed like that. My brothers and I felt

fortunate to make it out of the airport alive that day.


I wouldn't trade my memories of those days with my brothers for anything. I

often wish I could relive those days. We were like the seven dwarfs: each of

us was different, each had his own personality. Jackie was the athlete and

the worrier. Tito was the strong, compassionate father figure. He was

totally into cars and loved putting them together and tearing them apart.

Jermaine was the one I was closest to when we were growing up. He was funny

and easygoing, and was constantly fooling around. It was Jermaine who put

all those buckets of cold water on the doors of our hotel rooms. Marlon was

and is one of the most determined people I've ever met. He, too, was a real

joker and prankster. He used to be the one who'd always get in trouble in

the early days because he'd be out of step or miss a note, but that was far

from true later.


The diversity of my brothers' personalities and the closeness we felt were

what kept me going during those gruelling days of constant touring.

Everybody helped everybody. Jackie and Tito would keep us from going too far

with our pranks. They'd seem to have us under control, and then Jermaine and

Marlon would shout, "Let's go crazy!!"


I really miss all that. In the early days we were together all the time.

We'd go to amusement parks or ride horses or watch movies. We did everything

together. As soon as someone said, "I'm going swimming," we'd all yell, "Me



The separation from my brothers started much later, when they began to get

married. An understandable change occurred as each of them became closest to

his wife and they became a family unit unto themselves. A part of me wanted

us to stay as we were - brothers who were also best friends - but change is

inevitable and always good in one sense or another. We still love each

other's company. We still have a great time when we're together. But the

various paths our lives have taken won't allow us the freedom to enjoy one

another's company as much as we did.


In those days, touring with the Jackson 5, I always shared a room with

Jermaine. He and I were close, both onstage and off, and shared a lot of the

same interests. Since Jermaine was also the brother most intrigued by the

girls who wanted to get at him, he and I would get into mischief on the



I think our father decided early on that he had to keep a more watchful eye

on us than on our other brothers. He would usually take the room next to

ours, which meant he could come in to check on us anytime through the

connecting doors. I really despised this arrangement, not only because he

could monitor our misbehaviour, but also because he used to do the meanest

things to us. Jermaine and I would be sleeping, exhausted after a show, and

my father would bring a bunch of girls into the room; we'd wake up and

they'd be standing there, looking at us, giggling.


Because show business and my career were my life, the biggest personal

struggle I had to face during those teenage years did not involve the

recording studios or my stage performance. In those days, the biggest

struggle was right there in my mirror. To a great degree, my identity as a

person was tied to my identity as a person was tied to my identity as a



My appearance began to really change when I was about fourteen. I grew quite

a bit in height. People who didn't know me would come into a room expecting

to be introduced to cute little Michael Jackson and they'd walk right past

me. I would say, "I'm Michael," and they would look doubtful. Michael was a

cute little kid: I was a gangly adolescent heading toward five feet ten

inches. I was not the person they expected or even wanted to see.

Adolescence is hard enough, but imagine having your own natural insecurities

about the changes your body is undergoing heightened by the negative

reactions of others. They seemed so surprised that I could change, that my

body was undergoing the same natural change everyone's does.


It was tough. Everyone had called me cute for a long time, but along with

all the other changes, my skin broke out in a terrible case of acne. I

looked in the mirror one morning and it was like, "OH NO!" I seemed to have

a pimple for every oil gland. And the more I was bothered by it, the worse

it got. I didn't realise it then, but my diet of greasy processed food

didn't help either.


I became subconsciously scarred by this experience with my skin. I got very

shy and became embarrassed to meet people because my complexion was so bad.

It really seemed that the more I looked in the mirror, the worse the pimples

got. My appearance began to depress me. So I know that a case of acne can

have a devastating effect on a person. The effect on me was so bad that it

messed up my whole personality. I couldn't look at people when I talked to

them. I'd look down, or away. I felt I didn't have anything to be proud of

and I didn't even want to go out. I didn't do anything.


My brother Marlon would be covered with pimples and he wouldn't care but I

didn't want to see anybody and I didn't want anyone to see my skin in that

shape. It makes you wonder about what makes us the way we are, that two

brothers could be so different.


I still had our hits records to be proud of, and once I hit the stage, I

didn't think about anything else. All that worry was gone.


But once I came offstage, there was that mirror to face again.


Eventually, things changed. I started feeling differently about my

condition. I've learned to change how I think and learned to feel better

about myself. Most importantly, I changed my diet. That was the key.


In the fall of 1971 I cut my first solo record, "Got to Be There." It was

wonderful working on that record and it became one of my favourites. It was

Berry Gordy's idea that I should do a solo recording, and so I became one of

the first people in a Motown group to really step out. Berry also said he

thought I should record my own album. Years later, when I did, I realised he

was right.


There was a small conflict during that era that was typical of the struggles

I went through as a young singer. When you're young and have ideas, people

often think you're just being childish and silly. We were on tour in 1972,

the year "Got To Be There" became a big hit. One night I said to our record

manager, "Before I sing that song, let me go offstage and grab that little

hat I wore for the picture on the album cover. If the audience sees me

wearing that hat, they'll go crazy."


He thought it was the most ridiculous idea he had ever heard. I was not

allowed to do it because I was young, and they all thought it was a dumb

idea. Not long after that incident, Donny Osmond began wearing a very

similar hat all over the country and people loved it. I felt good about my

instincts; I had thought it would work. I had seen Marvin Gaye wear a hat

when he sang "Let's Get It On," and people went bananas. They knew what was

coming when Marvin put that hat on. It added excitement and communicated

something to the audience that allowed them to become more involved with the



I was already a devoted fan of film and animation by the time "The Jackson

Five" Saturday morning cartoon show started appearing over network

television in 1971. Diana Ross had enhanced my appreciation of animation

when she taught me to draw, but being a cartoon character pushed me over the

brink into a full-time love of the movies and the kind of animated motion

pictures pioneered by Walt Disney. I have such admiration for Mr. Disney and

what he accomplished with the help of so many talented artists. When I think

about the joy he and his company have brought to millions of children - and

adults - the world over, I am in awe.


I loved being a cartoon. It was so much fun to get up on Saturday mornings

to watch cartoons and look forward to seeing ourselves on the screen. It was

like a fantasy come true for all of us.


My first real involvement with films came when I sang the title song for the

movie Ben in 1972.


Ben meant a lot to me. Nothing had ever excited me as much as going to the

studio to put my voice on film. I had a great time. Later, when the movie

came out, I'd go to the theatre and wait until the end when the credits

would flash on, and it would say, "'Ben' sung by Michael Jackson." I was

really impressed by that. I loved the song and loved the story. Actually,

the story was a lot like E.T. It was about a boy who befriended a rat.

People didn't understand the boy's love for this little creature. He was

dying of some disease and his only true friend was Ben, the leader of the

rats in the city where they lived. A lot of people thought the movie was a

bit odd, but I was not one of them. The song went to number one and is still

a favourite of mine. I have always loved animals and I enjoy reading about

them and seeing movies in which they're featured.


Chapter Three - Dancing Machine



The media write weird stuff about me all the time. The distortion of the

truth bothers me. I usually don't read a lot of what is printed, although I

often hear about it.


I don't understand why they feel the need to make up things about me. I

suppose if there's nothing scandalous to report, it's necessary to make

things interesting. I take some small pride in thinking that I've come out

pretty well, all things considered. A lot of children in the entertainment

business ended up doing drugs and destroying themselves: Frankie Lymon,

Bobbie Driscoll, any of a number of child stars. And I can understand their

turning to drugs, considering the enormous stresses put upon them at a young

age. It's a difficult life. Very few manage to maintain any semblance of a

normal childhood.


I myself have never tried drugs - no marijuana, no cocaine, nothing. I mean,

I haven't even tried these things.


Forget it.


This isn't to say we were never tempted. We were musicians doing business

during an era when drug use was common. I don't mean to be judgmental - it's

not even a moral issue for me - but I've seen drugs destroy too many lives

to think they're anything to fool with. I'm certainly no angel, and I may

have my own bad habits, but drugs aren't among them.


By the time Ben came out, we knew that we were going to go around the world.

American soul music had become as popular in other countries as blue jeans

and hamburgers. We were invited to become part of that big world, and in

1972 we began our first overseas tour with a visit to England. Though we'd

never been there before or appeared on British television, people knew all

the words to our songs. They even had wide scarves with our pictures on them

and "Jackson 5" written in big broad letters. The theatres were smaller than

the ones we were used to playing in the United States, but the enthusiasm

from the crowds was very gratifying as we'd finish each song. They didn't

scream during the songs the way crowds did back home, so people over there

could actually tell how good Tito was getting on the guitar, because they

could hear him.


We took Randy along because we wanted to give him the experience and allow

him to see what was going on. He wasn't officially part of our act, but

stayed in the background with bongos. He had his own Jackson 5 outfit, so

when we introduced him, people cheered. The next time we came back, Randy

would be a part of the group. I had been the bongo player before Randy, and

Marlon had played them before me, so it had become almost a tradition to

break the new guy in on those crazy little drums.


We had three years of hits behind us when we toured Europe that first time,

so there was enough to please both the kids who followed our music and the

Queen of England, whom we met at a Royal Command Performance. That was very

exciting for us. I had seen photographs of other groups, like the Beatles,

meeting the Queen after command performances, but I never dreamed we'd get

the chance to play for her.


England was our jumping-off point, and it was different from any place we'd

been before, but the farther we travelled, the more exotic the world looked.

We saw the great museums of Paris and the beautiful mountains of

Switzerland. Europe was an education in the roots of Western culture and, in

a way, a preparation for visiting Eastern countries that were more

spiritual. I was very impressed that the people there didn't value material

things as much as they did animals and nature. For instance, China and Japan

were places that helped me grow because these countries made me understand

there was more to life than the things you could hold in your hand or see

with you eyes. And in all of these countries, the people had heard of us and

liked our music.


Australia and New Zealand, our next stops, were English-speaking, but we met

people who were still living in tribes in the outback. They greeted us as

brothers even though they didn't speak our language. If I'd ever needed

proof that all men could be brothers, I certainly had it during that tour.


And then there was Africa. We had read up on Africa because our tutor, Miss

Fine, had prepared special lessons on the customs and history of each

country we visited. We didn't get to see the prettier parts of Africa, but

the ocean and the shore and the people were unbelievably beautiful near the

coast where we were. We went to a game reserve one day and observed animals

roaming wild. The music was eye-opening too. The rhythms were phenomenal.

When we first came off the plane, it was dawn and there was a long line of

Africans dancing in their native costumes, with drums and shakers. They were

dancing all around, welcoming us. They were really into it. Boy, it was

something. What a perfect way to welcome us to Africa. I'll never forget



And the craftspeople in the marketplace were incredible. People were making

things as we watched and selling other things. I remember one man who made

beautiful wood carvings. He'd ask you what you wanted and you'd say, "A

man's face," and he'd take a piece from a tree trunk, slice it, and create

this remarkable face. You could watch him do it right before your eyes. I'd

just sit there and watch people step up to ask him to make something for

them and he'd do this whole thing over and over.


It was a visit to Senegal that made us realise how fortunate we were and how

our African heritage had helped to make us what we were. We visited an old,

abandoned slave camp at Gore Island and we were so moved. The African people

had given us gifts of courage and endurance that we couldn't hope to repay.


I guess if Motown could have had us age the way they wanted us to, they

would have wanted Jackie to stay the age he was when we became a headline

act and have each of us catch up with him - although I think they'd have

wanted to keep me a year or so younger, so I could still be a child star.

That may sound nonsensical, but it really wasn't much more farfetched than

the way they were continuing to mold us, keeping is from being a real group

with its own internal direction and ideas. We were growing up and we were

expanding creatively. We had so many ideas we wanted to try out, but they

were convinced that we shouldn't fool with a successful formula. At least

they didn't drop us as soon as my voice changed, as some said they might.


It got to the point that it seemed there were more guys in the booth than

there were on the studio floor at any given time. They all seemed to be

bumping into one another, giving advice and monitoring our music.


Our loyal fans stuck with us on records like "I Am Love" and "Skywriter."

These songs were musically ambitious pop recordings, with sophisticated

string arrangements, but they weren't right for us. Sure, we couldn't do

"ABC" all our lives - that was the last thing we wanted - but even the older

fans thought "ABC" had more going for it, and that was hard for us to live

with. During the mid-seventies we were in danger of becoming an oldies act,

and I wasn't even eighteen yet.


When Jermaine married Hazel Gordy, our boss's daughter, people were winking

at us, saying that we'd always be looked after. Indeed, when "Get It

Together" came out in 1973, it got the same treatment from Berry that "I

Want You Back" had gotten. It was our biggest hit in two years, though you

could have said it was more like a bone transplant than the spanking little

baby that our first hit was. Nevertheless, "Get It Together" had good, tough

low harmony, a sharper wah-wah guitar, and strings that buzzed like

fireflies. Radio stations liked it, but not as much as the new dance clubs

called discos did. Motown picked up on this and brought back Hal Davis from

The Corporation days to really put the juice into "Dancing Machine." The

Jackson 5 were no longer just the backup group for the 101 Strings or



Motown had come a long way from the early days when you could find good

studio musicians supplementing their session pay with bowling alley gigs. A

new sophistication turned up in the music on "Dancing Machine." That song

had the best horn part we'd worked with yet and a "bubble machine" in the

break, made out of synthesizer noise, that kept the song from going

completely out of style. Disco music had its detractors, but to us it seemed

our rite of passage into the adult world.


I loved "Dancing Machine," loved the groove and the feel of that song. When

it came out in 1974, I was determined to find a dance move that would

enhance the song and make it more exciting to perform - and, I hoped, more

exciting to watch.


So when we sang "Dancing Machine" on "Soul Train," I did a street-style

dance move called the Robot. That performance was a lesson to me in the

power of television. Overnight, "Dancing Machine" rose to the top of the

charts, and within a few days it seemed that every kid in the United States

was doing the Robot. I had never seen anything like it.


Motown and the Jackson 5 could agree on one thing: As our act grew, our

audience should too. We had two recruits coming up: Randy had already toured

with us, and Janet was showing talent with her singing and dancing lessons.

We couldn't put Randy and Janet into our old lineup any more than we could

put square pegs into round holes. I wouldn't insult their considerable

talent by saying that show business was so in their blood that they just

took their places automatically, as if we'd reserved a spot for them. They

worked hard and earned their places in the group. They didn't join us

because they ate meals with us and shared our old toys.


If you just went by blood, I'd have as much crane operator in me as singer.

You can't measure these things. Dad worked us hard and kept certain goals in

sight while spinning dreams at night.


Just as disco might have seemed like a very unlikely place for a kids' group

to become a grown-up act, Las Vegas, with its showcase theatres, wasn't

exactly the family atmosphere that Motown had originally groomed us for, but

we decided to play there just the same. There wasn't much to do in Las Vegas

if you didn't gamble, but we thought of the theatres in the city as just big

clubs with the club hours and clientele of our Gary and South Side Chicago

days - except for the tourists. Tourist crowds were a good thing for us,

since they knew our old hits and would watch our skits and listen to new

songs without getting restless. It was great to see the delight on their

faces when little Janet came out in her Mae West costume for a number or



We had performed skits before, in a 1971 TV special called Goin' Back To

Indiana , which celebrated our Gary homecoming the first time we all decided

to return. Our records had become hits all over the world since we'd seen

our hometown last.


It was even more fun to do skits with nine of us, instead of just five, plus

whatever guests happened to appear with us. Our expanded lineup was a dream

come true for Dad. Looking back, I know the Las Vegas shows were an

experience I'll never recapture. We didn't have the high-pressure concert

crowd wanting all our hit songs and nothing more. We were temporarily freed

from the pressures of having to keep up with what everyone else was doing.

We had a ballad or two in every show to break in my "new voice." At fifteen,

I was having to think about things like that.


There were people from CBS Television at our Las Vegas shows and they

approached us about doing a variety show for the upcoming summer. We were

very interested and pleased that we were being recognised as more than just

a "Motown group." Over time, this distinction would not be lost on us.

Because we had creative control over our Las Vegas revue, it was harder for

us to return to our lack of freedom in recording and writing music once we

got back to Los Angeles. We'd always intended to grow and develop in the

musical field. That was our bread and butter, and we felt we were being held

back. Sometimes I felt we were being treated as if we still lived in Berry

Gordy's house - and with Jermaine now a son-in-law, our frustration was only



By the time we began putting our own act together, there were signs that

other Motown institutions were changing. Marvin Gaye took charge of his own

music and produced his masterpiece album, What's Goin' On . Stevie Wonder

was learning more about electronic keyboards than the experienced studio

hired guns - they were coming to him for advice. One of our last great

memories from our Motown days is of Stevie leading us in chanting to back up

his tough, controversial song "You Haven't Done Nothin'." Though Stevie and

Marvin were still in the Motown camp, they had fought for - and won - the

right to make their own records, and even to publish their own songs. Motown

hadn't even budged with us. To them we were still kids, even if they weren't

dressing us and "protecting" us any longer.


Our problems with Motown began around 1974, when we told them in no

uncertain terms that we wanted to write and produce our own songs.

Basically, we didn't like the way our music sounded at the time. We had a

strong competitive urge and we felt we were in danger of being eclipsed by

other groups who were creating a more contemporary sound.


Motown said, "No, you can't write your own songs; you've got to have

songwriters and producers." They not only refused to grant our requests,

they told us it was taboo to even mention that we wanted to do our own

music. I really got discouraged and began to seriously dislike all the

material Motown was feeding us. Eventually I became so disappointed and

upset that I wanted to leave Motown behind.


When I feel that something is not right, I have to speak up. I know most

people don't think of me as tough or strong-willed, but that's just because

they don't know me. Eventually my brothers and I reached a point with Motown

where we were miserable but no one was saying anything. My brothers didn't

say anything. My father didn't say anything. So it was up to me to arrange a

meeting with Berry Gordy and talk to him. I was the one who had to say that

we - the Jackson 5 - were going to leave Motown. I went over to see him,

face to face, and it was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. If

I had been the only one of us who was unhappy, I might have kept my mouth

shut, but there had been so much talk at home about how unhappy we all were

that I went in and talked to him and told him how we felt. I told him I was



Remember, I love Berry Gordy. I think he's a genius, a brilliant man who's

one of the giants of the music business. I have nothing but respect for him,

but that day I was a lion. I complained that we weren't allowed any freedom

to write songs and produce. He told me that he still thought we needed

producers to make hit records.


But I knew better, Berry was talking out of anger. That was a difficult

meeting, but we're friends again, and he's still like a father to me - very

proud of me and happy about my success. No matter what, I will always love

Berry because he taught me some of the most valuable things I've learned in

my life. He's the man who told the Jackson 5 they would become a part of

history, and that is exactly what happened. Motown has done so much for so

many people over the years. I feel we're fortunate to have been one of the

groups Berry personally introduced to the public and I owe enormous thanks

to this man. My life would have been very different without him. We all felt

that Motown started us, supporting our professional careers. We all felt our

roots were there, and we all wished we could stay. We were grateful for

everything they had done for us, but change is inevitable. I'm a person of

the present, and I have to ask, How are things going now? What's happening

now? What's going to happen in the future that could affect what has

happened in the past?


It's important for artists always to maintain control of their lives and

work. There's been a big problem in the past with artists being taken

advantage of. I've learned that a person can prevent that from happening by

standing up for what he or she believes is right, without concern for the

consequences. We could have stayed with Motown; but if we had, we'd probably

be an oldies act.


I knew it was time for change, so we followed our instincts, and we won when

we decided to try for a fresh start with another label. Epic


We were relieved that we had finally made our feelings clear and cut the

ties that were binding us, but we were also really devastated when Jermaine

decided to stay with Motown. He was Berry's son-in-law and his situation was

more complicated than ours. He thought it was more important for him to stay

than to leave, and Jermaine always did as his conscience told him, so he

left the group.


I clearly remember the first show we did without him, because it was so

painful for me. Since my earliest days on the stage - and even in our

rehearsals in our Gary living room - Jermaine stood at my left with his

bass. I depended on being next to Jermaine. And when I did that first show

without him there, with no one next to me, I felt totally naked onstage for

the first time in my life. So we worked harder to compensate for the loss of

one of our shining stars, Jermaine. I remember that show well because we got

three standing ovations. We worked hard .


When Jermaine left the group, Marlon had a chance to take his place and he

really shone onstage. My brother Randy officially took my place as bongo

player and the baby of the band.


Around the time that Jermaine left, things were further complicated for us

because of the fact that we were doing a stupid summer replacement TV

series. It was a dumb move to agree to do that show and I hated every minute

of it.


I had loved the old "Jackson Five" cartoon show. I used to wake up early on

Saturday mornings and say, "I'm a cartoon!" But I hated doing this

television show because I felt it would hurt our recording career rather

than help it. I think a TV series is the worst thing an artist who has a

recording career can do. I kept saying, "But this is gonna hurt our record

sales." And others said, "No, it's gonna help them."


They were totally wrong. We had to dress in ridiculous outfits and perform

stupid comedy routines to canned laughter. It was all so fake. We didn't

have time to learn or master anything about television. We had to create

three dance numbers a day, trying to meet a deadline. The Nielsen ratings

controlled our lives from week to week. I'd never do it again. It's a

dead-end road. What happens is partly psychological. You are in people's

homes every week and they begin to feel they know you too well. You're doing

all this silly comedy to canned laughter and your music begins to recede

into the background. When you try to get serious again and pick up your

career where you left off, you can't because you're overexposed. People are

thinking of you as the guys who do the silly, crazy routines. One week

you're Santa Claus, the next week you're Prince Charming, another week

you're a rabbit. It's crazy, because you lose your identity in the business;

the rocker image you had is gone. I'm not a comedian. I'm not a show host.

I'm a musician. That's why I've turned down offers to host the Grammy Awards

and the American Music Awards. Is it really entertaining for me to get up

there and crack a few weak jokes and force people to laugh because I'm

Michael Jackson, when I know in my heart that I'm not funny?


After our TV show I can remember doing theatres-in-the-round where the stage

didn't revolve because if they had turned it, we would have been singing to

some empty seats. I learned something from that experience and I was the one

who refused to renew our contract with the network for another season. I

just told my father and brothers that I thought it was a big mistake, and

they understood my point of view. I had actually had a lot of misgivings

about the show before we started taping it, but I ended up agreeing to give

it a try because everyone thought it would be a great experience and very

good for us.


The problem with TV is that everything must be crammed into a little space

of time. You don't have time to perfect anything. Schedules - tight

schedules - rule your life. If you're not happy with something, you just

forget it and move on to the next routine. I'm a perfectionist by nature. I

like things to be the best they can be. I want people to hear or watch

something I've done and feel that I've given it everything I've got. I feel

I owe an audience that courtesy. On the show our sets were sloppy, the

lighting was poor, and our choreography was rushed . Somehow, the show was a

big hit. There was a popular show on opposite us and we beat them out in the

Nielsens. CBS really wanted to keep us, but I knew that show was a mistake.

As it turned out, it did hurt our record sales and it took us a while to

recover from the damage. When you know something's wrong for you, you have

to make difficult decisions and trust your instincts.


I rarely did TV after that; the Motown 25 special is the only show that

comes to mind. Berry asked me to be on that show and I kept trying to say

no, but he finally talked me into it. I told him I wanted to do "Billie

Jean" even though it would be the only non-Motown song on the show, and he

readily agreed. "Billie Jean" was number one at the time. I choreographed

our routines, so I was pretty wrapped up in those numbers, but I had a good

notion of what I wanted to do with "Billie Jean." I had a sense that the

routine had worked itself out in my mind while I was busy with other things.

I asked someone to rent or buy me a black fedora - a spy hat - and the day

of the show I began putting the routine together. I'll never forget that

night, because when I opened my eyes at the end, people were on their feet

applauding. I was overwhelmed by the reaction. It felt so good.


Our only "break" during the Motown-to-Epic switch was the TV show. While

that was all going on, we heard that Epic had Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff

working on demos for us. We were told we'd be recording in Philadelphia

after our shows were all done.


If there was anyone who stood to gain the most from switching labels, it was

Randy, who was now part of the Five. But now that he finally was one of us,

we were no longer known as the Jackson 5. Motown said that the group's name

was the company's registered trademark, and that we couldn't use it when we

left. That was hardball, of course, so we called ourselves the Jacksons from

that time on.


Dad had met with the Philly guys while negotiations were going on with Epic.

We'd always had great respect for the records that Gamble and Huff had

overseen, records like "Backstabbers" by the O'Jays, "If You Don't Know Me

By Now," by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes(featuring Teddy Pendergrass),

and "When Will I See You Again," by the Three Degrees, along with many other

hits. They told Dad they'd been watching us, and they said they wouldn't

mess with our singing. Dad mentioned that we were hoping to have a song or

two of our own included in the new album, and they promised to give them a

fair hearing.


We'd gotten to talk with Kenny and Leon and their team of people, which

included Leon McFadden and John Whitehead. They showed what they could do

for themselves when they made "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" in 1979. Dexter

Wanzel was also a part of this team. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff are such

pros. I actually got a chance to watch them create as they presented songs

to us and that helped my songwriting a lot. Just watching Huff play the

piano while Gamble sang taught me more about the anatomy of a song than

anything else. Kenny Gamble is a master melody man. He made me pay closer

attention to the melody because of watching him create. And I would watch,

too. I'd sit there like a hawk, observing every decision, listening to every

note. They'd come to us in our hotel and play a whole album's worth of music

for us. That's the way we'd be introduced to the songs they had chosen for

our album - aside from the two songs we were writing ourselves. It was an

amazing thing to be present for.


We had cut some demos of our songs at home during our breaks from shooting,

but we decided to wait on those - we felt there was no sense putting a gun

to anyone's head. We knew that Philly had a lot to offer us, so we'd save

our surprise for them later.


Our two songs, "Blues Away" and "Style of Life," were two hard secrets to

keep at the time because we were so proud of them. "Style of Life" was a jam

that Tito directed, and it was in keeping with the nightclub groove that

"Dancing Machine" got us into, but we kept it a little leaner and meaner

than Motown would have cut it.


"Blues Away" was one of my first songs, and though I don't sing it any more,

I'm not embarrassed to hear it. I couldn't have gone on in this business if

I had ended up hating my own records after all that work. It's a light song

about overcoming a deep depression - I was going for the Jackie Wilson

"Lonely Teardrops" way of laughing on the outside to stop the churning



When we saw the cover art for The Jacksons album, the first we cut for Epic,

we were surprised to see that we all looked alike. Even Tito looked skinny!

I had my "crown" Afro then, so I didn't stick out so much, I guess. Still,

once we performed our new songs like "Enjoy Yourself" and "Show You the Way

to Go," people knew I was still second from the left, right out front. Randy

took Tito's old spot on my far right, and Tito moved into the old place

Jermaine had. It took a long time for me to feel comfortable with that, as

I've mentioned, though it was through no fault of Tito's.


Those two singles were fun records - "Enjoy Yourself" was great for dancing.

It had rhythm guitar and horns that I really liked. It was also a number one

record. For my taste, I leaned a little more toward "Show You the Way to Go"

because it showed what good regard the Epic people had for our singing. We

were all over that record and it was the best one we did. I loved the high

hat and strings fluttering alongside us like birds' wings. I'm surprised

that song in particular wasn't a bigger hit.


Though we couldn't spell it out, we kind of hinted about our situation in a

song called "Living Together," which Kenny and Leon chose with us in mind.

"If we're going to stick together, we've got to be a family. Have yourself a

real good time, but don't you know it's getting late." The strings pointed

and thrust like they did in "Backstabbers," but that was a Jacksons'

message, even if it wasn't in the Jacksons' style - yet.


Gamble and Huff had written enough songs for another album, but we knew from

experience that while they were doing what they did best, we were losing

some of our identity. We were honoured to be a part of the Philly family,

but that wasn't enough for us. We were determined to do all of the things we

had wanted to do for so many years. That's why we had to go back into our

Encino studio and work together again as a family.


Going Places , our second album for Epic, was different from our first.

There were more songs with messages and not as many dance songs. We knew

that the message to promote peace and let music take over was a good one,

but again it was more like the old O'Jays' "Love Train" and not really our



Still, maybe it wasn't a bad thing that there was no big pop hit on Going

Places because it made "Different Kind of Lady" an obvious choice for club

play. It was positioned in the middle of side one, so there were two Gamble

and Huff songs sandwiching it, and our song stood out like a ball of fire.

That was a real band cooking, with the Philly horns giving it one

exclamation point after another, just as we'd hoped. That's the feel we were

trying for when we were making demos with our old friend Bobby Taylor before

going to Epic. Kenny and Leon put the finishing touches on it, the icing,

but on this one we'd baked the cake ourselves.


After Going Places was in the stores, Dad asked me to accompany him to a

meeting with Ron Alexenburg. Ron signed us for CBS, and he really believed

in us. We wanted to convince him that we were ready now to take charge of

our own music. We felt that CBS had evidence of what we could do on our own,

so we stated our case, explaining that we'd originally wanted Bobby Taylor

to work with us. Bobby had stuck with us through all those years, and we had

thought he'd be a fine producer for us. Epic wanted Gamble and Huff because

they had the track record, but maybe they were the wrong jockeys or we were

the wrong horses for them, because we were letting them down in the sales

department through no fault of our own. We had a strong work ethic that

backed up everything we did.


Mr. Alexenburg was certainly used to dealing with performers, although I'm

sure that among his business friends he could be just as cutting about

musicians as we musicians could be when we were swapping our own stories

among ourselves. But Dad and I were on the same wavelength when it came to

the business side of music. People who make music and people who sell

records are not natural enemies. I care as much about what I do as a

classical musician, and I want what I do to reach the widest possible

audience. The record people care about their artists, and they want to reach

the widest market. As we sat in the CBS boardroom eating a nicely catered

lunch, we told Mr. Alexenburg that Epic had done its best, and it wasn't

good enough. We felt we could do better, that our reputation was worth

putting on the line.


When we left that skyscraper known as Black Rock, Dad and I didn't say much

to each other. The ride back to the hotel was a silent one, with each of us

thinking our own thoughts. There wasn't much to add to what we had already

said. Our whole lives had been leading to that single, important

confrontation, however civilised and aboveboard it was. Maybe Ron Alexenburg

has had reason to smile over the years when he remembers that day.


When that meeting took place at CBS headquarters in New York, I was only

nineteen years old. I was carrying a heavy burden for nineteen. My family

was relying on me more and more as far as business and creative decisions

were concerned, and I was so worried about trying to do the right thing for

them; but I also had an opportunity to do something I'd wanted to do all my

life - act in a film. Ironically the old Motown connection was paying a late



Motown had bought the rights to film the Broadway show known as The Wiz even

as we were leaving the company. The Wiz was an updated, black-orientated

version of the great movie The Wizard of Oz , which I had always loved. I

remember that when I was a kid The Wizard of Oz was shown on television once

a year and always on a Sunday night. Kids today can't imagine what a big

event that was for all of us because they've grown up with videocassettes

and the expanded viewing that cable provides.


I had seen the Broadway show too, which was certainly no letdown. I swear I

saw it six or seven times. I later became very friendly with the star of the

show, Stephanie Mills, the Broadway Dorothy. I told her then, and I've

always believed since, that it was a tragedy that her performance in the

play could not have been preserved on film. I cried time after time. As much

as I like the Broadway stage, I don't think I'd want to play on it myself.

When you give a performance, whether on record or on film, you want to be

able to judge what you've done, to measure yourself and try to improve. You

can't do that in an untaped or unrecorded performance. It makes me sad to

think of all the great actors who have played roles we would give anything

to see, but they're lost to us because they couldn't be, or simply weren't,



If I had been tempted to go onstage, it would probably have been to work

with Stephanie, although her performances were so moving that I might have

cried right there in front of the audience. Motown bought The Wiz for one

reason, and as far as I was concerned, it was the best reason possible:

Diana Ross.


Diana was close to Berry Gordy and had her loyalties to him and to Motown,

but she did not forget us just because our records now had a different label

on them. We had been in touch throughout the changes, and she had even met

up with us in Las Vegas, where she gave us tips during our run there. Diana

was going to play Dorothy, and since it was the only part that was

definitely cast, she encouraged me to audition. She also assured me that

Motown would not keep me from getting a part just to spite me or my family.

She would make sure of that if she had to, but she didn't think she'd have



She didn't. It was Berry Gordy who said he hoped I'd audition for The Wiz .

I was very fortunate he felt that way, because I was bitten by the acting

bug during that experience. I said to myself, this is what I'm interested in

doing when I have a chance - this is it. When you make a film, you're

capturing something elusive and you're stopping time. The people, their

performances, the story become a thing that can be shared by people all over

the world for generations and generations. Imagine never having seen

Captains Courageous or To Kill a Mockingbird ! Making movies is exciting

work. It's such a team effort and it's also a lot of fun. Someday soon I

plan to devote a lot of my time to making films.


I auditioned for the part of the Scarecrow because I thought his character

best fit my style. I was too bouncy for the Tin Man and too light for the

Lion, so I had a definite goal, and I tried to put a lot of thought into my

reading and dancing for the part. When I got the call back from the

director, Sidney Lumet, I felt so proud but also a little scared. The

process of making a film was new to me, and I was going to have to let go of

my responsibilities to my family and my music for months. I had visited New

York, where we were shooting, to get the feel for Harlem that The Wiz ¦s

story called for, but I had never lived there. I was surprised by how

quickly I got used to the lifestyle. I enjoyed meeting a whole group of

people I'd always heard about on the other coast but had never laid eyes on.


Making The Wiz was an education for me on so many levels. As a recording

artist I already felt like an old pro, but the film world was completely new

to me. I watched as closely as I could and learned a lot.


During this period in my life, I was searching, both consciously and

unconsciously. I was feeling some stress and anxiety about what I wanted to

do with my life now that I was an adult. I was analysing my options and

preparing to make decisions that could have a lot of repercussions. Being on

the set of The Wiz was like being in a big school. My complexion was still a

mess during the filming of the movie, so I found myself really enjoying the

makeup. It was an amazing makeup job. Mine took five hours to do, six days a

week; we didn't shoot on Sundays. We finally got it down to four hours flat

after doing it long enough. The other people who were being made up were

amazed that I didn't mind sitting there having this done for such long

periods of time. They hated it, but I enjoyed having the stuff put on my

face. When I was transformed into the Scarecrow, it was the most wonderful

thing in the world. I got to be somebody else and escape through my

character. Kids would come visit the set, and I'd have such fun playing with

them and responding to them as the Scarecrow.


I'd always pictured myself doing something very elegant in the movies, but

it was my experience with the makeup and costume and prop people in New York

that made me realise another aspect of how wonderful film-making could be. I

had always loved the Charlie Chaplin movies, and no one ever saw him doing

anything overtly elegant in the silent movie days. I wanted something of the

quality of his characters in my Scarecrow. I loved everything about the

costume, from the coil legs to the tomato nose to the fright wig. I even

kept the orange and white sweater that came with it and used it in a picture

session years later.


The film had marvellous, very complicated dance numbers, and learning them

was no problem. But that in itself became an unexpected problem with my



Ever since I was a very little boy, I've been able to watch somebody do a

dance step and then immediately know how to do it. Another person might have

to be taken through the movement step by step and told to count and put this

leg here and the hip to the right. When your hip goes to the left, put your

neck over there . . . that sort of thing. But if I see it, I can do it.


When we were doing The Wiz , I was being instructed in the choreography

along with my characters - the Tin Man, the Lion, and Diana Ross - and they

were getting mad at me. I couldn't figure out what was wrong until Diana

took me aside and told me that I was embarrassing her. I just stared at her.

Embarrassing Diana Ross? Me? She said she knew I wasn't aware of it, but I

was learning the dances much too quickly. It was embarrassing for her and

the others, who just couldn't learn steps as soon as they saw the

choreographer do them. She said he'd show us something and I'd just go out

there and do it. When he asked the others to do it, it took them longer to

learn. We laughed about it, but I tried to make the ease with which I

learned my steps less obvious.


I also learned that there could be a slightly vicious side to the business

of making a movie. Often when I was in front of the camera, trying to do a

serious scene, one of the other characters would start making faces at me,

trying to crack me up. I had always been drilled in serious professionalism

and preparedness and therefore I thought it was a pretty mean thing to do.

This actor would know that I had important lines to say that day, yet he

would make these really crazy faces to distract me. I felt it was more than

inconsiderate and unfair.


Much later Marlon Brando would tell me that people used to do that to him

all the time.


The problems on the set were really few and far between and it was great

working with Diana so closely. She's such a beautiful, talented woman. Doing

this movie together was very special for me. I love her very much. I have

always loved her very much.


The whole Wiz period was a time of stress and anxiety, even though I was

enjoying myself. I remember July 4 of that year very well, because I was on

the beach at my brother Jermaine's house, about half a block away along the

waterfront. I was messing around in the surf, and all of a sudden I couldn't

breathe. No air. Nothing. I asked myself what's wrong? I tried not to panic,

but I ran back to the house to find Jermaine, who took me to the hospital.

It was wild. A blood vessel had burst in my lung. It has never reoccurred,

although I used to feel little pinches and jerks in there that were probably

my imagination. I later learned that this condition was related to pleurisy.

It was suggested by my doctor that I try to take things a little slower, but

my schedule would not permit it. Hard work continued to be the name of the



As much as I liked the old Wizard of Oz , this new script, which differed

from the Broadway production in scope rather than spirit, asked more

questions than the original movie and answered them too. The atmosphere of

the old movie was that of a magic kingdom sort of fairy tale. Our movie, on

the other hand, had sets based on realities that kids could identify with,

like schoolyards, subway stations, and the real neighbourhood that our

Dorothy came from. I still enjoy seeing The Wiz and reliving the experience.

I am especially fond of the scene where Diana asks, "What am I afraid of?

Don't know what I'm made of . . ." because I've felt that way many times,

even during the good moments of my life. She sings about overcoming fear and

walking straight and tall. She knows and the audience knows that no threat

of danger can hold her back.


My character had plenty to say and to learn. I was propped up on my pole

with a bunch of crows laughing at me, while I sang "You Can't Win." The song

was about humiliation and helplessness - something that so many people have

felt at one time or another - and the feeling that there are people out

there who don't actively hold you back as much as they work quietly on your

insecurities so that you hold yourself back. The script was clever and

showed me pulling bits of information and quotations out of my straw while

not really knowing how to use them. My straw contained all the answers, but

I didn't know the questions.


The great difference between the two Wizard movies was that all the answers

are given to Dorothy by the Good Witch and by her friends in Oz in the

original, while in our version Dorothy comes to her own conclusions. Her

loyalty to her three friends and her courage in fighting Elvina in that

amazing sweatshop scene make Dorothy a memorable character. Diana's singing

and dancing and acting have stayed with me ever since. She was a perfect

Dorothy. After the evil witch had been defeated, the sheer joy of our

dancing took over. To dance with Diana in that movie was like an abridged

version of my own story - my knock-kneed walk and "bigfoot" spin were me in

my early days; our tabletop dance in the sweatshop scene was where we were

right then. Everything was onward and upward. When I told my brothers and

father I had gotten this part, they thought it might be too much for me, but

the opposite was true. The Wiz gave me new inspiration and strength. The

question became what to do with those things. How could I best harness them?


As I was asking myself what I wanted to do next, another man and I were

travelling parallel paths that would converge on the set of The Wiz . We

were in Brooklyn rehearsing one day, and we were reading our parts out loud

to one another. I had thought that learning lines would be the most

difficult thing I'd ever do, but I was pleasantly surprised. Everyone had

been kind, assuring me that it was easier that I thought. And it was.


We were doing the crows' scene that day. The other guys wouldn't even have

their heads visible in this scene because they'd be in crow costumes. They

seemed to know their parts backward and forward. I'd studied mine too, but I

hadn't said them aloud more than once or twice.


The directions called for me to pull a piece of paper from my straw and read

it. It was a quote. The author's name, Socrates, was printed at the end. I

had read Socrates, but I had never pronounced his name, so I said,

"Soh-crates," because that's the way I had always assumed it was pronounced.

There was a moment's silence before I heard someone whisper,

"Soh-ruh-teeze." I looked over at this man I vaguely recognised. He was not

one of the actors, but he seemed to belong there. I remember thinking he

looked very self-confident and had a friendly face.


I smiled, a little embarrassed at having mispronounced the name, and thanked

him for his help. His face was naggingly familiar, and I was suddenly sure

that I had met him before. He confirmed my suspicions by extending his hand.


"Quincy Jones. I'm doing the score."


Chapter Four - Me And Q



I had actually first met Quincy Jones in Los Angeles when I was about twelve

years old. Quincy later told me that at the time Sammy Davis, Jr., had said

to him, "This kid is gonna be the next biggest thing since sliced bread."

Something like that, anyway, and Quincy said, "Oh yeah?" I was little at the

time, but I vaguely remembered Sammy Davis introducing me to Q.


Our friendship really began to blossom on the set of The Wiz , and it

developed into a father-and-son relationship. After The Wiz I called him and

said, "Look, I'm going to do an album - do you think you could recommend

some producers?"


I wasn't hinting. My question was a naive but honest one. We talked about

music for a while, and, after coming up with some names and some

half-hearted hemming and hawing, he said, "Why don't you let me do it?"


I really hadn't thought of it. It sounded to him as if I was hinting, but I

wasn't. I just didn't think he would be that interested in my music. So I

stammered something like, "Oh sure, great idea. I never thought about that."


Quincy still kids me about it.


Anyway, we immediately began to plan the album that became Off the Wall .


My brothers and I decided to form our own production company, and we began

thinking about names to call it.


You don't find many articles about peacocks in the newspaper, but around

this time I found the only one that mattered. I had always thought peacocks

were beautiful and had admired one that Berry Gordy had at one of his homes.

So when I read the article, which had an accompanying picture of a peacock,

and revealed a great deal about the bird's characteristics, I was excited. I

thought I might have found the image we were looking for. It was an in-depth

piece, a little dry in places, but interesting. The writer said that the

peacock's full plumage would explode only when it was in love, and then all

the colours would shine - all the colours of the rainbow on one body.


I was immediately taken with that beautiful image and the meaning behind it.

That bird's plumage conveyed the message I was looking for to explain the

Jacksons and our intense devotion to one another, as well as our

multifaceted interests. My brothers liked the idea, so we called our new

company Peacock Productions, to sidestep the trap of relying too heavily on

the Jackson name. Our first world tour had focused our interest in uniting

people of all races through music. Some people we knew wondered what we

meant when we talked about uniting all the races through music -after all,

we were black musicians. Our answer was "music is colour-blind." We saw that

every night, especially in Europe and the other parts of the world we had

visited. The people we met there loved our music. It didn't matter to them

what colour our skin was or which country we called home.


We wanted to form our own production company because we wanted to grow and

establish ourselves as a new presence in the music world, not just as

singers and dancers, but as writers, composers, arrangers, producers, and

even publishers. We were interested in so many things, and we needed an

umbrella company to keep track of our projects. CBS had agreed to let us

produce our own album - the last two albums had sold well, but "Different

Kind of Lady" showed a potential that they agreed was worth letting us

develop. They did have one condition for us: they assigned an A&R man, Bobby

Colomby, who used to be with Blood, Sweat, and Tears, to check in with us

from time to time to see how we were doing and to see if we needed any help.

We knew that the five of us needed some outside musicians to get the best

possible sound, and we were weak in two areas: the keyboard and arranging

sides of things. We had been faithfully adding all the new technology to our

Encino studio without really having a mastery of it. Greg Phillinganes was

young for a studio pro, but that was a plus as far as we were concerned

because we wanted someone who would be more open to newer ways of doing

things than the seasoned veterans we had encountered over the years.


He came to Encino to do preproduction work, and we all took turns surprising

each other. Our mutual preconceptions just dissolved. It was a great thing

to watch. As we sketched out our new songs for him, we told him that we

liked the vocal tracks that Philly International always put a premium on,

but when the mix came out, we always seemed to be fighting someone else's

wall of sound, all those strings and cymbals. We wanted to sound cleaner and

more funky, with a flintier bass and sharper horn parts. With his beautiful

rhythm arrangements, Greg put into musical form what we were sketching for

him and then some. We felt he was reading our minds.


A Bobby Colomby recruit who came to work with us then was Paulinho de Costa,

whom we worried about because it seemed to us that Randy was being told he

couldn't handle all the percussion by himself. But Paulinho brought with him

the Brazilian samba tradition of adapting and improvising on primitive and

often homemade instruments. When de Costa's sound joined forces with Randy's

more conventional approach, we seemed to have the whole world covered.


Artistically speaking we were caught between a rock and a hard place. We had

worked with the smartest, hippest people in the world at Motown and Philly

International, and we would have been fools to discount the things we'd

absorbed from them, yet we couldn't be imitators. Fortunately we got a

running start with a song that Bobby Colomby brought us called "Blame It on

the Boogie." It was an up-tempo, finger-poppin'-time song that was a good

vehicle for the band approach we wanted to cultivate. I had fun slurring the

chorus: "Blame It on the Boogie" could be sung in one breath without putting

my lips together. We had a little fun with the credits on the inner sleeve

of the record; "Blame It on the Boogie" was written by three guys from

England, including one named Michael Jackson. It was a startling

coincidence. As it turned out, writing disco songs was a natural for me

because I was used to having dance breaks incorporated into all the major

songs I was asked to sing.


There was a lot of uncertainty and excitement about our future. We were

going through a lot of creative and personal changes - our music, the family

of dynamics, our desires and goals. All of this made me think more seriously

about how I was spending my life, especially in relation to other people my

age. I had always shouldered a lot of responsibility, but it suddenly seemed

that everyone wanted a piece of me. There wasn't that much to go around, and

I needed to be responsible to myself. I had to take stock of my life and

figure out what people wanted from me and to whom I was going to give

wholly. It was a hard thing for me to do, but I had to learn to be wary of

some of the people around me. God was at the top of my list of priorities,

and my mother and father and brothers and sisters followed. I was reminded

of that old song by Clarence Carter called "Patches," where the oldest son

is asked to take care of the farm after his father dies and his mother tells

him she's depending on him. Well, we weren't sharecroppers and I wasn't the

oldest, but those were slim shoulders on which to place such burdens. For

some reason I always found it very difficult to say no to my family and the

other people I loved. I would be asked to do something or take care of

something and I would agree, even if I worried that it might be more than I

could handle.


I felt under a great deal of stress and I was often emotional. Stress can be

a terrible thing; you can't keep your emotions bottled up for long. There

were a lot of people at this time who wondered just how committed I was to

music after learning of my newfound interest in movies after being in one.

It was hinted that my decision to audition had come at a bad time for the

new band setup. It seemed, to outsiders, to come just as we were about to

get started. But of course it worked out just fine.


"That's What You Get for Being Polite" was my way of letting on that I knew

I wasn't living in an ivory tower and that I had insecurities and doubts

just as all older teenagers do. I was worried that the world and all it had

to offer could be passing me by even as I tried to get on top of my field.


There was a Gamble and Huff song called "Dreamer" on the first Epic album

which had this theme, and as I was learning it, I felt they could have

written it with me in mind. I have always been a dreamer. I set goals for

myself. I look at things and try to imagine what is possible and then hope

to surpass those boundaries.


In 1979 I turned twenty-one years old and began to take full control of my

career. My father's personal management contract with me ran out around this

time, and although it was a hard decision, the contract was not renewed.


Trying to fire your dad is not easy.


But I just didn't like the way certain things were being handled. Mixing

family and business can be a delicate situation. It can be great or it can

be awful; it depends on the relationships. Even at the best of times it's a

hard thing to do.


Did it change the relationship between me and my father? I don't know if it

did in his heart, but it certainly didn't in mine. It was a move I knew I

had to make because at the time I was beginning to feel that I was working

for him rather than that he was working for me . And on the creative side we

are of two completely different minds. He would come up with ideas that I

would totally disagree with because they weren't right for me. All I wanted

was control over my life. And I took it. I had to do it. Everyone comes to

that point, sooner or later, and I had been in the business for a long time.

I was pretty experienced for twenty-one - a fifteen-year veteran. We were

eager to take the Destiny band and concept on the road, but I got hoarse

from too many shows, too much singing. When we had to cancel some

performances, no one held it against me, but I felt as if I was holding my

brothers back after the great job they had done while we worked together to

get us all back on track. We made some makeshift adjustments in order to

ease the strain on my throat. Marlon took over for me in some passages that

required holding long notes. "Shake You Body (Down to the Ground)," our set

piece on the album, turned out to be a lifesaver for us onstage because we

already had a good jam in the studio to build on. It was frustrating to have

finally realised our dream of having our own music as the showpiece, rather

than the novelty song, and not being able to give it our very best shot. It

wasn't long, however, before our time would come.


In looking back, I realise I was more patient than perhaps my brothers

wanted me to be. As we were remixing Destiny , it occurred to me that we had

"left out" some things that I hadn't talked to my brothers about because I

wasn't sure they'd be as interested in them as I was. Epic had arranged in

the contract that they would handle any solo album I might decide to do.

Perhaps they were hedging their bets; if the Jacksons couldn't make their

new sound work, they could try to turn me into something they could mould

for the rest of my life. That might seem like a suspicious way of thinking,

but I knew from experience that money people always want to know what is

going on and what can happen and how to recoup their investment. It seemed

logical for them to think that way. In the light of what's happened since, I

wonder about those thoughts I had, but they were real at the time.


Destiny was our biggest success as an album, and we knew we had really

reached the point where people bought your record because they knew you were

good and knew you'd give them your very best on every song and every album.

I wanted my first solo album to be the best it could be.


I didn't want Off the Wall to sound like outtakes from Destiny . That's why

I wanted to hire an outside producer who wouldn't come to this project with

any preconceived notions about how it should sound. I also needed someone

with a good ear to help me choose material because I didn't have enough time

to write two sides of songs I'd be proud of. I knew the public expected more

than two good singles on an album, especially in the discos with their

extended cuts, and I wanted the fans to feel satisfied.


These are all reasons why Quincy proved to be the best producer I could have

asked for. Quincy Jones's friends called him "Q" for short because of a love

he has for barbecue. Later, after we'd finished Off the Wall , he invited me

to a concert of his orchestral music at the Hollywood Bowl, but I was so shy

at the time that I stood in the wings to watch the show as I had as a child.

He said he expected more from me than that, and we've been trying to live up

to each other's standards ever since.


That day I called to ask his advice about a producer, he started talking

about people in the business - who I could work with and who I'd have

trouble with. He knew track records, who was booked, who'd be too lax, who'd

put the "pedal to the metal." He knew Los Angeles better than Mayor Bradley,

and that's how he kept up with what was going on. As a jazz arranger,

orchestrator, and film composer, someone people thought was on the outside

looking in as far as pop music was concerned, he was an invaluable guide. I

was so glad that my outside source was a good friend who also happened to be

the perfect choice for a producer. He had a world of talent to choose from

among his contacts, and he was a good listener, as well as a brilliant man.


The Off the Wall album was originally going to be called Girlfriend . Paul

and Linda McCartney wrote a song of that title with me in mind before they

ever met me.


Paul McCartney always tells people this story about me calling him and

saying we should write some hit songs together.


But that's not exactly how we first met.


I saw Paul for the first time at a party on the Queen Mary , which is docked

in Long Beach. His daughter Heather got my number from someone and gave me a

call to invite me to this big party. She liked our music and we got to

talking. Much later, when his Wings over America tour was completed, Paul

and his family were in Los Angeles. They invited me to a party at the Harold

Lloyd estate. Paul McCartney and I first met at that party. We shook hands

amid a huge crowd of people, and he said, "You know, I've written a song for

you." I was very surprised and thanked him. And he started singing

"Girlfriend" to me at this party.


So we exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together soon, but

different projects and life just got in the way for both of us and we didn't

talk again for a couple of years. He ended up putting the song on his own

album London Town .


The strangest thing happened when we were making Off the Wall ; Quincy

walked up to me one day and said, "Michael, I've got a song that's perfect

for you." He played "Girlfriend" for me, not realising, of course, that Paul

had written it for me originally. When I told him, he was astonished and

pleased. We recorded it soon after and put it on the album. It was an

incredible coincidence.


Quincy and I talked about Off the Wall and carefully planned the kind of

sound we wanted. When he asked me what I most wanted to have happen in the

studio, I told him, we've got to make it sound different from the Jacksons.

Hard words to spit out, considering how hard we'd worked to become the

Jacksons, but Quincy knew what I meant, and together we created an album

that reflected our goal. "Rock with You," the big hit single, was the sort

of thing I was aiming for. It was perfect for me to sing, and move to. Rod

Temperton, whom Quincy had known because of his work with the group Heatwave

on "Boogie Nights," had written the song with a more relentless, get-down

arrangement in mind, but Quincy softened the attack and slipped in a

synthesiser that sounded like a conch shell's insides on a beach. Q and I

were both very fond of Rod's work, and we eventually asked him to work on

stylising three of his songs for me, including the title cut. Rod was a

kindred spirit in many ways. Like me, he felt more at home singing and

writing about the night life than actually going out and living it. It

always surprises me when people assume that something an artist has created

is based on a true experience or reflects his or her own lifestyle. Often

nothing could be farther from the truth. I know I draw on my own experiences

at times, but I also hear and read things that trigger an idea for a song.

An artist's imagination is his greatest tool. It can create a mood or

feeling that people want to have, as well as transport you to a different

place altogether.


In the studio Quincy allowed the arrangers and musicians quite a bit of

freedom to express themselves, perhaps with the exception of the orchestral

arrangements, which are his forte. I brought Greg Phillinganes, a member of

the Destiny team, over to "run the floor" on numbers that he and I had

worked on together in Encino, while the studio people were being lined up

for the date. In addition to Greg, Paulinho da Costa was back on percussion

and Randy made a cameo appearance on "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough."


Quincy is amazing and doesn't just pick yes-men to do his bidding. I have

been around professionals all my life, and I can tell who is trying to keep

up, who can create, and who is capable of crossing swords once in a while in

a constructive way without losing sight of the shared goal. We had Louis

"Thunder Thumbs" Johnson, who had worked with Quincy on the Brothers Johnson

albums. We also had an all-star team of Wah Wah Watson, Marlo Henderson,

David Williams, and Larry Carlton from the Crusaders playing guitar on the

album. George Duke, Phil Upchurch, and Richard Heath were picked from the

cream of the jazz/funk crop, and yet they never let on that maybe this music

was a little different from what they were used to. Quincy and I had a good

working relationship, so we shared responsibilities and consulted with one

another constantly.


The Brothers Johnson notwithstanding, Quincy hadn't done much dance music

before Off the Wall , so on "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough," "Working Day

and Night," and "Get on the Floor" Greg and I worked together to build a

thicker wall of sound in Quincy's studio. "Get on the Floor," though it

wasn't a single, was particularly satisfying because Louis Johnson gave me a

smooth-enough bottom to ride in the verses and let me come back stronger and

stronger with each chorus. Bruce Swedien, Quincy's engineer, put the final

touches on that mix, and I still get pleasure out of hearing it.


"Working Day and Night" was Paulinho's showcase, with my background vocals

hurrying to keep up with his grab bag of toys. Greg set up a prepared

electric piano with the timbre of a perfect acoustic tone, to knock out any

lingering echo. The lyrical theme was similar to "The Things I Do For You"

from Destiny , but since this was a refinement of something I'd said

earlier, I wanted to keep it simple and let the music put the song over the



"Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" had a spoken intro over bass, partly to

build up tension and surprise people with the swirling strings and

percussion. It was also unusual because of my vocal arrangement. On that cut

I sing in overdubs as a kind of group. I wrote myself a high part, one that

my solo voice couldn't carry on it's own, to fit in with the music I was

hearing in my head, so I let the arrangement take over from the singing. Q's

fade at the end was amazing, with guitars chopping like kalimbas, the

African thumb pianos. That song means a lot to me because it was the first

song I wrote as a whole. "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" was my first big

chance, and it went straight to number one. It was the song that won me my

first Grammy. Quincy had the confidence in me to encourage me to go into the

studio by myself, which put icing on the cake.


The ballads were what made Off the Wall a Michael Jackson album. I'd done

ballads with the brothers, but they had never been to enthusiastic about

them and did them more as a concession to me than anything else. Off the

Wall had, in addition to "Girlfriend," a slippery, engaging melody called "I

Can't Help It" which was memorable and great fun to sing but a little

quirkier than a gentle song like, say, "Rock with You."


Two of the biggest hits were "Off the Wall" and "Rock with You." You know,

so much up-tempo dance music is threatening, but I liked the coaxing, the

gentleness, taking a shy girl and letting her shed her fears rather than

forcing them out of her. On Off the Wall I went back to a high-pitched

voice, but "Rock with You" called for a more natural sound. I felt that if

you were having a party, those two songs would get people in the door, and

the harder boogie songs would send everyone home in a good mood. And then

there was "She's Out of My Life." Maybe that was too personal for a party.


It was for me. Sometimes it's hard for me to look my dates in the eye even

if I know them well. My dating and relationships with girls have not had the

happy ending I've been looking for. Something always seems to get in the

way. The things I share with millions of people aren't the sort of things

you share with one. Many girls want to know what makes me tick - why I live

the way I live or do the things I do - trying to get inside my head. They

want to rescue me from loneliness, but they do it in such a way that they

give me the impression they want to share my loneliness, which I wouldn't

wish on anybody, because I believe I'm one of the loneliest people in the



"She's Out of My Life" is about knowing that the barriers that have

separated me from others are temptingly low and seemingly easy to jump over

and yet they remain standing while what I really desire disappears from my

sight. Tom Bahler composed a beautiful bridge, which seemed right out of an

old Broadway musical. In reality, such problems are not so easily resolved

and the song presents this fact, that the problem is not overcome. We

couldn't put this cut at the beginning or the end of the record, because it

would have been such a downer. That's why when Stevie's song comes on

afterward, so gently and tentatively, as if it was opening a door that had

been bolted shut, I still go, "Whew." By the time Rod's "Burn This Disco

Out" closes the record, the trance is broken.


But I got too wrapped up in "She's Out of My Life." In this case, the

story's true - I cried at the end of a take, because the words suddenly had

such a strong effect on me. I had been letting so much build up inside me. I

was twenty-one years old, and I was so rich in some experiences while being

poor in moments of true joy. Sometimes I imagine that my life experience is

like an image in one of those trick mirrors in the circus, fat in one part

and thin to the point of disappearing in another. I was worried that would

show up on "She's Out of My Life," but if it touched people's heartstrings,

knowing that would make me feel less lonely.


When I got emotional after that take, the only people with me were Q and

Bruce Swedien. I remember burying my face in my hands and hearing only the

hum of the machinery as my sobs echoed in the room. Later I apologised, but

they said there was no need.


Making Off the Wall was one of the most difficult periods of my life,

despite the eventual success it enjoyed. I had very few close friends at the

time and felt very isolated. I was so lonely that I used to walk through my

neighbourhood hoping I'd run into somebody I could talk to and perhaps

become friends with. I wanted to meet people who didn't know who I was. I

wanted to run into somebody who would be my friend because they liked me and

needed a friend too, not because I was who I am. I wanted to meet anybody in

the neighbourhood - the neighbourhood kids, anybody.


Success definitely brings on loneliness. It's true. People think you're

lucky, that you have everything. They think you can go anywhere and do

anything, but that's not the point. One hungers for the basic stuff.


I've learned to cope better with these things now and I don't get nearly as

depressed as I used to. I didn't really have any girlfriends when I was in

school. There were girls I thought were cute, but I found it so difficult to

approach them. I was too embarrassed - I don't know why - it was just crazy.

There was one girl who was a good friend to me. I liked her, but I was too

embarrassed to tell her.


My first real date was with Tatum O'Neal. We met at a club on Sunset Strip

called On the Rox. We exchanged phone numbers and called each other often. I

talked to her for hours: from the road, from the studio, from home. On our

first date we went to a party at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion and had a

great time. She had held my hand for the first time that night at On the

Rox. When we met, I was sitting at this table and all of a sudden I felt

this soft hand reach over and grab mine. It was Tatum. This probably

wouldn't mean a lot to other people, but it was serious stuff to me. She

touched me . That's how I felt about it. In the past, girls had always

touched me on tour; grabbing at me and screaming, behind a wall of security

guards. But this was different, this was one-on-one, and that's always the



Our developed into a real close relationship. I fell in love with her (and

she with me) and we were very close for a long time. Eventually the

relationship transcended into a good friendship. We still talk now and then,

and I guess you'd have to say she was my first love - after Diana. When I

heard Diana Ross was getting married, I was happy for her because I knew it

would make her very joyous. Still, it was hard for me, because I had to walk

around pretending to be overwhelmed that Diana was getting married to this

man I'd never met. I wanted her to be happy, but I have to admit that I was

a bit hurt and a little jealous because I've always loved Diana and always



Another love was Brooke Shields. We were romantically serious for a while.

There have been a lot of wonderful women in my life, women whose names

wouldn't mean anything to the readers of this book, and it would be unfair

to discuss them because they are not celebrities and are unaccustomed to

having their names in print. I value my privacy and therefore I respect

theirs as well.


Liza Minelli is a person whose friendship I'll always cherish. She's like my

show business sister. We get together and talk about the business; it comes

out of our pores. We both eat, sleep, and drink various moves and songs and

dance. We have the best time together. I love her.


Right after we finished Off the Wall , I plunged into making the Triumph

album with my brothers. We wanted to combine the best of both albums for our

tour. "Can You Feel It?" was the first cut on the album, and it had the

closest thing to a rock feel that the Jacksons had ever done. It wasn't

really dance music either. We had it in mind for the video that opened our

tour, kind of like our own Also Sprach Zarathrustra , the 2001 theme. Jackie

and I had thought of combining the band sound with a gospel/children's choir

feel. That was a nod a Gamble and Huff, in a way, because the song was a

celebration of love taking over, cleansing the sins of the world. Randy's

singing is so good, even if his range is not all he'd like it to be. His

breathing and phrasing kept me pumped up on my toes when we sang it. There

was a bright foghorn-type keyboard that I worked on for hours, going over it

and over it again, until I got it the way I wanted it. We had six minutes,

and I don't think it was one second too long.


"Lovely One" was an extension of "Shake Your Body Down to the Ground," with

that lighter Off the Wall sound injected. I tried out a newer, more ethereal

voice on Jackie's "Your Ways," with the keyboards adding a faraway quality.

Paulinho brought out all the artillery: triangles, skulls, gongs. This

song's about a strange girl who is the way she is and there's nothing I can

do about it, other than enjoy it when I can.


"Everybody" is more playful than the Off the Wall dance tunes, with Mike

McKinney propelling it like a plane turning and bearing down. The background

vocals suggest "Get on the Floor's" influence, but Quincy's sound is deeper,

like you're in the eye of the storm - our sound was more like going up the

glass elevator to the top floor while looking down, rising effortlessly.


"Time Waits for No One" was written by Jackie and Randy with my voice and

style in mind. They knew they were trying to keep up with the Off the Wall

songwriters and they did a very good job. "Give It Up" gave everyone a

chance to sing. Marlon in particular. We strayed from the band sound on

those tracks, perhaps sinking back into that Philly trap of letting the

arrangement overwhelm us. "Walk Right Now" and "Wondering Who" were closer

to the Destiny sound, but for the most part they were suffering from too

many cooks and not enough broth.


There was one exception: "Heartbreak Hotel." I swear that was a phrase that

came out of my head and I wasn't thinking of any other song when I wrote it.

The record company printed it on the cover as "This Place Hotel," because of

the Elvis Presley connection. As important as he was to music, black as well

as white, he just wasn't an influence on me. I guess he was too early for

me. Maybe it was timing more than anything else. By the time our song had

come out, people thought that if I kept living in seclusion the way I was, I

might die the way he did. The parallels aren't there as far as I'm concerned

and I was never much for scare tactics. Still, the way Elvis destroyed

himself interests me, because I don't ever want to walk those grounds



LaToya was asked to contribute the scream that opens the song - not the most

auspicious start to a recording career, I'll admit, but she was just getting

her feet wet in the studio. She has made some good records since and is

quite accomplished. The scream was the kind that normally shatters a bad

dream, but our intention was to have the dream only begin, to make the

listener wonder whether it was a dream or reality. That was the effect I

think we got. The three female backup singers were amused when they were

doing the scary backup effects that I wanted, until they actually heard them

in the mix.


"Heartbreak Hotel" was the most ambitious song I had composed. I think I

worked on a number of levels: You could dance to it, sing along with it, get

scared by it, and just listen. I had to tack on a slow piano and cello coda

that ended on a positive note to reassure the listener; there's no point in

trying to scare someone if there isn't something to bring the person back

safe and sound from where you've taken them. "Heartbreak Hotel" had revenge

in it and I am fascinated by the concept of revenge. It's something I can't

understand. The idea of making someone "pay" for something they've done to

you or that you imagine they've done to you is totally alien to me. The

setup showed my own fears and for the first time being helped quell them.

There were so many sharks in this business looking for blood in the water.


If this song, and later "Billie Jean," seemed to cast women in an

unfavourable light, it was not meant to be taken as a personal statement.

Needless to say, I love the interaction between the sexes; it is a natural

part of life and I love women. I just think that when sex is used as a form

of blackmail or power, it's a repugnant use of one of God's gifts.


Triumph gave us that final burst of energy we needed to put together a

perfect show, with no marginal material. We began rehearsing with our

touring band, which included bass player Mike McKinney. David Williams would

travel with us too, but he was now a permanent member of the band.


The upcoming tour was going to be a big undertaking. We had special effects

arranged for us by the great magician Doug Henning. I wanted to disappear

completely in a puff of smoke right after "Don't Stop." He had to coordinate

the special effects with the Showco people who controlled the whole setup. I

was happy to talk with him while we walked through the routine. It seemed

almost unfair for him to give me his secrets, and apart from the money I

wasn't offering him anything he could make use of in return. I felt a little

embarrassed about that, yet I really wanted our show to be great and I knew

Henning's contribution would be spectacular. We were competing with bands

like Earth, Wind, and Fire and the Commodores for the position of top band

in the country, and we knew there were people who felt that the Jackson

brothers had been around for ten years and were finished.


I had worked hard on the concept for the set for the upcoming tour. It had

the feel of Close Encounters behind it. I was trying to make the statement

that there was life and meaning beyond space and time and the peacock had

burst forth ever brighter and ever prouder. I wanted our film to reflect

this idea, too.


My pride in the rhythms, the technical advances, and the success of Off the

Wall was offset by the jolt I got when the Grammy nominations were announced

for 1979. Although Off the Wall had been one of the most popular records of

the year, it received only one nomination: Best R&B Vocal Performance. I

remember where I was when I got the news. I felt ignored by my peers and it

hurt. People told me later that it surprised the industry too.


I was disappointed and then I got excited thinking about the album to come.

I said to myself, "Wait until next time" - they won't be able to ignore the

next album. I watched the ceremony on television and it was nice to win my

category, but I was still upset by what I perceived as the rejection of my

peers. I just kept thinking, "Next time, next time." In many ways an artist

is his work. It's difficult to separate the two. I think I can be brutally

objective about my work as I create it, and if something doesn't work, I can

feel it, but when I turn in a finished album - or song - you can be sure

that I've given it every ounce of energy and God-given talent that I have.

Off the Wall was well received by my fans and I think that's why the Grammy

nominations hurt. That experience lit a fire in my soul. All I could think

of was the next album and what I would do with it. I wanted it to be truly



Chapter Five - The Moonwalk



Off the Wall was released in August 1979, the same month I turned twenty-one

and took control of my own affairs, and it was definitely one of the major

landmarks of my life. It meant a great deal to me, because its eventual

success proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a former "child star" could

mature into a recording artist with contemporary appeal. Off the Wall also

went a step beyond the dance grooves we had cooked up. When we started the

project, Quincy and I talked about how important it was to capture passion

and strong feelings in a recorded performance. I still think that's what we

achieved on the ballad "She's Out of My Life," and to a lesser extent on

"Rock with You."


Looking back, I can view the whole tapestry and see how Off the Wall

prepared me for the work we would do on the album that became Thriller.

Quincy, Rod Temperton, and many of the musicians who played on Off the Wall

would help me realise a dream that I had had for a long time. Off the Wall

had sold almost six million copies in this country, but I wanted to make an

album that would be even bigger. Ever since I was a little boy, I had

dreamed of creating the biggest-selling record of all time. I remember going

swimming as a child and making a wish before I jumped into the pool.

Remember, I grew up knowing the industry, understanding goals, and being

told what was and was not possible. I wanted to do something special. I'd

stretch my arms out, as if I were sending my thoughts right up into space.

I'd make my wish, then I'd dive into the water. I'd say to myself, "This is

my dream. This is my wish," every time before I'd dive into the water.


I believe in wishes and in a person's ability to make a wish come true. I

really do. Whenever I saw a sunset, I would quietly make my secret wish

right before the sun tucked under the western horizon and disappeared. It

would seem as if the sun had taken my wish with it. I'd make it right before

that last speck of light vanished. And a wish is more than a wish, it's a

goal. It's something your conscious and subconscious can help make reality.


I remember being in the studio once with Quincy and Rod Temperton while we

were working on Thriller . I was playing a pinball machine and one of them

asked me, "If this album doesn't do as well as Off the Wall , will you be



I remember feeling upset - hurt that the question was even raised. I told

them Thriller had to do better than Off the Wall . I admitted that I wanted

this album to be the biggest-selling album of all time.


They started laughing. It was a seemingly unrealistic thing to want.


There were times during the Thriller project when I would get emotional or

upset because I couldn't get the people working with me to see what I was.

That still happens to me sometimes. Often people just don't see what I see.

They have too much doubt. You can't do your best when you're doubting

yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, who will? Just doing as well as

you did last time is not good enough. I think of it as the "Try to get what

you can" mentality. It doesn't require you to stretch, to grow. I don't

believe in that.


I believe we are powerful, but we don't use our minds to full capacity. Your

mind is powerful enough to help you attain whatever you want. I knew what we

could do with that record. We had a great team there, a lot of talent and

good ideas, and I knew we could do anything. The success of Thriller

transformed many of my dreams into reality. It did become the

biggest-selling album of all time, and that fact appeared on the cover of

The Guinness Book of World Records.


Making the Thriller album was very hard work, but it's true that you only

get out of something what you put into it. I'm a perfectionist: I'll work

until I drop. And I worked so hard on that album. It helped that Quincy

showed great confidence in what we were doing during those sessions. I guess

I had proved myself to him during our work on Off the Wall . He listened to

what I had to say and helped me accomplish what I had hoped to on that

album, but he showed even more faith in me during the making of Thriller .

He realised I had the confidence and experience I needed to make that record

and at times he wasn't in the studio with us for that reason. I'm really

very self-confident when it comes to my work. When I take on a project, I

believe in it 100 percent. I really put my soul into it. I'd die for it.

That's how I am.


Quincy is brilliant at balancing out an album, creating the right mix of

up-tempo numbers and slow ones. We started out working with Rod Temperton on

songs for the Thriller album, which was originally called Starlight . I was

writing songs myself while Quincy was listening to other people's songs,

hoping to find just the right ones for the album. He's good at knowing what

I'll like and what will work for me. We both share the same philosophy about

making albums; we don't believe in B-sides or album songs. Every song should

be able to stand on its own as a single, and we always push for this.


I had finished some songs of my own, but I didn't give them to Quincy until

I saw what had come in from other writers. The first song I had was

"Startin' Something," which I had written when we were doing Off the Wall

but had never given to Quincy for that album. Sometimes I have a song I've

written that I really like and I just can't bring myself to present it.

While we were making Thriller , I even held on to "Beat It" for a long time

before I played it for Quincy. He kept telling me that we needed a great

rock song for the album. He'd say, "Come on, where is it? I know you got

it." I like my songs but initially I'm shy about playing them for people,

because I'm afraid they won't like them and that's a painful experience.


He finally convinced me to let him hear what I had. I brought out "Beat It"

and played it for him and he went crazy. I felt on top of the world.


When we were about to start work on Thriller , I called Paul McCartney in

London and this time I did say, "Let's get together and write some hits."

Our collaboration produced "Say Say Say" and "The Girl Is Mine."


Quincy and I eventually chose "The Girl Is Mine" as the obvious first single

from Thriller . We really didn't have much choice. When you have two strong

names like that together on a song, it has to come out first or it gets

played to death and overexposed. We had to get it out of the way.


When I approached Paul, I wanted to repay the favour he had done me in

contributing "Girlfriend" to Off the Wall . I wrote "The Girl Is Mine,"

which I knew would be right for his voice and mine working together, and we

also did work on "Say Say Say," which we would finish up later with George

Martin, the great Beatles producer.


"Say Say Say" was coauthored by Paul, a man who could play all the

instruments in the studio and score every part, and a kid, me, who couldn't.

Yet we worked together as equals and enjoyed ourselves. Paul never had to

carry me in that studio. The collaboration was also a real step forward for

me in terms of confidence, because there was no Quincy Jones watching over

me to correct my mistakes. Paul and I shared the same idea of how a pop song

should work and it was a real treat to work with him. I feel that ever since

John Lennon's death he has had to live up to expectations people had no

right to hang on him; Paul McCartney has given so much to this industry and

to his fans.


Eventually, I would buy the ATV music publishing catalogue, which included

many of the great Lennon-McCartney songs. But most people don't know that it

was Paul who introduced me to the idea of getting involved in music

publishing. I was staying with Paul and Linda at their house in the country

when Paul told me about his own involvement in music publishing. He handed

me a little book with MPL printed on the cover. He smiled as I opened it,

because he knew I was going to find the contents exciting. It contained a

list of all the songs Paul owns and he'd been buying the rights to songs for

a long time. I had never given the idea of buying songs any thought before.

When the ATV music publishing catalogue, which contains many

Lennon-McCartney songs, went on sale, I decided to put in a bid.


I consider myself a musician who is incidentally a businessman, and Paul and

I had both learned the hard way about business and the importance of

publishing and royalties and the dignity of songwriting. Songwriting should

be treated as the lifeblood of popular music. The creative process doesn't

involve time clocks or quota systems, it involves inspiration and the

willingness to follow through. When I was sued my someone I had never heard

of for "The Girl Is Mine," I was quite willing to stand on my reputation. I

stated that many of my ideas come in dreams, which some people thought was a

convenient cop-out, but it's true. Our industry is so lawyer-heavy that

getting sued for something you didn't do seems to be as much a part of the

initiation process as winning amateur night used to be.


"Not My Lover" was a title we almost used for "Billie Jean" because Q had

some objections to calling the song "Billie Jean," my original title. He

felt people might immediately think of Billie Jean King, the tennis player.


A lot of people have asked me about that song, and the answer is very

simple. It's just a case of a girl who says that I'm the father of her child

and I'm pleading my innocence because "the kid is not my son."


There was never a real "Billie Jean." (Except for the ones who came after

the song.) The girl in the song is a composite of people we've been plagued

by over the years. This kind of thing has happened to some of my brothers

and I used to be really amazed by it. I couldn't understand how these girls

could say they were carrying someone's child when it wasn't true. I can't

imagine lying about something like that. Even today there are girls who come

to the gate at our house and say the strangest things, like, "Oh, I'm

Michael's wife," or "I'm just dropping off the keys to our apartment." I

remember one girl who used to drive us completely crazy. I really think that

she believed in her mind that she belonged with me. There was another girl

who claimed I had gone to bed with her, and she made threats. There've been

a couple of serious scuffles at the gate on Hayvenhurst, and they can get

dangerous. People yell into the intercom that Jesus sent them to speak with

me and Gold told them to come - unusual and unsettling things.


A musician knows hit material. It has to feel right. Everything has to feel

in place. It fulfills you and it makes you feel good. You know it when you

hear it. That's how I felt about "Billie Jean." I knew it was going to be

big while I was writing it. I was really absorbed in that song. One day

during a break in a recording session I was riding down the Ventura Freeway

with Nelson Hayes, who was working with me at the time. "Billie Jean" was

going around in my head and that's all I was thinking about. We were getting

off the freeway when a kid on a motorcycle pulls up to us and says, "Your

car's on fire." Suddenly we noticed the smoke and pulled over and the whole

bottom of the Rolls-Royce was on fire. That kid probably saved our lives. If

the car had exploded, we could have been killed. But I was so absorbed by

this tune floating in my head that I didn't even focus on the awful

possibilities until later. Even while we were getting help and finding an

alternate way to get where we were going, I was silently composing

additional material, that's how involved I was with "Billie Jean."


Before I wrote "Beat It," I had been thinking I wanted to write the type of

rock song that I would go out and buy, but also something totally different

from the rock music I was hearing on Top 40 radio at the time.


"Beat It" was written with school kids in mind. I've always loved creating

pieces that will appeal to kids. It's fun to write for them and know what

they like because they're a very demanding audience. You can't fool them.

They are still the audience that's most important to me, because I really

care about them. If they like it, it's a hit, no matter what the charts say.


The lyrics of "Beat It" express something I would do if I were in trouble.

Its message - that we should abhor violence - is something I believe deeply.

It tells kids to be smart and avoid trouble. I don't mean to say you should

turn the other cheek while someone kicks in your teeth, but, unless your

back is against the wall and you have absolutely no choice, just get away

before violence breaks out. If you fight and get killed, you've gained

nothing and lost everything. You're the loser, and so are the people who

love you. That's what "Beat It" is supposed to get across. To me true

bravery is settling differences without a fight and having the wisdom to

make that solution possible.


When Q called Eddie Van Halen, he thought it was a crank call. Because of

the bad connection, Eddie was convinced that the voice on the other end was

a fake. After being told to get lost, Q simply dialed the number again.

Eddie agreed to play the session for us and gave us an incredible guitar

solo on "Beat It."


The newest members of our team were the band Toto, who had the hit records

"Rosanna" and "Africa." They had been well known as individual session

musicians before they came together as a group. Because of their experience,

they knew both sides of studio work, when to be independent, and when to be

cooperative and follow the producer's lead. Steve Porcaro had worked on Off

the Wall during a break as keyboardist for Toto. This time he brought his

band mates with him. Musicologists know that the band's leader David Paich

is the son of Marty Paich, who worked on Ray Charles' great records like "I

Can't Stop Loving You."


I love "Pretty Young Thing," which was written by Quincy and James Ingram.

"Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" had whetted my appetite for the spoken

intro, partly because I didn't think my speaking voice was something my

singing needed to hide. I have always had a soft speaking voice. I haven't

cultivated it or chemically altered it: that's me - take it or leave it.

Imagine what it must be like to be criticised for something about yourself

that is natural and God given. Imagine the hurt of having untruths spread by

the press, of having people wonder if you're telling the truth - defending

yourself because someone decided it would make good copy and would force you

to deny what they said, thus creating another story. I've tried not to

answer such ridiculous charges in the past because that dignifies them and

the people who make them. Remember, the press is a business: Newspapers and

magazines are in business to make money - sometimes at the expense of

accuracy, fairness, and even the truth.


Anyway, in the intro to "Pretty Young Thing," I sounded a bit more confident

than I had on the last album. I liked the "code" in the lyrics, and

"tenderoni" and "sugar fly" were fun rock'n'roll-type words that you

couldn't find in the dictionary. I got Janet and LaToya into the studio for

this one, and they produced the "real" backup vocals. James Ingram and I

programmed an electronic device called a Vocoder, which gave out that E.T.



"Human Nature" was the song the Toto guys brought to Q, and he and I both

agreed that the song had the prettiest melody we'd heard in a long time,

even more than "Africa." It's music with wings. People asked me about the

lyrics: "Why does he do me that way . . . I like loving this way . . ."

People often think the lyrics you're singing have some special personal

significance for you, which often isn't true. It is important to reach

people, to move them. Sometimes one can do this with the mosaic of the music

melody arrangement and lyrics, sometimes it is the intellectual content of

the lyrics. I was asked a lot of questions about "Muscles," the song I wrote

and produced for Diana Ross. That song fulfilled a lifelong dream of

returning some of the many favours she's done for me. I have always loved

Diana and looked up to her. Muscles, by the way, is the name of my snake.


"The Lady in My Life" was one of the most difficult tracks to cut. We were

used to doing a lot of takes in order to get a vocal as nearly perfect as

possible, but Quincy wasn't satisfied with my work on that song, even after

literally dozens of takes. Finally he took me aside late one session and

told me he wanted me to beg. That's what he said. He wanted me to go back to

the studio and literally beg for it. So I went back in and had them turn off

the studio lights and close the curtain between the studio and the control

room so I wouldn't feel self-conscious. Q started the tape and I begged. The

result is what you hear in the grooves.


Eventually we came under tremendous pressure from our record company to

finish Thriller . When a record company rushes you, they really rush you,

and they were rushing us hard on Thriller . They said it had to be ready on

a certain date, do or die.


So we went through a period where we were breaking our backs to get the

album done by their deadline. There were a lot of compromises made on the

mixes of various tracks, and on whether certain tracks were even going to be

on the record. We cut so many corners that we almost lost the whole album.


When we finally listened to the tracks we were going to hand in, Thriller

sounded so crappy to me that tears came to my eyes. We had been under

enormous pressure because while we were trying to finish Thriller we also

had been working on The E.T. Storybook , and there had been deadline

pressure on that as well. All these people were fighting back and forth with

each other, and we came to realise that the sad truth was that the mixes of

Thriller didn't work.


We sat there in the studio, Westlake Studio in Hollywood, and listened to

the whole album. I felt devastated. All this pent-up emotion came out. I got

angry and left the room. I told my people, "That's it, we're not releasing

it. Call CBS and tell them they are not getting this album. We are not

releasing it."


Because I knew it was wrong. If we hadn't stopped the process and examined

what we were doing, the record would have been terrible. It never would have

been reviewed the way it was because, as we learned, you can ruin a great

album in the mix. It's like taking a great movie and ruining it in the

ending. You simply have to take your time.


Some things can't be rushed.


There was a bit of yelling and screaming from the record people, but in the

end they were smart and understood. They knew too; it was just that I was

the first to say it. Finally I realised I had to do the whole thing - mix

the entire album - all over again.


We took a couple of days off, drew a deep breath, and stepped back. Then we

came to it fresh, cleaned our ears out, and began to mix two songs a week.

When it was done - boom - it hit us hard. CBS could hear the difference too.

Thriller was a tough project.


It felt so good when we finished. I was so excited I couldn't wait for it to

come out. When we finished, there wasn't any kind of celebration that I can

recall. We didn't go out to a disco or anything. We just rested. I prefer

just being with people I really like anyway. That's my way of celebrating.


The three videos that came out of Thriller - "Billie Jean," "Beat It," and

"Thriller" - were all part of my original concept for the album. I was

determined to present this music as visually as possible. At the time I

would look at what people were doing with video, and I couldn't understand

why so much of it seemed so primitive and weak. I saw kids watching and

accepting boring videos because they had no alternatives. My goal is to do

the best I can in every area, so why work hard on an album and then produce

a terrible video? I wanted something that would glue you to the set,

something you'd want to watch over and over. The idea from the beginning was

to give people quality. So I wanted to be a pioneer in this relatively new

medium and make the best short music movies we could make. I don't even like

to call them videos. On the set I explained that we were doing a film , and

that was how I approached it. I wanted the most talented people in the

business - the best cinematographer, the best director, the best lighting

people we could get. We weren't shooting on videotape; it was 35-mm film. We

were serious.


For the first video, "Billie Jean," I interviewed several directors, looking

for someone who seemed really unique. Most of them didn't present me with

anything that was truly innovative. At the same time I was trying to think

bigger, the record company was giving me a problem on the budget. So I ended

up paying for "Beat It" and "Thriller" because I didn't want to argue with

anybody about money. I own both of those films myself as a result.


"Billie Jean" was done with CBS's money - about $250,000. At the time that

was a lot of money for a video, but it really pleased me that they believed

in me that much. Steve Baron, who directed "Billie Jean," had very

imaginative ideas, although he didn't agree at first that there should be

dancing in it. I felt that people wanted to see dancing. It was great to

dance for the video. That freeze-frame where I go on my toes was

spontaneous; so were many of the other moves.


"Billie Jean's" video made a big impression on the MTV audience and was a

huge hit.


"Beat It" was directed by Bob Giraldi, who had done a lot of commercials. I

remember being in England when it was decided that "Beat It" would be the

next single released from Thriller , and we had to choose a director for the



I felt "Beat It" should be interpreted literally, the way it was written,

one gang against another on tough urban streets. It had to be rough . That's

what "Beat It" was about.


When I got back to L.A., I saw Bob Giraldi's demo reel and knew that he was

the director I wanted for "Beat It." I loved the way he told a story in his

work, so I talked with him about "Beat It." We went over things, my ideas

and his ideas, and that's how it was created. We played with the storyboard

and moulded and sculpted it.


I had street gangs on my mind when I wrote "Beat It," so we rounded up some

of the toughest gangs in Los Angeles and put them to work on the video. It

turned out to be a good idea, and a great experience for me. We had some

rough kids on that set, tough kids, and they hadn't been to wardrobe. Those

guys in the pool room in the first scene were serious; they were not actors.

That stuff was real.


Now I hadn't been around really tough people all that much, and these guys

were more than a little intimidating at first. But we had security around

and were ready for anything that might happen. Of course we soon realised we

didn't need any of this, that the gang members were mostly humble, sweet,

and kind in their dealings with us. We fed them during breaks, and they all

cleaned up and put their trays away. I came to realise that the whole thing

about being bad and tough is that it's done for recognition. All along these

guys had wanted to be seen and respected, and now we were going to put them

on TV. They loved it. "Hey, look at me, I'm somebody!" And I think that's

really why many of the gangs act the way they do. They're rebels, but rebels

who want attention and respect. Like all of us, they just want to be seen.

And I gave them that chance. For a few days at least they were stars.


They were so wonderful to me - polite, quiet, supportive. After the dance

numbers they'd compliment my work, and I could tell they really meant it.

They wanted a lot of autographs and frequently stood around my trailer.

Whatever they wanted, I gave them: photographs, autographs, tickets for the

Victory tour, anything. They were a nice bunch of guys.


The truth of that experience came out on the screen. The "Beat It" video was

menacing, and you could feel those people's emotions. You felt the

experience of the streets and the reality of their lives. You look at "Beat

It" and know those kids are tough. They were being themselves, and it came

across. It was nothing like actors acting; it was as far from that as

possible. They were being themselves; that feeling you got was their spirit.


I've always wondered if they got the same message from the song that I did.


When Thriller first came out, the record company assumed it would sell a

couple of million copies. In general record companies never believe a new

album will do considerably better than the last one you did. The figure you

either got lucky last time or the number you last sold is the size of your

audience. They usually just ship a couple of million out to the stores to

cover the sales in case you get lucky again.


That's how it usually works, but I wanted to alter their attitude with

Thriller .


One of the people who helped me with Thriller was Frank Dileo. Frank was

vice president for promotion at Epic when I met him. Along with Ron Weisner

and Fred DeMann, Frank was responsible for turning my dream for Thriller

into a reality. Frank heard parts of Thriller for the first time at Westlake

Studio in Hollywood, where much of the album was recorded. He was there with

Freddie DeMann, one of my managers, and Quincy and I played them "Beat It"

and a little bit of "Thriller," which we were still working on. They were

very impressed, and we started to talk seriously about how to "break" this

album wide open.


Frank really worked hard and proved to be my right hand during the years

ahead. His brilliant understanding of the recording industry proved

invaluable. For instance, we released "Beat It" as a single while "Billie

Jean" was still at number one. CBS screamed, "You're crazy. This will kill

¦Billie Jean'" But Frank told them not to worry, that both songs would be

number one and both would be in the Top 10 at the same time. They were.


By the spring of 1983 it was clear that the album was going to go crazy.

Over the top. Every time they released another single, sales of the album

would go even higher.


Then the "Beat It" video took off.


On May 16, 1983, I performed "Billie Jean" on a network telecast in honour

of Motown's twenty-fifth anniversary. Almost fifty million people saw that

show. After that, many things changed.


The Motown 25 show had actually been taped a month earlier, in April. The

whole title was Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever , and I'm forced to

admit I had to be talked into doing it. I'm glad I did because the show

eventually produced some of the happiest and proudest moments of my life.


As I mentioned earlier, I said no to the idea at first. I had been asked to

appear as a member of the Jacksons and then do a dance number on my own. But

none of us were Motown artists any longer. There were lengthy debates

between me and my managers, Weisner and DeMann. I thought about how much

Berry Gordy had done for me and the group, but I told my managers and Motown

that I didn't want to go on TV. My whole attitude toward TV is fairly

negative. Eventually Berry came to see me to discuss it. I was editing "Beat

It" at the Motown studio, and someone must have told him I was in the

building. He came down to the studio and talked to me about it at length. I

said, "Okay, but if I do it, I want to do ¦Billie Jean.'" It would have been

the only non-Motown song in the whole show. He told me that's what he wanted

me to do anyway. So we agreed to do a Jacksons' medley, which would include

Jermaine. We were all thrilled.


So I gathered my brothers and rehearsed them for this show. I really worked

them, and it felt nice, a bit like the old days of the Jackson 5. I

choreographed them and rehearsed them for days at our house in Encino,

videotaping every rehearsal so we could watch it later. Jermaine and Marlon

also made their contributions. Next we went to Motown in Pasadena for

rehearsals. We did our act and, even though we reserved our energy and never

went all out at rehearsal, all the people there were clapping and coming

around and watching us. Then I did my "Billie Jean" rehearsal. I just walked

through it because as yet I had nothing planned. I hadn't had time because I

was so busy rehearsing the group.


The next day I called my management office and said, "Please order me a

spy's hat, like a cool fedora - something that a secret agent would wear." I

wanted something sinister and special, a real slouchy kind of hat. I still

didn't have a very good idea of what I was going to do with "Billie Jean."


During the Thriller sessions, I had found a black jacket, and I said, "You

know, someday I'm going to wear this to perform. It was so perfect and so

show business that I wore it on Motown 25 .


But the night before the taping, I still had no idea what I was going to do

with my solo number. So I went down to the kitchen of our house and played

"Billie Jean." Loud. I was in there by myself, the night before the show,

and I pretty much stood there and let the song tell me what to do. I kind of

let the dance create itself. I really let it talk to me; I heard the beat

come in, and I took this spy's hat and started to pose and step, letting the

"Billie Jean" rhythm create the movements. I felt almost compelled to let it

create itself. I couldn't help it. And that - being able to "step back" and

let the dance come through - was a lot of fun.


I had also been practising certain steps and movements, although most of the

performance was actually spontaneous. I had been practising the Moonwalk for

some time, and it dawned on me in our kitchen that I would finally do the

Moonwalk in public on Motown 25.


Now the Moonwalk was already out on the street by this time, but I enhanced

it a little when I did it. It was born as a break-dance step, a "popping"

type of thing that blacks kids had created dancing on the street corners in

the ghetto. Black people are truly innovative dancers; they create many of

the new dances, pure and simple. So I said, "This is my chance to do it,"

and I did it. These three kids taught it to me. They gave me the basics -

and I had been doing it a lot in private. I had practised it together with

certain other steps. All I was really sure of was that on the bridge to

"Billie Jean" I was going to walk backward and forward at the same time,

like walking on the moon.


One the day of the taping, Motown was running behind schedule. Late. So I

went off and rehearsed by myself. By then I had my spy hat. My brothers

wanted to know what the hat was for, but I told them they'd have to wait and

see. But I did ask Nelson Hayes for a favour. "Nelson - after I do the set

with my brothers and the lights go down, sneak the hat out to me in the

dark. I'll be in the corner, next to the wings, talking to the audience, but

you sneak that hat back there and put it in my hand in the dark."


So after my brothers and I finished performing, I walked over to the side of

the stage and said, "You're beautiful! I'd like to say those were the good

old days; those were magic moments with all my brothers, including Jermaine.

But what I really like" - and Nelson is sneaking the hat into my hand - "are

the newer songs." I turned around and grabbed the hat and went into "Billie

Jean," into that heavy rhythm; I could tell that people in the audience were

really enjoying my performance. My brothers told me they were crowding the

wings watching me with their mouths open, and my parents and sisters were

out there in the audience. But I just remember opening my eyes at the end of

the thing and seeing this sea of people standing up, applauding. And I felt

so many conflicting emotions. I knew I had done my best and felt good, so

good. But at the same time I felt disappointed in myself. I had planned to

do one really long spin and to stop on my toes, suspended for a moment, but

I didn't stay on my toes as long as I wanted. I did the spin and I landed on

one toe. I wanted to just stay there, just freeze there, but it didn't work

quite as I'd planned.


When I got backstage, the people back there were congratulating me. I was

still disappointed about the spin. I had been concentrating so hard and I'm

such a perfectionist. At the same time I knew this was one of the happiest

moments of my life. I knew that for the first time my brothers had really

gotten a chance to watch me and see what I was doing, how I was evolving.

After the performance, each of them hugged and kissed me backstage. They had

never done that before, and I felt happy for all of us. It was so wonderful

when they kissed me like that. I loved it! I mean, we hug all the time. My

whole family embraces a lot, except for my father. He's the only one who

doesn't. Whenever the rest of us see each other, we embrace, but when they

all kissed me that night, I felt as if I had been blessed by them.


The performance was still gnawing at me, and I wasn't satisfied until a

little boy came up to me backstage. He was about ten years old and was

wearing a tuxedo. He looked up at me with stars in his eyes, frozen where he

stood, and said, "Man, who ever taught you to dance like that?" I kind of

laughed and said, "Practice, I guess." And this boy was looking at me,

awestruck. I walked away, and for the first time that evening I felt really

good about what I had accomplished that night. I said to myself, I must have

done really well because children are honest. When that kid said what he

did, I really felt that I had done a good job. I was so moved by the whole

experience that I went right home and wrote down everything which had

happened that night. My entry ended with my encounter with the child.


The day after the Motown 25 show, Fred Astaire called me on the telephone.

He said - these are his exact words - "You're a hell of a mover. Man, you

really put them on their asses last night." That's what Fred Astaire said to

me. I thanked him. Then he said, "You're an angry dancer. I'm the same way.

I used to do the same thing with my cane."


I had met him once or twice in the past, but this was the first time he had

ever called me. He went on to say, "I watched the special last night; I

taped it and I watched it again this morning. You're a hell of a mover."


It was the greatest compliment I had ever received in my life, and the only

one I had ever wanted to believe. For Fred Astaire to tell me that meant

more to me than anything. Later my performance was nominated for an Emmy

Award in a musical category, but I lost to Leontyne Price. It didn't matter.

Fred Astaire had told me things I would never forget - that was my reward.

Later he invited me to his house, and there were more compliments from him

until I really blushed. He went over my "Billie Jean" performance, step by

step. The great choreographer Hermes Pan, who had choreographed Fred's

dances in the movies, came over, and I showed them how to Moonwalk and

demonstrated some other steps that really interested them.


Not long after that Gene Kelly came by my house to visit and also said he

liked my dancing. It was a fantastic experience, that show, because I felt I

had been inducted into an informal fraternity of dancers, and I felt so

honoured because these were the people I most admired in the world.


Right after Motown 25 my family read a lot of stuff in the press about my

being "the new Sinatra" and as "exciting as Elvis" - that kind of thing. It

was very nice to hear, but I knew the press could be so fickle. One week

they love you, and the next week they act like you're rubbish. Later I gave

the glittery black jacket I wore on Motown 25 to Sammy Davis as a present.

He said he was going to do a takeoff of me on stage, and I said, "Here, you

want to wear this when you do it?" He was so happy. I love Sammy. He's such

a fine man and a real showman. One of the best. I had been wearing a single

glove for years before Thriller . I felt that one glove was cool. Wearing

two gloves seemed so ordinary, but a single glove was different and was

definitely a look. But I've long believed that thinking too much about your

look is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, because an artist should

let his style evolve naturally, spontaneously. You can't think about these

things; you have to feel your way into them.


I actually had been wearing the glove for a long time, but it hadn't gotten

a lot of attention until all of a sudden it hit with Thriller in 1983. I was

wearing it on some of the old tours back in the 1970s, and I wore one glove

during the Off the Wall tour and on the cover of the live album that came

out afterward.


It's so show business that one glove. I love wearing it. Once, by

coincidence, I wore a black glove to the American Music Awards ceremony,

which happened to fall on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Funny how

things happen sometimes.


I admit that I love starting trends, but I never thought wearing white socks

was going to catch on. Not too long ago it was considered extremely square

to wear white socks. It was cool in the 1950s, but in the ¦60s and ¦70s you

wouldn't be caught dead in white socks. It was too square to even consider -

for most people.


But I never stopped wearing them. Ever. My brothers would call me a dip, but

I didn't care. My brother Jermaine would get upset and call my mother,

"Mother, Michael's wearing his white socks again. Can't you do something?

Talk to him." He would complain bitterly. They'd all tell me I was a

goofball. But I still wore my white socks, and now it's cool again. Those

white socks must have caught on just to spite Jermaine. I get tickled when I

think about it. After Thriller came out, it even became okay to wear your

pants high around your ankles again.


My attitude is if fashion says it's forbidden, I'm going to do it.


When I'm at home, I don't like to dress up. I wear anything that's handy. I

used to spend days in my pyjamas. I like flannel shirts, old sweaters and

slacks, simple clothes.


When I go out, I dress up in sharper, brighter, more tailored clothes, but

around the house and in the studio anything goes. I don't wear much

jewellery - usually none - because it gets in my way. Occasionally people

give me gifts of jewellery and I treasure them for the sentiment, but

usually I just put them away somewhere. Some of it has been stolen. Jackie

Gleason gave me a beautiful ring. He took it off his finger and gave it to

me. It was stolen and I miss it, but it doesn't really bother me because the

gesture meant more than anything else, and that can't be taken from me. The

ring was just a material thing.


What really makes me happy, what I love is performing and creating. I really

don't care about all the material trappings. I love to put my soul into

something and have people accept it and like it. That's a wonderful feeling.


I appreciate art for that reason. I'm a great admirer of Michelangelo and of

how he poured his soul into his work. He knew in his heart that one day he

would die, but that the work he did would live on. You can tell he painted

the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with all his soul. At one point he even

destroyed it and did it over because he wanted it to be perfect. He said,

"If the wine is sour, pour it out."


I can look at a painting and lose myself. It pulls you in, all the pathos

and drama. It communicates with you. You can sense what the artist was

feeling. I feel the same way about photography. A poignant or strong

photograph can speak volumes.


As I said earlier, there were many changes in my life in the aftermath of

Motown 25 . We were told that forty-seven million people watched that show,

and apparently many of them went out and bought Thriller . By the fall of

1983 the album had sold eight million copies, eclipsing, by far, CBS's

expectations for the successor to Off the Wall . At that point Frank Dileo

said he'd like to see us produce another video or short film.


It was clear to us that the next single and video should be "Thriller," a

long track that had plenty of material for a brilliant director to play

with. As soon as the decision was made, I knew who I wanted to have direct

it. The year before I had seen a horror film called An American Werewolf in

London , and I knew that the man who made it, John Landis, would be perfect

for "Thriller," since our concept for the video featured the same kind of

transformations that happened to his character.


So we contacted John Landis and asked him to direct. He agreed and submitted

his budget, and we went to work. The technical details of this film were so

awesome that I soon got a call from John Branca, my attorney and one of my

closest and most valued advisers. John had been working with me ever since

the Off the Wall days; in fact he even helped me out by donning many hats

and functioning in several capacities when I had no manager after Thriller

was released. He's one of those extremely talented, capable men who can do

anything. Anyway, John was in a panic because it had become obvious to him

that the original budget for the "Thriller" video was going to double. I was

paying for this project myself, so the money for the budget overruns was

coming out of my pocket.


But at this point John came up with a great idea. He suggested we make a

separate video, financed by somebody else, about the making of the

"Thriller" video. It seemed odd that no one had ever done this before. We

felt sure it would be an interesting documentary, and at the same time it

would help pay for our doubled project. It didn't take John long to put this

deal together. He got MTV and the Showtime cable network to put up the cash,

and Vestron released the video after "Thriller" aired.


The success of The Making of Thriller was a bit of a shock to all of us. In

its cassette form it sold about a million copies by itself. Even now, it

holds the record as the best-selling music video of all time.


The "Thriller" film was ready in late 1983. We released it in February and

it made its debut on MTV. Epic released "Thriller" as a single and sales of

the album went crazy. According to statistics, the "Thriller" film and the

release of the single resulted in fourteen million additional album and tape

sales within a six-month period. At one point in 1984, we were selling a

million records a week.


I'm still stunned by this response. By the time we finally closed down the

Thriller campaign a year later, the album was at the thirty-two million

mark. Today sales are at forty million. A dream come true.


During this period I changed my management as well. My contract with Weisner

and DeMann had expired in early 1983. My father was no longer representing

me and I was looking at various people. One day I was at the Beverly Hills

Hotel, visiting Frank Dileo, and I asked him if he had any interest in

leaving Epic and managing my career.


Frank asked me to think about it some more and if I was certain to call him

back on Friday.


Needless to say, I called him back.


The success of Thriller really hit me in 1984, when the album received a

gratifying number of nominations for the American Music Awards and the

Grammy Awards. I remember feeling an overwhelming rush of jubilation. I was

whooping with joy and dancing around the house, screaming. When the album

was certified as the best-selling album of all time, I couldn't believe it.

Quincy Jones was yelling, "Bust open the champagne!" We were all in a state.

Man! What a feeling! To work so hard on something, to give so much and to

succeed! Everyone involved with Thriller was floating on air. It was



I imagined that I felt like a long-distance runner must feel when breaking

the tape at the finish line. I would think of an athlete, running as hard

and as fast as he can. Finally he gets close to the finish line and his

chest hits that ribbon and the crowd is soaring with him. And I'm not even

into sports!


But I identify with that person because I know how hard he's trained and I

know how much that moment means to him. Perhaps a whole life has been

devoted to this endeavour, this one moment. And then he wins. That's the

realisation of a dream. That's powerful stuff. I can share that feeling

because I know.


One of the side effects of the Thriller period was to make me weary of

constantly being in the public eye. Because of this, I resolved to lead a

quieter, more private life. I was still quite shy about my appearance. You

must remember that I had been a child star and when you grow up under that

kind of scrutiny people don't want you to change, to get older and look

different. When I first became well known, I had a lot of baby fat and a

very round, chubby face. That roundness stayed with me until several years

ago when I changed my diet and stopped eating beef, chicken, pork, and fish,

as well as certain fattening foods. I just wanted to look better, live

better, and be healthier. Gradually, as I lost weight, my face took on its

present shape and the press started accusing me of surgically altering my

appearance, beyond the nose job I freely admitted I had, like many

performers and film stars. They would take an old picture from adolescence

of high school, and compare it to a current photograph. In the old picture

my face would be round and pudgy. I'd have an Afro, and the picture would be

badly lit. The new picture would show a much older, more mature face. I've

got a different hairstyle and a different nose. Also, the photographer's

lighting is excellent in the recent photographs. It's really not fair to

make such comparisons. They have said I had bone surgery done on my face. It

seems strange to me that people would jump to that conclusion and I thought

it was very unfair.


Judy Garland and Jean Harlow and many others have had their noses done. My

problem is that as a child star people got used to seeing me look one way.


I'd like to set the record straight right now. I have never had my cheeks

altered or my eyes altered. I have not had my lips thinned, nor have I had

dermabrasion or a skin peel. All of these charges are ridiculous. If they

were true, I would say so, but they aren't. I have had my nose altered twice

and I recently added a cleft to my chin, but that is it. Period. I don't

care what anyone else says - it's my face and I know.


I'm a vegetarian now and I'm so much thinner. I've been on a strict diet for

years . I feel better than I ever have, healthier and more energetic. I

don't understand why the press is so interested in speculating about my

appearance anyway. What does my face have to do with my music or my dancing?


The other day a man asked me if I was happy. And I answered, "I don't think

I'm ever totally happy." I'm one of the hardest people to satisfy, but at

the same time, I'm aware of how much I have to be thankful for and I am

truly appreciative that I have my health and the love of my family and



I'm also easily embarrassed. The night I won eight American Music Awards, I

accepted them wearing my shades on the network broadcast. Katharine Hepburn

called me up and congratulated me, but she gave me a hard time because of

the sunglasses. "Your fans want to see your eyes," she scolded me. "You're

cheating them." The following month, February 1984, at the Grammy show,

Thriller had walked off with seven Grammy Awards and looked like it was

going to win as eighth. All evening I had been going up to the podium and

collecting awards with my sunglasses on. Finally, when Thriller won for Best

Album, I went up to accept it, took off my glasses, and stared into the

camera. "Katherine Hepburn," I said, "this is for you." I knew she was

watching and she was.


You have to have some fun.


Chapter Six - All You Need Is Love



I had planned to spend most of 1984 working on some movie ideas I had, but

those plans got sidetracked. First, in January, I was burned on the set of a

Pepsi commercial I was shooting with my brothers.


The reason for the fire was stupidity, pure and simple. We were shooting at

night and I was supposed to come down a staircase with magnesium flash bombs

going off on either side of me and just behind me. It seemed so simple. I

was to walk down the stairs and these bombs would blow up behind me. We did

several takes that were wonderfully timed. The lightning effects from the

bombs were great. Only later did I find out that these bombs were only two

feet away from either side of my head, which was a total disregard of the

safety regulations. I was supposed to stand in the middle of a magnesium

explosion, two feet on either side.


Then Bob Giraldi, the director, came to me and said, "Michael, you're going

down too early. We want to see you up there, up on the stairs. When the

lights come on, we want to reveal that you're there, so wait ."


So I waited, the bombs went off on either side of my head, and the sparks

set my hair on fire. I was dancing down this ramp and turning around,

spinning, not knowing I was on fire. Suddenly I felt my hands reflexively

going to my head in an attempt to smother the flames. I fell down and just

tried to shake the flames out. Jermaine turned around and saw me on the

ground, just after the explosions had gone off, and he thought I had been

shot by someone in the crowd - because we were shooting in front of a big

audience. That's what it looked like to him.


Miko Brando, who works for me, was the first person to reach me. After that,

it was chaos. It was crazy. No film could properly capture the drama of what

went on that night. The crowd was screaming. Someone shouted, "Get some

ice!" There were frantic running sounds. People were yelling, "Oh no!" The

emergency truck came up and before they put in I saw the Pepsi executives

huddled together in a corner, looking terrified. I remember the medical

people putting me on a cot and the guys from Pepsi were so scared they

couldn't even bring themselves to check on me.


Meanwhile, I was kind of detached, despite the terrible pain. I was watching

all the drama unfold. Later they told me I was in shock, but I remember

enjoying the ride to the hospital because I never thought I'd ride in an

ambulance with the sirens wailing. It was one of those things I had always

wanted to do when I was growing up. When we got there, they told me there

were news crews outside, so I asked for my glove. There's a famous shot of

me waving from the stretcher with my glove on.


Later one on the doctors told me that it was a miracle I was alive. One of

the firemen had mentioned that in most cases your clothes catch on fire, in

which case your whole face can be disfigured or you can die. That's it. I

had third-degree burns on the back of my head that almost went through to my

skull, so I had a lot of problems with it, but I was very lucky.


What we now know is that the incident created a lot of publicity for the

commercial. They sold more Pepsi than ever before. And they came back to me

later and offered me the biggest commercial endorsement fee in history. It

was so unprecedented that it went into The Guinness Book of World Records.

Pepsi and I worked together on another commercial, called "The Kid," and I

gave them problems by limiting the shots of me because I felt the shots they

were asking for didn't work well. Later, when the commercial was a success,

they told me I had been right.


I still remember how scared those Pepsi executives looked the night of the

fire. They thought that my getting burned would leave a bad taste in the

mouth of every every kid in America who drank Pepsi. They knew I could have

sued them and I could have, but I was real nice about it. Real nice. They

gave me $1,500,000 which I immediately donated to the Michael Jackson Burn

Center. I wanted to do something because I was so moved by the other burn

patients I met while I was in the hospital.


Then there was the Victory tour. I did fifty-five shows with my brothers

over the course of five months.


I didn't want to go on the Victory tour and I fought against it. I felt the

wisest thing for me would be not to do the tour, but my brothers wanted to

do it and I did it for them. So I told myself that since I was committed to

doing this, I might as well put my soul into it.


When it came down to the actual tour, I was outvoted on a number of issues,

but you don't think when you're onstage, you just deliver. My goal for the

Victory tour was to give each performance everything I could. I hoped people

might come to see me who didn't even like me. I hoped they might hear about

the show and want to see what's going on. I wanted incredible word-of-mouth

response to the show so a wide range of people would come and see us. Word

of mouth is the best publicity. Nothing beats it. If someone I trust comes

to me and tells me something is great, I'm sold.


I felt very powerful in those days of Victory. I felt on top of the world. I

felt determined. That tour was like: "We're a mountain. We've come to share

our music with you. We have something we want to tell you." At the beginning

of the show, we rose out of the stage and came down these stairs. The

opening was dramatic and bright and captured the whole feeling of the show.

When the lights came on and they saw us, the roof would come off the place.


It was a nice feeling, playing with my brothers again. It gave us a chance

to relive our days as the Jackson 5 and the Jacksons. We were all together

again. Jermaine had come back and we were riding a wave of popularity. It

was the biggest tour any group had ever done, in huge outdoor stadiums. But

I was disappointed with the tour from the beginning. I had wanted to move

the world like it had never been moved. I wanted to present something that

would make people say, "Wow! That's wonderful!" The response we got was

wonderful and the fans were great, but I became unhappy with our show. I

didn't have the time or the opportunity to perfect it the way I wanted to. I

was disappointed in the staging of "Billie Jean." I wanted it to be so much

more than it was. I didn't like the lighting and I never got my steps quite

the way I wanted them. It killed me to have to accept these things and

settle for doing it the way I did.


There've been times right before a show when certain things were bothering

me - business or personal problems. I would think, "I don't know how to go

through with this. I don't know how I'm going to get through the show. I

can't perform like this."


But once I get to the side of the stage, something happens. The rhythm

starts and the lights hit me and the problems disappear. This has happened

so many times. The thrill of performing just takes me over. It's like God

saying, "Yes, you can. Yes, you can. Just wait. Wait till you hear this.

Wait till you see this." And the backbeat gets in my backbone and it

vibrates and it just takes me. Sometimes I almost lose control and the

musicians say, "What is he doing?" and they start following me. You change

the whole schedule of a piece. You stop and you just take over from scratch

and do a whole other thing. The song takes you in another direction.


There was a part of the show on the Victory tour where I was doing this

scatting theme and the audience was repeating what I said. I'd say, "Da, de,

da, de" and they'd say, "Da, de, da, de." There've been times when I've done

that and they would start stomping. And when the whole audience is doing

that, it sounds like an earthquake. Oh! It's a great feeling to be able to

do that with all those people - whole stadiums - and they're all doing the

same thing you're doing. It's the greatest feeling in the world. You look

out in the audience and see toddlers and teens and grandparents and people

in their twenties and thirties. Everybody is swaying, their hands are up,

and they're all singing. You ask that the house lights come on and you see

their faces and you say, "Hold hands" and they hold hands and you say,

"Stand up" or "Clap" and they do. They're enjoying themselves and they'll

whatever you tell them. They love it and it's so beautiful - all the races

of people are together doing this. At times like that I say, "Look around

you. Look at yourselves. Look. Look around you. Look at what you have done."

Oh, it's so beautiful. Very powerful. Those are great moments.


The Victory tour was my first chance to be exposed to the Michael Jackson

fans since Thriller had come out two years earlier. There were some strange

reactions. I'd bump into people in hallways and they'd go, "Naw, that can't

be him. He wouldn't be here." I was baffled and I'd ask myself, "Why

wouldn't I? I'm on earth somewhere . I've got to be somewhere at any given

time. Why not here?" Some fans imagine you to be almost an illusion, this

thing that doesn't exist. When they see you, they feel it's a miracle or

something. I've had fans ask me if I use the bathroom. I mean, it gets

embarrassing. They just lose touch with the fact that you're like them

because they get so excited. But I can understand it because I'd feel the

same way if, for instance, I could have met Walt Disney or Charlie Chaplin.


Kansas City opened the tour. It was Victory's first night. We were walking

by the hotel pool in the evening and Frank Dileo lost his balance and fell

in. People saw this and started to get excited. Some of us were kind of

embarrassed, but I was laughing. He wasn't hurt and he looked so surprised.

We jumped over a low wall and found ourselves on the street without any

security. People didn't seem to be able to believe that we were just walking

around on the street like that. They gave us a wide berth.


Later when we returned to the hotel, Bill Bray, who has headed my security

team since I was a child, just shook his head and laughed as we recounted

our adventures.


Bill is very careful and immensely professional in his job, but he doesn't

worry about things after the fact. He travels with me everywhere and

occasionally he's my only companion on short trips. I can't imagine life

without Bill; he's warm and funny and absolutely in love with life. He's a

great man.


When the tour was in Washington, D.C., I was out on our hotel balcony with

Frank, who has a great sense of humour and enjoys playing pranks himself. We

were teasing one another and I started pulling $100 bills from his pockets

and throwing them to people who were walking down below. This almost caused

a riot. He was trying to stop me, but we were both laughing. It reminded me

of the pranks my brothers and I used to pull on tour. Frank sent our

security people downstairs to try and find any undiscovered money in the



In Jacksonville, the local police almost killed us in a traffic accident

during the four-block drive from the hotel to the stadium. Later, in another

part of Florida, when the old tour boredom set in that I described earlier,

I played a little trick on Frank. I asked him to come up to my suite and

when he came in I offered him some watermelon, which was lying on a table

across the room. Frank went over to pick up a piece and tripped over my boa

constrictor, Muscles, who was on the road with me. Muscles is harmless, but

Frank hates snakes and proceeded to scream and yell. I started chasing him

around the room with the boa. Frank got the upper hand, however. He

panicked, ran from the room, and grabbed the security guard's gun. He was

going to shoot Muscles, but the guard calmed him down. Later he said all he

could think of was: "I've got to get that snake." I've found that a lot of

tough men are afraid of snakes.


We were locked in hotels all over America, just like in the old days. Me and

Jermaine or me and Randy would get up to our old tricks, taking buckets of

water and pouring them off hotel balconies onto people eating in the atriums

far below. We were up so high the water was just mist by the time it reached

them. It was just like the old days, bored in the hotels, locked away from

fans for our own protection, unable to go anywhere without massive security.


But there were a lot of days that were fun too. We had a lot of time off on

that tour and we got to take five little vacations to Disney World. Once,

when we were staying in the hotel there, an amazing thing happened. I'll

never forget it. I was on a balcony where we could see a big area. There

were all these people. It was so crowded that people were bumping into each

other. Someone in that crowd recognised me and started screaming my name.

Thousands of people began chanting, "Michael! Michael!" and it was echoing

all over the park. The chanting continued until finally it was so loud that

if I hadn't acknowledged it, it would have been rude. As soon as I did,

everybody started screaming. I said, "Oh, this is so beautiful. I've got it

so good." All the work I'd put in on Thriller , my crying and believing in

my dreams and working on those songs and falling asleep near the microphone

stand because I was so tired, all of it was repaid by this display of



I've seen times where I'd walk into a theatre to see a play and everybody

would just start applauding. Just because they're glad that I happen to be