The breadth of the harmony grew with the family. Jackie, Jermaine and Tito started singing together, with Tito on guitar and Jermaine on bass. Then Marlon climbed aboard. Baby Michael, who liked to flail on the bongos, surprised his mother one day when she heard him imitating Jermaine's lead vocals in his clear toddler's falsetto. "I think we have another lead singer," she told her husband. The brothers agreed.
"He was so energetic that at five years old, he was like a leader," says Jackie, at thirty-one the oldest brother. "We saw that. So we said, 'Hey, Michael, you be the lead guy.' The audience ate it up. He was into those James Brown things at the time, you know. The speed was the thing. He would see somebody do something, and he could do it right away."
"It was sort of frightening," his mother says. "He was so young. He didn't go out and play much. So if you want me to tell you the truth, I don't know where he got it. He just knew."
By the age of seven, Michael was a dance monster, working out the choreography for the whole group. Local gigs were giving way to opening slots at larger halls in distant cities. Joe Jackson spent weekends and evenings as chauffeur, road manager, agent and coach. He taught Michael how to work a stage and handle a mike. Michael does not remember his father making it fun; the boys always knew it was work. Rules were strict. Grades had to be kept up, even with five shows a night, or the offender would be yanked off the road. When Motown called, Joe took the boys to Detroit, and Katherine stayed in Gary with the rest of the children. She says she never really worried about her children until she went to a show and heard the screams from the audience. "Every time I'd go to a concert I'd worry, because sometimes the girls would get onstage and I'd have to watch them tearing at Michael. He was so small, and they were so big."
There have been some serious incidents, too, one so chilling and bizarre it landed a young woman in a mental institution. So Katherine Jackson has made it her business to talk to some of these wild, persistent girls. What is so very crazy, she says, is that they do it in the name of love. "There are so many," she says. "You have no idea what's really on their minds. That's why it's going to be so hard for my son to get a wife."
Michael is aware of, if not resigned to, the impossibility of that task. He might like to have children in the future, but says he would probably adopt them. For now, he has only to walk into one of his brothers' homes and he's instantly covered with nephews. He says he gets along with children better than adults, anyhow: "They don't wear masks."
Kids and animals can nose their way into Michael's most private reserves. It's the showbiz spook show that makes his own growing up so public and hard. He has borne, with patience and good humor, the standard rumors of sexchange operations and paternity accusations from women he has never seen. But clearly they have affected him. "Billie Jean," on Thriller, is a vehement denial of paternity ("the kid is not my son"). In reality there has been no special one. Michael says that he is not in a hurry to jump into any romantic liaison.
"It's like what I told you about finding friends," he says. "With that, it's even harder. With so many girls around, how am I ever gonna know?"
"JUST HERE TO SEE A FRIEND."
Michael is politely trying to sidestep an inquiring young woman decked out with the latest video equipment. She blocks the corridor leading to the warren of dressing rooms beneath the L.A. Forum.
"Can I tell my viewers that Michael Jackson is a Queen fan?"
"I'm a Freddie Mercury fan," he says, slipping past her into a long room crowded with Queen band members, wives, roadies and friends. A burly man with the look of a linebacker is putting lead singer Freddie Mercury through a set of stretching exercises that will propel his road-weary muscles through the final show of the group's recent U.S. tour. The band is merry. Michael is shy, standing quietly at the door until Freddie spots him and leaps up to gather him in a hug.
Freddie invited Michael. He has been calling all week, mainly about the possibility of their working together. They've decided to try it on the Jacksons' upcoming album. Though they are hardly alike – Freddie celebrated a recent birthday by hanging naked from a chandelier – the two have been friendly since Michael listened to the material Queen had recorded for The Game and insisted that the single had to be "Another One Bites the Dust."
"Now, he listens to me, right Freddie?"
"Righto, little brother."
The linebacker beckons. Freddie waves his cigarette at the platters of fruit, fowl and candy. "You and your friends make yourselves comfortable."
Our escort, a sweet-faced, hamfisted bodyguard, is consulting with security about seat locations. There had been girls lurking outside the condo when Michael sprinted to the limousine, girls peering through the tinted glass as the door locks clicked shut. This was all very puzzling to Michael's guest, who was waiting in the car.
He is a real friend, one of the civilians, so normal as to pass unseen by the jaded eyes of celebrity watchers. He has never been to a rock concert, nor has he ever seen Michael perform. He says he hopes to, but mainly, they just hang out together. Sometimes his younger brother even tags along. Most of the time they just talk "just regular old stuff," says the friend. For Michael, it is another kind of magic.
At the moment, though, it's show business as usual. Gossip, to be specific. Michael is questioning a dancer he knows about the recent crises of a fallen superstar. Michael wants to know what the problem is. The dancer mimes his answer, laying a finger alongside his nose. Michael nods, and translates for his friend: "Drugs. Cocaine."
Michael admits that he seeks out such gossip, and listens again and again as the famous blurt out their need for escape. "Escapism," he says. "I totally understand."
But addictions are another thing. "I always want to know what makes good performers fall to pieces," he says. "I alway try to find out. Because I just can't believe it's the same things that get them time and time again." So far, his own addictions – the stage, dancing, cartoons – have been free of toxins.
Something's working on Michael now, but it is nothing chemical. He's buzzing like a bumblebee trapped in a jelly jar. It's the room we're in, he explains. So many times, he's stretched and bounced and whipped up on his vocal chords right here, got crazy in here, pumping up, shivering like some flighty race horse as he wriggled into his sequined suit.
"I can't stand this," he fairly yells. "I cannot sit still."
Just before he must be held down for his own good, Randy Jackson rockets into the room, containing his brother in a bear hug, helping him dissipate some of the energy with a short bout of wrestling. This is not the same creature who tried to hide behind a potato chip.
Now Michael is boxing with the bodyguard, asking every minute for the time until the man mercifully claps a big hand on the shoulder of his charge and says it: "Let's go."
Mercury and company have already begun moving down the narrow hall, and before anyone can catch him, Michael is drawn into their wake, riding on the low roar of the crowd outside, leaping up to catch a glimpse of Freddie, who is raising a fist and about to take the stairs to the stage.
"Ooooh, Freddie is pumped," says Michael. "I envy him now. You don't know how much."
The last of the band makes the stairs, and the black stage curtain closes. Michael turns and lets himself be led into the darkness of the arena.
This story is from the February 17th, 1983 issue of Rolling Stone.
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