Book Review – He ain’t heavy ...

2011-11-26 12:12

The ghost of Michael Jackson looms large on bookshelves as conspiracy theorists and biographers continue to unpack the mystery of the man.

Jermaine Jackson delivers a picture of Michael Jackson that only a brother can paint.

He traces the beginnings and events that shaped their lives as young boys growing up at 2 300 Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana; the superstardom of the Jackson 5 and their family residence in Hayvenhurst in Los Angeles; the rise of Michael’s megastardom with the influence of James Brown and Fred Astaire; Neverland; the trials and tribulations that plagued his younger brother; and his sudden and tragic demise.

Jermaine uses Michael’s 2003 quote, “lies run in sprints, but the truth runs marathons... and the truth will win”, as the point of departure.

He sets out to dispel the rumours, myths and talk that followed the Jackson name and does this so well that you won’t get a sense that it is family spin – even if it is.

The timing of this book is impeccable too.

Just three weeks ago, Michael’s physician Dr Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by the LA Superior Court for administering the operating-theatre anaesthetic propofol to the singer, putting Michael firmly in the headlines again.

Michael lived in the headlines and had all sorts of nicknames – one being Wacko Jacko, which he hated. These names were fuelled by some of the weird antics he got up to and, in some cases, he had himself and his publicists to blame.

Jermaine argues that to build mystique by spreading eccentric stories about Michael was a misguided strategy, it’s something he didn’t need after the amazing success of Thriller.

Too late.

Stories about his sleeping in a gas chamber, wanting to buy the Elephant Man’s bones and lots more from the National Enquirer and other British tabloids had already done major damage. He was already ridiculed and labelled a “weirdo” and a “freak”.

Jermaine takes the opportunity to set the record straight about Michael’s sexuality. However, he makes an unconvincing argument against speculation that Michael was gay.

“People saw an unmarried man with a penchant for make-up, childlike things, with no facial hair and an attachment to a chimpanzee, then filled in the blanks.”

He admits that Michael was in touch with his feminine side and his voice tended to fit society’s stereotype of what a gay man sounds like. In his “defence”, Jermaine says Michael would say: “My wife is my music and I’m married to my craft.”

That said, Michael did have feelings for women (sort of): his first love was Diana Ross who fulfilled the role of an elder sister when they moved to California and broke through in Motown.

He briefly dated fellow child star Brooke Shields then Madonna, and married Lisa Marie Presley for 18 months then divorced her because of her Scientology beliefs.

She also reneged on her promise to bear him children. He moved on to a blonde admirer and nurse, Debbie Rowe, who bore him two children: Prince Michael in 1997 and Paris Katherine in 1998, and their union ended three years later. Prince Michael II (aka Blanket) was born in 2002 to a surrogate mother nobody knows and became an instant celebrity at nine months when his father dangled him from a balcony in Berlin, Germany.

The children had Grace Rwaramba – Michael’s Uganda-born, much-trusted secretary – as a nanny to instil “African values of absolute dedication to family” and to “help them grow up knowing where ‘our journey began’”.

The children’s paternity was questioned because of their lack of similarity to Michael, but Jermaine insists that Michael didn’t use a sperm donor.

“Debbie had a dominant gene hence Prince was born blond, but his eyes or profile side-on is similar to Michael as a boy . . .

Michael has passed on his vitiligo (skin condition) to Prince and the kids know that they were Michael’s biological offspring born out of love,” he offers.

At 40, he still played hide-and-seek and his heart was about playfulness, water-pistol fights, comic books and movie nights.

He was a devout Jehovah’s Witness who later on in his career fell out with his faith because of his videos Thriller and Smooth Criminal, where he held a gun and pulled the trigger, and therefore was seen as promoting violence.

Telling the story with loads of anecdotes and tales, Jermaine provides artistic reasons why Michael wore the sequined glove, three-quarter trousers with white socks, and white tape on his finger.

There’s also the crazy rumour that was published in Vanity Fair in 2003 about Michael casting a spell on Steven Spielberg and his DreamWorks company by visiting a witch doctor in Switzerland and slaughtering 42 cows.

He also traces the origins of Michael’s “bleaching” to a white patch he discovered on his stomach in 1982, which developed into vitiligo as it spread to his neck and face, resulting in his fish-belly whiteness.

He maintains that Michael was a proud black man, but he did have issues with his ever-broadening nose. And with all the money he made, he did have numerous cosmetic procedures on it. His nose took on a life of its own and is the feature he was most mocked about.

Jermaine says the mirror lied to his brother more than anyone in his life and calls it body dysmorphia, which the singer used his money to correct cosmetically.

“Over the years I wanted to shake him up and say: ‘Michael, can you not see how damn handsome you are?’ But it was a sensitive issue so I felt I could not and he failed to realise that his self-esteem was not something a knife could correct,” says Jermaine.

Towards the end of his life, Michael was ravaged by diseases like vitiligo, lupus and disorders like insomnia and prescription-drug dependency – this was public knowledge, but Jermaine confirms all that his fans have long suspected.

And then there were the emotionally taxing child-molestation cases.

Jermaine’s description of a dehumanising body search Michael was subjected to is heart-wrenching. He says: “Michael was made to stand naked in a room and lift his penis so that it and his scrotum could be photographed from front, right and left.

As he turned to have his buttocks, chest and back photographed, a detective stood with a note pad, taking down every last detail.”

After the first trial in 1993, he resolved never to sleep with a child in the same bed or to be alone in the bedroom with one again.

Jermaine talks about Word to Badd, a song he penned in which he took a jibe at Michael’s changing skin colour, and argues that he recorded it upset and didn’t mean for it to be released.

He also tackles the battles and contractual disputes Michael had with his record label Sony, Middle Eastern oil-rich royal families, as well as the financial crunch he suffered and the near-foreclosure of Neverland.

At the time of writing the book, Dr Murray was not convicted yet, but Jermaine vowed to get justice for Michael.

After reading this book, one gets a sense that Michael’s growth was stunted. He was fixated on a stage of innocence, the big kid, but he was still a sharp and shrewd businessman.

It’s up to you, dear reader, to believe or dismiss Jermaine’s arguments, justifications and viewpoints of the “truth”.

Whatever you decide, though, this is good read for the King of Pop’s legion of fans and curious onlookers as it adds another dimension to a character who looms as large in death as he did in life.

You Are Not Alone
by Jermaine Jackson
Harper Collins
446 pages; R180

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