I’m sure by now you’ve heard that Michael Jackson has died. Me, too.
I thought I’d offer what few thoughts I have of the guy who grew up (almost) next door to me.
Michael and his brothers grew up in Gary Indiana, which is about ten to fifteen miles as the crow flies from where I grew up in Valparaiso. The two cities are literally night and day. Valparaiso was then a lily-white farmer’s county seat in Porter County; Gary was (and still is) an urban blight-ridden decaying city in union territory, sitting at the feet of the U.S. Steel mill in Lake County.
So you can imagine our surprise when the band at our winter dance in 7th grade was the Jackson Five from Gary IN. The jacksons at that time were still working the “chitlin circuit” up and down U.S. 20 between Gary and portage, and they would frequently turn up at anything from strip shows (as the musical accompaniment) to VFW dances and . . . school dances, in our case.
“Good Lord — those boys are negroes!”
But then they started playing, and frontman Michael started singing with that incredible voice of his; and when the band started their moves, we were awestruck. It was right around that time their first Motown hit came out, and I pointed this out to my friends at school, who adamantly refused to believe they were the same group.
I still have my yearbook from Ben Franklin Junior High with the Christmas dance poster in it. It clearly says “The Jackson Five” on it.
Michael was a poor kid from a poor town with little opportunity. His Dad Joe was a crane operator in the steel mill who was a frustrated, failed musician who was living vicariously through his kids. Joe drilled those kids over and over and over and over again in their music and their dance routines until they could do them in their sleep. And if they couldn’t Joe beat those routines into them — literally. he beat them bloody many times.
So if you wonder why Michael had all the plastic surgery and looked so weird, maybe he just didn’t want to see the face in the mirror that had disappointed his father — and earned him so many beatings — for so many years.
You’ll never hear this song again without thinking of that kid in the mirror:
And for the record; I still to this day don’t believe Michael molested any kids. He may have been trying to live his childhood through others, but molesting? Sorry, I don’t see any of the signs or telltale clues. I don’t think it happened.
And Michael was six months younger than me; so this is kind of freaking me out.