on January 16, 2013
By page 300 or so, it was clear to this reader that Jermaine had lost access to his brother Michael, and was quite peripheral to Michael's private life. Indeed, the book reveals that the brothers mostly lost touch after the Victory tour. As such, this book has documentary value with regards to Michael's early life, but is neither authoritative enough nor accurate enough as far as MJ's later life is concerned.
The earlier part of the book goes into the brothers' childhood, but is really as much about Jermaine as it is about Michael. If we do see Michael through Jermaine's eyes, it is mostly as this little kid brother who trailed in his shadow and who was part of the family gang, whom he felt protective towards. Even at this close-knit stage, it appears that Jermaine did not have access to the innermost, imaginative world of Michael Jackson. Occasionally, we do get a rare glimpse into MJ's imaginative world, and we get to briefly see the brilliance and magic that is Michael Jackson revealed like shooting stars arching across the larger expanse of shared family life. But we have to sift through quite a lot of narrative before we find these precious anecdotes. Using them, we can only imagine what it was like for the unique, sensitive, imaginative, prodigious, magical and talented boy that was Michael Jackson, growing up with a harsh father and 8 siblings in a shabby, cramped shoebox of a house in Gary.
What Jermaine is at pains to do in this book is to situate Michael within the history of the Jackson family and later, Motown. He goes to great length to establish their father Joeseph's influence on Michael as a creative artist and a person. He also does this with Gordy Berry (who happens to be Jermaine's father-in-law) and with other figures like their private tutor Rose Fine. Though it is very true that all these people helped shape Michael Jackson, Jermaine's repeated emphasis makes it almost sound like Michael's success is solely the product of these other people. Too little credit is given to Michael's own genius and vision as an artist and a person, this, the boy who at age 13 was already insisting on getting creative control over his own music!! I wonder if such a view, that Michael owes all his talent and success to these other people who were there in his childhood, is a major reason why Michael Jackson distanced himself when he came of age. It must have been very frustrating, and if we read Michael's own autobiography, we see that he often expresses this frustration.
Jermaine himself quotes often from MJ's own autobiography, which makes his book rather repetitive. At significant moments, his interpretation of MJ and events differs from MJ's own interpretation of things. This happens with regards to the splitting of the 4 brothers from Motown, the Motown 25 show, and the Victory Tour. Jermaine contends that MJ was tricked into leaving Motown and that he wasn't reluctant to do Motown 25 and Victory. If we read MJ's own account however, Michael expressed his clear artistic frustration under Motown at this crucial period of his life when he was creatively coming into his own, and also stated clearly that he didn't really want to do those shows with his brothers at first. Such clashes in opinion (and action) continued to crop up after the Victory era, and point to an underlying tension between Jermaine and his brother, one that makes us wonder about Jermaine's claim to represent Michael, in life and in death.
As Jermaine's own narrative reveals, Michael always had an intensely private and unknowable side even from the youngest age. He kept his creative ideas inside his head, where he worked them out without letting on what he was about, and then he would unleash his full artistry on stage. Even as he choreographed and coached his brothers, he would perfect his dance steps practicing alone. Such was the case for the Motown 25 performance of Billie Jean, for example. Even in this close-knit family, Michael Jackson kept his innermost core of creativity apart. Though they shared his life and early triumphs, his was an imaginative world that the others could never fully access. It is this inner creative core of Michael Jackson, the source of his genius, magic and ambition, that we crave to catch a closer glimpse of. However, the inner magical core of MJ continually eludes Jermaine, who merely tries (a little too hard) to tie it down to their shared roots.
Jermaine tries hard to emphasize his care and concern about his brother, although he does so in an appropriating way. But his brother Michael appears quite secondary to Jermaine himself, who can be frequently found blowing his own trumpet throughout the book, dropping hints about his contacts and importance, and giving us details about his own romantic conquests and career, all of which are not of much interest to this reader. I didn't really want to read about Jermaine. What I wanted to know more about is the Michael Jackson who burst with such sheer brilliance and determination like a lone supernova onto the world stage. To be fair, Jermaine's portrayal does give us some important glimpses into the time before the mighty explosion, but starts to lose insight at the moment of explosion. Eventually, Jermaine lost access to his brother so much so that his account of MJ's latter years is not very informative.
Jermaine would have us believe that his family stood behind Michael all the time and that his death could have been prevented if they were still close to him. Though there might be some elements of truth in this assertion, I think that he fails to be honest about the reasons why MJ distanced himself from his family. The fact is that he and La Toya at various times betrayed Michael publicly, and that other members continually exerted their own selfish pressures and demands on MJ. Recall that Jermaine not only recorded the hurtful song "Word to the Badd", he also wrote an extremely vitriolic and defamatory book about Michael called "Legacy" in 2005, which was never published as Michael threatened (quite rightly) to throw him out of Havenhurst if he dared go ahead. In fact, I cannot help but think that Michael would have been alive if not for family members like Jermaine. Afterall, Jermaine was the one who suggested Michael go to Bahrain, where he became embroiled in business relationships which resulted in even more lawsuits. Jermaine was also responsible for introducing Tohme Tohme to Michael, a very dangerous person involved in fraud who came to control Michael's finances and who signed him up for the AEG concerts, and whom Michael tried to get rid of in his last days. If we all look at all these facts, we can see that Jermaine is, contrary to what he claims in his book, a rather unhelpful and quite harmful character in Michael's life. Today, Jermaine is one of the Jacksons who are challenging Michael's will and trying to get control of Michael's estate. This is a man who tried to get Michael's Estate to pay for his child support. Honestly, I think Jermaine's purported "love" for his "little brother" is a bunch of baloney.
Jermaine's dishonesty and hypocrisy aside, this book is somewhat useful for its documentary value on Michael's early life. In this capacity, it does supplement Michael's own autobiography "Moonwalker" with greater detail. Above and besides this however, the real worth of this book might well lie in what it fails to tell us, and what that failure suggests about Michael's great but ultimately lonely fate - that even his family failed to understand him or acknowledge his singularly unique status, how his talent drove him even as it set him apart, and the glory and the pain that he had to endure as Michael Jackson, the greatest star of them all.