Authors: Jermaine Jackson
Shortly afterwards, he started a more suitable courtship with an old friend, actress Brooke Shields. She was demure, elegant and the epitome of beauty and grace. Brooke had been in his life since the mid-eighties and Michael was extremely fond of her. I know she spent time with him in the studio as he worked in 1991–2, and this was a time they were seriously dating. Even though it ultimately didn’t go anywhere, they remained lifelong friends and Michael
always felt able to reach out to her. That line of communication never closed until the day he died.
VICTORY’S SCHEDULING MEANT WE WEREN’T SOLIDLY
on the road for five months. We had periods back home and we had off-days built in, which gave me time to continue my collaboration with Whitney Houston on her début album. Clive Davis was still building the hype about his
, throwing parties on both coasts and clearly wanting to ride this collaboration on the crest of the brothers’ tour. There was always some club to attend, like the Limelight in New York, or a promotional party in LA, where Whitney and I made our well-choreographed entrances. I didn’t know at the time, but someone from Arista was always nudging the writing elbows of gossip columnists in the hope of building an are-they-or-aren’t-they mystery. But it seemed the press was more interested in the fact that Whitney spent a lot of time with a woman named Robyn Crawford. Whitney once described their friendship as being ‘closer than sisters’ – and that was all journalists needed to read between the lines. They were curious about her sexual orientation before her album was even released.
Having witnessed this kind of false diversion play itself out in Michael’s life, I had every sympathy, but we also laughed about it in the studio because, trust me, if you had spent more than two minutes in the charged energy of the ‘Whitney whirlpool’, you didn’t need to ask how that fire smouldered.
I knew I was in trouble in the face of that fire when Clive booked us on to the CBS soap opera
As The World Turns
to test our duet ‘Nobody Loves Me Like You Do’ for the wedding scene of Betsy (Meg Ryan) and Steve (Frank Runyeon). I remember when she held my hand mid-song as the cameras rolled – an unrehearsed moment – and something hit me. The frisson just kept developing the more we worked together.
Back in the studio, we recorded and produced songs like ‘Take Good Care Of My Heart’, ‘If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful’, ‘Sweetest Sweetest’ and two unreleased ones called ‘Don’t Look
Any Further’ and ‘Someone For Me’. With each session, we were in each other’s eyes, almost cheek to cheek around the mic, selling the lyric, feeling the song – and that intense professional chemistry crossed over. Come the end of a powerful rendition, Whitney would just stay close to the mic, close to me, and say, ‘What are you going to do with me, Jackson?’ She held the seductive gaze. I lost my words. Then she walked away.
These were turning into duets between temptation and forbidden love, and the studio sessions gave us what felt like stolen time together. I arrived on those days with butterflies, because the whole experience of being around Whitney was intoxicating. I admitted silently to myself that I had the strongest feelings for a remarkable woman, whose heart was as beautiful as her face, and it became increasingly hard to sing love songs with all that emotion and unspoken passion between us. I spoke to no one about this until the day Michael raised an innocent enough question: ‘So how’s it going with Whitney?’ He’d heard me predict that ‘She is going to be the biggest thing when people hear her voice.’
‘We’re getting along very well,’ I told him, smiling.
‘You like her?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, I like her.’ Still smiling.
like her!’ He started chuckling.
‘I really like her,’ I said. Smile now gone.
Michael got excitable. ‘You in love with her?’
‘I can’t be in love,’ I said. ‘I’m married.’ That was a deliberate lie. I was caught between the guilt of saying it out loud and the respect for his position because he was, at this time, still a devout Jehovah’s Witness. I guess I didn’t want to be a disappointment to him having for so long been an example. I can’t remember what his exact words were in the back and forth that we had, but for a man with limited experience of this kind of thing, he had the wisdom of a sage. He didn’t fuel the temptation as some guys would. He reminded me about Hazel. About family. About not getting wrapped up in the moment. He gave the soundest advice,
and I knew that doing ‘the right thing’ was ultimately what I had to do.
Clive Davis was a true friend, too. ‘How are you and Whitney going? Things good, Jermaine?’ he’d ask. He always knew more than he let on and always said his door was open, before giving me a big hug followed by a pinch of the cheek. Whitney and I spoke endlessly about our shared predicament and as much as I wanted to lose myself in all these feelings, I told her to wait. I spoke of ‘one day’ and ‘maybe’. Ultimately, we had to go our separate ways and it killed us both even if it was the right and sensible option.
I don’t think anyone punched the air harder than I when the album
became the biggest début album ever, selling 16 million copies worldwide after its release in 1985. Two years later, her follow-up album turned her into the first female artist to have an album début at No. 1. We didn’t see each other for years after we finished recording. In fact, she saw more of Michael than of me: backstage at one of his concerts in New York, and then again in 1988 when she was onstage with Quincy Jones to help present Michael with an honorary doctorate in humanities from Fisk University. I saw newspaper photographs of them together in this moment and I observed the irony of them side by side.
In 1985, I received a phone call from someone close to Whitney, telling me that she was releasing her new single ‘Saving All My Love For You’. Like Michael, she expressed herself through song. And when I watched the official music video, I soon realised that it was also autobiographical with its parallels – and coded message – to what we had recently shared in the studio together. I guess we had both left a deep and abiding impression on one another and her positive impact has never left me.
WE ENDED THE TOUR VICTORIOUS AT
the Dodgers Stadium, LA. Seven nights of back-to-back sell-outs. We had played to a total of two million fans across America – a long way from 30 or 40 people at Mr Lucky’s. I remember those final dates for the rain that lashed down, soaking the fans. And yet they still had a good time
and danced, like most Californians tend to do when the heavens rarely open. If there was one thing the brothers were certain of, it was that we had made an impact with our reunion, and Europe would have heard about the excitement we had caused. We couldn’t wait to take Victory across the Atlantic and retrace our steps from the good old days.
Our American ride finished on the evening of 9 December 1984 and we went through a range of emotions. Tito’s prediction was right: it was the tour we never wanted to end. But I looked forward to the as yet unplanned European leg. As we reached the show’s climax and the crowds cheered, Michael took the mic. We thought he was going to speak for us all. He didn’t. He spoke for himself. ‘This is our last and final show. It’s been a long 20 years and we love you all …’ He hadn’t prepared us for that one. I initially thought he was referring to the last and final show on American soil. I’m pretty sure this was how the other brothers felt, too. Maybe it was our continued wishful thinking, but there it was: finality.
What’s absolutely not true is that we said to each other things like ‘the little prick’ or ‘what a creep’, as was reported because (a) that’s not how we speak at all and (b) that’s not how we viewed it, even when we realised Michael had announced his detachment from the Jacksons. It was actually not something we addressed or confronted with him. As was typical between us. Anyway, Michael had explained to Mother that, ‘This is something that I just need to do alone,’ so we had to accept it – and who were we to hold him back? I’m not going to pretend it didn’t hurt because it did: it hurt deeply. But not once did we ever criticise or blame Michael because we knew he loved us and this was an artistic decision. If there is one thing to understand about our family, it is the pride we have in one another. However hard someone’s decision might be, family trumps everything. Brothers first. Artists second. But I believe the outside world has struggled to understand that thinking because it has only known us as artists,
and we just happened to be brothers
On reflection, Michael wasn’t just detaching from the Jacksons as a group, he was also disentangling himself from the messy
politics. I knew he couldn’t tolerate another round of all that. When you are a giant talent, why put up with it? We had wanted to ride with him, but what we carried with us was too much of a weight, I think.
So, with that one decision, a single branch was removed from our tightly-bound bundle. Separated. Weaker. Breakable. Not as an artist – because his career would go from strength to strength – but as a brother, as a person. Michael was riding high within a never-ending glory and, for as long as the good times rolled and the success brought in untold wealth, everyone wanted to hang on to his magic carpet ride, now that the excess baggage had been removed.
IF THERE WAS ONE THING I
always prided myself on, it was the ability to spot my brother from 1,000 yards. Even when in disguise, like that day when he was taking a break from the ‘Ghosts’ video. His eyes and aura were unmistakable. He could never fool me. I knew it. Michael knew it.
For most of 1985, we had only seen one another intermittently because we both returned to the studio to concentrate on solo projects. He started his pursuit of topping
by working on his follow-up album,
, and I began work on my second Arista album,
. By the time the spring of 1986 rolled along, Michael was still cutting tracks but my album was out and included my duet with Whitney ‘If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful’ and a song that would become a Top 20 hit in the US, ‘I Think It’s Love’.
I then kicked off the ‘Precious Moments’ Tour with dates around America, which eventually brought me home to the Universal amphitheatre in LA some time that May. In the back of my mind, I’d always hoped Michael would come to see me, just like the rest of the family, but I had accepted that he was consumed with
. At least, that was the impression he gave. What I didn’t know was how much he wanted to attend the gig as a surprise, but hadn’t wanted to cause a fuss in the crowd. ‘It’s Jermaine’s night, not
mine,’ he told Harrison Funk. Michael couldn’t so much as step outside without causing a mob scene, let alone attend a concert with a few thousand people.
I was in my dressing room backstage, in costume, with my daughter Autumn and son Jermaine Junior, hovering near the door where my Israeli security guy stood guard. And then I saw Harrison in the frame, with a battery of cameras slung around his neck, accompanied by Kevin Wilson, the son of comedian Flip Wilson, whose shows we had always done as the Jackson 5. I allowed Kevin and his buddy Marcus to open the show with a comedy act and they had people with them backstage.
‘And this is Uncle Willy,’ said Harrison, introducing a fan, a pasty-looking white man, aged in his forties, wearing a hat and looking a bit long in the face. I wasn’t really paying attention because show time was approaching, but I shook this guy’s hand and thanked him for coming.
‘I’m a huge fan of your music,’ he said.
‘Thank you,’ I said – and everyone burst out laughing. So hysterically that I looked behind me to see if anyone was pulling a prank. But there was nothing.
‘Jermaine,’ said Harrison, ‘it’s Michael … Uncle Willy is Michael!’
I looked hard at ‘Uncle Willy’ and even though his face was dead-pan, his eyes were laughing. ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, NO!’ I screamed. The disguise was so incredible that I’m pretty sure Michael looked at himself in the mirror that night and wondered who the hell was staring back. I’ve included a photo in this book to show you just how unbelievably unrecognisable he was. During the ‘Bad’ Tour, it was this disguise, along with others, that allowed him to mingle and sight-see among the crowds in places like Vienna and Barcelona.
Not only had he succeeded in fooling me, he’d made my night by turning up to watch the concert. As I took to the stage, now feeling on top of the world, I knew that out there in the crowd somewhere, together with Janet and La Toya, ‘Uncle Willy’ was blending
in, unnoticed. He was sitting among people who, for one night only, shared a row with Michael Jackson and didn’t even realise it.
MICHAEL’S DISGUISES WERE HIS ONLY CHANCE
to become fleetingly anonymous. He worried now that his fame might lead to him being assassinated, like John Lennon.
The fan and press attention outside the gates was relentless and he became more and more anxious each time his car pulled into the driveway. Fans surrounded him on both sides and from his seat, all he could see were bodies. He started to freak out any time he saw someone approaching the window with their hands in their pockets. ‘What happens if one of these days someone has a gun in their pocket when I think they’re reaching for a pen?’ he asked.
Michael knew all about John Lennon’s death at the hands of a disturbed fan, David Chapman.
It reached a point where he became paranoid about a similar outcome. It was impossible for him to feel calm as he arrived or left home, and this was the prime reason why he sought solitude elsewhere, hunting for a secluded property within acres of land away from the city. He knew exactly what he had in mind, and he knew exactly the right place.
THE NEVERLAND YEARS
BETWEEN OUR LAST TOUR ENDING IN
December 1984 and 1992, the family saw Michael sporadically, say three or four times a year in those eight years. When those occasions came around, at Hayvenhurst or Neverland, I found myself snatching time with him before he’d disappear again for the longest periods without a phone call. It actually
like eight years without contact because the contact was so fleeting. His move to the solitude of the Santa Ynez Valley only made matters worse: we grew used to this foreigner called Distance moving between us and making itself at home. I don’t really know how that came about. Maybe I had first invited it when I’d stayed at Motown and broken the team pact. Maybe we had each become too preoccupied with trying to reach beyond our reach. But regardless of decisions taken as artists, had you said to me during the Jackson 5 years – and even during ‘Victory’ – that career and stardom would turn us into distant brothers, I would never have believed you. ‘We had each other
success and our love will outlast it,’ I would have said. ‘The synergy and team spirit that formed our
backbone were built not in Hollywood but forged in the steel furnaces of Gary.’
I understood where Michael was at this time of his life. He was consumed with the
World Tour for most of 1987 and into 1989, and returned home to move into Neverland. We also knew that dropping off the radar was his creative habit. But before we knew it, the gap had widened and we had drifted towards an uncomfortable reality. Michael didn’t carry a cell-phone so it wasn’t as if we could call him. Communications technology was never his forte and the system dictated now that we call his offices at Neverland or in LA and leave a message. And another. And then another. They all went unreturned and I didn’t know what to think.
Are our messages even being passed on? Is he ignoring them? Are we being blocked from talking with our own brother? If our messages aren’t being passed on, does he think we’re being distant?
magazine ran reports about the Jackson siblings being ‘at odds – and out of touch’. It was only half-true: we were never at odds.
Of course we heard the snipes of strangers who claimed to understand our brother, suggesting he had chosen a place like Neverland because it ‘guaranteed space between Michael and his pesky family’. There was talk that ‘the brothers only want Michael for his fame to make a name for themselves’. Even though we had already made a name for ourselves: the Jacksons.
And then came the best claim: ‘Michael doesn’t need his brothers – he’s a success on his own.’ Hear that again:
Michael doesn’t need his brothers
. As if his success was all that mattered to him and us. That is the biggest misunderstanding about our family: few grasp that our love for each other was always the most important thing, regardless of perceptions built by headlines. ‘Family’ was all we knew, our platform to success, and it came before everything else.
It was only when this splintering happened that we realised that, away from the stage and outside of entertainment, there was no actual coming together because we didn’t celebrate holidays or
birthdays due to the rule of Jehovah. We never sat down together at the dinner table or spent Sundays visiting one another. That was why, around 1988, I inaugurated ‘Family Day’: it would be a chance for us all to get together at Hayvenhurst, catch up, have a barbecue, watch a movie, or see our kids dress up and put on a show on the stage in the movie theatre. A couple of times Michael made these occasions, but not every time. What I liked about these days was the fact there was no business talk – we had ‘Family Meetings’ for that. ‘Family Day is a chance for us to be family again,’ said Mother. Meanwhile, Joseph observed that he felt like he was fighting to keep us all together.
It was because of our parents that we recorded the song ‘2300 Jackson Street’ in 1989, featuring Michael. He also wanted to film Mother and Joseph talking about the family and themselves – how they met, their first date – and he started the ‘interviews’, but they were never finished. He kept the material in his own archive, under lock and key, with his deeply personal diaries. Michael recorded everything on paper: his first song lyrics, his memories, feelings and notes about the different people he met and what they meant to him. It is a memory collection that should remain as he intended: private and sacrosanct. (He also saved trinkets, keepsakes, family videos and memories from his past, like Rebbie’s first pair of baby shoes, his nieces’ and nephews’ first pacifiers – dummies – or first dolls.) During ‘Victory’, it was his idea that we all join Mother on a trip down Memory Lane to visit her roots in Alabama and he wanted to capture us on camera as we visited distant relatives. This meticulous collection of everything ‘family’ made his distance seem at odds with who he was and what mattered to him in life. I guess every family has a distant member – I just never imagined that ours would be Michael, or that he’d become so absent from our daily lives. We went from ‘always together’ to the point at which we couldn’t get to him at all.
We knew Michael thrived in seclusion – I think artists need to retreat from life to some extent if they are to observe, sing and write about it. We understood that need in Michael – and I never forgot
that he gave his first public performance, singing ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ on the school stage on his own. But he would learn that there is a fine line between creative solitude and personal loneliness. He found himself caught between what he chose and what his fame imposed on him; he would discover that solitude was not always his friend, and that the life of a genius can be the loneliest in the world. But there is one guarantee about family: you know where its members are, and that the day will come when you’ll be there for one another, come what may.
I needed solitude for very different reasons.
My marriage to Hazel had ended in 1987, mainly because I wasn’t, in the end, strong enough to resist temptation. I let her down and shattered something special. I met a woman named Margaret Maldonado and we ended up moving into Hayvenhurst after Michael moved out. But I needed to get away and find balance, so in 1989, I headed to the Middle East – a concert by Rebbie was my excuse. She remained the incredible dancer of old and her voice had blossomed, too. Michael had written her début album’s title track, ‘Centipede’, in 1985 and she had lined up shows in Dubai, Oman and Bahrain, which offered me my chance to show support and see her live for the first time. I didn’t know exactly what I was searching for on this trip because I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing. I just packed my bags and followed my instincts.
THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A DRIVE THROUGH
the Arabian desert to clear the mind. I had the windows up in the Range Rover and the air-conditioning turned high during the four-hour journey between Bahrain and Riyadh. It was the most serene, scenic – and dusty – drive of my life. A ribbon of road unfurled across powder sand, with giant dunes on either side. I saw camels running loose, children stopping to pray, and we passed tented communities of Bedouins as Middle Eastern music played on the radio.
about the place was hypnotic. Ali Qamber, a friend from Washington DC who’d met me backstage during ‘Victory’, was driving. He was
my guide and translator; he would help to change my life and become my closest friend.
As we drove, he pointed out a palm tree in the desert. ‘Remind you of Hollywood?’ he said.
This is nothing like Hollywood
, I thought, but I smiled and nodded.
He talked about the Bedouins. Nomads. Big, strong families. Can weather anything. Family, family, family – that was what those people were about. I smiled and nodded again.
I had teamed up with him at one of Rebbie’s shows in Bahrain. The following day he had taken me to a reception at his house to meet his family. Despite the fuss that having ‘a Jackson’ in the house caused, the kids were well-mannered and respectful. Even in their excitement, they waited for each other to finish a sentence before another spoke. In this Muslim household, every negative perception I’d heard in America about the faith fell away. Everything that Muhammad Ali had said came flooding back. I remembered the day when he’d taken me into Mother’s office at Hayvenhurst, closed the doors and pulled up a chair opposite mine. ‘Listen up. I’ve got something important to say. Look at me. Believe what I am about to tell you.’ He started thumbing through the pages of the Bible, jabbing his finger at what he believed to be contradictions. Right under Mother’s roof. Taking the fight to Jehovah’s door. His guidance had led me to meetings of the Nation of Islam, when Minister Farakhan spoke to something inside me that wasn’t quite ready to listen.
Now, in the bosom of the Qamber family, I felt something so profoundly that I can only describe it as a calling. I told Ali then and there that I wanted to drive to Riyadh, fly to Jeddah, then drive to Mecca.
In my eager conversion to Islam, I found myself walking a well-worn track inside the holiest of outdoor arenas, the Al-Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca; seven circuits of the Ka’ba – this big, black-clothed square block. It is the sacred centrepiece around which Muslims walk in silent prayer. As I prayed – for my family, for the brothers to be watched over – I started to feel as if I was gliding, not
walking. From nowhere, I felt that rush of being onstage and hearing a crowd’s roar. I felt euphoric without anything tangible before me.
‘You’re used to “seeing is believing”,’ Ali Qamber would say later. ‘Now you see that feeling is believing.’
I became aware of the dozens and dozens of people around me, walking the same circle, in the same direction, united in worship. Connected. It’s the same with Ramadan. No matter where people are in the world, they fast from sunrise to sundown, together. I observed more synchronicity and harmony, and everything resonated with me. I saw how, at the Call to Prayer, everyone prayed side by side in neat rows. They washed themselves before prayer because hygiene is imperative. They never placed the Qur’an on the floor at their feet because that’s disrespectful. Order, cleanliness and respect. Just as I was raised.
I returned to California reinvigorated. I moved out of Hayvenhurst and into a duplex in Beverly Hills with Margaret and our two children, Jeremy and Jourdyn. I was also keen to record my next album with Arista. The nineties would represent a fresh start. I vowed to live my life according to God’s will and become a better human being.
However, I would discover that seven laps around the Ka’ba is no guarantee for achieving that goal because life continues to test you – and sometimes you fail. Sometimes becoming ‘better’ is about making the worst decisions and learning from them.
I HEARD VIA THE TELEVISION NEWS
that Michael had been taken to hospital with ‘chest pains’. It was June 1990, and he must have been staying at his new condo in Century City because he was in the emergency room at St John’s Hospital, Santa Monica. I remember thinking, I need to be there or he’ll have no one with him – the rest of the family must have been out of town.
It was easy to locate the hospital because of the television satellite trucks parked outside and the news helicopters hovering above. Michael was forever besieged now.
When I got to his room, he was resting in bed, wearing a hospital gown, propped up by a stack of pillows. He told me he hadn’t got ‘chest pains’ but severe headaches – a throbbing pain that I assumed was related to the old burn injury on his scalp. He was receiving his painkiller – Demerol – intravenously, but he was complaining more about a burning sensation in his arm. I called in a nurse, who adjusted the needle. I noticed two books on his bedside table: one about marriage and divorce, the other about taxes. For a man not contemplating marriage and who had his own accountant, it might seem odd but it was typical of Michael, who always wanted to be learning something new, however random.
I made a joke about his light reading material. ‘Maybe that’s why you have the headaches,’ I said – which raised a smile. If he wanted to tackle something new, I suggested, he should start on my ton of books about Islam. This hospital visit was my first real chance to share my experience in Mecca, and he was as intrigued as I’d known he would be. We spoke about spiritual matters generally, which was nothing new between us because we had often imagined standing outside our bodies to observe ourselves so that we could improve as performers and people. ‘Imagine what another person sees,’ Michael used to say, ‘and that will make us better in every way.’
‘That is what Islam is all about,’ I said, ‘to make us better humans.’
He asked me to bring him all the books I had, once I had finished with them. ‘But there’s something else I really need now,’ he said, all serious.
‘I’ll get the nurse. What do you need?’
Michael smiled. ‘Chocolate cake … They have this great chocolate cake here … Do you want to split a piece?’
Over the cake, we caught up on everything and then I told him my big news: I was moving to Atlanta to start work on a new album in the studio of two of the hottest producers around, L.A. Reid and Babyface, who had founded LaFace Records in a venture with Clive Davis and Arista. Nowadays, people in America will
recognise L.A. Reid as a judge on the US version of
The X Factor
, but back then he and Babyface were starting to carve out their names as the biggest hit-makers in the industry. ‘These guys are going to be my Quincy Jones,’ I told Michael – an indication of how excited I was about the opportunity.
He wished me luck. ‘Just make sure you do your own melodies,’ he said, throwing in some late advice.
By the time we had finished talking, day was turning to dusk and he was feeling tired. He said I should go home. I said I wanted to stay to make sure he was okay. ‘You don’t have to,’ he said.
‘But I want to. Don’t worry about me, just go to sleep.’
On that first night, I didn’t want him to be alone in a hospital room. I drew the curtains and turned out the lights. There was a big armchair in the corner. It seemed comfortable enough. As Michael closed his eyes, that was where I curled up and fell asleep till daybreak.