” ‘She’s Out of My Life,’ is about knowing the barriers that have separated me from others are temptingly low and seemingly easy to jump over and yet they remain standing while what I really desire disappears from my sight. Tom Bahler composed a beautiful bridge, which seemed right out of an old Broadway musical. In reality, such problems are not so easily resolved and the song presents this fact, that the problem is not overcome. We couldn’t put this cut at the beginning or the end of the record, because it would have been such a downer. That’s why when Stevie’s song comes on afterward, so gently and tentatively, as if it was opening a door that had been bolted shut, I still go “Whew.” By the time Rod (Temperton’s) “Burn This Disco Out,” closes the record, the trance is broken.
But I got too wrapped up in “She’s Out of My Life.” In this case, the story’s true – I cried at the end of a take, because the words suddenly had such a strong effect on me. I had been letting so much build up inside of me. I was 21 years old, and I was so rich in some experiences while being poor in moments of true joy. Sometimes I imagine that my life experience is like an image in one of those trick mirrors in the circus, fat in one part and thin to the point of disappearing in another. I was worried that would show up on “She’s Out of My Life,” but if it touched people’s heartstrings, knowing that would make me feel less lonely.
When I got emotional after that take, the only people with me were Q (Quincy Jones) and Bruce Swedien. I remember burying my face in my hands and hearing only the hum of the machinery as my sobs echoed in the room. Later I apologized, but they said there was no need.”
Simply wanting to be accepted as a human being, and not a celebrity:
COLACELLO: Are you interested in art?Jackson contributed the song “Someone In the Dark” to the storybook for the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
JACKSON: I love to draw—pencil, ink pen—I love art. When I go on tour and visit museums in Holland, Germany or England—you know those huge paintings?—I’m just amazed. You don’t think a painter could do something like that. I can look at a piece of sculpture or a painting and totally lose myself in it. Standing there watching it and becoming part of the scene. It can draw tears, it can touch you so much. See, that’s where I think the actor or performer should be—to touch that truth inside of the person. Touch that reality so much that they become a part of what you’re doing and you can take them anywhere you want to. You’re happy, they’re happy. Whatever the human emotions, they’re right there with you. I love realism. I don’t like plastics. Deep down inside we’re all the same. We all have the same emotions and that’s why a film like E.T. touches everybody. Who doesn’t want to fly like Peter Pan? Who doesn’t want to fly with some magic creature from outer space and be friends with him? Steven went straight to the heart. He knows—when in doubt, go for the heart . . .
“I wanted to meet people who didn’t know who I was. I wanted to run into somebody who would be my friend because they liked me and needed a friend too, not because I was who I am. “
“Making “Off the Wall” was one of the most difficult periods of my life, despite the eventual success it enjoyed. I had very few close friends at the time and felt very isolated. I was so lonely that I used to walk through my neighborhood hoping I’d run into somebody I could talk to and perhaps become friends with. I wanted to meet people who didn’t know who I was. I wanted to run into somebody who would be my friend because they liked me and needed a friend too, not because I was who I am. I wanted to meet anybody in the neighborhood, the neighborhood kids, anybody.
Success definitely brings on loneliness. It’s true. People think you’re lucky, that you have everything. They think you can go anywhere and do anything, but that’s not the point. One hungers for the basic stuff……”
“The Victory tour was my first chance to be exposed to the Michael Jackson fans since Thriller had come out two years earlier. There were some strange reactions…
I’d bump into people in hallways and they’d go, “Naw, that can’t be him. He wouldn’t be here.” I was baffled and I’d ask myself, “Why wouldn’t I? I’m on earth somewhere. I’ve got to be somewhere at any given time. Why not here?”
Some fans imagine you to be almost an illusion, this thing that doesn’t exist….
When they see you, they feel it’s a miracle or something. I’ve had fans ask me if I use the bathroom. I mean, it gets embarrassing. They just lose touch with the fact that you’re like them because they get so excited. But I can understand it because I’d feel the same way, if, for instance, I could have met Walt Disney or Charlie Chaplin.”
On His Love of Acting
This excerpt is from an interview done with “Interview” magazine in 1982:
COLACELLO: How do you compare acting to performing on the stage?
JACKSON: I love both. Acting is the cream of the crop. I love performing. It’s a phenomenal getaway. If you want to really let out everything you feel, that’s the time to do it. With acting, it’s like becoming another person. I think that’s neat, especially when you totally forget. If you totally forget, which I love to do, that’s when it’s magic. I love to create magic—to put something together that’s so unusual, so unexpected that it blows people’s heads off. Something ahead of the times. Five steps ahead of what people are thinking. So people see it and say, “Whoa I wasn’t expecting that.” I love surprising people with a present or a gift or a stage performance or anything. I love John Travolta, who came off that Kotter show. Nobody knew he could dance or do all those things. He is like—boom. Before he knew it, he was the next big Brando or something.
COLACELLO: You like to act a lot just in everyday life?
JACKSON: I love it so much. It’s escape. It’s fun. It’s just neat to become another thing, another person. Especially when you really believe in it and it’s not like you’re acting. I always hated the word acting—to say, “I’m an actor.” It should be more than that. It should be more like a believer.
COLACELLO: But isn’t that a little frightening when you believe it totally?
JACKSON: No, that’s what I really love about it. I just like to really forget.
COLACELLO: Why do you want to forget so much? Do you think life is really hard?
JACKSON: No, maybe it’s because I just like jumping in other people’s lives and exploring. Like Charlie Chaplin. I just love him to death. The little tramp, the whole gear and everything, and his heart—everything he portrayed on the screen was a truism. It was his whole life. He was born in London, and his father died an alcoholic when he was six. He roamed the streets of England, begging, poor, hungry. All this reflects on the screen and that’s what I like to do, to bring all of those truths out . .
Why the Sunglasses and Masks? Michael’s basic human need for privacy amidst the groping, intrusive world of celebrity
“Leave Me Alone” is a track that appears only on the compact disc of “Bad”. I worked hard on that song, stacking vocals on top of each other like layers of clouds. I’m sending a simple message here: “Leave me alone.” The song is about a relationship between a guy and a girl. But what I’m really saying to people who are bothering me is: “Leave me alone.”
The pressure of success does funny things to people. A lot of people become successful very quickly and it’s an instant occurrence in their lives. Some of these people, whose success might be a one-shot thing, don’t know how to handle what happens to them.
I look at fame from a different perspective, since I’ve been in this business for so long now. I’ve learned that the way to survive as your own person is to shun personal publicity and keep a low profile as much as possible. I guess it’s good in some ways and bad in others.
The hardest part is having no privacy. I remember when we were filming “Thriller,” Jackie Onassis and Shaye Areheart came to California to discuss this book. There were photographers in the trees, everywhere. It was not possible for us to do anything without it being noticed and reported.
The price of fame can be a heavy one. Is the price you pay worth it? Consider that you really have NO privacy. You can’t really do anything unless special arrangements are made. The media prints whatever you say. They report whatever you do. They now what you buy, which movies you see, you name it. If I go to a public library, they print the titles of the books I check out. In Florida once, they printed my whole schedule in the paper; everything I did from ten in the morning until six at night. “After he did this, he did that, and after he did that, he went there, then he went door to door, and then he….”
I remember thinking to myself, “What if I were trying to do something that I didn’t happen to want reported in the paper?” All of this is the price of fame.
I think my image gets distorted in the public’s mind. They don’t get a clear or full picture of what I’m like, despite the press coverage I mentioned early. Mistruths are printed as fact, in some cases, and frequently only half of a story will be told. The part that doesn’t get printed is often the part that would make the printed part less sensational by shedding light on the facts. As a result, I think some people don’t think I’m a person who determines what’s happening with his career. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’ve been accused of being obsessed with my privacy and it’s true that I am. People stare at you when you’re famous. They’re observing you and that’s understandable, but it’s not always easy. If you were to ask me why I wear sunglasses in public as often as I do, I’d tell you it’s because I simply don’t like to have to constantly look everyone in the eye. It’s a way of concealing just a bit of myself. After I had my wisdom teeth pulled, the dentist gave me a surgical mask to wear home to keep out germs. I loved that mask. It was great – much better than sunglasses – and I had fun wearing it around for a while. There’s so little privacy in my life that concealing just a little bit of me is a way to give myself a break from all that. It may be considered strange, I know, but I like my privacy.’
“…Music was important in Gary. We had our own radio stations and nightclubs, and there was no shortage of people who wanted to be on them. After Dad ran our Saturday afternoon rehearsals, he’d go see a local show or even drive all the way to Chicago to see someone perform. He was always watching for things that could help us down the road. He’d come home and tell us what he’d seen and who was doing what. He kept up on all the latest stuff, whether it was a local theater that ran contests we could enter or a Cavalcade of Stars show with great acts whose clothes or moves we might adapt. Sometimes I wouldn’t see Dad until I got back from Kingdom Hall on Sundays, but as soon as I ran into the house he’d be telling me what he’d seen the night before. He’d assure me I could dance on one leg like James Brown if I’d only try THIS step.”
“There I’d be, fresh out of church, and back in show business.”
His desire to unite the world/bring more love to the world and why he loved children so much:
“The best part of it (the Victory tour) for me was seeing the children in the audience. Every night there would be a number of them who had gotten all dressed up. They were so excited. I was truly inspired by the kids on that tour, kids of all ethnic groups and ages. It’s been my dream since I was a child to somehow unite people of the world through love and music. I still get goose bumps when I hear the Beatles sing, “All You Need Is Love.” I’ve always wished that song could be an anthem for the world.”
“There are so many things all around us to be thankful for. Wasn’t it Robert Frost who wrote about the world a person can see in a leaf? I think that’s true.
That’s what I love about being with kids. They notice everything. They aren’t jaded. They get excited by things we’ve forgotten to get excited about any more. They are so natural too, so unself-conscious.
I love being around them.There always seems to be a bunch of kids over at the house and they’re always welcome. They energize me – just being around them. They look at everything with such fresh eyes, such open minds. That’s part of what makes kids so creative. They don’t worry about the rules. The picture doesn’t have to be in the center of the piece of paper. The sky doesn’t have to be blue. They are accepting of people too. The only demand they make is to be treated fairly, and to be loved. I think that’s what we all want.”
A short Chat with Andy Warhol (“Interview” Magazine ,1982):
[Andy Warhol calls from New York.]
ANDY WARHOL: Hello?
WARHOL: Gosh, this is exciting. You know, every time I use my Walkman I play your cassette on it . . . How have you been?
JACKSON: I’ve been in the studio a lot, writing lyrics and working on songs and stuff.
WARHOL: I might go see an English rock group at the Ritz tonight called Duran Duran. Do you know them?
WARHOL: I went to see Blondie at the Meadowlands last week.
JACKSON: How was Blondie?
WARHOL: She was great. She’s so terrific. Do you know her?
JACKSON: No, I never met her.
WARHOL: Well, when you come to New York I’ll introduce her. Going on tour is about the hardest thing to do in the world.
JACKSON: Tour is something—the pacing. But being onstage is the most magic thing about it . . .
WARHOL: Did you ever think you’d grow up to be a singer?
JACKSON: I don’t ever remember not singing, so I never dreamed of singing.
WARHOL: Do you go out a lot or stay home?
JACKSON: I stay home.
WARHOL: Why do you stay home? There’s so much fun out. When you come to New York we’ll take you out.
JACKSON: The only time I want to go out is when I’m in New York.
WARHOL: Do you go to the movies?
JACKSON: Oh, yes. We’re going to be working on the E.T. album. I had a picture session with E.T. and it was so wonderful . . . He’s hugging me and everything.
WARHOL: I like Tron. It’s like playing the video games. Have you seen it?
JACKSON: Yes. It didn’t move me.
WARHOL: Well, thanks a lot. See you soon.
JACKSON: I hope so . . .
“Later, in another part of Florida, when the old tour boredom set in that I described earlier, I played a little trick on Frank (Dileo). I asked him to come up to my suite and when he came in I offered him some watermelon, which was lying on a table across the room. Frank went over to pick up a piece and tripped over my boa constrictor, Muscles, who was on the road with me. Muscles is harmless, but Frank hates snakes and proceeded to scream and yell. I started chasing him around the room with the boa. Frank got the upper hand, however. He panicked, ran from the room and grabbed the security guard’s gun. He was going to shoot Muscles, but the guard calmed him down. Later he said all he could think of was: “I’ve got to get that snake.” I’ve found that a lot of tough men are afraid of snakes.”
Trying to Understand the concept of Revenge:
“Heartbreak Hotel” was the most ambitious song I had composed. I think I worked on a number of levels: You could dance to it, sing along with it, get scared by it, and just listen. I had to tak on a slow piano and cello coda that ended on a positive note to reassure the listener; there’s no point in trying to scare someone if there isn’t something to bring the person back safe and sound from where you’ve taken them. “Heartbreak Hotel” had revenge in it and I am fascinated by the concept of revenge.
It’s something I can’t understand. The idea of making someone “pay” for something they’ve done to you or that you imagine they’ve done to you is totally alien to me. The setup showed my own fears and for the time being helped quell them. There were so many sharks in the business looking for blood in the water.”
Respect for Women and Sex as one of God’s gifts
“If this song (Heartbreak Hotel), and later “Billie Jean”, seemed to cast women in an unfavorable light, it was not meant to be taken as a personal statement. Needless to say, I love the interaction between the sexes; it is a natural part of life and I love women. I just think that when sex is used as a form of blackmail or power; it’s a repugnant (extremely distasteful or unacceptable) use of one of God’s gifts.”
Being in the Public Eye, A Need for Privacy and The Truth about Plastic Surgery:
“One of the side effects of the Thriller period was to make me weary of constantly being in the public eye. Because of this, I resolved to lead a quieter, more private life. I was still quite shy about my appearance. You must remember that I had been a child star and when you grow up under that kind of scrutiny people don’t want you to change, to get older and look different. When I first became well known, I had a lot of baby fat and a very round, chubby face. That roundness stayed with me until several years ago when I changed my diet and stopped eating beef, chicken, pork and fish, as well as certain fattening foods. I just wanted to look better, live better and be healthier. Gradually, as I lost weight, my face took on its present shape and the press started accusing me of surgically altering my appearance, beyond the nose job I freely admitted I had, like many performers and film stars. They would take an old picture from adolescence or high school, and compare it to a current photograph. In the old picture my face would be round and pudgy. I’d have an Afro, and the picture would be badly lit. The new picture would show a much older, more mature face. I’ve got a different hairstyle and a different nose. Also, the photographer’s lighting is excellent in the recent photographs. It’s really not fair to make such comparisons. They have said I had bone surgery done on my face. It seems strange to me that people would jump to that conclusion and I thought it was very unfair.
Judy Garland and Jean Harlow and many others have had their noses done. My problem is that as a child star people got used to seeing me look one way.
I’d like to set the record straight right now.
I have never had my cheeks altered or my eyes altered. I have not had my lips thinned, nor have I had dermabrasion or a skin peel. All of these charges are ridiculous. If they were true, I would say so, but they aren’t. I have had my nose altered twice and I recently added a cleft to my chin, but that is it. Period. I don’t care what anyone else says, it’s my face and I know.
I’m a vegetarian now and I’m so much thinner. I’ve been on a strict diet for years. I feel better than I ever have, healthier and more energetic. I don’t understand why the press is so interested in speculating about my appearance anyway. What does my face have to do with my music or my dancing?
“…I can’t help but pick up on some of the criticism leveled at me at times. Journalists seem willing to say anything to sell a paper. They say I’ve had my eyes widened, that I want to look more white. More white? What kind of statement is that? I didn’t invent plastic surgery. It’s been around for a long time. A lot of very fine, very nice people have had plastic surgery. No one writes about their surgery and levies such criticism at them. It’s not fair. Most of what they print is fabrication. It’s enough to make you ask, “What happened to truth. Did it go out of style?”
In the end, the most important thing is to be true to yourself and those you love and work hard. I mean, work like there’s no tomorrow. Train. Strive. I mean, really train and cultivate your talent to the highest degree. Be the best at what you do. Get to know more about your field than anybody alive. Use the tools of your trade, if it’s books or a floor to dance on or a body of water to swim in. Whatever it is, it’s yours. That’s what I’ve always tried to remember. I thought about it a lot on the Victory tour.
In the end, I felt I touched a lot of people on the Victory tour. Not exactly in the way I wanted to, but I felt that would happen later, when I was off on my own, performing and making movies. I donated all of my performance money to charity, including funds for the burn center that helped me after the fire on the Pepsi set. We donated more than four million dollars that year. For me, that was what the Victory tour was all about…giving back.
The Continued Quest for Privacy:
COLACELLO: It seems that what really motivates you is your desire to entertain people, to please people. What about fame and money? Could you imagine not being famous or does being famous bother you?
JACKSON: It never has bothered me except sometimes when you want peace. Like you go to the theater and you say, “Nobody’s bothering me tonight, I’m wearing my hat and glasses and I’m going to enjoy this film and that’s all there is to it.” You get in there and everybody’s watching and staring at you and at the climax of the film somebody taps you on the shoulder for an autograph. You just feel like you can’t get away . . .
“Interview” magazine 1982 interview
The Pepsi Scalp Burn
“I had planned to spend most of 1984 working on some movie ideas I had, but those plans got sidetracked. First, in January, I was burned on the set of a Pepsi commercial I was shooting with my brothers.
The reason for the fire was stupidity, pure and simple. We were shooting at night and I was supposed to come down a staircase with a magnesium flash bomb going off on either side of me and just behind me. It seemed so simple. I was to walk down the stairs and these bombs would blow up behind me. We did several takes that were wonderfully timed. The lighning effects from the bombs were great. Only later did I find out that these bombs were only two feet away from either side of my head, which was a total disregard of the safety regulations. I was supposed to stand in the middle of a magnesium explosion, two feet on either side.
Then Bob Giaraldi, the director, came to me and said, “Michael, you’re going down too early. We want to see you up there, up on the stairs. When the lights come on, we want to reveal that you’re there, so wait.”
So I waited, the bombs went off on either side of my head , and the sparks set my hair on fire. I was dancing down this ramp and turning around, spinning, not knowing I was on fire. Suddenly I felt my hands reflexively going to my head in an attempt to smother the flames. I fell down and just tried to shake the flames out. Jermaine turned around and saw me on the ground, just after the explosions had gone off, and he thought I had been shot by someone in the crowd – because we were shooting in front of a big audience. That’s what it looked like to him.
Miko Brando, who works for me, was the first person to reach me. After that, it was chaos. It was crazy. No film could properly capture the drama of what went on that night. The crowd was screaming. Someone shouted, “Get some ice!” There were frantic running sounds. People were yelling, “Oh no! The emergency truck came up and before they put me in I saw the Pepsi executives all huddled together in a corner, looking terrified. I remember the medical people putting me on a cot and the guys from Pepsi were so scared they couldn’t even bring themselves to check on me.
Meanwhile, I was kind of detached, despite the the terrible pain. I was watching all the drama unfold. Later they told me I was in shock, but I remember enjoying the ride to the hospital because I never thought I’d ride in an ambulance with the sirens wailing. It was one of those things I had always wanted to do when I was growing up. When we got there, they told me there were news crews outside, so I asked for my glove. There’s a famous shot of me waving from the stretcher with my glove on.
Later one of the doctors told me that it was a miracle I was alive. One of the firemen had mentioned that in most cases your clothes catch on fire, in which case your whole face can be disfigured or you can die. That’s it. I had third-degree burns on the back of my head that almost went through to my skull, so I had a lot of problems with it, but I was very lucky.
What we now know is that the incident created a lot of publicity for the commercial. They sold more Pepsi than ever before. And they came back to me later and offered me the biggest commercial endorsement fee in history It was so unprecedented that it went into The Guinness Book of World Records. Pepsi and I worked together on another commercial, called “The Kid,” and I gave them problems by limiting the shots of me because I felt the shots they were asking for didn’t work well. Later, when the commercial was a success, they told me I had been right.
I still remember how scared those Pepsi executives looked the night of the fire. They thought that my getting burned would leave a bad taste in the mouth of every kid in America who drank Pepsi. They knew I could have sued them and I could have, but I was real nice about it. Real nice. They gave me $1,500,000 which I immediately donated to the Michael Jackson Burn Center. I wanted to do something because I was so moved by the other burn patients I met while I was in the hospital.”
“There’ve been times right before a show when certain things were bothering me- business or personal problems. I would think, “I don’t know how to go through with this. I don’t know how I’m going to get through the show. I can’t perform like this.”
But once I get to the side of the stage, something happens. The rhythm starts and the lights hit me and the problems disappear. This has happened so many times. The thrill of performing just takes over. It’s like God saying, “Yes, you can. Yes, you can. Just wait. Wait till you hear this. Wait till you see this.” And the backbeat gets in my backbone and it vibrates and it just takes me. Sometimes I almost lose control and the musicians say, “What is he doing?” and they start following me. You change the whole schedule of a piece. You stop and you just take over from scratch and do a whole other thing. The song takes you in another direction.
There was a part of the show on the Victory Tour where I was doing this scatting theme and the audience was repeating what I said. I’d say, “Da, de, da, de” and they’d say, “Da, de, da, de.” There’ve been times when I’ve done that and they would start stomping. And when the whole audience is doing that, it sounds like an earthquake. Oh! Its a great feeling to be able to do that with all those people – whole stadiums – and they’re all doing the same thing you’re doing. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. You look out in the audience and see toddlers and teens and grandparents and people in their twenties and thirties. Everybody is swaying, their hands are up, and they’re all singing. You ask that the house lights come on and you see their faces and you say, “Hold hands” and they hold hands and you say “Stand up” or “clap” and they do. They’re enjoying themselves and they’ll do whatever you tell them. They love it and it’s so beautiful – all the races of people are together doing this. At times like that I say, “Look around you. Look at yourselves. Look. Look around you. Look at what you have done.” Oh, it’s so beautiful. Very powerful. Those are great moments.
Learning to Manage his own Career:
“After my experiences with the Victory tour, I started making my career decisions with more care than ever. I had learned a lesson on an earlier tour, which I remembered vividly during the difficulties with Victory.
We did a tour years ago with this guy who ripped us off, but he taught me something. He said, “Listen, all these people work for YOU. You don’t work for THEM. You are paying them.”
He kept telling me that. Finally I began to understand what he meant. It was an entirely new concept for me because at Motown everything was done for us. Other people made our decisions. I’ve been mentally scarred by that experience. “You’ve got to wear this. You’ve got to do these songs. You are going here. You are going to do this interview and that TV show.” That’s how it went. We couldn’t say anything. When he told me I was in control, I finally woke up. I realized he was right.
Despite everything, I owe that guy a debt of gratitude.”
Billie Jean, the appearance of the Fedora and the Moonwalk, Motown 25 and Perfectionistic Expectations
“So I gathered my brothers and rehearsed them for this show. I really worked them, and it felt nice, a bit like the old days of the Jackson 5. I choreographed them and rehearsed them for days at our house in Encino, videotaping every rehearsal so we could watch it later. Jermaine and Marlon also made their contributions. Next we went to Motown in Pasadena for rehearsals. We did our act and, even though we reserved our energy and never went all out at rehearsal, all the people there were clapping and coming around and watching us. Then I did my “Billie Jean” rehearsal. I just walked through it because as yet I had nothing planned. I hadn’t had time because I was so busy rehearsing the group.
The next day I called my management office and said, “Please order me a spy’s hat, like a cool fedora – something that a secret agent would wear.” I wanted something sinister and special, a real slouchy kind of hat. I still didn’t have a very good idea of what I was going to do with “Billie Jean.”
During the “Thriller” sessions, I had found a black jacket, and I said, “You know, someday I’m going to wear this to perform. It was so perfect and so show business that I wore it on Motown 25.
But the night before taping, I still had no idea what I was going to do with my solo number. So I went down to the kitchen of our house and played “Billie Jean.” Loud. I was in there by myself, the night before the show, and I pretty much stood there and let the song tell me what to do. I kind of let the dance create itself. I really let it talk to me; I heard the beat come in, and I took this spy’s hat and started to pose and step, letting the “Billie Jean,” rhythm create the movements. I felt almost compelled to let it create itself. I couldn’t help it. And that – being able to “step back” and let the dance come through – was a lot of fun.
I had also been practicing certain steps and movements, although most of the performance was actually spontaneous. I had been practicing the Moonwalk for some time, and it dawned on me in our kitchen that I would finally do the Moonwalk in public on Motown 25.
Now the Moonwalk was already out on the street by this time, but I enhanced it a little when I did it. It was born as a break-dance step, a “popping” type of thing that black kids had created dancing on street corners in the ghetto. Black people are truly innovative dancers; they create many of the new dances, pure and simple. So I said, “This is my chance to do it,” and I did it. These three kids taught it to me. They gave me the basics, and I had been doing it a lot in private. I had practiced it together with certain other steps. All I was really sure of was that on the bridge to “Billie Jean” I was going to walk backward and forward at the same time, like walking on the moon.
On the day of the taping, Motown was running behind schedule. Late. So I went off and rehearsed by myself. By then I had my spy hat. My brothers wanted to know what the hat was for, but I told them they’d have to wait and see. But I did ask Nelson Hayes for a favor. “Nelson, after I do the set with my brothers and the lights go down, sneak the hat out to me in the dark. I’ll be in the corner, next to the wings, talking to the audience, but you sneak that hat back there and put it in my hand in the dark.”
So after my brothers and I finished performing, I walked over to the side of the stage and said, “You’re beautiful! I’d like to say those were the good old days; those were magic moments with all my brothers, including Jermaine. But what I really like” and Nelson is sneaking the hat into my hand, “are the newer songs.” I turned around and grabbed the hat and went into “Billie Jean,” into the heavy rhythm; I could tell that people in the audience were really enjoying my performance. My brothers told me they were crowding the wings watching me with their mouths open, and my parents and sisters were out there in the audience. But I just remember opening my eyes at the end of the thing and seeing this sea of people standing up, applauding. And I felt so many conflicting emotions. I knew I had done my best and felt good, so good. But at the same time I felt disappointed in myself. I had planned to do one really long spin and to stop on my toes, suspended for a moment, but I didn’t stay on my toes as long as I wanted. I did the spin and I landed on one toe. I wanted to just stay there, just freeze there, but it didn’t work quite as I’d planned.
When I got backstage, the people back there were congratulating me. I was still disappointed about the spin. I had been concentrating so hard and I’m such a perfectionist. At the same time I knew that was one of the happiest moments of my life. I knew that for the first time my brothers had really gotten a chance to watch me and see what I was doing, how I was evolving. After the performance, each of them hugged and kissed me backstage. They had never done that before, and I felt happy for all of us. It was so wonderful when they kissed me like that. I loved it! I mean, we hug all the time. My whole family embraces a lot, except for my father. He’s the only one who doesn’t. Whenever the rest of us see each other, we embrace, but when they all kissed me that night, I felt as if I had been blessed by them.
The performance was still gnawing me, and I wasn’t satisfied until a little boy came up to me backstage. He was about 10 years old and was wearing a tuxedo. He looked up at me with stars in his eyes, frozen where he stood, and said, “Man, who ever taught you to dance like that?”
I kind of laughed and said, “Practice, I guess.” And this boy was looking at me, awestruck. I walked away, and for the time that that evening I felt really good about what I had accomplished that night.
I said to myself, I must have done really well because children are honest. When that kid said what he did, I really felt that I had done a good job. I was so moved by the whole experience that I went right home and wrote down everything which had happened that night. My entry ended with my encounter with the child.
The day after the Motown 25 show, Fred Astaire called me on the telephone. He said, these are his exact words, “You’re a hell of a mover. Man, you really put them on their asses last night.” That’s what Fred Astaire said to me. I thanked him. Then he said, “You’re an angry dancer. I’m the same way. I used to do the same thing with my cane.”
I had met him once or twice in the past, but this was the first time he had ever called me. He went on to say, “I watched the special last night; I taped it and I watched it again this morning. You’re a hell of a mover.”
It was the greatest compliment I had ever received in my life, and the only one I had ever wanted to believe. For Fred Astaire to tell me that meant more to me than anything.
Later my performance was nominated for an Emmy Award in a musical category, but I lost to Leontyne Price. It didn’t matter. Fred Astaire had told me things I would never forget – that was my reward. Later he invited me to his house, and there were more compliments from him until I really blushed. He went over my “Billie Jean” performance, step by step. The great choreographer Hermes Pan, who had choreographed Fred’s dances in the movies, came over, and I showed them how to Moonwalk and demonstrated some other steps that really interested them.
Not long after that Gene Kelly came by my house to visit and also said he liked by dancing. It was a fantastic experience, that show, because I felt I had been inducted into an informal fraternity of dancers, and I felt so honored because these were the people I most admired in the world.
Man in the Mirror
“Man in the Mirror” is a great message. I love that song. If John Lennon was alive, he could really relate to that song because it says that if you want to make the world a better place, you have to work on yourself and change first. It’s the same thing Kennedy was talking about when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change. Start with the man in the mirror. Start with yourself. Don’t be looking at all the other things. Start with you.
“We worked in more than one club that had strippers in those days. I used to stand in the wings of this one place in Chicago and watch a lady whose name was Mary Rose. I must have been nine or ten. This girl would take off her clothes and her panties and throw them to the audience. The men would pick them up and sniff them and yell. My brothers and I would be watching all this, taking it in, and my father wouldn’t mind. We were exposed to a lot doing that kind of circuit. In one place they had cut a litle hole in the musicians’ dressing room wall that also happened to act as a wall in the ladies’ bathroom. You could peek through this hole, and I saw stuff I’ve never forgotten. Guys on that circuit were so wild, they did stuff like drilling little holes into the walls of the ladies’ loo all the time. Of course, I’m sure that my brothers. Of course, I’m sure that my brothers and I were fighting over who got to look through the hole. “Get outta the way, it’s my turn!” Pushing each other away to make room for ourselves.
Michael’s mother worried for her son. “This is quite a life for a nine-year old,” she would say, staring intently at my father.”
“He’d (my father) would sit at home with us every day after school and rehearse us. We’d perform for him and he’d critique us. If you messed up, you got hit, sometimes with a belt, sometimes with a switch. My father was real strict with us. Real strict. Marlon was the one who got in trouble all the time. On the other hand, I’d get beaten for things that happened mostly outside rehearsal. Dad would make me so mad and hurt that I’d try to get back at him and get beatel all the more. I’d take a shoe and throw it at him, or I’d just fight back, swinging my fists. That’s why I got it more than all my brothers combined. I would fight back and my father would kill me, just tear me up. Mother told me I’d fight back even when I was very little, but I don’t remember that. I do remember running under tables to get away from him, and making him angrier. We had a turbulent relationship.”
“I remember my childhood as mostly work, even though I loved to sing. I wasn’t forced into this business by stage parents the way Judy Garland was. I did it because I enjoyed it and because it was as natural to me as drawing a breath and exhaling it. I did it because I was compelled to do it, not by parents or family, but by my own inner life in the world of music.
“There were times, let me make that clear, when I’d come home from school and I’d only have time to put my books down and get ready for the studio. Once there, I’d sing until late at night, until it was past my bedtime, really. There was a park across the street from the Motown studio, and I can remember looking at those kids playing games….
I’d just stare and them and wonder, I couldn’t imagine such freedom, such a carefree life, and wish more than anything that I had that kind of freedom, that I could walk away and be like them.”