What happened to that sweet Black boy who was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary Indiana, the eighth of ten children to Katherine Ester Jackson, who harbored unrealized dreams of being a “country and western” singer, and Joseph Walter Jackson, who dabbled into music as the guitar player for a local rhythm and blues band?
Whatever happened to The Jackson 5, the group of super talented brothers who emerged in 1964, and comprised of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and the “anointed one” who was conceived for greatness, Michael?
Their father, who was fondly known as Joe Jackson, was inspired to replace his son Tito’s broken guitar after watching the young lad tinkering with it, and remarkably unleashing tunes that couldn’t be possible considering the bad shape of the instrument.
Michael was allowed into the group at just five-years-old, and he was assigned the duty of bringing congas to life. Imagine how young he was and how that moment of initiation began the journey that can only manifest from intense labor, and the intervention of all the elements that congregate to lay the foundation of imminent stardom beyond compare.
The Jackson 5 had a good run under the tutelage of an exceptionally demanding father, who entered his photogenic sons in talent shows around their hometown, before trying for bigger and better at renowned venues across the country.
The prolific moment happened at the cultural center of Harlem — The Apollo Theater, when on August 13, 1967, nine-year-old Michael joined his older siblings to make history. Before then, The Jackson 5 dazzled the audience at Chicago’s famed Regal Theater, but it was really the glorious reception at The Apollo that sealed the deal and forced beloved icon, Gladys Knight into action by packaging an audition tape, and sending it off to Motown Records.
The tape arrived at the Hollywood, CA office of Berry Gordy in early 1968, but he wasn’t interested in taking on new talent after having just recruited burgeoning crooner, Stevie Wonder. But as we all know, he finally agreed to add The Jackson 5 to the roster of still revered record label, that housed a plethora of hit makers and soulful gems that continue to gratify generations — both young and old.
Once the sky was the limit, the hits started flooding in and they activated the era when the good times kept rolling with the melodious passport to the “happy-go-lucky” vibes of “ABC,” “Never Could Say Goodbye,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There,” which are the more recognizable staples that are sadly being reduced to the background noise of generic commercials, selling over-priced drugs and travel deals.
The Jackson 5 didn’t last and ended up disbanding in the late seventies just as Michael was beginning his own spectacular trajectory.
Enter my childhood, as the quintessential child of the eighties, who absorbed the quirkiness and delightfulness of a decade that was profoundly entertaining on all fronts.
From the gaiety of landmark TV shows to infectious musical acts, there was no room for boredom. There was only the escape with the assistance of an over-used walkman, or even before that invention, the saved spot near the record player that featured the object that let out the vibrating bass with verses from the record of my life, “Off The Wall.”
Michael Jackson wasn’t just the “King of Pop,” because the worldwide adulation that captured his meteoric rise and the fascination that haunted his incredible fall from grace is more like a failed religion that leaves worshippers grasping for answers to pertinent questions, that will retain the torturous status of unfinished business.
The tenth anniversary of his horrific death on June 25, 2009, at the hands of his hired anesthesiologist, who fed him a lethal dose that knocked him out forever, comes with a weightiness for fans who don’t want to be robbed of the privilege of celebrating the global phenomenon who gave so much and left almost nothing for himself.
It helps to go back in time, and investigate those humble beginnings by recalling how it all began, with the little Black boy who did what he was instructed to do, and did it so well, that he was swiftly taken on the ride of his lifetime, at a daring speed that would leave any human being breathlessly consumed with the task of reestablishing contact with the inner self, that no longer comprehends the basic necessities.
The trials and tribulation of MJ in the last decade of his life didn’t leave much room for mandated healing from the deep wounds of the alleged abuse from his father, and the accusations of sexual abuse that he faced from some of the children that spent time in his sprawling Santa Barbara fortress, infamously known as “Neverland.”
It’s interesting that the genesis of the “Neverland” came from the adventures of the fictional character, Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up and commands the ability to not just fly, but dream anything into existence, while also sniffing out impending doom.
At the height of his court battles with his young accusers, revelatory details of his activities behind-closed-doors raised questions about the man that we had grown up to adore, who captivated hysterical fans and showcased a level of genius that was unprecedented.
The darkest periods were from 2002–2005, and after his acquittal, Michael Jackson was a broken man. An outcast who only had a few more years to live.
Absolutely nothing could restore the shiny luster of a former superstar, who had spent his whole life as a tethered spirit, performing for the masses of worshippers, who were close enough to catch the flailing pieces that couldn’t be retrieved.
It’s hurtful to know that many of us couldn’t reconcile the gorgeous young man at his palatable prime with the elusive figure who ran away to Bahrain after the trial of the century left a hollowness that couldn’t be filled by the fantastical themes of Neverland.
His remaining time on earth was spent in the uneven spotlight, that forced reconvening with a drastically waning legacy, that was producing the soggy rust of severing ties, as many who had placed him on the highest of pedestals, had begun the process of disassociation.
His tarnished reputation was being bloated by freaky rumors of bad health and the drastic measures being taken to keep him functioning for the biggest comeback ever recorded.
MJ never got the chance to revive his career and we never got the gift of celebrating his dazzling return to the place that birthed him because he became the unfortunate casualty of what happens when you grow up.
What ever happened to Michael Jackson?
Well, he unexpectedly died at his home, and since his death was officially ruled a homicide, Dr. Conrad Murray, who administered the lethal dose was charged with involuntary manslaughter in 2010, and sentenced to four years in prison. He was released in late 2013 because of prison overcrowding and the fact that he was well-behaved during his incarceration.
But things haven’t been going well for the adorable Black boy who grew up to be the Black man that everyone worshipped and eventually abandoned when shit hit the fan, right before and even after he passed.
The controversial documentary Leaving Neverland was the last nail in the coffin, as it once again resurrected the very serious allegations of child abuse, that the late Michael Jackson had fought till the end with a bitter victory that didn’t alter the dire projections for future plans of a blessed renewal.
I chose not to indulge in something that wasn’t released in good faith. The memory of a dead man engaging in blasphemous acts is an inflammatory exercise of self-mutilation, and contradicts the motives of the filmmakers who questionably claim the authority on a narrative that deserves to be treated with the utmost care.
But the irreversible damage that was exacted since the film’s release is perhaps the driving force behind the nefariousness of its ill-fated outing.
What’s currently happening to Michael Jackson is actually happening to all of us.
We’re in limbo. It’s like a half-death where you’re part of two worlds. You’re engaged in the nostalgic folds of a superman who was larger than life, but never really matured beyond the images that are embedded in memory cells. You’re also stuck in the twisted currency of acknowledging the shortcomings of troubled genius, who may or may not have done the unfathomable.
To be alive is to love him just as he was, and to be dead is to mourn the person nobody really knew, who is vulnerable to updated and cursed interpretations, and who is rotting in the landscape where unknowns float in the abyss of convenient dismemberment.
Many admit that the anniversary of his death uproots complications on how to deal with the bipolar tendencies of proudly paying homage to a legend, who was simplified by his relentless yearning for the stolen childhood of his dreams.
For me, it’s easy.
I’m alive and I love Michael Jackson for what he was and always will be to the little girl who can stay that way — just for him.