Thursday, June 25, 2009

The child who never was

The Jackson 5 were all that in 1970, and their 45s were more than likely playing on a hi-fi near you.

I know they were playing on a hi-fi near me . . . and on a radio near me . . . and the brothers Jackson were on a TV near me, too. I was nine, and the Jackson 5 became part of the soundtrack of my adolescence.

What I didn't know was that -- for the sake of my entertainment and Joseph Jackson's bottom line -- a little boy named Michael, one not much older than me, was being denied his childhood. That their old man was working Michael and his four elder brothers like dogs in the rehearsal hall.

No, not exactly like dogs. If old Joe had beat Fido every time he messed up "Roll over!" or "Fetch!" somebody probably would have called the Humane Society.

No such luck for Jermaine, Tito, Marlon, Jackie and Michael, the little boy with such star quality.

MICHAEL'S STAR shone brightly back then, and it just kept getting brighter. By the early 1980s, now out on his own, he was the undisputed "King of Pop." He also was becoming the undisputed King of Weird.

There was all the plastic surgery. The hyperbaric chamber, supposedly some sort of high-pressure, pure oxygen Fountain of Youth. The attempt to buy the remains of the "Elephant Man."

He bought a mansion and turned it into "Neverland," a fantasy world with giraffes and Bubbles the Chimp and an entire private amusement park. The little boy who never had a childhood now was the chronological adult desperately trying to revert to what he never had the chance to be.

IT DIDN'T WORK. Not unless you count the unreal world of the deluded inner workings of the man-child's mind.

As Michael Jackson's wealth, fame and professional acclaim grew, his emotional well-being waned and his private life imploded into a bizarre world of excess and scandal. And, later on, massive indebtedness and sex-abuse charges.

Bad things happen when, for the love of fame and money, children become means and not ends. When adults steal their childhood. When they try to turn back the hands of time and reclaim what never was theirs.

Something bad happened -- something unspeakably tragic happened -- to the King of Pop when he was but an aspiring prince. Or, more precisely, when his father's aspirations included his son's princehood.

Something, or someone, got into Michael Jackson's head and his heart, played with them as if they were big boys' toys and left them irreparably bruised and broken. Michael Jackson lived a storybook life, all right -- Humpty Dumpty.

Michael Jackson made "Off the Wall,"
Michael Jackson took a great fall,
And all the King's agents and all the King's men,
Couldn't put Michael together again.

MICHAEL JACKSON the composer, singer and dancer was one of the most amazing stories in entertainment history. Michael Jackson, the broken little boy grown up into a deeply disturbed man, will go down in "HIStory" as one of the great tragic figures of our time.

The King of Pop himself was responsible for some of that tragedy, but not all. His enablers and hangers-on have their role in this Greek tragedy, too.

But this horror had its roots in Gary, Ind., where a bunch of working-class kids played joyous music under a taskmaster's lash, singing for their parents' supper. The little boy with all the star power was being eaten alive by the ambition of a stage dad from hell.

The child on the Ed Sullivan Show -- the one with the face of an angel -- was being turned into an amusement park for untold demons.

Sleep well, Joseph Jackson. If you can.

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