Is Michael OK?" are the words that were oft heard in the Jackson household in Gary, Indiana. In You're Not Alone, Jermaine Jackson welcomes the reader into the intriguing life of his brother, the King of Pop Michael Jackson, and his family. He guides readers along Michael's gripping journey from a child with a dream on a set of bongos and the Jackson 5 days, to going solo and becoming the greatest performer of all time, and his untimely death.
You're Not Alone is an enthralling combination of memoir, family biography and music history. The Jacksons had their ancestry rooted in the slave trade and came from a singing background. Jermaine traces its roots to Eufaula, Alabama, where we meet Scruse, a great-grandfather who was a slave, and Katie Scruce (later known as Mother), who sang in church. The father's side, whose roots are in Dermott and Little Rock in Arkansas, also boasts strong music credentials. Michael's parents Joseph and Katie met in 1949 and got married and settled in Gary, where they raised their musically inclined brood — six boys and three girls — in 2300 Jackson Street, but had their eyes set on Hollywood. Singing began in the family sink assembly line and got serious when Tito broke Joseph's guitar.
The incident culminated in gruelling rehearsals in the living room and the birth of the Jackson 5. With Michael as their lead singer, the brothers became hot property and were soon signed by Motown, which saw the family move to Hollywood. At "Motown University" Michael and his brothers honed their skills and developed a huge following worldwide.
When he went solo, he released smashing hits, beginning with Thriller and performed to full capacity stadiums. If you thought Beliebers were crazy, think again. The fans back then didn't wait for TMZ or the paparazzi to post pictures on gossip websites — they got up close with the stars. If you weren't born then or were too young to pull your hair or faint as the Jackson mania gripped the world, it is OK, because Jermaine takes you back in time and you can live vicariously through the Billie Jeans of the years gone by.
The Jackson family is unarguably one that rose from humble beginnings (putting hot potatoes in their pockets in winter because they couldn't afford gloves, buying second-hand Salvation Army clothes) to countless connections that allowed it to experience all the splendours of Hollywood at its best. However, there is a lot more to You're Not Alone than rising from humble beginnings to glamour, or nostalgia. It will make you laugh; it will make you cry; it will even educate you on the history of African-American music and racism that Michael and his family experienced first-hand.
Song lyrics are also thrown in here and there. For fans of the Jackson 5 and Michael, this is a fascinating journey of their rise to the top and the challenges they overcame along the way. You're Not Alone is a window into the life — the thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams — of a man who was grossly misunderstood. The portrait that Jermaine paints is of a man totally different from the one who jumped out of media headlines. To many, Michael was this larger-than-life star well known for his Moonwalk, while to some he was Wacko Jacko, the eccentric — but in his brother's eyes he was a normal, caring father, son and brother.
Four years older than Michael, Jermaine was always at his brother's side and remembers many moments with him in the book. He recounts how Michael grappled with acne problems during his teenage years and how he would listen to a tape reminding him that he was "confident, strong, beautiful and the greatest" to calm nerves before a big event — show or recording. Jermaine's style of delivery is charming and will have you laughing out loud throughout.
In You're Not Alone the author categorically denies that Michael used to bleach his skin and attributes his condition to vitiligo. At times it feels as though Jermaine — who is clearly still struggling to come to terms with his brother's death — is trying too hard to defend him. However, he makes it clear that Michael is no saint. He talks candidly about his brother's obsession with plastic surgery; reliance on propofol and Demerol (a result of insomnia and pain caused by an injury he suffered while filming a commercial in 1984), his struggle with finances after the trial, blind faith in advisers and a naïvety evidenced by signing contracts without reading the fine print.
Jermaine brings his musician's eye for detail and his stage performer's sense of the dramatic to the pages of the book. The result is a captivating memoir of the brother he loved, whose life came to an abrupt end. This story will make you realise that celebrities are just like you and me — human.
You're Not Alone: Michael Through a Brother's EyesBy Jermaine Jackson,Touchstone, 464 pages, $26