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Michael Jackson ... Through His Brother's Eyes
Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 4:28 pm
In the 1960s, five brothers — from a family of nine children — formed a music group in their living room in Gary, Ind. Their voices soon gained world stardom with songs such as "ABC," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," "Boogie Man" and "I'll Be There." They were the Jackson 5: Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael Jackson.
Their lives took different directions, but many of them stayed in the entertainment business. They pursued solo music careers, ran record companies and produced television series.
Michael Jackson, the group's youngest member and lead vocalist, ruled the pop and rhythm and blues charts throughout the 1980s with his own work. In his early 20s, he came out with Thriller, the album that earned him smashing success. But in the 1990s, the King of Pop's career took a downturn as he was accused of child abuse. In the 2000s, he was charged and arrested for child molestation, but was later acquitted. On June 25, 2009, he died in Los Angeles from an overdose of the powerful anesthetic, propofol. As a criminal trial continues to explore how he died, those who loved him are still grappling with why.
His older brother Jermaine Jackson is also trying to come to terms with the loss and has a new book titled You Are Not Alone: Michael: Through a Brother's Eyes. He joins Tell Me More host Michel Martin for an interview.
On his favorite story of Michael
"The one that sticks out in my mind all the time, and sticking on Michael's mind too, was singing, looking out the window — the snow was falling — and wanting Christmas. And we weren't allowed to [celebrate Christmas] because we were Jehovah's Witnesses. But that's when we were singing a lot of Christmas carols.
"Those were the moments and stories of just how we were just kids and on the road. Stories of me bringing girls in the room, and thinking Michael and Marlon were asleep, and they're not asleep. And Michael's just being a kid — very mischievous and just all over the place."
On Michael's upbringing, Neverland Ranch and advocacy for children
"You get so big, and then the media is looking for something to exploit and to create sensationalism. With Michael, it became his undying love for children, because of him not really having a childhood. So even when he became an adult, he was looking at children through a child's eyes, and the world looking at him through adult eyes, and the misleading things they were saying about him with children and all these things. What I've done with chapter 17, it's called 'Body of Lies,' shows you exactly what happened.
"When we grew up, there was nothing different about a stranger, about everybody. The neighbor's kids sleeping on the floor, making beds. The kids, little boys, little girls, friends, this and that ... we were watching TV and having fun. Nothing about abuse and none of this kind of stuff. Michael never left that. Even when we were growing up in our room, we were five boys in one little room. There were triple bunk beds: Tito and I at the top, Michael and Marlon in the middle and Jackie at the bottom. Psychologically, he never left that.
"Now, it's like growing up not having a childhood and then wanting to relive that. That's the whole purpose of Neverland. Neverland was lit up like a Christmas tree 24 hours a day, 365 days out of the year. There were wheelchair ramps up going up to rides because he wanted children to have fun who were terminally ill of cancer. That's where his charity work came in. There were beds — a special suite in his theater — where kids that needed oxygen, where they can watch movies and things like that. And that was misunderstood and misinterpreted."
On Michael's personal physician Conrad Murray, and Michael's death
"He trusted the doctor. And every doctor takes an oath to take care of their client — not to take their life. And whatever the doctor was putting in him, which was propofol, it wasn't administered in a proper setting. Propofol is OK if it's in the right hands, meaning an anesthesiologist. But when it's given to someone and they're not that — he was a cardiologist — and it wasn't in the proper setting, then it becomes a weapon.
"When I wrote in the book about his body being half cold and half hot, him repeating himself all the time, him not knowing right from left ... these are signs of toxic poisoning. They're trying to say these were self-administered. The autopsy reported that was not the truth. Michael had a problem with sleeping, but he's never had these symptoms before. Michael had pain from the Pepsi burn [an injury he suffered while filming a 1984 commercial and subsequently took painkillers for] so there was the situation of Demerol in 2001 or 2002, but that didn't kill my brother. What killed my brother was propofol being in the wrong hands and negligence.
"We'll never get closure. When something like this ends ... you learn to live with it, but you'll never get over it. Because we lost a good brother. He was a good father. His daughter, Paris, said that during his memorial. My mother lost a great son. Nephews lost an uncle. And it's something ... he'll never come back, and you look who he was — he was a misunderstood person because of old-fashioned values."
On Murray's trial
"Put it like this — whether it's fair or not, I do believe they are going to paint my brother out to be the most horrible person. And that's why I documented who he was in this book. He's a wonderful human being.
"He was pure. He was real, and he cared. And when you look in his eyes, you could tell that this is a good, great human being. That's what I want people to remember him as — a human being. Yes, he had incredible success, and God knew who to bless with the success, because he knew he was going to give back to the people. He was doing God's work through his music and his songs."
MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
They are voices known around the world.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ABC")
MICHAEL JACKSON: (Singing) You went to school to learn, girl, things you never, never knew before.
THE JACKSON 5: (Singing) Like I before E except after C.
MARTIN: Of course, that was the Jackson 5 singing "ABC," their number one hit song in 1970. The Jackson 5 started in their living room in Gary, Indiana. Five brothers in a family of nine children, led by two strong and musically gifted parents. Their careers and lives took them in many directions.
The youngest member, Michael Jackson, went on to become the internationally acclaimed King of Pop. But more than two years ago, he died from the unintended overdose of a powerful anesthetic.
But even though the world knows how he died, those who loved him are still grappling with why. Now, his older brother, Jermaine, has written a new book that tries to come to terms with that. He's with us now to talk about it. It's called "You Are Not Alone: Michael: Through a Brother's Eyes."
Welcome, Jermaine Jackson. Thanks so much for joining us.
JERMAINE JACKSON: Thank you very much.
MARTIN: How are you doing, by the way?
JACKSON: I'm doing OK.
MARTIN: Two years on.
JACKSON: I'm doing OK. It's been tough, but we're hanging in there.
MARTIN: Many people, when they grow up in a close family or when they lose a sibling, they describe it as feeling as though they've lost a limb. Do you feel that way?
JACKSON: Absolutely. It's something that you can't explain unless you experience it. But to lose a loved one, whether it's a sister or brother, mother, father - it's very hard.
MARTIN: Let me ask you. This book is coming out as jury selection has gotten underway in the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray. Murray, of course, was Michael's personal physician and he is being tried in connection with administering an anesthetic that is blamed for causing Michael's death.
Was your book timed to come out in connection with the trial?
JACKSON: No. We had moved the release date because the trial kept on moving, because we didn't want it to be during the trial. But it was a story that needed to be told. But what I did with the book is try to deal with the human side of Michael and who the family is all about, what we did growing up in our younger years. And it's sort of like a true documentation of his life and a lot of funny things that people didn't know about Michael. But I addressed everything, leading all the way up to his death and all in between.
MARTIN: Well, one of the reasons I was asking about this is that you've been part of telling your family's story before. For example, there was the made for TV movie that you produced. So what do you think is new in this book? What is it that you hope people will get out of this book that they might not have gotten out of other productions about your family or other stories about your family?
JACKSON: This book is very, very different from what's been said out there. Because, first of all, all the tabloid and the media that they've pounded the public over the head and given them their interpretation through their eyes. And what I've done is given the truth and the facts through my eyes, and as to what really took place. But it's more so, of showing the human side of Michael and great stories of just the inspiration of songs and why they were written and just all sorts of things. And - but I touch on everything because I thought it was important.
MARTIN: You tell some very sweet stories in the book, I do have to say. Would you pick a favorite and tell me - and I'll tell you one of mine. How about that? I'll tell you one of my favorites and you can tell me one of yours. How about that?
JACKSON: There are so many, but the one that sticks out in my mind all the time, and stuck in Michael's mind, too, is us singing. Singing, looking out the window as the snow was falling and wanting Christmas, and we weren't allowed to because we were Jehovah Witnesses. But that's when we were singing a lot of Christmas carols and...
MARTIN: Which you had learned at school, because you didn't celebrate Christmas?
MARTIN: Yeah. Now, you tell a story about the two of you looking out the window, looking at the snow coming down and he couldn't have been more than - what, four?
MARTIN: And you would have been - what, eight?
MARTIN: And you're harmonizing together in your teeny, teeny little voices, singing really softly because you didn't want your parents to hear.
MARTIN: But they do hear. But they did hear.
JACKSON: Yeah. They hear everything. But those were the moments and stories of just how we were just kids on the road. Stories of me bringing girls in the room and (unintelligible) and Michael and Marlon are asleep and then I was asleep. And Michael's just being a kid, very mischievous and just all over the place.
MARTIN: Two of my favorite stories speak to the two different sides of your brother, Michael. On the one hand you talked about how because he was one of the youngest, he would hear the older kids getting spankings and he didn't want to get one, so he would fly, like running when he thought that he might...
MARTIN: ...get a spanking. He would literally go running and do whatever he had to do to get away, like crawl under the bed.
On the other hand, you talk about how generous he was. That as a child he got in trouble with your dad because he went and got candy from the store and instead of like reselling it to the other kids, he insisted on giving it away.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
JACKSON: Yes, he was one of those that - and even when he sold it he would sell it for the same price he bought it for. So my father said stick to music because you're not making any profit.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: How did it get to the point though where - and you talk about just the demands of being so famous so young. But how did it get to the point where he became afraid that people were trying to literally harm him, and that the family became afraid that no one was looking out for him? You know, how did it get to that?
JACKSON: When you become a target, you get so big and then the media is looking for something to exploit and to create some sensationalism. With Michael it became his undying love for children because of him not really having a childhood. And so, you know, when he became an adult he was looking at children through a child's eyes and the world was looking at him through adult eyes. And the misleading things that they were saying about him with children and all these things, what I've done with chapter 17 is called "Body of Lies," it's just to show you exactly what happened.
When we grew up there was nothing different about or strange about everybody and the neighbor's kids sleeping on the floor, making beds, kids, little boys, little girls and friends and this and that - and we were watching TV and having fun. And we would put the pillows and get under the covers and there was nothing about abuse and none of this kind of stuff. And Michael never left that. And even when we were growing up in our room, we were five boys in one little room and there were triple bunk beds: Tito and I at the top, Michael and Marlon in the middle, and Jackie at the bottom. And psychologically, he never left that, he held on to all of that. And now it's like growing up not having a childhood and then wanting to relive that.
That's the whole purpose of Neverland. I mean Neverland was a lit up like a Christmas tree 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. And there were wheelchair ramps going up to rides because he wanted to children to have fun who were terminally ill of cancer and that's where his charity work came in. There were beds, special suites in his theater for kids that needed oxygen, where they can watch movies and things like that, and all this was misunderstood and misinterpreted.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. I'm speaking with Jermaine Jackson about his newly-released book. It's titled, "You Are Not Alone: Michael, Through a Brother's Eyes." I'm interested in what this experience is like for you now after having these experiences through your life, since you were a child. And now you've put yourself out there to talk about this again. In a way it can't be that easy. I'm just wondering why you feel it's important to do.
JACKSON: Well, see, this is most designed to show the human side of Michael and, of course, addressing all these things that were put before him. It's important to show the things that happened and all the false allegations and false accusations, and even the things that happened during those final days of the "This Is It" rehearsal. But at the same time, I wanted to show the human side of Michael, because the media has beat the world up with these lies. And during the process of writing this book I got a chance to look through a lot of other books that were written and I couldn't believe the lies and the things they were saying about us about this.
How can we be a dysfunctional family? Look at our beginnings. Look at how we grew up. We grew up loving each other and very, very close and we were - total success is just an illusion, it can come and go, but what you have and what you will always have, even before success, was each other. We know this now. Michael knew that. And for them to say all these horrible things and him to be the number one donor out of any individual in the world's Guinness book of records for charity. If God knows what you're going to do with the blessings - and he knew that Michael would take the blessings that he gave him and bring an awareness to the world of the problems that are going on with children, with children...
JACKSON: He was the voice for children who were starving and who were dying, were terminally ill. His whole Neverland was designed around that. "Man in the Mirror," "Heal the World," Earth Song," "We Are the World," that's the Michael Jackson that I want people to remember and that's why this book was so important.
MARTIN: I think though, can you understand why it might be hard for other people to see why he would be so misunderstood? Or even your family for that matter. Since you've been so successful for so long, and it's just I think commonly believed or understood that there is a whole army of people in Hollywood and in the entertainment industry who exist solely for the purpose of getting your story out. So can you see why it might be hard for people to say well, how can you be so misunderstood when you've had people for years whose only job was to present you to the public?
JACKSON: I see what you're saying. But at the same time, look at our beginnings. We're not from Hollywood. We are a family, not a business. And we're a family that came from Gary, Indiana. And I use the parable of an oak tree. My mother and father being the root system and we're the different branches. And my father fought so hard to keep that tree together and keep it strong and beautiful. And when we came out to California, the agents, the managers, the lawyers, the accountants didn't look at this tree as a beauty on its whole. They look at it to take this branch away from the tree, to take that branch away from the tree until it became that we were all on different record labels at one time. That's why my father fought so hard to keep us together.
MARTIN: Hmm. Who do you hold accountable for what happened to Michael in the end?
JACKSON: It's a lots of questions. But I will just say this: He trusted the doctor. And that every doctor takes an oath to take care of their client, not to take their life. And whatever the doctor was putting in him, which was propofol, it wasn't administered in a proper setting. Propofol is OK if it's in the right hands, meaning an anesthesiologist, but when it's giving to someone and they're not that - he was a cardiologist and it wasn't in the proper setting, then it becomes a weapon. It...
MARTIN: Well, it's a surgical anesthesia, not meant just a sleeping pill.
JACKSON: Yeah. It's like gun. Yeah. It's...
MARTIN: It's meant to knock you out.
JACKSON: It's like a gun. And, but see, we have a lot of questions as a family because so many things took place. And what I've tried to do in the book is take you into the rehearsals of the "This Is It" beyond the edits that you saw, because there were days Michael was perfectly healthy. He was perfectly healthy. I know there were questions about this and we saw him last, which is May 14th, and even all the way up to the early part of June, then mid-June things something happened. And what I wrote in the book about his body being half cold and half hot, him repeating himself all the time, him not knowing right from left. These are signs of toxic poisoning. They're trying to say this was self-administered by himself. The autopsy reports that that was not the truth.
Michael had a problem with sleeping, but he's never had these symptoms before. Yes, Michael had pain from the Pepsi burns. So there was this situation of Demerol in 2001 or '02. But that's not what killed my brother. What killed my brother was propofol being in the wrong hands and negligence, that's what killed him. And it was administered the one night; it was over a period of time.
MARTIN: When you had these concerns about his condition did you ever, did you or members of the family ever consider holding an intervention?
JACKSON: During the time, but there wasn't one. And this was in 2002, but that was way back then. Up to this point, 2009, had nothing to do with 2002.
MARTIN: So you thought he was doing well. You thought he was doing well.
JACKSON: No, we knew he was doing well. We saw, he was dancing four hours a day with LaVelle Smith, his main dancer with his crew and he was - he just put a down payment on the home. He was looking to he had a five-year plan. He had plans with us after "This Is It." "This Is It," Michael has always said at the final curtain "This Is It," and he's always played with the media. He was the master salesman. But at the same time he had plans for doing tours with us as well.
MARTIN: Do you feel that you will get, you know, closure is one of those words that, you know, maybe it means something, maybe it doesn't. You know, some people hate that word. Do you feel though, that you will get closure from this trial, that you'll at least have some piece of understanding?
JACKSON: No. Never. We'll never get closure. When there's something like this, and I'm pretty sure the listeners will agree, you learn to live with it, but you'll never get over it, you just learn to live with it because we lost a brother - put aside the success. We lost a good brother. He was a good father. His daughter Paris said that during the memorial. My mother lost a great son. We lost - these nephews lost and it's something that he'll never come back. And when you look at who he was, he was the most misunderstood person because of raised in the old-fashioned values.
MARTIN: I know that you're probably not the person to ask this. But having gone through the criminal justice system yourself, because of your brother's experience and having felt so scarred by it, do you feel that this trial going forward will be fair?
JACKSON: Put it like this: Whether it's fair or not, I do believe that they're going to try to paint my brother out to be the most horrible person. And that's why I documented who he was in this book. He was a wonderful human being.
MARTIN: Well, your book is titled "You Are Not Alone: Michael, Through a Brother's Eyes." Is there something that you saw with your brother's eyes that you would like - that you would most like the public to think about and remember when they think about Michael Jackson?
JACKSON: He was pure. He was real and he cared. And when you look in his eyes you could tell that this is a good, great human being. And that's what I want people to remember him, as a human being. You know, he had incredible success and God knew who to bless with the success because he knew he was going to give back to the people and bring it in a way - he was doing God's work pretty much through his music and his songs, and he chose him.
MARTIN: Jermaine Jackson is a member of the internationally-known Jackson family. His new book is called "You Are Not Alone: Michael, Through a Brother's Eyes," and he was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Jermaine Jackson, thanks so much for talking to us.
JACKSON: Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE THERE")
5: (Singing) You and I must make a pact, we must bring salvation back. Where there is love, I'll be there. I'll be there.
MARTIN: If you'd like to read an excerpt from the book, we'll have the prologue on our website, that's where Jermaine Jackson recounts one of the family's most intense and painful experiences: Michael Jackson's trial on child molestation charges. We'll have the entire prologue on our website. Just go to npr.org, click on the Program page, and select TELL ME MORE.
And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
5: I'll be there to comfort you, build my world of dreams around you, I'm so glad that I found you. I'll be there with a love that's strong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.