We didn't get to talk at the video for "Beat It." The man at Epic Records threatened me with all sorts of violence if I approached Michael Jackson during the shooting, and with all those Crips backing him up, who's arguing? Seems during an earlier take a pressperson said something to Michael that gave him a fit of giggles and gave the film crew a very expensive break.
But we did get to talk last year, in a three-story condo in the San Fernando Valley where Michael was staying while they rebuilt his family house five miles down the road, a condo filled with books, plants, art-work, animals, organic juices and various nephews and cousins and siblings of the Jackson family.
Sister LaToya was there in a cowboy hat. Little sis Janet was there to parrot my questions to Michael in a simpatico accent. Oh, and I forgot, and there was a record collection ranging from Smokey Robinson (the first record he ever bought was "Mickey's Monkey") to Paul McCartney, with stops at funk, new wave, classical and just about anything else. Hmm. The Jackson influences, eh?
"James Brown, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, Chuck Berry and Little Richard — I think they had strong influences on a lot of people, because these were the guys who really got rock 'n' roll going. I like to start with the origin of things, because once it gets along it changes. It's so interesting to see how it really was in the beginning."
Michael's got a tiny otherworldly voice. You've heard him described as childlike and angelic. You will again. He's painfully shy, stares at his hands, his shoes, his sister, anywhere where he can forget there's an interviewer around. He goes on: "I like to do that with art also. I love art. Whenever we go to Paris I rush to the Louvre. I just never get enough of it! I go to all the museums around the world. I love art. I love it too much, because I end up buying everything and you become addicted. You see a piece you like and you say, Oh God, I've got to have this...
"I love classical music. I've got so many different compositions. I guess when I was real small in kindergarten and hearing Peter and the Wolf and stuff — I still listen to that stuff, it's great, and the Boston Pops and Debussy, Mozart, I buy all that stuff. I'm a big classical fan. We've been influenced by all kinds of different music — classical, r&b, folk, funk — and I guess all those ingredients combine to create what we have now. I wouldn't be happy doing just one kind of music or to label ourselves. I like doing something for everybody... I don't like our music to be labeled. Labels are like...racism."
A good enough reason for swinging from Streisand to Freddie Mercury, not wanting to become the figurehead of just one group of people.
Is he a very self-disciplined person?
"I'm not an angel, I know. I'm not like a Mormon or an Osmond or something where everything's straight. That can be silly sometimes. It goes too far."
It must be hard being an angel when you're acknowledged as one of the sexiest performers around, have girls camping in your backyard and the like.
"I wouldn't say I was sexy! But I guess that's fine if that's what they say. I like that in concert. That's neat."
What isn't neat is "Like you run into a bunch of girls, which I do all the time, you'll drive outside and there'll be all these girls standing on the corner and they'll start bursting into screaming and jumping up and down and I'll just sink into my seat. That happens all the time."
Is it lonely at the top?
"We know lots and lots of people because we have such a big family. But [I've got] maybe two, three good friends."
But spending your life almost exclusively with your brothers and sisters — don't you get on each other's nerves? Doesn't it get claustrophobic?
"Honestly it doesn't, and I'm not just saying that to be polite. Thank God it doesn't."
Not even when they're out on the road together?
"No. We're so silly when we're on the road, and we just get sillier. We play games, we throw things at each other, we do all kinds of silly things."
You wonder how someone so sweet and shy and childlike gets to be such a demon onstage.
"I just do it, really. The sex thing is kind of spontaneous. It really creates itself, I think."
So you don't practice being sexy in front of the mirror?
"No! Once the music plays, it creates me. The instruments move me, through me, they control me. Sometimes I'm uncontrollable and it just happens — boom, boom, boom! — once it gets inside you."
At 24, doesn't it get on his nerves being referred to as a "child"?
"I don't mind. I feel I'm Peter Pan as well as Methusaleh, and a child. I love children so much. Thank God for children. They save me every time!"
Read dozens more Michael Jackson interviews and reviews at www.rocksbackpages.com. Over 13,000 articles by the greatest writers from the finest rock publications of the last 40 years.
- Michael Jackson