Sunday 26 February 2012

Jermaine Jackson Outtake

Since it was taken over by AOL, the Huffington Post has introduced a fairly restrictive word limit on blog entries, asking posters to cap them at an absolute maximum of 1,200 words. Under the current editorial policy, my piece on the Michael Jackson trial would never have been published by the website. It was also the reason I had to post an uncut version of my Troy Davis piece on my website.

With this word count in mind, I had to cut my interview with Jermaine Jackson into small chunks, which told an overall narrative but at the same time were self-contained and somewhat themed. The first, about the controversy surrounding his book and how it came to be published, was published in October. The second installment focused on he and his brothers' childhood experiences. That fairly uncontroversial segment is the one which was rejected without any explanation.

When I re-worked the piece for the Orchard Times, having those self-contained chunks was no longer a necessity and discussion of Jermaine's childhood would have been a diversion from the overall narrative. As such, the whole segment got dropped.

Rather than leaving it unpublished, I thought I'd stick up here on the blog for you all.

Through A Brother's Eyes: Jermaine Jackson Speaks - Part Two

Michael Jackson's solo career was so eclipsing that it's easy to forget the enormity of the Jackson 5's success. The first group ever to have their first four records go to number one, they sparked hysteria almost everywhere they went. Almost everywhere.

Concerts in Southern states were picketed by the KKK. Jermaine tells me about the trauma of, "checking into a hotel and they're telling you 'you don't have reservations here' and we know we have them. Then when they give us our rooms, they [are] way in the back facing the alley where all the trash was." Stories like this serve as a reminder that the Jackson 5 started out, as Jermaine puts it, as "five black guys from Gary, Indiana" - a fact overlooked by some generations who have simply never known a world in which the Jacksons weren't famous.

In fact, the Jacksons' story is one of the greatest rags-to-riches tales ever told. The family rose from a borderline poverty-stricken background - two parents and nine children living in a two-bedroom house on a crane operator's wage - to become the most famous family in America, challenging stereotypes and breaking barriers along the way.

In his book, Jermaine downplays their money woes. They weren't poor, he says, but they weren't privileged. He writes: "The best way of describing our situation was: not enough money to buy anything new, but somehow we scraped by and survived."

The group's rise to prominence is well-documented but Jermaine's descriptions of life at Motown have raised eyebrows among some fans, who believe he has sugar-coated the brothers' childhood, contradicting many of Michael's own recollections.

For example, Jermaine writes of their after-school work schedule at Motown: "[We went] to the studio for around 5.30pm, and sometimes stayed there till 10.30pm. Some people say this sounds exhausting but we were too excited to notice because we loved being at work."

This doesn't quite tally with Michael's own version of events. In 1993 he told Oprah Winfrey, "I remember going to the record studio and there was a park across the street and I'd see all the children playing and I would cry because it would make me sad that I would have to work instead."

When I put this to Jermaine he mentions a scene early in the book where he and Michael are stood at the window at Christmas, watching the local children play outside with their new toys, unable to share in their joy because of their Jehovah's Witness upbringing.

"I think that scene shows that same sadness," he says. "But I think the sadness was also balanced with our shared thrill of performing. I remember this time at the Apollo when we were in the dressing room looking down on the basketball courts, desperate to play. But we were born to entertain. Michael lost four more years of his childhood than I did, so I understand why he felt more strongly about this... Michael was probably the most sensitive out of all of us, so I think he was maybe more vulnerable to the impact of fame."

Fans have also questioned Jermaine's depiction of his father Joe's allegedly heavy-handed discipline, which Michael claimed left him so traumatised that he would vomit at his father's mere presence. Claiming that Joe's behaviour was both normal and necessary at the time, particularly because he was desperate not to see his children swept up in Gary's gang culture, Jermaine suggests that Michael's recollections may have been 'exaggerated' because he witnessed his siblings' punishments at a young age, hearing their 'screams' and seeing 'belt buckle imprints on bare skin at bed time'.

"This made him fear something long before he felt it," he writes. "In his mind the mere thought of Joseph's discipline was traumatic. That is what exaggerated fear does: it builds something in the mind to a scale that, perhaps, it is not."

But Michael often recalled being personally beaten and whipped by his father. In one 2001 interview with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, broadcast on NBC after his death, he recalled his father using extreme violence towards him and his siblings. "He would make you strip nude first," he told Boteach. "He would oil you down. It would be a whole ritual. He would oil you down so when the flip of the ironing cord hit you, you know... You had whips all over your face, your back, everywhere."

Jermaine tells me he does not share this particular recollection. He's quick to point out, though, that this doesn't mean it wasn't true. It was 'clearly Michael's emotional truth and recollection' - but just not one shared by Jermaine.

"Whatever people want to label it - beatings, whippings, spankings - it was not abuse," Jermaine tells me. "I was there. I shared the same discipline at the hands of Joseph and I have never considered myself 'abused'... In the book, I try to place Joseph's discipline and Michael's forgiveness of Joseph into a context no-one has written about before."

Still, Joe Jackson does not emerge from this book bathed in holy light. While he's portrayed more sympathetically than is common in Jackson biographies, Jermaine's recollections still detail what many would consider inappropriate discipline. Despite earlier attributing his father's brutal discipline to a fear that his children would be tempted to join local gangs, Jermaine reveals that even after the group had achieved global success and moved to California, rehearsals were still "administered under the threat of a beating."

One of Jermaine's more shocking claims is that Joe Jackson tricked a teenaged Michael into leaving Motown and signing a contract with CBS Records by pretending he'd get to have dinner with Fred Astaire as a reward. Then, he writes, Joe used that signature to try to convince Jermaine - at that time married to Motown boss Berry Gordy's daughter - to jump ship as well.

I ask Jermaine how his father has reacted to such revelations but, as far as he is aware, Joe has not yet read the book.

In 1975 Michael, Marlon, Jackie and Tito signed contracts with CBS and hopped labels with brother Randy filling Jermaine's spot. Jermaine remained loyal to his father-in-law and stayed at Motown. "There was a suggestion for years that I broke up the group by leaving," he writes, "but I've never viewed it that way. I did not leave them: they left me."

The split drove a wedge between Jermaine and the family. Joe wouldn't take his calls and the brothers were now often away on tour without him. Jermaine, used to his brothers' constant presence, found the separation almost impossible to bear. But, he says with hindsight, the distance between them would prove trivial compared to the chasm that later opened between Michael and his family. In a few years, he says, Michael would become surrounded by shady figures who assumed control of his affairs, screened his calls and locked his family out of his property. That was when everything started to go really wrong…

Sunday 19 February 2012

Final Jermaine Extract & Roundtable Discussion

Before posting the fifth and final audio extract from my Jermaine Jackson interview, just a quick note to let you know that I recently took part in a roundtable discussion about Michael Jackson as a songwriter.

I was invited to take part in the discussion by Joe Vogel, author of the magnificent book 'Man In The Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson'. You can read the discussion here. I'm told there may be a second round of discussion in the coming weeks.

In this brief, final excerpt from my interview with Jermaine Jackson, he tells me about his hopes for a Jacksons reunion tour. Don't forget to read the full interview here.

As always, watch the blog, my twitter page and my facebook page for more updates.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Fourth Jermaine Jackson Audio Extract

In this clip, Jermaine tells me about chapter 22 of his book, in which he details the eyewitness accounts of five people he interviewed who were inside rehearsals for the 'This Is It' concerts.

Friday 17 February 2012

Third Jermaine Jackson Audio Extract

In this extract, Jermaine speaks to me about racism in the music industry, and what role he believes music publishing played in his brother's demise:

Second Jermaine Jackson Audio Extract

In this second audio extract, Jermaine speaks to me about how delays in the Conrad Murray trial left him feeling that the justice system didn't care about his brother's death.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Jermaine Jackson: Audio Extracts

I will be posting a few audio extracts from my interview with Jermaine Jackson over the coming days. Some will be of segments which were included in the final article, some will be outtakes which had to be cut to keep the word limit down.

I will post blog updates each time a new clip is uploaded. I will also alert readers via my Twitter page and my Facebook page.

Here is the first clip, in which Jermaine discusses media manipulation, the famous 'pyjama day' during his brother's 2005 trial, what Michael would think of his children's increasingly public profile and Jermaine's thoughts on the controversial Cardiff tribute concert.

Jermaine Jackson: An Update

Regular readers will remember that back in October I posted about the first installment of my Jermaine Jackson interview being published on the Huffington Post. I said that when the next installment went live, I'd blog again. The next installment never went live and so I never published a follow-up blog.

This was because of a peculiarity at the Huffington Post. They published part one without question but, after taking more than a week to process part two, emailed to tell me that they had decided not to run it. They gave no explanation and when I emailed them to ask for one, I never received a reply.

About a week later, a fellow Huffington Post blogger attempted to upload a piece about Michael Jackson and got the same response. It took ages to process and was then rejected. When they asked why, they too received no reply.

I have no idea why those decisions were taken, or whether there were anymore. Maybe the editors just had an influx of blogs all uploaded at the time. Maybe they felt the site was too saturated with Jackson-related content given that Conrad Murray's trial was generating daily headlines at the time. Still, though, it wouldn't have hurt to tap out a one or two line email explaining that. Perhaps it was none of the above. Perhaps other forces were at work. In all likelihood, we'll never know.

I sat on the Jermaine interview for several months until my friend Roman emailed me about a new publication he'd launched - The Orchard Times. I offered him the Jermaine piece and he jumped on it.

The delay had its up-sides. Since its AOL takeover, the Huffington Post has introduced a slightly maddening word limit on each entry, which meant I had to chop the interview up into several themed chunks. At the Orchard Times, I was able to post it as a single, flowing piece.

The other up-side was that I got to publish the piece after the Conrad Murray trial. Before the trial, a lot of what Jermaine said about This Is It rehearsals would have been considered insane by many readers, but testimony during the trial vindicated a lot of his words. I have added a post-script which places Jermaine's comments about This Is It in the context of what was revealed during the trial.

Today marks five months to the day since the interview took place. It's a relief to finally see it online. I hope you all enjoy it.

A quick note

I'm about to post an update on my Jermaine Jackson interview, but before I do I feel I should address an issue which recently came to my attention.

I have long been the subject of nasty rumours and hate campaigns by a collection of obsessive wingnuts at a website called Topix. I first became aware of them when somebody sent me a link to a thread where they were accusing Deborah Ffrench and I of being the same person. Many of them continue to allege that we are the same person, even though we've made several radio appearances together. Some have gone further and claimed that I don't even exist. This is despite the fact that I've appeared on TV. At one point they even emailed the Huffington Post en mass to inform the staff that they'd been duped and I didn't exist.

Impersonation is a problem I've had to contend with a few times in the last few years too. It started out with people posting foul-mouthed gibberish underneath articles on websites like TMZ, signing them with my name. Then things moved up a notch. Somebody set up an email address closely resembling mine and used it to create a website calling Michael Jackson a child molester. They started emailing fans, claiming to be me.

Now things have taken a more sinister turn. In a similar incident, somebody has once again set up an email address closely resembling mine. This time, though, they've used it to join a public group for people who like to post pictures of young boys. Then they've sent out public messages asking the other members to post 'more uplifting' shots.

It seems pretty clear to me that the culprit is one of my obsessive detractors over at Topix, given that this is, rather conveniently, the only place anyone has ever discovered the emails. Moreover, in order to search for an email address, one must enter it into a search engine exactly. Given that this email is not mine, and there has never previously been any suggestion that it is mine, there is no reason for anybody to be searching for it.

In order to successfully turn up the public messages sent from that email address, the person who posted those messages on Topix must have searched for that email address in its exact form. The only reason they'd be doing that is if they already knew it existed. The only reason they would know that is if they were either directly involved in its creation or knew somebody who was.

To add insult to injury, the discussion also includes comments from Topix users about how because I am gay, I must be attracted to little boys. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about the mindset of those involved, but that is of little comfort, knowing that such despicable, heinous accusations exist about oneself on the internet. Some users have even posted pictures of me, saying that I look like somebody who would abuse children.

I can't be sure of why I attract such ire from Topix users. Setting up a phoney email address, joining a paedo-sympathisers' group, sending out public messages and then posting them on the internet claiming I'm the sender is a pretty elaborate ploy. A lot of time and effort must have gone into it. Why go to such lengths over me?

My only guess is that it's because they a) find me threatening and b) have nothing else to come at me with. My work on Michael Jackson is deeply researched and rigorously fact-checked, then published by legitimate, international news outlets. This seems to really cheese off the small but obsessive clique of Jackson haters who lurk at Topix. So much so that they appear to have impersonated me on several occasions now in various attempts to undermine my work.

Their two-pronged tactic has been to portray me as either an obsessive fan or a paedophile sympathiser. Neither holds any weight.

Far from being an obsessive fan, I'm disliked by a sizable portion of Jackson's fanbase because I have criticised a lot of his latter work and refuse to condone a lot of his latter day behaviour, such as the baby-dangling incident. In fact, many of Jackson's fans perceive me as a 'hater' on par, ironically, with the Topix mob.

As far as being 'obsessive', the Jermaine Jackson interview I'm about to post will be my first Michael Jackson related article in about a year. The Topix crew, meanwhile, are on that snarky little forum every single day of their lives, ranting about Jackson and his supporters. What's that old saying about people who live in glass houses?

As for being a paedophile sympathiser, the claim is outrageous. I spent a significant chunk of last year sitting in a courthouse, working as a trial reporter for regional and national newspapers. My two biggest stories were about paedophiles who were given absurdly lenient sentences. I even posted one of them on this blog:

Click to enlarge

The Topix users seem to equate belief in innocence with sympathy for the guilty. By their logic - if you can call it that - the twelve jurors who sat through all of the evidence and testimony in Jackson's trial and reached unanimous 'Not Guilty' verdicts on all charges must also be paedophile sympathisers - a notion which has no basis in reality, given that most of the jurors were parents or grandparents.

Pulitzer-winning journalist Dorothy Rabinowitz once wrote a book all about people who were falsely accused of child molestation and faced similar treatment. In the epilogue of No Crueler Tyrannies, she wrote that child abuse was such an emotive subject that people became infuriated by anybody campaigning on behalf of the wrongly accused. Their belief was that vindicating the innocent would lead to lighter treatment of the guilty, or demonstrated a lack of sympathy for real child abuse victims.

Rabinowitz wrote: "I have to note the query often raised in the course of interviews about these cases. Did I recognize that child sex abuse existed and was a serious problem? reporters would ask. A strange question, that. The discussion of no other crime would require such a disclaimer. Journalists who have written about false murder charges are seldom asked to provide reassurances that they know murder is a bad thing, and it really happens."
Indeed, I have never been criticised for my articles about questionable murder charges, like those of Kenny Waters or Troy Davis. I have never been branded a murderer-sympathiser, or had my photo posted on forums by people claiming I look like I would enjoy murdering people.
Perhaps the posters over at Topix just have an affinity for children who make false accusations. It would make sense, given that most of the Topix posters appear themselves to be children who sit around all day making false accusations.

Ultimately, they've only exposed themselves. To post pictures of somebody, unprovoked, and say they look like a child molester - and to go so far as to publicly smear someone with fake emails portraying them as a paedophile - is beyond despicable. It is an evil, spiteful and wholly indefensible act. Those responsible have outed themselves as pure scum. It is no wonder they're all too cowardly to put their names to any of their disgusting posts. They'd be spat on in the street.

Arguably more despicable than the posters, though, are the owners of Topix, who refuse to remove smears of this kind from the website unless the victim is rich enough to hire a lawyer. Where does freedom of speech end and slander begin? I would submit that the line has been crossed considerably when you start baselessly accusing somebody of paedophilia.

The message of Topix's owners: 'If you're rich, we'll do whatever you like, but if not, we're going to provide imbeciles with a forum to publicly paint you as a paedophile.' The message of its users: 'Say anything we don't like on the internet, and we'll use the forum Topix is providing to its fullest extent.'

What can I say? They deserve each other.