"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."
Interview: Michael Jackson
In 1983, Sylvie Simmons, লেখা for the leading US rock magazine Creem, interviewed the 24-year-old তারকা on the set for the video of 'Beat It' - one of the many classic songs from his new LP, Thriller, which was to become the biggest selling album of all time. She found a driven artist at the height of his powers, an assured performer on stage, but also a gentle soul who found the attentions of অনুরাগী unbearable
Downtown between the Pacific American মাছ Co and the Hotel St Agnes Hospitality রান্নাঘর there's an alley. Cars block each end, no escape. And, silhouetted in the car headlights, two rival LA gangs are swaggering towards each other. A couple of people pop their heads out of the hotel window, mutter something incomprehensible and go back to sleep. Down below in the smoke, the gangs are getting closer. They look mean. Those Cripps, the ones with the blue bandannas, look really mean, slapping their fists in their hands and scowling and getting closer. Then someone switches on a tape machine and a bit of "Beat It" blares out into the night ...
"Magic" - says Michael Jackson, who talks a lot about magic - "is easy if আপনি put your হৃদয় into it." There can't be that many things much আরো magic than standing around in downtown LA in the middle of the night watching marauding hordes stand to attention when someone with a fruity English accent gives the command. This particular bit of sorcery will, দ্বারা the time আপনি read this, be the video for "Beat It", Michael Jackson's new single. This song's about machismo; so's the video. Michael wakes up in some sleazy downtown bedroom in a cold sweat; he's had a dream about the upcoming punch-up and has to go stop it. He leaps out of bed, seriously endangering the lives of a whole family of cockroaches.
Back in the warehouse they're doing the choreographed fight sequence. The real gang members stand on the edges while a dozen অথবা so imitation gang members, professional dancers, dance and wave knives.
All this time, a thin, long-fingered man in a brown leather জ্যাকেট too big for him, is sipping কমলা juice, gazing wide-eyed and curious at the dancers and the monitors, nodding his head soberly in time to the music, his foot on automatic tap. Michael Jackson looks fascinated দ্বারা the whole thing. It's three in the morning before he gets his go. He's to come in, break up the fight and lead them dancing out of a warehouse. Pied Piper meets Peter Pan. Dawn was breaking দ্বারা the time they finished; Michael Jackson wasn't.
Where the man gets his energy from no one knows. It's certainly not drugs - he doesn't touch them and rarely drinks. It's certainly not raw meat - Michael's a strict vegetarian and wouldn't eat at all প্রদত্ত an alternative; he fasts and dances every Sunday and manages to live to start another week. Michael Jackson manages to do আরো in a week than most manage in a decade. In the time it took Supertramp to get the right পিয়ানো sound, Michael sang harmonies with Donna Summer, backing vocals with Joe King Carrasco, wrote and produced "Muscles" for Diana Ross, wrote and sang "The Girl is Mine" with Paul McCartney, and did a song for a narrated ET album, gathered together everyone from Vincent Price to Eddie অগ্রদূত Halen to help out with his solo album, and still had time for his pet llama, snake and parrots.
Just back from England (a couple আরো tunes with Macca, whom he met at a Hollywood ককটেল party at silent comedian Harold Lloyd's place and swapped phone numbers: "I প্রণয় Paul, Linda and family very much."), he's already planning projects with Gladys Knight, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Katharine Hepburn, and Freddie Mercury of Queen, his old pal. Not to mention working on a film with Steven Spielberg ("a futuristic ফ্যান্টাসি with music") and an album with the Jacksons. Remember the Jacksons? Michael's been their singer and choreographer ever since his dad Joe Jackson - one-time head of a Chuck Berry cover band in Indiana, the Falcons - noticed the five-year-old's nifty James Brown impersonations.
The songs, ideas, energy come from God, he reckons - the man's a devoted Jehovah's Witness, He'll just wake up in the night and there they are. Several আরো million sellers. His first solo album, Off the Wall, sold seven million copies. Thriller's not exactly ready for the cut-out bins yet. The first act in history, no less, to শীর্ষ the pop and R&B singles and albums charts all at the same time ...
I talked to Jackson before the video shoot. In a three-story condo in the San Fernando Valley - where Michael is staying while they rebuild his family house five miles down the road - filled with books, plants, art-work, animals, organic juices and nephews and cousins and siblings of the Jackson family. La Toya was there in a cowboy hat. Little sister Janet was there to তোতাপাখি my প্রশ্ন to Michael. Oh, I forgot, and there was a record collection ranging from Smokey Robinson to Macca, with stops at funk, new wave, classical and just about anything else.
"James Brown, রশ্মি 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. আপনি will again. He's painfully shy, stares at his hands, his shoes, his sister, anywhere he can forget there's an interviewer around.
He goes on: "I like to do that with art also. I প্রণয় 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 প্রণয় art. I প্রণয় it too much, because I end up buying everything and আপনি become addicted. আপনি see a piece আপনি like and আপনি say, Oh God, I've got to have this ...
"I প্রণয় classical music. I've got so many different compositions. I guess when I was real small in kindergarten and hearing Peter and the নেকড়ে and stuff - I still listen to that stuff, it's great, and Boston Pops and Debussy, Mozart, I buy all that stuff. I'm a big classical fan. We've been influenced দ্বারা all kinds of different সঙ্গীত - 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 সঙ্গীত অথবা label ourselves. I like doing something for everybody... I don't like our সঙ্গীত to be labelled. Labels are like ... racism."
How does he choose who he works with? Anybody who asks?
"I choose দ্বারা feeling and instinct," says Michael.
What does he get out of them?
"I feel it would be... magic."
Then again, you've got to keep in mind the man lives for his work.
"My career is mainly what I think about. It's hard to juggle your responsibilities around - my সঙ্গীত here, my solo career, my চলচ্চিত্র there, TV and everything else."
Is that what makes আপনি happy?
"Yes. That's what I'm here for really. It's like Michelangelo অথবা Leonardo da Vinci," his voice trails off; he looks torn between sounding immodest and telling the truth, which, as he sees it, is that talent comes from God anyway, so don't go patting him on the back. "Still, today, we can see their work and be inspired দ্বারা it."
So, as long as there are stereos, Michael Jackson lives?
"Yes. I'd like to just keep going and inspire people and try new things that haven't been done."
To what extent has his belief in divinity influenced his life?
"I believe in God. We all do. We like to be straight, don't go crazy অথবা anything. Not to the point of losing our perspective on life, of what আপনি are and who আপনি are. A lot of entertainers, they make money and they spend the rest of their life celebrating that one goal they reached, and with that celebration comes the drugs and the liquor and the alcohol. And then they try to straighten up and they say, 'Who am I? Where am I? What happened?' And they হারিয়ে গেছে themselves, and they're broken. আপনি have to be careful and have some kind of discipline."
Is he a very self-disciplined person? "I'm not an angel, I know. I'm not like a Mormon অথবা an Osmond অথবা something where everything's straight. That can be silly sometimes. It goes too far."
It must be hard being an অ্যাঞ্জেল 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 আপনি 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 ... Everyone knew where we lived before, because it was on the Map To The Stars Homes, and they'd come round with cameras and sleeping bags and jump the fence and sleep in the yard and come in the house - we found people everywhere. Even with 24-hour guards they find a way to slip in. One দিন my brother woke up and saw this girl standing over him in his bedroom. People hitch-hike to the house and say they want to sleep with us, stay with us, and it usually ends up that one of the neighbours takes them in. We don't let them stay. We don't know them."
আরো tales of crazy fans. One girl who tried to blow them up; another who screams at him in supermarkets. Must get a bit tough knowing who's your friend sometimes.
"It does become difficult. It's hard to tell, and sometimes I get it wrong. Just the force of feeling, অথবা if a person's just nice without knowing who আপনি are."
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."
Things weren't much different when he was growing up in Gary, Indiana. He remembers "a huge baseball pitch at the back of where I lived and children playing and eating ভুট্টার খই and everything" and not being allowed to যোগদান in, but still reckons: "I didn't really feel left out. We got a lot in exchange for not playing baseball in the summer. My father was always very protective of us, taking care of business and everything.
"We went to school, but I guess we were even different then, because everyone in the neighbourhood knew about us. We'd win every talent প্রদর্শনী and our house was loaded with trophies. We always had money and we could buy things the other kids couldn't, like extra ক্যান্ডি চকোলেট and extra bubblegum - our pockets were always loaded and we'd be passing out candy. That made us popular! But mostly we had private schooling. I only went to one public school in my life.
"I tried to go to another one here, but it didn't work, because a bunch of অনুরাগী would break into the classroom, অথবা we'd come out of school and there'd be a bunch of kids waiting to take pictures and stuff like that. We stayed at that school a week. The rest was private school with other entertainment kids অথবা stars' kids, where আপনি wouldn't have to be hassled."
But spending your life almost exclusively with your brothers and sisters - doesn't it get claustrophobic?
"Honestly, it doesn't, and I'm not just saying that to be polite."
Not even when they're on the road?
"No. We're so silly when we're on the road. We play games, we throw things at each other. It seems like when you're under pressure আপনি find some kind of escapism to make up for that - because the road is a lot of tensions: work, interviews, অনুরাগী grabbing you, everybody wants a piece of you, you're always busy, the phones ringing all night with অনুরাগী calling you, so আপনি put the phone under the mattress, then the অনুরাগী knock at the door screaming, আপনি can't even get out of the room without them following you. It's like you're in a goldfish bowl and they're always watching you."
How do আপনি escape the madness?
"I go to museums and learn and study. I don't do sports - it's dangerous. There's a lot of money being counted on, and we don't want to risk anything. My brother hurt his leg in a বাস্কেটবল game and we had to বাতিল the concert, and just because of him having an ঘন্টা of fun, thousands of people missed the show, and we were being sued left and right because of a game. I don't think it's worth it ... I try to be real careful."
Even about talking to the press. Another reason he hates interviews is a fear of being misquoted. Magazines he reckons, "can be so stupid sometimes that I want to choke them! I say things and they turn it all around. Once I made a quote - I care about starvation and I প্রণয় children and I want to do something about the future. And I said, one দিন I'd প্রণয় to go to India and see the starving children and really see what it feels like. And they wrote that Michael Jackson gets a kick out of seeing children starve, so আপনি can see what kind of person he is!"
আপনি 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."
So আপনি don't practise being sexy in front of the mirror?
"No! Once the সঙ্গীত plays, it creates me. The instruments সরানো me, through me, they control me. Sometimes I'm uncontrollable and it just happens - boom, boom, boom! - once it gets inside you."
Michael has complete control over every aspect of his career. And he criticises his own efforts আরো than anyone else's: "I'm never satisfied with what I do. I always think I can do it a lot better."
Anyway, as we told আপনি already he's going to be working on a film with Steven Spielberg. "I প্রণয় Steven," says Michael. "I can't really tell আপনি anything about the project. I will say Steven is my favourite director, and that he's looked long and hard for the right property."
Just heard that Francis Ford Coppola wants to do Peter Pan with him as the lead. And we at Creem haven't seen such a blatant bit of typecasting since Sly Stone made his fortune playing mindless beefcake. 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 Methusalah, and a child. I প্রণয় children so much. Thank God for children. They save me every time!
But how about a film of his own life, then? Will we ever get to see a film of Michael Jackson's magical life?
"No. I'd hate to play my own life story," he grimaces. "I haven't lived it yet! I'll let someone else do it."
© Sylvie Simmons, 1983