Michael Jackson and his fears

By MARK MOSES  |  June 26, 2009

Those settings can only be afforded by stars, and that such expense seems necessary in a rough-and-tumble black-music field that has produced more lightning riffs than unreachable stars. Jackson knows that he has parlayed the near-novelty status of his youth into something solid—and not without a worrisome stall. When he and his brothers (expect Jermaine, who married Berry Gordy's daughter) ditched the then-declining Motown in the mid-'70s, their first few years at Epic, including collaborations with the declining Gamble and Huff cabal, weren't profitable enough to allow Michael his solo career. (Although the group must have learned something: the compact translations of R&B charges displayed on Destiny and Triumph nod to Philadelphia's irrepressibility as well as Motown's finesse.) Only when the band returned to prominence with Destiny's "Blame It on the Boogie" and "Shake Your Body" could Michael be indulged.

As Triumph proved, Michael's brothers ground him fitfully, pressing him to face down his odd fears. They withstand his dazzling star turns, but not without a fight. On Live, the in-concert double set recorded on the Triumph tour, it's Michael who, in a moment of mock rage, argues against performing a medley of the group's Motown hits. The songs are old, he complains, the choreography is old, the costumes are old. Lovable, professional brat that he is, he wants to play to new stuff, as promotional decorum dictates. Of course, he finally agrees to the medley and has a fine time with it. With the new chances Jackson takes on Thriller, though, the gulf between him and his brothers, between their grit and his glitter, narrows. The next time you see the group together on stage, I bet Michael accedes to "ABC" without a fight.

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