is 20, Tito 17, Jermaine 16, Marlon 14. They sing some, and play guitar.
Michael, the lead singer, is twelve. They are brothers, and taken
together they add up to the Jackson Five, a group that in hardly more
than a year-has become the biggest thing to hit Pop Capitalism since
the advent of the Beatles. They had four hit singles in 1970, two
more already this year, four albums, with all ten releases selling
in the millions, and one (I'll Be There) already well over 4,000,000.
Teen-age girls besiege their home for autographs and sometimes faint
when they sing. They have their own magazine, a quarterly in which
fans can revel in a whole issue devoted entirely to the Jackson Five
and read things like "Michael's Love Letter to You." Stores
now bulge with Jackson Five decals, stickers and sweaters. A Jackson
Five hair spray and a Jackson Five watch are planned, as well as a
television cartoon about their lives. Despite this commercial hoopla,
the group manages to be one of the best soul bands in the country.
It is also part of the most likable and natural family ever to survive
the pressures of teen-age stardom. So Correspondent Timothy Tyler
discovered on a recent visit to the Jackson Five in Los Angeles:
First of all, they are really the Jackson
twelve or 13, depending on whether you count Sister Maureen, who
lives in Kentucky. There are the parents, Joe and Katherine, and
Cousins Johnny Jackson and Ronnie Rancifer, who play drums and piano
respectively, Sisters Janett, 4, and Latoya, 15, and Little Brother
Randy, 8, who is getting ready to join the group.
They all live together in a massive twelve-room
stucco-modern house on a large lot guarded by an electric gate out
in Los Angeles' sprawling San Fernando Valley. The place is mammoth,
flanked by a guesthouse, playhouse and servants' quarters. But there
are only six bedrooms so that Michaelculture hero though he
ishas to triple up with Randy and Marlon, and the other brothers
are forced to share too.
The Jackson fortress wraps itself around
a pool; it has walkways and plants growing all around; there is
a basketball half court, badminton court, an archery range and,
inside, a pool table in a sunken rec room and a den that looks like
a cross between a motel lobby and the foyer of a Sunset Boulevard
record company. The walls are plastered with platinum records (each
signifying $2,000,000 in sales) and various other trophies the boys
have picked up. For furniture, there is a bar, a stereo with big
speakers and leatherette couches.
The place is almost totally impersonal, the
fiercest personality around being without a doubt Lobo, a German
shepherd trained to eat anything, black or white, that's squeaky
and carries an autograph book. The family's closest friends have
to wait outside in their cars in the parking lot and call up to
the window, "Is Lobo O.K.?" The kids hold the raging beast
down, inside the house, until a split-second before the visitor
comes in the front door. Then Lobo is allowed to rush out the back
door, a tornado of bristles and snarls, in a vain (hopefully) attempt
to race around the establishment and up the front steps in time
to rip the pants off whoever is going in the front door.
The kids wander around the place, not exactly
at home but definitely in control of the situation. Michael, with
the loveliest, fullest, twelve-year-old Afro you'll hope to see,
has the history of the group down pat: "We all started singing
together after Tito started messin' with Dad's guitar and singin'
with the radio. It was Tito decided we should form a group, and
we did, and we practiced a lot, and then we started entering talent
shows, and we won every one we entered, and then we did this benefit
for the mayor [Richard Hatcher of Gary, Ind.], and Diana Ross was
in the audience, and afterward we was in the dressin' room and Diana
Ross knocked on the door, and she brought us to Motown in Detroit
and that was it."
He is taken aback when you question him beyond
this, because that's as far as his training takes him. But he responds
well enough. Yes, Mother Katherine had played clarinet in high school,
but she wasn't much of a musical influence. Father Joe, who also
sports a natural and who as a youth had sung and played guitar with
a local group called the Falcons, set more of an example. The whole
family, Maureen on piano, would sit around the house through the
'60s and sing on weekends, Joe providing the chords on guitar. Tito
got the idea they should be a formal group when Michael was only
Tito was playing guitar, and Jermaine learned
basson Tito's guitar at first, there being no money for a
real bass. Then came the bass amps and speakers, and there wasn't
enough money left to buy any more instruments, so the cousins were
enlisted, more for their set of drums and their piano than for their
musical talents. Singing songs like the Temptations' I Wish It Would
Rain and My Girl, or Smokey Robinson's Going to a Go-Go, they began
making tours to Chicago, Arizona, New York and Boston. The family
made most of these trips in their Volkswagen bus, with a second
van for equipment. The kids just remember all the snow and all their
weekends and school holidays being spent in motels and strange arenas.
Says Marlon: "We would do a show somewhere Sunday night, we'd
get home at 3 in the morning, then we'd have to get up at 8 to go
to school. That was rough."
Things have eased up in some ways. But it's
still remarkable that they're as big as they are, considering that
their concert and recording schedules, TV appearances and the creation
of a new series of J-5 animated cartoons all have to be worked around
school and homework. The Buckley School (in Sherman Oaks, where
all five of them go) makes allowances, and a social worker-tutor
travels with the boys wherever they go, but show biz is still a
schooling handicap. But then again, the boys, who; get only a small
allowance each week, aren't subject to the pressures of traveling
grown-ups you know, wasting time with those worthless chickies
on the road, migraine headaches, creaking bones, drugs and alcoholinstead,
they unwind nightly with pillow fights and card games, Scrabble
Motown Magic. But neither their schooling
nor their music has really suffered from their schedule. Seeing
the boys together, you begin to realize how hard they've worked
to get good. Some of their stuff is certainly a product of "that
Motown magic," as Motown publicists put it, meaning Motown
President Berry Gordy and Songwriters Fonso Mizell, Freddy Perren
and Deke Richards, who wrote Love Child for the Supremes. The tunes
they are given are good black pop, the rhythms authentic rhythm
and blues. But it takes some kind of private and personal magic
for a twelve-year-old like Michael to sound convincing in a lyric
Let me fill your heart with joy
Togetherness, girl, is all I'm after.
Whenever you need me,
I'll be there.
Musically, they're all really just getting
started. Michael plays drums. He says he is learning piano too.
"It's not hard. You just have to put your mind to what you
doin'; that's all there is to it." Marlon says in his soft
child-voice that he's a dancer, and Jermaine adds that Marlon is
known around the house as "Las Vegas" because of his prowess
with cards. It turns out that Jermaine is a poet, and that he and
Michael (Michael does everything) draw pictures of people. Jackie
likes to recall how 16 girls fainted in Cincinnati when Jermaine
was doing his solo in I Found That Girl. When he ad-libbed, "Won't
you take me with you?" the girls apparently confused the concert
with a gospel response meeting, broke out in sweats and screamed,
"Yes!" and then keeled over.
It's still a bit too chilly to swim just
now, so after a little basketball the kids settle down to a game
of pool. "I'm good on my trampolin," Michael remarks.
"And I'm good at pool." "Not as good as me,"
says Jermaine. Back home in Gary, says Tito, "We all played
Little League, and we all hit home runs during the series. We were
always the best at everything." Somehow it sounds neither phony
nor swellheaded merely the truth.