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I had forgotten that Michael Jackson’s birthday was August 29th, until it was announced that his family planned to bury him on that date this year, when he would have turned fifty-one. (That has now been postponed until September 3rd, no doubt to give him just slightly more time to rise from the dead.) Once upon a time, it was a date I knew by heart – along with the fact that MJ’s zodiac sign was Virgo, which made him a potentially compatible mate for me. Spike Lee, who was recently quoted as saying, “I wanted my Afro to be perfectly round, like Michael’s,” is throwing a public birthday party for the deceased in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Me, I’d like to observe the occasion by looking on the bright side – there are eight Jackson siblings still living. (Joe Jackson may already be looking forward to a future in which he will put his hapless grandchildren on stage, but we need not encourage him.) Sure, next to Michael, the rest of the clan seem like saplings in the shade of a mighty oak, but when we have no alternative, perhaps we can make do.
The Yang to his Yin: Janet
Maybe because she was born so late in the game that she was almost an afterthought, Janet was able to break free of the Joe Jackson mindfuck and make a series of hit records, which, seriously, if you haven’t listened to them in a while, bust out your shoulder pads and crimp your hair, cuz we havin’ a party. For my money, Control and Rhythm Nation 1814 are still the best – I have a weakness for bootylicious Janet as opposed to washboard-abs Janet. But even before she joined forces with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Janet had (or should have) earned her big brothers’ respect by going where none of them was able to go – sitcoms. She was little more than wallpaper as Willis’ girlfriend Charlene on Diff’rent Strokes, but as little girl lost Penny on Good Times, who follows J.J. home and stays in the ghet-to forever, she is indispensable.
The Dethroned Prince: Jermaine
It must have been difficult for him not to just kick Michael in the ass – literally – when the Jackson 5 took to the stage. The handsomest of the boys, Jermaine was the obvious choice for lead singer until his pipsqueak kid brother started hogging all the attention. Getting to sing “co-lead” on hits like “I Want You Back” and “The Love You Save” must have been small consolation. Jermaine soothed his injured feelings by bringing groupies back to the hotel rooms he shared with his brothers on the road, possibly laying the groundwork for at least some of Michael’s future sexual hangups. When he struck out on his own (an endeavor assisted by his marriage to the boss’ daughter, Hazel Gordy), he worked with a mind-blowing range of musical celebs, from Devo to Pia Zadora. However, I think it’s his contribution to the music video world that really deserves more attention. The ever-so-sweaty clip for “Do What You Do,” featuring Iman as a well-oiled lover with a secret agenda, haunted my dreams for years. On the other end of the spectrum is the video for “Dynamite,” in which Jermaine attempts to break out of a prison guarded entirely by dancing women. Thank you for the day-glo vertical stripes, J-Man.
The One Who Saved Herself: Rebbie
The oldest sibling, Rebbie (pronounced REE-bee) is remarkable among the Jackson sisters for how much you don’t know about her. Too old and too female to belong to the Jackson 5, she simply went about her business, marrying her high school sweetheart (to whom she is still wed), pitching in on the family variety show, and doing background vocals on records by Chaka Khan and Lou Rawls. Her li’l bro Michael wrote her a Top 40 hit, “Centipede,” and she was able to enjoy her moderate success without flipping out, talking to the media too much, or butchering her face (though she did give one of the weirdest performances ever captured in a music video). Hopefully, when grandma Katherine passes, Prince, Paris and Blanket will be ushered into adulthood by the gracefully un-neurotic Aunt Rebbie.
The Twin Soul: LaToya
Clearly, LaToya and Michael share the distinction of “Most Troubled Jackson,” the major difference being the latter’s unparalleled success and former’s status as a perpetual loser. Then again, she’s still alive. Before Armed and Famous and Celebrity Big Brother (in which Jermaine also appeared, by the way), before posing for Playboy, before the tell-all memoir, before the unconsummated marriage to the psycho manager who beat her and tried to force her to appear in a porno…wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, back in their tender years, Michael and LaToya did everything together, from knocking on doors like good little Jehovah’s Witnesses to sharing their first “grown-up” pad together in New York while Michael was filming The Wiz. Appropriately, she seems to have benefited the most from her beloved brother’s untimely death. It gave her an excuse to release a previously unheard single, ostensibly to benefit Michael’s favorite charity, Project AIDS Los Angeles (remember Ryan White?), and her increased visibility has led to her being asked back to guest host on The View this fall (apparently she did it before, back in 2003 – why on earth…?). The chance to reinvent herself as a long-suffering survivor is, perhaps, Michael’s final gift to the sister who, like him, was a primary victim of their awful father’s intolerance for weakness. He loved her, and his heart don’t lie.