Книги: Moonwalk — Chapter Three

The media write weird stuff about me all the time. The distortion of the truth bothers me. I usually don’t read a lot of what is printed, although I often hear about it.

I don’t understand why they feel the need to make up things about me. I suppose if there’s nothing scandalous to report, it’s necessary to make things interesting. I take some small pride in thinking that I’ve come out pretty well, all things considered. A lot of children in the entertainment business ended up doing drugs and destroying themselves: Frankie Lymon, Bobbie Driscoll, any of a number of child stars. And I can understand their turning to drugs, considering the enormous stresses put upon them at a young age. It’s a difficult life. Very few manage to maintain any semblance of a normal childhood.

I myself have never tried drugs — no marijuana, no cocaine, nothing. I mean, I haven’t even tried these things.

Forget it.

This isn’t to say we were never tempted. We were musicians doing business during an era when drug use was common. I don’t mean to be judgmental — it’s not even a moral issue for me — but I’ve seen drugs destroy too many lives to think they’re anything to fool with. I’m certainly no angel, and I may have my own bad habits, but drugs aren’t among them.

By the time Ben came out, we knew that we were going to go around the world. American soul music had become as popular in other countries as blue jeans and hamburgers. We were invited to become part of that big world, and in 1972 we began our first overseas tour with a visit to England. Though we’d never been there before or appeared on British television, people knew all the words to our songs. They even had wide scarves with our pictures on them and «Jackson 5» written in big broad letters. The theaters were smaller than the ones we were used to playing in the United States, but the enthusiasm from the crowds was very gratifying as we’d finish each song. They didn’t scream during the songs the way crowds did back home, so people over there could actually tell how good Tito was getting on the guitar, because they could hear him.

We took Randy along because we wanted to give him the experience and allow him to see what was going on. He wasn’t officially part of our act, but stayed in the background with bongos. He had his own Jackson 5 outfit, so when we introduced him, people cheered. The next time we came back, Randy would be a part of the group. I had been the bongo player before Randy, and Marlon had played them before me, so it had become almost a tradition to break the new guy in on those crazy little drums.

We had three years of hits behind us when we toured Europe that first time, so there was enough to please both the kids who followed our music and the Queen of England, whom we met at a Royal Command Performance. That was very exciting for us. I had seen photographs of other groups, like the Beatles, meeting the Queen after command performances, but I never dreamed we’d get the chance to play for her.

England was our jumping-off point, and it was different from any place we’d been before, but the farther we traveled, the more exotic the world looked. We saw the great museums of Paris and the beautiful mountains of Switzerland. Europe was an education in the roots of Western culture and, in a way, a preparation for visiting Eastern countries that were more spiritual. I was very impressed that the people there didn’t value material things as much as they did animals and nature. For instance, China and Japan were places that helped me grow because these countries made me understand there was more to life than the things you could hold in your hand or see with you eyes. And in all of these countries, the people had heard of us and liked our music.

Australia and New Zealand, our next stops, were English-speaking, but we met people who were still living in tribes in the outback. They greeted us as brothers even though they didn’t speak our language. If I’d ever needed proof that all men could be brothers, I certainly had it during that tour.

And then there was Africa. We had read up on Africa because our tutor, Miss Fine, had prepared special lessons on the customs and history of each country we visited. We didn’t get to see the prettier parts of Africa, but the ocean and the shore and the people were unbelievably beautiful near the coast where we were. We went to a game reserve one day and observed animals roaming wild. The music was eye-opening too. The rhythms were phenomenal. When we first came off the plane, it was dawn and there was a long line of Africans dancing in their native costumes, with drums and shakers. They were dancing all around, welcoming us. They were really into it. Boy, it was something. What a perfect way to welcome us to Africa. I’ll never forget that.

And the craftspeople in the marketplace were incredible. People were making things as we watched and selling other things. I remember one man who made beautiful wood carvings. He’d ask you what you wanted and you’d say, «A man’s face,» and he’d take a piece from a tree trunk, slice it, and create this remarkable face. You could watch him do it right before your eyes. I’d just sit there and watch people step up to ask him to make something for them and he’d do this whole thing over and over.

It was a visit to Senegal that made us realize how fortunate we were and how our African heritage had helped to make us what we were. We visited an old, abandoned slave camp at Gore Island and we were so moved. The African people had given us gifts of courage and endurance that we couldn’t hope to repay.

I guess if Motown could have had us age the way they wanted us to, they would have wanted Jackie to stay the age he was when we became a headline act and have each of us catch up with him — although I think they’d have wanted to keep me a year or so younger, so I could still be a child star. That may sound nonsensical, but it really wasn’t much more farfetched than the way they were continuing to mold us, keeping is from being a real group with its own internal direction and ideas. We were growing up and we were expanding creatively. We had so many ideas we wanted to try out, but they were convinced that we shouldn’t fool with a successful formula. At least they didn’t drop us as soon as my voice changed, as some said they might.

It got to the point that it seemed there were more guys in the booth than there were on the studio floor at any given time. They all seemed to be bumping into one another, giving advice and monitoring our music.

Our loyal fans stuck with us on records like «I Am Love» and «Skywriter.» These songs were musically ambitious pop recordings, with sophisticated string arrangements, but they weren’t right for us. Sure, we couldn’t do «ABC» all our lives — that was the last thing we wanted — but even the older fans thought «ABC» had more going for it, and that was hard for us to live with. During the mid-seventies we were in danger of becoming an oldies act, and I wasn’t even eighteen yet.

When Jermaine married Hazel Gordy, our boss’s daughter, people were winking at us, saying that we’d always be looked after. Indeed, when «Get It Together» came out in 1973, it got the same treatment from Berry that «I Want You Back» had gotten. It was our biggest hit in two years, though you could have said it was more like a bone transplant than the spanking little baby that our first hit was. Nevertheless, «Get It Together» had good, tough low harmony, a sharper wah-wah guitar, and strings that buzzed like fireflies. Radio stations liked it, but not as much as the new dance clubs called discos did. Motown picked up on this and brought back Hal Davis from The Corporation days to really put the juice into «Dancing Machine.» The Jackson 5 were no longer just the backup group for the 101 Strings or whatever.

Motown had come a long way from the early days when you could find good studio musicians supplementing their session pay with bowling alley gigs. A new sophistication turned up in the music on «Dancing Machine.» That song had the best horn part we’d worked with yet and a «bubble machine» in the break, made out of synthesizer noise, that kept the song from going completely out of style. Disco music had its detractors, but to us it seemed our rite of passage into the adult world.

I loved «Dancing Machine,» loved the groove and the feel of that song. When it came out in 1974, I was determined to find a dance move that would enhance the song and make it more exciting to perform — and, I hoped, more exciting to watch.

So when we sang «Dancing Machine» on «Soul Train,» I did a street-style dance move called the Robot. That performance was a lesson to me in the power of television. Overnight, «Dancing Machine» rose to the top of the charts, and within a few days it seemed that every kid in the United States was doing the Robot. I had never seen anything like it.

Motown and the Jackson 5 could agree on one thing: As our act grew, our audience should too. We had two recruits coming up: Randy had already toured with us, and Janet was showing talent with her singing and dancing lessons. We couldn’t put Randy and Janet into our old lineup any more than we could put square pegs into round holes. I wouldn’t insult their considerable talent by saying that show business was so in their blood that they just took their places automatically, as if we’d reserved a spot for them. They worked hard and earned their places in the group. They didn’t join us because they ate meals with us and shared our old toys.

If you just went by blood, I’d have as much crane operator in me as singer. You can’t measure these things. Dad worked us hard and kept certain goals in sight while spinning dreams at night.

Just as disco might have seemed like a very unlikely place for a kids’ group to become a grown-up act, Las Vegas, with its showcase theaters, wasn’t exactly the family atmosphere that Motown had originally groomed us for, but we decided to play there just the same. There wasn’t much to do in Las Vegas if you didn’t gamble, but we thought of the theaters in the city as just big clubs with the club hours and clientele of our Gary and South Side Chicago days — except for the tourists. Tourist crowds were a good thing for us, since they knew our old hits and would watch our skits and listen to new songs without getting restless. It was great to see the delight on their faces when little Janet came out in her Mae West costume for a number or two.

We had performed skits before, in a 1971 TV special called Goin’ Back To Indiana , which celebrated our Gary homecoming the first time we all decided to return. Our records had become hits all over the world since we’d seen our hometown last.

It was even more fun to do skits with nine of us, instead of just five, plus whatever guests happened to appear with us. Our expanded lineup was a dream come true for Dad. Looking back, I know the Las Vegas shows were an experience I’ll never recapture. We didn’t have the high-pressure concert crowd wanting all our hit songs and nothing more. We were temporarily freed from the pressures of having to keep up with what everyone else was doing. We had a ballad or two in every show to break in my «new voice.» At fifteen, I was having to think about things like that.

There were people from CBS Television at our Las Vegas shows and they approached us about doing a variety show for the upcoming summer. We were very interested and pleased that we were being recognized as more than just a «Motown group.» Over time, this distinction would not be lost on us. Because we had creative control over our Las Vegas revue, it was harder for us to return to our lack of freedom in recording and writing music once we got back to Los Angeles. We’d always intended to grow and develop in the musical field. That was our bread and butter, and we felt we were being held back. Sometimes I felt we were being treated as if we still lived in Berry Gordy’s house — and with Jermaine now a son-in-law, our frustration was only heightened.

By the time we began putting our own act together, there were signs that other Motown institutions were changing. Marvin Gaye took charge of his own music and produced his masterpiece album, What’s Goin’ On . Stevie Wonder was learning more about electronic keyboards than the experienced studio hired guns — they were coming to him for advice. One of our last great memories from our Motown days is of Stevie leading us in chanting to back up his tough, controversial song «You Haven’t Done Nothin’.» Though Stevie and Marvin were still in the Motown camp, they had fought for — and won — the right to make their own records, and even to publish their own songs. Motown hadn’t even budged with us. To them we were still kids, even if they weren’t dressing us and «protecting» us any longer.

Our problems with Motown began around 1974, when we told them in no uncertain terms that we wanted to write and produce our own songs. Basically, we didn’t like the way our music sounded at the time. We had a strong competitive urge and we felt we were in danger of being eclipsed by other groups who were creating a more contemporary sound.

Motown said, «No, you can’t write your own songs; you’ve got to have songwriters and producers.» They not only refused to grant our requests, they told us it was taboo to even mention that we wanted to do our own music. I really got discouraged and began to seriously dislike all the material Motown was feeding us. Eventually I became so disappointed and upset that I wanted to leave Motown behind.

When I feel that something is not right, I have to speak up. I know most people don’t think of me as tough or strong-willed, but that’s just because they don’t know me. Eventually my brothers and I reached a point with Motown where we were miserable but no one was saying anything. My brothers didn’t say anything. My father didn’t say anything. So it was up to me to arrange a meeting with Berry Gordy and talk to him. I was the one who had to say that we — the Jackson 5 — were going to leave Motown. I went over to see him, face to face, and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. If I had been the only one of us who was unhappy, I might have kept my mouth shut, but there had been so much talk at home about how unhappy we all were that I went in and talked to him and told him how we felt. I told him I was unhappy.

Remember, I love Berry Gordy. I think he’s a genius, a brilliant man who’s one of the giants of the music business. I have nothing but respect for him, but that day I was a lion. I complained that we weren’t allowed any freedom to write songs and produce. He told me that he still thought we needed producers to make hit records.

But I knew better, Berry was talking out of anger. That was a difficult meeting, but we’re friends again, and he’s still like a father to me — very proud of me and happy about my success. No matter what, I will always love Berry because he taught me some of the most valuable things I’ve learned in my life. He’s the man who told the Jackson 5 they would become a part of history, and that is exactly what happened. Motown has done so much for so many people over the years. I feel we’re fortunate to have been one of the groups Berry personally introduced to the public and I owe enormous thanks to this man. My life would have been very different without him. We all felt that Motown started us, supporting our professional careers. We all felt our roots were there, and we all wished we could stay. We were grateful for everything they had done for us, but change is inevitable. I’m a person of the present, and I have to ask, How are things going now? What’s happening now? What’s going to happen in the future that could affect what has happened in the past?

It’s important for artists always to maintain control of their lives and work. There’s been a big problem in the past with artists being taken advantage of. I’ve learned that a person can prevent that from happening by standing up for what he or she believes is right, without concern for the consequences. We could have stayed with Motown; but if we had, we’d probably be an oldies act.

I knew it was time for change, so we followed our instincts, and we won when we decided to try for a fresh start with another label. Epic

We were relieved that we had finally made our feelings clear and cut the ties that were binding us, but we were also really devastated when Jermaine decided to stay with Motown. He was Berry’s son-in-law and his situation was more complicated than ours. He thought it was more important for him to stay than to leave, and Jermaine always did as his conscience told him, so he left the group.

I clearly remember the first show we did without him, because it was so painful for me. Since my earliest days on the stage — and even in our rehearsals in our Gary living room — Jermaine stood at my left with his bass. I depended on being next to Jermaine. And when I did that first show without him there, with no one next to me, I felt totally naked onstage for the first time in my life. So we worked harder to compensate for the loss of one of our shining stars, Jermaine. I remember that show well because we got three standing ovations. We worked hard .

When Jermaine left the group, Marlon had a chance to take his place and he really shone onstage. My brother Randy officially took my place as bongo player and the baby of the band.

Around the time that Jermaine left, things were further complicated for us because of the fact that we were doing a stupid summer replacement TV series. It was a dumb move to agree to do that show and I hated every minute of it.

I had loved the old «Jackson Five» cartoon show. I used to wake up early on Saturday mornings and say, «I’m a cartoon!» But I hated doing this television show because I felt it would hurt our recording career rather than help it. I think a TV series is the worst thing an artist who has a recording career can do. I kept saying, «But this is gonna hurt our record sales.» And others said, «No, it’s gonna help them.»

They were totally wrong. We had to dress in ridiculous outfits and perform stupid comedy routines to canned laughter. It was all so fake. We didn’t have time to learn or master anything about television. We had to create three dance numbers a day, trying to meet a deadline. The Nielsen ratings controlled our lives from week to week. I’d never do it again. It’s a dead-end road. What happens is partly psychological. You are in people’s homes every week and they begin to feel they know you too well. You’re doing all this silly comedy to canned laughter and your music begins to recede into the background. When you try to get serious again and pick up your career where you left off, you can’t because you’re overexposed. People are thinking of you as the guys who do the silly, crazy routines. One week you’re Santa Claus, the next week you’re Prince Charming, another week you’re a rabbit. It’s crazy, because you lose your identity in the business; the rocker image you had is gone. I’m not a comedian. I’m not a show host. I’m a musician. That’s why I’ve turned down offers to host the Grammy Awards and the American Music Awards. Is it really entertaining for me to get up there and crack a few weak jokes and force people to laugh because I’m Michael Jackson, when I know in my heart that I’m not funny?

After our TV show I can remember doing theaters-in-the-round where the stage didn’t revolve because if they had turned it, we would have been singing to some empty seats. I learned something from that experience and I was the one who refused to renew our contract with the network for another season. I just told my father and brothers that I thought it was a big mistake, and they understood my point of view. I had actually had a lot of misgivings about the show before we started taping it, but I ended up agreeing to give it a try because everyone thought it would be a great experience and very good for us.

The problem with TV is that everything must be crammed into a little space of time. You don’t have time to perfect anything. Schedules — tight schedules — rule your life. If you’re not happy with something, you just forget it and move on to the next routine. I’m a perfectionist by nature. I like things to be the best they can be. I want people to hear or watch something I’ve done and feel that I’ve given it everything I’ve got. I feel I owe an audience that courtesy. On the show our sets were sloppy, the lighting was poor, and our choreography was rushed . Somehow, the show was a big hit. There was a popular show on opposite us and we beat them out in the Nielsens. CBS really wanted to keep us, but I knew that show was a mistake. As it turned out, it did hurt our record sales and it took us a while to recover from the damage. When you know something’s wrong for you, you have to make difficult decisions and trust your instincts.

I rarely did TV after that; the Motown 25 special is the only show that comes to mind. Berry asked me to be on that show and I kept trying to say no, but he finally talked me into it. I told him I wanted to do «Billie Jean» even though it would be the only non-Motown song on the show, and he readily agreed. «Billie Jean» was number one at the time. I choreographed our routines, so I was pretty wrapped up in those numbers, but I had a good notion of what I wanted to do with «Billie Jean.» I had a sense that the routine had worked itself out in my mind while I was busy with other things. I asked someone to rent or buy me a black fedora — a spy hat — and the day of the show I began putting the routine together. I’ll never forget that night, because when I opened my eyes at the end, people were on their feet applauding. I was overwhelmed by the reaction. It felt so good.

Our only «break» during the Motown-to-Epic switch was the TV show. While that was all going on, we heard that Epic had Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff working on demos for us. We were told we’d be recording in Philadelphia after our shows were all done.

If there was anyone who stood to gain the most from switching labels, it was Randy, who was now part of the Five. But now that he finally was one of us, we were no longer known as the Jackson 5. Motown said that the group’s name was the company’s registered trademark, and that we couldn’t use it when we left. That was hardball, of course, so we called ourselves the Jacksons from that time on.

Dad had met with the Philly guys while negotiations were going on with Epic. We’d always had great respect for the records that Gamble and Huff had overseen, records like «Backstabbers» by the O’Jays, «If You Don’t Know Me By Now,» by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes(featuring Teddy Pendergrass), and «When Will I See You Again,» by the Three Degrees, along with many other hits. They told Dad they’d been watching us, and they said they wouldn’t mess with our singing. Dad mentioned that we were hoping to have a song or two of our own included in the new album, and they promised to give them a fair hearing.

We’d gotten to talk with Kenny and Leon and their team of people, which included Leon McFadden and John Whitehead. They showed what they could do for themselves when they made «Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now» in 1979. Dexter Wanzel was also a part of this team. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff are such pros. I actually got a chance to watch them create as they presented songs to us and that helped my songwriting a lot. Just watching Huff play the piano while Gamble sang taught me more about the anatomy of a song than anything else. Kenny Gamble is a master melody man. He made me pay closer attention to the melody because of watching him create. And I would watch, too. I’d sit there like a hawk, observing every decision, listening to every note. They’d come to us in our hotel and play a whole album’s worth of music for us. That’s the way we’d be introduced to the songs they had chosen for our album — aside from the two songs we were writing ourselves. It was an amazing thing to be present for.

We had cut some demos of our songs at home during our breaks from shooting, but we decided to wait on those — we felt there was no sense putting a gun to anyone’s head. We knew that Philly had a lot to offer us, so we’d save our surprise for them later.

Our two songs, «Blues Away» and «Style of Life,» were two hard secrets to keep at the time because we were so proud of them. «Style of Life» was a jam that Tito directed, and it was in keeping with the nightclub groove that «Dancing Machine» got us into, but we kept it a little leaner and meaner than Motown would have cut it.

«Blues Away» was one of my first songs, and though I don’t sing it any more, I’m not embarrassed to hear it. I couldn’t have gone on in this business if I had ended up hating my own records after all that work. It’s a light song about overcoming a deep depression — I was going for the Jackie Wilson «Lonely Teardrops» way of laughing on the outside to stop the churning inside.

When we saw the cover art for The Jacksons album, the first we cut for Epic, we were surprised to see that we all looked alike. Even Tito looked skinny! I had my «crown» Afro then, so I didn’t stick out so much, I guess. Still, once we performed our new songs like «Enjoy Yourself» and «Show You the Way to Go,» people knew I was still second from the left, right out front. Randy took Tito’s old spot on my far right, and Tito moved into the old place Jermaine had. It took a long time for me to feel comfortable with that, as I’ve mentioned, though it was through no fault of Tito’s.

Those two singles were fun records — «Enjoy Yourself» was great for dancing. It had rhythm guitar and horns that I really liked. It was also a number one record. For my taste, I leaned a little more toward «Show You the Way to Go» because it showed what good regard the Epic people had for our singing. We were all over that record and it was the best one we did. I loved the high hat and strings fluttering alongside us like birds’ wings. I’m surprised that song in particular wasn’t a bigger hit.

Though we couldn’t spell it out, we kind of hinted about our situation in a song called «Living Together,» which Kenny and Leon chose with us in mind. «If we’re going to stick together, we’ve got to be a family. Have yourself a real good time, but don’t you know it’s getting late.» The strings pointed and thrust like they did in «Backstabbers,» but that was a Jacksons’ message, even if it wasn’t in the Jacksons’ style — yet.

Gamble and Huff had written enough songs for another album, but we knew from experience that while they were doing what they did best, we were losing some of our identity. We were honored to be a part of the Philly family, but that wasn’t enough for us. We were determined to do all of the things we had wanted to do for so many years. That’s why we had to go back into our Encino studio and work together again as a family.

Going Places , our second album for Epic, was different from our first. There were more songs with messages and not as many dance songs. We knew that the message to promote peace and let music take over was a good one, but again it was more like the old O’Jays’ «Love Train» and not really our style.

Still, maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that there was no big pop hit on Going Places because it made «Different Kind of Lady» an obvious choice for club play. It was positioned in the middle of side one, so there were two Gamble and Huff songs sandwiching it, and our song stood out like a ball of fire. That was a real band cooking, with the Philly horns giving it one exclamation point after another, just as we’d hoped. That’s the feel we were trying for when we were making demos with our old friend Bobby Taylor before going to Epic. Kenny and Leon put the finishing touches on it, the icing, but on this one we’d baked the cake ourselves.

After Going Places was in the stores, Dad asked me to accompany him to a meeting with Ron Alexenburg. Ron signed us for CBS, and he really believed in us. We wanted to convince him that we were ready now to take charge of our own music. We felt that CBS had evidence of what we could do on our own, so we stated our case, explaining that we’d originally wanted Bobby Taylor to work with us. Bobby had stuck with us through all those years, and we had thought he’d be a fine producer for us. Epic wanted Gamble and Huff because they had the track record, but maybe they were the wrong jockeys or we were the wrong horses for them, because we were letting them down in the sales department through no fault of our own. We had a strong work ethic that backed up everything we did.

Mr. Alexenburg was certainly used to dealing with performers, although I’m sure that among his business friends he could be just as cutting about musicians as we musicians could be when we were swapping our own stories among ourselves. But Dad and I were on the same wavelength when it came to the business side of music. People who make music and people who sell records are not natural enemies. I care as much about what I do as a classical musician, and I want what I do to reach the widest possible audience. The record people care about their artists, and they want to reach the widest market. As we sat in the CBS boardroom eating a nicely catered lunch, we told Mr. Alexenburg that Epic had done its best, and it wasn’t good enough. We felt we could do better, that our reputation was worth putting on the line.

When we left that skyscraper known as Black Rock, Dad and I didn’t say much to each other. The ride back to the hotel was a silent one, with each of us thinking our own thoughts. There wasn’t much to add to what we had already said. Our whole lives had been leading to that single, important confrontation, however civilized and aboveboard it was. Maybe Ron Alexenburg has had reason to smile over the years when he remembers that day.

When that meeting took place at CBS headquarters in New York, I was only nineteen years old. I was carrying a heavy burden for nineteen. My family was relying on me more and more as far as business and creative decisions were concerned, and I was so worried about trying to do the right thing for them; but I also had an opportunity to do something I’d wanted to do all my life — act in a film. Ironically the old Motown connection was paying a late dividend.

Motown had bought the rights to film the Broadway show known as The Wiz even as we were leaving the company. The Wiz was an updated, black-orientated version of the great movie The Wizard of Oz , which I had always loved. I remember that when I was a kid The Wizard of Oz was shown on television once a year and always on a Sunday night. Kids today can’t imagine what a big event that was for all of us because they’ve grown up with videocassettes and the expanded viewing that cable provides.

I had seen the Broadway show too, which was certainly no letdown. I swear I saw it six or seven times. I later became very friendly with the star of the show, Stephanie Mills, the Broadway Dorothy. I told her then, and I’ve always believed since, that it was a tragedy that her performance in the play could not have been preserved on film. I cried time after time. As much as I like the Broadway stage, I don’t think I’d want to play on it myself. When you give a performance, whether on record or on film, you want to be able to judge what you’ve done, to measure yourself and try to improve. You can’t do that in an untaped or unrecorded performance. It makes me sad to think of all the great actors who have played roles we would give anything to see, but they’re lost to us because they couldn’t be, or simply weren’t, recorded.

If I had been tempted to go onstage, it would probably have been to work with Stephanie, although her performances were so moving that I might have cried right there in front of the audience. Motown bought The Wiz for one reason, and as far as I was concerned, it was the best reason possible: Diana Ross.

Diana was close to Berry Gordy and had her loyalties to him and to Motown, but she did not forget us just because our records now had a different label on them. We had been in touch throughout the changes, and she had even met up with us in Las Vegas, where she gave us tips during our run there. Diana was going to play Dorothy, and since it was the only part that was definitely cast, she encouraged me to audition. She also assured me that Motown would not keep me from getting a part just to spite me or my family. She would make sure of that if she had to, but she didn’t think she’d have to.

She didn’t. It was Berry Gordy who said he hoped I’d audition for The Wiz . I was very fortunate he felt that way, because I was bitten by the acting bug during that experience. I said to myself, this is what I’m interested in doing when I have a chance — this is it. When you make a film, you’re capturing something elusive and you’re stopping time. The people, their performances, the story become a thing that can be shared by people all over the world for generations and generations. Imagine never having seen Captains Courageous or To Kill a Mockingbird ! Making movies is exciting work. It’s such a team effort and it’s also a lot of fun. Someday soon I plan to devote a lot of my time to making films.

I auditioned for the part of the Scarecrow because I thought his character best fit my style. I was too bouncy for the Tin Man and too light for the Lion, so I had a definite goal, and I tried to put a lot of thought into my reading and dancing for the part. When I got the call back from the director, Sidney Lumet, I felt so proud but also a little scared. The process of making a film was new to me, and I was going to have to let go of my responsibilities to my family and my music for months. I had visited New York, where we were shooting, to get the feel for Harlem that The Wiz ‘s story called for, but I had never lived there. I was surprised by how quickly I got used to the lifestyle. I enjoyed meeting a whole group of people I’d always heard about on the other coast but had never laid eyes on.

Making The Wiz was an education for me on so many levels. As a recording artist I already felt like an old pro, but the film world was completely new to me. I watched as closely as I could and learned a lot.

During this period in my life, I was searching, both consciously and unconsciously. I was feeling some stress and anxiety about what I wanted to do with my life now that I was an adult. I was analyzing my options and preparing to make decisions that could have a lot of repercussions. Being on the set of The Wiz was like being in a big school. My complexion was still a mess during the filming of the movie, so I found myself really enjoying the makeup. It was an amazing makeup job. Mine took five hours to do, six days a week; we didn’t shoot on Sundays. We finally got it down to four hours flat after doing it long enough. The other people who were being made up were amazed that I didn’t mind sitting there having this done for such long periods of time. They hated it, but I enjoyed having the stuff put on my face. When I was transformed into the Scarecrow, it was the most wonderful thing in the world. I got to be somebody else and escape through my character. Kids would come visit the set, and I’d have such fun playing with them and responding to them as the Scarecrow.

I’d always pictured myself doing something very elegant in the movies, but it was my experience with the makeup and costume and prop people in New York that made me realize another aspect of how wonderful film-making could be. I had always loved the Charlie Chaplin movies, and no one ever saw him doing anything overtly elegant in the silent movie days. I wanted something of the quality of his characters in my Scarecrow. I loved everything about the costume, from the coil legs to the tomato nose to the fright wig. I even kept the orange and white sweater that came with it and used it in a picture session years later.

The film had marvelous, very complicated dance numbers, and learning them was no problem. But that in itself became an unexpected problem with my costars.

Ever since I was a very little boy, I’ve been able to watch somebody do a dance step and then immediately know how to do it. Another person might have to be taken through the movement step by step and told to count and put this leg here and the hip to the right. When your hip goes to the left, put your neck over there . . . that sort of thing. But if I see it, I can do it.

When we were doing The Wiz , I was being instructed in the choreography along with my characters — the Tin Man, the Lion, and Diana Ross — and they were getting mad at me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong until Diana took me aside and told me that I was embarrassing her. I just stared at her. Embarrassing Diana Ross? Me? She said she knew I wasn’t aware of it, but I was learning the dances much too quickly. It was embarrassing for her and the others, who just couldn’t learn steps as soon as they saw the choreographer do them. She said he’d show us something and I’d just go out there and do it. When he asked the others to do it, it took them longer to learn. We laughed about it, but I tried to make the ease with which I learned my steps less obvious.

I also learned that there could be a slightly vicious side to the business of making a movie. Often when I was in front of the camera, trying to do a serious scene, one of the other characters would start making faces at me, trying to crack me up. I had always been drilled in serious professionalism and preparedness and therefore I thought it was a pretty mean thing to do. This actor would know that I had important lines to say that day, yet he would make these really crazy faces to distract me. I felt it was more than inconsiderate and unfair.

Much later Marlon Brando would tell me that people used to do that to him all the time.

The problems on the set were really few and far between and it was great working with Diana so closely. She’s such a beautiful, talented woman. Doing this movie together was very special for me. I love her very much. I have always loved her very much.

The whole Wiz period was a time of stress and anxiety, even though I was enjoying myself. I remember July 4 of that year very well, because I was on the beach at my brother Jermaine’s house, about half a block away along the waterfront. I was messing around in the surf, and all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. No air. Nothing. I asked myself what’s wrong? I tried not to panic, but I ran back to the house to find Jermaine, who took me to the hospital. It was wild. A blood vessel had burst in my lung. It has never reoccurred, although I used to feel little pinches and jerks in there that were probably my imagination. I later learned that this condition was related to pleurisy. It was suggested by my doctor that I try to take things a little slower, but my schedule would not permit it. Hard work continued to be the name of the game.

As much as I liked the old Wizard of Oz , this new script, which differed from the Broadway production in scope rather than spirit, asked more questions than the original movie and answered them too. The atmosphere of the old movie was that of a magic kingdom sort of fairy tale. Our movie, on the other hand, had sets based on realities that kids could identify with, like schoolyards, subway stations, and the real neighborhood that our Dorothy came from. I still enjoy seeing The Wiz and reliving the experience. I am especially fond of the scene where Diana asks, «What am I afraid of? Don’t know what I’m made of . . .» because I’ve felt that way many times, even during the good moments of my life. She sings about overcoming fear and walking straight and tall. She knows and the audience knows that no threat of danger can hold her back.

My character had plenty to say and to learn. I was propped up on my pole with a bunch of crows laughing at me, while I sang «You Can’t Win.» The song was about humiliation and helplessness — something that so many people have felt at one time or another — and the feeling that there are people out there who don’t actively hold you back as much as they work quietly on your insecurities so that you hold yourself back. The script was clever and showed me pulling bits of information and quotations out of my straw while not really knowing how to use them. My straw contained all the answers, but I didn’t know the questions.

The great difference between the two Wizard movies was that all the answers are given to Dorothy by the Good Witch and by her friends in Oz in the original, while in our version Dorothy comes to her own conclusions. Her loyalty to her three friends and her courage in fighting Elvina in that amazing sweatshop scene make Dorothy a memorable character. Diana’s singing and dancing and acting have stayed with me ever since. She was a perfect Dorothy. After the evil witch had been defeated, the sheer joy of our dancing took over. To dance with Diana in that movie was like an abridged version of my own story — my knock-kneed walk and «bigfoot» spin were me in my early days; our tabletop dance in the sweatshop scene was where we were right then. Everything was onward and upward. When I told my brothers and father I had gotten this part, they thought it might be too much for me, but the opposite was true. The Wiz gave me new inspiration and strength. The question became what to do with those things. How could I best harness them?

As I was asking myself what I wanted to do next, another man and I were traveling parallel paths that would converge on the set of The Wiz . We were in Brooklyn rehearsing one day, and we were reading our parts out loud to one another. I had thought that learning lines would be the most difficult thing I’d ever do, but I was pleasantly surprised. Everyone had been kind, assuring me that it was easier that I thought. And it was.

We were doing the crows’ scene that day. The other guys wouldn’t even have their heads visible in this scene because they’d be in crow costumes. They seemed to know their parts backward and forward. I’d studied mine too, but I hadn’t said them aloud more than once or twice.

The directions called for me to pull a piece of paper from my straw and read it. It was a quote. The author’s name, Socrates, was printed at the end. I had read Socrates, but I had never pronounced his name, so I said, «Soh-crates,» because that’s the way I had always assumed it was pronounced. There was a moment’s silence before I heard someone whisper, «Soh-ruh-teeze.» I looked over at this man I vaguely recognized. He was not one of the actors, but he seemed to belong there. I remember thinking he looked very self-confident and had a friendly face.

I smiled, a little embarrassed at having mispronounced the name, and thanked him for his help. His face was naggingly familiar, and I was suddenly sure that I had met him before. He confirmed my suspicions by extending his hand.

» Quincy Jones. I’m doing the score.»