Moonwalk by Michael Jackson

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Moonwalk by Michael Jackson

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A reissue of the memoirs of the 'King of Pop', first published in 1988. This edition contains a new introduction and afterword, though the text has not been updated.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: June 2010
Publisher: Arrw Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0099547952

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Michael Jackson's autobiography, based on tape-recorded conversations with his editor Shaye Ereheart, was first published in 1988. This new edition has an introduction by Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records and his original mentor, and an afterword by Areheart about how the book was written. The main part of the book is a straight reprint of the original, with no updating at all. Intriguingly, although Gordy's four pages refer to is protégé in the past tense, calling him the greatest entertainer that ever lived, Areheart's writing, and also the cover, refer to him in the present. No reference anywhere is made to his untimely death.

It tells of Jackson's childhood, as one of nine children born to musical parents. Elder brother Tito used to enjoy furtive sessions on father Joe's guitar, until he gave the game away by breaking a string one day, and an initially angry father then challenged the children to show him what they could do. From there it was a short step to talent shows, and an audition with Motown. Michael was only eleven years old when 'I Want You Back' gave the group the first of four consecutive No. 1 singles in the US. Despite the squeaky-clean family image, it is perhaps reassuring to learn that they suffered from the same boredom as other groups on tour, which they relieved with pranks on others, usually including water bombs or full buckets on slightly open doors – though they stopped short of throwing televisions out of windows. There are also references to the Osmonds and the friendly rivalry between both families.

Eventually they found Motown too restricting, longed to write and produce their own records, and made the break to sign with Epic Records. After the early days with the Jackson 5, he has said little about his early recording days as a solo performer during the Motown era. Some more would have been welcome, but he does not go into detail on this side of his career until its relaunch with 'Off The Wall' in 1979 and the phenomenally successful albums which followed it, namely the all-sales-breaking 'Thriller' and 'Bad'. All this is interspersed with references to his collaborations with Paul McCartney, the making of the video for 'Thriller', and the notorious Pepsi accident, when filming a commercial almost went horribly wrong.

In addition to the accounts of his career, these pages give us insights into his love of privacy, why he used to wear sunglasses so often (in order to avoid having to look everyone in the eye), his friends, animals, tastes in food and vegetarian diet, references to nose surgery, and the little sartorial quirks like his love of white socks and a single glove. He talked about never being 'totally happy', but one of the hardest people to satisfy. At the same time he was aware of how much he had to be thankful for, as well as appreciating the gift of good health and the love of family and friends.

Even in 1988, there was a sense that 'too much too young' was getting to him. The opening chapter records that, even at 29, he had been in the business for 24 years, and sometimes he felt like he should be near the end of his life. In the closing pages, he referred to the sadness of showbiz celebrities such as Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe, who died too soon under pressure. Although he lived to 50, in view of the events of June 2009 those words have a rather ironic ring.

While the story comes to a halt in 1988, we know with hindsight that his best years were probably behind him. The last twenty years saw continued success with subsequent albums, but there were no records left to break. There were, however, the controversies which came close to derailing his career altogether. Perhaps he chose the right time to tell the story. Did he have some sixth sense that it was all too good to last?

The book is profusely illustrated, with colour plates plus black and white photos integrated into the text. Very few are captioned, and it would have been interesting at least to know which year some of the shots were taken. Nevertheless, it is an honest, sometimes soul-baring memoir, far more than a recitation of achievements. Reading it certainly brings the reader closer to understanding the man behind the almost surreal, none too happy showbiz exterior.

Our thanks to Arrow for sending a copy to Bookbag.

If you enjoy this, you might also like the memoirs of a contemporary (although in some ways very different) pop entertainer, Barefaced Lies and Boogie-Woogie Boasts by Jools Holland, or for a wider look at pop of the period, Black Vinyl, White Powder by Simon Napier-Bell.

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