Boy on the Moon

Spin: The Story of Michael Jackson
By Sherry O’Keefe
(Morgan Reynolds Publishing, Greensboro, North Carolina, 2011, $28.95)

 Worshipped, reviled, ridiculed, Michael Jackson inspired strong emotions. During his last two decades, his controversial personal life attracted more attention than his music. Was Jacko a pedophile or just a naïve eccentric? In Spin: The Story of Michael Jackson, Sherry O’Keefe presents the entertainer as a childlike man who both craved and hated fame, manipulated the media and felt threatened by its depiction of him.

O’Keefe is strongest when she discusses Jackson’s painful beginnings and its consequences for his later life. His father Joseph Jackson saw a goldmine in his talented children. As the Jackson 5, Michael and four of his older brothers quickly won acclaim. However, life on the road meant the end of Michael’s childhood. Compelled to perform at bars and strip clubs, Jackson also saw his father cheat on his mother – and Joseph beat his sons when they didn’t meet his high expectations. When Michael Jackson achieved success as a solo act, he set about reclaiming the childhood he never had, complete with exotic pets, a personal amusement park, and play dates. His best friends were children and fellow child stars, including Jane Fonda and Elizabeth Taylor. Although he demanded the title “King of Pop” and fed the press stories about his eccentric behavior, he was terrified of fans and rarely gave interviews.

To some extent, O’Keefe also explores Jackson’s less savory side. She reveals how he purchased the rights to other artists’ music, which nearly ended his friendship with Paul McCartney. When his sister Janet attained stardom in the mid-eighties, he was so threatened by her success that he refused to dance in front of he. He was terrified she would copy his dance moves. And although O’Keefe believes in Jackson’s natural talent, she admits his limitations. “For Michael, music was more about commercial success than about artistic expression,” she writes. “He measured his success by the number of albums sold, the number of sold-out concerts on tour, and by the number of hit singles.” However, although O’Keefe touches on Jackson’s oddness, she doesn’t contextualize his most bizarre behavior. Anxious to have his children all to himself, he asked second wife Debbie Rowe to sign away her custody rights to their two children. All three of his children bear his name (Prince Michael, Paris Katherine Michael, and Prince Michael II), and he compelled all three to wear masks in public. O’Keefe tries to be matter-of-fact, even understanding, about Jackson’s parenting decisions, but even sympathetic readers may be disgusted by the star’s tendency to see his children as extensions of himself.

Magazines, newspapers, tabloids, and the web are filled with information and speculation about the late Michael Jackson. In Spin, Sherry O’Keefe shows how a scared little boy became a frightened man.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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