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A Founding Brother Insists That Father Still Knows Best in the First Family of Rock

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When the Jackson tour finally begins its planned three-month American Odyssey next month, it will mark the first time the super-hot sextet has toured together in eight years. The missing link has been 29-year-old Jermaine Jackson, the fourth of the family’s nine kids. His brothers jumped the Motown ship back in 1975, but Jermaine, son-in-law of Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., chose to remain until last year. It’s a decision he says he’s never regretted, despite the rift it caused in his family and the wrath it elicited from fans. Most distressing to Jermaine was the treatment he got from the press, which blasted him unfairly, he says, for breaking up one of America’s most successful family acts.

Time has tempered much of the hard feelings, and Jermaine is now back firmly in the Jackson fold with wife Hazel, whom he married at 19, and their children, Jermaine Jr., 7, and Autumn, 6. Jackson fans have apparently forgiven him: The performer’s new solo album on Arista Records, Jermaine Jackson, has already sold nearly a million copies since its release in April and is already in the Top 20 on Billboard’s album chart.

Jermaine’s disenchantment with the press remains. “Everyone wants to hear some dirt,” he says, but because “there isn’t any,” he maintains the media have resorted to fiction. For this reason Jermaine broke his silence to meet with correspondent Mary A. Fischer in the hope of setting the record straight.

I don’t feel the world is ready for us. All we have to offer is ourselves, but people don’t want to accept us the way we really are. Everyone wants to hear some negativity. They want to believe, for example, that I’m jealous of Michael and that we’re fighting with our parents. This tour is for my parents. They did a remarkable job with nine kids, and they made it possible for us not to be snobbish or selfish and not to be involved in drugs.

You see, we’re in the business but not of it. We wouldn’t be the way we are today if my father wasn’t who he is, a very strong person. He shows that strength in his voice—it’s firm—and he’s very serious about what he says. He’s been like that from Day One. My father got respect from us when we were little. We got whippings. It was his way of showing us what was right and wrong. If you trace a troubled person back to his childhood, you’ll see there was no discipline. No one said “no” to him. Of course, someone has to show love too. There must be a balance.

My parents kept us busy when we were growing up. We had chores, lots of them. Tito would wash the dishes. I would dry them. We scrubbed and waxed the floors, did the windows inside and out, stacked bricks, did gardening. There were four ironing boards, one for each of the four oldest. We’d have a big bag of clothes to iron, and we couldn’t go outside until we finished the bag. I send my shirts out now, but I still press my own pants. No one can press like me. We had to do all that because my father’s father made him do it, and he wanted us to learn to do for ourselves too. We got used to responsibility very early. And through it all, my mother showed us her love.

When we first started out, Michael was the little cute one, but I got the most fan mail. I was the first black teen sex symbol. I used to be pictured on magazine covers without my shirt, and I would sing songs about young love and broken hearts. All the girls would scream and go crazy.

I got married in 1973, right during the time the Jacksons were really big. A lot of kids said they weren’t going to buy my records because of it. I could feel the tension from the kids in the audience. Many fans didn’t even want my autograph. I understood it though. When someone idolizes you and has your picture on their wall, a dream goes down the drain when they hear you’re married. But we all grow up.

The toughest thing I ever had to overcome was when the brothers and I broke up. They left Motown for Epic because they thought they could do better. I decided to stay, and the press tore me apart. They said the only reason I stayed was because I was married to the chairman’s daughter. It wasn’t true. I stayed because I felt grateful. Motown introduced us to the world, and they’re responsible for what’s going on with the Jacksons today. I asked Hazel if it would interfere with our marriage if I ever had to leave Motown, and she said, “No. I married you for you and not because of the business.”

There was some family tension for a while. They thought I was caught up in Motown brainwashing. It was the first time one of us had gone left while the others went right. They thought I should have stayed with the family.

It was a very tough road, and I grew up fast because of it. Berry Gordy told me it would be like starting over. The public saw me as having split from the brothers. It was hard because my brothers were doing so well then. While I was learning about myself and the record business, they had TV shows and were touring.

I’ve been away eight years, and now that we’re rehearsing together, it’s like I’m the new addition to the Jacksons. We’re doing what we used to do, laughing and teasing each other, but I’m still learning their show while they’ve been at it together for a long time. They have certain routines they do, and they have to remind me: “No, now you’re supposed to be over here.” It makes me happy that they correct me because it lets me know that they care.

Michael is very popular right now and I feel I’ve contributed a major part to it, not just me, but my brothers too. What’s happened to Michael has a lot to do with what we all did as the Jackson 5. Michael is very devoted to his craft, and the bottom line is he’s very, very good. Michael’s success today is an accomplishment for the entire family.

My family is my foundation. During all the hit records, they’ve always been there to support and love me. My kids go crazy every time I leave them. It’s so difficult when they’re standing in the front yard crying, but I say to myself, “What if they didn’t cry?” When I’m away I can’t wait to get back to them.

Last year I took my wife and kids on a vacation to Fiji. I’ve always wanted to go to an island where I could backpack undisturbed. When I told Hazel that we were going to rough it, she said, “Backpacks?” Hazel was sort of spoiled as a kid. The first night we checked our backpacks as luggage and stayed in a hotel. Then we chartered a plane to take us to the island of Bekana. Some natives passed in a boat and yelled out, “Jermaine Jackson!” But the trip was great, just me and my family and no security guards.

Having a security person around you all the time is hard. It’s never going to get to the point where I’m not going to drive my own car or go to the store. I get bothered sometimes, but once you start living like that—staying inside all day—you lose sight of who you really are. What’s important is to give back to people. We all take from the garden but we put back by performing, by doing things for foundations and charities.

But you can’t stay on the stage forever. I’m more interested in what happens behind the scenes. In film, for example, I’d rather be the director. I’ve learned that it’s better to be the puppeteer than the puppet.