Jacksons mania in Trinidad and Tobago

Originally published in People Monthly, The Caribbean Magazine, April-May 1978.
I have taken the liberty of tidying the writing on this story, which reflects the capabilities and observations of a much younger me, a writer at the beginning of his career, some 31 years my junior.
Some of the excesses failed to improve the core story, which is reproduced here 99 percent intact, with most of the lesser warts still in place.
Mark Lyndersay, June 27, 2009.

Tito, Jackie, Marlon, Michael and Randy Jackson with Janelle "Penny" Commissiong, the first black Miss Universe, in February 1978. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The very reticent Claude Martineau has been in promotions, ironically, for almost all his teenage and adult life.
In his time, he has promoted fetes and brought National Music Supplies Ltd to commercial success. A couple of years ago, he and his brother Frank formed a company called Spektakula Promotions, and along with some other capable individuals, brought Millie Jackson, Ace Cannon and Jimmy Smith to local audiences in quick succession.
On the night of February 22, 1978, they executed their coup de grace, with the arrival of The Jacksons in Trinidad and Tobago. This is the story of what happened while they were here, and it is, ultimately, a story about us.

Meeting the people
It took quite a while to catch up with The Jacksons. On the second night of their stay, a special function was held for them to meet with local musicians. It started out, and remained, a social affair, with attitudes ranging from those who wanted to chat with each and every one of the Jacksons as soon as possible, for as long as possible, to those who stood to one side and were conspicuously cool.
Little Randy Jackson's face looked like it was modelled after Dennis the Menace and he was frantically bored. He drifted uncomfortably from brother to brother, eventually drifting into earshot.
"Is there going to be a show tonight?" he was asking plaintively.
Then Penny.
Instant melee.
All man Jack want Penny autograph, want to take out picture with Penny. Photographer moves in. Excuse me Mr Trotman. Bill? Could you move a little to one side? Please?
"I ain't moving! Look Michael there, move him nah. Look Marlon there, move him nah. But no. Is always excuse me Mr Trotman, would you step to one side Bill. No! I tell you I ain't moving."
Who can argue with that logic?

Some of us remembered The Stylistics from way back when. But their performance is just a fuzzy memory of flashy movements. The Jacksons were real, immediate, and very, very slick.
The Jacksons perform three kinds of song, crawling mushy ballads (Ben, Got to be there) medium-paced, loping numbers (Let me show you the way to go, I wanna be where you are) and scintillating high-energy soul (I want you back, Enjoy yourself).
The audience lapped it all up, but it was their old hits that really scored, which offers some kind of indicator as to who their audience really was. Not today's reggae-disco swayed youngsters, but the people who were young when The Jacksons were younger. The grown-up kids who grooved to I want you back and ABC.
The show, of course, was Michael's. The others had their own individual appeal, but it was Michael who strutted and skipped to the delighted approval of the crowd. His is the honeyed-sweet voice that lances through the heart with almost surgical precision, dragging songs like I'll be there and Never can say goodbye back from the borderline of mediocrity and cliché.
Then, with appropriately theatrical buildup, they unleashed their gift to Trinidad and Tobago, a respectful facsimile of Lord Kitchener's Sugar Bum Bum. Randy, with impish sprightliness ran out from behind his congas, grabbed the microphone in fine Elvis style and began to sing with the cutest lisp: "Orgeee, way you get that sugahhh."
And there was The Sun's Keith Smith, holding his pate, looking up to the heavens for a sign and bawling, "This can't be happening, this ain't true, ah must be dreaming."
It was total pandemonium. But the Jacksons, savouring the novelty of the rhythms, carefully let the band carry most of it, wisely recognising their limitations in front of the Trinidadian audience.
By the time the group reached the end of their show, encoring with Enjoy Yourself, enjoyment had become frenzied excitement and a winin' grinin' mob prepared to show their appreciation.

Goin' places
Travelling with the Jacksons is quite an exercise, one that precludes sleep and regular meals. Cliché or not, their routine is proof that the price of success is high.
Their first request when they came to Trinidad was reported to be a desire to "see the children." They saw children all right. In north and later, south Trinidad, they were besieged by screaming, squealing and (dare I say it?) lusting children in a warming mass eager to grab and touch and grip.
These were cute little girls, but when they began to crowd together and brush against each other, some mysterious savagery wakes in each young palpitating breast and they surged and pushed forward with an ominous gleam of desire in every eye.

Entering Port of Spain after leaving San Fernando, we stopped at the Morvant Junction for the red light. Two children in scruffy khaki pants and ill-fitting, buttonless shirts were about to cross the road. One casts a casual eye at the big at the big black car. His eyes opened wide, then half-closed with suspicion.
The window of the car slides down and Marlon waves.
The child's eyes open wide again and he manages a half-hearted wave back. He fidgets from foot to foot, smiling nervously. The light changes. The window slides back up. The car roars off.

In Las Cuevas, the fishermen in the village look on with bemusement at the crowds who managed to find out where the Jacksons were closed in on their quarry and jostled to chat, take pictures and get autographs.
Eventually, someone thought of telling the villagers that Michael Jackson was in their midst.
Michael who?
Who's he?
But Michael revelled in his anonymity, walking around and chatting with the fishermen, looking at their battered boats and taking photos, soaking in the experience.

Michael is standing at the top of Picton Road in Laventille. He's here as fulfilment of one of his requests. "I want to see the people in the slums, the people who couldn't pay to see our show." So we went. I am taking photos for a commission that will become prints in an album, one of many that the singer keeps of his travels.
It's sleepy at four in the afternoon. A basketball game is in play, the brothers working up a sweat. A few people are walking down the street. Rockers is blasting from a tiny shack that in the late evening haze seems to be swaying to the earthy, compelling beat.
The sun is dimming, the final heat of the day fading into the cool of dusk. A light breeze blows as Michael strolls down Picton Road.
Slowly, the casual expressions change. I hear the muttering.
"Look, is..."
"Nah, what he would be doing here?"
"Look, it have a photographer."
"Ah wonder if ah could talk to..."
"Oh me Gawd. And meh hair in curlers!"
Dumb shock was the order of the evening and people simply stood and shook Michael's hand.

It's a sunny Monday morning, the eve of the Jackson's departure. Schoolgirls in uniform, or half-in and half-out, matching fancy shirts with their school's official skirts are all lined off on the stairwell overlooking the pool, staring at Michael's every stroke in the pool.
Not even the Hilton's harassed security guards could prevent Michael from visibly wincing under their unrelenting gaze as he swam around the pool with uncomfortable grace.
A richly textured American accent rings out from the fence overlooking the pool: "Hey Michael! Come on up by the fence, we wantcha ta sign some ortergraphs."
Michael does not respond to the young schoolgirl's call.

Champagne and caviar
A black limousine chauffeured car
Trips all around the world
I have my choice of many girls
People lined up as far as you can see
Standing in line, just to see me
-Mama, got a brand new thing

The little girl was sitting just outside the lobby of the Hilton. She couldn't have been more than 12 years old and she was crying, sobs racking her body into little convulsions. I sat down next to her.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
Between sobs, she told me that she had been waiting ever since eight in the morning to see The Jacksons and she hadn't been able to catch more than a glimpse of them. It was six in the evening by then, and I knew that she didn't stand a chance of seeing them again that day. I desperately wanted to tell her something, but what could I say that would make a difference?
I got up quietly and walked off.
The security car was just revving up as I got in, and I heard a voice should after us.
"Mister, Mister."
The little girl was running up to the car with her autograph book. I froze in a moment of indecision. What to do? Stop the car and take the book from her?
The car rolls down the hill, and her tear-streaked face grows smaller in the rear window.

"I was actually at the Hilton and was able to observe the Jackson boys calmly stroll through a pack of teens too busy looking for them to actually see them. Whose autographs did they really get?"
Joan Christopher, writing in The Express.

Why did young girls camp out at the Hilton, even going so far as to knock on door after door in search of The Jacksons? That little girl was one of many who spent hours prowling the corridors of the hotel in vain.
Offstage, there is really nothing spectacular about the group of young men. They are so predictable and controlled that they end up coming off a bit dull.
At one point, I tried a spot interview asking, "How do you feel about the country?"
Michael: "Oh we love it, it's beautiful."
Marlon: "It's beautiful, we love it."
Michael seemed the hardest hit of all The Jacksons by the plight of his desperate fans. His shy, sensitive eyes and soft, almost lyrical speaking voice reveals a genuine concern for his fans, most of them girls his age and younger.
But if he gives in to a whim, he gets torn apart.
- Mark Lyndersay, March 1978.

Fifteen minutes of fame
Michael Jackson in Trinidad, a remembrance
On MJ and his brothers
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