The brothers are performing on-stage together for first time in 28 years
Before Michael Jackson’s death, the four brothers who performed with him as the Jackson 5 and later as the Jacksons — Jermaine, Marlon, Tito and Jackie — were working towards touring again. Three years after Michael’s death on June 25, 2009, his brothers finally stepped on stage together with their Unity Tour, which opened June 20 in Canada.
It was the first time the four brothers have been on stage together performing since their final “Victory” outing in 1984. The show arrives at Borgata this Friday.
Surprisingly enough, despite the well deserved reputation of the Steel Pier as the “Showplace of the Nation,” and the numerous Motown stars who played there in the 1960s and ’70s, including the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, the Jackson 5 were not one of those groups, a fact I confirmed when I had the opportunity to interview Marlon Jackson last week.
Marlon Jackson, whose soft voice is eerily similar to his brother Michael, chatted with Atlantic City Weekly the morning before the Unity Tour debut. “I’m looking forward to it, very much so,” said Marlon to kick off our chat. As to why it took so long for the brothers to bring the tour together, he notes that, “As you get older, and you’ve done so many other projects and been raising families [he has three children and four grandchildren], whatever it may be . . . Then it came to a point that the fans wanted to see the brothers together performing, and so we elected to move forward and do it.”
Among those other projects, Marlon, 55, has had a successful career in real estate in southern California, and following Michael’s death, the four brothers appeared in the A&E reality series The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty, which chronicled their earlier attempt to stage a comeback before Michael’s passing.
Marlon says there was not one moment that brought the brothers together on stage, but that the reality is, “We were not getting any younger,” he admits with a laugh. “That probably did the trick. It has been pretty easy. It is pretty much like riding a bike. You have to tweak things here and there, but otherwise it has been easy.
“There are so many songs. The show is about and hour and a half long. We’re trying to cram as many songs as we can [a review of a Detroit performance said 26 songs]. Of course we’re doing all the early stuff [Jackson 5] and the [later] music of The Jacksons.”
There have been rumors that the brothers are working on new music, but Marlon says they have been concentrating on rehearsals for the show and haven’t had time to think about a new album. But he does leave the possibly open. “After the priority of the tour, we’ll see what follows after that.”
His brother Tito was more ambitious in an interview with Rolling Stone. He said that there would be other legs of the tour taking it all over the world, and that there were plans to document the show for a live album and DVD, while the Jacksons would be recording a new studio album at the end of the year for a 2013 release.
The tour is certainly bringing back memories of how the Jackson 5 first found success as teenagers. “It is definitely bringing back memories, reminiscing, looking at old pictures and footage,” says Marlon. He also reflects on audience expectations being lost in those earlier times. “People who grew up with us do expect us to be [the same as we were years ago]. But we’ve gotten taller and of course we are their age as well.”
Michael is a major component of those memories. “He was the biggest entertainer in the world, and was a member of the Jackson 5, so we will be reflecting back on yesteryear and honoring him,” says Marlon. A review of the show in Detroit noted that Jermaine performs an emotional rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Gone Too Soon,” with a montage of historic photos and videos.
In the here today, gone tomorrow world of popular music, some songwriters consider themselves fortunate when a tune hangs out on the musical radar for a few months. It's a major victory when a song lasts on the charts for a year. Smokey Robinson prefers to think in terms of decades. The legendary singer, songwriter and Motown music executive wants every song he writes to transcend generations. "When I sit down to write a song," he says, "I want to write a song that would have meant something if it had been written 50 years before and will still mean something 50 years from now." The prolific composer's track record supports his claim; his songs have staying power. Even while he was writing hits for his own group, The Miracles, in the 1960s, Robinson was also turning out chart-toppers for other acts. His credits include timeless classics that are more than 40 years old yet show few signs of wear and tear today: "The Way You Do The Things You Do," "Get Ready," "Since I Lost My Baby" and "My Girl" for The Temptations, for whom he served as chief songwriter and producer; "Don't Mess With...
George Jackson opened the Steel Pier in 1898, less than 50 years after Atlantic City’s incorporation. He was followed by owner Frank P. Gravatt, a showman who realized the public’s appetite for an eclectic mix of entertainment in one location at one price, 25 cents.