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Thanks for the memories

Jackson Five caused pride, excitement during childhood

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic these days. That usually happens around my birthday, which I celebrated recently. Childhood memories coupled with resolutions, hopes and dreams for the next year occupy my thoughts. Somehow, music always plays a part. I turn to uplifting and inspirational songs to get me to that next spiritual level and I travel back into my past to relive the music of my youth.

Often it is the music from those yesteryears that helps me get in gear for my tomorrows. It reminds me of who I am, where I came from, the dreams I had back then — some of which I've unwittingly forsaken, some I've outgrown, others I've fulfilled. Lately, I've been thinking about the music that has defined my life over these thirtysomething years.

Like many people, I can associate the times, people and places of my life with the many songs I heard growing up. I can hear a tune on the radio or pull out one of my husband's old albums — yes, he still has vinyl and lots of it — and I'm right back where I was many years ago: a little girl in Tuskegee, Ala., totally fascinated with music and spending every dime of my rather paltry weekly allowance on 45s.

There were lots of artists I enjoyed, but I think the act that most clearly defines my youth is the Jackson Five. That became very clear to me a few weeks ago when I heard Marlon Jackson, now president of Atlanta-based Major Broadcasting Company, on radio station V-103. During the interview, they played "Sugar Daddy." I hadn't heard the song in a long time, but the words came back easily and I suddenly had a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

Like lots of little girls growing up in the late '60s and '70s, I was a die-hard Jackson Five fan. Yes, I knew their middle names and birthdays. Yes, I had their pictures plastered on my bedroom wall and, yes, I had every record they ever released.

I remember the first time I saw them perform: It was on "The Ed Sullivan Show." I can still see myself, sitting Indian-style on the floor, gazing up at the television, my eyes glued to the five brown dancing figures before me, my heart captured by Michael, as he belted out songs with all the finesse and fervor of a seasoned pro.

I was totally into everything Jackson Five, including their Saturday morning cartoon. I was their staunchest defender when folks compared them to the Osmonds and, out of devout loyalty, kept my emotional distance from any other group that seemed even vaguely similar to them including the Sylvers.

Today, I still defend the Jacksons.

There are lots of former die-hard Jackson fans who have apparently turned against their childhood heroes. Granted, the family has had its share of negative press — especially Michael — but, hey, what would your life be like if you grew up in a fish bowl the way they did? The stories have been sordid and persistent: child abuse by papa Joe, child molestation by Michael, spousal abuse by Jackie and loads of accusations by family outcast LaToya.

Yet, despite the stories, there remains a fascination with the Jacksons and few, if any, could deny the talent that runs through their family (though Michael and Janet are clearly the most talented; either that or they are the shrewdest at making us think they are).

When he was on V-103, Marlon talked about a possible Jackson reunion. I'm happy to hear that, more because it shows a sense of unity within their family (which has been doubted to exist on occasion) than because I would actually want to see them perform or hear their new material — OK, maybe out of curiosity but nothing more.

Odd? Not really. You see, my cherished Jacksons era was when the group was the Jackson Five: Michael, Marlon, Jermaine, Tito and Jackie. Even though I really enjoyed a lot of the later stuff that was done sans Jermaine, the truly magical music to my mind was recorded by the group in its original form — a form that, for obvious reasons, doesn't exist anymore. I'm not exactly interested in seeing 40plus-year-old men sing "ABC" or "2-4-6-8." I'd rather have the memories and the reissues, thank you very much.

I guess I want my memories of those days in Tuskegee — playing my brother's hi-fi, learning the words to the Jackson Five songs — to remain undistorted, unmarred by the image of seeing them try to recreate something that was clearly a product of their youth, a product of their time. In those days, there was a sense of pride and excitement in seeing young black boys who grew up — like me and my brothers — with very little go out and make a name for themselves. It wasn't about Michael being the King of Pop or Janet being an "icon." It was about them being a family doing something that they loved and doing it together.

Michael, Marlon, Jermaine, Tito and Jackie aren't the same people they were back in 1969 when they released their first album. Neither am I. But I'm proud to say that I still define my youth by the music that these brothers made back then.

So I won't be attending any J5 reunion concerts should they come to pass. I've got enough great memories to last me a lifetime, or at least through another decade of birthdays.??