Almost Famous

Two singing families came out of Gary, Indiana. One got lucky.

Like most of the saner cultural commentators trolling the Jackson entrails these days, Jevetta and Fred are careful not to presuppose what goes on at Neverland, or to characterize Michael Jackson as a victim. But unlike most of the rest of the world, they were there at the beginning, watching and listening when the pride of Gary was a little boy singing, even then, "I'm goin' back to Indiana, Indiana here I come/I spread my wings for greener pastures/I still ain't found what I was after/I got the blues and that is why I sing."

Now the Steeles are in Minnesota, still known primarily for their singing, while the little boy-man who grew up across town from them cries, "Have you seen my childhood?/I'm searching for the world that I come from/'Cause I've been looking around in the lost and found of my heart."

"We didn't really know the Jacksons growing up, but I do remember being at the talent show at the high school I wound up graduating from, Westside, where my brother J.D. was in the first graduating class in 1970," says Fred. "It was right around then when Diana Ross came and 'discovered' them. There was big talk about her coming to town. They had a big talent show in the gymnasium. The Jacksons were already big in the area because of 'You're A Big Girl Now,' the single they released before they signed with Motown. It was huge. A big event."

Periodically, the Steeles go back to Gary to visit friends and family. Last summer, Michael Jackson did the same thing for the first time in 20 years. He received the key to the city and helped the mayor dedicate the launch of something called the Michael Jackson Performing Arts Center. No such hometown honors have been bestowed upon the Steeles; nor do they have constant cable experts talking about their arrested development, business savvy, penis size, plastic surgery, conspiracy theories, or arraignment on multiple counts of child molestation, which will happen next week before a worldwide theater of the absurd.

"It's going to be interesting to see it all unfold," says Fred Steele. "I pray for them. All the families. I wish him the best. It saddens my heart, because Michael certainly is a legend. An absolute legend from Gary."

 

Jim Walsh can be reached at jwalsh@citypages.com or 612.372.3775.

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