latoya“Today, La Toya is her own woman and a superstar in her own right. To be both she had to pay her dues. This book is her final installment.” 

 Umm, what?  

I remember watching some talk show during the ’80s or ’90s…maybe it was Donahue (OMG, Donahue), and La Toya Jackson was the guest. She was wearing some horrible black outfit, all straps and studs, and her face was incredibly pale, corpse-like and overly angular. (So you know, a typical weekday look for a Jackson.)

I don’t remember what she was promoting–maybe this book–but the “interview” consisted of her just sharing Jackson family secrets to the outrage of the audience.

“Janet? Oh, she’s married,” La Toya said, and everyone in the audience (myself included) was like, wh-wh-WHAAAT?

Yes, the audience was outraged, but mostly because they wanted to hear more secrets. As she revealed each “shocker,” people could get worked up over her selling out, but only after they’d heard all the good stuff.

Anyway, I had never read the world-shattering tell-all, La Toya: Growing Up In The Jackson Family, and decided to check it out, and it was more than readable–I tore through the entire thing in one afternoon.

Before I get into what I really thought, I have to share THE. BEST. STORY. EVER. of the wacky Jacksons. During a section where Toy Toy talks about scary fan encounters the family had, she mentions a morning they woke up to find a crazy woman back by their swimming pool, toppling solid-marble statues and turning on all the gas valves. When she saw the family watching her:

[She] lifted her skirt, and in a deranged voice declared, “My name is Pussy, and I’m gonna give it to all of you! All of you! And I hate you! Because you’re close to Michael!”

Lifting her skirt! A deranged voice! “My name is Pussy”! Give that broad a reality show.

Anyway, I’ve always liked La Toya. The camp value of her Psychic Friends Network, the camp value of her name, the camp value of her being the craziest of a really crazy family…she makes an easy punchline. And yet, I’ve always hoped she’d have a breakthrough of sorts: a big musical hit or a movie role or something to vindicate her. Her resilience though, is impressive–she’s managed to have a career over the last 30-or-so years without ever having a hit.

But let’s back up a second. This book came out in the early ’90s, before the child molestation charges. The most shocking thing that La Toya alleges (besides some unflattering swipes at Janet) is that her father abused them all, and her mother enabled it. Sad, yes, but in terms of Jackson family scandal, the worst was yet to come.

Well written and quickly paced (more thanks to Patricia Romanowski, the “co-writer,” no doubt), La Toya comes across as sweet and kind-hearted, which I would guess is pretty accurate. What isn’t accurate, looking back through the lens of history, is a great deal of the perspective and perhaps even some of the events.

There are a couple of awesome stories in here, including how Paula Abdul and Jackie Jackson began an affair, and La Abdul had decided to confront his wife. She welcomed her in, and then tied Paula to a chair and began screaming at her. Paula only escaped when MC Skat Kat showed up with an assault rifle. Just kidding–she convinced the wife that she thought Jackie was single.

 The other great story occurs when La Toya goes to Phil Spector’s house. After locking her in and having his butler repeatedly ask her if she wants to go to the bathroom (apparently he has peepholes in there), she wanders around and starts browsing in the library. As she does, she notices that the paintings have their eyes cut out, and Phil’s staring at her through them!

She tries to leave, but Phil comes in and out five times, each time affecting a different voice and accent, and finally brandishes a motel key, telling her that it’s the key to the Bates Motel. Sheltered La Toya has never seen Psycho, so he fails to scare her, and instead, he rushes to the piano and starts banging it discordantly  and demanding that she sing. (How Ursula!)

“But Phil, I don’t know the melody–”

Sing!” So I sang, any notes that came into my head, while Phil stamped his foot to keep time and raved at the top of his voice, “We’re gonna make good work together! We’re gonna be the best team ever! Your fucking brother Michael is nothing! He has no talent! I’ll show him! Everything he’s done is shit!”

After a lot of this, she talks him into letting her go to her car for a second, and then she peels out for the gate. Phil tries to shut her in, but she escapes. If this is true (and I’d believe it is), how can anyone doubt Phil murdered Lana Clarkson?

Anyway, Jack Gordon, La Toya’s manager/husband/all-around bad guy is presented as a friend, nothing more, who is trying to prevent the Jacksons from kidnapping La Toya and returning her to live a virtual prisoner. We know now that Gordon, with his mob ties, rap sheet and possible murders (!!!), supposedly brainwashed Toy Toy and forced her to do things she didn’t want to that harmed to her career (probably irreparably) and her relationship with her family (happily, not so). (Although, she did do the Playboy spread and wore that fantastic earring on the cover, but whatev.)

She’s said since that her forced her to include false details in this book, and reading about the “kidnapping” attempts by her family to extricate her from Gordon’s clutches, you see that the story presented isn’t the truth.

But that’s always been a gray area for La Toya: since this book, she’s sold out her family and especially her brother, Michael, but there’s always a reason: she did it under duress from Gordon, to gain a modicum of freedom from her incredibly repressive family, etc. I believe that.

The tragedy of La Toya Jackson (a great title!) is that she’s never really done anything on her own, anything that she can claim is solely her accomplishment, anything that she hasn’t explained away later.

She worries about being treated like a child by her family–and it seems that that’s the case, since her mother leans on her as a “best friend”–but that still seems to be the case. There’s a sweetness and delicacy to La Toya that’s both attractive and sad. Without the fire and independence of some of her other siblings (i.e. Janet), she never really broke away on her own, to fail or succeed on her own terms, and instead, she wasted her credibility and talent (small or large) on a series of low-budget, low-quality projects.

She has a sweet voice, and there’s a definite charm to some of her videos, especially this one. (I absolutely love it.) Sure, she’s not the best singer in the world, but neither is Janet, and with the right songs, she could’ve notched a couple minor hits. 

In 2004, under the name “Toy,” she released this song, which actually kinda almost charted (on the Hot Dance/Club Play chart, but still), and seemed to point at the fact that maybe she had found her niche, finally. Sadly, the album (optimistically titled Startin’ Over) has never been released. She grabbed the national spotlight again in 2007 when the reality show Armed & Famous seemed on the verge of taking off (and this clip was getting huge laughs and responses), but the show was canceled after just two episodes.

I’m still hoping for a huge La Toya comeback. Every year it gets more doubtful, but as The Church Of La Toya’s “Toy Soldiers” might say, don’t ever count Toy Toy down. Still, it’s sad that someone positioned so well to make it in the entertainment industry, with performing talent and so truly beautiful (check out her pre-surgery pics), never lived up to her potential.

The most poignant moment of it-might-have-been occurs in the book when La Toya, reflecting on what a sheltered, innocent young woman she was, talks about meeting Prince at a roller-skating party. We all know Prince is a fan of thin-voiced beauties, and helped some of them achieve fantastic music. La Toya would’ve been the perfect Prince protege, and who knows what they might have accomplished together.

Still, even though it represents a lost opportunity for Toy Toy, it does reflect how truly sweet and naive she was in the early ’80s, probably wearing that horrible headband and looking gorgeous.

Shortly after Prince released “Soft and Wet,” he shyly introduced himself to me at a roller-skating party. “Hi.”

“Hi,” I said nonchalantly.

“I’m Prince.”

“Yes, I know.” There was no mistaking his large brown eyes, downy moustache, and straight black hair. Although I was sitting down to put on my skates, he was barely my height.

“I just want you to know that I’m madly in love with you,” he whispered passionately.

“Oh.” I thought this was his way of complimenting someone. I had no idea of his real intentions until he said, “I have all your pictures and everything, and I like everything about you.” His voice trailed off as if he had run out of words.

“Oh…that’s nice.”

Most girls would have kissed him or slapped him. Me? I stood up, offered a cheery “Well, hope you have a nice time tonight!” and skated off.