By Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 2009 8:01 PM
My grandmother turned me on to the Jackson 5. She bought me a transistor radio and a 45 of "I Want You Back." I was 10 years old.
At the time I thought she was trying to take my mind off the fact that my parents had just split up and my mom had no money. One day I was a fourth grader at Stonewall Jackson Elementary in the rural central Florida town of Plant City and the next day I was sharing a bedroom with an old lady who liked the Jackson 5.
She lived in St. Petersburg. Her bedroom smelled like Noxzema.
She read James Michener until 2 in the morning. She had enormous breasts and delicate hands. We listened to music on our transistor radios at night. We watched the Jackson 5 on "The Ed Sullivan Show" with bowls of orange sherbet in our laps.
"Jermaine is also darling," my grandmother would say. By then I knew she wasn't trying to cozy up to a 10-year-old kid; she was sincerely nutty. She was also the first racially progressive person I'd ever met. Where I'd come from, whites lived on one side of the railroad tracks and blacks on the other.
Michael Jackson lifted me up and over some transom. My grandmother saw to it.
When WLCY radio announced that the Jackson 5's first U.S. tour would be stopping in Tampa, we knew it was a long shot financially.
But my grandmother operated on the economic principal known as "chicken today, feathers tomorrow," which meant that the money she was supposed to give Florida Power and Light went to a pair of Jackson 5 tickets.
We took a bus from St. Petersburg to Tampa. I wore bell bottoms and a knock-off Nik-Nik shirt, the same kind Michael wore under his vests.
My grandmother carried a wicker handbag. All I'd seen of Curtis Hixon Hall were televised wrestling matches with Dusty Rhodes or Terry Funk doing half-nelsons on each other. Now I was standing on the smooth pavilion outside in a sea of afro puffs and ironed hair, all of drifting toward the frigid blast of air conditioning blowing from the entrance.
The lights went down, the crowd went crazy and the Jackson 5 came on stage.
How to describe the opening of "I Want You Back?" The fingers flying down the piano keys, the rhythm guitar, the cymbals, the start of something.
And then the five brothers, dancing, spinning, dipping, just busting moves in those zippered ankle boots until the littlest brother stepped to the microphone. That beseeching joyous falsetto washed away all the candy blood of the wrestlers who'd faked it in this dark cavern.
Black kids and white kids were decked out in fringe and gauchos and suede vests and they were dancing together under one roof. Michael Jackson did this.
My grandmother was holding her purse in the dark. I was a goner.
all I want
a buh buh buh buh
all I need
a buh buh buh buh
all I want
My mom picked us up after the show in her beater car and we drove home. I felt different. Changed. I kept the concert stub for years.
Other concerts would follow, other high school road trips to the Lakeland Civic Center with six of us piled in someone's Pontiac Sunbird and Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver" drowning out the gurgling of a bong. Disco sucks! We thought we were so cool.
But nothing would come close to that night at Curtis Hixon Hall when the opening chords of "I Want You Back" made my 10-year-old heart explode.