When Michael Jackson’s Xscape came out last summer I listened to it on repeat for a few days. Of all the tracks, Do You Know Where Your Children Are is one of my favorites; feels closest to vintage of any of the tracks.
Listening to the album also led to me reading some reviews and coming across Back in the Day, GQ’s piece on a fascinating aspect of Michael Jackson’s story:
How do you talk about Michael Jackson unless you begin with Prince Screws? Prince Screws was an Alabama cotton-plantation slave who became a tenant farmer after the Civil War, likely on his old master’s land. His son, Prince Screws Jr., bought a small farm. And that man’s son, Prince Screws III, left home for Indiana, where he found work as a Pullman porter, part of the exodus of southern blacks to the northern industrial cities.
There came a disruption in the line. This last Prince Screws, the one who went north, would have no sons. He had two daughters, Kattie and Hattie. Kattie gave birth to ten children, the eighth a boy, Michael—who would name his sons Prince, to honor his mother, whom he adored, and to signal a restoration. So the ridiculous moniker given by a white man to his black slave, the way you might name a dog, was bestowed by a black king upon his pale-skinned sons and heirs.
We took the name for an affectation and mocked it.
Not to imply that it was above mockery, but of all the things that make Michael unknowable, thinking we knew him is maybe the most deceptive.