Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson, Billie Jean and the Bartender with the Nice Butt

For the past few days I've been trying to sort out my thoughts over the passing of Michael Jackson before I attempted to write anything. He was such an odd character, but his talent was indisputable. I wasn't even sure I wanted to write anything at all.

I was at work when Paul called me with the news. He had called me about an hour and a half earlier with the news of Farrah Fawcett's death. Between customers and on my breaks, I hastily cut and pasted something to the site, which I hate to do, but sometimes getting the word out is more important than originality, although I strive to do both. It's the blogger's curse.

I was never a huge MJ fan, but I did buy "Off The Wall" when it came out in 1979, a year after I myself came out. It remains my favorite album of his. It was a more subtle production than "Thiller", but for me, that's what makes it a better album.

Like a lot of folks, I grew up with Michael Jackson. He was just a year older than me and I remember the first time I heard his voice on the radio back in the 60's, I thought it was Diana Ross. I remember the Jackson 5 performing on the "Ed Sullivan Show", "American Bandstand", "Soul Train", "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" and later "The Cher Show".

He was such a cute kid with so much talent and energy packed into that little body, how could you not love him? Looking back, I think he was my first boy-crush. As he matured, Michael developed a more masculine, ruggedly handsome look, which reminded me of a young Billy Dee Williams. It seemed inevitable that he would transition to movies and become a classic Hollywood leading man.

When he co-starred with Diana Ross and comedian Nipsey Russell in the film version of the Broadway musical "The Wiz", his face was almost completely hidden beneath the heavy makeup and prosthetics of his Scarecrow character, but his explosive energy in the dance routines made the box office bomb and critical flop worth seeing. I couldn't wait to see what would come next in his career now that he was coming into his own.

In the early years of Michael's young adulthood, there was a lot of speculation that he was gay. It was a natural assumption. He was handsome, talented, sensitive and soft spoken and was never seen in public with a girl on his arm. Like a lot of closeted gay men, his public image was very asexual. There was a lot to identify with, even though we gays had to admit to ourselves, it was probably just wishful thinking.

One Friday night in in 1982, I was with my friend Charles at a bar in DC's Adams-Morgan neighborhood called Morgan's, a typical 80's fern bar with a spacious dance floor. It was new and we decided to check it out, even though it was several blocks away from our usual Dupont Circle stomping grounds. It was still early when we arrived and the place was virtually empty. As we walked in to the opening strains of "Billie Jean", I checked out the cute bartender with the nice butt.

After about a half hour, I got up the nerve and jotted down my phone number on the back a business card, walked over, passed it across the bar to him and said, "Call me." A few days later he did and we dated for four weeks, which is a long-term relationship by gay standards. To this day, every time I hear that song, I think of the cute bartender with the nice butt.

I won't go on about all the scandals, bizarre behavior and plastic surgeries. There's no shortage of those stories and there will be many more in the coming weeks. I prefer to remember Michael Jackson as the adorable kid and handsome young man that came before all that. For me he will always be the young dynamo with unlimited potential that I grew up with.

As I said before, I was never a huge, over the top fan, but Michael Jackson has always been there in the background of my life. With his passing, I feel an unexpected sense of loss. He was truly one of a kind and I will miss him.

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