August 11, 2014
It’s been a few days since Michael’s passing, but fans and friends have been expressing their love and admiration for the beloved crooner in every way they can. Wife of E. Street Band guitarist and actress, Maureen Van Zandt (The Sopranos) had the privilege and honor of befriending Michael through many occasions and events. The two became great friends and shared not just a mutual affection for music and helping others, but life. Maureen shares with MJO a heartfelt piece about her late friend:
There’s an old Broadway tradition where, when a theatre luminary passes away, all the theatres on the Great White Way dim their lights at the same moment in homage. For those of us who knew and loved Michael, the lights in our world collectively dimmed in a sudden and horrible way that moment we found out he was gone. It was unimaginable. We had basked in the glow of his starlight for so long that we’d begun to take it for granted. And yes, Michael was indeed a star. The world had just not yet caught up with him.
Our first meeting was—like Michael—hilarious, unexpected, and memorable. Stevie and I had just arrived backstage at the 2008 American Idol concert and were headed down a long hallway when a door opened and out popped an impossibly handsome young man wrapped in a not-so-large white towel. When he saw us his jaw dropped open and he just stood there, frozen. It was the only time I’ve ever seen Michael at a loss for words! I of course recognized him but was so afraid it might turn into one of those movie moments when the person drops the towel that I grabbed Stevie’s arm and led him down the hall away from this poor guy we’d so obviously freaked out.
We met a fully-clothed Michael after the show and quickly found out the reason for his earlier state of shock: he was a huge fan of Bruce and the E Street Band, and couldn’t believe he was in such close proximity to one of “the boys”, as he always called them. It immediately endeared him to me. So did his warm, open, funny, chatty personality. That night led to countless other nights where we were to be endlessly charmed and entertained by the amazing Mr. Johns. Sometimes it was dinners, where way too many drinks flowed, along with way too many laughs. Sometimes he was with the lovely Stacey, sometimes with friends, all of whom clearly adored him. Sometimes it was late nights on our terrace, listening to music and gossiping and telling stories. Wherever it was, with Michael it was always about the music. His passion for it was so huge I thought it might consume him. He had the most vast knowledge of musical history of any person his age we knew, and his taste was impeccable. The first night he came to our house, he immediately and excitedly dragged us to a computer to show us videos of obscure songs by the Small Faces that even Stevie had never heard. And once he discovered our jukebox that was it. He would play songs for hours, great rock and soul classics. Sam & Dave. Otis Redding. Sam Cooke.
James Brown. Marvin Gaye. Etta James. Ike & Tina. British Invasion songs of the Sixties. And of course, the Small Faces. He was like a kid in a candy store and couldn’t be stopped. When he was around, you knew it would be a nonstop party and he was not only the DJ, he was the master of ceremonies.
Of all the times spent with Michael, my favorites were of course the Bruce shows we saw together. I would glance over at him and it would bring tears to my eyes because the look on his face was transcendent. He made jaded old me see that show and hear those songs in a new and different way.
And then there were the emails, the texts, the late-night phone calls. Again, all about the music. He’d send new songs, ask advice about offers he’d received, have deep conversations about the joys and anxieties and frustrations of being an artist. If it wasn’t about the music, it was to compliment Stevie or myself on work we’d done, or just to tell me he liked the way my hair looked at some awards show. Or just to say he missed us. He cared about his friends. He cared about his family. And Stacey, who was the perfect rock-solid complement to his wild and crazy soul. And adorable Puddy, to whom Edie was so rude when he came to visit. He had a huge heart, and as he said once in a song, he wore it on his sleeve.
So many memories flood me as I write this, some that will remain unspoken and close to my heart, some I’ll maybe be able to laugh about when time passes. But here’s how I like to remember him.
In 2012, I asked Michael to sing at the Little Kids Rock Gala honoring Stevie. He was excited to do it, carefully chose his song, and was the usual confident, cheery Michael who couldn’t wait to get onstage and have a blast. Until I told him Bruce was the surprise guest, that is. Then he became a Michael I had never seen. He showed up in NY for rehearsal, luggage lost and a bundle of nerves. He then proceeded to lose his phone, forgot his lyrics at sound-check and hid in his dressing room saying he could not perform in front of Bruce until my sister and my friend practically pushed him onstage. Needless to say, his vulnerability made him all the more lovable. And of course, once he hit that stage he was brilliant. He couldn’t not be. I recall so vividly watching him at the all-star encore, onstage with his hero Bruce, singing his heart out, that beautiful smile lighting up the room. It was where he was supposed to be.
Now I imagine he is up there (or down there) in Rock & Roll Heaven, singing a duet with Steve Marriott and dancing with James Brown while Clarence plays the sax. I have to imagine that or the sadness would be too much to bear.
Yesterday I realized he was the last person to have played a song on our jukebox and I gingerly approached it to see what it was, hoping it would not break my heart all over again. The song: Do You Love Me? by the Contours. It was awhile ago but I remember now when he played it. He danced like a lunatic and we all laughed.
Do You Love Me?
Yes I do, Mikey. Always.
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