Heartfelt Tribute from Maureen Van Zandt

Date 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:

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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 waslike Michaelhilarious, 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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11 Responses to “Heartfelt Tribute from Maureen Van Zandt”

  1. Judes said at August 11th, 2014, 11:58 pm: ()

    What a wonderful tribute Maureen . You’ve depicted him so well.Even though as fans he was like a star to us-its interesting to hear he was the same with musicians he was in awe of.

  2. cakelulu said at August 12th, 2014, 12:25 am: ()

    Thank-you for sharing such a beautiful tribute and such special memories. It was warm, funny and heartbreaking all in one.
    Michael was such a special guy and he still shines so brightly. Thanks again. #rememberingMichael

  3. Sharon said at August 12th, 2014, 12:28 am: ()

    Thank you so much for sharing your memories of Michael with us! It means so much that you would want to reach out to us. We are all heartbroken that he is gone. The light in my world has dimmed for sure. He was always our star.

  4. Kristen said at August 12th, 2014, 12:45 am: ()

    What a beautiful tribute you’ve written, Maureen. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you very much for sharing your memories of Michael with us and being such a warm and caring friend to him.

  5. Jennine said at August 12th, 2014, 1:33 am: ()

    My sincere gratitude for this heartfelt tribute to Michael. I will cherish the friends I have met because of him. As you said before, it is the best way to honor Michael.

  6. Susan Mahr said at August 12th, 2014, 3:38 am: ()

    Maureen, I remember when he heard from you the very first time. I think it was when he was making the “phone calls” to his fans. He was EXTREMELY excited to have heard from you!!! He was so honored. Thanks so much for remembering. God Bless, Susan

  7. Jo Sedz said at August 12th, 2014, 4:06 am: ()

    Thank you so much Maureen – that is EXACTLY how I saw and knew Mike….

    Just miss him mobs… he was just an awesome dancing machine 😉

    And he seriously didn’t know just how talented he was … thank heavens people like you guys helped him to realise X

  8. Laura said at August 12th, 2014, 9:16 am: ()

    Wonderful words to wake up to, Maureen. Thank you. It is very refreshing to say the least to read a tribute from someone who knew Michael well and knew how special he was as a musician and a friend. I remember clearly after a fun Prince Tennis event in Central Park with Michael in August ’09, he was talking about how excited he was to be having dinner with you and your husband that evening. His face lit up when he was speaking about it…it was obvious how much he cherished your friendship. Aside from being an amazing talent, Michael had a way of making his fans feel more like friends…another reason this is all so hard for many of us. Thank you for thinking of us.

  9. Phyllis said at August 12th, 2014, 11:21 am: ()

    Thank you so much for this beautiful tribute.

  10. Dee said at August 12th, 2014, 12:56 pm: ()

    Maureen, thank you so much for sharing this with us. What a beautifully written tribute, and it’s obvious that every word came from your heart. It touches my heart to know that Michael had friends like you that loved him, and appreciated what a special person he was. Michael was a star to all of us here, and we will cherish our memories of him, as I’m sure you will cherish yours.
    Thank you again. Xo

  11. Tara said at August 12th, 2014, 1:28 pm: ()

    Maureen how beautiful your tribute is to Michael. Oh we are all so heartbroken..and in shock that we will never hear his incredible voice in person again. Its just so sad…but I’m so glad to read your experiences and memories of him. I remember being at the David Foster and Friends show in NY and you and husband were there. We were supposed to have a meet and greet with him but he had to first go to say hello to you…he expressed how excited he was that you were there. I too remember him also excited to have dinner with you after the Tennis event. And lastly you afforded me tickets via twitter to see him perform at Little Kids Rock when Bruce was performing..It is something I will never forget and I will treasure the memory..I am so grateful for your generosity. To see Michael was on stage with his Idol was such a gift. I always found it so cool to know you had a friendship with him..our hearts break for Stacey and his family. Thank you for also thinking of his fans in your tweets…we are a dedicated, loyal bunch! We were always so proud of him. So sorry for the loss of your good friend. He will be greatly missed on this earth. Wishing us all peace and comfort and healing.

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