Four Years Later: Remembering Michael Jackson Tonight and Forever

Yesterday, the streets were filled with people with pride and I was proud to live in a city that has traveled so far since I was a youth. Sure there’s a long road ahead, but yesterday the past I grew up in seemed as long ago as Howdy Doody. I was happy that W.i.P. got reopened for Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny’s Gay Pride party. It will be interesting to see if W.i.P. stays open. I wish I had made it to the Mermaid and Gay pride parades but, alas, I was torn to many other elsewhere’s and must do’s. I did manage to get to the roof of the Standard with interior design icon Karen Daroff and her son Robert. Although it was dead summer and "the" crowd wasn’t supposed to be around, we found wonder in this wonderful place. I texted the manager Emily Rieman after, thanking her for her and the entire staffs’ brilliant hospitality. I told her Le Bain was an "oasis of classy fun in a world of soccer-hooligan saloons.”

Earlier in the evening we caught Lady Rizo’s act over at The Darby. It was classic songs sung with intelligence and grace over coffee, dessert, and some Beau Joie Champagne. We glad-handed all the unusual suspects before hoofing it west to Andre Balaz’ anything-but-standard oasis, dodging desperate suburban youth being hustled by bottle hosts at the joints along the way.

Tonight, after BINGO at the Bowery Poetry Club and after the Inked Magazine soiree at Lit Lounge, me and mine will head over to The Darby for The Fourth Annual Remember The Time Michael Jackson Tribute.

On the night of the day Michael Jackson died, we all headed to the clubs for some sort of reconciliation and grasp on the situation. Some use the expression "it will all come clear with the light of day" and I guess for many things light works, but for some concepts only the dark will help. Many tried to find answers by looking at the bottom of newly-emptied shot glasses…others in the eyes or chatter of friends or strangers. I got an education from DJ Cassidy at 1OAK. Tonight he’ll do it again, offering a barrage of Michael and I won’t miss it.

The day after Michael Jackson died I wrote a piece. It may be a little short on the facts we later learned, as it was written in the confusion of the tabloid headlines and lingering grief of the next morning, but it describes my mood and the love of precious life I found at 1OAK the night before.

Blackbook Magazine Goodnight Mr Lewis, June 26, 2009:

Michael Jackson: The Best Club Songs Ever

An autopsy may reveal it was pills or something similar that shut Michael Jackson down, but the heart really gave out because it once was loved by the whole world and wasn’t anymore. My emotions roller-coastered through a day of death and rumor. A great sadness consumed me as allegations and innuendo, tributes and music bombarded me through open windows and closed doors. From beat box radios and every TV in the neighborhood, I was told to remember, condemn, forgive, or just listen. The complexity of understanding the meaning of Michael Jackson’s death personally and on that grander scale became harder by the hour. I was enlightened by Jesse Jackson, Quincy Jones, Cher, Paul McCartney, and even Celine Dion. Everybody except Elizabeth Taylor was getting into the act — it is an act we and they will find impossible to follow.

From the point of view that I write about – the never neverland of clubs – Michael Jackson’s passing immortalizes the best songs I’ve ever heard on a dance floor. The music will live on as pure and wondrous and as perfect as the man himself was confusing. I won’t dwell on the bawdy stuff; plenty of others will milk that cow. I’ll just say flat out that "Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough" or maybe "Billie Jean" are the best songs I’ve ever heard a DJ offer. To this day they still blow a dance floor up.  Years ago, there were Michael Jackson club rumors. Some claim that he visited from time to time, unrecognizable in prosthetic makeup or with a face wrapped in scarves. The only place I know he went for sure was Studio 54. I asked Carmen D’Alessio about Michael at Studio 54, and she told me, "I of course remember him coming to Studio, 33 years ago. He was a kid releasing his first album. As the VIP hostess, I met everyone my dear, and I do recall clearly a 17-year-old Michael Jackson. He was nice and friendly, and I remember thinking he was very good looking." A quick Wikipedia read finds Michael listed first in a list of Studio 54 attendees. He led over Nureyev, Mick and Bianca, Elton John, Truman Capote, Mae West, Gloria Swanson, Jackie Onassis, and Elizabeth Taylor. Ironically, fair Farrah Fawcett was also listed.

I went to 1OAK, as a tribute was hastily put together with superstar DJ Cassidy only playing M.J. hits to a packed house of the beautiful. O’Neal McKnight danced and lip-synched to tunes, and Robin Thicke sang "Human Nature" in tribute. Cassidy asked over the mic, "Michael, why did we lose you this night?" When I arrived I was skeptical, thinking the idea of this tribute was almost cheesy — and it might have been if not for the sincere efforts by the 1OAK family. We were swept up in Michael’s massive talent as every single impeccably-produced tune held the packed house and dance floor. What other artist could have a catalog of songs that would hold a floor for hours?

I stood with Scott Sartiano and Ronnie Madra surrounded by a stunning and smart crowd. Sparklers announced bottles, and Cassidy offered, "We are here to celebrate the music and the life of Michael." The crowd roared and the waitrons poured, and I became a corny mush. I thought of the immense sadness that must have been consuming him at his end. I wondered if he indeed had just ended it, if he indeed had stopped cause he had enough. I thought of that traffic song, "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" — the lyrics, "If you just had one minute to breathe and they granted you one final wish, would you ask for something like another chance? Or something similar as this, don’t worry so much it will happen to you as sure as your sorrows or joys."

I wondered what Michael would have done with another chance. What would he have changed? What did he want that he, with all the fame and riches, never got? "We Wanna Be Starting Something" whipped the beautiful crowd into a frenzy, and the scope of our loss drove me to leave and find some summer air. It’s impossible to measure the wattage of the light that went out yesterday.

I remember watching James Brown’s funeral on TV and seeing Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton manipulate a frail Michael to the mic for a speech that was brilliant and eye-opening. He eloquently spoke of the soul icon’s love, contributions, and forgiveness as the Brown estate vultures loomed all around. The world that seemed to be tearing him apart will now fight for his bones, and it won’t be short or pretty. None of them will stop until they get enough, yet Michael Jackson’s life and much-talked about excesses leave us with a great lesson.

Is there ever enough? Can you ever stop? Is it human nature not to be happy with what you have and to keep pushing and fighting till the heart eventually bursts? If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that all you have can be torn from you in an instant.

Rest in peace, Michael Jackson.

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