I was a more or less solitary kid. I didn’t have an especially sad life or anything, just lonesome. I lived with my grandparents and my mom moved away when I was 10 (she came home every other weekend); I’ve never been good at making friends and I was too sheltered to be hanging out at other people’s houses anyway. I spent most of my spare time in my room, in my head.
On Friday nights when my mom didn’t come home I would get depressed to a level that a child probably shouldn’t be able to get to. That was the one day a week I’d get to eat fast food, so I would usually eat my Chik-Fil-A nuggets and cry until I fell asleep. But while riding home from dinner one afternoon the radio was playing like, a 70s/80s old school R&B jam session, and it changed my life. I spent most of my early years listening to the oldies station, so I was well versed in Bee Gees and soft rock classics. I still go hard for Hall & Oates. I was no stranger to skatin’ jams, but that particular Friday afternoon; hit with the power of Earth, Wind, Fire, and the Sugarhill Gang; I realized music could make me happy. I would listen to that station every Friday afternoon/night when I was at my saddest and lock myself in my room and dance until I couldn’t breathe. I would fantasize about the day when I would be twenty four (i figured that was the perfect age to be… in reality the year I was 24 was one of my worst) and instead of being lonely in my room I’d be in an apartment with cool friends dancing with other people. I’d think about all the grownup people in my town who were listening to the same station and having parties at the same time I was, and for a little while, I didn’t feel so lonely anymore.
I don’t know what I would have done without those Friday nights. Those nights made me fall in love with music and realize that it was important. That’s when music stopped being just something to listen to became something I could experience. I learned that classical music wasn’t the only type that could be beautiful. And somewhere along the way I realized it was okay to be creative, and it was okay to want to be an artist or a writer instead of a scientist or an engineer, because these brilliant, talented people on the radio who probably wrote poetry in their notebooks as kids even though it was nerdy made me want to live on Friday nights when I didn’t before. And if I could just make someone smile with a story or a picture once in my life, I could stop hating myself for getting B’s in math. I stopped wanting to be a chemist/biologist/astronomer and decided to be a cartoon animator/painter/short story writer because it didn’t call for long division and was probably more fun.
Those Friday nights were when I really found Michael and Stevie… not the videos that were on TV all the time or the songs that were in a million commercials, but crazy stuff I’d never heard before that I felt like the world had been hiding from me. I wondered if the reason the radio only played “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” on those nights was because it was so beautiful that everyone else smiled and cried at the same time whenever they heard it just like I did, and that’s a funny emotion that people don’t really like to show in public. And I guessed that there was no video for “Shake Your Body Down To The Ground” because videos had to be short and four minutes were obviously not enough to contain it. I spent half a day recording and rerecording it over and over again on a cassette tape, splicing the verses and instrumentals together into a version that was 15 minutes long, the way it was supposed to be. I felt like I’d discovered a major secret that only adults were supposed to know about because this was nothing like what MTV, BET, or VH1 were playing. And when I found out that the Michael Jackson who made Bad and the little kid who sang ABC were the same person, and that Stevie Wonder was blind but could make me see the world in a harmonica, I felt like I could do anything, anytime, and maybe I didn’t have to wait to grow up to be happy.
So thank you Michael, and Tito, Jackie, Marlon, Randy and Jermaine. Thank you Debarge because I couldn’t always tell the difference. Thank you Stevie, for doing through sound what I can only dream of doing through writing. Thank you Prince, Rick James, Grandmaster Flash, Tavares, Gap Band, Janet, Chic, Donna Summer, Sylvester, and Sister Sledge. Thank you everyone who ever made a skate jam and thanks WYNN 106.3 FM for making my life a little bit brighter. I don’t know if you still have the Friday night funk mix but if not, think about bringing it back. If not on Fridays, maybe another night. It just might be exactly what someone needs, exactly when they need it.