Since June 25, I have debated posting on this topic. Coming up on a month later, I won the debate. (That’s one nice thing about debating yourself—you always win.)
I owe my writing career to Michael Jackson.
In 1987, starting my sophomore year in high school, I was a bit adrift, more withdrawn than I’d ever been. People who had been my friends in middle school had gone in a different direction without me. But people I had been friends with back in grade school were coming back into my orbit—one in particular, Mike (still one of my best friends today).
Mike saw things quicker than most people. He and these other kids I was becoming reacquainted with were members of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, an international Jewish youth group. Since the spring of our freshman year, Mike had been trying to persuade me to join—not because he had anything to gain from it but simply because he thought I’d thrive in it. Ever the sly pitchman, he would work me, casually mentioning the aspects of BBYO he thought would most appeal specifically to me.
I resisted until the fall. The tipping point, which in retrospect should’ve been the most obvious ploy, was when Mike told me “Every weekend we have sleepovers. With girls.”
Even though this turned out to be only partially true—it was not every weekend—joining would be a step up for a guy who spent most Friday and Saturday nights home (doing what, I honestly don’t remember). So I went to my first meeting, and felt warmly welcomed by new-old friends and strangers alike.
At the same time, one of the most eagerly anticipated follow-up albums in rock history had just come out and was dominating the pop culture landscape: Bad by Michael Jackson.
I liked the title song so much that I wrote a parody of it. It was also called “Bad.” (I wrote it the nights of October 12 and 13, 1987. I just checked—those were not weekend nights. And for the record, this was a full four months before the most famous parody of the song—“Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Fat”—was released.)
I shared my parody with Mike, already my comedy-writing partner for articles for our BBYO chapter’s newspaper. He loved it.
A month later, some two hundred BBYOers from my region bused up to the frosty Catskills in New York for the annual Fall Convention—two nights in a hotel without parents. (Hence these conventions were anticipated even more eagerly than follow-ups to blockbuster albums.)
The programming highlight of these conventions was the Saturday night talent show. Perhaps I should write “talent” show. But still, there were always at least a couple of funny performances and watching bad ones could be just as fun.
I was still on the shy side when Mike directed me to the talent show sign-up sheet and encouraged me to sing “Bad.” Not breaking with tradition, I resisted. He assured me that the audience would love it. And to prove it, he was willing to put himself—and the other four guys in our little gang—on the line. He said they’d all come up there with me and “dance in the background.”
I thought all of this was a bad idea.
Really, really bad.
No singing ability.
No idea that this four-minute parody I wrote for myself was about to turn me back into the person I was and the person I was perhaps destined to be.
Part 2 (including photos) tomorrow.