Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Michael Jackson guy, Ann Arbor

It seems like forever since the Ann Arbor art fair (only 2 weeks), but I am finally writing my post about "The Michael Jackson guy," as everyone called entertainment for the entire 4 days of the show.
My booth was on Liberty Ave, and there was a walkway between my booth and my neighbor's, of about 7 feet or so. Behind our booths, beyond the sidewalk, was a long alley decorated with graffiti.

Near the beginning of the first day of the show, (Wed.), we heard a Michael Jackson song being played somewhere in the vicinity. There was a woman in my booth looking at my jewelry, who casually said "Oh yeah, that's the Michael Jac
kson guy, he's here all the time." Mike and I then took turns peering into the alley, where there was a small "boom box" on the ground at the entrance. At first I felt like a voyeur who should not be staring at this dancing man in the shadows, but soon realized that what I was doing was completely the norm. Several people gathered at the entrance of the alley with me, I snapped some pictures, and eventually I went back to my booth, satisfied that I'd seen my fill.

We soon learned from random people who came into my booth that this guy had been dancing, and going a pretty darn good impression of Michael Jackson, for years and years in this Ann Arbor alleyway. Most people who lived in town were completely unfazed by this unusual spectacle, because it was an everyday occurrence to them. But there were also many people who would excitedly run to the alleyway with their friends exclaiming - "There's the Michael Jackson guy!" or "Let's go watch the Micheal Jackson guy!"

Sometimes there were no people gathered at the alley to watch him, and sometimes he collected a crowd so big, they blocked the sidewalk. The entertainer seemed to have his slow and busy times, just as the artists did. However, the crowd did not seem to effect his performance one bit. When he was alone, he still dance
d like it was nobody's business, like he WAS in fact Michael Jackson - on stage performing for thousands of people. Sometimes, even when he had a large crowd, he would see someone he knew pass by and wave, then stop and talk to them like nothing out of the ordinary was going on. I noticed he did know many people who walked by, and would stop and talk to them casually. For some reason this kind of shocked me. Maybe because the real Michael Jackson would not just be able to do this on the street, or maybe because I thought he was just this crazy guy who thought he was Michael Jackson, and would only talk inane jibberish when he came back down to Earth.

However, this was not the case. As you can read on his Facebook fan page, this man's real name is Brian Woolridge, a 35 year-old man who works as a janitor at a local Meijer store. He has been dancing and lip-synching to Michael Jackson's hits in that alley since 1995, simply for the joy that Michael Jackson's music had given him since childhood.

Now, since he was there every single day of the art fair, I was able to observe a few things about this phenomenon. This alley was "his," although he was very humble and never put up a fight about it. Sometimes, when he would take a break, another street performer would sneak into his alley and begin their act. This was very jarring to me. Somehow, even though I had been listening to MJ all weekend, it never bothered me, and then when it was replaced with something else, I found myself annoyed. One time it was a violin player, one time it was a drummer, and another it was a saxophone player. But every time, I missed Michael Jackson. I think the reason for this was that this guy seemed to bring so much joy to the town - he seemed so beloved, and he exuded a great energy - and it didn't really matter whose music was playing. (Not to say that I dislike MJ - I loved him as a child, but I think we've all had our fill of his music lately.)

One time, while an "intruder" had taken over the alley, I went out of the booth to take a break, and saw the MJ guy walking back towards his alley/home, boom-box in hand, and I thought, "Oh man, sorry - that other dude is still over there." Later I realized that having his "home" taken over did not stop MJ. I spotted him performing on another street corner until his alley was available again, which made me feel a little better for him. And, I have to say, also a little jealous that others were enjoying his act, which seemed somehow wrong and out of context.

Another thing I found curious was that he did not play the entire Michael Jackson library throughout the weekend. One would think, doing this for 14 years, that you'd want to have the widest variety possible in the songs you danced
to, right? So instead of having danced to "Beat It" say, 25,000 times, you'd only have danced to it say, 5,000 times. I don't know off hand how many MJ songs there are in existence, but I would guess there are hundreds. This guy played the same probably 25 songs over and over (although not in the same order), the highlights being "Billie Jean," "Rock With You," and "Thriller." Surprisingly, he also did some ballads, where he mostly stood in one spot, but still had the MJ body language going on. Most times, he picked an observing child to serenade.

The second thing I found curious, was that he did not try to LOOK like Michael Jackson. No makeup, no wig, no gloves or special clothes. He was just this plain-clothed guy in jeans and a t-shirt who just walked into an alley, plopped down his tunes, and turned into a dancing, singing fool.
Needless to say, I will request the same spot for next year's Ann Arbor show. Not only was it a successful spot for me business-wise, but I just don't think the show will ever be the same for me without "The Michael Jackson guy" in the background.

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