Brian Woolridge: Ann Arbor’s “Michael Jackson Guy” Reacts to Pop Star’s Death
I think I was in high school when I first saw him. I remember I was walking down Liberty Street with some friends and we stumbled upon a guy dancing to Michael Jackson songs in an alley by the Michigan Theater. He was really good. I mean he had the moves down. I threw some change in his cardboard box and we kept walking, laughing about the randomness of the encounter.
As an undergrad at UM, I came to realize that the encounter wasn’t so random. As it turns out, the “Michael Jackson Guy” was an Ann Arbor institution, busking in that same alley all day, every weekend. You’d hear talk of him in coffee shops and classrooms. But unlike Shakey Jake, whom every Ann Arborite claimed to know and love, the Michael Jackson Guy was a mystery. What compelled him to dance in the alley? Was the guy homeless? Why Michael Jackson?
A couple months ago, I moved back to Michigan after living on the East Coast for 8 years. A month after my return, I found myself walking along Liberty St. with my wife and heard the sound of “Billy Jean” drifting onto the street from the alley. I couldn’t believe it.
“He’s still here,” I said.
I had already been planning to create a blog dedicated to underground/indie culture in Michigan’s lower peninsula and it occurred to me that the Michael Jackson Guy would make for a great story. Then on June 25th, as we all know, the actual Michael Jackson died. Though the blog wasn’t (and still isn’t) completely ready, I found myself wondering, “how’s the Michael Jackson guy holding up?”
I called up my friend John and told him to meet me on Liberty St. with a camera. Though we couldn’t find him that Friday (the 26th), we shot some test footage, which the Ann Arbor Chronicle found on YouTube. On Saturday, John and I went back and, at 11am, there he was.
As it turns out:
The Michael Jackson Guy has a name and it is Brian Woolridge. He is a very soft spoken and humble man. He is not homeless. He grew up in Ann Arbor, attending public schools and working for many years (until recent layoffs) at Meijer. He is heartbroken over Michael Jackson’s death but is handling it ok and plans to keep dancing. Like Michael, he sometimes feels lonely and isolated. He began dancing downtown as a way of overcoming his shyness and is saddened when people sometimes snicker or think of him as a “street person.” He says people often stop and stare and then walk quickly away when the song ends.
If you find yourself in downtown Ann Arbor on the weekend and pass the Michael Jackson Guy, do me a favor. Wait for the song to end and ask him how he’s doing. I think you’ll find that he’s happy to talk to you and will appreciate you taking the time.
And if nothing else, drop some cash in the cardboard box.
Links: In addition their aforementioned coverage, the Ann Arbor Chronicle did a great in-depth piece on Brian this past May. Looks like the A2 News also caught up with him later on Saturday and has a great photo gallery. An older article from the Daily is also worth a read.