If I see Todd Bridges on the streets, he’ll catch these hands for sure. That’s right, I’m still holding a grudge against the iconic 80’s sitcom actor from Different Strokes. Why do you ask? He put his grubby hands on my life long crush Charlene. For those of you who need further clarification, I’m speaking of Miss Janet Jackson if you’re nasty. All jokes aside, it is no secret to family and friends I have had a legitimate crush on Janet since she was Penny on Good Times.
I could not conceive at the time how such a staunch message from her groundbreaking hit album Control could give me my first lesson from the pop icon on truly living.
I can think of a million reasons why I am fan. Her music, dancing, and overall show stopping performances to name a few, but that’s not what this post is about. There are so many milestones of mine that correlates with an album from Janet. As I think of the man I am today who is free of restriction and disconnected from the Matrix, I owe Miss Jackson bundles of gratitude. She is after all, someone who taught me how to live and break the rules.
Let me explain further, as I already mentioned, my crush goes back quite a long time. It was however, being in the seventh grade, in my room listening to 98.7 Kiss FM, when I first heard the sickest beat that was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Not even from Janet’s big brother Michael himself. That beat was from “What have you done for me lately.” As I began to dance until I was drenched in sweat (and stomping too loudly for my mother’s taste), I could not conceive at the time how such a staunch message from her groundbreaking hit album Control could give me my first lesson from the pop icon on truly living.
As Miss Jackson flexed her artistic muscles in the socially conscious 1989 album Rhythm Nation, she was the first to get us all in formation.
“This is a story about control. My control. Control of what I say, control of what I do, and this time I’m gonna do it my way.” These lyrics are forever etched in my brain as the defiant and self-proclaiming anthem of independence. It was also the introduction from Janet’s chart topping single Control by the album of the same name. When I first heard it, I really did not have anything to take control of. I was in the seventh grade and all of my needs were taken care of by my parents. It wasn’t until many years later that I revealed the one secret that paralyzed me from truly being myself. You see I always knew because of this song that there would come a day where these lyrics would speak to me. In 2013, my entire family now knew that whom I would love, would also be of the same sex. I knew from here on out, I was in control of my life and would tell my story, MY WAY. I learned while being an awkward seventh grader dancing in my bedroom that whatever life I were to have, would be mine to define as I saw fit.
Yes I had been intimate with women and was not a virgin, but I could no longer ignore the fact that I knew that I was gay.
As Miss Jackson flexed her artistic muscles in the socially conscious 1989 album Rhythm Nation, she was the first to get us all in formation. I was an all too willing participant and became an enlisted soldier leading the platoon with pride. The 1993 blockbuster Janet did not disappoint by any means but it wasn’t until The Velvet Rope album that I got another much needed lesson.
As Janet talked about depression and sexual liberation on her 1997 effort, I realized that I was not alone while experiencing some pretty dark and exciting moments I couldn’t forget even if I wanted to. I was in my early twenties, unemployed, left Long Island for Arlington, Va. and staying in a one-bedroom apartment with my sister, her husband, and two of my now three nephews. It was also during this time that I would finally become sexually liberated. Yes I had been intimate with women and was not a virgin (with the ladies), but I could no longer ignore the fact that I knew that I was gay.
I owe a lot to Janet, and the Velvet rope for allowing myself to express myself sexually in a way that was authentic to me for the very first time.
The Velvet Rope became the soundtrack for this era of my life in which I finally found the missing puzzle piece to my sexual identity. He was 5’11, 195 pounds, beautiful mocha skin, and I of course was infatuated. Janet’s cover of Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the night” became the one song that eventually would transport me back to that moment of coming to terms with my sexuality and loving every minute of it. Since I could not let it be known to my sister why I was jetting off every weekend with my “friend”, I knew I had to buckle down and get busy trying to find a job and contribute to the household.
It was Janet’s self-aware “You” that taught me that my sister with her new family, had to focus on that and not her little brother. I had to mean what I said, and say what I meant. I had stop being a spoiled brat, blaming everyone for my financial situation, look in the mirror, tell myself the truth that I was being lazy, waiting to be taken care of, and get my sh*t together. It would still be some time before I actually did, but I owe a lot to Janet, and the Velvet rope for allowing myself to express myself sexually in a way that was authentic to me for the very first time.
As the years passed, my love of Janet as an entertainer grew with each album. It was the All for you single and album that will always remind me of financially getting my ducks in a row and dancing the night away to it at the bachelor’s Mill in Washington DC. It was the pre Beyhive era so it was still very much Janet, Whitney, and Mariah’s world in the gay clubs. You know, the good ol’ days!
I would go on to live and enjoy Damita Jo, 20 YO, and Discipline but it was Janet’s triumphant return to the music world in 2015 with a gift touted as just for us fans that opened my eyes and heart. Unbreakable slid in to my life like the surprise teaser of new music from Janet’s lips herself prior to the album’s release. Her new music was about a new Janet like we’ve never seen before. This was a married and soon to be mother Janet. She was changed, happy, and spiritually woke. Once again, I felt as if she and I were dancing in sync with the most intricate of moves she has been famously known for.
At the time of Unbreakable’s release, I was in love for the first time in my life. He was the most connected and spiritually aware man I’ve ever met. What he, nor I didn’t know at the time was that he was the catalyst for me spiritually wanting more in my life. My thirst for freedom both from corporate America, and the restraints of religion and societal pressures, all played out on a stage in my head to the music of the Unbreakable album. One of my favorite tracks is The Great Forever. The line that describes me and where I was at the time and very much now is, “Once you know why you’re here, it becomes crystal clear, to love someone is divine. The empty hole in your heart, it will tear you apart because hate will only divide.”
I was now experiencing the most recent lesson from Miss Jackson. I surrendered to the fact that I was put on this earth to love and be loved. I did not have to go it alone in this world and I was comforted by that truth. It would be me, completely stepping outside of my comfort zone to realize I was not happy simply existing and not living my life to the fullest. It was also my desire to stare fear in the face and dramatically change my life, and social circle that was paramount to me securing my Great Forever.
I’m honored to call myself a man of a certain age and it was Unbreakable, that made it ok for me to know that when in doubt, come from a place of love and compassion. As I embark on a new world of the unknown, I take these lessons learned from Janet, and know that in the face of adversity, I’m Gon’ B alright. I simply cannot subscribe to a world of negativity and be surrounded by people who relish is putting others down and having the ultimate social media clap back. I’ve got work to do and gotta get up off that grey line. Can’t nobody tell me what I can’t do, I’ll shut them down automatic. I’ll use my time on this earth with the lessons of Charlene, and keep myself busy breaking the rules that were never meant for me.
As Miss Jackson prepares to grace us with her presence once again with new music and the upcoming State of the World Tour, I’ll look forward to new lessons, new moves, and new life experiences. There will be exciting adventures waiting to challenge and keep me busy so I guess I can give up my grudge against Todd Bridges. He is after all, just another guy who had to distinct pleasure of being touched by the magic of Janet Jackson. There is of course, enough of her influence to go around. I can’t begin to think I’m the only person who learned to live life on his or her own terms while the soundtrack of Janet played in the background.