Somewhere deep in a storage space, a VHS recording of me performing Debbie Gibson songs for my mom (who was recording the video) on a public park stage, exists. It was the day before my fourth birthday and my parents had just acquired a video camera for the family. My mom took me to the park, held up an 'I <3 Mikey' sign and let me do my thing. I was three years old and could sing Debbie's radio hits better than I could sing Mother Goose rhymes - and all I wanted to do was sing and dance on a stage in front of anyone who was around. Even at 31, married with two kids, I'm still known around my hometown as 'that kid who used to sing Debbie Gibson songs on the dirt mounds at baseball and football games'. . .Yep.
I didn't become a big rock star like I'd dreamed of being but I've spent most of my life chasing that dream. My love for art, music, performing and theatre - all began with Debbie Gibson.
Not too long ago, I was looking through a box of childhood memorabilia and I came across my preschool portfolio. Inside there was a list of my 'favorite' things as a preschooler. My favorite show was 'Debbie Gibson: Live in Concert!' and when I grew up, I told them (I'm sure with no hesitation) that I wanted to be a piano player. I smiled at the little book and turned to my mom and asked her:
"How did I get into Debbie Gibson?"
"You loved listening to the radio and every time 'Shake Your Love' would come on, you would dance and sing to it. So - yeah, we bought Out of the Blue for you." She smiles and sighs before saying, "Those were such fun times."
My earliest memory is receiving the Live in Concert: Out of the Blue Tour '88 VHS for Christmas and watching it for the first time. It was an hour long packed with Debbie Gibson dancing and running around the stage to all of her hits from Out of the Blue. It was my first time being exposed to performance and I immediately identified myself with it. It wasn't that I wanted to be Debbie Gibson; it was that the music, the dancing, the lights, the audience, the art, the energy - I knew all of that was the beat of my heart - it was who I was.
I recently watched the entire concert on YouTube, and that same excitement and energy is still there. Of all the concert footage I've seen in my life, Debbie Gibson's Live In Concert: Out of the Blue Tour '88 beats them all . . . and I totally wore out my original VHS.
From that moment on I was performing for anyone, anywhere, at any time. My cousin likes to tell a story that at two years old, I started performing for two ladies at a mall cafeteria and they just couldn't get enough of me. She says that it was the moment that she knew I was her favorite cousin. I just think that I drove a lot of people crazy.
I was a bit more coherent during the Electric Youth era and I remember that everyone in my family loved 'Lost In Your Eyes'. My great-grandmother bought us both the cassette single when it came out and she would dance with me to it in her dining room. My mother bought me Electric Youth when it was released on a cold winter morning in 1989 at a K Mart, and I remember that my grandmother cut her thumb on the plastic security casing that the tape used to be in. There was absolutely nothing that could compare to the excitement of the first few bars of 'Who Loves Ya, Baby?' as it played through the speakers of my mom's car. I also had recently gotten a Fisher-Price record player for Christmas and my mom bought Electric Youth for me on vinyl as well - it was my very first record.
When my fourth birthday rolled around in September 1989, my parents decided that they would take me to see Debbie in concert. They bought nosebleed seats . . . but my Aunt had a little something up her sleeve. She knew a local radio DJ from working the drive-thru at a bank and one day when he pulled up to her window, she said: "Hey, my nephew is a really big Debbie Gibson fan . . . you got any tickets?" and the rest was history. So, not only was I going to see my idol - I had seventh row tickets!!!
This is me in the parking lot of Blossom Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Yes - that Electric Youth sweater and matching neon green socks could all glow-in-the-dark . . . and I still have that I <3 Debbie Gibson hat to this day (all created by various Aunts).
I think I napped in the car and woke up cranky - because I did not want to get my picture taken. I remember that we had brought a rose for Debbie (on the Out of the Blue Tour VHS I had seen people handing her roses onstage - so I thought that was just something you did) and for some reason, I thought that I would have to personally hand it to her and I was nervous about meeting her. So that may have had something to do with my crankiness. We gave the rose to some security guard to give to her - looking back, that guy probably thought we were nuts . . . but I do sometimes wonder if she ever got it.
All of the women in my life came to the concert as well (my parents did already have nosebleed seats) - my mom and I would be in the seventh row and my grandmother, my great-grandmother, babysitter and Aunt were in the nosebleeds. Now (minus my Aunt), these were senior citizens checking out a Debbie Gibson concert - probably excited for 'Lost in Your Eyes' and 'Foolish Beat' - but it wasn't no Sunday Night Concert in the Park.
I wish I could tell you that I remember the entirety of the concert, but I don't. Thankfully, I had Debbie's Live Around The World VHS to remind me - but I do remember that I couldn't really see anything; everything looked HUGE (the world to a four year-old) and there was a girl that I thought was Tiffany sitting next to me who thought I was the coolest thing - and she gave me one of those big buttons that people used to wear on their jackets at the time. I'm sure that my mom and I had a great time, it may have just been too much for me to really take in - I think any memories I may have are from watching Live Around the World countless times. The other ladies that accompanied us that night thought the concert was a little too loud.
The rest they say, is history. Debbie released Anything is Possible the next year and I got it for Christmas (man - did my parents not know to buy these things that day they came out?!?!). I can go back to Anything is Possible now and appreciate it a lot more than I did when I was five. I remember that Debbie's sound was changing - she was rapping? - and although I took her 'Anything is Possible' mantra for gospel (I used it as my senior quote for the yearbook in 2004) I don't really think that Anything is Possible or Body Mind Soul were really made for listeners my age and I didn't latch onto those albums as much as the first two. Think with Your Heart and Deborah have always felt like the more authentic progression and I'm glad that I was old enough to really embrace them. M.Y.O.B. was the first thing I bought with my very first paycheck, at 16.
To understand the other part of this story, you must know that I am from a small town overlooking Youngstown, Ohio - where boys played sports. My parents always supported my artistic and creative ways, but since my brother played sports - they thought maybe I should try as well. It was fun sometimes. I still sang Debbie Gibson - only I did it on a soccer field instead of a stage. It didn't really do anything great for people's perception of me. Also, you have to understand that there were a ton of women surrounding me in my life - older women. So my demeanor and mannerisms were greatly influenced by the women in my life that were between the ages of 30-75. In the late '80s and early '90s - a seven year-old boy flamboyantly performing female artists wasn't exactly embraced by a community. It was cute for a while, but - my parents didn't really know what to do with me. I remember being taken into an office and talking to this guy for an hour or so a few times. It was only in my teens that I realized that I had been taken to see a child psychologist to see if I identified as female. I never identified as a female - I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life very early (music;performing) and I didn't know any other way to channel that part of me other than how I already knew.
The best thing that my parents did was point me straight to the theatre. It was the theatre where I finally felt like I had found my home. I know that my parents had the idea to take me to auditions at my local community theatre (The Youngstown Playhouse), but I have to give credit to Debbie Gibson. After all, let's be honest, all 'Debbie Gibson' signs point to theatre (she was focusing on theatre as well).
I finally found all of those aspects that I had identified with watching Live in Concert! Out of the Blue '88 - the music, the lights, the performance, the audience, the energy. I spent most of my childhood in theatre where I not only honed my talents and learned from great actors and directors - but was also exposed to different cultures and people that I don't think many of my peers were exposed to at my young age - and that has given me a great sense of appreciation, respect and empathy ('We Could Be Together') for all people. In my eyes, there is no better community than The Theatre Community - and I hold a very special place in my heart for my theatre family and so proud of those who have followed their dreams.
In my late teens and early twenties - after I discovered that music could heal and touch others - I decided that was my calling and I began singing in a rock band. By that time, I was influenced by many different artists and genres of music - but I was always honest that Debbie Gibson was truly my musical roots.
Because of Debbie's early influence - I was never just a singer standing between a guitarist and a bass player - I commanded every stage I laid foot on; running around, dancing and interacting with the crowds; keeping the energy up at every gig.
From a songwriting aspect - I always tried to keep that simple pop sensibility from those early Out of the Blue hits in melodies and lyrics on every song that I contributed to writing. I even slipped in a lyric ('But I can't reach above/No, I just can't shake your love') on one of our songs that only one person ever realized was a total ode to the song that started it all - for me, anyways.
Debbie Gibson is releasing her first ever box set, We Could Be Together. It celebrates 30 years of her pop career - and I'm so excited for her. One of these days, I'm sure my stay-at-home dad budget will allow me to get my hands on it.
For me - the dreams of becoming a rock star have simmered, but I have different inspiration today. Instead of performing for a large audience (which if you've ever been a performer - you know there's always that itch), I perform for my two fast-growing sons; I find joy in teaching them about music and seeing how music moves them like it did me long ago - and you can bet your ass that 'Shake Your Love' is in rotation.
Tomorrow marks 30 years of Out of the Blue, and I can say that the album has always been a constant in my life; it has always been there when I've needed it - on a day that I've needed cheering up, on a crystal blue day with the windows rolled all the way down - it has always brought me joy. In celebration of it's 30th birthday, I am planning on spinning it all day! Happy Birthday, Blue. Thank you for the joy!
If Debbie Gibson should ever happen to read this, I would want to say - Thank You for all of the times. I've read a few things you've written about other artists and how they shaped you, and I wonder if you ever realize that half of us DebHeads could say the exact same thing about you. Thank You so much for being in this world and sharing your gifts with us. I will always be proud of my musical roots. Enjoy this day!
Whether or not you're a fellow DebHead, take a moment to listen to Out of the Blue!!!!
Purchase Debbie's We Could Be Together (for you, for me - whatever) here.
Also check out my Debbie Gibson playlist post here.