May the Fourth be with you

It makes me sick just to look at it, the hateful little black thing.

It stares up at me from my desk, laughing. "Be careful what you wish for . . . " My fondest dream came true, and now I'm paralyzed with horror at the outcome. It's like that stupid episode with the monkey's paw and my dead brother all over again . . . only worse.

What is it that fills my staunch heart with dread? A date on my Week-At-A-Glance—Tuesday, May 4. The day Robbie Williams' US debut The Ego Has Landed (on Capitol) hits record stores, and America finally realizes what I've known for years: Robbie is an unstoppable phenomenon.

Not so long ago, I had him all to myself. Those were the halcyon days when Our Robbie was just one-fifth of Take That, the best-selling UK boy band in history. Nobody in America gave a rat's ass about such prefab acts back then. New Kids on the Block were an embarrassing memory; Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync hadn't begun their evil ascent. Sure, a million hysterical German teenagers and every queen in the British Empire shared my passion, but here at home, Robbie was all mine.

I loved Robbie Williams long before the Pet Shop Boys and Tom Jones did, back when Take That was singing Barry Manilow covers and dressing in tacky International Male ensembles. And as he left the group in a hail of vicious publicity, my dedication never faltered. I left my Take That calendar turned to Robbie's picture for months, and tacked a 6-foot promo poster for his very first solo single over my desk. Two and a half years later, he's still watching over me.

Confession time: I didn't like Robbie's new material initially. Compared to Take That's polished chart fare, his self-penned attempts to straddle rock and pop sounded shaky. "Angels," the single that eventually made Williams an international superstar, struck me as sentimental mush. But I made like Tammy Wynette. I listened to those tunes till every lyric and note was carved on my heart, and waxed prosaic about my boy at every opportunity.

Media pundits keep asking me, the Robbie Expert, if I think he'll go down a storm in America (as he has everywhere else on the globe). I catch myself waffling, "I just don't know . . . " Now, with the day of reckoning at hand, I realize why: It's my classic defense mechanism. When I don't want to admit an artist is about to become huge—for selfish or humanitarian reasons—my instincts shut down. I disowned Duran Duran right before "Hungry Like the Wolf" made it popular with jocks who beat me up in Gym; I told Sony brass Mariah Carey's first album wouldn't sell well enough to warrant a second.

I can't resent Robbie's new devotees. The Ego Has Landed is packed with proven chart-toppers: The brooding "No Regrets"; "Millennium," his anthem anchored by a James Bond string riff; the early Elton John swagger of "Let Me Entertain You." Williams played a music-industry showcase in Texas a few weeks ago. Afterwards, one of my colleagues likened the energy to his uncle's descriptions of an early Elvis gig. I smiled in assent through gritted teeth.

I'm not abandoning Robbie Williams. You'll see my ugly mug at his Seattle gig in June. But I'm taking a step back as everyone else rushes to the front to discover what the fuss is about. While you fawn over my Robbie, I'll be frying other fish—the cute Latvian DJ in Limp Bizkit, that TV meteorologist I've had my eye on—and biding my time. Because when the champagne starts to taste flat, and the applause sounds hollow, I know Rob will beckon me back. We've been through too much together to let something as insignificant as a few million more fans come between our love.

 
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