Mike DuPriest was the man responsible for the happiest moment of my life: seeing Robbie Williams in his underwear. Which is not to say that>"/>
Mike DuPriest was the man responsible for the happiest moment of my life: seeing Robbie Williams in his underwear. Which is not to say that my friend actually pantsed the U.K. pop sensation—although I wouldn't have put such mischief past Mike—but he was the catalyst which triggered that glorious event.
Mike and I met in 1994 in New York City, when I came on as editor-in-chief of a tiny, short-lived music trade called Net. My hair, upon arrival at the magazine, was its natural mousy brown hue, the result of four years working in a conservative office job. But Mike, who ran the Net-affiliated record pool (an organization that supplies DJs with promotional wax in exchange for feedback), had recently discovered Manic Panic hair dye. After his initial foray into flamingo pink, it was only a matter of time before he enticed me into giving traffic-cone orange a whirl. Once Mike was through with me, everyone called me Heatmiser for years.
Thus began a run that saw my hair turn every shade in the Skittles bag. Consequently, when I interviewed Robbie Williams a couple years later, he noted that my electric tangerine locks matched his orange Abercrombie & Fitch track-suit bottoms perfectly. At the end of our chat, he sprung up like Tigger and asked, "Do you want me trousers?" Naturally, I accepted and was thus treated to the vision of Robbie in his form-fitting black boxer briefs.
But I owe Mike for much more than just an audience with my favorite pop star's basket. Despite the fact that Net operated on a shoestring, he was responsible for sending me to SXSW (the annual music business convention in Austin, Texas) for the first time, where I met many of the colleagues I work with closely to this day—as well as the woman with whom I would move to Seattle. Thanks to Mike's eye-catching dye jobs, for the latter half of my eight-year run in New York, I was the center of attention at industry functions: "Where shall we meet?" "Oh, just look for Kurt's hair." And though I never pressed him into giving me a DJ tutorial—his first claim to fame was spinning the tunes at an infamous Texas nightclub—the vinyl I pilfered from his stash of promo 12-inches provided key pieces of the collection I would draw on when I launched my own DJ career.
Mike hailed from Texas, which meant he was certifiably nuts. But at 27 going on 45, I desperately needed to be around somebody like that. Mike made me feel like wearing children's sunglasses and a backpack shaped like a Nintendo game was not an affectation, but my moral duty: Let your freak flag fly. Nonsense phrases he coined were quickly incorporated into my lexicon. To this day, I'll blurt out "hai anu tu, putah"—which in MikeSpeak loosely translates as "I, too, am a whore"—and be saddened when nobody else around recognizes our magical phrase.
Despite wrestling with manic mood swings throughout our friendship, Mike often displayed grounding flashes of domesticity. Even after Net folded, he would periodically invite me over for a home-cooked dinner of roast chicken and vegetables. In the East Village, where grocery shopping in the mid-'90s still consisted of ducking into a series of overpriced Korean delis to scrounge up whatever meager ingredients one required, this was the equivalent of the miracle of loaves and fishes, but Mike never complained. He made a damn fine chicken, too.
In his heyday, I watched Mike consume quantities of drugs and alcohol that would topple an elephant, then show up the next morning (OK, early afternoon) looking little worse for the wear. Once, when a cocktail of pharmaceuticals, both prescription and non-, backfired to knock him flat on his ass, the Dog Boy and I had to carry Mike out of a rave. But when we'd ascertained he was going to be OK, I remember feeling strangely liberated by the episode. Mike made me, an excruciating perfectionist of the highest order, realize you could have your weaknesses and still be a wonderful, caring person that others turned to for love and encouragement.
After all the mishaps I'd witnessed firsthand over the years, I honestly believed my friend and inspiration was indestructible. But a car accident last Sunday night proved me wrong. As friends are wont to do, I took it for granted that Mike DuPriest would be around for a long time, so I never told him how much he meant to me. I guess this will just have to do.