You Got This: Howard Bragman and Coming Out Again

The author (left) and his late husband, Howard Bragman (right).

“The love child of Leon Russell and Randy Newman?”

This short message marked the day my life changed, the day I started chatting with Howard Bragman. I was on tour, up before the rest of my band, sitting alone, and checking my Scruff DMs at the hotel breakfast.

I saw the usual suspects: “sup,” “hey,” and “lookin?” So when I read Howard’s message I thought, “Wow, this guy really gets me.” I checked his profile. Charismatic smile. Handsome. Sexy. He knew the difference between “they,” “they’re,” and “their.” And he not only listened to my music, but he name-checked two of my biggest influences.

I messaged back. “Oh wow, nailed it!”

The typing bubbles bounced on-screen while butterflies bounced around my stomach.

“I’d like to… or vice versa.”

“Ok,” I thought. “Game on!”

We flirted for a bit, and then exchanged numbers before I hopped in the van to head to the venue. We texted all day, trading pictures and feeling out expectations. We’d both gotten out of long-term relationships in the past year. He had just gone through a divorce, and I had an engagement fall apart. Neither of us wanted something serious.

Flash forward two months–we were inseparable. Howard and I became best friends despite our distance, talking on the phone up to fifteen times a day. Our first meeting in-person was electric, and from then on, we spent more time together than apart. I frequently visited him in LA, and he stayed at my apartment in Nashville.

I had been in Music City for two years at that point. I moved there in early 2020 to try something new after twelve years fronting a band in Chicago. I figured I’d start writing for other artists and take keyboard gigs, making a living as a side-man and putting my original music on the back-burner.

When Howard came into my life in early 2022, he renewed my confidence in my music. He loved my voice and my writing. He encouraged me in a way that was also grounding. He often told me he respected my work ethic and resourcefulness, and that he admired how I chose my passion over an easier livelihood; after all, my college degree was in accounting.

But I also remember an early conversation we had, in which he said, “You’re talented, but that doesn’t mean you’ll make it.” Howard’s words were empowering, but never sugar-coated the truth. And because he had overcome so much adversity himself, I felt the empathy behind them.

Howard Bragman started his own PR firm in 1989 with a vision of fighting for LQBTQ+ causes, even though his mentors advised that it would prevent him from attracting mainstream clients. He fearlessly built his company into the largest entertainment PR firm in the world, while earning the title of “Gay Guru” for his work with queer individuals and organizations. His efforts created visibility for our community, helping further our causes.

I was already out when Howard and I met, but I still felt some guilt and shame when it came to expressing my sexuality through my art. On top of that, my former fiancé was opposed to me putting anything overtly sexual in my music or videos. Music has always been cathartic for me, but in this one area, I felt blocked from releasing anxieties via artistic expression. Although I was out, I felt stuck in a different closet. All that changed when I met Howard.

And today, you can see me flying out of this closet riding a bear named Howard on the cover of my album, Mookie’s Big Gay Mixtape. Howard inspired me to celebrate my gayness with this project. His love was so easy and free-flowing; he was never possessive or jealous.

We started 2023 effectively engaged and talked about a summer wedding, planning where it would take place and what type of ceremony we wanted. In mid-January I headed back to Nashville to finish mixing the album, and hatched a plan to propose in Mexico, which would be our next adventure together, in February.

The evening before we were set to leave, Howard called. I was hustling to pack and send the new record out for mastering. His ever-confident voice trembled. I froze. He said, “Mike, I need you here. I have leukemia.” I couldn’t stand up.

My giant of a man. My bulletproof protector. My best friend. My Howard had cancer. I went into crisis mode. I doubt I slept. I flew to LA the next morning and when I finally got to his room, he said, “Let’s get married.” I broke down. “Of course,” I said, “yes.”

After receiving the prognosis, we knew we didn’t have much more time together. I spent his remaining days by his side. My entire focus became Howard; I completely forgot about myself and my music was no longer any kind of concern.

But Howard kept thinking about it. He often played my recording of “The Best” for visitors. I forgot that “Unfollow” came out on the morning I went to get our wedding license, so when I returned with document in hand, he said, “Great. How is the single doing?” I spent most of the time taking care of him and making wedding preparations, but he regularly stopped me to ask if I’d finished the Mixtape notes and ordered the vinyl.

I broke down a lot that week leading up to his death. I was, and still am, in awe of how Howard remained courageous; he was full of class, humor, and gratitude. At one point, I said, through tears, “I don’t think I can do this without you.” He squeezed my hand and simply responded, “You got this.”

I’ve never felt anything like the love I felt between us. And I’ve never felt anything like the pain of living without him now. The thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is what I’m doing now: writing about him and honoring his legacy. And I am continuing to do the thing he loved me for in the first place: making music, putting myself out there. Damn the odds, screw the logic, I imagined him saying, just keep going.

It helps to see myself riding a bear that can shoot lasers out of his eyes. Thanks for the ride of my life, Howard. I love you forever.


Mike Maimone, an LA-based artist originally from Ohio, debuts his brand new album, Mookie’s Big Gay Mixtape, a multi-genre collection of songs that fully radiates all of life’s emotions, ranging from love and loss to having fun with disco-centric club bangers and jazzy rock tunes – all just in time for Pride. All streaming links to Mookie’s Big Gay Mixtape can be found here. He’s been featured on NPR, American Songwriter,, Relix, Nashville’s Lightning 100, Rock and Blues Muse and more. For more information on Mike Maimone, visit his website here, or connect with him on Instagram at@mikemaimonemusic.


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