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George was a uniquely talented singer and songwriter. He was also a scream inducing global pin-up, cultural icon and a spliff totin’ pop queen. I still love him.
I didn’t always love George Michael. When Wham! first bounced into our living rooms via Top of the Pops in ‘81, it was wise to hide appreciation of the duo’s tunes, bouffants and propensity for biker jackets over bare chests. It wasn’t just fear of being denounced gay by one’s peers. A love of Wham! was deeply uncool.
Grandmaster Flash, Madness, Bad Manners and Jam were the bands to honour in the playground. Declaring love for Abba, Soft Cell or Wham! was invitation to a kicking. One of the best stunts you could pull on a schoolmate in ’82, was to write Wham! on their pencil case. You’d then publicise this to the rest of the class. They’d turn on your victim like rabid gibbons.
My younger sister, like many girls, had a crush on George Michael. In ’88, we went to Earl’s Court to experience the Faith tour.
Whipped into a frenzy
Surrounded by thousands of fans, whipped into a frenzy by the man himself, I danced and screamed through that gig with such gusto that Julia was embarrassed. George was brilliant. Truly exceptional live and he turned out the Wham! hits with an ease that made you forgot Andrew Ridgeley ever existed.
Released in ’87, one forgets how massive Faith proved. It grabbed the Number One spot here and in the US. It spawned six Number One singles and sold 20m copies. The pop masterpiece was written, produced and arranged by George Michael.
It was George’s post-cottaging persona that truly made me an ardent fan. He’s one of the best songwriters to grace the planet, but his fuck-you finger to the world, after his arrest in LA brought a standing ovation from yours truly. That’s when appreciation turned love.
‘Outside’ which came in the wake of his ’98 public-loo-hoo-ha, proved an audio-visual punch. It’s yet to be bettered as an artistic response to a public downfall.
When the vents morph into mirror balls and the urinals spin to reveal a disco, with George in a Chips-esque police outfit? It’s a triumphant victory over shame and humiliation.
Many people didn’t appreciate his resistance to go weeping on Oprah, or check into rehab, bleating apologies. He refused to be a victim. That spiky, creative gesture proved a splendid apology for staying in the closet for so long. His hidden sexuality was a minor quibble, ‘cause he ‘came out’ with such gusto.
In 2002, George released ‘Shoot the Dog’. It got a widespread mauling, mostly from the same people who didn’t enjoy the humour of ‘Outside’. The press and much of America were apoplectic. In case you missed it, the song (and promo) mocked Tony Blair as George Bush’s poodle in a cartoon political satire. After stating the song wasn’t anti-American, George admitted:
“My feelings about George Bush, however, are a little different. And I know I’m not alone in fearing his politics, and in hoping that our man Tony can be a calming and rational influence on him.”
“On an issue as enormous as the possible bombing of Iraq, how can you represent us when you haven’t asked us what we think? And let’s be honest, we haven’t even begun to discuss it as a society.”
In light of what we know now, his stance doesn’t seem so ‘ill-informed’ and ‘self-serving’, does it? If we’d listened to George Michael, rather than Alistair Campbell, there may have been less war and rather more trust in our politicians.
Most critics riffed on George’s apparent audacity and lack of political perception. George was on the money. And the weed. And the cocaine. But, he was right.
Frolics in the fauna
My favourite George Michael moment was when the News of the World busted him cruising on Hampstead Heath. The publication photographed him returning to the car after frolics in the fauna and George’s response remains one of my most cherished quotes of all time.
“Are you gay? No? Then fuck off! This is my culture! I’m not doing anything illegal. The police don’t even come here any more.”
Love. That. It was also rather camp that following this exposé, he chose to set the record straight via a phone call to Richard & Judy.
In 2006, when George was found slumped over the wheel of his car in London, after he was taken into custody for possession of a ‘Class C’ substance, he told reporters, “I won’t make a record out of this one, even though it is tempting.”
George Michael, star, artist, occasional mess, activist and genius. You are missed.