Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking hit British theatre like a…
George Michael has died at his home at the age of 53. Firstly, he was a uniquely talented singer and songwriter. In addition, he was a scream inducing global pin-up, a cultural sensation and post-outing; a spiky, spliff totin’ pop queen. I loved 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 sporting biker jackets over bare chests. It wasn’t just fear of being denounced a queer by one’s peers, a love of Wham! was deeply uncool.
Grandmaster Flash, Madness, Bad Manners and Jam were acceptable bands to chat about in the playground. Declaring love for Abba, Soft Cell or Wham! was an invitation to a kicking. One of the most evil stunts you could pull on a schoolmate in ’82 was to write Wham! on their pencil case or satchel. You’d then publicise this to the rest of the class, who’d turn on the victim like rabid gibbons.
Prepared to suffer a bit of grief for my goth leanings, any appreciation of George and Andrew was queerly secretive. My younger sister, Julia, like many teen girls, had a loudly public crush on George Michael, so 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 fervour that Julia was embarrassed by my exuberance. George was brilliant, truly exceptional live and he turned out the Wham! hits with such class, you forgot Andrew Ridgeley ever existed.
Sony have reissued a re-mastered, multi-formatted, luxe edition of Faith. Released in ’87, one forgets how massive the album proved, grabbing the Number One spot both here and in the US. It spawned six Number One singles and sold 20m copies. The pop masterpiece was written, produced and arranged entirely by George Michael and garnered a clutch of awards and accolades.
Listening to the album in its entirety the other night, it was hard not to be struck by its sheer genius. Featuring some of his greatest songs (Father Figure, One More Try, Faith, I Want Your Sex, Kissing a Fool) it really highlights how today’s pop stars are often patchy, one dimensional and a depressing testament to marketing prowess.
George’s musical talents were somewhat overshadowed by his personal life, so you can understand Sony’s strategy in jogging everyone’s memory with a re-issue. Some might say that George has tried the patience of even his most ardent fans by being a tad unpredictable. He wobbled often, but proved himself to be sensitive, chaotic, provocative and real.
It was George’s post-cottaging persona that truly made me a 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 to cheer-leading love.
‘Outside’ which came in the wake of his ’98 public-loo-hoo-ha, proved an audio-visual high kick and punch. It’s yet to be bettered as an artistic response to a public downfall. Lindsay, Britney, Miley- look and learn. It’s a stormin’ tune, with a sexy and political pop video. It still impresses by today’s standards.
When the air con vents morph into mirror balls and the urinals spin to reveal a chrome and neon disco, with George in a Chips-esque police outfit? It’s a triumphant victory over shame and humiliation.
Many people didn’t appreciate his refusal to go weeping onto Oprah, or check into rehab, bleating hollow apologies. He refused to be a victim. That spiky, creative gesture proved a splendid apology for staying in the closet for so long. His hooded sexuality was utterly forgiveable, ‘cause he ‘came out’ with such gusto.
In 2002, George released ‘Shoot the Dog’. It led to 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.”
Razor sharp satire
In light of what we know now, and many of us suspected back then, his stance doesn’t seem so ill-informed and self-serving, does it? If the press (and the Labour party) had listened to George Michael, rather than Alistair Campbell , there may have been less corpses coming back to Britain and filling the streets of Baghdad. But, why would they listen to a pot-smoking, cock-sucking, gay pop star, whose protest was nothing but attention seeking, eh?
Admittedly, ‘Shoot the Dog’ isn’t his best effort, but the 2D video is a razor-sharp satire where George lampoons himself alongside others. Most critics riffed on George’s apparent audacity and lack of political perception. They should have seen his bold and perceptive skills.
Eat. Your. Words. 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 and hilarious that following this exposé, he chose to set the record straight via a phone call to Richard & Judy. There’s been a few drug-fuelled car mishaps. He now smokes only ‘seven or eight’ spliffs per day instead of the 25 he used to. All of which continues to make me a huge George Michael fan.
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, a star, an artist, an occasional mess and a genius. Love. Your. Work.
First Published: HospitalClub.com