The holidays are a bitch.
It’s the same media disconnect we experienced with the election. The stories say one thing, the truth is another. We read about all the shiny, happy people sitting around the fire surrounded by their loved ones and we wonder what happened to us, alone, or tolerating those we are related to by blood.
My source says it’s suicide. And I’m believing that. Because the odds of dying at 53 on Christmas Day are infinitesimal. But does it make a difference? He was here and now he’s gone. He entertained us but it did not make him happy, it did not solve all his problems, yet the music lives on, hermetically sealed, evidence of a different day when Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou could do no wrong, when he dominated, when the music he made not only soothed our souls, but was grease for our bodies to…
That’s when Wham! first resonated for me. I woke up after the first night with my ex-wife and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” was playing on the MTV. When that channel defined the culture, with a power not seen since. We Americans were still trying to figure out the transition from classic rock. We thought we killed disco, but we did not know what came next. Then the Brits came along and stole our lunch, not only Soft Cell and Human League, but Culture Club and George Michael. The sensibility was different. It was not about being coolly attached to what once was, but throwing out the baby with the bathwater and starting anew. Pop was no longer a dirty word. Synthesizers were as important as guitars. Limits were being tested and the acts seemed to be having so much fun, we found them irresistible.
And the winners, like Wham!, were bigger stars than ever before. Their clips played around the world, where they could tour and become even more famous and ever more rich and the rumor was that Andrew Ridgeley was just a pretty face and George Michael was the real talent and in 1987 George dropped his first solo album and therein started a juggernaut wherein he became the biggest star in the world. Michael Jackson had already peaked, with “Off The Wall,” with “Thriller.” It was now 1987. And…
Suddenly we all had faith.
Music, when done right, is undeniable. It doesn’t matter what the critics say, it doesn’t matter what you believed yesterday, it doesn’t matter what your friends have to say, you’re immediately infected, the sound just makes you feel good, puts a smile on your face, makes you glad to be alive.
The title track jitterbugged through your brain, a rhythm that got your limbs twitching, with a vocal that yanked you out of your seat and took you along for a ride wherein…
You were fully realized, you were your best self, the definitive exponent being “I Want Your Sex.” This was not Madonna begging for our love, we jumped right in, feet first, we couldn’t get enough of this.
The truth is no matter how much money you’ve got, that does not mean you can have a satisfying relationship, a good sex life, arguably it’s worse if you’re famous, because you can’t be sure of another’s motives, whether they love you for your status or…
That’s something George Michael had to battle for decades. You think you make it and all your problems will be solved. But the truth is they’re just beginning. You can never recover your anonymity, oftentimes you’re not built for your dreams, and when your sexual preference does not square with societal mores…
But he couldn’t be gay, could he? He was so self-confident, so sexy in those clips, with all those women… Some didn’t care, some didn’t believe, but deep inside George Michael knew who he was.
But the hits from “Faith” kept coming. “Monkey” is what Bruno Mars is doing now, only George Michael did it three decades ago, he created the blueprint.
And then there’s my personal favorite, “Father Figure”… With George as a cab driver… He could do gravitas too. He was three-dimensional. He could not be dismissed.
He sued Sony.
The judge said no, my sources said yes, that the allegations were true.
But it doesn’t matter. Michael was out of the scene for too long, his label was no longer behind him, and if you think you can make it with non-believers, if you think you can make it with nobody at all, you’ve never been inside the belly of the beast, you’ve never been in the fame game.
Very few succeed. It’s a team effort. Talent is not enough.
It was over.
He made more records. But after some initial disappointments the public moved on. And then there was the arrest in Beverly Hills and in time, all George Michael was left with was his fame and his money, and that’s just not enough.
No one is bigger than the machine. The record business had to teach George Michael a lesson. And this is the end result, he’s gone. The perp is making money off his music and George…
Will be six feet under.
The well-adjusted do not succeed. We are not looking for normal people. We’re looking for those willing to sacrifice everything to reflect our humanity back upon us, to satiate us, to make us whole.
Like George Michael.
He needed to create. In a world where there’s no path. This is not engineering, this is not medicine. While the rest of the world jumps through the hoops to get to a safe place, our artists walk into the wilderness without a safety net and out of thin air create diamonds that shine forever. How do they do this? Lord only knows. If the label could figure it out, they would, because they hate dealing with the mercurial, unpredictable artists who have to do it their way. But history is littered with stories where the artists knew best. But today, the fat cats want to buy insurance, they want you to co-write, use their go-to people, because the investment is too great and they don’t like the odds.
But when George Michael started he didn’t care about the odds. He didn’t care about being ripped-off, he just needed to do it. With a desire so strong that he broke through, his name was on everybody’s lips.
And then it fell off.
I don’t know what gets you through. Maybe you’re lucky, maybe you’ve got a significant other, a family, a friend, who understands you, who will be there for you. But the rest of us…
We’re on our own. Oftentimes putting one foot in front of the other is oh-so-difficult. And the only thing that gets us through, that keeps us keepin’ on is…
We put on a record, we feel the artist understands us, is speaking just to us, that there’s someone in the world who gets us, and if we keep soldiering on our lives will work out.
That’s what George Michael represented.
Alas, it didn’t work out so well for him. Who you gonna turn to when you’ve made it to the mountaintop and all you’re surrounded by is sycophants and naysayers? Your productions are set in amber, but you’ve got to keep on livin’ every day. You might think it’s easy, then again, you never cut an album that sold 20 million copies.
This is a story that occurs far too often. We lionize those we kill.
In this case was it the sexuality, the lawsuit, or something deep inside George, the same thing that allowed him to make this music, is that what kept him unhappy?
I don’t know.
But your job is to hold on. To know that despite being in the depths today, you can be surprised tomorrow. I’m not saying everything works out, but I am saying life is worth living. One laugh can make your whole day.
Did George Michael not get proper help? Was it a momentary thing, just one night of depression or debauchery? We’ll learn more, but we’ll never get the whole truth. Because life is a mystery. You’re doing well if you know yourself, you can’t possibly truly understand another human being.
But we try.
It’s too late to save George Michael from falling, but know he did it for you. To see your reaction, to see the effect of his music upon you, that’s why they all do it, the money is secondary.
Music is about freedom. In a world where we’re being told what to do constantly, where the haves are making war on the have-nots, where ignorance rules, we must look to artists for guidance, for a way out.
Let George Michael be our father figure.
Let him illustrate that the chains are in your mind, that you can pivot, that you can be the real you.
Don’t let the sun go down on you.
Because losing everything is what happened to George Michael.
And that just isn’t right.