I need to talk about him, although my heart is breaking.
There is no cute origin story for my love; all I know is that it extends right back into my childhood, which is a blurry mess in my head at the best of times. My sister and I were Video Hits junkies, so no doubt there was a bit of Wham! lounge room dance action involved; I was nine when ‘Faith’ came out, and as a Catholic-raised kid I’m sure I was captivated and thrilled by its organ music, jukebox and jeans-clad butt combo. The saucy lyrics would likely have sealed the deal. But as I said: blurry mess.
My memories begin for real in 1998, when I was quite active in an online George Michael fan community.
I was 19, a journalism student at UTS in Sydney. I’d spend hours in the 24-hour Uni computer lab ostensibly working on my assessments, chatting with other devoted fans from around the world. We excoriated ‘best male vocalist’ lists that he was never high enough on, moaned about how long it had been since he’d last toured Australia (at that point he was only ten years into what would be a 22-year hiatus), and discussed bootleg tapes and rare recordings; I think I may have got my hands on a couple, though I don’t think I have them anymore.
Over the months, I made friends with a local impersonator who paid me a surprise visit at my pub workplace one night (clearly, I hadn’t yet learned not to share personal information with strangers on the internet). Watching ‘Faith’-era George Michael – complete with dyed blonde quiff, stubble and mirrored sunglasses – walk up to the bar and ask for me was a pretty surreal experience; my workmates thought it was hilarious. I wish I could remember that guy’s name! I hope he’s doing okay right now.
I bought my first car that same year – a 1986 Celica with pop-up headlights – and kicked off my enduring new-car tradition of christening the CD player with an all-time favourite album. ‘Faith’ won that inaugural honour, with little competition that I can recall. Ah, the gloriousness of its old-school dual-speaker sound from my brand-new retrofitted Clarion CD stacker unit! (This tradition has had its highs and lows – 5ive’s ‘Invincible’, the album I chose for my second car, probably hasn’t stood up quite so well to the test of time. ‘Battlestar’ is a pretty great song, though.)
For my 21st birthday, my boyfriend bought me a collectible ‘Fastlove’ CD single from Superstars and Legends in Parramatta. (Remember that place?) It’s mounted next to a signed sleeve photo in a snazzy purple frame. My next serious boyfriend was actually a not-too-distant cousin of George’s, or so he said; they did share a variation on the same surname. (I swear that’s not why I went out with him. Not for the whole six years, anyway.)
Sometime in the nineties, I picked up a Wham! 12” Mixes EP from the Millennium secondhand CD shop in Merrylands that I quickly discovered had a cool misprint on the disc. In 2001, when I was 22, I bought my afore-mentioned second car and named it – you guessed it! – George.
I finally saw George in concert on February 26th, 2010. I was living in Brisbane at the time, and flew home to Sydney for the weekend. The bus from Central to the footy stadium held a wholesome, childlike kind of energy, a barely suppressed excitement buoyed by outbursts of song and the odd rainbow flag. At the stadium, the lights (or maybe the sun?) went down not a moment too soon; with the first guitar chords of ‘Waiting: Reprise’ that opened the show, I was crying my head off. His voice from start to finish was his true voice, strong and brave and soaring; beyond wonderful. I remember trembling, with joy and also a strange existential melancholy, almost as if I had pulled off a cosmic stunt: this was never supposed to happen. I was never supposed to get this lucky. In a way, I guess I had.
About a year ago I promoted ‘Older’ from my car’s glovebox to a slot in the CD player, where it’s remained ever since. I play it once a week, on average; its themes resonate with me now in a way they couldn’t have when I was younger, and the musicianship… I don’t think I truly understood his genius back then, either. It’s the album that keeps me believing in star signs years after I gave up magical thinking, in the main. A fellow Cancerian, I’ve always secretly considered George to be my soulmate.
Two days have passed now since he died. Tonight I’m listening to a playlist of my most-loved tracks while tears drip onto my laptop, hoping the sheer curtains are adequately shielding my grief from the neighbours. It contains a mix of live and studio mixes, from the early days to the mid-nineties. (I admit I wasn’t enthused by his jazz departure a couple of years later, and though I bought ‘Patience’ when it came out, I listened to it only a handful of times.) Live covers of Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Believe When I Fall In Love’ strike me anew with their rare beauty, an alchemic fusion of that sublime voice with the wholesale integrity of feeling that was a hallmark of his work. Long-time personal favourites ‘Kissing a Fool’ and ‘Cowboys and Angels’ sound as vital and haunting as they did when they were released nearly 30 years ago, and illuminate to me for the first time how jazz-oriented his music has always been, right from the start; ‘You Have Been Loved’ just about breaks me. I’ve listened to it twice so far.
It feels only right to experience the full depth of this pain. George Michael offered us his honest suffering for years; he examined his demons publicly, generous and open in his struggle to reconcile the competing elements of his nature. His music was unapologetically autobiographical, full of romance and sex, play and politics; it spoke his multifaceted truth. He was complicated, but only, I think, to the extent that most smart humans are; it was his courage and eloquence of expression that made him exceptional.
I will miss him forever. I’d always expected I would see him again; I can’t find my old ticket stub, I’ve moved three times since that concert and I treated it with a cavalierness that was fairly natural, I think. He was only 53.