Mourning George Michael

This is supposed to be a work blog, but this is a non-work entry. Sometimes you have to write what you feel.

George Michael died on Christmas Day. My Facebook is full of messages from people my age mourning the loss of their teen idol.

I get that. Speaking as a teen of the 80s, I had 200 photos of George tacked to my bedroom walls. That’s an actual number; I counted when I took them all down to redo the wallpaper. God bless my parents for tolerating that many tack holes in the walls.

Aside from posters and photos, I owned professionally produced videos (Wham! in China, anyone?) and stacks of VHS tapes full of interviews and TV performances that I recorded from MTV and other shows. If George was on TV, I recorded it. I owned every album, 45, B-side, and rare-whatever I could get my hands on, including an autographed LP I won in some contest. I also owned a several-inch thick notebook full of articles I’d cut from the pages of Tiger Beat and other fan magazines. These articles were alphabetized by title. I’m not kidding.

I’d made friends who also were obsessed with George, although there’s a chance that my enthusiasm swept some of them along a little. If so, they were good sports about it. We went so far as to hold at least one birthday party for George in which we ate hot fudge sundaes and played trivia games we’d created based on songs and videos (“What color is the wallpaper in the living room of the Bad Boys video?”). Even back then I knew I was over-the-top. I told people that being obsessed with George Michael kept me out of trouble. Precocious, but true.

But, like most woo-girls of the 80s, by the time George’s presence in America’s music scene faded (post-Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, which is still today a truly excellent, relevant album), my interest in him was reduced to an appreciation of his previous music. I didn’t follow his career once it became harder to do so, and by the time the internet really got rolling, it didn’t occur to me to peek in on what he was up to.

And then some years ago I learned about Spotify and on a whim I looked up George, thinking I’d catch a listen to Make it Big. What I found was a lot of interesting music that I’d missed. I binge-listened, fascinated by the chance to hear his talent morph and develop as he matured. I didn’t love everything that he had done but I could really appreciate it for the impressive body of work that it was. I realized what a truly talented, amazing musician he was, something I hadn’t understood and appreciated long ago when I was mostly interested in his boyish good looks and lovely voice.

I started checking out recordings of live performances on youtube and encountered many interviews with George covering the parts of his career that I had missed. I listened to them while I worked, eventually literally listening to every George Michael interview I could find on youtube. I know that sounds ridiculous but I’m pretty sure I actually listened to (if not watched) every. George Michael. interview. on. Youtube.

And you know what? I fell in love with him all over again.

Not in the same way, of course. I no longer expected that he would run into me in an aisle at Publix and sweep me off my feet. (Yes, I know there are problems with that fantasy. Don’t point them out.)

But, seriously, I realized that George was a pretty amazing human being outside of his abilities as a musician. He was extremely intelligent, but also humble and with a great, self-deprecating sense of humor. He seemed to own up to his struggles and mistakes, and he talked openly about crippling depression and loss. I discovered that George quietly donated large amounts of money to various charities on a regular basis (and supported charities with his time and donated music as well).

He invested years, money, and effort in a losing legal battle with Sony in an attempt to stand up for his rights and those of other artists. It nearly killed his career in the US, but he thought it was important, not only for himself but for others. He went to bat for what he believed in, making political statements that mattered to him even when he was told it would hurt his record sales (and it did, for a time).

I never heard of George throwing shade at another musician, or starting a twitter war (he called his followers “my lovelies,” by the way, like we were all a part of his extended family). I’m sure there were conflicts with others, who doesn’t have those? But he certainly wasn’t dramatic about it, and the fact that you never heard celebrities saying bad things about him either speaks volumes as well.

George loved his dogs dearly, and he was recently involved in a movement to change dog resale laws in the UK. All that money and fame and he still spent a lot of time in the company of his yellow Labs.

He was open but private, good but flawed, brilliant but capable of stupid mistakes. He was strong enough to admit those mistakes and weather the consequences, but perhaps not quite strong enough to avoid making the same mistakes again.

George Michael may have been your teen idol, but he’d become an amazing person as well, one worth appreciating as an adult. So while with George’s death we say goodbye to our youth, our dreams, and our fantasies, we should also say goodbye to the kind of person that the world needs more of. Someone who had a lot more to give, and who is gone far too soon.

Goodbye, George. We will miss you.

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