I was in that second wave of young girls who joined George’s fandom when he released Faith (as opposed to the first wave of girls who caught on during the Wham! years). I was an insecure, lonely girl whose family never talked about sex or feelings or anything at all for that matter. His overt sexuality was exciting and intriguing for me as I was still trying to understand what the heck sex actually was. And his deep sadness and longing for belonging resonated with me, though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that at the time.
George Michael provided the soundtrack and the backdrop for a good 10 years of my life. I was obsessed with owning every piece of music he’d ever released, as I hunted down 45″ singles for their B-side instrumental versions, relentlessly called in to obscure radio shows requesting elusive instrumental versions I hadn’t been able to hunt down anywhere, and special ordered t-shirts and the Wham! in China video on VHS that my mother had to drive to a far-away mall to pick up for me. I scoured magazines for even the tiniest mentions of George to see what he was up to and what he looked like “in real life.” In the days before the internet, it took real effort and persistence to be a hardcore fan. It was a labour of love.
My high school lockers were full of George Michael photos, my room was plastered in George posters, my binder was a George Michael binder. I wore a gold cross earring my girlfriends gave me for my birthday one year. When I got punished at home, my mother took away all my George Michael stuff – posters, cassettes, magazines, everything – and hid it, saying I’d have to earn it back one piece at a time. In that moment, I despised her with such rage that I suddenly understood how wars were started. I found where she had stashed everything and secretly made copies of all the tapes and smuggled out posters. Nothing was going to stand between me and my George Michael!
George Michael was my first concert ever, and when I heard that he’d named Elton John and Billy Joel as musical influences, I started listening to them too. He shaped my musical taste for years to come.
Sometime after Listen Without Prejudice, I lost track of George Michael. I had become a mother at age 18, life had gotten busy and he hadn’t released any new music for a while. When he finally did release a new CD, the music seemed really.. old? boring? I was a busy, energetic twenty-something, I couldn’t relate to his style at all anymore. And at some point I heard something about a lewd act. I didn’t really know what had happened but felt vaguely embarrassed as people smugly mocked my former fandom. Every June 25 I had a fleeting remembrance that it was his birthday, but otherwise he gradually faded out of my life.
And now he’s gone and I can’t seem to stop trying to fill in the gap of everything I missed about his life over the last twenty years. I didn’t know his father had been so critical of him. I didn’t know he had been so conflicted about his sexuality and that his ‘lewd act’ had ultimately resulted in his coming out. I didn’t know he had fallen in love with a man who heartbreakingly ended up dying just a couple of years later. I didn’t know he’d fallen into deep depression after his mother died. I didn’t know he’d almost died of pneumonia a few years ago.
I didn’t know he was an addict. I imagine he couldn’t have been easy to live with, especially when you add his perfectionism on top of it. I also didn’t know he was such a generous humanitarian, anonymously donating to multiple charities and anonymously volunteering at a homeless shelter.
I’m learning all this about him and appreciating what a complex individual he was, full of struggle and hope and love. His messiness and imperfection are resonating deeply for me.
I’m taking the time to discover his post-Listen Without Prejudice music and now that I’m older and more mellow, it doesn’t feel boring to me anymore. It’s beautiful in its pain. Life is hard, I feel that in his music. (The first time I heard his version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” a couple of days ago – posted below – it literally brought me to tears.) Maybe there is a reason for his music coming into my life again at this point, maybe I wouldn’t have been ready for it sooner.
I feel a sense of loss and sadness that I wasn’t there for the whole ride, but I’m so incredibly grateful for everything George Michael has been and is going to be for me in my life. Despite his flaws and vices, he did good in the world and brought love to those around him, and I feel a weird sort of pride to have been his fan. The world – my world – doesn’t feel the same without him.
Rest in peace, George.