I don’t know about you, but I’m enjoying that feeling of having the fresh start of a new year. It’s a clean state. Anything can happen.
I mean, 2016 was exciting. I started a new job, tested my limits and creativity with dinner, and even started reading again. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that it ended leaving me sad.
We all know that the grim reaper of 2016 is being blamed for the passing of many celebrities, and icons; including the likes of David Bowie, Alan Rickman (he will forever by my Professor Snape), Phife Dawg, Garry Shandling, Chyna, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Alexis Arquette, Leonard Cohen and Florence Henderson. All of these icons (and more not mentioned) somehow weaved themselves into the fabric of my life through their words, their music, their characters in movies and tv shows. Through their impact on society and life as a whole. I remember saying, “not another one” after each death.
And then Christmas came and I got a text from my friend telling me that George Michael passed away.
After putting the kids to sleep after a wonderful day together, I remember feeling sad. I couldn’t believe he was gone.
For some reason, his death has hit me hard.
I’ve tried four times to write this post, and couldn’t bring myself to do it. I know it’s real, but I’m sad. I’m in mourning, like the rest of the world.
I have clear memories dancing around my basement to the Fantastic album. I loved putting that record on, and dancing around the basement. I don’t remember how I convinced my parents to buy me that album, as I was likely in grade 6, but I already had Make It Big and the love I had for Wham! was real. Those two albums sum up my youth. On repeat! I could do the rap in Young Guns (Go for it) by heart (and probably still can) and still love the cool rhythms of Club Tropicana.
I loved both George and Andrew Ridgeley equally, but when he released Careless Whisper, I think that’s when the world took real notice and his talent sort of left Andrew in the dust. I mean, everyone I knew loved Wake Me up Before You Go-Go and I even had one of those tshirts with the big black letters and wore it until it barely held together anymore. My other favourites from that album include Everything She Wants and Freedom.
Not only was the record always on my mini turntable in my room, but eventually I bought that album on tape too, so I could listen to it in my car when I got older.
When Wham! broke up, I was devastated. I clearly remember the Christmas I got the Faith album, and I am confident to say that the love affair was back on. The cross earring made its way into my repertoire and that image of him dancing beside that jukebox is one of my favourite images ever!
His Cover to Cover tour stopped in Toronto in 1991, and I BEGGED, and I mean BEGGED my parents to let me go. Unfortunately, they said no. However, they asked a friend’s daughter to buy me a program and a concert tee, so I at least have that.
Faith is an album that still remains in my top ten of all time. It sort of puts the ampersand on my love of pop music, and George Michael has always led the charge. I would be hard-pressed to pick a favourite, as each song spoke to me in different ways, and for different reasons.
Faith is catchy, and the video eye-catching. I have so many memories dancing around my room, singing at the top of my lungs to this song. To this day, it’s on my iPod and when it comes on, I can’t help but strut down the street to the beat. And it goes without saying that he could wear a pair of jeans like no one can!
In terms of the other up-beat songs on this album, Monkey is another one that reminds me of good times; dancing on my bed and on the couch when the video came on. This was my kind of music, and I sang it loud, much to my parents’ dismay.
Let’s keep in mind that I was 13-14 years old when this album came out. So the song I Want Your Sex was one that I either listened to with my earphones on, or on a lower volume than the others. My parents were far from prudes, however I didn’t want to take any chances, so I was cautious with this one, but I still love that song. Both Part 1 and 2.
As we saw with Careless Whisper, he can sing a ballad and knows how to get to your heart, so Father Figure and One More Try tore my young, teenage heart apart, and as with most music, it connected to young love and a boy that I liked at the time. And when that boy and I broke up, these songs were played over and over. (Remember, on a turntable you had get up and do that, as there was no repeat option! Talk about commitment!)
By 1990, I owned CDs and George Michael dropped his Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1 album. These songs were also on repeat (this time thanks to the player) and I belted out those tunes at the top of my lungs, while I should have been doing homework in my room. Praying for Time is so beautiful. The haunting, hollow sound of They Won’t Go When I Go and Mother’s Pride, and easy beat of Waiting For That Day still resonate and I find it hard not to sing out loud, which can be embarrassing on the subway.
Then the video for Freedom! 90 dropped, and holy moly did he make a statement; the lipe-syncing supermodels, setting his iconic leather jacket and that jukebox on fire solidifies it as one of the best videos of all time (for me anyway.) Years later, when I finally did get to see him in concert, he would sing this song as the last of his encore. Twenty-thousand people left that venue singing “Freedom! Freedom!”
While he mostly disappeared from Canada’s mainstream music scene after that, battling his music label, he still released music including the live duet of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me with Sir Elton John, and one of my favourites Too Funky (from the charity album Red, Hot & Dance), and the Five Live album, where he covered Queen’s Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone and Somebody to Love. By then, not many of my friends liked him anymore. I was starting to get into Euro and Dance music, and once in a while they would mix a dance version of Careless Whisper, however there wasn’t much George being played on the radio.
Then, in 1996 he came back with Older. He had pared back the pop in this album, giving us soulful ballads and jazz-inspired songs that felt a little on the dark side. Jesus to a Child, Older and You Have Been Loved were among these types of songs. Not many of the songs on this album spoke of the George of the 80s or 90s, however something tells me he didn’t want to be that person we knew anymore. He found himself in trouble with the law, and eventually came out to the world. I watched a documentary once that said that he was a superstar during a time when the world encouraged the stars to act as homosexuals, but could not actually be gay. I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been for him, and the relief he must have felt to finally be himself.
Once again, at least for North Americans, he seemed to disappear again and released a few collections, including Ladies & Gentleman: The Best of George Michael and Songs from the Last Century, which is a collection of cover tracks.
His fifth, and final studio album is Patience. This album features the song Amazing. I dare you not to dance when you hear this song. Coming out the year I met D, it became one of our favourites and will forever remain there. Other greats from this album are Round Here, Shoot the Dog, and Freeek! 04.
My George Michael and Wham! albums span across mediums, including records, tapes, CDs and digital music, but one CD that has remained in my car since I purchased it is Twenty Five. This greatest hits collection covers his career and features 2 discs; For Living and For Loving. It remains one of my favourite collections of all time.
In 2008 he went out on his 25 Live tour for this album and come hell or high water I was going. I would have gone alone if nobody wanted to go with me. But I called up a friend and she agreed to come and off we went. I cannot explain to you how happy I was to finally be seeing him in concert. I missed my shot 17 years earlier, and finally was going to see him!
On July 17, 2008 we sat somewhere up high in the Air Canada Centre and started talking to the girls beside us, who didn’t live too far from where we grew up. We talked about our favourite songs and so on, and then one of the girls got a phone call that her kid was having an allergic reaction to something they ate and she left to meet her husband at the hospital. She told her friend to stay, but of course she went with her. I felt so bad that they had to leave, but enjoyed the extra dancing room we had for the concert.
This concert was everything. He looked amazing, donning mostly suits for the evening. He sounded even better than he looked. He sang all the greatest hits, including some Wham! songs and even apologized to the audience for not making things easy for us to love him. M and I screamed back that we loved him anyway!
When the lights went out after the last song, nobody moved. We started chanting “George! George! George!” When he came back on for his encore, he belted out Careless Whisper and Freedom! 90. As I mentioned above, we sang “Freedom! Freedom” all the way home.
Unfortunately that was the only time I got to see him live. And I cherish every memory of it.
Symphonica is his only live album, and while it worth a listen. I watched it on tv when the BBC aired it in 2014. Let Her Down Easy is my favourite song from that album.
According to his Facebook page, he was in the studio again before his death, working on new material. But will it ever be released? Apparently Prince had vaults of songs and I don’t know if we’ll ever hear that either.
It makes me sad.
I know it may be silly to some, but he really did have a profound impact on my love of music and my life. I cherish that I got to see him in 2008 and will probably never remove any of his music from my iPod (where it’s been since before I got it in 2005).
Of course, as we are all wounded by this death, we learned just after Christmas that Carrie Fisher passed away, and then the day after that her mother. The world mourns these two icons, and one of the original princesses in my life is forever gone.
2016 wasn’t cursed. It didn’t go easy on us, that’s for sure. But if it did anything more than take these legends and icons, it left an impact. And made us realize that life is short and beautiful. We need to enjoy the moments, dance like it’s 1999, fight the Dementors, push the limits, break molds, “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee“, eat the chocolate, find the Force and sing in the rain!
You get it. Life is short. But keep perspective. In the words of the great Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
RIP to George and all these greats.