I still think "Last Christmas" sucks... but I discovered today that George Michael recorded a much better Christmas song. It's called "December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas)", and I'm sure you can easily find it.
Smartarse from Down Under
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I'll try a poetic summary of an awful year, and the best I could think of is the ending of John Donne's "Holy Sonnet no 10", Death, be not proud.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppies or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke. Why swellst thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!
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A sad joke in the 1960s was that the New York Times had a headline typeset at the ready that said “Judy Dies of Overdose”. Some personal disasters feel inevitable. George Michael’s death feels something like that. No, not an overdose – though one imagines that, like Judy Garland, after years of abuse George’s body just couldn’t take one more shock. But also the feeling of such bright promise, seemingly unlimited success and talent that was somehow poured out, undervalued, and forgotten.
"Thwarted". That's the word that comes to mind when I think of George Michael over these past 24 hours.
George was cool and sexy and talented and had a parade of hits at the end of the 1980s. But you only have one chance to make a first impression, and for most people their first impression of George was him looking delicious in hot pants and a sweatshirt grooving out to the impossibly catchy “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”. He and Andrew Ridgely were a two-man boy band that took over the pages of Tiger Beat and had the songs that everyone wanted to dance to.
But what people didn’t realize was that Wham wasn’t the creation of some Orlando boy band factory and Swedish pop hitmakers. Those songs were all written and produced by George.
In 1987 George, newly free from Wham, dominated record sales, the radio, and MTV with his album Faith. Well, not quite dominated because he had a major competitor – Michael Jackson’s Bad. In hindsight, being able to say that you were matching Bad hit for hit is a pretty exalted accomplishment, even if Michael came out on top. But to George, Michael was getting all the critical acclaim and he was still seen as the pretty pop star. The comparison only got worse when he saw the same accolades going to Sting and Prince. They were artists; he was fluff. Why couldn't he be the voice of a generation?
George had a soulful voice that was good enough to stand up in a duet with Aretha Franklin on "I Knew You Were Waiting". He was an incredible vocalist.
Of course, Prince didn’t just sing, he wrote, produced, and played most of the instruments on his records. But, so did George. People forget (or never knew) that he wrote and produced all those Wham hits, plus all the songs on his solo albums. Some might say, who cares? George was laughing all the way to the bank. Let the industry think what they want, he had the fans and the hits. Who was keeping score?
The fatal flaw in all this was that it mattered to George. He couldn’t shrug it off and just do his thing. Listen Without Prejudice was a shot fired across the bow of Rolling Stone to say that George Michael was the equal of his Billboard contemporaries. But, as artistic causes go, a campaign to take a pop star seriously doesn’t really have a lot of weight, and comes off as pretentious and self-serving. George’s music was still great, but his “I will not promote this album or appear in any videos” stance didn’t come off as the mark of a serious artist. It came off as a spoiled brat wanting all the cookies in the jar. This began a divorce with Sony Music that would keep George off the charts for five years.
His second big problem was with honesty. An artist’s stock in trade is truth, but George had already pushed his bisexuality into the closet, which left him writing with one hand tied behind his back, so to speak. Life got better, but his honesty problem got worse when he fell in love, really for the first time, with an older man – Brazilian designer Anselmo Feleppa. They had only a few years together before Anselmo died of AIDS-related causes, leaving George bereft and lonely. He channeled some of that into his next album Older in 1996, but the impact of the work was blunted by the shroud he kept over his private life. He wanted to be taken seriously, he wanted to be an artist, but he had strict limits on how vulnerable he would become.
That covering was torn away in 1998 when he was arrested for soliciting a cop in a restroom in Los Angeles. He was forced out of the closet, but he gave away only what was absolutely necessary – never talking about Anselmo or his current boyfirend. He made fun of the arrest in the single “Outside” doing a video with him as a cop dancing in a bathroom disco, but certainly there was something more he wanted to say on the subject other than try and flip the PR conversation?
In the 21st century George released two more original albums – Patience and tracks from his Symphonica tour. Both albums had hits in the UK, but not in the US. Probably his most successful venture in the new century was his 25 Tour that looked like it signaled his return to the pop scene. But somehow he had a hard time making the success stick. And it was always interrupted by more illness, drug arrests, DUIs, public sex, and finally a four-month prison sentence.
George’s ten-year relationship with Kenny Gross seemed solid for a while despite is various arrests, and they announced that they would become civil partners – but that never happened and they split in 2009.
This year it looked like George might be headed for another upswing. The prison thing was a wake-up call and reportedly got him off alcohol. He gained a lot of weight, as often happens when you come off a substance issue. But he had a new documentary he was working on and possibly a new tour to replace Symphonica which he had to abandon due to pneumonia. But now it’s all over.
What could George Michael have been? He could have been songwriter/producer Max Martin who rose with the Backstreet Boys, NSync and Britney Spears just as George was entering his difficult years. Martin surely studied George’s songwriting to find those catchy hooks he embedded in the instrumentals – like that wailing sax at the beginning of “Careless Whisper” or the smooth synth lines in “Father Figure”. Max now turns out hit after hit with Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Pink. But, important difference, Max never wanted the credit or the limelight. He is happy being the wizard behind the curtain in the studio.
I came across [Only Registered Users Can See LinksClick Here To Register] yesterday posted by Olympic diver Tom Daley of him and his fiancé Dustin Lance Black getting ready for Christmas. Tom is reaping the benefits of being open and honest about his love life with his fans. This is so different than what a similarly young George Michael faced trying to wall off the best part of his life from friends, family, and fans. Yeah, it’s a different time and I am not meaning to beat George Michael up over this, but still this option was available to him. It would have cost him fans – but Tom’s choice cost him fans as well. The point is that there is a price to be paid either way. I think the soul-suffocating closet mentality robbed George of a lot of love and support that could have carried him on to healthier choices all around. The shame and isolation of the closet penalized both George and his fans.
Which is just to say that I think George was handicapped both by cultural homophobia and the way he responded to it. My prayer is that he is at peace and that young artists learn from George's mistakes and stay as close to the truth as they can.
All in all it is tragic that a supremely talented songwriter, producer, and performer didn't get a chance at a third act that could have been bigger and happier than his previous 35 years in the business.
Last edited by topdog; 12-27-2016 at 08:27 PM.
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A heartbreaking moment. George Michael’s partner, Fadi Fawaz, broke his silence about the musician’s death on Twitter on Monday, December 26, and recalled finding his body on Christmas morning.
“It’s an xmas I will never forget finding your partner dead peacefully in bed first thing in the morning.. I will never stop missing you xx,” he tweeted.
Fawaz, a hairstylist and photographer, also changed his Twitter photo to a pic of himself kissing Michael on the cheek. He echoed his previous message in his Twitter bio, writing, “I will never stop missing you xxx.”
Last edited by topdog; 12-27-2016 at 03:48 AM.
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Thank you TopDog for that, for lack of a better word, eulogy.
I did not know George personally but somehow I felt I knew him because of his public humiliations and his music.
The world just seems a little emptier since I read of his death. I can't shake it. For some reason his death seems like the end of an era for me. Maybe it's because he died on Christmas Day. I don't know. All I know is I miss him in a way that I would miss a lifelong friend. Knowing I will never hear news of his latest musical triumph or his latest public shaming makes me sad.
I don't mean to sound 'special'. I know I'm not alone feeling deeply touched.
Life goes on.
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...I did not know George personally but somehow I felt I knew him because of his public humiliations and his music....
I know what you mean. Nobody needed to tell us GM was gay. He played with it in his club hits, or that introduction to "Faith" that slowly circles and pans up his body, lingering on that ass. He willingly and deliberately turned himself into a sex object.
Then he blew it up in "Freedom 90" when the "Faith" ensemble goes up in flames and he stepped out on stage for his Cover to Cover tour as... a clone: short cropped hair, mustache, jeans, muscle shirt and Doc Martins.
“I think there’s something you should know, I think it’s time I stopped the show. There’s something deep inside of me, there’s someone I forgot to be.”
Media attacks on George felt like an attack on a friend. George never stopped being a superstar in the UK. In the US, I think it was the gay community that were his die-hard supporters. We've been in the trenches together and we don't leave our wounded behind.
On a more positive note - it was good to hear that he still had Fadi in his life and that on Christmas Eve he was looking forward to spending Christmas day with him. I'm glad he was in love and that someone loved him and was standing by him.
Last edited by topdog; 12-27-2016 at 08:44 PM.
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Such an inspiring artist.
Listen Without Prejudice is one of my all time favorite records.
Sad that even the Grammy's do not value the current work/output of veteran artist (e.g. Bowie) but would rather nominate performers who are just currently hot or a constant tabloid fodder or who have excellent PR machineries that sing them praises .
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For me, his most memorable song. Not a great fan of the video - but if you want to hear the essence of George's talent it's here. This is George doing the vocals, instruments, and production - with an assist from a gospel choir.
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