It is not too often that a singer-songwriter-producer of the iconic status of George Michael comes around. Like other greats, he was blessed with multiple talents and had the drive to deliver on them, sufficient to inspire multitudes. He was a poet, a philosopher, and like many true artists had an uncanny knack to surf on the leading edge of the zeitgeist; watching it unfold in his wake as it became mainstream. His political activism around Iraq was seen as misplaced at the time, but now anyone who knows how to operate Google can see his concerns around WMD’s were on the money. Not least of his talents, was the voice of an angel… As Rob Lowe tweeted, now he can sing for them…
Growing up in the 80’s, my experience of George Michael was that he was that good looking dude with a wicked voice and some catchy tunes; not anyone I was particularly focused on, just part of the mêlée that was the world of pop.
As I progressed into my teens and began to learn that, not only did George Michael have a great voice, but he wrote all his music – and arranged it – and produced it – and, as it turns out, played almost all the instruments, now I began to really respect the guy.
On top of that – and this is the key point – he was writing about things I could relate to in my own life – and sung them with a passion I felt deeply in my being. An expression which left an impression.
It turns out, it wasn’t just me who liked him… there were others too – roughly 100 million – who liked him enough to buy his records, and when I had the fortune to go to his Concert of Hope to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust, I saw that there were thousands of young men there with their girlfriends – many with his trademark designer stubble who, like me, were inspired by this icon – people who resonated with him, and wanted to be more like him. With lyrics like this…
“If you are the desert, I’ll be the sea,
if you ever hunger, hunger for me,
whatever you ask for, that’s what I’ll be“
(From Father Figure, Faith Album, 1987)
… it’s not surprising that a generation of young men sung his lyrics to their girlfriends, or picturing a girl in mind who they could fall in love with… I recall sending these lyrics to my first true love who I took to the Concert of Hope.
Around the time of this song, George Michael was in the upper echelons of international stardom with multiple awards, critical acclaim and a Grammie to his name – and out-selling both Madonna and Michael Jackson…
In 1992, his status as one of the world’s best live singers was confirmed when his performance eclipsed in quality a line-up of the world’s greatest living pop stars at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert; a performance that resulted in headlines suggesting that he may team up with Queen to become their new front man; something that never transpired.
His lesser known (and deliberately hidden) persona as a philanthropist was perhaps given away in his lyrics, such as those from “One More Try – “I’ve had enough of danger, and people on the streets, I’m looking out for angels, just trying to find some peace”… or his lead track from Listen Without Prejudice, Praying For Time, “This is the year of the hungry man, whose place is in the past – hand in hand, with ignorance and legitimate excuses.”
Then, finally, it happened. In 1997, George was outed. Was this a shock? Yes and no – there had been rumours for some time. People within the industry had called for George Michael to out himself – the openly gay Boy George being one of his better known critics on this front. The way this happened was characteristically transmuted from humiliation into a humorous number 1 hit song.
Across his entire career though, what struck me the most, was that this man, a man who I had idolised to some degree, whose voice I loved, whose music and other talents had inspired me so deeply, was a gay man… And, I recognised that we shared entirely common ground. He was someone who experienced exactly the same feelings as me about those he loved; whose feelings I sung as my own – even sent romantically as a token of my love. And what’s more (once again) it wasn’t just me who resonated in this way, it was millions of young heterosexual men around the planet.
If Ken Wilber is correct, the consciousness of people on the planet is in a steady historical
growth, moving from more traditional, mythical ethnocentric views (the realm of religion), where homosexuality is often denounced, toward more rational globalcentric views (the realm of science) that will continue to progress into holistic and integral views of our place in the Kosmos. This view is ultimately inclusive and transcendent.
It may well be that George Michael’s greatest accomplishment, the most profound legacy he’s left us with, was to create a seismic shift in awareness of heterosexual men, that their homosexual counterparts aren’t so different, so alien, so “queer” – after all…
(And for those who barf at this notion, for those who do strongly hold to more ethnocentric, dogmatic “us and them” views, this may prove an interesting read…)
After all, if our ground of experience is our emotions, and George’s homosexual emotions are a perfect match for my heterosexual emotions, maybe there isn’t an “us and them”… maybe there is only a we.
I often tell my patients, we’re all here to inspire before we expire; and George Michael is someone who passes that credential with flying colours.
I, for one, will be forever grateful for his influence in my life and the joy, wisdom and insight he offered me – partly as a role model, partly as an inspiration, and partly as a father figure…
A tribute to George Michael, who died yesterday, but will live on in more ways than most, after what turned out to be his very own Last Christmas…