George Michael, 1963-2016

imagesPoulton-Le-Fylde, Blackpool, 1986. I’m staying with my grandmother. She has a small red turntable from the 1960’s. Music is my lifeline to a life I’ve yet to live. The place, that room, that record player I associate with ‘State of the Nation’ by New Order, the 12″ version of ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’ by Echo & the Bunnymen and the second coming of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I see now that the timeframe is all wrong – I’m confusing two visits from the same year. But then like all 14-year-olds I was mixed up. It strikes me as significant in some way that I don’t remember my life in Sheffield at the time. I know school was hard in some long-since undefinable ways and Blackpool represented some sort of escape.

One song I remember very powerfully from that week was ‘Different Corner’. There was something about its mood that resonated with mine and something about its unusual, meandering shape (particularly its lack of a chorus) that I found intriguing. I assume that its lyrics must also have struck a chord (“I’m so scared…”). The mood I now recognise as languid but if you had asked me at the time I’m sure I would have described it as ‘melancholy’. Looking up its release date on Wikipedia I see that someone has categorised it as ‘adult contemporary’, which would have pleased George. As the title indicated, this was his attempt to be Taken Seriously, following a false start with the vapid holiday romance of ‘Careless Whisper’. But ‘Different Corner’ was more than AOR. It had a sense of disaffection which was more than just boredom with pop stardom. He sounded authentically distressed and so I found it consoling. The lyrics laid bare feelings which I, with my stoical Northern English upbringing, had difficulty articulating to myself. There was also the yearning aspect. I can see now that I entertained a courtly notion of love which pop music itself had taught me, albeit one suffused with a vague sense of the inevitable disappointment of a reality which I already sensed would never live up to my (in the words of Paddy Mcaloon) ‘four honeymoons each sleepless night’.

I see that ‘Cowboys and Angels’ was released as a single in 1991, but I may have come across it a few months earlier. I have no memory of buying the album it was on but the song is so familiar when I listen to it now that I must have taped it off the radio.  I can’t imagine that I listened to it at anything other than a low volume because I was living in university residences, in the Ziggurats of the University of East Anglia and my gauche attempts to establish myself as Cool would have suffered. George Michael was, despite his very best efforts, not credible, and my own assumption before I reached university that I would immediately be recognised as one of the campus’s most debonair intellectual talents had met with disappointment. ‘Cowboys and Angels’ had that same languid mood as ‘Different Corner’ and a similar chorusless structure, along with lyrics which alluded to disappointment and heartbreak, the ‘trace’ of something before. Musically its stylings were those of bossa nova, one of those flashes of good taste that George would show throughout his career. Its self-consciously coffee table sound and presumably deliberate lack of hooks meant that, like the similarly ‘mature’ ‘Being Boring’ a few months before, it wasn’t a hit.

I’m not aware of any interesting songs George Michael produced afterwards. In his striving for adult acceptance he took the road more travelled, dueting with Queen and Elton John. Bombast and sentimentality. Later came his hamfisted attempts at being ‘political’. But in interviews he always came across as heartfelt and his occasional public mishaps evoked pathos. His need to be admired, loved and regarded as thoughtful and sincere, is one that I recognise and relate to, and I think the same is probably true of everyone of his, my and all generations. Rest in peace, George.