A ‘father figure’ in international music, gone too soon. At 17, George Michael delved into infidelity through his evergreen classic “Careless whisper”, saying “Guilty feet have got no rhythm” — like perhaps no teen pop star of today can write.
His music, like his fans would agree, has had a shelf life transcendig multiple decades — irrespective of whether it was doled out when he began in 1981 as one half of pop duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley — or when he became famous in his own right with his solo single “Careless whisper”.
That apart, his changing looks — as a smiling teen-pop idol look in the peppy “Wake me up before you go-go”, with piercing eyes and ruffled blonde hair in the “Careless whisper” video or the picturisation of “Faith” in which he gyrates wearing an entirely different grunge look with a black jacket, sunglasses and a stubble — have had a lasting impression on legions of his fans. They are in mourning now as Michael — at 53 — breathed his last on Christmas Day 2016 following heart failure — ironically, making it his ‘Last Christmas’.
“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart/But the very next day, you gave it away/This year, to save me from tears/I’ll give it to someone special.”
Michael’s songs spoke of love, desire, heartbreak, and in later years as a performer, he came up with tracks of socio-political references. Beyond a point in his career, Michael distanced himself from risque music videos and his pop-star image to make relevant statements.
Like, his 1994 single “Jesus to a child” was a tribute to Anselmo Feleppa, a Brazilian man with whom he had a short-lived relationship as Feleppa died of an AIDS-related brain haemorrhage in 1993.
His single in July 2002, “Shoot the dog”, criticised the former US President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It courted controversy for being anti-American.
However, his career’s trajectory never saw the end of love songs even as he dabbled in multiple musical genres throughout his glorious career.
Controversies seemed to eclipse the latter part of his music career — leading to a slow output during the 2000s. His last studio album of new songs was “Patience” in 2004.
At one point, Michael even said that he had spent the past 20 years trying to sabotage his glittering career via a series of humiliating drug and sex scandals.
According to multiple reports, his sexuality was exposed against his will in 1998 after being arrested on charges of lewd conduct in a men’s room in Beverly Hills, California.
The issues that Michael grappled with involved his struggle with depression following the death of Feleppa, and of his mother, of cancer, in 1997; and with the use of drugs.
He would smoke enormous amounts of marijuana — up to 25 joints a day at some points in his career. He had a dependency on sleeping pills and sometimes even consumed designer drug GHB, reports have said. Then in 2008, he was caught smoking crack cocaine in a public toilet.
Earlier, he had spoken of cruising for sex with strangers — an activity he declared he had started in his teens. He had told friend Piers Morgan that he had up to 500 sexual partners in seven years.
It was only after a few years of Feleppa’s death that Michael found new love in businessman Kenny Goss, but it also collapsed a little over a decade later.
The singer had dropped out of public view after releasing his last album “Symphonica” in March 2014.
For the New Year, Michael had been planning an expanded reissue “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1”, along with a documentary, “Freedom”, exploring his musical, personal and legal struggles.
In retrospect, freedom from the dark phase of his life is what he has got — as he leaves behind a legacy of music that his fans will cherish for years to come.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Radhika Bhirani