An Open Letter to George Michael RIP, Part 4 – The Documentary

My Dear George

Just when I thought I had nothing else to say to you, and I would finally have to accept you are gone, up you pop on our television screens with a brand new documentary called Freedom.  All about your life and career, and with contributions from many of those who were your friends and musical collaborators, it was seemingly in the process of being completed just before you died. It was even directed by you, so very much your baby. You really had no idea how ill you were at that time did you? What the heck were those around you doing for goodness sake – Not looking after your health it seems. To be fair you were an adult and should have taken responsibility for that yourself but not always easy I imagine for someone in your position who had already experienced so many ups and downs in life.

But I digress, the documentary called Freedom was a wonderful gift for those of us who would always want to eke out a little more new and original George Michael goodness before all that is left is the back catalogue and archived footage. I have already written to you about my memories of the Wham! and solo years but here we had all of it, and narrated by none other than your good self. The voice was a bit deeper and more gravelly than I remember, but it was most definitely you, although sadly there had to be a lookalike actor sitting there in your Highgate house supposedly typing out the dialogue for the film. We always knew how self-conscious you were about your looks and it seems you were not prepared to appear in the 2016 film as you were at the time – Sad but understandable.

One of the wonderful things about the film was that along with the really big hits from the “Faith” and “Listen Without Prejudice Vol I” eras, some of the less commercially successful songs made an appearance and this one, Kissing a Fool, has really stayed with me over the last week. Apparently you recorded the vocals for this beautiful, jazzy ballad in one take – It all sounds sublime and despite only making it to No. 18 in the UK Singles Chart, the song remains a firm favourite with fans and I can totally understand why.

Kissing a Fool by George Michael:

But what did I learn about you that hasn’t been covered in my previous letters? First of all I had no idea just how big you were in America once you went solo and released the album “Faith”. The marketing machine went into overdrive and you were on the cover of every magazine, you topped the Billboard chart with 5 of the singles released from the album and won numerous awards, including those in the R&B/Soul category. It was inevitable that there would be a backlash and for fear of burnout you had to walk away from it all for a while.

GM4 When you did come back with the very appropriately titled “Listen Without Prejudice Vol I”, you were making a statement – “Don’t pigeon-hole me, just take these songs as they come”. As James Corden said in the film however, there are some people in life who seem to have a layer or two of skin missing and appear to bruise more easily than the rest of us. You were one of them and when you sang the songs from this album for us, the pain you felt was palpable. All of this was written and recorded when you were still aged only 27 – An old head on young shoulders it seems.

When I wrote previously about that stunning performance you gave at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert I was just taking it at face value. Now however I understand how you were able to lift that performance to a whole new level – Having finally found love with Anselmo, you had learnt that he had also been diagnosed as HIV positive. He was in the crowd that night and although your fans didn’t even know about your sexuality at that time (well we did, but not officially), and he was unknown to us, you were singing the song for him and your heart was breaking for what was to come. The anger you felt at the unfairness of the situation was taken out on the record company from which you desperately wanted a divorce. A landmark case indeed but one which you lost in the end – As one of the executives said however, you may have lost the battle but you won the war as it was a given that you wouldn’t record anything for them again, so like with a top footballer you went on the transfer market and were snapped up by Virgin.

With the album “Older” you were able to both heal and recover from the grief you felt at the loss of Anselmo, but, then your mother got ill and died soon after so for much of the early ’90s it seems you were suffering from something much deeper than depression, a permanent fear of bereavement. By the second half of that decade you had started to come out the other side and the MTV Unplugged concert in 1996 was a fantastic example of you at your very best. You had the voice of an angel and had the ability to share raw emotion via your lyrics. A gift that possibly comes along once in a generation.

But I don’t want to say my final farewell to you George on a sad note. First of all, I noticed that the song used for the opening titles of your documentary was the Adele version of Fastlove performed at this year’s Grammys. Also the song used for the closing credits was the one jointly performed by Chris Martin and your good self (on a big screen) at the Brits. These were obviously added after your death and although I was a bit (quite a bit actually) disparaging about both of them earlier in the year, the passage of time must have made me warm to them as I thought they were both perfect for this film which turned out to be an unintented obituary. Secondly, I think James Corden has a lot to thank you for as your willingness to always step up to the plate when it came to making a bit of a fool of yourself in comedy sketches for charity, has in turn led to a new art form – Carpool Karaoke! I did love this when it first aired and never tire of watching it.

So, yet again I prepare to sign off for the last time – No more letters but before I go I just want to quote what you said during an earlier interview, included right at the end of the documentary. When asked what you would like to be remembered for, you said that you… “would like to be remembered for your songs and for your integrity, but that was very unlikely, so it was probably all a waste of effort”. I think you were just being modest there, as I expect we all would be if faced with a similar question, but of course in reality you will always be remembered – For the songs, your integrity, your performances, your generosity and yes, for those comedy sketches.

Farewell then George and thank you for that bonus gift you gave us last week in the form of your wonderful documentary. It was much appreciated.

Until next time….

Kissing a Fool Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death, and from my heart
Strange that you were strong enough
To even make a start
But you’ll never find
Peace of mind,
‘Til you listen to your heart

People
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will
For they will
If you let them
Steal your heart from you
People
Will always make a lover feel a fool
But you knew I loved you
We could have shown them all
We should have seen love through

Fooled me with the tears in your eyes
Covered me with kisses and lies
So goodbye
But please don’t take my heart

You are far
I’m never gonna be your star
I’ll pick up the pieces
And mend my heart
Maybe I’ll be strong enough
I don’t know where to start
But I’ll never find
Peace of mind
While I listen to my heart

People
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will,
For they will
If you let them
Steal your heart

And people
Will always make a lover feel a fool
But you knew I loved you
We could have shown them all

But remember this
Every other kiss
That you ever give
Long as we both live
When you need the hand of another man
One you really can surrender with
I will wait for you
Like I always do
There’s something there
That can’t compare with any other

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death, and from my heart
Strange that I was wrong enough
To think you’d love me too
I guess you were kissing a fool
You must have been kissing a fool

Postscript:

As of the 20th October, the reissued “Listen Without Prejudice / MTV Unplugged” Double CD is available everywhere. A worthy addition to any fan’s collection.

David Bowie, George Michael and “Star People”

Some of you who visit this place from time to time (thank you for that by the way) will know that Mr WIAA had recently entered a piece into a sculpture competition and that it had inspired me to write about a specific song (Alice, Jefferson Airplane and White Rabbit). The awards ceremony took place in London on Monday evening and I’m pleased to say that not only did he win a Bronze Award for the sculpture (up against stiff competition) but he also won a Gold Award for his entry in the 2D category. I also think I mentioned in my last post that there was no monetary award, it was just for the prestige of being the best in your field – Turns out I was wrong and the gold award winners do indeed get a cash prize! We left the venue with a spring in our step and headed back to the hotel for some nice food and wine.

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So, we’d spent the whole of day one of our London Trip simply traveling down from the far North of Scotland, navigating our way to the hotel and attending the awards ceremony. On day two we would hopefully have time for a few of the things tourists do in London before it was time to head back home. Because the theme of the competition entry was the marrying up of sculpture with literature, a trip to the British Library was on the cards, mainly because they have the original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland housed there. After dropping off our cases at left luggage and acquiring our blue Oyster Cards (always think of the band Blue Oyster Cult whenever I get one of those but you probably have to be of a certain age to get that joke), we were free to navigate London via its venerable Underground.

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I did spot however that we were starting off on the Victoria Line and which station was only four stops away? It was Brixton, south of the river, and birthplace of Mr David Bowie. I knew there was a mural there of David in his Ziggy Stardust guise which people went to visit and treated as a place to leave tributes. We had the time so why not? It turned out to be incredibly easy to find as the mural is right on the street opposite the exit to the station. It wasn’t very big and has now been covered with a perspex sheet to protect both it, and the messages left by fans, but considering my very first blog post was about the death of David Bowie I thought it was important to have seen it. (Excuse the glare from the perspex but unavoidable and a short film added right at the bottom of this post.)

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Reading the messages that surround the David Bowie mural in Brixton

Starman by David Bowie:

It isn’t big and overwhelming but I did enjoy visiting the Starman’s mural in Brixton – People like to have a shrine, a focal point, so that they can leave messages, floral tributes and gifts and this is just one of those places. It got me thinking however, here we were in Brixton but if we travelled back up the line to Highgate we could see all the messages and floral tributes left for George Michael. In view of the fact I have spent a lot of time recently writing about the sadness I have felt over the loss of George, this seemed the right thing to do. And so, at around lunchtime on Tuesday we found his very house and outside there is a little park which has become a bit of a shrine to him.

Again, just so many messages left by fans and here I was doing something I had never contemplated doing before – Stalking a big star from the world of music but sadly just a couple of months too late. There was a really great looking little pub across the street from his house so we went in and had a lovely lunch. It wasn’t lost on me that he was bound to have popped in for a pint at some point but I was too cool to ask the staff if that was actually the case. I just sat there and imagined the scene of myself, George and Mr WIAA having a drink, some food and a chat, trying to put the world to rights.

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George Michael’s local

So, “What’s It All About?” – It seems as humans that we like to be able to visit a specific place to remember our sadly departed. Don’t want to be morbid but I do actually want a headstone when the time comes as I do want my family to have a place they can visit. From what I saw this week the fans of David Bowie and George Michael also wanted a place to visit and I am glad that I was able to persuade my gold award-winning husband (its ok he won’t be allowed to get big-headed) to come along with me on my pilgrimage. For the record we did also manage to visit the British Library and along with Alice, the diaries of Sir Walter Raleigh and the Magna Carta, we also saw some scribbles by John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles, so again very relevant for the blog.

All back to normal now however and as we missed Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday because of our trip, darling daughter treated us to some tonight. I have already shared David Bowie’s Starman from 1972 but I will leave you with a live version of George singing Star People ’97, funnily enough from 1997 – Enough now, time to move on.

Star People ’97 by George Michael:

Star People Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

Star people
Counting your money till you soul turns green
Star people
Counting the cost of your desire to be seen

I do not count myself among you
I may be living in a dream
It’s just seem to many of you
Can’t help but hope
There’s a difference between, you and me

You’re a star
(I’m talking to you)
You’re a star

Maybe your mama gave you up boy
(It’s the same old same old)

Maybe your daddy didn’t love you enough girl

Star people
Never forget your secret safe with me
Just look at all wonderful people
Trying to forget they had to pay for what you see

It’s a dream
With a nightmare stuck in the middle
But where would you be
Without all of that attention
You’d die
I’d die
We’d die wouldn’t we
(Well wouldn’t we)

Big, big star
Should go far

Talk about your mother
Talk about your father
Talk about the people
Who have made you what you are
Talk about your teacher
The bully boy who beat you
Talk about the people who have paid
For that new sports car

Did you get off on a bad foot, baby
Do you have a little tale to tell
Is that why you’re a star?
Is that what makes a star?

Nothing comes for nothing, baby
That fame and fortune’s heaven sent
And who gives a fuck about your problems, darling
When you can pay the rent
How much is enough?

Postscript:

Just in case anyone from outside the UK unlikely to ever see the mural in Brixton wants a closer look, here is a short film –  a bit wobbly but a few good close-ups!

An Open Letter to George Michael RIP, Part 3 – The Tributes

Dear George

It’s now been two months since we woke up to the news that you had been found dead on Christmas Day – Of all the shock departures from the world of entertainment last year, yours was the one that affected me most and I still can’t quite believe that you will never again pop up on our screens chatting, singing, campaigning or joining forces with some of our finest comedic talents in one of their fund-raising sketches – Kind of cornered the market with those of late and raised an awful lot of money into the bargain so good on you.

But of course we are now well into Awards Season – Last week we had The Grammys and this week it was our own Brit Awards. Every year there is a short interlude where they give remembrance to those of you who have passed away since the last awards ceremony – 2016 will go down in history I think for being a freakish year in terms of loss. So many of you who were still so young and had so much more to give, left this mortal coil. I did think at the start of the year that this would just be something natural that we would have to get used to, but no, it was indeed a mathematically freakish year and one I don’t want to see repeated for some time.

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At both The Grammys and The Brits, there was a very moving tribute paid to you George, but by golly, for me it just doubly-emphasised what a fantastic singer you were. I never heard you sing out-of-tune ever, which is not something that the people who were given the job of singing your songs seemed to be able to do. First of all we had Adele at The Grammys who is generally very good at the old “live singing”, but even she had to stop and restart her rendition of your 1996 No. 1 Fastlove, because she had messed up. As a means of explaining she said, “I can’t do that to him, I just can’t” which was quite magnanimous of her I suppose. I have a feeling that you and her were probably friends and shared a similar sense of humour but I can’t be sure – Hopefully though you were looking down at her and appreciated what she was trying to do albeit in a bit of a, dare I say it, botched fashion. As for the really slowed down version of Fastlove (oh the irony), I can understand how an up-tempo number would have been inappropriate but somehow it just didn’t work for me. I am therefore going to remind myself of how it should be performed by none other than your good self. I am noticing however that in this video you were going through one of your crisis of confidence phases in terms of how you looked – Yes, it was your “I don’t want to show the right side of my face anymore because it doesn’t look so good” period which was just ridiculous as you were a fantastically attractive man from any angle. Just goes to show how these things can really get into the psyche however and although totally unreasonable, are difficult to shake off. I have a terrible feeling that at the time of your death you were not at all happy with how you looked which is just so sad – Could have been easily resolved if you’d had the right people around you to help.

Fastlove by George Michael:

So, we’ve had Adele with Fastlove complete with a brilliant set of images of you on the big screen – Yes George we even saw the right side of your face and it was lovely. Next up we have The Brit Awards and this time we had none other than Chris Martin of Coldplay doing the tribute song. Hmm… Not my first choice but he does seem to sell an awful lot of records so got the gig – Again not really appropriate for him to have performed one of your more up-tempo numbers (can’t really imagine Chris Martin in a pair of little white shorts and a Choose Life T-shirt singing Wake Me Up Before You Go Go) so what did he go for? – A Different Corner from 1986. But hey, this wasn’t just any old version of A Different Corner – Oh no, it was a really, really bad one! Thankfully at one point they did that really clever thing where a duet is possible with you on the big screen and him on stage (singing out-of-tune) so again your brilliance, from beyond the grave, saved the day.

I have always loved the song A Different Corner and here is a bit of a funny story George. Many years ago before I met Mr WIAA I had a great friend called Anne. We lived in flats only a few doors away from each other and were practically joined at the hip for a few years – We both loved going out socialising at the weekend but often bemoaned the fact that we just hadn’t found the “Big One” yet, the person we would perhaps marry. We decided that we must always have been turning the metaphorical “wrong corner” – If it had been a different corner, as per your song, we might have bumped into the “One”. Oh how we laughed! Anyway, Anne eventually got a new job in another town and she, and the different corner jokes, were sorely missed for a while – I had to shop solo on a Saturday afternoon which was a bit of a lonely business. One day I was heading up the high street when I saw Mr WIAA walking just ahead of me – I knew him from our social circle but despite getting on really well we always went our separate ways at the end of the evening. I decided it was time for action. The day had come for me to turn the correct corner. It was a race against time but I managed to head into the shopping mall, quickly run past all the shops and emerge at the exit right at the top of the high street just as Mr WIAA was arriving at that point. I was breathless but managed one of those convincing, “Gosh fancy bumping into you” greetings as I met him. After a bit of a chat we organised a date for later on that evening and that my dear George was 28 years ago now, so thank you for inspiring me to take the initiative that day and make sure I didn’t indeed turn a different corner.

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I am most definitely not going to share the Chris Martin version of the song here but a version you sang live on television some years ago, perfectly as ever. I think the time has come for me now to let go, and this will probably be my last letter to you. I hope that wherever you are, you have found peace. Despite the less than perfect singing at The Brits it was lovely to see your old pals Andrew Ridgeley, and Pepsi & Shirley read out their own tributes to you – It was a shock however to see Andrew looking like a bit of an old man. If he is looking older then so must we but there is nothing to complain about as at least we will have the luxury of growing older, whereas now you never will.

A Different Corner:

Farewell then my old friend – As these tributes show, you are sorely missed by so many and we thank you for all the wonderful songs you have given us. Because of them (and your amazing acts of generosity) you will never, ever be forgotten.

A Different Corner Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

I’d say love was a magical thing
I’d say love would keep us from pain
Had I been there, had I been there

I would promise you all of my life
But to lose you would cut like a knife
So I don’t dare, no I don’t dare

‘Cause I’ve never come close in all of these years
You are the only one to stop my tears
And I’m so scared, I’m so scared

Take me back in time maybe I can forget
Turn a different corner and we never would have met
Would you care

I don’t understand it, for you it’s a breeze
Little by little you’ve brought me to my knees
Don’t you care

No I’ve never come close in all of these years
You are the only one to stop my tears
I’m so scared of this love

And if all that there is is this fear of being used
I should go back to being lonely and confused
If I could, I would, I swear

An Open Letter to George Michael RIP, Part 2 – The Solo Years

Dear George

Well old friend, it’s been a very sad but oddly uplifting few days. I wrote my first letter to you back on Tuesday when the news of your death was still raw. Since then I have pulled together all the old vinyl and CDs (from both the Wham! and solo years) and had a good wallow through your back catalogue. There is much there to give joy but also material there that now breaks my heart – I don’t know about the Cowboys but I hope you are now with the Angels. A cringey thing to say I know, but I had to include that song somewhere as although not a massive commercial success in its own right, it is still my favourite from your album “Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1” (there never was a Vol 2 but that of course is another story).

Cowboys and Angels by George Michael:

When I say it has also been an oddly uplifting few days, that is because we have now heard about some of your (hitherto anonymous) amazing acts of generosity. You were always at the forefront whenever a charity concert or single was in being put together but most of us had no idea just how many random acts of kindness you were responsible for over the years. You helped out at homeless shelters and always stood up for the downtrodden – A prince among men.

But I have jumped ahead. In my last letter to you I did a fair bit of reminiscing about all that went on in both of our lives during the Wham! years of the early ’80s but what happened after that? – I think we both kind of grew up. You carved out a successful career as a very credible solo artist and I stopped being a flibbertigibbet, moved to a new town and took up a responsible job. Ok, so I still was a bit of a flibbertigibbet, but I now lived on my own and had to travel long distances to meet up with my old friends – When I did, it was just like old times.

In 1987 you released your first solo album “Faith” and during one of our reunion weekends that year it was played constantly – The girls were mightily taken with your new “look” and we found it quite amusing that so many young men were trying to recreate that look, what with the designer stubble, the leather jacket, the shades and even the glove – Looked great on you but on anyone else it just kind of looked silly. One of my friends had actually been given a video of the single I Want Your Sex by her boyfriend, as a present for her birthday – A few raised eyebrows about that one as how could one ever compete with “Gorgeous George” in the bedroom department!

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George Michael – Faith

But you were exhausted after all the hoopla that came with the promotion of “Faith” George, and to be honest so was I – Living in The Highlands of Scotland but spending every weekend travelling around the country was also exhausting and I started to make friends locally and even got myself a boyfriend who was to become Mr WIAA – Hurrah I hear you say (after getting bored with my stories of the on-off nature of my relationship with boyfriend no. 1 during the Wham! years).

In 1990 you released a much more contemplative album called “Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1” and the first single from it Praying for Time had lyrics that concerned social ills and injustice – We were starting to realise what kind of man you really were. This album was a very different affair and it alluded to your struggle with your artistic identity. Vol 2 never did appear and shortly after, you ended your record contract with Sony.

One good thing that came out of your dispute with the record company is that you had a fair bit of “gardening leave” and threw yourself into appearing at benefit concerts and such like. The one that has gone down in history, is when you took part in the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 along with Queen, Lisa Stansfield, Seal, David Bowie and many others. For some reason I can’t remember watching this concert live on telly at the time (put it down to getting engaged, married and buying and selling a property in a four month period) but it was obviously repeated in 1993 ahead of the Five Live EP where five tracks from the concert were released on a single EP, with all proceeds going to the Mercury Trust. This time we did see it, and my goodness it gave me goosebumps. You know when you witness something truly exceptional and your version of Somebody To Love with the other members of Queen really was exceptional (check out that note at 1:16).

Somebody To Love by George Michael and Queen:

Around this time I always had a blank tape in the VCR (remember those) and if something special came on telly I would quickly press “record”. This performance of Somebody To Love was revisited many times over the next few months – To see you, giving it your all George, in your gorgeous coral-coloured jacket (a great choice by the way) and blousy gold earring, was joy personified.

And here is where you feature in a really important moment in my life, and that of my daughter’s as it turns out. A couple of years later I found myself “with child” (blame the I Want Your Sex video) and it was suggested that we take a few cassette tapes with us to the labour suite come the hour. It all gets a bit frantic when everything starts to happen so we quickly grabbed the bag and two tapes to take with us – One was by Dina Carroll (not thought of her in ages) and the other was the Five Live EP. Despite the rush to get there things did not end up happening very quickly at all and we spent all evening, all night and then part of the next morning awaiting darling daughter’s arrival – All to the sounds of you George, plus those of Lisa Stansfield, Queen and occasionally Dina Carroll. Very apt really, and excuse the schmaltz, but she truly has been “somebody to love”.

I will admit that once you have a family, music has to take a back seat, especially if you are the mum I think, and I am sorry George but my attention to you was a tad neglected over the next few years but I did appreciate your “Older” album when it came out in 1996 and of course I had to buy “The Best of Wham!” in 1997, and then “Ladies and Gentlemen” in 1998. Funnily enough, by this time darling daughter was becoming a little character in her own right and one of our favourite things to do of an afternoon was to dance to your songs. One of the best for this was Club Tropicana where we re-enacted the long pre-amble with the sound of the car pulling up, the footsteps, the cicadas and then the opening of the doors to “Club Tropicana” – Fun times and needless to say she did become a bit of an aficionado of musical theatre and at one point we thought that a life on stage might be for her.

Oh George, here I am running out of words again and I’ve only got to 1998 but of course that was also the year that you kind of let yourself down a bit. None of us who were fans cared whether you were gay or not but you did “out” yourself in a very public way by getting arrested in LA – You say it was a subconsciously deliberate act, which it probably was, and it did give us the very entertaining Outside later on that year. Didn’t endear yourself to the LAPD with that one though, did you?

I can see, as fellow Chain-Ganger George (coincidental name) suggested last time, that this will have to be a game of three thirds as opposed to two halves, so until next time, thank you again Georgios Kyriacos for all the great music I have had the privilege to revisit this week due to your very untimely demise. I would much rather it had been under very different circumstances, but there we are.

Until next time, RIP to the Cowboy and the Angel who tried very hard to find “somebody to love”.

Cowboys and Angels Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

When your heart’s in someone else’s hands
Monkey see and monkey do 
Their wish is your command
Not to blame
Everyone’s the same

All you do is love and love is all you do
I should know by now the way I fought for you
You’re not to blame, everyone’s the same

I know you think that you’re safe
Mister
Harmless deception
That keeps love at bay
It’s the ones who resist that we most want to kiss
Wouldn’t you say?

Cowboys and angels
They all have the time for you
Why should I imagine that I’d be a find for you
Why should I imagine
That I’d have something to say

But that scar on your face
That beautiful face of yours
In your heart there’s a trace
Of someone before

When your heart’s in someone else’s plans
Things you say and things you do
That they don’t understand
You’re not to blame
Always ends the same

You can call it love but I don’t think it’s true
You should know by now
I’m not the boy for you
You’re not to blame
Always ends the same

I know you think that you’re safe
Sister
Harmless affection that keeps things this way
It’s the ones who persist for the sake of a kiss
Who will pay and pay
Cowboys and angels
They all have the time for you
Why should I imagine that I was designed for you
Why should I believe
That you would stay

But that scar on your face
That beautiful face of yours
Don’t you think that I’d know
They’ve hurt you, before

Take this man to your place
Maybe his hands can help you forget
Please be stronger than your past
The future may still give you a chance
The future, the future, not the past

That scar on your face
That beautiful face of yours
Don’t you think that I know
They hurt you before

An Open Letter to George Michael RIP, Part 1 – The Wham! Years

Dear George

George, George, George…, Georgios Kyriacos, Gorgeous one – I probably knew that you had not been “looking after yourself” (as my mum would call it) for some time, but when I heard the news yesterday morning that you had passed away from heart failure, on Christmas Day of all days, it was the first time this year that I actually uttered a guttural roar on the hearing of such news. A loud, “No, no, no……” could be heard emanating from my person followed by a few punches of my pillow. I eventually pulled myself together however and headed off to our little office to see what the world wide web was making of it all. Shitty, shitty 2016.

First of all you were just a tad younger than me, and British, so of all the shiny stars from the world of entertainment who have passed on this year, you were the one I could identify with most (me being an international singer/song-writing superstar an’ all) – But seriously, you appeared in my life just as childhood and the artificial world of the student was coming to an end so you have been with me for the journey that has been my entire adult life. In a non-interfering, almost unnoticed way, you have provided one of the soundtracks to my life and have been there at a few of the most pivotal points. You will never be forgotten.

I spotted you for the first time, as was usual in those days, on Top of The Pops in the summer of 1982. We had just finished our degrees but were allowed to stay on in our Halls of Residence until the new term started in October – This was the first time I had lived in Halls over the summer but I had a job, my 5 best friends were with me, there were no lectures or exams, and the sun was shining – What a great time we had and on Thursday nights at 7.30pm we all piled into my little room for TOTP (as unbelievably in those less technology saturated times, I was the only one who had a little portable telly).

And there you were, joyously strutting your stuff with best mate Andrew, the other half of Wham!, and the girls Pepsi & Shirlie (the future Mrs Martin Kemp). I was, at 22 by this time, too old to be smitten by such teen-dream fodder but hey, it was summer and Young Guns (Go For It) was feel-good pop of the highest order. What not to enjoy. We’d already had New Romanticism with all the falderals and excess that it entailed, but here were a couple of young lads from Hertfordshire having fun in their loafers and rolled up jeans. I am ashamed to admit it now (no, not that I really liked this stuff, as that would never happen), but it was Andrew I was smitten with at first. He was indeed very cute back then and I feel bad about that now, as we all know you had real self-image issues over the years, but as time went by you did kind of grow into yourself and became a very attractive man.

Young Guns (Go For It) by Wham!:

But life moves on and we all decanted to flats in the city centre and became part of the real world, getting ourselves “proper” jobs and entering the 9 to 5. I have written about this before but during these transition years there is usually an overlap with the life left behind and for a while we still tended to frequent the old haunts of our student days. As time went by however, more socialising was done with new colleagues and our haunts of choice changed – This was Aberdeen, the Oil Capital of Europe for goodness sake, money was plentiful and bit by bit we moved up to the much more yuppified side of the town. I feel embarrassed by it now considering what was happening in other parts of the country at the time, but hey, we were young, it always felt like it was summer and life was being played out to all of your great chart singles, Club Tropicana, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, Careless Whisper and Freedom

I have already written about you twice this year George, once when Careless Whisper became a “random pick of the day” and once when recounting how your song Freedom was the key to securing a place in the final of the prestigious Inter-Oil Company Pop Quiz of 1985. Can be found here (George Michael, Careless Whisper and the Summer of 1984) and here (Pop Quizzes, George Michael and Freedom) – Fun times. But all fun times have their day and ironically that happened soon after we tried to recreate those wonderful scenes from your video for Last Christmas.

Last Christmas by Wham!:

About 10 of us booked a New Year break, not in a swish Alpine resort as per the video, but in the Cairngorms. Scotland was having an uncharacteristically mild winter that year and instead of snow we had…, well whatever it’s called when it’s winter and not snowy…, brown. No matter, we had a great time with days out and about and nights spent eating, drinking and playing games. When I said that all fun times have their day, that is exactly what happened. Hubby and I call it “cottage weekend syndrome” – You have this great time with like-minded single friends of both the male and female persuasion, but one by one everyone starts to pair up and become couples. The very thing that was the catalyst in getting them together in the first place leads to its demise once mortgages and children come along, which is sad, but, it seems that as humans we are destined to want to be couples. I know you have not had an easy time of it George in the relationship department, but I do hope that at the time of your death you had someone in your life who really cared about you. I find it hard to believe that such a fuss was made when you came out as gay in the late ’90s. First of all, I am pretty sure that all of us who were fans knew anyway (you were always just so well-groomed) and secondly it really didn’t matter – I can see that during the ’80s however, when that new virus came along that could lead to AIDs, it would have been a difficult time to tell a loving mother the truth.

My last major recollections of your days in Wham! were during the summer of 1986. After a very long-winded, on-off relationship with the old school boyfriend, who became the student boyfriend, the early ’80s boyfriend and finally the mid ’80s boyfriend, by the summer of ’86 it was definitely over for good. This was a new found freedom I had not experienced in years and it was embraced with open arms. It coincided with the announcement that Wham! were also finally calling it a day and what with the release of a farewell single, The Edge of Heaven and a singles compilation album called “The Final” you were never out of the media. There was also a sell-out concert at Wembley Stadium and the world premiere of the film documenting your landmark tour of China. Put it down to giddy delirium at being single again, but I reverted to being a love-struck teenager and bought both original albums “Fantastic” and “Make It Big” as well as the new one. Very embarrassingly I also acquired some posters and put them up on my bedroom wall but there was also method in this madness. I was very conscious of the fact that being single again after many years as a couple, I could make mistakes of the rebound nature – Having posters of you and Andrew on my wall would surely stop any rash impulses being acted upon. (It worked to a point, but it turns out that if necessary it takes less than 30 seconds to rip down blu-tacked posters, so not as great a barrier method as hoped.)

That summer was also the one I went on holiday to Greece, your father’s country of birth. Those were more demure days when the hedonistic stories of sun, sex and sangria-fuelled partying did not feature as much when travelling to such places (or maybe we just went to a particularly nice island). Anyway, during the holiday we all ended up having little romances and lo and behold the boy I fell for was also called Georgios. I clearly remember shedding a little tear on the way home on the plane and then suffering the embarrassment, once back at work, of having to tell my boss that the password to my computer was indeed “Georgios” when he needed access in a hurry!

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Swimming with George in Greece

So George, my memories of those years, 1982 to 1986 are now complete but there are so many more post-Wham! memories which I am going to leave for Part 2 of my tribute to you.

I have been conscious of late that because I am no longer writing in a vacuum and actually have a few followers, that I perhaps need to be a bit more selective with my choice of featured songs. I chose not to write about Last Christmas the other week as I do still get a bit embarrassed that back in the ’80s my social conscience temporarily left me, and I was swept up in a sea of Club Tropicana and Careless Whispers. But, the received wisdom is that you should always write from the heart and be true to yourself. No-one ever said that you can’t like a variety of musical genres anyway and my mantra has always been that I like music of great quality, whatever the style, so it is perfectly possible to have loved The Smiths as well as Wham!.  

So long then, to the young Greek Adonis of my youth. Until next time, RIP George.

george-1

Young Guns (Go For It) Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

Hey sucker
(What the hell’s got into you?)
Hey sucker
Hey sucker
(What the hell’s got into you?)
Hey sucker
(Now there’s nothing you can do)

Well I hadn’t seen your face around town awhile,
So I greeted you, with a knowing smile,
When I saw that girl upon your arm,
I knew she won your heart with a fatal charm.
I said “Soul Boy, let’s hit the town!”
I said “Soul Boy, what’s with the frown?”
But in return, all you could say was
“Hi George, meet my fiancée”

Young Guns,
Having some fun
Crazy ladies keep ’em on the run.
Wise guys realise there’s danger in emotional ties.
See me, single and free
No tears, no fears, what I want to be.
One, two, take a look at you
Death by matrimony!

Hey sucker,
(What the hell’s got into you?)
Hey sucker!
(Now there’s nothing you can do.)

A married man? you’re out of your head
Sleepless nights, on an H.P. bed
A daddy by the time you’re twenty-one
If your happy with a nappy then you’re in for fun.
But you’re here
And you’re there
Well there’s guys like you just everywhere
Looking back on the good old days?
Well this young gun says CAUTION PAYS!

Young Guns,
Having some fun
Crazy ladies keep ’em on the run.
Wise guys realise there’s danger in emotional ties.
See me, single and free
No tears, no fears, what I want to be.
One, two, take a look at you
Death by matrimony!

I remember when he such fun and everthing was fine,
I remember when we use to have a good time,
Partners in crime.
Tell me that’s all in the past and I will gladly walk away,
Tell me that you’re happy now,
Turning my back
Nothing to say!
“Hey tell this jerk to take a hike,
There’s somethin’ ’bout that boy I don’t like”
“Well sugar he don’t mean the things he said”
“Just get him outta my way, ’cause I’m seeing red
We got plans to make, we got things to buy
And you’re wasting time on some creepy guy”
“Hey shut up chick, that’s a friend of mine,
Just watch your mouth babe, you’re out of line”

GET BACK
HANDS OFF
GO FOR IT!

Young Guns,
Having some fun
Crazy ladies keep ’em on the run.
Wise guys realise there’s danger in emotional ties.
See me, single and free
No tears, no fears, what I want to be.
One, two, take a look at you
Death by matrimony!

Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne” and Tea From China

This has been a truly dreadful year for loss. In my first 10 days of blogging I had written about the deaths of three of my heroes from the world of music and film, and as the year has progressed there seems to have been little respite. Of course once I thought about it a bit more, this being a blog mainly about artists from the ’60s and ’70s, it was going to be highly likely that some may well leave this mortal coil before I got round to writing about them. Most of these people will be of advanced years by now and in many cases already past their biblical three score and ten.

There were exceptions however. I wrote about the 57-year-old Prince only 10 days before we heard of his sudden death and I was actually in the process of writing about music from the ’80s which featured an amusing story about Pete Burns (also 57), when his sudden death was announced. Will have to come back to that one now from a different angle.

This week (a momentous one indeed) also saw the death of Leonard Cohen. As it turns out I wrote briefly about Mr Cohen as part of another post back in February, in the context of him being one of the new discoveries I made as a student in the late ’70s:

“After a confusing 1st Year at University where my friends and I still had ties to our old lives and friendships from school days, by the start of 2nd Year we had finally morphed into late-’70s students. We dressed in interesting clothes from charity shops (they weren’t called vintage in those days), hung around dingy bars and listened to “The Songs of Leonard Cohen” (in between attending lectures of course). Looking back, the tracks of my years had up until then, revolved around what was on Top of The Pops, what was played on BBC Radio 1 and the music from film soundtracks so this was a whole new branch of music that I hadn’t really experienced before. Artists like Cohen didn’t release singles that would appear in a chart show run-down, but whole albums of songs to be listened to late at night, in a soporific condition with preferably, a significant other.

Also, the great thing about having a boyfriend who flat-shared with an older brother, was that you immediately had access to their record collection as well. Being of the opposite sex and having a few more years’ worth of vinyl, his collection was vastly different to my own and so it came about, that in late 1979 I fell in love with the music of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Carole King and last but not least, Leonard Cohen.”

Since then his name has cropped up many times when researching other artists, specifically women artists. I got the impression that he really “liked” (in the truest sense of the word) women and they liked him right back, often helping him out at times when a little nudge in a certain direction was required.

Judy Collins recorded his song Suzanne in 1966 and it was she who persuaded him to get out on stage and start performing his songs himself. She first introduced him to television audiences during one of her shows in 1976, where they performed duets of his songs, and was once quoted as saying, “People think Leonard is dark, but actually his sense of humor and his edge on the world is extremely light”. I like that considering his style of music produced albums often quoted as being full of songs to slash your wrists to!

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Leonard and Judy Collins

His songs often had girl’s names in their titles and So Long, Marianne was inspired by Marianne Ihlen whom Cohen met on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960. Cohen said she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. The two hit it off and lived together throughout the ’60s. She died earlier this year and Cohen’s words, written to her before her death were read out at her funeral. “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine… Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road”.

The song Suzanne was inspired by Cohen’s platonic relationship with Suzanne Verdal, the then-girlfriend of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt. Its lyrics describe very literally the routine they enjoyed when they met. Suzanne would invite Cohen to her apartment by the harbour in Montreal, where she would serve him tea, and they would then walk around Old Montreal past the church of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, where sailors were blessed before heading out to sea. I have always loved that song and am amazed how he managed to convert such seemingly simple routines into such colourful and romantic lyrics, “And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China”.

Suzanne by Leonard Cohen:

When I wrote about Jennifer Warnes a couple of months ago it came as a surprise to me that this American singer, songwriter, arranger and record producer, most famous for having performed on no less than three Oscar-winning songs from movies, was also a close friend and collaborator of Mr Cohen. In the ’70s, Cohen toured twice with Jennifer Warnes as a backup singer and she would become a fixture on Cohen’s future albums, receiving full co-vocals credit. In 1987 she recorded a tribute album of Cohen songs, “Famous Blue Raincoat” even though her career at the time was in much better shape than his. “So this is a real friend,” he said. “Someone who in the face of great derision, has always supported me”. The tribute album helped restore Cohen’s career in the U.S.

jennifer-warnes
Leonard and Jennifer Warnes

I am glad that Mr Cohen’s music entered my life when it did and he has left a great body of work for us to enjoy forever. I also love that he had all these great relationships with women who seemed to really appreciate having him as a friend. Says a lot about the man. RIP Leonard.

Suzanne Lyrics
(Song by Leonard Cohen)

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half crazy
But that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.
And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

Prince, Sinéad O’Connor and “Nothing Compares 2 U”

I was struggling for inspiration this week as my last post left me with nowhere to go (it ended up featuring a porn star turned disco diva!), but as has often happened this year, events of the week take over. On Wednesday we heard the sad news that Victoria Wood had died aged only 62, again from cancer. This was devastating news as she has been performing stand-up, singing her wonderfully observant comic songs and writing great sketches and sit-coms for as long as I can remember – Another premature death in 2016 from the world of entertainment. It was Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday this week and celebrations have taken place all round the country but Victoria Wood was a different kind of Queen, a Queen of British Comedy. She was honoured in 2008 with a CBE and had she lived, I’m sure it would only have been a matter of time before she became a Dame.

vic

The great thing about Victoria’s comedy was that it centred around very down to earth, ordinary people and the mundane, but often deeply amusing, aspects of their lives. She was a great observer of the human condition, which shone through in her writing. Julie Walters, her long-term friend and “double-act” partner must feel as if she has lost a limb.

I was still reeling from the loss of Victoria when the news came through on Thursday evening that Prince had been found dead at his Paisley Park mansion.

This is turning out to be a terrible year for losing our heroes. David Bowie died the day I started the blog and since then there has been a steady stream of deaths from the world of entertainment. The loss of Prince will mean more to the people of the US than it will to most of us here in the UK but since researching him for a post I did just the other week, I now realise that he was the ultimate artist – Dare I say it, even surpassing Bowie with his breadth of talent. He wrote some of the most amazing songs that will be with us for ever, he sang, played every musical instrument on his albums, produced, could act, danced, choreographed and micro-managed every aspect of his life and the creation of his art. Looking back now, considering he worked 24-hour-days and hardly slept, I am amazed he managed to live as long as he did.

I have now accepted that the number of obituaries coming through from the world of entertainment will increase as the sheer number of artists we have been exposed to through music and television has increased exponentially during my lifetime. Many of these artists are now reaching their senior years, so age-related deaths will inevitably become more commonplace. The demon cancer can strike at any time however and sadly, like with poor Victoria, we are losing people too soon when they still have much more to give. And of course, like with Prince, those who seem to live highly artistic, abnormal lives, seem to be more prone to premature, abnormal deaths.

A very sad week for the world of entertainment and when I started the blog in January this year, I had not anticipated that every other post would be about the death of one my heroes. Nothing light about any of this tragedy but I do think that Miss Wood, if looking down at us now, would find it amusing that the timing of her demise means she is now bizarrely connected to His Royal Purpleness – I’m sure she, Terry Wogan and Ronnie Corbett will take him under their wing and regale tales of Acorn Antiques, the TOGs and Four Candles. In return they may well be rewarded with songs from one of the most exceptional artists of the last 40 years.

I will leave you with Sinéad O’Connor and her moving rendition of the Prince-penned song Nothing Compares 2 U from 1990. Thankfully I had just started “going out” with my new boyfriend (now husband) the month before it reached No. 1 in the charts and because we were all loved-up, a song about a painful breakup didn’t cause me any distress at all. Someone at the other end of the relationship spectrum would definitely have suffered however, as it received blanket coverage in the January of that year. Watching the clip again does remind me how jealous we all were of how good Sinéad looked with a shaved head as we were all slaves to our hairdressing appointments at that time – It was the era of spiral perms and highlights (think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction) so very high maintenance by comparison.

I don’t think I realised back in 1990 that this song was written by Prince but fitting as it turns out for today’s post. Surely no more premature deaths for some time. RIP Victoria, RIP Prince.

Nothing Compares 2 U
(Song by Prince)

It’s been seven hours and fifteen days
Since u took your love away
I go out every night and sleep all day
Since u took your love away

Since u been gone I can do whatever I want
I can see whomever I choose
I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
But nothing
I said nothing can take away these blues

`Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u

It’s been so lonely without u here
Like a bird without a song
Nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling
Tell me baby where did I go wrong

I could put my arms around every boy I see
But they’d only remind me of you
I went to the doctor and guess what he told me
Guess what he told me
He said, “Girl, you better try to have fun no matter what you do.”
But he’s a fool

`Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u

All the flowers that u planted, mama
In the back yard
All died when u went away
I know that living with u baby was sometimes hard
But I’m willing to give it another try

Nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u
Nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u
Nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u