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.

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!

faithe 2.jpg
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