George Michael: A Life
James Gavin’s book is a compelling story about a pop legend whose talent was smothered by an unsympathetic paparazzi. As you read the book, the veil of misinformation and media generated bias slowly lifts, revealing an unhappy troubled soul who makes beautiful music and yet struggles with the social fall out of his sexuality throughout his life. Lillete Sandhu reviews the book.
My Music will last
I was in college when Wham happened. The boy band with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley became the rage with the song ‘wake me up before you go go’ topping the charts. I enjoyed listening to their music of course, but it was the soft and romantic cadence of the song ‘Careless whispers’ that put Wham on my permanent playlist. By the time I graduated in 1986, Wham had broken up, much to the heartbreak and dismay of pop lovers and music enthusiasts. But to the relief of a lot of pop fans, George Michael was soon back with more music and his album ‘Faith’ was embraced wholeheartedly by his fans. ‘Faith’ earned Michael numerous accolades, including Album of the Year at the 31st Grammy Awards. The 90s saw George Michael quickly ascend the ladder of success but unfortunately, stories of drug abuse and his sexual proclivities began to be featured in tabloids and George Michael became known more for his gaffes and misdemeanours rather than his music. In 2016 the world woke up to a bleak Christmas with the announcement of George Michael’s untimely death at the age of 53.
Music lovers of Gen Z are not as familiar with George Michael as his musical peers, Michael Jackson and Madonna, who are appreciated and applauded even today. George Michael’s musical legacy was weighed down and lost under the weight of paparazzi misinformation. In the book ‘George Michael: A Life’, renowned biographer, James Gavin rips off the veil of misinformation shrouding George Michael and reveals a talented songwriter, a creative music composer and a troubled soul at odds with his sexuality. The book tracks the growth and transformation of an awkward and quiet teenager with unkempt curly hair and horn-rimmed glasses to a teenage heart throb. Born to a Greek father and an English mother, A large part of Michael’s life as a teenager and young adult, was spent in the shadow of the suicide of his mother’s brother who was unable to cope with the secrecy and isolation associated with being gay.
In the initial years as a singer, George Michael moulded himself into the image of a macho sex god which appealed to his young fans. In his later music, however, there are hints of his own sexuality and his albums like ‘Older’ and ‘Patience’ (especially the song ‘Outside’) seem to be speaking to gay people. However, he never came out in the open about his gay predilection, probably worried about how it would impact his image as a macho singer. But once he was nicked by cops for obscenity and exhibitionism, he openly admitted to his sexuality. Although he laughed off people’s reaction to his being gay, he was clearly very hurt by their reaction. In an interview on the Michael Parkinson and Graham Norton shows he talked about how random strangers in cars would pass him by, calling him a ‘queer bastard.’ In the same interview, he said ‘I do not need the approval of people who do not approve of me.’ Clearly, laughing off people’s reaction to his sexuality was more bravado than an actual indifference to what people had to say. The death of a much-loved partner and his mother completely smashed his defences and a traumatized and grief-stricken George spiralled into drug abuse. From there it was a continuous downslide. The media was extremely unsympathetic which made matters worse for this gifted songwriter and singer.
Gavin’s book slowly pulls aside the curtain of tabloid gossip and provides an insight into the creative process behind Michael’s albums, tours and music videos. It also gives a peek into the heart and soul of a tormented musician through interviews with hundreds of his friends and colleagues. This facet of the book was perhaps the most difficult part admits Gavin. “Because George lived so much of his life in hiding, and because so much scandal shrouded his later life, anyone who pops up as I did asking questions is bound to be seen as one of those guys from The Sun,” he says, referring to the gossipy British tabloid.
Gavin’s book is a compelling story about a pop legend whose talent was smothered by an unsympathetic paparazzi. As you read the book, the veil of misinformation and media generated bias slowly lifts, revealing an unhappy troubled soul who makes beautiful music and yet struggles with the social fall out of his sexuality throughout his life. George Michael had wanted his music legacy to last, and Gavin’s book has rightly focussed on his beautiful music rather than tabloid gossip and his personal gaffes. The book unveils George Michael the gifted singer and composer. For me the book brought back to life the singer I loved as a young adult. Even as I close the piece, the song ‘careless whispers is playing in the background creating nostalgia and romance in equal measure even after almost four decades.
About the Author
James Gavin is the author of five acclaimed books and dozens of New York Times features; he is a worldwide public speaker, a GRAMMY nominee, and a recipient of two ASCAP Deems Taylor-Virgil Thomson Awards for excellence in music journalism. The New York Times called Gavin’s Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster) “fascinating, suspenseful, musically detailed and insightful.” Of Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne (Atria), Liz Smith wrote: “[It] may just be one of the best biographies about show business, race, love, sex, and music ever written.” Oprah Winfrey chose it as one of her Top 25 Summer Reads. In the New York Times, David Hajdu described Gavin’s Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker (Knopf) as “almost unbearably vivid.” Gavin’s first book, Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret (Grove-Weidenfeld) was called “vividly reported ... etched in acid” by the Times.