The article “Faith To Move Mountains” by Judy Wieder and Russel Long was published in Rock Express No.118, October-November 1987
Since the demise of Wham! George Michael’s faithful flock have been without their sexy shepherd.
He’s back to return them to the fold.
“I VERY RARELY write from a position of strength. Somebody once told me that maybe that was why people, women especially, were attracted to my writing. I write from the position of someone who wants more emotionally.”
GEORGE MICHAEL squints behind his Ray Ban sunglasses and murmurs soft sound of stoic dissapointment at the afternoon California sun as it plays hide-and-seek with the splendor of Rob Kahane’s Benedict Canyon backyard. Taking a quick holiday to “clean his ears” after completing his first solo album, Faith, George stretches his under-accessorized, blue jean clad and tank-topped body across a nearby lawn chair, and waits – as only the English can – for the return of the Southern California sun.
At the resoundingly young age of 23, London born and bred George Panayiotou (his father’s Greek last name, dropped for the equally Greek but more accessible surname, Michael) now stands at the kind of identity-wrenching crossroads usually reserved for pop stars twice his age. With over 36 million records sold worldwide as one-half of the supremely adored teen mothership, Wham!, George currently finds himself a new man, free at last from the claustrophobic demands of trying to maintain Wham!’s whimsical Peter Pan image and tres wacky, often empty calorie music.
“I don’t think that people really understand about Wham!,” George understates earnestly. “For a group with so little musical credibility, people’s views of the way Wham! happened are so cynical. I don’t think that they understand that I really totally believed in what we were doing. We stopped because I felt an air of dishonesty coming in because I was getting older and Andrew Ridgeley was getting older. We were still trying to be Wham! but Wham! didn’t really exist anymore – not just on a musical level, although
“I honestly didn’t want to project this image of these two young guys who were having a great time and who were totally optimistic and naive. That was Wham!’s image and why we were so successful. But because that was starting to feel false, I wanted to finish it. I didn’t want Wham! to be a lie. Today the relief for me is being able to step out of all that happy-go-lucky kind of
Faced with questions probing why Wham! couldn’t grow and go forward as a team, much the way The Beatles evolved from I Want To Hold Your Hand to Eleanor Rigby, George’s handsome face mirrors the emotional modulations of his halting words.
“To grow and go forward, we would have had to have been moving in the same direction – and we weren’t,” he sighs, with more than a little pain lingering from last year’s split with Ridgeley. “Andrew is still more carefree. We were moving differently. He was out of the country for tax reasons, and I was still in the country. It was becoming much more of a thing of us getting together for work. He had his girlfriend; I had mine. We were in different parts of the world. It wasn’t ‘two mates having a laugh, working and playing together’ all the time anymore. That changed and not by us becoming alienated, but simply because we were doing what everybody was doing – growing up! Really, I’m very glad to be out of that, representing just me as opposed to both of us.”
Oddly enough, during Wham!’s initial success, a stage George says a lot of America missed, it was Ridgeley who chowed-down most of the attention. “I was not nearly as confident an individual as Andrew was at that time. It took a long, long time – even with my friends in the band – to actually sing even vaguely the way I could
In addition, George had (and still has) enormous ambiguities about his looks. Saddled with an inner vision of himself as a “bespectacled, overweight teen”, it took him some time to begin the process of “making myself into something which the public would see as larger than life. At first, I hadn’t gone for the big physical thing. Then I realized it was available to me. Being 18 years old, at the time, it was still very tempting to me, so I did that. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really thinking of how it would pull me away from my music.”
The stabilizing factor for George all along has been his indestructible songwriting evolution. At 17 he had already written what would four years later become his most acutely revealing Number One hit single, Careless Whisper. Admitting to what he thinks often drives most successful stars – some emotional/physical imperfection they try to overcome – George says he has become aware of the fact that he writes “from a position weakness. I very rarely write from a position of strength. Somebody once told me that maybe that was why people, women especially, were attracted to my writing. I write from the position of someone who wants more emotionally. Madonna, in contrast, always writes from a position of strength, which on her is very attractive.”
“There are a huge number of people who look at what I do as very narcissistic, ” he continues. “I understand that in my presentation, but when you look at the presentation and line it up with the lyrical content of my songs, then it doesn’t really add up to narcissism, People who like what I do and people who dislike what I do, are either people who have noticed the vulnerability of my lyrics or who have not.”
Currently acting as the star, singer, producer, writer, arranger and session players on his first solo album, George has avoided selling tickets to his own nervous breakdown by leaving his favorite studio in Denmark – where he was holed up for over six months – and just letting himself hang out with friends in America.
With a far happier personal life these days (George is still with his girlfriend, Kathy Jeung) and the ordeal of leaving Wham! solidly in the past, George feels he has been released to explore some of the less than happy things he has gone through without being totally overwhelmed by the sad feelings.
“The album has become more introverted than I originally thought it would be. I think it’s because I’m more relaxed and happy now. If I have been more unsettled during the whole recording process, then maybe I would have been less inclined to introversion. It’s very, very much more of an adult album than I originally thought. I’ve been working on in a long time, and in that time my life has changed. As a writer, I definitely change very quickly. It’s not the album I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be more aggressive, more I Want You Sex aggressive. But now, because, I’m quite happy, I’ve started writing about other things. I’m not someone who wants to make a terribly significant social comment or anything, but there are certain things… just spending a lot of time in America is bound to come out in a song.”
The ballad George is hoping will replace Careless Whisper in people’s minds when they think of his best work, is called One More Try. “I’m very proud of Careless Whisper, but when you wrote something eight years ago, you worry when people are still calling it your best piece of work,” he reveals with typical integrity and angst. “And it is! There’s no doubt that Careless Whisper connected with more people than anything I’ve ever written – so far.”
“The album will include a jazz ballad called Kissing A Fool which will definitely be a single. There will be songs with reggae and gospel influence in them. I really don’t think that I can be accused of repeating myself. I’ve really never tried to be interesting to other people; I’ve just always tried to make sure that I’m never bored with what I’m doing. My career is still only ruled by my songwriting. The songs have always got to be the things I am the
As for any future plans outside of music – like the somewhat obvious call of the silver screen – George appears to shake with supernatural disturbances! One more time the ghost of the bedraggled hands-up haunt him.
“I hate watching myself on film!” he confides. “I just don’t like it, even if I’m the one who
So, for the time being anyway, we will just have to be content enjoying the extremely potent complexities of George Michael the only way he can currently give them up – in the sensually inviting overabundance of his poignant songwriting.
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- A Year in the Life of Wham! as Told by George Michael (Smash Hits Yearbook, 1986)
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- Andrew Ridgeley on Life With and After Wham! (Hello!, 1997)