GM: Really if you think about Elvis was had kind of Paul Gascoigne syndrome in that this is an incredibly talented man who is not necessarily hugely smart. And I think the same can be said of a lot of great talents who are manipulated to such a degree by the money-making machine around them that their lives are ruined, you know. And there’s always that possibility with a major talent.
And I ought somehow had the sense to know that the way to keep my career buoyant as it were is constantly to … well, there are two things. One, you have to deep to dig deeper and deeper for the truth and that gives you a form of progress and the more of yourself, the more honesty you can put from yourself into the music in a way that touches people, you know. That’s your goal: you’re trying to get closer and closer to the truth.
The other thing, and you have to do is you have to protect your mental states in order to be sure that you’re going to be able to keep doing what you do. There are so many hugely talented people that seem to lose their access to their talent because I don’t believe anyone loses their talent. I think people just lose their access to it, their ability to get in touch with it. I think fame and everything that goes with a large amount of success and you being, you know, somewhat of a money spinner, I think that stuff is incredibly threatening to artistry, you know. And I’ve always thought that.
I can’t thank my mother instilled that kind of fear of excess, you know. So I found … I found that the way the way ahead for me has always been to look at whether I’m happy; to look at whether I’m writing well, you know, that kind of stuff.
It’s been very difficult in the last ten years because I went through stuff that I wasn’t … there wasn’t anything to do with me, you know, wasn’t coming from me. I went through bereavements that there was nothing I could do about. I went through, you know, all kinds of things that were out of my control.
But I have still managed to progress as a person. I’m still a much happier man than I was because I concentrated on my life and the people in my life and getting a good relationship together and working on it. You can’t do all that stuff if you’re trying to be in Heat Magazine every week, you know. You can’t do it. And if you can’t grow in the right way as a person, you’re going to start risking, losing what it was that people liked about you in the first place, you know.
So that’s been my … and it takes a lot of thought and it takes a lot of saying “no.” It takes a hell of a lot of saying “No” even though, you know, you’re building a resentment in the media by saying “No.” That is, you know, I’m rewarded for that I think with the fact that I can still write songs people want to hear.
DK: You wrote “Shoot the Dog.” Do you regret it in any way? Like it was an anti-war song. I’m trying to compare it to ‘Mothers Pride’ which was a song that told that story, you know, as a family, as a mother.
The daddy’s gone / never son has got on the same roof
You went the politics route with Tony Blair and George Bush. Do you think that another ‘Mothers Pride’ would have done the job?
GM: No. No. I wouldn’t have been attacked, would I? I got seriously attacked, and the fact that there was a frenzy of jumping up and down on George Michael’s head because, god yeah, he might have really screwed up this time, right. It’s all very well it hurt me. Actually, it didn’t hurt me as much as the fact that nobody came to my defense, actually. That really hurt me.
Yeah, that the no one … even avoiding the politics. No one even just stood up and said, “Look, you know, freedom of speech and it’s only a video, you know. It’s a satire, you know, which everyone … which actually was, you know … 2d TV was doing the same thing every Saturday night but for some reason me doing it was absolutely scandalous.
But like I said, I was on one hand hurt; on the other hand, I was really glad that they had attacked me as forcefully, forcefully enough to drag the issue into the mainstream. And the truth of the matter is – the government didn’t want to start talking about Iraq until September. Because they thought, just like Bush, that if they tied September the 11th into the equation, that they could persuade people. And the truth is, at the end of the … The reason I talk about the Jubilee and the World Cup at the end of the Shoot the Dog is because I’m talking about the things that the government at the time was obviously, really thankful for because they would it was keeping everybody busy.
The answer to that question is: No, I don’t regret it for a second. It was worth the kicking I got because I genuinely believed that I was one of many people that were screaming at the public that they needed to look and be skeptical. And I think I think we achieved that we didn’t … we didn’t … we didn’t manage to, you know … It’s hideous that we didn’t manage to stop it. That that huge amount of public opinion wasn’t enough to change his mind but … but, even though I feel really defeated in that so many people are still dying, I do feel that it was probably the most constructive thing I ever did in my life, you know. So no, I would never regret that
DK: How do you write a song?
GM: The strangest thing is I tend to write in bits and pieces. I tend to … what happens is when I go into the studio, all kinds of bits of lyric and bits of melody that have literally just popped up and made themselves known in my head come together. And the interesting thing is I don’t … I don’t …
I used to right outside of the studio. And now I write inside the studio. I quite often start with a backing track and I used to start with a melody in my head. And when you’re trying to make number ones and you’re trying to go for the jugular every time, that, well that seems to be a good way is to literally write the melody first.
But the second half of my career, I’ve kind of started off with trying to get a feel that is all of its own — before you even, you know, to try and get people feeling something before you even sing a word. I’ll get that mood going and then I’ll write over the top of that. That’s why it works for me.
DK: What is the downside of being a perfectionist?
GM: It means very, very much less output than I would like. And it means an awful lot of hard work and concentration. And I mean, you know, one of my tracks can take it can literally months, months to make. And the average track goes down in the studio in three or four days. So you become … maybe because I’m the producer and writer and arranger that’s why it’s such a slow process and thank Christ I have the money that I can afford to do that. You know, I can afford to write and record slowly. I realize that’s a big, big part of it and a big privilege.
DK: Who do you respect in the music business at the moment?
GM: I’ve always respected the way people like … I mean, I tend to respect people who have a similar attitude to me. So like I have respect for Sade and the way she keeps her head down. Total class, you know.
Yeah I have respect for the way … although it’s struggling now, I’ve always had respect for the way Massive Attack did their work, you know.
There’s a line that Madonna used … I mean, Madonna doesn’t normally hit me between the eyes with her lyrics but the record that she just put out, which was I think of it unfairly slated, there’s a line in it so simple but so true where she said, It’s so hard to find someone to admire.” Right?
And there are times in the history of pop culture where you were spoiled for people to admire and I would have to say — especially in the wake of the travesty which was, you know, Shoot the Dog and the response to Shoot the Dog and the absolute absence of support — I would have to say I’m a bit hard pushed to admire many people in the public eye these days.
DK: You gave Aretha Franklin her first number one in 20 years in 87 and of course you were the first white male to duet with Aretha Franklin …
GM: Was I? Oh yeah, is that I mean … I think I’ve said before: I think the absolute highlight of, the absolute highlight of my musical career was to stand the other side of a mic, literally stand like they used to in the, you know, in the old days literally standing either side of the mic and singing together and that was incredible for me. An absolutely incredible moment.
Dk: They were with Aretha Franklin, an amazing voice and you said in the book where, I’m not gonna challenge her here. I’m gonna do my own thing. Because some duets, you can hear people competing with each other.
GM: Well my feeling is, don’t even DREAMMMM of competing with Aretha Franklin, you know! This is a voice from heaven and incredible … and you know I can’t riff. I can’t do that whole Boys 2 Men thing where you sing about 18 minutes … 18 notes in two seconds. I can’t do that.
And I don’t have an incredible range or the kind of power that Aretha has. It may be closer these days, but the fact is … The thing to do with Aretha is to sing … if you’re singing with Aretha, you have to nail down the melody because sure as anything, she’s gonna go all over the place. Right? She’s gonna make it her own; she’s going to turn it into an incredible piece of music regardless. So you have to stick to the melody and that suited me anyway. Because it meant that I could concentrate on getting the hooks there, you know, and singing them the way they should be sung. And I could let her do her thing, which was just great you know.
DK: To George Michael, what is happiness?
GM: Oh simple, isn’t it really? Happiness – all I need in life is to feel productive and loved
- George Michael Interview with Capital FM Radio with Dr. Fox (Dec 1998)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- George Michael’s Interview on Magic FM Radio (2007)
- George Michael Interview by Jo Whiley (2002)
- George Michael on ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ (1990)