George Michael interview “Idoling Away The Years” was written by Danny Kelly and published on November 16, 1985 issue of New Musical Express,
Having saturated the known world with Wham!, George Michael is struggling with the burden of fame and the voracious attentions of Fleet Street. Now he wants a solo career to see him into the next century. All this in dirty contact lenses! Danny Kelly wonders if this is any sort of life for a young gun…
Yes, I know, this is a story about Wham! but please, don’t pull that trigger. I understand fully the red mist that forms before your eyes at the mere sight of that name with its silly exclamation mark, and your instinctively violent reaction against all the high priests of mainstream, consumerist, pop is admirable. But with murder (even of pop stars who patently deserve it) still frowned upon by the law, it’s plain that we’re going to have to reach some accommodation with Mr. George Michael.
Oh, don’t worry, not all your prayers will go unanswered; Duran, Spandau, Sade, the Thompsons and the rest, mediocrities all, will fade gracelessly away. But the hairiest abdomen in pop will not.
And it’s not just because George Michael is obviously the most talented of pop’s current aristocracy (being able to both sing and, on the evidence of ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘Everything She Wants’, write a three quarter way decent song) that I urge second thoughts about reflexive carnage and advise that you learn to live with him.
No, the simple fact is that, even as you read this, George Michael is stirring his combination of songwriting skills, acquired lorryloads of ready cash and massive self-confidence into a scheme that will see him remain on your screen, on your airwaves, in the very fabric of your daily life, for years, maybe decades, to come. You have to come to terms with George Michael ‘cos he’s going to be in your face…
It’s healthy, then, that the star has agreed to talk to the NME. And a surprise. Just now the accepted practice for megastars is to avoid talking to this paper like it
“Wham! don’t need music press publicity any more but I need something where I’m written about intelligently, even if it’s
Meeting the very famous, the very rich or the very powerful is bizarre. In
I’ve no explanation for this unlikely train of thought but it certainly wasn’t induced by anything sinister in the person or manner of George Michael himself. Sat opposite me in a broom cupboard editing suite, he is the very soul of harmlessness. A baggy navy top and faded jeans encase a body that is demonstrably less fleshy than it was last year and several belt-notches lither than the kebab-house manager image customarily foisted on him. The fog of familiarity is disturbed, too, by his hair. The Dallas-reject swathes of bleached waves have been replaced by a shorter, more natural, thatch.
He is, to my amazement, very good looking. He should sack his
He speaks softly, the voiced marked by hints, no more, of a now-tamed London accent and a lisp. In so unassuming a voice, the emphatic swearwords ring cracked, discordant. His spirits seem high but every now and then he sows the air with unease by saying something more suited to one twice his age.
We talk for hours and hours. What follows are (very) edited highlights of that conversation.
Fame, as the cloying TV programme ritually reminds us, costs, and fame doesn’t come more meltingly intense than with George Michael. A few pop pusses, the jowelly mugs of a couple of statesmen, a tanned sports visage or two, and the Pope’s overworked tarmac-kisser, may, just may, be more well known than the symphony of hair and dentistry that is Michael’s face but, by any imaginable gauge, he is currently one of the dozen most famously famous people on the planet. Last winter, Wham!’s manager, the razor-witted reptile Simon Napier-Bell, described George Michael’s position to me, without a glimmer of irony, as that of “a god”.
At this rarified level, fame, as opposed to mere celebrity, is a proven killer of minds and bodies. But on the surface at least, Georgie boy seems to be handling it. He will admit to having been “happier three years ago” but the pressures of his renown – Wham! never made any secret of their ravenous appetite for the big time – don’t seem to be driving him to either of the traditional refuges, insanity or a life spent on emotional crutches (booze, drugs and nodding-dog hangers on). He lives in a rented London flat that’s furnished “with the crap that was there when I moved in, and the record player I left home with. I don’t buy things. If I can’t wear it or put it in my mouth, I’m not interested. My only excess is that I don’t look after my contact lenses properly. When they get too dirty to wear, I buy another pair.”
But George Michael is worried. His painstakingly laid plans for the future are centred around a solo career writing songs of a far more personal nature than the rhyming gibberish that comprises 80 per cent of the Wham! canon and he firmly believes that he may be increasingly hard pressed to prevent himself becoming a prisoner, a much pawed piece of meat owned by a faceless, insatiable public.
“My one real regret with Wham! is the huge public fascination with the pair of us. I know I wanted it and worked for it, but now… Yet the material I’ve yet to write, the songs I’ve got in my head, are likely to cause more of that fascination than ever.”
His subconscious is already starting to ring the alarm bells.
“I had my first fame nightmare about a month ago. I was in a friend’s kitchen and their whole family poured through this door demanding autographs. In the rush, someone caught me on the side of the head and I started, like, convulsing in a heap on the floor. Then I came round – it was like some cheap B-movie – on an operating table with all these people poking me for autographs. And I was in a strait jacket! I could handle all this if I thought it’d stop after a year, or two, or whatever, but I know that the stuff I’ve yet to release will cause it to go on and on. I’m only 22…”
The idea that he could actually take a deliberate step back, not release records that he evidently believes will eventually enslave him, and not pile his energy into promotional campaigns that only accelerate that enslavement, has entered George Michael’s head. And been dismissed. Music, he says, is like a drug. And so, I reply, is fame.
And nowadays fame has a new trick. It holds hands with fear. The messy death of John Lennon cast an opaque shadow across the world of the superfamous. The celebrity killer, desperate for their go in the spotlight, has become a day to day reality for the superstar set. George Michael tries not to believe that every passing parka conceals a gun.
“I’ve no real fear of death so I’ve not thought about it much, but it did cross my mind in America because the venues were so big. At one gig a girl did pull out a gun but apparently it was aimed at another human being or at nobody in particular.” The liquid eyes that stare from a million bedroom walls roll in disbelief. “Though God knows why she had a gun there in the first place.”
Can you understand the mentality of people who seek to put their name in lights by putting out someone else’s?
“I suppose they don’t see you as a real person, but like a cartoon character … people kill for a variety of reasons…”
A final enquiry as to whether he thought himself a good target elicits a shriek of laughter.
“Shut up!! You’ll give people ideas!!”
It’s possible to forgive the
George Michael is one of the least ostentatious of this breed of media peacocks and hens, though Andrew Ridgeley is demonstrably one of the guilty. The position of these groups eerily echoes the antics of the mid-’70s leviathans that were swept away by punk. They kept their vast fortunes of ill-gotten gains, sure, but at least their smug countenances were removed from our
The star shrugs his shoulders, a gesture of resignation rather than contempt. “I really don’t care how we’re seen as long as I can keep making records. It doesn’t bother me if we’re seen as dinosaurs since we’re already seen as trivial and what could be worse than that? Unless they call you a child molester, unless you’re going to be stoned in the streets, nothing is worse than being called boring or trivial.”
His mind spins back to my earlier ranting about the values being foisted on an unsuspecting youth by Wham! and their peers.
“You’re not going to blame me for the winebar generation! In the ‘Club Tropicana’
He may well be right – he’s certainly thought about it enough – and my mind flits between an image of a TV screen filled with burning cars and running figures and an image of a TV screen filled with five punk faces on a yacht off Sri Lanka.
FRIEND, FLUNKEY OR FOIL?
Ok, let’s lighten up, let’s have some fun, let’s talk about Andrew Ridgeley!
Contemporary pop has thrown up some 21
All the more amazing then that George Michael, who constantly appears as a sensitive, intelligent human being without any noticeable streak of masochism sticks with him. Ridgeley must have been a spectacular schoolfriend to the erstwhile spotty fat boy to have inspired this sort of loyalty.
“I am a loyal person. Loyal to ridiculous extremes until someone shits on me,
Ridgeley has to be thicker skinned than his partner. Does his toughness go deeper than that?
“Andrew doesn’t think about things like I do. He just doesn’t care what people think of him. I just do. Andrew doesn’t give a shit that he’s been continuously crashing for two weeks and that people are laughing at him.”
By now we’re laughing at him too. George Michael has to unfold his convulsed frame before he can continue.
“Last week I told him how much I admired the way he goes out on the track just because he loves it, knowing that he’s going to make a spectacle of himself.”
With friends like George…
“His behaviour,” a pause for a cackle to blow itself out, “doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I really think the press are more stupid than he is. Andrew hasn’t consciously sought the recent publicity, he just tends to get pissed in the more obvious places…”
“Morrissey’s lyrics are so explicit that it amazes me when people bother to ask him whether he’s gay and whether he’s celibate, knowing that he’s going to lie and insult their intelligence. Oh, I think he’s brilliant.”
I breathe an inward sigh of relief. George has introduced the subject of homosexuality into the conversation of his own accord. Personally I couldn’t care less if he slept with The Nolans and the band of Coldstream Guards, but Wham! do sell a lot of records on the strength of their sexuality so I should ask. Later. For now he’s raving about the sexual content of the new Wham! material.
“It’ll be much less harmless than last year’s, nothing like as pretty. That’s not the way I feel now, sexually. The next LP will be a lot blacker and more sexual. I
Now seems like as good a time as any. I proffer the notion that the, how shall we put it,
The giggling ends. “There was a survey done in The Star – done in their office, of course – to find The British Showbiz Personality Most Likely To Be Gay and I came top of the list! I know that there’s an ambiguity about me and the way I see it is as simple as this; I know there’s nothing extraordinary about my sex life and I also know that parading my sex life openly would show a remarkable lack of … I dunno …
“I don’t think anyone should have to answer a ‘gay or straight’ question, though some people seem to like to. Mind you, I actually like the ambiguity. That sort of thing has helped people like Bowie and Jagger. I don’t feel any need to quash the sort of
He’s enjoying himself now, playing with public conceptions and curiosities. The fun would stop, though, if someone close to him confirmed his gayness. His customers, the little girls, might think twice on their way to Woolies.
“Yeah, but it would never happen …” he begins before sliding to a mental halt, “… oh, it’s not worth thinking about. I suppose someone could say it.”
What if you said it?
“Obviously if I said it that’d be completely different. But the fact remains that it only takes someone to say it to a paper and they’ll print it. I can sue them but they’ll still have ruined my career. I’m totally vulnerable to that. There’s no point in worrying about it too much because once something’s printed the damage is done. Someone could say I raped them, they could say they saw me screwing their dog in the garden, they could say anything, and, if it was bad, the public would want to believe it.”
There’s a very serious look on that famously handsome face now. A can of wriggling worms has been opened and a decision needs to be made. George Michael decides to gently replace the can’s lid. There’s a steely tone, hitherto undetected, in his voice.
“I’m not getting into all that denial stuff. Who
In a world where kiss-and-tellers are paid nearly as much as their victims, you must choose your sexual partners very carefully.
“I am very careful … and when I say I have sex ‘often’, it’s not with a lot of people. I’m not a promiscuous person and I’ve had very few proper relationships over the past couple of years.”
Are you in love at the moment? A long silence is not so much broken as placed carefully aside. The voice is soft again.
“I have just fallen in love again and been rejected … fairly, firmly, so I’m not having a very good time. As an experience, it’s not a bad thing because it helps you to focus on and make decisions about your life. The truth of any person is that eventually the most important thing is being loved, right?”
It’s strange hearing him talk like this. Dallas and Dynasty have taught us that money and power open an endless floodgate of devoted love and failsafe sex.
“I must admit I’m not used to rejection. It’s the first time I’ve had something serious and been rejected. It’s the first time I’ve been rejected full stop. At least it’s caused me to work constantly.”
That constant work is now two-pronged. He is making Wham! records still and recording the solo album by which he sets so much store. The track I got to hear from the latter – ‘A Different Corner’ – was much as you’d expect; slow, moody and a deal more impassioned than Wham! It could have been Elton John or Barry Manilow.
George Michael is terribly serious about songwriting and furthering his career far beyond the horizons and timespan that pop habitually allows. His solution to that problem is simple; he will escape the confines of pop and move into a more classical, timeless, generation-spanning kind of writing. His plan looks years ahead and is detailed. But there’s something mildly obscene about the sight of a healthy 22-year-old planning his life away with such precision. It’s every bit as unsavoury (and wasteful) as the sight of a 45-year-old frugging his bollocks off in front of a stadium full of teenagers. It smacks distastefully of premature middle-age. George Michael lifts his head anciently and draws a large circle with his hand. In the circle are the high tech recording equipment and himself.
“I didn’t choose this. Believe me, I wish I was a kid again. I can’t make myself a less serious, less businesslike person. A combination of hard slog and being treated like an airhead has knocked some of the humour out of me.”
Like the lady says, fame costs.
Contrary to my expectations, I like George Michael a great deal. He was friendly, funny, brash and vulnerable by turns. One minute he seemed the happiest, least tethered person in the world, the next imprisoned by the magnitude of his popularity and his peculiar obsession with the future.
I don’t suppose I’ll ever buy one of his records – I’ll hardly be able to avoid hearing them – but maybe one day, 15 or 20 years hence, I’ll be pleased to switch on the 3D television and see that familiar hairy figure grinning behind a grand piano. A vision enters my head. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the George Michael Christmas Special 2005!’ It’s a rather sad little vision. It’s a vision shared by a 22-year-old superstar from Bushey.
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Andrew Ridgeley on Life With and After Wham! (Hello!, 1997)
- Wham! You’re On Your Own, George (Sunday Times, 1986)
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- George Michael Interview on Q Magazine (December 1998)