Here is a George Michael interview with Gary Graff syndicated by Knight-Rldder News Service and published on October 11, 1988. Screenshot was taken from the Austin American Stateman newspaper in Austin, Texas
George Michael doesn’t start an interview like he starts his concerts. There’s no white-gray smoke or red and green lasers, no arena-shaking hymnal overtures played on an organ.
But there is The Entrance. First a manager checks out the suite at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, worrying over an air conditioner that isn’t working in one of the rooms. Then a bodyguard, toting a walkie-talkie, inspects the suite.
When everything is deemed OK, the star enters, preceded by another manager, followed by another bodyguard. Sunglasses on, shoulder bag slung to one side, the British pop star smirks at the ceremony.
“Touring is not very much a real-life situation,” says Michael, 25, whose voice is strong despite recent throat surgery. “I don’t think I’m connected very much with real life at all right now. When I’m at home, I can live my life pretty much the way I want to. I can drive about on my own, walk about on my own.”
During the past year, Michael, who brings his tour to Texas this week with a Friday show in Dallas and Sunday performance in Houston, has become something of an expert on false reports and inaccurate perceptions. That’s what happens when you become the latest Hottest Pop Star on the Face of the Earth. Between 1982-86, for instance, he sold more than 38 million records and had three consecutive No. 1 hits in America as leader of the group Wham!.
His post-Wham! career, however, makes those figures look modest. Faith, his solo debut, has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and 6.5 million in America. He’s the first white solo performer in history to have an album atop the Billboard Black charts. He’s riding a record string of six consecutive hit singles, five from Faith and I Knew You Were Waiting For Me, his duet with Aretha Franklin. And his tour has been a sold-out sensation all over the world.
That kind of mass success often breeds distrust and derision, as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince can attest. Because of Whamt’s pop songs and his video-pretty looks, many regard Michael as nothing more than the prototypical pop star. Sexy and superficial. Fashionable and flighty. And, since he generally turns down interview requests, perhaps a bit arrogant.
“I’ve come to accept that people are very suspicious of me,” Michael said. “He leans to introspection,” Andrew Ridgeley, Michael’s former Wham! partner, told Rolling Stone magazine. “He’s very analytical, and he screws himself up on that a lot. I don’t think his attitude to life is very carefree.”
Michael swears that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, but the writer of such dance-floor favorites as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, I Want Your Sex and Monkey is hardly happy-go-lucky.
“So many people take what you do on a cynical level for so long, and after awhile you go through a process of asking ‘Why do people think this? Why do people believe that when I make the music I make, when I write my songs, that they’re not genuine?
“I’ve reached that point where you start to understand it. You have to sit down and analyze it and say, ‘OK, so they have this problem with your age and your image next to what you do musically.’ And you have to accept it.”
What makes that process easier is that Michael often feels the same way. “I love playing live, and I love hearing a finished song,” he said. “But I do pretty much hate all the stuff in between, all the” he spits out the word “selling.
“So I can understand that people have the same trouble with the projection of image at the same time as they’re trying to believe in the music. There is a certain dichotomy that’s really out there, but if people can try to understand it as opposed to being suspicious of it, maybe they can appreciate the music a bit more.”
There’s increasing evidence that they’re doing that. In a story saluting him for having “the golden touch,” The New York Times said Michael “is the most talented heir to the tradition of pop craft that embraces Paul McCartney, Elton John and the Bee Gees.” Rolling Stone gushed over the album, calling it “Michael’s quantum leap from Whamlhood to manhood.”
The respect is also coming from peers. The members of the glitzy hard rock band Poison, hardly the kind of guys you’d expect to favor Michael’s slick, danceable pop, are prone to play Faith at post-concert parties. T-Bone Wolk, longtime bassist for Darryl Hall & John Oates, praised Michael for his “amazing blend of urban and British pop sensibilities. He’s going to be around a long time. He’s not just the flavor of the year.”
Wolk’s observation particularly pleases Michael, a fan of Black acts and dance music since he was a teenager. He enjoys pointing out that Black audiences in America took to Wham! long before the mainstream pop market. “To me, that was a very big justification to what I was doing,” he said. “I was much happier with (Faith) being the No. 1 Black album than I was when it became the No. 1 pop album. There was much more of a sense of achievement.”
Black music was an early influence on Michael (Real name: Georgios Kyriacos Panayioutoum), the son of a Greek-Cypriot restaurateur and an English mother in London. His first records were his parents’ old Supremes and Tom Jones albums.
Young Georgios decided he wanted to be a pop star when he was 7, after learning he could never be a pilot because of red-green color blindness. He played drums and sang in the school choir, but he admits that he “didn’t show any particularly strong ability. I was just convinced I was going to be a famous musician.”
Pushed by Ridgeley, a friend since age 11, Michael fronted a ‘ short-lived group called the Executive, which was almost signed to a recording contract before it broke ‘up. The duo kept writing, however, coming up with diverse pop material including a parody called Wham Rap and the love song Careless Whisper that netted them a contract while in their teens.
“I was in shock for probably the first three years of my career,” Michael says. “I didn’t expect to get a record out until I was 22 or 23. Most people really do get a chance to decide what they want to do, what kind of music they want to form, before they get anywhere near a record contract. I’ve been doing that as I’ve gone along.”
Michael’s journey from teen idol was gradual, however. It started with A Different Corner, a wrenching lost-love ballad from the final Wham! album inspired by Michael’s break-up with a girlfriend. “(A Different Corner) was written from strong experience, which is what I think makes the song more than just a nice ballad on the radio.”
Then came Want Your Sex, as perfect a lead-in as any artist could hope to have for an album. Used for a steamy bar scene in the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack, the song raised the ire of fundamentalists and the apprehension of radio programmers, many of whom banned or edited the song despite its monogamous lyrics. Michael was able to do interviews in which he expressed indignation at what he felt was close-mindedness, but the controversy also fanned interest in him several months before Faith was due out.
“That was a break,” co-manager Michael Lippman said. “We thought it would be as controversial as Sexual Healing or Sugar Walls or Let’s Spend the Night Together. Who knew that radio would ban it?”
Michael knows that he won’t be able to maintain his career on Faith alone. Even the converted, he feels, are ready to take their dancing feet elsewhere if he doesn’t deliver.
To that end, he promises there will be more music soon, though he avoids details. He’s started four songs for his next album. “I haven’t made enough music in the past five, years, and I feel guilty about that. I want to be more prolific. It’s got, nothing to do with what I feel my position is with the public — I just want to spend more time being a musician, because that’s what I actually get the most pleasure out of.”
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