Article covering an interview of George Michael by The Canadian Press and published in Star-Phoenix in Saskatchewan, Canada on May 19, 2004.
After lying low for several years. George Michael is gingerly re-entering the demanding world of music.
His wounds from years of negative reports in the media most centred around the embarrassing arrest for indecency in a Los Angeles public washroom – and a legal battle with his label Sony have healed somewhat, though left scars.
He’s also emerged from a bout with depression prompted by the death of his mother from cancer in 1 997, during which time, Michael says, writing was akin to pulling teeth.
“I was just depressed,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “It took a long time to get over, unfortunately.”
As part of his therapy, and to keep up his musical chops. Michael wrote, with great difficulty, two songs for his 1998 greatest hits package and a year later released Songs From The Last Century, a CD of covers including a jazzy translation of Sting’s Roxanne and Bing Crosby’s Depression anthem Brother Can You Spare A Dime.
Then, about a year ago “the clouds lifted and I’ve been writing ever since,” he said enthusiastically over the phone from Los Angeles, where he’s filming a video for his next single Flawless this week. “I’m back to being happy about being a musician again which is amazing really.”
The new record, Patience, out this week in Canada, is best described as grown-up pop music made up of dance, gospel and soul melodies. It’s Michael’s first CD of original material since 1996’s Older.
Lyrically, the new material has plenty of bite with equal parts social commentary, touching autobiographical tales, and insight into human behaviour that only an adult could pen. And Michael’s voice is as smooth as ever.
“I’m writing with more ease and confidence than since I was in my early 2()s,” said the 40-year-old London-born singer who shot to fame in the early ’80s in the duo Wham!. “After two or three albums’ worth of hits I started to get intimidated by my own catalogue.”
The new album came together in two stages. The first batch, written as he was getting back on the horse, is more intellectual and pontificates about the world at large, looking at the newspaper headlines with the eye of a man with four decades of life experience.
As the recording progressed, he spent more time exploring his emotions concerning the passing of his mother, his lover Anselmo Feleppa of an AIDS-related illness and taking stock of his life, reflected in songs like Please Send Me Someone and My Mother Had a Brother, which offer a window into his soul.
“Much of the social commentary stuff was written during a period where 1 was still too afraid to look really deep inside because I was so down,” he said.
Some of that commentary touches on events such as the American incursion into foreign lands, the supposed liberation of countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, and the reaction of the people to political and cultural reform.
‘The liberal ideas that we depend on — empowerment of women, rights for children — are very hard things for people in the developing world to come to terms with because they’ve suddenly been introduced to it via satellite. They see Madonna and think she’s Satan’s bride. If you’d shown the British or American family these images in the 1950s and said that’s what 2004 would be, we would have been terrified,” he said.
“The big problem is that we’re expecting people in these other countries to accept a culture shock of this size with no backlash. It’s not about oil.”
While these opinions aren’t written quite that plainly in his songs, Michael does what artists do, disguising them in metaphor and allegories for interpretation in songs like the title track, Patience, which looks at how Western society has abandoned the extended family for the nuclear unit and opened the world for women in a very short period of time.
“In human experience, 50 or 60 years is the blink of an eye, and yet we have actually completely changed the way we think,” said Michael.
After being burned by the media, he is cautiously stepping back into the spotlight.
“It’s really about acknowledging fans now that I have the emotional energy to be around. I just didn’t have the strength to take the chance that people were going to be having a go at me,” he admitted.
He’s done a handful of interviews in England but is still shying away from American newspapers. He’s scheduled to appear on Oprah soon, which he says he’ll use to as a gauge of acceptance.
“America has changed so vastly in the last eight years in terms of the way the media behaves. Oprah’s perfect testing ground for me. It’s so my age group … if there is going to be a George Michael comeback in the States then it’ll start there,” he said matter-of-factly.
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