Bye George

Wham! Just like that, 2016 takes another.

George Michael is gone.

I’m old enough to remember when Ridgeley and Michaels were still identified as Wham! UK. In fact, I recall walking past Musicland on the first floor in the Eastridge Mall in San Jose with my dad and pointing to a display showcasing their hit single “Young Guns (Go for It)” on vinyl. I said, “Dad, doesn’t that guy [Ridgeley] look like a young Sylvester Stallone?” My dad shook his head.

There was something about Ridgeley’s droopy eyes that always made me think of a young – The Lords of Flatbush – Stallone.

After “Young Guns,” the Wham! Effect was firmly established in the United States. Most of the girls I went to school with at Independence High were pinning buttons of Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Wham! to their clothing and backpacks. It was obvious why so many of them loved the pretty boys of Duran Duran, but I couldn’t figure out why so many of them loved Michael. I thought Andrew exuded cool, and was more handsome.

Eventually it became clear why Wham!’s frontman made teens swoon. Michael’s voice, sex appeal, and that wicked five o’clock shadow, put the boom-boom into your heart.

Wham! even made their way into the classroom. My senior English teacher, Ms. Weismann, used the lyrics “Guilty feet have got no rhythm” from the duo’s hit single “Careless Whisper” to teach us about metaphors.

I recently read that as hard as they try, it’s difficult for artists to compose and perform original Christmas songs that become part of the canon of holiday music. To that end, artists simply re-record classics. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Michael Buble’s “Cold December Night,” and Michael’s “Last Christmas” are of among the handful of originals that have been able to enter the fray.

I was fortunate to see Wham! at Bill Graham’s “Day on the Green” in Oakland with my best friend in September, 1985. The show was spectacular! What I remember most is that the duo opened and closed with the same song, and a fan favorite, “Everything She Wants.” Three years later, I saw Michael again – as a solo artist – during his Faith World Tour at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. Again, spectacular.

Long before DVRs and other cable carrier recording features, I wasted three long hours waiting for a late night show featuring George Michael. It turned out that the show was about sports! “The George Michael Sports Machine” had nothing to do with music! I should have known better.

I don’t have to remind anyone how unforgiving 2016 has been to so many of the people we respect and admire: David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Juan Gabriel, and many others … are all gone.

While most of us awoke today to celebrate Christmas, Michael was home in London dying during his last.

As we wade through these final days of a very trying year, perhaps we can welcome 2017 with what George Michael sang to us so many years ago: Faith.

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