“Oh, George! Pop Superstar Michael Popped For Smokin’ In the Boys’ Room!”
The tabloids find great joy in dragging down the rich and famous when they fall from grace. British singer George Michael was at the top of the music world in the ‘80s and early ‘90s thanks to his infectious, highly melodic mix of R&B/dance classics and ballads, both with Wham! (“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper”) and on his own (“Faith,” “I Want Your Sex”).
George Michael, we still have Faith
But a 1998 arrest for solicitation in a men’s public restroom in Los Angeles and three incidents in 2006 involving cars and suspected substance abuse helped chase Michael into virtual hiding. There was also a bitter feud with record label Sony after he accused the company of “professional slavery.”
On the strength of his greatest hits collection “TwentyFive,” Michael has embarked on his first tour in the United States in 17 years, which he’s just wrapped up.
He talked with us about the tour, why he’s been away from the States all these years, his plans for the piano on which John Lennon wrote the song “Imagine,” and how his autobiography is coming along.
What inspired you to tour the States again?
I’ve waited for 20 years and managed to come back in the middle of the first recession you’ve had in 20 years (laughs). Well, I always planned to, but I wasn’t really sure I could handle it. You see, what really did me in terms of the Faith tour was the fact that I was away from home for like 10 months, and that’s not really good for such an English Cancerian - I’m such a home lover. But now that Kenny (Goss, his partner since 1996) and I have a house in Dallas, we’re based out of there quite a lot of the time, so ... I haven’t had to be too homesick.
The tour looks visually stunning. What can we expect musically?
Well, the visuals are great, but the music’s crap! No, actually, I think it says quite a lot for the music that the visuals don’t overpower it. I wanted to make it as visceral as possible. ...
My audiences come to have a party, and this whole tour is really to try and give them exactly what they want. It’s full of the hits that they want to hear - it’s not all the songs that I would prefer to sing. ... But I think when I come back here in probably two or three years’ time, then there’ll be a show that’s a little bit more self-indulgent, but I hope we’ll still do a great show.
My favorite review of the entire tour is one that said that I’ve raised the bar in terms of production values for an arena tour - and that’s exactly what I wanted it to do. I bloody hope so, because I’m not making any money - I’ve spent it all on the production.
I hear there’s a 20-minute intermission. Why?
You know, I’m getting really sick of the 20-minute intermission, but to be honest, there’s no question that most of the people in these crowds haven’t moved like that for a while, let alone for an hour straight. ... So that 20 minutes isn’t just for me sitting under the stage recuperating, because I reckon 10 minutes would do me.
Was the album “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1” your way of redefining your image?
I think of all the albums I’ve made, “Listen Without Prejudice,” even though I know it’s got some great stuff on it, is the one I listen to the least. I was 26, and I really was sick of where I was - I suppose I took myself a little too seriously. The title for 18 years has been misinterpreted: The only reason it was called “Listen Without Prejudice” is because I had just lost all my black radio. I had won a couple huge awards at the AMA that traditionally went to black artists, and I lost all my radio overnight. ... It’s a little too white for me - I thought it would be taken more seriously, I suppose. Whereas now I don’t take anything seriously.
Did you mean to make a “Vol. 2”?
I did, yeah, but then unfortunately my partner (Anselmo Feleppa) died. ... And then, of course there was the whole stalling of my career because of the whole Sony situation.
Did you become disillusioned with the music industry at that point?
No, not really. When I did recover from losing my partner, I made (the album) “Older,” and by then I’d realized the advantages of not being visible in America for three or four years. I realized it was somewhere I could come to and have my private life left alone, and then I met an American boyfriend (Goss) shortly before my mother died. And I didn’t sleep with the press for the better part of seven years, so I was really enjoying a kind of double life where my music was still selling - in fact, selling better - in Europe than it had been, and America kind of left me alone, which for awhile, because of all the upset in my life, was very, very convenient.
Basically, if anybody has any doubts as to whether it was my intention to fight what happened - I went 15 years without American management or publicists. So my image got completely ripped to shreds - I didn’t help the thing - by negative stuff, and I didn’t have anyone there to fight it. I just wasn’t bothered, really.
Did the controversy surrounding your racy video for “I Want Your Sex” surprise you?
No, not at all - I suppose at the time the scope and the size of it, yeah, but it was obviously done with controversy in mind. I was a little more calculating back then. No, that’s not very true, actually - I’m just as calculating now, but with slightly better intentions, I suppose.
In the ‘80s, your fan base was mainly teenage girls - did that scare you away from coming out as gay earlier?
No, not at all ... I think it’s fairly obvious since I have come out that I wasn’t really that afraid of the subject, you know? I had personal reasons for waiting within my family, just like many, many people. ... Every single gay man who’s not obviously, obviously, absolutely 100 percent gay has those situations in their families. And I think it’s only people who really, really have no choice, because they came out sounding like Shirley Temple or whatever, and had to deal with bullying at school and blah-blah-blah - it’s only those people who do all this out-out-out! stuff. And I think it’s pure stupidity, actually.
We hear you own John Lennon’s piano on which he wrote “Imagine.”
Yes I do - I’ve got a great idea for it, actually. I’m gonna attempt to give it to 12 of I think the best writers in the world for a month each and have them write a piece on it. Who knows whether they’ll write it on that piano, but they’ve got a month to have the piano in their house - that’s the idea.
Have you written anything on it?
Yeah, I wrote the title track “Patience” and played the piano on the album.
That must have been an amazing feeling.
Well, I was just afraid to make any cigarette burns on it, because then people would confuse mine with his. But no, it’s a fantastic thing, and it’s on display somewhere in Dallas right now. And it will go from place to place and people will see it, which is great.
I mean, it’s a funny-looking thing - it’s the cheapest-looking piano you’ve ever seen. I wasn’t expecting the big white one - I knew it wasn’t the big white one, but I didn’t expect something you’d get in a very, very underfunded school.
Have you started on your autobiography?
I did - I’m in a position where I can just give them their money back if I decide not to release it by a certain time. If I’m gonna do something, I’m not gonna do it and tell half-truths, so I have to really think about whether or not this is the time. ... Also, you have to be very careful with these things, because they can be very depressing to write. When you’ve had a really depressing period of time and you have to write about bereavement and things like that ... a lot of people have warned me if you’re any good at it, if you really know how to put what you went through in words, it can be quite disturbing.