There was barely a wall in a teenager's room of the late 80s and early 90s which didn't have a poster of George Michael. As news of the popstar's death broke over Christmas, so many now grown-up women were transported back to their old bedrooms, which were dominated by Michael's smiling visage. The blonde hair, that trademark crucifix earring and, very often, that chain and leather jacket came out of dusty sepia memories. We remembered our cassette racks where albums like Wham were prized possessions. George Michael shared rack space with Michael Jackson, and wall space with the other poster hottie of the time, Topgun Tom Cruise.
Jackson is no more, Cruise, though still hot, is no longer the stuff of teenage dreams. And we've just lost Michael. Ironically on Christmas Day. He was the man who gave the anthem to Christmas, the angst of Last Christmas always adding that bitter-sweetness to every Yuletide celebration ever since the song was first sung. At my home, Last Christmas was one of those traditions that was passed on to the next generation. In our youth, we played the cassette so often that once, the tape rolled off the spool. Luckily, we managed to repair the damage. Music was expensive back then—one cassette cost us half a month's pocket money. We played the song on MP3 players later, introducing it to sons and nephews. They strummed it in guitar classes, and as the years passed, the boys took over the singing, while we relegated ourselves to humming in the background and tapping our feet. Yesterday's Christmas had the boys displaying their baritones to the tune of our youth. The world was unaware that it was Michael's 'Last Christmas'. Next Christmas, when we gather over our bonfire, there will be an added pain to this number, which will only make it more beautiful. One Christmas in the future, our grandchildren will take over the singing. For Michael may have passed on to the world beyond, but he has left his music behind for generations.
If Last Christmas was the season's anthem, then Careless Whispers was the heartbreak song of the generation. Wake me up before you go had a peppiness that set feet tapping. We didn't bother with the lyrics beyond “like a yo yo...” back then. Wham! Bam! had a certain defiance to it. Faith became an anthem of hope. These songs encapsulated the essence of George Michael for people now in their 30s and 40s. These are the numbers that will be his evergreen legacy, though, of course, his body of work, spanning three decades, is much larger. Of course there was I want your sex, but honestly, it didn't form part of our George Michael repertoire back then.
Growing up in the time of George Michael was a learning experience. As a friend recalls, his videos themselves were early lessons about birds and bees. But, in the age of Doordarshan, these videos were only available to those who had VCRs at home. They were treasured all the more for that. I still remember the time when a friend announced that Michael was “gay”. I was in class 10 then, and was doubly stunned. First, at the revelation, second, on learning what gay was a synonym for. (In our day, teachers routinely wrote on report cards about us being gay children). Those were the 80s, when “coming out” was not easy and the sceptre of the new disease, AIDS, loomed large. It took Michael years to come out with his identity, and not before being caught, literally with his pants down, in a public toilet. By then, the world had moved into a more accepting sphere. But Michael's orientation didn't dent his sex appeal even back then.
His trouble with drugs, alcohol and depression had him gradually fade away from the limelight, and even with the present teens, he's more associated with his early works. It's those works that will immortalise him, and not his worldly troubles. You will be missed, George Michael. And you will be remembered. “As the music dies, Something in your eyes, Calls to mind the silver screen, And all its sad goodbyes.”