Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Book Review: George Michael - A Life


George Michael was an extravagantly gifted, openhearted soul singer whose work was both pained and smolderingly erotic. He was a songwriter of true craft and substance, and his music swept the world, starting in the mid-1980s. His fabricated image—that of a hypermacho sex god—loomed large in the pop culture of his day. It also hid—for a time—the secret he fought against revealing: Michael was gay. Soon his obsession with fame would start to backfire. As one of the industry’s most privileged yet tortured men began to self-destruct, the press showed little sympathy. George Michael: A Life explores the compelling story of a superstar whose struggles, as well as his songs, continue to touch fans all over the world.

Acclaimed music biographer James Gavin traces Michael’s metamorphosis from the shy and awkward Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou into the swaggering, dominant half of the leading British pop duo of the 1980s Wham!; he then details Michael’s sensational solo career and its subsequent unraveling. With deep analysis of the creative process behind Michael’s albums, tours, and music videos, as well as interviews with hundreds of his friends and colleagues, George Michael: A Life is a probing, definitive portrait of a pop legend.

This biography will be available everywhere on June 28, 2022. I was given the opportunity to review an early galley from the publisher Abrams Press in exchange for an honest review.

I will proudly admit that I have been a Wham! fan from the get-go. When their first singles started hitting the local college radio station in late 1982/early 1983, I was a high school senior. I jumped on their first album Fantastic when it came out, and it quickly became part of the soundtrack of my college years (along with the next two as well). When the band broke up and George Michael went solo, Faith was a big part of my post-college nights of dancing. However, when the music became less frequent in the 90's, I sort of dropped off as a listener. I had not listened fully to his final few albums until very recently.

This biography helped me understand why the music dropped off; the book goes into great detail on how miserable the singer was for decades. George Michael slammed against numerous self-constructed barriers: struggles with his self-image, an overwhelming self-imposed high bar of success, the secret of his sexuality that he kept hidden from the public, and various self-destructive decisions relating to his career. As the book details, the rampant drug use further added fuel to this career and life on fire. All together, it is no surprise that he struggled with depression for most of his life. He was the one of the biggest pop stars in the world; if only he had allowed himself to relish in the joy and happiness of it. He truly was a tragic, tormented figure in the most Shakespearean of terms.

If you are a fan of his music or if you have a strong general interest in popular music of the 80's and 90's, I would very much recommend this biography. It is big (over 500 pages), but it is also very thorough. It covers every aspect of his music and his life in excruciating detail.

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