When I was about 14 years old, kids in my class – or maybe it was the entire eighth grade of Norwood High School, in Melbourne’s outer east – decided they needed a singer for a band. I had no idea who was in this band: who was gonna play guitar, bass, drums or most importantly synthesiser (it was 1984) was all a mystery to me. All I knew was that I wanted to sing in it and I decided to “audition”.
Wham’s Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do) was big at the time, and I rehearsed diligently at home, quite possibly into a hairbrush, for this big moment. It involved singing along to the song in front of most of said eighth grade in the school hall at lunchtime – I think, if memory serves me correctly, with headphones on.
Naturally, I have done my best to suppress this memory. But if it is correct, that means the kids (whom I suspect had set the whole thing up, and were pissing themselves laughing as I gamely switched from the falsetto chorus to the ever so butch “rap”) were in effect listening to me sing this song a capella as I grooved along in my school uniform. I am unsure, but I don’t think my voice had quite broken at this point. It really must have been quite a spectacle.
Of course, the cringing humiliation of it all meant that I rejected George Michael’s music for a very long time afterwards, through no fault of George’s of course. I also endured quite a deal of homophobic bullying in the following couple of years, despite being entirely straight. I had no idea George was gay – I was so sheltered I barely knew what that even meant. But I was very small, slightly built and known for my love of both birds and reading.
It was a bunch of birders, actually, who introduced me to punk towards the end of that year. Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables and Never Mind The Bollocks hit me at the same time as Like A Virgin topped the charts. This was naturally a revelation and set me off on a path that saw me reject the cruelty of my peers. I was still a most earnest young lad, but at least this much more aggressive new music lit a new path forward.
Fast forward 30 years and I am still that earnest lad, but happy to share this story and report that I made peace with George and his music some time ago: that in recent days, the sounds of Last Christmas – even during this most vexed and horrible of seasons, after a wrenching year – gave me comfort; that Faith is a fuckin’ killer adult pop song; and that Wham! Rap is still naff as hell. But holy shit, that man could sing. His passing makes me as sad in its way as (to take two entirely different icons) Lemmy or Alan Vega’s, and it pleases me that a lot of my punk friends seem to feel the same way. Go well, George.