"Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is playing on MTV the last days of my first grade school year and I am dancing around the living room with my toddler brother. Mom tells me she thinks the song is cute too and mentions that she heard that the song originated with a note one of the singers had left for his mom, so forever and always, I will associate it with not only George Michael's and co-singer Andrew Ridgeley's moms, but also with my own mom and with these cozy days in my favorite blue house, as if we'd all been here together, laughing as we sang the silly, sunshiny verses. ♫ "Wake me up before you go-go, 'cause I'm not plannin' on goin' solo. . ." ♪ I am imagining myself dazzling the TV audience of "Solid Gold" while I dance around the coffee table now. ♫ "You take the grey skies out of my way, you make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day. . . ." ♪ And George's clear, gorgeous voice repeating, ♫ "WAAAAAKE me up!" ♪ at the start of the verse as the song continues. . . . ♫ "Wake me up before you go-go, don't leave me hangin' on like a yo-yo" ♪ through my giggles to my brother--Like a yo-yo! Ha!--as I twirl around. And that most-satisfying-to-sing-along-with line: ♫ "Taaaaake me dancin' toniiiiiiiiiiiiiiight." ♪ So ends first grade.
"Careless Whisper" is second grade and one of the first music videos that informs my imaginings of what Adult Life might someday be like: The sparkling lights of a city at night, summery fun on sailboats, stunning sunsets. . . .Well, Adult Life looks promising, even if "guilty feet have got no rhythm." Poor, sad, beautiful George in the video, though, and I just can't look away.
Soon the opening drumbeats of "Everything She Wants" are everything. And it turns out, they will forever have the power to transport me instantly back to1985. Instantly. Play this for me when I'm ninety years old and I will immediately report that I am really finishing second grade, my older brother is finishing fifth, little Brian just turned three, and gymnast Mary Lou Retton's Wheaties commercial and the Saturday morning cartoons are my favorite things. At eight years old, I don't understand the song's lyrics, but I love its sound and George's soaring ♫ "I work! So haaaaaard! for youuuuuuuuuuu!" ♪ Instant '85, that.
"Last Christmas" is forever one of my favorite Christmastime songs. When I called Mom last night and and told her of George Michael's death, one of her first comments was, "But that song! It isn't Christmas until we hear that song every year!" Just last week, while we were together for our early Christmas, it came on the radio while she was baking and I was wrapping presents, and in unison we called out to each other, "There it is!" :) ♫ "Once bitten and twice shy, " ♪ Angel-Voice sings. "I keep my distance, but you still catch my eye. Tell me, Baby, do you recognize me? Well, it's been a year, it doesn't surprise me." ♫ Dear heartbroken George, but he's determined to live and learn and love again. 'Love this song. ♫ "This year, to save me from tears, I'll give [my heart] to someone special." ♪ 'Love, love, love this song.
By the time I am devouring the Laura Ingalls Wilder book series and Laura's budding relationship with Almanzo in the fifth grade, I am more than ready for George Michael and Aretha Franklin's romantic duet, "I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)." It has been one of my top-five favorite songs since I first heard it on a cassette tape my mom bought me called "Hot Hits." So many of the songs on that best-of album will be some of the 80s' greatest--"Mary's Prayer" by the group Danny Wilson, "Don't Dream (It's Over)" by Crowded House, "Human" by Human League--but I rewind the tape over and over again to listen to George Michael and Aretha Franklin and vow that if I ever have a wedding, I want this song to be played at the party after. This was something of which eleven-year-old Val is sure. Watch and listen. It will be one of the finest things to come out of the 80s, with too many great lyrics and perfectly-hit notes to recount here. Pure joy, this song, start to finish. It will be an anthem for me while I fall in love, while I recover from broken hearts, whenever I'm struggling my way out of bouts of depression, and whenever I just feel like belting out a song around the house. Pure joy as George sings, ♫ "I don't regret a single moment--Looking back--When I think of all those disappointments, I just laugh, I just laugh. . . ." ♪
And pure joy at George's sassy shimmy at Aretha around the two-minute-and-fifty-four-seconds mark of the video, because you just know he feels this song--he gets it--and because he and Aretha are so clearly enjoying and respecting each other's talents here too. In interviews I find when older, I will read that singing with Aretha was a dream come true for him, so no wonder it shows in the song and video. It all just glows with sweetness and triumph. I love that this song exists, period.
At a sleepover at my friend Apryl's house the next summer, we laugh ourselves into hysterics when she tells me that her parents bought her George Michael's new album, Faith, but told her not to listen to it because they think one of the songs on it is too raunchy for kids. "Then why did they buy it?!" I shriek through my laughter, and "I know!" she shrieks back, and we giggle over that the rest of the night. "Are you allowed to listen to anything on it?" I ask. (Because: "Faith," "One More Try," "Monkey". . .Come on, Apryl's Parents! These are great songs! [How can anyone listen to "Faith" and "Monkey" and not feel like dancing? How can anyone listen to "One More Try" and not marvel at his voice? That note around the three-minutes-and-twenty-three seconds mark!!]) But no. They have bought it for her because they know she likes him and wants his new album, but she is not to listen to it. That will still make me laugh twenty-nine years later. We remain innocent enough in these final days of elementary school that hearing the song in question--even analyzing its lyrics, between more giggles and shrieks, of course--wouldn't mean anything to us. And anyway, we don't listen to George Michael to decode lyrics. He just makes good music. We like listening to him sing. We like watching him dance. We like singing and dancing along with him.
(The sexiness of both his trademark stubble and of his voice during every single "BAY-BEE!" of "Faith" don't register with me at age eleven, but a future Val will say in regard to both: Hubba hubba. :) )
Junior high, high school, and college are all marked by his beautiful Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. His cover of Queen's "Somebody to Love" for a Freddie Mercury tribute concert in the 1990s is his voice and showmanship at their finest. Both the rehearsal of the song and the performance itself are online, and both are powerful. Watch the rehearsal and catch David Bowie listening, obviously impressed, at side-stage. Delight, as I do, in Queen guitarist Brian May laughing with George after one-minute-and-forty-four-seconds. Watch the show itself and enjoy both the high note seemingly-effortlessly reached at the four-minute mark and George's strut every time he turns toward the band between lines.
"Waiting for That Day" is one of the gentle and bittersweet songs I can't help but keep torturing myself by listening to after my best friend Sommer's death, these last few months before high school graduation. ♪ "My memory," George sings clear as a bell while I weep, "serves me far too well." ♫ "Freedom" finds me in my early twenties dancing around my off-campus apartment as I finish packing while waiting for my parents to arrive to take me home at the end of a rough school year. ♪ "Now I'm gonna get myself happy. . . ." ♫ Yes, do that, George. Let's all do that. Because by the late 1990s, he is making the news more for tabloid-ey personal issues than for his music, which is a shame--"[It] was my own stupid fault, as usual" he famously acknowledges in an interview about one arrest--since he seems to have the type of sensitive but troubled personality that somehow finds him only ever hurting and sabotaging himself. But his talent is pure, and he always seems like a goodhearted soul, and I always love him. As part of a rare televised interview, he shyly gives a brief tour of his garden and of a few rooms in his home, and it pleases me whenever I think of it after to imagine that maybe at this moment--or this Christmas--or this spring--George Michael is both healthy and happy in his idyllic English cottage--
--curled up with his dogs and a good book in one of these chairs by the fireplace--
--or beginning a new song at this old piano.
And it has been nice to imagine that. He is one of my "80s people" with whom I'd have loved to have shared my finished memoir someday. And I have to believe that he somehow already knows all this, even all about Mom and I with "Last Christmas" and Apryl's parents with her forbidden album-gift and our fits of giggles over it. Tonight I find myself still hoping, more than ever, that he is reveling in well-being and joy, and that he has finally found what seemed to be hard-fought-for peace. I hold on to my mental picture of him sitting at his piano and see him safe and sound and singing a new song. 'Cause I gotta have faith, faith, faith. . . .