2016 may go down in infamy as the year the music got a little quieter. We lost an unbelievable about of superstars and legends, and unfortunately, we lost another one right before the year ended: George Michael, the 1980s teen idol and world-class pop legend, sadly passed away Christmas Day at the age of 53. While I could've found a number of ways to honor the late singer, I decided to turn to someone who knows his work much better than I do, and who is probably the biggest George Michael super-fan I know: My mom, Ana. I chatted with my mom about Wham!, fangirling over George, and how she would like to personally remember the 80s music icon.
Robert Steiner: When did you become a fan of George Michael?
Mom: I became a fan with "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," so with Wham! They had had a couple of singles before that, but they didn't particularly catch my attention until "Wake Me Up." So I really liked the song, but here's the difference: When I saw Wham! on MTV, I just fell in love with George Michael. I thought he was the most beautiful person I had ever seen in my life!
RS: So were you more into Wham! or George Michael's solo career?
Mom: Well Wham! was outlived quickly; I believe they only had two records [Writers note: they had three]. And so after that, George went solo, so I just followed him. I was in love with George Michael, so whatever he did I loved.
RS: What was so appealing about him?
Mom: He was beautiful! He was just so wonderful. Like when he danced in the little shorts! And it was all very bubble-gum at first. I mean you watch the video for "Wake Me Up," and it's so happy. Let me tell you: I was a senior in high school when that song came out. It was light and fluffy, like having cheesecake. I mean the reality is that it was also hormonal; I just thought he was the most beautiful thing ever. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is a great song, and it's probably my favorite song. There are others that I like, but if he wasn't as beautiful as he was, I don't think I would've cared as much!
So anyway, I'm a senior in high school, and I'm a very innocent senior, so the other perspective in this is that I came to this country to finish my sophomore year [She emigrated from El Salvador to escape the ongoing civil war at the time]. Junior and senior year, I was in San Francisco, and these were hard years. These were years when the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Services] would come into high schools for raids. So these were difficult times, but Wham!'s music was so happy! And this is key: Because the lyrics are so simple, even those of us with English as a second language could easily sing along.
RS: So tell me a little bit about seeing Wham! live in concert.
Mom: I went to their concert in Oakland, by Lake Merritt. It was my first concert ever, because I loved [George] so much I had to go. Oh my god, it was awesome. I was already a freshman at Cal, and I cannot tell you what I ate yesterday, but I can tell you I still remember walking down Shattuck Ave feeling so excited. I was walking down to meet my friends, who were still in high school in SF but had come over to Berkeley so we could get to the venue. The three of us went over to the theater, and there was seating, but if you wanted to sit you had to go upstairs. We didn't want to sit, we wanted to be in the middle of everything, and surely enough we were. When the concert started, the crowd was all teen girls, little girls, and there was just screaming and it was awesome. And you know how that goes when you push to the front, right? So next thing you know, we're right in front of Wham!, we were in the pit, and we were right in front of George for like, a half-second, because it was impossible to stay in the front. It was so awesome!
RS: So how did you feel when George Michael went solo and started moving away from that "bubblegum" image?
Mom: The reality is that I kind of grew up with him. I guess one way of putting it is that for some of us of that age group, our sexuality developed with George Michael.
RS: Is this totally necessary to get into?
Mom: What? We're having an interview, this is professional. So I went from having a high school crush to evolving as he evolved, like the way he evolved in the videos and so on. That was also my progression. Now, did I know that he was gay? Of course I knew he was gay. I mean, if I had lived in Nebraska, I probably wouldn't have figured that one out, but let's get real: I lived in San Francisco in the 80s. It was pretty obvious he was gay. It was not a shock, but to me it didn't matter.
RS: How did you feel when his more personal struggles (coming out, depression, his arrest, etc.) came to light? Do you wish people were more sympathetic?
Mom: He had a good thing going and he was admired, but people love to hate. He was the product of a society where homosexuality was not okay. The 80s were a time where it was so damn obvious who was gay and who wasn't, but it was so oppressive that people couldn't say. So Madonna could go onstage and pretend to be having sex with the stage, but George Michael couldn't say that he liked men. Now, it took a lot of guts for Madonna to do it, make no mistake. It was a huge risk. But I think that society accepted that whole personality that Madonna tried to portray; I don't know to what degree people wanted to accept that this beautiful man, who was a sex object, was actually gay. For me, it was sad to see people gang up on him.
Your generation may have to deal with this, but my generation still has to deal with the baggage of "Oh my God, so-and-so's kid is gay. Oh my God." And I think that more and more, we as parents see the damage that that does. I mean, if a child is gay, it really shouldn't be any different than saying the child's got blue eyes or brown hair. It is who they are, and they're perfect the way they are. There's a song, one of his early songs, "Bad Boys," when he sings, "I'm handsome, tall, and strong, so what the hell gives you the right to think what went wrong?" [slight paraphrase of the lyrics, but the basic idea is there] and it's a song to his parents. So it's some of that, where the thinking was like, "Oh, he's so perfect, but he's gay," but if I were his mom, I'd be thinking, "My beautiful boy, who has achieved so much, who is loved by everybody, who has made money, is also gay. Okay, and?" I had a few friends stop liking him because he was gay, but I was like, "so what?" I mean, if I were dating him, that would be a problem, but let's get real, that ain't gonna happen. If he was a new artist today, all of that would've been a non-issue.
RS: How are you going to personally remember George Michael?
Mom: When I think of me at my high school age, the innocent child that I was, I wanna remember him as "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," bouncy and fluffy and bubblegum-ish. If I wanna think about my twenties, and the realization of sexuality, I want to remember him in "Faith," with the tight jeans and the shirt and the leather, I mean he was beautiful. And as a 50-year-old woman, I'll tell you, I just love that duet he did with Aretha Franklin. I think it's a beautiful piece of music.
RS: So there's something to love for any age?
Yeah, but George Michael is the 80s. He'll always represent the 80s for me.