| ||CD Review published in City Monthly Magazine May 2004 |
George Michael "Patience"
George Michael extends his right hand to me, and his gold bracelet inches down his wrist. "Nice to meet you," he says, quietly. "Thank you for coming," I reply.
Nearly twenty years earlier, in a packed stadium in Toronto, I had seen Wham perform. It was the summer of 1985, "Wham-Pop" was the derogatory term that people in the industry used to dismiss the infectious popular music of the era. Tears for Fears had a huge hit album, "Songs from the Big Chair," Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms" was in the midst of becoming one of the biggest selling albums ever, and Prince had released "Around the World in a Day," the follow-up to the phenomenal "Purple Rain" album, movie and tour.
And Wham were riding on the coat tails of their number one album, "Make It Big," with it's chart topping singles, "Wake Me Up before you Go-Go," "Careless Whisper" and "Everything She Wants." Wham was the first group to score three number one hits from an album since the Bee Gees and their 1979 LP, "Spirits Having Flown." "Freedom" was the mid-summer single, and on a very hot and humid late August afternoon, the stadium was full to the rafters, with 49,999 screaming girls, and one me (not a girl, also not screaming) (well, not out loud, at least).
Andrew Ridgeley was playing outlaw bandit, obviously having just seen the movie "Silverado", in an imposing full length black outfit including cape, striking rock star poses with his guitar that seemed just a shade over-rehearsed. But even then, all eyes were on George Michael, wearing a tiny yellow leather fringe vest and tight yellow leather pants, bopping back and forth across the stage. He introduced a new song that night, which was to be the next single, and taught the stadium to sing the chorus; the left side did the "yeah yeah yeah" and the right side did the "yeah yeah yeah yeah yeahs" as George led us through the debut of "The Edge of Heaven." It was all very exciting. As it turned out, the next Wham single was "I'm Your Man", followed by "A Different Corner," and "The Edge of Heaven" wasn't a single until nearly a year later (July 1986). By then, Wham would be over.
Late 1986 saw the departure of Andrew for a short lived career as a race car driver, while George became the first white male ever to duet with Aretha Franklin, hitting Number one in early 1987 with "I Knew you Were Waiting (for Me)" and later that summer peaked at Number 2 with "I Want Your Sex, " a song that was initially buried on the "Beverly Hills Cop 2" soundtrack, but went on to be the first of six singles from the "Faith" album; there would be no turning back.
George soon became too famous for even his own liking, and dialed it back several notches for 1991's "Listen without Prejudice Vol 1," an album whose title was a plea to be experienced outside the confines of his image, a sombre, gorgeous, and emotional album that did not connect with the majority of his fans who simply wanted more of the same Wham/Faith-froth. He subsequently did as many things as he could to destroy his career, refusing to make videos, and becoming one of the first major artists ever to 'go on strike', quit creating music, and sue his record company.
But now it's 2004 and George Michael, who has sold 67 million records worldwide (according to his website), had six US number one hits, eleven UK number ones and six number one albums, is turning 40, and launching a comeback. His remarkable new album, "Patience" has just been released in the US, and in many ways is a "Listen without Prejudice Vol 2," deserving to be heard without any preconceptions, a deeply personal album, disarmingly direct, but this time with a lighter sense of purpose. And George is making videos again. Good videos, with him in them.
While it's obvious that he still takes his music very seriously, there are moments of levity, some respectable dance tunes, and a handful of striking pop gems. "Amazing" is the playful first single from the album, and is, simply, amazing; among the best songs of his career. The cd also includes his two prior UK singles; "Shoot the Dog", with an irresistible hook built around the Human League's "Love Action," a biting political commentary deemed too controversial for the US (and only available on the UK version), and the obscenity laced techno chugger "Freeek!" revisited here as "Freeek 2004".
And George is here in America for a rare promotional tour, which includes an in-store signing at Virgin Records on Sunset. I am in proud and thankful possession of one of the coveted red wristbands, which allows me to stand in the "priority" line up to meet George - the blue wristbands are in a secondary line around the corner, and there's another block long lineup across the street for those unfortunates without wristbands at all.
I am nervous that morning as soon as I wake up. Today I am going to meet George Michael. What will I wear? What will I say? What will I do? How soon should I get there? Where can I park? Do I have time to get my hair cut? How long does it take to bleach your teeth? Is there a drive through botox clinic? What will I do if he notices me? What will I do if he doesn't notice me?
I manage to work myself into such a state that I am positively nauseous. I decide I can't go. I can't meet George Michael for the first time (and possibly the last time) after sitting and sweating on an L.A. sidewalk in front of the Virgin Megastore for several hours. How embarrassing. What will he think of me? What if someone sees me? This is truly not rational behavior. This is pointless. I should be responsible. I should be working.
I call my friends who somehow manage to calm me down, at least enough to drive. "He won't care what you are wearing."
I decide on the white tank top that my one friend says makes me look like Superman, and my jean jacket with the leather trim, the one that Donna Summer said "nice jacket" to, and my honey khaki shorts, an L.A. staple, that don't make me look tooo skinny. I resign myself to paying outrageous overage fees to park in the underground Virgin lot (maximum fee $16) for more than the allowable two hours. I take several magazines I've been meaning to read, but am too nervous to read them. I take my requisite water bottle but dare not drink anything in case I need to leave the line to go to the bathroom. Simply not gonna happen.
So I sit there. Staring at the Mamma Mia billboard across the street, and wondering why I never go to the Comedy Club that's right there, tonight's headliner is Bob Sagett. A lady from the club comes over and gives away "free" passes to the show. No one believes they are really free, and no one leaves the line-up to go to the comedy club.
As I sit there, I'm thinking of all the things I would like to ask George. What were you thinking with the yellow fringed vest and yellow leather pants? What happened to Andrew? Do you have any regrets not promoting the remarkable "Listen Without Prejudice" as it sadly never found its audience? How do you like L.A.? How long are you in town? Have you seen "Troy"? Are you having a good time? Isn't this ridiculous? How do you feel about the notorious Beverly Hills bathroom incident, and do you feel you handled the publicity well? Did you really not know you were gay for all those years? Are you going to tour behind this album? Is this really going to be your last album (as he has stated)? What did you have for lunch? What are you thinking?
A brief four hours later, George's entourage arrives; a stretch limo, three Lincoln town cars and a couple motorcycle cops pass us on the sidewalk without so much as a nod. Nonetheless, screaming ensues, and the excitement level rises dramatically. George Michael is in the building.
The temple is open.
But you can't go in just yet, darling.
A scant two more hours pass as the line inches along, and soon the gaggle of heavy set gentlemen in blue blazers parts enough for a glimpse of la Michael, seated on a pedestal, at a table, in front of a huge poster of himself. I try to snap a picture but this annoys the security guard who makes me put the camera away. I tuck it in my pocket. He says, "did you turn it off?" and I reply, "it turns itself off automatically." Which it does, but he doesn't believe me, and presumably afraid I would snap a picture of George at close enough range that might actually turn out, he confiscates my camera.
But before I have time to wonder if I will get my camera back (I will), I am in front of the table, as George reaches his hand out, and says, "nice to meet you." "Thank you for coming," I reply, nervously handing him my "Patience" cd. He says, "what's your name" and I answer "Rod," and then, having had several cds signed to someone named Ron, spell it out, "R-O-D" and he says, "oh that's easy, then." He writes my name on the cd (with his left hand), then his name, and adds a few small X's around himself.
He is wearing too-big European sunglasses, the looked like he borrowed them from Jacqueline Bisset, and has a dark face full of stubble, yet not a beard. Dumbstruck, all I can think of to say is, "Why does the US version have two less tracks than the UK version?" George answers, "the US record company didn't want to release "Shoot the Dog" and that would have left the album with thirteen tracks, and I didn't want that." He laughs.
And as soon as it began, it is over. I am whisked out of the building, and left standing on the familiar Sunset Blvd sidewalk yet again. But now it's five hours later, and I have one signed George Michael cd in my hand.
Rod Reynolds ©2004 The Art Dept Los Angeles
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