A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘george michael

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • {anthro}dendum features a post by Kimberly J. Lewis about strategies for anthropologists to write, and be human, after trauma.
  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait reports on exoplanet LHC 3844b, a world that had its atmosphere burned away by its parent star.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at Neptune from the perspective of exoplanets discovered near snow lines.
  • D-Brief reports on the new Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, installed at Kitt Peak to help map galaxies and dark energy.
  • Gizmodo
  • looks at how Airbnb is dealing with party houses after a fatal mass shooting.
  • The Island Review shares some drawings by Charlotte Watson, inspired by the subantarctic Auckland Islands.
  • JSTOR Daily looks at the late 19th century hit novel Ramona, written by Helen Hunt Jackson to try to change American policy towards indigenous peoples.
  • Language Hat looks at how, until recently, the Faroese language had taboos requiring certain words not to be used at sea.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at a proposal to partially privatize American national parks.
  • The LRB Blog looks at what Nigel Farage will be doing next.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at a speculative theory on the origins of American individualism in agrarian diversity.
  • The NYR Daily looks at an exhibition of the artwork of John Ruskin.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw remarks on a connection between Arthur Ransome and his region of New England.
  • Drew Rowsome shares an interview with folk musician Michelle Shocked.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel emphasizes the importance of the dark energy mystery.
  • Towleroad notes a posthumous single release by George Michael.
  • Daniel Little at Understanding Society celebrates the 12th anniversary of his blog, and looks back at its history.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at Ingushetia after 1991.
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at All Saints Day.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Architectuul looks back at its work over 2018.
  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait reflects on an odd photo of the odd galaxy NGC 3981.
  • The Crux tells the story of how the moons of Jupiter, currently enumerated at 79 and including many oddly-shaped objects in odd orbits, have been found.
  • Gizmodo notes how some astronomers have begun to use the precise rotations of neutron stars to calibrate atomic clocks on Earth.
  • Keiran Healy shares a literally beautiful chart depicting mortality rates in France over two centuries.
  • Hornet Stories notes that, two years after his death, the estate of George Michael is still making donations to the singer’s favoured charities.
  • At In Media Res, Russell Arben Fox celebrates the Ramones song “I Wanna Be Sedated”.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes how unauthorized migrants detained by the United States are being absorbed into the captive workforces of prisons.
  • Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution approves of the Museum of the Bible, in Washington D.C., as a tourist destination.
  • The NYR Daily looks at soccer (or football) in Morocco, as a badge of identity and as a vehicle for the political discussions otherwise repressed by the Moroccan state.
  • Roads and Kingdoms reports on the paiche, a fish that is endangered in Peru but is invasively successful in Bolivia.
  • Peter Rukavina makes a good point about the joys of unexpected fun.
  • The Signal reports on how the American Folklife Centre processes its audio recordings in archiving them.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel debunks some myths about black holes, notably that their gravity is any more irresistible than that of any other object of comparable mass.
  • Strange Company shares the contemporary news report from 1878 of a British man who binge-drank himself across the Atlantic to the United States.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on a proposal in the fast-depopulating Magadan oblast of Russia to extend to all long-term residents the subsidies extended to native peoples.
  • Arnold Zwicky reports on another Switzerland-like landscape, this one the shoreline around Lake Sevan in Armenia.

[MUSIC] Wham!, “Last Christmas”

I largely agree with Noisey’s Josh Baines: The Wham! song “Last Christmas” is one of the top contemporary Christmas songs out there.

Loss, of course, is what powers “Last Christmas.” In itself, that isn’t unusual: pop music is an extended treatise on a topic that’s troubled mankind since we emerged from the swamps, our mouths glued shut with primordial ooze. As a feeling, loss is eminently relatable; it is an indivisible inevitability of life itself, something each and every one of us experiences to varying degrees of seriousness day in, day out.

What makes “Last Christmas” a truly incredible evocation of loss, however, is that it shows rather than tells. By that I mean that anyone can sing about a break up, and a lot of people do, but crafting something that sounds almost analogous to the feeling of weightless vertigo that comes with accepting something is over when, in fact, that’s the very last thing in the world you want, is nigh on impossible. But George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley managed to do it.

It is there in that galloping bassline, a juddering thud that sounds like a lost lover desperately trying to backtrack their way into the good books. It is there in the droopy, weak, drippy synth that plinks and plonks its toytown melody over and over again, sounding brokenly childish in the way that all of us can when romantic fantasy meets adult reality. Even the oddly inert drums manage to evoke a sort of curdled stagnancy reminiscent of a post-breakup hangover where you’re convinced you’re hurtling towards an irreparable regression.

The words that “Last Christmas” uses are fine, perfunctory. They are completely adequate, as most lyrics are. You could, and I have, engender the same emotional response—firing up those same sad synapses that only light up at the sight of a half-crushed minced pie in a drain and the sound of dogs crying with cold on the beach after an ill-advised Boxing Day dip in the sea, all in the name of charity of course—with a German europop version, or a cover from Greece.

But even without the words, without George Michael’s utterly extraordinary vocal performance—and rarely has a singer demonstrated such understated mastery of phrasing, intonation, and delivery—”Last Christmas” drips with feeling. Like Leyland Kirby’s work as The Caretaker, the instrumental version “Last Christmas” manages to summon the ghosts of everyone you’ve ever loved, of everyone who’s ever lived and been loved and been left and been left unloved. The presence of something that once was and will never be again—however many stars we wish upon, however many bones we crack—haunts the song.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 21, 2017 at 11:59 pm

[MUSIC] George Michael, “Jesus to a Child”

George Michael’s song “Jesus to a Child” was the first single off of his 1996 album Older, and it was the first of his songs that came out after I had begun listening systematically to pop music. Even at the time, this song though well-constructed seemed different, not like his earlier hit singles like “Faith” or “Freedom ’90”. Little did I know at a time that this song, like the album it came from, was probably the most high-profile tribute to queer grief in pop music at the time, perhaps ever. This song is a moving lyrical tribute to his lover Anselmo Feleppa, another victim of the pandemic.

Kindness in your eyes
I guess you heard me cry
You smiled at me like Jesus to a child
I’m blessed I know
Heaven sent and heaven stole
You smiled at me like Jesus to a child
And what have I learned from all this pain
I thought I never feel the same about anyone or anything again
But now I know

Johann Hari’s 2011 Huffington Post interview with Michael captures the signal importance of Feleppa in Michael’s life, the hugely positive impact of the relationship and the devastating impact of his death just two years after they met.

In a concert in Brazil one night, he spotted “a really cute guy” in the crowd, and “he was so distracting I actually avoided that end of the stage.” But afterwards Anselmo Felleppa, the Brazillian dress-designer face-from-the-crowd, came to George’s dressing room – and changed his life. “It’s very hard to be proud of your sexuality when it hasn’t given you any joy,” he says, “but once you have found somebody you really love… it’s not so tough.” Anselmo “broke down my Victorian restraint, and really showed me how to live, how to relax, how to enjoy life.” It was his first slow, tender sexual relationship with a man, he explains: “I was shagging around but I had so little experience with men that my sex life was so ridiculously inadequate for me, right until I met Anselmo really.” But it was more than that: “He was the first person I had ever loved, and I discovered he loved me too.” Even now, there is a hint of quiet incredulity in his voice.

But then – six months into their relationship – Anselmo discovered his blood was infected with the HIV virus. The sour grief that gripped George gave him – he winces at the irony – one of the best performances of his career, when he played the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert as Anselmo began to die. “Can you try to imagine being any lonelier than that?” he asks. “Try to imagine that you fought with own sexuality to the point that you’ve lost half of your twenties. And you’ve finally found a real love, and six months in it’s devastated. In 1991 it was really terrifying news. I thought I could have the disease too. I couldn’t go through it with my family because I didn’t know how to share it with them – they didn’t even know I was gay. I couldn’t tell my closest friends, because Anselmo didn’t want me to. So I’m standing on stage, paying tribute to one of my childhood idols who died of that disease… the isolation was just crazy.”

The day after Anselmo’s brain haemorrhaged away, a stricken, incoherent George finally told his parents he was gay. “They didn’t even know he existed. The thing that really killed my mum was the idea that I had gone through that without anybody,” he says. While George’s life had always been shot through with depression – “it runs in my family, I’m sure it’s genetic” – it was only now, in the early 1990s, that he descended into “a deep black hole” he thought he would never escape. He made the classic depressive’s mistake of trying to warm himself with cannabis and ecstasy. His mother’s sudden death from cancer floored him, and “it got to a point where I was smoking 25 joints a day”.

Jane Moore’s 2004 GQ interview goes into more detail, quoting Michael’s fears that Feleppa did not seek the best possible treatment for his infection because he feared the negative publicity. Feleppa died, far from Michael, when Michael was scarcely 30. I can barely imagine.

I swear I remember mentions of the press of Michael having something to do with Feleppa at the time of the release of “Jesus to a Child”, even mentioning how this was a tribute to the man without mentioning the significance of the man. The significance of the song, though, is clear: Michael was paying tribute to the man he loved, the man who aved him and the man whose loss prostrated him. Of all the early music groups active in the first half of the 1990s, only the Pet Shop Boys come close to this, in their faintly elegiac cover of “Go West” or their powerful “Being Boring”. Their approaches, though real and definitely meaningful, were more oblique than Michael’s.

What else can I do but congratulate him? Michael mattered.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 5, 2017 at 11:59 pm

[MUSIC] “On The Men Who Rattled Pop’s Gender Rules — And What It Means To Lose Them Now”

At NPR, Ari Shapiro interviewed Wesley Morris about the deaths last year of three musicians, David Bowie and Prince and George Michael, who each pushed the boundaries of acceptable gender performance in different ways. Morris’ take on each of these artists is noteworthy, as is his conclusion.

It’s obviously a tragedy — a coincidence of the calendar — that all three of these artists died in 2016. But do you think that when you put the three of them together, you see something about the evolution, or maybe devolution, of masculinity in pop music?

Yeah. I mean, to have that happen in a year in which we were re-debating the propriety of maleness with regard to women, and excusing it as just the thing that men do?

You’re talking about the presidential race talk about sexual assault, things like that.

Yes, yes. And I think that just looking at what the coming administration is going to look like, it’s gonna be full of generals, full of men who have exerted power in this very traditional way. I think that we go through these waves, these periods. It’s gonna be really interesting to see what the next three or four years turns up — in terms of how you might be able to trace some through-line from people like your Princes and David Bowies and George Michaels to whatever is happening in music in two years.

What will come of these men’s shared legacy?

Written by Randy McDonald

January 5, 2017 at 8:00 pm

[LINK] “George Michael and Me”

Rajeev Balasubramanyam’s short piece at the LRB Blog looking at the importance of Wham!, including George Michael, for him as a British schoolboy of South Asian background growing up in northern England in the early 1980s, is superb. This is how important pop music can be.

I used to listen to Wham! in secret. It was 1984 and I was nine. My school was in a white and mostly working-class village in Lancashire. I knew only one other Wham! fan and, though it’s been thirty years since we last met, he was the first person I contacted after I heard George Michael had died. He once claimed to have reached the singer on a secret number he found in a magazine and had a hilarious conversation with him. I still wonder if this might have been true. We used to listen to the albums over and over at one another’s houses, but at school we kept our adoration to ourselves. It was normal for boys to like Duran Duran. They said Wham! were ‘poofs’. George Michael was loved by older girls, teenagers, but in my class the girls hated him too (they liked Madonna). ‘He loves himself,’ they said. ‘He looks at himself in shiny floors when he’s dancing.’

I didn’t understand the appeal of Duran Duran, with their pale, sullen look, the sallow, understated maleness of English post punk. It felt so far away from the black American singers I also used to listen to in secret – Michael Jackson, Prince – and so far away from Wham! In contrast to the dull, rainy, post-industrial landscape around me, they always looked as if they were having the time of their lives. They were young, beautiful, tanned, and made spectacular pop music. Their first two albums were called Fantastic and Make It Big. After their first number one single, George Michael performed on Top of the Pops in a T-shirt with ‘Number 1’ embroidered in gold on it; in the video, he wore one with ‘Choose Life’ printed on it in bold black letters. In gloomy, northern, cold, racist England, this was what I wanted to hear. I wanted hope. I wanted fun.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2016 at 9:00 pm

[LINK] “2016: The year the music died”

Ben Rayner wrote earlier this week in the Toronto Star about how 2016’s toll of notable rockers is set to only grow, in 2017 as in the future. The stars of old are aging, and as age approaches death inevitably comes in behind.

If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that even pop’s most seemingly immortal figures are, in fact, quite mortal and destined for the grave just like the rest of us. It was an annus horribilis that began on a low note with the death of David Bowie just three days after the release of his blackly magical 27th albumBlackstar on Jan. 8 — and basically stayed down there in the depths for the next 12 months.

The pop deaths just kept coming: Prince, felled at 57 on April 21 by something as impossibly prosaic as an opiate overdose. The Eagles’ Glenn Frey. Merle Haggard. Prince Buster. Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest. Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. Suicide’s Alan Vega. Sharon Jones. Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, whose twin departures from this plane rendered Emerson, Lake & Palmer a solo act within the space of just nine months. Canadian icon Leonard Cohen, too, of course, who predicted his own looming demise in Bowie-esque fashion with an album-length goodbye of his own, You Want it Darker, released just a couple of weeks before his very private death on Nov. 7 at 82 years of age. George Michael, announced on Christmas Day.

Scarcely a week would pass without the mention of another drummer here or another guitarist there of a certain age quietly saying goodbye forever — and this after the shock of the sudden death of whiskey-swillin’ metal survivor Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister at 70 just three days before the end of 2015.

The Canada-stunning announcement in May that Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip was fighting to survive against terminal brain cancer didn’t help matters much, either, even if the Hip’s triumphant farewell tour in the summer and the subsequent release of his noble Secret Path solo album in the fall proved inspirational rather than sad.

In any case, 2016 was not the happiest time to be a music fan. As the Georgia Straight put it, “About the only good thing that happened in 2016 was that Keith Richards didn’t die.”

Unfortunately, at some point Keith Richards, who just turned 73, is going to die, along with the rest of the Rolling Stones, who have played the poster boys for rock longevity for 50 years now but simply can’t keep it up forever. Time is on no one’s side, not even the Rolling Stones’.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2016 at 7:00 pm