Thursday, 5 January 2017

A visit to Highgate - paying my respects

It's easy to separate us mourning fans from the gawkers and other onlookers at the sea of flowers at George Michael's house in Highgate, London. We all have the same slightly dazed look on our face, trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. Some, like me, have tears in their eyes.



When I get there Wednesday morning, a week and a half after the devastating news of George's death, there are quite a few people around. They are all walking around quietly, looking at everything that's been left as a sign of love for George. Almost everybody has their camera of phone out to make a little video or take some pictures. But not in the tabloid way, in a respectful way. I talked a little while with fellow fan Yota, she is a Greek fan, living in South London. She felt it was 'important to be here'.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The dear friend I never met - tribute to George Michael

George Michael is gone, taken from all of us far too soon. He died on December 25, 2016, Christmas Day. Even now I can scarcely take it in, it seems unbelievable.
I never met George. For me he was the dear friend I somehow never got to meet. I could turn to him for a joyous celebration when I was happy and ask to be comforted by him when life was unbearably sad. I felt I knew him through his music, as much as he allowed us to know him that is. My dear friend is gone forever but he left his music behind. It will have to be enough.


Forever in our hearts


We fans are all grieving, each in our own way. In these days of social media it's easy to see how many lives George touched, how many people loved his music, loved him. The group of people who mourn him, from celebrities to  just regular people like me, is surprisingly diverse. So many in the music world professed their admiration, respect or even love for him.

For so long George Michael sought to be taken serious as a solo artist, to be thought of as a talented musician rather than that pretty boy from Wham! Looking at twitter, Facebook and the media the day after his passing it's obvious he had earned the respect he so craved - in spades. What makes me cry for George is the thought that he will never see this outpouring of love. Because I don't think George ever knew how much his peers, his fellow musicians respected him and even looked up to him.

Today, time and again my thoughts turn to George Michael's father. A little over 4 years ago I watched George Michael walk on stage at the Viennese Stadthalle to resume his Symphonica Tour after a long hiatus due to illness- and my heart rejoiced.  As luck would have it, his father was sitting 2 rows behind me. Of course I didn't want to bother him too much but during the break I walked up to him and quickly told him how grateful and happy we all were that George was doing better. I'll never forget the look on mister Panayiotou's face when he told me what it had been like for him to get his son back from the dead. My heart aches for him at the thought that after all this he still will have to bury his only son - it's too cruel for words.

Some time later I discussed with Shirl (@mollie5555), a fellow George Michael fan from Dublin, how nice it was to see Mister Panayiotou in the audience. She had also had a quick chat with George's father and one of the things she told him was that she was so grateful to George for bringing so many people together. Today our talk popped into my head and she's absolutely right. It's one of the surprising ways George Michael has enriched my life.

Without George I'd never have met so many lovely people. Some fans were kind enough to sell me their superfluous concert tickets at face value prices, so I had great seats for sold-out shows. Some fans I met at the venues where the 25Live and Symphonica tours played, there was a small group of people I saw at nearly every show I ever went to. The George Michael fan world was at times a very small world. I remember collecting our tickets at the box office at Madison Square Garden in New York City and promptly bumping in to two of George's biggest fans from England! Some fans I met at fan get-togethers where we laughed, swapped stories and played a lot of GM music.
And some fans whom I  consider to be among my best friends I only met online. Like the lovely but formidable Anne, the woman behind GeorgeMichaelNL. And the incomparable Meme (@memelamour, who I finally met last year, yay!) What bound all of us together was our shared love for George Michael and his music. And for that I am grateful to George.


Soundtrack

The phrase 'soundtrack of my life' is overused at this point, but for George it definitely does apply. George's music was with me for years and years. As a teenager having a bit of a crush on the blond guy in Wham, and secretly dancing to 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' as it was not cool at all at our school to be a Wham! fan. As a twenty-something sobbing my heart out to endless repeats of  'One More Try', and 'A Different Corner' when I got my heart broken for the first time.
Eleven years ago, on the morning of our wedding listening with my wife to 'Amazing', his joyous love song for then-partner Kenny Goss. It was a fitting way to start our day of love and celebration together.
When I went through a long period of grief, mourning the mother that I never knew, I sought refuge in George's music. His voice was the only one that could comfort the inconsolable child within me.
Only last week I changed my alarm ringtone to 'Spinning The Wheel' and was gobsmacked anew by the sheer brilliance of the song. It's such a great track and live it was even better - mesmerising even. And while it hurts too much to listen to his music now, I'm sure in time it will help me get over the pain of losing him.


Pain

Like all of us, George had his flaws. It was no secret that hugely talented as he was, he was also burdened with what the Guardian lovingly called "a somewhat inept approach to being alive". Most of the fans felt quite protective about George and I was no exception. At times, as Simon Hattenstone of the Guardian so aptly put it, I felt "more parental by the second". I pray infrequently but whenever I did I always included a quick prayer for George, asking that he please be healthy, happy and safe.

Sadly quite often George tried to shield his fragile soul from the pain and grief of life in ways that were clearly not good for him. His family must have been so worried for him and his self-medication probably caused them a great deal of pain and anguish. I'm convinced though that in the end the person he hurt the most was himself. By all accounts George was at heart a very kind and loving man, truly one of the good guys. The fact that through it all his true friends stood by him and never, ever blabbed to the tabloids says it all. He was clearly a man worth knowing and loving.

Still, being a a George Michael fan wasn't always easy. It meant being there with him through all the highs and the lows, the good times and the bad times. And some of the bad times were very bad indeed.
George and cars, it was forever a dangerous combo.  I can still feel the utter shock of walking into the breakfast room of our English hotel and seeing the blaring headlines that George had been in a near-fatal crash. It had left his big, sturdy car a write-off and the scary photos of what was left of his Jeep stayed with me for days. Amazingly, he walked away from the wreckage without any serious injuries.  A few years later he was not so lucky with that horrid incident where he somehow ended up lying in the middle of a motorway. And of course there was the embarrassing mishap that resulted in millions upon millions of free publicity for Snappy Snaps - and a short stint in jail for George.

But all of that paled in comparison with the weeks of desperate worry at the end of 2011, when George was fighting for his life in Vienna after he fell ill during his successful Symphonica Tour. Like most fans I wept tears of relief when he finally flew back to London after a month of hospitalisation in Vienna. And I cried right along with him as I watched his tearful impromptu press conference the day he got back home, his face gaunt, a frail man looking like a shadow of the star who'd played to sold-out arenas only a few weeks before. Oh George.


Joy and laughter

Of course there were many high points as well, many moments that made me so proud and happy to be a George Michael fan.


That beautiful smile

He was an absolute joy to listen to in interviews. Part of it was his honesty (he must have been a dream come true for any good good interviewer), part of it was his innate charm and sense of humour. George could be very funny, his hour long special with Michael Parkinson is a great example. And he was never afraid to send himself up,  appearing in hilarious sketches with Catherine Tate (I still listen to their version of Fairytale Of New York), Little Britain and Ricky Gervais to name a few.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, could rock a suit like George! The black and silver Armani suits he wore for most of the 25Live shows were an inspired choice. As was the wonderfully naughty cop uniform he used for Outside, both the video and the version for 25Live.

George was such a handsome man. Over the years we saw quite a few image changes - one even more appealing (that's a polite word for hot) than the other. With the notable exception of his short Mafia Don phase in 2009 of course.

That beautiful, infectious grin. Whenever George was having fun, onstage or in some other situation, his smile would light up any room or auditorium. No matter how sad you were feeling, if you saw George laugh, you automatically smiled too, you couldn't help it.


Live in London (and a lot of other places)


I've been very lucky to see George Michael in concert a lot during the 25Live and Symphonica tours. It cost quite a bit of money and time but it was totally worth it.  Along the way I accumulated a wealth of priceless memories. Far too many to mention here, but here are a couple that are on my mind today.

Lost in music, adored by his fans.
Earls Court, October 2012

Rotterdam, November 4, 2006
Back in 2006 it was a big gamble for George to tour again. The music scene was changing, and everybody needed to tour to make money and to support their careers. George didn't want the kind of lavish show (constant costume changes, lots of dancers etc.) designed to distract you from the fact the performer on stage couldn't actually sing that well. He wanted his voice to take centre stage. But would his voice hold up, and would the crowds still love him? Yes and yes - and it was touching to see how happy that made him, night after night.
Dutch crowds always were good to George, he loved us and we loved him right back. At the end of the last of 3 sold-out nights he told us he'd had a fantastic time and thanked us for 'singing all night  with him '. So humble and touching.

My Mother Had A Brother, August 1, 2007
One of the most beautiful songs George ever wrote. It was never a single so the casual George Michael fan might not even be aware of its existence. But it's such a wonderful, emotional song and I feel blessed that I heard George sing it live a few times. George didn't put it on the setlist all that often, because vocally he'd have to be on the top of his game to do it justice live.

Where I Hope You Are - Herning August 29, 2011
What can I say. This was the song that told the world how much he'd loved Kenny Goss and how much he was hurting from their break-up. And on that particular night he showed us as well, welling up a few times during the song, his voice breaking a bit. It was a special moment on an already very special night.

Verona, September 13, 2011
It was a very warm September afternoon in Verona, 5 years ago. I was sat on a bench on the square in front of the amazingly beautiful Arena di Verona (an historical, open-air venue), all excited for the concert to come that evening. And then I heard George's voice, he was soundchecking by singing 'Understand'! I remember it so vividly,  the feel of the warmth of the sun, the view of that wonderful historical Arena and George's voice drifting over to where I was sitting. It was a perfect moment.



Thank you, George

I feel  so privileged to have heard George's beautiful voice so many times. Live in concert that amazing voice of his was even better than on CD. So warm and full of emotion, always sounding as if he was singing just for you. The thought of his live voice being silent forever in this world makes me sad beyond tears.

I'm not yet able to say goodbye to George. Today 'goodbye' hurts too much. Today is a day for tears. Tears for George because I hoped for so much more for him; he deserved a longer and happier life. Today is also a day for remembrance. And for being grateful and saying a heartfelt 'thank you' to the man who had such a big impact on my life.

"I'm so sorry George that you had to leave here so early. I hope you are with Anselmo and your mum and most of all I hope you are at peace. Be well dear George and thank you for all that you've given me. I've loved you for a good part of your life and I will love you for the rest of mine."

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A Happy Birthday wish for George Michael

This seems like only yesterday!

It seems like only yesterday we were all dancing along to Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and admiring (or giggling at!) George Michael's princess Di look. But somehow when we weren't looking the years flew by, because today our favourite singing Greek turns 50.

Happy Birthday George, may all your dreams come true!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Symphonica - Gig report London EC (October 17)

Well, you've come a long way", said the man at the box office in Manchester after glancing at my address before he handed me my ticket. He touched a nerve and for one second I asked myself what I was doing so far away from home. And then I forgot all about it till I was walking with another fan, the wonderful Trish (@TrishJweb) back to the Earls Court subway on the evening of October 17, 2012. It was lovely to see her again after we had spent a very nice evening together at the last of the Royal Albert Hall shows; she was the fan who sold me her spare ticket so I could go to the sold-out show. We were discussing the show we'd just seen - that's always so nice about meeting up with other fans.

We got close to the entrance of the station, and  I got my Oyster card out of my pocket. Trish looked at me in wonder: "You've got an Oyster card!", she exclaimed. "Of course", I said and then it hit me, I live in the Netherlands and have a London Oyster card for travel on the London subway while Trish who lives an hour away from London doesn't have one!  Thing is, I've been in and out of London for Symphonica (and before that 25Live) so often that I finally realized getting an Oyster card was the smart thing to do.

It's all worth it to hear that voice and to see that smile!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Symphonica - Gig report London (October 14)

Companies like Seatwave get a bad rap, and part of their reputation is certainly deserved. Billed as a fan-to-fan ticket exchange site, what they actually are is the place where touts come in out of the cold and where some promoters sell a portion of their best seats in their desire to get a piece of the huge secondary ticket market.

But if you look closely there are also quite a few genuine fans with spare tickets to sell. If you can find them you might get yourself a great deal! Because what mostly gets forgotten when people have heated discussions about the secondary market is that it is indeed a market. This means that prices can soar to unbelievable heights if demand is high. Remember those shows Adele did last year at the Royal Albert Hall? Yeah, those tickets went for as high as 5 to 10 times face value.  But if demand is low(er) or the concert date is pretty close prices drop, sometimes way below face value. I got an excellent floor seat,  block A1 row 8 at the middle aisle, for £ 70! Even with the extortionate Seatwave fee that came out to £ 86 which is more than 10 pounds less than if I'd bought it on general sale. On Tuesday I once again turned to Seatwave because I wanted to see the incredibly talented Ed Sheeran on his sold out Hammersmith Apollo run. I got another nice seat for about 5 pounds more than I would have paid if I'd bought from the primary sources.

So my advice is this: use Seatwave and other sites just like it only when the concert date is pretty near, and go for the tickets you have to collect at a Seatwave office - or, in a pinch an e-ticket. That way you will avoid the heartache of people selling tickets they don't actually have (which is the main complaint about Seatwave) and you might get a great deal.

Counting down to the end of Symphonica, only more to go after this one.
One sentence review: Earls Court round 2: double the fun!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Symphonica - Gig report London EC (October 13)

Finally!

Well, now that's more like it! The last time I looked at Earls Court was late December 2011. All the lights were out and the place looked cold and empty, and even though it's just a building it somehow managed to look forlorn. George Michael at that time was still in the hospital in Vienna and I felt Earls Court was waiting for him to come back to set it alight again. So I rejoiced when I came out of the subway station this year and saw his name proudly up in lights again, the way it was supposed to. The wait was over!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Symphonica - Gig report Manchester (October 9)

The Amsterdam show was all kinds of wonderful, the Royal Albert Hall show was a magical night, and Cardiff was two days of glorious fun. But this, this was the show to be! It was just an amazing show from beginning to end. It took to 2 flights, 2 journeys by train in Holland and another 3 in England and 3 rides on Manchester's metro link to get me to the show and back home again, but it was so worth every second of travel and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It might just be that my excellent seat - front row right in front of George Michael - had something to do with that.

We knew even before George took to the stage that Manchester 2 would be fun, as he tweeted that he was looking forward to the show! And fun it definitely was! We got two new songs: a fabulous new arrangement of Star People and a cover of F.E.A.R., the Stone Roses song. It took the crowd a bit of time to get behind that last one, but when they did it was lots of fun! And we got to see backing vocalist Jay Henry in a star turn, singing a duet with George. As he tweeted later, it had been 'scary', but nervous or not Jay was very, very good! As was the whole Symphonica crew, it really was a magical night. Again!

George wouldn't be George without a bit of bling :)

One sentence review: Manchester the sequel - bigger and even better!