I was seven years old when George Michael’s Faith was released. My mom bought it on cassette and it joined the regular rotation of tapes in her Honda Civic. The music I listened to as a child was whatever my mom listened to. To that point in time I remember a lot of Air Supply and Billy Ocean, and several soundtracks like Dirty Dancing, Cocktail, and Footloose.
I was not a cool kid.
There were songs on all those soundtracks I enjoyed, but most of them were written for the movie or classified as oldies. I didn’t listen to the radio and I remember being way out of the loop whenever anyone brought up a current song at school. But Faith was different. I was there for that one, and I loved it. I loved the title track, I loved “Father Figure,” and yes, 7/8-year-old Colin spent a lot of time rocking out with his mom to “I Want Your Sex.” Someone else can unpack that factoid for me, because I’ve chosen to stay away from it.
I didn’t realize it until he was gone yesterday, but George Michael was my introduction to pop music and pop culture at large. I remember the video for “Faith.” I remember seeing this perfectly-stubbled little guy rocking out to his own song in the tightest jeans I’d ever seen. I remember the titillation of that slow pan up that model’s legs as she stood against the wall grooving to the jukebox. I remember skating parties at Rainbo Skate Center in Clarksville, whatever song was playing segueing into that endless pipe organ intro, knowing that once it was over I was about to rock that rink to “Faith.”
No child has ever been as excited about a pipe organ solo.
I also remember Dana Carvey doing George Michael on Saturday Night Live. This was right when I started watching that show, my first cast being Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Dennis Miller, Victoria Jackson. Classic seasons. Carvey as I remember mostly just yelled “Look at my butt!” via “satellite” on Weekend Update. George Michael was not only my introduction to pop culture, but my introduction to what we do to our pop culture icons. This, as you know, would be something that would follow him for a long time.
I was too young to understand sex and sexuality, which is why I unabashedly enjoyed “I Want Your Sex” while mom drove me around. I could, though, intuit that there was something a little different about George Michael from, say, Kevin Bacon’s character in Footloose or, perhaps ironically, all the characters I’d seen Tom Cruise play to that point. I knew what it meant to be gay, academically, but beyond that I had no idea about stereotypes or subcultures or anything like that. But I had an inkling that George Michael maybe fell somewhere outside the “boys who like girls” camp, which I figured I was a member of. He taught me, just by being himself, that sexuality is something that exists along a spectrum decades before I ever learned anything about Kinsey and his scale. And I was fine with it. I liked “Faith,” George Michael made it, so I liked him. Now I’m a grown man loosely connected to the entertainment industry, arguing for inclusion and representation wherever it’s lacking. That’s a lesson George Michael started teaching me in 1987.
George Michael had several iterations over the course of his too-short career, and it never felt like he was anything other than himself. Once I grew up and revisited this album that had such a secret impact on my childhood, I realized he was one hell of a vocalist too. It turns out that he was also an incredibly generous person. David Bowie meant a lot to me, but I didn’t realize how much George Michael meant too until he was gone. I know there’s an unspoken ranking to these people, impact craters that feel larger when some leave us as opposed to others. I don’t think we can underestimate the value of a pop star who taught a straight kid from Tennessee that not everyone is the same, and it’s fine because the people who are different can make awesomely inappropriate music to listen to with your mom and make you feel like the king of the rink.
Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.