“George Michael: A Life” by James Gavin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


The definitive biography of George Michael, offering an expansive look at the troubled life of the legendary singer, songwriter, and pop superstar.

Goodreads


If you’ve been following us for a while, you’re probably aware that I love biographies. And a juicy celebrity biography is always welcome! But I have to be honest – this one is a bit of a slog. The finished hardcover is expected to be over 500 pages!

I grew up in the 80s, and don’t remember a time when George Michael wasn’t famous. So it did surprise me to learn that he was only 19 when Wham! signed their first record contract. But I do feel like that explains some of his later woes – the drug use, the hiding his sexuality (while singing songs like “I Want Your Sex”). He was in the public eye before he had really figured out who he was.

George Michael is his stage name; he was born in England as Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, to a working class Greek immigrant father and a British mother. His dad was always kind of a tough guy, which is one reason Michael hid his sexuality – he didn’t think his family would approve. He eventually did come out to one of his sisters, and his mom, before his public outing in the late 90s.

This sets up the ongoing dichotomy about him, which plays out many times over throughout this book: he wants public adoration and praise, but wants to keep everything about his own life “private.”

Michael had risen to the highest levels of fame and fortune very quickly and very early. Wham! had some big hits in the mid to late 80s, right at the time when music videos were becoming a mandatory part of getting a song up the pop charts. This meant that the band members’ images, clothes, hair, etc. were every bit as important as the songs themselves.

By all accounts (in this book, at least), George Michael could write and sing well, though. When he was young, at least, he had quite a wide vocal range. Some of his bandmates lament that he was so hung up on image, from the start. They also talk of him being a perfectionist and a control freak, however, who would tweak every aspect of a recording until he was totally happy with it. His work habits made him, at times, difficult to work with.

His solo career took off right after Wham! ended, but that star burned out quickly. This was another surprise to me… I guess I hadn’t realized that he was barely making new music past the mid 90s.

The biggest public scandal, which occurred in L.A. in 1998, is discussed around half way through this tome. The entire rest of his life was riddled with arrests and scandals, drugs and rehab, having his drivers license and US visa taken away, and so on. He did some recording, mostly at home. He did a few more tours, but eventually couldn’t leave Europe. He would often contribute songs to soundtracks or charity albums. He was largely considered a “has-been” by his forties.

On the other hand, he gave a lot away. He was constantly giving his “inner circle” lavish gifts, but he also gave a lot to charity. Some of his favorite causes were anti-war ones, LGBT ones, and ones that helped children. He also gave music away, often for use in albums or concerts helping these causes, and sometimes for soundtracks. He also liked to reach out and encourage up-and-coming young singers who were gay. He envied that they could be “out” from the beginning of their careers.*

Another fun tidbit: his appearance in a sketch in the 2011 Red Nose Day special was the inspiration for James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke!

This story was long, and its hero wasn’t always easy to empathize with. But that’s no fault of the author, James Gavin, who obviously amassed a ton of material and research here.

This book comes out today, June 28th. I was able to read an advance copy through NetGalley and the publisher, Abrams Books.

*According to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. If you are struggling and need to talk to someone, their site has resources for you. If you are in Nashville, please see the Oasis Center for local support.


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