I owe George Michael so much.
And the first time I saw him, I wasn’t even sure he was a boy.
I was in 10th grade in the fall of 1984, in my brand-new high school and really didn’t know shit about anything. I was desperately concerned with being seen as cool. My middle-school record collection was heavily populated with stuff like Air Supply and Simon and Garfunkel and Neil Diamond and the soundtrack to “Grease.”
I was definitely going to have to step it up to make it with the cool kids at school, and by cool kids I did not mean the cheerleaders and the football players. My cool kids were the ones who knew about great music. Who shopped at the local Yesterday & Today record store. Who knew about Duran Duran and 12″ singles and import albums and colored vinyl and listening to the B-sides to determine if you really liked a band before you said you did.
I knew approximately one cool kid who agreed with me on music issues, and even she had a learning curve, carrying her ABBA albums to school in brown paper sleeves like pornography, so no one would know she liked them.
It wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to take some gumption. I wasn’t known for gumption.
But hormones helped. I was standing in the front of the school waiting for my ride home (yes, on the bus, I was lame, so lame) when I saw a girl I kind of knew from a chorus class I’d been in named Lisa, talking to this hopelessly cool-looking, very adorable guy. He had dyed the front of his dark hair blond and I was sold. Then I saw he was carrying something in one hand: an album, wrapped in a plastic sleeve. The album? Make it Big by Wham! UK. It was new, totally new, except I had seen the video for this song “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”
That had been over the summer, visiting my aunt and uncle at their home near the beach. They had cable (we did not) and we spent probably as many hours gawping at the music videos on shows like USA Network’s “Night Flight” and MTV as we did at the beach. “Wake Me Up” came on more than once and I saw George all dressed in white jumping around the stage and I remember thinking – give me some slack, I was 14 – that he was either a really butch girl or a truly femme guy. I just wasn’t sure, though I leaned in the guy direction. But he – and Wham! – and the song were brand-new to my ears.
So, vague music idea+cute boy+hormones equaled me walking up to my acquaintance and finagling an introduction with the boy who had the album. Jez (even his name was amazing) was super-nice to me and we talked about the album and about protecting it in a plastic sleeve (how elevated!) and then my bus came and off I went, pleased that I had shown Gumption.
Next day: The album followed me. I was in Geometry class and another boy had it leaned up against his chair-desk combo. I knew it had to be the same album; what were the chances two guys had the same obscure album, also in a plastic sleeve? So I summoned the Gumption Fairy again and shot a note to him across the aisle:
Do you know a guy named Jez?
And that’s how I met Jerry, who turned out to be one of the most awesome people I have ever met in my life; he made me laugh all the way through high school. Jez was more aloof and mysterious and always super-kind whenever I could pin him down, which wasn’t often. Thanks to him I went to my first dance club/bar at age 16 with the young woman who would eventually marry Jerry, Alexis, who is also incredible and hilarious and still one of the lights of my life even today.
They became my crowd, along with the ABBA-loving friend who turned out to also be really into great, cool music: Valerie. We hung out, did the dumb things people do in high school, skipped classes, hung out in bunk beds and made out in each others’ houses, listened to a lot of Sade and watched movies like Liquid Sky and Suburbia and thanks to them I had probably three of the most rollercoaster awesome-tragic-amazing years of my life.
And it all started with Make it Big.
And George Michael.
Thank you, George. You taught me to listen without prejudice. You helped me find my tribe. And I hope wherever you are, there’s all the freedom you could ever need. I love you, man. Gone way, way too soon.
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