“So I just kept breathing, my friends. Waiting for the man to choose, saying this ain’t the day that it ends. There’s no white light, and I’m not through.” ~George Michael
Why do we mourn people we don’t know? Perhaps there’s something about celebrity that makes us feel closer, like we’re friends with people we’ve never met. I sometimes liken it to a cousin who lives far away. You know you’re cousins, that somewhere out there is someone who is related to you, and you might have an idea of them, but you don’t truly know them.
As one by one my favorite celebrities die I’m left wondering how much I really knew about any of them, and how reliable any of my information ever really was. Hell, I don’t even really know my own father. Why should I feel devastated by the death of George Michael?
It comes down to hope, in my opinion. These celebrities inspire a kind of hope in me that could never be matched by any sort of reality. Because they are larger than life they embody what my brain mistakenly construes as a better life, as a lofty ideal that is just as reachable as the theoretical American dream.
It’s the whole “grass is greener” mentality that, while I know it’s bogus, continues to give me dewy eyes like a schoolboy with his first crush. I don’t see it for what it is, instead watching it through rose coloured glasses.
I loved the idea of George Michael, the dynamic voice and larger than life personality that characterized both his music and what I knew of his personal life. I followed the articles and headlines about him, from his first solo album, through the gay rumors, and then the gay pronouncement, to the rest stop, to even tumbling from a car speeding down the motorway.
And through it all was the music, his chronicling of life as he saw it, a connection that kept me tethered, safely secure in the knowledge that, somewhere out there, he was alive, constructing something new, being my erstwhile touchstone.
So my ideas of him were who he became in my mind’s eye, a troubled soul with tender leanings, a lyrical wordsmith who didn’t mind laughing at himself. It was good enough to know that at some point he could release another album or another song, and it would be like one more reunion, but better than family because my preconceived notions of him couldn’t be proven incorrect in the face of personal contact. Because the odds always were that I would never meet him. And now I never will.
Odds were that he would have disappointed me in person, though. Most celebrities I’ve met weren’t very gracious, and seemed quite full of themselves. Maybe that’s a byproduct of celebrity, or perhaps it is just my viewpoint in the brief moments I’ve spent in their presence.
In that way, I feel like the death of George Michael will forever insulate me from that particular brand of disappointment. He can live on in my memory the way I have always seen him, and I can continue to enjoy his divine voice long after he’s departed this earth.
But don’t get me wrong. I still mourn, and I still don’t really know why. It’s easy to say that a kind of hope and childhood nostalgia died with him, and yet it seems like so much more than that, like he was the friend I always wanted to impress but who kept impressing me instead. Now all I’m left with is the shadows I tried so hard to clutch when he was alive, and now just sit idly, stock still, on the stone wall of my soul.