Mourning Strangers

“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.



A George Michael Song

george_michael-too_funky(2)“Ooh, you’re just too funky for me. I gotta get inside of you. And I’ll show you heaven if you’ll let me.” -George Michael

Often, I wish I were in a George Michael song, any George Michael song, because the characters that populate his lyrics are nothing if not breathtaking. They’re complex, like real life human beings, and they’re often broken or scarred. Their hearts bleed through the lyrics, and I connect with them. More than that, though, it’s really all about the feelings, the emotions they tap into, that leap out through the songs.

“Sadness in my eyes. No one guessed, and no one tried. You smiled at me like Jesus to a child.”

There is a completeness to the idea of being smiled at by Jesus. I spent my entire formative years reading about and listening to stories about Jesus, how dynamic he was, and how blessed anyone felt when he looked at them. I imagine being that child, being young and naive, but knowing there’s more out there. Wanting to have faith but being weak, with sadness creeping in to every facet of my life. Then being smiled at by Jesus and knowing it will all be okay.

“So, I just kept breathing, my friends. Waiting for the man to choose, saying this ain’t the day it ends, ’cause there’s no white light and I’m not through. I’m alive.”

Death is the great unknown, isn’t it? I’ve always wanted to be in charge of my own fate, but I know it doesn’t happen that way, not really. Is there a tunnel, and a white light at the end of it welcoming people to the afterlife? I don’t know, but I feel comforted knowing that there’s more to life than just trying not to die. There’s this feeling of just breathing without having to think about it, existing day by day, and living life in those days, through those series of moments. I’m alive and I’m going to make the most of it. Continue reading “A George Michael Song”

If I Wasn’t a Celebrity, I’d Just Be Screwed Up

“I’m never gonna dance again, ’cause guilty feet ain’t got no rhythm.” -Wham, Careless Whisper

When I heard that George Michael had fallen out of a car going 70 miles an hour on the freeway, I wondered what it is about celebrity that screws people up. Or maybe I have it backwards, and celebrity merely gives access to money and privilege and unlimited license to be stupid. It’s like putting a daredevil on the top of the Empire State Building and telling him he can’t jump. He’s going to jump, because he can. Give someone access to something they never even knew they wanted, and suddenly they want it. Give someone a microphone and he’ll use it to make fart noises. Oh, the horror. That’s celebrity.

“I am not a role model.” -Charles Barkley

It all begins with the idea of a celebrity as a role model, and the answer is pretty clear. Charles Barkley was wrong. The nature of celebrity means there are millions of people looking up to you, whether you like it or not. You hear that, Kim Kardashian? You follow me there, Nikki Minaj? And if people are looking up to you, that makes you a role model. Ask Bobby Knight or Dennis Rodman or Bill Clinton. They’ll tell you that Charley Barkley was wrong, but they’ll also tell you that they wish he was right. You see, celebrities are, as the magazines put it, just like us. They have the same issues, the same dreams, the same hopes and fears, except those are magnified when they’re in the public eye.

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” -Abraham Lincoln

It always comes down to perspective, after all. Someone who values his or her privacy will not do well as a celebrity. Sad stories like Kurt Kobain and Michael Jackson bear this out. But as a celebrity there is no private life, especially in the era of Twitter, Facebook, and cameras on every cell phone out there. If it’s not recorded, think again. Everything in our lives now are recorded, and that’s just for regular people like you and me. Imagine what it’s like to be a celebrity and have people not only know everything about your life, but to judge you based on it.

Why do I not believe you, Sir Charles?

“You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” -Atticus Finch

But do we as a public have a right to judge? We often talk about rights, and people don’t just give away those rights in order to be celebrities. It just seems that way. In our selfish rush as a society to know everything about everyone, we often doom our celebrities to lives of depression and second-guessing. Look at poor Amanda Bynes, or other child stars. Or even recently all of the over-exposure that Paris Jackson has gotten and what it’s doing to her. It’s sad, really. I honestly wish that Charles Barkley had been right when I see things like that. If celebrities weren’t seen as role models, if our real role models were the people who actually have made a difference in our lives, things would be so much different, and so much better.

“We’re all capable of mistakes, but I do not care to enlighten you on the mistakes we may or may not have made.” -Dan Quayle

The former vice-president is right here, that we’re all capable of mistakes. None of us are perfect, which was made dramatically clear by the rather public apology of Jimmy Swaggart twenty-five years ago this Friday, when he was revealed to be as human as the rest of us. “I have sinned,” came the public confession through wracking sobs. That’s the nature of celebrity. A man who is human has to apologize for being human, because he was in the public eye, and he has a commitment to that public, right? Perhaps when you’re leading a flock of people who believe every word you say that’s true, but should that translate to people like Dennis Rodman or George Michael? I don’t think so, but it won’t change.

Just ask Michael Phelps, arguably the greatest swimmer of all time, and he’ll probably tell you it’s not all it’s cracked up to be: celebrity. He’ll probably tell you that he’d like a Leonard Cohen afterworld now that he’s done with swimming. So he can sigh eternally. Oh, and George, thanks for just getting nicked up. We need new music from you.


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