A few weeks after George Michael's death in 2016, I wrote a piece about how much his passing had affected me. This was a year after David Bowie had died, when I couldn't understand how people talked about being in tears over his death. He was a legend for sure, but why be so personally affected? What happened when I discovered the news about George was that I was in shock for about 10 minutes, then burst into uncontrolable tears. So here I was doing exactly what others had over Bowie. My article tried to explore why.
The recent death of Sinead O'Connor at just 56 is tragic and it makes me sad, but the emotional attachment is not the same. There are famous people I have admired, cheered and sung to, but no one has touched me personally, in the way George has. What has surprised me even more in the years since though, is that his death still makes me cry. In fact, I have shed more tears over him, than I have for my mum, who died almost 17 years ago.
When Andrew Ridgeley appeared on radio and TV recently to promote the Wham! documentary, I was in tears every time. When I watched the film, there I was blubbing. A lot. There is a particular song of his that sparks the reaction too. In the 1990s, he recorded Tonight on a tribute album for Elton John. It is simply beautiful. It's a sad song but why the emotional response? I think it is important to try and understand why it happens and not hide it.
What I explained in the original article was that at 14 I fell in love with George and the hits of Wham!, when boys at school would talk about 'cooler' bands like The Smiths. I pretended to like other artists to try and connect with the in-crowd but at home I would be happily singing to Young Guns and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go for hours. His songs were key to when I met my wife too, with his album Older a soundtrack to our early years together. When I eventually got to see him live at Earls Court in November 2006, it was only weeks after my mum had died.
This last connection is perhaps the strongest. My mum loved George Micheal almost as much as she adored Freddie Mercury ("my Freddie" she always used to say) and when he walked on stage at Earls Court, I thought how much she would have loved to be there. This deep connection to mum is obviously key to why George still makes me feel so emotional to this day. But I believe there is something even deeper than that.
Without music my life would be very different. My life has a constant soundtrack and songs connect at key points. It's the same for lots of people. A song can take you to a moment; a place; a person. It will make you happy, sad, reflective. Coupled with this, is the formative time you connect to music. For me it was aged 13 to 16 when I became consumed by music. That time as a teenager is hard and music can help you through it.
All of these factors, being a teenager when Wham! were famous, playing his music on the radio, to an audience including my future wife and my mum's premature passing, all give George Michael's death extra resonance to me. Others will feel the same I am sure, so I am not claiming it's just me who feels it. But I am reminded of something my mum often said to me. "David, you take it so personally". Well, although I didn't 'know' George, it felt like I did and so to me, it is personal. That's why I am happy to embrace the emotional response his death still creates, even if it does catch me out from time to time.