George Michael’s Biographer, James Gavin, on Cruising and Cottaging


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George Michael

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley (Wham!) in Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear.

When George Michael misplaced an infamous 1994 case in the direction of his file label, Sony Music, few had been acutely aware that the dance-pop icon‘s motivation for seeking justice wasn’t creative outrage, as he claimed publicly, nevertheless inconsolable grief. Closeted and heartbroken after the AIDS-related dying of Anselmo Feleppa, the love of his life, Michael channeled his anger into approved battles. But peace proved elusive to the artist, even after he obtained right here out to his avid fanbase.

This painful chapter inside the British singer’s life is detailed in James Gavin’s scintillating new biography, George Michael: A Life. Gavin, a musicologist and virtuoso biographer acknowledged for diving deep into the interior worlds of music icons like Chet Baker, Lena Horne, and Peggy Lee, has turned his unsparing eye and historian’s lens on the pop legend whose stardom, at its peak, rivaled that of Madonna and Michael Jackson. Like a wonderful ’80s gay rising up in Texas, I did poppers on the dance flooring to Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper,” and I embraced Faith when Michael went solo. But then I forgot about him—until I’d hear info of his latest arrest or drug scandal. Gavin’s eloquent and meticulous biography equipped me with an understanding of Michael’s struggles, and opened my ears to a George Michael oeuvre that transcended his best-known pop confections.  The e-book arrives correct on the heels of George Michael: Freedom, an updated launch of the acclaimed 2017 documentary. “That word freedom,” says Gavin, “had so much irony in the George Michael story, and is so far from the truth.” I visited Gavin, a longtime good pal who I’d first met after I arrived at his Upper West Side condominium to debate his 2014 biography of Peggy Lee. I returned earlier this month to his compact studio condominium, nonetheless crammed with teetering skyscrapers of CDs, vinyl, cassette tapes, and books, for a dialog about George Michael—the moments behind the songs, and the individual behind the tabloid headlines.


JAMIE BRICKHOUSE: I’m having déjà vu sitting with you in your purple velvet sofa under your loft mattress. Why did you want to write about George Michael?

JAMES GAVIN: With all that I write, my antennae vibrate from miles away after I sense any one who’s pained, troubled, confused. When George Michael launched his Older album in 1996, it grabbed me in a strategy that nothing sooner than had managed to do. Each monitor was like a diary entry. I resolved that I wanted to put in writing about this man because of anyone who could take a turbulent, tortured life and create magnificence out of it has my fascination.

BRICKHOUSE: Do you take into account George as a vital artist?

GAVIN: God certain, I do! You know the album of necessities known as Songs from the Last Century?

BRICKHOUSE: Yes, due to your e-book. I’ve since listened to it two or thrice.

George Michael

George Michael in Saint Tropez.

GAVIN: That album really has it occurring. “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” is a unimaginable effectivity. George was gifted at creating catchy tunes that caught in people’s heads, nevertheless he moreover had a pure current for singing. His voice was shot through with humanity that touched people’s hearts.

BRICKHOUSE: Did you ever see him perform?

GAVIN: One time at Madison Square Garden. It was the 25 Live Tour in 2008. George had a Frank Sinatra-like charisma that may fill a stadium. He was a sort of artists who stroll out on stage and rivet you sooner than even singing a remember.

BRICKHOUSE: But he sometimes hated doing these enviornment live performance occasions, didn’t he?

GAVIN: He did 4 large excursions in his lifetime, the first was the Faith tour. It was the tip results of all of the items that he had dreamed of since he was a toddler. He had achieved his dream—to a colossal diploma—and created this false character, George Michael, in a signature biker jacket.

BRICKHOUSE: He was presupposed to be straight?

GAVIN: He was definitely presupposed to be straight. He regarded out and seen a stadium full of people screaming for what he felt was a lie. He was in misery all through that tour. He known as it the worst experience of his life. From that point until he died, he set about tearing down the George Michael doll. He continued to play that half until 1998, when he obtained after leaving a males’s toilet. That, and the dearth of his mother in 1997 and of Anselmo [his partner who died of AIDS in 1993] devastated him, and he went about destroying himself.

BRICKHOUSE: Did you assume he was gay sooner than he was outed by the restroom incident?

GAVIN: During the explosion of Faith, the complete iconography of George Michael, along with close-ups on his ass in tight jeans, had an nearly campy butchness. I don’t take into account ever George Michael and not pondering he was gay.

BRICKHOUSE: I felt the an identical strategy. To me, he outed himself on “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” with the lyric, “as bright as Doris Day.” Come on, no straight man for the time being would put Doris Day in a lyric. [Gavin laughs] I like that you just broke the data that Doris, as you quote her inside the e-book, said, “I love that record! It doesn’t matter that my name is in it.”

GAVIN: His viewers was primarily screaming girls which made him very uncomfortable too. Simon Napier-Bell, one in every of many managers who helped create the Wham! sensation, said after George obtained right here out, “It didn’t matter, because most girls think they can turn gay guys straight.”

BRICKHOUSE: [Laughs] Is Napier-Bell gay?

GAVIN: Oh, god certain! If you check out the viewers on the ultimate 25 Live DVD, you see the an identical ladies who’ve been screaming for him as a result of the Wham! days. They are years older and nonetheless screaming. That’s kind of implausible, isn’t it?

BRICKHOUSE: What’s your favorite monitor of his?

GAVIN: My favorite little question is “Spinning the Wheel” from the Older album, sooner than he had publicly come out. Any gay man listening to it is going to immediately know this was a monitor regarding the dangers of cruising inside the age of AIDS and being in a relationship with a promiscuous particular person. There isn’t any strategy that this monitor is about the remainder. It has this spooky, nighttime actually really feel to it. At the highest of the monitor, whereas George was inside the studio—this was his idea—he lights a joint and additionally you hear the flame contact it, and additionally you hear the crackling. That is the sound of being in Hampstead Heath [where Michael was notorious for cruising] or one other cruising park at evening time inside the days when males used to carry lit cigarettes to level their presence at nighttime. Brilliant.

1656546853 636 George Michaels Biographer James Gavin on Cruising and Cottaging

George Michael at Wembley Arena, 1993. Photo by Kevin Mazuri.

BRICKHOUSE: Your e-book dishes up his glamorously, jet set life. Tell me about St. Tropez.


GAVIN: [Laughs] For a person like George, St. Tropez was nearly a requirement. Elton John had a house in St. Tropez—or near St. Tropez—and George was very rigorously mimicking Elton John in these years, the late ’80s and early ’90s. Somebody that he seen quite a few was this man Tony Garcia, a dreamboat who George had a mad crush on. Tony was not putting out. It drove George crazy, nevertheless out of that obtained right here his first large solo hit. Tony was the inspiration for “I Want Your Sex,” so George obtained one factor out of it.

BRICKHOUSE: I can’t take into consideration turning George Michael down. The e-book is crammed with hilarious, harrowing, heartbreaking tales. Tell me about one or two inside the e-book that may be new to followers of George Michael.

GAVIN: Well, the events that preceded his recording session in London with Tony Bennett is one. The evening time sooner than, he related with a trick, left the house spherical 8:00 AM, was completely blotto, couldn’t drive his vehicle and was colliding collectively together with his neighbors’ cars, nevertheless managed to pull it collectively for Tony, arrive that afternoon on the recording session and do that duet with him [“How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”]. On the monitor, George sounds top quality. He looks as if himself.

BRICKHOUSE: You have a quote of his inside the e-book from the Los Angeles Times. He said, “I think that is the ultimate tragedy of fame . . . people who are simply out of control, who are lost. I’ve seen so many of them, and I don’t want to be another cliché.”

GAVIN: He didn’t want to, nevertheless he was powerless to stop it.

BRICKHOUSE: You do a wonderful job of exhibiting the arc of his dependancy. I say this as a person in restoration for 13 years. Pot sometimes will get a free journey after we discuss dependancy and the dangerous outcomes. It’s like “Well, but pot doesn’t make you drive your car off a cliff, or not sleep for days.” Your portrait of George’s marijuana use by way of the years displays that it’s horribly dangerous. He said that pot kills ambition.

GAVIN: George couldn’t exist with out it, nevertheless pot was not adequate for him at a certain stage.

BRICKHOUSE: Didn’t he like “champagne”?

GAVIN: Yes. That was his nicknames for GHB or G [gamma hydroxybutyrate]. I really feel George started using it about 2004. GHB is a very seductive drug. It’s sometimes used as an enhancement for intercourse, like crystal meth, because of it lowers your inhibitions and you’re feeling as in case you’re flying extreme. He was having quite a few anonymous intercourse, cruising or “cottaging.”

BRICKHOUSE: That’s the British time interval for having intercourse in public park bogs, because of they appear like little Victorian cottages. I take into account them after I lived in London.

GAVIN: [Grins] Right. People who do it say it’s about freedom and self-expression, and fuck you in case you don’t favor it. But in George’s case, this act was accompanied by an infinite amount of shame and self-hatred. Drugs helped ease that for him. I don’t understand how good a time he was actually having when he was hooking up with that rent boy who would supply him with G. Very close to the highest, George went away to an expensive Swiss rehab center the place he spent about $1.5 million, on and off, for a number of 12 months. Within six months it obtained right here crashing down spherical him. It merely didn’t work.

George Michael

George Michael and Friends in Saint Tropez.

BRICKHOUSE: What do you assume was the perfect tragedy of his life?

GAVIN: It’s the an identical as the perfect tragedy in a lot of lives: he couldn’t love himself. He couldn’t unravel his self-hatred. He could under no circumstances de-program what had been programmed into him since he was a baby.

BRICKHOUSE: What do you assume his legacy as a gay icon and pioneer will be? I actually really feel, as you say inside the e-book, that as embarrassing as his park toilet outing was, it did develop to be a constructive. He was saying, “Sex is okay, and we’re not hurting anyone by doing this.” He launched that out into the open better than it had been, I really feel.

GAVIN: Absolutely! That’s a wonderful stage, and he had executed this with “I Want Your Sex” 11 years earlier. In his phrases, “Sex is natural / sex is good / not everybody does it / but everybody should.”


GAVIN: He opened up the dialogue. Show enterprise had ceaselessly been filled with these safe, goofy gay guys like Paul Lynde, who had been no menace to anybody. The threatening ones had been these like George. The ones who had been scorching, and who weren’t a clownish cliché of gay life, like Elton John. George confirmed the world that gay males are sexual creatures. When he obtained right here out, he moreover pressured a whole problem out of the closet.

BRICKHOUSE: It moreover shone a lightweight on the historic previous of police entrapping homosexuals. He was irate about it and vocal about it.

GAVIN: There’s barely P.S. to that story—the cop tried to sue George for defamation of character and misplaced, because of it was decided—I’ve the court docket docket doc—that entrapment, regardless of it took to arrest gay males for public intercourse, was okay. Therefore, George’s accusations about what the cop had weren’t defamatory. They had been in his job description.

BRICKHOUSE: Can you play your favorite monitor, “Spinning the Wheel”?

GAVIN:  Now?

BRICKHOUSE: Yeah. Nice strategy to take us out.

GAVIN: Sure. No disadvantage. I’ve the George Michael CDs upstairs.

BRICKHOUSE: You’re busting my cherry on this. I’ve under no circumstances heard it.

GAVIN: Really? It’s so swaggering and darkish and enticing.


GAVIN: There’s a nastiness to his voice on this monitor, because of George knew the sexiness of hazard. What a terrific assertion on gay relationships. This is simply not about straight relationships in any strategy.


GAVIN: Wait, proper right here it comes. [George Michael flicks a lighter and a burning joint crackles] There it’s.


Jamie Brickhouse is the author of Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir of Booze, Sex, and My Mother and the forthcoming memoir, I Favor My Daddy: A Tale of Two Sissies. He has been printed inside the New York Times, Washington Post, Salon, Daily Beast, and the Huffington Post.


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