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  • Writer's pictureIshta Mercurio

Praying for Time: RIP, George Michael

George Michael: RIP Photo copyright Ishta Mercurio, 2017

I didn't expect my first post of the year to be a memorial post, but, well. A superstar dies on Christmas, and that's pretty much what fills my brain space for a while. Especially because that superstar was George Michael.

When I remember George Michael, I don't think about the guy in this picture. I think mostly about the George Michael of the '80s: big hair, big sunglasses, big holes in his jeans. The George Michael who gave us Faith and Father Figure and Monkey. The George Michael who was larger than life, who couldn't be contained by the television screen. This is the George Michael who most influenced me as a kid, whose attitude and persona I still both emulate and run away from. (It's never too cold to wear ripped jeans, by the way. I know. I live in Canada, and I've tested my theory.)

George Michael is one of two people whom I simultaneously wanted to be, and be with. The other person is Superman, which is quite the contrast with a pop icon who sang about sex and addiction and who danced around the screen in worn-out jeans and a leather jacket. But that was me: I wanted to be the best version of me that I could be, and I wanted to do it in a way that was impossible to ignore. This is what George Michael added to the mix: he was impossible to ignore. He painted a bright orange target made of ballsiness and slapped it up and said, "See that? Of course you do. Now get out there and hit it."

All my life, I have been aiming for that target. The thing -- the best thing -- about a target like that is that even when you hit it, it doesn't go away. Big hair, big smile, big holes in your jeans, big spiky heels, big stride... Hitting the confidence target isn't a one-and-done thing, it's an every day thing. It has to be.

And this is where the running away part comes in, because the same part of me that sought to emulate that sheer ME-ness of George Michael was the part that, after a decade steeped in lyrics that told me to be small, be fragile, be needy, be feminine, to look for a father figure to teach me how to be a woman... finally started to question them. This is the thing about wanting to both be and be with a male pop icon in our culture: you can't do it. The guy who tells you to put your tiny hand in his, who wants someone who has tiny hands in the first place? Who says he should be the one to guide you? Who wants a female partner who needs guidance in the first place? He's probably not gonna go for a gal who can hold her own. Ballsiness is going to be low on his list of attractive qualities in a woman. And I'm not saying George Michael was that guy in his real life, but in his pop star life, in his top-of-the-charts-single life, he was that guy. Who can blame him? He wanted to be a star, so he gave us what we wanted -- or thought we wanted -- to hear, and we bought all his records and we made him a star. That's how this works.

So George Michael gave me an example of ballsiness that I later put to use in order to turn away from the cultural attitudes about women that made him a superstar in the first place.

How's that for irony?

Despite the George Michael of the '80s being one of my primary pre-teen and early-teen influences, the George Michael I like best is the George Michael of the early '90s. The one who gave us one of my all-time favorite songs: Praying for Time. The one who looked back on the '80s and said, "Really? What were we all thinking? What was I thinking?"

The introspecitve one. The one who called it like he saw it, especially when he didn't like what he was looking at.

I'm still working on that. It's the whole "being Superman" thing -- it's hard for me to say things that aren't quite polite.

I suppose it is fitting that George Michael passed away near the end of 2016, the year of xenophobia and American Imperialism and Brexit and church shootings and police brutality and closing European borders to refugees and banning members of one religion because some of them are extremists while elevating members of another religion, even though some of them also happen to be extremists. In the year of denying that climate change is really happening, and insisting that money in the pockets of the few is more important than survival for the majority. It was a year for taking chances, I suppose. It appears that, as a species, humanity is running out of those. Maybe, after 26 years of telling us, George Michael finally decided that God really didn't have any children to come back for.

As he himself said: Maybe we should all be praying for time. After what we did to ourselves last year, we're going to need it.

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