I have an arbitrary decision making process when it comes to my personal taste. Or at least it seems that way, as I look back over the likes and dislikes cultivated throughout my life. If I scratch the surface with a penknife instead of a nickel, however, I find that many of these opinions were formed from an aversion to anything the general populace finds terrific. I recognize this does not make me special and there are many other surly miscreants who eschew all movies starring Bradley Cooper or have never actually heard a song by Beyonce. But upon further examination, I realized this makes these opinions no less arbitrary. Stubbornness is rarely pretty.
This tendency to run in the opposite direction from all things universally celebrated comes from growing up in a small town. Small towns don’t usually have room for the different. Different pokes and prods and makes the skin itch. Different tries to pull the lid back on the carton to see what lies inside and small towns have spent centuries making sure those lids stay hermetically sealed. Yet there are always those of us who are unfortunate enough to be born into these small towns with an insatiable desire to the break the seal on this box. In the past we were run out of town a rail. Now, we usually just leave. We take with us an attitude, formed from constantly being told we must conform or the world will implode and all of its citizens will spend eternity roasting in hell, universally condemned with those of us who flaunted our differences like a burning flag.
We run into our new lives, embracing the cold shock of freedom. We explore every nook and cranny, digging out unknown pieces of ourselves in thrift shops and museums, in record stores and other people’s trash cans. We pierce unbelievable parts of our bodies and play connect the dots on our skin, making sure everyone knows just how different we really are. Somewhere along the way I realized these differences had just tumbled into a big heap of another kind of meaningless conformity and that different for different’s sake was just as boring as not wearing white after Labor Day.
And the person I have to thank for this revelation is George Michael.
Now, perhaps you might think, as I once did, that one could not find a more consummate piece of popular fluff than George. The first time I heard Wham! I became quickly nauseated, and that was before I even saw the tans and the short shorts. I was involved in theater back then, so Careless Whisper assaulted me every time I entered the green room. People kept saying how fabulous these British boys were. I sneered and turned up the volume on Elvis Costello. When George put his on big boy pants and unleashed Faith on the world, I went into the other room and closed the door.
Still, that sound seeped under the door, like smoke from a smoldering cigarette that somehow slipped between the cushions. It tickled my ear and begged me to come out and play. A quiet voice inside my head said:
Does this really suck?
A moment passed. I had a small revel in this rusty part of myself, the part that feels true. But the narcissistic critic sprang quickly back to life and I went on thinking George was just another soulless manufactured pop idol with no substance.
Fast forward ten years. George and I have both been through a lot, although any encounters I had with law enforcement never made the papers. I began working at an haute couture shop in Houston, which was almost as bad as being in jail. One night, as my fellow inmates and I were folding and steaming, perfecting the merchandise for the next day’s customers to destroy, I heard a song that lifted me out of my sullen reverie.
“Who is this?” I said, eager to hear about this superb artist with brilliance enough to change my mood in an instant. When my coworker told me it was George Michael, she could have knocked me over with puff of disco fog. I was stunned. I marveled at the fact that I had spent so long avoiding this man who had the mojo to soothe my ravaged soul.
But could I really embrace him? I mean, really. What would my omni-cool friends say?
Who cares, whispered the same true voice inside my head.
I ventured a toe in the water. I bought George’s greatest hits, only listening to the For the Feet CD at first, ’cause it was kind of groovy. Freedom ’90 drilled a hole in my bones, pouring a super sweet syrup into my soul that lifted me to a higher plane.
I moved to Austin not long after that and the longer I lived there, the more I noticed that people didn’t really care if you listened to George Michael or Don Ho, as long as you had the liner notes to back it up.
I finally put on George’s For the Heart disc one rainy afternoon. Praying for Time made me cry. I felt my own hermetically sealed carton opening. I realized I had spent my entire adulthood living a life that was just as intransigent as the folks I ran away from when I turned eighteen. I saw now that George and I were not so different. He had risked a monumentally successful career to be true to who he really is and who he loves. As I shed the last of my cool conformity, I felt a true kinship with George, knowing I had found an unalterable part of me.
And just like that, I was a bona fide fan. I bought George’s old albums, and his new ones. I talked to anyone who would listen, letting them know what an under appreciated artist he is, how the uptight, bullheaded cretins of the world had dismissed his brilliance all because of a simple park dalliance that harmed no one. Why are Americans so afraid of (homo)sexuality anyway? The answer is simple. Control. If we were free to be, you and me, the government, the church, any powers that be, would lose control of us. Control equals money. You do the math.
George and I continue to fight the power. I have embraced my love for the Carpenters and Billy Joel and Barry Manilow. I can reasonably tolerate my best friend’s obsession with Mariah Carey. Prying open these corners of my mind has enabled me to love humankind as a whole. Okay, okay I still have my moments. Sometimes it’s hard to love those who don’t shower for days on end in the midst of a Texas triple-digit summer. But more often than not, George is there, reminding me that these people are people, just like him and me, and we all walk this earth through the same universe, mounting battles against the afflictions that come our way. Whether it be your own personal hygiene, or a need to tap your toes to Katy Perry, this is America, dammit. Go your own way.
if this resonated with you in any way, click the heart below and i will love you forever.