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Rediff.com  » Movies » Thank you George for the good times!

Thank you George for the good times!

December 27, 2016 13:48 IST

'I swayed my arms in the air with strangers when George Michael sang Careless Whispers.'
'I was in heaven.'
Aseem Chhabra remembers a night in when he was mesmerised by George Michael.

George Michael. Photograph: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty ImagesOn December 25 I spent a good part of the evening watching festive videos on YouTube including the song Do They Know It's Christmas? by Band Aid -- a group of British pop stars brought together by Bob Geldof in 1984 to raise funds for the famine in Ethiopia.

It was a star studded affair with Sting, Boy George, Phil Collins and even the young and very handsome George Michael singing together for the first time.

I posted the song on Twitter with the comment 'It's been 32 years and yet so beautiful and meaningful.'

I woke up a couple of times in the middle of the night and checked my phone for messages and that is when I read the breaking news -- George Michael had died at the age of 53.

It felt as if watching the video of Do They Know It's Christmas? was almost a premonition for me.

It was indeed George Michael's Last Christmas.

In 1984 I was a young journalist in New York City. That summer I moved to Los Angeles for two years to work as the West Coast correspondent for the Indian-American publication, India Abroad.

I was short of money and couldn't afford a music system, but the newspaper did give me a car since I had to drive long distances. And there was a radio in the car.

That was the time when Tina Turner's Private Dancer album was a big hit and everyone was dancing to What's Love Got To Do With It? And the radio station I would listen to -- 102.7 KIIS FM with the RJ Rick Dees -- would also often play Sweet Dreams and Here Comes the Rain Again by Eurythmics, hits from Bruce Springsteen's successful album Born in the USA (Dancing in the Dark, Cover Me and Born in the USA), songs from Madonna's first album which had been released the year before, and two huge hits by a group I was just learning about -- Wham! -- the soft heartbreaking Careless Whispers and the exuberant Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.

I remember being in the car so many times and driving the extra distance, sometimes even missing my exits as I would be loudly singing along with Careless Whispers, hoping the song would never end.

Should've known better than to cheat a friend
And waste the chance that I've been given
So I'm never gonna dance again
The way I danced with you
...

I did that once with Sweet Dreams and had to drive several more miles to get back to where I was supposed to be heading.

The car -- an old Chevrolet -- was my refuge, my temple. I had been in the US for three years and lived alone in Los Angeles, spending long hours in my car stuck in traffic jams on the freeways.

KISS FM and its hit songs were my companions, especially the voices of Wham's handsome George Michael and his partner, school friend and equally good looking Andrew Ridgeley.

When I got a television in Los Angeles, I could watch the video of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. It was such a great dance song, although the lyrics and the imagery of the two sexy men dancing with white t-shirts that read Choose Life seemed a bit confusing.

Was that song actually about the pro-life movement? Was George Michael against abortion rights? I do not think so.

They later switch in the video to wearing tiny hot pants. There was a lot of energy in the video. Pop music was terribly thrilling. I danced a lot those days.

Wham! came to Los Angeles for an open-air concert and I got a ticket for the show. My ticket gave me access to the front area around the stage. I remember being surrounded by teenage schoolgirls sometimes accompanied by their boyfriends.

And when the duo came on stage, the young girls around me screamed "Andrew, I love you," "George, I love you."

I swayed my arms in the air with strangers when George Michael sang Careless Whispers. I was in heaven.

It was the best time for a twentysomething-year-old relative newcomer to America.

George continued to thrill me as a musician, performer with his solo career, first with the single I Want Your Sex and then the release of the album Faith, which also included the single Father Figure.

Even today the video of Faith with George in in blue jeans shaking his hips before the camera is sexually exhilarating.

In 1998, George Michael was booked for a 'lewd' sexual act in a men's room in a park in Beverley Hills. And this happened again in 2006 in London. The press -- especially the tabloids -- played up the sensational and gossipy part of the story.

He was a talented British musician, who was already out even before some celebrities in the US who thought it was cool to make a similar statement.

Despite his own struggles with his sexuality, George made being gay seem natural.

In the early 1990s my music tastes changed. I moved to listening to more Madonna, REM, U2. I switched from watching MTV to VH1 which programmed more classic rock songs.

And soon enough I transitioned to another world of music -- that of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his qawallis, attending eight concerts of the Sufi singer in New York City.

But I will never forget the two years I spent in Southern California. My early years in America went smoothly with the music I heard in my car.

And George Michael's voice and energy occupied a special space in that temple.

Jitterbug
You put the boom-boom into my heart
You send my soul sky high when your lovin’ starts
Jitterbug into my brain
Goes a bang-bang-bang 'til my feet do the same
...

Thank you George for the good times!

Aseem Chhabra