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George Michael dies at age 53

British singer George Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist, died at his home in England on Sunday. He was 53.

In the mid-1980s, Wham! was one of the most successful pop duos ever, with singles like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper”, “Last Christmas” and “The Edge of Heaven.”

“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his publicist said in a statement.

“The family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult and emotional time. There will be no further comment at this stage,” the statement said.

British police said Michael’s death was “unexplained but not suspicious.”

Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou June 25, 1963 in London to Greek Cypriot immigrant parents in a flat above a north London laundrette, Michael once played music on the London underground train system before finding fame with Wham!.

With a school friend, Andrew Ridgeley, he formed Wham! in 1981, a partnership that would produce some of the most memorable pop songs and dance-floor favorites of the 1980s.

“I am in deep shock,” said Elton John. “I have lost a beloved friend – the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans. @GeorgeMichael #RIP.”

‘I WANT YOUR SEX’

The duo had their first hit with their second release “147;Young Guns (Go For It)” (1982) before their debut release “Wham Rap” became a hit the following year. The 1984 album “Make It Big” was a huge success in the United States.

“No way could I have done it without Andrew,” Michael once said. “I can’t think of anybody who would have been so perfect in allowing something which started out as a very naive, joint ambition, to become what was still a huge double act but what was really … mine.”

But Michael was keen to reach beyond Wham!’s teenage audience and to experiment with other genres. Wham! announced their split in 1986.

A pilot solo single “I Want Your Sex” was banned by daytime radio stations but was one of his biggest hits.

“I want your sex, I want you, I want your sex,” he sang. “So why don’t you just let me go, I’d really like to try, Oh I’d really love to know, When you tell me you’re gonna regret it, Then I tell you that I love you but you still say no!”

In the space of the next five years, Michael had six U.S. No. One hit singles including “Faith”, “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” “Praying For Time” and a duet with Aretha Franklin “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me.”

Questions about his sexuality were raised when he was arrested in 1998 for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom of the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, California.

“I feel stupid and reckless and weak for letting my sexuality be exposed that way,” Michael told CNN at the time. “But I do not feel shame )about my sexual orientation”, neither do I think I should.”

“I can try to fathom why I did what I did,” he continued, “but at the end of the day, I have to admit that maybe part of the kick was that I might get found out,” he told CNN.

Though he had relationships with women and once told family members that he was bisexual, Michael, then 34, said he was gay.

“Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael,” said Star Trek actor and LGBT rights activist George Takei. “You’ve found your Freedom, your Faith. It was your Last Christmas, and we shall miss you.”

While Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power, Michael voted for Britain’s opposition Labour Party but criticized Tony Blair’s support for George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Sad to hear that George Michael has died,” said current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “He was an exceptional artist and a strong supporter of LGBT and workers’ rights.”

Michael’s death comes at the end of a year that has seen the passing of several music superstars, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Rick Parfitt, the guitarist of British rock group Status Quo, died on Saturday at 68.

George Michael’s voice soars on ‘Symphonica’

The best news about George Michael’s first album of all-new recordings in 10 years is that his vocal talent and charisma have not dimmed with time. Unfortunately, Symphonica feels a bit snoozy. His long-term fans likely want something uptempo on the order of “Faith,” “Freedom ’90” or “Amazing” before the music winds up with the 1940s pop standard “You’ve Changed.” 

The album was recorded on Michael’s 2011–2012 Symphonica concert tour. He selects a repertoire ranging from a redo of his 1988 pop smash “One More Try” to Nina Simone’s classic “Feeling Good” and standards like “My Baby Just Cares For Me.” A full orchestra accompanies him on the album, the last to be produced by Phil Ramone before his death a year ago.

One surprise here is that Michael’s slower songs, such as “Praying For Time” and “A Different Corner,” have taken on additional resonance with age. The former originally was decried as overly preachy, but the warnings in the lyrics are perhaps even more relevant today. The latter song cuts to the heart with its exploration of the role fear plays in intimate relationships. 

Michael uses the album in part to pay tribute to other gay pop icons. He covers Elton John’s tale of personal downfall “Idol,” from John’s album Blue Moves, as well as Rufus Wainwright’s powerful, questioning “Going To a Town.” Michael also takes some opportunities to infuse vocal drama into the proceedings. His intimate reading of the Depression Era “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” bobs and sways, wringing out every bit of pathos from the song. He takes full advantage of the pregnant pauses in “Wild Is the Wind,” from the 1950s film classic.

For hardcore Michael fans, Symphonica is a must. He’s one of the most gifted of contemporary pop vocalists, and we are reminded here that his songwriting holds up well among a wide range of standards from other songwriters and performers.

But the album does feel like it’s somewhat of a place marker, reminding us what the singer can do while we wait for his next collection of all-new songs — perhaps later this year.

Review: George Michael in fine voice on live album

George Michael, “Symphonica” (Islands)

Forget about the health issues and personal problems – George Michael sounds just fine, super in fact, on his first new album in seven years, recorded live during his 2011-2012 “Symphonica” tour in Europe.

Time has not taken a toll on Michael’s voice, which if anything sounds more supple and emotive than during his earlier pop incarnations. Gone is the swagger and blatant “come and get it” sexuality, replaced by a more subtle singer happy to pay homage to Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye and other giants as the album unfolds. He strikes a wistful tone, lamenting lost youth, in “John and Elvis Are Dead,” and captures the yearning and loss at the heart of the old standard “Wild Is the Wind.” There’s a jazzy feel, with some swing, to his cover of the timeless “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” and he captures perfectly, without overdoing it, the pathos of the American depression-era classic “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.”

Michael avoids a number of traps on this album, which was produced by the late Phil Ramone, who also teamed with the singer in 1999 on “Songs From the Last Century.” Michael deserves credit for moving deftly into big band and orchestral territory without in any way trying to imitate the master, Frank Sinatra, or taking on the vocal tics of the many other artists who have turned to American standards as a mid-career tonic. The style and phrasings are all his own, confident and understated, and the sparse arrangements allow ample room for his hypnotic voice to soar. By instinct, he shies way from self-dramatizing vocal pyrotechnics, letting the melodies and lyrics carry the day.

There is a simple clarity to this approach, but it also means the new release can seem a bit slow in places. The beat is too subdued, the tempo too languid, and the production too lush at times. The collection could use a showstopper, a hint of R&B, a touch of cruelty or anger to set off its mellow tone. It would benefit from a bit more tension, more of a climax toward the end.

But the quality of the singing puts Michael head and shoulders ahead of the other middle-aged and older English rockers looking to the Great American Songbook for inspiration. Michael sounds effortless and free, as if he could do this for decades to come.

Report: George Michael healthy, home for Christmas

Austria’s state broadcaster says British pop star George Michael has been released from a Vienna hospital and will be able to celebrate Christmas at home.

The 48-year-old was being treated for pneumonia. Broadcaster ORF says he was released early Dec. 22 from the AKH hospital and was catching a flight to London later in the day.

A woman answering the hospital phone said she could not comment due to confidentiality laws.

The former front man for the pop group “Wham” was hospitalized late last month after canceling a performance in the Austrian capital.

Source: AP

Not unknown for long | WiGOUT! interviews Holcombe Waller

Out singer/songwriter and theatrical performance artist Holcombe Waller is about to become a more familiar name. He composed the score for the eagerly anticipated AIDS documentary “We Were Here.” And his breathtaking new disc “Into The Dark Unknown” (Napoleon) was recently released.

Gregg Shapiro: You were at Sundance for the premiere screening of “We Were Here.” What was that like?

Holcombe Waller: It was different than I expected. (Sundance) is very big, and it covers a lot of area. So, I spent a lot of time on buses and in cars getting between different theaters. It was a great experience. The film is extremely important and quite heavy. So the audiences, which were very full, totally full, were deeply impacted by the film and afterwards for the Q&A. It was really profound for me to also spend some time with the interviewees in the film and get to know them, because they’re just incredible people.

“We Were Here” documents the early years of AIDS in San Francisco and its devastating impact. It’s David Weissman’s and Bill Weber’s first film since 2002’s “The Cockettes.” How did you come to work with them?

David called me last spring and told me about the project and just said, “I can’t imagine anyone but you doing the music.” He wanted the film to be almost completely silent (laughs). So he said the music that is there has to be exactly right. I’d say there’s about 17 minutes of music in the film, there’s about 90 minutes of film. He wanted the music to be completely non-sentimental. And he kept making this gesture with his hand, sort of like drawing a line horizontally in space. He wanted a kind of evenness, but at the same time he wanted it to be deeply emotionally facilitating, while not being at all manipulative. In other words kind of holding a space, and I guess he felt that my music did that.

Not that I’m counting, but seven years passed between the release of “Troubled Times” and “Into The Dark Unknown”

Six, technically. I moved to Portland, and that was when we put out “Troubled Times,” and I actually had more than an album’s worth of material probably less than a year later. But for some reason I had this other vision of what I wanted to do. I was in the process of branching out into performing arts, because I stumbled into a musical when I moved to Portland. … And then I ended up connecting with Joe Goode, who was like my idol in performing arts when I was in San Francisco. I ended up taking multiple performance workshops with him and then collaborating with him and his performance group, which was a really big deal for me.

I started developing performances that involved me dressing up like a clown and making huge amounts of video production, which is actually what I studied in college and hadn’t really used since I graduated. And I had been approached by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the local presenter equivalent to the Public Theater or something like that. They’re amazing, and they helped me to get grants and commissions for the work that ended up being the follow-up to that crazy clown piece which was “Into the Dark Unknown: The Hope Chest.”

So, all of this happened over the course of the first three years I was in Portland. In that time, I did have an album’s worth of material, some of which is included in this new record; but I was really excited and enthusiastic about all the performing arts work I was doing. And so, all of the money and energy got funneled into that.

“Troubled Times” was more of a straightforward pop album, whereas “Into The Dark Unknown” is more of a concept album. It consists of both studio recording and live recordings. Why did you choose to include both instead of re-recording them in the studio?

I did re-record them in the studio (laughs). Several times, mainly in 2009. And didn’t have a lot of success with that. We have some really nice recordings. They certainly sound good, but there was something about the live interaction of elements with this material that just seemed to hold a certain magic. Particularly with the ensemble. These are classical players, they’re not rock and pop players, and they simply do best when seated in a shoe-shaped semi-circle. Because those instruments were designed to interface at an overtone level. I think experienced ensemble players can perceive that when seated next to each other and hearing the ambient combination of the multiple instruments bouncing around the room. But when you isolate the instruments in separate rooms and plug them into headphones that same effect is not occurring. It deeply affects the performance.

I just found out that none other than Boy George is going to be doing some touring and has a new CD coming out. And there’s also been the reissue of George Michael’s “Faith.” As a 21st century out musician, do either of those names have special relevance to you?

Well, they both do, of course. More so for George Michael. Not at all because of anything to do with being out. I have to say, I don’t feel like he’s handled that very well.

That was very diplomatic of you.

For which I don’t blame him, but even today he keeps doing things and I’m like, “Jesus, George. It’s time to see a psychoanalyst and just get over it.” But I can sing you that record from beginning to end. And it has nothing to do with sexuality. I was aware that I was gay at the time, but I wasn’t out because I was like 15 or 16. But it had more to do with the conciseness and completeness of the vision of that record is just amazing.

Yeah, it’s pretty perfect.

Perfect. A perfect pop record that also conveyed a lot of feeling and yeah, we loved it. And, honestly, I learned to sing listening to George Michael. When I sang when I was younger I sang like he did, and I still can. And it’s partly why Spin Magazine made the comparison (to me) “George Michael meets Jeff Buckley” back in 2001.