What an educational year 2016 has been, largely thanks to several front-page obituaries for great ‘artistes’ I had never heard of.
George Michael was one such, almost. Although I had heard his name, it was mainly in connection with various drug and sex scandals. I also knew he had something to do with pop music (an oxymoron, as far as I’m concerned).
Yet until today I hadn’t heard him sing a single note – and I still haven’t. That is, overcoming physical revulsion, I’ve made the effort of listening to a few of his songs. But I can’t describe Michael as a singer of notes.
Notes, and what they convey, are sung by musicians, which Michael wasn’t. He was a shaman of a pernicious cult. Every sound intoned by such shamans screams defiance of our culture, emphatically including music.
The couple of pieces I’ve heard suggest a modest ability, sufficient for gigs at seedy clubs in the dangerous parts of town, where one never goes except to indulge a perverse taste for slumming.
Yet judging by the tributes densely packing the front pages of formerly respectable newspapers, Michael was a musical genius, the equal of Bach and Beethoven, if expressing himself in a different genre. Here are some titbits:
“I’ve loved George Michael for as long as I can remember. He was an absolute inspiration. Always ahead of his time.”
“Honest, genuine talent.”
“…loss of another talented soul.”
“Heartbroken… Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved.”
“…the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist.” (What happened to ‘artiste’? ‘Artist’ is so-o-o-o twentieth century.)
“What a beautiful voice he had and his music will live on as a testament to his talent.”
“A lot of us owe him an unpayable debt.” (‘A lot of us’ have bought 100 million albums by Michael. Surely that counts as at least partial repayment?)
“Another Great Artist leaves us.” Capitalised, no less.
Many weeping obituaries talk about Michael’s life, which has been – what shall we call it, in the nil nisi bonum spirit? – rather uninhibited. By his own admission he smoked up to 25 joints a day, was addicted to crack and for a long period had a new man in his life on average every five days.
In 1998, Michael was busted for performing ‘a lewd act’ in a Beverly Hills public lavatory, the kind of site that witnessed many of his conquests. He called the act “subconsciously deliberate”, as if soliciting sex next to the urinals could have been accidental.
Then there were arrests for drug offences (one for smoking crack in yet another public lavatory), a prison sentence for driving (under the influence) his SUV into a Snappy Snaps shop in Hampstead – all in all, ‘uninhibited’ is a fair description of Michael’s life.
Another description is suicidal, for one doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist to realise that Michael was systematically trying to kill himself, finally succeeding at age 53.
That’s another proof that he had nothing to do with music, for no great composer has ever killed himself (Tchaikovsky’s suicide is disputed). There’s something about music qua music that discourages that sort of thing.
However, for today’s quasi-musical shamans dying of old age is somehow illogical. Such bourgeois conformism would compromise the religious-surrogate aspect of pop. It’s not just the shamans’ vocal excretions or bodily gyrations that make up their appeal, but the totality of their lives.
While, say, the Beatles still tried to preserve a semblance of musicality, their followers have abandoned any such attempts. More and more, pop appeals not just to the darker side of human nature but to the sulphuric swamp concealed underneath.
The appeal continues to be quasi-religious, in the same sense in which the antichrist is the negative image of Christ. While Jesus had to die on the cross to fulfil his mission, the hypostases of the new god commit suicide or die of alcoholism, drug overdose, AIDS or, if they’re truly blessed, a combination thereof.
All those Sid Viciouses, Freddie Mercuries, David Bowies and George Michaels aren’t just dead pop performers. They’re martyrs at the altar of our anomic modernity. Pop goes the weasel of our culture.
At the risk of upsetting some of my readers, I dare say even if a decent person doesn’t mind the ‘music’, he should be turned off by the cultish, often overtly satanic, aspects of pop.
Purveyors of the new cult cultivate this image consciously – they know that hints at the devil pay handsome dividends. That’s why they perform in clouds of billowing smoke symbolising hell with a typical lack of subtlety, wear predominantly black (sometimes crimson) clothes, sport dark glasses making them look sinister – whatever works.
Aesthetic sense isn’t a prerequisite of a decent person, but moral sense is. And it’s that faculty that ought to be offended by the pop cult.
George Michael, RIP.