Last night when I got back from my activities , I found that to my surprise that there were dozens of views on a post I had written some time ago about the music of George Michael, among other things . At first, I did not know why the blog entry had been so popular, as I have written from time to time on George Michael and his influence on music , and did not see any particular reason for this personal essay to have been so popular and notable. Then I looked up articles this morning and realized that people had been visiting my website because George Michael had died in his 50’s of apparent heart failure. As much as I write about the death of celebrities, I dislike the fact that so many of them die young .
One one level, it appears likely that George Michael’s early death from heart failure was related to his well-publicized drug problems. It is also likely that his heart problems as well as his drug problems were probably related from his having lived in the public eye from the time of his youth when he was part of Wham! all through his turbulent solo career marked by conflict with his record label and being outed as a result of an incident with a police officer that he lampooned in his song “Outside.” George Michael is the sort of artist it would be easy to troll if one was so inclined–few artists have taken themselves more seriously or have been more combative or critical of the parasitic nature of celebrity culture or the way that police try to get themselves in the news by bringing famous people down and reminding everyone that they are only one mistake away from trouble themselves. Yet despite the fact that I have found many of George Michael’s songs to be more than a little troubling and the fact that I find much in his life that is not worthy of celebration or emulation, I do not feel in the mood to troll George Michael. I consider him, like so many people, to be the sort of soul that suffered a lot in his life and sought to create worthwhile and lasting art, and I think that much of his music will stand the test of time and be enjoyed for decades to come despite the changing fads.
Why is it that artists often suffer so much? I think that there are a great many reasons, and think this to be a worthwhile occasion to reflect on them a little bit. For one, the artistic temperament in general is a sensitive one. Those who create art in many ways have permeable boundaries between the craziness of the world outside of them and the craziness of the world inside of them, and the actions and words of others hit just a little bit closer to home than they do for many people. It should come as little surprise that in a world as cruel as this one that sensitive people should be greatly tormented–sensitivity marks one fairly early in life as an easy target for the teasing and bullying of others, and it is out of this sensitivity that great art comes from. It is also true that the combination of intense sensitivity and teasing and the way that artists are encouraged to break the rules and reject the ways of the past that many sensitive people of artistic temperament find themselves engaged in all kinds of moral depravity and addictions to drugs and alcohol to numb the horror and anguish and torment they feel continually. It takes a special, perhaps even foolish kind of bravery to seek to endure life of an artist without numbing it with chemicals.
Yet each time I see someone die of heart problems in their 50’s or 40’s, or even earlier, I reflect upon my own mortality. My own father died of a heart attack at 59, which was the beginning of a personal crisis that reminded me of my own mortality. His own struggle against the abyss, which had not always been successful, had eventually destroyed his own heart. My own struggle against that same darkness could just as easily destroy mine. To what extent has my own heart been damaged by the course of my complicated life and by my own excessive sensitivity. To what extent have I increased the burden on the hearts of those around me? Has my life served to ease the burdens of others, or has my awkwardness increased those burdens by inflaming the sensitivities of those whom I deeply care for in my own restrained way. Perhaps every artist wonders the same thing, reflecting both on the damage they have suffered and the damage they have caused because the sensitivity works both ways, in that what we feel we process and deal with, and not always in the most beneficial way.
So, how do we remember a man like George Michael? Do we reflect on the life he lived in the public eye and the way he struggled to have patience with the process by which someone gained popularity and then gained respect as an elder statesman of sorts? Do we identify with his struggles, revel in celebrating his scandals, or condemn his notable moral and legal failures? Do we enjoy his music and try to ignore his personal life, even though his personal life was a major element in the art that he created? As I have commented on before, my own thoughts of George Michael and his music and legacy are somewhat complicated, in that there is much about his music to appreciate, much in his personal life to seek to avoid copying and much about his own sensitivities and struggles to identify with. Let us all seek to listen without trolling as much as possible when it comes to the music of deceased artists; who knows whether we could deal with the demented culture of our times any better than they did? I do not feel sanguine about anyone surviving being a celebrity in our decadent culture without being deeply corrupted and damaged by the process. Even being a fairly obscure person with no particular fame is too stressful and anxiety-inducing for me to enjoy on a regular basis, so I have no desire to throw stones at others from the porch of my own glass house.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: