Wham!, George Michael, & Me: A Memoir, by Andrew Ridgeley
I must admit that as an American, my familiarity with the music of Wham! really involves their second album, which was by far the most popular in the states. George Michael is similarly familiar as a solo artist . As is frequently the case among artists, George Michael lived a fast life and died too young, after leaving behind a great deal of scandal and disorder in his personal life. Few people are better equipped to write a sympathetic but also informative memoir of George Michael than Andrew Ridgeley, former gradeschool chum and former bandmate. To be sure, Andrew Ridgeley is the quintessential contemporary example of someone who had a brief experience of fame and utterly failed to stay in the public eye, but this book is written from the point of view of someone who fulfilled their dreams and ambitions and realized (as many people would) that George Michael was simply far more talented and far more ambitious and didn’t want to get in his way of fulfilling a far more complex destiny. I came away from this book with a sense of sadness about Michael’s insecurity and its results and with respect for Ridgeley as a human being, along with plenty of food for thought.
This book is almost 350 pages long and is divided into two sections and twenty-five chapters that give a very detailed look at the toxicity of the relationship between sensitive musicians and music journalism. After a discussion of the dynamic between Andrew and George in the introduction, the first twelve chapters discuss the meet cute between Andrew and George as they decided to abandon academic efforts to focus on being stars (1). After that there is a flashback to when the boys met and how they stayed friends and dealt with the despair of England of the late 1970’s before the Thatcherite recovery (2-5). Andrew talks about the early songwriting and musical efforts that eventually led to George and Andrew being signed as a duo (6-8) and writing, recording, and releasing their earliest hits (9-12) and partying. The author also talks about how George Michael was a persona that developed as a way of coping with insecurity and a secret life as a gay man who was simultaneously a sex symbol to many women. The second part of the book looks at the way that Wham! dealt with their success through travels in China, the recording of more classic hits, tours in the United States, as well as the music video to Last Christmas and the charity efforts that followed. After that the book winds to a close with a discussion of how not to be a pop star and a closing that shows Andrew’s enduring love and affection for his dead friend and former bandmate.
What it is that made a reasonably intelligent person like Ridgeley so completely uninterested in an honorable life of education and work? It is not as if Ridgeley has done anything noteworthy in his life after having left Wham, a subject he is generally quite silent about because he likely understands that no one cares about him apart from his connection with one of the most talented and troubled musicians of the 1980’s and beyond. This book delivers what it sets out to do, an understanding of Wham! and its brief career and the way that George Michael was positioned to succeed as a solo artist even while Wham! was still a viable group. The author gives insight about his educational experiences and his total lack of ambition in anything except music, and even that ambition was limited. That to me is the most poignant reminder that I get from this book, a feeling of wasted potential in George Michael, in Wham!, and in the life of the author himself. What is left when one is no longer young or famous and one has made no plans for what one is to do with the rest of one’s life? Where are the relationships that the author could have developed, or the character he could have formed? All that remains is a nostalgia for the good times, and for Wham! those good times simply did not last very long.
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