Amazing

George Michael
June 25, 1963 – December 25, 2016

George is the second icon of ’80s music to pass away in 2016, following Prince. I feel his passing greatly, as he is on the list of five artists that dominate the soundtrack of my life. His music accompanied me from my teens to twenties, from the early Wham! days in my teens to the nuanced covers of his worst commercial album in my thirties, music that I love dearly despite its lack of popularity. George had one of the most expressive, most flexible and subtly powerful voices around, being able to do quiet ballads and Freddie Mercury power songs with ease. In his later years, his struggles with addiction, legal issues and the loss of his life partner tinged most everything he did with an undercurrent of pain and weariness. Just as the joy of Wake Me Up Before You Go Go was everywhere when he was starting up, the struggles of being who he was and the things he went through can be felt in the strains of Jesus to a Child. I’ll never get to tick that item on my bucket list to see George perform live. The world is poorer for his less.

Thank you George, for sharing your amazing talent with the generation of kids that grew up with your music.

I struggled with the video to accompany this post, cycling through many tracks. I settled on George’s cover of The Long and Winding Road because… well, it feels right. Listen to it. You’ll understand.

Second Chances, in These Final Hours

An exchange in comments with Judy over at lifelessons on NBC’s singing competition show The Voice led to this post. One of the aspects of The Voice that draws me to it is its acceptance of artists that have “pounded the pavement” for years without success. This usually means playing small venues, or even weddings and bar mitzvahs, then working a “real” job to support the music. The other type of hopeful that I feel a connection to is the artists that gives up the music due to responsibilities. It doesn’t pay to be a struggling musician (or writer, or painter, or actor…) and supporting a family comes first. To get a second chance at the dream of becoming a self-sustaining professional artist is the Holy Grail for many people, and very few ever get there.

If you compare these artists to the younger ones that haven’t faced adversity, the difference is stark. Life experience bleeds through in music, as it does in writing. You can’t sing or write true pain, hunger, heartbreak, despair or passion without having lived it. At least to me, that puts the “reality” in reality TV.

Last season’s winner, Josh Kaufman, is an artist of the second type I mention above. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is a Bonnie Raitt song, and the original is heartbreaking. I connect more with the George Michael version, but both amazing performances convey the same emotion – acceptance. Kaufman’s version is different. Whether by his own decision, or that of his coach Usher, the delivery here is a fiery protest.

“Here in the dark,
In these final hours
I will lay down my heart,
And I’ll feel the power
But you won’t,
No you won’t.”

While Raitt and Michael deliver these lines fondly, tenderly, even plaintively, Kaufman growls them in a crescendo. There’s no resignation.

“And I can’t make you love me
If you don’t.”

It’s a statement. He’s not telling her “I surrender,” he’s telling her “reconsider, while you still have the chance.” The emotion is even more heart-rending, at least to me. That alone will make me follow the The Voice for seasons to come.