On Christmas Day in 2016, the world lost the voice and talent of George Michael. Andrew Ridgeley, being the person who likely knew him best for a good portion of his life, felt the time was right to pen a memoir of his time as George’s friend and bandmate. Wham! George Michael & Me is an affectionate look at the intertwined lives of the two front-men of the 1980’s pop-duo Wham!
The two met in 1975 when George was the new kid at school. Then known as Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, he became “Yog” to the boy who would become his best friend. Ridgeley details the coming-of-age of the two boys in pre-Thatcher England. Yog was from a more traditional family compared to Ridgeley, and there were a lot more expectations for him. Where Andrew was sort of a free-spirit who shrugged off schoolwork, Yog was serious about his studies. In fact, it was Yog’s father who inspired a famous line in the song Wham! Rap “Get yourself a job or get out of this house”.
It was Andrew who pushed the idea of forming a band and dragged his buddy into it. Ridgeley details the ups and downs of growing up as well as trying to break into the British music scene. He talks about their early songwriting adventures together and how it segued into Michael doing much of the songwriting by the end of Wham!
Wham! George Michael & Me is written with a great deal of affection. Ridgeley has nothing but praise for his late friend. If you’re looking for dirt, there’s not really any here. They might have been a bit rascally during their school days, but there were no big revelations about things that happened. The worst that could be said was Yog’s parents wished the two weren’t such good friends; they thought Andrew was a bad influence on him.
Ridgeley details what he calls the transition of his friend from Yog to the celebrity that was George Michael. He saw the change from when they first started playing together musically to what he became as success started rolling in. It’s not a bad thing – just something George Michael did to protect himself from public eyes. He was a terribly insecure person, which is hard to believe with the amazing talent he had, not just writing songs but the incredible voice he had as well.
Andrew dispels the popular myth around the creation of the song Careless Whisper. There’s a popular share on the internet (sometimes mis-attributed to Last Christmas) that George “gave” him songwriting credit on Careless Whisper so he’d be set for life. Part of the lyrics came from Ridgeley’s breakup with Shirlie, the long-time backup singer for Wham! He earned that songwriting credit, and doesn’t have one on Last Christmas.
There’s a lot of affection as he talks about their success and what that meant, as well as the fun and stress that came with it. He doesn’t touch on George’s sexuality all that much, except to detail that he confessed to Andrew and Shirlie early on in Wham!’s history that he was gay. Andrew said that explained a lot, in retrospect, with their time in school. However, if there was anything untoward happening during the time in Wham! he’s not telling. He presents a lot of thoughts about how keeping the secret of his sexuality – at a time when being “out” could end his career – cost him.
Andrew doesn’t talk much about his life after Wham! He talks a little about his life-long interest in Formula One racing and getting involved in it at the tail-end of Wham!, but there’s not much else. Wham! George Michael & Me is truly a love-letter to the friend he lost. I enjoyed reading it.
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Categories: Book Reviews