It’s with a very heavy heart that I write this note as George Michael is no more, having died peacefully at his home on Christmas Day of 2016. I generally associate more to the music than the musician/artist but in this case his music was so soulful and sorrowful and heartfelt and it had such a great impact on me during my adolescent years that I could not help but feel for the person behind the voice. He must have gone through that pain and desolation and forlornness that his songs trickled of, it will be really tough to completely fake that. It’s very easy to identify him with his dance-oriented and sexually-connoted songs like I Want Your Sex, Fastlove, Monkey, Too Funky, Outside or his scandals and brushes with the law for drugs abuse and “indecency”. But peel that surface and sink into his “For the Heart”-esque songs like Praying for Time, Kissing a Fool, You have been Loved, Jesus to a Child, Heal the Pain and you will be able to perceive a different George Michael, and that’s the one I fell in love with. And alas, now that angel of music is no more and my only solace is that I was able to experience this sublime music performed live by this beautiful person before it was too late.
The circumstances that led to this opportunity itself are somewhat rocky, a chance of fate! Back in Jan 2011, I had switched to a smaller boutique IT firm from my earlier, much larger and well-known IT company in hopes of an onsite project opportunity in the US. But after a couple of failed attempts at getting a visa, things were looking very bleak and I had started ruing my risky decision. This was also dead in the middle of the US recession period and so there weren’t many onsite opportunities but I finally managed to convince my boss to get my H1B work visa filed, got all the paperwork done and to my utter relief was able to get through the visa interview this time without raising any red flags! That meant I was all ready to finally realize my dream of working in the US in (hopefully) a few months’ time, that is as soon as I was able to get an assignment. But just the week after my US visa interview my boss came to my cubicle and asked me if I would be ready to travel to Germany within a week’s time for a 3 month assignment! What?!?! But of course (DUH)!!! Thus Germany turned out to be my first foreign country visit instead of the US and I wasn’t complaining. And to top it, my then-girlfriend-now-wife was also assigned to the same project (we were working for the same company and have the same IT background, and hence). However this is not really as good as it sounds, things can turn messy when your girlfriend is also your team-mate!
Our time in Hamburg, Germany was not very easy, the work was crazy, German bosses are not the easiest to work for and I will not even start on the challenges the language-barrier posed! But one day as we were walking through a transit point on the way to office, I chanced upon a flyer about George Michael touring Europe, though couldn’t gather anything more as it was in German. Researching further online I found that there was an upcoming concert date in Hamburg itself! Needless to say I was in a tizzy because I could expect to attend concerts by the Iron Maidens and the Metallicas of the world as India had a large rock/metal following and they would eventually have performed someday (in fact they already had by then). But George Michael was someone so exotic, so royal, so unreachable that the fact that I suddenly had the opportunity to see him in a live concert was somewhat “disconcerting”! And the opportunity wasn’t a very easy one either, it being my first time in a foreign country where most did not speak English and I definitely didn’t understand a word of German except “Danke” (Thank You). The tickets also seemed pretty expensive starting at 80 or so Euros, and we were not even earning in euros there, just had a daily meal allowance of 15 euros. And even if I was ready to shell out that money what about my girlfriend, she wasn’t that into music so do I leave her and go alone and if so how do I even get to the venue which was quite far away and this and that… but then also how can I let this opportunity pass by, will surely regret it for the rest of my life! In short, I was tied up in knots about what to do, grappling with excitement and anticipation and worry and confusion! Then I finally thought, Fuck It All, we have but one life! So I bought the best available tickets (around Euro 130 each for 6th row seats) for both myself AND my girlfriend (so as not to leave her behind as she would never have paid that amount of money for a concert) and announced to our German manager the next day that we were going to the concert so would need to leave work a little early on that day. My manager was so infected by our “josh”(enthusiasm) that he too booked tickets for himself and his wife (who turned out to be an Indian), though it was a little ironic to see them sitting way behind on the sides while we were on the 6th row of the main floor.
Finally the day of the concert arrived, we took a bus from near the office and after changing a couple more finally arrived at O2 World, Hamburg! This was my first view of what a huge and closed concert venue looks like, nothing like the open area of Palace Grounds, Bangalore (India), where I had attended my only 3 previous concerts. Entering the venue was like a dream, everything was so organized, dedicated entry points for different sections, people standing in tidy lines, directions, food and drinks parlors, and when we finally entered the main hall, IT WAS SO BIG WITH SO MANY PEOPLE!! Speechless, with a large beer in my hand, we sought out our 6th row seats and the stage looked so near from there, as if I could almost touch it. Gulping down my beer while waiting for the concert to start, I was already tipsy by the time George Michael got on the stage and as he started singing, I started crying tears of joy (what could I do, I was quite emotional by then). Some of the songs were covers that I couldn’t recognize but whenever he sang any of his own songs like Cowboys and Angels, You have been Loved, Kissing a Fool or Praying for Time, I just sang my heart out with him. That was not a very good thing, as I realized later, as I was degrading the concert-experience of my fellow German concert-goers around me but they were so proper that even though some gave me a few disapproving glances, no one stopped me. But I was in my own world by then and beyond caring, especially after the second beer during the intermission. I was blissfully tipsy by the time the show ended to a standing ovation and after politely jostling through the exits we finally met our manager and his wife outside – they were going give us a ride back as it was too late in the night for us to travel alone by bus. And as I was narrating my concert experience, a little incoherently (to the dismay of my girlfriend), my manager finally said, “Boy, I didn’t realize that you have such a soft-side”! Yes, I do have a soft-side, just like everyone else, and it’s that soft-side that George Michael nurtured with his beautifully sorrowfully soulful songs through a tough period of emotional changes, adolescent confusion and a deep yearning for love.
Adieu, George and rest in peace in the knowledge that you have been loved…
- Concert#: 4
- Season: 2011
- Date: 18-October-2011
- Band/Artist: George Michael
- Tour Name: Symphonica: The European Orchestral Tour
- Opening acts: None
- Venue: O2 World
- City: Hamburg, Germany
- Setlist: George Michael @Hamburg, Germany – 18-Oct-11
- Fun Fact: My first international concert
- My Concert Quotient: 5/5