To be read while listening to Wham’s “Ray of Sunshine” from their 1983 album, Fantastic, or better yet, while watching this video.
Turn…the music up…
Turn…the music up…
I could never quite sort out whether my love of Wham, and of George Michael specifically, heralded the dawn of my homosexuality, or the peak of my heterosexuality: my most masterful, if also furtive grasp at straightness. At the very least my adolescent lust for George was an elaborate pantomime of what I thought straight behavior was: thirsting over a naturally hirsute man, who was meticulously manscaped to show off his tanned, toned leg muscles.
In “Wake Me Up Before You GoGo,” George dropped a prophetic line about how our “beats per minute never been the same.” Certainly, mine never had until I heard “GoGo,” Wham’s breakout hit from their Make it Big album, which coincided with my pubescent awakening in 1984 (I was eleven years old). I needed to understand this new sensation George inspired in me: a tingle in the loins thinly covered over by the POP! of fruity bubble gum stretched all the way thin.
Sure, I’d struck up a fantastical “emotional relationship” with Simon LeBon of Duran Duran a year earlier, but that was all about mature recreations, like carving out a globetrotting life together on catamarans. Or chain-smoking long cigarettes as we melted into the oyster-colored leather seats of a stretch limo, while a lithe (maybe even lady) chauffer drove us around to…go shopping together.
But I digress.
My beats per minute, the rhythm of my heart had never accelerated in quite the same way as when George and his “business partner,” Andrew, asked me to “Choose Life.” But as with most of the rest of my life, in which passion inspires research, I wasn’t content merely to GoGo or whisper carelessly on a yacht with the blond boy whose locks came perilously close to mirroring Farrah Fawcett’s flip (as R. Zamora Linmark described the TV icon’s hair in Rolling the R’s).
I had to (crate) dig deeper, and that led me to a pre-Make It Big George to his debut in Wham! U.K. before the duo dropped its place name for just the exclamation mark. It led me to Fantastic, Wham’s first album from 1983, which had already nipped at my audiovisual consciousness. This was owed entirely to the local SoCal VJ, Richard Blade, who had their “Bad Boys” video on heavy rotation every week on his Channel 9 show, Video One. I hadn’t quite registered then just how much “boys like you…so bad through and through,” white-rapping like they were Blondie or something, were actually disco-dancing leather daddies in capri jeans, who “woke up every morning with…a bass line, a ray of sunshine.”
This album literally slapped with an abundance of slap bass. “Ray of Sunshine,” the second track on the album, had us careening well past the tachycardic threshold of 100 beats per minute, to a rousing 129 BPM. It also raised my suspicions that something a little stronger than caffeine was fueling the frenzy and shout horns on side A before the album figured out it was tipping its hand and cooled things down with poolside cocktails at “Club Tropicana.” I always imagined Fantastic’s low-tempo B-side was aftercare, before I even knew what that word meant.
A child of the 80s, I didn’t know much about disco, and knew nothing at all of Tom of Finland yet, though it seems that George and Andrew, or at least their stylists, did. It wouldn’t be until later in that decade, and into the early 1990s that I would see Fantastic for what it really was—a precursor to the raunchy loving and thieving George Michael modeled more explicitly in his solo career, when the leather made a comeback, and his video for “I Want Your Sex” implied he was into Asian women—which many of us queers know marks a kind of tipping point for proto-gay feelings. It flattered me nonetheless because George’s and my feelings finally aligned as we worked our way through each other to find our lasting queer rhythms.