On Xmas Day 2016, just minutes before my 21st and final STUCK IN THE 80s Annual Holiday Show was to air on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine, I found out that George Michael passed away at the age of 53, just three years and eight months older than me. Shock doesn’t even begin to describe it.
I started getting Facebook posts and messages and texts about George’s death, because George was definitive 80s and then some, and folks know (and have known for a long time) that I host and produce a show about 80s music and then some.
So, as much as I wanted to have my Last Christmas show be the special 4-hour show I prepared for, I made the last-minute decision to split the show into a part Xmas show and part tribute to George Michael. It wasn’t the Xmas show I wanted to do, and it wasn’t the proper tribute that George deserved, but with only a handful of STUCK IN THE 80s shows left, it was the best option. I think it turned out okay.
I wouldn’t call myself the biggest Wham! or George Michael fan, but I was a fan, and really enjoyed George Michael’s early solo career and his huge FAITH album from 1987. I admired George for wanting to branch out past the Wham! poppiness (is that a word? it is today), and do what he wanted to do. FAITH was an amazing testament to that. He branched out even further with his follow-up album, 1990’s LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE VOL. 1.
When “I Want Your Sex” was first released (originally as part of the BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 soundtrack and later as the first single from FAITH), I relished how people got so bent out of shape about a song about monogamous sex, just because it had the word “Sex” in the title. Even before the full video began, George stated, “This song is not about casual sex.”
Still, it prompted my radio hero, Casey Kasem, not to say the title of the song at first (despite climbing to No. 2 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100), and prompted many radio stations to change the word “sex” into the song to “love.” (I DID NOT relish the fact that the local Top 40 station in Central Maine, 92 Moose, changed the word “sex” to “moose,” as in “I Want Your Moose.” That was just fucking stupid and annoying. But, as much as I love the 80s, some things that were deemed “too controversial” at the time weren’t even controversial at all. O well, that was a long time ago.
The last song I remember digging by George Michael was released in April 1996, and became his last American chart hit – “Fastlove,” which reached No. 8 on the Hot 100 in June 1996 and sampled Patrice Rushen’s 1982 hit, “Forget Me Nots.”
For those who know STAR TREK legend George Takei and his amazing Facebook and Twitter posts, I really loved what he wrote after George’s death: “Rest with the glittering stars, George Michael. You’ve found your Freedom, your Faith. It was your Last Christmas, and we shall miss you.” I also liked what actor Rob Lowe said on Twitter: “Had the pleasure of knowing George Michael in the 80s. Voice of an angel. Now he can sing for them.”
A few days before George Michael’s death, one of my favorite people of all-time (and not just because of STAR WARS), Carrie Fisher, suffered a heart attack on a plane flying from London to Los Angeles. The plane was 15 minutes away from landing, and for a little while, it looked like she was going to pull through, and tell 2016 to go fuck itself. I really loved this drawing I saw online soon after, with what appears to be the Grim Reaper (and 2016 on his cape), kneeling before Princess Leia, as she says, “You are strong, but the Force is stronger.”
But, as strong as the Force is, Carrie didn’t make it, and died on December 27, two days after George Michael passed away. She was just 60 years old (barely), and 10 years and four months older than me. Again, I loved what George Takei said about Carrie in a post: “As a small, wise master once said, ‘Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.’ We honor you today, Carrie. We’ll think of you when we turn our heads to look to the heavens.”
One of my best friends, Michael, respectfully half-joked in a post on Facebook, “She survived Darth Vader. She survived the Blues Brothers. She couldn’t survive the buzz-saw that is 2016. 4 more days to go. I have a bad feeling about this.”
And then, the very next day after Carrie’s death, the unthinkable happened. Her mother, legendary actress Debbie Reynolds, died as a result of a stroke. She had said to her son, Carrie’s brother Todd Fisher, “I want to be with Carrie” shortly before she died. They will be buried together. Heartbreaking and touching…
I was speaking with my dear and incredibly talented friend, Hope, on Xmas night during the show, and I think I said to her, “When Robin Williams died (in 2014), I can’t remember anyone else who died that year.” In any other year, three high-profile celebrity deaths in less than a week might or might not seem that odd. But this isn’t any other year. I can’t remember any year with more painful losses – celebrity and personal – than 2016 (my brother-in-law’s dad died earlier this year, and my parents’ dog, Bandit, was gone after 13 years just six days before Xmas; Bandit was my mom’s faithful companion all his life, and gave me a newfound respect for small dogs).
Just hours now before the closing of the year here in Central Maine, I can’t help but think how hard it was to be a music and pop culture fan in 2016. So many heavy-hitting losses in many genres and acting circles all through the year, not to mention all of the awful terror attacks throughout the globe. But, I’ll also remember some really great things too.
On the day I learned of David Bowie’s January 10th death (on the morning of January 11, 2016), I started my first-ever blog (with special thanks to Hope!). It’s part autobiographical, part singles chart nerdiness, and explains (at least in part I hope) why the 80s will keep “forever young,” and how I’ll always be “stuck in the 80s.” It’s been interesting. I consider myself to be a good writer, but I never did enough of it. Now I’m writing on a regular basis, and it’s great. And with some of these blog posts, I’m putting myself out there, which I admit, is often hard for me. But, I’m proud of the blog and want to do more with it in 2017, so stay tuned!
In March 2016, my dear friend Hope survived a horrific car crash in Massachusetts, one day after finishing her kick-ass radio show on WMPG. The Force was definitely strong with her that night and then some. I’m forever grateful she survived that car crash, and I look forward to being the reader of her future best-sellers and her dear, dear friend for many years to come.
2016 was also the year I got to see some of my favorite acts for the very first time, like Peter Gabriel, OMD, and a mid-April concert with Duran Duran and Chic featuring the amazing Nile Rodgers in Brooklyn (no concerts I’ve been to have been featured in BILLBOARD magazine, but that one was!). The day after that concert with my dear friend Shawn, he helped me get my first tattoo (at 49 years old; of David Bowie). If you had asked me at the beginning of 2016 if I would ever get a tattoo, I would have said, “No way.” So much for that.
I also got my first “new-ish” car in many years this year. I fucked up my credit in my early 20s during my second bout with college, and, while I’m still rebuilding my credit, the fact I was actually able to score a car that’s less than five years old is a pretty big deal for me. Of course, I’ll be spending the next five years paying for it, but it’s all good, really.
There were a lot of firsts and lasts in my life this year. There’ll be more in 2017. Just a handful of shows remain on my long-running little retro program, STUCK IN THE 80s (at least in this incarnation on WMPG). And, while I’m sad about that, it’s time. And, it’s not like STUCK IN THE 80s will be away forever – it just won’t be on WMPG, my second home for two decades. And I’ll always love my experience and the friends and family I’ve made over the years, but it’s time to take the show to another level. This blog is just the first step.
I half-joke at the end of every year about resolutions and say, “I gave up resolutions this year.” (It’s actually a joke about Lent resolutions I love from a 1995 movie I love by Edward Burns, THE BROTHERS McMULLEN.)
For 2017, I don’t think I can use that go-to half-joke this time around. There’s things I really want to do, like find a new home for STUCK IN THE 80s, expand the blog, take better care of myself and finally finish writing a screenplay and film something I’ve written, for starters.
I’m turning 50 years old in a month and a half. Holy cats! Half a century old! How the fuck did that happen?! Well, it did, and I’m ready for it (although my sore back and arm from shoveling Snowzilla the other day might disagree). I may not be ready for more personal and celebrity deaths of people I love, but Master Yoda was right – “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.” And I will. I can’t guaRONtee it won’t be easy or it’ll involve getting another tattoo, but you never know.
R.I.P. to everyone we lost this year, and especially to David Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher, Bud Ferry (my brother-in-law’s dad) and Bandit Raymond. I will miss you all very much, and you’ll always be a part of me.
To my wealth of family and my dear friends like Hope, Michael, Shawn in NYC, Shawn in Portland, Maine, and my oldest friend, Peter, I love you all very much, and thank you not only for being my dearest of friends, but for all of your kind words, cheerleading, believing in me and for being there for yours truly.
To everyone who has been kind enough to read, like, share or comment and leave a kind word about my blog, I thank you so very much. It’s great to know people from close by to other parts of the world are digging my blog; it’s encouraging and inspiring that the stories I write about my life and the songs that I love are not only being read but appreciated.
And not to sound too personal about the end of 2016 (actually, that’s a complete lie), but seriously – Kick out the jams and stand by the jams! Yippie ki-yay, motherfuckers, and bring on 2017 and 50!! I’m so fucking ready for you.
I’ll close my last post of 2016 with a favorite lyric about the new year from John Lennon that you’ll know very well, but I’m going to say here anyway: “Let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear…”
Peace, Love, and Happy 2017 everyone! Until next time, I’ll catch you on the flip side…