What’s your definition of dirty, baby?

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I would be lying if I said I was, or ever considered myself as, a fan of George Michael’s music. In the free-wheeling days of the 1980s in which I grew up, I listened to the┬áskirt-chasing, hellraising bands that made up the hair metal scene, but to groove on George Michael and his bubblegum pop stuff would have been a bridge too far for me in those days.

But having said that, I would also be lying if I said I wasn’t familiar with a lot of his music. Wham! first, um, made it big when I was in high school, his Faith album dropped when I was in college, and his radio relevancy continued into my first few years of post-college. Those are the years when musical tastes and memories are formed, and there he was, right in the middle of it. So how could I not have something to say about George Michael’s passing at age 53? Well, it turns out that I have got something to say about it.

When the Faith album came out in my sophomore year in college, the lead single was called “I Want Your Sex.” The desire for sex drives all of popular music, and it always will, but the word itself was largely missing–with one notable exception–until George Michael came along.

One predecessor that I can think of was the song “DMSR” from Prince’s 1999 album in the early 1980s. The meaning of those four letters are “Dance Music Sex Romance” and the word “sex” appeared in the song’s chorus a couple of times, but it could be that the use of those initials was intended┬áto self-censor the word from the title to the song.

George Michael’s song did have a radio edit that I remember hearing, but I can’t recall if it was in and around Springfield, Illinois or someplace else. But the song edited out the word “sex” so that it effectively sounded like “I want your” being sung over and over again. But the word appeared in the title everywhere, and in the all-important music video (these were the 80s, after all) there was never any question about George Michael’s intentions or his lyrics. He wanted to get busy in the worst way, and he was more direct about it than any song that I can remember up to that point.

Now that we’ve had “I Wanna Sex You Up” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” and many other songs in that vein on the radio, it seems almost quaint to be bringing this up now. And the fact that George Michael was a gay man who had to hide who really was until 1998 makes his story all the more tragic. His music got the attention that it did because he was singing about the old-fashioned boy-meets-girl attraction. And while we’ve since moved toward acceptance of other sexual preferences, I can’t imagine that George Michael telling another guy he wanted to get it on would ever get too far on mass-market radio stations.

Speaking of mass-market and mass-media news, they’ll all be weighing in about his music and what it means. They’ll try to shape public opinion, just as they always do. But I write this blog because I like to share my own take on things, and sometimes it’s worth reading and other times it may not be. But the word S-E-X was seldom heard on the radio before George Michael came along, and for that alone he deserves to be recognized.

Thanks for the music and rest in peace!

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There is no true escape, I’m watching all the time

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Chicago has its annual Pride parade tomorrow, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to go. When I lived in the part of Chicago where the parade takes place, it was always a highlight of the summer. I’m sure that it still is, too, but since I don’t live in Boystown anymore, it’s not the same as it was for me. I have a feeling that the Supreme Court’s decision this week to strike down DOMA will add a little bit extra to this year’s festivities, too.

I’ve come a long way on gays in my lifetime, as many people have. And one of the markers on this is Judas Priest. I remember listening to Screaming for Vengeance my freshman year in high school, back in the early 1980s, but never suspecting that frontman Rob Halford was gay. All I knew was that the leather and studs look he introduced into the heavy metal genre was not the way I would ever dress, but it looked sufficiently badass and was therefore cool. The title of this post is taken from a line in the song Electric Eye, which seemed to be about 30 years ahead of the NSA curve.

When Rob Halford came out in the 1990s, I realized that the leather and all of that was not quite what I thought it was. But he had the same amazing voice, and the same kickass songs that I listened to as an angry and confused teenager. Nothing was any different, except that he told the world about who he was.

The social pressures that once prevented Elton John from coming out, and kept Freddie Mercury and George Michael and Johnny Ray and who knows how many others in the closet–or worse, forced them to present themselves as ladies’ men–have greatly changed through the years. And this is a good thing, because great music is great music, no matter who makes it.

Happy Pride to everyone reading this, in June of 2013 and every month after that as well.