The Other Guy From Wham!
George Michael’s Faith album was the first compact disc I ever bought. I pretty much wore it out listening to it back then as a college sophomore. In high school, I dismissed George Michael as that ridiculous Wham! guy, but Faith — that was something far more mature. It was a great pop album, and it holds up well today. Leaving his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley behind was a great career move for George Michael, who went on to become one of the biggest pop stars on the planet before wasting his talent on drugs, rehab, and humiliating run-ins with the law, and dying in his sleep of what may have been a heart attack related to heroin abuse.
Andrew Ridgeley fell into obscurity. He made a pile of money from Wham!, but surely nothing like what George Michael made in his solo career. His attempt at a solo music career fell flat. So Ridgeley did something totally boring, but very out of character for pop stars. Read on:
Yet, still having money from his Wham! days, paired with [wife] Keren’s money from her time in Bananarama, the couple really never had to work again. So, in 1996, Keren and Andrew, along with Keren’s six year old son Thomas, bought a 15th Century farm near Cornwall, England. However, another opportunity would come to Andrew to finally put his energy into something worthwhile, and for the first time, something real. After a surfing trip with his brother in the mid 90’s, Andrew and Paul contacted a waterbone illness due to raw sewage that was being dumped into the beach. Upon recovering from his illness, Andrew went to The Times with his story, and became a vocal environmentalist and crusader for water quality. Ridgeley became a member of Surfers Against Sewage, which dedicates itself to cleaning up England’s beaches and making the public aware of the dangers of sewage near public beaches. Andrew is still involved with Surfers Against Sewage today.
These days Andrew lives a quite life where he divides his time between surfing, golfing and going to the pub.
A few years ago, a philosophy blog discussed why boring old Andrew Ridgeley is the “winner” and George Michael the “loser”. Excerpts:
80′s pop had immensely seductive ideas about sex, relationships, family life, work and personal style. It told us that nothing should stand in the way of having a good time. If anyone tells you to knuckle down, to work hard, to put others first, to feel sorry or ashamed, to think of the future – ignore them. They are conformist oppressors who don’t know what life is really about.
It is an addictive outlook. It picks up accurately on what, at moments of high excitement, feels like the truth. It lashes out at anything that causes resentment, boredom or disappointment.
It’s hugely successful. But it’s also a disaster. The trouble is that it only works for short manic bursts. Life can’t be properly lived this way. This is what Andrew has discovered. That’s why he’s so important. He’s not someone coming from the outside pouring scorn on what a lot of other people like. He’s the guy who was there. He knows exactly how big the allure is. So we can trust him when he turns his back on it.
We don’t generally think of resignation as a virtue; it sounds like failure. What it means, though, is recognising that big things in life – an OK relationship, a secure sense of self-worth – require giving up some excitement.
The pop idea of life was so unhelpful because it pretended that excitement was the way to a good life. So it made casual sex seem wonderful, it made the after-party look like the high point of social life. It was the continuation of a Romantic philosophy: the ecstasy of the moment is what counts. On the other hand, resignation means seeing that the ecstasy of the moment is often (sadly) the enemy of what we really want.
Andrew’s long-passed successes as a performer and song-writer have left him well off by ordinary standards. However, he could have made a great deal more money if he had really set his sights on continuing in the world of fame and glamour. This may seem like a minor issue, but a huge part of how the world works is driven by people’s relentless ambition to have ever more status and money. One thing that Andrew therefore does is to define for us a conception of being satisfied, of having enough – even when more would have been an option, but at the cost to relationships, health and family.
It’s tempting to think that it doesn’t matter much what kind of music is popular. So long as people like it, don’t worry, it’s just a bit of fun. But music is one of the biggest influences that shapes a culture. It encourages an attitude to life. The songs get inside our heads and the ideas they carry with them stay there – influencing how we value ourselves and our goals.
The life of Andrew Ridgeley belongs in the public realm. It’s one of the great moral fables of our time. It’s the story of one man’s redemption – from manic, narcissistic pleasure seeking to maturity. But it’s not just his story. He shows us what we need to do collectively, as a nation. We live in a Wham! society – and yet we need (as it were) to move to Cornwall.
Read the whole thing. At least look at the page, and observe that Andrew Ridgeley looks like a nondescript middle-aged man, as opposed to George Michael, who was the same age, but who was obviously expensively maintained. And note well that it was written three years ago, long before George Michael’s sad, premature death, so it’s not like the philosopher is piling on. And it’s not like George Michael didn’t do good things for people (e.g., it has emerged that he quietly gave millions to charity). Despite his immense talent, even if George Michael were still alive, I can’t imagine that anyone in his right mind would prefer the hedonistic, tormented, lonely life he had been living to the one Andrew Ridgeley was living. Washing up as a pop star was a great blessing to him, just as Michael’s phenomenal success was a curse.