“Do You Really Want To Know?” by George Michael (1992)

The house-spiked “Do You Really Want To Know” was one of three new songs George Michael contributed to the AIDS benefit release Red, Hot & Dance. The “Red Hot” series put out a series of releases throughout the ‘90s; with each volume covering a specific genre-ranging from hip-hop to bossa nova. “Too Funky” and “Happy” were the other two songs George contributed, and they’re all right in the pocket of ‘90s pop/dance. Originally earmarked for Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 2, these songs were orphaned after George sued his record label and plans for LWP2 fell by the wayside. Judging from the quality of these three songs (and the aforementioned B side “Crazyman Dance”, the album would’ve been a smoker.

George was one of the most visible celebrity advocates for AIDS awareness and research, along with Madonna, Salt ‘n Pepa, Michael Stipe, Bono and a handful of others. “Do You Really Want To Know” directly addresses the paranoia and fear that was associated with the crisis. The most striking line in the song comes right at the end, when George sings “even as we speak, the world is full of lovers/night after night, week after week, trusting on luck and a pocket full of rubbers.”

Just a few entries ago, in the “Do Ya Wanna Funk?” entry, I talked about Patrick Cowley being one of (if not the) first musical AIDS casualty in 1982. I didn’t know about the disease’s existence until Rock Hudson became the first major celebrity to get sick in 1985. By the time “Do You Really Want To Know” hit stores in the summer of 1992, AIDS had already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. AIDS was and still is a disease generally associated with men who have sex with men. You can’t imagine how absolutely frightened I was as a queer teenager and young adult of this.

I wasn’t alone. I’d have to imagine that there are at least three generations of queer men that have been profoundly affected by HIV and AIDS. Whether they’d lost friends or family to the disease, were themselves infected, or were young people facing a future where they were told that living their truth would likely result in one of the two aforementioned options, AIDS hysteria and panic was super real. It forced a lot of people back into the closet, and prevented a lot of people from experimenting or dealing with the fullness of their sexuality to this day. Retroviral drugs were just beginning to come onto the market as I was in the process of coming out, but it was years before they were available and affordable to the general public. There was at least a decade between me making my first inroads into being a functioning queer male and the invention of Prep. In New York especially during the early and mid ‘90s, everyone knew someone who’d died of AIDS or was infected with HIV. I knew several; from co-workers to acquaintances to family members. I could spend the next four paragraphs telling stories, and I don’t think I’d accurately be able to express the level of fear that existed at the time.

For me, getting sick and dying felt like an inevitability. I certainly had a period of time (most of my twenties, really) waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not to say that I was out having wanton unprotected sex, but I was certainly getting laid a fair amount. A combination of guilt and miseducation led to me assuming that a severe weight loss and flu-like symptoms in the early ‘00s was, indeed, the beginning of the end.

It was another few years before I finally went and got tested, and it came back negative, as have all my other tests since. The symptoms (everything from night sweats to intestinal discomfort to the aforementioned weight loss) were due to uncontrolled diabetes. I realize it says as much about my own psychology as it does about the times that I’d spent so much time fearing the worst as though the plan had already been drawn up. While HIV and AIDS are still not curable, there’s not the promise of an imminent death sentence anymore. “Do You Really Want To Know” is a (wickedly danceable) reminder of a scarier time, and showed that George (whose partner, Anselmo, died of an AIDS-related brain hemorrhage less than a year after Red Hot & Dance’s release) was playing his hand long before the police led him out of that park restroom.

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