I remember hearing about George Michael being gay as far back as 1984/85. I distinctly remember the playground chatter in elementary school coming from some kids who’d seen the “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” video. To be fair, I’d a) not seen the video and b) didn’t know George Michael was the name of the guy from Wham! Nevertheless, the rumors persisted but I didn’t pay them much mind. In the world of the school playground in the mid ’80s, everyone who was a touch feminine was gay. Sang in a high voice? Gay. Wore obvious makeup? Gay. Stage clothing too outrageous? Gay. Even in the early ’90s, as I was beginning to come to terms with my own sexuality, the idea that George was gay didn’t register with me. Not that I didn’t think he might be. But even as a high schooler, I was of the mind that just about everyone had a touch of “the gay” in them. There were still no obvious “tells” in the case of George Michael.
Then “Fastlove” was released. I was gonna say “came out”, but that might’ve been just a tad too on the nose.
George began his comeback at the beginning of 1996. At the time, I was 19 and had spent a solid year venturing out into the NYC queer world. That meant that I’d shaken my ass at a few bars, read a few copies of Out and The Advocate, and had discovered the intricate world of cruising. I wasn’t even out of my teens yet, and my hormones were raging. Phone apps hadn’t been invented yet, and very few people I knew had internet access at the time (I certainly didn’t). So what did queer guys (particularly those that were deep in the closet) do to get laid? They went to theaters. And darkrooms. And parks. And lots of other places I won’t mention so as not to incriminate myself. Central Park, a short walk from the record store I’d worked in for the previous year and a half, was a particularly well-known spot. There was an area of CP called The Ramble, which was covered in trees and bushes and was fairly deserted. On a halfway decent day, it was guaranteed that there would be dozens of guys strolling around looking for a quickie. From street urchins to tourists to married suit and tie guys taking long lunch breaks to runners sitting butt-ass naked on the benches, New York’s horniest took to those bushes to handle their business.
So when I heard George singing about making his way into the sun to have some fun, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Two years may have passed between “Fastlove” becoming a smash hit and George getting busted in that L.A. restroom, but by the time he was finally outed, I was reasonably sure that he’d visited a men’s loo for reasons that didn’t involve urination quite a few times.
Beyond the (very slightly) coded allusions to what the Brits call “cottaging”, “Fastlove” is an incredible record. It’s bouncy and sly, and even mournful. About two thirds of the way into the song, George begins to sing over the familiar bass line from Patrice Rushen’s “Forget Me Nots” (soon to be lifted by Will Smith for his own comeback hit “Men In Black”) and basically explains that he’s out searching for young tail because he misses his “baby”. Not too many people knew what George was singing about back then, but he’d watched his lover die of an AIDS-related illness barely three years before “Fastlove” was released. A quick hook up would not only relieve George of some horniness, it would also serve as a temporary salve for the pain of his loss.
Subtext abounds when it comes to “Fastlove” (as it often does in real life cruising). Whether you think of the song as a danceable trifle, or a document of queer life in a less tolerant and more coded time, “Fastlove” is a gem from the catalog of one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.