Faith. George Michael.
Sometimes, you just “gotta have faith,” as the song goes. For an awkward teen trying to find his place in life, these lyrics really helped define the man he would become. For me, faith was tied to harsh fundamentalist ideologies that made no room for a young kid who was already questioning his sexuality.
George Michael’s Faith was released in late 1987. It is one of my favorite albums of all time. I was 15 when I first heard the first 2 singles from this album. “I Want Your Sex” was sexy and controversial and, perhaps, a little bit forbidden… Especially for a teenage boy who was not allowed to listen to mainstream music. My church held sermons on the evils of this song, along with the evils of other music from artists such as Prince, Madonnna and Cyndi Lauper. This faith left me in fear of being caught listening to this music.
It wasn’t until after I turned 16 that I gathered enough courage to buy the album at the remate (Spanish for “swap meet”) on Van Buren in Riverside. This was the place where a Mexican kid could roam the aisles of used furniture, second-hand clothing and knock-off fashions and feel a part of mainstream America at a discounted price. I purchased a bootleg cassette from one of the music peddlers and it cost me about $5–a lot of money back then… For a bootleg. But I ponied up the money and proudly held it in my hands. Little did I know it would go on to change my life… Literally. By then, at least 3 singles had already been released and were quickly climbing the charts.
George Michael hadn’t come out, yet… I hadn’t come out, either. But I knew we shared something in common. I knew (I just knew!) we were both gay and this album was trying to speak to me in some kind of code that I wasn’t ready to decode. If Madonna’s Like A Virgin awakened the gay in me, then it was George Michael’s Faith album that reaffirmed to me that I was, indeed, gay, and that I would be OK.
Music had a big influence on me as a teenage. My religious upbringing was telling me things that didn’t line up with what my heart knew to be true. They taught me that faith had the power to release me from the worldly decadence of the filthy lyrics that these bands espoused. It was faith that would lead me to the truth. However, these truths I would carefully cull from the lyrics found in the music that played on the radio.
“I Want Your Sex.” Boy, that started it all for me. It was late summer of 1987 and the first few chords of the sleazy electro-funk sounds sent electric waves through my body. Like the American Bandstand kids would say, “It has a good beat and you can dance to it.” It ignited in me something that started deep in my groin and emanated outwardly. Maybe it had something to do with the boy that captured my heart that late summer; the boy from the library with the tattered converse, the skinny black jeans and The Ramones t-shirt. I wanted to live the song. I wanted his sex, but all I got was a half-hearted, clumsy kiss in the magazine section of the library and an affirmation from him that he “wasn’t gay.” I wasn’t as persuasive as the song, but, it was the subtext that resonated with me the most, anyway:
“There’s little things you hide/
And little things that you show”
I had cracked the code! He wasn’t singing to a woman or about women! The ambiguity of the lyrics left it open so that I could pursue the sex of my choice, whether successfully or not.
The album produced even more hits: “Father Figure”, “Monkey”, “Kissing a Fool.” Gay anthems… In my mind, anyway. I don’t think he ever convinced me he was writing music about the opposite sex. I don’t think he was trying, either. I took it on faith that what I was doing was the right thing to do. I followed my heart and it felt good. I may not always get the guy, but that was OK.
Now, when I listen to this album, many years later… When I struggle to remember that age of 15 and 16, when time still marched at a slower cadence than it does now… I remember the first time I pop that bootleg cassette into my tape player, place the headphones over my ears and make my way past the swap meet shoppers. My ears fill with the sounds of the pipe organ intro of “Freedom” before the jangled chords of the guitar kick into “Faith.” I clearly remember each note and the weight it carries in my heart, even now. And the load it lifted off of me back in 1988.
Rest in Peace, George Michael.