It’s never over till it’s over, so my ‘final’ blog of 2016 in which I did a brief collection of obituaries was a week too premature. The last week or so has ended with a flurry with George Michael, Carrie Fischer and Debbie Reynolds all parting this mortal coil. I also overlooked Mohammed Ali in my collection – a huge oversight by any reckoning.
For this blog I would like to concentrate on George Michael. His music was the pop music of my halcyon days and while I would rubbish the sound of Wham and the lack of musical sophistication of their fans I actually had a sneaky liking for the treacle music that they produced. It was bouncy, simple and optimistic and a real foil for the dark and complex music that I absorbed myself in. ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ prior to a major presentation or sales pitch is much more likely to get you across the line than a rendition of Zeppelin’s Black Dog for example.
Seldom do those breaking away from bands to go solo actually make it. Robbie Williams leaving Take That did it and coincidentally his first foray as a solo act was a version of a George Michael song. George Michael though achieved this feat with apparent ease writing most of his own material. Aside from Careless Whisper being ‘our song’ for myself and my wife when we started out on this journey I really admired Michael for the attitude he took to his ‘art’. Perhaps not known by many but he took on Sony over artistic rights which cost him a great deal financially and emotionally but he stuck to his guns and he kept his integrity intact. Not many artists can say that. He argued but lost the case, the courts deciding not to let him out of a contract Michael said would bind him to Sony for 15 years (8 albums). As a result he was absent from the music scene for two years, eventually paying Sony $40m to release him. Fellow 2016 fatality Prince, was going through the same situation at the time. It seems that sticking to your truth in the music business is important. The reason there are more examples there than elsewhere might have to do with the fact that the music business is in fact just that – a business and the oil of the artist versus the water of the executives never really mixes well. Or maybe it’s because speaking your truth comes more naturally for an art form that is all about verbalised expression?
Muhammad Ali likewise stuck it to the man with his refusal to serve during the Vietnam War. Imagine doing what Ali did in today’s world. In the US or Australia for that matter to become a Muslim and decide not to support your country at war would be met with a tirade of abuse especially on social media. Serving the ultimate price with a conviction for draft dodging Ali was a man true to himself. In sticking to his guns he lost four years of boxing. To ‘rehabilitate’ himself in the eyes of the public (public opinion) he did what few have done before or will do in the future. His lesson for the business world is the importance of authenticity. He was, above all, always Muhammad Ali.
It’s important to bring the same degree of ethics and adherence to your core beliefs in the business world. We need to do more than just ‘speak our truth’ which said relentlessly can become boorish and carping. Rather we should lead by example and live our truth through the way we conduct ourselves. Michael was a good example and one we could learn more from in the business world. There will be those who said he was of a dubious moral character but fly-tipping a fridge-freezer for Annie Lennox into Stuart Copeland’s skip under the cover of darkness is not really that bad. What George Michael was, was a singer of some of the catchiest songs of his era with quite possibly the purest male pop/rock voice in the history of modern music. With Prince and George knocking around together in the cosmos I can see a few music executives ducking for cover, especially if they have Cassius Marcellus Clay as their personal protection.