Behind the newspaper obituary

The cynical job of wringing tears out of others’ eyes

George Michael died. He had many fans still, perhaps fewer than at the height of his Faith fame. I got the news through a BBC tweet and was — shocked? No, not shocked or emotionally devastated in any Twitter-worthy way, but upset. It’s an honest word. I was upset the way you would be if you woke up late and found your phone battery had discharged fully. Dismayed.

I liked many of George’s songs. Faith and Father Figure, of course, but the quirkier ones like Battlestations, Enjoy What You Do and Everything She Wants from the Wham! days are more fun. That said, I didn’t crave his music daily. He remained relevant to me only because his songs were a very big part of my growing up years.

Then I did something that long years in the newspaper industry have conditioned me to do: I tagged the news ‘Last Christmas’ and shared it. Doing that made me happy because I thought I had done something clever. George died on Christmas, and I had headlined the news with the title of one of his songs. After that, I waited for someone to like my share.

Was I grieving for George? Not anymore. I was contemplating the success of my tweet.

Inside the newsroom

Others in my trade were also trialling their ‘creativity’. That word is so overused, it should be pensioned off.

People who have never bought a George Michael cassette (he was solidly from the cassette days, although a better hack than me would place George at the ‘cusp’ of the cassette-CD era), and never heard anything of his barring the top three or four songs, were also doing their research to ‘touch’ others emotionally.

The king lies in state, and for the bards it is time for a symposium.

Come evening, the death became a celebration. First, a noisy meeting with ribald jokes about George’s sexuality. The clock ultimately restored order and the talk acquired direction. A story was outlined. Happy was she who had to flesh it out rather than write some other drudge piece. Happier the one who dug through photo stock for pictures. Happiest those who stood together with the boss to make a headline by committee.

A headline with one song title is good, but it is better with two. Better still with three, and that’s all they had space for.

Self-congratulatory smiles. Smug smiles. Nobody else would get that many titles in. George ought to be grateful, they’d given him the best burial.

***

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