George Michael’s soul checkmates itself. (LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages)

November 2, 2023   5 mins

A rumour was born the last time my group Decius were out on the road.

If you linger long enough in Berghain’s Panorama bar, if you remain until Monday morning when the sun is back up, occasionally they’ll open the blinds and flood the room with light. Maybe you’ve been in there dancing for 15 hours. And then you, and all the other people who didn’t get bounced, the elect, are bathed in this infinite glowing band of gold. On tour, Luke, the bass engineer, mentioned he had watched a George Michael documentary that said he had lived above a nightclub in Berlin. They could surely only mean one place. George would never have shacked up above KitKat; far too classy for that. We decided it had to be Berghain.

I pictured George in the club for the first time in the late aughts, the hits all dried up, thinking: “Fuck it, I’m George Michael, I’ve done my bit, once or twice a month isn’t enough for me, not even close… that infinite band of gold, that eternal present, I’m moving there.” He knew, too, he was just one chorus away from a purple patch. And that niggling voice in his head kept reminding him. That chorus. She must be somewhere in Berghain, she must be somewhere in that light, that purity, that abandon.

George understood all too well that only contradiction breeds spiritual depth. That, in order to join in, you have to drop out completely. I picture him in his private Panorama. A mild throb of bass warming his feet through the floor. The Berlin skyline coated in early morning rust through giant panes of glass. The world’s best MDMA coursing through his blood. Two glazed Teutons gazing up at him in awe from a bedroom-sized bed, disbelieving of their luck. Just one more chorus. Just one more hook. But even here, with experience stretched to its absolute limit, she doesn’t rear her head.

Once the tour was over, I made my way down to the Greek Island of Ios, for my first ever beach holiday. In the past, I would “travel” rather than “holiday”. There would always be some pyramid of human skulls or red-light city or psytrance opium vortex I wanted to visit. Relaxation was a part of it, but some kind of sensual frontier was usually the goal. And this image of George was slowly inflating behind my eyes the entire time. Could it be true? Moved in? Above the world’s most decadent nightclub?

Now that I’m a bit tired generally, sitting on my arse for weeks on end with a book really appeals. Someone bringing me iced coffees during the day; Piña Coladas in the evening. All the same, I’m too laden with guilt to fully switch off. I decided a beach holiday would be a fitting time to write a paean to perhaps my favourite philosopher-poet, Romania’s arch-pessimist E.M. Cioran. It’s hard to write about E.M., which is how I imagine he wanted it. Not because the language is complex or impenetrable. There just doesn’t seem to be much to add in the way of commentary where his denunciations of absolutely everything are concerned. The fact he throws himself under the bus first and foremost, not unlike Eminem’s character at the end of 8 Mile, means he’s open to slandering the universe without restraint. His syntactic depth charges are contained microcosms of resentment. Bitterness on a cosmic scale

When I heard this thing about George, I thought OK. What about George as Cioranic mascot? I think both E.M. and George would have appreciated that. For Cioran, “absolute lyricism” constituted a “juxtaposition of act and reality, because the act is no longer a manifestation of reality but reality itself”. Had George actually become one of his gut-wrenching refrains? I took to abusing the pair of them down there on that Aegean shore. Cioran’s The Trouble with Being Born, A Short History of Decay, The Temptation to Exist… spliced with an endless rotation of “Careless Whisper”, “I Want Your Sex”, “One More Try”, “Jesus to a Child” and “Fastlove”. I used to think the only thing scarier than death was suicide — until I started reading E.M. Cioran. I now think of this off-switch as rather empowering.

For E.M., it is those with no access to irresponsibility who are the world’s truly wretched. And only hermitude and naivete can stave off idiocy. E.M.’s mind is constantly check-mating itself, George Michael’s soul does the same. Both in a perpetual state of collapse under the weight of their own ingenuity. Both have a tendency to begin with conclusions. You could start or end a career with “Careless Whisper”. You could do the same with Cioran’s emo-centric first, The Heights of Despair.

But whereas George elevates not knowing to an endless sigh of ecstatic longing, Cioran elevates it to a supreme comic pitch. The blackest laughter you’ve ever heard: “There’s no point in committing suicide, because you always do it too late.” I try to imagine him reading that one out loud to himself in his autumn years, how E.M. would have vocalised the italic shift. The thought of it warms my heart.

Point your disillusionment in whichever direction you like, and there’s a Cioran aphorism out there waiting for you, to help you refine your disdain. It’s nihilistic tapas. You only want, you only need to read Cioran in small portions. It’s perfectly in tune with today’s shrivelling attention spans. There’s often an “Eastern” inflection. He always does the decent thing, though, and pulls back at the last moment: “Buddhism calls anger ‘corruption of the mind’… I know this, but what good does it do me to know?” He reminds us that the Western psyche is incompatible with circularity. Freedom implies comfort in exploiting one’s own vacuity. Wisdom constitutes only exquisite insipidity. I began wondering if George had ever been introduced to Ciroan’s work. George who, by the end it seems, could no longer put his confusion and worry to work at converting emptiness into mystery.

I toyed with the idea of E.M. as a plausible, missed shot at salvation for the Singing Greek. When I find myself irretrievably depressed, metaphysically alienated, celebrating and denouncing myself in the same breath, there is only one man who can help me through the fog. I’ve developed a kind of Cioran dependency in recent years. I have to make sure I’ve got at least one of his books to hand at all times. He’s like a wellness guru, or an unwellness guru. There should be people pamphleteering extracts from The Trouble with Being Born on Golden Gate Bridge, a Cioranic helpline phone-box installed at Beachy Head. School kids should have it drilled into them. That the notion our ideas must come to something is at best a source of undying hilarity; everywhere we search for elsewhere, then we go back to being what we were before we were born… nothing. An unnecessary detour.

What is a philosopher other than a human being who plunders indecision for all it’s worth? What is a pop star? Without some form of near cataclysmic inner contraction, a ruptured personal paradox, how does either break any new ground? George and Emil. If not reading from the same hymn sheet, definitely born of a similar mother. Opening up territory for the rest of us, holding space… turning existential dread into a kind of game, something you can kill the time with, occasionally make a song and dance about. Not taking oneself — or anything for that matter — seriously, a matter of the utmost seriousness.

I had to get to the bottom of it. This thing about the nightclub. My life had grown George-coloured since the revelation. I heard his voice everywhere. I’d allowed him to colonise even my most intimate thoughts. Whether I was reading Cioran, making love or masticating Gyros, he was there. Cue a re-run of every single George Michael documentary available to a man at the beach house. No mention of it anywhere. Not a whiff. Nada. I called Luke from Decius, who’d birthed this phantasm in the first place. He swore by it. Promised he’d re-watch them all himself. Days later he replied. You’re right. It’s not there. Weird. Very weird. Where the fuck did that come from then?

Lias Saoudi is the frontman of Fat White Family and the Moonlandingz, and the co-author of Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure