Monday 27 June 2016

George MICHAEL: Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1

(#414: 15 September 1990, 1 week)

Track listing: Praying For Time/Freedom! '90/They Won't Go When I Go/Something To Save/Cowboys And Angels/Waiting For That Day/Mother's Pride/Heal The Pain/Soul Free/Waiting (Reprise)

"These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers"

I'll tell you what it's like, now.

On Saturday we went to a town outside London, not that far outside in fact. We have visited there many times and were there on, shall we say, routine business. I will not divulge the town's name except to say that it has its own distinguished place in rock and pop history and that it has a very useful second-hand record shop which has come in helpful many times for Then Play Long and other purposes in the past.

But on Saturday it was not the same town that we thought we knew. All the way down its main street, in almost every one of the shops that we went into (I'd say all of them apart from the aforementioned second-hand record shop), I was conscious of the fact that we were being stared at disapprovingly. Two middle-aged white people of unremarkable dress but whose voices plainly did not come from "there." I had the feeling that we were being tolerated rather than welcomed or accommodated. Passing the odd pub, I heard the odd mutter that we weren't supposed to hear. I was very glad to be out of there.

On Sunday morning somebody graffitied the front of the Polish centre in Hammersmith, a place which we have passed many times. Despite our Mayor's constant reassurances, people are continually being shouted at in the street, to their faces, to "go home."

This is the different country in which we woke up on Friday morning.

"This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses"

It's all in the past now, isn't it? That panoramic, all-inclusive society which I was taught was going to be the future when I was younger. I thought of Martin Fry's 2016 words: "I'm a man out of time 'til the stars realign." Instead we have been forced into a rather nasty, oppressive, isolationist society permitted by blatant lies and long-suppressed resentment.

With the past has also fled the future, unless you're fortunate enough to move somewhere which still welcomes the future, like the Scotland of Sturgeon and Davidson. The Glasgow Green which this morning was stickered with neo-N*zi hate slogans. Change racial prejudice for religious prejudice and you could almost be back in seventies no-mean-city Glasgow.

Those who don't "keep up," that is, subscribe to the forcefed neoliberalist programme, are trapped in the past and condemned to starve. And the excuses weren't even legitimate.

"The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we'll take our chances
Because God's stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all God's children
Crept out the back door"

Is that what people here really want? A hunky dictator who will make them do as they're told because it relieves them of the responsibility of thinking? Whatever they think they have chosen, they must now realise that they have been sold a bill of goods - no wonder the advocates were afraid of "experts," as they'd have been found out - and that, due to not hanging together, we are all doomed to hang separately.

And the word Lena found to express this best was SPITEFUL. Not a bullet fired, he said, and yet an MP was killed. It is as if SHE DIDN'T MATTER.

The future of a generation taken away from them by their sentimental parents and grandparents - SPITEFUL.

The agenda of an entire generation being sacrificed for the convenience of the aged - just like 1914-18 - SPITEFUL.


When did this start?

In 1979, when Thatcher started to order everybody about because it was "time for a change."

In September 1987, when "Pump Up The Volume" went to number one and a generation got off the pop bus. That rift has yet to heal and may never do so.

The old always taking precedence over the young - look at the radio today and tell me I'm wrong.

In 1066, when the French conquered Britain, and so many people here still haven't got over that.

Or 1776, when the exiles, sick of being ordered about at a distance by bossy Britain, FOUGHT the United States of America into existence.

"And it's hard to love, there's so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it's much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time"

We can't just "carry on," can we, like nothing had happened, like our lives hadn't been taken away from us? In 1939 nobody prayed for what was happening in Europe with H*tler's lot, but rather went in there, FOUGHT and got rid of them.

And no, I don't know what Churchill, founder of the European Union, would have made of all this.

The wounded skies, like the thunderstorm on Thursday night, presaging apocalypse.

"These are the days of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year"

They've given up on us, haven't they, those who profess to run things? They confess that they hadn't a fucking clue what was going to happen next, no plan in hand. They sold the public a pup, like those auction places in Oxford Street, and the public went for it because nobody was able, or allowed, to make a proper case for the reverse scenario.

Because thought, logic and reason are complex things. Not convenient headlines. Not "A Good Story" to prop up dying old forms of media.

The heart always knows better than the head? Sometimes I wonder if "the heart" knows a single fucking thing.

But nobody was able to make a positive case for Remain. It was all based on fear and you can't woo undecided voters with lots of sticks and no carrot. You could argue that they were backed into a corner - all they could do was emphasise what we'd lose if we left.

There were pertinent and coherent arguments for both Leave and Remain but nobody heard any of them - just the ceaseless whinnying of squeaky wheels. All a game, like the one they came up with at Eton in the late seventies. All a game for those who imagine that Westminster is the universe.

Back, then, not so much to the fifties, the fifties of John Reginald Christie and Alan Turing, but the pre-welfare thirties, with a little charity here and there on the squire's part.

Or if, like me, you studied the period Britain: 1815-51 in History class at school, you realise with horror what we're moving back towards.

"This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is OVER HERE"

"So you scream from behind your door
Say 'what's mine is mine and not yours'
I may have too much but i'll take my chances
Because God's stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you?"

Let me tell you how it is.

Years of working my backside off, being one of the star pupils in my year at school - and they wouldn't even make me a prefect because at age ten somebody had labelled me as "timid."

Two decades and an hour after she died I was back home on my own - you're OUT, lad. Let us know when you're moving so we can take the coffee table, LAD.

Half a century of observing people and trying to do my best - not always succeeding, but at least I tried - and what happened on Thursday is the equivalent of saying to me that my life, everything I have learned and done in it, has been for NOTHING. I am now plunged back into a society which existed before I did, which wants things to be the way they were before my parents even met, which has made it very clear that it despises me because of my ancestry and origins and which wants me OUT, LAD.

Where else would take me? I am in my fifties with a questionable heart condition (which may well finish me off before this country becomes REALLY intolerable). I have no transferable skill set that would see me right in (for example) Canada. I am stuck. It's too late for me. But not for you.

"That he can't come back
Because he has no children to come back for"

I am no longer sure that I have a country to come back to.

"It's hard to love, there's so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it's much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time."

Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 was the second solo album by George Michael. It is by necessity a tentative collection of songs set down apparently at numerous set points between 1987 and 1990 and not all of it works. "Praying For Time" is a reasonably convincing fusion of Lennon's "Mind Games" and Chicago's "Hard To Say I'm Sorry." "Cowboys And Angels" is a magnificent piece of post-Marvin Gaye angst which isn't really jazz - though Andy Hamilton's saxophone could momentarily make you think that - but does underline the continuing development of Michael's subtly radical approach to song structure, which had already begun by the time of "Careless Whisper" - that is, songs which develop as stories, music which flows from the necessity of words, and which reach a conclusion rather than mechanically relying on repeated choruses. The broadly-lit motionlessness of "Cowboys And Angels" in particular suggests increasing familiarity with Antonio Carlos Jobim's work, as well as suggesting a direction in which ABC could have gone - the album could properly have been entitled The Lexicon Of A Lost Ideal, although the subject matter of "Cowboys And Angels" suggest that an alternative song title could have been "Bizarre Love Triangle." Elsewhere he is keen to let us know what he's been listening to - Happy Mondays, Soul II Soul, McCartney, the Stones and even Simply Red come up as probables throughout the record, though on "Something To Save," written in December 1988, he sounds like, if anyone, Morrissey. He's free of the past - or thinks that he is (Shirlie from Pepsi and Shirlie pops up on "Freedom! '90" which itself refers back to an old Wham! song) - and he's anxious to let us know that, although the terminal beach of his Stevie Wonder cover - from that least reassuring of Wonder albums, Fullfillingness' First Finale - indicates where his next moves might lie.

George Michael wrote most of the album, produced it and played a lot of it. In Britain its sales were roughly the same as Faith - both went quadruple platinum - but in the States it only made number two on Billboard and "only" sold two million as opposed to its predecessor's seven million. He did not feel that his record company had promoted him enough - although his reluctance to appear in any of the videos for the singles can't have helped - and he and they began a long and costly fallout. A Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 2, focusing more on dance tunes, was scheduled for June 1991 release but the plug was pulled; three of the songs that he completed for the project were donated to the Red Hot + Dance compilation (including his 1992 hit single "Too Funky," whose B-side was a fourth lost album track). We do not see him again in this tale until 1996.

As regards "Mother's Pride," the song, although never a single, was played extensively on American radio throughout 1991. There was a war on, because war is supposedly the answer to everything. I do not know how the Anglo-Greek Cypriot musician Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou feels about there being an answer to anything.

The cover image is a detail of a 1940 photograph by Weegee entitled Crowd at Coney Island. The people in it celebrate furiously, as though this was the last chance that they would get to celebrate. I wonder how many of them survived the war that then came.