An Erratic Orbit

A bipolar perspective on the 3rd planet



George Michael 1963— Donald

We find it comforting to name impersonal forces. It may seem as though knowing the winds that totalled your car are called Barbara isn’t going to do much for you (and it’s entirely unfair on my elderly aunt) but personalization is at the heart of every inner storm too.

By this point, 2016 has earned a name of its own. The obvious choice is Donald. Capricious, petty, and no friend of musicians from the world of pop and rock. Donald killed an uncle of mine this year for good measure, although Happy Birthday at five eighths of a semitone lower or higher than everyone else aside, I don’t recall hearing him sing more than a couple of lines. 

We might have hoped that Donald had done its worst, its reign of terror almost over, but there was one more horrible surprise on Christmas Day.

​George Michael was a gay North Londoner. He sang about Finsbury Park. He struggled with prejudice and his identity. He cruised the West Heath. He was just nine years older than me. His end hits me harder than any of the famous others in 2016.

Finsbury Park
Finsbury Park. Image:

Although there are no details of his death released yet, growing up gay in a prejudiced world certainly  contributed to physical and mental  health problems. 

You can’t ignore also that he was part of an immigrant population. Like many of the Georges, Michaels, and Chrisses I grew up with, Anglicizing your Greek name was what Greek Cypriots did to seek greater acceptance. Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou was no name for the cover of Smash Hits magazine. 

Although he never cast off the trappings of celebrity and wealth bestowed upon him at a young age, by his mid twenties he was maturing as artist, operating out of the mainstream yet producing a range of pieces with a subtly original twist. Some of his music is not just deeply moving, it is harrowing. These two aspects of his music set him apart from some prominent stars who will take this opportunity to appear on TV talking about his influence on them. George had that universality of appeal which ensured his fortune, but his lasting legacy will be beyond the attainment of almost all ex-Boy Band songwriters. 

On Christmas Eve I listened to John Lennon’s last interview, with Yoko Ono, a conversation with Andy Peebles of BBC Radio two days before he died. It was clear he was relaxed and happy to be part of a stable family. I don’t think George Michael ever found quite the same peace in life. I am not the only person who will find “John And Elvis Are Dead” an especially poignant song at this time. 

The thing he softly said
It stayed with me, it keeps messing with my head
If Jesus Christ is alive and well
Then how come John and Elvis are dead?

In common with Lennon, George Michael found a simple but penetrative honesty in some of his best songwriting that is rare in the world of pop. A Different Corner is one of my favourite pop songs in the whole world. Precious Box is a great crossover of 80s/90s club dance music and traditional songwriting “bout private feelings ‘n all”. Many people will think of songs from Listen Without Prejudice. Praying For Time will now forever be associated with the televisual history of Donald. If I’m going to choose one song to remember George by though, it would be remiss to not look death as squarely in the eye as he did. So it has to be this haunting one he wrote to himself. Of course there is something in it for everyone. Even Donalds. This is the album version. .  . 

Love you, George. 


A more reflective look at the Jacqueline Walker affair 

In the context of a torrid summer, the  timing of the suspension of a black member from the left of the Labour Party has naturally led many to feel this is the final straw. To suspend a black woman with Jewish heritage and a Jewish partner for anti-Semitism straight after conference and Momentum’s The World Transformed, while others have got away with all kinds of attacks,  was always going to appear to be to many another targeted smear  

Although not one person is free of prejudice, and the Party needs to be welcoming (and to black members especially), leadership requires responsibility. Is her position now untenable? Or where her remarks taken out of context? 

a mirror on a wall, reflecting a glass patio door

As a member, Walker must accept the need for education, but here we get into the difficulty. Owen Smith began his leadership campaign with a homophobic dogwhistle and should have been suspended immediately. Several MPs, “normal” and singular, have failed to act in an exemplary manner, and have not been sanctioned for their conduct. Meanwhile, there are numerous examples of suspensions of members for petty reasons. At the very least The Compliance Unit have been heavy handed and until there is an inquiry into what has been dubbed “The Purge”, unity will be impossible to achieve. 

It is very hard to keep one’s head when all around others have demonstrably lost theirs. I called Owen Jones a “stooge” and I am sorry for that. This much is true: As things unravel, naked tensions reveal themselves. A white man commenting on the actions of a black woman becomes ever more problematic. 

The Labour Party, if it is to safely negotiate these troubled  times, does not have the option the Conservatives can employ: burying these tensions in the pursuit of mutual financial and career advancement. Can the necessary radical self-examinations take place on a personal level so that we can come together politically? Or is an explosive fragmentation inevitable? 

Can we apply the rules fairly? What can we accept? What can we accept about ourselves? What is an acceptable human flaw for a member of the Labour Party? How many mistakes can an individual make? How conscious must they be? What will we do about Owen Smith and Jacqueline Walker? And what will the outcome say about The Labour Party? 

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