Maybe We Should All Be Praying For Time. In 1990, this was a fairly audacious proposition, especially given the fact that one of the previous missives we’d received from this same source had rather presumptuously asked whether we thought it was time we’d had sex with him (as if to assert that we were collectively behind schedule in the fruition of that endeavor). Portentous of production and pretentious of lyric, “Praying for Time” arrived with a glumly earnest solemnity and spun a scenario that bordered on the doomily dystopian (or distupidian, as my kids have re-branded the term), lamenting broken skies, open hands, hungry men and a deity turned indifferent. “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” it was not.
Upon the news of the death of George Michael, I’d started to write another post along the lines of Life Without Lemmy, Life Without Bowie and Life Without Prince, continuing to hit a growingly familiar refrain as 2016 put luminary after luminary into the cold, cold ground. But then it was also Christmas, and then fucking Carrie Fisher died and then her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died of a broken heart and suddenly days had gone by and poor George’s untimely demise already seemed like old news.
In a nutshell, while my original post followed a tangled trajectory of overwritten musings about my listening habits in high school and college amid concerns that an initially furtive appreciation for George Michael clashed inconveniently with my otherwise ironclad adherence to all things punk, metal and goth, I’m just going to cut right to the chase -– George Michael wrote, crafted and recorded great and roundly unimpeachable goddamn pop music. Yes, I can happily regale you with discographical minutia about the oeuvres of bands like Kraut, Fields of the Nephilim and Lubricated Goat, but –- much as with Prince -– a fervent appreciation of those bands was rarely going to help one out on a dancefloor populated by potential paramours. In my awkward experience, more often than not, the heroically unlikely targets of my affection were keen to dance to stuff like George Michael. Sure, it would have been grand if the sounds of Shriekback or the Exploited or 45 Grave made them giddily frisky, but it rarely seemed to work out that way. As such, if you were going to even begin to catch the attention of comely _____________ (insert name of high school crush here), you’d better be prepared to dance to “Careless Whisper.”
But that just sounds like a mercenary excuse –- a means to an end. Beyond it being music that very arguably made girls I knew fleetingly more susceptible to my strenuously unpolished attempts at romance, the fact remains that George Michael’s music was simply great, by any standard, full stop. Seriously, if you can’t find something to appreciate about singles like “Everything She Wants,” “Father Figure,” “Monkey,” “Fastlove,” “Too Funky,” “Waiting For That Day,” or “Heal the Pain” (to name a small few), I’m inclined to think you’re just at war with humanity. As pop music goes, I’d rank George up there with ABBA. You may not be a big pop fan, but you have to admit –- he did it fucking well.
On top of all that, he was also, by all accounts, an unfailingly decent gent with a big heart. And if you’re upset and/or still put-off by the way he sometimes spent his downtime, you’re just being an unduly pious, judgmental jackass and very probably a homophobe. Get over that shit.
So yeah, losing George Michael –- at the mere age of 53, no less (only four years older than myself, bizarrely) –- took the wind out of my sails. He wasn’t someone you expected to see die just yet. It certainly broke my beautiful wife’s heart, prompting robust airings of his music around the apartment for the past several days.
Which brings me back to “Praying for Time.”
Once again, in 1990, this po-faced single seemed overwrought and funereal. I mean, indeed, upon its release in August of 1990, the AIDS epidemic was still in escalation, Saddam Hussein was about to kick off the Gulf War by marching into Kuwait (not that George Michael necessarily knew that, but still), and George H.W. Bush was in office, not really making many new friends by reneging on his “no new taxes” pledge and vetoing the 1990 Civil Rights Act. More to the point, “Praying for Time” felt like George Michael’s emphatic demand to be taken more seriously as an artist, but it still felt ridiculously heavy-handed. Despite my fandom, I remember penning a cheekily snide one-sentence review for a tiny music `zine about the album that spawned that single, that being the eye-rollingly titled Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. My review was simply: Listen without purchasing. Har har.
But upon hearing it again this week -– still neck deep in the wake of the wave of death that was 2016, and faced with the disquieting dawn of the age of Trump -– “Praying For Time” doesn’t feel so ridiculously overblown anymore. It feels pretty goddamn on-point and prescient.
Rest in peace, George. For your contributions, you deserved a far better fate than what was handed to you.