Aural White Elephants: A silver-haired Look at Yes’ Union Album (1991).

In April 2016 I wrote an anniversary piece on this album which is still dear to me for various reasons.


Let’s see … “Big Genitalia” is in here … and so is “Anderson, Walkman, Buttholes and How”. Best have “Onion” as well – it is its 25th anniversary after all – and complete the triplet of albums that ruined the band Yes forever. All of this and none of it is true.

“I call it “Onion” because it makes me cry every time I listen to it.” (Rick Wakeman)
“No idea how this is supposed to work. We’re getting roadies but what we need is referees.” (Trevor Rabin)
“@#•Ø√~µ‚ƒ©«Ù¥fi]|¶{º|¡fiƒ{!!!!!!!!!!” (Steve Howe)

Ah, “Union”. The union that never was, hated by the band, its fans and most of the western hemisphere. The veritable Frankenstein of an album that well displays what happens when managers, execs and producers are given too much rope. The audio equivalent of the kitchen sink syndrome. The definition of corporate rock excess at its worst. There is no collaboration on display here, let alone any communal band playing to the point that it becomes indecipherable as to who actually did what. The albatross with the wings of a turkey and/or vice versa. Again, all of this and none of it is true.

There are many accounts on how this creat__ ure came about and eventually led to the supra-Yes octet in 1991. I will try a cursory overview for the sole purpose of completeness. When Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe (hereafter: ABWH) ran into trouble during the writing of their sophomore album the remaining quartet of what was still the official Yes – namely Chris Squire, Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye and Alan White (hereafter: YesWest) casually demoed albums‘ worth of new material with new vocalists in mind (these were potentially to be Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, future alumnus Billy Sherwood, a returning Anderson or even Rabin/Squire themselves). None of these two endeavours came to any fruition and produced a veritable clusterfuck of disparate bands, ungainly material and huge loss of credibility to what used to be two very successful ventures: the return of the original name with a modern and tight 1980’s sheen and the subsequent reboot of the old band ethos with a contemporary world music slant (ABWH). Although nobody managed to see eye to eye any longer – least of all the corporate lobbyists attached – something had to be done and this album, to me anyway, is a logical result (read this account by producer Jonathan Elias for an idea about just how pear-shaped things became).

But I digress. “Union” is nowhere as bad as it seems. Somehow things just had to happen as they did.

Every time I listen to this album I perform a magical trick: I erase all the business bullshit, the multitudes of session musicians drafted in to replay flawed performances, the overproduced assault on all senses, the iffy song material and the general pettiness of its motivation. I am entirely unskilled in the creation and execution of music – indeed, I have little intention to ever achieve this – but I trust my ears and the increasingly malleable bit of brain mass in between – and they tell me that this is an album that was conceived for all the wrong reasons but, in turn, became finalised for all the right reasons. At strictly face value this was and is an exciting release. Once more, all of this and none of it is true.

There are overproduced atrocities such “Dangerous” or (to a lesser extent) “Holding On” to decry (even by their respective titles); likewise there are moments of serene and cerebral beauty such as the eerie Anderson/Wakeman duet “Angkor Wat” (replete with Cambodian recitation) and “Take the Water to the Mountain” which display well that ABWH themselves did have a distinct identity; much to the chagrin of its participants which were to see it sacrificed at the altar of “Union”. The openers “I Would Have Waited Forever” and “Shock To The System” as well as “Without Hope” and “Silent Talking” pass as credible takes on a modernised Yes that combines the flamboyance of the past with the succinctness of their later trajectory. I could not really care less whether that is Steve Howe or his ghostplayer Jimi Haun on guitar, whether that really is Rick Wakeman tinkling the ivories or Steve Porcaro or anyone else to be found in the small print. Having their respective stylistic at best as little vignettes or functional pockets does the music nothing but good and serves the principle of modernisation better than the hitherto desperate search for another “Owner of a Horse and Cart” (which, in all truthfulness, remains both an oddity and an industrial accident in the band’s catalogue anyway). Now, over to YesWest …

As expected, the four songs by the Rabin/Squire-led version of the band make it easier for the listener. As on “90210” or “Big Generator”, they display the stately, at times slightly bland AOR windowdressed by Rabin’s shred-prog excursions and their intricateness-defying wall-of-sound construction. While the cod white-reggae of “Saving My Heart” isn’t really worth anyone’s time, the pretty “Lift Me Up” represents the above well and even yielded a minor hit for the band at the time (replete with a video clip featuring the full ensemble). I do like “Miracle Of Life” with its busy, harmony-fuelled instrumental opening with Kaye’s patented Hammond stabs forming a bedrock to Rabin’s industrious arpeggiated riffing very much – shame that the ensuing song falls back to his aforementioned compositional mode. Squire’s atmospheric “The More We Live” (his first of many collaborations with Billy Sherwood, who is now his rightful successor in the band after his passing in 2015) has evolved as a perennial fan favourite, on which merits Sherwood still argues his cred as a rightful member of Yes. These four are never less than satis-factory tracks, however, ABWH as an entity exercises hegemony over this release which makes them look as being shoehorned into the entire package – which is a bit sad.

Honourable mention to Howe’s acclaimed acoustic guitar composition “Masquerade”, which, once more, displays his unique sense of dextrous melodicism and the oddball “Evensong”, a duet by Bill Bruford and Tony Levin; probably the closest that Yes ever got to incorporating King Crimson (apart from Anderson’s guest feature on “Islands”). These, along with “Angkor Wat”, pass as verified solo features and reclaim some “Fragile”-oriented credibility for this aural white elephant that no-one claims to like.

Now, the you-had-to be-there scenario. The tour became one of the highest grossing in what turned out to be a recessional year for the live concert market. For the discerning fan it was like Christmas, Easter and a summer boozer rolled into one. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Hey, it yielded my first ever printed gig review. There was Wakeman, weaving his delusions of grandeur while acting like a goof whenever possible. There was Kaye doing his serviceable minimalism alongside. There were Rabin and Howe, forever in each other’s way but getting on with it nonetheless. Bruford and White: a perfect match of percussive onslaught with Bruford just sitting back and having a good time while leaving White to do the heavy lifting. Anderson and Squire, cajoling around each other, searching for middle ground … and finding it by the time “Awaken” reduced the audience to a shivering mass of multiple epiphanies. It never worked. It was nothing but bloated grandiosity with the obvious faults on display rendering it human. It couldn’t last. What is not to like?

Cunning plan. Good album. Fantastic tour. Happy 25th, “Union”. Now, remain where you are. Please.

PS: Of course, “Big Genitalia” is not part of this blog, because this article had initially been written for another one of my outlets. Neither do I claim ownership of all the included offences, slurs and title spoofs. In that respect, ask the true fans! – and go see ARW when they come to town. Or RAW. Or WAR …

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Lessons learned today in only 100 words:

• As a politician: reconsider berating (part of) the electorate (you don’t like).

• As president-elect: keep stark contrast between campaign and reign.

• As a high quality journalist: keep your personal opinions to yourself.

• As a boulevard journalist: be responsible. enough lessons learned now.

• As an analyst: your empirical evidence is probably wrong.

• As a voter: never underestimate your responsibility.

• As a Trump voter: not much will improve.

• As Donald J. Trump: get ready to betray your voters.

• 9/11//11/9 is not an anagram for 11/9//9/11. it had better …

Now, back to posting some cat content and watching scripted reality approbational top-down rhetoric. Rant over.

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What Would You Do?

I was watching television again. Indulge me and picture the scene.

A capacity-filled airliner is hi-jacked by terrorists and the flight deck crew is forced to issue a radiogram –not as a warning threat but as an outright denouncement. While passengers – to everyone’s best knowledge – are attempting seizure, the defence department takes action and send up a pair of interceptors. These fail to alert the pilots or to deviate the plane’s course and are forced to fly along and observe. By now it has become apparent that the airliner is to be used as a human missile and possible targets are evaluated. These could be a nuclear research power plant and two stadiums, one filled with 30.000 people for a rock concert and another with 70.000 for an international football match. There are approximately 30 minutes left to impact. As it turns out the stadium with the larger crowd can be evacuated within 15 minutes. No order for this is given by the defence department because they say that this is sole responsibility of local civil protection (as yet unaware of the impending doom). One of the interceptors’ pilots – after firing off a mandatory warning and screaming messages of necessary action down the line to no response or order given – then fires an air-to-air missile that destroys the plane in mid-air, killing all souls on board yet saving the lives of 70.000 potential victims. He is accused of murder in 164 cases and ends up in court. The courtroom drama ends up as a feature film length chamber play on national television with the judge asking the viewers to act as jurors and to issue judgements online which will then play into the final verdict.

What could have been a great plot for a 1970’s style disaster movie has been elevated to everyday likelihood status for roughly 15 years now. According to seven million viewers watched (~20% of 14-49 year olds) with 87% of voters pleading that the officer is to be declared free of guilt. Figures in Austria and Switzerland turned out to be similar.

This constitutes a remarkable media experiment of which the bottom line has to be direct democracy. The romantic notion of “we the people” has fallen foul of ill-health this year and events like these are restricted to best serve the stimulation of discourse within society. They are vital to direct democracy and the promotion thereof. However what to with a society whose interest in open discourse and varied democratic discussion seems to decrease at a constant rate? Is this remarkable experiment nothing but an exercise in futility?

I shouldn’t ask these questions. Anyone can answer these for themselves. Television on Monday evening asked another overarching question and it applies to all of us: are we being misled between ethical thinking and national law?

Ethical thinking with moral sovereignty in a benign world is universal. Benign the world is not. National laws vary vividly. They depend on administrative structure among much else and they could survive while lying dormant through decades of political change and agenda setting. Our current one would allow the plane to be shot down in order to save a larger sum of lives. Thankfully not everyone can be a lawyer.

Thankfully I am not and could never be. It would be interesting to see the temporal structure in which the votes have been pouring in. My bet is that most of them were off-the-cuff within the first hour of viewing. How long do the most prominent court cases drag on?

If I am being entirely truthful I probably would have called for innocence myself on a whim, barely on the brew of ethical position and emotional steer within. I slept on it instead and resorted to read the reports first. That is not an activity to be proud of.

Question of diverse and diffuse origin amass: If we were indeed sat down as layman jurors should we not strive to activate mind and guts in an overseeable amount of time to be judicial in order to attain the most pure, non-skewed and unbiased opinion? More so, the immense dialectic structure of the play did unfold after some time. Can 164 fatalities really be stood up against 70.000 in principle? How do terms such as collateral damage or – spare us – death toll (still remembered in Germany from the Starfighter tragedy affair from the 1960s and 1970s) play into this? These are terms from the political agenda in which this legislation was created. Can they still be valid?

Let us assume that this stadium could be evacuated in such a short amount of time. At what point would the terrorists realise that they are heading into an empty bowl of concrete and thus have to weigh up futility levels? At what point is it safe to presume that this bowl of concrete would be the preferred target? An airliner is not a fighter plane that can be whisked around at an instant (I estimate a good 15 minutes in order to let a predictable course to materialise – none of these technicalities were addressed in the text). If I was the terrorist would I not head for the nuclear power plant instead in order to attain what I would describe as a more far-reaching “effect”? I shiver as I type this. Would the rock concert be a more suitable target because it symbolizes the loathsome decadence of the assumed enemy more than football which has far more intercultural connective value? What would go on in my mind?

Now let us switch sides please. How do we judge who sees the bigger accusation of murder? Are we more comfortable to leave the terrorists (who will most likely not be seen in court in the aftermath) with the role of mass murderer than we would do with a proposedly decent, irreproachable serviceman of high rank? Surely the unthinkable amount of physical and psychological strain that he must have been under needs to be taken into account (again, none of this was addressed). How about equipping all airliners in operation with a remote control device that would further reduce human interference of folly and ill will? How many more positions at Eurocontrol could be created?

But that’s just me.

This 90 minute film cannot possibly address all of these open questions. I’ll put them here instead because I was watching television again. Future edits may occur.

Official Trailer (German only)

PS: I would have evacuated and taken the chance. There are plenty of fighter planes around. Discuss.

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A stable Validity: New Old Gold from New Old Kings.


Marillion in 2016 are all about epitomising the term comfort zone. While, of late, never the most benign of attributes (due to easy accusals of complacency and stuffiness) the band had fought hard for it after turbulent but nevertheless productive years and they can now enjoy their own version of a comfort zone in both a musical and a business sense … and an ideological one because they are free to do whatever they like within wherever their artistic whim takes them.

Marillion have continually traded on this with their often-cited invention of music crowdfunding and their attainment of complete artistic independence. One will be hard pushed to find a band more fiercely “indie” than they are. They have apparently made all the right decisions to transgress well-funded but ultimately low-yielding major company operation by highly experimental transitory periods and finally arrived at a style of music that is entirely their own and that they can now enjoy and lay forth to their hearts’ content.

“F E A R” is a comfortable album. It touches uncomfortable subject matters (the title is an acronym for “F**k Everyone And Run”, thanks for that) which invite thorough listening but are easy to postulate when in a comfortable situation. That is not an accusal. It’s merely very obvious.

There is a distinct downside to a comfort zone at rather advanced artistic and physical age. It is not becoming any easier to leave the plush and comfy sofa in one’s living room and one is left to watch and experience things become more plush, more comfy and more familiar and, thus, restrictive as any remaining whiff of change and so much as an outside world retreats into oblivion. Fan conventions for instance, will never represent an artistic minefield.

The band had been crafting its late-period style of slow-burning, psychedelic and highly emotive art rock for a number of consecutive albums now. While earlier records from the post-Fish days may have been tailgating all over the shop to please one and all at once their latter-day albums – quality notwithstanding – exude a staid self-confidence which is difficult to deny. Indeed, the differences between “Happiness Is The Road” (2008), “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” (2012) and this one are quite negligible.

First time listeners may be captivated at an instant. Long time followers such as myself may end up missing the precariousness and the wide spectrum of their mid-period with Steve Hogarth as lead singer. For the fan there is plenty to enjoy, Rothery’s soaring guitars and Kelly’s soundscapes are as much in place as Hogarth’s warmth and ambience; the rhythm section of Trewavas and Mosley seems to go from strength to strength in subtlety and intricacy and the production by long-term collaborator Mike Hunter is the best in years. “F E A R” has all the markings of a compelling listening experience.

However, none of its pieces (three suite-type long form composition and some shorter songs) stands out by itself – it is difficult to single out a representative track or performance that could epitomise the album. Even in these days of reversal into 1950’s style track culture this remains a valid criterion for new releases.

By all intents “F E A R” is one entity with all the advantages and downfalls attached. It is an arduous album made for a long-conditioned fan base. It sits firmly within its comfort zone. Marillion were at one time masterful creators of stirring album openers; plus, each album had at least one stand-out track that represented the album and the band’s mindset at the time. “F E A R” boasts none of that – it is best described as a pastiche of everything that the band does so well at this late stage – no more and no less.

My suggestion for orientation would have to be “The New Kings” which will, invariably, end up being the most quoted track due to its scathing social commentary in the lyrics which are starkly contrasted by the musical subtlety at hand. While no listener will probably have his or her immanent Marxist streak triggered by it, the song makes valid sense and whatever may come across a tad heavy-handed finds a perfect blend of free thought and structure here. Few bands manage to elevate the interweaving of words and sounds to such lofty plateaus as these neo-prog survivors do. While – by their own admission – never the most overtly political band around I am all for them gathering as much “grumpy old man” bowel movements as possible. Because they are probably right.

“Their best album yet” had been heard many times during Marillion’s long and diverse career. “F E A R” does not belong into that category but it’s far from weak. Make yourself comfortable and give it a go. And go see them live while you and they still can.

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Five Rings to Rule Them All

I witnessed a strange scenario recently when I took a midnight ferry across the English Channel (my ruminations about the loss of the European culture of sea travel are best left for another entry …). Surrounded by travel-weary holidaymakers, bleary-eyed German graduates and drowsy lorry drivers the onboard screens throughout the cafeteria areas showed the live broadcast of this year’s Olympics’ closing ceremony. The contrast on both sides of these screens could not have been bigger.

In accompaniment of a vibrant samba-type racket designed obviously to convey something that is comprehensible as of indigenous Brazilian origin to people from farther afield the athletes of the games frolicked through Maracana’s cavernous expanse with the wide smile that only participation in an event second-to-none can generate, entirely untouched by the torrential rain and gusts in Rio de Janeiro on that day. These were vivacious images of the sort that one expects to see in conjunction with something of global asset stature as the Olympic games. This is what represents the Olympic spirit that everyone is on about. However – was it my general tiredness during that night’s journey or the gist of media reports on all things Olympic that left me and, suspectedly, many others with a rather jaded view of it to the point of considering the Olympic Games as an obsolete anachronism? It all seemed overtly faked.

The circumstances that lead to such a dour view require no further elaboration. The IOC’s position in the recent state-determined doping affair versus Russia had been pitiful down to the fact that the one whistleblowing athlete is still in hiding. The later ban of all Russian paralympic athletes only made things more cynical. As the pageantry reached its Westend-ian climax, Dr. Thomas Bach, a man of the stature and charisma of a former Warsaw Pact state leader advanced towards the lectern and spoke sentences of Disney-ish ring and quality. As a former athlete himself (fencing) he ought to know so much better.

I disapprove of how this piece is turning out. Let’s rewrite. The Olympic Games are a joyful event to many and they provide hours of excitement and viewing pleasure to multitudes. They also bring gazillions of profit to advertisers and stakeholders as well as a sumptuous opportunity to urban administration for tarting up, for cleansing and expansion but let’s not get into that … this piece is turning out the way it does because I and many others of my peer group are on a diet of critical, mostly truthful but also somewhat biased journalism and reporting, which stems from an enlightened, educated middle class positioned in left-of-centre-liberalism. That is a good thing but it leaves me with a one-sided view of things.

At times I would like to imagine that the critical sports journalist of today was not part of what we would term “jocks” in school. This is feeding an old and tedious stereotype but – judging from my own and now my children’s experience – it largely stands true. The other day I also read a commentary that especially conservative-leaning people take a high interest in world-class sports because this nurtures a clear and concise world image of division into winners and losers coming into evidence which, of course, constitutes a large part of neo-liberal and conservative thought. It would be ludicrous to base this schism purely on contesting political positions but one cannot help to discern the differences of opinion and reporting within publications across the entire political gamut.

It would also be too far-fetched and hugely unfair to link any degree of sports support and enthusiasm to levels of enlightenment and exposure to critical reporting and news value. However, as critical reporting in our part of the world prevails, the effects on society and, ultimately, their choices cannot be denied. Opposition towards hosting mega sporting events in Western, democratic societies is at an all time high. That said, London’s 2012 hosting of the Olympic summer games has, despite large protests before, been a huge success with exemplary site construction (at times demountable and consequently shipped-off to be re-used in Rio), an equally exemplary opening ceremony presentation (nerd alert: was I the only person to spot the pig floating over Battersea Power Station?) and a huge boost to sports and sports policy in Great Britain … and at least a doubling of cyclist numbers on British roads and avenues. Elsewhere, debate and election did not go as smooth and discussions were even more heated.

In a startling referendum outcome Munich – home to one of the best football teams in the world, host of the 1972 Olympics that were so vital in restauring Germany’s post-war self-conception, the country’s capital of leisurely activity and suburb to Alpine winter sports at its highest level – overwhelmingly voted against holding the Winter Olympics. Although under conservative-corporatist political rule since the war Bavarians, in an unlikely move, discarded further commercialisation and congestion within the increasingly fragile ecosystem that is the Alps. They also voted down further construction mayhem in what is already a crowded city and the effects of gentrification that are already making Munich unaffordable to most social strata. Additionally they stood up against competitive sports being seized by political agenda and campaigning (in the aftermath of Uli Hoeness’ mild sentence for tax fraud due to certain friendships and cliqueries and a new court case unveiling about Franz Beckenbauer’s involvement in seizing the Football World Cup in 2006 as I write). All of this had an effect on this result.

Likewise the more left-leaning city of Hamburg, in a bid for hosting the Olympic summer games in 2026, also had its plans skewed by a referendum that stood in the hanseatic tradition of citizens voicing their opinion and making themselves heard. While the mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz, considered this a hearbreaking personal defeat I stand to my opinion that holding this referendum and adhereing to its non-compulsory result could be considered a victory, not only for himself but also for exercising direct democracy at large. Due to German federalism both cities must never be compared for their worldviews but, despite understanding that citizens will not tolerate any more unheated schools, crumbling flyovers and underpayed/-staffed social services for the sake of a shiny new Olympic park in a refurbished part of its docklands, I see a distinct danger in this effect of direct democracy. That is the reverie for and the revelling in opposition for opposition’s sake.

Media messages exert influence on minds and choices and their abundance never makes careful selection easier. While the case of Olympic Games never make matters better or worse for any individual, this exercising of dogmatic opposition will invariably see the Games go to countries and territories where less direct democracy is often exercised to disturbing and societally disastrous effect. We will, thus, continue to read reports and admonishment as the above and not see any improvement of conditions and policies. The bottom line must be: if we cannot manage the very difficult task to rekindle some kind of discerning enthusiasm for the hosting of Olympic Games – and other multi-corporate sporting events – in our free and privileged part of the world, we will gradually forfeit any opportunity to exert a beneficial influence on their conduct. We will be relegated to onlooker status and we will be left to read scathing commentary about faraway countries with much finger pointing to no real effect being done. That is not the way to partake in one of the few global artefacts left which contains true intercultural interaction as a distinct possibility.

Make no mistake: I’d rather go out for an extended cross-country run than watch an hour of Olympics. I find it boring and staged but that’s just me. I refuse to downplay their motivational and inspirational effect though. Those leering smiles on that nightly screening must have had some sincerity left. In a nutshell: cheer the sports persons, support your athletes and teams, go out for a run yourselves but don’t buy the merch.

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My tuppe2¢e on Brexiting, Old Europe and Citizenry in General.

On June 23rd 2016 the United Kingdom is holding a referendum asking the electorate whether to leave the European Union or to stay. This will, inevitably, constitute part of a larger debate on whether the EU is still an entity worth preserving, whether this will usher in an erosion of this venerable, deeply pragmatic and, of late, nobel peace-prize awarded behemoth of Kafkaesque capacity or whether it will not amount to much because, by the accounts of many, the entire construct has been sitting on a volatile incline for long before anyway – not to mention the economic and societal effects that this will inevitably have on the departing country. Until there is a firm result forthcoming the ifs will firmly outweigh the facts and, besides that, I, personally, am relegated to onlooker status. However, the United Kingdom and, specifically, England has been my ideological home for reasons too numerous to list and thus I feel compelled to cobble together those morsels of thought that I have may about it. They are, at best, fragmentary, kaleidoscopic to the point of blur and provide more indecisiveness than clarity. My attachment to the UK certainly ought to produce a thoroughbred opinion which might lean more towards the VOTE STAY campaign?

Surprisingly I find myself strangely irresolute. The above mentioned EU-intrinsic pragmatism, often bordering on cherry-picking has, undoubtedly, been part and parcel of Great Britain’s membership. However, in a strictly cultural perception, I (as a native German) innocently enough never viewed Great Britain as of especially European grain which is something that I have always considered one of the country’s more charming traits and trademarks. Great Britain’s eventual joining of the European (Economic) Union in 1973 has somewhat curtailed the nation’s uniqueness, not least due to strong – by my own experience largely benign – identitarian sentiments within. They took pride in often being a dissenting voice and I am proud of them because of this – dissent within the ranks is a deeply democratic requisition as long as it turns out to be constructive. Ultimately the UK’s membership – to me – is thus more cultural and societal than of economical incline.

That constructiveness, however, seems to be lost – on both sides of the channel.

Many of my friends in the UK who berate or applaud me because of my own pro-EU sentiments often seem to overlook that, as a born-and-bred post WWII German one has little choice. The privileges that my generation of both post-war and post-“Wirtschaftswunder” Germans were able to enjoy had their foundations in a functioning EU, a vision or at least an acknowledgement of a united Europe of mutual acceptance and, of course, Germany’s new and prescribed role within it – all the way down to youth exchange programmes and the liberal meeting of minds. Every mock Nazi salute and  spoof goose step that may have been flashed towards us reminded us of our responsibility but also gave a sentiment of external views and the effect of such pan-European commonality. Most of this is now water under the bridge, but the old dictum that “a European Germany is a much better idea than a German Europe” still stands true. As far as I am concerned, I have profited from it over what now spans four consecutive decades. So much for selfishness.

However, there are glaring similarities evident in the UK’s “brexit” debate and the remainder of the many things that are currently going awry in Europe’s democracies. One is the element of fear and how both politics and the media exploit it. These phenomena are not new. Fear, both subsurface or explicit, secures sales of editions and is able to generate votes. While information or, precisely, informedness can never erase fear, fear itself is not a natural companion to informedness. Insecurity breeds fear and I do not exclude myself. With millions on the move into and within Europe old prebends are increasingly seen at stake. An aging society, although in dire need of true humanitarian globalisation, sees its reserves shrink while distribution spreads thinner and farther afield. The erosion of classes by design has fragmented societies with social mobility eroding as well as caritative thought from the haves towards the have-nots. Let’s read the book “Chavs” by Owen Jones again.

I envisage the dilemma in the UK as tripartite. Firstly, culturally motivated in its relative island-oriented separation which, in turn, determines much of its national self-conception; secondly, soci(et)ally inclined due to globalisation-conditioned and exploited insecurities which, in turn, seek for answers to attain international gravitas again and, thirdly, politically, because the contempt for those within the UK that rally for remaining is currently too high on various grounds. It is true that the green-and-pleasant land will not “do an Atlantis” and fade away if it left. It is also true that the EU common market might just be traded for another economic conglomeration with other territories (TTIP might happen here first). Lastly, by gut feel, leaving the EU might prove many UK citizens right and make for a much more self-assured attitude within the global public sphere. Not everyone can be a stock broker or an investment banker and too many social strata have been given the elbow of disparagement and marginalisation. However, the wave of segregation movements in Europe’s sub-democratic underbelly may see justification of its contempt here and the long-term results cannot be estimated.

My recent discussions with citizens and friends from the UK painted a picture of horror should the vote turn out to be in favour of leaving. It is true that most of these people work in areas that rely on internationality and an effervescent exchange of goods, culture and original thought with Europe and the world. Owners of local businesses and/or employees will, invariably, have a differing opinion and it is understandable. Although the ideology and the principles and downfalls of globalisation have, by and large, also emanated from the UK and its post-Thatcherist emphasis on global(ised) finance and service industry, its effects have been long felt in a much more severe way than in many European countries, which may or may not be due to internationalist post-colonisation effects that have been intensified by these more recent developments. The civic middle class, still envisaged by politics as the tax paying, GNP-generating, educating and nursing backbone of society is experiencing increasing financial and social pressure and will, invariably, vote against as much influx from abroad as possible (hence, AfD, Pegida, UKIP, Front National et al). While this can take on horrific civil scenarios (seclusion, jingoism, prejudice and demagoguery) its effects are open to scrutiny and deserve fair rationale. Putting the atmosphere in favour of the Brexit down to unadultered xenophobia is, thus, unfair.The problems we have in society are definitely pan-European and they will not wither away should a leave be forthcoming. Exchanging macro-scale mismanagement and technocracy from Brussels for much of the same on micro-scale (in that instance, Westminster) is, sadly, not the solution. You might as well stay on.

While it is true that the EU was originally conceived with a western, democratic-pluralist ethos that is hard to grasp for some post-communism territories, it should also be acceptable to every member state – old and new – that things can only be achieved as a collective. The economic and social globe is no longer suitable for self-imposed isolationism (as long as you are not Switzerland …) and the idea of many “brexit” supporters that the UK might easily exchange one common market for another could turn out to be misguided. If the UK ventures into an increased economic and political partnership with a United States of America under, possibly, Trump as President, the long-lasting effects of TTIP and a clash of product(ion) culture and regulation may be snatched from the EU. The often-circulated scenario, that Scotland may, initially, join the “brexit” in order to then re-evaluate independence and become part of the EU is not too far-fetched.

It should not be forgotten that, in light of all of this, these scenarios and sentiments render us – collectively – as common-European as imaginable. All over the continent on both sides of the Channel these problems persist and exercise people equally. The ever-reliable Guardian puts it succinctly into words here. In a nutshell: the effect of a “brexit” onto Europe and a process of disintegration downright scares me.

I am mainly writing all this up in order to gain some sense of overview and comprehension for myself. Read into this whatever you will. I refuse to issue recommendations nor do I wish to instigate choice or to explicitly take sides.

Anyway, you make the choice that suits you best and I sincerely hope that we can remain friends.

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A subjective view on European public service media

The following introductory piece has been written under the impression of the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” and an ensuing year that saw a European Union in high demand on various occasions parallel to the promulgated common values within that political, economical and societal union which are increasingly questioned within its citizenry and, consequently, among new political acteurs that are now challenging pan-European ideas and ideals originating from the post-World War Two period. It is therefore to be read with a somewhat subjective viewpoint on my behalf in mind.

After the Ukraine became a first point of disruption between westward (towards Europe) and eastward (towards Russia) orientation during 2004’s “orange revolution” the situation evolved into a fully-fledged civil war with Russia becoming an agent by ways of punitive energy politics and the seizement of administrative vacuums which eventually resulted in the annexion of Crimea. Post-Soviet Russia itself has long felt pressure by an eastward expansion of the European Union which was tied in with an up until then unnegotiated outreach by NATO military and the sensation of being encircled. Simultaneously nation states in Southern Europe experienced increasing financial turmoil with the old Western European democracies suspecting deliberate denial of EU financial imperatives and unreliability in contribution to pan-European economy. While right wing spokespersons in the West quickly demanded segregational action and means of punishment (up to the point of expulsion from the EU), home governments of the crisis states often took opposition to the implanted austerity dictates; often through radicalised political election (such as Alexis Tsipras in Greece) and accusations of Western paternalism.

Tsipras was instrumental in another debate that determines European policy from grass roots discourse up to diplomatic elevation: the financial divergences between EU members which revealed both increasing unwillingness to aid states (which, perceivedly, have been somewhat careless with its monetary possibilities) and hegemonic dictation of austerity as well as the imposing of external rules and yardsticks. The resulting dissent within Europe has revealed a dialectic of accusations and assumptions of superiority as much as the curtailing of perceived national hybris and a return to self-governance which, often unintentionally, itself attained nationalistic overtones where they were neither suspected nor desired. Political, financial and communal European debates have, thus, become culturally-inclined and it is here that many citizens see common European values – as designed and promoted by the EU legislative – increasingly at stake with separatist voices gaining increased exposure.

When the migration of refugees ceased to restrict itself to the crossing of the Mediterranean sea and started to involve large streams of pedestrian migrants from war-torn Syria via Turkey and the Balkan countries in 2015, European collaboration towards housing these citizens under the imperative of humanitarian aid and as an act of global reponsibility quickly fell apart as dissenting voices over accommodation numbers and willingness to help – often based on cultural and political argumentation – started to dominate the debates. As countries became prone to electing right-wing administration and far-right parties began to usurp the political agenda (such as Golden Dawn in Greece, AfD and the “Pegida” movement in Germany, UKIP in Great Britain and the Front National in France), European values of equality and collegiality were also challenged and attacked by terrorism from farther afield which sought to harm a way of life it considered indecent and ideologically adjacent (such as in the aforementioned Charlie Hebdo attacks and the mass shootings in Paris almost a year on). With the libertarian and largely laicist ideal of a united Europe increasingly questioned through intrinsic political, religious and cultural schisms, what can be employed to rebuild unity and to secure an all-encompassing European ideology?

Germany, which since 1990 unites a Western democracy and a former Eastern bloc-country within one nation-state somehow exemplifies the pan-European picture that I am attempting to paint. While numerous press articles continue to ponder questions about national identity, specifically western journalists also devise their own versions of where the disintegrating effects of national unity are to be located. They often never stray too far from what could be interpreted as accusations; often deploring a deficit in democratic self-perception within former Warsaw Pact territory with the opposite pointing out that this democratic deficit is often the result of Western ideological hegemony and a prevalent attitude of self-serving superiority and schoolmasterly attitude towards a society that perceiptively is in need of exterior help and guidance.

Exemplary to this prevalent immanent schism is the media systems model devised by Hallin & Mancini in 2004. It divides European PSB into three distinct groupings; namely the Southern pluralist, the Norh-Atlantic liberal and the Western democratic system. It has not been expanded sufficiently since then (incorporating the significant eastward extension of the EU in the same year) and media professionals and scholars have since resorted to somehow apply the existing PSB structures in these countries to the distinctly Western slant of the model already in existence. As sanguinity towards a united Europe and an inclusiveness that is viewed increasingly detrimental towards national identity (which often had been equally repressed during the years of marxist-socialist regimes) is remaining as the main rhetoric of Western PSB many new EU member states are beginning to feel patronised, not taken seriously enough or marginalised as the Hegelian “other” towards a situation of lacking intersubjectivity.

This lack of intersubjectivity which, ideally, should raise communicants onto a level plateau sans interpretational souvereignity or hegemony of opinion is perceived to become increasingly absent in inter-European social and political discourse. The sociologial concept of the “other” as a surmountable ideology under the imperatives of equality, parity and encompassment has remained as a source of discussion and reference. Often it leads to politically-motivated systematic opposition and counter-action. Hungary and, most recently, Poland have experienced a freely elected swing to the political right with the neutrality of both the courts of law and PSB gradually eroded by instatement of government executives. Societal achievements that are generally viewed as Western-liberal paternalism are decried with vigour and polemy. Citizenship is endangered to starkly fragment into supportive and oppositional groups (to European ideals and plurality) while many Eastern-European states have retreated from endeavours to take on significant shares of the current stream of refugees and asylum seekers in Europe.

Public service broadcasting holds a peculiar position within this construct. Originally devised to act as a nurturing agent to promote information, education and culture to a nation’s populace it has evolved as a bearer of high journalistic ethos and the fair portrayal of a nation’s identity within a global construct. Many measures have been taken to further integrate PSBs into an international (media) framework; be it through numerous narrative collaborations on cultural common ground (such as the popular crime and suspense co-productions between Germany and Sweden) or through the formation of international programmes and stations (such as 3sat or ARTE). However, the national impetus varies strongly between the European PSB systems: Germany, due to its history and its post-war development has remained neutral and internationally-oriented in its coverage of news and global affairs while, most recently, Poland and Hungary have instrumentalised their PSB systems by political majority to promulgate national(istic) agenda-setting and ideology. PSB is strong in Denmark and respected enough within society (through a unique participatory regulatory system) while the neo-liberal excesses of commercial media (such as in Italy and parts of post-Soviet Eastern Europe such as Latvia) have weakened it elsewhere.

For this doctoral dissertation I am asking the questions: How is the “other” within European PSB portrayed? Is this portrayal of “otherness” intrinsic to isolated PSBs in Europe or has it become an imperative to overcome such portrayal of the “other”? Does the furthering of collaboration aid this process? Furthermore, what programming and content in media text should be produced to retain the margin between (beneficial) national identity and the creating of awareness for participation within a pan-European self-conception? Finally, does this fostering of pan-European self-conception through public servic media texts not resemble an administrative hegemony that is neither desired nor enforceable in an EU which is experiencing the aforementioned political and social shifts? Where does the tripartite media model of Hallin & Mancini suit these current developments and where does it require a distinct expansion to accommodate the evolving political structures within an expanding European Union? Specifically, has a new Eastern-European partition evolved which sits besides the Western-liberal, Southern-pluralist and North Atlantic-corporatist pillars of the current model? What aspects of the current model – if at all – might it contain? Furthermore – in direct relation to the second paragraph – have the aforementioned cultural schisms seen strengthening by societal dissent from EU commonality policies and are they sanguine or hostile to strong bonds between EU member states? How can European PSB contribute in its current structure or – purely by historically-founded nationalistic devision – should it not achieve the opposite and look at the self-perception of its home turf?

As of now the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in Geneva contains member broadcasters from the entire territory. The current upheaval within PSB in Poland will be subject to discussion about common values of plurality, impartiality, democratisation capacities and journalistic ethos. By way of thorough literature research and intensive expert interviews I will assess the unifying capacity of the EBU and whether – contrary to the Western bias within existing collaborations – new collaborational models between Eastern and Western acteurs can foster such a common value system. The EBU will, thus, represent a regular port-of-call for future research.

My objective is neither the establishing of a new maxim of Euro-sanguine reporting and storytelling nor the renewal of communal European PSB as a “one size fits all” structure to see application within all territories. Subjectively I view PSB as a unique chance to enhance the understanding of and the empathy between the various nation states and peoples as well as a retaining agent of cultural diversity where appreciated and the facilitation of cooperation and mutual understanding where appropriate. I am deliberately taking PSB’s historic reputation for high brow culture and strong journalistic ethos into account while understanding that –in order to survive – PSB has had to make significant concession to commercial media traits in order to retain visibility within audience and society. At no instance do I intend to set up these two against each other.

For your luxury and entertainment: this is the preliminary introduction to the PhD dissertation that I have been pondering over the past two years. Edits may be forthcoming. Enjoy, discuss and send feeback. Have a healthy and prosperous 2016. I shall. I/Ø

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The best album of 2015 – a personal reply:


Steven Wilson | “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” | k-scope (2015)

Beware: bad review ahead.

Steven Wilson’s artistic tenure track over the past 25 years is nothing short of impressive. Not only has the former 1990s indie kid meticulously developed his own personal musical language, he has also constructed several creative avenues in a fiercely independent manner and took his time to casually see them grow and prosper. Within this he has managed to gradually gain sub-mainstream success without ever compromising. When his celebrated band Porcupine Tree were signed to a major label he replied with the two heaviest albums of his career, namely “In Absentia” and (a personal fave) “Deadwing”. Blackfield continued his fledgling mastery of concise pop songwriting and, again, took this to another level of at times heart-rending intensity. Wilson’s more experimental self retained life in ambitious drone/kraut/avant-projects such as Bass Communion and the Incredible Expanding Mindfuck. Not to mention his participation in No-Man and his countless production and remixing gigs. He thus deliberately groomed himself for an all-encompassing solo career which would eventually free him from the constraints of an overarching band/project framework. Read my salivating laudations for his preceding and artistically very diverse three solo projects elsewhere here.

No upward trajectory can last forever and incidental dubious artistic moves are a natural therefore an album liked less than the others should not be an issue. However when I find something as misguided and flawed as this one I am beginning to wonder. The title of this blog is DiscOfTheDay and a DiscOfTheDay this has been many times. “Insurgentes” has been a stone cold classic since its release, both in its musical and its cinematographic inception. “Grace For Drowning” grows with each listen and continues to invite involvement. Wilson’s exquisite live band became an instant force-to-be-reckoned-with, expertly captured on audio and video on the sumptuous “Get All You Deserve” live package. “The Raven That Refused To Sing” is faultless, both in shape and form. Plus he still doesn’t even look half his actual age. Hence I wanted to like this. Badly. I don’t and I can’t. Such is life.

The album’s immanent concept about the disappearance and the eventually unregistered, lonely death of an affluent, educated and modern urbaniste is one of high currency and – by a strange societal twist – of general aspirativeness but it just reeks of first world problem alert which I personally find hard to excuse. In this day which sees humanitarian plight wherever one turns, many times un/intentionally fostered by Western agenda there should be more pressing issues to sing about than post-materialistic alienation which, in all truthfulness, has been topical to Wilson‘s work many times before. To put it bluntly and polemically: is it possible to line up one deceased Western citizen and one grand overarching concept against thousands of dead refugees in Northern Europe’s summer destination of choice with the remaining lucky survivors being treated as somewhere akin to waste reallocation politics within the EU? I am, of course, unfairly exaggerating and the last thing that I would want from Steven Wilson is lighter-swaying “We are the World” type of dreck. That criticism would be hypocritical and the carelessness within our post-democratic environment is tragic. How can we help others from farther afield if we cannot even support ourselves beyond mere ‘friending’ superficiality? However, this is the story that he has chosen to offer us. It is a current and pressing matter, albeit well within his personal comfort zone of being a self-conceived (artistic) deviant that he has conditioned and cultivated for so long. As one can read above I disagree somewhat which is entirely my own PoV. As is so often the case the quality of the music can be the salvaging element. Which, sadly, it ain’t.

A true concept album is ultimately worthless if the songs become too meandering. Conciseness is required to take the listener on that often cited and seldom achieved journey. While not a concept album per se but, by and large, a themed affair “The Raven” had compelling material which sat well together, provided a steady flow and was individual enough for decontextualisation. Wilson achieves none of this here. His undoubted compositional craftiness and his genius for sonic values does rear its head as incidental vignettes but I have not been bored by an album to this extent for a long period of time which is a stupid and unnecessary thing to admit.

Retaining his live band from preceding projects is a sizable mortgage which, unfortunately, does not seem to pay off this time. Key players such as Nick Beggs, Adam Holzman and Marco Minnemann are solid, even virtuosic but conspicuously undistinguishable throughout. Guthrie Govan’s undoubted guitar mastery is, at times, an irritating nuisance to listen to and adds little of the emotive atmospheric capacity that he excelled in on this album’s predecessor. I have to say that I do miss the authority of Theo Travis, whose creative woodwind parts (he is on the album, but has little presence) had been such an asset to Wilson’s solo material. Much brouhaha had been created in advance by the addition of female vocals and boy choristers and while Ninet Tayeb’s parts in “Routine” are nice, the latter itself is restricted only to a few detectable bars. In summary, this album is a promise that, ultimately, falls a bit short. Holzman’s fantastic performance on “Home Invasion” becomes a fast point of call but it ultimately fails where it succeeded with this albums predecessor: each performance, whether especially breathtaking or not, added to the mood of the song and the telling of a story; here they amount to little more than musoship with the best intentions. I am, thus, left with the unsatisfying gut feel of a somewhat missed opportunity.

This is a luxurious, impeccably produced, exceedingly well executed but painfully self-centric and complacent album that I cannot relate to in any way or form. That strictly personal non-issue becomes painfully apparent when the capacity for direct personal address and for creating albums that nurture independent thought and opinion is slowly lost – that said, listening to an album should not leave oneself to ponder about how much worth a life has and whether there are lives less worth.

At almost 48 Steven Wilson no longer passes as an upcoming game-changing artist. To his eternal credit he still progresses creatively and developes new expressive forms. He is however now prone to an element of sated complacency and smugness. Cataloguing, preservation and amassing of heritage beckons. Perhaps the years of accolades and his latter-day meteoric rise to feuilletonistic acclaim are now having an opposite effect of self-perceived infallibility. This new album is fast outselling its predecessor. Venues such as London’s Royal Albert Hall are now Steven Wilson’s ballpark of choice. If there is an artist that deserves all of this it is none other than him. I would be even happier (for him) if he managed to rediscover that element of unpredictability and artistic precariousness which had made him such a breath of fresh air when it was so badly needed.

I have no doubt that Steven Wilson’s next move will be a direct reaction this preceding one. I remain curious but I am also aware of my critical observations. At the point of writing I think that a reboot of Porcupine Tree might be a good idea before his solo artist grandeur becomes too much of a straightjacket. On a side note: much of this reminded me of “The Incident”, Porcupine Tree’s last outing, which was no more and no less than solid. No man is an island and perhaps Wilson is more dependent on external, independent and possibly dissenting voices than he himself would like to admit.

PS: The title track and “Perfect Life” are very good. Lovely pieces. And those final choral notes render any snarky “glad it’s finally over” sort of pun as obsolete and fiercely irrelevant.

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In your mid-40s and still employed in the media business? Give yourself a hand.

Please understand. This is not supposed to be a whiny, group counselling exercise in self-reflection which is often uncomfortably close to midlife-crisis-fueled self-indulgence. Even so, I do sometimes wonder.

It is tough to grow old in the media business. The effervescent and unabridged clamour for youth and youthfulness,which has seeped from the screens and pages to the boardrooms and open-spaced office battery farms is, in fact, the most obvious yet least pertinent cause for such woes. There are many reasons and possible explanations and they reveal themselves under many guises and from various angles. I will attempt to point out some of these.

The image and appearance bias is an argument that is becoming increasingly annoying. Really, do we have to endure another sitting on – to paraphrase – how video killed the radio star? Still, appearance forms a distinct root and it branches into many threads that have evolved since the start of the MTV age and the development of multi-screen media channels. One is the prevalence of an apotheosis of juvenility that is to be preserved and to be kept sacrosanct at any cost – and to which the items in the (admittedly) sarcastic headline above really constitute a stark antithesis. As quick fire marketing wit might have it, ‘‘they aren’t sexy enough”.

Time, then, to be a little more discerning. Who determines these attributes? Who declares who is not being let past the bouncers? Has the gatekeeping capacity of media professionals transgressed merely textual output and has it seeped into the human resources framework? Or (let’s be extra-offensive) why are media people such an easy prey for such cynical development?

First things first: media professionals – at large – love what they do. They do not simply enjoy it or ease themselves through their working days on a wry smile but they often hyper-identify themselves with their craft. Theirs is a vocation in its truest of senses and the untranslatable Teutonic term “Überzeugungstäter” (at your own peril) is never far off the mark. Entering an already sated market with years of personal media consumption and mutual discourse behind oneself produces allegiance, enthusiasm, perseverance and the conviction of continued contribution as well as creativeness by sheer opportunity to do so.

Laden with these undoubtedly beneficial attributes media professionals often go to great lengths to preserve their initial enthusiasm with the omnipresent imperative to adapt to current trends and technologies (which often overtake themselves on a daily basis). This also often aligns itself to the mapping-out of personal life plans if they profess to have the audacity to live a life outside of the ateliérs, boardrooms, office spaces and studios – until alignment becomes a conflict. This is the point, where the wear and tear becomes interesting to observe.

The aforementioned enthusiasm and motivation/conviction has been one of the most steadfast factors of media business success stories. There are very little passengers; whoever is up for it will perform and will strive to attain satisfactory results at all times due to a high component of self involvement. That element of loyalty and, indeed, conditioned subservience (to either clients or employers) has fostered profit seeking and dependency on behalf of the employee for long enough. This is an issue that cannot be overestimated enough. In rumination about my peers in middle age who are all but sick of entertaining insolent “40 is the new 30” bollocks any longer it also becomes a generational peculiarity.

The preceding generation of the now gradually departing (into well-deserved pension only, mind!) baby boomers is, indeed, a peculiar one. In a post-war sense, this free-spirited societal portion was the first one of its kind to taste a certain sense of  juvenile dissidence and, consequently, civic disobedience which manifested in the late 1960’s student revolts and, among much more, achieved a privilege of self-determination, self-fulfilment and, consequently, individualisation. We take these things for granted but really do not need to look into the past a great deal to experience a scenario of stark opposites. Thus –paired with a certain sense of mission – they did realise that a mere individual can achieve social change and this is what drove many into media practice and professional journalism. I argue that they were also the first generation to preserve a prolonged whiff of youth and youthfulness into their adult lives… while our generation, purportedly, has trouble growing up at all and continues to push back the flashing “you are an adult now”-sign at every occasion.

This conditioned egotism by high-yield self-fulfilment – if only to an extent and certainly not applicable for everyone – is thus prevalent in media professions and it often occurs at the cost of collegial or hierarchical solidarity. Media scholars such as Tunstall (1996) and Elliott (1977) have already hinted at reduced union influence and, at large, a diminishing ethos of employee rights in media professions. With this common contributor and regulatory agent rebuked cronyism reigns galore. Best-buddying and business patterns of complaisance may be appealing to old revolutionary hearts’ ideals but one cannot run a business on nepotism and the currying of favours alone. It harms those who are there to do exclusively their job to their best capacity without any need to swim through. Asking people not to age too blatantly and to offer pretence plays a strong part.

There is a lot of film and literature available on how erstwhile hippie dreams have become commodified and, generally, corrupted by business practices; what does continue to prevail, however, is the commodification (dare I say abuse?) of the aforementioned professional enthusiasm – and it emanates from this preceding generation who, by way of the above benefits (and with a tumbledown generational contract now running riot) exert extra pressure on a generation that will neither reap the benefits of relatively secure pension schemes nor a reasonable working life-span. In a nutshell: work harder, look younger, learn more, operate faster, think bigger, stay longer (but don’t make your CV look like a loitering zone), cost less. People are expected to deliver all of this at once and to pay for extra training and further qualification themselves in order to avoid skewing the profitability imperative and general megalomania introduced by the conservative zeitgeist of the early 1980s. Is that enough polemics for you already?

Don’t even get me started on the latter. We have already touched upon the concept of self-fulfilment which is so pertinent to media professionalism. We could now easily do a straddle into gender issues but I’ll leave that for another rant. The bottom line however is that the aforementioned concept of private-life audacity is continually eroded by not only rising costs (by way of a lower income/higher CoL disparity) but also by the pet peeve of both parents working (in the media biz or elsewhere) by many conservative political leaders. The irony is that it is this political clique which, firstly, had initially generated that increased cost of living through plain profit maximising ideals, secondly, still acts as if it is the early 1950s and thirdly should not even begin to ask themselves why no-one can either afford to have a family or is too knackered to think about the planning because they frolic around their increasingly homely workplaces (coffee makers, cuddly doggies, retractable DJ desks and all that) for the better part of the day. Best, then, to stay young at heart and to keep popping them vitamin pills.

We are, therefore, faced with an entire generation on its toes – and it’s not the often quoted “lost generation” of the now 25-year-olds of well-trained but ultimately exploited young professionals who nudge themselves from one precarious internship to another. Their situation is a bad one in itself because they are denied a promising start and true perspective. Mine is a different generation and its descriptive title below is equally chilling.

Owen Jones, in referral to his own father losing his job in middle-age calls this the “forgotten generation” in a piece (1st link below) which is essential reading. That generation is a forgotten one because its social stability seems to be robust enough, yet it is not; with the added downside of no longer an entire working-life to rectify things and to see in change when necessary. Much of Jones’ arguing aligns with his celebrated book “Chavs” which blames the perverting of working places, employment situation and social structuring on politically motivated conditioning of a lower-class. While not asserting any agenda to do the same to my kin – there is enough created public value yet to be counted for – I do however ask myself why people are increasingly being left at sea due to their age and their lead-heavy “experience” which is seeing increasing devaluation by, well, present day behaving like the present day.

Please understand. This is not supposed to be a whiny, group counselling exercise in self-reflection. Hug an old fogey though. One day you might have to call him out of retirement to operate the machines the way that only he can.

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A tribute to a kindred spirit.

I am increasingly left with the opinion that personal tributes to deceased public personas or – forbid – celebrities are often not without a certain element of tackiness. At times they bear the peculiarity of self-aggrandisement or the impetus of laying proof of public participation or “being in the know”, so to speak. They tell tales of ‘hey, I watch the news and I am current on trending topics’ and sometimes they amount to little more than an effort of eye-levelling oneself to the personality by an appropriate Memento Mori. Often – and almost exclusively in the social media realm – they can convey a sense of superiority by equating the sequence of earliest possible posting versus as many accolades (e.g. “likes”) as possible to the actual topic and the element of initiation that thus is sparkled over the caller until a ‘hey, I care and you do not’ polemic is achieved. I have admittedly fallen prey to this behaviour myself and while I do consider whatever  tributes I may have issued to be as sincere and appropriate as possible I am increasingly aware of their futility. They will not bring a much loved and respected person back and they add little to true preservation of a legacy.

Today I woke up to the news that such a public person who has had a profound influence on my working life and world view has passed on. After not resisting the incentive to blurb and link on a well-known social network I would like to offer some farther-reaching thoughts on this character here. While hoping not to have deterred anyone by the introductory paragraph I will not dwell on the character per sé or his numerous achievements and the memorable moments that he catered for but I will instead pay tribute to his assumed role which, in my humble opinion, sees far to little admiration.

Last year me and a friend assessed a scheme of character disposition through numerous conversations that would apply to me and this is where I take liberty to address the kindred spirit portion within the title. In these extrovert days it is all too easy to overlook the second rank acteur who represents standing power, stamina, often stoic and at times slightly imbecilic perseverance and a healthy dose of outright stubbornness. Like me the deceased was tall and of a lumbering and often brooding personality, occasionally bordering on the intimidating. When he would move too fast he could hurt others by sheer momentum and incidential unwieldiness. In an environment which sees an array of hot shots or quick-fire geniuses fight for space on every occasion he oversaw the proceedings and, by way of his own contributions, often provided rationale and anchor. He was never short of personal, often angular and unwieldy ideas but he always ingrained them into the fabric and made sure that everyone had enough canvas to contribute to maximal effect. His height and the resulting eminence was helpful in granting him the overview that was otherwise denied to his partners but was often so desperately required within their joint venture. He could be counted on and often was.

This did not always come without a price tag. When universal acclaim was finally achieved he also fell prey to a sense of self-gratification that he could not easily escape from due to his stubborn demeanour. Eventually this streak of personality could be traded in for a certain uniqueness and idiosyncrasy and while this denied him the ideal of being contemporary and placed him somewhere akin to a dinosaur that time forgot his stalwart tower-of-strength qualities were never questioned. He kept calm and carried on regardless.

The described person could have been your average co-worker or even a glowing unionist or a back-bencher politician who was seldom spotted in the grand hall but always in sight and on camera. However, he was none of that. He was merely a highly original musician who managed to bring out the joy and the ire of people for fast approaching 50 years. While doing this he turned out to be eternally incapable of producing grey areas or sentiments of indifference. He was never overtly obvious but always visible and audible. He could be exceedingly pompous when necessary but he was also capable of offering minute and sparse moments of utter, unquestioned genius (a comprehensive and personal listing available on request). When his peers grasped the earliest opportunity to forge solo success for themselves he resorted on making only one album under his own name of incredible craftiness and subsequently took all of his own material back to his main occupation and the occasional collaboration. He went on and plugged away undeterredly until his ailing health finally got the better of him at the all too early age of 67. That’s 67 short years of remarkable yield and artistic legacy; on many occasions yet to be unearthed and discovered. People like him are an essential ingredient to make things work and, in that respect, he remains exemplary and motivational to me. He will be missed.

R.i.P. Chris Squire of the band YES.

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