Monday, 26 December 2016

RIP GEORGIOS KYRIACOS PANAYIOTOU



My patience is stretched, now. I find myself wanting to herd all these bleaters yelping about the 'malevolence' of 2016 for 'taking' so many cherished stars away from us, and bang their unthinking heads together.
Let's go again. Time is intangible. It is an illusion, a construct, a concept. It doesn't exist. It was invented by man, just to keep track of all that we are up to. It varies, in fact, depending on your point of view. You can make a day longer than a year whenever you want to. Try it. You can make it last a lifetime in your mind: that's what baby births, wedding days, anniversaries and the so-called 'big birthdays' are about. Time is no more than an abstract measurement, a scale by which we chart our existence. It is supposed to give shape to the way in which we go about things, and to make life easier. As such, it is not to be blamed for the things we would rather had not happened; an excuse for devastation we cannot explain.
So another one bites the dust. Time - 2016 - is, of course, to blame. Get real. We're talking 'timing', not 'time', in this instance. George was always the first to say that 'timing is everything'. The suggestion that he may have taken his own life on Christmas Day, as some are saying, is therefore not so far-fetched. George was an extreme control freak, a planner, an obsessive. The significance of the designated birthday of our Lord will not have been lost on him. He created 'Last Christmas', one of the great modern Yuletide classics, to link his name indelibly with the season. Every Christmas, for evermore, we will now remember and give thanks for George on Christmas Day. The arrogance, though breathtaking, should be forgiven.
I spent enough time with George and Andrew Ridgeley in the Eighties. We worked together on numerous occasions. His former manager, Simon Napier-Bell, and his Sony publicist Jonathan Morrish, remain two of my most cherished friends. I have other close pals who went to school with George in North London. On more than a few occasions, I got to glimpse the real Yog. He was a tormented soul who lived a damnable lie for longer than he was able to be true to himself. He never came out to his family while his mother was still alive. He felt compelled to wait until she died to be open and honest about his orientation.
The self-deception of his youth was a cancer to him. The self-inflicted damage would not be repaired. George admitted to a void, created by his distance from his parents and wider family, which generated unbearable deprivation. He acknowledged that he sought adoration from complete strangers, in order to try and fill that void. The harder he tried, the less he found himself able to compensate. He did not know the true meaning of peace. He accepted that his need to become an artist was a cry for help. He agreed that he was desperately insecure, and that he was addicted to applause. He fell in love with Elton John at a very young age. Performing his Elton favourite, 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me' on stage with his idol was, he said, the pinnacle of his career. The pair later fell out, made up, fell out, made up, in that intensely emotional manner that tends eventually to become the downfall of superstars.
George pressed the self-destruct button years ago. He gave in to his desires, and even did time for them. He lost out in love, giving away his whole heart, and having it returned to him in shreds. Few can recover from that, least of all those whose every nerve ending is exposed to and raked over by millions of needy fans, dependent on his music and demanding, ever demanding, answers about love and the meaning of life that he was never equipped to give.
This is how I want to remember him: at Live Aid, 13th July 1985. George was twenty two years old, in his exuberant prime, thrilled to be part of the greatest show on earth, and lapping up every blink of it. I watched him at point blank range that day, getting everything he needed in the giving of so much ... if only in that moment. At least he had that. At least we still have the music. God rest him.


Sunday, 18 December 2016

HALLELUJAH, NOEL, BE IT HEAVEN OR HELL



Twenty-four years ago tonight, our lives fell to pieces when my father Ken Jones fell under a train. He was the Independent’s chief sportswriter at the time, and was making his way home from the office Christmas party. He’d done the sensible thing: he’d left the car at home, and was taking the train. A few had been cancelled. There was a platform-change announcement at London Bridge. A stampede up the stairs, over the bridge and down the other side. My father, a compact Welshman, was swept up in the maelstrom and hurled down onto the rails, just as the train was pulling in. It took them more than four hours to cut him from the wreckage. What was left of his right arm, and his writing hand, was left behind.
He still hears the voice of the nameless paramedic who talked him into holding on, into clinging to life. To this day, he suffers searing phantom pain in the arm that isn't there. He has lived for almost a quarter of a century as a one-armed bandit. He continued to travel the world as one, well into his seventies, covering major prize fights, football matches, summer and winter Olympic Games. He only retired when they made him, and he could still kick them senseless for that.
Ken is eighty-five years old, as sharp as a scythe, and bored, much of the time. On a cocktail of class A meds, he phases in and out of the moment. He spends half the day on an oxygen generator for emphysema. We still have fierce bouts over politics and sport. He never has fewer than five books on the go, everything from Ancient Rome and Shakespeare to contemporary biographies (he's partial to Bowie at the moment), and ever the poetry of Dylan Thomas.
He lost a part of himself, that bitter night. But he became somehow more of himself because of it. In many ways, utterly random and brutal though such accidents are, it was the making of him. I've been looking at that raw, tragic stump for two and a half decades, now. It still shocks me to recall what happened, longer ago than the births of my children. It breaks my heart to this day. But then I remember, he's still a whole dad. No less of a complete, confounding jigsaw puzzle of a man for want of a single absent piece.
Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell. Go easy out there, this coming week. Hang back from the edge. Stay behind the yellow line. Keep off the roads, if you can. Run for the shadows, but not for the train. Never, ever, run for the train. There will always be another. You might not be as lucky as Dad. Which is the way he sees it. Always has. It must be what saved him.
So this is Christmas. A brave and joyous, hopeful 2017 to you all. It's worth keeping in mind that life can turn on a sixpence, be demolished in a heartbeat. All we can do is love passionately, live honestly, and do what we do to the hilt, while we still can.