Monday, 18 February 2013

Klaus Voorman's last visit with George

From Klaus Voormann’s book "Warum spielst du Imagine nicht auf dem weissen Klavier, John?" (not available in English), we just got this translated extract in.

[Klaus talks about the last photo he took of George and how sad it makes him to look at it…]
“After our little expedition [around the garden] we sat around together for a long time and he wanted to know how my family was doing. He always asked about them, it was important to him to know if everything was really alright. “What’s Christina doing, does she still have her help organization with the Sioux?”
George knew about the problems of the Native Americans in the USA. Olivia’s brother worked as a teacher with the Navajos and both knew about the catastrophic conditions in the Indian reservations.
“Yes, it seems to be something like a destiny in her life.” George nodded. “Yes, that happens to some people, they can’t do anything else then. Actually, every one of us has a role to fulfill on this planet, but only a few people know that. Most think that we’re only here to get a lot of money very quickly and to walk on the sunny side of the street. What Christina is doing surely isn’t easy but it’s admirable. Where does the money for the project work come from?” I was always amazed how deeply George delved into a subject when he was interested in it. I told him about the momentary problems in getting enough money, and that Christina wanted to go the reservations in four weeks with a team of experts to build another building for the youth. I told him that the Indians grow hash. George chuckled. “You don’t mean the kind you smoke, do you?”
He knew exactly that I meant that kind. We talked about how much one can make with this environmentally friendly material: clothing, building materials, paper. When I told him the story about how the FBI had mowed down the fields a few days prior to the harvest the summer before, he couldn’t believe it. “That’s impossible. I thought the reservations were not connected to them. The DEA and the FBI shouldn’t be mowing anything down?” Unfair things could drive him crazy. “Yes, and that’s why she wants to insulate this youth building with hash. In Germany, near Karlsruhe, there is a company that makes finished hash mats. They would donate all the material, but the organization is lacking money for the transport.” “How much?” asked George. “We have an offer from a moving company. Around five thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money, but it has a symbolic value to the Indians, to show what would be possible if the fields were left to them.” “Call Christina. She should fax me the offer. I have some good contacts to English moving companies. Maybe I can help you and get a better offer.” I called Christina right away and she was of course elated. Any cheaper offer would be more than welcome.
When I arrived home, Christina already greeted me with a huge smile on her face. What had happened? Christina had, as discussed, faxed the offer to George. Two hours later, his assistant called with the request to be sent to bank account number of Christina’s organization Lakota Village Fund. “George wants to pay for the shipping costs.” “But he only wanted to find a cheaper moving service for us?” Christina was speechless. “I don’t know anything about that. He told me to send over the money for the shipping right away. Good luck, Christina.”
Well, that was George. And not just him, that’s how all the four members of the Beatles have always been. They help and support things which the public doesn’t even know about.
Only a few weeks later, George called again. He was in Going, but this time not in a hotel, but at the house of his friend Gerhard Berger. I had been very worried, because there had been many reports about his poor health in the press. I knew he was in Switzerland a lot, at a specialist, but no one could really tell me what my friend was going through. His call relieved me, because it was the same old voice, filled with his typical dry, humorous comments.
So I drove to Austria again, but this time with a strange feeling in my stomach. What could I expect? In Going there was a relatively long stretch up a small mountain road, until I reached a typical house in the pseudo-Alpine style. I was brought into the house by an employee. Olivia was working on the computer. When she saw me, she came toward me. She seemed sad and asked me to follow her out onto the terrace. It was a wonderful sunny and warm day, and we had a beautiful view of the massive “Wilder Kaiser” [mountain] right in front of our eyes. Olivia tried to prepare me for everything gently. We waited for more than an hour for George.
He came out of the house and had a hat on his head. His face and body looked puffed up. The result of all the therapies. His laughter and shining eyes didn’t make you think of a very ill man. He sat down next to me and I avoided the usual silly “how are you”. It wasn’t necessary to ask him. He started talking about his health without any prompting.
“It’s half as bad, Klaus. I’m okay. The doctors got everything and it’s going uphill again. Believe me. Except I think I should change hairdressers.” Laughing, he took off his hat and displayed his head, which was only covered with a few chunks of hair of different lengths. “What kind of camera is that you’ve got there, I think I have the same one. Let me see.” As if he hadn’t even noticed my speechlessness, George kept talking and took the digital camera out of my hand, which I had bought a few weeks earlier in London. We talked about that for a while and George showed me a few tricks as to what one could do with it.
George wasn’t just an excellent driver, he was also devoted to car racing. He had a lot of friends in the scene. But he couldn’t stand Michael Schumacher. He always complained at the television when Schumacher drove in a race. On this day as well, as we watched a live show of a Formula 1 race in Gerhard Berger’s house. “Kick him off the road!” he would yell every time Schumacher passed one of his colleagues. I was always amused at that. George, usually quiet and peaceful, with Formula one and especially Schumacher, he became enraged. Nothing could move him away from the television screen. He barely looked up when I accidentally knocked over a huge flower vase and flooded Gerhard Berger’s living room.
The longer I spent with George that afternoon, the more he convinced me that he was on his way to getting better. He had big plans, wanted to make some necessary changes at Apple. “It annoys me to see that the whole world makes money with our heads, and we can’t manage to get a decent merchandising concept together.”
I knew what he meant. The subject merchandising has been a problem since Brian Epstein. He underestimated it back then. After a few hours, we both felt like taking a leisurely walk. We walked over the fields of the smooth mountains, but George could only walk slowly. We had to stop several times. His strained breathing gave away that he was actually too weak for this, but we wanted to keep going. Or did he just pretend to be the energy-laden man? His invitation was his secret goodbye to me. He wanted to have some nice hours with me, laugh, plan and give me advice for the future.
“When are you going to finally write your own book? You experienced so much. Every idiot who only shook our hands feels the need to write a book about us. Why not you, Klaus?”
“Because every idiot does it. It would like a betrayal to me. Everyone would say: Of course, now here comes Voormann too.”
George looked at me in disbelief. “Don’t talk bullshit, Klaus. You don’t have to write about how big my dick is. Anyway, what do you think we do? Or all the people at Apple? Neil for example. There are so many people that make money off of the Beatles myth. That’s why it bothers me that we can’t finally organize our merchandising concept.”
George was breathing like a locomotive, and we had to sit down in the field again, so he could recuperate again. We were both laying in the grass looking at the sky. “You know, death isn’t really that special, not nice or bad. It’s just a vehicle to get us to the next step or level.”
He spoke about death the way others speak of food and drink. “I’ve been here long enough. What more do I want. I’ve lead a privileged life. I’ve pretty much experienced everything one can experience. If I get called away now, then the time’s right. Believe me, I’m not scared.” And while he talked about this, we both looked at the clouds moving past us in the blue sky. The mood was peaceful and also a bit happy.
We walked back slowly, and he told me about his newly bought house in Switzerland and the little studio in which he could work. Back at the house, we both looked forward to a cup of “good old English”. “Come”, he said after a while, “I’ll show you my newest video production.”
He put a tape in the video recorder and grinned cheekily. It was unbelievable. George had filmed himself. Cross-eyed, bald and with a missing tooth, he sang into the camera. “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people.” We laughed until we cried.
We listened to George Formby songs until late into the night, and when were hungry later that night, we went into the kitchen, where he made cheese sandwiches and each of us a cup of Horlix. If I had know that this would be the last times with George, I would not have gone to bed, but would have stayed up all night by his side.
But George didn’t want me to know. He let me drive off believing that he was healed and that there were great things in store for us.
In October, one heard through the media that he had been admitted into a clinic, that the doctors didn’t have much hope and so on.
I didn’t want to believe it and told every caller that George was doing well, since I had just seen him a few weeks before in a good condition. I talked about all of his many ideas and that he wanted to record a new LP. Today I know that I talked myself into that. I wanted to prevent, with all my strength, that my dear friend was dying.
Beginning of November, I tried to reach Olivia and sent an e-mail. Her answer confirmed that George was in a special clinic. He was very weak, but they were not giving up hope. Suddenly the phone was always ringing. Editors and journalists wanted to secure interviews with me in case George died. That everyone believed it was plain to see. I felt horrible and couldn’t understand this attitude. My little George was dying and they were trying to get the suitable people for his eulogies. I didn’t answer the phone anymore and hide away in the basement to play piano for hours. Christina successfully kept everyone away.
On November 29, it happened. A ZDF editor called us after he had received the news over the ticker. For me if was one of the worst moments in my life. John’s death hit me very hard, but George? The news of his death shocked me. I didn’t want to speak to any journalist about it, not on the phone, not in any TV show. For days I was bombarded with phone calls, but I couldn’t say anything. Only a very minimal amount respected my feelings and understood. Some were tactless, that hurt. Not because of me, because of George.
In mid December, a package arrived from California. The return address was Olivia’s office. It was the last Christmas present and the last Christmas card from George and Olivia. Even that he had organized before his death. It showed an angel with a lotus in its hand and the words Love and Peace.
The first summer after George’s death, Dhani and Olivia invited close friends to a little ceremony for George. It was a very emotional event, very positive and very delicate, completely without the press and all the usual attention. There it met, the small “gang”, that pulls itself through George’s life noticeably: Eric, Paul, George Martin, his first wife Pattie, Astrid, brother Harry, Neil Aspinall and the loyal Joan, who already worked at Friar Park before George bought it. And again the fascination of this park was felt. The weather permitted the event to take place in the garden. Small burning candles floated in the pond, and at the end, Dhani played a piece of the tape with George’s last guitar sounds, his planned new LP. It was an instrumental piece, George’s voice was missing and he was still there. While George’s typical guitar playing wafted through the park quietly, the visitors walked around almost meditatively. Everyone was saying goodbye in their own way, nobody spoke and many let their tears flow freely. Me too. Oh George, I miss you so much!”
The book (in German) is available from the Klaus Voorman Shop.

4 comments:

wardo said...

That's a great post. Thanks for the translation for us narrow-viewed Americans!
Just one possible comment -- I think the references to "hash" should probably be "hemp".

Spiderjeru said...

Any one know when we might see Klaus' book in English?

Unknown said...

No Ringo in George's 'special gang'?

Lovely anecdotes, though. Made me quite wet-eyed.

June42 said...

This translation was courtesy of the very wonderful thateventuality.tumblr.com (thank you Andrea)- it is beyond moving. It shows what the Harrison family went through in George's final months and how they still looked out for George's friends. Glad George had Olivia and Dhani to help him