Reflections on Mortality, on the Death of One of My Oldest Friends, Nick Parsons (1962-2017)

18.1.17

A graveyard angel.I’m thinking about mortality today, with the passing of one of my oldest friends, Nick Parsons, who has died aged 54. At New College, Oxford University, in 1982, it was Nick who introduced me to musicians who had a profound effect on me — Neil Young, Van Morrison, and, in particular, Bob Dylan, whose influence has been enduring. We used to listen to music in his room in the college during our first year (in the so-called ‘New Buildings’ — they weren’t very new, but nor was the college, which was founded in 1379) and by the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ on New College Lane, where Nick’s room was in our second year.

It was also Nick who, one day in June 1983, insisted that he and I and other friends (Rupert and Hugo, you know who you are) get in Rupert’s car and drive down to Stonehenge for the Stonehenge Free Festival, an eye-opening, psychedelic, anarchic jamboree that led, eventually, to me writing my first and second books on Stonehenge and the counter-culture, which, in turn, led to me writing a third book, about Guantánamo, and devoting the last 11 years of my life to getting the prison closed down.

A photo from the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1983 (Photo by Luke B.)That first visit was wonderful, on a personal level, like our own “summer of love,” and in terms of seeing how an alternative to mainstream society could actually exist. We returned again, in 1984, for what was to be the last festival, before its violent suppression in 1985 at the Battle of the Beanfield, but by then it was clear that, in what was one of the darkest years of Margaret Thatcher’s horrible rule, any coherent belief in a brighter future was unravelling under duress, and, sadly, also under self-inflicted wounds.

Nick and I also shared a flat when I first moved to London in 1985, at 1 Tulse Hill, opposite the George Canning pub, at the start of what was, for me, a giddy decade of ups and downs in SW2 and SW9, and it was there that I learned to play the guitar, and first started writing songs, hooking up with another friend who died many years ago, Glyn Andrews, and performing as The Rebel Soldier, sometimes with other musicians, including, on a few occasions, Vivian Weathers, a legendary bassist who played with Linton Kwesi Johnson, and who taught me all I know about reggae bass, but who, I fear, is also no longer with us.

In memory of Nick, here’s my reggae reworking of an old folk song, ‘Rebel Soldier,’ which I recorded with my band The Four Fathers in 2015, but first came up with it in 1986, while living with Nick in a flat in Brixton. I think it says something about both of us.

Also in Nick’s memory, here’s another song I wrote at the time, ‘City of Dreams’, a countryish lament for the London being destroyed by Margaret Thatcher and the greed she was unleashing in the City:

I wrote ‘City of Dreams’ in 1987, when I wasn’t living with Nick, although I still saw him regularly at this time, with my girlfriend at the time, Alessandra, and we spent some time wth him in Herne Bay, on the North Kent coast, where he was housesitting, in a cottage right on the seafront, and where, in general, I think, the isolation of living in a seaside town that had the oldest population in the UK, and whose newspaper, as he once noted, featured only adverts for funeral directors, may not have been particularly helpful for his mental health, although our visit seems, in retrospect, to have had something of ‘Withnail & I’ about it.

Our lives continued to intersect in the decades that followed. I spent time with him in the early 2000s, when he was overcoming long-term addictions, but lost him again as he headed out to the far east on what turned out to be the last self-destructive phase of his life. Last year we re-established contact once more, and met on a few occasions. He had been very ill but was in a flat in Battersea, and on one occasion he came to a gig by my band The Four Fathers — unfortunately arriving just too late to hear his favourite song, Bob Dylan’s ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, which I had us rehearse especially for him.

Below is Bob Dylan performing ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ during the extraordinary Rolling Thunder Tour:

At the end of last year, Nick became very ill again. I had tried on several occasions to contact him, but I was unaware that he was so ill, and I only managed to speak to him one last time on the phone before his passing — one time that I will, of course, remember now that he is gone forever.

Cherish your lives, my friends, and be good to those who love you, and those who you love — and rest in peace, Nick. You influenced me perhaps more than you ever knew, and your sense of humour and your intellect always counteracted the darkness that threaten to engulf you, although I am sorry that your life was so often so hard for you to bear.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

49 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s an expanded version of a Facebook post I wrote earlier, remembering my friend Nick Parsons, who has died aged 54. Nick introduced me to the music of Bob Dylan, a lifelong musical influence, at New College, Oxford, and got me to go to the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1983, which eventually led to the start of my writing career. He was a great influence on me, and I remember his humour and intelligence, as well as reflecting on the demons that preyed on him, and that, unlike myself and others, he was not able to survive.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Many, many comments are on the Facebook page, but I’m posting a few below.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilbert wrote:

    Beautifully and poignantly written, Andy xxx

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Kay wrote:

    I am so sorry to hear, Andy. What a beautiful eulogy to those in our lives as we get older and often veer in different directions. My love to you.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Hugo Heppell wrote:

    Oh f*ck. Andy, when this truly sinks in, which it can’t straight away, it would be good to chat. Nick is the last person who should ever have a memorial, but jeez he deserves a remembering. And I will like you remember him for the rest of my life.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Hugo Heppell wrote:

    And I know it was 1984 we went to Stonehenge because I picked up an ounce of mushrooms there that Nick and I, sharing a basement flat in Oxford that summer, gradually consumed, listening to Tangled Up In Blue every day. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes later, depending on how we felt.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Hugo Heppell wrote:

    But always Tangled Up In Blue. God bless you Nick.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Your tribute is extremely moving, Hugo: https://www.facebook.com/hugo.heppell/posts/10153924440790904
    I’m in Brooklyn right now. I’ve been out in the rain this afternoon, walking through wrecked post-industrial landscapes, thinking of Nick, singing ‘Tangled Up in Blue.’

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    You touched on something of his refusal to be co-opted by the general demands of reality, Hugo, which I didn’t see so clearly – probably because of what I regarded as my own similar impulses, although on reflection my particular issues – to do with a desire to not live in the world of wealth and status and smalltown stupefaction – were nowhere near as existentially out there as Nick was.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    I am sorry for your loss. Your post that honors your friend is beautiful.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil McKenna wrote:

    Sorry for your loss Andy. Fine testament to a great friend.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Angela Gipple wrote:

    So sorry, Andy. (((HUGE HUG)))

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Susan Claire wrote:

    So sorry Andy. Beautiful words you’ve written for a special friend

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Chris Cook wrote:

    Too young, too soon. I’ve recently lost someone near too and it’s painful to think about them no longer being here.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Marion Heads wrote:

    He sounds like a great guy Andy, those who knew him must have been enriched by his friendship

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Diana Murtaugh Coleman wrote:

    I’m so sorry, Andy…a raw tribute that I wish you didn’t have to write so soon.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Laura Lance wrote:

    What beautiful tribute to your friend. I am so sorry for your loss, Andy.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Dejanka Bryant wrote:

    Great tribute to your friend, Andy. I am sorry. Xx

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Pippa Dobson wrote:

    Dear Andy,
    This is a beautiful tribute to dear Nick and your long and true friendship. I feel so blessed to have spent some time with him and had his friendship latterly in his life. The last couple of years were not easy for him. We had some good times, long walks and little trips to Richmond. It was so great you sang ‘Tangled up in blue’ for him- although we arrived too late to hear it- he was chuffed to hear you announce you had played it for him.
    The last conversation I had with him before he slipped into a coma we talked about you and he said ‘So genuine’. He went very peacefully, without pain and with grace. As Julian said just after he died ‘What a dude’. Rest in peace dear Nick. Thank you Andy for reminding us to treasure one another.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for your comments, Pippa. So glad that he died peacefully. And, humblingly, so touching to hear his final words about me. I thought of him a lot. I wonder if I was thinking of him then. I seems to me that Julian had it right. He was a dude. He was out there.

  21. paki wieland says...

    Thank you for your delicious songs, Nick Parsons, present`e

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paki. Lovely to hear from you.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Amy Phillips wrote:

    May perpetual light shine upon him & let his memory be for a blessing. Condolences, Andy.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Lucy Driver wrote:

    You must love the ones you love, and you are right- cherish life and experiences we have together. Sad news Andy, I’m sorry for your loss. I remember you hanging out with Nick at New College. Lots of love x

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Holly Overin wrote:

    Sounds like you have lived many lives, many friendships, now and more to come, Andy.. 2016-2016 a time of losing our dearest of friends. Beautiful words for memories which will never end.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Very well put, Holly. Thank you.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Sanchez Montebello wrote:

    Sorry for your loss, Andy.
    I lost a few friends and one special musical friend during 2016. I just lost a cousin who died last weekend. As we all grow older, we all enter a “Season of Sorrow” as those we cherish begin to pass.
    I wish you a long, long happy and productive life.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    And I wish you the same, Sanchez. Nick’s death comes at a time when I was already quite full of reflection – about life in general, and about my life, realizing more than ever who I am, enjoying the fact that – except when asleep! – I am in permanent motion, physically and/or mentally, but always the latter. I always think. I always ask questions. And increasingly, I have discovered, i always strive to create, and to change things for the better. Life is good. None of us know how long we have, so we must enjoy it – and we must love.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    And on a political aside, Sanchez, how miserable is Donald Trump? He has no joy. He is a poor broken thing. Even winning the top job in the world (allegedly) did nothing for him. He has hateful, ill-formed views, but it is also very sad. He must go. He must be the shortest-serving president in US history.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Sanchez Montebello wrote:

    Andy… I am exactly the same.
    However, I am only a lowly radio producer. MUSIC is also part of my salvation. May I ask: “How much sleep do you get per night?” I can no longer sleep. I only get short one or two hour naps. Yes… I have tried every single “Herbal Remedy”.
    It is difficult for me to “meditate”. I must always stay three steps ahead of everyone else.
    I highly respect people like you. Despite the extremely difficult work that you do, you always seem to have a smile on your face. What is your secret?

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    I suppose that’s a very fundamental existential question, Sanchez. I can be unhappy, or more likely angry and indignant and exasperated, but I suppose my natural state is one of enjoyment – of life, of everything about people that isn’t disappointing.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Sanchez Montebello wrote:

    Andy, I wish you could bottle THAT.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    I’ve long identified with one particular aspect of Buddhism, Sanchez, as I’ve interpreted it – of caring deeply, but being simultaneously somehow detached.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    So sorry, my dear friend, Andy. I understand the sharp pain when it hits so close to home. I see feel it more frequently these days. My solace is understanding that we are all the light of the universe and just keep shining. The gift of a person so close is for us. You seem to have been gifted with an extraordinary friend.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan. He was a public school boy in a beat poet’s novel. He was existential, even though what fuelled it was something deeply sad. He very noticeably lacked attachments, so there was something very spiritual about that. Perhaps he was like Mr. Bojangles.
    Nina Simone’s version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzofnHLOer4

  36. Andy Worthington says...

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Hugo reminded me of Nick’s love for the great Gram Parsons, and posted ‘A Song for You’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98Ow_Jav_eo
    My choice? ‘Brass Buttons’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctZpejVICco

  38. Jonathan Fox says...

    This is dreadful news. I remember Nick with great affection.

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, terrible news, Jon. Good to hear from you, but sorry it’s under such sad circumstances.

  40. Simon Brady says...

    Andy, thank you for this moving tribute. Those of us who knew him at Euomoney, including those of us who spent time in the darkness with him in London and HK, are so saddened to hear this news. It is some comfort to read the comments from Pippa, whom I don’t know, that there was some light in the last years.

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the kind words, Simon. Good to hear from you.
    When I met him last year, he had surprised himself, after nearly two years very ill in various institutions, by no longer being peripatetic. He seemed content to be in one place, which was unusual, but otherwise he was very much himself. Easy, funny, politically a Devil’s advocate, of course.

  42. Jonathan Wilshere says...

    With Nick you went from tearing your hair out to just wanting to put your arm around him and give him a squeeze. One of the funniest people I ever knew and despite the demons a true and loyal friend. We’ll miss you Nick

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jonathan. Good to hear from you.

  44. Rupert Martin-Clark says...

    Sometimes it is difficult to remember those bygone days of drinking, laughing, smoking and debating the best Bob Dylan song with Nick and remember it was all true. Your tribute brought it all back. So glad he did not pass away lost in the Far East but with those who could care for him. The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long… but what a light he had…

  45. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Rupert. Good to hear from you.

  46. Hannah Lukacs says...

    Thank you Andy for these memories, a sad time but they made me smile remembering Nick as I do. Such an amazing person, I was always a bit in awe of Nick.

  47. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Hannah. Good to hear from you.

  48. Ian Gill says...

    Andy, I just wanted to check that Nick is the same peripatetic journalist I knew around 2006 who was covering Indonesia for financial publications. He was very charming and funny and we became friends quickly. May I know where he passed away and whether he was with any of his family in England, please.

  49. Andy Worthington says...

    That would be the same Nick Parsons, Ian. He died here in London and I know his brother Julian was with him.
    His funeral is on Monday 13th February, at 11am, at St. Thomas of Canterbury Roman Catholic Church, 60 Rylston Rd, Fulham, London SW6 7HW. There will be a wake afterwards.
    For further information, call 07951 055941.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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