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MUSIC Dream into action, talking with '80s icon Howard Jones
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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"Things Can Only Get Better," "Life in One Day" and "Like to Get to Know You Well" were just three hits by '80s British singer Howard Jones that rocked the States.

The longtime musician has now embarked on a tour, "The Songs and The Stories," that will stop at Chicago's City Winery on Thursday, March 8. He recently talked with Windy City Times about his hits, George Michael and his two gay sons.

Windy City Times: You hit the States at about the same time as a bunch of other British acts such as Wham!, Culture Club, Eurythmics and others. Did you all ever run in the same circles, or did you form friendships with some of those artists?

Howard Jones: I opened for Eurythmics on one of my first tours, so I got to know Dave Stewart pretty well as well as Annie [Lennox]. I met George Michael a few times, but didn't get to know him that well because we were all busy. But in recent years, the bands that came out the same time as me—we all do similar festivals, so we're closer friends now than we were then.

WCT: Does anything prepare you for fame?

HJ: No, I don't think so. You can have an idea of what it'll be like but, no, I really don't think so—because it's not what we think. [Laughs] There are a lot of difficult aspects to it, like you can't go freely about your business. You have to consider where you want to go, because people always want a piece of you—which is nice, but you can't deal with that all the time; you'll go crazy.

It's kind of isolating. Even your friends will back off, thinking you don't need them—but you actually need them more than ever. You need people to keep your feet on the ground. It's very hard to describe to someone else what it's like.

WCT: Yeah—and I'm sure with that hair you had back then [a towering mohawk], it was even harder to go about your business.

HJ: [Laughs] Yeah, it was. People used to pick fights with me. That was the most typical thing. Some people didn't like the way I looked. I had to toughen up quite a bit.

WCT: However, you seemed to have handled fame pretty well. I don't remember seeing your name in tabloids.

HJ: That's right. I never craved the tabloid side of life and that kind of attention. I think you can keep away from that stuff if you want to. I just wanted to write great songs and do great concerts. [Laughs] I didn't really want to be a celebrity or want to be famous, although fame is good to get your work out there, though.

Also, I've had some really great friends and relationships that have been with me since the beginning. And I've had my Buddhist practice for 25 years, and that helps me to stay relatively normal—if there is such a thing. [Both laugh.]

WCT: Tell me about this latest tour. It sounds like it's going to be a little different from your past ones.

HJ: I've done solo tours, but now things have really matured and I really feel confident doing them. I sing songs on this tour, tell stories—like the stories behind the songs. It's a very intimate evening, and it's very different from the big-production shows. We'll selling out pretty much everywhere and I'm having a great time doing it, so I'll probably continue doing them maybe every two years.

WCT: Looking at some of today's younger stars, are there any you see as having the "right stuff," or are there any you'd like to collaborate with?

HJ: I don't know if they'd want to collaborate with me; I think young people should do their own thing. I am collaborating with an [electronica] artist named BT, who you may know; I really love his work. I also like Laura Marling, and I love London Grammar.

There are lots of great artists out there. The only thing I worry about is that there's so much pressure to be a successful artist—and I wonder if some of these younger artists might need help or counseling to deal with it.

WCT: You're right. There's pressure from record companies, which want instant success, and from social media.

HJ: Yep, that's right—and that can be very undermining. When I came out, we might have to deal with nasty press reviews, but now there are millions of people who can write nasty things about you. That's really hard for young people to deal with; you have to be so tough to deal with it.

WCT: I did see that you tweeted a little while back that you're "the proud father of two gay sons." When they came out to you, how was that? Were they two different experiences?

HJ: No, not really—I kind of had an idea from a very young age. I've always stood for people being who they are, and not having to conform with any set way. That's the environment they grew up in.

Also, I've always had plenty of gay friends and [employees]. It's just natural, really. I'm grateful that they're part of my family. It's wonderful.

WCT: I recently talked with singer Tracey Thorn, who told me that one of her daughters came out to her when she was in her mid-teens. It's great that younger people are not afraid to come out.

HJ: Exactly. I'm so glad that we're getting there now. I think you're right; people in the past have had to struggle and I think it was torture for them. We are moving forward, and I hope that we keep doing that.

WCT: I want to go back to your music for a second. Is there one song that, when you perform it, makes you more emotional than the others?

HJ: On this tour, I'm taking people through a lot of personal things. I cover songs by George Michael, so obviously that's emotional. I've always been a huge fan of his and, with his passing—he was too young and there was too much pressure in his life. That's a big moment for me.

There's also a song in the set that's written by my daughter. She was going off to college and you're never prepared for that—it tears you apart. So those are two intense moments.

But there are also my celebratory moments, in songs like "Life in One Day" and "Things Can Only Get Better." So I'm trying to take people on an emotional journey. I think we need a bit of intimacy, and reconnection with ourselves. I think that's really important.

WCT: Over the years, one of the lines from "Life in One Day" has stuck with me: "Wolves are gathering 'round my door/Ask them in and invite some more."

HJ: [Laughs] Yes—that is good! It's like you're saying, "Bring it on." The only way to go forward is if you confront things head on; that way, they're not dragging you down.

Howard Jones will perform at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., on Thursday, March 8, at 8 p.m. ( Rachael Sage—previewing material from her forthcoming album, Myopia—will open for him. ) See .

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