I am posting about Joe Jackson, the English singer/songwriter who is the same age as I am, & whom I somewhat resemble... not Joe Jackson, the fabled ball player, or Joe Jackson, the father of Michael, or Joe Jackson, the jazz trombonist, or Joe Jackson, the novelist, or Joe Jackson the music journalist.
I remain a very big fan of his music, but for period, Joe Jackson's music was the soundtrack of my life. In 1982, his album Night & Day was my most played music of the year & spoke to my life in a personal way. This was as era when The Husband & I went out dancing & clubbing every weekend & I felt that I was living in slightly punked up version of a 1930s Hollywood Musical with a score by Gershwin.
Jacksons’s songs, rooted in the late 1970s/early 1980s “new wave” of sophisticated pop/jazz/classical styled rock, maintained an edgy relationship with mainstream gay culture. Even today many people don't even know he is gay, the fact isn't even mentioned on his website.
In his memoir- A Cure for Gravity, Jackson muses on how people make assumptions about him based on his lanky & effeminate appearance. But in the book he remains ambiguous about his orientation, & speaks out against generalizing on anyone's sexuality.
But there are gay references Jackson's music. Jackson says this about meaning behind his song- Real Men: “I see the gay identity has become more & more about being so masculine that you're more straight than the straight guys. & this is something that I find quite funny. I sort of get it, & at the same time, I don't like it that much. It's mixed feelings. & if we're talking about stereotypes, then I guess what I'm saying in the song is that I almost prefer the older stereotype, this sort of Oscar Wilde/Quentin Crisp gay stereotype.”
Jackson ran a roughly parallel career course to British new wave icon Elvis Costello. Both wrote highly intelligent, smartly musical yet somewhat abrasive punk-informed pop with sophisticated lyrics. Both took a sharp turn early in their careers to explore different musical tributaries, Costello went country & Jackson went jazz, & both matured into well-respected crafters of sharp pop songs in the manner of Burt Bacharach, Costello even going so far as to work with the master himself.
Joe Jackson’s first album- Look Sharp, is a wonder of edgy punk-pop & includes such classics as the cynical Sunday Papers & the sparse, broken, lurching guitar pop of Is She Really Going Out With Him?, the song that got my attention. But my favorite of his albums is the sublime Night & Day, which, in addition to calling up the spirit of Cole Porter in its title, bringing that erudite uptown sensibility by featuring a drawing of Jackson sitting at a grand piano in some expansive, Manhattan apartment with a view of the skyline, drawn by legendary Broadway caricaturist, Al Hirshfeld.
Night & Day is a cynical, yet sensitive album, full of poignant songs about relationships, (with the occasional up-beat tune, like the rhumba- Everything Gives You Cancer thrown in the mix. The most poignant of all his songs is my favorite Jackson tune- Real Men. This provocative song is about trying to find your way through the dubious puzzle of social mores, stereotypes & suppositions of being a man, any man, but especially a gay man, in America in the 1980s. Anybody pushing against stereotypes can find solace in Jackson’s sad songs. Beyond the bombast, the song is heartbreakingly beautiful. I like the way the chorus contrasts between the giant, wordless chords & crashing drum beat fading into a gentle violin line to end the phrase.
This song took a lot of courage for Jackson to release, as it was his first big pronouncement of his sexual orientation to the public. I’d like to think that men everywhere, shiny-leather gay or straight as a line, could find solace in this song & its wise portrayal of the difficulties of being a real man.
Jackson’s more sophisticated, adult approach, was influenced as much by jazz & Latin music as rock. He continued with Body & Soul (1984) Big World (1986), Blaze Of Glory (1989) & Laughter & Lust (1991).
Jackson turned further away from the pop mainstream with the gentle, soul-searching Night Music (1994), the satirical opera Heaven & Hell (1997) & Symphony #1, which won the 2000 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. Also in 2000, Jackson released a sequel Night & Day II, a personal favorite of mine. In 2003, Jackson did an about turn, reuniting the band from his first 3 albums for an acclaimed album of new songs- Volume 4, and a successful world tour. In 2008, he recorded a minimal, but still majestic album- Rain using just piano, voice, & his original rhythm section.
In addition to his own albums, Jackson has written several film scores, including Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker &James Bridges’ Mike’s Murder. He has also played piano & sung on records by Suzanne Vega, Joan Armatrading, Ruben Blades, Rickie Lee Jones, Nina Hagen, & William Shatner.
His new album-The Duke is a tribute album, with songs by or inspired by the great American Jazz composer- Duke Ellington. Check out Jackson & Iggy Pop take on Beginning To See The Light on this terrific album.