Sunday, July 20, 2008

Growing Up with Joe and John: Part I

As I indicated earlier, College Roomy sent me the new Joe Jackson album Rain along with a few cuts from Summer in the City and my first listen was to say that I think I am done with Joe. What?! CR reminded me that I was once the "I will own everything by Joe Jackson guy" leading me to own everything from his big band album to the Pretty in Pink soundtrack (it has a cool JJ song with Suzanne Vega on it) to Joe's first modern classical recording Will Power. My reaction made us think a bit about bands/artists that were important to us at certain points in our lives but somehow haven't translated beyond nostalgic memories (and occasional listens to after a couple drinks and a few "remember when we used to" conversations). And I think that Joe might now, in fact, be one of those artists for me which is pretty amazing to say (as you will see).

Now, this is not to say that I don't like this offering by JJ--but I suspect most of that has to do with a very soft spot I have from spending so much time earlier in my life with his music. The songs are, as always, carefully crafted. They have a cool jazz feel--think late Steely Dan with lots of open space in them and wonderful piano being the central element as it is primarily Joe's preferred trio line-up, all of which is quite nice. I could do without all the falsetto here, but even that fits the mood and in many ways it is a nice summer sound. However, I am not sure I would recommend anyone but serious JJ fans go out and buy this one.

I would still refer folks who don't have any JJ to go back to earlier periods in his work. If you are looking for punky, loud, fun stuff, there is the early efforts, Look Sharp or I'm the Man. Add a little reggae influence and you get perhaps my favorite album: Beat Crazy (also best artwork award goes to this one). And then there is the more jazzy and polished era that gave us Night and Day, Body and Soul (another contender for my fav), and then that little played, but wonderful 1986 three-sided album, Big World which was the precursor to the 60 minute CD (the perfect length for a disc I believe). And the last disc that I was really into as a JJ fan, Blaze of Glory, a thematic disc of sorts about, well, what do you think, lost youth.

Side story: I saw Joe live twice and the second time was the Blaze of Glory tour when Neats and I and friends saw him live at the State Theater in Cleveland which was a perfect venue. So he and the band open up with a few songs all with different arrangements which is part of what makes his live stuff fun (oh and by the way, if you don't have anything live by Joe, the NYC album does sound like it is really nice as is the earlier double live album). So they are just about to start a version of "Hometown" and the usher brings a couple down and seats them in the near front. Joe stops the band in disgust and asks the couple how much they paid for those seats. Answer: a decent amount of money. Joe excoriates them for having no manners and interrupting the show (expletives included followed by much applause). He then turns back to the band to start over, but first pauses, turns back to the couple and says, "Oh and we already played 'Is She Really Going Out With Him?' so don't be calling for that later!" And well, that kind of sums Joe up, now doesn't it.

Okay, so where am I going with this ramble. Well, two places. One, if you are looking for some fairly mellow JJ, you could give the new disc a try, but if you have none of his stuff I would recommend you start with one of the others I note above depending on your mood.

Two, and the real point, is that I find the whole idea of what artists stay with you or "grow up" with you to be interesting. And like the discussion about seasons, the reasoning for why certain bands stay with us seems a bit random. One logical guess would be that we mellow with age, but I am not sure that is really it. I suspect it has to be about who speaks to us at the place we are in our lives, although it might be that some artists can transcend all of that--not sure.

However, I have just been listening to the new John Mellencamp album and while I never had the same connection with him as I did with JJ, I find myself more drawn to where he is at now and also remembering how much I liked his stuff at each turn as I grew up with him. But alas that is all for Part II which if I am lucky is more coherent than Part I!

Until then, I leave you with this nice live version of Wasted Time from the new album so you can decide for yourself.


Lisa B. said...

I appreciate the rundown on JJ, reminding me of things I need to listen to again--and just today, I noticed the ad for the Mellencamp disk, which got me kind of stoked to hear it. I didn't grow up with either Joe or John, but I loved the music at the different points at which I heard it.

CPS said...

Dang--I awoke this morning thinking I ought to go back in and clean up the mess of thoughts that is this post and Lisa B has already been here! Ah well, it is just a blog.

LB--I think you might actually like the new album--I am just guessing.

Also, I didn't say enough about the live albums here. The NYC one is just a trio and in many ways that is my favorite line-up and so the tunes are jazzy and rely heavily on Joe's great piano playing. The earlier double live album has great arrangements but is taken more from a time when JJ was touring with a bigger ensemble which has its own advantages--such as a rippin' horn section.

Bon appetit!

lexdexter said...

i dig yr blog.
i worship JJ.

but I am most enthused about the chance of you convincing me to take the long walk back to _Scarecrow_ and re-introduce myself to JMC.

weirder things have happened, after all, as i've somehow become a jackson browne fanatic in 2008.

lexdexter said...

oops, i meant "reintroduce myself to JCM."

Anonymous said...

I was at that exact same Blaze of Glory show. I thought it was pretty darn good too!

That night I went over to Stouffer's to spend the night as I work in Cleveland but live 50 miles away. The band were all hanging out in the bar, so I bought them two rounds of drinks. What the heck - when would that ever happen again?!?! Large damn band, though.

Joe was shy and stand-offish, but had the sweetest smile I'd ever seen. Graham was totally charming and a good time was had by all.

I haven't stopped buying his stuff - through thick and thin. I love the early stuff... you can tell if you visit my web site - (shameless plug.)


CPS said...

Lex--gee thanks--that means something coming from the Encyclopedia of Music! Not sure I have that convincing of an argument, but we will see in a couple days.

And to small-world Sue--welcome! Anyone from Cleveland with a website named after that Joe album deserves to get added to the sidebar here!

Anonymous said...

I'm honored!!! :-)

Cleveland is feeling left out of the music scene.. it's hard to get artists here anymore..

I get to the 9:30 Club more than to The Agora now. That's just not right.