Is She Really Going Out With Him was ubiquitous in the early 1980’s. I liked it, but what was not to like? It was catchy, self-effacing, pure pop magic with just enough edge to hint at being something more. Joe Jackson’s appearance on Saturday Night Live was far more interesting, both from a musical standpoint and, as was so relevant at that moment, for his attitude. But I was not convinced.
My first real Joe Jackson moment came with the video for Steppin’ Out. The words and piano came together for me. There was a melancholy, a world-weariness that didn’t feel feigned, but endured. There was also an optimism that everything would work itself out that wasn’t Pollyannaish, but that of a survivor able to share a hard-earned truth. And I still kept my hands in my pocket, my money in my wallet.
I found the album Laughter and Lust at the library in the summer of 1992. What did I hear? Maybe it was The Other Me. Perhaps it was Drowning. I can’t say. I returned the CD to the library and quickly purchased a copy at the store, a luxury at the time. I played it endlessly, shared it evangelically, and enjoy it to this day.
My son, Phillip, purchased the double CD, Joe Jackson Live 1980-1986, for my following birthday. I rediscovered the original songs and purchased all of the previous CD’s. I have been fortunate to have been able to acquire all of the subsequent albums, often receiving an email from Joe Jackson’s website prior to their release.
Have I loved all of them? Of course not! Even if he had had a twin he wouldn’t have that kind of mindless fan. Some days the Night Music CD is my favorite. And there are days, much to my surprise, that what I really want to hear is Be My Number Two meld into Breaking Us In Two from the live CD.
I have about 9,500 songs on the computer on my desk. I listen to ALL of them. These songs were not downloaded. I purchased the CD’s and meticulously added them to my collection. And each song, whether it is I Don’t Wanna Know from Dr. John’s Anutha Zone or Rock N Roll covered by Mitch Ryder and Detroit (with Steve Hunter on guitar!) or the most recent release from Joe Bonamassa is greeted as a long lost friend. Each represents a piece of a puzzle I don’t pretend to understand in an art form I am incapable of participation.
My beach book this vacation was Joe Jackson’s A Cure For Gravity. Even after twenty plus years of seriously listening to his music, I was taken aback by the connection this book created. I cannot sing. I cannot play any instrument. But I see myself as a writer and as a writer I felt a kinship with him that I had for so long sensed. The fact that we are roughly the same age and had many of the same cultural references helped. But it was the Why, not the How, that made the difference for me.
A Cure For Gravity was written by a self-aware man in his mid-forties. It details the compromises he was willing to make and those he fought. Moments of short-lived success and those victories that may be savored for a lifetime. He was generous to his friends, even-handed to his antagonists, and merciful to his naïve younger self. Without turning preachy he clearly showed how access to music and music education altered the trajectory of his life.
And why should we care? Because every banker, every roofer, and yes, every insurance agent has had the opportunity to make compromises – some we were willing to make and, perhaps, some we fought. We have all had our share of small victories and major moments. And if we are lucky, we may even have had the chance to thank the people who helped us along the way and forgive those who seemed to impede our progress.
The weather in Punta Cana was wonderful. The beach book was better. I strongly recommend A Cure For Gravity.