Thursday, August 12, 2021

Quote of the Day (Joe Jackson, on Cynicism as a ‘Disease of the Young’)

“Some of my early stuff was infected by the deadly disease of cynicism, which is a disease of the young, I think. When you’re young, it seems very clever to be cynical. But as you get older, hopefully, if you’re not completely stupid, you realize that you have to be a bit more positive, as a simple matter of survival. You know what I mean?”—English singer-songwriter Joe Jackson quoted in Sarah Larson, “Joe Jackson, Past, Present, and Fast Forward,” The New Yorker, Oct. 15, 2015

Yesterday marked the 67th birthday of Joe Jackson, a musician who has grandly resisted genre pigeonholing. Sarah Larson’s combined concert review-interview from a few years ago captures his “sideways, sly” lyrics, as well as his impatience with the late Seventies stereotyping of him as an angry young man in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. (“I was really poking fun. A lot of people were doing that back then.”)

I myself have been partial to the two LPs he created in the early Eighties after coming to New York, Night and Day and Body and Soul, which incorporated pop, jazz and salsa textures.

It was a long way from his upbringing in Portsmouth, England, a dingy place that fueled his desire to escape. Admission to the Royal Academy of Music set him on a lifelong path, described memorably in his 1999 quasi-memoir, A Cure for Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage:

"I saw music as White Magic. Pure energy, pure emotion, pure spirit. I thought that musicians, regardless of what kind of music they played, were beyond reproach, like firefighters or nuns.”

I have never had the opportunity to hear Jackson in concert, but YouTube clips suggest an idiosyncratic, interesting performer not content with note-for-note playing of oldies, as does this quote from a February 2019 interview with Jim McGuinn on the Minnesota Public Radio musical website/station “The Current”:

“Obviously it's me that's changed rather than the songs. But in some cases the songs embarrass me and I don't play them anymore. In other cases I still like them and do play them. A lot of times I've tried to do new arrangements of them — change them around and keep them interesting. And every now and again, some of the songs on this tour, we've gone right back to playing them exactly as they were recorded, which kind of goes against the grain a bit for me, to be honest. But sometimes it's fun to do that as well.

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