By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"Welcome to my website. Yes, this is the same Joe Jackson who had a couple of pop hits some years ago. A lot of people have understandably lost track of me over the last five years or so...I'm not dead yet."
--Introduction to www.joejackson.com
Joe Jackson's autobiography--A Cure for Gravity, bearing the subtitle "A Musical Pilgrimage"--ends precisely where most of his fans would prefer it begins, in 1979, with the release of Look Sharp! The reason, Jackson explains, is a simple one: From then on, his life became a matter of public record. It ceased being unique on its way to becoming cliché. "The Joe Jackson Band," he writes, "did all the things every other band in the spotlight has ever done"--toured the pub circuit, worked its way into the bigger clubs, moved from Europe to America, discovered a fondness for success and drugs, then broke up when the man for whom the band was named discovered he wanted to say different things with different people. "I stepped out of the wings and into the spotlight," Jackson explains, "and that seems to me a perfect place to end."
Of course, he doesn't end it there, not quite. Eleven more pages follow, wherein the 45-year-old Jackson documents his two failed marriages, his recent crack-up, the fact he could no longer stand to listen to music and no longer wanted any part of his own failures or successes. He writes of realizing that the only way to crawl out of the "bottomless pit" of despair was by convincing himself "Joe Jackson, Pop Star, had to die." Of course, it could be argued he died a long time ago--sometime between the release of Look Sharp! and, to be generous, 1984's Body and Soul, the second album on which Jackson proved himself worthy of his Irving Berlin fantasies (the first was the 1982 masterwork Night and Day). By the time Jackson released the pseudo-classical Will Power in 1987, the Pop Star within him had long since ceased to exist--no matter how hard he tried to rear his bald little head on such albums as Big World, Blaze of Glory, and the last-gasp Laughter and Lust.
Worse, A&M Records--now part of the Universal Music Group, which obliterated so much of the pop-music landscape--has deleted many of Jackson's albums from its back catalog. Beat Crazy, Will Power, Big World, Blaze of Glory, and the soundtracks to Tucker and Mike's Murder are out of print, and unless Jackson and his management are successful in buying them back from the label, they will remain that way indefinitely. Strangely, it is as though they never existed.
So now, he has become Joe Jackson, Author: Late last year, Jackson released his autobiography through PublicAffairs, the publishing house founded and run by I.F. Stone, author of The Trial of Socrates; Robert Bernstein, former CEO of Random House; and Ben Bradlee, legendary former editor of The Washington Post. Jackson now shares a publisher with the likes of Robert McNamara (Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy), Dallasites Robert A. Wilson and Stanley Marcus (American Greats), and William Greider (Fortress America: The American Military and the Consequences of Peace). The book, not surprisingly, has received little notice (I discovered it on the Bookstop shelves, its cover slightly torn). Of course, the same could be said of so much of Jackson's recent output. By the time of last year's classical-gas Symphony No. 1, which featured the likes of guitar noodler Steve Vai and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, even the most devoted fan had lost interest.
Joe Jackson, Author, is an excellent storyteller obsessed with the details; if the man were to wash his car, most likely he would use a toothbrush and a nail file. A Cure for Gravity begins in the ass-end of the music business, with Jackson and one of his first bands playing a small bar, trying to keep from getting the sense beaten out of them. It tells the tale of a classically trained musician trying to keep his head above the toilet water of every water-closet club in England, including the Playboy Club in Portsmouth. It documents his days spent in Koffee'n'Kreme, Arms and Legs, and every other lounge-lizard band no one ever heard of long enough to forget.
His book is the tale of the Everyband writ in plain, beautiful, funny, poignant language; it's a confessional only when you stumble across the passage in which Jackson documents his influences circa 1977. "My singing was still insecure, but it was getting better," he writes. "At this point it was very much influenced by Graham Parker, with echoes of Donald Fagen. Oh well. You have to start off by imitating someone." And for the record, he no longer minds the Elvis Costello comparisons; in fact, he now finds them quite flattering.
The young musician will find A Cure for Gravity insightful, a witty compendium of to-dos and to-avoids; the veteran will find the book reassuring, as even the successful old pro is wracked with doubt and insecurity. But it's far more than a music fan's primer. It is, in the end, a rather touching tale about a man who makes peace with his father just before his death, learning to communicate with his dad the only way he knows how--not through words, but through music. "I played Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, the old pub songs I'd played at the Wicor Mill, the ragtime I'd played at the Admiral Drake, the standards I'd played at the Playboy," Jackson writes. "I wished I could be in two places at once, because both my mother and my dad's nurse told me that when he heard the music, his face lit up, and he seemed to be at peace. It's pretty hard to hold on to any lingering resentments after that."