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What Can We Learn From Joe Jackson?
Thanks to a very generous gift from my friend Brett, my wife and I have tickets to see Joe Jackson in Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow night.
I loved Joe Jackson’s music when I was in college. Two of his albums, Look Sharp! and I’m the Man spent lots of time spinning on my turntable, along with Chicago, The Allman Brothers, The Police, Boz Scaggs, and Supertramp.
Over the years, though, I started listening to other things. And so, besides the Joe Jackson hits that get played regularly on classic rock radio stations, I mostly stopped listening to his music. Not for any particular reason, mind you, but just because other great choices came along.
To get ready for the concert, I started digging through Jackson’s music again – refamiliarizing myself with his old hits and experiencing his newer releases. Thanks to Apple Music, I didn’t have to flip through my old crate of LPs, my shoeboxes full of cassettes or my shelf racks jammed with CDs. Instead, it’s really easy for a total music nerd like me to travel deep down the rabbit hole of any particular musician or genre that strikes my fancy with just a couple taps on my phone or computer keyboard.
The other night I was playing (okay, blasting) a random collection of Joe Jackson music and mentioned to Gloria that this was the guy we were going to go see perform. Unlike me, Gloria wasn’t a JJ fan and isn’t familiar with his songs – in fact, while she thought she did recognize one or two of his bigger hits, the others were all new to her. To paraphrase the old Donny and Marie Osmond song, “she’s a little bit disco and I’m a little bit rock and roll.”
What Does Joe Jackson Sound Like?
What Gloria did point out was that one of Jackson’s songs sounded like The Police, another sounded like the B-52s, a third sounded like Culture Club, and another resembled the Manhattan Transfer. I was about to disagree with her when I realized that she was right. I hadn’t noticed the similarities, but once she pointed them out, it was clear as day. I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t noticed that before.
I’m not suggesting that Jackson copied any of those other artists, by the way. He’s way too talented, creative, and multi-faceted for that. Instead, he was simply marinating in the same musical trends as the other artists that were working at the same time. Joe Jackson and the rest of the musicians were tapped into the universal zeitgeist that was exposing them to all of the rhythms and sounds sonically swirling around.
Why didn’t I recognize the similarity of the trends? Because at the time I was swimming in the same river of dreams as all the rest of them. Just like I am today.
And just like you are too.
In a day and time where so many of us are opinionated and polarized, the question is simple: What is going on right now that we don’t see or hear simply because we are so influenced by our own personal echo chambers?
More importantly, what mistakes in judgement are we making because our firmly reinforced beliefs and opinions are blinding us to other ways of looking at things that might be more productive, more efficient, more comforting, more profitable, and so on?
To dive back into my water metaphor, remember that Marshall McLuhan wrote, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.”
To quote Joe Jackson: “If you want to know about the gay politician
If you want to know how to drive your car
If you want to know about the new sex position
You can read it in the Sunday papers.
Sunday papers don’t ask no questions
Sunday papers don’t get no lies
Sunday papers don’t raise objections
Sunday papers ain’t got no eyes.”
What Can We Learn From Joe Jackson?
What is happening right now that we cannot see, hear, smell, taste, touch or feel simply because we’re so deeply submerged in our own fishponds, watching our own networks, and reading our own Sunday papers?
It’s hard for me to think about Joe Jackson without thinking about his album Jumping Jive a total departure from the new wave music of the 80s and And a foreshadowing of the swing revival that came many years later.
Sometimes the future is right behind us! I’ve seen him in concert several times you will definitely enjoy his many talents up close.
Thanks Richard. My travels down the “Joe Jackson rabbit hole” the past few days have really introduced me to some great music. I’m looking forward to the concert tonight.
Reminds me a little of “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace.
As always, Bruce, a brilliant post. I found your “listening to our own echo chambers” comment enlightening. An additional thought that hit me from a marketing or popularity context:
Decades ago, you thought of Joe Jackson’s music as top notch. Yet, newer top notch songs came along and buried Jackson’s songs in your consciousness. You forgot about his work, not because you purposely downgraded it or made some conscious decision to forget it. You forgot about Jackson’s songs because they stopped being played so much in public and other people’s music took its place.
That’s an important business lesson about staying visible. Even great stuff gets forgotten if we don’t take measures to keep it visible.
That’s a great thought, Mark, and well worth exploring further.
Sometimes we stop promoting our ideas, products, programs, whatever, simply because we’ve talked about them so many times we assume everyone’s getting tired of listening to us go on and on about the same subject.
But “everyone” is an awful lot of people. And each of them are dealing with their own lives, their own concerns, their own desires, and certainly not devoting a very large part of their consciousness to who we are and what we’re doing. As you say, “even great stuff gets forgotten if we don’t take measures to keep it visible.” It’s OUR responsibility to make sure that the people who need to see and hear what we’re producing are aware of it.
Thank you for that powerful insight.
This was a great article… I’m not one to comment, but this brought me to a conversation I once had with a friend that used to say I had the most unique words sometimes. And it was because since I spoke several languages, I would take one word from another language and translate it, normally it was not used in that manner, but yet was grammatically correct. Sometimes we stick to just the common use of certain words… or that one melody. And we don’t see outside the box. Great article!
Thank you Cristina. I find that people who are multi-lingual often mention that they know just the right word in a language besides the one they’re speaking in regardless of how proficient they are in each tongue. It sounds marvelous that you interject those words to enliven your conversations. How fascinating…!
Great post. As a fellow music enthusiast, it’s fun to go back and listen to songs and artists we thought we could know no better…only to discover nuances and inspirations we never heard before. And, to recognize how those artists and song influences others through the years. To your point, it makes sense to look upon situations with fresh eyes…or at least eyes that are able to see a different perspective.
I heard a lecturer at a music masterclass talk about a Shostakovich piece that had a counter melody running through it. His point was that Itzhak Perlman said he’d played the piece for over 30 years before he ever even heard it. If we just imagine that if it takes a virtuoso like Perlman that long to notice something he’s doing, what we might be missing based on our own knowledge, experience, and perception?