Friday, March 22, 2013

Personal Situations: My Road With The Jam 1979-1982

I recently got around to collecting a book on The Jam called  "Thick As Thieves: Personal Situations With The Jam" which is a fans eye view of the band via personal recollections, photos, memorabilia etc . Reading the impressions of others got the gears in my teeny brain moving and I decided to put mine down in print.

The Jam story for me began in Autumn 1979 when a new kid arrived at school in my 8th grade class.  We became friendly and the first time I went to his house his room was covered floor to ceiling with photos and clippings and posters of all sorts of bands.  Among them was a color photo of three guys in Union Jack suit jackets standing defiantly. One of them had granny glasses like Roger McGuinn. Now I had liked 60's music (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, The Monkees, The Animals, The Byrds, The Searchers etc) since 4th grade and was pretty much a devout musical Anglophile.  These guys were clearly British.  They were called The Jam. My friend, it would transpire, had never heard of them but got the picture from a magazine of full page photos of "punk rock" bands (the reverse side of the photo were four rough looking chicks called The Runaways). Years later he gave me the famous picture which I have to this day, full of staple holes from his wall and masking tape residue from mine (see a scan of it below). Next, if I recall correctly I bought an issue of a rock n' roll magazine called "Creem" with my then faves The Knack on the cover.  Inside were articles on The Jam AND another band I'd heard on TV (via "Saturday Night Live") The Specials.

I would not hear The Jam until July, 11, 1980 when they performed "Start" and "Private Hell" (which in the "keep the TV volume low so as not to disturb my sleeping parents" atmosphere thought they were singing "I'm In Hell")on ABC TV's legendary sketch comedy show "Fridays". Powerful. Paul Weller wore dark green tinted round glasses and thrashed a Rickenbacker, chosen guitar of heroes The Beatles, The Byrds, etc. Sure the bassist looked like David Cassidy but the drummer was mean looking and had the highest hairline I'd ever seen. Countless times I'd bring his pic to the barber who'd tell me "Be thankful you'd don't have such a high hairline like him because he'll be bald before long". They moved around the stage, not staying still for a second.  In my life I'd hear the occasional lack luster Jam live performance.  This was not one of them. Weller and Foxton's vocals were tight and the band's playing was like a well oiled machine.  The following day I bought "Setting Sons". My parents had painted my room that day and to this day I can't listen to that album without thinking of being 13 and in that dark, feverishly hot room overcome by paint fumes, fascinated by what I'd heard. I found a huge Jam badge(see below) at a local t-shirt/badge/head shop and got a t-shirt of them (a horrible red print of three frames of barely discernible figures with "The Jam" in black stencil over the top of the muddy images.  My next Jam t-shirt was better, the three cartoon faces knotted together by their ties from the label of the "This Is The Modern World" LP label. Soon I'd have dozens of Jam badges, and patches (which I still have, preserved in a box in my dresser like some family heirloom or religious relics). The next thing I tracked down by The Jam was their LP "Sound Affects" which here in the States came with a freebie white label promo of "Going Underground" b/w "The Dreams Of Children". Which suited me just fine as I'd been knocked over the moon having seen the video for "Underground" on a short lived half hour music video show hosted  by the late Bob Welch called "Hollywood Heartbeat" (I kid you not!). Soon thereafter I acquired a cut out (top right corner missing) US pressing of "All Mod Cons".  I had to wait till the Summer of 1981 to go to the U.K. to purchase a double gatefold LP of "In The City" and "This Is The Modern World". I was Jam mad.  More great singles, "Funeral Pyre" (first heard live on NBC TV's late night talk show "The Tomorrow Show" where they'd also done a funky version of "Pretty Green" where Weller added bits of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough") and "Absolute Beginners". Then in early 1982 I bought a 12" E.P. with a live track titled "A Town Called Malice" and on the flip a drawn out disco jam called "Precious".  I was very confused.  For the first time in my life I'd heard a Jam record I didn't like and couldn't understand.  When "The Gift" came out the dilemma continued. 

The Jam, from my view, live at The Trenton War Memorial, May 1982

Lucky for my 15 year old self The Jam were playing an all ages gig at a concert hall in my great state capital Trenton, NJ.  My dad dropped my pal Rudie and I off at the Trenton War Memorial for the gig (large theatre where they usually have symphonies, ballets, plays, ack!!) early (though not early enough to have caught their soundcheck). We wandered in (doors wide open, no one on them) and had evidentally just missed The Jam's soundcheck. We made our way down this long hall towards the backstage area (as evidenced by all the industry suits in out of date clothes scarfing up buffet food) and a large West Indian man (who we later learned was "security") stopped us and said we weren't allowed beyond the area without a pass. We protested a bit and frustrated his patience. Along came this solid older rough looking fella with a graying quiff and Jam t-shirt. He nodded to the large gent and put his hands on our shoulders and introduced himself as Paul's dad and the band's manager. He asked if we'd be "good lads and hang out by the side exit door and maybe I'll see if I can get the lads out for an autograph, I can't have you back here, Bruce is in his underpants and I've got 50 c*nts from Polydor around" (said well in earshot of them!). We hesitated a bit then he said something like "C'mon be good lads and help me out" shook both our hands, said enjoy the show (after asking if we had tickets, which we did) and off we went. We never met The Jam but did notice Rick Buckler walk off the bus through the side door, we were too shocked to speak to him, both because we were star struck and at 15 years old taller than him AND he had this funky Devo t-shirt on! He looked at us and understood and grinned and nodded and said "How ya doin' lads". Paul's dad did not introduce the band the night as we had expected, we were instead "treated" to an intro by a late night cable TV music show host who's name I forget (who was later bludgeoned to death Bob Crane style...).  I was deaf for two days after, seriously, I heard a high pitched whine for the first day at least, that's how loud The Jam were in the second row (we were in like row 15 and having noticed empty seats up front, grabbed them and no one cottoned to what we'd done)!  I used to have a scrap of notebook paper that I'd diligently copied their set list down on, but that's sadly lost to time, but they played a great, tight, well executed set that opened with "Running On The Spot".  Bruce played an acoustic guitar on "That's Entertainment", Paul played about 6 different Rickenbackers and a Telecaster on "Precious".  They did most of the tracks from "The Gift" and I remember a rousing "David Watts" with Bruce clapping his hands held aloft working the audience into a participation frenzy.  I'm sure there's a setlist online someplace.  I have a few pics that a friend of a friend took from the gig but I don't want to step on his toes by publishing them here without his consent.
My first Jam badge, placed on a Levi's jacket for scale reference.

Sadly the end came a bit too soon for my liking but in retrospect I was guilty of blind devotion to later Jam era things that now don't gel well with me.  We've trod that road already earlier here. But I will have to say that I never followed a band like The Jam.  I bought every record I saw by them (when I could afford to).  When Polydor reissued their 45's I traded all of my 60's Stones LP's for the lot when a friend offered the deal (those Stones LP's were beat to shit, I'll never know why he did that, generosity I guess). True I became an even bigger fan of The Small Faces and The Action, but The Jam were the last contemporary band I really followed like a sports team or a religion.  I'm glad they were around for me and though I don't listen to them with the intensity that I once did, they still have a place and their music is still, for the most part, enjoyable and relevant to me.

"Oh No Just Another Teenage Jam Fan": the author at home 1983


diskojoe said...

Bill, I think the guy who introduced the Jam at that concert was Peter Ivers. A very enjoyable read. My intro to the Jam was listening to them on WBCN around that time ('78-'79), although my 1st Jam album was Snap!, which was a cassette version w/the bonus EP that I got at the Harvard Coop. I never got to seem them live, although several employees of the record store I still frequent still tell tales of seeing them at the Channel.

Monkey said...

That's a great post. Love the photo too. We all had those collages!

Colin Mason said...

A rather splendid blog entry. Last year I wrote about how I discovered The Jam when I was 12 years old.