|Portrait of a misanthropic crumudgeon as a misanthropic|
This is a live recording from 1979 Los Angeles show I got from a sadly long-gone blog devoted to archiving all those bootlegs us music fans used to get from Music Stores of Questionable Means. Here in New York, there were a number of record stores in and around Bleeker Street that would have this one cabinet in a corner somewhere with stacks upon stacks of cassette tapes with monochrome construction paper covers of badly photocopied pictures of the star contained within. While I never got this particular concert, I did get a number of Robyn Hitchcock and New Order ‘rarities’ from these stores that I listened to until the emulsion wore off. There was something about having this forbidden fruit, even if the sound levels were, well, lousy, that made them all the more special.
I love this song--I used to sing it a lot at karaoke until my good friend Vinnie Bracco started using it as an ‘icebreaker’ song (i.e. the song that a karaoke DJ uses at the top of each rotation to loosen up the crowd and convince them to participate)--and it fascinates me how the practices of the English Press that Jackson is criticizing in this song have become prescient for the American press. This performance begins with Jackson gleefully reading out random headlines from a British newspaper, and they’re no different from some of the stuff I can see being printed in The Daily News and The New York Post. This was meant as satire when Jackson wrote it, and now it’s reality for me in one of the most literate cities in this country.
This particular performance is also interesting because it gives us a glimpse of Jackson’s misanthropic nature back when, in that moment in time when punk and new wave were the king of the musical heap, it was not only acceptable but welcome. Listening to the bootleg straight through, you can’t escape that Jackson has a bit of a contempt for his audience. Oh, he appreciates them on some level and is grateful they’ve come out for his show, sure....but there’s a surliness to some of his banter that serves as a hint of some of the greater ugliness to come. Sure, this misanthropy will wax and wane with his musical periods--when I saw him live during the Big World Tour, he was positively charming--but I can’t help thinking this was one of the times he didn’t feel the need to hide the monster inside, and probably took pride in mocking his audience while basking in its praise.
It’s not my favorite song of this period; I still hold the title track for I’m The Man (another song that seems erieely prophetic here in the Age Of The Tentpole), and contend there are moments of ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him?’ that threaten to make it the most perfect pop song ever. But it’s a great number, and a great little captured moment in the career of this man. Now he seems to have once again retreated into his jazz-o-philic tendencies, but hearing this track reminds you of how he once was one of the nastiest, surliest, pop star ever....
Here is a live performance from 1980 of the song--probably from the same tour as the one this recording is taken from.