Something more than a journeyman and less than a superstar, Joe Jackson
has a reputation for being a reclusive and prickly character. But he refuses the low road with A Cure for Gravity
, a resolutely non-lurid autobiography of a man who considers music to be a noble calling. It matters not that the author was once lumped in with England's insurgent first-generation punks and new-wavers; here Jackson insistently focuses on his development as a composer, player, and performer, approximately in that order. Born to modest means in a setting where a sickly, creative youngster such as Jackson was regarded with suspicion, if not contempt, the young Brit was trained in the classics and developed his keyboard skills, playing everything from cabaret to progressive rock before finally setting off on his own as a sharp-tongued, ska-influenced Angry Young Man. A more sophisticated musician than his rag-tag running mates (he's recently released an ambitious fusion of pop, jazz, and classical elements dubbed Symphony No. 1
), Jackson revels in the intricacies of his craft--as much or more than he does in telling his own up-from-the-gutter tale. Old new-wavers who remember the author from his 1978 Look Sharp!
debut and devotees of his more stylish early '80s recordings may be caught off guard by the short shrift Jackson gives his actual recording career; indeed, he shrugs off a couple decades in the final pages of the book. But the articulate, idiosyncratic author is clearly more interested in addressing what makes a musician than what happens once a musician has it made. --Steven Stolder
One of New Wave's original "angry young men," Joe Jackson highlights his journey from Portsmouth, England to the Royal Academy of Music to pop star in this lively musical memoir. Jackson, who emerged in the late '70s as a contemporary of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, and went on to score pop success with such songs as "Is She Really Going Out With Him?," "Steppin' Out," "Breaking Us in Two," "Jumping Jive," and "I'm the Man," has proven to be one of rock's most enigmatic performers. In fact, he's often been accused of being confrontational and pretentious. The latter trait is evidenced early in A Cure for Gravity, and often slows down the flow of the book, as Jackson eschews the linear autobiographical route for sometimes lengthy digressions into a form of music criticism (on subjects that range from Steely Dan, whom he calls one of his biggest influences, to Beethoven). It's not that his views aren't interesting, as he clearly knows his material; it's that they disrupt what is a sometimes comical, dead-on portrayal of coming of age as a musical outcast. Growing up in a portside town as a young asthmatic, Jackson was gawky and unathletic, a deadly combination that often attracted what he calls the "hardnuts" (bullies who ostracized him for being different). However, by the time he was a teenager, he'd discovered his musical gilt, first playing solos in local pubs (despite being underage), then looking for bands to showcase his talents. His tales of the horrible gigs he had to take early on, as in a Greek restaurant where his group backed up a screaming singer and a belly dancer, are often as hilarious as those in The Commitments. Jackson has a remarkable recollection of his days as a struggling musician, and those anecdotes not only entertain, they make Jackson remarkably human, a characteristic not even his fans have always seen. A Cure for Gravity should be required reading for anyone who's ever attempted to start a band, either for fun or to make it as a professional musician. And even those who've only thought about it as a passing fancy will find much delight in this touching musical journey. (Kirkus Reviews)