Pete on The Jam (Part 2)

L. Bird pkeets at
Sun Dec 19 15:50:58 CST 2004

    It's the fact that no-one seems capable of facing life without writing 
off half the human race as assholes that worries me. Weller does this 
microcosmically when he writes off half the music business as wimps. Every 
society has a few wimps. There are even faggots in Australia. When I was a 
vitriolic public speaker, denouncing this faction and that politician, Abbie 
Hoffman called me `fascist', a word that's become distorted since the war to 
mean anyone who chooses to align themselves to one group of people to the 
exclusion of all others. And yet spiritually each of us comes to realise 
that we have to deal with ourselves before we can deal with our difficulties 
with others. It's an uncomfortable enigma that I believe troubles Weller and 
The Jam as they develop spiritual aspirations. Do they feel sympathy for the 
American girl I met this year who said that she had been made so unwelcome 
in Britain that she tried to pretend she was German? Here again, lumping 
people into categories is dangerous. Incredible as it seems, Weller is 
suffering from the same problems endured by politicians, social workers and 
policemen; as soon as you start to deal with the problems of those you can 
really help, you are accused of neglecting those you can't.

    More wanderings: in the absence of an updated conversation with Weller, 
I find myself musing whether he's read `Das Kapital' or `The Thoughts Of 
Chairman Mao'. Does he believe in God? Does he know where the Dalai Lama is 
living? Perhaps it's a good thing I haven't spoken to him recently.

    An interesting thing just happened. My publicist sent me over some 
biographical stuff on the Jam from their office, so I get their ages right, 
etc. Apparently their manager, Weller's dad, who I must admit seemed a very 
good bloke when I met him, does not approve of my doing this article. They 
don't `need me to write an article'. I know that chaps. You've got a number 
one record. You've got power. It's so easy to fall into the trap. To be 
fair, my manager has to look like a thug every now and then to protect my 
interests and privacy. I don't suppose he like doing it any more than Father 
Weller, but they shouldn't worry, The Jam are in no danger of making me 
rich. I am one of the fools who has actually tried to put into practice some 
of the altruistic schemes The Jam suggested establishment rock artists 
should take on when they did their first major interviews in 1977.

    The whole band have evened out a lot since then. Paul Weller does 
believe in God. Foxton and Buckler are actually looking forward to a tour of 
the States this year and I hope to (his own) God Weller doesn't say Boo to 
the wrong giant over there. Most of them are friendly, but there are 
exceptions. I still believe that The Jam are vital as a key to the 
rejuvenation of the American music scene. The Clash have tried and as far as 
I can see are in difficulty, apart from in the smoky cities. The Jam can get 
hits there, big hits. If they don't know what to do with the money there are 
plenty of new upstarts who'll be glad to tell them, but with the exciting 
musical approach aired on their new album, they are poised to break the 
production line pop rock that controls the charts there.

    I predict that LA (not New York) will crack first under the weight of 
boring pre- programmed drivel delivered up every day on the radio in the 
States. If The Jam are around they will stoop, no doubt, but they will 
inevitably conquer.

    When Weller and I met for the first time there was guarded mutual 
respect, not much else. We differed greatly on the importance of American 
music audiences. I have never seen The Jam live and don't listen to their 
records all the time. Weller only likes early Who stuff. From my point of 
view it's peculiar because I still feel as angry as I ever did, as unhappy 
about the exploitation of the individual by the difficult-to-pin-down 
`system'. People like me don't give up being angry, but they start to 
channel their aggressive frustrations into hard, defined arenas. You don't 
talk politics in The Embassy Club. You don't arrive in a Bentley when 
visiting a mate on the dole in Hull. I am not suggesting that the anger of 
The Jam is futile, nor that Weller will ultimately feel castrated, I am 
suggesting that as I approach my forties I find it harder to give my time to 
the proudly independent desperation of the young. I tend to think hard 
before committing myself in a song or an interview the way Weller does 
without fail. And yet he feels old at 24. Will it happen to him too?

    Weller is so full of pent-up energy that when he writes he sometimes 
streams ideas on to a record. He rarely uses controlled metre and never 
bothers to rhyme a line. The words of his songs laid out in naked print 
appear art school self conscious but are actually far from it. Weller is a 
slasher. He cuts and mauls. He drags you from complacency. He buttonholes 
you so you feel an urge to defend yourself, then you are opened up and 
weakened. The the attack touches your heart and you realise that the purpose 
of The Jam is Revolution. Both Weller and Buckler sing with the vengeance of 
men cornered. Their threat is that if you approach you will feel the full 
force of their anger: stay at a distance and you will hear their venomous 
condemnation of your cowardice. There is a fully fledged taunt in `Eton 
Rifles'. A totally sweeping derision in `In The Street Today'. In both cases 
there is also the thread of merciless self-analysis; so typically British. I 
keep coming back to this, The Jam are so fucking British.

    There is another inconsistent facet to The Jam, however. They are 
soulful individuals, concerned with a passionate but innocent resignation to 
a concrete world that reminds me of John Lee Hooker's blues. From London to 
the cotton fields. Their stance is not a show of `stiff-upper-lip', its an 
almost spiritual surrender to the inevitable. On their first album they ask: 
`Where is the Great Empire?' No one I know seems to give a shit. The 
question is asked with cynicism but it's asked nonetheless. Its almost as 
though they are saying: `Your badly run society fucks us up but it hasn't 
made the leader's lives any better either.' The Jam are a new kind of blues 

    I'm putting words into their mouth. But there's a lot of powder flowing 
in high places, a lot of intelligent people who should know better swaying 
in futility and unable to think clearly. Strangely, many of Weller's songs 
include lines that are addressed to the wealthy aristocratic families, to 
Lords and Ladies, to officers in the Guards, to peers of the realm and to 
all their spoon-fed offspring. Heroes and Junkies.

    Weller takes on the whole of British society without a blink. The Jam 
are a small army dedicated to the awakening of a sleeping nation. It sounds 
a bit pretentious to say this, but I think it's true, The Jam actually do 
give a shit about the downtrodden soul bereft of spirit and direction, 
whether they are on the dole or living on handouts from decaying country 

    The Jam are ostensibly Britain's top band. They figure prominently in 
all our polls and their shows sell out rapidly. Alongside UB40 they might 
not appear too successful as an alternative co-operative kick back at 
commercial record companies; alongside The Associates they might appear a 
little reactionary, but alongside The Who, a band I can just about speak for 
today, they represent everything that is vitally important in rock. No one 
likes musical categories, but The Jam are a great rock band in the old 
tradition. They have listened to the music that created the roots of the 
great bands of the 1960s and kept clear of the evolutionary demise of those 
groups. Weller's love of early Who stuff has never, for example, been 
affected by my own disenchantment with the 1960s. He has his own gripes. But 
he has listened to The Who and to all the music we used to love: blues, 
Motown, reggae (blue-beat as it was called then). I am probably the most 
musically open minded person I know: if it has a few notes in it I like it. 
Yet despite their well-watered roots The Jam distress me musically. Weller 
strives hard as a composer; his yearning to be a great musician cuts through 
even his most scathing material. It's this that niggles at me. I feel a 
terrifying frustration there. It's a frustration I used to feel at his age 
(I had to start getting condescending and patronising somewhere!). Anyway, 
it is all part of The Jam's power.

    Now if Weller didn't have any ethical restraints, what car would he 
drive? Hasn't he even got anything small that He is attached to in his 
house? Does he really think the Russians will listen to him with the kind of 
attention Americans do? Did he get anything for Christmas he really wanted?

    George is up already and making plans to tour his elite circuit and show 
off a new shipment of No.4 Heroin. In makeshift meeting places in Mayfair 
and Holland Park, rich, spoiled junkies lie shivering. A few of them lie in 
red-hot baths, the only place they can feel warm. In Canning Town on a 
Saturday morning a few ten-year-old kids are breathing from a bag full of 
Cow Gum. One of them is sick, and another is afraid, but they all crash on 
toward oblivion.

    Paul, buy yourself a big car mate. You're one of the few people in this 
country who deserves one.

More information about the TheWho mailing list