My brother-in-law invited me to go see Joe Jackson at Town Hall a couple of weeks back. While I’ve been a fan of his since first hearing “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” upon its late 70’s release (it being a radio staple at the time — in that brief era when comparatively exotic “New Wave” like his slotted comfortably next to Foreigner and Yes on FM rock radio, before it was all slavishly compartmentalized beyond all recognition), I'd never really gotten the chance to see him perform. Beyond that, Jackson always struck me as the type of artist who’d shudder at the thought of revisiting his audience’s old, favorite songs, and be more intent on playing his new chamber music or whatever next thing he was into.
Mercifully, this was not at all the case. While material from Jackson’s new album, Fast Forward, was peppered liberally throughout the set, he seemed more than happy to dust off the oldies, so to speak, as well as a few surprising cover songs. Moreover, the songs from Joe’s new album are excellent, completely retaining his signature blends of soaring melancholy, erudite observational detail and melodies that resonate with a curious familiarity. A consummate musician, Joe Jackson is no skinny-tied has-been milking the new wave nostalgia circuit. His profile might be lower these days, but that’s largely by design. While completely at ease on stage, he seems to loathe most of the trappings of fame.
As with all of his music, while Joe has an inarguable knack for seamlessly memorable, catchy pop, there’s an unmissable current of sophistication to his songs. Both lyrically and musically, these are accomplished pieces, detailing realistic scenarios populated by flawed and complex adults. Even as far back as early singles like “It’s Different for Girls,” while Joe may have come to fame alongside the punkier likes of Generation X et al., this wasn’t just music for cantankerous, hormonal adolescents. To my mind, that explains why this stuff still resonates with me all these decades later.
Loyal readers might remember an anecdote I posted here back in 2008, wherein I awkwardly accosted Joe on the subway, only to seemingly scare the bejesus out of him, shattering his anonymous reverie. Though probably not as notoriously thorny as the late Lou Reed, Jackson feverishly values his privacy and has thus accrued something of a reputation of being pointedly standoffish. If I saw him today, regardless of how much I love his music and how much I enjoyed his show the other night, I would leave him alone.
ANYway, I did genuinely enjoy that show, and went out and picked up Fast Forward the very next day (not least for the inclusion of his surprising cover of “See No Evil” by Television). I highly recommend it.
I’ve also been revisiting Joe’s back catalog, which, in turn, led me to re-examining some of his old singles. In doing so, I exhumed this sleeve from this single culled from the 1982 album Night and Day, “Real Men”/“Chinatown”
Around the time he recorded Night and Day in 1982, the British songwriter decided to make New York City his home. I haven’t a clue where in New York City Joe lived, but I gather the album was recorded down on Greene Street in SoHo. This, of course, led me to surmise that the bar in which Joe’s depicted drinking on the “Real Men” sleeve must logically be in — WAIT FOR IT — New York City.
And, in the tradition of my search for Gavin Friday’s Blue Willow, this made me wonder … WHAT BAR WAS HE DRINKING IN?
There was precious little information on the single sleeve, apart from the name of the photographer, that being one Gary Green. I did a bit of Googling and discovered that Gary Green was a prolific rock photographer in NYC in the `70’s and `80’s, but was more recently a professor of photography at Colby College in Maine. As such, I shot him a quick e-mail.
I haven’t heard back from him as yet.
In the meantime, I FULLY REALIZE it is a rapturous courtship with wanton futility to try to name the spot wherein our Joe is supping at a pint, but I can’t help thinking that it looks vaguely familiar. Now, granted, in 1982, I wasn’t darkening the interiors of any bars (being all of fifteen years old, at the time), but I’ve since been in plenty around Manhattan, and possibly the very same one pictured. By the same token, this bar might not even exist anymore.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
For a start, there’s that wood panelling. No, that doesn’t exactly narrow down the contenders, but it’s still fairly distinctive (and rules out some locales like the old P&G on the Upper West Side, whose walls were painted with pastoral Bavarian landscapes). Then, there are the framed photographs of what looks like Judy Garland, Elvis Presley and a few other more esoteric actors and athletes. This, too, used to be a common sight in divey watering holes around town — the first that springs to mind being Jimmy’s Corner on West 44th Street …. although it seems unlikely that they’d have a framed picture of Judy Garland in a boxing-themed bar.
I think the clue that strikes me most is the pair of horseshoes. They could, of course, be mementos from some long-forgotten Belmont Stakes winner, …. or might they be a more telling signifier? Might the booth Joe’s pictured sitting in be at Vazac’s Horseshoe Bar (a.k.a. 7B) on the southwest corner of East 7th Street and Avenue B?
Incidentally, in case you’re unfamiliar with this estimable drinking establishment, check this out ….
Fancy a pint, now, don’t ya?
Anyway, I could totally see Joe Jackson hanging out here. Might that be the bar?
I haven’t been to 7B since Flaming Pablum friend/loyal reader Miles Booker was in town back in June. Another visit may be required to suss out this hunch (if Gary Green doesn’t get back to me). There more I think of it, however, I can’t imagine there being framed Judy Garland pictures there, either.
The search is on. Can you name this bar?
ADDENDUM: The answer is revealed here.