Sunday, November 20, 2011

Memories: (It’s a) Big World

Joe Jackson: (It‘s a) Big World


My middle brother and I were rivals for much of our childhood. We shared a bedroom, which sometimes helped but often hurt. We are almost exactly two years apart in age, with his birthday in late August and mine in early September. Usually, that at least wasn’t an issue. But there was one year when one of our birthday presents were both late. We didn’t even get it until January 25 of the following year, and then we had to share it. Speaking for myself, it was one of the best birthday presents I have ever received, and well worth the wait. Here’s what happened.

There is a third brother, the oldest. My middle brother and I were both adults at the time, with our old rivalries more of a memory than anything else. The oldest brother got us tickets to a rock concert in New York City. It was my first New York show, so that would have been enough for me. It was Joe Jackson at the Roundabout Theater. I loved Joe Jackson’s music then and now, so that was certainly a bonus. But here was the kicker: Jackson was recording his new album at a series of three shows at the Roundabout, and this was the third one. I have never known whether my oldest brother got the tickets for the third show on purpose, or if that was simply the tickets that were left when he decided to do this. But it worked out great. The resulting album was Big World. Give the entire album a listen, and you will never hear the audience. Big World is what might be called a live studio album. When we arrived, we received written instructions which were also repeated from the stage at the beginning of the show. We were told that Jackson didn’t want any audience sounds on the album, so we were not to cheer or applaud during a song, and at the end only when we were sure the last note had completely faded out. In further instructions from the stage, Jackson told us that this last show was to be devoted to the songs that had been giving Jackson and his band the most trouble, so we might hear the same song twice. Furthermore, if all went well, the later part of the show would be a normal concert, once all of the songs for the album were finished. One of the songs that got finished that night would become the title track of the album, and that is the song I have chosen. I love seeing a band or artist visibly enjoying themselves on stage. The sense of satisfaction that came to Jackson and his band as they nailed those songs was an amazing thing to see.

A final note about live studio albums: I had never heard of anyone making an album in this way before Joe Jackson did it, but David Wilcox made a live studio album last year. I would be interested in hearing in the comments about other examples, especially from people who were lucky enough to attend the shows.

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