Friday, July 8, 2022

Begins With A J: Janie Jones

The Clash: Janie Jones

Although my name Begins With A J, I decided not to write (more) about myself, because I do tend to go there on a regular basis. Instead, I hit upon a song that nails the theme at least four times—the title, of course, has two words that start with a J, and it was written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, each of whom have a name that begins with the letter. (And Strummer’s real first name is John....) It is a complete coincidence (really) that I’m also writing about a Clash song for a submission for Cover Me that won’t be running for a while, but maybe The Clash are living in my head a little (he said, after promising not to write about himself.) 

Being an American, and not being up on all of the British scandals, (although it has been interesting following Boris Johnson’s fall, after many scandals), I had no idea that “Janie Jones” was a real person. Jones (whose real name was a very theme-inappropriate Marion Mitchell) started a career in show business in the late 1950s performing in clubs in London. It was a scene that attracted artists, musicians, performers and members of the aristocracy, and Jones was supported by a sugar daddy known as “The Colonel.” 

In 1965, Jones released a song, “Witches Brew,” which hit the British charts (despite being pretty bad), and her house became a center for parties at which, it appears, people actually engaged in sexual acts with people that they were not married to. As Jones said, "It was a kind of private club where they wouldn't be disturbed," explains Janie. "I held parties every two weeks and everybody who was anybody and their friends came. They had a fantastic time. People said they were the greatest parties in London." (This, and other quotes from Jones come from an article written in 1977 by artist/journalist/muse Caroline Coon, who was also briefly The Clash’s manager. The article is behind a paywall, but you might be clever enough to figure out how to read it.) 

Future musical releases were unsuccessful, and Jones appeared on TV shows and continued her social life. She moved/fled to Hollywood in the early 1970s, but then became embroiled in a series of scandals, being accused of getting DJs to play songs in exchange for sexual favors, and for running prostitutes. A number of the women testified against Jones, and the wealthy and titled men who attended her parties were allowed anonymity. (There’s a lot more background to these scandals, which you can read about here, here, and here.) 

She was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison and served 4. Jones explained: "I knew too much about too many people and of course, I took the piss out of the Judge in court all the time..." In May, 1977, Jones was released from prison, and turned on the radio, only to hear a song with her name as the title playing. 

“Janie Jones,” is one of The Clash’s earliest songs, written not long after Strummer joined the band. Much of it reportedly came to Mick Jones riding on the 31 bus from Harrow Road to Chalk Farm in London (making me wonder how much music would not have been written if people had cell phones to distract them throughout history). It was initially just to be about the boredom of an ordinary working life, but again, reportedly, Jones saw his namesake Janie’s name on a fellow passenger’s newspaper, and her name was added to the song, because it worked, both rhythmically and thematically. Strummer, a fan of Jones, helped to fine tune the lyrics. 

The song was the first track on The Clash’s eponymous debut album (the UK, not the US version), and may well have been played at every single Clash show. 

Caroline Coon set up a meeting between Jones and the band, and in 1982, Strummer wrote a song for Jones, “House of the Ju Ju Queen,” which was recorded with The Clash, two members of the Blockheads, and Mel Collins as the backup band. The band was billed as the “Lash,” because for contractual reasons, it couldn’t begin with a C.