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.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022


I started thinking this post, moving on through the pantheon of female names, and it should be Jezebel, and I might yet get round to that. But, as she would, Jezebel put me in mind of Jesus. And, as a perfectly decent and common Latino name, why not? Except, they all to be about the same guy. I jest; of course they are, that being the challenge, how to pick, say, a couple of handfuls of songs about Jesus that aren't, overtly at least, about, you know, God. It isn't that I'm against a touch of religion, except, yes, actually I am, largely by virtue of the dreadful things folk do in the name of their own personal totem. Like churches and mosques, temples and synagogues, often fantastic buildings that can inspire awe in all but what people do and say inside them. But, heck, they sure done wrote a lot of good songs about the guy.

Jesus In Vegas/Chumbawamba

I like this song, as it is, in turns and at the same time,  thoroughly disreputable, arguably sacrilegious and also so fully on message, pertaining most the received wisdoms about the boy from Galilee. If there were a modern day equivalent of the money lenders in the temple, Las Vegas is surely that shrine, and, as the song suggests, what would Jesus do? OK, the song doesn't say, but one feels the business taken care of would not include a ten hour sesh on a one-armed bandit. The middle section then goes off on one, about picket lines, possibly, just possibly, comparing Ricky Tomlinson to the middle member of the holy triad. (Ricky Tomlinson? If you don't know Brookside or The Royle Family, it's complicated, but a good example of this no longer extant band in their prime. Find the studio version on WYSIWYG.

The Sexual Loneliness of Jesus Christ/Jackie Leven

Quite a title that one. And quite a statement, implying a fair amount of thought going into the lyric. Leven was just the sort of man to trouble his mind with thinking about how Jesus may have had just the same curses and burdens of any other man, struggling, perhaps, therewith, just as do so many who dedicate their lives to him. Of course, also put together consummately, the mix of his organic and pained vocal, alongside the unstoppable drum machine track that permeate so many of his songs. To be fair, as we lambast the church for the failings of its pastors, tempted and all that, what price the decisions made to base anything on celibacy in the first place? If unfamiliar with the works of Leven, which you shouldn't be, should you come here often, go seek out his work. As the anniversaries of his death come and go, slowly, slowly have tributes and retrospectives come forth.

Tulsa Jesus Freak/Lana del Rey

Well, if you can quite work out what Ms. Del Rey is on about here, you are one up on me, but she doesn't make it easy, anyway, beyond the schtick of tortured humanity, wrestling with demons and, often as not, drowning. If her songs ate to be taken autobiographically, my feeling that they shouldn't, she has encountered every bad choice offered, this song seeming to stack the story of a booze addicted preacher present in her bed/life. To be fair, so good a song and on such a good album, who cares if she dives low to raise us up? OK, I do, I wish her well, but a song of her happier encounters might linger less long in the listener's ear. Or the charts. Get it today and you could be only 24 hours from this track.

They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus/Kinky Friedman

You are never far from a Kinky Friedman song in a Jesus thread, or should never be. Offence is oft caused by the Texas politician, author and singer-songwriter, and this is the song that causes the most. Me, I don't hear anything much more than a fairly reasonable exposé of the rampant hypocrisyy that permeates a good deal of religious bigotry, tempered with a slab of good ol' ignorance in the ear of the beholder. I am not sure I could stomach any full performance, but various snippets and songs hit a soundbite to which I fully subscribe. As neither a Jew nor a practicing Christian, a few more balls wouldn't go amiss in many the turn the other cheek expectations out there. This is a live version. All the ones on youtube are, for some reason. The studio one is better.

Jesus Was a Social Drinker/Chuck Prophet

Let's all wish Chuck, the erstwhile Green On Red man, turned profligate commentator of rootsy music, with a hefty roster of 16 solo albums since the demise of that seminal group, all our best. Earlier this year he discovered he had lymphoma, needing thus to suspend his perma-touring and recording schedule. As of recently he has been given permission to return to the road, pending further and ongoing treatment, but that smacks of cautious good news. A favourite from afar, despite regular visits to Blighty, I had always been planning to see him, if never quite managing it. Let's hope he is back on these shores soon. The song here? Well, I think it is sort of a reminder he may have been a normal guy rather than a paragon, if still a bit less than wild and wooly. I think. Good song, mind. From 2017's Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins. I am not sure if Bobby Fuller was a social drinker, but his death was mighty weird.

Jesus Christ/Brand New

Quite a challenging song, a dialogue between the "singer" and Jesus, asking somewhat leading questions, possibly/seemingly arising from a guilty conscience. The writer, Jesse Lacey, widely known to have had an orthodox Christian upbringing, has/had always used allegory in his songs, this being one of the more overt. The parent album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me smacks of a troubled soul, struggling with faith. An album especially liked by my wife and step-daughter, not least the existential content, each went abruptly off him and the band, as it became aware he may well have taken advantage of younger female fans, such allegations having become apparent in 2017. Never proven as such, Lacey publicly apologised and admitted to an earlier sex addiction. Which sort of makes latter-day sense of the lyrics. Always tricky to remove the man from his alleged actions, his music from his character, I file under unproven and remorseful. Maybe.

Jesus Hates Faggots/John Grant

In a run of fairly deep and dense lyrics during this piece, this perhaps is the most striking. And the most damning. And, last there be doubt, Grant isn't really saying what the title suggests, merely using the phrase to relay the damning comment made to him by, presumably, his parent/s, in association with his gender preference, sexually speaking. A galling song, my own belief mechanism would suggest such a statement to be as anti-Christian in sentiment as can be, and I really feel for Grant, were that what he were brought up with. His sonorous voce and the chamber synth backing gives a gravitas that magnifies the horror. An artist I have always admired, from his days with the Czars, one can understand why he prefers to remain well away from his homeland. It comes from this album.

I Have Forgiven Jesus/Morrissey

Sort of following on from the last song, Morrissey takes it that much further, forgiving Jesus for the, no doubt, similar words put into his teachings, by those around him in his own childhood. It's good, better than the lumpen and heavy handed epithet the singer is increasingly given by his critics. I was a late adopter of the Smiths, never quite getting them until near the end, similarly put off Morrissey's solo work until recently. With the Smiths I just couldn't see the beauty in the songs, probably until others started covering them. With Morrissey I believed the hounding propaganda of the press, more interested in his difficult behaviour, cancelling shows and tours willy nilly. (Yes, I do still baulk at his possible racist tendencies, let me say.) I find these lyrics entirely believable and they endear the author all the more to me, bloody mindedness and all. It comes from You Are the Quarry, in 2004.

He Ain't Jesus/Carrie Rodriguez

Lightening the mood a little, it will prove helpful to know the next line is "I'm not Mary". Coming from the pen of Chip Taylor, erstwhile part of a performing partnership with Ms Rodriguez, and the writer of many a memorable song, from Wild Thing to Angel of the Morning. A song from her first solo release, it uses Jesus, and, later in the song, Buddha, as marks of the prejudices embraced to maintain the inequality of the sexes. I think her a terrific singer and am delighted she has made a career away from being the second string protegé to Taylor, however mutually advantageous the pairing had been and continues to be. Worry not, I am exhausting of all these Jesus songs, wherein the name is invoked merely as a reason or excuse for bad behaviour. As the next song says better.

Jesus Is Just Alright With Me/Shelagh McDonald

Spoilt, just a little, for choice, for this last selection, I decided against the Byrds and the Doobies, going instead for this oft forgotten footnote in UK folk-rock history. So, who Shelagh McDonald? This article, by Ian A. Anderson sets the scene very well, the A separating him from the other one, stating on a single leg, tootling a flute. I came across her about twenty years ago, enchanted. I recommend her work, however much I admire the other aforementioned heavyweight purveyors of the same song. If you want more, here's the link; it ain't an otherwise easy find. I'll bet, however, nobody is familiar with the original, by Art Reynolds, in 1966, as performed by his singers, which is a glorious piece of soul/gospel. And I can live with the idea. Jesus seems to have been a well meaning fella, and certainly braver than most. Son of God, though? Aren't we all?