[The Guardian, 1998]
THE JAZZ AGE
BEING on the dole is rotten. It's even worse than working. Most of the unemployed know it. But for the minority whose lives are dedicated to avoiding a proper job, it's a godsend. Idlers come in three basic types. First there's your standard layabout. Then there are crusties, who moan endlessly about how the government (“fascists!”) won't give them more free money or a dog allowance or the unlimited supply of cider and heroin which is their birthright. Finally, there are the bohemians. Which brings us to Jack. In this day and age, they don't get a lot more bohemian than Jack.
Jack are too, too precious. Frankly, they're preposterous. They're a bunch of preening, narcissistic, self-regarding dainty doilies, with more bulging pretensions than you could cram into an art deco credenza, and their keyboard player bears an all too appropriate resemblance to Dr Niles Crane of the popular television comedy Frasier. I really like them.
I like Jack partly because they're making a virtue out of necessity, and they know it. In your head, you're F Scott Fitzgerald. In real life, you're signing on in Tufnell Park. You're wearing fifth-hand glad rags from charity shops. You're living in a dank basement with a girl whose sole ambition is to prove herself as loopy as Zelda. So you convince yourself that penury is chic, that artistry is everything, that you are the beautiful and the damned. In fact, you are the sallow and the asthmatic, and you just blew your housing benefit on a lump of yellow hash which wouldn't intoxicate an unusually small stoat. Jack document this godawful life and its self-deluding mindset with pinpoint accuracy. Years ago, someone would have written a novel about it. Someone's probably writing one right now. It'll be terrible. A record does the job much better.
And the record is the main reason I like Jack. Unlike nearly every other band who hanker after destitute glamour, Jack are excellent. They have real style. They write sharp, assertive songs with cracking tunes and play them with agility and eye-popping fervour. I like their lyrics, in which they live out their favourite movies, then remind themselves that the rent's due. Every Jack song is a battle between hackneyed fantasy and grubby reality. You probably know people who live in a Jack world. They think if they put on enough of an act, then somehow - despite the absence of cameras or clapperboards or anyone who cares about anything other than their own vanity - they'll be immortalised in cinema clubs; and people just like them will discuss their performance and copy the way they smoke.
The whole business is depressingly threadbare, and you could reasonably ask: why bother to chronicle it at all? Because, I suppose, if you're good enough, then you can make good art out of anything. Jack are good enough, and no doubt they believe that what they're doing is art. I hope they make a packet off it, then move to Surrey, run to fat and join a golf club. There'd be a certain justice in that.
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