Jobriath – and the river flows on

a3857574067_10There’s not many legends left untruly unexplored these days… unexplored and unrevised, unrevisited, unreformed and un-please-retire-again-and-leave-us-alone-I-beg-you.

One of the few that does still cling on, though, is Jobriath.  Or was.  But probably not for much longer. For forty years after his first album was roundly and soundly ignored by the world; thirty years after his death and more than twenty years after the first enquiring glam rock archivists set about restoring the old boy’s name to the public mind… the deluge!

Jobriath the movie.

Jobriath the downloads.

Jobriath the beautifully presented LP’s worth of unreleased demos.

The Jobriath-as-vacuum-cleaner-hose on Midnight Special action figure can’t be far away.  Can it?

As The River Flows is the second and third of the above, a ten song collection in part dating from the post-Pigeon Mr Boone’s first visit to Electric Lady studios in the company (or, at least, the employ) of Jerry Brandt.  The man, lest we forget, who has more American rock history squeezed into one toenail than most of the folk who later judged Jobriath possessed in their entire bodies.

Brandt recalled their first meeting.  “I went to an apartment that was unfurnished, a completely empty room. In walked this beautiful creature dressed in white. I said, ‘why don’t you come out to Malibu and hang out?’”

And so he did.

Two albums followed, and a long decline thereafter.  For a long time, the very name “Jobriath” was critical shorthand for an expensive and unsuccessful hype, although Elektra Records head Jac Holzman was adamant that it wasn’t as expensive as legend later insisted, and those two albums insist that it wasn’t as unsuccessful either.

Maybe they didn’t sell a jot; maybe they didn’t even see CD until there really wasn’t much left in the Elektra vault to release.  But if you’ve heard them or, better still, own then, you’ll know that in a gorgeous happy land somewhere twixt Madman-era Elton and Futuristic Dragon-era Bolan, with Bowie collecting parking tickets on the street outside, and both Cockney Rebel and Bryan Ferry taking notes from under the table… Jobriath still lives.  And so the river flows.

Five cuts from the Electric Lady sessions include the oddly jerky and freakishly far-sighted “Amazing Dope Tales,” the ruthlessly, cynically analytical “Ducky Lullaby,” the pretty “Little Dreamer,” the agitated “City Freak” and the kind-of-leaden-in-a-rock-operatic-sort-of-way title track; demos round up an early take of later Jobriath chestbeater “I’maman,” “Wildfire In Memphis,” the snarky “So Long Miss Jagger,” the yearning “Inside” (another song that resurfaced on his first LP, and possibly rendered superior here) and a rerun of “Ducky Lullaby.”  And the first thing you notice is, the Elton circa Madman vibe was in the room even then.

Only it’s the Elton that nobody knew about, the one who sat in the studio with Gus Dudgeon, Mike Chapman and Mick Ronson, and conjured up one side of an album so far-sighted, so eclectic and, most of all, so unlike anything he’d ever done before that label head Dick James took one listen and canned the whole thing.  One track, “Madman” itself, later made it out onto an early 90s Elton rarities collection and that was the first anyone else knew of the session’s existence.  But the young and even-more unknown Jobriath channeled it beautifully and one really does have to wonder…

…if the hype had been halted, and the expenditure cut off at the pass…

…if the expensive producer and session men had not been booked to begin with…

…if Jobriath had just been sent into the studio with some friends, as he was here, and told to knock out an album, as he does here, ho hug could he have been?  There was a gap in Elton’s arsenal and Jobriath could have slipped into it with a lot more guile, and a lot less self-entitlement, than all the other pseudo-Eltons that came tumbling along eventually.

Because he would never have rested content there.  That’s just the voice and the piano playing.  It’s the additional embellishments that make Jobriath a job worth hearing; his willingness to slip into other voices as and when the lyric demands it, and the lyrics themselves – audacious, awkward, entertaining, ever-lasting… “Ducky Lullaby” is silly silly silly, but it’s catchy as all get out, and it tells some twisted truths too.  And if “So Long Miss Jagger” could be construed as catty for kitty-cat’s sake, still it gnaws a bone that a few other people were sizing up at the time.

In fact, that’s the Jobriath story all over.  Bad timing.  Together with bad planning, bad promo, bad luck, bad critics… and Jerry Brandt loved every minute of it.   “It was a lot of fun.  It was very hard work, because it was all mirrors and acrobatics.  But it was fun.  He only played one show in his life, and that was at the Bottom Line, but everybody thinks he worked the Paris Opera House, and he worked the Albert Hall and etcetera, etcetera.  What I would do, I’d hit three countries in a day and show the Midnight Special tape; we checked into a hotel in Paris and stayed two months, because they saw our show at the Opera House!

“I made it up as I went along, which is like going to war with Bush, knowing how to get in but you don’t know how to get out.  And that was a bad thing, meaning I made critical mistakes, such as promoting a show before having a hit record, building the set before having a show, creating the costume and not having a record.  It was all ass-backwards.  But public relations-wise, it worked.  To this day, Jobriath lives….”

He does, and As The River Flows might well live even better than either of its illustrious predecessors.  No pressure, no promo, no hype, no hubris.  Just a couple of geniuses and a bundle of songs, and that action figure is looking more attractive with every passing moment.

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