Saturday, 10 December 2016

The sad life of Jackson C. Frank

Artists often have tormented lives. Some die young, some are unexplainable unsuccessful, some have alcohol and drug abuse problems. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Searching for Sugarman, which shows the life of Sixto Rodríguez, a very good songwriter who didn’t have much luck back in the seventies. Quite sad, at least some parts, right? You probably don’t know the story of Jackson C. Frank.

I came across Jackson C. Frank by coincidence. I often have some music in the background while I work and youtube decided that it would introduce me to this guy after the song I was listening to ended. I couldn’d help but pay attention to his voice and I decided to learn a bit more about him. When I finished reading his wiki bio, I had a lump in my throat.

I’m obviously not going to get into religious matters here and I mean no offence, but sometimes it looks like there is a God and he’s a huge fan of dark humour. Can you think of something bad that could happen to you? Well, I’m pretty sure it happened to Jackson.

His childhood was already fucked up enough. In 1954, when he was eleven, a furnace exploded in his school somewhere in the state of New York and, while most of his classmates (including his girlfriend-ish) died, he suffered burns over half of his body. He had to stay in the hospital for seven months and during that time he learned to play the guitar because his music teacher bought him one.

As a teenager he was in several rock bands. After all it was the late fifties/early sixties, Elvis, rock ‘n’ roll and so on. However, what Jackson really liked was folk music, so when he received a small fortune from an insurance cheque when he was 21, he spent some money on cars and concerts and then he took a ship to England instead of starting university. While he was travelling by boat he composed what would become his best known song, the beautiful Blues Run The Game.

In 1965 Paul Simon produced what would be his only album. He was so shy that during the recording that he wasn’t able to play in front of other people, so he had to ask to be shielded by screens. “I can’t play. You’re looking at me”, he would say to Simon, Art Garfunkel and Al Stewart. I’ll never understand how someone with such a beautiful voice and more than decent guitar skills was so shy to play in front of people but well, it was his personality.

This is the only video you'll find of Jackson C. Frank

One more thing: let me point out that he was only 22 when he produced this album. 22. If you listen to the whole thing, you'll see that the music is too mature for his age and his voice as well. Let that sink in. It's personally difficult to believe that a voice like that could belong to a man who was just past his teenager years.

His only album

His album didn’t sell much, his mental health got worse and he was running out of money, so he came back to the States for two years. When he went back to England he was totally depressed, a depression that had its origins in his childhood trauma. Al Stewart said the following:

"He [Frank] proceeded to fall apart before our very eyes. His style that everyone loved was melancholy, very tuneful things. He started doing things that were completely impenetrable. They were basically about psychological angst, played at full volume with lots of thrashing. I don't remember a single word of them, it just did not work. There was one review that said he belonged on a psychologist's couch. Then shortly after that, he hightailed it back to Woodstock again, because he wasn't getting any work."

Jackson married a former model and they had a son who died from cystic fibrosis. His depression got obviously worse and he was even sent to a mental institution when he went again back to his homeland. He would end up homeless for years and, to make the whole thing even more cruel and surrealistic, some kids who were fiddling with an air rifle shot him in the eye.

At last, his bad luck finally gave him a little break. A fan eventually tracked him down, made him get the royalties his album had generated since 1965 and found him a place to stay. Jackson was blind and had obvious psychological problems, but he recorded a demo in 1995 and he played in bars around Woodstock until he died from pneumonia in 1999 at the age of 56.

This story should make many of us realize how lucky we are. Rest in peace, Jackson.

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