The Jam: About the Young Idea (2015) Directed by Bob Smeaton

The Jam were very important in my life. An interest in politics fermented from Paul Weller's establishment critiques. I grew up down the road from Weller, was working class and like Weller, dealing with the consequences of the just elected Margaret Thatcher, the maggot hatcher. Not only this, but I had a man crush on Weller, he was my style icon when I was 13 (it didn't last so long, Joy Division came along and Gitanes, doom-coats, existentialist fiction with DM shoes were the order of the day). Weller was a divisive character amongst me and my friends (the political mutterings especially) and I'm not sure if anyone of my peers was into him as much as I was. I even had a Jam scrapbook with cuttings from NME, Smash Hits and so on featuring our fearsome threesome. Bob Smeaton's documentary is very entertaining in that it gives the Jam fans (and some famous ones at that) the opportunity to discuss their relationship toward the band (and the impact The Jam had on their lives). Of course, the three original band members are telling their story too. None of the fans Jam story is like mine, though I definitely identify with that sentiment that The Jam were like us, one of our own. Weller, as well as being a voice to my own political views, articulated a lot more about being a young person from 'a strange town' who didn't quite fit in. 

An early The Jam promo shot, the band broke through with their own brand of RnB infused punk. 
Weller is the stand-out here (and probably worth a serious study that takes in his whole career). If anything the documentary could do with a bit more Paul and a lot less Rick Butler and Bruce Foxton. Jesus, no wonder Weller split the band up at the height of their fame. Watching this you can't imagine spending serious time on the road (as Weller obviously did) with the nice but dim rhythm section of The Jam. Yes, they were very important to the sound of the band, but whenever they appear here they just doll out the usual music doc clich├ęs. Thankfully, the fans really elevate this. They paint a picture of why the band seemed like their own mini youth culture, but also through various talking heads, About The Young Idea shows how The Jam represented so many young people's views about the establishment – an establishment hell bent on fucking up their lives. It was only recently that a dear friend of mine reminded me that we used to hang out a bit with Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock, Shaun Of the Dead etc). And here he is, #1 Jam fan – he articulates well his Jam fandom (and if only i'd know all those years ago how much of a mod he really was). 

Paul Weller (left) is the standout talking head from About The Young Idea
Frustratingly About The Young Idea misses a beat by not showing how massive the band became in the UK. They had a series of straight to #1 records at a time when singles were selling on average 300,000 copies a week. Those singles were songs of articulate political comment. The Jam at their height were also at their most protest potent. Remarkable. This won't ever happen again, even though the world faces the kind of austerity measures Thatcher brought to Britain in the early 1980's. That popular music voice of protest just isn't there anymore. It says much about the political potency of popular music in 2016 (i.e. it has none). This meaning The Jam brought to their craft also explains why it was a shock to so many (or it felt like it) when the band broke up at their commercial peak. That Paul Weller, eh? He's still a mod and still a man of substance and as About The Young Idea shows, he was an uncomfortable though telling 'voice of a generation'. There might be a better way to delve into some of The Jam story, but About The Young Idea manages to convey their impact on the mere mortals, and that's enough in itself. 

The Jam is one of those items of culture that makes me realize just what an outsider I am in relation to English culture. Yes, I have been living with Nick for nearly 15 years now, but there are some connections that I just don't get. I wasn't a teenager in London in the early 1980s. I was a baby in Malminkartano, a suburb in Helsinki. In the late 80s I listened to Hassisen Kone on a cassette and sang Tuomari Nurmio lyrics thinking they were children's songs. My dad listened to Joy Division among his prog and jazz and his Beatles, but The Jam didn't exist in our house. The people around me probably looked somewhat like people in The Jam documentary footage of English young people at that time: the haircuts and the persistent presence of brown and huge geometric shapes for example. Still, there is a script that I cannot read here. Paul Weller and The Jam are one of the last mysteries (?) yet to fully open up in front of my eyes. Why are they so important?

If anything, the documentary The Jam: About the Young Idea is a little bit boring. There is not enough focus on Weller walking out on his bandmates pretty suddenly and then never speaking to them again. He just went off to have a solo career. The others still to this day play in some kind of The Jam cover band with a different lead singer...
What was EVERYTHING for two out of three members of the band, was just a launching pad for Weller. And that's fine. This happens all the time in creative collaborations. The difference is that Weller went on to having a long and influential career while the other members obviously relate to the time in The Jam as the best career moment they had.

In typical music documentary form the talking heads in this one drive me nuts. In a way though, I can see how wide the influence of the band was from the different kinds of people telling their stories about falling love with The Jam in their early teens. My favorite one is a Japanese woman who moved to England 'to learn the language' for two months and never went back home. Her true motivation was to see the The Jam live. Now she is in her early 50s. Weller comes across as someone I wouldn't wanna hang out with. I prefer his music to his personality.

I understand that for Nick The Jam is an integral building block in the narrative of how he became who he is now. He could be one of those talking heads in this documentary. He should be.
This morning I wondered out loud to Nick why did he want to be with a Finnish woman born in 1982? After all these years of listening to his stories there is so much I don't get. And never will.
He said something about me being nice.


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