The following is an excerpt from Chapter Three of “The Jason Zodiac Files”, Jamie Carter’s biography of Jason Zodiac.
If that was how this assignment was going to affect me, maybe I should turn it down, I thought. Get Mimi to put me on something else, like Graham Norton’s checkered past or the Nolan Sisters revival, and finish the Jason series right here and now.
But … no. My blood was up. There were things I wanted to know, but I couldn’t explain why.
In 1972, I was seventeen, just discovering girls, booze, and music. Good music, which in those days I considered to be Led Zep, Black Sabbath and Lynard Skynrd. Swanning about Brentwood with my Afghan cut-off and arguing with Mum and Dad every time Love Thy Neighbour was on the telly.
I bought the T Rex singles but I never called myself a Glam Rocker because it just seemed too poofy. Not for me the likes of The Sweet, or Chicory Tip, or Slade, thank you, because they were all over the radio like chickenpox.
But then there was Bowie. And Jason Zodiac. And Jerome Jerome Smith.
Jason Zodiac had left the BBC when The T-Service series came to an end, but in 1971, he drew up a deal with ITV – and he turned up on the kid’s TV show Magpie, saying he was planning a comeback. He starred in Children of Tomorrow, the 1971 solo Jason Zodiac Christmas special, and in 1972 he went on tour with his new band – the Pale Angels. Unlike his old band The Banana Sundial, he wasn’t the vocalist/guitarist, this time. He was the manager. The undisputed star of The Pale Angels was . . . Jerome Jerome Smith.
How can I describe J. J. Smith? A sequined footnote in history, a treasure lost down the back of the big fake-leather sofa of pop culture?
Even for the standards of the time, he looked weird. In press appearances, he always had the same pale face glittering with painted stars. He had no eyebrows, just finely sketched black lines filled in with red eye shadow. He tottered around with long, skinny legs on platform boots under huge bell-bottoms, a feather boa wrapped around his alabaster neck. Strangest of all, he had deformed hands; he seemed to be missing a few joints in his long, thin fingers, which made people at the time wonder if he’d ever picked up a guitar in his life before.
The copy-fax machine hummed and I stood up to collect the pages. Scanned copies of the Melody Maker for 22nd January 1972.
The typeface was too small, the paper had stained brown with age, but it was still readable. This was the longest press interview J. J. Smith ever gave, at Jason Zodiac’s own studio in Notting Hill, with Jason standing behind him the whole time. The interviewer’s choice of words baffled me until I realized that Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange had come out a couple of years before. The interviewer was speaking in Nadsat – the artificial language invented by Anthony Burgess for the novel.
MM: I was there at the Hammersmith Odeon and I viddied all the little devotchkas horning and lubbilibbing backstage. Horrorshow, Mr. Valentine, horrorshow bolshy. Can you pony why The Pale Angels are such a choodessny band right now?
JJS: Yeah, it’s about cosmic energy, you know, cosmic laws. Your life is mapped out at birth and the universe knows what your life will be, but only when the time’s right, mama. Stop it, mama. Everything’s connected to everything else, each part of your body is connected to an element, a metal, a planet, and . . . (looking behind him and sniggering) part of the Zodiac, man. Glam rock, spaceships dock, boys are girls and girls are boys, man. It’s all one. Opposites attract and opposites get together, man. I wish I knew.
MM: Were you surprised at so many droogs kapetting your debut single?
JJS: Oh, it was a gas. We can’t be comfortable being an underground act, you know, we want everyone to hear our music, oh, we want to do concert tours. Help me out here, mama. There are Chinese poets who spend five years writing one poem and when they’ve finished, the poem is just three lines long. Three lines, and the world explodes, mama. Who gave it to him? Who gave it to him?
MM: So, where do you get all those ideas in your gulliver?
JJS: I don’t know, man, to tell you the truth – the truth is, I’ve always felt like I’m a vehicle for someone else. Something else. Oh, please let me up, please shift me.
MM: I think everyone’s had that bezoomy feeling.
JJS: That settles it, yeah. They feel they’re not just here for themselves, and they turn to the Bible and it’s Jesus or Buddha, you know, heavy. Please help me out – it’s all probabilities, I can see everything, I can see everything happening at the same time and I try to draw them in, I try to draw them in for him.
MM: For who?
JJS: For him. I pick different eras and I go back and I pick out things that happened in the War, in the Empire, and I push them through to 2001 and see what happens. Please, mother, it’s all psychic coordinates.
MM: Are you govoreeting about . . . computers?
JJS: I’m just a rock and roll star, man, I don’t get involved with computers. Look out! It’s like, null and void, I believe in rock and roll and my own theory of probability. The computers, they’ll just come up with different answers, man. (Shouting) Nervous ducks! Nervous ducks! The egg is in the incubator and the eagle, the eagle is going to eat its own wings.
MM: Er . . . interessovat! And what about your plans for the coming tour?
JJS: Did you hear me? I said I don’t really understand what I’m talking about. I’m just assembling points, I’ve got to puzzle through it, and they turn it into music, they turn it into songs, and people who listen to the songs have got to take all they can from it. I’m not feeling well. It’s information, that’s all, it’s information, assemble the data and see if it fits in with the information I have. Please! I need coordinates! I’m finished here, I’m so tired!
I sat back from the computer screen and took a swig of tea.
To paraphrase the reporter, at this point J. J. became visibly distressed, and had trouble breathing. Jason went out and came back with, of all things, a cylinder of oxygen and a mask, and began applying it to J. J.’s face. That was the signal to end it.
So much for the interview. What about the concerts?
After reading half a dozen reviews online – reviews that ranged from ecstatic hyperbole to reactionary outrage – I tried to find something on their one and only TV appearance, the guest appearance of The Pale Angels on the Granada TV music show, The Final Programme, 5pm Saturday February 19th 1972 …