A-Z of Dead Man Singing: J

A-Z of Dead Man Singing: J

84 days ago

J is for the Jericho Tavern, the location of the first scene in Dead Man Singing. A confession: despite living in nearby Thame for a couple of years in the 90s, I have never been to a gig at the Jericho. It first rose to wider national notoriety as the legendary venue for early Radiohead gigs, but that was after my time living in Oxfordshire and after the events in the novel. Although Dave is far from happy to be playing what he sees as a dingy dive of a venue – a poky, smoky barn of a room, as the novel’s first line has it – that’s more a reflection on the arc of his career than on the venue itself, which rightly has a great reputation on the circuit for up-and-coming bands.

Researching the book involved trying to piece together a string of gigs for Dave to play, both before and after his supposed death. I needed venues across the country which were open in 1990 and had appropriate capacities for the various stages of his career. I’m indebted to several friends who shared their memories of regular haunts in parts of the country unfamiliar to me – the memorable Georgian Theatre gig in chapter 2 found it’s home due to one such contribution (thanks, Lynsey!)

Another J with a small but significant role in Dead Man Singing is Joni Mitchell. Her album Blue provides the novel with two important songs, ‘Little Green’ and ‘River’. Neither is crucial to the plot, but they provide important mood music and, in one case, my favourite piece of plot foreshadowing. Sadly, Joni Mitchell’s decision to remove her work from Spotify took those tracks out of my Dead Man Singing playlist, but frankly if you don’t already have a copy of Blue, you should take a long look at yourself.

Blue is often cited as a milestone in the development of the confessional singer-songwriter. There’s a brutal openness, an emotional vulnerability which arguably went further than anyone before and set the tone for much that came after. Kris Kristofferson reportedly warned Joni that she had to ‘save something for yourself’ rather than laying her soul bare so publicly. If the 70s were defined by tortured singer-songwriters, it was Joni Mitchell who led the charge over the barricades.

In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine placed Blue at number 3 in its list of the greatest albums of all time. What album do you think deserves a place alongside it in the upper reaches of the list?

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