Music: Genius plus Jaco equals pain - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Music: Genius plus Jaco equals pain

Jaco Pastorius hailed himself the greatest bassist in the world. He was also manic depressive and he died forgotten and alone. But was this the inevitable price of his brilliance?

As John Lennon proclaimed in the 1970 Rolling Stone interview that effectively announced his final break with The Beatles, "Genius is pain". What he neglected to add was that, often, geniuses can be a pain.

And not simply geniuses. Too many people have worked on the principle that if genius is pain, then being in pain must automatically make you a genius (for some reason, I am irresistibly reminded of Steve Harley at this point). And when the time-honoured principle of reductio ad absurdum is applied, what remains is the notion that simply being a pain makes you a genius.

Certainly, when you examine the lives of the gifted and difficult, it is hard not to wonder why anybody put up with them in the first place. The likes of Peter Sellers and Jim Morrison were regularly crossing the thin line separating "difficult" from "impossible", even before they achieved icon status. The ultimate proof that Auberon Waugh is indubitably a nice man - despite his own publicly professed opinions to the contrary - is that he never committed fratricide despite extraordinary provocation. Paul Gascoigne may well be the most talented footballer this country has ever had, but he's also the saddest git currently holding a British passport. Mike Tyson is a great boxer, but he's also a psychopathic bully. And so on.

The horrendous behaviour of many superstars and celebs (many of whom may even be reasonably talented) is often brushed over by citing "artistic temperament', though Jung, for one, was highly sceptical of this notion and devoted some of his mighty ratiocinative energies to debunking it. Briefly summarised, the "artistic temperament" theory holds that there is a price to be paid for everything and that every gift is balanced, in some mysterious way, by a corresponding flaw. This notion serves a twofold function. One is that it enables the genius's flunkies to excuse his or her rudeness, unreliability and numerous other sins.

The other is that it makes the rest of us feel better. Yes, somebody may be almost scarily brilliant as actor, author, athlete, academic or musician - but since they are deeply unhappy, damaged or unpleasant, we don't envy them. In fact, we can heave a sigh of relief and mutter "There but for the grace of God..."

A case in point: Jaco Pastorius. Who he? Jaco Pastorius played the electric bass. More precisely, he called himself "the greatest bass player in the world" and, as far as many listeners and fellow musicians were concerned, between 1976 and his death 10 years later, he probably was. He was a virtuoso on an instrument commonly considered, in both its acoustic and electric incarnations, as part of music's engine room rather than its front line, but his claim to genius derives from his mastery of an instrument that he more or less invented: the fretless electric bass guitar. By pulling the frets out of a 1962 Fender Jazz Bass, he created a unique voice, enabling him to combine the fluidity of the fretless acoustic bass with the power and range of the fretted electric, providing access to cello and trombone tonalities otherwise impossible to achieve.

By doing so, he reinvented the electric bass as profoundly as Jimi Hendrix reinvented the electric guitar, Jimmy Smith the Hammond organ, and Charlie Parker the alto saxophone. His work with Weather Report, with Joni Mitchell, and as a composer and bandleader in his own right, for ever altered the way people heard, thought about and played the electric bass guitar.

But Pastorius suffered from manic depressive illness, and his extreme mood swings eventually tore down all that his titanic talent had built up. The result was that this supremely gifted and universally admired musician ended up almost unable to get work, living on the streets of New York City and dying a violent death at the age of 35.

John Francis "Jaco" Pastorius III was born on 1 December 1951, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. The family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when Pastorius was eight. He was the eldest of three brothers. As a child, he was charming, hyperactive, precocious, and nuts about sport and music. His father, Jack Pastorius, was a touring singer and drummer who wasn't at home very much.

Pastorius loved music: just about any flavour of music you cared to name, be it Bach and Stravinsky, James Brown and Sam & Dave, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, or Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. He started out playing drums, but switched to bass as a teenager after breaking his wrist. Pastorius and the Fender bass guitar turned out to be a marriage made in heaven, and by the time he reached his late teens, he may not yet have been accepted as "the best bass player in the world", but he was certainly deemed to be just about the best bass player in South Florida.

In 1976 he auditioned for Bobby Columby, drummer with the highly successful "jazz-rock" combo Blood, Sweat & Tears (and recently appointed as a producer for Epic Records). Columby was knocked out by Pastorius's virtuosity - nobody had ever before heard Charlie Parker's complex alto-saxophone piece "Donna Lee" played on bass before - and flew him to New York to meet Epic's bosses. Nobody had signed an unknown bassist to record a solo album before, but his debut album was to be a revelation. Almost overnight Pastorius was recording with Joni Mitchell on her Hejira album, and by the end of the year he had joined jazz-rock's premier band - Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter's Weather Report. His astonishing playing, compositional talents and scene-stealing showmanship - with stunts borrowed from Pete Townsend and Jimi Hendrix but never before seen in the comparatively sedate jazz world - catapulted Weather Report from the college circuit to international stadium status.

Unfortunately, rock'n'roll status led to a rock'n'roll lifestyle. Before joining Weather Report, Pastorius had, according to one of his brothers, drunk perhaps three beers in his entire life. On the road with both Weather Report and Joni Mitchell (with whom he had continued to record), he was introduced to cocaine and fine cognac, and his fragile psyche slowly began to unravel. His marriage collapsed, he frequently butted heads with Weather Report's authoritarian leader, Joe Zawinul, and he began to disrupt live performances by turning his amplifiers on full and playing Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun".

After leaving Weather Report to resume his solo career, things got worse. Pastorius had always been egotistical, albeit puckishly - he once answered a question about where the future of music was headed by informing his interviewer that he would be flying back to Florida the following day - but his mood swings were becoming uncontrollable. He began to disrupt performances by his own band, just as he had previously derailed those by Weather Report. Promoters began to fight shy of booking him. His second marriage failed, as had his first, and he was evicted from his Manhattan apartment. He could be seen, not on the stages of the world's concert halls, clubs and stadiums, but sleeping rough in the park in Washington Square. Clubs where he had once been a premier attraction would bar him for stealing waitresses' tips.

Jaco Pastorius died in Florida in 1987, just a few weeks before what would have been his 36th birthday. He had recently completed the second of his two sojourns in New York City's Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, and returned to his home state to get himself together.

One night he was trying to gain admittance to a club from which he had been barred. Things got out of hand, and he got into a fight with the bouncer. Or maybe "fight" isn't quite the right word: he was pulverised. His skull was caved in; nine days later, he died in hospital without regaining consciousness.

How could this have happened? How could Jaco Pastorius, one of the greatest musicians of his generation - fall so far and die so pitifully?

Well, if he hadn't been an artist and therefore "permitted" to act weird, his manic-depressive tendencies would probably have been diagnosed and treated sooner. Their manifestations certainly would not have been attributed to "artistic temperament" or "rock'n'roll lifestyle" or genius-type waywardness.

Artists, even great ones, are human beings first and foremost. Sometimes gifted artists simply take the piss, misbehaving "because they can". At other times they may be genuinely in trouble. If there is a lesson to be learned from Jaco Pastorius's tragic fall and demise, it is this: if we look after the humans, the art will look after itself.

`Punk-Jazz - a Portrait of Jaco Pastorius' will be broadcast on Radio 3 on 14 November at 6pm

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week