Saturday, May 9, 2015

Joe Jackson's "Forty Years" 30 Years Later and 70 Years After V-E Day

It is 70 years since the Nazi military fell under the combined opposition of The Allies[1], bringing the European part of World War II to an end.

Joe Jackson's Big World album came out about 29 years ago, 1986.  I'm going to call it 30.  It's a great record.  One of my favorite songs on Big World is Forty Years, which is about the relationship between the anti-German Allies, 40 years on.  Now, it's 70 years.

The premise of Forty Years is that the dominant narrative of the coming global village through easier transportation and communication (a very popular and exciting idea at the time) wasn't the whole story.  Four decades into the Cold War the the peoples of the allied nations who's collective sacrifices won WWII neither remembered their shared history nor even particularly liked each other.  The whole Big World album is about social and personal aspects of what we now call "globalization."  Jackson's position is that the world was cracking as it shrank.  In Forty Years those cracks are the broken relationships between the people of the UK, US and Europe, who had so recently laid down their lives for each other.  

Forty Years has three verses, each from a different geographical vantage point; Washington DC, Berlin and an unspecified location in England[2].  The three, short choruses are variations of this.
Once allies cried and cheered
But it was forty years ago
The last verse, told from Jackson's native England is as follows.
Where I come from, they don't like Americans much
They think they're so loud, so tasteless and so out of touch
Stiff upper lips are curled into permanent sneers
Self-satisfied, awaiting the next forty years
The other verses are just as dark, in their own way.  Jackson lays blame evenly.  All parties, Jackson seems to say, are guilty of the same selective memory and self-centeredness.  Without actually glorifying the war, Jackson points out that in at least one way, it brought out something good in us that had been lost in a time of relative peace.

Buy the album.  You won't regret it.  But here is the song on YouTube[3].  

I admit that it's the arithmetic that caught my attention: 70-30=(Forty Years).  

The interval since V-E Day has almost doubled since this record came out, when Jackson was 31 years old and I was 16.  I'll leave it to you to draw conclusions about what else has and has not changed.

1. The Joe Jackson song I'm writing about focuses on just three of the counties involved in the war.  It is worth noting that WWII was pretty complicated and a LOT of different countries were involved, especially on the Allies side.  
2. Jackson has hived in England, the USA and Germany.
3. If this link goes dead there will surely be others.  You can also hear the first part of Forty Years and the other songs on Big World at

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