de Stemverklaring van
This article is written in Dutch and
was published in Oor magazine soon after Tom Jans played in Amsterdam in 1977.
The translation is of
the article as printed.
[The title of this article is a kind of a translating problem. A
stemverklaring was a fashionable word, quite popular in those days (the
political 70s). It stands for the declaration of frontmen of labor-unions e.g.
concerning the political party they will vote for in upcoming elections. (The article was
written during one of the most exciting political campaigns that I know of.) The word is
long out of use now. Maybe the more neutral "Statement" would be a better
On the right-hand page there is a quotation from the part on the Dark
Blonde-cover that says: Maybe it was the light
The picture is special for another reason. Its an early one by
Anton Corbijn who nowadays is one of the most famous rock photographers (think of his
Miles Davis portrait, the U2 covers etc.). He started his career with OOR [Dutch for
Note: A quality scan of this photo is not
available at the present time. The only image available has been used here to try to give
some idea of the "feel" of the presentation of the original piece.
The [lit:] Voting Declaration of
Its no coincidence that some people are attracted to making
music. At a certain point in your life you get stuck. You lose contact with your friends.
To compensate your loneliness you pick up your guitar.
1975: These were the first words that stuck to my mind. Two years
later he picks up his guitar again. The hotel room is cool and he isnt alone.
Im starting to learn something: Just when youre at the point where you
cant take it anymore, you emerge again. The older you become the more you learn
about yourself. With a grin he refuses to answer my image of him: the tormented
loner, who is deeply melancholic and who keeps himself alive with an old guitar and an old
school pad in which he has scribbled his words. He is kind, serious, intellectual and
emotional. The only child has grown up, with the help of 3 albums full of moving lyrics
and sparkling country-rock. Music as therapy? Tom Jans has been in the Netherlands for a
week to explain this.
Tuesday afternoon. He is here already for a day and he shakes my hand
extensively for the first time, a ritual that will be repeated several times during the
next days. Smaller than I expected, sturdily built with a roughly sketched friendly face.
He is invited as the singer, guitarist, pianist, composer and writer of a few hands full
of jewels of songs that are to be found on his three albums: Tom Jans (not
released here), Through [sic] The Eyes of an Only Child and Dark
Blonde. And made a stir by turning a careful combination of very personal lyrics and
a mix of country, rock, r&b and blues into his own original musical style. The result
is a seldom-heard piece of emotional involvement put into vinyl.
Fear as [literally] sound-jewel was the title of an
extended review of his latest album. Later, in his hotel room, I translate the article on
his request. What a beautiful title, Fear as a jewel of sound. I can,
without you translating it, see by the pieces you picked out that you understand what
Im doing. At that moment I realize that it was a good thing to acompany Jans
over a longer period of time and let him get used to my presence. You know, Im
not that good when Im under pressure; Im more loose now [lit: I dare more
now]. This is four days after that Tuesday afternoon, in the TopPop studios.
Play-Back [Dutch for: Lip-Synch]
Together with his own guitarist Jerry Swallow (the man behind the
gorgeous slide-parts on Dark Blonde ) Tom Jans steps onto the stage.
All around him lights go on and off and in this disgusting uniform stage-design he sings
his Why dont you love me. Although he brought a tape against which he
wants to sing live, he is forced to lip-synch the song six or seven times. Finally they
let him do what he wants and it is decided that there will be two versions: One lip-synch
and one live. The situation was rather strange, I didnt feel at ease at all,
but I had agreed on doing it. And I really did fight for it to do it as good and as honest
as I could. But on a moment like this you do ask yourself why youre doing things as
ridiculous as these
And: If I would like to have a hit-record? If I
can learn something from it, yes, but if thats not the case it would mean nothing to
me. And hit or no hit, usually you learn more from your misses than you learn from your
hits. Hit-records, theres a strange sort of mentality behind it and they stand for
so many different things to so many different people. I want my life to follow its
own path, not too slow or too fast, because its my life. A hit can easily divert you
from the things you really want to do. Or: Once there was a Chinese poetess
who in the end saw only one way left to bring her poems to the attention of the people:
through an affair with one of her superiors. She used his name as her family-name and he
read her poems as if they were his own. Through him at last she became famous
Its so strange, if you think about it, how many perspectives there are. CBS [In that
time the Dutch division of Columbia Records] is thinking about how many records Tom Jans
will be selling while its my concern to get through to the audience in the best
Once were driving on the way back from Hilversum [where the
studios were] to Amsterdam Jans enjoys the prospect of the arrival of his girlfriend
Valerie Carter. Val taught me not to be ashamed and put more emotion into my voice.
Before the Only Child-album I still sounded too much like a singer/songwriter,
but a song like Struggle in Darkness is already much more bold.
We agree to meet each other the next day.
Wednesday: It never happened. Time is something God must have invented
to prevent that everything happens at the same time. We take it easy and in the evening I
go through his records once again.
Raised by a cowboy
And a woman's only dream
Held so steady by their smile
Knowing that my life
Would always be seen
Through the eyes of an only child
Nice of you to pick out these words, they mean so much to me,
they encompass my whole past. For Tom Jans the past has been very important: He wrote so
many songs about his childhood, that its not strange to encounter lines like I
am a prisoner of my past or I feel my past seducing me. Im
28 now and looking back I feel like Im on the edge of things. Again theres a
period behind me and Im entering a new one. I wanted to put to record the period I
left behind and my youth was very important in that respect.
As the son of a Californian farmer Tom grows up in the vicinity of San
Jose. One of the areas in California that are very hard to travel, its one of
the purest natural environments. That has been very important to my lyrics. Songs like
Margarita and Rosarita deal with that country. I grew up in a
complete dilemma. My parents were very different people: My father could hardly read or
write and my mother an intellectual. By him I was drawn to the country and by her to the
mind. I didnt have any brothers or sisters and that means that you have to sort
things out for yourself, play games and the like to fill your life. I was always attracted
to making sounds that people would like to hear. But when I was forced to it I didnt
do it; When my mother said like: Now Tom is gonna play for everyone, I refused. But on my
own I did play. I learned to play guitar and piano, I had one lesson, I realized that if I
wanted to develop my own style I had to do it by myself. What attracted me in
music-making? Drawing attention, not from my parents but from the outside world.
Through his grandmother who played drums and trombone, music is a
stimulating force in Jans family. Toms father loves the C&W-idol Hank
Williams and his mother, being Spanish, brings in European music. Their son picks his part
of everything, blues and Big Bill Broonzy, via C&W and Flamengo to the Beatles
first records. Also he starts reading and writing poems. While his Dad reads Westerns and
his Mom goes through Jung and Marx, Tom gets into Lord Byron (romanticism, opium,
tuberculosis) who he still adores. And then I would sit down somewhere and try to
sing to those lines: his rhythm was so perfect, you could make the melodies instantly
while reading, just like in those books about Don Juan.
While studying English literature his musical career is beginning to
take shape. He starts singing his own songs and now and then he is performing in
coffeehouses. I got thrown out of every band because I only wanted to sing my own songs.
Nobody thought much of them. During one of his gigs he meets Joan Baez. She invited
me and so I got to know her sister Mimi, the wife of Richard Farina. We played some songs,
it matched and we started a duo. Besides that I fell in love with her and I was young and
all that, very exciting. Many people may still think of me as a folksinger
because of my cooperation with Mimi but I had never heard of folkmusic before. The
new duo toured through Europe, even records an album and then falls apart. Only then
I felt there were things inside my head I had to say by myself and at that point I started
Thursday afternoon: Tom Jans is rehearsing with his guitarist and a
Dutch band that is put together for the occasion in a movie theatre in Aalsmeer [village
in the vicinity of Amsterdam] The room is dimly lit and the only people visible are on the
stage. Somewhere in the middle stands a small guy, his guitar loosely around his shoulder.
He looks around satisfied, the collaboration is going on exceptionally well. This
song I wrote for Gary Stuart he jokes when theyre trying out Out of
Hand. In reality Stuart covered Jans song and took it to the upper regions of
the Country-listings while Jans stayed in the cold. [literally. The suggestion here is:
financially] The same thing happened to the first hit from his first album,
Lovin Arms which was covered by more than a hundred artists, Elvis
Presley and Petula Clark among them.
Youre already so happy that youre able to make a
record as a writer and a singer that its hard to imagine that even on top of that
there are people out there who actually want to hear your voice and your songs. If someone
else has a relation with a song I can only approve of that, even when it becomes a hit. It
felt like getting -through Elvis- new energy in my life. I didnt know if I had
enough to say that was worth it. I wanted to get over my own uncertainties. When I did
make that record I realized that thats an eternal process. Lovin
Arms indeed was the song which contained the most of what I wanted to say at that
Looking back on it from a different perspective in time the record is a
cautious first try. With the help of, among others, producer Mentor Williams and the
guitarists Lonnie Mack and Troy Seals Jans delivered an album full of strongly
country-orientated, often acoustical songs. Those first songs about unanswered love,
desires and memories and the advertisement for the writer of Lovin Arms are a
foretaste. [In Dutch this line is not very clear]
Thursday evening: In the Rotterdam Ahoy Hall, with a rickety
voice and a rickety band Valerie Carter is trying to work herself through her set as a
support act for The Eagles. Timidly she announces her songs and at the moment that hardly
anybody is listening anymore Tom Jans joins her. In that immense hall they succeed to sing
Jans Back on my Feet together, supported only by Jans acoustical
guitar. The applause is more polite than enthusiastic which is inevitable when the
contrasts are so enormous. Once The Eagles have kicked off for their half of the game
Im roaming the concrete corridors in search of the dressing rooms. Somewhere in the
back a door is ajar. I push against it and between the benches, coat-hangers and
tumbled-over beer cans someone is sitting with his back to the door, Tom Jans
But those last lines of ehm: The sky may be burning but I
dont wanna close these eyes of an only child, that means that I dont
wanna give up, it just goes on, he is telling me later, when, for a short while,
were going back in time and talk about his second album, Through The Eyes of
an only Child.
Although many people look upon me as a melancholic because of
that album I myself think its an optimistic record. One tends to see childhood as
something light, those innocent days full of delightful purity and I wanted to fight that
notion. This doesnt mean my childhood was black, but Ive know some dark days.
The albums cover is symbolic: On the left in the shade a squatting young boy
secretly smokes his first cigarette, on the right a grown up Jans stands in full sunlight,
a cigarette loosely in his hands. The guy in the light hasnt got a clue yet of
what his destination will be, but he stands in the light, thats for sure!
Its a concept-album about his childhood: the music is spicier,
more rocking, electric but still its faithful to its c&w-roots. A very clear and
honest record with quit a lot of Little Feat- influences. Lowell George produced the
record. Tom: I wanted to make a further step and do something more in the way of
Dixie Chicken and Sailin Shoes. So I asked Lowell to produce
a couple of things for me and through him I met a lot of other people. Thats the
most brilliant thing about him: he brings together all kinds of people, although in the
studio he is absolutely crazy. Hes a perfectionist you know and you have to be a
perfectionist when you put together an album, thats what I learned from him. I met
Lowell through Bill Payne, who was immediately crazy about my Struggle in
After my first record I had a very hard time. For a year and a
half I have been thinking about things and have been writing songs for the Only
Child-album. I lived in a small house I L.A. and at a certain point I was in a
terrible condition. I suffered from low blood pressure which originated in the fact that I
almost didnt eat. I became rather seriously ill. I had been eating nothing but
salads and didnt drink anything but coffee. And in that state of total insanity I
just kept writing without knowing if its a sunrise or a sundown, what day it is
etc.. God Im glad I left this period, that whole coming-of-age-thing as a matter of
fact, behind me.
Memories are dominating his songs. Jans can talk about them for hours
because of the distance I created. For instance Inside Of You, do you
know what I wanted to say with that one? From time to time we all have those images of how
it is to be of the opposite gender, especially when you make love to each other. And
physically part of a man comes very close to the heart of a woman. I tried to imagine what
it was like to have a part of someone so close to your heart
At night we drive back from Rotterdam to Amsterdam. Right after we have
entered the capital were held up by the police. Control of documents, a
routine-matter. From the backseat Jans is hissing I hate cops.
Friday afternoon in the lobby of the hotel we meet each other again.
Handshaking. Now we really have to do an interview. For the next hours he spends his time
lying on the kingsize bed and talking. About music, about people, his parents. My mother
called me after I had sent her a copy of Only Child. We spoke for a long time
and she cried and said that she had never known I had so much pain inside me. And I said
to her that these things were over now, that it taken a few years but that with this
record I had set things straight and that I wanted to go on on a different level now.
About women, about songs, about songwriting: When you feel
alright, you want to keep feeling alright and you write a goodtime-song. But I
dont wake up on a certain morning and start to write because I feel good (or bad). I
write words, practically all the time and anywhere, because I love words, to use them, to
pronounce them. Words are the nicest toys in the world. Everything I write ends up in my
big book; Thatll keep you sincere and shows you where you come from.
Or: I try to write songs like little movies, strongly visual. I
want someone to see something.
About Europe, America and critical journalism: They talk like:
That album is a decisive step ahead. But what do they actually mean? It says nothing as
long as you dont really understand what Im up to. The most decisive step was
that I spent a year writing. The most important was that I came out of that room.
As a critic you should help the artist; Shouldnt the artist
also have some advantage from a review? But what do you read in most American magazines?
They talk about how well someone looks or how he is losing his hair. the bolding
[sic] 33-old songwriter writes quasi-Dylanesque verses with the Paul Simon-approach to
life and a Jackson Browne-like touch. When I read things like that
Long after the tape-machine has been turned off, Jans still fascinates
Saturday night: He wanders around nervously , just before his only gig
in the Netherlands, on the occasion of the OOR-party. Does this shirt looks O.K. on
me? Do they know me here? What do you think of that band? He told me earlier that it
suited him well to be here. In June he will return to the studio again after having been
writing for the last seven months. And he hasnt been on stage for four months now,
so this opportunity is very welcome. But even more important that there are people
here who want to see me; thats really a great honour to me and it makes that you
want to come out of your room some 8000 miles from here. His performance that night
doesnt disappoint me at all; Swallow proves to be a god-like slide-guitarist with a
fine sustain-technique and Jans comes over zealously and convincing. The songs he is
playing form a cross section through his three records. Especially those from his last,
third album, Dark Blonde are tight and solid, funky and rocking which makes a
perfect background to Jans sparkling lyrics. I have learned an awful lot from
making that last record. I already had my own band for a year and a half and had been
touring extensively with them. So I could sing with much more vigor and courage. And I
learned for instance that I could use eight or nine different mikes in the studio.
Many of the songs were learning processes in itself. Why
dont you love me, Ready to Roll, new ways to put choruses
together, more punch. On some of the songs I spent a very long time, like
Rosarita, I worked for about a year on that one. But Starlight I
wrote in eight minutes, I was with Valerie then; we had been in a similar kind of
situation of tormenting each other
And Distant Canon Fire, that is
dealing with Franco. It meant very much to me that I was able to write that song. I too
have some Spanish blood in my veins, maybe that was the reason why I was so angry that he
just died without (at least in the US) somebody ever telling what kind of a monster the
Till my dying day Im gonna stay
A young man in trouble
I dont think that it is a bad thing to be in the shit, for
me it always was a most creative period
.. I have to say that when I wrote that
song, I was very confused. I tried to be very honest to myself, all those lines are
confessions. When I look back on it I think: Its over, its an evolution.
When I wrote that song I was in trouble, Im out of that now, but who knows what it
will be in fifteen minutes.
The production of Dark Blonde was in the hands of Joe
Wissert, producer of among others Boz Scaggs. It was his first record after Boz and
maybe that was of any influence. Again the album is packed in a symbolic sleeve.
The same boy, a year and a half later. The picture shows an exact copy of the room
in which I grew up in. I remembered every detail and everything was copied. When I walked
into my room as a little kid from time to time I just saw a man peeking through the
window. Maybe it was the light, but for a second or so you see it. Like the image just
after youve turned off the TV. I wanted to preserve that image and those elements on
that cover: the writer, the little boy, the window image (satan), the fear. Oddly I came
across an album by Andrew Gold the other day. He used the same room: When I see that cover
Sunday: day of rest. Have been trying, to no avail, to get me a book by
Byron. Byron said all his life he enjoyed only 30 minutes of real happiness. That
interests me. I dig those three, Byron, Shelley and Keats very much, they were
desperados. They tried their whole lives to stay close to a feeling and to turn it
and I love their way of living. Byron or instance was literally banned
from England because he didnt want to maintain his garden, hehehe, and he married
his thirteen-year-old cousin and all that but where its at is that that guy could
write, boy, so sincerely,
.so damned sincere.
Monday afternoon: Tom hands over a beer and tells about his plans:
Eyes and Dark Blonde are both elements in me, elements which have
to come together in the next project. I want the next record to be a little warmer than
Dark Blonde and
. Ehm, Im going to work on it in the studio
for a long time. It will be a synthesis of the previous two, the best Ill ever make.
I want to surprise you, not to show you half the movie. The music will stay a little
closer to my roots but at the same time it will be an attempt to a expand things. The
lyrics are very special: Im writing about subjects inside me I have never touched
before. Some of the themes may not be generally accepted, but I know theyre feelings
that people with a certain sensitiveness will pick up.
He shows a strip of photos. Between Polaroids of yellowed
toilet-seats and a travelling-companion making faces, I am to find my spot. You
my records, me your picture, he says, thats communication.
this is the album by Andrew Gold that Tom mentioned
when talking about the sleeve of "Dark Blonde".
"What's Wrong With This Picture ?"
Sleeve photography by Ethan A Russell
The press section on this web site carries the banner "print the legend"
to remind us all of the factual inaccuracies in journalism that can so easily
occur for any number of reasons. The Jans family have asked this web site
to note that Art Jans was in fact very well read.
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