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Jean Michel Jarre – Calypso part 3 (live) – (90s – 49)

April 3, 2014

This video – indeed the entire Paris concert but this closer in particular – still gives me goosebumps. Wow. The ending is so tight my body used to tense up until the final musical release. The giant puppet costumes, the fireworks, the light show, the steel drums! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better concert video.

This was played one afternoon on the ABC. In the early 90s the ABC used to play arts documentaries every Sunday afternoon, and I would always consult the TV guide to see what was one. Somewhere in the midst of “boring adult art” – classical music, opera, some but not all visual art – there were gems of culture which hadn’t reached Gilgandra – and that week they listed this concert. Come the afternoon Peter Ross was typically dignified, though with a glint in his eye and a hint of a smile, as he introduced it to the audience, while I was ready at the video player to press record.

I knew Jarre. I was a kid who grew up with electronic music. There it was on the TV and movie soundtrack: Beverley Hills Cop, Fletch, anything Vangelis or Jan Hammer scored. It was there on TV adverts. Into this mix was Oxygene, one of those electronic tracks which one heard even if you never heard electronic tracks.

When my mum bought our first CD player in the cusp of the decade, her first purchase was a four-disc compilation of cheap knock-offs of famous electronic tracks: Popcorn, Genetic Engineering, Axel F, Crockett’s Theme, Chi Mi; even Tubular Bells gets mangled into something synthy. This put names to half-remembered memories while introducing me to new tunes (Genetic Engineering being of the most fondly remembered).

Of course Oxygene and Equinox were on the discs. What surprised me was subsequently finding out my aunt – seemingly so old and conservative – had both the original Jarre albums on cassette. These I borrowed and a fascination with his work ensued.

After this came the Paris concert on the ABC, who then played the Spanish concert a year or so later. I was ready again with the video player. I dubbed both onto cassette and would listening to them at night with the light off.

Once I hit Uni my then best friend was a fan and lent me the Hong Kong concert; he then went out for ages with a girl whose dedication to the work of Jarre was far more intense than the height of my cooling interest in Mike Oldfield. If Jarre recorded it, I heard it. And if the two of them didn’t have them the radio station did. It’s where I heard Laurie Anderson and Adrian Belew guest on Zoolook.

One of the pair lent me the Waiting for Cousteau album, from whence the Calyspo suite came. It was good but not as good as the live version. Partially it was a visual thing.
Steel drums are meant to be seen. Watch the massed band with Jarre, grinning and swaying.

I first heard steel drums on Seseme Street in my youngest days, where some kids on the street were taught to make a steel drum from an old metal barrel. It sounded exotic, exciting. I was not yet at school. They have long fascinated me. Years later I heard the Beatles “She’s Leaving Home” covered on the steel drums, more recently Katzenjammer’s celebrated cover of “Cars”. For me steel drums were always fun to listen to; seeing them with Jarre was confirmation they were fun to play – the shared energy, the wall of sound.

Add in Jarre’s typical swirly sound samples and pulsing beat and this for me is his finest moment. Other songs might be more emotional, deeper, but none match the energy and joy of these seven minutes.

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