The Straight Dope by Cecil Adams. For publication the week ending Friday, 08-16-96. Copyright 1996 Chicago Reader, Inc. All rights reserved. Publication without express written permission or before Monday of the week ending 08-16-96 is prohibited.
If, as the song says, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is a gas, gas, gas, at what temperature would he become a solid? –DWilli8829, via AOL
By God, Willi, you raise an interesting point. Stupid, but interesting. Fact is, the scientific aspects of the Rolling Stones’ repertoire have been entirely neglected. It’s high time we put matters right.
Just one problem. You misquoted the freaking song, diatom brain! It doesn’t say Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a gas. It says “it” is a gas.
Here’s the first verse: “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane / And I howled at my ma in the driving rain / But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas! / But it’s all right. / I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash, it’s a Gas! Gas! Gas!”
OK, so what “it” is being referred to? Could it be the “driving rain,” which was formerly unpleasant but is now “all right,” having been converted to a gas? Possibly. We know Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, authors of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” became prosperous after the Stones hit it big. Perhaps JJF is a celebration of the fact that, after years of suffering in the damp limey climate, they can now afford steam heat.
Then again, looking at the question more broadly, the verse could be seen as a rollicking meditation on the successive phase transitions of water in a severe storm (“cross-fire hurricane”). The Stones’ interest in meteorology is well-known (e.g., “She’s So Cold”)–in this context a “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” clearly must be understood as a lightning bolt–and the answer to your question is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the freezing point of water.
But who knows? Maybe the verse merely recalls what Mick impatiently hissed to the already-somewhat-hard-of-hearing Keith when the latter was stumped on the chem final by “what is 1-fluoro-2,4-dinitrobenzene at 138 degrees Celsius?”
WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF ROCK LYRICS
The word “deuce” in Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” [July 26] is a hot-rod term, as in the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe.” It refers to a popular platform for hot-rodders, the 1932 Ford Coupe. ’32 –2–deuce, get it? “Cut loose like a deuce another runner in the night” is a reference to the expression of power brought to the humble coupe by the “light” of technical improvement. –Alf Loizeaux, via the Internet
Ah. So you’re saying “Blinded by the Light” is a paean to the march of progress in automotive technology.
You really should try your hand at “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
AHA! I’ve been reading and enjoying your column for many years, and I finally caught a goof. In your explanation of the lyrics to “Blinded by the Light,” you parenthetically implied that Manfred Mann’s Earth Band was known for “Quinn the Eskimo.” Nope! It was the group Manfred Mann that had the 1968 hit with this Bob Dylan song, not Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The Earth Band emerged following the dissolution of Manfred Mann (the group, not the guy). –Nick DeBenedetto, via AOL
Nick. Suppose my group Cecil had a monster hit with the Dylan tune “Nick the Nitpicker.” And suppose a few years later I formed a new group called Cecil’s Terrestrial Musical Organization. And suppose finally that I did another arrangement of “Nick the Nitpicker,” and we sang it all the time because everybody expected us to, and we put it on two of our albums, including “Live in Hungary Right After Manfred Mann’s Earth Band Played There.” You think I could object if some 21st-century Einstein said my second band was “known” for the song, even though it had been made famous by my first?
CONFIDENTIAL TO TERILEE EDWARDS-HEWITT
Lost your address, kid. E-mail me again. I have given the twits what for and will make it up to you.
Is there something you need to get straight? Cecil Adams can deliver the Straight Dope on any topic. Write Cecil Adams at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611, E-mail him at email@example.com, or visit the Straight Dope area at America Online, keyword: Straight Dope.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration of baby screaming “Maaooooooooo” in the rain, by Slug Signorino.