Jaco – The Film
Last night I watched the amazing documentary “Jaco” by Metallica Bassist, Robert Trujillo about the life of Jaco Pastorius, who changed the way bass was played. I am a similar age to Robert and saw Jaco live a couple of times myself and have often listened to his recordings. He recorded as a solo artist, along side Joni Mitchell and was part of the fusion band Weather Report for a while. He was an incredible bass player and could take horn lines and adapt them to his instrument, and make it sound unique, without loosing the feel of the original. This is really hard to do, it is one thing to play the notes, but quite another to get the groove right. His interpretation of “Donna Lee” by Charlie Parker was ground breaking at the time. He really invented the fretless bass guitar.
You may be wondering why I am writing about it here on a site that is about alcoholism and drug recovery. The reason is that Jaco had serious issues with substance abuse and was also diagnosed later on with a type of bipolar disorder. The film deals with these issues in an incredibly sensitive way. It shows Jaco as a young family man determined to make a good life with his children and then shows what happens as his health declines. It is incredibly sad that a man of such talent who was playing to stadium crowds could end up playing for change in the street in only a few years and living in a park. It was not as if he was abandoned by his friends, plenty of people tried to help, but it did not seem that he was ready to change before he was killed in fight. This reflects the lifestyle of many who battle addiction especially when mixed with some kind of mental illness.
There are many in the film who have been through substance issues themselves such as Mike Stern, who still has a great career having found the courage to change. The film is a really honest attempt to show what happened and that makes it very powerful and it plays on the emotions. It is impossible not to feel sorry for Jaco as he struggles. You get a good sense of his sensitivity and need to be praised by people he respected. Perhaps if the medications that are around today could have helped him, but it seems that he did not always follow his doctors advice and that is another thing that people suffering from depression have a tendency to do. I stopped taking my medication myself with near disastrous results many years ago, and thankfully do not need any today.
The film works on many levels. It is obviously a must for anyone wishing to play the bass in a serious way, but is also an incredible portrait of a flawed genius. The film is not judgemental of Jaco or the people around him and just shows what happened in a really sensitive way. It is great to see this type of documentary being made. I was really impressed by the film about Amy Winehouse that came out earlier this year that had some similarities with this. They both show how vulnerable people can unravel when underlying issues are not dealt with and an individual turns to drugs.