Dark Luminosity: Memoirs of a Geezer (the Expanded Edition) by Jah Wobble
Review by Tom Roebuck.

John Joseph Wardle was born in Stepney in east London on 11th August 1958, but it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that he undertook his transformation into the legendary bass player we all know and love as Jah Wobble. He got his new moniker as the result of the drunken mispronunciation of his birth name by his teenage pal John Beverley, who would himself go through a similar process of transformation shortly afterwards to be rechristened Sid Vicious. Despite its accidental origins it makes for the perfect stage name, succinctly encapsulating the intriguing and somewhat contradictory sides to Mr Wobble’s musical background and character. The “Jah” not only makes perfect sense in relation to his love of reggae and associated low-end sonic frequencies, but also to his (maybe somewhat surprising) deep spirituality. By contrast the “Wobble” seems like the perfect representation of both his punk origins (with its associated independent, irreverent and rebellious attitude) as well as his sharp sense of humour and awareness of the absurd. All of these are recurring themes that form the backbone of this book — his insightful and highly entertaining autobiography which is now available in an updated and expanded edition.

Starting with his childhood growing up in the East End during the 60s and 70s, Dark Luminosity: Memoirs of a Geezer follows Wobble’s path of personal, musical and spiritual development across nearly seven decades, from being a founding member of John Lydon’s seminal post-punk/post-Pistols outfit PiL to his fruitful and extremely prolific subsequent career as a solo artist, band leader, session musician and record label owner. It’s a roller coaster ride that takes in the very highs and the very lows of both his professional and personal life, all documented and delivered in a no-nonsense conversational style peppered with witty observations and plenty of fascinating cultural and philosophical cross-references — ranging from comparing golf to heroin to using the Dutch football team as an example of deconstructionist theory.

It’s a refreshingly honest and candid account of a life well lived that certainly doesn’t provide a sugar-coated, rose-tinted version of events. He’s very open about his less than positive experience with much of the mainstream music industry and doesn’t hold back in expressing his views on the professional and personal deficiencies of many of the characters he meets in it. He certainly doesn’t save himself from this critical gaze however, especially in the frank account of his own struggle with alcoholism, which he eventually overcomes with the help of AA in the mid 80s: an event which goes on to become a pivotal moment on his path to becoming happier and more spiritually fulfilled, both as a musician and as a human being.

As well as touching on these deeper issues, there are also lots of laugh-out-loud moments scattered throughout the book. It becomes apparent fairly early on that Mr Wobble is both a very funny guy and also a serious wind-up merchant, who practices what he preaches about the importance of having a good sense of humour and not taking yourself too seriously. Two of my personal favourite anecdotes are his hilarious cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to fill up a fish tank whilst seriously inebriated, and the moment when he was working for London Underground in the mid 80s and decided to use the their loudspeaker system to announce to bemused commuters that he “used to be somebody.”

As with all good autobiographies, Memoirs of a Geezer is both an informative and inspiring read that transcends the musical content that will initially attract most readers. It illustrates the importance of persistence, doing things on your own terms, not chasing the easy money and, ultimately, the redemptive power of being true and honest with yourself. All vital life lessons that we have the big man himself to thank for sharing with us in this fine book. As Wobble remixer and musical co-conspirator, the late great Andrew Weatherall, was so fond of saying: Jah Bless.

Tom Roebuck sells great records from his on-line shop Dubwise Vinyl. Follow him on Instagram and don’t miss out @dubwisevinyl.

Dark Luminosity: Memoirs of a Geezer (the Expanded Edition) by Jah Wobble is published today by Faber & Faber. If you’re lucky you might still find an author signed copy in the Heavenly Recordings Bandcamp store.