Opinion: An Unsung Alumnus
By Alex Tottser, Guest Columnist
From Congressman Ron Paul to author Jerry Spinelli, Gettysburg College has a history of producing influential alumni. Unfortunately there are many great Gettysburgians that have slipped through the cracks, and Jackson C. Frank is one of those alumni.
For most people, their only experience with his music would have been his song “Blues Run the Game,” which was played in the opening of episode three in the T.V. show This Is Us.
Considered an influence by musicians such as Paul Simon and Nick Drake, Frank has seen increased interest in his work with the reissues of his recordings in the years following his death.
As he was only at Gettysburg for a year before he dropped out and went to England, details are rather scarce about his time as a Gettysburgian. What is known is that he attended in 1961, majored in journalism, and performed with several of his friends both on campus and around the area.
Thankfully, some of these recordings have survived and can be heard on The Complete Recordings box set. Although the audio quality is poor, it is easy to see how these performances would help shape his songwriting style later in life.
Following his time at the college, Frank moved to England after receiving inheritance money and attempted to work his way into the burgeoning English folk scene.
After several well received performances, Paul Simon approached Jackson wanting to produce an album. The resulting work, simply titled Jackson C. Frank, is one of the greatest folk albums of all time.
Featuring dark songwriting, and haunting vocals by Jackson, the album was a critical success but commercial failure. After England, he married, had two children, and moved back to the United States.
Tragedy struck when his son died from cystic fibrosis. His son’s death, along with his own problems with typhoid, would cause him to spiral into depression.
The last years of his life would see him nearly penniless and in continually bad health. Despite the darkness of his life, the impact of his work is still felt today. Like many other musicians of the era, it would not be until after his death that his genius would become known.
The new editions of his albums have seen increased popularity, and have brought him fame that he failed to find in his lifetime.
For any student who enjoys the music of artists like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, I highly recommend the work of Jackson C. Frank.
Gettysburg College should take pride in helping to shape the career of one of history’s most underrated musicians.