A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

If Jumpin' Jack Flash is a gas gas gas, at what temperature would he become a solid?

August 16, 1996

Dear Cecil:

If, as the song says, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is a gas, gas, gas, at what temperature would he become a solid?

Cecil replies:

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 lighting 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?"

Another interpretation

Dear Cecil:

I may have my facts mixed up, but if what I've heard is correct, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is actually a term used by junkies to describe a method of shooting up speedball (a mixture of cocaine and heroin) into one's tear ducts. … It seems to me that the song is saying, "Hey, my life sucks, but when I'm high it's all good!" At least that's my interpretation, not that I think Mick and Keith were anything less than saints in their youth.

Cecil replies:

Injecting speedball into your tear ducts? And I thought the story about Keith Richards having his blood replaced was gross.

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