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IAN ANDERSON: TOO OLD TO ROCK 'N' ROLL? NEVER!
Had I only known that Ian Anderson, flaming flautist and driving force behind Jethro Tull, would proceed to complete the following interview without any kind of aid or interference from me whatsoever, I would have immediately jumped up, pulled off my pants and thrown them out the window when he told me he didn't like their color.
"I hate mindless uniformity. Communism when applied to clothing is right out. What possesses people to dress alike in such a dreary fashion, I can't understand. Clothing is the only sense of expression that the average person has that transcends the immediacy of speech. Right? I mean, you can express yourself verbally, but it's gone. But the clothes you wear, in a temporal sense, they work as long as you're wearing them. And yet people, day after day, come out in their blue denims. It's mediocrity, this level of conformity that seems to defy all reason when they could be saying something about themselves. I think it's symptomatic of people hiding. I look at these masses of people and I see all this blue — It's the color that predominates in my mind.
"I laughed myself silly in this very hotel the night before last when we checked in. We didn't get in until about nine, and the one and only Indian restaurant in town was closed. So we had to eat in the hotel and I called down and said a few of us want to come to dinner ... it's an average sort of place, over-priced, food's a bit cold, and the waiters don't even know how to serve wine. You know, the average kind of deal. So I walked in with six or seven other people and all apart from myself and David Palmer were refused admittance because they were wearing blue jeans.
"And I felt bad. I thought it was really funny and they were absolutely furious. I said, 'Hang on a minute,' and took them outside. Our suitcases were due to arrive from the airport any minute. So I said, 'Calm down, wait for your suitcases and go upstairs and change, then come down and fill your bellies; but that's not the point.' I said, 'Look — I've been telling you for years that the blue jean rubbish is really boring, and if this was my restaurant — my hotel — I wouldn't even let you in the lobby wearing blue jeans, let alone into the restaurant.' And there I am in my relatively grubby brown corduroys and they had to go upstairs and change. So I found it to be quite funny.
"No one wants to express identity. Drugs are another example of the same thing. There's always that bullshit about some sort of inner consciousness through mind-expanding drugs or mind-bending drugs of one sort or another that you've got a whole new viewpoint about who you were and what you were doing, which, in my observation as a non-participant in those affairs, has always been a bunch of people sitting in a room smoking marijuana, reducing themselves to a sort of corporate jellyfish within about five minutes ... sort of slightly hysterical or giggling jellyfishes, at that. And the subjects on which they're able to converse are banal and their thinking is purely lateral sorts of explorations in word and idea association and little else. There is obviously this subjective illusion that one is getting all these little, far-out ideas bounding off the walls but it's pretty boring stuff. When I've been in a room with people smoking, I find myself holding my nose or something, trying not to get involved physiologically.
"It's worse, actually, than watching bored, fat, overweight American housewives meeting for a bit of lunch in an out of town motel somewhere. You know, I tend to see that — late lunch American housewives just sitting talking in the most utterly banal way about nothing and bored out of their brains making sure they eat plenty of lettuce and coleslaw and cottage cheese to make up for the cream cakes they're going to have afterwards — another sort of irrational thinking. I find that young people do the same thing — we [heh heh heh] young people do the same thing in our own ways. Basically, there are an awful lot of pitfalls in terms of the understanding of youth culture. It breeds its own anonymity, it breeds its own common denominator which is at a pretty low ebb both in terms of clothing style, moral behaviour, expression, whatever.
"People watch television or play some fabricated game rather than create things for themselves. I love to invent games. That's one of my 'things'. I love making up a game with nothing more than what is at hand. The inventiveness of sportsmanship to me is quite an important factor in life. The Minstrel In The Gallery album was made to a game called 'Foam' which consisted of four badminton rackets from Harrods. We invented this variation on all the games that involve hitting something with something else. Hitting something could also apply to your opponent; you're actually allowed to strike him with the racket. Instead of using a ball we used a triangular piece of plastic foam which had an absolutely unpredictable flight pattern and you had to hit it as hard as was humanly possible to hit it. Quote an amount of blood actually appeared through the period of making that album. David Palmer nearly had to be taken to hospital because we thought he had a heart attack. That was a super game. But there are lots of simpler games.
"We had a lovely fight the other day in Columbus [Ohio] where we had two rooms, and I went out on Sunday, our day off, and there's nothing much to do in Columbus on a Sunday, and the weather was bad and we had to stay in the hotel all day. For some reason I'd done what writing I wanted to do that day and it was likewise with David, so I went out to Woolworths and purchased five 85-cent Made-In-Hong-Kong plastic rubber dart guns of a type that I know well — they're really quite powerful and quite accurate and really ought to be banned for anybody under the age of 29 [Ian's age].
"And having purchased five of these, four of us — with the 15 darts we had — took possession of the two rooms. The idea was the opposing teams had to take possession of the other guys' territory which, in battle, took about 45 minutes. You aim for the eyes — I mean, there's no messing. Trying to put out the other guys' eyes is the name of the game. Kick down the doors, do all the things Clint Eastwood does when he's had his Cornflakes that morning. You know, really into it. It was really substantial fun. Of course, it ended up — in order to take possession it did come down to the hand-to-hand approach — and my team won only by me doing the grappling physically with the opponents, actually forcing them to the floor and causing their guns to discharge harmlessly into the room and thumping them. It got quite gritty.
"That sort of thing is about as pointless and at the same time meaningful as jousting — you know, with the two knights on their horses in all their armour and with these great long spears they would actually attack each other and run at each other and just smash each other into oblivion. And yet, there's something especially noble about that, the asserting of one's maleness, I suppose, which I think is quite important, really, especially if you're known for wearing tights and a codpiece."
"By the way," I tactlessly interrupted, "why have you given up your codpiece?"
"Well, cunningly enough, without giving you a line, the very year I gave up my codpiece was when I begat a child. Seriously, all that codpiece business was very amusing, but when you're on for two hours, you know, wrapping yourself on your private parts with several layers of felt and nylon and cotton, it's not exactly good for your virility. I was beginning to wonder whether perhaps I had any.
"It becomes just another kind of crutch, you see. I mean, you can waggle your codpiece or masturbate with the flute if you're playing a bad gig, and if it gets to that, it's not on anymore. If I have a bad gig, I really do try not to do the things that become parodies of myself in order to sort of make it right — if, for some reason, I'm not playing well, or not doing what I do well, I drop any of the fooling around and really work hard at trying to play well. Especially because a lot of the time it's due to things like bad acoustics or temperature or humidity running riot or whatever else, and it's not good just to cover up with the old standby, which is what the image thing can become."
Having gotten Ian off the track, I felt I should at least make some kind of effort to help him out. I told him that his new songs sound much more powerful live than they do on record.
"Yes, it also sounds a lot less subtle, and that's the whole thing about working in the studio — you can afford the degree of subtlety that you can't get on stage. And on stage you make up for that perhaps in some way by invariably changing arrangements; simplifying things so they're more direct."
Becoming more direct myself, I ventured the first formal question of the interview: "Have you always liked traditional English folk music, or did you pick it up recently by listening to old recordings or something?"
"No, I don't listen to anything. I hate that approach, personally speaking. The academic delving and the subtle sharpness of traditional English music is a relatively sterile intellectual exercise ... I believe first and foremost in a folk memory. I'm of particularly mixed origin; my mother is English, my father is Scottish. And yet my Scottish family is Anderson, which probably only dates from the 10th to the 12th century when the Vikings came over to the coast of Scotland and settled — stole the women and whatever else. There were some very attractive birds in that part and they spawned the likes of me. So you have the peculiar sort of mixture of origins in me. But I do believe in a folk memory or something which is at once Anglo-Saxon and Celtic mixed together from way back a long, long time ago and I believe that we retain something of, certainly not the academic wherewithal to put that type of music together, but something of the emotional response to that music.
"There's no point in me any longer pretending to sing the American blues, the black man's music, because that's not what I feel. I have great admiration for it; it's certainly the music of the past 50 years that's given the most in terms of influence to popular music today. But I think that there is a tremendously neglected area of music that stems basically from the pre-history of Europe. You know, I'm talking about the post-neolithic era where there was civilization indigenous to quite isolated parts of Britain and some of France. There is a particularly religious significance attached to all of this; the worship of the old god, the god of nature. Not the devil, not the fallen angel Lucifer, but the god of nature as most religions tend to talk about him. The god of sunlight, the god of the good harvest, the god of wrath, love, lust ... but not in an evil, black magic way. It's just literally the animal truth of what we all are and this is all mixed up as well in the origins of our music. I think it is also mixed up in the origins of the black man's music although he's several thousand miles away and given to a rhythmic approach rather than the melodic one, which is where all this kind of music comes from.
"Again, Scottish people, or the Celtic thing which was later translated into bagpipe music, which really only comes from 1300 or 1400 onwards and only really took on any significance as a scholarly approach to music in 1600 within the clans. It obviously bears tremendous comparison to that peculiarly sort of religious music of the English culture ..."
"Speaking of religion," I gasped, "your 'Wind-Up' is probably a more religiously influential song than Harrison's guru gibberish or John MacLaughlin's or Carlos Santana's, et al."
"Yes, you're exactly right. It's far more direct in relating to what we have been through as children in our upbringing, in terms of a Christian god. All the Hare Krishnas and all the Buddhists and all the rest of it is very interesting as a diverse attempt at an adolescent study in comparative religion.
"We all go through that, at least if only bumping into a Hare Krishna in the Chicago airport and being given a carnation. Tough luck, if you're allergic to flowers as I am! In fact, David Palmer who, with all his 42 years of age, four children and everything else, after some earlier prompting of mine which I never expected he would act upon, turned to a little Hare Krishna girl who had just stuck a carnation at him for the upteenth time, leaned over and whispered in her ear: 'Eat raw meat — give the devil a blow job,' whereupon she was obviously taken aback, and then David started to jump up and down, chanting even louder, 'EAT RAW MEAT — GIVE THE DEVIL A BLOW JOB!' Until the girl ran away howling. Ever since then the Hare Krishnas have stayed away from us.
"I mean, it's not that I have anything against them, but the fact does remain that most of them would be better employed in the armed services in defence of their country; or joining the police force or something; and changing things in a literal and direct way by influencing people with a belief in calm and peace and do-gooding rather than handing out flowers which really just amuses people and bemuses people, but doesn't really do an awful lot to change anyone. There's actually a song on our upcoming album, which is in no way traditional, but quite pointed and aggressive although it doesn't utilize the blues influence, it's not American, it's not black — it's certainly not an attempt to work within those limitations ... Anyway, I used the line
'I looked for Hare Krishna but Harry wasn't home'
which sums up the whole thing to me. That's what your average redneck cowboy would say talking to his cousin in Chicago ... 'Harry who?' ... you know? I mean, thanks for the flowers, but no, I don't have any loose change."
(P.S. Dear Ian, thanks so much for giving me the easiest interview I've ever had the pleasure of taking part in. Even though you did all the work, and even though you are half Scottish, I sincerely hope you won't be gauche and ask that I split my check with you. Regards, Air-Wreck.)
Thanks to Casey Drumm for this article.