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LOS ANGELES TIMES
22 December 1974
JETHRO TULL: WAVES OVER OILED WATERS
Ian Anderson, the esoteric mastermind behind rock's ever-popular Jethro Tull, has never made it easy for his fans.
"Rock music has become very stylized," he grumbles. "It's too easy to make the kind of music an audience can unconsciously appreciate while they're stoned or while they're driving or eating or whatever. That's using music as a tactical weapon to sell records. People should have to work, they should make an effort to enjoy music."
Visiting Los Angeles to supervise the marketing and promotion of War Child, Jethro Tull's eighth album, Anderson, 26, is spending this warm afternoon sipping beer and shopping for motorcycles via a frostily air-conditioned limousine. True to his philosophy, the lush back-seat stereo is conspicuously silent.
"When I listen to a piece of music, I always give it my full attention. The only musical trickery I use when I play or write are those which try to entice the audience into wanting to make that effort. I admit to doing that. I even admit to making a lot of music that people could not have possibly enjoyed.
"As opposed to walking out on stage and saying, 'Hey! It's great to be back in Tulsa!' I get very worried if the people immediately freak out. Any one of a dozen groups can cause instant pandemonium. When that happens to us, I ruthlessly try to destroy that moment for the audience."
Anderson spends a quiet moment staring out his window.
"I don't want to be enjoyed on a 'rock star' level. It's too easy. That's why you find scuba divers and rabbits walking on stage during Tull concerts. That's why some Tull albums have no individual songs. Those things are meant to disturb people. They're meant to break up that predictable rock 'n' roll flow."
These are busy days for Jethro Tull. Having just completed a string of SRO concerts in the Far East, the band are spending the rest of this year visiting Europe's largest halls and arenas. Some time in January, the world-wide jaunt will make its way to America for an extensive coast-to-coast tour. Ironically, this sudden burst of full-speed activity comes just one year after Tull manager Terry Ellis announced the group's retirement. Ian had been hurt by the unanimously negative response to their Passion Play album, so the statement read, and in the future he would be devoting all his energies to writing, producing, directing and starring in a film called 'War Child'. Today, all that remains is the album of the same name. Although Anderson insists the film will eventually see production, he now concedes that the well-publicized 'retirement' announcement was a bit of a hasty overstatement.
"The astoundingly negative criticism we received definitely affected us," the composer icily explains. "I'd be less than human if my blood didn't boil when I read that some punk kid journalist — barely out of his nappies, no doubt — has written that our music is bad and unimaginative. That's terribly destructive criticism ... and certainly unjustified. It hurt all of us a great deal.
"The 'retirement', though, was really just a pause we wanted to take. In six years, we had made seven albums and toured America alone something like 19 times. We had to switch off the motor. But we knew that nobody — managers, agents and record company people — would take us seriously if we didn't put it in drastic terms. We were talking about doing a movie at the time, so it seemed like a good idea to use that as the excuse. At least we weren't going to sit and vegetate or live in vast country estates with servants and carriages or whatever it is that people imagine English rock stars do. In the end, the period we actually stopped for was something ridiculous, like two days. After all the running around we've done, the band deserves a weekend off."
Jethro Tull, then a quartet featuring Anderson on flute, guitar and vocals, Mick Abrahams on guitar, Glenn Cornick on bass and Clive Bunker on drums, began in December of 1967 at the bottom level of the English club scene. Initially gathering attention through Anderson's flamboyant, flute-twirling stage presence, Tull worked its way up to a residency at London's prestigious Marquee club. By mid-'68, the group had been signed to Terry Ellis and Chris Wright's Chrysalis Productions (now Chrysalis records) and was hard at work on its debut album, This Was.
"I don't think anybody had any real expectations from the band in those days," Anderson recalls. "If anything, we figured we might become popular for a year or so, then we'd go back to playing the clubs. It's a source of constant amazement for me to wake up in the morning and realize I'm in some exotic part of the world, in an expensive hotel and doing OK. It's nice not to have any expectations. Even today, I live one hour at a time. If I had to worry about maintaining our current popularity, I would be very uncomfortable. I don't worry about gold records or selling out the Forum three nights in a row. I just think about making records that appeal to me. So far there's been a lucky coincidence that the songs I write are the songs people are listening to. I guess that just shows they have very good taste."
A mushy blend of jazz and blues, This Was sold surprisingly well for a first album. As a result, the band was brought over to America to open the show for a major Led Zeppelin tour.
"We lost a lot of money the first two times we toured in this country," Anderson remembers.
In the crucial year between Jethro Tull's debut album and the enormously successful Stand Up, road-weary guitarist and co-composer Mick Abrahams suddenly left the band. It was during that difficult period that Anderson assumed complete musical control of Jethro Tull.
"I took over simply because I was the only other writer in the band. All of a sudden, it was down to me to arrange, compose and record all the material. Today it's much more of a group (current line-up: Anderson, Martin Barre on guitars, John Evan on keyboards, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond on bass and Barriemore Barlow on drums). Even though I'm the only survivor from the original group, we all get paid the same money. I don't like it too much when people think I'm Jethro Tull. I worry that the rest of the guys will start feeling that they're some sort of back-up band. That's just not the case anymore."
Stand Up, written and rehearsed almost entirely on their first American tour, was completed within a few weeks. An overwhelming artist, commercial and critical triumph, the album quickly divorced Jethro Tull from its image of being a not-quite serious blues band. The group began to taste mass acceptance. According to Anderson, the heady effects of stardom subsequently made their mark on Benefit.
"The music on that album was a bit more sophisticated, but it was too much like what a rock group is supposed to be. We had reached the dangerous realization that we were a name group. We played it too safe with Benefit. We were concerned again about consolidating what success we had achieved, rather than being unafraid to move on. Aqualung, our next record, was a half-hearted attempt to move on. We mainly concentrated at what we were best at doing. There was no musical trail-blazing on Aqualung. I don't dislike it. The technical sound and production were dismal, but it does have some good songs. We really ought to go in and record that album again."
Early in '72, word began to leak out that the next Tull album would contain Ian Anderson's opus, a lengthy acoustic piece called 'Thick As A Brick'. By the time the LP was actually released, the song — and ambitious and cryptic musical collage — had consumed the entire album.
"When we came to do the next album, we started recording separate songs again. We'd finished three sides of a double album before we realized the excitement of working that way wasn't there anymore. So we scrapped it all and I expanded one little bit of the (aborted) album into Passion Play. I really enjoyed working that way. I'm very sad that it's proven necessary to work in conventional song lengths again with War Child."
"My attitude has always been that we're a live concert group. Basically, the band sells records as souvenirs. The last couple of years, half our concerts have been taken up with a complete piece like Thick As A Brick or Passion Play. If we'd done another album like that we would have been in the absurd situation of performing it in its entirety and then having an hour left to play ... what? There would be no room to do justice to any of the other extended pieces. It's very painful to have to hack my work up into condensations. So we came back to working on a loose concept, but with individual songs in such a way that they would stand on their own. A year or two from now, we will be able to play parts of War Child and they're going to sound whole in themselves. It's important that our concerts are the best we can make them.
"I love the idea that we're back doing a lot of road work. I tremendously enjoy being on the road. Air-conditioned motorcars, nice airplanes and a Bloody Mary every morning. After all, the only place I can write is in a Holiday Inn. That's a fact."
The limousine swishes up to a dusty motorcycle dealership alongside the Ontario Motor Speedway. Ian Anderson takes a loud gulp of beer.
"I don't even know why I'm looking for a motorcycle," he laughs. "I don't foresee having the time to ride it for quite a while. I think we're scheduled for a couple of days off in early 1977."
Tull will be at the Inglewood Forum Feb 2, 3 and 8.