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THE RISE AND FALL OF GOD AS TOLD BY IAN ANDERSON
The latest from Jethro Tull is as all the other albums were, mainly, the product of the hyper-active mind of leader Ian Anderson. Who is not without certain creative problems.
"As you go along," he said recently, "you keep having to demand more of yourself. It becomes harder to be inventive, it's a battle you never really win, you just keep on fighting."
The current battle is with God and takes place on Jethro Tull's Aqualung (Reprise).
And as you go along there are also personnel changes. First, bass player Glenn Cornick has left to keep time with his own group, as of this writing still unnamed. His replacement, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, is the Jeffrey to whom Ian makes reference in some of his past songs. He is an old friend of Ian's and learned to play bass in one month and was able to join the group showing no sign of uncertainty at last month's gig at the Fillmore.
The second addition made late last year is wildman pianist John Evan, whose piano, organ and mellotron add a lot more scope to the group's recordings and more variety to their live performances. Now there are longer stretches with Ian on flute or acoustic guitar, mixing gently with the piano.
Aqualung is the first concept album from Jethro Tull. Most instrumental groups like to think of each album as a representation of a certain step in their development and they also like to believe that the album generally hangs together and is more than just a collection of songs. But in spite of that inclination, only the Who's Tommy has a central character that dominates as entirely as the off-stage personality who occupies Aqualung.
Unlike Tommy, a character who may have represented something else, Anderson doesn't go around any corners in bringing out what he has to say about God and religion. He is subtle and direct both in his lyrics where God is discovered by individuals generally not worth considering, and in his liner notes which suggest that maybe God did not create man, but man created God. The characters on side one range from the repulsive to the desirable. The repulsive Aqualung is described as a man with "snot running down his nose, greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes, drying in the cold sun, watching frilly panties run."
In Cross Eyed Mary, Aqualung finds an answer to his desires since she "gets no kick from little boys and would rather make it with a letching gray." What a great couple, it's just too bad they don't appear in the other songs on side one which have the same feeling, but are more lyrically obscure.
There is nothing obscure about side two which is an entire composition based on the first song 'My God'. The songs are separate but flow together without breaks and unless you have the lyrics it's hard to tell where one song ends and the other begins. All the songs deal with God as an image instead of as something that could exist inside both Aqualung and Cross Eyed Mary, and it challenges the "plastic crucifix" idea of Godliness.
The subject matter is very serious, but Jethro Tull doesn't change their music to fit; they don't feel they have to. But Ian was anxious to talk about the album to make the concept clear.
"Aqualung is a character that we invented, although he is sort of a consummate character of people I have known and have been aware of. He represents the tramp figure, the hobo, the very lowest part of society. He is considered to be degenerate morally, and very decadent, a kind of scum of the earth. And taking that figure, what I'm trying to do is to point out that to my personalized view of religion and the god complex. I believe that God exists within that character just as much as within the Pope. I believe that all human beings are alike in as much as they have a capacity for goodness. What you have to do is try to recognize it within yourself and try to be a good person, whatever that means, since we all have different standards.
"I don't believe in an absolute state of goodness or the lack of it. I believe in God as an abstract force, not as a person or even as an intelligence ... I believe in man as opposed to most peoples' belief in God. I choose to call this ideal within man. I choose to call that God. I think the same ideal would exist within any other intelligent race at any other time. So, if you like, the idea of God is universal in that sense.
"There are a couple of songs on the album which don't exactly fall into the pattern. The first side is basically about human nature and the various aspects. The second side has to do with more objective ideas about God and my feelings toward religion and the church. I'm not really protesting, I'm not saying that it shouldn't be done, because I benefitted from that. But I so believe that there are an awful lot of young people who are being brought up with certain religious beliefs held over them, they are brought up to be straight-jacketed by religion and not to think for themselves and not to experience other religions.
"I think that children should be free to decide for themselves what religion they want to follow if they want a religion at all. There should be a place where people could practice all religions so they could learn to appreciate the various aspects of each one. I was told to believe in a God of fear not a God of love."
Anderson's view of the future for Jethro Tull is somewhat paradoxical in that
"so far we've been lucky in as much we haven't changed too much, yet in my own mind we're still going ahead, we are not standing still."
Which brings to mind Ian's peculiar stage habits.
"I always tried to explain," he explains "that it just came about spontaneously as a means of getting comfortable, getting a kind of balance, getting a physical balance and creating a musical balance to go along with it. Standing on one leg is a kind of uneasy equilibrium, it's something that when you're playing the music it makes you tense to keep this constant balance going whether it's physical or purely musical. But people see it as being part of an on-stage act and it's not."
By this point in the game the Jethro Tull Ian Anderson image has been well established. People think they know exactly what to expect from Ian, they know his habits almost too well. There are even those who are trivial enough to like Jethro Tull because Anderson plays the flute while standing on one leg. This detracts from the fact that he has been voted the top flute player in Jazz and Pop (the critics poll) and also made the top of the list in the Readers' Poll and was also voted number one in the Playboy Poll.
"I think some of the fans think they know what to expect because they read the kinds of reviews of concerts which are so decidedly lacking in literary content and describe me as a kind of Pied Piper of Pop. They have this image that I'm going to come out playing the flute and stand on one leg for an hour and a half, without moving. Of course they're entirely wrong. Also people tend to think that I don't play the flute so much anymore which is also completely false. I never did play flute all the time ...
"I got my flute style from playing the guitar, as silly as that may sound. My early flute playing was based on guitar solos with the same musical structure. But later on when I got more familiar with it and I started playing it as a flute, using methods of construction that were peculiar to the flute, getting into harmonics and developing certain styles of fingering, ways of fingering which were totally different from the guitar.
"I was influenced by Roland Kirk in as much as before I began to play the flute I heard one of his records, 'Serenade to a Cuckoo'. In actual fact my way of playing the flute, which is his way and a lot of other peoples' ways, that is singing and playing at the same time, is something I stumbled upon by accident. Because when I started to play, I couldn't produce a clear tone. The first few weeks I played it was hissy and breathy and instead of blowing I made a noise and that developed into a kind of way of blowing. It was only later that I realized that it was a Roland Kirk type of sound. It was only later after I had played the flute quite a lot that I started listening to jazz musicians play the flute. I can't really say that I was very interested because I don't find a lot of affinity with jazz. I'm much more in tune to what they call rock music, folk music or classical music, than I am with jazz ..."
From the outside it would appear that the music of Jethro Tull would be the product of a very stoned mind. One would assume Ian has cultivated quite a head helped along by a few artificial consciousness alterers. Certainly Anderson writes lyrics that are strange enough but it has become clear that there exist creators who are naturally destroyed. They aren't madmen, it's just that their thought patterns expand into realms not usually considered seriously by the sane or the "straight" person.
"I don't use drugs," he states, "because everything that I've been able to do so far, I have been able to do without becoming involved in education, religion or drugs. Drugs represent to me an artificial means of broadening my horizons, of achieving a greater or a different outlook on things, achieving a greater perspective. I may not be able to do it now, but I think in the future I would like to work towards achieving by myself without any artificial means, the kind of broadness of vision that people do achieve on drugs.
"I don't even smoke grass. The only drugs I have used have been things the doctor has prescribed, pain killers and such. I have never been drunk, sometimes I drink wine but I couldn't become drunk. I have drunk enough to make people drunk, but my mind clamps down and as soon as I feel my own perception changing, I clamp back and strictly adhere to the normal. I am probably one of those persons who if I did smoke pot, I probably wouldn't even get high. There is something about me as a person that demands that I be always in total control of myself. But this is just a personal viewpoint. I don't think drugs are bad, I think in fact that drugs are necessary for most people, just to stay alive these days."
Anderson is one of the favorite subjects of the rock press. They like to describe him and the band in glowing, fiery words that make him appear to be a cross between Fagin, an escapee from a mental asylum and a flamingo. They've branded him as being "the most visual entertainer since Jagger," "a blend of Fagin and Captain Hook," "a stork with St. Vitus' dance," and "a mad dog Fagin with an outrageously lecherous point of view." Ian Anderson is not impressed.
"Most of what the rock press does, is to report rather badly what so called rock stars are supposed to have said, and to analyze rather badly what their new records are all about. They really make a rather half hearted attempt to explain in writing what a person is saying in music. I personally think I would do a better job writing about music than most writers because I'm a musician. There are a lot of good writers who do constructive things, I don't know whether you are one or not. but there are a lot of good writers. They try to explain it in a constructive way to make people more interested and to make them think about things. But I don't think it influences that many people.
"Think about Rolling Stone. They write about the sociological aspects of the music and are not involved in the music as musical analysis and that kind of material has a very limited kind of bearing. To begin with, a lot of people don't understand what Rolling Stone is saying, and secondly their record reviews and reports of concerts and so on tend to be rather self indulgent on the part of the writer in as much as he says what he thinks it was like without explaining why. They write as if they were talking, or rapping as you would say, and I don't think that's the way to write. If it were, then we would all be listening to the radio instead of reading.
"If I were writing in England I would attempt to construct a well written piece of prose based on my knowledge of grammar and suitably descriptive words. I would find out who read the paper, what kind of people so I could find out what style to write in and what kind of limits to impose upon my own style of writing ...
"I think that the spontaneous kind of prose which is largely an American invention, I mean people like Jack Kerouac I appreciate, but put him alongside a lot of other authors and you see that it's not a very artistic style of writing. If you write from a purely subjective point of view like how it feels to be high on acid and grooving to Grand Funk Railroad, I certainly wouldn't want to know because I don't take acid and I don't listen to Grand Funk Railroad and if I did I certainly wouldn't take acid while I was doing it.
"Whereas everyone doesn't share my analytic approach. I feel that there are a lot more interesting things to write about than how the writer feels when he is there. Since I have to write music to make a living, I have to write it in a certain style with certain limitations on style, but at the same time I have to try and make it interesting, to try and use structure as well as I can.
"The American public by and large tends to dwell on surface details and when they try to get deeper they get involved in their own pomposity, in other words they start using a lot of words that they don't even understand. The problem is that I know I speak English but you only think you speak English. Americans should have a new language called American, because Americans are the worst English speaking nation in the world. It is so hard to communicate with people and yet most of us don't even make the attempt to speak our own language properly."