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18 July 1971
IAN ANDERSON: MEANING AND MEANINGLESSNESS
When Ian Anderson walks through a door into a room full of people who are expecting him, he ignores them. First, he must finish the conversation he is involved in. That takes as long as that takes, in this case, about five minutes. No one interrupts. Everyone waits, and listens in. The conversation ends and hasty introductions are made. Ian Anderson ignores them too, and heads directly toward the person he is there to see specifically: the interviewer for Crawdaddy.
He begins the conversation. He doesn't wait for a question. Immediately upon seeing Ian Anderson, one feels forced to take some sort of position in relation to him; it is a manner of defence. One feels that he has already taken some sort of position towards you, or that he has taken it long ago, and you are included in the category. His presence is one of definition; he determines all matters that pertain to him absolutely, and demands that reality conform to his predetermined vision. Who would dare, even reality, to interfere with a personal vision that seems to harbor no doubt, that is so secure, and so sure that even God in the end may only take his determined place within it? In a way, the Anderson presence is almost frightening: one would hate to disagree, yet one can't avoid it; one would hate to inform, if the information didn't fit; one would hate to fall victim to the wrath of the fanatic.
Yet somewhere within this rigid structured philosophical universe that Ian Anderson has constructed for himself lies the soul of a poet, and a comedian. Hence, Jethro Tull, and Aqualung, both names meaningless according to Anderson, and simple little funny songs about school-girl prostitutes with cross-eyes, with dying as simply paddling right out of the mess, and religion as a social service. He also informed his audience that his perennial Jethro Tull frock coat, which many people refer to as his bathrobe, is in fact a very expensive impeccably tailored garment, which he carries about in a special trunk. This coat is perpetually wet, at best only damp, and is covered in moss.
When did you start playing the flute?
"It was just about the time Jethro Tull began, about three, three and a third years ago."
Did you play any instrument before that?
"I played a little guitar since I was about sixteen."
Nothing before that, I mean like piano?
"No. I avoided piano lessons conscientiously as a child. I didn't want to become involved in something at that age that I didn't understand the worth of or the reason for. Most children when they're taught, and I use the word taught as opposed to encouraged, to play music ... do it rather to please their parents or to achieve some mastery over other children without any understanding of music. I think it's easier to learn to play when you're older. How can a child do anything other than parrot a piece of Tchaikovsky ... play it the way his music teacher tells him to play it. But how can he understand the emotions of a man many times older than him?"
So you didn't have any training as such ... did you study music theory?
"Well, yeah, over the last three years, and I still am."
How do you write your songs? Do you start with a melody or do you start with the words and then fit the melody or do you start with a chord progression?
"Well, when I first started writing songs I usually started with a chord progression, my ability on the guitar being the only vehicle I had for expressing songs anyway. The essence of the thing to me was the rhythmic and chordal structure of the song, followed by superimposition of the melody and finally the addition of lyrics which, however inane or mundane, inasmuch as they might have made some sort of sense without being necessarily important ... they were usually generalized to avoid being ... taking me ... into depths that I didn't understand. As of late, the situation has changed through my improvement in several directions, notably a greater ability to play the guitar, you know, which has led to songs which are essentially acoustic guitar songs."
But you still do the changes first, the chord changes?
"No, no, no. The ability to write lyrics and express certain ideas ... this has shown me that I can sit down and write a song about a certain idea on a certain subject."
I notice that you sort of chop your lines, your lyrics, sometimes you sort of stop in the middle of a line and have a musical interlude and then finish the line, particularly this song about getting tea and toast. How do you get your arrangements? The arrangements on this album seem to be more complex, more interesting too.
"Well, yes, I know they're more complex and I hope they're more interesting. First of all, there are songs which are acoustic guitar songs. They're songs which essentially I sit and play. Then there's a certain sifting of material which occurs and those which I decide to arrange, to a greater extent with the band, are sifted out from the rest and we proceed along the line to some extent a sort of mutual discussion as to how things should go. We try different arrangements, different ideas."
So the other members of the band contribute.
"Yes, I act as a sort of a control over everybody else, as a sort of mediator in terms of arguments, but certainly the others are involved, even if only inasmuch as what their capabilities are. You know, what they can play, to that degree they've involved actively in the arrangements."
This album has some stops, breaks and little solo pieces.
"Those are just as I explained them, it's something which is trial and error to find the best place for pauses, solo pieces, or deciding what form they're gonna take."
Why did your other bass player leave?
"Well, he left right at the end of the last American tour and for a lot of reasons which were basically personal. To sort of quote him loosely from an interview in an English paper, he found himself growing apart from the rest of the band musically and socially. I mean Glenn and I have been very close at times, having known each other for a good many years. Through being on the road one tends to ... one's personality becomes more exaggerated, you develop affinities with different people. He was a drinking man who liked the gay atmosphere of the Haymarket on Eighth Avenue while I would sit at home and watch the Johnny Carson show and so there was a kind of social rift. He probably enjoyed playing everything we did, but I think he had things in his own mind that he wanted to do which he felt happier doing and ... it was a kind of mutual agreement ... there was no argument or anything at all ... just one day he was with us and the next day he wasn't so we proceeded to find another bass player and he stayed with the same management company."
So he's still working?
"Oh, yes, he has a group called Wild Turkey. I don't know if they have any plans for coming here yet."
Did you have a band before Jethro Tull?
"Well, I was in a group with John Evan and Jeffrey. This is while we were in school. We indulged in once a week youth club activities playing for local churches. We didn't make any money. It was just service to the school, just sort of for fun, and we were very bad. We did a great deal in our own advancement over the other local groups, because we didn't play the top twenty. We indulged in simple variations of sort of ethnic influences like Negro blues and spirituals which we performed rather badly as I said but at least it left an air of originality which was totally false because we were very derivative."
Are you influenced by Tyrannosaurus Rex at all, or Donovan? The album, to me, sounds a little like Tyrannosaurus Rex, or Donovan.
"All I can say is Donovan and Tyrannosaurus Rex sound like other people far more than I would say I sound like either one of them. Just as the way I feel about reading ... in terms of literature, poetry or philosophy, I really feel much the same. Again, this is a personal view. But I feel it's just not necessary for me to listen to other musicians to be able to create any music of value."
Do you like Jeremy Steig?
"I've never heard him but I've heard he's very good. I also heard that I sound like him."
"Yes, I've heard some of his records, about two of them, and I played with him once at a jazz thingy, you know, the Newport Jazz Festival. Jazz is something which is very strange to me. It derives from a very different approach to life than mine."
Your music seems much less jazz and blues oriented. There seems to be much more folk songs, or ballads.
"You hit it when you said folk songs because really what I am is a folk singer and that's the honest truth, more than anything else, inasmuch as what I'm singing about is the folk music of today."
Why did you call the album Aqualung?
"The title was just as much an irrelevant name as Jethro Tull. I don't believe that names have any great significance. Aqualung is a title that serves as a mental link, if you know anything of the working of memory ... and that's really what it is. It's the halfway stage between thought and the actual piece the thought represents ... it is the name by which you trace back. That's all a name is."
Do you have a liking for West Indian music?
"It's a kind of music I can have an affinity with."
Do you think it might be like blues or jazz?
"No, it's a much later period than the beginnings of blues. It's essentially a joyful form of music, it expresses joy within the society. It's black music and I'm not black and I'm not being racist in saying this so why should I pretend to be black by playing their music? You know, try to become absorbed in what they're singing about because I'm not black, I don't know how it feels to be black and I don't know how it feels to be black and proud or black and down or any of the variations of the feelings that everybody in humanity goes through without being black so why should I try and sing those kinds of songs?"
But blues or jazz are black music.
"Sure they are and where I've absorbed certain technical structures, certain melodic sequences which are essentially derived from listening to jazz or blues I wouldn't pretend to understand ... the real feeling or humanity behind that music. If a black man feels sad because he has no money it's sort of like me if I have no money but there's an essential difference when you're dealing with songs that are about being black."
What do you like in America?
"I can't honestly say that I like any of the mass communication except I would say the Dick Cavett show, the Johnny Carson show, and sometimes the David Frost show and the Merv Griffin are things that I derive a great deal of satisfaction out of watching. I find it very informing in terms of what the people are saying about America. If I had a child I wouldn't let him within a hundred miles of any American history but would force him to sit for hours in front of the video tapes of Johnny Carson."
Were you brought up in a religious family? Did you go to church on Sundays?
"My family was not religious but they did encourage me to go to church and Sunday school as a child and ... although I tried it ... I didn't understand what was happening. And combined with the fact that I was a Scotsman; I had to wear a kilt to Sunday school which I consider rather indecent and still do, having rather thin legs and bony knees. I felt rather strongly against the whole idea."
Did you go to parochial school?
"No, I went to a typical English grammar school but our headmaster was very reverend and tried to endow his pupils with a sense of Christianity. The moral teachings were perfectly sound but the reason behind them I could not understand then."
When did you leave school?
"I left the grammar school after the first lot of exams. I did very well in those exams and was due for a course as a teacher, lawyer or accountant ... one of those possessing a great moral fiber and suitably inclined to take his place in English society ... sort of a servant to the country in some way which I still am or I will be as soon as I start paying tax which I can't put off much longer. I really didn't want to know what I was going to be twenty years later when I was 16 but I knew that at least it would be something surprising and exciting and eventful when it occurred."
Do you read any Herman Hesse?
"No. I read very little of anything ... I'm opposed to reading the things I'm told to read but I do delve conscientiously through the bookstores in airports in all corners of the world and occasionally pick up gems of interesting reading. I do read when the moment presents itself but not the books I'm told to read. I very rarely tell people to read the things that I read either. I strongly believe in the fact that one could walk into a bookshop anywhere and pick out two dozen books which are gratifying but I don't think it's the place of most people to tell each other what to read. If he has a spirit for reading he should find out what to read by himself and I know from experience that you will find things which are very good just by looking around and coming upon them by chance whereupon they seem more valuable than being told to read something either for an exam or because your best friend read it and you don't want to be left out. I do find it very gratifying when I read something which serves to bolster things which I really believe, things that I have actually thought through for myself and not learned from other philosophers."
Then I assume you've never read any Alan Watts and I presume that you don't use the I Ching?
"No, someone actually gave me a book of that a couple of weeks ago, and I gave it to my best friend to read actually ... I really did and I'm sure that he'll enjoy it very much."
I guess you can't really know anything unless you experience it. You can read about it but unless you actually experience it you can't really know what the people are talking about.
"Yes, obviously this is just a personal viewpoint, not something I wish to dictate to other people. I don't think it's necessary, for me anyway, to read all the philosophers to find out what it's all about or to take LSD or smoke pot to know what it's all about. I'm finding out in my own time, in my own way, and I'm arriving at a lot of the same conclusions as certain learned gentlemen which I can only attribute to some fair degree of intelligence anyway. I mean I'm certainly not a very intelligent person ... I mean, in no way, I'm just a little above average and that's honest. I look and listen really."
I asked you this question because in your album your reference to religion, God and the phoniness of it ...
"I did pick up in a bookstore the book by Mr. Crowley who I never even heard of before and I found a lot of the things in it that I have thought out before."
Which ideas in Crowley did you find that paralleled your own?
"Well, take the most obvious religious ideas first. Most of his ideas, some anyway, are rather like ones I've been saying myself and put into song."
Can you give an example of it?
"Well, there's his ideas about Jews. His attitude towards the Jewish race is something that he says that has an element of truth in what I see myself: that the Jews that one sees in one's own country are usually the worst Jews, in New York or London or whatever, they're not truly representative of their race. Most modern successful Jews, they have to exploit the worst traits of the Jewish character, if you like, to become successful in modern societies but at the same time their best characteristics are their great benevolence and a kind of stalwart kind of sturdiness which is something I have to admire and respect. Like my wife's Jewish and I've come into contact with a great many Jewish people and the Jewish church. That's the first thing that comes into mind.
"It's a very big book, he's a very outspoken man, very eloquent, very articulate and it's the sort of thing that you really have to read carefully because you can very often misunderstand his cynicism and humor as something to be taken seriously and literally which it's not. A lot of people take a lot of his actions, his writings, his mild jokes and the assuming of a different character for the purpose of writing a poem. Satire is the genuine motivation. He was considered obscene and irreligious which I suppose he was, but personally from what I've read about him so far, I consider him to be a very religious man. I consider myself to be fairly religious but within a very limited bound because I don't yet possess the experience of different religions to be able to be truly religious."
Truly faithful or truly religious?
"Well, faith has very little to do with it. It's not a question of faith. I'm not involved in a religion of fear. Several months ago in Rome when I was talking to some Roman Catholics about religion, in particular their own, it became rather obvious to me through our mutual discussion that their religion was something they adhered to through fear. Although they were no longer involved in the direct application of the principles of their faith they refused to renounce it. A couple of them admitted to it being through fear, fear of eternal damnation, fear of all the things they were told was going to happen if you don't do things the right way. Your religion is the only true religion and everyone else is wrong sort of thing.
"I really believe that fear in respect to religion is very powerful, possibly the most powerful part, fear of the unknown, fear of death and most of all the fear of not being able to understand oneself, not being able to come to grips with oneself in terms of objective analysis. In these terms the East is so far ahead of us because that's what they do teach, to come to grips with oneself."