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22 February 1975
"I'M NOBODY SPECIAL. I'M NOTHING. I'M NOT A PHILOSOPHER. I'M NOT EVEN A WRITER OR A MUSICIAN OF ANY NOTE."
Ian Anderson said that. So why are the masses flocking to see the man in the huge codpiece blow on his flute? Don Heyland looks for an answer.
Beverly Hills, California: Ian Anderson props up his black boots on an old scuffed and ragged table in an otherwise plush Beverly Wilshire Hotel suite. Dressed in black pants, black T-shirt and black leather belt, he puts out his fifteenth Dunhill International cigarette in a small ashtray and lights a sixteenth with a black Dunhill lighter, takes a sip of black coffee and mutters darkly about Jethro Tull's concert in the Los Angeles Forum the night before. There had been quite a few technical errors, leading to performing errors by the band and a bad feeling. No one in the ecstatically cheering audience had seemed to notice.
"But I go up there to play for me, not for the record company lackeys, God bless them all, nor even for the audience. If it doesn't work for me, then ultimately everything I do is a real con. I have to pantomime in parrot fashion and play the whole game of what it's supposed to be."
Jethro Tull is presently taking every concert dollar in America that hasn't been spent on Led Zeppelin. In Los Angeles, Jethro announced two shows in the 20,000-seat forum. Both immediately sold out, so a third was added, then a fourth, then a fifth. And that's the story everywhere. Why are the masses flocking to see the man in the huge codpiece blow on his flute?
Anderson sees the band's stage performance as a grand ritual.
"That's why I dress in silly clothes onstage. Because I enjoy the celebration, I enjoy the occasion, I enjoy the momentum of being out on a limb and standing there glowing in codpiece and multi-coloured tights and jacket and coat and all the rest of it. But at the same time, I have to say it's really silly.
"And I have to admit some nights just thinking, 'What in the hell am I doing here wearing all this. Do I need this to play music? Has it actually become, in another way, a sort of crutch that I employ, to get me through the night.' Because I obviously don't wear them in rehearsals or in the studio, so why do I do it onstage? It's because I enjoy dressing up to go out.
"And I say this sarcastically to people in the audience sometimes, 'Well, it's nice to see you all got specially dressed up for me tonight, and you're looking very nice.' And they all cheer and applaud each other in their blue denims and their shitty T-shirts. I would just love to see some girls who made themselves look pretty because they were going to sit in the front row. But that hardly ever happens."
For some rock musicians, interviews are a chore, taxing the limits of their ability to communicate verbally, but Anderson is something else. He will talk 15 minutes without a pause in replying to a simple question. He sprinkles two-dollar words, malapropisms and mixed metaphors liberally into these mini-lectures and seems to enjoy the art of conversation almost as much as the art of exciting audiences.
One of the topics that turns up repeatedly in his music is religion, or rather his hatred of it. All his harsh words against the clergy stem from a brief experience at the age of 8, when his parents, who were not churchgoers themselves, sent him to Sunday School.
"Because that was in Scotland, I was supposed to wear a kilt. And at the age of 8, it was distinctly offensive to my emergent masculinity. I used to walk down the road and go in through the gates of the church and run and hide in the bush."
As offensive as the kilt to the young Ian was the catechism he was forced to learn. It struck him as some kind of evil magic formula. He soon refused to attend Sunday School and since that day has prided himself on his scepticism and cynicism.
"I'm a cynical disbelieving soul who is probably bound for the deepest regions of hell," he says with bright eyes. "I take great joy in the fact that if there is a God up there or down there or around us or just somewhere else having a cup of tea, putting butter on his toast first thing in the morning, if there is a God somewhere, he'll look down on me with a more amused and wry smile for my puny efforts, whereas he's going to look down with great wrath and disagreeable aggression upon most of the fools parading in white collars and such."
Despite the themes of religious, political and moral corruption that are often the subjects of his songs and longer works, Ian prides himself on not being especially well-read.
"I read and re-read all the James Bond books, because they fulfil a fantasy of mine. I'd like to have a gun and polish it and check the rounds in the chambers before I went out on a dangerous mission. And I'd like to pull birds, be able to play chemin de fer and drive a Bentley.
"I once read a small book on comparative religions, and all it did was tell me the names of what people call themselves. I don't believe that I learned anything really from that book other than the labels to attach to certain notions that had already occurred to me at a much earlier age.
"I'm nobody special. I'm nothing. I'm not a philosopher. I'm not even a writer or musician of any note. I'm just Joe Blow, Mr Average. And I pick up books off airport newsagents or whatever you call them. I declare myself open only to the same available knowledge, only the written material and the ideas that are as accessible to everybody out there as they are to me. I don't have special access to any information, and any information that I do review, I necessarily do so cynically. And that's why I'm reasonably sane."