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Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love, Mayor Frank Rizzo, soft pretzels with mustard and the Mike Douglas Show. In his novel, 'Faragan's Retreat', Tom McHale appraises the city this way. "Philadelphia enjoyed three blessings, Faragan's father had always said: two rivers, the Irish immigrations and unenviable high percentages of humidity."
I personally can vouch for the humidity. Moisture cashes in on big klutz feet; I, however, arrived by train. Why hasn't anybody written a song about Amtrak? Looking through the window, I saw a still-life procession of factories, most of which had signs that bragged of industrial glory. They were 20th century kinsmen of Ozymandias. Marvelous, I thought. The American worker is provided with a diversity of ways to be injured.
Technology is really dandy. One merely has to exit from the designated door of a train station to find a waiting taxicab. One never has to think about why the cab was there or where it came from or where the cab will go when it is no longer needed. As far as I was concerned, my taxi's single reason for existence was to convey me to Fifth and Market, the site of the studio where Mike Douglas performed his magic. I was to observe one of Mike's special guests, Ian Anderson, leader of Jethro Tull. (Incidentally, just the day before I went to Philadelphia, a murder was performed approximately one block away from the studio. It was the result of a final argument between two street vendors who had, according to a local paper, "a long-standing dispute over the price of Bicentennial trinkets.")
Usually, there are autograph hounds outside the television station. Some of them sport Arthur Bremer smiles as they all stand about patiently with their autograph books and Instamatics. They know it's a sure spot to catch Somebody easing out of a limousine. When I arrived, they were not there. In their places, however, were newsmen — reporters, press photographers, television anchor men and film units. A limousine arrived and a neatly dressed mayor and his neatly dressed bodyguards assumed stage center in the street. By this point, I was standing in the television station's lobby. I saw Rizzo, as if he were a magnet, draw the media folk toward him. A studio musician entered the lobby.
"Hey," he said, striding toward the backstage area, "there's a guy outside who looks just like Mayor Rizzo!"
The mayor had a solemn civic mission — the ceremonial planting of a tomato bush to publicize a program.
The Mike Douglas green room is actually predominantly green. Even the super graphics exhibit varying verdant vistas. The wall clock has a second hand that seems to hop from notch to notch. The functional furniture can best be described as Talk Show Moderne. One wall featured photographs of Mike — Mike and Liberace, Mike and Redd Foxx, Mike and Paul Williams, Mike and Joel Grey, Mike and Dick Shawn, Mike and Joe Garagiola, Mike and Burt Reynolds and so on. A laminated poster hangs on another wall. The poster explains that the Mike Douglas Show reaches more total homes, total viewers, total adults, adults 18-49, total women, women 18-49, than Dinah or Merv.
Ian Anderson materialized. He looked like an angular, Angle bone totem with a five-day growth of beard. With him was space age keyboardist David Palmer. It was time to rehearse.
Ian and David were onstage. David at his synthesizer and Ian with a humble guitar upon his knee. An interesting dynamic occurred. While singing, Anderson sported a deep heartfelt smile. Every time the music stopped, his face slipped into an exasperated "well what next" expression. The dissatisfaction was more than rehearsal jitters. It was more than obeisance to an important publicity break. It was more than the flogging — self and otherwise — administered by the artist as perfectionist. It was plain puke-flavored frustration. Something was wrong with the sound. Apparently, a little wonder piece of electronic gear was needed. When questioned earlier by Jethro Tull legates, the Douglas staff reassuringly claimed to have what was needed. They were mistaken.
There was a whole lot of patching going on; but to no avail. Ian preferred not to present a sound that was a poor advertisement for his work. What to do? A prolonged conference went on in the backstage corridor. Chrysalis Records offered a snippet of film of Jethro Tull in performance. Agreed.
Ian returned to his dressing room. Life began to accelerate. Co-host Chad Everett sat in his dressing room and played cocktail chords on an upright piano. Anthony Newley, carrying a Gucci bag, entered. Joy Belie Squibb, an 80 plus ragtime pianist, sat casually in the green room with her daughter. Makeup was applied. It was whispered that Bob Hope was on the show. Ian came out of his dressing room for makeup. As he sat on the barber chair, a photographer assigned to photograph Ian Anderson approached. Anderson waved him away — no pictures. His face polished, Anderson returned to his dressing room. Second catastrophe. Though Anthony Newley was in Philadelphia, his contact lenses were in Westbury, Long Island, where he absentmindedly left them. Would they get here in time? His secretary would not be able to sit down until the contacts arrived.
Miraculously, Bob Hope appeared. Apparently, his mere presence induced such a crowd outside that he needed the assistance of a police officer just to get into the building. Rehearsal continued. Ian Anderson stayed in his dressing room.
Mike, Chad and Bob ran through that red-white-and-blue oldie, 'You're a Grand Old Flag'. Scattered about the studio were cue cards with the lyrics to that patriotic must. Another visible cue card read, "Our co-host this week is Chad Everett". Newley's secretary was still pacing. Now Bob Hope was leaning against a backstage piano. He held a rolled-up copy of People. Hope and Douglas talked about earlier days, mutual friends and told Polish jokes. Ian Anderson stayed in his dressing room.
Bob Hope stepped back from his jokester stance and earnestly asked a man on the Douglas staff, "By the way, are you Polish?"
"Yes, I am," the man proudly replied.
"Oh," said Hope, "well, then I'll tell you the jokes very slowly." Pause. One. Two. Laughter.
The audience politely entered the studio. Generally speaking, its members seemed to be clones of one woman. She wore a pants suit and she had white hair and a sweet smile.
Returning to the green room, I noticed an aged ball-point graffito on the door — "Bird Lives (Trane died)". Beneath that sentiment, someone added the pencilled words — "Phil Woods Breeds."
Newley's secretary was seated. The taping of this segment of the Mike Douglas show had officially begun. Those of us remaining in the green room were basically powerless people. A few lower echelon members of the Douglas staff, Bob Hope's policeman, me. The hour-and-a-half show proceeded rapidly.
"Tell them," Douglas urged Everett, "the Brezhnev story."
Anthony Newley sang a song about parenthood.
Bob Hope briskly plugged a television special and a record album, and discussed his neophyte days when he performed in a theatre with an audience so tough that .... His plugs dispersed, Bob Hope split.
Ian Anderson was given a round of applause and revealed himself to be a warm, personable, subdued young man. Then the film clip came on. The audience saw what seemed to be a painted face, a Dionysian creature making flamboyant, inspired moves that somehow predated and predicted dance. Apparently, the people in the green room had never seen anything like this before. They exhibited the same detached disbelief usually reserved for the viewing of accidents. The panelists expressed awe that Anderson could cavort like that in front of 90,000 people. For the 716th time, Ian Anderson explained how Jethro Tull got its name. He confided the fact that he was on tour and had a new album, Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die. 'Up the Lazy River' with Joy Belie Squibb. Gathering around the piano and singing. Stand by to lose Mike. Lose Mike. Stand by to hit theme. Hit theme. Stand by to crawl credits. Crawl credits. Stand by to black out. Black out!
In front of the green room, Anderson's people gathered around him to tell him what a good job he had done.
"He said he wanted me to co-host with him some time," said Ian, "but I guess he just wanted me to feel good."
"No," said someone on the production staff. "He really meant it." As Anderson was leaving the studio, I finally spoke to him.
"I'll see you in New York, tomorrow."
He pointed his finger at me and smiled.
THE NEXT DAY IN NEW YORK
Ian Anderson did not merely sit in his hotel suite. He decorated his chair with poise. He displayed the graceful pride lions are reputed to have. He has mastered the knack of treating his fellow humans as if they were actually his spiritual and social equals. Our conversation went from his response to English music and bagpipes —
"It's more than a liking for the instrument. It's a response to the music — that droning quality — Celtic music. It's something special. One can't really pin down what. It has to be some kind of a folk memory —"
to Giotto —
"His attempts were obviously very crude; but nonetheless he was a landmark because he suddenly dealt with the way light fell on an object. His attempt to deal with it, although crude, was just remarkable —"
to reincarnation. He neither believes nor disbelieves.
"I just don't believe honestly in anything yet," he explained. "I think faith is always a difficult attribute to acquire. I think faith suggests the lack of questioning and whenever one stops questioning it's all over. It doesn't really matter what you believe in. You're probably wrong. But to want to believe in something is good and to ask the questions and make little forays into the meanings probably exhorts spiritual endeavor. I don't think the answers are as important as the questions."
I told Anderson about an Indian neurobiologist I had met. The scientist preferred not to experiment with rats because one of them might be his grandfather.
"I doubt very much that we come back as rats," Anderson replied. "A little bit of us might come back as rats. A small part of one's soul might possibly re-emerge into an animal; but I don't think so — I think the human soul is something necessarily loftier — more complicated."
I should mention that Anderson and me were seated at a room service table. A silver pot of coffee stood between us.
"Also an interesting hypothesis," continued Anderson, "can be divinities, or spiritual phenomena. They are important to the person in private quest because they answer, or attempt to deal with, some of the questions about art, if you like, as opposed to the daily habit of getting on with living. Art has a place in human endeavor just as much as survival. Art and survival are so closely linked ... survival of the intellect, survival of emotion."
I suggested that the value of the arts come from the fact that, in truth, they are unnecessary, being neither air, nor food nor warmth; that they are luxuries which can only be enjoyed when one gets beyond animal survival.
"It's strange, is it not," he replied, "there seems always to have been time for this luxury. I mean, the origin of music seems to lie in the emotional response to things somewhat more spiritual, whether it was merely dancing around the bonfire acknowledging the gods on high, some sort of deity, for the rains and the harvest, the birth of a new child, or expressing sorrow or joy, someone dying. It's an emotional response. We all have the need for emotional expression some way. But, there are those hollow souls lying doped on something in doorways down on Ninth Avenue and the streets around there who have little or nothing any longer that they want to express, and they are obviously the minority."
Anderson is one rock musician who is down on drugs of all sorts.
"I'm very suspicious over the use of drugs," he said, "because it's become so much a part of the system. Blue denim and dope bring rock and roll nearer to its decline. Drugs were all right when they were distinctly novel and very dangerous and spicy things. I didn't do it back then. I continue not to do drugs because everybody else does it. I'm quite pleased about that.
"People are not questioning the validity of these approaches. It goes without saying that someone aged between pre-puberty and post-puberty will indulge in the drug experience. He's going to start to dress the way that everybody else his age dresses. It's coming together like a mass of sheep milling around. I find that to be lamentable because the quickest way towards expression, the joyous form of expression whether you're a musician or a painter or just a member of an audience, comes first of all from trying to make your little stamp of individuality on the way you live. To indulge in sort of a social uniformity seems like a great barrier. Whether it's the blue denim bore or the dope bore, it's still a bore to me. It gets in the way of people ever expressing anything about themselves to me. I go out there to search for individuals in the audience every night. It's hard to get at the individual. It's harder when they all look alike."
It became rapidly apparent that Ian Anderson is not likely to succumb to anything so mundane as an identity crisis. He would, no doubt, consider such a situation to be shameful and beneath him. One can do worse than value individualism and a sense of mastery. Poor Alexander the Great cried because there were no more worlds to conquer. This, of course, happened a considerable amount of time before the information explosion. Ian Anderson, on the other hand, still has worlds to conquer. He particularly enjoys performing in areas that have a limited exposure to rock.
"It's still a real event. It's a very important thing and one enjoys being an ambassador in that sense; to set the standards as it were, by which all rock music in the future will be judged within that country."
In fact, Anderson went on the Douglas show to reach new audiences. ("It's rather like going to play in Yugoslavia").
Inevitably, the word ego emerges. Ian Anderson readily concedes that he is an egotist. One way he expresses this trait is by spending money on items he's liable to discard the following day. The act of buying is reassuring. However, there are some things he values, like his Webley & Scott shotgun. This was purchased after much thought and research.
"The shooting," he explained, "is more like what the Yoga sort of thing is — the process whereby a lot of emotion, a lot of intention gets brought down to one simple, clear-cut pursuit and one has to be incredibly controlled to do that — and yet be very slick at the same time. The modest, emotional little exercise — it's a calming thing."
Currently, Anderson shoots targets, not animals; but he sees a possibility of that changing partially because of his fondness for pheasant.
"I'm now more able to differentiate," he said, "between the glory of the kill, of which I so intensely disapprove, and the necessity of killing for eating and the enjoyment of fresh foods knowing it was your lot in life to look after that food while it was still alive.
"I can enjoy walking through the woods where I live and seeing the pheasants fly and flutter through the undergrowth. I feel a responsibility for them. I will protect them against other people."
This responsibility is directed toward doing his bit to keep the balance of nature balanced.
"There are too many squirrels," he continued.
"One has to control them because they will proliferate; because certain kinds of trees have been planted artificially some years ago. One must control the foxes because there are too many foxes in the world. There would be no pheasants, no squirrels and no rabbits in the woods. One therefore has to say, I think this area can support four foxes, and at any point in time, a few cubs. More than that, I must either shoot them, hunt them in the traditional English way, poison them or whatever. But I must control this, lest it get out of hand because the ecology already is unnatural."
There is a consistency to Ian Anderson. Clearly, he recognizes his own leadership abilities. He would make a wonderful lord of the manor. Perhaps he sees himself as the Thane of Candor. He is thoughtful. He is sensitive — at least to his own needs.
He wants to expand his audiences. On the crassest level that means he wishes to increase the amount of units of product sold. On the deepest level it would seem that he wishes to use his performances to influence more people to be individualistic, like him. Artists are people who give power to our dreams. For some, the catalyst is Jethro Tull, and for others it's Mike Douglas.
Thanks to Dag Sandbu at Collecting Tull for this article.