Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jethro Tull celebrates 40th anniversary at Wolf Trap

The following article was found in the Fairfax Times.

By Eileen M. Carlton

Jethro Tull was first the name of a man, an agrarian engineer in England who invented the seed drill in the 18th century.

Then Jethro Tull became both plural and singular, poetic and disharmonious, simplistic and complex, and a band that has meant and continues to mean many things to many people.

And, like the Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull is still on tour and in the process of evolving - even after or maybe because of four decades of riding the heady and capricious locomotive of musical stardom.

Ian Anderson, 60, was one of the band’s founders and remains its lead singer and its spokesman.

Anderson also makes it clear on The Official Jethro Tull Web site that being the spokesman is not a task he enjoys.

His attitude is a personification of the lyrics from Tull’s “Lost in Crowds.”

“So, who am I? Come on: ask me, I dare you.
So, who am I? Come on: question me, if you care to.
And why not try to interrogate this apparition? I melt away to get lost in this quaint condition.”

To alleviate some of the boredom he associates with being interviewed, Anderson compiled a lengthy and comprehensive list of questions he does not want to be asked “ever, ever again.” Since he also gives lengthy and comprehensive answers to these questions, a reporter may find it difficult to know where to start.

Nevertheless, Anderson did grant an interview, calling from his home in Wiltshire County just southwest of London to talk about his upcoming concert Aug. 6 at Wolf Trap and to express grave concern, not only about the global environment but also about the political situation in Great Britain and the United States.

The music

Anderson said he did not have any formal training in music but learned by listening to Muddy Waters and Beethoven.

While he is adept at several instruments, Anderson is credited by many for giving the flute a prominent place in the rock music scene.

Perhaps his most well-known recording was “Aqualung.” Anderson pointed out that up until this album, he had “tended to write songs that were more for the band.”

“This was mostly me and it was an album of great musical contrast,” Anderson said. “It epitomizes that approach to writing rock music. You try to make it varied in terms of light and shade, the drama, the contrast.”

Anderson indicated that this willingness to break the rules, to travel up and down unexplored harmonies and lyrics is the key to a philosophy he believes all musicians should embrace.

“I think perhaps, maybe the legacy of Jethro Tull is that we serve as an example to young musicians today,” Anderson said. “You don’t have to take the mainstream approach. You don’t have to be driven by the constraints of the media ... to succumb to pressure. Jethro Tull has something that shows that once in awhile you can buck the system and sell a bunch of records.”

He made the following comments on today’s music on his Web site:

“Endless recycling of '60s and '70s musical influences fill the charts these days.”

“Since the mid-70s, the [musical] development has been more technological rather than musical.”

“Nothing really changes; nothing is really new.”

“Techno and rap? Just nursery rhymes with attitude. Nice ideas but going around in small circles.”

The politics

The question that gave Anderson the opening he needed to discuss his political concerns was about Charlie, the entity in “Locomotive Breath,” the entity who stole the train that won’t stop going.

“I’m just talking about the almighty,” Anderson said. “I’m talking about the almighty train controller, the one who sets the timetable, who gave birth to the universe and the spinning globe, and we’re spinning right along with it and no way to get off. It’s a metaphor for the crazy drive that seems to exist in the world today for more and bigger; especially when they are talking about the global economy. ...They are like lemmings heading for the great abyss.”

The list of problems that Anderson wants to see fixed and, in fact, help fix them, includes overpopulation, global warming, the earth’s food supply and the dependency on fossil fuel.

He indicated he was ahead of his time, writing the first songs about climate change in 1974.

Anderson said the current U.S. presidential candidates are in for a rough ride, that whichever candidate wins the coming election, his term of office probably would not yield great success and re-election would not be in the cards. He also leveled harsh criticism of politicians in both the United States and Great Britain.

But the specifics he discussed in the interview, he said, will not find their way into his lyrics. Anderson makes it clear he does not want to bash people over the head with his beliefs.

“I don’t write songs that are headlines,” Anderson said. “I like the message to be a little more embedded, a little more subtle. ... I don’t think the job of a musician is really to be arguing the specifics of political opinion.”

The biography

Drawing from Anderson’s answers to the most frequently asked questions, one learns that the band began performing in February 1968, first in Luton, north of London, and then getting its big break at London’s famous Marquee Club on Wardour Street in Soho. Despite rumors to the contrary, the band has never disbanded “even for a moment.”

Tull performs more than 100 concerts each year. The current band members include lead guitarist Martin Barre, drummer Doane Perry, pianist/accordionist John O’Hara and bass guitarist David Goodier.

Anderson prefers to live in the present and the future. He wants his music to be “a little bit timeless and not rooted in a particular music fashion.”

In recognition of his talent, Anderson was award the MBE, or Member of the Order, by the British government early this year. He joins such notables as Paul McCartney in being a knight and having the title of “Sir.”

As for his life offstage, he has been married to his wife, Shona, for 23 years. He has two children, James and Gael, both “at university.” His household also includes five cats, two dogs, horses and chickens. He lives in an 18th-century English country house with a recording studio and 400 acres of wheat, barley and trees about 100 miles west of London. He has had a second home in Scotland, the country of his birth, since 1978. It is in the highlands of Scotland that he has also established a salmon farm that employs about 250 people.

Anderson’s hobbies include growing a wide variety of hot chili peppers and the study and conservation of 26 species of small wildcats. He collects mechanical watches and vintage Leica and other cameras.

The future

Anderson indicated on his Web site that while he may cut back on the number of concerts a year, he will never willingly stop making music and performing:

“When I wake up in the morning, I am a musician, not a farmer or fish salesman. That’s what I pay other people to do. I just like eating smoked salmon from one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Death may beckon but retirement does not. ... Which will go first: the eyes, ears or the hands? Fear of boredom in old age is my greatest concern.”

As ever, Anderson incorporated this philosophy in his music, “Life is a Long Song.”

“Life's a long song

But the tune ends too soon for us all.’

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