The Holy Trinity, Part Two: Jethro Tull

I, like too many prog-rock fanatics to count, was delighted when Rush received their overdue induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I still hold out hope that Yes will join them, along with some other eminently worthy compatriots, like King Crimson.

One band should have been enshrined years ago, and it is with regret and resignation that I hold no expectation that they will ever have the opportunity. The band: Jethro Tull. The reason: it’s not because they’re not good enough, but because they are too good. (And if you think I’m joking, then I’m just a one-line joker in a public bar.)

Indeed, Jethro Tull have always confounded critics, and despite albums sales, hit songs, influence and longevity that make them a virtual no-brainer, it is above all the brain of frontman Ian Anderson that ensures they will remain forever on the outside, looking in. While groups who were wrongly reviled by critics during their heyday (think Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath) have received their sanctified and justified reappraisals, it’s not in the cards for Jethro Tull. Even their ostensible moment of glory, a Grammy Award in 1989 for “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance” was controversial, since they beat out the heavily favored Metallica for the honor. The fact that Tull was never, at any time, a hard rock or metal band only added to the absurdity.

It’s tempting to suggest that, like Yes, Jethro Tull made the mistake of staying alive, if not necessarily relevant, decades after doing their best work. But the fact of the matter is that  they never got an especially fair shake, critically, even in their glory years. As everyone knows, progressive rock was maligned in the ‘70s and is often derided and/or dismissed today. Acts like Rush and Genesis, or Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, that now escape the scrutiny or ridicule, have not done so because the so-called mainstream tastemakers have come to their senses. Rather, the sheer weight of their achievements, coupled with accolades from younger bands, made it impossible for the people holding the keys to the kingdom to continue maligning them with any credibility.

With bands like Yes, who still have a chance, the “serious” people can wink and nod and point to the excesses of prog-rock as a quaint or cute stylistic quirk; an awkward rite of passage rock music went through before it emerged, leaner and meaner (and much improved) after punk rock set things straight. Bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer were a tad too indulgent, or took themselves too seriously, and bands like Jethro Tull, who neither courted nor seemed to care about what anyone said, are still ripe targets for facile disdain.

So should we shed tears for a group that has moved more than 60 million units, played to packed (if steadily smaller) audiences for almost five decades, still receives substantial radio play and is generally recognized for making at least two seminal albums in rock history? Not necessarily. Let it simply be stated, without equivocation, that Ian Anderson is one of the more intelligent, capable and, for a run as long as any other icon, consistent frontman in music.

Like Duke Ellington, or at least David St. Hubbins, Anderson has led a band with an ever-rotating cast of characters (loyal guitarist Martin Barre his Billy Strayhorn), all employed in the service of realizing his singular and disparate musical vision. From 1969 to 1979 Jethro Tull put out at least one album every single year, and none of them are less than very good. A handful of them are great. And three of them, Aqualung, Thick as a Brick, and A Passion Play, alone merit the band’s hall of fame coronation.

Interestingly, Jethro Tull’s holy trinity was recorded the same years as Yes’s (and the same years as Genesis’s, of whom we’ll discuss in the next column). This is less a coincidence than a commentary on how fertile the early ‘70s were, particularly amongst the practitioners of prog-rock. Considering the previously discussed Yes (The Holy Trinity: Yes) and King Crimson, ( King Crimson: A Prog-Rock Case Study) along with Jethro Tull (just to pick a few) it’s difficult to find more different sounds and styles, yet such staggering creativity and execution.

This, again, is what makes progressive rock at once easy and impossible to describe. We know it when we hear it, and there’s general consensus regarding who did it best, and when. But it’s the variety and all-encompassing aesthetic that defines the genre: great proficiency sprinkled with pomposity and a genuine aspiration to be unique, substantive, and meaningful. None of these albums, by just about any of these bands, sound anything alike, yet they are all instantly recognizable as progressive rock.

Two years ago I wrote at length about Aqualung (Jethro Tull: Aqualung: 40th Anniversary Special Edition), wherein I attempted to put it, and Anderson, in perspective:

Jethro Tull is in the unfortunate, yet ultimately enviable position of circumventing easy identification. Certainly they are known as a crucial part of the prog-rock movement, as they should be, but their career preceded it and has continued long after its heyday. Aside from their accessibility, relatively speaking of course, Tull also sold enough albums to be considered a significant act in their own regard. Tull, in other words, suffers if compared to the critically reviled acts of this time. In terms of their influence, longevity and versatility, they really are a rare entity in rock music.

More than anything else, Ian Anderson’s lyrics are many degrees better than those of his prog brethren. More to the point, his lyrics are many degrees better than rock songwriters in any era. The list of rock musicians whose lyrics can be considered apart from the music and appraised as poetry is small, but Anderson is at the top of the list. In terms of output alone, his work necessarily ranks about Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel, two of rock’s better wordsmiths. The fact that he was only 23 when Aqualung was recorded is remarkable enough; the fact that the themes and words in many ways remain relevant today is sufficient evidence of his genius.

Aqualung necessarily takes its place alongside The Dark Side of the Moon and Moving Pictures as career-defining work by a band making albums that sound utterly unique and epitomize the band that made them. What’s fascinating and special about Tull’s tri-fecta is that it came fairly early in the band’s discography. That Anderson masterminded three albums this impressive, and indelible, in his early to-mid-20s is an enduring testament to his precocious talent.

One thing that plagues even some of the better progressive rock music is how utterly of its time it can sound. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Like most of the bands already discussed, few people would have difficulty tying the majority of these albums to their era. Jethro Tull, particularly on Aqualung, nevertheless manages to present a song cycle—meshing Anderson’s acoustic strumming with Barre’s abrasive electric guitar chords—that manages to sound not only fresh, but vital, even today.

Understanding that the tunes are essentially asking “What Would Jesus Do?” in the context of a mechanized and materialistic society (circa 1971; circa 2013), Aqualung is prog-rocks J’accuse. Anderson, like Townshend on Quadrophenia, spares no one, least of all himself, and since the primary targets—organized religion and social Darwinism—are so large and worthy of scorn, the barbs still sting, and resonate.

If The Dark Side of the Moon is, among other things, a treatise on the issues and concerns that can and do drive people over the edge, Aqualung got there first. Having the ability, not to mention the audacity, to get both priests and politicians in his sights, Anderson makes a case for the better angels of the ‘60s ethos, with nary a flower, freak-out or paean to free love. The ugliness of the way we tend to treat one another is, at times, reflected in the brutality of the music (Barre and drummer Clive Bunker are at their devastating best throughout the proceedings), drives the relentless soundtrack to a state of affairs that arguably worsened as the “Me-Decade” got its malaise on.

Anderson is prescient, depicting the contemporary world as a train gone off the rails, “no way to slow down” (“Locomotive Breath”); he sounds downright prophetic depicting the “products of wealth” pushing us into the abyss (“Slipstream”), and he sounds like an antidote for any ideology preempting God to justify violence or intolerance: “He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays” (“Wind Up”). Aqualung is correctly heralded as an essential moment in classic rock history, but it’s more than that. It’s a point of departure for a new type of music, both for Jethro Tull  and the progressive era.

Jethro Tull was on top of the world (and the charts) in 1972 when Thick as a Brick became the first pop album comprised of one continuous song to reach a widespread audience. The concept may have been audacious, but the music is miraculous: this is among the handful of holy grails for prog-rock fanatics, no questions asked. Put as simply as possible, many beautiful babies were thrown out with the bath water by hidebound critics who were content to sniffingly dismiss the more ambitious (pretentious!) works that certain bands were putting out as a matter of course in the early to-mid-‘70s. If Aqualung doubled down on the “concept album” concept, Thick as a Brick functioned as a New Testament of sorts, signifying what was now possible in rock music.

Even with the side-long songs that became almost obligatory during this era, nobody else had the wherewithal to dedicate a full 45 minutes to the development and execution of one uninterrupted song (and Tull did it twice). Anderson had already proven he could write a hit and create controversial work that got radio play; now he was putting his flute in the ground and throwing his cod-piece in the ring. Whatever else one may say about it, Thick as a Brick is the Ne Plus Ultra of prog-rock: between the extensive packaging (a faux newspaper that is equal parts Monty Python and The Onion); this was as ambitious as progressive music had been, outdone in terms of scope and ambition only by its follow-up.

Inevitably, Jethro Tull lost some of their audience (more than a handful forever) with their follow-up to Thick as a Brick and the more challenging and, upon initial listens, less rewarding, A Passion Play. It was a shame, then, and remains regrettable, now that some folks don’t have the ears or hearts for this material, as it represents much of Anderson’s finest work. His voice would never sound better, and he was possibly at the height of his instrumental prowess: the obligatory flute, the always-impressive acoustic guitar chops and, for this album, the cheeky employment of a soprano saxophone. It’s a gamble (and/or a conceit, depending upon one’s perspective) that pays off in spades: a difficult, occasionally confrontational, utterly fulfilling piece of work.

The subject matter, so perplexing at first blush, is a relatively straightforward examination of what happens after death. Literary allusions abound, and one wonders if this project had been described as rock music’s version of Dante’s Inferno it may have fared a bit better. (Probably not.) In any event, there are plenty of musicians, especially in the prog genre, whose lyrical merits can be ceaselessly debated.

Ian Anderson is not one of them. If you find his writing oblique or impenetrable, it’s not him, it’s you. The brilliance of his wordplay and the fun he has with the English language is something to savor. Not for nothing is this considered the masterpiece of the Tull oeuvre amongst die-hard fans (an encomium that only adds fuel to the fire for the legion of Tull haters, snot running down their noses). This one tends to draw the most resistance from even prog-rock aficionados: it obliges time and attention to let it work it charms, but the return on investment is worthwhile and ever-lasting.

“I have no time for Time magazine, or Rolling Stone”, Anderson sang in 1975. Even then he seemed to understand, and accept, that it simply wasn’t in the cards for him to be taken as seriously as he should have been. That there have been few multi-instrumentalist bandleaders capable of creating such a staggeringly original and eclectic body of work. That no one would ever rate his lyrical chops alongside justly venerated wordsmiths like Lennon, Dylan and Davies, even though on a purely poetic basis his ability arguably surpasses them all. That a world ceaselessly embracing one derivative, evanescent act after another hadn’t enough room for an old rocker who wore his hair too long, his trouser cuffs too tight and pulled one over on all of them, remaining too old to rock ‘n’ roll and too young die.

No matter: in the court of public opinion the works persevere and will be alive and well and living in the hearts and minds of sensitive and discerning listeners as long as discs still spin. In the end Tull’s not the kind you have to wind up for award shows.

http://www.popmatters.com/column/176304-the-holy-trinity-part-two-jethro-tull//

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Like The Dude, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson Abides

Few Jethro Tull fans could resist the prospect of a new DVD with more than six hours of live footage. It’s debatable how many fans would be overjoyed to learn that over half of this footage is taken from performances filmed after 1990.

Here’s the thing: Jethro Tull, led all along by front man and flautist Ian Anderson, has never stopped touring. In an era when many super groups from the good old days reunite every so often for the let’s come out of retirement to make a few million bucks boondoggles, Tull has quietly persevered. That Anderson has the wherewithal, not to mention the interest, to continue playing the same songs year after year, is a testament to his commitment. That fans continue to come out and see him is sufficient testament of his staying power. Anderson, like The Dude, abides.

Here’s the other thing: Jethro Tull has put out very little music in the last two decades, so their tours are very much musical revues of the glory years. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But the main thing that cannot be ignored is that Anderson’s singing voice is gone with the wind—and has been for some time.

All of which is to say, if you fancy almost four hours of similar set-lists performed by a band that is never less than competent, this set may appeal. Understand that it’s seldom pleasant and, in fact, often rather painful to see Anderson wheeze and strain singing songs he recorded four decades ago. It would not be unreasonable for hardcore fans to wonder how much material from the heyday resides in the vaults. If the answer is not much, then kudos to Anderson & Co. for making the most of the readily available, more recent footage.

The first of these four discs is the definite highlight, and not just from a nostalgic perspective. Kicking off the proceedings with a one-two punch (“My Sunday Feeling” and “My God”) from the 1970 Isle of Wight show (already available on the Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 DVD, released in 2004), we see what a fetching spectacle Tull was back in the day. In full Mad Dog Fagin mode, Anderson looks less like a rock star and more like a homeless person having a seizure, leaping and whirling, waving his flute like a baton. It’s good stuff.

We flash forward to 1976 to a gig in Tampa, Florida, featuring what might have been the band’s most versatile, consistently impressive line-up (including mainstay and unsung hero Martin Barre on lead guitar, John Evan and John Glascock on keyboards and bass, and Barriemore Barlow, far and away the best drummer Anderson ever employed). Anderson’s obligatory flute solo (sounding much like the one captured for the subsequent Bursting Out live set from 1978) is a frenetic tour de force, and the spirited take on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony illuminates how ballsy, and brilliant, these musicians were. It’s also somewhat dispiriting to conjecture about how many fans in today’s crowd would recognize that bit of the old Ludwig Van.

From there it’s already 1980, and the gig from Germany represents a swan song. of sorts. To be fair, and accurate, Tull continued to make remarkable music throughout this decade, but it never got this good again. For hardcore fans, this may offer the best bits, with previously unavailable versions of deeper cuts like “Orion”, “Dark Ages” and “Aqualung”. Okay, just kidding about “Aqualung”, but be prepared to see and hear that song too many times to count.

Again, to be fair and accurate fans expect to hear “Aqualung” at every show and Anderson never disappoints. The songs are interspersed with segments from an interview, and it’s always refreshing to hear Anderson, ever articulate and sardonic, appraising his career thus far. It’s remarkable, too, that Anderson was already easing into his “old salmon farmer” phase, with pipe in hand and mandolin in lap; considering that compared to today, he was still a mere lad.

Curiously, if revealingly, disc 2 opens with selections from 1982 and 1986, but there are a total of three songs chosen. From there we get a full set from Chile, in 1996, and the cuts from Roots to Branches and the all-instrumental Divinities (both from 1995) are more suited to Anderson’s, and the band’s, strengths. It’s on the old favorites that the aforementioned pain sets in: by this point Anderson’s once-impeccable singing voice has deserted him. He strains at each line with a pinched-arse head bob that must be as difficult for him to perform as it is to behold. And the viewer can be forgiven for thinking: boy is this going to be a long haul; we have 2.5 DVDs and almost two decades to go.

Here’s yet another thing: Anderson’s acumen illustrates that he’s not living in the past. He keeps plugging away and forward momentum, by definition, if not default, is the opposite of retreat. Yet, the shows have become increasingly predictable to the point of being embarrassingly scripted. That, combined with the dearth of new material, results in several hours of a not-quite-good-enough thing.

Two respites from the monotony can be found: the 1999 Holland “unplugged” session, filmed in a studio setting, and another interview. The 1999 footage, informal and relaxed, is a significant improvement, in part because Anderson does not have to struggle nearly as much in a close, closed environment. The band is tight and quite comfortable with each other (this iteration, including Andy Giddings on keyboards, Jonathan Noyce on bass and Doane Perry on drums, represents the most stable line-up in the outfit’s history, sticking together for an entire decade); the chemistry and comradery does not feel forced and, on the old classic “Fat Man”, they truly appear to be having fun.

The final interview, also from 1999, is a treat for fans. As always, Anderson is self-effacing with a dry, disarming wit. There is no question he has long been one of the more intelligent figures in rock music, and his refusal to take the music, or himself, too seriously, remains commendable. Pressed to list some highlights from his career, he fondly recalls the band’s first big breakthrough at the 1968 Sunbury Jazz and Blues Festival. He also marvels that the band had the opportunity to open for Led Zeppelin in 1969, just as both bands were poised to conquer America.

What we get, with Jethro Tull Around the World Live, is visual and sonic documentation of a legend aging (mostly with grace) before our eyes. We see him go from lean and hirsute freak to balding, dignified gentleman. Whether or not Jethro Tull’s performances have become a prospect of diminishing returns in terms of new material and live repertoire is rather beside the point. People are still gleefully paying to see them perform and Ian Anderson has always made a point of giving the fans what they came for. “We keep playing music because we enjoy it,” he says in 1980. “It’s that simple.” Indeed, it is.

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A Week of Americana. Part Two: Captain Beefheart

Don Van Vliet (R.I.P.), with his idiosyncracies, individuality and iconoclasm, represents virtually everything that is profoundly beautiful about America both as a concept and actuality. Like his compatriots Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee (to name only two, both of whom figured prominently in the summer of ’67), he was possibly driven to –or past– the point of insanity by…what, exactly? His genius? Reality? The impossibility of adapting, much less conforming, to a society that has rules men like Van Vliet are genetically predisposed to circumvent? Never fully appreciated during his time, it’s painful to contemplate his ongoing legacy in a world of free downloads and celebrity-anointed idols. Captain Beefheart is an original American Idol, and an ideal American: artist, inspiration, human. He bypassed convention by becoming the possibility of what his impossible brain imagined. And we should all be grateful to have had him.

(From my December 2010 tribute O Captain! My Captain!: The Unique Magic of Don Van Vliet)

As Ian Anderson said, “We’re getting a bit short on heroes lately.”

And Ian, while he wasn’t speaking of Don Van Vliet, nevertheless would –and did— endorse the man better known as Captain Beefheart. Indeed, the list of well-loved and iconoclastic artists who have cited CB as an inspiration and hero include the likes of Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, P.J. Harvey and Matt Groening. When the people lots of people worship name you as someone they worship, you can safely conclude you have done influential work, even if it didn’t necessarily pay the bills.

To say Don Van Vliet was unique is rather like saying the sun radiates heat: it doesn’t quite capture the enormity and impact of the subject. To assert that he was brilliant would be almost insulting, if that is possible. A genius? Let’s just say that if he wasn’t, then no other pop musician has ever been either. Even that is not quite right, since pop refers to popular and Captain Beefheart was anything but popular. He was highly regarded, and always will be, but the circle of aficionados who gravitate to his uncanny catalog is likely to get smaller, not bigger. Also, it just doesn’t work to call what he did pop music; he was an artist. Literally. When he walked away from music, forever, in the early ‘80s, he concentrated on his painting and made far more money from that. (Calling to mind another eccentric genius, Syd Barrett, who turned his back on the scene and quietly tended to his paintings and his plants.)

So, sui generis? For sure, but even that won’t suffice. You almost have to make up words, so I will. Don Van Vliet was Chop Suey Generis. You need not hear a single note to be smitten; just consider some of the song titles: “Grown So Ugly”, “She’s Too Much For My Mirror”, “Steal Softly Thru Snow”, “Grow Fins”, “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains”, “Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles”, “Woe-is-uh-Me-Bop”, “The Clouds Are Full of Wine (not Whiskey or Rye)”, “Cardboard Cutout Sundown”, and, of course, “Zig Zag Wanderer”.

But then there is the music. And that voice. When doing his gruff, evil blues, he sounded more than a little like Howlin’ Wolf, but he wasn’t mimicking so much as channeling him (yeah, I know…), and it came out through his soul sounding like a narcotized sci-fi monster with an ashtray heart of gold. Add the lyrics (they range from simple to impenetrable but are always original and clever to the point of being intimidating) and you have a result that, love it or loathe it, could not in a billion years be imitated or even approximated by anyone. “High voltage man kisses night to bring the light to those who need to hide their shadow-deed” he wails on “Electricity” –a song that anticipates punk as much as it exhausts the possibilities of the avant-garde. Speaking of Howlin’ Wolf, this sounds like the great Chester Arthur Burnett cloned as a machine, doused in Lysergic acid and forced to stick its finger in a light socket.

Now that he’s gone, many folks will—and should—rhapsodize about the album most agree is Beefheart’s defining work (even if they’ve never actually listened to it), Trout Mask Replica. Among its many quirky and/or quixotic charms, this is possibly the first album to be so arty it became anti-art. Deliberately cacophonous, even confrontational, it seems to be searching for magic inside of the discordant chaos. The results will mean different things to different people, but Van Vliet had a method for his madness: perfectly capable musicians playing behind, beside and beneath anything that, on first (or fifteenth) listen seems to make sense. The album could be considered one extended love song to insanity, or a smirking expense report from the other side of reality. It is one of the all-time cult following rites of passage: if you are down with this, you could conceivably be down with anything –for better or worse.

Needless to say, Trout Mask Replica is not easy going or easily recommended, and in fact, one could (should) start just about anywhere else. If anyone reading this is uninitiated, it affords me an excellent opportunity to talk about the most accessible option, which happens to be my favorite Beefheart album, Safe As Milk. It is the first album, and also, in my opinion, the best one. I do not expect that many people share this perspective, but I think everyone in the know would agree this is the ideal point of entry. If there was even a modicum of justice in our plastic factory world, this would be widely considered one of rock music’s most out there yet addictive barbaric yawps.

(Sidenote: was 1967 an all-time year for debut albums or what? In addition to Safe As Milk there were first albums by The Doors, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and The Velvet Underground. Most people, if they think about Safe As Milk at all, consider it a delightful little lark, a nice enough opening salvo. For my money, it’s more than that; a lot more. And it’s funny, because when we think about the Summer of Love (if we think about the Summer of Love), it’s all about love being all you need and how The Beatles dropped their definitive statement, Sgt. Pepper, which might happen to be the most important album ever, et cetera. Interestingly, two albums that did not get much press at the time, but have certainly found their audiences—however small—in the subsequent decades, seem to best represent the reality of what that seminal year meant, musically and culturally. I’m talking about Safe As Milk as well as Love’s Forever Changes. Maybe the ultimate reason these two albums, aside from their commercial failings, tend to not register in the facile narrative of hippie nostalgia is because both albums saw through the façade then, and in hindsight seem all the more remarkable for their refusal to pay lip service, lyrically and aesthetically, to the up-with-people ethos of the time.)


Look at the band on the back cover. They are characters from a Wes Anderson movie: all wearing coat and tie, one inexplicably sporting leather gloves, one rocking a stylish chapeau (who happens to be named Alex St. Clair Snouffer). Not pictured—and not credited—is young wunderkind Ry Cooder, who lent his considerable slide guitar skills to the proceedings. They look more like stockbrokers than songwriters, which only adds to the mystique since they, as it happened, made some of the more unsettling music on the scene.

How does music like this happen? How is Captain Beefheart even conceivable? Do you believe in magic? Well how about the Magic Band? We know that the world didn’t know what to make of this album, then. What can we make of it, now? Here are a few thoughts: it doesn’t sound of its time, or any time, and it is one of those (very) rare recordings that can be returned to constantly and somehow, someway remains unfettered and invigorating. Each song is a totally complete statement, whimsical, yet always with the air of danger: like a trip about to take a serious turn for the worse, but it never does. The creative energy and offbeat ebullience make this record approachable but indescribable; it’s all in there: blues, doo-wop, psychedelia, faux-pop and a handful of songs that sound utterly unlike anything anyone has ever done.

Listening to “Dropout Boogie” is like watching the rock and roll version of Clark Kent coming out of the phone booth for the first time: this quiet, weird dude you laughed at in gym class suddenly soaring in the air above you. You’ve never heard him speak but as soon as he opens his mouth he’s Superman. This track works as well as any (from this album, or from his entire oeuvre) in terms of epitomizing Van Vliet’s unvarnished and utterly uncompromised approach. If the Captain should be worshipped for one thing it’s that he never once pandered for the sake of critical or commercial expediency. Considering this album was recorded during the height of the “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out” hysteria, a song like “Dropout Boogie” becomes a brave turd in the punch bowl, serving to question the long-term prospects of Timothy Leary’s call to arms. “And what about after that?” he asks, a line that joins Arthur Lee’s “The news today will be the movies for tomorrow” (from Forever Changes) as two of the most enduring—and prescient—from ’67.

Then there is a song like “Yellow Brick Road” that could almost make a white guy dance, and then wonder why everyone doesn’t know this and love it.

Safe As Milk was the one that introduced Don Van Vliet to the world and it remains a (Korn Ring) middle finger in the face of all the lame conformists who scoff at what they can’t understand. It’s not especially sad that this album did not find a widely receptive audience; its obscurity tends to confirm many things we know about the way art is created and received, especially in America. If music like this was successful it would almost cause us to question the calibration of our planet. Besides, Beefheart had as much of a chance at being understood as Jesus Christ at the trading floor on Wall Street. The message was sent, and it’s still out there for anyone who cares to hear it. The biggest blessing is that we can listen to this magical music and be reminded that it’s real, it happened. He happened, and some of us will spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out how we managed to get so lucky.

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Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’: Even Better Than You Thought It Was (Revisited)

Whatever one’s feelings about progressive rock, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung is a rare album that remains at once part of, and above, the fray. It is, to be certain, a cornerstone of the then-nascent prog-rock canon, but it did—and does—exist wholly on its own terms as a great rock album, period.

One of the many reasons prog-rock is controversial, and taken less-than-seriously by the so-called serious critics, is because fairly or not it frequently gets associated with sci-fi and fantasy. Matters of musical proficiency aside, it is true to suggest that little of the material holds up especially well, lyrically speaking (of course that is true of most rock music—a topic for another time). This is not a sufficient—or necessarily legitimate—cause to dismiss it as is usually the case, but defenders can only get so much mileage discussing the unparalleled chops of, say, ELP, Yes, Rush, et al.

Jethro Tull is in the unfortunate, yet ultimately enviable position of circumventing easy identification. Certainly they are known as a crucial part of the prog-rock movement, as they should be, but their career preceded it and has continued long after its heyday. Aside from their accessibility, relatively speaking of course, Tull also sold enough units to be considered a significant act in its own regard. Tull, in other words, suffers if compared to the critically reviled acts of this time. In terms of their influence, longevity and versatility, they really are a unique entity in rock music.

More than anything else, Ian Anderson’s lyrics are many degrees better than those of his prog brethren. More to the point, his lyrics are many degrees better than rock songwriters in any era. The list of rock musicians whose lyrics can be considered apart from the music and appraised as poetry is small, but Anderson is at the top of the list. In terms of output alone, his work necessarily ranks about Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel, two of rock’s better wordsmiths. The fact that he was only 23 when Aqualung was recorded is remarkable enough; the fact that the themes and words in many ways remain relevant today is sufficient evidence of his genius.

By 1971, Anderson had dealt with the past (Stand Up) and the present (Benefit); his burgeoning confidence would prompt him to combine those elements in an attempt to grind some axes that probed quite a bit deeper than the typical sociopolitical commentary on offer (then, now). For Tull’s first proper “concept album” (despite Anderson’s ongoing protestations regarding this label), the songwriter turns a lacerating eye on the institution of organized religion. While the first side of the original LP concerns itself with, for lack of a better cliché, man’s inhumanity to man, the second side takes on religion with a righteous indignation that has scarcely—if ever—been improved upon by other mainstream acts.

Everyone knows the epic title track (forever and somewhat unfortunately associated with the iconic cover art, which renders the eponymous tramp into a caricature of Ian Anderson who, not a little ironically, casual fans thought—and think?—is Jethro Tull), and then there is the concert anthem “Locomotive Breath” as well as the ones you used to hear on the radio when we used to listen to the radio, “Hymn 43” and “Cross-Eyed Mary”. Four decades on, it happens to be the lesser known tracks that represent the key to the work’s endurance. If you only know the “hits” you are selling the album, and yourself, more than a little short. In between the heavy, huge classic tracks are quiet pieces that, while softer, pack their own subtle punch. The acoustic couplet of “Cheap Day Return” and “Wond’ring Aloud” are archetypes of a sort; the kind of whimsical British folk that Tull perfected all through the ‘70s. The songs seem straightforward and pleasant enough (and they are; Anderson’s voice, always striking, is conveying new levels of expressiveness and emotion, particularly during the slower tunes) but are cut by their topical, occasionally unsettling lyrical import.

Succinct delivery with maximum impact is Anderson’s calling card, and nowhere is it on better display than the one-minute and 24 seconds of perfection entitled “Cheap Day Return”. In quick yet extraordinary fashion he deals with his own alienation, offers a sardonic appraisal of his budding super-stardom (What a laugh!), and his father’s imminent death, all in a song that sounds as innocuous as a nursery rhyme. On “Wond’ring Aloud” Anderson, sounding plaintive but optimistic, turns a seemingly simple love song into a meditation on mortality (Will the years treat us well?), ending on a line that underscores the album’s central theme: It’s only the giving that makes you what you are.

This sentiment is a respite from the unflinching social commentary that comes before and after: the aforementioned “Cross-Eyed Mary” concerns itself with a prostitute, and there is no judgment offered unless it is on the conditions that made the oldest profession possible, then and still conceivable, today. “Mother Goose”, also a deceptively upbeat number, describes a surreal tour through the London underground with an unsavory cast of characters disarmingly depicted as fairy tale characters. When, mid-way through the number, Martin Barre’s electric guitar growl punctuates the proceedings, it becomes clear that the people and places being discussed are in various states of distress and despair.

Where “Cross-Eyed Mary” might be considered a contemporary Mary Magdalene, the titular character—inspired by a series of photographs Anderson’s wife Jennie took—could be Christ himself, embodying the least of our brothers. “Aqualung’s” riff is so urgent and unforgettable, the initial verse and chorus so forceful and familiar, it’s possible that the significance of this overplayed radio standard has slipped under the collective radar. Put another way, while correctly heralded as an essential moment in classic rock history, it is more than that; a point of departure for a new type of music, both for Jethro Tull and the progressive era.

It remains tantalizing to imagine the augmented critical—and street—cred the album would receive if it had only been named after almost any of the other ten songs, especially “Wind Up” or “My God”. And if, as Anderson claims he preferred, the cover had featured the actual tramp from the Thames Embankment who inspired the song (“Aqualung” referring to the gurgling sound of the man’s chronic bronchitis), it would make the lyrics about the real human being inexorably more vivid and disturbing.

The song persists as a confrontational movie that directs itself: a shot that pans a city beside the river; quiet men bundled in rags, huddled together under a bridge, “drying in the cold sun”. Finally the camera zooms in on one individual, whose rasping cough makes him difficult to ignore (“snot is running down his nose/greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes). First, a tracking shot follows him (“an old man wandering lonely”) as he goes about his daily routine (“taking time the only way he knows”): picking up used cigarette butts, taking refuge in a public toilet to warm his feet, queuing up for a daily dose of charity (“Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea”). Then, the guitar solo. The other two immortal solos from this (early ‘70s) era, David Gilmour on “Time” and Jimmy Page on “Stairway to Heaven” (coincidentally recorded in the same studio at the same time) are like Technicolor bursts of inevitability. Martin Barre’s less celebrated solo is a strictly black-and-white affair, sooty, unvarnished, irrefutable: it is the bitter breath of a broken down old man spitting out pieces of his broken luck. Finally, the reprise: we might see or at least imagine multiple Aqualungs (“and you snatch your rattling last breaths with deep -sea diver sounds”) in multiple cities—the nameless people we make it our business to ignore, the people we must walk by because it’s bad for business to do otherwise. Or so we tell ourselves. And the flowers bloom like madness in the Spring…

Side Two is a remarkably ambitious attempt to examine the racket organized religion has degenerated into (or was it always thus?). On “My God” gets some licks in on the clergy, then turns both barrels on the men and women who have set about the self-serving task of recreating God in their image. Acrimony like this, at least in rock music, generally fails to rise above sophomoric ranting, but Anderson’s words retain all of their power and perspicacity if for no other reason than the cynicism and spiritual charade he targets has only become more prevalent. Musically, the song is cheekily experimental, shifting from an acoustic tour de force (Anderson, who is rightly celebrated for elevating flute into a lead instrument as opposed to sideshow embellishment, does not get nearly enough attention for his superlative guitar playing ability) to an arena-ready workhorse, with Barre’s larger-than-life chords. Then, in the extended middle section, we are treated to a credible approximation and/or parody of a religious hymn, complete with multi-tracked chanting and echoed flute effects: it is an audacious act of musical vandalism, at once amusing and eerie. It also serves to function as a soundtrack of sorts for the irreverent image inside the double-sleeve gatefold, which depicts the band having broken into a cathedral for some impromptu merriment.

For “Hymn 43” Anderson sets his sights on the U.S.A. and in quick order sets about decimating the hypocrisy and myth-making of religion and the new religion, entertainment. It still sounds brazen today, but it was downright defiant to pen tunes in 1971 with incendiary couplets like this “If Jesus saves, he better save himself/From the gory glory seekers who’ll use his name in death.” For a postmodern twist Anderson could not have anticipated, the not-so-holy-ghost in the trinity occurred when religion and entertainment got packaged together as part of the anti-science, anti-intellectual politics we see camera-ready charlatans practicing daily on our television sets.

In just one minute on “Slipstream” Anderson captures the opportunistic shamelessness of the materially rich but spiritually fallow weekend warriors who compensate (figuratively) for their nagging consciences in the confessional or the collection basket (“And you press on God’s waiter your last dime/As he hands you the bill”). On the literal levels these are the people we all know: our peers, parents and especially our politicians, whom Anderson contemptuously nails to their crosses of gold. In an era of too-big-too-fail and the wealthiest .001%, it’s difficult to conclude that Anderson was not predicting the future of a world totally off the tracks in “Locomotive Breath” (“no way to slow down”).

Anderson saves his best for last when, in “Wind Up” he recalls being shipped off to church, eventually concluding that God is “not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays”. It brings full circle the concerns, both material and spiritual, that any sensitive—or sentient—person must grapple with, or make sense of. “In your pomp and all your glory you’re a poorer man than me/As you lick the boots of death born out of fear”, he snarls, assailing the fake humility and the appropriation of the holy for personal, earthly gains, et cetera.

And here we are, 40 years later where a great album gets even better. First, we have the new stereo mix masterminded by the indefatigable Steven Wilson, who has become a champion for prog rock remastering. His recent work on the King Crimson catalog managed the improbable by creating indispensable copies of oft-remastered works (ones which sounded fairly spectacular in the first place). Aqualung, on the other hand, has always suffered from shoddy production and/or mastering. Even the obligatory reissues over the years have been lackluster, amplifying the hiss and burying the subtlety in the mix. What Wilson has done with the master tapes is spectacular bordering on unbelievable: the songs do not merely sound improved, they sound different, albeit in ways that do not encroach upon or overwhelm the versions we have grown so fond of over the decades. Now, each instrument (especially the bass and John Evan’s omnipresent piano) gets released from the murkiness of the earlier mixes. Anderson’s vocals are crystalline and each note from the acoustic guitar is a room-filling revelation.

For Tull aficionados the real treats are contained on the second disc: previously unreleased material(!). In addition to remixed and remastered versions of familiar favorites from the ’71 sessions (such as “Life Is a Long Song”, “Nursie” and “From Later”), we get early versions of “My God” (rough around the edges and alternate lyrics familiar to those who have heard live recordings from this era) and “Wind Up” (previously available on the last Aqualung remaster). The newly released songs are the real eye-openers: there is an early run of “Wond’ring Aloud” and initial takes of “Slipstream” and “Up the ‘Pool”. The one that is worth the proverbial price of admission is the alternate take of “Wond’ring Aloud, Again” which combines an early version of “Wond’ring Aloud” and the working draft of “Wond’ring Again” which turned up on the Living in the Past collection. Listening to this take, I found myself fantasizing that the existing (master) take of “Wond’ring Aloud” had simply segued into “Wond’ring Again” (one of the better lyrical and musical numbers from ’71) and the latter had replaced the worthy but not as essential “Up to Me”; if we had the same running order with “Wond’ring Again” instead of “Up to Me” concluding Side One we would have an even more perfect album, if that is possible. As is always the case, it’s fantastic to have this long-discarded material made available; it is imperative for fans and might help newcomers better appreciate why an album made 40 years ago can inspire so much enthusiasm.

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A Week of Americana. Part Six: Captain Beefheart

Don Van Vliet (R.I.P.), with his idiosyncracies, individuality and iconoclasm, represents virtually everything that is profoundly beautiful about America both as a concept and actuality. Like his compatriots Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee (to name only two, both of whom figured prominently in the summer of ’67), he was possibly driven to –or past– the point of insanity by…what, exactly? His genius? Reality? The impossibility of adapting, much less conforming, to a society that has rules men like Van Vliet are genetically predisposed to circumvent? Never fully appreciated during his time, it’s painful to contemplate his ongoing legacy in a world of free downloads and celebrity-anointed idols. Captain Beefheart is an original American Idol, and an ideal American: artist, inspiration, human. He bypassed convention by becoming the possibility of what his impossible brain imagined. And we should all be grateful to have had him.

(From my December 2010 tribute O Captain! My Captain!: The Unique Magic of Don Van Vliet)

As Ian Anderson said, “We’re getting a bit short on heroes lately.”

And Ian, while he wasn’t speaking of Don Van Vliet, nevertheless would –and did— endorse the man better known as Captain Beefheart. Indeed, the list of well-loved and iconoclastic artists who have cited CB as an inspiration and hero include the likes of Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, P.J. Harvey and Matt Groening. When the people lots of people worship name you as someone they worship, you can safely conclude you have done influential work, even if it didn’t necessarily pay the bills.

To say Don Van Vliet was unique is rather like saying the sun radiates heat: it doesn’t quite capture the enormity and impact of the subject. To assert that he was brilliant would be almost insulting, if that is possible. A genius? Let’s just say that if he wasn’t, then no other pop musician has ever been either. Even that is not quite right, since pop refers to popular and Captain Beefheart was anything but popular. He was highly regarded, and always will be, but the circle of aficionados who gravitate to his uncanny catalog is likely to get smaller, not bigger. Also, it just doesn’t work to call what he did pop music; he was an artist. Literally. When he walked away from music, forever, in the early ‘80s, he concentrated on his painting and made far more money from that. (Calling to mind another eccentric genius, Syd Barrett, who turned his back on the scene and quietly tended to his paintings and his plants.)

So, sui generis? For sure, but even that won’t suffice. You almost have to make up words, so I will. Don Van Vliet was Chop Suey Generis. You need not hear a single note to be smitten; just consider some of the song titles: “Grown So Ugly”, “She’s Too Much For My Mirror”, “Steal Softly Thru Snow”, “Grow Fins”, “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains”, “Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles”, “Woe-is-uh-Me-Bop”, “The Clouds Are Full of Wine (not Whiskey or Rye)”, “Cardboard Cutout Sundown”, and, of course, “Zig Zag Wanderer”.

But then there is the music. And that voice. When doing his gruff, evil blues, he sounded more than a little like Howlin’ Wolf, but he wasn’t mimicking so much as channeling him (yeah, I know…), and it came out through his soul sounding like a narcotized sci-fi monster with an ashtray heart of gold. Add the lyrics (they range from simple to impenetrable but are always original and clever to the point of being intimidating) and you have a result that, love it or loathe it, could not in a billion years be imitated or even approximated by anyone. “High voltage man kisses night to bring the light to those who need to hide their shadow-deed” he wails on “Electricity” –a song that anticipates punk as much as it exhausts the possibilities of the avant-garde. Speaking of Howlin’ Wolf, this sounds like the great Chester Arthur Burnett cloned as a machine, doused in Lysergic acid and forced to stick its finger in a light socket.

Now that he’s gone, many folks will—and should—rhapsodize about the album most agree is Beefheart’s defining work (even if they’ve never actually listened to it), Trout Mask Replica. Among its many quirky and/or quixotic charms, this is possibly the first album to be so arty it became anti-art. Deliberately cacophonous, even confrontational, it seems to be searching for magic inside of the discordant chaos. The results will mean different things to different people, but Van Vliet had a method for his madness: perfectly capable musicians playing behind, beside and beneath anything that, on first (or fifteenth) listen seems to make sense. The album could be considered one extended love song to insanity, or a smirking expense report from the other side of reality. It is one of the all-time cult following rites of passage: if you are down with this, you could conceivably be down with anything –for better or worse.

Needless to say, Trout Mask Replica is not easy going or easily recommended, and in fact, one could (should) start just about anywhere else. If anyone reading this is uninitiated, it affords me an excellent opportunity to talk about the most accessible option, which happens to be my favorite Beefheart album, Safe As Milk. It is the first album, and also, in my opinion, the best one. I do not expect that many people share this perspective, but I think everyone in the know would agree this is the ideal point of entry. If there was even a modicum of justice in our plastic factory world, this would be widely considered one of rock music’s most out there yet addictive barbaric yawps.

(Sidenote: was 1967 an all-time year for debut albums or what? In addition to Safe As Milk there were first albums by The Doors, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and The Velvet Underground. Most people, if they think about Safe As Milk at all, consider it a delightful little lark, a nice enough opening salvo. For my money, it’s more than that; a lot more. And it’s funny, because when we think about the Summer of Love (if we think about the Summer of Love), it’s all about love being all you need and how The Beatles dropped their definitive statement, Sgt. Pepper, which might happen to be the most important album ever, et cetera. Interestingly, two albums that did not get much press at the time, but have certainly found their audiences—however small—in the subsequent decades, seem to best represent the reality of what that seminal year meant, musically and culturally. I’m talking about Safe As Milk as well as Love’s Forever Changes. Maybe the ultimate reason these two albums, aside from their commercial failings, tend to not register in the facile narrative of hippie nostalgia is because both albums saw through the façade then, and in hindsight seem all the more remarkable for their refusal to pay lip service, lyrically and aesthetically, to the up-with-people ethos of the time.)


Look at the band on the back cover. They are characters from a Wes Anderson movie: all wearing coat and tie, one inexplicably sporting leather gloves, one rocking a stylish chapeau (who happens to be named Alex St. Clair Snouffer). Not pictured—and not credited—is young wunderkind Ry Cooder, who lent his considerable slide guitar skills to the proceedings. They look more like stockbrokers than songwriters, which only adds to the mystique since they, as it happened, made some of the more unsettling music on the scene.

How does music like this happen? How is Captain Beefheart even conceivable? Do you believe in magic? Well how about the Magic Band? We know that the world didn’t know what to make of this album, then. What can we make of it, now? Here are a few thoughts: it doesn’t sound of its time, or any time, and it is one of those (very) rare recordings that can be returned to constantly and somehow, someway remains unfettered and invigorating. Each song is a totally complete statement, whimsical, yet always with the air of danger: like a trip about to take a serious turn for the worse, but it never does. The creative energy and offbeat ebullience make this record approachable but indescribable; it’s all in there: blues, doo-wop, psychedelia, faux-pop and a handful of songs that sound utterly unlike anything anyone has ever done.

Listening to “Dropout Boogie” is like watching the rock and roll version of Clark Kent coming out of the phone booth for the first time: this quiet, weird dude you laughed at in gym class suddenly soaring in the air above you. You’ve never heard him speak but as soon as he opens his mouth he’s Superman. This track works as well as any (from this album, or from his entire oeuvre) in terms of epitomizing Van Vliet’s unvarnished and utterly uncompromised approach. If the Captain should be worshipped for one thing it’s that he never once pandered for the sake of critical or commercial expediency. Considering this album was recorded during the height of the “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out” hysteria, a song like “Dropout Boogie” becomes a brave turd in the punch bowl, serving to question the long-term prospects of Timothy Leary’s call to arms. “And what about after that?” he asks, a line that joins Arthur Lee’s “The news today will be the movies for tomorrow” (from Forever Changes) as two of the most enduring—and prescient—from ’67.

Then there is a song like “Yellow Brick Road” that could almost make a white guy dance, and then wonder why everyone doesn’t know this and love it.

Safe As Milk was the one that introduced Don Van Vliet to the world and it remains a (Korn Ring) middle finger in the face of all the lame conformists who scoff at what they can’t understand. It’s not especially sad that this album did not find a widely receptive audience; its obscurity tends to confirm many things we know about the way art is created and received, especially in America. If music like this was successful it would almost cause us to question the calibration of our planet. Besides, Beefheart had as much of a chance at being understood as Jesus Christ at the trading floor on Wall Street. The message was sent, and it’s still out there for anyone who cares to hear it. The biggest blessing is that we can listen to this magical music and be reminded that it’s real, it happened. He happened, and some of us will spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out how we managed to get so lucky.

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With You There To Help Me: Cheerio To An Old Teacher (Revisited)

Shortly after 2011 began, I noted the unhappy occasion of Gerry Rafferty’s passing and did my best to articulate (and celebrate) what his work meant to me (original post here).

In the course of my tribute, I also gave a long distance shout out to a man I have always –and will always– associate with Rafferty’s great album City To City. That man, Iain Caddell, was my History teacher my freshman year at South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia. Here is what I wrote:

Against all probability, I once had a teacher (very appropriately, from Scotland, which is where Rafferty was from) who knew the dude who drew and designed it. In fact, quick shout out for Iain Caddell, my ninth grade History teacher who ended up, of all places, in Reston, VA for the 1984/85 school year. It took many of us a while to adjust to his accent, his long hair and beard (we were too ignorant, too American to understand how bad-ass he was, how real he was keeping it), and especially his ardent wish that teachers could practice corporal punishment in the states with impunity. Of course they could not, and he resented that fact as we celebrated it. A good kick in the arse from this diminutive Scotsman would have been just what the doctor ordered for most of us, myself at the front of the line. But as so often happens, it was something random but genuine that brought us together: music.

When he discovered that I had a better-than-passing acquaintance with Jethro Tull, it was on. We then bonded and began talking, after class, about music and we even exchanged cassette copies of favorite albums. Quaint, no? Little did I perceive, then, that this man, who had ridden in the back of buses with the actual bands as they toured tiny venues throughout the UK, was already lamenting the passing of an era, musically (and, I reckon, culturally) and hoped I was one of the few snot-nosed spoiled rotten American morons who might keep that flame burning as the world collapsed around us, culturally speaking. I’d like to think I lived up to his aspirations, and if our Scots-Irish God is smiling down at us, please someone, somewhere have an idea where Mr. Caddell is today so I might remind him that he was an inspiration on more than one level.

The Internet, being what it is, finds me at once humbled, grateful and deeply saddened to receive the unwelcome tidings that Mr. Caddell has passed away. I received a comment (to the Rafferty post), presumably from someone who was looking for information about him, and this person kindly informed me of the sad news. From what I’ve gathered, the cause of death was complications from a sudden, unexpected stroke. Of course, strokes are seldom expected, but Mr. Caddell was a young man and apparently in fine health, which makes this news doubly sad.

When I read the message I thought, maybe it’s a different man (isn’t this what we always think, or hope, when we receive news we don’t want and can’t immediately confirm?). But I clicked on the link included in the message, which led me to a Facebook tribute page, and there was no doubt: this is the man I once knew.

I’m glad, and not surprised, to see he was still rocking the long hair, and the beard. Of course, when I had him as a teacher, that hair was jet black. (Of course, when I had him as a teacher, I still had hair.) There was a level of irony in the fact that we bonded over Jethro Tull, because his name was Ian (like Ian Anderson) and, well, he looked more than a little like the frontman of that great band.

I’m delighted to learn he was active in a band, Barnstorm, which does not surprise me, since he was such a keen music enthusiast. (A link to their MySpace page, with a solemn tribute from his bandmates, is here.)

So, what does a former student and fellow human being –who connected with him about matters of music and history– make of this, other than the obvious (the obvious being: there is no way to lessen the blow of an untimely passing like this and no reason to rationalize this grim reminder of how horribly quick our time on this planet always is)?

Well, I will consider the same things I always think when someone who impacted my life passes on. I will think: be grateful that they were here at all, be humble that you had an opportunity to learn from them. Be happy that you are alive. Be eager to keep his memory alive, in words (easy) and especially in deeds (trickier). We have learned little, I reckon, if we let sorrow or regret overwhelm or consume us. We deepen the meaning of the departed as well as our own capacity for evolution if we can do more with the time we still have. I think the death of an admired person can –and should– serve as both an occasion for respect and humility, but also as a rallying cry. We all will die, some of us sooner than we’d like; but the only way it’s possible to defeat death is to keep our loved ones in our lives.

I notice, over the course of the past couple of years, I’ve been obliged to remember the lives of departed artists and it is never a pleasant experience. In a lower moment I may even be tempted to acknowledge the morbidity of this repeated exercise (also knowing that as I get older the artists I admire are also getting older and these occasions will only become more frequent going forward). Then, no matter how dejected I may feel –and the news of Mr. Caddell’s death has set me back in a profound way for the last 24 hours, perhaps in part because Clarence Clemons just died, also the victim of a stroke, and yesterday was Father’s Day– I consider the most important part: I should be celebrating them because their lives were well worth celebrating, and they made sufficient impact on me (and the world) that I was happy to do my humble part to express that gratitude.

Let’s face it: is there any more telling evidence of a life lived well than that it is remembered? Iain Caddell made his mark, and I feel secure in saying he touched the lives of many, many people. He should have had more time to enjoy this world and spread his love, but he made the most of the time he was given. It is something anyone should aspire to and I understand, today: even in death, he continues to guide and inspire me.

Cheerio, then, to a unique and unforgettable human being.

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Jethro Tull: Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll…Too Young To Die!

Once again I’m indebted to my man Robert Rodriguez (and once again: if you are a music fan and especially if you are a Beatles fan, you need to get to know his work, STAT). Via his daily Facebook posts (get in on the action and like it here) I learned that it was on this day in 1976 that one of the more controversial albums by Jethro Tull, Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young To Die!, was released.

Controversial mostly because it was supposed to be a rock musical (for the stage and/or screen), which would have upped the ante from the album-length concept albums from ’72 and ’73 (the beloved Thick As A Brick and the not-so beloved A Passion Play). Like yet another concept album gone awry (or reigned in, depending on your perspective), 1974’s War Child, this one became a semi-straightforward album with proper songs. It occupies a place in the Tull cataolog that ranges from overlooked to misunderstood. Of course some of the more hardcore fans find much to recommend, and the hardest core would argue it has some of Tull’s best material. Personally, I find it a bit of all these things: it’s definitely overlooked and underappreciated, and it has a couple of throwaway tunes (“Crazed Institution” and “Taxi Grab”, while not stinkers, are far below the quality Ian Anderson usually insisted upon). And, finally, it does indeed contain some of their best work. Even a listener who has never heard this particular album should be blown away by the acoustic tour-de-force that is “Salamander”, while album-closer “The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)” is just about as good as prog-rock got in the mid-’70s.

Coincidentally, if conveniently, it was only earlier this week that I addressed the song that gives this album its name if not its sensibility (a full review of Anderson’s latest work is here). For some folks, this is one of the handful of Tull songs they hear (and hate) on FM radio; for others it is something else (good, bad or ugly, and personally, I think it’s a bit of all these things):

However unwittingly, Ian Anderson wrote his artistic epitaph all the way back in 1976. “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young To Die!”, the hit from the album of the same name, used music as a metaphor (or vice versa) where he, understandably, wondered if—or when—a musician might be reasonably expected to retire. The answer, of course, has always been straightforward: when the musician feels like it. Whether written off by critics, ignored by trend makers or still selling out arenas, only the artist can decide when it’s finally time to walk away.

It was more than a little prescient for Anderson to skewer himself, the industry and his audience by at once admitting it was ridiculous for an “aging” rock star to keep both feet in the spotlight, while celebrating it with appropriate defiance. What else is a rock star supposed to do? Of course, this message does not remotely apply only to rock music. As the hippies and baby boomers see –or at least sense– the shadow of that chequered flag, they can pick up what he was putting down. It wasn’t a joke then and it’s definitely not a laughing matter now.

Speaking of prescience, how about the satirical meat hooks Anderson puts into the quiz-show craze of the time. Consider how quaint that seems given our current state of reality TV where knowledge and talent often take a back seat to willful and very public humiliation.

For anyone who never thought prog rockers had a sense of humor…well, it’s understandable. But whoever you are you did not listen to enough, and you certainly did not listen to Jethro Tull. Appreciate the tongue-in-cheek “celebration” of the counterculture, or the finger in the eye of snobbish society. Or both, and more…

Bottom line: not only is this album far from a failure, it is an album that was (doubly ironically, considering its title) a bit ahead of its time and as a result it’s aged quite nicely. The musicianship is, as ever, top notch and Anderson is hitting on every conceivable cylinder, lyrically. (A few sample grabs: “Old queers with young faces/Who remember your name”; “I’m self-raising and I flower in her company”; “I’ve a tenner in my skin-tight jeans/You can touch it if your hands are clean”; and, finally, the opening salvo that holds as true today as it did in the bell-bottom era: “The old Rocker wore his hair too long/wore his trouser cuffs too tight/Unfashionable to the end, drank his ale too light”).

But for the full monty, we must go back to that last song, where Anderson uses several minutes to cover several albums (or novels) worth of themes and issues: birth, death, despair and death. You know, the usual rock and roll cliches.

In sum, isn’t it grand to be playing to the stand, dead or alive? Fucking-A right it is.

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Ian Anderson: Living in the Present

However unwittingly, Ian Anderson wrote his artistic epitaph all the way back in 1976. “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young To Die!”, the hit from the album of the same name, used music as a metaphor (or vice versa) where he, understandably, wondered if—or when—a musician might be reasonably expected to retire. The answer, of course, has always been straightforward: when the musician feels like it. Whether written off by critics, ignored by trend makers or still selling out arenas, only the artist can decide when it’s finally time to walk away.

For an iconoclastic prog rocker who is currently enjoying his 44th year as leader of Jethro Tull, it’s at once ironic and appropriate that his first single, from 1969, is entitled “Living in the Past”. The next sentence is inevitable: whether or not Anderson is figuratively wallowing in the brighter glow of glory days long gone, he soldiers on. As it happened, he was—and is—not yet too old to rock and roll. (That sentence was inevitable as well.) Jethro Tull continued to make remarkable music throughout the ‘70s and was steady if not always impressive during the ‘80s. Things slowed down dramatically in the ‘90s and no new material has surfaced in almost a decade. Nevertheless, Anderson has been an indefatigable performer, leading his ever-evolving line-ups on tour pretty much without pause. If his voice was effectively shot many moons ago, the crowds still turned up for the shows.

Was he supposed to fade away or quietly tend to his salmon farms? We tend to mock our elder statesmen when they get lazy or lose inspiration. (This begs the uneasy question: is rock and roll almost exclusively a young musician’s game? With few exceptions in terms of both quality and consistency, the answer is a resounding yes.) And so: what is there to say about someone who continues to make music past retirement age? Fair play and cheers to anyone who is willing and able to stay in the game. All of which is to say it was surprising, but not disheartening to hear a new album was in the works. On the other hand, revisiting—and updating—a progressive milestone and masterpiece? Hmmm.

Ian Anderson, who has cycled through sidemen the way his more hedonistic compatriots once speed-dialed through dealers, has yet another cast of characters for this recording. The gentlemen from the ‘72 line-up have been gone for ages. The one exception, throughout, has been Martin Barre, lead guitarist from the second album on. Distressingly, if revealingly, Barre is nowhere to be heard on these proceedings, which are intriguingly (if revealingly) entitled Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson: TAAB2 (Thick As a Brick 2). Hmmm.

Expectations were moderate, to put it mildly. Simply, if harshly put, the notion of this entire enterprise seemed like a recipe for fiasco, an exercise equal parts ill-advised nostalgia, indulgence and obvious lack of inspiration. Recent years have not been kind to either Anderson’s voice or, judging from the scarcity of new works, his muse. In the great old days, these were the two sharpest arrows in his quiver.

And yet, here he is, pressing on because he can; because he needs to. The verdict? It’s not terrible. It’s not even bad, actually. And yet, it is difficult to determine if it’s really very good. It is not remotely an embarrassment which, given the stakes and circumstances, is not an inconsiderable achievement. Of course there will be fans prepared to protest Anderson’s audacity: how dare he meddle with the legacy of a dearly-loved album, etc. Those unforgiving, unimaginative folks are advised to give this one a miss, though they may in fact be missing out on material that is interesting and more than occasionally quite satisfactory.

Martin Barre is sorely missed (on principle if nothing else) but in fairness, his young replacement Florian Ophale acquits himself more than adequately. The rest of the band, including drummer Scott Hammond, bassist David Goodier and keyboardist John O’Hara may not make anyone forget the ’72 crew, but—again, in fairness—few outfits (then, now) could.

The impetus of this endeavor is a doubling-down of sorts, revisiting a gambit employed for the original. Thick As a Brick, as the elaborate faux-newspaper packaging declared, featured lyrics from an eight year old wunderkind called Gerald Bostock. Now, 40 years on, Anderson imagines the various paths this fictional character’s life may have taken. As such, careers ranging from banker to soldier to preacher are explored, with varying levels of effectiveness.

The lyrics are mostly okay, but seldom encroach on the rarefied air Anderson occupied for the initial decades of his career. The music is, frankly, better than any reasonable fan could hope for. At least the instruments are all being played by human beings and there is a merciful minimum of studio tinkering and technological trickery (thanks in no small part to mixing engineer—and prog rock MVP—Steven Wilson). The vocals? There is no way around it, the vocals are weak. At this point Anderson utilizes a strategy of necessity, half-speaking in a sing-song style. Unfortunately there are also sections of deadpan narrative delivered in an unembellished speaking voice. These moments are aesthetically disappointing, more so for their unoriginality and the last resort of sorts that they signify than anything else. Overall, there is sufficient variety, in terms of the pacing and the sounds, to result in a discernible, sporadically pleasant flow. The packaging is neither as clever nor as impressive as the original, but the old version didn’t come with a bonus DVD featuring interviews, a making-of feature and lyric readings (this one does).

The key question remains: is it memorable? Will it be returned to with any regularity? Check back in a month, or a year, or a few decades. Grading on the curve, it seems unsporting to be excessively harsh. This project could never replace or even compare favorably with the first one, but not many albums could. To this listener (and long-time fan) the results are much more lively and worthwhile than anything Anderson has done since the early ‘90s. That he had the tenacity to pull this off without resorting to self-satire puts him in a better light than most of his peers who are safely enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and/or debasing themselves during the Super Bowl.

Bottom line: the effort does little to affect the impact of the ‘72 release. Or any of the albums that preceded or followed it. It puts the clearest perspective possible on the question only the most ardent fans bother to ask (and, as such, serves as a curious kind of public service): what would happen if Ian Anderson had stuck around for another 40 years after he created Thick As a Brick? Answer: this is what would have happened.

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Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’: Even Better Than You Thought It Was

Whatever one’s feelings about progressive rock, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung is a rare album that remains at once part of, and above, the fray. It is, to be certain, a cornerstone of the then-nascent prog-rock canon, but it did—and does—exist wholly on its own terms as a great rock album, period.

One of the many reasons prog-rock is controversial, and taken less-than-seriously by the so-called serious critics, is because fairly or not it frequently gets associated with sci-fi and fantasy. Matters of musical proficiency aside, it is true to suggest that little of the material holds up especially well, lyrically speaking (of course that is true of most rock music—a topic for another time). This is not a sufficient—or necessarily legitimate—cause to dismiss it as is usually the case, but defenders can only get so much mileage discussing the unparalleled chops of, say, ELP, Yes, Rush, et al.

Jethro Tull is in the unfortunate, yet ultimately enviable position of circumventing easy identification. Certainly they are known as a crucial part of the prog-rock movement, as they should be, but their career preceded it and has continued long after its heyday. Aside from their accessibility, relatively speaking of course, Tull also sold enough units to be considered a significant act in its own regard. Tull, in other words, suffers if compared to the critically reviled acts of this time. In terms of their influence, longevity and versatility, they really are a unique entity in rock music.

More than anything else, Ian Anderson’s lyrics are many degrees better than those of his prog brethren. More to the point, his lyrics are many degrees better than rock songwriters in any era. The list of rock musicians whose lyrics can be considered apart from the music and appraised as poetry is small, but Anderson is at the top of the list. In terms of output alone, his work necessarily ranks about Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel, two of rock’s better wordsmiths. The fact that he was only 23 when Aqualung was recorded is remarkable enough; the fact that the themes and words in many ways remain relevant today is sufficient evidence of his genius.

By 1971, Anderson had dealt with the past (Stand Up) and the present (Benefit); his burgeoning confidence would prompt him to combine those elements in an attempt to grind some axes that probed quite a bit deeper than the typical sociopolitical commentary on offer (then, now). For Tull’s first proper “concept album” (despite Anderson’s ongoing protestations regarding this label), the songwriter turns a lacerating eye on the institution of organized religion. While the first side of the original LP concerns itself with, for lack of a better cliché, man’s inhumanity to man, the second side takes on religion with a righteous indignation that has scarcely—if ever—been improved upon by other mainstream acts.

Everyone knows the epic title track (forever and somewhat unfortunately associated with the iconic cover art, which renders the eponymous tramp into a caricature of Ian Anderson who, not a little ironically, casual fans thought—and think?—is Jethro Tull), and then there is the concert anthem “Locomotive Breath” as well as the ones you used to hear on the radio when we used to listen to the radio, “Hymn 43” and “Cross-Eyed Mary”. Four decades on, it happens to be the lesser known tracks that represent the key to the work’s endurance. If you only know the “hits” you are selling the album, and yourself, more than a little short. In between the heavy, huge classic tracks are quiet pieces that, while softer, pack their own subtle punch. The acoustic couplet of “Cheap Day Return” and “Wond’ring Aloud” are archetypes of a sort; the kind of whimsical British folk that Tull perfected all through the ‘70s. The songs seem straightforward and pleasant enough (and they are; Anderson’s voice, always striking, is conveying new levels of expressiveness and emotion, particularly during the slower tunes) but are cut by their topical, occasionally unsettling lyrical import.

Succinct delivery with maximum impact is Anderson’s calling card, and nowhere is it on better display than the one-minute and 24 seconds of perfection entitled “Cheap Day Return”. In quick yet extraordinary fashion he deals with his own alienation, offers a sardonic appraisal of his budding super-stardom (What a laugh!), and his father’s imminent death, all in a song that sounds as innocuous as a nursery rhyme. On “Wond’ring Aloud” Anderson, sounding plaintive but optimistic, turns a seemingly simple love song into a meditation on mortality (Will the years treat us well?), ending on a line that underscores the album’s central theme: It’s only the giving that makes you what you are.

This sentiment is a respite from the unflinching social commentary that comes before and after: the aforementioned “Cross-Eyed Mary” concerns itself with a prostitute, and there is no judgment offered unless it is on the conditions that made the oldest profession possible, then and still conceivable, today. “Mother Goose”, also a deceptively upbeat number, describes a surreal tour through the London underground with an unsavory cast of characters disarmingly depicted as fairy tale characters. When, mid-way through the number, Martin Barre’s electric guitar growl punctuates the proceedings, it becomes clear that the people and places being discussed are in various states of distress and despair.

Where “Cross-Eyed Mary” might be considered a contemporary Mary Magdalene, the titular character—inspired by a series of photographs Anderson’s wife Jennie took—could be Christ himself, embodying the least of our brothers. “Aqualung’s” riff is so urgent and unforgettable, the initial verse and chorus so forceful and familiar, it’s possible that the significance of this overplayed radio standard has slipped under the collective radar. Put another way, while correctly heralded as an essential moment in classic rock history, it is more than that; a point of departure for a new type of music, both for Jethro Tull and the progressive era.

It remains tantalizing to imagine the augmented critical—and street—cred the album would receive if it had only been named after almost any of the other ten songs, especially “Wind Up” or “My God”. And if, as Anderson claims he preferred, the cover had featured the actual tramp from the Thames Embankment who inspired the song (“Aqualung” referring to the gurgling sound of the man’s chronic bronchitis), it would make the lyrics about the real human being inexorably more vivid and disturbing.

The song persists as a confrontational movie that directs itself: a shot that pans a city beside the river; quiet men bundled in rags, huddled together under a bridge, “drying in the cold sun”. Finally the camera zooms in on one individual, whose rasping cough makes him difficult to ignore (“snot is running down his nose/greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes). First, a tracking shot follows him (“an old man wandering lonely”) as he goes about his daily routine (“taking time the only way he knows”): picking up used cigarette butts, taking refuge in a public toilet to warm his feet, queuing up for a daily dose of charity (“Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea”). Then, the guitar solo. The other two immortal solos from this (early ‘70s) era, David Gilmour on “Time” and Jimmy Page on “Stairway to Heaven” (coincidentally recorded in the same studio at the same time) are like Technicolor bursts of inevitability. Martin Barre’s less celebrated solo is a strictly black-and-white affair, sooty, unvarnished, irrefutable: it is the bitter breath of a broken down old man spitting out pieces of his broken luck. Finally, the reprise: we might see or at least imagine multiple Aqualungs (“and you snatch your rattling last breaths with deep -sea diver sounds”) in multiple cities—the nameless people we make it our business to ignore, the people we must walk by because it’s bad for business to do otherwise. Or so we tell ourselves. And the flowers bloom like madness in the Spring…

Side Two is a remarkably ambitious attempt to examine the racket organized religion has degenerated into (or was it always thus?). On “My God” gets some licks in on the clergy, then turns both barrels on the men and women who have set about the self-serving task of recreating God in their image. Acrimony like this, at least in rock music, generally fails to rise above sophomoric ranting, but Anderson’s words retain all of their power and perspicacity if for no other reason than the cynicism and spiritual charade he targets has only become more prevalent. Musically, the song is cheekily experimental, shifting from an acoustic tour de force (Anderson, who is rightly celebrated for elevating flute into a lead instrument as opposed to sideshow embellishment, does not get nearly enough attention for his superlative guitar playing ability) to an arena-ready workhorse, with Barre’s larger-than-life chords. Then, in the extended middle section, we are treated to a credible approximation and/or parody of a religious hymn, complete with multi-tracked chanting and echoed flute effects: it is an audacious act of musical vandalism, at once amusing and eerie. It also serves to function as a soundtrack of sorts for the irreverent image inside the double-sleeve gatefold, which depicts the band having broken into a cathedral for some impromptu merriment.

For “Hymn 43” Anderson sets his sights on the U.S.A. and in quick order sets about decimating the hypocrisy and myth-making of religion and the new religion, entertainment. It still sounds brazen today, but it was downright defiant to pen tunes in 1971 with incendiary couplets like this “If Jesus saves, he better save himself/From the gory glory seekers who’ll use his name in death.” For a postmodern twist Anderson could not have anticipated, the not-so-holy-ghost in the trinity occurred when religion and entertainment got packaged together as part of the anti-science, anti-intellectual politics we see camera-ready charlatans practicing daily on our television sets.

In just one minute on “Slipstream” Anderson captures the opportunistic shamelessness of the materially rich but spiritually fallow weekend warriors who compensate (figuratively) for their nagging consciences in the confessional or the collection basket (“And you press on God’s waiter your last dime/As he hands you the bill”). On the literal levels these are the people we all know: our peers, parents and especially our politicians, whom Anderson contemptuously nails to their crosses of gold. In an era of too-big-too-fail and the wealthiest .001%, it’s difficult to conclude that Anderson was not predicting the future of a world totally off the tracks in “Locomotive Breath” (“no way to slow down”).

Anderson saves his best for last when, in “Wind Up” he recalls being shipped off to church, eventually concluding that God is “not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays”. It brings full circle the concerns, both material and spiritual, that any sensitive—or sentient—person must grapple with, or make sense of. “In your pomp and all your glory you’re a poorer man than me/As you lick the boots of death born out of fear”, he snarls, assailing the fake humility and the appropriation of the holy for personal, earthly gains, et cetera.

And here we are, 40 years later where a great album gets even better. First, we have the new stereo mix masterminded by the indefatigable Steven Wilson, who has become a champion for prog rock remastering. His recent work on the King Crimson catalog managed the improbable by creating indispensable copies of oft-remastered works (ones which sounded fairly spectacular in the first place). Aqualung, on the other hand, has always suffered from shoddy production and/or mastering. Even the obligatory reissues over the years have been lackluster, amplifying the hiss and burying the subtlety in the mix. What Wilson has done with the master tapes is spectacular bordering on unbelievable: the songs do not merely sound improved, they sound different, albeit in ways that do not encroach upon or overwhelm the versions we have grown so fond of over the decades. Now, each instrument (especially the bass and John Evan’s omnipresent piano) gets released from the murkiness of the earlier mixes. Anderson’s vocals are crystalline and each note from the acoustic guitar is a room-filling revelation.

For Tull aficionados the real treats are contained on the second disc: previously unreleased material(!). In addition to remixed and remastered versions of familiar favorites from the ’71 sessions (such as “Life Is a Long Song”, “Nursie” and “From Later”), we get early versions of “My God” (rough around the edges and alternate lyrics familiar to those who have heard live recordings from this era) and “Wind Up” (previously available on the last Aqualung remaster). The newly released songs are the real eye-openers: there is an early run of “Wond’ring Aloud” and initial takes of “Slipstream” and “Up the ‘Pool”. The one that is worth the proverbial price of admission is the alternate take of “Wond’ring Aloud, Again” which combines an early version of “Wond’ring Aloud” and the working draft of “Wond’ring Again” which turned up on the Living in the Past collection. Listening to this take, I found myself fantasizing that the existing (master) take of “Wond’ring Aloud” had simply segued into “Wond’ring Again” (one of the better lyrical and musical numbers from ’71) and the latter had replaced the worthy but not as essential “Up to Me”; if we had the same running order with “Wond’ring Again” instead of “Up to Me” concluding Side One we would have an even more perfect album, if that is possible. As is always the case, it’s fantastic to have this long-discarded material made available; it is imperative for fans and might help newcomers better appreciate why an album made 40 years ago can inspire so much enthusiasm.

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With You There To Help Me: Cheerio To An Old Teacher

Shortly after 2011 began, I noted the unhappy occasion of Gerry Rafferty’s passing and did my best to articulate (and celebrate) what his work meant to me (original post here).

In the course of my tribute, I also gave a long distance shout out to a man I have always –and will always– associate with Rafferty’s great album City To City. That man, Iain Caddell, was my History teacher my freshman year at South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia. Here is what I wrote:

Against all probability, I once had a teacher (very appropriately, from Scotland, which is where Rafferty was from) who knew the dude who drew and designed it. In fact, quick shout out for Iain Caddell, my ninth grade History teacher who ended up, of all places, in Reston, VA for the 1984/85 school year. It took many of us a while to adjust to his accent, his long hair and beard (we were too ignorant, too American to understand how bad-ass he was, how real he was keeping it), and especially his ardent wish that teachers could practice corporal punishment in the states with impunity. Of course they could not, and he resented that fact as we celebrated it. A good kick in the arse from this diminutive Scotsman would have been just what the doctor ordered for most of us, myself at the front of the line. But as so often happens, it was something random but genuine that brought us together: music.

When he discovered that I had a better-than-passing acquaintance with Jethro Tull, it was on. We then bonded and began talking, after class, about music and we even exchanged cassette copies of favorite albums. Quaint, no? Little did I perceive, then, that this man, who had ridden in the back of buses with the actual bands as they toured tiny venues throughout the UK, was already lamenting the passing of an era, musically (and, I reckon, culturally) and hoped I was one of the few snot-nosed spoiled rotten American morons who might keep that flame burning as the world collapsed around us, culturally speaking. I’d like to think I lived up to his aspirations, and if our Scots-Irish God is smiling down at us, please someone, somewhere have an idea where Mr. Caddell is today so I might remind him that he was an inspiration on more than one level.

The Internet, being what it is, finds me at once humbled, grateful and deeply saddened to receive the unwelcome tidings that Mr. Caddell has passed away. I received a comment (to the Rafferty post), presumably from someone who was looking for information about him, and this person kindly informed me of the sad news. From what I’ve gathered, the cause of death was complications from a sudden, unexpected stroke. Of course, strokes are seldom expected, but Mr. Caddell was a young man and apparently in fine health, which makes this news doubly sad.

When I read the message I thought, maybe it’s a different man (isn’t this what we always think, or hope, when we receive news we don’t want and can’t immediately confirm?). But I clicked on the link included in the message, which led me to a Facebook tribute page, and there was no doubt: this is the man I once knew.

I’m glad, and not surprised, to see he was still rocking the long hair, and the beard. Of course, when I had him as a teacher, that hair was jet black. (Of course, when I had him as a teacher, I still had hair.) There was a level of irony in the fact that we bonded over Jethro Tull, because his name was Ian (like Ian Anderson) and, well, he looked more than a little like the frontman of that great band.

I’m delighted to learn he was active in a band, Barnstorm, which does not surprise me, since he was such a keen music enthusiast. (A link to their MySpace page, with a solemn tribute from his bandmates, is here.)

So, what does a former student and fellow human being –who connected with him about matters of music and history– make of this, other than the obvious (the obvious being: there is no way to lessen the blow of an untimely passing like this and no reason to rationalize this grim reminder of how horribly quick our time on this planet always is)?

Well, I will consider the same things I always think when someone who impacted my life passes on. I will think: be grateful that they were here at all, be humble that you had an opportunity to learn from them. Be happy that you are alive. Be eager to keep his memory alive, in words (easy) and especially in deeds (trickier). We have learned little, I reckon, if we let sorrow or regret overwhelm or consume us. We deepen the meaning of the departed as well as our own capacity for evolution if we can do more with the time we still have. I think the death of an admired person can –and should– serve as both an occasion for respect and humility, but also as a rallying cry. We all will die, some of us sooner than we’d like; but the only way it’s possible to defeat death is to keep our loved ones in our lives.

I notice, over the course of the past couple of years, I’ve been obliged to remember the lives of departed artists and it is never a pleasant experience. In a lower moment I may even be tempted to acknowledge the morbidity of this repeated exercise (also knowing that as I get older the artists I admire are also getting older and these occasions will only become more frequent going forward). Then, no matter how dejected I may feel –and the news of Mr. Caddell’s death has set me back in a profound way for the last 24 hours, perhaps in part because Clarence Clemons just died, also the victim of a stroke, and yesterday was Father’s Day– I consider the most important part: I should be celebrating them because their lives were well worth celebrating, and they made sufficient impact on me (and the world) that I was happy to do my humble part to express that gratitude.

Let’s face it: is there any more telling evidence of a life lived well than that it is remembered? Iain Caddell made his mark, and I feel secure in saying he touched the lives of many, many people. He should have had more time to enjoy this world and spread his love, but he made the most of the time he was given. It is something anyone should aspire to and I understand, today: even in death, he continues to guide and inspire me.

Cheerio, then, to a unique and unforgettable human being.

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