Sex, Politics, and Death: Ian Anderson on Thick as a Brick 2, Part Three

By , Columnist

Having touched upon some of the more immediate and lighter subjects in the first two parts of our extended conversation, in this third and final installment the driving force behind Jethro Tull tackles some of the really big issues even as he openly questions some of his own long-held assumptions and beliefs about himself, our world, and his legacy.

Is there a question that you’ve really wanted to answer that no one’s ever asked you?

People don’t often ask me about being gay.

I don’t think I’m gay; that’s not really the point. It’s just that I’m quite angered at the moment by the veering towards some rather homophobic kind of mood as a result of—in my country, at least—the anxiety felt by many people in society, particularly in the religious hierarchy, that gay marriage should not to be recognized or allowed.

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I suppose 50 years ago, maybe I would have accepted that argument. Maybe 20 years ago I would have accepted that argument, although I think I wouldn’t have agreed with it. But in this day and age, I really do think we have to accept times have changed. And when people have the real desire to express their love for each other, and their commitment to each other, then I think that religion has got to just say, “Okay, listen—we don’t get this. We don’t understand it. But we have to accept it that, within civil law, there ought to be a place for gay marriage rights.” Not just civil partnerships, which I refer to by name on the new record, but gay marriage as such is something that is a blessing, is a state which I, personally, feel strongly about.

But, no, I don’t think that I’m gay. But if I was, I would bloody well want—if I met the right person—I would the right to express that in the kind of formal form of marriage.

So, I don’t often get asked that question, because it’s just a bit of a political hot potato at the moment, and the people who usually get drawn into those arguments are obviously the people who are, amongst the gay community, the more verbal, the more likely to be a spokesman.

But I think in a way the rest of us have got to stand up, too, and be counted in this sort of a situation. You know, we’re not back in the red-necked '50s here. We live in a different age. I think we have to recognize that the choice in terms of sexuality, in terms of gender, these were not really the kind of options that existed for our parents’ or our grandparents’ generations. But they do now, and I think we have to recognize that we have to extend rights to people who should be granted them.

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Myself, it’s always seemed less of a question of what gender or nationality or whatever you are, and more about the basic question, “Are you a human being?” [Laughs] I mean, that should guarantee you equal rights, shouldn’t it?

Well, you would have thought so, in the same way you would have hoped, if you were one of Siegfried and Roy’s tigers, you would have tiger rights. [Laughs] But, as we all know, humans are pretty good at being pretty beastly, whether to our animal friends or other human beings. I don’t think we have a very good track record of actually representing people’s rights.

But, lest I sound too much of a liberal, you’ll find me pretty far over on the extreme right when it comes to certain other aspects of life. I think we have to think each case through on its merits.

And when it comes to, in a sense, the more international side of the big issues that we face today—and one of those is obviously the retreat from Afghanistan, that’s a really difficult one. That’s a really difficult one, but I think I know what my views are on that, and they might, if I was to express them, sound pretty far on the right. But on other issues, you’ll find me fairly far to the left in terms of traditional political or social views.

I don’t think we should be creatures of one persuasion. Life is too complex to be just painting ourselves always into the same political corner. I think different issues demand a different evaluation.

I’m used to people thinking I’m either as much of a pinko as they come or, on the other hand, radically to the traditional right. I think, perhaps, in American politics things are a little different than they are in my country [England]. But nonetheless, I have known people who are strongly involved on either the Democratic or the Republican side, and it’s great to have spirited arguments and discussions with them.

But my own views, in terms of traditional politics—or at least what I know about American politics—are much more down the middle, I guess. I’m certainly not radical in terms of political views, as far as American politics are concerned. But on certain other issues I think my views tend to be a bit more extreme in terms of feeling more inclined to express myself or use my voice.

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Does that mean we’ll we be hearing more direct commentary along those lines from you in the future?

Well, I’m too old to be a politician. I suppose it’s one of those things that you maybe weigh up somewhere along you life, and maybe you’re even seduced, sought-after, embraced by elements that could draw you into that life. But I never personally wanted to go down that route. It’s not something felt I’ve ever really wanted to commit myself to, but I can see it’s a bit like being a policeman.

I wanted to be a policeman when I was much younger. I wanted to be a good cop. I mean, not a good cop in the sense of high-achieving cop that was good professionally speaking, but good in terms of the ethics and the morality of policing. It’s quite a difficult thing to do. I mean, inevitably, you see some pretty nasty stuff going on, which can definitely dull your sense of right and wrong. It’s pretty hard to be a good cop, I think.

And I think it’s even harder to be a good politician, because the power and the inevitable corruption that comes with it is something that’s just too much for people to resist. Even if they don’t take backhanders [i.e. bribes], or do something totally politically corrupt, they can fall prey to the ability to cloud their own judgment, and to have perhaps a degree of self-belief that is very hard for the rest of us to understand.

An example being Tony Blair. When he was Prime Minister, he started off, I guess, demonstrating some very strong and positive ability. And you can’t deny that the Labour Party achieved some pretty positive changes, especially in contrast to the fading glory years of Conservative rule under [Margaret] Thatcher and her immediate successor.

The Labour Party started off looking pretty good. Tony Blair looked like he was a good Prime Minister and a very good politician. But he became seduced and corrupted by the whole affair, especially internationally, and turned out to be someone that the history books seemingly are not going to be very kind to. And in his post-Prime Ministerial years, he just slides further down the slippery slope of disapproval.

George W. Bush, on the other hand, did the sensible thing — just disappeared completely. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he pops up at some point in some guy’s… having had a bit of a soft spot for George Bush as a human being, I rather hope that he does re-emerge in some capacity just to prove that he did actually have a pretty good mind and, certainly, a good heart.

And a very, very nimble man on his feet when it came to dodging flying shoes. [Laughs]

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It’s really interesting to hear of your compassion for politicians, especially given that you’ve worked for much of your life in a profession where the temptations are legion—or at least they used to be. And yet, you’ve remained grounded, and it really does seem that you’ve managed to keep your moral center intact. How did you navigate that territory safely all those years, and how difficult was it, really?

I don’t think it’s difficult at all. You try and stay in touch with the real world, and try and keep a sense of… inasmuch as the really big issues are concerned, I think you have to keep involved and educated. So I watch television, as I often do, to watch rolling news programs, channel-hopping between Al Jazeera, FOX TV, CNN, BBC, maybe Sky, even Press TV, the Iranian television channel when that was on our satellite airwaves. For some mysterious reason, it was removed just a couple of months ago. It suddenly disappeared.

Yeah, I’m a channel-hopper. I like to see different viewpoints and different expressions. If I read newspapers, then I don’t read the same newspaper all the time. I try and make a point of each time picking up a different newspaper and letting some of the editorial and the bias come to me, simply because I want to hear the other points of view.

Okay, that all makes sense. But, since things did get a little involved in there, I just want to make sure that there’s no confusion on any reader’s part concerning your sexual orientation: So, you’re not gay, correct?

I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. And therein lies the whole nub of all of this. Because I don’t think any of us can be 100% sure of sexuality—we’re all a little bit…you know? I mean a lot of girls I know like to wear the trousers and, quite frankly, there are times I’m prepared to let them! [Laughs] As long as they have a plumbing kit, and they can mend the car and stuff, that’s great.

But, I don’t mean to be glib or facile about it. It is just, I don’t know because I have never tried, so I don’t know the answer to that. But I like to think that all of us have to be prepared to be open-minded and a little more ambivalent about it, even in later life. You know, it’s possible.

My old friend David Palmer, aged 60-something, decide strangely out of the blue that he wanted to be a woman and had a complete gender change operation. I mean full surgery, just three or four years ago. And he’s now Dee Palmer, a fully-fledged woman wearing ladies’ clothing and living life as an elderly woman on the south coast of England. [Laughs amiably]

And who would have thought? David Palmer was a man’s man. He smoked a pipe, had a deep voice, and decided, strangely, that he was going to become a woman. And, well, good luck to him! All the rest of us can do is, once we may scratch our heads about it, we have to be supportive and respectful.

So, things like that test us all, I think, in life, and we have to cope with those issues.

But, am I gay? I don’t think so. I’m not sure 100%, kinda 99% sure, but all could change. Watch this space.

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Okay, thanks. I suspected your answer would still be a bit more complicated that a simple “yea” or “nay.”

Yeah, exactly.

Is boredom the enemy when it comes to you? I ask, because I get a strong impression that you just cannot sit still, creatively or otherwise, for any length of time.

Ah, well, I suppose that is true. But it has to do with more pragmatic reasons than boredom. I don’t really recall being… the one time I might have been bored is going on holiday, going on vacation as you call it. I’m not much good at that, and I do get a bit bored just sitting in a hotel room. I don’t like to go out and just sit in the sun, and I don’t like to do stuff where there’s a lot of people on vacation and having a wonderful time. It just makes me angry.

So, I’m not a good person to go on vacation with, not unless there’s specifically a reason—you know, traveling or visiting something, or things to do. But to just sort of sit in some resort hotel isn’t really for me—it’s not a pleasant thing at all. So, if I do do that, I always take my computer, and my guitar and my flute, and I use my time doing something rather than just sitting there staring at the television or reading a book.

So, I try not to get bored, and most of the time, boredom is not an enemy. It’s not even an occasional visitor. I’m not quite sure how I’d get along with it if it did show up on my doorstep. We might become the best of friends, or maybe not. But I don’t really get bored.

So, the answer to the question is, No, it’s not an enemy. And my natural propensity for getting on doing things is probably a little bit amplified in these later years of my life because I’m well aware that time is running out. And if I don’t do stuff now, I won’t do it. So it’s good to turn the wick up on the lamp a little brighter as you approach that moment where, when it does finally wink out, it winks out forever.

So, boredom? Not really an option.

Gay sex? On the cards, but probably not, either. [Laughs]

No, I’m just kidding… [More laughter]

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I do want to touch upon what you might see as your legacy, but first, since you don’t stand still, have you given any real thought to what comes after TaaB 2? For instance, is there another disc in the Tull repertoire that you could envision doing something similar to this current release and celebratory tour?

No, there isn’t.

The projects I’m working on this year, well, essentially there are three things that I’m working towards. One of them, there’s a bit of a start made already, which is an album of essentially string quartet music of Jethro Tull repertoire, done by a string quartet with my input, playing the flute. And that’s something I’m working on in collaboration with our keyboard player, John O’Hara. So, we’ve arranged some stuff already, and we will do that. And doubtless it will be played at people’s weddings and funerals. It won’t be a high profile, high selling album, but it will be a very, very nice way of listening to Jethro Tull’s mainstream repertoire in a context that is, I think, creatively different. So, that’s something we’re working on.

And I have in mind to do some real singer-songwriter material. I mean something really striped down to being just guitar and voice for the most part, and very little else—just really, really minimal stuff. That obviously requires writing the music, and being energized to write the music, and may well have a sort of conceptual thing behind it, but it’s a little early to say what that might be, musically.

And I have one other project which I would really set aside for probably 2013, which is kind of a hard rock album. I wouldn’t mind just doing…well, I suppose you might say, justifying that hard rock/heavy metal Grammy that we won all those years ago. [Laughs] Maybe the time has come to actually say, “You know? All right, maybe we are a hard rock/metal band.” I think I’d quite like to do one that’s kind of that full-on raging music. But whether I want to another whole album, or maybe just do a big 20-minute song, I don’t know.

But those are three projects that I have in mind, and that’s a couple of years’ worth of work, really. I don’t think it’s wise for me to look much beyond that at the moment, especially since 2013 touring will probably take us on down into the southern hemisphere, and may well bring us back to the USA the early summer of 2013. It’s quite a long time to look ahead itself. But cast your thoughts forward from that to 2014 and ’15, that’s probably about…

My god, what will I be then? I’ll be 68 in 2015, and I would think if I make 70 as a professional musician, I’d be pretty pleased. And, these days, with the miracles of modern science, who knows? It could even go on a bit longer.

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Maybe I’ll take up tennis? Maybe you’ll find me playing at the Wimbledon Tennis finals? Maybe they’ll offer me a drive in the McLaren formula one team? Who knows what’s ahead of me? I’m too old to become an airline pilot—that I found out. [Laughs]

I was flying a Boeing 737 out of London’s Heathrow Terminal 5 two weeks ago, and I said to the lady co-pilot—the very heavily pregnant lady co-pilot—I said, “Listen, I’m 64, coming up 65. When do I have to retire as an airline pilot?”

She said, “Ah, 65.” [Laughs]

I said, “Okay, we’ll go around a couple of times, and then I better get this thing on the ground again!” [Laughs]

So, after I got out of the British Airways flight simulator, she said to me, “You flew that really well. Have you had any flying experience?”

I said, “No, first time flying anything at all. But now you got me interested in this, I think maybe I might even think about going and getting a driver’s license.” And she couldn’t believe that I don’t even drive a motor car, let alone a passenger jet.

It’s kind of funny—to me, anyway—kind of funny that there are these things that have just passed me by in life. And I think, in a way, you’re never too old to learn. Maybe when you’ve got not so much to lose, and you’re a really old guy, and death is just around the corner, then maybe that’s the time to get out in the formula one race track and just go as fast as you can.

It would make it a very interesting race, at the very least.

Somehow, I don’t think anyone is going to give me a car to do that. Actually, I wouldn’t be the first professional race driver to not have a driving license and drive on the road. That has happened before.

Right, either they didn’t ever get one, or perhaps had it taken away from speeding too much.

Yeah, well, I’ve never had one to have it taken away! [Laughs] It’s not something that has ever remotely interested me, having a driver’s license. I love driving off road. You know, motorcycles and four-wheel drive vehicles. But I really have no interest in driving in a straight line on a public highway; seems incredibly boring. Really, really boring. And I’m not someone, as you know, doesn’t make friends with boredom.

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No, sir, of that I have no doubt. [Laughs]

Have you thought about your legacy, what you’d like to be remembered for?

Well, I would have thought it’d be nice to be remembered as someone who tried hard. I think that’s enough to remember anyone by—someone who actually tries hard, even if they don’t succeed all the time.

In any walk of life, anywhere, trying hard, whether it’s with a relationship or in your career or just to get the damn DVD recorder to record your favorite television program. Whatever it is, trying hard is kind of a pretty positive thing, and it’s, I suppose, what I would prefer to be remembered as, rather than someone who necessarily was terribly successful at any one thing.

I just like the idea that I give it my best shot, whatever it might be.

For more info on exact dates, or to buy tickets for Jethro Tull's tour celebrating Thick as a Brick 1 and 2, head on over the the band's site.

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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