RedBeard : What elements did you deem important to include in this 21st century piece Thick as a Brick 2, and what did you decidedly avoid in composing “Brick 2”?
Ian Anderson : I decided to avoid having the young Gerald Bostock become a politician, at least in terms of the musical and lyrical nature of the album. I decided he wouldn’t be an astronaut.
RB : That just hits me funny!
IA : I mention this too because they were amongst the handful of scenarios that I wrote down. And the ones that I’ve settled on, “ Gerald the banker “, “Gerald the military man”, “ Gerald the homeless person “, Gerald the” most ordinary man”. Which is one of my favorite characters. What happens when somebody decides ,” I don’t want to be a captain of industry. I don’t want to be successful, be part of that aggressive climbing up the ladder to some kind of success at the expense of other people. I don’t want to be that person. I just want to sets my sights lower and be an ordinary person, living an ordinary kind of a life, and just, just being one of the masses “ ? There’s nothing that’s second rate or bad about that. Indeed, there is something rather glorious to accept that you just want to position yourself in the middle , or in the lower half in terms of economic, intellectual, and social levels of behavior and success. You just want to settle for something much less and enjoy yourself and have a happy and productive time at that level. I think I really liked that character more than any other because I can bring a whimsical humor into that , and it feels nice to do. But I did consider an astronaut because I guess as the time that I was writing I did have some kind of connection with the world of astronauts and the international space station.
RB: OK, I’ve got to follow that up. What are you referring to?
IA: Well, in 2010 I was approached by intermediaries who suggested that maybe one of my flutes might like to go into space.
RB: No kidding!
IA : And so Colonel Catherine Coleman, that’s ex-US Air Force colonel who was scheduled to fly on the international space station for six months, is also an amateur flute player. And she wanted to take one of my flutes up into space and play it. And so I said , “sure, ok,” so we made contact and I sent her a flute and it duly blasted off from Baikonur on a Soyuz cargo rocket ship and taken aboard the space station, so that when she arrived for her tour of duty on a separate rocket it was waiting for her. And she had a few months to play with my flute . And in the nicest possible way, I hasten to add ! [Redbeard laughs] So we actually did a space duet. When I was playing in Russia on the 11th or 12th of March last year, it was the 50th anniversary of the first space flight by Yuri Gagarin . And to celebrate that we did a concert , I did a duet live with Catherine Coleman aboard the space station, we played a little flute thing together with me on the stage in a Russian theater and Colonel Coleman up there in space.
So I guess it was something that I could have written about with some authority. But two reasons, David Bowie’s already been there with “Space Oddity”, that simple, but ya know fantastic world of someone just um…
RB: “Floating in a tin can” I believe is how it goes…
IA : Yeah, drifting off into the ether and so I thought it’s been done before, even I’ve done it before because I wrote a similar piece once called “Apogee” which was the same kind of thing of someone being in space in that kind of fantasy world and in rapture with the idea of it all and kind of losing their mind. So I couldn’t really make Gerald an astronaut and I couldn’t really make him a politician, I wanted to, to have him as a retired and perhaps slightly disgraced politician. And I felt that it was more important that I could use that as a reference on the album cover because I guess it was the one that I felt was the most likely. Ya know, a precocious young boy growing up faster than his years, fond of his own voice, big words, big ideas, big thoughts, public presentation of the thoughts , but it seemed a logical thing that this kid would have probably gone on to public speaking, debate at school , become politicized and thought, “ hey, ya know, there’s a future in politics”. SoI think Gerald as a politician is the really big favorite and in a sense I didn’t’ want to just do the obvious thing… well, to me what seemed obvious, save that just for a reference on the album cover and look at the other Gerald character developments that might have taken place.
RB : Right. Ya know, I was struck recently by how much you used taped speed manipulation on the original in ’72. It’s a little hard to find a capstan on a computer these days, isn’t it?
IA: But in fact we actually had a real major malfunction when we came to mix the original Thick as a Brick because the machine that we were recording on had a fault. And as it progressed through the tape it slowed down. And so we were about a quarter of a tone, I mean, not a semi-tone but ya know a quarter of a note, in American musical parlance, adrift in terms of pitch by the end. And of course the tempos were horrible too as we were speeding up as it went along. And we didn’t discover this until we finished mixing. And we had to go back and try and salvage all of this by a mixture of re-mixing and deliberately trying to slow the tape down again in real time which meant speeding up toward the end. It was an absolute nightmare. And even to this day, the pitch, and I know ‘cause I was trying to learn some of the music the other day and there’s one place in the beginning where it’s about a quarter tone, not actually far off a semi-tome sharp at the very beginning on the side two. And I was really worried about these technical issues at the time.
Thick as a Brick when we thought we had it in the can all mixed, everything hunky-dory, only to find out that there was this major problem. It wasn’t as bad as the Aqualung album which was a real pig to record and mix because it being a new studio with all sorts of technical problems that we suffered. But I think few albums go to plan in the sense of the technical issues. And certainly this new one started off badly on day one because we had a major meltdown of our recording software and had to reinstall absolutely everything. We lost the whole of the first day of recording.
It was my intention to try to parallel what we did with “Thick as a Brick 1”. Ya know, a few definitive days of rehearsal, learn the whole thing. Be able to play it from beginning to end. Then go and record it with all of this fresh in your mind. And we kind of repeated that part of the exercise, and very much with the same instruments too which was an intentional concern to stick with the same sound palate. To stick with the Fender jazz bass, the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar, the Hammond organ and the rotating Leslie speaker cabinets and the glockenspiel . So I wanted to use these things again to have that kind of continuity of the same palate. But musically and lyrically when I do make these references here and there to the original album, for the most part it is deliberately stand alone and, and keep away from the musical territory of the original. But knowingly, four, five, six times was a very deliberate reference to the original album. So it’s nice, we should supposed, we shouldn’t be apologetic about it, we’re supposed to artist, we’re supposed to be creative people, so we do that sort of thing. Development, reiteration, reprise, we use the tools of trade as writers to try intelligently um, put forward something which is artistically conceived. And as it is, ya know it’s a thing, the whole thing is a bit of an intellectual proposition. If it’s all too much and you’d rather sit down and watch The X Factor, be my guest. But on the other hand, if you want something is an antidote to that fast-food music that we tend to live amidst these days, then maybe this is the album for you. You can get your teeth into it while we still have them !
RB : I was going to save this for near the end, but since you brought it up now, in a single–song- for -99 -cent world, how in Gerald’s name are you going to market “Brick 2” ?
IA : Well, it was very deliberately written, whilst there’s no digital silence on the album and it does progress through the various sections of music. Ya know, you can just hit that rewind button that we’ve all gotten used to. Ya know, we snack on music these days. We don’t sit down to a banquet and take two hours over it, we tend to snack . And so I think there’s a change in culture that I have to recognize . ( Part four next week )