Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson Suffered Father’s Gay Intolerance

(This is part four of my Ian Anderson interview about the brilliant Thick As a Brick 2 and the forthcoming continuation Homo Erraticus, to be performed on the 22-date UK tour in May, and move on to various concerts in Europe through the Summer, before  embarking on the two scheduled US tours in September/October/November.)

RedBeard :   On Thick as a Brick 2  , it’s integrated, it doesn’t sound like paint by numbers.

Ian Anderson :      No, it’s very much written to be played live in the studio, ultimately to be played live on stage.  So more so than “Thick as a Brick 1”, it’s pretty much worked out to make the transition to live concert performance without having to do too much. Ya know,  without having to change anything.  And I think all the guys in the band are very, very grateful for that because they’ll be biting their fingernails by now trying to cope with some of the intricacies of “Thick as a Brick 1”, which of course they did not play on.

RB:     Oh, that’s right !  It’s a different band.

IA:       Some of those guys weren’t born yet!  In fact, the guys that were on the original Thick as a Brick, three of them long since have ceased to be musicians.  And in a way I suppose the two survivors, me and (guitarist) Martin Barre who played on the original album, we’re old enough to remember that it was quite hard work in the studio.  We were all stretching technical abilities and limitations.  We were stretching it to the best that we could possibly do, in the time frame that we had to do it.  But it was kind of out on the edge of what we were capable of doing at the time.  It’s not too difficult to play actually now for any of us, we all play that music perfectly easily.  It’s remembering it all and what comes next in the intensity of the live performance, because you have to be thinking ahead all that time to just think,” oh, what key is the next bit in?”  and, “Am I supposed to start this ? oh, oops, yes I am.  I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do.“ It’s a bit scary from the memory points of view, whether you’re in your twenties or in your sixties it still requires a lot of focus, a lot  of preparation, a lot of training your mind to do this little bit of double-tasking.  Where not only are you playing, you’re forming your idea ahead of what you should be playing next, and not lose thread of what you’re doing this particular second.  So it’s tricky stuff.  But technically not so difficult to play, just difficult to remember what comes next.

RB:     On the  song “Banker Bets, Banker Wins”, you sing “… the checks in the post…”  So just how much of that Strathaird Salmon money did you lose at Lehman Brothers ? (laughing )

IA :      Well, I was very lucky, ‘cause I got out of my twenty years of being a salmon farmer and fish processor, I mean we employed four hundred people in our factory and fish farms.  I mean it wasn’t the biggest company in the world, but it was  a meaningful-size company.   About a $30 or $40 million  grand turn-over.  So we had a proper little bit of business going.  But luckily, the writing having been on the wall long before the recession really came to bite caused me, at the end of the nineties and the first year or two of the new millennium, to realize that I was really exposed.  If things went wrong, I was going to lose everything.  I was going to lose my house, everything.  And so I thought better than I being the only shareholder in the whole thing, better that I step away and merge, sell, lease various parts, various wings of the company to others to reduce the risk.  And we did that.  And for a few years we continued to be a part of it until finally another company bought out the biggest chunk of the assets of the company and I just about got my money back from the money I invested in the company over the years.  I didn’t lose anything, I didn’t make anything. In the meantime there were four hundred new jobs in the Highlands of Scotland than there weren’t before I came along. Sadly, they’re all gone.  Because the whole thing hit the end-stops, really.  At the end of 2010 and the beginning of last year it was all over. Unfortunately it didn’t survive.  It didn’t survive, happily for me, but somebody else at the helm, because if I had hung on to it, I wouldn’t be able to be in the position of making a new concept album in 2012.

RB :    Well,  what’s the British term, “skint “ ?

slider-jethro-tull IA :      Skint is a good word.  Flat broke, but skint is a good term.

RB :    On “Adrift and Dumb-founded “, it has all of the best hallmarks of the first “Thick as a Brick” : it’s dynamic with lots of interesting changes, memorable melodies, lots of air in the arrangement to frame individual instruments, there’s that crystalline acoustic guitar, and then sizzling electric guitar that echoes more of Mark Knopfler than Martin Barre .

IA :      Um, well, yeah.  It’s a an album track, I suppose, in the sense that I wrote that song slightly in isolation before I wrote the bulk of the music.  I did have this little notion in my head , as such, but then it just sort of morphed into  the general music of TAAB 2 when I was writing all of the bulk of the music.  And it was essentially when I wrote the words, it was essentially to be about homelessness.  I wanted to touch upon that since it was the subject of the title track in Áqualung .  I also wanted to touch upon the nature of homelessness these days being a little different of how as it was forty odd years ago.  Because it’s so often these days connected with the sex trade, it’s so often connected with the complications of drug abuse, and in this case it is the sad case of somebody spiraling into the homeless world, not directly as a result of,  but along aside, the rejection of parents for being gay.  I mean, I’m singing with a little bit of personal experience and authority. When I was young, my father hurt me a great deal by condemnation of my femininity as a young boy, that’s the way he saw it.  It’s just that I liked art,  I liked drawing and painting, and I wasn’t very keen on sports.  I was quite good at sports, but I didn’t really want to do it competitively and aggressively.  So I think that he just had it in his head that I was…that I was going to be a homosexual.  He was very… it was very difficult to cope with .  As an old-fashioned, rather puritanical Scottish father, he couldn’t handle that idea.

RB :    Wow.

IA :      And I didn’t think I was gay.  We didn’t use that word back then, but whatever it was, I didn’t have any real attraction to men, boys or anything else.  I was perfectly aware that these things were around, but I wanted to have long hair and wear tight trousers and be a musician or a painter or do something a bit more artistic with my life. And he couldn’t handle this.  So he was rather cruel and aggressive to me in that way.  And I knew that  could have easily driven me away from him and possibly even driven me into the very lifestyle that he was so fearful of me adopting. RB :    Sure.

IA :      So as it turned out a couple years later he found me lying on top of a rather attractive young lady with a skirt around her neck, but ya know, strangely that seemed to soothe him !

Ian-AndersonRB :    “Look Dad, no hands! “

IA :      Yeah.  Exactly.  So at that point he seemed to, he seemed suddenly to quite like me again.  Well, I was only eleven at the time! [Redbeard laughs] I’m just kidding.  So yeah, these are stereotypes and I wanted to just touch upon that in this album.  There are these things that happened to people, and it’s so cruel and so divisive in terms of the family.  And, for instance, I’m a father, I have a son who’s in his early thirties. For at least 20 years of his life, I have had the idea in the back of my head that one day he’s going to come to me and say ‘Dad, there’s something I need to tell you.’  And I’m going to say ‘Yeah, I know what it is, you’re going to tell me you’re gay.’  Because I’ve been anticipating that possibility for most of his life.  And it hasn’t happened and it shows no sign heading in that direction. But if he did, I didn’t want to be reacting the way my father did.  I needed to work this out beforehand.    It’s not going to be a problem for me. You know , you learn from your own experiences of unfair bullying prejudices when you’re young.  Sometimes it drives you into a corner and you get really bent out of shape about it.  Other times it prepares you for dealing with it in a bit more of grown-up way when it’s your turn.  So, it’s something that I’ve been used to, really, but so far hasn’t happened.  If he does show up , then I say good luck to him.  But so far he’s only shown up with a few very unsuitable young women !” –Redbeard