Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Long Haired Leaping Gnomes And Flutes

Was Ian Anderson (or Jethro Tull in general)ever really considered cool? I mean, did legions of teenage boys, after seeing Jethro Tull or listening to Aqualung, dream of becoming a 'flautist'?
'Cause what I remember was some scraggly-looking dude leaping and prancing on stage with what seemed like a 7 foot silver flute singing about someone 'sitting on a park bench'. That's the enduring image for me. Aqualung was either about lung cancer or peodophelia, I don't know which (perhaps both?), but I don't care enough to bother doing the research.
Frilly, puffy 'jester' shirts and medieval imagery doesn't scream ROCK AND ROLL to me. What I picture are pre-pubecent boys with 14 sided dice contemplating whether or not to use all their 'hit points' to slay the dwarf that's preventing them reaching the 'Bog Of Dispair'.
Don't get me wrong, I like the odd prog record. But Tull, to me, was never appealing in any way, shape of form. Just plain silly, really.
And the flute? In a supposed heavy metal band? It just doesn't wash with me, man. The only band that I can recall that used a medieval instrument to great effect was AC/DC. They used the bagpipes on High Voltage, and it worked wonderfully.

But a friggin' flute? As a LEAD instrument?

I'd like to hear from you if you think I'm wrong. If someone can make a compelling argument on why the flute belongs in rock and roll I'll buy them a Lord Of The Rings chess set.


Phil Fountain said...

OK, now you've done it. Slamming Tull? You listen to Queen and you're going to slam Tull?

For the record:

There were no "role-playing games" in Jethro Tull's heyday (unless you had a very agreeable girlfriend, which none of us did.)

The flute, though a little too phallic for most guys (you want me to blow into that?) sounded pretty good on classic Tull. It may seem "fey" to have a flautist in your band (Peter Gabriel played flute here and there, once on a Cat Stevens record!) but you Anglophiles seem to think Ray Davies is OK and he INVENTED fey.

Saw them open for Led Zeppelin in Anaheim and Tull blew them off the stage. No shit. Not even close.

Tull was more of an outgrowth from the English folk/rock scene. Their stuff was traditionally based with electric instruments. Ian Anderson's flute made them different (plus some very good songwriting)as did some of their complex time signatures that owed more to jazz than rock or folk. A very original band. I think of them as part of the whole Lindesfarne, Fairport, Incredible String Band, Pentangle thing...but with catchier tunes.

It's true Zeppelin shared some of these roots but were borne more out of The Yardbirds "pop" scene. It's also true that Jimmy Page (and, of course, Jeff Beck) played in Donovan's studio band in the mid-60's, but the Dungeons and Dragons mystique is wholly owned by Zeppelin.

The "Stand Up/Aqualung/Thick As A Brick" peak for Tull (Jethro Tull, by the way, was the name of a fellow who invented a type of seed drill, make of it what you will,) is as good a musical run as any band you can name.

Silly? Maybe, but no sillier than Bolan's top hat and unicorn shit. And "Aqualung" (a concept album, I suppose)may be one of the greatest comments on organized religion to appear in 20th century literature. I will stand and defend that last statement until Jesus comes.

Erin said...

>>did legions of teenage boys, after seeing Jethro Tull or listening to Aqualung, dream of becoming a 'flautist'?<<

Maybe not. But perhaps their teenage girlfriends had other ideas.

TheRobRogers said...

I love your passion, Phil. Great post, Ian. But at the end of the day, it's still a flute solo. A flute solo. It don't wash.

Uncle E said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Uncle E said...

Hey, I knew this was going to be controversial!
As Phil pointed out, I'm not really one to talk. Queen has probably used a flute in more than one song, in addition to other instruments (such as the ukelele, glockenspiel, etc) and a favorite band of mine, Mercury Rev, has used a bow saw for Chrissakes.
Regardless, I have always had something in my DNA that has prevented me from giving Tull a fair shake. I can't pinpoint exactly why, other than the footage I've seen seemed extremely serious to me. It never looked like they were having any fun. Saving the world one flute at a time, I guess. And maybe that's what it is. I tend to gravitate, for the most part, to bands that don't take themselves too seriously, and Tull seemed to me to take 'flauting' way too seriously. Really, the flute probably has little or nothing to do with it, at least it's not the major reason I haven't delved deep into their catalogue.
Philbert's going to loan me Aqualung, and I'll give it a fair listen and, who knows, I may be converted.

Hal Johnson said...

I always liked Tull, but I had to be in the mood for 'em. Tull and the Stones never got mixed in the same listening session, if that gives you an idea where I'm coming from.