(Part 3 of 3) – Anderson soon focused on expressing the music he originally intended for his guitar through his flute.
“Being able to develop the technique of flute playing to express my guitar player’s ideas through a different medium seemed quite a plausible and, ultimately, not too difficult a thing to do,” he said. “I don’t think it was necessarily radical or groundbreaking because, of course, I wasn’t the only flute player. There were others. It was just that I jumped ahead and took it a bit further than others.”
Soon, critics were referring to Jethro Tull’s music – along with other bands of their era – as “progressive.”
“Progressive was the term that cropped up in 1969 in the [United Kingdom] to describe the music of the bands like Cream and, I suppose, Jimi Hendrix, and emerging bands like Yes and King Crimson and early Jethro Tull. It’s where I heard myself described as a progressive-rock musician,” Anderson explained. “It sounds forward-thinking. It sounds rather dignified – a conscious attempt to push forward and gently break the bounds of what had been done before.”
“And I thought, that sounds pretty good. I rather like that.”
As Anderson’s career continued, he began to make personal and professional decisions that defied conventional norms and standards. One was that while many of his contemporaries were experimenting heavily with drugs and alcohol, he decided to avoid anything that could lead to addiction.
Moreover, he strongly feels that stories of musicians who become heavily involved with drugs, but recover, send a message to people that it is safe to start using.
“It’s just the ongoing story, isn’t it? People feeling somehow that it’s OK to do drugs when you’re younger. And by that I would include alcohol as well, because you can then quit and give it up,” Anderson explained. “For every one that managed to quit and survive, professionally as well as physically, there are probably at least one, if not two, who didn’t make it. So in some ways, it’s the worst possible advertisement – drugs that have wrecked so many lives and those who’ve managed to do it for a while and toss it aside – because most of us would fail to do what they did.”
“That’s the reason I’ve never taken drugs, is because I suspected that I would be in the category of the people who wouldn’t be able to quit,” he said.
Perhaps equally unusual at the time, Anderson and Jethro Tull turned down the opportunity to play Woodstock, which is considered by many to be the greatest music festival in history. But for Anderson, it simply didn’t make sense for the band at the time.
“In regard to the Woodstock thing, it was like having a luggage label attached to you. I didn’t truly feel like I was part of that social and cultural world – the hippie thing. It was something that had to do – and very laudably so – with people’s ideas of freedom of expression, of equality. Take your kids out and roll around in the mud, smoke a few joints and have sex,” Anderson explained. “Fine, if that’s what you want to do. But I didn’t feel like I was ready to be labeled that way. Maybe we would have been the band that people went, ‘Wow, remember that? Jethro Tull, Woodstock, yeah!’ That might have happened, and that would have been the end of it, really. Because we would have been forever labeled as the Woodstock band.”
Anderson does concede, however, that things could have worked out well. “Just to go completely against what I’m saying, it didn’t do the Who any harm,” he said.
Sometimes, Anderson and Jethro Tull have raised eyebrows, not just because of shows they chose not to play, but also because of shows they did choose to play. One such situation was Jethro Tull’s recent decision to play shows in Israel, despite calls for musicians to boycott Israel since 2010 following Israel’s raid of a Turkish Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
Anderson thought that playing the shows could help bring people together and had committed to donate money from those shows to organizations dedicated to “peaceful coexistence” among Jews, Christians and Muslims in Israel.
“You go there, and you try to make some teeny little bit of difference. But to be brutalized by people telling you what you should do or should not do – I frankly think it’s none of their bloody business,” he explained. “At least I’m doing something … . In my mind, if there’s an upside to going to perform, then, hell, I’m going to be there.”
Anderson considers himself “a restless and inquisitive soul who wants to keep trying to reinvent himself, however difficult that may be.” Along those lines, Jethro Tull and Anderson individually continue to experiment musically. Over the years, Anderson and Jethro Tull have experimented with different musical styles, including embracing folk rock (e.g., “Songs From The Wood”), electronic (e.g., “Under Wraps”) and world music influences (e.g., “Roots To Branches”). Anderson has also released several solo albums, including “Homo Erraticus” in 2013.
Anderson admires other musicians, such as David Bowie, who have taken similar risks, whether or not they are deemed “successful” by the music industry. “Not many people have high regard for his ‘Tin Machine’ era, but it’s the bit I liked most about David Bowie,” Anderson recalled. “Last time I met David Bowie was on a German TV show, and he was doing a song called ‘Little Wonder’ from the ‘Tin Machine’ album. I thought it was a damn good song.”
Yet while Anderson encourages others to follow in his path and be true to themselves, he thinks that it is important for people to acknowledge the responsibility associated with sharing their ideas.
“Through social media, people are outrageously presenting their thoughts, their views – infantile and embarrassing and enraged as they often are. You find this in any area where you invite people to comment on things, in politics, music, arts and entertainment, religion,” he explained. “We have somehow gone to the other extreme, where people feel they have the right to that degree of free speech … to put into print their own reactions, their own feelings, their anger in a way which is really disturbing.”
Anderson sees this as a potentially damaging process. “Once you start, it becomes a drug in and of itself. We all know the trolls who inhabit chat rooms and social media, who take such a delight in winding people up, in being vile and incredibly hurtful,” he said.
The potentially harmful effects of engaging in social-media discourse without restraint and responsibility became evident when his friend and fellow musician Keith Emerson – of fellow progressive-rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer – recently committed suicide.
“Keith Emerson, who died recently, committed suicide, that was a result of the things that he was reading about himself, from – we can’t possibly call them fans – who chose to write in a hurtful way about him at a point when he was really vulnerable,” Anderson said, “and suffering as he had done for a number of years from physical difficulties that made performing quite difficult for him. And he – so we’re told – had enough. He just couldn’t take it, and killed himself, his girlfriend said, because he was trolled to death.”
Anderson similarly warns fans to listen to musicians about non-musical issues with a degree of skepticism. “I always wince with a bit of pain when I hear people from the entertainment industry pontificating on subjects that they seem to know little about, but feel they have opinions on,” Anderson explained. “It always makes me uncomfortable, because I do the same. But hopefully, I’m a little bit better prepared or study these subjects a little harder than they do. In the entertainment business, we can mind our own business, or stretch out a little bit. But you have to be careful how you do it.”
“It’s a bit like politicians or environmentalists talking about music. We’re not really wanting to know what their opinions are,” he said.
Anderson applies this to his recent support of the movement to prevent the declawing of cats. “You should be very guarded in accepting our notions. We are not to be trusted as musicians. We are relatively naïve, relatively simplistic,” he said. “And whilst I might talk with some authority on the issue of declawing cats, for example, it’s an area I know something about. But you can put your thoughts out for people, and hope they’ll weigh things for themselves.”
“If you want to tear the fingernails out of your cat, that’s your problem – something you have to live with. I can only suggest to you to get a new piece of furniture every year,” he said.
Overall, Anderson is proud that his “progressive” orientation was consistent with and part of a broader cultural movement that brought about significant social change. For example, Anderson describes how the spirit and efforts of many people who sought to challenge societal norms during the 1960s were reflected in the laws passed at that time, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States and anti-discrimination laws in Great Britain.
Anderson told me, “I was lucky enough to grow up in the ’60s and ’70s – this was a momentous time of change, a remarkable time when so many hard-won freedoms made themselves felt through the work, through the bravery, through the perseverance of those who campaigned for them … . It wasn’t as if someone waved a magic wand and everything was suddenly OK. But it was the beginning of a period of change. We are the generation that made those things happen, after several generations of absolutely despicable divisions in society – racial and gender divisions.”
“Homo sapiens are homo sapiens – regardless of the color of your skin or your chosen headgear at your place of worship,” he said.
Anderson doesn’t plan on changing one bit in his personal and professional life. Anderson is currently touring Europe and will be playing shows on the west coast of the United States in October. And he will continue to be a progressive thinker, true to his beliefs and helping others to progress in their own thinking.
“I’ve never gone out of my way to defy the arguably mainstream thoughts on anything. It’s just that as you pick up on different subjects and delve into them a little bit, you form some conclusions and some thoughts of your own.”
“But I’m not a radical thinker,” he said. “I’m just a thinker.”
Michael Friedman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Manhattan and a member of EHE International’s Medical Advisory Board.
(Article reprinted with permission)