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Fab Flautist: Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson Talks Thick as a Brick and Offers Advice to Wannabe Pop Stars

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A concept album about 8-year-old schoolboy Gerald Bostock and his struggles in life, 1972's Thick as a Brick cemented Jethro Tull as prog-rock icons. And yet the British group never played the entire album in a live setting. Until now. Tull leader, singer-flautist Ian Anderson will perform the whole thing. He'll also play material from last year's sequel, Thick as a Brick 2. Anderson recently phoned in from a San Francisco tour stop to talk.

What originally inspired your invention of Gerald Bostock, the 8-year-old protagonist of Thick as a Brick?

The thing that inspired the album as a whole was to write a surreal concept album that was a step beyond what some of our peers were doing. I did so because our previous album, Aqualung, was conceived as a concept album. I said at the time and I say now, "No. It was not. It was a collection of songs." But if you want a concept album from Jethro Tull, here it comes with Thick as a Brick. I wanted something that had an element of parody and a comedic mask but was about the transition of the life of a young schoolboy into post-puberty and imagining the trials and tribulations of early adult life. That's what the album was about. It was through the eyes of a schoolboy.

Why a schoolboy?

I know about schoolboys. I used to be one. I'm particularly thinking of a grammar schoolboy with a pretty good education and the opportunity to excel. I'm imagining a boy who is the top of the class but who probably doesn't have many friends. Nobody likes the smart kid at school. He's the guy who gets bullied and picked on. That's something I thought I could write about from my awareness of my school days. There was a boy named Bostock at my school but I never met him. When you heard the roll call, that name stuck out in my mind. It was a good Northern English family name.

Do you know when you first heard the expression "thick as a brick"?

Probably when I was about 13. It was a derogatory term applied to boys who weren't very bright and couldn't absorb the elements of Latin or physics or algebra. They weren't necessarily stupid. They were probably just lazy and drifted through life at the other end of the spectrum. Schoolboys can be quite cruel to each other.

Talk about the fake newspaper articles that accompanied the original release. Did you write all the articles?

Yeah. And most of what's on the website is written by me and the work on album covers is usually mine. I didn't necessarily design the artwork but all the text that accompanies it comes from me. I like to be hands on. While the first album was my artwork and choice, I didn't do the artwork for the three albums that followed. When it came to Thick as a Brick, I decided it was time to take control again because I wanted something that fit the concept. I designed that one myself.

I read a live review that described you as "Captain Hook gone mad." Is that an accurate description?

I'm not conscious about those things. I think it's best to have the stage persona grow out from something inside you rather than model yourself on another character or performer. I can't tell you clearly where it comes from. I do remember that when I saw the Sex Pistols, thinking that Johnny Rotten looked like the character on the Aqualung cover. It turned out later that he was a fan of that album. He didn't say anything about it at the time. That would have been admitting an infatuation with progressive rock music, which is not something his manager would have liked. He made it his own. He took a stance; he had a hunchback way of leering at the camera. He did it his way. He took Frank Sinatra's words to heart.

How is it that the album was never performed in its entirety?

It was too difficult. It was impossible to recreate the original record. There were so many overdubs and it was impossible for me to play everything I do on the original record. I only have two hands. We have an extra person in the band for this production, which gives me the flexibility to play the extra flute lines and extra bits of pieces.

What was it like revisiting Gerald Bostock now that he's 50?

It's like lots of people. You remember them as children and they turn out differently and then things happen along the way. Whatever happened to Gerald Bostock is the subtext. The various things that could have happened to him are a metaphor for all of us. We must all wonder now and then if things had turned out much different. I'm sure we do as we sit on the front porch with a can of Miller's Lite. We wonder about the things that didn't happen as well as the ones that did. For the young people who have to live the rest of their lives, there is that sense of trepidation and making themselves ready for what unfolds. Some people are better prepared. It's an album for the old and for the young at the opposite ends of the age spectrum.

What do you have against The X Factor and the Eurovision Song Contest?

I don't have anything against them. It doesn't provide much in the way of lasting value in music. They're not encouraged to be original. They're encouraged to be clones of other successful stars. I don't think that's a productive way of making music. It serves as easy entertainment for the masses. In many cases, the winners of those TV talent shows get signed to multi-million-dollar record deals and are promised the earth and th3en fade away after the disappointing sales. You believe you are a star only to find that after a year or two you're on the scrapheap and you're only 22 years old. It's a cruel world. My advice to people is that if you do that kind of stuff, don't take it seriously and don't expect it to last. Don't start believing in the idea of stardom just because you enter or compete or even win one of these TV contests. You're just there to churned out of the sausage machine and gobbled up by a hungry audience and then shat out into the sewer system. That's the harsh reality. You end up as a turd on the beach.

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