In 1972, Jethro Tull released the album Thick as a Brick, which set the epic poem of 8-year-old prodigy Gerald Bostock to some of the best progressive rock music ever written. The album made it to No. 1 on the U.S. music charts, and solidified Jethro Tull’s reign as one of the top rock bands of the era. But until now, we never knew what happened to Bostock.
Well, actually, there never was a Gerald Bostock. Thick as a Brick’s lyrics and music were written by Jethro Tull frontman/singer/flautist/acoustic guitarist Ian Anderson. The album was a spoof of the then-trendy concept album genre, and a response to critics’ incorrect labeling of Jethro Tull’s previous album, Aqualung, as a concept album. Ironically, Thick as a Brick turned out to be one of the best concept albums ever recorded.
But back to Bostock. Anderson recently decided to explore different possible life trajectories for the fictitious lad, resulting in the album Thick as a Brick 2, which also revisits some musical motifs from the original. While this sort of music doesn’t go to No. 1 anymore, it is still an intriguing and amazing sequel.
At 8 p.m. Thursday, Anderson will be performing both Thick as a Brick albums in their entirety at the Chumash Casino Resort. Anderson graciously took the time to answer the following questions by phone during a short rest at his home in England. Click here for the full interview.
Jeff Moehlis: How do you find the right balance between “living in the past” and creating new music?
Ian Anderson: Well, that’s one of the reasons that I didn’t want to do a sequel to Thick as a Brick at any other time during the past 40 years, because it would have been, for me, too nostalgic, too much living in the past. It was only when the idea occurred to me towards the end of 2010, and then subsequently after Christmas when I had the chance to revisit that notion, that I could really do that in a way that wasn’t just about nostalgia. It was a way of making an album that was for 2012, since we’d never have been able to record it and release it in 2011 — we already had all of our concert tours booked by then.
So, you know, it was something that I knew was doable by using the vehicle of the young Gerald Bostock to ruminate on what might have become of him. What various things could have happened.
When I first thought of it, I wrote down 15, 20 possible outcomes, scenarios, career choices, whatever you want to call it. And I whittled those down to the necessary five, because I knew that I would allot about 10 minutes to each one of those possible choices, giving me the option of a couple of musical pieces, lyrically and musically, to get us from ‘72 to now, and then examine a little more closely the “now” part of it. So suddenly I was able to do this without it getting wrapped up in nostalgia. I didn’t want to revisit ‘72 in the temporal sense, just in the sense of using the identity of someone to catapult it 40 years into the future.
JM: How did your goals change, both musically and professionally, from your first album, This Was, up through the recording of the original Thick as a Brick?
IA: Well, that was an exploratory period of time, because when we first began it was, to some extent, jumping on the bandwagon of white man’s blues music. So, we were in the company of several other bands of that era — Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown among them. We were people who played at the Marquee Club in London and played some of our own music as well as some of the classic blues repertoire. You know, there was nothing particularly original about it, but it was a good starting point in learning the basics of music through the improvisation within the 12-bar simple harmonic structure of blues.
But after a few months of doing that, I started to bring in other elements of music in the songs that I was was writing. And by the end of 1968, I had a bunch of songs that then became the Stand Up album released in the summer of the following year. That was a big step forward from the first album, just as Benefit, I suppose, consolidated the slightly darker, more rock riff side of things. And Aqualung, the more singer-songwriter part of the equation.
So by the time we got to Thick as a Brick, I mean, four albums into a career, I had a pretty good idea what I was doing. It just seemed interesting at that time to take a further step into what was then the cliche of progressive rock, because by then progressive rock had become prog rock, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the early Genesis, King Crimson and Yes had a lot to answer for. But we were having a little fun spoofing that kind of genre with Thick as a Brick, and I think the balance of joke and serious music really struck quite well on the Thick as a Brick album.
JM: Where are you speaking to me from?
IA: The southwest of England, where I’m back home for six nights before heading off to start up again in San Diego.
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.