Monday Muse: Jethro Tull, Crest of a Knave
In an effort to keep me coming back to the keyboard at a more regular pace, today I am launching a full on regular feature, the Monday Muse. Here I will start off each school week talking about music. Not necessarily anything to do with secular parenting or stay at home Dadding, although there will be a little bit of that thrown in when it is appropriate. Usually this column will be about the music I really like, although I can see me deviating into the music I don’t like if I’m in such a mood. Sometimes we’ll look at one particular artist, like this weeks installment, or maybe we’ll drill all the way down through a particular album or dissect a song I really like and or hate. As always there will be links galore. I’ll embed some Youtube when I have a good video available, but I’ll also be using Spotify links a lot. If you aren’t signed up for Spotify, I recommend it. Playing music to your desktop is free, streaming to your devices costs, but I find it invaluable for music exploration.
Any discussion of my record collection has to start with Jethro Tull. That’s not where the story really begins, but for me Tull is where it gets interesting.
But first the back story. My Dad, Douglas Doench, was the news director at WUBE, then as now a Country Music station, for most of my kid/teen years. So even though Dad’s musical tastes tended more to Dylan, Joan Baez or the Beatles, the radio in our house was tuned to 105.1 because that was where my Dad worked! And that was soooooo cool! I could turn on the radio and hear my Dad reading the news. WUBE sponsored our soccer teams. Country music became part of the fabric of our family in a way that is hard for me to communicate to folks who weren’t there. It wasn’t exactly a golden age of country either. Think “Islands in the Stream” or “Elvira” . But it was before the Garth Brooks revolution swept the nation, turning Country into Country Pop, so WUBE actually played a pretty broad range of music. I don’t regret the exposure to much of it, I have found that the early exposure to Country Music I received has helped me appreciate alot of fun music that others might dismiss out of hand. More in that vein when we get to John Prine week.
The end result of this environment, for me at least, was that I grew up fairly indifferent to music. In fact I was outright hostile to a lot of the fare of the 80′s. I was turned off by the noise associated with heavy metal. I didn’t watch MTV, it seemed like a waste of time, so I missed out on the New Wave. And I didn’t have a car until I was 23… so all that time driving around listening to WOXY in my 1980 Ford Fairmont would have to wait. Music didn’t really matter to me all that much. It’s strange to think that that kid would have a huge vinyl collection 20 years later.
That started to change in 1987. My senior year of high school I had an extra study hall. An eclectic group of slackers began gathering in the nurses office to hang out. Across the hall was the “cool priest” who played Beatles records and “connected” with the kids. I’m serious, I don’t remember his name but he was a genuinely nice guy. There I heard Paul Simon’s “Graceland” for the first time and realized that maybe I should put something other than George Carlin in my walkman.
Now my brother Tony, eleven months younger than I, was not as inhibited as I was. He knew Guns and Roses. He loved Metallica. He tried to introduce them to me, but all I heard was noise. Somewhere in his collection though was a cassette tape with an odd stylized crest on the front, an image that spoke to my D&D sensibilities. One day, out of boredom I suppose, I popped it in the player, side 2 up, and this song played.
I was floored. I had literally never heard anything like it in my life. Instead of the testosterone fueled wailing of Axl Rose there was the exotic, unique vocals of Ian Anderson. In contrast to the crunchy noise of Metallica there was a Martin Barre’s guitar, and mandolins, and Ian Anderson’s absolutely unique flute playing. And in place of the juvenile sexual antics of the hair bands was a song that told a story, not of sexual conquest, but a melancholic sexual frustration. The singer in Budapest doesn’t “get” the girl he admires. No one does. She may be an object of desire, with legs that “go on forever”, but it’s obvious that she is the uncontested owner of herself. It’s a theme that runs through a lot of Tull’s music, for a decidedly male band the women in their songs have surprising sexual agency and independence.
Long story shorter, “Crest of a Knave” quickly became my cassette. And Jethro Tull became MY band. That year at the Grammies, I have no idea why we were watching the Grammies, Tull beat out Metallica for the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental, stunning my brother and sealing my fandom.
One advantage of becoming a fan towards the end of an artists career is that you get to go back and explore the catalog at your own pace, unlimbered from tour schedules and release dates. Suffice to say that over the next few years I accumulated pretty much everything I could by Jethro Tull. The first CD I ever bought was “Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young To Die” . I can almost recite the 40 minute Prog Rock epic “Thick as a Brick”.
I could go on, but this is already pretty long. We’ll come back to Tull in this space again. Next week we can talk about a different experience. Being there at the beginning (almost).