Early success also hurt Michael Jackson, says Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson
By Gord Bowes, News staff
If Ian Anderson ever does another sequel to a classic rock ’n’ roll concept album, it might touch on the lives of Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson.
The Jethro Tull frontman is coming to Hamilton Place on Oct. 17 for a stop on the 40th anniversary tour of Thick as a Brick, performing the original epic album and its 2012 sequel.
READ MORE: “Living in the past and the present”
Thick as a Brick is one of the most acclaimed concept rock albums, standing out in an era in which bands such as Genesis, Pink Floyd, The Who and other eventual hall of fame bands were each crafting epic musical productions.
Anderson recently turned 66 and he and his contemporaries, like the Rolling Stones and Roger Waters, are still touring and pleasing old fans and those who recently discovered their decades-old music.
For anyone who ever doubted it, rock stars never get far past their prime.
Anderson was in his late 20s when he wrote another concept album, “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die!”
A few years later, The Rolling Stones embarked on their Tattoo You tour and Mick Jagger’s age — he was approaching 40 after all — and the expansive stadium stages they performed on was a common topic of conversation. How much longer could the aging rock ’n’ roller go?
Critics have always questioned
Rock critics have always questioned whether an artist is too old to rock and roll, says Anderson, but in his mind there has been very little question.
Very early in his career, says the man who also wrote the classic album Aqualung, he thought getting a few years in the business with Jethro Tull and then moving into the offices of a record company as an executive or producer would be fine.
“But after two or three years we were doing okay and after four years we were doing really well so it did seem to me really, from then on, there was a living long-term in being a musician,” Anderson tells the Mountain News in a recent interview from the UK. “That really fit with my idea of what musicians were about. For the people I admired or listened to when I was a teenager or in my 20s, whether it was Muddy Waters or Beethoven, it seemed like a lifetime career.”
It’s understandable, though, that people upwards of 30 who continued to rock might questioned by a generation that talked about wanting to die before they get old, says Anderson.
“It didn’t really fit the mould of the rebellious music of youth, which is what rock ’n’ roll is about,” he says. “It’s what it started off being, though I can remember Bill Haley and the Comets being a little older than maybe they would want us to imagine.”
“It becomes very plain as you get older,” he continues, “you do start to realize that some things you have to toe the line. It’s not necessarily about morals or culture, it’s actually about pragmatic common sense — it’s just easier to fit in than constantly trying to buck the system.”
And besides, says Anderson, people like Jagger were just as much wanting to be accepted by the politicians and the thinkers as they were by the people who bought their records.
However, to first be too old to rock ’n’ roll, one must reach that age.
Bieber playing with fire
That wasn’t the case with Michael Jackson and might not happen with Justin Bieber.
Jagger has parlayed hard work and dedication into a long career, says Anderson. Others have not.
“We can safely say, Mick Jagger, on the verge of 70, managed to do all the things that poor Michael Jackson was unable to do, some 20 years behind him,” says Anderson, who himself has rarely been away from touring since the late 1960s. “In terms of physical health, preparation and having actually a fairly cold and pragmatic view of what he does.”
“Poor old Michael Jackson, sadly at the end of the day, did not have that professionalism.”
Jackson had a distorted view of what he was and what it took to prepare after a long layoff, says Anderson.
“It would have been very useful if Mick Jagger had sat down with Michael Jackson six months before his intended comeback tour and actually given him a few harsh lessons in reality as to how to approach such a chore.”
Stars such as Justin Bieber also can take note, says the progressive rock icon.
“At the age he started, he had no maturity, he was just a kid doing something that was suddenly was a bit of a dream, I suppose, come true,” says Anderson. “But it’s a distorted reality — you haven’t got a real handle on what all that means, especially when it comes so soon after puberty. You’ve hardly had the hormones settle down and this is thrust upon you. It’s pretty daunting. I don’t think he had either the support from family and friends or perhaps the intellectual capacity to think it through and so he’s in trouble.
Does anyone care about the Bieb?
“But frankly, who gives a shit? Does anybody really, really care about Justin Bieber? That’s the sad thing — none of us do. We’re only interested in hearing what bad thing has happened to him or what bad thing his thuggy security guys have done to somebody else. He’s just sensation fodder. Do we actually care if Justin Bieber lives or dies? Frankly, the reality is most of us don’t and that’s a sad thing. Here’s a young man who had everything ahead of him who seems to be in the process of throwing it all away and that’s a very sad thing. He obviously has some talent and some skills and yet frankly I don’t think people actually do care about him.”
Too much success too early when you can’t handle it can be the kiss of death, says Anderson. And Michael Jackson’s career was very similar.
“In many ways, it’s a pretty good plan not to get successful until you’re at least 20 years old and there’s at least a hope in hell that you’re gonna have your feet on the ground if and when success comes.”
There are people who get extraordinarily success and “who don’t go nuts, who are actually very, very level-headed, nice people,” says Anderson. It could be family and friends who keep them grounded, or they could just be born that way.
Not every successful person’s life revolves around them being “the star” and having an entourage of sycophants and yes-men around them, he says.
Anderson says he’s always found it easier not to have those types of people around him.
Feet on the ground booking air tickets
In fact, he’s so grounded that even after four decades of being one of the most famous men in rock ’n’ roll, he spent a lot of time last month booking airline tickets and hotel rooms for the current tour.
“I like to try and be in control of that — sorting out hotels and sorting out travel arrangements. It’s a little bit interesting and challenging to try and get to grips with all that stuff. If you let somebody else do it for you and you’re not happy with the arrangements or it’s overly stressful, you’ve only got yourself to blame. These days, Mr. Google, Mr. Wiki, they’re all there to help you. By the time you explain to a travel agent what you want, you might as well just do it. Hit the button, give them the credit card number and it’s a job done.”
“We live in a better age where I think you can take the stress out of travel, the stress out of rock ’n’ roll touring, if you like, in way that we couldn’t do 10-15 years ago let alone 40 years ago. I think that’s one of the reasons touring is actually easier for me, psychologically, mentally, as well as physically, to feel you are in control of what you do and not subject to somebody else’s whims about what hotel you should stay in or what airline you should fly. Because I do have my preferences. I’ve been doing it enough to know what airlines to avoid.”