Essay on Jethro Tull song lyrics
Aqualung Album Song Lyrics Meanings Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson
Cross Eyed Mary and Aqualung by Jethro Tull Song Meanings and a longer discussion about song lyrics.
What lyrics enhance a rock song?
Aqualung, the Jethro Tull album was released in 1971
The first song is Aqualung and the second song is Cross Eyed Mary. Why is he called Aqualung? He breathes like someone underwater in some kind of driving apparatus. Locomotive Breath is also on the album. You can think of these songs as the three stages of Life. Young Mary, middle aged loser Locomotive Breath, and old and homeless Aqualung. Mary should of saved her money for her old age, I guess.
I wrote a blog about this song and later I read Jethro Tull’s Aqualung (33 1/3) by Allan Moore, and he confirmed all of the conclusions I had, plus he said the Jack Knife Barber is an abortionist and she has an abortion on her lunch hour and then gets dropped off back at school.
Original blog post
I looked up the lyrics and read the interpretations, and I found I had the wrong idea about this song. I did not think Mary was a hooker, but merely a Party Girl.
She’s the robin hood of High Gate
High Gate is supposed to be Mary’s expensive school, but because I did not have access to the internet or the lyrics in the late 80’s, so I could not read any interpretations of the song. I would not have thought of High Gate School. That would not mean anything to me and I could not understand it anyway.
Another song by Jethro Tull mentions a place in England, “Jeffrey goes to Leicester Square” (from the album Stand Up 1969) predates Aqualung . I know Leicester Square is in England, but the song is just about a man rejecting a woman, and there is nothing about Leicester Square in the song. The man singing the song could be Jeffrey who goes for a walk Leicester Square and makes a decision to break up with the woman he sings about in the song, and this song is his way of telling her he is breaking up. Or maybe she is just friend of his but he wants to end the friendship. Why not have the song be about the good looking woman who he loves instead of despises? If one wants unhappy lyrics then maybe one wants a dark metal type music to express unhappiness instead of a cheerful flute? Consider about the Fire Suite by Arthur Brown. The music is unhappy and the lyrics fits the music.
This song I believe is the case of weird title thrown on to the unrelated song. When the song title does not appear in the lyrics, you can’t know the name of the song if you hear it. This is always a mistake. Led Zeppelin did this often. The Led Zeppelin song Out on The Tiles is the one that goes “All I need from you is all your love”. No one knows this song by the name if they are not a serious fan.
If you are not familiar with the places in England, you won’t understand Cross Eyed Mary. Even more misunderstanding occur because people posted that High Gate is the school that the jack knife barber drops her off at, but it was a boys only school, so she can’t attend High Gate.
At first I thought maybe Mary preferred rich men, so she would not be poor. The song starts out with the lyrics “who would be a poor man, a beggar man, a thief, if he had the rich man in his hand?” But, of course, the lyrics says “his hand” so this is someone else not Mary. Who is this person? Or is he just a person in general and not one of the characters in the story?
Considering the Rolling Stones song “Playing with Fire”. The song mentions places in England, but it is very clear what Mick Jagger is singing about in the song. Playing with Fire translates to something universal we can all relate to without knowing the ends and out of those places in England.
It ruins the song to a certain extend to always think about a homeless old man each time you hear Aqualung . A song like Aqualung takes you up and down emotionally in the way Nietzsche described how music can make you soar to great heights. For Aqualung one wants lyrics that will make you feel like celebrating something, instead of fretting over something like the plight of the homeless. If the goal is to properly make a song about the homelessness something by Bob Marley would be more fitting as a social change anthem. The entire set of lyrics for Aqualung is a terrible mistake that cannot be undone. Once the lyrics settle into one’s brain they will become trapped there forever.
There is this quote on Wikipedia where Ian Anderson describes Cross-Eyed Mary as a fun song about a school girl prostitute who goes with older men because she wants to. I can’t see who could think of this as a fun song. Maybe in his dreams young school girls are like that? I wonder if he being truthful, maybe he doesn’t want to give the real explanation for the song? Cross Eyed Mary used to be more abstract to me before I decided to analyze it. Why not make the song about blue eyed Mary, why cross eyed? Is she is really is cross eyed or just has twisted values?
Paul McCartney just throws down some kind of nonsense lyrics that he thinks up off the top of his head, because he is very stoned when he writes the lyrics. Being stoned those lyrics seems like a good idea to him at the time. John Lennon wrote meaningful lyrics. As long as Paul was with John and the Beatles his songs had good lyrics such as “Yesterday”, but upon breaking up with the Beatles he descended into infantile lyrics.
For a small digression, consider that the lyrics to the song Imagine. Mark David Chapman cited as Imagine causing him to want to kill John Lennon. He said John Lennon was phony to say, image no possessions, when he was rich. John Lennon ‘s lyrics were too meaningful and Paul’s were too frivolous. Imagine no Heaven or Hell, consider believing that today is all we have, and there is no afterlife and no God also made Mark David Chapman upset. I saw several biographical movies about Mark David Chapman. This was a pattern for John Lennon. He seemed to enjoy lyrics that pushed limits and made people uncomfortable. If you look at his earliest album after leaving the Beatles, which was not as well known as Imagine, the song “God” has the same theme. When Lennon and McCartney were together they balanced each other out, and the songs lyrics of the Beatles were much greater then the lyrics of either of them without the other one.
Tull has a song called “Hymn 43” (Jesus Save Me) but the song is sarcastic. It is not so much saying Jesus is fake, as it is saying people claim faith in Jesus to push their own agendas. But, don’t like that song, I barely tolerant it, so I don’t mind that I don’t like the lyrics.
Aqualung would have been more popular if it had different lyrics. The song is only popular in spite of the lyrical handicap, because it is such a great song and so well performed and sung with such conviction. Aqualung is not played that often on classic rock stations, at least not on Sirius XM.
What statement does the song Aqualung make? Does it say homelessness is a bad thing? The narrator does not feel pity for Aqualung. Nor does he offer to help him. He is just singing about this homeless guy. I wish Ian Anderson would give a better explanation so I could understand his thought process. Maybe the narrator of Aqualung is in fact Aqualung himself. The lyric “is you see it’s only me”. I read this means Aqualung is Ian Anderson. Consider the TV show the Prisoner in which Patrick McGoohan asks “Who is number one?” and get this answer “You are number 6.” People like to read the lyric in this way.
On Wikipedia, Ian Anderson mentions a photo of a homeless guy who we assume model for the Cover Art for the album. His ex wife took the photo. I would rather see that as the cover then the poorly drawn cover art. It is a matter of taste that I don’t like that cover art of the homeless guy. Ian Anderson had the photo of the homeless guy, and he was going to write song lyrics for his greatest song, and the photo inspired him to write the lyrics. Was there really a photo of the original homeless guy? If so would he not deserve some royalties from the song? He would become no longer homeless if he was still alive which he couldn’t be at this time. What if there was no photo, and it was just what Ian Anderson wanted to do at the time. He wanted to pose as a old homeless guy for the album art, like the artist who did the cover art claimed. None of this was addressed in the book about the album Jethro Tull’s Aqualung (33 1/3) . What is the point of writing a book if you can’t come up with answers to the most pressing questions about Aqualung the album?
There are some artists who insist on making references pop culture. These songs become dated over time. The artists don’t want to be bound by the rules of universal concepts when writing a song. Then later on the lyrics age, and become more and more obscure, as time slips into the future. Consider the song “Orange Crush” by R.E.M.. If that drink stopped being made, the song lyrics would become less relevant.
Consider A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Anthony Burgess made up his own slang. Anyone can understand the movie version of Clockwork Orange, but reading the book is a chore, as one needs to stop and consult a glossary. Oddly enough on Wikipedia, it states that Anthony Burgess thought using made up slang would prevent the book from becoming dated. At least if one uses current slang it is possible for the devotee of the work to then study the slang from that period, but made up slang is like a time capsule time that dates the work to exactly when the it was written. If you hear someone using words from Clockwork Orange you immediate think of that novel or the movie if you have not read the novel.
By adding locations in England to songs do the lyrics become dated more quickly? If the neighborhood changes it makes the song frozen in time. If low class neighborhood became high class or vice versa, the whole thing is dated. “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys is an example. In Manhattan there is the upper and lower parts and one is supposed to be richer and another poorer, but that could change over time. West side, East side, uptown are all location based concepts. The song “Shattered” from the Some Girls album released in 1978 by the Rollingstones, mentions locations in Manhattan but the song works. You don’t need to know what Uptown is like to know the singer is complaining.
But, when the entire meaning of the song is placed up one’s ability to know that High Gate is an expensive school or an expensive part of town and Mary is not poor, the meaning of the song is lost without the ability to look up the song on the internet.
If Aqualung was a concept album, Ian Anderson claimed it was not supposed be. I have never listened to the whole Aqualung album. I only bought the greatest hits CDs. I did not buy Aqualung as an LP. Maybe the ugly cover art put me off? I found a lot of classic rock records in the basement of my building in the 80’s that someone was throwing away. Aqualung was not among them, or I would have listened to the whole thing. I was a bit improvised back then. I now have means to listen to the whole album if I wanted to, but now I have neither motivation nor time to listen to concept album.
In the 70s one could mull over the LP to decide if it was a concept album. Why would you spend money for just three songs on Aqualung, when could buy the greatest hits CD or buy them one by one on ITunes or Amazon? The concept of listing to the whole album while staring at the cover art while you listen is dated.
I checked Wikipedia for the album Aqualung and found a reference in a book called Jethro Tull: A History of the Band which is not on Kindle so I won’t bother to buy that and read it, however, I did see that Ian Anderson also is in favor of using “the original photo”(if there was one), and not the cover art on the album Aqualung. I was teenage girl in a record store looking at the covers of records to decide which one to buy. If I saw the Aqualung cover I would never buy that record due to the ugliness of the cover.
I saw also the album Country Life by Roxy Music with the two models on the cover, and I wondered what was inside that record, but I could not hear any samples, so I did not buy it. But, if you placed Country Life next to Aqualung and asked people if they knew nothing about the music inside which would you buy, I am sure no one would buy Aqualung. If they did pick Aqualung instead of Country Life it would be like a Rorschach test which would prove depravity.
Also on Wikipedia I noticed Robert Christgau, a critic, also has the same feeling I have about the lyrics of the songs on Aqualung. I would like to add I did see Jethro Tull in concert in the late 80’s and Ian Anderson was wonderful. Clearly he cared about his music and Cross Eyed Mary was first song of the night. I would have wanted it to be a later song, because it was a mistake to play his second song first, leaving Aqualung for the last song. Ian Anderson wanted to give a good performance unlike other Older Rock acts whom just want to do the show with as little effort as possible, such as Robert Plant. I saw him on tour to support the album The Principle of Moments featuring (my love is in league with the freeway) . The worse concert I ever saw was Adam Ant, and the best was Peter Gabriel, but Ian Anderson could be considered a very strong second best concert. So, I don’t think he has a cynical personality, and hates the whole world and wants to write unhappy lyrics for this reason.
Just one more song before I close, “Thick as a Brick” by Tull has a light hearted flute, and makes one think of skipping in the park, but thick as a brick means someone is stupid to people in England. In the USA we don’t use this term or use it. I only learned this because Princess Di, said she felt this way.