The Ian Anderson Interview

In April 2008 I spoke by transatlantic phone (what a quaint expression, that) with Ian Anderson, founder and leader of Jethro Tull. Our talk covered a lot of ground, including the differences and similarities of Eastern and Western music; the effects of aging upon musicians; the digital transformation of music industry; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the US Presidential election.

Ian Anderson (c) Bill KoppThe Jethro Tull sound is among the most distinctive in all of popular music. You write the songs, sing lead, and play quite a variety of instruments. The past and present members of the group are not — nor have they ever really been — your puppets. To what extent do the other musicians have the freedom to add and extend what they want to a piece, and to what extent do you map that out for them?

It depends, really, song to song. You know, there have been some songs that have been very much arranged in the studio at the time of recording them, and various members of the band sort of chip in their ideas. You know, like John Evans‘ intro to “Locomotive Breath” on the Aqualung album. He had to play and he had to play an intro, and he jammed something that was kind of pseudoclassical with a kind of bluesy twist here and there. And that defines that song. It is very much his invention; it’s not something I wrote for him to play. I just said, “Right, John, go out and play for thirty seconds!” And that’s what he did.

And there are other times when everything is dictated by me because the song seems to demand a more set arrangement. You know, like the song “Aqualung,” you know, the intro riff on that is something that I wrote. Martin Barre plays it, so in a way he has a kind of shared ownership in that but it’s something that is part of the tune. It’s a riff that I wrote and much of the arrangement in that song is quite sort of dictated in the nature of the song by the time I let the other guys hear what it was about.So it’s different for different songs. Lots of songs I like to go in and record in my own studio, and the other guys some in and overdub a bit here and there after. And other times it’s virtually all rehearsed and arranged in the studio around a very sketchy idea that I present to the other people. So it’s all of those things. I don’t like to have a methodology attached to music-making. It shouldn’t be like a factory production line where you have this assembly process and do things the same way all of the time. I like the way the different songs take on their own life and each one takes on sort of a preference for a different approach in making it come to reality.

Are there any current artists you know of who remind you at all of Jethro Tull, maybe not so much in their specific sound but in the way that they seem to approach their music?

Yes, yes, indeed there are. I played with one this last weekend in Bristol, England with one of Britain’s new award-winning musicians who is very highly thought of — this is just over the last couple of years where he came to public attention with the Mercury music prize — and he is politely termed a ‘new folkie.’ He is essentially a folk singer and player but was basing his material on traditional tunes and traditional songs. He makes them very much his own, but by rewriting old, traditional lyrics and by creating new tunes for them, and he’s very good. I actually think of him as being a young guy, like in his early 20’s, but in fact he’s 30, I so discovered, and for quite a few years he’d been playing in pubs and clubs before he became pretty famous. Now he plays headline concert tours of his own. His name is Seth Lakeman and he was our special guest in Bristol last week and he played a couple of his songs on stage.

For me, it’s just like hearing a younger me kindda doing something I’m really familiar with. You know, I just kind of second-guess where he’s going with everything, even if it’s my first time hearing one of his songs. You know, I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s just repetition. It’s just an empathy for someone else’s music, and a kind of feeling of instant understanding of a process. You know, you just have this feeling of being very, very quickly able to immerse yourself in that music from a technical, stylistic, and an emotional point of view.

He really doesn’t know Jethro Tull at all. It’s only coincidental, so it’s not like he’s trying to model himself on me. But there is this coincidence: some 30-odd years on after I was doing that stuff, he’s doing that stuff. He’s the current vanguard, if you like, of folk-rock, which is, In Europe, what Jethro Tull is usually termed rather than a simply a rock band. We’re spoken more of as a folk-rock band.

And so, yes, playing with young Seth — who is exactly half my age — is kind of a really reassuring thing. And I do know that from playing with other musicians sometime that even though they may not play like me, but quite often they play in a similar style, or in some cases they have been moved by my music when they were learning to play. And although what they do isn’t what I do, it’s part of their own set of influences. You know, all kinds of people like Steve Lukather, and Al DiMeola, the jazz guitarist, and Steve Vai, and the guitar player from the Red Hot Chili Peppers…these are people who have been in some little way have been, in a little bit, inspired by Jethro Tull.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp My daughter was having lunch or dinner or something with Michael Stipe from R.E.M. a year or so ago. And [laughs] when he found out who her dad was, he was kind of over the moon! It was sort of a big thing.

But other people I get to work with sometimes, they don’t know…they don’t know who I am. They have no awareness whatsoever of what I do. And that, in a way, is a blind date. But it’s quite an exciting one when you get to do that. In fact I have some concerts coming up in India with Anoushka Shankar, with whom I have been speaking by email in the last couple of days. And I’m probably more familiar with her music than she is with mine. But that is really…you know…playing with a classical Indian musician is quite a big step. And to write, and compile, music that we can play together is quite a big jump to take.

Bill Kopp: The whole notation and scales are totally different…Western and Eastern.

Ian Anderson: Well, they are and they aren’t. I mean that’s not actually quite true. That’s probably public perception that we’re dealing in a whole different kind of musical values, but we’re not.

Music is music, and in fact in the Western scale there is certainly some question that traditional instruments are not the tempered scale. Because they play, as does the sitar, for example, you play C# and its essentially tuned to the major scale, and you flatten notes by bending up the notes below — as Anoushka so capably conveyed to me in email the technicalities of their instruments — but it is essentially the western scale. And the Indian bamboo flute, the bansuri is an instrument that is not unlike the Irish flute. It’s a keyless flute which is essentially tuned to a major key — usually an odd sharps-and-flats kind of key like C# which is [giggles] a pain in the ass for us Western musicians because the Irish flute is in D — but Anoushka has kindly agreed that she will tune her sitar to D to make life easier for us Western musicians. [hearty laugh]

Bill Kopp: I’m assuming there’s no capo for a sitar.

Ian Anderson: And no, tuning it is not a quick matter, because you have a whole lot of strings to re-tune, but she can do that. Even during the concert she can re-tune from one key to another, but that’s a killer. I mean, she has something like 13 strings, plus a load of the sympathetic ones as well. That’s a big job. But you know, she does it.

But I will resolve that one, and then I will try to write a piece of music that embraces Celtic origins with Asian ones. And that sounds like a big gulf, because we are talking thousands and thousands of miles apart. But you know, we do have that strange thing in common between the drone-like instruments of the Celtic bagpipes and the simple scales of Celtic music and Indian music. And of course the bagpipes began their life — as far as we can make out — in that quaint little area between the Tigris and the Euphrates where young American boys are currently dying for George Bush.

Bill Kopp: I understand you actually only learned to play the flute in the mid 1960s. What attracted you to the instrument?

Ian Anderson: Um, the thing that basically attracted me most to it was the pretty certain knowledge that Eric Clapton couldn’t play the flute, and neither could Jeff Beck, nor Jimmy Page, nor Richie Blackmore. So that was kinda pretty much its strongest selling point for me. I was a not-very-good guitar player until I heard Eric Clapton, and then I realized that I was even a much worse one than I thought I was! So I sold my guitar and traded it for a flute in 1967. And I didn’t actually play for a few months but by the time Jethro Tull got together in 1967 — though we weren’t called Jethro Tull until a couple of months later — I just started playing the flute then. I was 20 years old, and by the time Jethro Tull was called Jethro Tull at the Marquee Club I was ready to play flute onstage every night. Actually, when we began recording the first album I had actually only been playing for about six months.

Bill Kopp: The band has always been one to incorporate various musical styles into the songs, yet in a way that doesn’t scream “look everybody, here’s an ethnomusicological lesson for you.” The emphasis has always been on the song. You’ve never been afraid to make forays into different styles. One supposes that people who like your approach would pretty much follow you anywhere musically, or at least listen with an open mind. So what’s led you to musical areas outside of rock, jazz, and English folk?

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp Ian Anderson: I think that if you look at quite a few people in the history of pop and rock music I think you’ll find many precedents for that. George Harrison, and his forays into the world of Indian music with Shankar Sr., and you find with the Rolling Stones that Brian Jones was fooling around with all kinds of instruments, even in the early days of the Stones.

There are lots and lots of cases of people delving into parallel musical directions. People like Sting, for example, who is very much involved in world music and in playing with all sorts of artists. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, again there’s a big history of them playing with Arab musicians, Asian musicians. I think you find quite a lot of us folks who do stretch out. But you also find a lot of them who never move from that ‘blue blanket’ comfort zone they’ve erected for themselves, and they stick with it for all of their lives. And there’s nothing wrong with that…different strokes, as they say.

And you know, I’m just one of the restless souls who feels that there’s something more I know I need to know about. You know, if somebody has something they can teach me, I’m quite pleased to try to learn it. There’s a lesson to be learned from something new you can add to your repertoire of musical ideas and your general musical understanding. And whether I’m playing with a young musician or somebody older than me, I always think it’s an opportunity to learn something new. And most of my musical acquaintances and guests these days are, of course, younger than I am.

But once in awhile I do play with people who are older than me. I played a concert with a…I guess you would call him the Ravi Shankar of the flute. His name is Hariprasad Chaurasia, and he is the oldest and most revered Indian classical flutist. And so, that was an experience and something — again — where you can’t fail to learn something in that process. I learned something from him; I’m not sure he learned something from me. Perhaps to be a little less afraid of some Western rhythms. To some degree you could take the music away from having a simple, constant, tonal reference all of the time you could actually shift a few chords around under his scale and make it a little more interesting. You see, the panic in his eyes when we were putting a chord sequence behind his playing, where you know, where he felt like he was, I guess, feeling like they tossed him into a very deep pool of water without a lifejacket. But we kept him afloat, you know. He was in safe hands.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp You maybe think you imparted something to somebody once in awhile along the way but I don’t go around trying to teach, or just play examples. For example, when I play with other people I’m really there to draw from them, whether they’re 20 years old or 80 years old. And I think that’s the spirit in which musicians should engage with each other. And they try to learn from each other. You know, we are mutually supportive to them that way. And we should be.

Bill Kopp: I saw Jethro Tull in Atlanta last winter and it was a great, fantastic show. Your flute playing — especially — now seems more effortless and natural than ever. Do you practice flute or anything else these days, or do your performing dates give you enough practice in and of themselves?

Ian Anderson: Well, they do, because sometimes I’m playing a sound check and sometimes playing in darkened corridors in a theater between a sound check. Because I like the sound of the flute in different rooms and different places. And I’m warming up a bit in a dressing room. so I’m playing quite a bit on tour apart from the two hours on stage.

But when I’m at home I do practice quite a lot these days. I didn’t when I was younger. But, in company with some of my peers like Sir James Galway, the classical flautist, he told me he has to practice every day. He can’t miss a day. I think, the older you get, you really need to keep pedaling that bicycle. Because when you fall off, it’s bloody hard to get back on. So you really need to keep at it and not let that detached and kind of wheezy nature take hold of you that it does in all walks of life.

So musicians need to stay sharp. At the age of 60 or 70 you can do that as a musician. At 80 you can do that as a musician. You know, if you’re a football player, it’s all over at 30. Or a Formula I racing driver: it’s all over at 30. Or a tournament tennis player…it’s all over at 30. You just hang onto your fingernails beyond 30, but the condition of being a musician, you’re just sort of coming into your prime. It’s kind of nice being a musician and maturing in that way. But practice is definitely you do something more of, and not less. That I do more of and rather not less, anyway.

Bill Kopp: I saw the Moody Blues last weekend, and now they have two female vocalists to help them hit all of the high notes, plus they’re more fun to look at than Graeme Edge(!). Do you find it difficult to hit all of the notes on your original songs, your older material, when you’re performing? Paul McCartney, for example, has tuned some of his songs down a half-step or a step when he performs them live now.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp Ian Anderson: Yes, well I’ve done the same thing over the years with some of my songs, and some songs are in the original keys. And there were a few songs where I dropped them, as you said, a half-step or a step because that makes it easier for the older voice. Because as you get older your voice gets kind of darker in tone, and the general range of your voice slips down two or three ‘half-steps’ as you quaintly call them in America; we call them semi-tones over here. And so that naturally happens.

And the folks who really have the really hard job are people like Pavarotti, who in the last 12 to 15 years of his life he wasn’t really able to sing that way any more. But people expected that of him. And the irony was that at the peak of his worldwide fame he had already passed his peak as a vocalist. And so he was struggling from then on to deliver the goods. And of course opera critics are very very harsh, and you know I think he had a really tough time at the end of his life, which was recently revealed in a newspaper article in one of the papers over here. His final, big performance televised in front of millions and he was unable — or felt before the concert unable — to sing it, and so he sang to a prerecorded vocal track. Which must have been, for him, you know…really quite troubling. I mean, you know, at that stage he knew he was dying anyway, but having to go out to mime.

I mean, you know, this is not Madonna we’re talking about. We’re not talking Britney Spears here. We’re talking the world’s best-loved and best-known classical opera singer. And he had to go out in that rather sad and awful way. And that’s tough; it’s tough for singers. They go on until they’re maybe 70 years old, but you know, the world is pretty cruel if you’re a singer.

If you’re a guitar player, you know you just kind of cut the corners a little bit! I mean, B.B. King goes out there and plays guitar. But he plays very economically in terms of style, and he still plays all of the right kinds of notes and gives it the right sort of feel. And it’s all about feel and maturity and wisdom. And he sings in a throwaway style anyway, and so B.B. King’s prowess as a performer is not really dented very much by old age. But for someone who technically has to really muster some chops every night it is really a tough, tough job.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp It’s also a tough job for the physical performers too, for people like Mick Jagger. You know, you have to be endlessly respectful of his physicality and his engagement with what he does. He, like me, is not a natural singer. He just does what he does. But he does it with as much energy and conviction as he did when he was 20 years old. And it’s very hard to maintain that too.

Bill Kopp: I never saw you that many years ago, but when I saw you in December I got tired just watching you! I thought that I am only in my forties, and I couldn’t do what you were doing. I mean, you kept it going for the whole evening and your energy didn’t flag at all.

Ian Anderson: We try pacing. And, you know, energy level is different on different days. You know, you come into the concert and you’re kind of checking yourself out, seeing just where you’re gonna be that night, and you make a best-estimate guess as to how you’re going to approach that first ten minutes of the show. You go out on stage, and maybe you have to reappraise that a little bit, and maybe you feel a little bit more energized and confident than you did a couple of hours ago, and maybe you feel less.

So you’re constantly adjusting to what you can do on that given night, and that will be affected by…did you take a flight that day? Did you have plenty of time in bed the night before? Did you get an early start in the morning? Did you manage to relax enough in the early afternoon, etc.? I mean, I think all these things will determine where you are in a given night. Plus, you may pick up a cold, or flu. It’s always going to be different.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp So you just do your best, and you work on it. Work on the assumption that if you can get 80% to 90% of your optimum, then you can make it work. ‘Cause you can sell the other 20% with a little bit of snake oil and charm from the back of your covered wagon. You know, you can convince the punters that they’re getting the real deal. You know, if you get 80% you can turn it into 100% on stage. But if you’re only playing 50% then it’s really hard to “magic up” the rest.

And I think that is probably what most performers are afraid of is that when they sink below that level, that somehow the magic that happens onstage isn’t going to cover up for the fact that you are in crap condition that night. And of course that happens a few times a year that you’re going on stage when doctors are saying, “look, you know, you really should stay in bed”. But as they say, the show must go on.

But Pavarotti, on the other hand, didn’t. And Michael Jackson didn’t. You know, they would cancel a show. But I really try not to do that. I mean for me canceling a show is a little bit like, “oh, no. A terrorist attacked, so now I’ll stay under the bed a couple of days and not come out”. You know, this is like giving in to some kind of evil, to not do a show [chuckles]. It becomes sort of a matter of honor, really.

Bill Kopp: I understand that there was originally a new album planned for this year, but at this point it looks like it’s being pushed out?

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp Ian Anderson: Well, we’ll get back in the studio. At the moment we’ve kept some periods planned, so we’ll be recording, but again a release date [is awhile off]. Because you’re talking 12 months from completing an album to getting it into the distribution chain. Your major distributors can’t turn it around faster than that. Even in this Internet age, physical product, it takes 12 weeks, particularly in North America, and 8 weeks in Europe, to get manufacturing, to get all of the initial press, promotion, and marketing in place and to be in position with the major distributors to have your product nationwide available at retail.

That’s to the extent that they can be released, since so many record stores are closed down. The world is obviously changing in the sense that recorded music is a much tougher sell than ever before, for new acts and old acts alike, albeit for somewhat different reasons. But yes, we recorded several tracks during which we had hoped would’ve been finished, and would have had a new record out, but unfortunately it turns out that part of last year a couple of guys had some urgent health issues, and that takes precedence, so we lost the first two or three months at the beginning of this year.

Bill Kopp: Well, talking about product, I know a good bit of care and attention was put into the packaging of a lot of the Jethro Tull albums during the vinyl era, especially things such as Thick As a Brick. Do you feel that that the artifact of the album has been lost with CDs and now with digital downloads? And if so, how big of a deal is that?

Ian Anderson: Well, it is a big deal to quite a few people who value the ownership of a piece of music in a way that they can touch, they can feel, they can hold, they can set it on a shelf in their living room. It’s real. It’s tangible. And if they’re lucky they can get an autograph on it!

You can’t autograph an mp3 file [laughs] or an mp4 from iTunes, and so I think that it’s a different kind of world. I think that for some people it is important, but clearly for a growing number — and maybe even a majority — it’s not so terribly important. Because they have gotten used to the abstract nature of music as something you download.

And — sadly for the music industry and the future of new music — they’ve gotten used to the idea that in most cases you don’t bother to pay for it. And so we’re told, something way in excess of 90% of downloaded music has not been paid for. And that’s a sad indictment on a growing group of people who feel that they should have it for nothing. But the reality is that if you don’t pay for music, there will be no new music, or at least not of any consequence, because it takes a finite amount of money to record, to market, and to promote a new act…a new album. And if there’s no income coming in to the record company there’s no incentive to do it, and therefore you can’t afford to do it.

And, ultimately, can the act afford to make music of consequence if they’re just going to spend money to record it and have it ripped off of the Internet with nobody paying anything? Of course when people do that, not only are they not paying for the recording, they’re not paying the composer either, so everybody loses, and so this is a situation that has become, unfortunately, taken for granted, that some things, either you shouldn’t have to pay for it at all or they should be incredibly cheap. Whereas, I think if you take the price of an LP in the 60s or 70s and extrapolate that with the benefit of the inflationary index over the years, you will see that today’s music is way, way undervalued.

Jethro Tull's Martin Barre onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp We used to pay for our music. We used to pay for food. We used to pay for things that now we’ve decided we don have to pay for them, or that they should be incredibly cheap. But the reality is going to come about in which there is nothing to buy in the way of new music. Because if people don’t get paid they ain’t gonna make it.

Note: at this point in our conversation — almost exactly the mid-point, as it would turn out — the subject matter completely left music. The conversation seamlessly shifted, first to global issues, then to the then-upcoming Presidential election in the USA. A contextual note: the Democratic primary season had not yet ended when we spoke; the whole “superdelegates” issue was the issue of the day.
— BK

Ian Anderson: And also, the food we eat. You’re gonna be paying three times — mark my words — in ten years from now your food bill will have, on average, increased by more than double, and for certain food products it will be three or four times what it is today. In ten years from now, your grandchildren, the priority will be feeding their mouths and their children’s mouths. We are facing the absolute inevitability of a dramatic downturn in food production relative to population growth. When my children are 70 years old — 40 years from now, the population of Planet Earth is set to be 50% greater that it is today. Combine that with climate change and all of the adverse effects that will in themselves affect food production, we have a recipe for worldwide anarchy, disaster, political upheaval.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp And one of my idols, if you like, in the contemporary world is a man named Mikhail Gorbachev. He sat across from me at a lunch table pounding the table standing on his firm belief that within a few years countries will be going to war with each other, not because of oil, but because of water. That is the story of the last few weeks that is breaking around the world, and I’m sure in America too, you know you have other things in mind with an election coming up The reality of worldwide famine is a real serious problem, and access to enough drinking water is really within 20, 30, or 40 years is really going to dictate so much of what happens to mankind. And we’re not doing anything about it, because it brings into question the thing that no politician will ever dare talk about, which is…I don’t want to use the phrase population control, because that sounds too Orwellian and too frightening to and too dreadful to contemplate.

But, shall we say, population management. We’ve got to have a strategy for an optimum worldwide population which has to be less than it is today. It’s not a question of reducing population growth. We have to see negative population growth in every country in the world. And we must get away from this idea that it is a given that economic growth is desirable. Desirable for whom? For the fat-cats who run industry, and their big pay options, and their share options and the pension funds and the annual bonuses and the payoffs when they do a crap job and they written in their contract that they get a $2,000,000 payoff for being a really really bad executive and costing the company a lot of money.

At the core of that, the people who go for growth as sort of being this absolute given are the people who benefit personally at the top end of the spectrum, be they politicians and industrialists alike…

Bill Kopp: And it’s a very short-sighted view…

Ian Anderson: And there is beauty in contraction. There is beauty in reducing global growth to achieving a fixed quota, but spreading it more thinly among many more people, that’s what we really need to be seeing.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp Those with great personal riches and splendid lifestyles should get have to used to the idea that we should be taking a lot less, and that very, very poor and very underrepresented people get a little bit more. That’s what we need to go for. That is not in line with global economic growth, because the people who will get rich are the people who are already rich, and the people who are already poor are gonna get poorer, given that already have the inevitability of climate change which, two years ago most of America wouldn’t accept. Although now I guess it’s only the die-hard idiots who would gain-say what scientists are now absolutely unanimous about.

Bill Kopp: Well, I think there’s a little bit of intellectual dishonesty. I think the people who argue that there’s no such thing as global warming, they know better, but they are also convinced that admitting it is not in their best interest, so they just talk out of the side of their mouths. I don’t know anybody who is stupid enough to think that these things are not real.

Ian Anderson: Well, we all accept the argument, and the current administration’s argument that “well, climate change is cyclic, that it has been historical, and therefore what we are seeing now is really something that we really can’t quite put our fingers on, but we don’t all accept that it is due to manmade pollution.”

Well, you know, most scientists are not saying that. Most scientists are saying “sure, it is cyclical. Sure, it is something that is changing anyway. But the effect — any effect — of manmade pollution is creating a runaway effect that is something that we’ve never seen before”. And things are different this time. This is not arguable anymore. It is absolutely unavoidable, and so far every little bit of extra information coming through every few months are pointing to a much more accelerated, unstable climate. Because of course climate — I talk about global warming, and the net result of global warming may be inevitable — but what it means to most people is that because of climate change, great instability and volatility may become ever-present. It may result in severe droughts in some places and cataclysmic floods in others.

And you in the continental USA are feeling that just as much as anywhere else. It’s from a greater base level of prosperity to be able to withstand that, and people in Bangladesh don’t have that. And so instability in climate there perhaps means the death of millions of people: a total failure of the rice harvest. If there’s a failure of the grain harvest in certain states of North America, you guys can afford to buy some more, just as we can in the UK. We are, just for geographical reasons, we are probably amongst those countries that are relatively less affected by the prospect of climate change over the next 100 years.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp But there’s no doubt about it, it’s affecting things here. I take that into account when I plant trees here. You know, I would not plant beeches where I live because that tree would never make it to 100 years old. I’m planting oak and ash, which in this particular geographic location are proven species which can withstand extremes of drought and volatile weather. Our grand English oaks have been standing there 500 years in some cases, and they’ve stood up to all kinds of gales and floods and droughts and everything else over the years, and they’re indigenous to this part of the world. And we’ve planted thousands of oak trees in England, in Wiltshire where we live. And I’m about to, next week, negotiate to buy several hundred acres of woodland in various parts of the country. It seems to be a better thing to do than investing in the stock market…

Bill Kopp: Yes, I should think so!

Ian Anderson: I’m not a goody-goody. I’m a pragmatist. I’ll tell you one thing about Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, that these two guys know full well while they may be putting on that electoral ticket the argument that they want to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, that they know in their hearts that that’s not gonna happen. They will be lucky if they can bring home 20%, 30% over the next 5 years.

Bill Kopp: You think so?

Ian Anderson: British and American troops are going to be particularly in Afghanistan and I’m sure in Iraq for many years to come. And many more American and British lives will be lost. But the reality is…and I was utterly opposed to the war in Iraq. I wasn’t opposed to the invasion of Afghanistan, although I query the way in which it was done and what the objectives were at the time, you know I think it was the right thing to go in there. However, Iraq was absolute total folly. I was totally opposed to before it happened, when it happened, and since it has happened.

But if I was called upon to decide, I would be bringing the troops home now. But you know, that’s something the West can’t afford to do. We’ve created a monster, and in places where there wasn’t one before. And we can’t afford to back out now, and sadly the truth is whether it’s McCain or his opposite number, the troops will not be coming en masse home any time soon. I think that’s something we all need to get used to. And the sooner we admit that that in public in North America…I say this as an American taxpayer, because I help pay for the guns and bombs. I am not an American citizen, but I am an American taxpayer. I think that the sooner we talk about this in North America the easier we make it on Clinton and Obama to not have to keep this masquerade of bringing the troops home and stuff and ending the war, because it’s just not feasible.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp Bill Kopp: It does set the requirement pretty high and set them up to disappoint a lot of people.

Ian Anderson: Well, exactly. We’ve gotta make it easier for them to admit to the reality, because I don’t think that they possibly, in their hearts, really believes they can really do a great deal of troop reduction in the short-term. I’m sure they don’t believe that. Pundits other than I have made that apparent in recent weeks, but the sooner the public gets used to the idea, the easier we make it for them to not to have to hide behind this false promise. And they would be doing everybody a favor to do that. Concentrate on the realistic issues which are to do with the environment…and for America the very, very sore topic of the economy and of public and social services. Both of them are real issues on which the election will be fought in the latter months of this year. I hope we get this Iraq thing out of the way. Let’s just accept the inevitable: we’re gonna be there for years and that’s the end of it. No point in arguing differently.

Bill Kopp: Well, I hope you’re wrong but…

Ian Anderson: Well, I hope I’m wrong too! But to me it’s utterly inescapable; to pull out of Iraq right now would be a disastrous thing to do. To pull out of Afghanistan…and I don’t think anyone’s talking about doing that. We would not only destablize it, but we would let the Taliban straight back in, and we would lose Pakistan; that would fall within 10 years and which would become an extremist state. And that would have unthinkable consequences in terms of Pakistan and India, who would almost certainly end up with a very serious exchange, given that they are both nuclear-capable. And you know we can’t afford to cease…you know, we can’t afford to get out of Afghanistan, that’s for sure. We…

Bill Kopp: I don’t think anybody is really talking about that.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp Ian Anderson: No, because they’re realistic on that and that’s not the emotional one, Iraq is the emotional one. I think that Afghanistan is too often forgotten. The British and Americans are fighting, at best, a stalemate or a losing battle at worst, again with problems with a government that doesn’t seem to be able to get it together, you know. And that’s the major beef we all have with both the Afghan government and with the Iraqi government. These guys are professional losers, you know. They’re incompetent, unwilling, and unfortunately have vested interests, many of which unfortunately are sort of connected with feudal and tribal traditions. They’re bloody shallow. If we gave them their country back, they wouldn’t know what to do with it!

They’re bloody shallow. If we gave them their country back, they wouldn’t know what to do with it!
— Ian Anderson

Bill Kopp: And our leaders profess to understand the intricacies of how things work over there, but they don’t.

Ian Anderson: But we certainly didn’t. And I think that even Mr. Bush’s understanding now is that it is a whole lot more complex than either he or his aides were able to figure out over time. You know, the warning signs were there. And certainly people are talking about the inevitability of a civil war and the disintegration between traditional tribal and feudal systems and the impossibility of implanting a Western-style democracy in what is a feudal society.

Lots of people said, “it’s not going to work”. But Blair and Bush were the architects of trying to prove to the world that “let’s just get in there, and once we’re in control then we’ll figure out what to do next.” But there was never a game plan. That was the problem. They didn’t have a plan. Or not a workable one. And therein lies most of the problem.

However, that’s not talking about music or talking about anything other than the fact that I’ve played a lot in America and I’m very sympathetic to the plight of Americans, not only in their homeland but to the plight of Americans abroad who I encounter quite often in my travels, and it’s a long haul to give America to get its international credibility and dignity back. And I’ve no doubt that it will happen, but it’s gonna take a long time to do it.

Ian Anderson onstage. Photo (c) Bill Kopp Bill Kopp: I think you’re right about that.

Ian Anderson: You get out there and vote! I don’t particularly give a shit about who you vote for, but go out and vote. Don’t sit out there on your fat behind and watch a football game. Get out and vote! That’s the crucial issue. Make your democracy count. Think about the 70% of Iraqis who are risking their lives on the streets to vote, against the 40% of Americans who voted in the last election, and there’s a bit of an object lesson there.

Bill Kopp: Absolutely.

Ian Anderson: Yes, we all need to get out there and use our little voice and make the best guess we can as to who we want to vote for, but the worst crime is to not to vote at all.

And if you’re not sure who to vote for, well, just stick your cross on the Obama name…that’ll do. [hearty laugh]

Bill Kopp: That’s what I’m doing. Most people I know, that’s what they’re doing.

Ian Anderson: I think its been a very, very interesting year. I think the pundits, the press, and the media, I think everybody’s saying “Wow! This is an incredibly exciting election.” And, I think, a very, very important one. I don’t think there has been as crucial an issue as to who takes America on for the next eight years as is faced now in this year 2008. I think this is the most important election in living memory in terms of where America finds itself, not only within its own borders, but internationally.

And so it is really crucial that the American people speak. Even if they get it wrong, at least they’ve spoken. And I think you should be prepared to accept the small voices from outside, people like me, who are just kind of encouraging people to take this one seriously, for God’s sake. It’s really, really important.

And we will probably be having an election in this country, given the way things are headed for the current government in the UK, within a year, and again I say that it is quite crucial for our country, and actually within the past 15 years it hasn’t actually mattered much who was in power, but I think it’s actually getting to a point where it is actually pretty serious stuff, you know. So, those of us who don’t feel we have political blood, we need a transfusion pretty quickly! [laughs]

It’s a long haul to give America to get its international credibility and dignity back. I’ve no doubt that it will happen…
— Ian Anderson

Bill Kopp: That’s for sure. Well, you know my daughter is turning 18 this summer, and so it’s gonna be her first time voting and she’s pretty involved with canvassing and trying to get out the vote and all that kind of stuff. It’s fascinating how many young people are getting involved in a way that we haven’t seen in this country since young people got the vote in the early 70s.

Ian Anderson: Well I hope that young people who are voting for the first time that they shouldn’t carry that awful disease where they think “well, that’s the way I’m gonna vote because that’s the way my parents and grandparents voted.” It’s time to have some fresh thinking and don’t be afraid to listen to the argument coming from the other side. Just because you are from several generations of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats is no reason to not to listen to what the Republicans say, because you know they might be right. So people should be prepared to change their minds and not fall into that trap of not being kind of dyed-in-the-wool Republicans or Democrats.

And I know many of both. And that’s not a good reason to vote, “but that’s the way I vote,” like you support a football team because you do. This is more important than that! This is actually listening to people’s arguments and deciding that there’s no reason to not change your mind. So if there’s a better argument, then listen to it and don’t be afraid to change your mind and swap to the other side. It’s something people need to feel free in politics, and they need to do that.

I think you have a much narrower gap in terms of ideology between Clinton and Obama than would normally be the case. Just four or five months ago McCain was seen as being a pretty radical guy, and not really with much of a chance given that at that point people had two or three folks that were traditional Republicans. But given that McCain kind of slipped through there and made it, and suddenly the “maverick” Republican with some kind of areas in which he is almost kind of liberal, you know, a maverick Republican there’s no option but for the whole party to rally around this guy, which they very quickly did. And that’s the great strength of the Republican party is its ability to do that. And I just hope that for the Democrats they have that same resolution to the situation and that one or the other of them is going to accept that it’s for the benefit of the party as a whole and for the American people as a whole to have at least a meaningful election. And not just end up with the Democratic party squabbling right away through to the bitter end, and losing ground to McCain who has obviously been campaigning for an election whilst the Democrats are still fighting over the dog’s dinner.

Ian Anderson onstage.
Bill Kopp: I’m in North Carolina. And normally, this late in the game, things are pretty much sewn up as far as who the nominee is. But this time it’s not. It actually matters, so that really changes the whole equation.

Ian Anderson: Yes, and I think it makes people feel good that suddenly there is something to play for in these last few contests. And I see that it’s going to be pretty important, not necessarily in terms of themselves, in terms of the popular vote, but they’re gonna be important because they can swing it with the superdelegates. What happens from here on in the next few weeks is still crucially important, especially for supporters of Mrs. Clinton. To keep her chances alive, she’s really gotta pull some things out of her bag or otherwise it will, by default, go to Obama.

And you know, it’s a very crucial time and I do think that it must feel nice for people in small states to say “hey, we’re important now. We can really help decide the next President of the United States.” It’s a very, very interesting election and I’m morbidly happy to be there in August, because it will all be coming to a head around then, and you will be settling into the true part of the whole thing. But it’s very exciting and very scary.

Bill Kopp: Very scary. It really is. It’s…everybody’s sort of holding their breath, you know. For awhile now the pundits hve been saying “the next two weeks are critical and then things will sew up” and now it’s two more weeks, and now it’s two more weeks, and now they’re not saying that anymore. And they’re worried to no end, but now they’re not saying that anymore. They’re now saying “well, we don’t know when.” But it may be another month or so before the Democrats sort it out, but no one really knows for sure.

Ian Anderson: Well, it could go longer. Wouldn’t it be very exciting, whatever your political persuasions are I think at this stage of the game it’s down to thinking about the country rather than partisan politics, and that’s why I say people shouldn’t be afraid to change their minds or “change their spots.” And so just because you voted something because traditionally that’s the way your parents did before you, this is one time in the history of US politics that people need to adopt some free-thinking, not be constrained by tradition. •