We caught up with Anderson to chat about the album Aqualung (he does not like the cover art to Aqualung, calling it "messy," and did not appreciate how the "dribbly-nosed voyeur" seemed to resemble him), where he likes to go in L.A., and why Prince baffles him.
L.A. Weekly: When you were writing songs for Aqualung, was your goal to inspire change or were you just observing and recording the attitudes of people around you?
Ian Anderson: Well, I certainly never set out to try and inspire or coerce change in other people. All you do is you reflect what you see and what you interpret from the things around you. I'm very much an observer and a conduit of thoughts and ideas. I think it's really the job of the composer, the artist, the painter, the writer to present people with options. I'm just really reflecting the thoughts and actions around me. Whether they are whimsical and musing moments like songs "Mother Goose or "Up to Me" or whether they are more serious or angry topics like "My God" or "Aqualung."
Do you feel that society still views the homeless or unfortunate in the same negative light as they did in the 1970s or do you think we've progressed past that?
I think we always view people who make us feel uncomfortable and appear to intrude on our middle-class cozy space, we view them with, if not hostility, at least suspicion, discomfort, embarrassment. We should recognize that we're a little bit embarrassed about other people's misfortune and try to come to terms with that ourselves, whether it's by showing some act of kindness or some act of giving in the case of homeless people. But I still find it awkward to approach a homeless person and give them some money. It's difficult.
Sitting on my desk now is a begging letter from one of Britain's better-known charities for the homeless. I'm constantly reminded when I sing the song "Aqualung" onstage every night that these things don't go away. The plight of the homeless in your country and in mine is just as prevalent and upsetting as it was 40 years ago when I wrote that song.
You've said what you do for a living doesn't appeal to you and that you don't like loud music so you would never be in your own audience--does that mean you don't attend concerts of other bands?
(Laughs) It does mean that. I don't like to go where there is a lot of noise of any sort. I've always been fond of acoustic music. When I was a teenager, I was listening to blues and jazz ... and I was never really a fan of pop music and electric guitars. After two hours onstage, making rather a lot of noise, I'm quite happy to spend the rest of the 22 hours of each day in quietness and don't really relish the thought of going to a concert to watch anybody else perform. So I'm not a great listener of music at all. I read books and I look at paintings more than I listen to music.
I think the rest of the day I value because I don't have the music, which it becomes seductive and exciting to get back on the stage and start playing music again. The last thing I would want to do is to go and listen to other people play music.
Reportedly Prince famously, after his concerts, would go off to some club and get up onstage and jam at the club and stay up till all hours doing yet more music. I find that quite hard to imagine how someone could devote so many hours in their day to doing something I feel as best concentrated and focused on in a finite period. The best things take a couple of hours--some of the best things can be done in even less time.