I walked home from the YMCA this morning, listening through my left ear to my Ipod Shuffle (which is one of the great inventions of all time). The Jethro Tull CD Heavy Horses arrived in rotation, and I had not heard it for quite some time, so I switched from shuffle to playing in order so I could listen to it all.
There are albums you love because they mark a period of time, pin down memories, capture some special something you treasure. I can see myself lying in the middle of my living room floor in one of the first houses I lived in away from my parents, between two gigantic speakers, listening to Jimi Hendrix. He was long dead by then, but lived in perfect, unmarked beauty in a poster on my bedroom wall (weirdly, my younger son resembles him quite a lot, or maybe I just think so because he’s my child and beautiful and I did so love Jimi for a time). In the right mood, I can still enjoy Are You Experienced, but it does have to be just the right mood.
There are others that just never wear out. Beggar’s Banquet. I’m pretty sure I can listen to Let It Be a few hundred thousand more times before I tire of it. Simon and Garfunkel’s For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her, the poetry set to a melody as delicate as cobwebs:
What a dream I had
Pressed in organdy
Clothed in crinoline
Of smoky burgundy…
Heavy Horses is one of my top ten CDs of all time. If I tell you that my eldest son is named Ian because of Ian Anderson, you’ll know I mean I love this band. There are very, very few musicians who can create such a mood of joy, weaving that flute and elegant lyrics and guitar into something that feels celebratory and medieval and earthy, and it is never any better than it is in HH, an ode to the sweet beauties of pastoral life, the pleasures of the natural world and animals and simple living close to the earth. "Weathercock" is an ode to the simple beauties of pastoral life, the simplicity of faith in things beyond us, woven with the famous flute and medieval dance rhythms that can still–after 40 zillion listens–catch my throat:
Give us direction; the best of goodwill,
Put us in touch with fair winds.
Sing to us softly, hum evening’s song.
Tell us what the blacksmith has done for you.
When my boys were small, we had music quizzes. A song came on the radio and I would say, "Quick, who is this?" (Often they would not know and answer, "The Beatles." ) But they both knew that "The Mouse Police Never Sleeps" was Jethro Tull, because it is a delicious song for small boys, full of slithers and s-s-s-s and twitching tails, in musical language as well as words:
Muscled, black with steel-green eye
swishing through the rye grass
with thoughts of mouse-and-apple pie.
Tail balancing at half-mast.
…And the mouse police never sleeps
lying in the cherry tree.
Savage bed foot-warmer of purest feline ancestry.
Look out, little furry folk!
He’s the all-night working cat.
Eats but one in every ten
leaves the others on the mat.
Perhaps my favorite is the poignant Moths, which stands alone as poetry, but is a hymn when set to music:
The leaded window opened
to move the dancing candle flame
And the first Moths of summer
suicidal came, suicidal came.
And a new breeze chattered
in its May-bud tenderness….
Chasing shadows slipping
in a magic lantern slide —
Creatures of the candle
on a night-light-ride.
Dipping and weaving — flutter
through the golden needle’s eye
in our haystack madness. Butterfly-stroking
on a Spring-tide high.
Life’s too long (as the Lemming said)
as the candle burned and the Moths were wed.
And the first moths of summer
to join in the worship
of the light that never dies
I have not heard a band that sounds anything like Jethro Tull, blending that lyrical flute and elegant lyrics and stunning sense of play, but I’m willing to be educated. If you know a band I should check out, let me know.
In the meantime, if you’ve not heard Heavy Horses, give it a try.