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Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson explains the meaning of “Aqualung”

Ian Anderson

Classic Rock

Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson explains the meaning of “Aqualung”

Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson explained in an interview with Rock History Book (Transcribed by Ultimate Guitar) the meaning of the group’s classic song “Aqualung”. The musician confirmed that the lyrics talk about the reaction to homeless people.


Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson explains the meaning of “Aqualung”:

“It’s really more about our reaction to the homeless, the embarrassment, the sense of – in some cases – hopelessness of tragedy, of sadness… But also a degree of fear, a degree of discomfort. We have very mixed emotions in regard to a lot of things about which we could be charitable.”

“And I think the song is, for me, more about our reaction to the homeless rather than specifically going into the detail of the homeless themselves. This should be presumptuous on my part perhaps because I’ve never been in that situation.”

“It wouldn’t be as disingenuous for me to write about being homeless perhaps as it would be for me to write about picking cotton in the Mississippi belt in the early-1900s, and painting my face black and pretending to be an authentic black American blues singer.”

He continued:

“It would be some stuff you just have to stand back and say, ‘I can’t do that, that would not be right coming from me.’ So I have to fall short sometimes at writing in a way that I think I can’t be authoritative because I can’t really know how somebody feels.”

“I do write songs in the first person but they’re not me. They are about a character that I’ve invented. I’m inventing that persona and inhabiting that as a screenwriter would write lines to be acted out by an actor.”

“So sometimes that’s part of the way I write songs. Therefore we shouldn’t always assume that just because I say ‘I’ and ‘me ‘in a song. What is being said is actually my own personal true inner belief or sentiment.”

The song

“Aqualung” was part of the album of the same name released by Jethro Tull back in 1971, it was their fourth studio record. It is widely regarded as a concept album featuring a central theme of “the distinction between religion and God”.

Still is the band’s best-selling album with more than 7 million units worldwide. Besides the title track it also has classics like “Crossed-Eye Mary”, “Mother Goose”, “Locomotive Breath” and “Cheap Day Return”.

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