Social Distancing With Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson: Face Masks, Farming and Friendship

As the world fights a pandemic, we reached out to some of our favorite artists with three questions about these unprecedented times. Here’s what Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, who is currently in the midst of rescheduling tour dates, had to say.

What are you doing with your unexpected time at home?
I’m actually really busy because we are in the process of rescheduling all of our shows. In terms of manpower and hours, it’s probably taking twice as long as it took to set up the shows in the first place.

I’m fortunate, you know — I can understand this would probably annoy a lot of people, understandably, who are locked down in the apartment or the city-dwelling with nowhere to go. I’m in touch with a lot of them friends and acquaintances and other musicians who simply can’t leave their homes. I’m fortunate to live in the countryside; we live on a working farm. So, we have a few hundred acres of fields of woodlands and no shortage of space to enjoy the hopefully imminent spring. So, that breaks up the day — taking the dogs for a walk or taking the cat for a walk and generally enjoying where I live.

I suppose it’s given me the opportunity to think about how lucky I am and not to take for granted that I live in a nice house in this part of the world. I’m learning to appreciate it perhaps in a way that I don’t usually do when I’m constantly jumping to drive to the airport and jet off to somewhere else to do my work. So, this is a good time to be a little more reflective.

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It’s the opportunity to really renew close bonds with family and friends. Just before I sat down to call you, my wife called me over because she’d had an email from an American actor called Norman Reedus who sent a video of his little baby saying how they were all well and hoping we were well, too. A lot of people you don’t normally hear from are suddenly on the phone or sending an email checking on how you are. I’ve done the same thing.

It’s a mixture of saying, well, yeah, you know, the world is a better place if you look at certain aspects of society. We are generally speaking more supportive of each other. We’re certainly reducing our global carbon footprint by a big, big margin. So, there’s a lot of positive things out there. We are learning to do without public transport. We learning, I think, in a very positive way that we can carry on without necessarily taking for granted the unfortunate effects of too many people on a smaller planet with finite resources. That’s the bottom line.

I don’t want to play the blame game, but you know, we should be also learning about the perils of eating stuff that had a face on it. The ridiculous reliance on flesh-eating, which is so prevalent. I am not a strict vegetarian or a vegan, but most of what I eat probably comes under the vegan classification, just because I like that stuff.

You know, it’s not my business to tell you what to eat, not my business to tell you how many babies to have. But I would like people to try to work it out for themselves, come to their own conclusions and think responsibly about themselves, their children, their grandchildren, their neighbors. And those of us who share this finite and fragile resource, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink. People have to come to responsible conclusions themselves.

What music do you turn to in times of crisis for solace and comfort, and why?
I’m not really a music listener; it’s what I do. I think if I was a 747 pilot, I would probably not fly 747s on the weekends. I tend to listen to music sometimes on an airplane because I’m a nervous flyer… so I wouldn’t make a very good captain of a 747. But it’s kind of, you know, musical aspirin to keep my mind off what’s going on around me.

I stopped listening to music in my early twenties, just because I thought I’ve heard enough. I think you get the point, you know, when you’re traveling around — especially as I did around the USA so often and for so long — hearing incessant music in hotel lobbies, in elevators and cars and buses, the constant sound of popular and rock music. When you do it yourself for about four hours a night — intense musical experience, that — [that’s] your sensible ration of musical noise in any one day. If I do listen to music, it tends to be mostly classical music. Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, interspersed occasionally with ZZ Top.

What about books or films?
Well, I read a lot, you see, and I read a lot of topical stuff in terms of politics and current affairs. Occasionally, I read a novel, you know, for entertainment, something that is fiction. But the reality is at the moment the days fly by because I’m really very busy trying to sort out our 2012 tour.

I was talking to my American agent last night and he said, “I’ve got 750 shows I’m trying to rebook for the artist I represent. I’ve got artists who are telling me, ‘Oh, can we reschedule to October?’”

And he said, “If that’s what they desperately want to do, that’s what I will try to do. But I really want to tell them to reschedule to March or April in 2021 because you’ll only have to reschedule tour yet again.”

My own gut feeling is that you’d be very, very optimistic to reschedule anything in the later months of this year. If you’re going to do it, you don’t want to keep doing it, because that will piss people off.

Anything else you want to say to your fans right now?
Well, there’s a lot of people in the world of entertainment, pain-in-the-ass people, who come out with really tacky videos saying all the obvious things. I personally think my fans are too intelligent to want to receive a video of me sitting in a bathtub telling them how I’m feeling great and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Of course, I am. No one will imagine for a minute that I’m not well protected, well looked after. I bought my face mask four years ago; I have an underlying respiratory disease. I always have to face masks in my hand luggage; this is nothing new for me. Face masks are common sense.

We tend to be a little hostile about people wearing face masks. And I can understand why. But hopefully, once frontline medical workers and hospital staff and care home staff are suitably equipped with adequate face masks, they will become much more available to the general public.

But that’s not the advice that you were getting in your country until yesterday. You were being told that face masks are a waste of time. Don’t bother having them. The reason in part, I think, is both your government and our government realized there were not enough face mounts to go around to the people who really need them. I think we should be always told the truth. It may cause momentary panic, but I think most of us are much more resilient than that. Give us the truth.

I’m a cautious supporter of the Gaia theory. The idea that the planet behaves almost as if it was a living organism. And I rather like that, that uniformity of everything. Everything that lives in a precarious world, we’re all interconnected. We’re all part of a global life form that goes beyond how many eyes you’ve got or how many legs you’ve got. We’re all part of that great living mess that is planet Earth. I’m quite attracted to the idea that the planet is almost self-regulating.

This is the time for reflection. I think people should invest in understanding and learning to handle the truth. And the truth is not pretty, but in a way, you know, I’m an eternal optimist. I think we will get through this, but I hope we’ve learned some positive lessons along the way and that a year or two years from now that we look back on this and say, “Hey, you know, let’s continue to curb our relentless consumption of resources.”

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