Annotations


~ Benefit ~

(1)

 

An introduction to "Benefit"

The year 1970 was a very important one for Jethro Tull. The band had really arrived after their three US tours in 1969, supporting Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac a.o. Now they had their first headlining tour in the US, but the heavy schedules, third-class hotels, transport and food were taking their toll, and the band members were frequently ill. Martin Barre said that year: "We haven't stopped working this past year. It's like a conveyor belt thing, making records, going through America, it's endless". Ian himself said: "I enjoyed the concerts but everything else I really hated, because it seemed such a terrible way of life. Every tour was 'the last one'. My only recreation was writing the songs, which at least injected some meaning into a hotel room".

And that is exactly were most of the material for the new album was written: 'Benefit', released in May 1970, for which the keyboard-services of old friend John Evans were called upon and who would join the band lateron. The album - in combination with the heavy touring caused Tull's commercial breakthrough in the US and became an immediate success. Even more than 'Stand Up' the album moved away from the blues ( which would not be 'revisited' until 'Catfish Rising' in 1991). Like on 'Stand Up' the album contains ten songs and acoustic and rock songs alternate, but there is an important new feature that would make its way to every future album from then on: the combination of rock and acoustic parts within the songs. We can almost see Ian experiment with this idea in songs like 'Son' and 'Alive And Well And Living In'. According to Craig Thomas in his liner notes in the 25th Anniversary box set Tull began to use this electric/acoustic dichotomy in their music to represent "... the clash between individual and society, rural and urban, between happiness (however qualified) and disillusion..."

Photographs from the "Benefit" tour programme (1970).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh
(
Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive).

As for the lyrics: we see a further development. They are more poetic, there is more imagery. Apart from the beautiful balad-like love song 'Sossity', they do reflect the disillusions with hard life on the road and a sense of dislocation, as if Ian grew up in a generation he felt he didn't belong to. This last aspect emerged from Ian's dismay for having to play for people under the influence of drugs and alcohol: "It's a little disturbing playing to people who are, to quote, turned on. It's difficult to know how to play to them. It's disturbing to know that they must to some extent imagine that I personally, and the other fellows in the band, are just the same as them, you know?" (Hit Parader interview, 1969). Like Frank Zappa he hated to perform for a crowd of loaded hippies. Ian remained a strong spokesman against drugs and alcohol for the duration of his career. We find his first critical remarks on that matter in 'Christmas Song'. He stated he avoids intoxication because he feels it interferes with his creative process and that he needs to remain clear-headed to accomplish the kind of self-analysis that he considers at the cornerstone of his writing. Judson Caswell suggests that this attitude acted to distance him from his audiences and from his contemporaries: "unable to express these sentiments overtly without ostracizing much of his audience, his opions towards drugs were 'bottled up' and arose as bitterness and anger in his music toward the general culture of the times. (This bitterness is very explicit on 'Aqualung', as we will see - JV). He also speaks disdainfully and condescendingly of the pace and greed of America in interviews at this time".

Among Tull-fans , 'Benefit' is generally considered as a good but not remarkable album. I think that is unjust. Regarding the context and period it was conceived and released and taking in account the band's further development, it is a very important album. With 'Benefit' the band was both musically and lyrically speaking on the threshold of consolidating their own style which is so evident on what I therefore tend to consider as the first real Tull-album: 'Aqualung'.

'Inside'/'Alive And Well And Living In', the single taken from the 'Benefit' album in 1970. The picture shows us new band member John Evans and Ian's first wife Jennie Franks, who co-wrote the lyrics of the title track of "Aqualung".

 

Annotations

With You There To Help Me

  • According to Greg Russo this song is about Jennie Franks, a secretary in Chrysalis' publishing department, whom Ian would marry later that year. The lyrics reflect the pressure of the heavy touring schedule and his longing for being home.

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Nothing To Say

  • How many times do we remain silent, fearing that our questions/answers/comments will be misinterpreted or crushed upon heavy disagreement? Too many times - as this song says, in a metaphorical way. "Nothing to say" because the narrator's (it's a model, a stereotype, whatever you call it, he's basically a representative of the human race) ideas and own thoughts are being pushed and pulled by exterior pressures, specially (maybe even uniquely) social ones. Society doesn't want to know what individuals think or comment; we are all just wheels in a very complex and large machine - there's no space for personal freedom. (This is a subject that Ian has addressed many times before and afterwards, in songs like "Thick as a Brick" or "Uniform".)
    "No I say I have the answer proven to be true,
    but if I were to share it with you,
    you would stand to gain and I to lose."
    The narrator believes that he can only appreciate his ideas in inner reflection; society offers no answers for him and twists anything new that he would offer - individuality and self-centred selfishness is the only exit.
    The narrator feels that society builds its own prison and programs its own decay - and he refuses to acknowledge and be accoustumed to that
    ("...the walls collapse, broken by the lies that your misfortune brought upon us"). "Freedom" was built by Men itself; therefore it could be a "deceiving sign", many times offered in a virtuous manner, and ultimately turns out into a even worst idea prison than before, maybe even collapsing when its foundations aren't as solid as they should be (therefore the "tower" metaphore). Men usually deceives himself ("deceiving sign"), and the narrator feels helpless and alone when addressing the problem: he has neither the power or the authority to present answers or note flaws, he is not a born leader or a messiah, he doesn't know anything that anybody couldn't find out on their own ("it's not my power to criticize or to ask you to be blind") - the problems within the human race ("... your own pressing problem and the hate you must unwind").
    So, what's the use of crying out loud into the sneering crowds? He himself is a part of the "mechanism"
    ("...I went your way ten years ago") and nobody is actually ready to fully understand and apply the answers. And so he has "nothing to say".
    * Alberto Ferreira

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Alive And Well And Living In

  • This is one of the 4 great love songs from Benefit, written for Jenny (the others being "With You There To Help Me", "To Cry You A Song" and "Inside"). This one has Jenny at home alone, while Ian is away, presumably on tour, but desperate to get home - see the afore mentioned songs. It is one of the very few songs in which Anderson shows any vulnerability:
    "She's quite content to sit there listening to what he says,
    how he didn't like to be alone.
    And if he feels like crying, she's there to hear him.
    "
    The title comes from a figure of speech that was quite common back then, e.g. "Che Guevara is alive and well and living in Havanna". Could also be a pun - alive and well and living in, as in inside as (opposed to outside - see the lyrics to "Inside").
    * Matthew Korn

  • This one could possibly be about Ian's mother. One thing for sure, it is a sensitive portrait of a woman who is trying to hold herself together while her life is falling apart: "Nobody sees her there, her eyes are slowly closing. If she should want some peace, she sits there, without moving, and puts a pillow over the phone." There is emphasis on the isolation that she lives in, as well as her need to sublimate her own feelings: "And if she feels like dancing, no one will know it." She is stifled by the control that her husband, who is emotionally needy, exerts over her: "She's quite content to sit there listening to what he says, how he doesn't like to be alone. And if he feels like crying, she'd better hear him." Also, there is an indication that the situation will not change: "No reason to complain and nothing to fear, they always will be."
    * Julie Hankinson

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Son

A Time For Everything

Continuation

 


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Updated: March 3 - 2001

Jan Voorbij (1998-2013)