Annotations


~ Living In The Past ~

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An introduction to "Living In The Past"

After the huge success of the 'Aqualung' and the 'Thick As A Brick' albums and the world tours promoting these album there was a big demand for Jethro Tull-material. Chrysalis decided it was time for an extra release: a compilation double album containing songs from the previous years, packed in a beautiful cover with photographs and details on the included songs.

With this double album, smartly named 'Living In The Past' after their successful single, new fans now got access to older material, while the long time fans finally found the singles they bought assembled on one album. 'A Song For Jeffrey', 'Love Story', 'Living In The Past', 'Sweet Dream', 'Witches Promise' and 'Inside' - they all were released as a single, some of them becoming hits in Europe and the US. The album also contains five songs that were released in the EP format in 1971: 'Life Is A Long Song', 'Up The 'Pool', 'Dr. Bogenbroom', 'For Later' and 'Nursie', while three songs were released on earlier albums: 'A Song For Jeffrey' and 'Inside'. The album offers the first live recording of Jethro Tull to appear on record: 'By Kind Permission Of' and 'Dharma For One' two tracks from their benefit-gig in Carnegie Hall, New York, November 1970.

'Living In The Past' is for most Tull-fans one of their favourites, since it shines a light on the evolution of Ian's songwriting capabilities and contains an interesting variety of songs.

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Annotations

A Christmas Song

  • A Christmas song is Ian's first original work after the departure of Mick Abrahams. It is an acoustic, whimsical piece with an emphasis on mandolins and guitars (...). Lyrically he accomplishes a kind of social commentary:
  • When you're stuffing yourselves at the Christmas parties
    You'll just laugh when I tell you to take a running jump
    You're missing the point I'm sure does not need making:
    The Christmas spirit is not what you drink.

  • This piece is important for a number of reasons. First, it clearly establishes his view on alcohol. Anderson remains a strong spokesman against drugs and alcohol for the duration of his career. He explains that he avoids intoxication because he feels it interferes with his creative process: he feels that he needs to remain clear-headed to accomplish the kind of self-analysis that he feels is a cornerstone of his writing (Lewis, 27). This attitude toward drugs and alcohol acted to distance him from his audiences and from his contemporaries. He felt as is he grew up in a generation that he didn't belong to. Unable to express the sentiments overtly without ostracizing much of his audience, his opinions toward drugs were "bottled up" and arose as bitterness and anger in his music toward the general culture of the times (Anderson 4). Anderson speaks disdainfully and condescendingly of the pace and greed of America in interviews at this time (Lewis 24).
  • I don't really agree. It's mentioned, certainly, but I think the song is 90% about the hypocrisy and contradictions of modern, commercial Christmases and the spiritual 'real' meaning of the festival. Alcohol is only mentioned in one line of the song, and the spoken humourous comment at the end is an admission that Ian isn't a Puritan watching from the outside - he wants a drink, too! I've never thought of Ian as anti-alcohol. Definitely anti-drug, particularly anti-cannabis, but he doesn't seem adverse to a quiet drink. I understand him being hostile to drunkenness, but that's a common attitude. It's important to distinguish the sources of intoxication!  If he was anti-alcohol, his comments in the 20th Anniversary video, about visiting his local pub and hoping he'd still be able to have a quiet drink with his fans, wouldn't make sense. Peggy famously drinks rather a lot, so why did Ian employ him for so long if he was anti-alcohol?  Ian publicly joked about Peggy's drinking habits in numerous concerts and interviews, and I think the only memorable quote from Peggy from his time with Tull was 'Success is being locked in the pub at closing time'.  The album title 'Nightcap' and its graphics have a little to do with alcohol....
  • One point about this song is that the tune and lyrics of the first few lines are from a traditional Christmas carol.  I learned the carol when I was about 5 years old; presumably Ian did too!  The first verse is:      
    "Once in  royal David's city
    stood a lonely cattle shed,
    where a mother held her baby,
    in a manger for a bed."
    See An Online Christmas Songbook if you want the full lyrics and sheet music.
    * Neil R. Thomason
  • "A Christmas Song" is also a work that exists in a strong historical framework because it is presented as a kind of Christmas carol. Caroling is perhaps the oldest surviving English mid-winter tradition (Lloyd 98). It originated as a \par pagan ceremony of ring-dancing (118). Clearly Ian has changed the tone of the traditional Christmas carol, and that has a psychological impact that is difficult to measure. As a pagan tradition, caroling worked a kind of magic of rejuvenation: the winter was a dead time, and to insure the resurrection of the world in spring, the carolers would come to offer their songs and to take their reward (102). The carolers offered blessings of bountiful harvests, and in exchange, those receiving the carol would offer up some of their wealth - in either food or money - as a sort of mid-winter sacrifice (102). The rite is a product of an agricultural society in which the forces of nature need to be interacted with at a magical level in order to insure the survival of all. Ian's use of the carol form invokes strong connotations to anyone familiar with the holiday or with caroling. His song implies the loss of ties to ther meaning of the festivities. He says:
  • "How can you laugh when your own mother is hungry
    and how can you smile when your reasons for smiling are wrong?".

  • It's clear that those with plenty are not giving to those who have none, and those who get to celebrate do not share the celebration. In a pagan sense, this abandoning of ritual not only fails to provide for the needy, it also endangers the rebirth of spring and all future harvests. These connotations carry over in modern sensibilities as well: there is a sense of distancing from the true nature of things and a sense of imminent repercussions. The song also begins to imply his attitude toward religion. This becomes clearer on his fourth album, Aqualung.
    * Judson C. Caswell (SCC vol. 4 issue 92, Dec. 1993); adaptation Jan Voorbij ; Anderson, Ian: Trouser Press Magazine, Autodiscography, 1982, p. 1-13; Lewis, Grover: Rolling Stone: Hopping, Grimacing, Twitching, Gasping, Lurching, Rolling, Paradiddling, Flinging, Gnawing And Gibbering With Jethro Tull, 7/22/1971, p. 24-27; Lloyd, A.L.: Folk Songs In England, New York 1967.
  •  
  • I believe that the whole song is to be examined on a whole, not each line
    picked apart and analyzed as carrying its own individual significance. The
    song is almost like beign a third party watching a character Ian plays
    interacting with a room full of Christmas partiers.
    The intensity of the self-righteousness  of the narrator's words and their
    severity rise with the music, starting out sweet and low as are the Biblical
    lyrics.
    "Once in royal David's city", and ending angry, loud and full of
    threat, as the last statement is made.
    Certain Christians have taken the meaning of their religion as something to
    bash over the heads of the "Sinners". The narrator wastes no time in getting
    there! The party, the food, the
    "Christmas spirit" that is "not what you
    drink"
    ; in the eyes of the narrator, all are not what one should partake in
    if you were really a Christian.
    Why? (as the music escalates) The narrator takes it to a new gloomy,
    accusational level that has nothing to do with Christianity or Christmas;
    Because you're having fun while
    "your own mother's hungry" (and) "your reasons for smiling are wrong"! At the appex of the angry, depressing rant, the zealot says, "Remember, if you wish, this is just a Christmas Song"!
    Some people want power in the name of Christ or whomever, and they just want to use that power as a bludgeon to ruin it for everyone. This attitude is
    not uncommonly found in puritanical Christian societies that created witch
    hunts and punishments for ridiculous "sins" that the residents were accused.

    I picture Ian's character singing this to a room full of partiers, and as he
    makes his way down the hall, the gloom he spreads causes everyone to flee,
    upset and unhappy. After the music has risen and his message made clear, the
    narrator, alone in the party hall, asks Santa for that which he has damned
    everone else.
    "Hey, Santa, pass us that bottle willya?"

    I mean, hey, even if he is speaking the words of Devout Importance and
    making everyone else miserable, he's only human, right?
    * Fred Swan



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Sweet Dream

Driving Song

Just Trying To Be

  • This is a comment on society, and it's addressed towards the young population. The "they" that Ian refers to is the powers in authority, and their message to the youth is simple: "You're going wrong if their game you don't play." They also come down on how rock'n'roll is corrupting youth: "And that the song I sing will lead you astray." The rejection that Ian feels is that so many youth are choosing to follow in the hippie lifestyle, which he disapproves of: "Unfeeling, feel lonely rejection, unknowing, know you're going wrong". He sees a distinction between his band and practitioners of the hippie lifestyle, but others do not: "And they can't see that we're just trying to be and not what we seem". Also, his band is not prepared to deal with the sudden stardom they have gained: "And even now believe that it's not real and only a dream."
    * Julie Hankinson

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Continuation

 


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Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)