Annotations


~ Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll:
Too Young To Die! ~

(1)

 

An introduction to
"Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll:
Too Young To Die!"

The album "Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll", like "Warchild", originated more from an ambitious project than being just another Tull-album. Where the basis for "Warchild" was originally a film, the album at hand stemmed from the idea of a stage musical. David Palmer and Ian Anderson started writing songs for this planned musical in 1975. They intended to record 18 songs, of which about the twelve best ones would make it for a new Tull-album. In the original concept the subjects of the songs were to be people from different walks of life: an ageing rock-star, a housewife, an artist etc. The songs written for this musical were intended to be sung by seventies pop-star Adam Faith. The plans for the musical were - like the War Child film - abandoned. The sources I have used do not reveal why. They do reveal however that Ian looked for new forms of creative expression. I assume that the need for a new album, the oncoming next world tour and possibly financial problems to realise this musical, were the main reasons why it never materialized. Anyway, with so much work already done, it seems that the rock-star was the personality that was worked out well enough into a coherent story to make an album out of it.

With this album Ian once again brings an aspect of history to the fore: in this case the phenomenon of reoccurring trends in music and fashion. Is Ian implicitely saying here that there are no real new trends: it all has been seen and done before? (Like the women of Pompeď wearing bikini's 2000 years ago ...). There is, I think, an interesting link in this case with "Thick As A Brick", where the same phenomenon is a subject in the lyrics, but now in regard to morals! ( Remember: the sand castle virtues...). Rees states ".... the plot was pretty straightforward, with the message that the cyclical nature of fashion means that if you don't change your image, it will one day be fashionable again" (1, p. 71).

The story is about a young rocker, Ray Lomas, who clings to his music and fashion, in spite of getting older ("Too old to R & R)", while his old-time mates conform to society and thus become 'square'. He feels isolated, gets fed up with this situation and in a rebellious mood he decides to run away from it all, leaves on his motorcycle and his racing the A1 motorway leads to an accident, that almost kills him ("Too young to die"). While recovering in hospital from his severe injuries, there is a 'new' trend in music and fashion, which after leaving the hospital makes him and his image completely up-to-date again! Once again he is a fashionable teen idol. A comic strip on the inside of the cover of this album illustrates the story of Ray Lomas and connects the songs to eachother. Dustin Poe points out, that Ray Lomas is not the 'hero of the story', but the personification of what is being ridiculed. This is most apparent in the last part of the album, with Big Dipper, the title track, and Pied Piper. Ray is one of those people who are so caught up in living in the past (no pun intended), that when they enter the real world they can't deal with it. Ray Lomas is treated with that trademark Ian treatment of irony and sarcasm which is for me the greatest appeal of his lyrics.

The album was released in 1976 when punk rock and new wave were about to draw the attention away from the great bands of the late sixties and early seventies. These bands were considered more and more as the "dinosaurs" of rock, as a nuisance "we" had to get rid of in order to break the way for new developments. Rees quotes Ian: "The new punks are doing what the old rockers were doing years ago. They were playing rock and blues, now it's punk-rock, but it's essentially the same thing, both in terms of music and attitude. I started out doing what the Sex Pistols are doing now. OK, I didn't actually spit at people when we played the Marquee, but I certainly insulted them a lot!"( 1; p. 72-73). Remember Pete Townsend of The Who, smashing his guitars and amplifiers, or Jim Morrison of the Doors, provoking his audience throwing up and peeing on stage......

Blimey!

With the Ray Lomas story, Ian shows his sense for history, not only in respect to reoccurring trends in music and fashion but also regarding his own relative position on the rock scene. He must have noticed that he was losing ground: the next generation of teens was not exactly dying of impatience for his music and he surely must have been aware of the fact that he missed the linking-up with them. Though still very popular and successful at the time, especially in the USA and Germany, Ian must have forseen that the band would have to endure a period of neglect, lack of attention and even being flamed by the music press and that eventually the tide would turn again in their favour. Looking back from the perspective of the present day this seems to be confirmed by at least one fact and one phenomenon. In 1987 Jethro Tull won a Grammy award for "Crest Of A Knave", beating the nominated Metallica, evoking new interest for the band and their music. Secondly, the old-time fans see more and more young people getting interested in Jethro Tull: these young fans attend gigs and are present on the internet in forums, chatboxes, newsgroups and with their own Tull-websites appreciating the band in their own way, while at the same time a consistent group of loyal followers (mostly being in their forties or fifties) kept track of the band in all these the years!

Now let's get back to the album itself. It seems to me, that the original plan of writing a stage musical in the end turned out to be a defining, perhaps limiting format for the songs that finally made it to the album. The lyrics are pretty straightforward, the plot is simple and several songs, especially the title song, are quite plain, predictable and thus lacking the 'listening adventure' that always featured Ian's music ever since "Stand Up". Since they should all be performable on stage in the setting of a musical, sung by Adam Faith instead of Ian, most of them are relatively simple and they tend to under-expose Ian's vocal qualities, imposing the idea that the album is alltogether "uninspired and stodgy" (1, p. 71). However, the album still contains some beautiful songs like 'Salamander', 'Pied Piper', 'From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser' and 'Bad-Eyed And Loveless' and the real fan certainly could not do without this one .
* Jan Voorbij; Cited: 1. David Rees: 'Minstrels in The Gallery : A History Of Jethro Tull', Wembley, UK, 1998.

I wonder if many fans haven't been a little too quick to dismiss this entire album because of it's having originated from the hare-brained scheme of producing a  stage musical. It seems to me that it is characteristic of Ian Anderson to write lyrics that appear to be very thoughtful and reflective, then to package them up with some gag that serves as a fig leaf to shield him from possible ridicule. The "Gerald Bostock" newspaper thing that went with "Thick As A Brick" and the nutty "Hare Who Lost His Spectacles" story in "A Passion Play" are prime examples of this. It's as if Mr. Anderson is saying "If you agree with or are impressed with my opinions, that's great; if not, well, I was only joking anyway." (From bits of interviews I have heard and read, it seems to me Mr. Anderson also tends to downplay the meaningfulness of his lyrics when questioned about them, as well.) I don't doubt that there is truth behind the well-known stage musical story, but maybe we ought not overlook how such circumstances provided Ian Anderson with a very convenient ready-made "gag" to safely hide some profound thoughts behind. To me, interpreting this album only in terms of the comic strip that comes with it (as many seem to do) makes about as much sense as basing your entire interpretation of Thick As A Brick the fake newspaper that comes with that.
* John W. Loosemore

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Annotations

Quizz Kid

  • Under the cover of the story of Ray Lomas, this particular song contains an ironic description of the television quizzes that were so very popular during the sixties and early seventies, esp. in the USA and in Europe: "It's a try out for a quizz show that millions watch each week, following the fate and fortune of contestants as they speak". These quizzes were often criticized. I remember clearly how we as young students considered them with desdain as symptoms of the consumer society, where material things like cars and washing-machines seemed to be the only things that really mattered. Big prizes were at stake. The second point of critique in those days had to do with the dullness of this kind of 'amusement for the masses', of its lack of intelligence and its lack of appeal on - let's say - creative thinking of the viewers.

  • The "dunce's cap" in the second verseline is a paper cap that some decades ago was used in schools to humiliate stupid or annoying pupils. They had to stand in the corner of the class room wearing it by way of punishment.
    * Jan Voorbij

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Crazed Institution

  • Although surficially rather 'earthy', the second verse says quite a lot and reinforces the theme of living in the past. "Is it them or is it you, throwing dice inside the loo awaiting someone else to pull the chain". In verse one, a star was created, perhaps a musician with a hit single, an actor in a hit film, or a world champion sportsman. Let s pursue the metaphor with a rock star. Now he's living on the past glory of that one hit, relying on it to maintain his fame - but the winning streak won't last forever. Eventually, a critic will turn on him, or another band will have a new hit single - he'll be flushed from public consciousness. "Well grab the old bog-handle, hold your breath and light a candle". Rather than wait for someone else to do it, the rock star has to put his past glories to one side and produce something new. Inevitably, there's a degree of hype remaining about his previous release(s), certain expectations from the public, and a lot of bull from critics, promoters and hangers-on, which all must be dispelled before starting the new project."Clear your throat and pray for rain". The classic pose of the constipated! And that's the problem. As the rest of the verse shows, the rock star can't produce new material." ...and pray for rain to irrigate the corridors that echo in your brain filled with empty nothingness, empty hunger pains". He can't think of stunning new lyrics, or a killer riff to match the previous single. He's getting worried that he might be a one hit wonder, who can ONLY live in the past.
    * Neil R. Thomason

Salamander

  • I discovered some information pertaining to the song Salamander. I was watching a TV show last night about magic and magicians, and they said that somehow there was an old folk tale or something which connected salamanders with fire-walkers. They said that over time, the term 'salamander' has been applied to such things as fire-eating, fire-breathing, etc.  So then I realized that the song Salamander has many references to fire: "born of the sun-kissed flame. Who was it lit your candle, branded you with your name?" (and) "Salamander,burn for me, and I'll burn for you". That still doesn't explain the song itself very well but it does explain why it was named Salamander. I looked up 'salamander' in the dictionary, and apart from the expected definition, there is a second definition of the word. Here are the exact words: "a mythical being, especially a lizard or other reptile, thought to be able to live in fire". So that's what they were talking about on that show; it was from the mythical salamander that the name got applied to "fire magicians".
    * Dustin Poe

  • "Salamander, burn for me and I'll burn for you". If we accept the central theme of living in the past, the woman in Salamander is its antithesis; someone who lives for the moment, who has brief, passionate affairs and then moves on. In terms of the album's story, Salamander goes along with Ray's spur-of-the-moment taxi grab.
    * Neil R.Thomason


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A classy bird like that

 


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