~ Too Old To Rock
Too Young To Die! ~
An introduction to
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......
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 .
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.)
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.
"Too Old To Rock'n' Roll: Too Young To Die!"
"Too Old To Rock'n' Roll: Too Young To Die!"
annotations page 2
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