~ Warchild ~


An introduction to "Warchild"

The 'Warchild' album was released in 1974 and was the result of a filmproject. The basic theme of the film would have been: the possible choices to be faced after death and was in that sense a continuation of the so heavily criticized 'A Passion Play'. Rees (10, p. 64) states, that the main characters in the abandoned film "were to have been the not insignificant personifications of God and The Devil, with the possible controversial premise that somehow their two roles might be interchangeable!", or, as Ian Anderson has put it: "I was trying to say that it's not necessarily always the case that God is good and the Devil is bad. God was not averse to turning people into pillars of salt, whereas the Devil has often given people a good time, with the odd Pagan festival here and there! I'm not a Satanist or anything like that, but it seemed like an interesting concept for a film. The album dealt with similar ideas, but without the film to back it up it seemed sensible to wash over the concept and let the music stand on it's own. The music was initially built around the film, so the songs had to be constructed in more orthodox lenghts as opposed to the lengthy Passion Play structure" (10, p. 64). "The overall theme of 'Warchild' is that all of us have a very aggressive instinct which is something we're occasionally able to use for the betterment of ourselves. At other times, aggression at its worst is used as a very destructive element. When it's not at its worst it remains merely comical. I don't think that aggression is such an evil thing."(11).

(From: Circus Raves Magazine, vol. 1# 9, November 1974.
The integral text of this article can be found on
Dave Gerber's site. Thanks Dave!)

David Palmer had written orchestral music for a film of which parts were recorded but got unfortunately lost in the BBC-studios. Martin Barre wrote some acoustic material. John Cleese was attracted as 'humor advisor', Sir Frederick Ashton for the choreography and Bryan Forbes as director. However there were severe problem getting the financial means together and when the American film industry was approached for financial support they made so many severe conditions, that Ian - partly because the new American tour was about to start - called the project off. Warchild originally was meant as a soundtrack album. The album was a return to the single song format. Two songs were added from the aborted Château d'Herouville sessions: 'Only Solitaire' and 'Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of The New Day'.

The album itself was very well sold and got a reasonable press reaction. The Warchild tour was very succesfull and continued through most of 1975. A single was drawn from the album, 'Bungle In The Jungle', which became to Ian's surprise a big hit in the USA!

A concert poster from the WarChild tour announcing Jethro Tull's gig at the Los Angeles Forum. John Glasscock's band Carmen was the supporting act. John would join Jethro Tull as a bass player one year later.

In the introduction to the 'Aqualung' we described contradictional elements in Ian's music and stage presentation. Among other things we have seen his first original compositions as acoustic-oriented music, and the possibility of his themes deriving meaning from historical context. We have seen his sardonic humor combined with serious, sometimes even moralizing statements (both in plain and in symbolic verselines). At this point in his artistic development he is both entertainer and critic - both insightful and tastelessly vulgar. And he claims that his stage presence is his physical manifestation of all of this. Is it possible to link all aspects of his music? Is it possible to place all aspects of performance and composition into one framework that will reconcile the contradictions? And can a framework be found to place the music in a historical context? I think the answer is found in Ian's re-invention of the 'minstrel-like' jester, that comes to the fore in his lyrics, in his music (esp. in the acoustic, ballad-like songs) and in his stage persona as well.

The figure of the minstrel as he is commonly shown is misleading. The languid lute-player in the Swan Lake suit was not the representative of his craft in the fourteenth century; rather we should think of the sly jester of, say, Shakespeare plays, sardonic, irreverent, plebeian-oriented, outrageously subversive (Lloyd, 111). The evolution of the image of the minstrel in the music and in the stage antics of Jethro Tull is essential to placing the music into the kind of historical context that will allow insight into its apparent paradoxes. 'Warchild' was the first album to consciously make the connection between Tull and the court jester.

Ian recognized this album as marking the time when the band "came together" in terms of sound, and also in terms of the relationship between the live show and the music (Anderson 7-8). Hardy sums this up rather succinctly: "In 1974 the group returned to performing their peculiar brand of rock, theater, and puerile comedy" (237). But this time around, the stage show was brighter and happier, and the band members were dressed in colorful costumes (with Ian's costume lurking ever closer to the mideval) (Sims 12). Anderson describes the lyrics to Warchild as suggestive and not definitive. He also reasserts that his process of creation is an exploratory process of self-awareness and self-evaluation. Having recently emerged from the successes of two U.S. number 1 albums, (the second of which, Passion Play, received more than its share of criticism) he was disillusioned about the life of the rock star. In watching his band spend their newfound wealth, (most bought houses in the country or cars) he asserts that he was reminded of "all the things [I] despise about all the other rock performers" (Sims, 12). The lyrics on this album not only present the oblique cultural criticisms of the laughing jester, but there also is the first evidence of the bemoaning of the lack of a sense of history and place in the modern world.

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  • WarChild seems to be an anti-war song. The word WarChild seems to bemoan the fact that such young men are taken away to die in battle. The song sarcastically glosses over war with phrases like "bright city mile", (lit up by explosions) "all of the pleasure and none of the pain", "dance the days and dance the nights away", (sure, war is all fun & games) and "let me dance in your teacup and you shall swim in mine", (as though they still stop for tea during war -- see also the sound effect in the beginning: "would you like a cup of tea, dear?").  The comical (to me anyway) explosion sound effects behind the music heighten the sarcasm of the premise. The final verse seems to say that even though we mean well defending a country at war, we overdo it ("open your windows and I'll walk through your doors") and then overstay our welcome ("let me live in your country, let me sleep on your shores"). This may have been a criticism of America's participation in Vietnam, but I don't know if Ian was concerned with that at all -- he was more concerned with England, in general.
    * Ian MacFarland

  • It is very easy to look at War Child as a comment on the military exploits of our various governments, coming on the heels, as it did, of America’s exploits in Vietnam. This view is supported by the title of the album itself, along with such songs as “Queen and Country,” the title of which is a reference to the loyalties expected of a soldier in Great Britain. But closer consideration reveals a conflict nearer to home, and when War Child is taken in the larger context of other Tull albums, a picture of the daily warfare that working men and women everywhere wage against the drudgery of life makes more sense.
    Anderson’s lyrics are often words of rebellion; in his earlier albums against the arbitrary justice of his family (as in “Son,” “Back to the Family,” and “For a Thousand Mothers” for example), but already in Benefit, we see the target of his displeasure starting to move toward the duplicity of society, as in “Sossity, You’re a Woman.” Though in “Sossity,” Anderson criticizes the deceptive face society puts on for the world, his target gradually changes to the daily defeats we all experience in the workaday world of the office. His criticism of society in general reached a high point in Thick as a Brick, but developed into some of his most pointed criticism of the work place through the lyrics in War Child. (Though this theme continues in later albums, in such songs as “Pussy Willow,” “Working John, Working Joe,” “The Clasp,” and most obviously in “Black Sunday” where the anticipation of the return to work spoils all pleasure he may obtain from the last day of the weekend.)
    Anderson always displays a distrust of the culture of money and anger at what has amounted to white-collar enslavement. The voice in the title track is that of the faceless corporate officer taking control of the lives of his employees (“I’ll take you down.”) The “bright city mile” refers to the commercial district of any large city of the world, a place that is completely dedicated to the generation of wealth, at the expense of the common citizen. It is a place that is open for business 24/7, a place that is bright with ever-burning lights. 

    Though this is the voice of the corporation owner in War Child, the song is clearly addressed to those of us who have no choice but to support this capitalist structure. As the people who make this structure work, we dare not show our dissatisfaction with it. The first transformation forced upon us by society is “to powder [our] sweet face[s] and paint on a smile.” Though we suffer under the daily grind of the workplace, be that office (Anderson’s favorite target) or factory, we are not permitted to show our displeasure. We must pretend that we are happy with our lot.
    The explosions and games referred to in the next line are the goals of corporations. No matter how damaging the consequences of corporate wealth creation are, “you will join my explosion,” War Child, and you will “play with my games.” The explosion refers not only to the destructive nature of our industrial products, but also to the unbridled growth of corporations, as they invade ever more areas of all our lives. And we are required to use (“play with my games”) the products our corporations produce. This seems to be more relevant today than ever, as we realize how little choice we actually have when purchasing products that may have chemical components that are harmful to us or to our environment. Though there are safe alternatives, many cannot afford to use them or cannot find them in the stores we shop in, and the larger corporations have done everything they can to crush opposition to their own goods.
    “And, you, Warchild, will dance,” says the corporate world. “You will ‘dance the days, and dance the nights away.’” The basic message here is that as long as the corporate world goes on 24/7, so will the warchild. 

    Unlike in an actual war, there is no way to get off the merry-go-round. You can’t surrender no matter what you are willing to give up; you must continue to produce (“no unconditional surrender, no armistice day”). In a war, the soldier can surrender, and though he ends up in a POW camp, the fighting is at least over. But not in the business world. There is no way out, no calling it quits. In the most scathing criticism of “War Child,” Anderson observes that the owner of all this will die contented. He alone has the life of leisure, while taking even the grave of this poor worker who has given his life to put the owner in the lap of luxury. “You ‘bring me water,’ supplying my needs, while I’ll ‘give you wine,’” in this context a mere opiate to keep the worker in a state where he cannot rebel. 

    The notion of the tea-cup in the next line is especially revealing, as it refers back to the dialog at the beginning of the song. Here, we hear a common, domestic exchange, as a wife prepares breakfast for her husband. The offer of a cup of tea is the offer of a small bit of comfort, which the husband cannot accept, because he’ll “be late for the office.” The corporate officer will “dance in your tea-cup,” smashing what happiness the employee has, while at the same time requiring him to “swim in mine,” a reference to the relative size of the cups. Corporate tea-cups are large enough to swim in, and likely drown in as well.
    Though the worker will try his best to meet his tormenter half way (“open your windows”), this is not enough. The corporation ignores this gesture of welcome and walks in “through your doors,” appropriating at this point not only the grave of the worker, the small bit of happiness he may have in sharing breakfast with his wife, but now his home as well. And in a final shot, corporations begin to take over the whole country, ironically true thirty years later in post-9/11 America, where we have seen corporations doing everything they can to usurp the place of a national government, and seemingly with the blessing of that government. 

    But in the face of all this, as Anderson presciently saw long ago, we are helpless. We are still forced to dance to the tune called by the giant and unassailable corporations. We are all the War Child, dancing our days and nights away.

    * Bruce Knoll

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Queen And Country

  • Ever since 'Thick As A Brick', we see how in the lyrics of Ian Anderson more and more historical references, images and notions are applied. In 'Queen And Country' he uses the image of sailors who sail the seas to obtain "gold and ivory, rings of diamonds, strings of pearls". The verselines "for Queen and Country" (and) "it's been this way for five long years since we signed our souls away" suggest that these men signed a Royal Navy contract. I suspect, that the historical image Ian applies here is that of the Elizabethan era, when the Royal Navy, under the command of Sir Walter Raleigh, raided the coasts of Central and South America, committing piracy esp. in the Caribbean and establishing strongholds. These precolonial expeditions would over time lead to what was later to be called The British Empire. At first these actions were aimed at weakening the hegemony of the Spanish fleet in in this part of the world and were very lucrative since the Spanish fleet transported large amounts of gold and silver that was stolen from Inca's, Aztecs and other Indian nations to Spain.

  • The whole song is written from the sailors' point of view. They have little to choose since they "signed their souls away" "for five long years" at least. Temptations and amusement have to wait, duty comes first: "but we all laugh so politely and we sail on just the same". In the words of the sailors the establishment is criticised: "with the spoils of battles won" the government and others "can have their social whirl" and finance their policy: "they build schools and they build factories". The sailors take all the risks ("hold our heads up to the gun") during "the long dying day" (there is a double entendre here: 'dying' refers to the nearing end of the day but also to the loss of men). They face harsh conditions aboard and do the dirty work that the establishment profits from and as long as they do so they "remain their pretty sailor boys".
    * Jan Voorbij

  • I think there might be a bit more to this song. There seems to be a little parallel between these sailors and a band on the road. 'It's been this way for five long years, since we signed our souls away'. When Ian wrote this song Jethro Tull had been touring for about five years. 'Schools and factories' were being built with their tax money, while the band were abroad for Queen and country. As many other fellow rock stars they were advised to live in exile and settle on the continent to avoid the British taxman. Eventually they missed their Mum's jam sarnies so dearly that they ran back to Mother England, even if it meant they had to brake off their recordings in the 'Chateau d'Isaster'. This took place shortly before the War Child project, so I thought there might be a little link here. What do you think, could it be that the sailors serve as a metaphor for the band on tour?
    * Jeroen Louis

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  • One historical template that Ian invokes in his critique of American culture is that of carnival. In 'Time Passages', George Lipsitz explains that there are certain forms through which popular culture can express a common memory, attain a sense of history, and rework their traditions. Carnival is one of those forms (see Lipsitz 14). The carnival is characterized by: passions of plenitude, revelry, free speaking, hearty laughter and most importantly, the inversion of the social world and the overturning of convention and propriety (15). In carnival, there is a valorization of the street as the place for creativity and society, and there is a sense of "prestige from below" (Lipsitz 16). Lipsitz is also concerned with use of the historical templates in pop culture as possible tools for the attainment of hegemony (16). Ian Anderson clearly expresses his opinion on this in the song 'Sea Lion' from Warchild. 'Aqualung' and 'Cross-Eyed Mary' have already made clear Ian's attitudes toward life in the street: he has portrayed it as brutish and vulgar.

  • In 'Sea Lion', Ian calls upon images of the carnival. "You balance the world on the tip of your nose, Like a SeaLion with a ball, at the carnival." (and) "You flip and you flop under the Big White Top". These invoke some impression of the common characteristics of carnival. There is merriment and revelry: "You wear a shiny skin and a funny hat." But there is a constant reminder of the presence of authority: "The Almighty Animal-Trainer lets it go at that." And of course the carnival can't last forever, because "you know, after all, the act is wearing thin, As the crowd grows uneasy and the boos begin." There is a possible reference to the reversal of the social hierarchy and search for hegemony in the line "So we'll shoot the moon, and hope to call the tune." Shooting the moon, in Hearts, at least, means accumulating all the losing cards in your hand. Any one of the cards individually is a loser, but when all of them come together in one hand their value is reversed and they become a winning hand. A dangerous proposition, but with the proper luck and skill, it's possible to win the biggest by losing the biggest. So the line could possibly imply a search for hegemony (in "calling the tune") by reversing the social order ("shooting the moon"). He comments on the fragility of the illusion by following with "And make no pin cushion of this big balloon." The true message of the song is disdainful and mocking. He is invoking the image of the carnival only to ridicule the hopes of hegemony-through-carnival.

  • Ian MacFarland comes up with a totally different explanation and considers the song as a metaphor for the Soviet Union:
    I have been mulling over is "SeaLion". It seems to me that it is about a socialist society, most likely the USSR as it was back then. The first verse is about the rise of socialism in Russia, and those who rode the wave. Socialism started with Engels and Marx in Germany, and for the Europeans who latched onto their ideas it was only a quick hop
    "over the mountains" on their humble "dirty gray horses" to Russia. But it's all a charade, they're "sad-glad paymasters", they're having fun and making money to boot. They live in luxury ("ice-cream castles") and are in fact masters of capitalism: they make money ("the super-marketeers on parade"; supermarkets are the epitome of capitalism, bigger and cheaper). They make big deals ("golden handshake") but it hangs around their neck like an albatross, marking them as frauds as they exploit the people for their own agendas ("light your cigarettes on the burning deck"). But it's an unstable situation; they may be lighting their cigarettes, but the deck they're on is burning. It's so unstable it may as well be balanced on the tip of the nose. The rulers are merely SeaLions.
    The second verse is about the people. They simply flop around like morons, being trained to accept the life you have been given, even though its a tough life
    ("whiskers melting in the noon-day sun"). Notice the leader is a ring mistress, as Russia is the motherland. But the situation is unstable: they bark ever-so-slightly at the trainer'gun, and the act is wearing thin, as the crowd is growing uneasy and booing. The stability may as well be balanced on the nose. Notice one basic tenet of socialism holds true: both ruler and subject are merely SeaLions.
    The third verse is about the rulers again. They're proud of how efficiently they've deceived the people. Their story is a Passion Play: they've come in as Messiahs for the people and "saved" them, but it is, after all, a play, a show put on for the people. They shoot the moon, win by losing (as we've seen, in Russia everyone loses and that's how they're equal; except for the rulers of course!) and call the tune, call the shots. But the situation is only as stable as a balloon pincushion, balanced on the nose. The rulers are still just SeaLions.
    * Ian MacFarland

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* Judson C.Caswell (SCC, vol. 4, issue 32, December 1993) ; adaptation and additional information Jan Voorbij and John Benninghouse;
Works Cited:1. Anderson, Ian. "Trouser Press Magazine." Autodiscography, (Oct. 1982), 1-13.; 2. Densflow, Robin. "Rolling Stone." Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson Plans a Movie; He'll Play God, (11/8/73), 14 ; 3. Hardy, Phil and Dave Laing Ed. Encyclopedia of Rock, New York: Schirmer Books, 1987; 4. Lewis, Grover. "Rolling Stone." Hopping, Grimacing, Twitching, Gasping, Lurching, Rolling, Paradiddling, Flinging, Gnawing and Gibbering with Jethro Tull. (7/22/71), 24-27; 5. Lipsitz, George. Time Passages. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990 ; 6. Lloyd, A.L. Folk Song in England. New York: International Publishers, 1967 ; 7. Sims, Judith. "Rolling Stone." Tull on Top: Ian Anderson Speaks His Mind, (3/27/75), 12; 8. Stewart, Bob. Pagan Imagery in English Folksong. N.J.: Humanities Press Inc. 1977. 9. Torres, Ben Fong. "Rolling Stone." Jethro Tull and His Fabulous Tool, (4/19/69); 10. Rees, David. Minstrels In The Gallery, A History Of Jethro Tull, Firefly Publ., Wembley, 1998, 62-67. 11. Gaines, Steve. "Circus Rraves Magazine", Nov. 1974.


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