Annotations


~ Warchild ~

(2)

Bungle in The Jungle

  • It is important to reaffirm Ian's perception of himself as an outsider. His opinion of the American counter-culture? "I HATED the hippies. Love and peace and flower power and nuts and berries..." (Anderson, 4). This statement is very reminiscent of Bungle in the Jungle "Down by the waterhole - drunk every Friday,eating their nuts - saving their raisins for Sunday." The Jungle of the song is clearly an allegory on city life. The song could probably best be described as a very impressionistic criticism of the American urban population as perceived by Ian Anderson. In 1971 he described America in an interview: "Everybody is sort of grabbing at something, out for themselves. Particularly on the East Coast... You get the feeling that you're in the midst of some incredible game... everybody is rude, pushy, grabby..." (Lewis, 24). This comes through in the line, "I'll write on your tombstone, 'I thank you for dinner.' This game that we animals play is a winner." Also, the rhyming of the title, and the use of the nonsense word "Bungle" in the phrase "Let's Bungle in the Jungle" is very reminiscent of American slang terms originating in "bop talk" (Lipsitz 121).
    * Judson C. Caswell

  • David Lee Wilson interviewed Ian Anderson in Stormbringer Webzine and asked him what the song "Bungle In The Jungle" was about. Ian: ".... it was just, sort of, about the harsh realities of the business world, the urban jungle, the city of London and finance. The way that people in urban society, I have never really been a town guy, I have usually lived in the country and whenever I go to town I am rally quite excited by it but I don't really want to spend the night there if I can avoid it. (laughs) It is always a bit scary and a bit "dog eat dog" and a bit of a roughhouse down there. It is a song about that using the analogy of animals in the jungle, how people behave in the world of corporate competition."
    * Interview with Jethro Tull, Stormbringer Webzine, 1999.

  • On October 30th 1974, the heavyweight title boxing match between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman was referred to as 'The Rumble in the Jungle', since it was staged in Kinshasa, Zaire (Africa). 'Rumble' is American slang for a fight, and it seems likely that this is the inspiration for the song's title. On stage, Ian also introduced this song as 'Rumble In the Bathroom'.
    * Andy Jackson

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Back Door Angels

  • So in 1974, Ian still doesn't associate himself with the popular urban culture. He does access the conventions of that culture to give form to his criticisms, however. This is possible for him because of his security in his own growing sense of individual identity. Clues to the nature of this identity are found in a number of places on the album. First off, in the song 'Back Door Angels' he offers the proposition, "Think I'll sit down and invent some fool - some Grand Court Jester." This is the first verbalization of that particular image, though that has been the approximate content of his stage performance all along. He reminds the listener of his role as an entertainer and subversive commentator. But right away he describes the limitations of this jester. The next time this jester, he has invented, casts the dice, "he'll throw a six or two" referring to craps where a first rolel of a two is a loss and a six gives you a chance to continue. Anderson doesn't offer any easy chances or quick fixes. Any change in the environment that he sees as bringing out the worst in us will come about over a long period of time and perhaps only with much effort. We will see how this theme will reoccur esp. on 'Songs From The Wood' and on 'Stormwatch'.
    * Judson C. Caswell

Ian Anderson in his 'court jester' outfit during the Warchild tour 1974-1975.

  • But there is more in this beautiful song that needs to be discussed. The song is in my opinion about the happiness we all are looking for and the hope for a better life, symbolized as "back-door angels", who sneak in and out and who are beyond our control. We want to lure these angels into our lives but they can't be forced into it ("they didn't see me wink my eye"), since they only grace our lives when they please to do so ("she smiled and I thing she winked her eye"). They bring calmness and rest ( " 'Tis said they put we men to sleep with just a whisper"), light and enlightment ("they light the dark hours") joy, quality and beauty in our lives ("They grow all their roses red, and paint our skies blue"). However, not all of us are granted with fortune: these angels "drop one penny in every second bowl", which is very confusing for it makes "half the beggars lose". Then our narrator shows us what those who are unfortunate do to reconcile themselves with their fate: they turn to religion or concepts that give them the strength to go on: "why do the faithful have such a will to believe in something? And call it the name they choose". Whether it is God, some idol, socialism or whatever, they will discover in the end that it will not solve their problems or give them satisfaction or relief from "the tension of the fray": "having chosen nothing". The imagery here brings us close to the critique on organized religion as expressed on 'Aqualung'.
    * Jan Voorbij

  • Something I've learned about the lyrics of Ian Anderson is to take nothing for granted. Every word he writes is there for a reason.  For this reason I feel that there is yet more to the song "Back Door Angels". Let us not overlook the fact that Ian uses the word "angel". I think that the back door angel is the messenger of "evil" whereas the front door angel is the operative of "good". I use quotes because Ian says in the intro that God is not all good and Satan is not all bad. I think that, in fact, is the theme of this song. The back door angels come in the front door because we accept the fact that evil can be fun! Ian notes how a bit of vice can perhaps "put we men to sleep" (keeping them content and secure -- i.e. escapism), "make dying dogs linger" (for example: medicinal marajuana?), and such activities. People who are having a llittle fun see life in a better way, hence the red roses and blue skies. But some people begging for fun end up as simply alcoholics or crackheads, et al. ("half the beggars lose").
    The second half of the song is about "good". The Court Jester, while it may very well be IA, is God. As we all know, good doesn't really triumph over evil, they both continue to go at it
    ("he'll roll a six or two"). Note the gambling reference; gambling is considered a vice, but even God gambles. This becomes clear in the final lines: the lone front door angel has to come in the back door, because the good is no fun. She is indistinguishable from the back-door angel, with hair a golden brown. She winks her eye: this is the beggar's way of beckoning the back door angel. Even the "good" indulge in the bad sometimes. Notice that there is only one front door angel but twelve back door angels. There is more bad than good, says Ian.
    * Ian MacFarland

  • It seems to me that the song Back-Door Angels is a harsh and rather direct criticism of organized religion and the rigid concept of "God" as many people view it.
     
    The terms "back door" and "front-door" as used in the song refer to status or respectability. Even here in America our houses have front doors on the front, and "service entrances" on the side or back. I'm sure British society is traditionally much more class-conscious; high-class guests would always be welcomed into the house through the front door, while servants would never use it except as part of their required duties.
     
    At the beginning of the song, we have 12 back-door angels going in and out the front door. These angels represent the supposed will or force of God, and Ian is saying that they are treated with a great level of respect -- which they really do not deserve. Whether these angels are seen as actual angels doing God's bidding, or earthly nuns as depicted on the album cover, or just the overall standardized concept of God, Ian proclaims them as "back-door" while the rest of society treats them as "front-door" and credits them with having magical powers that affect our daily lives in infinite ways. The large number of these angels probably represents either the omnipotence of God, or else varying views of God, as seen through different religions. The actual number 12 seems to suit the latter purpose very well, in Ian's mind.
     
    But Ian observes that these supposedly wonderful angels cruelly "drop one penny in every second bowl." For example, when a person is alive and healthy at age 100, conventional religion sees this as a sign of God's goodness. Yet, when someone's innocent spouse or child drops dead or is killed in some random accident far before their time, it is said that such things are "part of God's plan" -- something good that just appears bad.
     
    As the proponents of such religion try to have it both ways, Ian becomes disgusted, says that they are effectively believing in "nothing," and suggests that he personally could cook up just as good of a god, in the form of a "Grand Court Jester." It is Ian's conclusion that random chance -- the throwing of dice -- would yield results indistinguishable from the "wisdom," "planning," and "compassion" of God.
     
    The song wraps up with a front door angel going in and out through the back door. I believe this Cinderella-like figure represents the potential for a single ordinary person to make the world genuinely better through human kindness and compassion.

    * John W. Loosemore


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Only Solitaire

Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of The New Day

  • The final theme voiced on Warchild is the historical dislocation of society. This requiem for the loss of historical perspective is the ever-popular 'Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day'. The opening line, "Meanwhile back in the year one, when you belonged to no-one" alludes to a lack of personal autonomy: you didn't used to belong to someone, but now you do. This is reiterated. "You were bred for humanity", and could expect the rights of humanity, until you are, "sold to society", at which time you no longer belong to yourself. You are, "a million generations removed from expectations of being who you really want to be". You have no control over who you are or what you do, because you have no past, no tradition to hold on to. You are "spinning in your emptiness" and feel the need to pray. He speaks of a need to ground ourselves in some greater scheme, "Looking for a sign the the Universal Mind has written you into the Passion Play". Living each new day in the present tense, lacking the orientation of history is like skating out and away on thin ice: "The story is too damn real and in the present tense".
    * Judson C. Caswell

  • Another British reference is in the line: "And as you cross the circle line...". The Circle Line is part of the London Underground network.
    * Neil R. Thomason

    There are numerous references in the song to the historical Jesus and I have always felt that it described the tension between that historical person, Yehoshua, and the social construct of the deified Jesus. The
    "year One" (especially if capitalised) is the actual year one of the Christian era; the reference to the protagonist as "son" (especially as it is spoken in the studio version with a significant pause) is his title as the Son of God; there is a direct reference to Jesus' trial in the wilderness when his faith was challenged, and to his life as portrayed in the Mediaeval Passion Plays.

    Anderson seems to identify with the disorientation of the historical Jesus looking at his life after it has been requisitioned to carry the weight of the hopes and fears of generations of a whole culture. Further, Anderson seems to be observing that Jesus (and the rest of us?) must just get on
    with the real business of religion - personal enlightenment (the Buddhists often use the image of a journey to the farther shore to portray the quest for self-realisation). Hence the images of the ephemeral nature of life (
    "rabbit on the run", "thin ice of the New Day") this transience being an important part of the higher wisdom. And is this New Day the eternal present of mystical insight? Over all is cast the feelings of doubt and
    ambiguity (
    "do you ever get the feeling...you're the only person sitting in the audience?"). The Sage's path must surely be one of ultimate isolation and detachment at one level as The Watcher, while the more human part is overwhelmed at times by the reality of The Story.

    As with all of Anderson's work it is, I feel, best understood in the context of the entire corpus. The awareness of the rest of his work leaves me in no doubt as to his mystical proclivities and quite substantial insights in this regard. It really is a great piece of art. He has been touched by the Muse, to be sure.
    * Mark Enright

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The Third Hoorah

Two Fingers

  • 'Two Fingers' is an adaptation of the powerfull and imaginative 'Lick Your Fingers Clean', that originally was recorded during the Aqualung-sessions (1971), but Ian decided that 'Wind Up' was a more appropriate finale for that album. The adaptation consists of a different musical phrasing and choice of instruments and a variation of time schemes. The lyrics were changed to fit in with the WarChild context:
    "Take your mind off your election and try to get it straight.
    And don't pretend perfection: you'll be crucified too late."
    was skipped, while the verselines:
    "the hard-headed social worker who bathes his hands in blood,
    will welcome you with arms held high and cover you with mud"
    were replaced by:
    "the hard-headed miracle worker who bathes his hand in blood,
    will welcome you to the final nod and cover you with mud".
    Eventually 'Lick Your Fingers Clean' made it to the '20 Years Of Jethro Tull' album (1988), classed among the 'Flawed Gems And The Other Side Of Tull'.
    * Jan Voorbij

  • This song is fairly obviously and with tongue in cheek about death and Judgement Day, "the Weighing-In", but it is also (surprise!) a criticism of the church. The beginning of the song is about when everybody comes together at wherever and prepares to be judged. Then there is the "miracle worker", Jesus, representing the church as a whole in a rather sarcastic way. Jesus passes the hat, and says, "better pay up." The 'parable' about the man fallling on the train tracks is a subtle way of saying "if you don't want to die a horrible death and go to hell, better give to the church". The phrase "you'd better lick two fingers clean" is a very, very subtle message: stay with me here. If you want to clean your first two fingers by licking them, you lick them and then wipe off whatever grime with your thumb. Now, rubbing your first two fingers with your thumb is a sign that means "pay up" (I don't know if it's universal, but we have it here in America and England). So the very last line "lick two fingers clean before you shake his hand" means if you want to meet God, pay up. Obviously this is a jab at the church business: god doesn't need money, he just wants good people.
    * Ian MacFarland

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In the sense of Lloyd's quote, Ian has truly established himself as a minstrel. His disdain for the popular icons and his irreverent and coarse stage presence, as well as the acoustic music that he tends to favor, all qualify him for that image. His acceptance of that role gives him a grounding in English history. And with the realization of a sympathetic grounding in English history, it was only a short time before the music began to follow ever closer to the themes, images, and styles of English folk song as we will see on 'Songs From The Wood'.

* 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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Last modification:January 2, 2003

Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)