and the book of rules
January 12, 1987 10:59 AM

About a month ago, I joked that I'd like to be on that MTV show where the raving fan is surprised when his or her favorite rockstar comes and redecorates a room. But the only musician I could honestly claim had changed my life was Ian Anderson.

I don't think the MTV screeners would appreciate that I wouldn't be an atheist if it weren't for Aqualung and its liner notes. Surely, though, setting someone on a path of spiritual analysis at a tender age must count for as much as selling someone on dance as a profession?

I've had a long and fruitful relationship with Jethro Tull. I'd like to sit down here and tell you about it. If you don't mind?

when I was young and they packed me off to school
and taught me how not to play the game,
I didn't mind if they groomed me for success,
or if they said that I was just a fool.
So I left there in the morning
with their God tucked underneath my arm --
their half-assed smiles and the book of rules.

When I was a tot of twelve or so, my father took me under his musical wing. I suppose I'd always been under that wing, but it wasn't until I was just about done being a child that I noticed him carefully showing me things I must hear.

Dad played me more British rock ca. 1974 than I can really recall today. But suffice to say, it was the foundation of my musical taste. His enthusiasm for his music of choice was contagious. More than
contagious, it was genetic. I had an inherent liking for what he liked. I loved Zeppelin.

The most notable of all his collection was Jethro Tull, which seamlessly blended all the other influences he represented: Clapton, Zeppelin, Croce, Van Halen - with my own fondness. And there was flute! Rising and shuffling over the drums and base like a girl in a man's world.

It's important to note here that, being a nerdy child, I'd surrounded myself with nineteenth- and early twentieth-century children's literature. It was a pleasing counterpoint to the maternal non-fiction and paternal horror and science fiction in the house. I may have been as honorably British as Gwyneth Paltrow. So I was well familiar with the Anglican Church and quite comfy with britishisms by age twelve [I was also terribly snooty about things French, but that's rather another story.]. That might have been part of the appeal.

And there were the liner notes to Aqualung. An album that rocked, with or without concept. With the whole "and man created God", though, it became something else. It became the thinking person's hard rock. It was the natural follow-on to our late night conversations about time travel and the devout seriousness of our approach to science fiction.

So I asked this God a question
and by way of firm reply,
He said -- I'm not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.
So to my old headmaster (and to anyone who cares):
before I'm through I'd like to say my prayers --
I don't believe you:
you had the whole damn thing all wrong --
he's not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.

Like all kids in their early teens, I distanced myself from my roots (musically and otherwise). I went to school and learned to love musical theatre, Edie Brickell, Crowded House: chick music. I liked what my friends liked. Even better - I liked what the boys liked.

I think every woman would like to forget that aspect of her girlhood - the part where she ditched everything good about her father for everything silly about fourteen year old boys.

But I was redeemed. Somewhat. I developed a crush on a boy who liked Jethro Tull and wore hokey British-looking hats. And so, while I was falling in love with the Dead Kennedys and the Violent Femmes and Peter Murphy and wishing I were as cool as the proto-goths, I was also rediscovering the whole folk range of Tull that my dad hadn't emphasized. I was delighting in the Hare and his spectacles.

When I was fifteen, my mother was finishing her graduate degree and would take me to class sometimes. I sat in an open, echoing hall teaching myself to whistle. Partly because I could and partly (I'm embarrassed to admit) because I thought maybe then the boy would notice me, or at least let me listen to records with him. Oh, please - but that's how it happened. And in my defense, he did let me listen to his records.

And I did learn to whistle. I used Warchild to energize myself for a circus class (which I dreaded with a sort of deep-tissue fear) and so learned to walk a tightrope, juggle, even stand for a few seconds on stilts (which invoked in me the most primal terror I'd experienced).

I even brought new aspects of Tull back to my father. It wasn't half bad.

I have since never let it go. Never let any part of my family's shared music go.

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