Thursday, April 9, 2015

Les Paul and Mary Ford

Les Paul invented the electric guitar. It was a novelty of the day. Seeing his style of playing is just entrancing. The huge cords coming out of their guitars are so out of place in their period of time.

I was looking at a number of clips of Les Paul and Mary Ford. They are an amazing team of performers. Think of  how important it was to have ambassadors of good faith bringing in the electric generation. When Bob Dylan went electric the result was far different in the acceptance because he was not kidding around.

In this clip, [if it still remains, because some clips I have shared that were not mine have been snapped off of Youtube from copyright issues] an interesting thing happens. In a dueling guitar type of performance Les Paul breaks a string. He cuts off Mary's response because she too would break a string. A lot of this is a just a rehearsed performance with Mary laughing in just the right spots when she has obviously seen all of this before, but the broken string was at least exceptional to the sketch. Then watch as Les Paul wraps the string around the top of his guitar and goes on with the next song.

He impresses as knowing every inch of his guitar in all performances but I think playing perfectly with a broken string might be a bit of an accomplishment.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cross-eyed Mary by Jethro Tull / my very personal interpretation

This is the second song on the Aqualung album and sets the idea that this might be an album where all the characters are interrelated. They might or might not be but certainly the reference to the character Aqualung kind of puts these two and probably all on the same plane of existence. I prefer to believe it a time period. Here is what SongFacts had to say about the song:

  • This was written by Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson, who has described the character Mary a "schoolgirl prostitute type." She lives a wretched existence offering her services to the dregs of humanity. Anderson says that the important issue in this song and the album as a whole is seeing the spirituality in all people, even a prostitute. Said Anderson, "There are these human types that would be thought to be undesirable and unpleasant, but are all God's creations one way or another, and there must be within these people some very essential humanity, even some goodness, some good side to their character or personality which was laudable."
  • The "Mary" in this song is a good person reacting to bad circumstances. Anderson has pointed out that she is kind of a Robin Hood prostitute: she takes as much money as she can from her clients who can afford it, but would give away her services to those who can't.
  • The character "Aqualung" has a cameo in this song, presumably as one of Mary's customers. (thanks, Mark - Ottawa, Canada)
  • The "jack knife barber" is a man who performs abortions.

As in the title song Aqualung, Anderson presents an unsavory character for our consideration. He does this with driving rock ballads as if he is singing about characters to be admired. Certainly applying the analogy of "Robin Hood" to Cross-eyed Mary makes this a song about an outcast or criminal to society who is to be seen as a hero.

The first lines of the song seem to refer to a man. It could be hinting at something about Mary's gender, but I think only subtly. To me it is sort of the teller of the story or a barker asking questions of his audience almost as upon a stage introducing the next freak on stage.

Who would be a poor man, a beggarman, a thief - if he had a rich man in his hand?
And who would steal the candy from a laughing baby's mouth if he could take it from the money man?
This is one of the things that sets the album, Aqualung, back in time, I believe, into a Dickensian world. Even at the time of its writing women's issues were in the public's eye. One would not expect an audience to be surprised that the hero or attraction is a woman as it appears here. If Anderson had just wanted to be grammatically or politically correct, it would be very simple to change "he" to "she."

Mary definitely has a thing against rich folk (similar to my thing about rich folk so I usually sing these lines with heightened emotion when I sing along.)

Mary takes her lumps as long as she is doing something to take from the undeserving rich man. This hints of a confrontation with the wealthy in the past and it is likely a personal one, so Mary may be a fallen charge of an aristocrat.

The lyrical answer to the barker's question:

Cross-eyed Mary goes jumping in again.
She signs no contract but she always plays the game.
She dines in Hampstead village on expense accounted gruel, and the jack-knife barber drops her off at school.

Mary is in an illegitimate business. She doesn't have set contracts or prices no doubt but she is flexible and always "plays the game."

One can see easily that if Mary is a prostitute, her clients woo her with food charged to their employer's expense accounts. That would be a simple way of garnering elicit sex without having to explain to the misses where the money went. Then the reference to jack-knife barber might or might not be referring to abortion as the earlier Website made note of. Either way, her parents are out of the picture and an unsavory fellow takes care of her and is probably her pimp, making sure the laws are being followed with Mary attending school.

I would leave abortion out of the mix but it would certainly not be out of the character for Ian Anderson to write about these types of rude things. After all, the character Aqualung is a right old lecher around the school yard. And it doesn't matter. No matter how low down Mary is she is a hero in the way she views the world and one cannot blame her for her lack or understanding or pragmatism in surviving the lot of the poor and wretched. She knows why she is what she is: the even more morally deprived wealthy man has put her in her place.

She's a poor man's rich girl
and she'll do it for a song.
She's a rich man stealer
but her favour's good and strong:
She's the Robin Hood of Highgate --
helps the poor man get along.

To the poor man she is a rich girl with no need for payment...because she steals from the rich man. "Her favours's good and strong" can of course be one of the many phrases Ian Anderson uses throughout his work that appear as double entendres of a lowly kind, but I prefer to think this part is simply saying Mary is a generous sole to those she respects, who are certainly not the wealthy.

The "rich man stealer" phrase has a bit of a twist to it as well. Mary is grabbing their money and favors but also steals these rich men themselves from their well heeled wives. In that way she must be also a hero to the poor working folk who know the wealthy are not what they appear as the majority of their encounters with them in their area of town show them to be frauds. In fact, if we throw out the theme of Mary giving goods or herself to the poor man, the latter of which may not be intended at all, Mary's character alone makes her a hero of the poor as she raises their level up to that of the wealthy by showing that all classes of men are the same. Those who lord their wealth over the poor are no better men.

This combination of traits makes her the "Robin Hood of Highgate" in helping the poor with her dealings with the rich. This particular reference also appears to place Mary back in time, most likely in Victorian times, as [I do not pretend to know that much about the UK but] I believe Highgate is a rather posh place in current times but was the home of the notorious Dick Turpin in the olden days (a highwayman or romanticized thief of the day).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Up to Me

Jethro Tull's Aqualung was one of my first non-Beatles life changing albums. Through luck of the draw a vinyl recording of Aqualung was placed down in front of me in the correct way by my neighbor. I was a young boy, he a young married man. He told me of all the albums he was selling in his yard sale, this was the one I should buy.

I plunked down my 50 cents and purchased it. My experiences with the record were vast. I played that album throughout my life always knowing, thanks to my neighbor, that this was a "good" album. 

I'm not sure when the meaning of "Up to Me" solidified in my mind. I am really unconcerned about other interpretations of Jethro Tull music. This album grew up with me. It is as much my work as it is the work of Ian Anderson in a sense. (Even my neighbor should be credited in the liner notes.) I have created my meaning for the song and after all it is up to me. 

I checked on the Internet to find out what interpretations were out there. I was almost hoping no one had seen it my way. I like to feel that the world needs me, that is up to me. So I did not search very well. :) 

I found this interpretation:

I think that, keeping with the overall theme of the album, this song is about blaming your mistakes and problems on God. "me" in the song i think is god. After you got wasted in a bar, punched out your cousin, you would go to god for forgiveness. It could also be about a guy who always comes running to his friend for help. And eventually the friend just gets sick of it and laughs at the guy's mistakes. Pretty good song though.

It is easy to see that this interpretation has some thought in it. But I went ahead and posted this as a comment to my post, which cannot be edited sadly, but it was up to me:
I have listened to Aqualung for 40 years or more. I have my own beliefs as to it's meaning. The general theme of "Aqualung" is not God. Nothing is ever that simple really. The complete theme of "side two" is God. The label on the original vinyl had "Aqualung" as the name of Side One and "My God" as the name of Side Two. Ian Anderson always said that the album was not a concept album. Indeed as even if it is interpreted as a "concept album" it is actually two of them. Ian Anderson later wrote "Thick as a Brick" to parody the concept album. I think his ego was much stronger than wanting to be labeled along with others as a writer of "concept albums." "Up to Me" is on the "Aqualung" side, which is loosely a bunch of Dickensian characters. One cannot listen to this side of the album and believe it is self referential, or references God's voice, because it is a mishmash of unsavory characters. It is fictional. I believe there is only one thing you need to know about "Up to Me" to understand it. This is a mentally unstable person who believes the entire world and it's doings is up to him. It is kind of a take on the ideas that were around in self-help books that you could change the world by just believing. In this sense, there is a subtle reference to God (but remember, this side is about unsavory characters in society, or people that we see and ignore, people who have fallen through the cracks of civilization) in that the insane person sort of believes he is God. But this is an oblique reference and entirely unlike all the direct references to God on the side "My God." The subject of God cannot be ignored on the entire album because in juxtaposing the two sides Ian Anderson has demanded that you think of who God is and what His actions are if there are all these unsavory characters in the world who should be pitied and not thought of as villainous. When listening to "Up to Me" think of the depiction of the insane asylum that is part of the album art. Here are happy crazy people. The rest should easily fall into place as this song is about the ravings of a mad man.
Well, like life, there it is. Done. However, I did have second thoughts almost immediately:
 Oh, I do not mean to take away entirely the idea that this side of the album can be thought of as self referential. Inside of all of us can be parts of this fictional world. It truly can be life changing to believe that the interpretation of the world is up to you. Sadness can become joy, etc. I do not mean to take away the high level of genius Ian Anderson had to put this album together by my silly interpretation. But I am kind of sure I am right about this song as it is almost a carnival mirror image of the song "Inside" which had a lot of meaning to me in some sad times.

All of it is kind of hammer handed but well.... life cannot be undone here.... and it was up to me.

"Up To Me"

Take you to the cinema
and leave you in a Wimpy Bar --
you tell me that we've gone to far --
come running up to me.
Make the scene at Cousin Jack's --
leave him put the bottles back --
mends his glasses that I cracked --
well that one's up to me.
Buy a Silver Cloud to ride --
pack the tennis club inside --
trouser cuffs hung far too wide --
well it was up to me.
Tyres down on your bicycle --
your nose feels like an icicle --
the yellow fingered smoky girl
is looking up to me.
Well I'm a common working man
with a half of bitter -- bread and jam
and if it pleases me I'll put one on you man --
when the copper fades away.
The rainy season comes to pass --
the day-glo pirate sinks at last --
and if I laughed a bit to fast.
Well it was up to me.


All the places I've been make it hard to begin
to enjoy life again on the inside,
but I mean to.
Take a walk around the block
and be glad that I've got me some time
to be in from the outside,
and inside with you.

I'm sitting on the corner feeling glad.
Got no money coming in but I can't be sad.
That was the best cup of coffee I ever had.
And I won't worry about a thing
because we've got it made,
here on the inside, outside so far away.

And we'll laugh and we'll sing
get someone to bring our friends here
for tea in the evening --
Old Jeffrey makes three.
Take a walk in the park,
does the wind in the dark
sound like music to you?
Well I'm thinking it does to me.

Can you cook, can you sew --
well, I don't want to know.
That is not what you need on the inside,
to make the time go.

Counting lambs, counting sheep
we will fall into sleep
and we awake to a new day of living
and loving you so.

Aqualung - original vinyl album innerfold
Original vinyl labels: note on the left side that Side One and Side Two are clearly labeled as distinct

Saturday, January 10, 2015