A well-tempered exercise in nostalgia
Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and Jefferson Starship revel in senior citizen rock ‘n’ roll.
Ian Anderson Photo: Courtesy
Aging rock stars are often fodder for derision and snarky jokes. During
the monologue of his popular US TV talk show last week, Jimmy Fallon
focused on Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant’s turning 64. “That explains his
new song, ‘Escalator to Heaven,’” he snickered.
At the same time,
Bruce Springsteen, only two years Plant’s junior, is proving all night
on his current world tour and marathon shows that age is a factor only
if you let it be one.
The notion that rock ‘n’ roll is a young
person’s game has gradually been replaced by the view adopted by other
musical forms. The great blues and folk masters – from the late Muddy
Waters and John Lee Hooker to the still picking BB King and Pete Seeger –
continued to create music well past their conventional retirement age
and were lauded for it. It’s a double standard noted by Keith Richards,
who was quoted as saying that his fellow sexagenarians in The Rolling
Stones were part of an experiment to see if a rock band could continue
playing into their old age like the blues masters that came before them.
audiences will get to see two such experiments in action next week when
Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and the Jefferson Starship, featuring
original members Paul Kantner and David Freiberg, arrive for
performances (Anderson on September 6 at the Train Station in Jerusalem;
September 7 at the Congress Center in Haifa; and September 8 at the
Ra’anana Amphitheater. The Starship for one show on September 4 at
Reading 3 in Tel Aviv.) While both acts have continued to perform and
record since their 1960s and 1970s heydays, it’s a little easier to call
the Starship’s show an exercise in nostalgia. Formed out of the
splintered remnants of The Jefferson Airplane, one of the foundations of
the San Francisco sound in the late 1960s, the Starship were the baby
of Kantner and Grace Slick, his singing and life partner from the
Joined by Freiberg, who had just left his seminal 1960s
band Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Starship was originally based
in the utopian hippie vision of a peaceful revolution as exemplified by
the Slick/Kantner album Blows against the Empire.
But as the
1970s progressed, the songs and topics became more commercial and the
band, with Airplane member Marty Balin temporarily back in the fold,
became one of the mid-1970s most successful bands.
would have liked to have started a new society, if we had known how to
do it, but we were all too busy playing in bands,” said the 74-year-old
Freiberg in a phone interview from his home in Marin County, California.
“We would all record in the same San Francisco studio, which had three
separate rooms, so there’d be us in one, [David] Crosby and [Graham
Nash] in another, and the [Grateful] Dead in the third. We would all get
together and jam and toyed with the idea of putting out an album called
“The Planet Earth Rock ‘n’ Roll Orchestra.” Nothing ever came of it
because we never finished any of the songs… or even really started
them,” he laughed.
By the 1980s, the original members of the
Starship bailed out one by one, leaving Slick and a cast of polished
studio musicians to tarnish their good name with a series of Top 40 hits
like “We Built This City.” That’s why when Kantner and Freiberg brought
the Starship out of mothballs a few years ago, they focused only on the
band’s early years, as well as the heralded oeuvre of the Airplane.
vocalist Kathy Anderson replacing the retired Slick with powerful
female vocals, the band conjures up the Summer of Love era and the
subsequent after tremors with grace and surprising vigor.
same adjectives could describe the 65-year-old Anderson, who has played
numerous times in recent years in Israel, leading his British classic
rock band Jethro Tull.
Still perched on one leg, blowing into his
flute and leaping across the stage, Anderson hasn’t lost many steps as a
consummate showman and entertainer. His shows next week are not Tull
performances per se but Anderson leading his band through the entire
1972 concept album Thick As a Brick and its 2011 sequel. He explained in
a phone interview from his home in England that the billing was
designed to cut down on Tull fans expectation that they would be hearing
the band’s heavy rock hits like “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath.” One
concession to age is his desire to have the music be heard and
respected in the same manner that classical and jazz performances are.
you’re doing a show which is more of a theatrical musical event, you
want people to enjoy it. And it ruins it terribly for the audience if
some drunken idiot thinks that’s the moment to shout out ‘Aqualung,’”
said Anderson. “It’s bad mannered, and anybody who thinks that what I do
is rock music and therefore I should accept that this is the way people
want to express themselves can **** off. Because it is bad mannered;
it’s not what I’m there for, and it’s not the time and place to be
As rock ‘n’ roll enters its senior citizenship,
there’s evidently some new decorum that needs to be followed on the way
up the “escalator to heaven.”