Jethro Tull donates to co-existence

Ian Anderson speaks before performing in Israel.

Jethro Tull 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jethro Tull 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ask Ian Anderson a seemingly innocent “what’s new?” or “have you acquired any favorite sites or restaurants on your many trips to Israel?” and you’re likely to get a 10- minute multi-faceted treatise on global warming, the finite resources of the Earth and the noisy, disgusting habits of infants.
Just shy of his 63rd birthday, the gregarious front man of veteran British rockers Jethro Tull showed no signs of slowing down or mellowing as he prepared to leave home in England on Wednesday for two weekend Tull shows in Caesarea and Binyamina, and one more on Monday night in Jerusalem. In a phone conversation with The Jerusalem Post, he especially minced no words about efforts to convince him to join the loosely-knit artistic boycott of Israel – efforts which prompted him to write a note on the band’s official Web site defending his decision to perform here.
“I didn’t feel the need to make any statement until I started receiving some very hateful communication from people representing different sides of this ongoing issue – from supposed human rights supporters to individuals, bodies and groups… there was some pretty nasty stuff,” said Anderson.
“Basically what I wrote was, ‘don’t f***ing tell me what to do.’ And I have to say that since I posted the letter on my site, over the last two or three weeks, nobody has uttered a peep.”
What Anderson actually wrote was his commitment, ala Leonard Cohen’s initiative in 2009, to donate his proceeds from the three shows to “bodies representing the development of peaceful co-existence between Muslims, Jews and Christians, and the fostering of better Palestinian/Israeli relations.” The letter added that he didn’t “feel pressured by human rights groups, national interests or any individuals to perform or not to perform in Israel or anywhere else.
“I make up my own mind in light of available facts, with my own experience and a sense of personal ethics.”
After Tull’s last shows in the country in 2007, Anderson said that he made the decision that if he ever returned to perform, he would donate his proceeds.
He recounted other benefit shows the band has performed – to help financially-strapped home owners in Iceland after the 2007 collapse, a concert in Mumbai to purchase a new ambulance, and an upcoming Christmas show in England to pay for the restoration of the Canterbury Cathedral (“I’m not a practicing Christian, but I’m keen to support the Christian church in my country. It has beautiful buildings”).
“These things don’t make me feel particularly good or saintly, it was just one of those things you do, from time to time, like most people in my position,” he said. “We’re not talking about millions of dollars here, we’re talking about a few thousand – after all, it’s three little concerts in Israel.
ANDERSON DISCLOSED that he had identified three organizations to donate his proceeds to, whittled down from dozens with the help of the office of Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy of the Quartet.
“I’m not going to name them until it’s signed and sealed, but the names will be well known. I got quite a lot of help from Tony Blair’s office. I was running into difficulty getting some information and sent him an email, and within 24 hours they came back with some suggestions,” said Anderson.
“I’m well aware of the inherent dangers of a foreigner entering a country like Israel – well, there isn’t a country like Israel, it’s certainly unique – and doing this sort of thing. I know that when you walk in there, known as someone bouncing around a concert stage, and you start doing stuff like this, you’re going to be in a position of making a fool out of yourself, and being accused of being naïve and manipulated.
But I see it as an opportunity, for both Israel and its neighbors. For me, there’s no good guys or bad guys, there’s many shades.”
Anderson said that until the calls for a boycott became so vocal, he hadn’t planned on publicizing the target of his take of the revenue. On the other hand, he admitted that he felt a responsibility to the audience to inform them where the money is going.
“I feel the audience has a right to know if some of the money they’re spending is going to a certain cause, and reassuring them the money is going to where it’s supposed to be going. I can show them a picture of the ambulance that was purchased for Mumbai – it’s really there and shows that follow through. It’s an important ethical point,” said Anderson.
“I think people are reasonably trusting that I’m not going to fall in a trap of deception and take the money and give it to Hamas. You have to be careful about what you do and I’m trying to make sure it’s going to be responsibly dealt with. The charities are well established and have a track record. I doubt anyone, regardless of their religious or ethical persuasion, will have much of a problem with them.”
Anderson called the attempts to convince artists to boycott Israel “irritating and shallow,” and lamented the fact that other artists like Elvis Costello and the Pixies had cancelled their shows long after tickets had gone on sale.
“I know that some other artists have cancelled, sometimes after tickets were already sold. That’s not something I have the reputation for doing. It’s happened certainly less than 10 times in 40 years of performing and it’s always been health related,” he said.
“Whether I’m making the right or wrong decision, it wasn’t from a lack of effort and listening and learning - that makes me a reasonably, normal and sound person, and I would think most people would do the same level of thinking. Don’t we think it through when we go to a supermarket and look on labels, or any other of the hundreds of decisions we make every day? Sometimes we take the easy way out, and take someone else’s advice, or we do nothing because we’re afraid to live with the consequences.
“The Canterbury Cathedral, Iceland, and now Israel – it fits my pattern. Sometimes it’s actually a relief when money isn’t coming to you – I can really enjoy the show, I don’t have to worry about paying taxes on it. Sometimes it’s nice not to get paid,” he laughed.
Anderson isn’t expecting his band, featuring longtime guitarist Martin Barre, or the road crew to donate their income from the shows as well, saying that they rely on the money for their livelihood.
“Financially, I’m ok, so I don’t really need to do things for the money. It’s nice to choose to do things that I want to do, or give the money away. That’s a nice option. However, the band members do need the money, I think some of them are in overdraft. So, we’re still out there,” he laughed, adding that slowly he’s been cutting back on 40 years of hectic touring.
“I’m doing about 100 shows with Tull and solo, instead of the usual 120 or 130. I say that every year, but this time I’m determined and I’m giving firm instructions to my agent to cut back even more next year.”
ONE OF the reasons for Anderson wanting more downtime isn’t a lack of energy, it’s a desire to focus on other projects, including spending time with his two new grandchildren. “It certainly puts you in a certain frame of mind regarding the realities of generational differences, not only with me and my family but me and my audience. It also gives you some foreboding about the kind of world you would want your children to inherit. There’s a certain sobering that comes with the enormity of seeing another generation, a sense of responsibility,” he said, adding somewhat tongue in cheek, that he’s far from a doting grand dad.
“I’m really terrible with small children, they’re small, noisy, irritating, damp and soggy. Of course, I can make exceptions,” he said.
“It becomes kind of OK when you see the beginning of linguistic communication, reasoning and thought. Seeing that furrowed brow and the little wheels grinding as someone tries to process the beginning of logical reasoning, that’s a good moment, but it’s doesn’t usually happen until twoand- a-half or three. Until then it’s quite silly, but I’m quite good at being silly.”
One area where Anderson is dead serious though, is Jethro Tull and their live shows. For those fans who attended previous Tull concerts here last decade, in 2004 or 2007, Anderson promises some surprises, along with a slew of favorites from the band’s illustrious career.
“There’s 25-30 percent which is Jethro Tull material we play at every show, because people, whether they’ve heard it once or 25 times, will miss it if they don’t hear it. I do my homework though, checking out what we played last time.,” said Anderson.
“It takes an unreasonable amount of time, and you can hear the groans from the band in their dressing rooms when I say ‘perhaps we should do this tonight, we’ll need to learn this at the sound check.’ They want a simple life, checking their email, sitting in the sun, they’re not looking for new challenges,” he added with a chuckle.
“I can understand that, but we have to be in the bubble, and playing new songs is important. Of course, we wouldn’t want to bombard an audience with an entire evening of brand new, unrecorded songs.”
Keeping things fresh by performing new material isn’t the only way Anderson finds satisfaction still being on stage with his trademark flute pose and black bandana – he’s also trying to please the fussiest customer: himself.
“You have to take your responsibility seriously, but you also have to go out and have fun yourself. When I go onstage, I’m not thinking about anybody but me and staying focused and challenged. After that, I might think of the band and go, ‘how was that for you?’ And then ‘I wonder how the audience liked it?’” he said.
“I’ve always had this view of going on to please yourself and be brutally selfish about what you’re doing. I think that honesty is valued by most people, and they appreciate the sincerity that creative people bring to their art. You know when you get it right.”
As anyone who attended their shows here over the last decade can attest, Anderson and his merry troupe indeed get it right.