The Taste of Beer

There’s an ad on Australian telly at the moment where people in a pub all admit that they don’t really like the taste of beer.

“I only drink it because my mate drinks it,’ says one.

“I only drink it because my old man drank it,” say a couple more.

The implication is that no-one really likes the taste of beer and there’s some sort of terrible blue collar conspiracy to keep people drinking that terrible muck they secretly hate.

Well, I have news for the advertisers…

I love the taste of beer. I couldn’t give a rat’s whether Big Terry drinks it and yes, my old man drank it too.

But, to be fair…there was a time when I didn’t really care for the taste of beer. That’s when I was fifteen and first drinking it surreptitiously. Someone might have pinched a couple of bottles or cans and a few of us would congregate in the back lane with some stolen cigarettes… (Actually that’s wrong. It was the 1970s and five year olds could purchase cigarettes in those days.) …and tentatively sip at a warm ale.

It tasted like shit, but what sort of pathetic wanker stops guzzling our national drink because of that? I was not to be deterred. I continued to force it down no matter how acrid, insipid or rank, and then – around the age of nineteen – there was a magical transformation.

I remember turning to a mate of mine one evening at my local on the Upper North Shore (back when it was a real pub, before they turned into a soulless drinking barn) and saying: “You know what? I actually like the taste of beer.”

He looked at me like the idiot I was, with furrowed brow, and said: “You didn’t before?”

“Not really. I’ve always drunk it to get pissed…not because I like it.”

My mate just shrugged. He was used to me coming out with rubbish like that, but it was also a profound personal insight for me. I had never quite realised that I was a lotus-eating hedonist addicted to altered states and drank beer to achieve those states despite the appalling taste.

An appalling taste that I suddenly enjoyed.

Because beer is a journey. You’re supposed to hate it when you are young and unsullied. It is a complex tipple which requires a certain jadedness both of outlook and taste buds before it can be properly appreciated.

I have now achieved that jadedness and can discern the multifarious nuances…the deeply profound plurality of beer in its many guises. The bitter crispness of an IPA, the sweet, bubbles of a lager, the sour style of a real ale or the plutonic silk of a dark-heart stout.

Those who have not traversed this journey are not fit to call themselves men (or women). There ought to be some form of white feather we can hand out to those who don’t drink beer because genuinely liking the taste of beer means you’ve overcome a massive obstacle – like fulfilling a sacred quest, or stepping up out of a trench to charge a machine gun nest. Those who don’t make the grade – who do not drink beer – are lesser than the rest of us and do not deserve to be counted among the true heroes of our epoch.

And yet, there are advertisers out there who do not get what it really means to become an Australian man. They peddle alcoholic soft drinks as a means to a consciousness altering end, but what they fail to understand is that overcoming the taste of beer is the real achievement.

Because, in the end, it’s not how you get there…

It’s the journey that matters.

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Life Theatre: Breaking the Sixth Wall

When we go to the theatre, both cast and audience know it’s theatre and know their separate roles. Occasionally, however, an actor will acknowledge the audience – which is called breaking the fourth wall; ie, smashing the glass in front of the stage through which the voyeuristic audience is gazing into the actors’ private world. There are many varieties of such interaction, ranging from the full-on participation of pantomime to a simple glance at the camera in film or TV.

Dramaturges of the C21 will now also refer to a fifth wall – ie, the wall between critics writing about a performance or even the wall between audience members able to (potentially) communicate with each other in real time regarding their thespian experience.

But I would suggest that there is yet another wall – a sixth wall which is the wall between ourselves and other individuals in the real world. For, as Shakespeare suggested, is not the world a stage and all of us merely players who come and go as our parts require? Do we not (sometimes) seem to watch ourselves from another vantage – playing out our lives as both actors and observers?

I have always been very conscious of what I call “life theatre”. I frequently find myself in little vignettes ripe with context or rippling with repartee. There are billions of examples I could use but here’s just one (which happened over 20 years ago):

A friend of mine was having an affair.

I was the only person in whom she’d confided (which was both an honour and a burden). The homme fatale was known to my friend’s husband and was an occasional visitor (with his wife) to my friend’s house.

Soon after the affair commenced my friend threw a large party and the homme fatale was in attendance. My friend advised her paramour that she had told me of their dalliance (because she just had to tell someone) so when I arrived that night I was collared at the door and led into the bedroom…where I was introduced to the homme.

We nodded, guardedly, both of us probably wondering why our mutual friend had wanted us to acknowledge the reality of their illicit liaison.

Later in the night (which was one of those amazing balmy nights that only a Sydney summer can produce) I found myself sitting at a table outside with seven or eight people including the friend’s husband and the homme fatale. As a drama merchant from way back, I couldn’t help myself… I drew the conversation around to infidelity in marriage and very quickly the homme and I were throwing barbs at each other – reflecting on one level the ordinary moral debate on staying true to the past versus how you might feel right now – but on another level the drama playing out between he and I, vying for (very) different aspects of our friend’s affection.

At the time, I couldn’t help but think: this ought to be a movie! This ought to be recorded for all time because it was just spectacular drama – both of us rising to the occasion and throwing thunderbolts at each other as our unwitting audience cheered our every word.

Just imagine how it would have gone down if I’d broken the sixth wall and said to those listening: “He’s only saying that because he’s trying to subtly justify the fact that he’s fucking our hostess!”

A different kind of drama would swiftly have ensued, but of course…I kept my mouth shut.

Thing is though, I am an author. Back then, I was unpublished so not to be taken seriously. But now I have several books on the shelves and have been read by tens of thousands. People ought to know that when they interact with me, they might be giving me ideas for scenes and characters.

Which leads to an important ethical question… What are the rules for authors living in the real world and brushing up against characters with foibles we might want to use?

Am I obliged to issue warnings – especially to dickheads with alarming opinions – that I am an author and they are giving me A-grade material?

In all seriousness, I wonder whether authors should be issued with special badges that we can wear behind our lapels and flash at appropriate moments in social situations. Our various interlocutors might then cease their rabid support of far right (or far left) causes; refrain from trying to sell me something; or desist in their evil attempt to apply neuro-linguistic programming techniques to change my mind or get into my pants.

It would also be a really good circuit breaker to smash down the sixth wall between all who are merely players in the seven acts of their lives.

As for my friend in the story above? Did she leave her husband and run off with the homme fatale? I could take the moral high ground and say: none of your business…

Or I could be an author and say: watch out for my next novel!

What About Shannon?

I dislike celebrities.

More precisely, I dislike the cult of celebrity with its arrogant entitlement on one side and its fawning sublimation on the other. I would even go so far as to say that the cult of celebrity is fundamentally responsible for most of the modern world’s ills. We are all constantly bombarded with messages about how wonderful it is to be rich, famous and young – and if you aren’t at least two of these things then there must be something wrong with you.

But if you can’t be famous, be infamous! Hitler was a rejected painter; Jihadi John, the ISIS headlopper, was a failed London DJ; and any number of American mass murderers had various frustrated artistic pursuits on their CVs before shooting into the history books. If you can’t make the world love you, then force it to hate you! It’s all good in the bizarro world of fame.

Which brings me to Shannon Noll’s latest outburst.

Apparently, he’s very upset that Simon Cowell brokered a deal to have some other reality TV “star” record a song that Noll had previously recorded himself. What About Me? – a song originally written and performed by Moving Pictures back in 1981 – was covered by Noll in 2004 and then covered again by Shayne Ward a couple of years later.

As Noll concedes himself, he didn’t write the song, so the evil Simon Cowell went back to the original creators and sneakily dealt with them instead to enable a new recording of the song.

Which was precisely the correct thing to do, both legally and ethically. On what weird copyright planet would Simon Cowell have been obliged to come to Shannon Noll to purchase rights he didn’t own?

‘I didn’t write the song,’ said Noll, ‘so he cut me out of the deal!’

If you didn’t write the song Shannon…how on earth could he ever have cut you into the deal?

But those who’ve sucked too long at the teat of celebrity don’t bother themselves with questions like that. Noll’s epic sense of entitlement trumps trivial matters such as copyright law and goes straight to grieving over what he’s missed out on. Simon Cowell is therefore (according to Noll) a “fucking idiot” and just one of those “rich pricks getting fatter”.

Clearly Noll has taken the song’s lyrics to heart:

I guess I’m lucky, I smile a lot, but sometimes I wish for more than I’ve got…

What about me indeed?

The Mind’s Eye: Getting Inside The Story

So, The Fighting Man has been out for a few weeks.

It’s already had a number of reviews and ratings on Goodreads but the thing that pleases me most is the number of people who’ve said: “I really felt like I was there…in the story.”

That’s the best feedback of all because it is exactly what I hope to do every time – transport the reader inside the story.

But how do you do that? What is it about mere words on a page that can convey images and spark the senses – make the reader feel like they are actually there with the characters and see the action as it unfolds?

Obviously, I can’t answer that question definitively – not least as everyone is different and multiple readers will respond differently to the same words/style etc. But those for whom it can work…what are the triggers? What are the stylistic tricks that open the story portal and make the reading experience more like a real experience happening inside the reader’s head?

I’ve never really thought about this before so what follows is a series of guesses. As usual, I’m making it up as I go…

First off, the reader mustn’t be conscious that they are reading. The writing needs to cast something like a spell over the reader so they live the story as the pages turn. It takes a lot of careful work to set the spell and it’s easily broken. Awkward prose; anachronistic words or concepts; characters out of character – any of these can jolt the reader out of the story flow – make them conscious they are reading.

A story spell starts with the set up – an opening which engages the reader immediately and sucks them into the world you have created. The Fighting Man introduces the reader directly to the main character’s (Brand’s) world and the main philosophical force that underpins it. The idea of being tested by God was a powerful compulsion in the C11 and is crucial to my story.

Of course, you can’t labour a point like that with explanations or the story will get bogged down and boring. The readers need to know about it (and occasionally be reminded of it) but they need to know it via something they can feel rather than something they have to think about.

The other way I quickly introduce readers to Brand’s world is by engaging their senses – especially smell. One of the biggest differences between the medieval world and the modern world is how it smelled. Modern first world readers would be assailed by the stench of Brand’s world – open sewers, tanneries, wood smoke, rotting meat and fish, animal dung everywhere – and yet the people of the time would have noticed it no more than modern people notice the smell of traffic or hospitals. Brand, however, hates the smell of shit – one of the first things we learn about him – and instantly the modern reader identifies with Brand and his shitty world. We can smell it also and share his disgust.

The other key part of the set up is introducing the reader to the main character’s central problem. Brand has two – the need to avenge his family and the pursuit of Valla – and within two chapters the reader is already anticipating the journey ahead. All the writer has to do after that is to (at least) fulfil the reader’s anticipation and if possible exceed it. By exceeding it I mean gradually broadening the scope of the story so it becomes much bigger than the reader’s original expectation. If you can carry that off you will surprise and delight and that is what readers most enjoy.

After the set up, the story has to flow. My stories typically follow the journeys of multiple characters – which is a gamble. Extra story arcs can enrich the reading experience, but they can also overcomplicate and confuse. The secret is to keep the additional journeys as simple as possible so the reader isn’t distracted by too much information or too many agendas.

The main character’s journey need not be simple but it should be easy (enough) to follow. And all the other characters’ journeys must add to the climax in some way. The pace of the story has to really speed up as the plotlines converge and push each other towards the finish.

The plot is a major part of the flow that sweeps the reader along. The Fighting Man is built around the events leading up to Hastings in 1066, but the plot is essentially generated by the fictional characters interacting with the historical characters. Brand, Valla and Malgard are the key fictional characters and it is their motives that drive the main plot. What this means is that while the readers know how the story will end on one level (the Normans win), on a different level they have no idea which makes the book gripping for the reader as the plot winds towards its heroic/tragic/bittersweet conclusion.

The subplots are mainly for the historical characters and the way I interpret their actions a thousand years later. I find Harold and Tostig Godwinson fascinating. Aelfgar also, and Edward the Confessor is an intriguing fellow. The Conqueror, of course, must have been one of history’s greatest gamblers and the Bayeux Tapestry is full of holes and riddles. I had a lot of fun interpreting the Tapestry (including the upper and lower borders with their many mysterious figures and symbols). Much of it trickles into the story and gives it some of the (hopefully) authentic medieval flavour.

In some ways, flavour is the hardest part.

Giving the reader an authentic feeling medieval experience is not easy. As noted above, I started with God and smell to link the reader with Brand and his world, but that won’t be enough. You have to use words and concepts throughout that would have been recognisable to the people of the time, while simultaneously entertaining a modern reader who wants insight into the past while inevitably processing that past through a sophisticated modern prism.

Some of this is easy – use of weapons for example – Brand has to use the weapons of the time, but what about other things? Like food, technology, transport, architecture, music, relationships, drinking culture, sense of humour? These, and any number of other matters, are major challenges. Get them right and they deepen the ambience and keep the reader under the spell. Get them wrong and the reader is irritated and bumped out of the flow. Some (like food) can be easily fixed with research but others are much more of a challenge – like sense of humour for example, how can we really know what the people of the C11 found funny? I always have some humour in my stories but sometimes the temptation to add a funny line must be resisted because it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing a C11 person would say.

Finally, and possibly the hardest ingredient to describe, is technique. There are the simpler things like ensuring the rhythm of your sentences is just right – excess syllables pared back and a little tasteful alliteration here and there – but the really hard thing is this: to put yourself in the story.

This is perhaps the core of successful story telling – actually immersing yourself in the story and describing the atmosphere, action and dialogue without conscious effort. When I am working well it’s almost like going into a trance where the words pour out of my fingers into the keyboard. I am so oblivious to what has happened that when I open the laptop for the next session I read back over my latest work and can’t remember any of it. For me, this is the best part of being a novelist – it’s as close as I can come to not being me and experiencing the story as a reader.

But how do I do it?

I can’t say exactly how it works because I don’t know. I’m guessing that the imagination is like a muscle and the more you exercise it the more powerful it becomes. Anyone my age with the same interests as me will have seen countless images and actions of medieval people. Add to that the vast amount of material I’ve read about the specific period and incidents and I can literally see – in my mind’s eye – Brand and Harold and Valla et al, and everything that happens to them.

It really is like watching a movie in my head, and if I can somehow get those visuals (and other senses) onto paper then I know I’ve done a good job.

In the end (of course) whether I’ve done a good job is up to the reader. But the reader will never feel themselves to be inside the story unless I’ve already been there myself.

 

The Fighting Man is available in all good bookstores or Booktopia. Ebook also available through all the usual sites.

A Sense of Joyous Evil

I have a new novel coming out in a few weeks.

The Fighting Man could be said to be a bit of a change of pace for me – being an historical novel – although those familiar with my work will recognise the dark humour, the plot twists, the immersive ambience and the general sense of joyous evil which (I hope) is my trademark.

I’ve long wanted to write an historical novel. Not least as I have a fascination with history – especially medieval history – and love trying to get inside the heads of humans from different epochs. Historical novels that seem to give an authentic glimpse into an alien past are, for me, deeply satisfying and I’ve long seen it as a challenge to accomplish that glimpse for others.

So how do you get into the heads of people from the past?

In my own lifetime I’ve witnessed clear evolution in the prevailing attitudes of ordinary individuals buffeted by the winds of change, from the 60s of my infancy to now. So how on earth could I possibly comprehend the manifold phases of zeitgeist stretching from here back to 1066?

Well, obviously I can’t with any certainty, but there are some clues. The written records for a start, such as they are, always bearing in mind that history is written by the victors.

But there are other more subtle clues. I believe that human beings are essentially the same now as they were a thousand years ago. Certainly that is true physically, but beyond that we love, we laugh, we politic, put food on the table and try to get ahead. We may do these things very differently now, but fundamentally, the yeoman farmer driving a pig to market and supping an ale with friends was no different from the stock market analyst shouting his mates after getting a bonus for hitting his quarterly targets.

It goes deeper than that. For example, the contraceptive pill (introduced to Australia in 1962) to my mind was the biggest change in male/female relations since the dawn of time. And it’s my generation (Baby Boomers et seq) who’ve had to deal with the change.

How could young women growing up in the C21 genuinely understand, in a real visceral sense, what it was like growing up in that pre-pill milieu – the pressures on girls to be chaste and the shame of being proven otherwise?

That shame, of course, devolved from the pre-agrarian revolution times when the land could only support a finite few. In those days – pre-C14 England – marriage was literally a licence to produce children – new mouths to feed from the small parish pool. Those who bred out of wedlock, and their bastard progeny, were utterly scorned and reviled – not for any particularly moral reason, it was a purely economic problem. But we carried that stigma across the subsequent centuries – through the Renaissance and Reformation – the Ages of Discovery and Enlightenment – the industrial revolution, mass urbanisation, the wars of imperial and political revolution and then the mobility of post-war populations and suddenly – in 1962 – men and women were finally equal as far as control of their bodies was concerned.

But that didn’t mean an overnight adjustment. In 1962 there were still centuries of socio-cultural baggage that had to be dealt with – like the importance of monogamous marriage – and it’s that same socio-cultural baggage that allows me to peer myopically across the millennium and make inferences about the folks that went before.

So what were they like – the denizens of the C11? (I’m limiting myself to Western Europe because that has been my study.)

The medieval mind rested on two broad pillars – the church and vestiges of pagan magic which had, especially in rural areas, managed to survive in secret despite the church’s efforts to wipe them out, and in fact the two different traditions blurred somewhat. Historians refer to the various patron saints as the paganisation of the church. They refer to ecclesiastical magic – prayer as incantation or the communion rite as symbolic of sacrifice and the imbuing of oneself with Christ’s characteristics by consuming his flesh and blood. This was powerful stuff to the medieval mind (and not so far from the Neolithic mind).

The C11 people didn’t see the world the way we do. They saw God and magic everywhere with the physical world in front of them just one plane among many which was visited all the time by powerful spirits from other planes and used like a chessboard by the Gods. Human beings were like pieces being moved around a board by any number of ethereal players and prayer was a way of trying to influence the players but if prayer didn’t work there were other remedies offered by witches and wise women – and to this day there is an innately superstitious reflex in all of us. I for one always put my left shoe on first – the consequences of putting my right shoe on first simply don’t bear thinking about.

So, God and magic are central to The Fighting Man. Of course, I don’t let those get in the way of telling a compelling story. There is no magic – it is history, not fantasy – but there is the flavour and ambience of magic as I try to give the modern reader that glimpse I referred to earlier.

The basic synopsis is as follows:

In the year 1060, young Brand Holgarsson’s family are wiped out in a Viking raid arranged by Brand’s treacherous uncle Malgard. Malgard is named thegn of the town of Stybbor in East Anglia while Brand is made outlaw and hunted through the woods by Malgard’s men, determined to extinguish the last possible claim to Malgard’s thegnship.

Aided by a strange young woman, Valla, who claims to be 242 years old, Brand escapes and is befriended by Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and the choice of the Saxon nobles to be king after the childless Edward (the Confessor). Brand nurses his dream of vengeance over Malgard while sharing Harold’s perils and waiting for Valla who will only return from The Place of Dreams if Brand has remained true to his promise to lie with no other woman.

All stories come together at the Battle of Hastings, where Harold’s great banner, The Fighting Man, flew above the field at Senlac Ridge in opposition to the papal cross carried by William the Bastard.

Beyond that, The Fighting Man is the kind of book I love to read myself, full of intrigue, sex and violence. Because that’s the way people are, and in my opinion, the way they’ve always been.

The Fighting Man will be in all good bookstores or Booktopia by early December 2017.

A Clean Slate for the Paedo Prelate

Just when you thought it was safe to back to the church…

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse came out with some 85 recommendations to try to prevent a recurrence of this hideous episode in church history.

One recommendation, which most would think was a no-brainer, was that the current dispensation against disclosing admissions given in the confessional be abolished. It is, after all, a serious anachronism in a secular society – the idea that communications between priests and penitents be privileged and not compellable in court. It’s an anachronism in any society – secular or not – because the law is supposed to protect the vulnerable and facilitate the punishment of the guilty, and belief in some bogey man in the clouds is no excuse to stand in the way of justice.

Predictably, the catholic church has announced that, notwithstanding the evil exposed (grudgingly) within their ranks, they will not be abiding by any law throwing into question the sanctity of the confessional. Such communications, says the archbishop of Melbourne, are a spiritual encounter with god and occur on a higher plane than the mean intercourse of the law and are therefore beyond the law’s reach.

High and noble sentiments, no doubt, but all I’m hearing is the catholic church’s ongoing reluctance to genuinely engage with their own evil. Every step of the way they have dissembled, distracted, delayed, obscured – in short, done anything to hinder the passage of justice and refused to prevent or even acknowledge their own unbelievably hideous crimes – which is kinda ironic considering the church’s message of (so called) love.

This is, in fact, a bluff.

They are daring the state governments to make laws making priests compellable, knowing such would split the community if they tried to stand on the moral high ground and refuse. The way I see it, protecting paedophiles by refusing to acknowledge their confessions is way short of the moral high ground. It makes priests, bishops and archbishops accessories to concealing a serious crime.

The archbishop of Melbourne said that it made no sense to report crimes admitted in the confessional because if that was done then people would not confess. He seemed to suggest that the shriving of consciences before god was more important than detection or prevention of serious crimes against children.

The really big thing they are refusing to acknowledge is this: priests, and other religious paedophiles, confess their crimes in the confessional because it gives them a clean slate and permits them to start all over again, secure in the knowledge they can rape and sleaze their way to heaven with continuing penitence – which won’t be reported to the police.

Is that what we really want in the C21? Is that how we want our society and culture to be defined? That filthy perverts who confess their crimes to the minions of a non-existent god should be protected so they can go on attacking children?

I think we’re better than that.

Too Old To Rock And Roll But…erm…

Really don’t mind if you sit this one out…

Jethro Tull are back on our shores…again.

I’m not going to see them this time which is a little bit sad. Back in the late 70s I would have been first in line, and I have managed to see them every time they toured since 1984.

But the lustre has long worn off and Ian Anderson, songwriting genius though he may have been, simply can’t sing any more. The laryngeal polyps that cut him down in the early 90s should have been the end but like Monty Python’s Black Knight he struggles on with less of a voice every time and I can’t bear to put myself through it again. It’s like Usain Bolt selling tickets to a foot race after losing his leg in a shark attack – some people might actually go, but only out of pity.

I note that Ticketek were desperately flogging off cut price tickets only two days before their only Sydney show and when I looked at what seats were available they’d barely sold half. It’s awfully sad but someone has tell Ian that it’s over.

In fact, I wanted it to be over in 1980.

Jethro Tull were one of the bands I loved the most growing up: Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Tull. All wrote brilliant songs but (for me) Anderson was head and shoulders the best lyricist. My friends and I, equipped with the very finest mind altering substances, would sit in the dark immersed in Tull’s luscious soundscapes and debate ad nauseum the meaning of the words.

It seemed to us that the albums from Aqualung through Thick as a Brick all the way to Stormwatch were one coherent body of work that told an epically profound tale. We were like a bunch of mediaeval scholars debating angels on a pinhead such was the meaning we discerned and the intensity with which we explored and contended the finer points. Whole new analytical frameworks were established to encompass our work and such was our chutzpah that if Anderson had deigned to show up we would have explained to him what he was saying far more succinctly than he could have done himself.

Two of my friends even went on the most bizarre adventure to get to Scotland and visit him on his estate on the Isle of Skye (no doubt to correct him on any misunderstandings of his own lyrics) but Ian was on tour in America at the time and the door was slammed in their faces…but that’s a story for another time.

And speaking of time, it should have been up in 1980 for Jethro Tull. After putting out the superb Stormwatch in 1979, they should have called it quits on the studio albums because the job was done. Anything else could only spoil the legacy.

But A came out in 1980 – it was OK, although the sudden departure of the main players like Barriemore Barlow, John Evan and David Palmer was disturbing.

Then Broadsword and the Beast landed in 1982 and you really began to sense that the once astonishing Anderson was losing sight of his muse.

After that it really started to go downhill. Under Wraps, Crest of a Knave and Rock Island (good grief!) were just embarrassing. Kissing Willie? Are you kidding? In a last attempt to stay relevant Anderson had turned into a sad parody of himself.

I found myself desperately wanting them to at least give up on the terrible new material. Continue touring by all means but like an embarrassing uncle trying to be cool with the teenagers, Anderson kept trotting out pap so bad I didn’t even consider buying it – which would have been unthinkable only a few years before.

Clearly the Strange Gods of Music agreed because they struck him down in 1993 with a laryngeal condition that made singing impossible. ‘Thank God for that,’ I thought, ‘he has to stop embarrassing himself now.’ But no. Undeterred by his inability to hit any kind of note, Anderson kept touring and putting out the occasional crap album, culminating in the diabolically bad TAAB2 – a sequel to his 1972 masterpiece – Thick as a Brick.

Sacrilege!

I had no choice but to buy that one but I only played it once. The ongoing adventures of Gerald Bostock were too depressing for words and it even started to make me wonder about the earlier work. Can a man capable of writing such artless drivel truly be the same person who created classics like Aqualung, Warchild, Songs From the Wood, and Heavy Horses?

It was bewildering. What drove him to go on putting out such rubbish and spoiling the memory of his former genius? Did he have any kind of insight into how he’d soured his own legend?

The answer can only lie in the fact that a rock star’s life is fun and he didn’t want to give it up. Unlike David Bowie, he wasn’t able to reinvent himself but that might have been the answer – giving up on Tull after Stormwatch and then doing something different – like farming salmon or herding cats.

Alas.

So now it’s 2017 and Jethro Tull (if that’s who they really are) are playing one night in a half filled State Theatre where just a few years ago they would have sold out five nights easily.

The fans are trying to tell you something Ian and, for my own part, I feel absolutely dreadful having to say all this. I feel like Chief Broom walking up to McMurphy with a pillow but, like the lobotomised McMurphy, everything that made Jethro Tull unique and dazzling has already died and these sad old puppets trying to breathe life into the show are just making it far, far worse.

And your wise men don’t know how it feels…to be thick as a brick…

Not sure you do either any more, Ian.

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