Popular Culture 20120921: Jethro Tull — Thick as a Brick Side One

Last time we sort of did the history about this record, and tonight we shall deal with the first side of the album.  It is quite complex, and is just one long song called “Thick as a Brick Part I”.  Obviously, the second side, to be covered next time, is called “Thick as a Brick Part II”.  Here is how I suggest that you read this blog.

Open a second entry of this in a new tab (if you are using Firefox or other browsers that support multiple tabs).  If not, just open a second browser window.  Use the second one to play the music, and I will give you prompts when to go back the the first one for discussion.  I believe that will be the most efficient way to cover one long (22 minutes, forty seconds) bit of music.  I am going to break it into chunks at what I deem to be different songs.

Here is “Thick as a Brick Part I”.  All the material was written by Gerald Bostock, aka Ian Anderson.  It is good stuff.

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

My words but a whisper — your deafness a SHOUT.

I may make you feel but I can’t make you think.

Your sperm’s in the gutter — your love’s in the sink.

So you ride yourselves over the fields and

you make all your animal deals and

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

And the sand-castle virtues are all swept away in

the tidal destruction

the moral melee.

The elastic retreat rings the close of play as the last wave uncovers

the newfangled way.

But your new shoes are worn at the heels and

your suntan does rapidly peel and

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

Now for the explication of the song.  I find the opening line quite brilliant.  What I deem to be the first song runs from time stamp zero to about 2:02.  I call this “My Words but a Whisper”.  The line “Really don’t mind if you sit this one out.” to me at least, defines Anderson’s attitude about the work.  He is saying essentially that he already knows that the entire work is a big joke to poke fun at the critics who thought that Aqualung was a concept album.

The rest is also interesting.  “My words but a whisper; your deafness a SHOUT.  I may make you feel but I can’t make you think.” is profound.  I have been there and done that, trying to be a lone voice in the wilderness just to find that the very people who should understand choose to shut down the conversation.  It has happened to me in my private and professional life, and it, frankly, hurts.  Fortunately most of the time people finally realize that I most often speak from a position of experience and, hopefully, wisdom and most people who know me finally get it.  But that does not happen with most people, because they do not really know me.

The next line about male ejecta only is used to illustrate the point; you do not love, you only feel.

The part about riding over the fields and making animal deals has to do with humans reacting from pure emotion rather than logic.  Hey, I am probably the most emotional person whose writings you have ever read, but I really try to temper emotion with logic.  It does not always work, but I try.

The rest of it seems to be something to do with trying to discard the old and accept the new, and that has a special relevance with our era, with the Republicans trying to take us back to the old, bad ways and negate the progress that our beloved Nation has made since around 1960.  I know that I am sort of reaching here, but it is a universal symptom of being human to be torn from old ways (mine, unfortunately, were not always honorable) to new ways, hopefully more enlightened than the old ways.

Perhaps it is just me, but I think that there is a tribute to Peter Townshend’s writing in this movement, that line that says,

But your new shoes are worn at the heels and

your suntan does rapidly peel…

That sounds very much like some of the sentiments from “Substitute”!

The final line is “…and your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.”   That is really good!  I have found in my life experience that “wise men” are often quite stupid, and that includes me in many respects.  I think that being a clever fool is better than being a stupid expert, but the Krauthammers of the world will never agree.

The part starting at around 2:03 and going about a minute seems to be a transitional piece from the initial song to the one that I call  “The Newborn”, a person who has never experienced dishonesty, except that his parents were nothing but dishonest to him, telling him how the world works in a defective way.

I must use an aside here.  Lying to children is an age old way to get them to conform to your wishes, and The Woman and I lied to The Little Girl about what happened to her kitten.  We told her that he had run away.  Both The Woman and I thought about it, and we both decided (with me insisting) that we tell her the truth.  Last evening, we brought The Little Girl to see where I buried that kitten.  We were honest with her, and told her that he had died, in my arms.  She was sad, but understood in a way, still thinking that he might come back home.  We explained to her that he can never come home, but that we will never forget him.

Children can deal with death, in a childlike way.  They sort of understand that when something or someone has died, he or she can never come back, and dying is not an act of rejection.  Running away implies abandonment, and abandonment to a child means that the affected party for some reason did not love them.  It can have some really deep and dark psychological implications, and I am really happy that The Woman came to agree with me to come clean with The Little Girl.

Right at three minutes comes “The Newborn” and it is quite interesting, both musically and lyrically.  I LOVE Hammond organ, and this satisfies well.  Here are the lyrics:

See there! A son is born, and we pronounce him fit to fight.

There are black-heads on his shoulders, and he pees himself in the night.


make a man of him

put him to trade

teach him

to play Monopoly and

to sing in the rain.

Obviously this is not about a newborn at all, with blackheads but one that yet has nocturnal incontinence problems.  The piece seems to be talking about conditioning a person for her or his place in society.

Right at five minutes comes “The Poet”, and here are the words:

The Poet and the painter casting shadows on the water --

as the sun plays on the infantry returning from the sea.

The do-er and the thinker: no allowance for the other --

as the failing light illuminates the mercenary’s creed.

The home fire burning: the kettle almost boiling --

but the master of the house is far away.

The horses stamping -- their warm breath clouding

in the sharp and frosty morning of the day.

And the poet lifts his pen while the soldier sheaths his sword.

And the youngest of the family is moving with authority.

Building castles by the sea, he dares the tardy tide to wash them all aside.

The cattle quietly grazing at the grass down by the river

where the swelling mountain water moves onward to the sea:

the builder of the castles renews the age-old purpose

and contemplates the milking girl whose offer is his need.

The young men of the household have

all gone into service and

are not to be expected for a year.

The innocent young master -- thoughts moving ever faster --

has formed the plan to change the man he seems.

And the poet sheaths his pen while the soldier lifts his sword.

And the oldest of the family is moving with authority.

Coming from across the sea, he challenges the son who puts him to the run.

I am darned if I can figure this one out!  I think that the poet and the soldier are two faces of the same person, our protagonist, but it is difficult for me to say.  Someone explain it to me, please.

At about 11:17 it transitions to “What do You Do?”, and this seems to have to do with a young man’s way of dealing with his father and his own self image.

What do you do when

the old man’s gone -- do you want to be him? And

your real self sings the song.

Do you want to free him?

No one to help you get up steam --

and the whirlpool turns you `way off-beam.

After that is a wonderful instrumental transition to “I’ve Come Down.”

I’ve come down from the upper class to mend your rotten ways.

My father was a man-of-power whom everyone obeyed.

So come on all you criminals!

I’ve got to put you straight just like I did with my old man --

twenty years too late.

Your bread and water’s going cold.

Your hair is too short and neat.

I’ll judge you all and make damn sure that no-one judges me.

You curl your toes in fun as you smile at everyone -- you meet the stares.

You’re unaware that your doings aren’t done.

And you laugh most ruthlessly as you tell us what not to be.

But how are we supposed to see where we should run?

I see you shuffle in the courtroom with

your rings upon your fingers and

your downy little sidies and

your silver-buckle shoes.

Playing at the hard case, you follow the example of the comic-paper idol

who lets you bend the rules.


Come on ye childhood heroes!

Won’t you rise up from the pages of your comic-books

your super crooks

and show us all the way.

Well! Make your will and testament. Won’t you?

Join your local government.

We’ll have Superman for president

let Robin save the day.

You put your bet on number one and it comes up every time.

The other kids have all backed down and they put you first in line.

And so you finally ask yourself just how big you are --

and take your place in a wiser world of bigger motor cars.

And you wonder who to call on.

So! Where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?

And where were all the sportsmen who always pulled you though?

They’re all resting down in Cornwall --

writing up their memoirs for a paper-back edition

of the Boy Scout Manual.

The transition and this piece have a wonderful combination of flute, Hammond, and the bass playing is outstanding.  I think that it has to conformity versus nonconformity in society.  The musical style also transitions back to the opening theme with some embellishment. The last part of it seems to indicate a transition from the man child to an establishment conformist, with a large measure of self-induced ignorance that the establishment is not actually real.  Or at least that is what it seems to me.

This is, as I said earlier, a difficult album around which to wrap one’s arms.  However, it is wonderfully made, well played, and even if one can not make sense of the words the music is outstanding.

That is it for now.  I am writing at The Woman’s house today because I had to set off flea bombs in mine (the last of the legacy of Junior Jace Potter, the kitten) so I can not go back to ventilate it until 4:00 this afternoon.  I have no idea if I shall be around for comments this evening because I do not know if I will be visiting or not.  She had a doctor’s appointment this afternoon, so I am alone in her house but she will be back pretty soon.  It turns out that I may have to go at any moment because she is getting The Little Girl down now.  If things go as hoped, we will have a nice time together, and I may even get a haircut if we are not having too much fun just being with each other.

On a bit more of a political note, after I explained to her what is at stake this election and how important it is to keep the White House and the Senate, and to try to retake the House, she had me print out a Kentucky mail in voter registration form, and she mailed it off Wednesday past.  Her mum and dad were so impressed that they asked me to print them forms as well, and for the first time every her mum registered as a Democrat (Kentucky has closed primaries).  I had to explain to them that regardless of how they register, they can vote for any party in the general election, but only for either Democrats or Republicans in the primaries.  Once they understood that all was good to go.  See, even though I do not write a lot about politics, I still am active in my little way.

Next time we shall look at Side 2.  I am not sure whether I shall do any more on Tull after that or go to something else.  I will have to think about it.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

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  1. some really outstanding music?

    Warmest regards,


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