Jethro Tull / by Erin Wade

Me - "Siri, play Heavy Horses".

Siri - "I don't find Heavy Horses in your music collection, Dude."

(Yes - Siri calls me "Dude". Because The Dude Abides. Does Siri really just call you by your name?)

This was the scene as I drove down I39 hoping to listen to this particular song, long my go-to for removing unwanted music from playing repeatedly in my skull. Heavy Horses wasn't there. I own it. I own virtually everything everything recorded by Jethro Tull. But it wasn't there on my phone.

Clearly I had never ripped it into iTunes.

This, I realized with some thought, was an artifact of the need to preserve disc space. Even with a modern hard drive there are limits to the amount of space that can be dedicated to music. So - even though I have CD's of every official album the band released, as well as some vinyl LP's and an unofficial recording or two, I'd had to be selective about what I committed to iTunes.

Apparently Heavy Horses hadn't made the cut.

Fortunately, an iTunes Match subscription makes this a non-issue. Once you've ripped a CD into iTunes and allow it to "match" it's there on every Apple device you own. You can then delete the physical file from the original computer, because it will still stream through iTunes. It's a little like iTunes is a bag of holding.

So this is what I did last weekend. I sat down in front of my CD collection (a sentence that, I am certain, we are less than one generation away from never seeing written again) and located Heavy Horses in the first half or so of the Tull section. I pulled it and, for good measure, also pulled Warchild, Songs From the Wood and Too Old to Rock and Roll, as well as To Cry You a Song (a pretty decent Tull tribute album that I really haven't listened to enough). I ripped them, matched them, and deleted them.

For the better part of the past week I've been listening to Heavy Horses, and I realized something:

I really, really like Jethro Tull.

I realize this probably seems painfully obvious for someone who has gone to the trouble of collecting the entire discography of the band. But the reality is that I started that collection when I was in my last year of High School, and completed most of it at least 15 years ago. My love for the band endured in an academic sense, but my active listening of the music has dwindled over the past decade. There was a time when I would dedicate huge blocks of my time to parsing through the intricacies of Thick as a Brick (I could, back then, sing every lyric in the 43 minute song), but more recently I'd just quietly enjoy the occasional appearance of Aqualung when it would show up in a random shuffle.

Listening to Heavy Horses as an entire album - in the presentation format Ian Anderson intended - took me back, reminded me why I have been so passionate for the music this band produced.

When you tell people that Jethro Tull is your favorite band the typical response is a disinterested "ah". Assuming they are past a given age they've heard of the band, and probably recall hearing Bungle in the Jungle at one time or another. If they are polite they say as much, and that's where that portion of the conversation ends.

If they are not polite it ends a might sooner.

The adult me finds this understandable. Tull is not a pop band. The songs are filled with flutes intermixed with heavy guitar riffs and counterbalanced by Mandolins. The lyrics rarely touch on the topic of love or sex or angst and, when they do, it's never what you expect.

Instead, what you get are lyrics full of dynamic imagery centered around themes that may be snippets of life in the country (as with Heavy Horses), or of social commentary, or of environmental or political musings, in a persistent theme that weaves its way through an entire album. And these, too, are never what you'd expect.

Go listen to the song Heavy Horses. Go ahead. I'll wait.

The imagery starts at the beginning of the song:

Iron-clad feather feet, pounding the dust
An October's day, towards evening
Sweat embossed veins standing proud to the plough
Salt on a deep chest, seasoning...

You are there, in the moment, outside, standing next to the great beast, this the starting point for your journey through the rest of the song.

The song itself clearly puts forward a message of advocacy for the simple rural life. But it's not an attempt to get you to move to that simple life. Rather it's a discussion of one man's personal desire to see that life to continue. And his personal realization that, some day, just maybe, we'll all have no choice but to return to that life:

And one day when the oil barons have all dripped dry
and the nights all seem to draw colder
They'll beg for your strength, your gentle power,
your noble grace and your bearing...

...In these dark towns folk lie sleeping
as the heavy horses thunder by
to wake the dying city
with the living horseman's cry

Virtually every song is an adventure, a visual and auditory journey through a world I'd never seen before; a journey taken with a man (Anderson wrote virtually all of Tull's songs after the first two albums) who wanted to look at the world from the unconsidered perspective. He's an environmentalist, but he writes a song from the perspective of a jailed whaler. When he gets political, it's from the perspective of a politician realizing that he's really just a part of the machine.

There's a novelty, a variety, an intrigue to all of it that has always been something I've loved. It's also impossible to explain in casual conversation. The adult me understands this, though the younger me was frequently frustrated by the glazed look he'd receive.

I'd lost touch with much of that over the past few years, gravitating more to spoken word entertainment. Ripping Heavy Horses brought it back for me.

I'm really glad it did.