There's always a tiny spark of excitement whenever the phone rings. Maybe it's an old friend; maybe it's a business opportunity; maybe it's a bomb threat. Or maybe it's Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson. One just never knows.
This happened a few weeks ago: The phone rang, and the voice on the other end said, "Hello, this is Ian Anderson." Strange, since we didn't recall scheduling an interview with him since 1997. But, hey - free call from Tull, you know?
So we had a nice little chat about nothing in particular. Mostly we talked about musicians Anderson admired but never met.
"I never met John Lennon," Anderson said. "You'd think that we would have met at some point, but it just never worked out. We did British TV together in the late 1970s, and he sort of gave me a nice little wave while he was sitting at his white piano. I think he played `Imagine.' But as soon as he finished playing, our song started. So I never actually spoke with him."
Anderson, 53, is a compelling conversationalist; he uses words like "quagmire" and "pragmatism" in casual conversation. Unlike most artists, he has very little interest in talking about himself - he seems to prefer talking about other musicians.
Asked what would have happened if Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi had become a full-time member of Jethro Tull (which almost happened in the late 1960s), he basically said that every Tull song would have ended up sounding like "Aqua Lung."
And perhaps most interestingly, Anderson finally explained why Jethro Tull, appearing tomorrow night at Pier Six, was so obsessed with the prototypically unrocking flute.
"I started out as a guitar player, but I quickly came to realize I could never be Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page," Anderson said. "But I could use the flute like a guitar. I mean, I'm really just a frustrated guitarist. But I was also driven to the phallic element of the flute. That seemed a bit subversive."
What might be even more subversive would be the induction of Tull into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the band creates a strange paradox for rock historians. Even though the group was overtly artistic and complex, critics hate Jethro Tull with a venom usually reserved for bands like Jackyl.
Anderson is predictably pragmatic about this quagmire.
"That may or may not be a good question, depending on how one views the value of the answer," he said.
"It was a very great thing for them to build that [hall of fame], and I think it's a novel idea. But everyone knows - even the people who work there, to be honest - that it was economically insane to build it in Cleveland. People do not holiday in Cleveland. I'm not sure how they managed to convince everyone that was a good idea, to be honest.
"Obviously, I'd be honored if we were indeed inducted. But one of the big players is the fellow from Rolling Stone [Jann Wenner], and they certainly never appreciated Tull," Anderson said. "Perhaps it's political. But there's almost a cachet about not being in, you know? I love a lot of the bands who aren't in the Hall of Fame and probably never will be."
It certainly would be a shock if Jethro Tull ever makes the Hall of Fame. But an out-of-the-blue call from Ian Anderson is quite a surprise, too. It could happen.
Where: Pier Six Concert Pavilion
When: Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.