Back Page: Running from Aqualung

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By Bill Christensen
Photo by Ryan Creary

Languages, like tools and personal relationships, change over time. That’s why signs printed on barrels of nuclear waste use symbols that communicate
to future generations to not touch the shit—pictures being worth a thousand words, even if they’re just stick figures with approximations of melting hands. The words that we use now will be barely recognizable in 500
years—even if our language does survive.

Late last spring I happened upon a flier for a lost flute. It barely made sense at the time, given the setting. A flute seems to be an ill-paired tool for trail work. And since the message was conveyed through words printed on paper
instead of symbols, one may assume the poster was a call for help, not a warning.

I remember thinking that there were two possible outcomes—and I genuinely hope one of them happens. The first one is that someone finds the flute in its case and gets it back to the rightful owner before he or she loses any interest in playing the flute or dies of old age. Obviously, the sign-poster hoped for this scenario, but it is also highly unlikely, given the lack of contact information for the flute’s owner.

The other option is bizarrely more plausible: In half a millennium, some descendent of Joseph Smith will go foraging for mushrooms in the woods, unearth the flute and write a book about how an angel taught him how to play it. ‘Flutisim’ will be born. Years later, the 35th president of the Greater Allies of the Western Realm will be a practicing member, and history will have repeated itself.

But it also conjured some sage advice from my youth: Don’t lose the one you’re with until you’re dating the next one. And in this case, as the subject matter is a flute, I thought about Ian Anderson.

For the uninitiated, underage, or for those who never went through any sort of ‘weed phase’ in high school, Ian Anderson is one hell of a flute player. So much so that the flute, his chosen tool, is the focal point of his band Jethro Tull’s entire ensemble—his playing of it differentiating them from any other group in the ‘Middle English Rock’ genre, if there is such a thing.

In any given performance, Anderson one-legged-ly hops from stage right to stage left like la fée verte herself, decked in his silly Renaissance guise, the flute locked to his lips and them to its lip plate. He’s good at it. It’s what he was meant to do. But bet your life, Ian looks over at guitarist Martin Barre’s confident two-legged stance, his fingers bending strings and face contorted, yet without the impedance of so much as a Chiclet forced in his mouth, then back to his own 16th-century codpiece. And then to his flute as if it were a bad tattoo.

Seduced by the promise of a whole new world by merely changing tools, Ian, though an accomplished guitar player himself, will forever be defined by his flute. I wonder if he wishes it lost. Or maybe, just maybe, heeding the same wisdom bestowed upon me in my formative years, he did lose it in the shuffling madness, found a bike, and in haste, left a vague note on the trail for lack of any desire to slow down.

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