In 1972 Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock, an 8 year old English school boy, wrote a poem and won a poetry contest with that poem. The poem was “Thick As A Brick”, and chronicled the hardships of growing up. But then something terrible happened. Gerald and his poem were disqualified after a multitude of protests and threats concerning the offensive nature of the poem, furthered by allegations of the boy's psychological instability. It seems young Gerald used the word "g__r" during a television broadcast, and to add flame to the fire, a 14-year-old girl named Julia Fealey became pregnant and claimed Gerald was expert at more than poetry. This whole tawdry episode was chronicled in The St. Cleve Chronicle and Linwell Advertiser, a local village Newspaper filled with the usual parochial and amateurish journalism. The story was on the front page along with an article about an ‘experimental non-rabbit’, a rather naughty connect-the-dots children's activity, the complete, non abridged poem itself ,as well as a review of an album by, the soon to be labeled “progressive rock” but for now blues/jazz/rock band, Jethro Tull who cut an album with “Little Milton’s” complete poem as its one and only lyric.
Now, all of the above is legend, if you haven’t figured that out yet...except for the album being cut by the ‘progressive’ rock band, Jethro Tull. By 1972, Jethro Tull were gaining international recognition as sort of a second wave in the British Invasion. The story of Gerald Bostock, and the ensuing row over his poem, not to mention his success with Ms. Fealey were all the product of Ian Anderson’s mind. After all, just how much could an 8 year old poetry prodigy tell us about growing up? And the album, Thick As a Brick was, itself, a satirical spoof. Ian Anderson was surprised by the critical reaction to the previous album, Aqualung , as a "concept album", a label he has firmly rejected to this day. Further, he was rather miffed at having Tull labeled a progressive rock band and grouped with Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Anderson's response was: "If the critics want a concept album we'll give them the mother of all concept albums and we'll make it so bombastic and so over the top." Ian Anderson has been quoted as stating that Thick as a Brick was written "because everyone was saying we were a progressive rock band, so we decided to live up to the reputation and write a progressive album, but done as a parody of the genre." So the band created an album deliberately integrated around one concept: a poem by Gerald about the trials of growing up. Beyond this, the album was a send-up of all pretentious "concept albums". Even the title refers to someone slow to learn. But maybe the biggest joke was that it worked! the album hit number one in the U.S. The album is notable for its many musical themes, time signature changes and tempo shifts as well as the instrumentation which includes harpsichord, xylophone, timpani, violin, lute, trumpet, saxophone, and a string section. Not exactly your average blues rock lineup, ehh?
Well here it is 40 years later and Gerald is all grown up. Anderson set out, on TAAB 2 to write songs that would update the story. "I wonder what the eight-year-old Gerald Bostock would be doing today. Would the fabled newspaper still exist? (it does, as a dot com of course) " The album presents five very different , hypothetical life stories for Gerald Bostock, including: a greedy investment banker, a homosexual homeless man, a determined soldier, a sanctimonious church chorister, and a "most ordinary man" who (married and childless) owns a corner store; by the end of the album, however, all five possibilities seem to converge in a similar concluding moment of gloomy or pitiful solitude.
The style of the mock-newspaper cover of the original Thick as a Brick album follows forward forty years as well, an online newspaper has been set up, simply entitled StCleve: www.stcleve.com so Anderson hasn’t lost his satirical sense of humor over the years. And, now that the story has come near full circle, the album asks the question how our own lives developed, and did we end up what we dreamed of being then, or are we surprised and disappointed at the result? And, are there similarities to our dreams, even though that result is different? It’s an album that shines a light on those “what if?” moments us baby boomers are bound to have had. “What ifs, maybes and might-of-beens, perhaps and wait and sees”.
Though it would be near impossible to recreate the astounding ground breaking musical strides of the 1972 original, which is one of the most successful rock albums of all time, but it would have been just as impossible to accomplish that and complete Gerald’s journey. Nevertheless, Ian Anderson has managed to create a great album of “progressive rock”, “Jethro Tull” music updating the story while staying true to the original. The band, even though only Anderson and Scott Hammond, the drummer, remain from the first classic session, is just as interesting and musically disciplined as the classic Tull lineup.
The album comes in a ‘standard jewel case’ CD, digital download , and the version I would recommend, a Special Edition 2-Disc package with a DVD featuring 5.1 stereo mixes, 24 bit stereo, video of the making of TAAB 2, interviews with the musicians and Anderson reading the lyrics in various locations….he may even be in the village square in St. Cleve…
The band is touring extensively throughout The UK, Europe, and North America in support of the album. During some shows they will perform the original Thick As A Brick in its entirety, and rumor has it that at some venues they will be performing both TAAB, and TAAB 2 back to back as well as other hit songs from their career. Check their web site for dates and venues.
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