We spoke with Ian Anderson about the primeval mystery of cats, the industrial transition from horses to machinery, why Christianity should deal in true charity rather than public manipulation and how our modern-day gun horrors play a part in the arc of history.
Part I: Agriculture
I’m just painting the picture and letting people draw their own conclusions about how they might feel motivated to change their lifestyle, or embrace it if they’re already halfway down that path anyway.
You’re currently reissuing your 1978 album Heavy Horses, which is partly a song cycle about animals in the English countryside. And the opening song, “And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps,” captures cats perfectly. “Savage bed foot warmer of purest feline ancestry…” What inspired you to write an ode to the world’s most popular yet mysterious domesticated animal?
Well, for a long time, I’ve had cats. As a small child, I had not a very “pet” cat; he was a very feral tom who occasionally would come into the house. I had a lot of respect for him, being a scary, wild creature. Over the years, it’s been more enjoyable having cats in the house than dogs. I’m more of a cat person. I haven’t written any songs about dogs that I can recall, but two or three about cats. They’re mysterious, walk-alone, solitary creatures who sometimes grace us with their presence. There’s a little mystery, romance and folklore attached to them, and they’re fertile ground for songwriting once in a while.
It’s a rare topic! I also wanted to touch briefly on the title track to Horses. I’ve always seen that song as a condensed history of humanity just as much as animals. It poetically talks about the transition between a world powered by horses to one by machinery. Can you talk about that subject a little bit?
Well, I sing about that subject a little bit, in the sense that I started performing the song a couple of years ago as part of our stage show after a long layoff of not playing it for a while. Then I decided I would write a new second verse, which starts with the verse “Massey, New Holland / Nothing runs like a Deere,” meaning John Deere, of course. It talks about the hydraulic suspension on modern tractor cabs, and it’s really bringing into the present day the idea of the heavy horse being a mechanized machine, which has long since superseded the four-legged animals. It’s now four-wheel drive.
So, I just thought it was a nice way to show the difference between our traditions, the modern age and the new world of mechanized agriculture. Whether you like it or not, it is the future.
That song also talks about keeping “the old line going,” implying a lineage of horses. That’s something I didn’t realize about the indigenous horses of the United Kingdom! I wonder if certain horses could be linked back to great horses of legend…
There are very few breeders of heavy horses, and now those breeds are now under serious threat of extinction because there are simply not enough mares and stallions left to do the business and not enough people to keep a horse that has no practical use in today’s world. It’s an ornamentation. They’re not used in any industrial capacity other than a few show-horses who pull something to show what they once did.
Heavy horses are now consigned to fields. They are specialists and breeders who enjoy the aesthetics of the heavy horse, but they’re not for riding. I mean, you could ride one, but it’s not a riding horse, or practically speaking, a draft horse any longer, in the sense that it’s pulling a wagon. The interest has been falling away. There’s a drive to try to save the breeds that are most under threat, because several breeds of heavy horses are traditional to our country. There are smaller working horses, too, that are part of the tradition of a horse being used for transportation and carrying or pulling a load, not for recreational riding.
To me, that idea of old worlds, lineages and traditions fading away runs deep in Jethro Tull’s songbook. Do you think that rings true even more now versus 1978, as we deal with the effects of globalization and gentrification? Some of these songs sound like a cry for a simpler, more peaceful world.
Well, Heavy Horses was the second in a trilogy of albums that began with Songs From The Wood, Horses a year later, and after that was an album called Stormwatch that touched upon more issues to do with the environment and climate change — issues that are concerns much moreso 30 years later, nearly. It’s nice to be able to use music and songwriting as a vehicle for creating awareness, but I’m not trying to preach a message to people. I’m just an observer.
If I’m talking about heavy horses or cats or other aspects of wildlife, the environment or whatever, it’s not so much that I’m telling people how they should live their lives. I’m just painting the picture and letting people draw their own conclusions about how they might feel motivated to change their lifestyle, or embrace it if they’re already halfway down that path anyway, in terms of their choices.
Another aspect you’ve mentioned in the music is a declaration of British identity. I remember reading that, prior to writing Heavy Horses, you’d been gifted a book on old English legends. Can you describe what inspired you at a young age in this realm?
A lot of what influenced me at a young age was Americana. I grew up in the age of the earliest rock & roll, so as a pre-teenager I was aware of American pop music. The whole Americana that we found on the shores of the UK very often came from the serving military personnel who imported magazines and records. It became an object of fascination to discover an American comic paper, look on the back page and see various curiosities that, in the austere post-war years growing up, children would be in awe of. It soon came along that we found advertisements appearing for guitars. As an eight- or nine-year-old, I think I got a plastic ukulele that bore the legend “Elvis Presley.” I remember being deeply disappointed with a piece of useless junk that cost 22 and sixpence and I’d saved up my pocket money for weeks and weeks. This cheap, nasty plastic thing that wouldn’t stay in tune for two minutes.
But it was a step along the way to getting a guitar and finding the next aspects of Americana that appealed to me in a deeper, more profound way, which was black American blues. Along with that, I suppose to some extent jazz, but it was blues that moved me and my whole peer group. Growing up in the UK in the ‘50s and ‘60s, that was deeply energizing to us. But it was folk music! It was black, American folk music, whether it was electrified as it became in the form of Chicago blues, or Southern blues where it began, strumming some beat-up old acoustic guitar.
Once I grew up having a strong, passionate desire to listen to and try to emulate that music, I soon became quite aware that I was neither black nor American, nor did I have the cultural and racial background to be able to put my hand on my heart, saying “This is my music.” I couldn’t. I would have been a crude imitator. As much as I enjoyed trying to play white man’s middle-class blues in the ‘60s, it was my intention to try and find musical influences that, if they were the parallel to black American blues, would be in Europe. My inspiration from folk music, classical music, and of course I embraced church music. It just felt a little easier for me to develop my music along those lines, because I felt that I was drawing upon my own cultural roots and not stealing somebody else’s.
So, I suppose that’s why I developed in that direction. It was interesting, because bands in Britain were rather sharply divided into those who embraced and emulated the American music forms, especially vocally, and the absurd vocal twang of Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and Elton John, who seemed to me completely and utterly ridiculous. I preferred people who sang with their own voices, like David Bowie, who had a generally neutral-sounding voice that wasn’t too different from his speaking voice. And of course, there are others who had very pronounced regional accents who sang in those accents and managed to do very well for themselves while not copying American music.
Bands like Led Zeppelin, I suppose, really walked that line between the two, coming from a deep respect for black American music but British, Arab, African and Indian folk music too, which was incorporated into some of Zeppelin’s later work. Like Jethro Tull, I think they learned the blues was a great learning tool, a great way into the world of music, but in itself, there was more fertile ground to tread in finding something a little more connected to us as growing musicians in the UK. But of course, some stayed with the American thing. Rod Stewart is a perfect example. He has remained very much true to American pop music showbiz. Good for him, incomparable singer that he is, but it seems rather contrived and has nothing to do with his singing voice whatsoever.
Did returning to British folk tradition from the springboard of American blues feel sort of like a homecoming?
There are elements in some of the Jethro Tull music of the ‘70s that do take me back to my earliest memories of music, which included church music, Scottish folk music and big band jazz, which my father listened to, music from the war years. Those were the three influences I started off with. I suppose the syncopation and blues origins of big band jazz were what led me to blues and contemporary jazz as a teenager.
It’s sad watching the decline of people, which by today’s standards is at a ridiculously early age. My mother and father just seemed to lose enthusiasm for anything in the outside world.
What was the creative stew in your household like growing up? What else did your parents expose you to?
They were apparently not a musical family whatsoever. But the irony is that I found out, long after my mother had died, that in fact, she’d been a violinist and modern ballet dancer in her early years before she met my father and, I suppose, had to commit to a life of being a household, producing food and babies. Maybe she just felt like she had to turn her back on her artistic ambitions and consigned them forever to the bottom drawer. I never knew anything about this at all, since my much older brother told me a few years ago.
It’s quite a shock to know that my mother, for all those years — she was 42 when I was born, so she was already a middle-aged lady when I was growing up, but never was there a hint of music or the arts.
I just found a photograph today of my father playing a banjo. I don’t know that he really played — he looks to be playing a simple chord, so he must have had some ability to strum a banjo. Again, it never formed any part of my life whatsoever. There was no music in the family other than that they had a gramophone and some 78s of big band records. Which I don’t recollect him ever playing, but I was fascinated by them at seven or eight years old. But music didn’t play a part in our family whatsoever. Not in my awareness.
That’s intriguing that you found out in hindsight that your parents had all these creative impulses, and then they never really came out.
Well, that’s right, and I think parents are their own creatures. Sometimes they hide their past because they feel disappointed that they were not able to pursue it. Perhaps they feel it’s better just to put it right behind them than to continue with that life in some regard. People are different. Other parents might continue with their teenaged hobbies and interests, carry them into later life and hey become part of family life for a family growing up together. But in the case of my parents, they certainly tended to push all that stuff away into the background.
My father, for example, was a member of the Scottish curling team. He travelled abroad long before curling was part of the Winter Olympics. He was one of the Scottish team who traveled to Canada, America, Switzerland and other places, tossing large pieces of stone across the ice. Again, today, I was just showing my son-in-law some pictures of my father when he was curling. That came to an end when he was older and couldn’t do it anymore for whatever reason. I never saw my father curling, that I recall, any more than I saw my mother dance or play violin.
These were old parents that I grew up with. They didn’t do anything except sit and stare at the television. My memory of them is really just these two rather old people watching soap operas and trashy TV, just kind of waiting to die, really. It’s very sad. They had nothing really much to live for, it seems. It’s sad watching the decline of people, which by today’s standards is at a ridiculously early age. My mother and father just seemed to lose enthusiasm for anything in the outside world.
Part II: Population
Do you have much knowledge of your own lineage beyond your parents? How far back in your ancestry do you have knowledge of?
In terms of knowing anything about my father’s side, going back three or four generations. But beyond that, it’s really just impossible to know. I’ve made sure that my grandchildren will have everything. It’s easy in the digital age, isn’t it? Because you have everything in a folder on iCloud or Dropbox. It can contain your life’s events. Indeed, my children and grandchildren will have a very complete idea of who their parents and grandparents were. It’s all there. Happily, I do have a few years to go, but I managed to get old photographs and other mementos that existed in the family and replicate them so my children will each have a set of family photographs that go back to my grandparents, at least. We’re talking late Victorian times and my father’s generation in the early 1900s as a young man. A different world, really.
The interesting part of it is when it slips into the period just after I was born, post-war. These were amazing years. Once the war had drawn to a close, there were five or six years of severe austerity and food rationing in our country. It was a time when not only were we rebuilding cities and industry, but it was a hugely creative time for British engineering, for the motorcycle industry, for the firearms industry, for lots of aspects of development that really, really started to develop a pace. And of course, the aeronautic industries were producing world-beating aircraft until Boeing snatched the mantle from us. Same with shipbuilding industries. There was a hugely bountiful period in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was a good age to be growing up in.
But perhaps the most sobering thought about all of that is that since I was born, just slightly more than three times the world’s population has developed. In one generation — my generation, from 1947 to the present day — the population of planet Earth has tripled. That should scare the shit out of everybody. When we talk about the reality of the end of the century, the chances are we won’t see a doubling of the population — most of the developed countries are reducing. In Europe, where women are educated and have careers and an equal say, gender equality being apparent since the ‘60s, the choice is to have smaller families.
That makes a lot of sense for our planet and our future as a species. But in many countries in the world — in fact, the US is one of them — that sense isn’t there. In America, the fertility rate is considerably higher than it is in Europe. Of course, when we get into countries where religious belief demands large families to do your duty for God to reproduce and make your religion the most important, and it’s religious leaders that have the most power, then that encouragement is still there to produce as many children as you possibly can.
That seems, to me, somewhat irresponsible in an age when we’re struggling to feed 7 billion people, let alone the 12 billion people that we are likely to have by the end of the century, most who will have been born in countries most unsuitable to sustain those huge, growing populations. Which is partly due to climate change, partly due to geopolitics of regions, but migration, as we have seen it in recent years, is stirring up the very divisive feelings and attitudes on the part of many peoples’ countries.
You ain’t seen nothing yet compared to what migration is going to be in 20, 30 or 40 years from now as a result of continued growth in countries where, more and more, the impossibility of sustaining those populations with the promise of food production, especially in the face of climate change, are going to make it impossible. Therefore, people are certainly going to try, and for a large part, they will succeed in climbing to other countries — to yours, to mine and all points in between. We either have to turn them away, let them drown, let them starve or somehow incorporate them into our culture and society and give them a chance to have some sort of a quality with the rest of us.
In my lifetime, we have gone crazy as a species. We are breeding like rabbits with no thought about the responsibility in terms of sustainable population and resources in the present day.
I’m not telling you what you should do. But you have to face up to it. Your children and your grandchildren are going to be facing up to this on a daily basis. The current American administration seems to be creating a very divisive platform for argument. So, it’s a mess, and it’s going to get a whole lot worse before, possibly, it may get better. Ultimately, I’m an optimist, in the sense that I hope that 100 years from now, throughout the world, women are given equal rights, education, play their part in family decision-making, and the likelihood is that it will follow the pattern that has emerged in Europe over the last 50 years. Even in Roman Catholic countries, whereby responsible decision-making takes place in the family and children are born — one or two — for a fertile woman, on average.
Given that we all live longer, it’s a sustaining population. Arguably, Britain would be far better off with something like 30 million people in it, rather than the 70 million we’re soon going to have. And in terms of planetary population, we would do a whole lot better with maybe 3 billion people than the 7 we currently have, but it’s too late for that.
And it’s all happened in my lifetime.
It’s the most sobering thought. In my lifetime, we have gone crazy as a species. We are breeding like rabbits with no thought about the responsibility in terms of sustainable population and resources in the present day, let alone the future. What sort of a world are we leaving for our children? That’s the question we must really begin to ask ourselves and address, and get away from this boogeyman where we’re not allowed to talk about population because it scares the shit out of politicians to go anywhere near it.
Which none of them will do, because they know they’re going come up head-banging against those of religious belief who will scream and shout and stamp their little feet at the possibility that they’ll be advised that maybe they should think twice about unrestricted families. But that’s something that people will have to learn to talk about. And I’m not telling anybody how many children they have. I’m just saying: talk about it! Think about it. Make a moral decision as to what you think is the right thing for your family, for your country, for the world and for the future of our species.
Homo sapiens is going to have a rough ride for the future, and much of it has come from the Industrial Age and the huge increase of population I was born into. So, if there’s anyone here to pontificate on the matter in the millennia to come, we’ll be seen to be the most dangerous generation to ever to be on planet Earth. It’s the one that I was born into. From post-World War 2 to up until 2020-2030. That’s the real scary generation. We’re the ones who are going to have to put our hands up and say: Mea culpa. My fault. Boy, do we have a lot to answer for.
You mentioned how religious tradition led to unfettered population growth. Since plenty of Jethro Tull music deals with the ripple effect of mainstream religious hypocrisy, I’m curious as to whether you think those institutions may be on the chopping block at some point. Like they could say, “Hey, maybe this was the reason.”
Well, I certainly hope not. I’ve spent quite a lot of time and a lot of my own money supporting the Christian church every year. I’m a huge supporter of Christianity and, particularly, the beautiful cathedrals and churches, of which we have many in the United Kingdom. Later this year, I’ll be risking the wrath of Rome by performing in the Roman Catholic Church to raise money for a beautiful old church in a small town in Italy. I do this every year — I perform concerts to raise money for the individual cathedrals or churches in which I perform in. It’s a charity concert, but a true one, because 100% of the ticket money stays with the church.
I pay the costs of my band, the crew and the hotels myself. I don’t take a penny. There are very few occasions where that happens in an organized way. It doesn’t happen at OxFam, because we’ve got enormous running costs — all organized charities have huge corporate running costs — marketing, promotion, executives, administration. You’re lucky if two thirds or one half end up going to a charitable cause worthy of the public’s money in supporting it. There are some who are probably rather more efficient, because the people involved take very, very little.
Like the Salvation Army, which I support because it may be a Christian organization, but that’s by-the-by. It’s something worthy of support. I do feel, where we can, we should support charities that are very lean and efficient. That chief executives and charitable bodies are somehow paid the going rate, as if they were in the commercial sector, as if they were in industry or banking, is, to me, utterly and totally loathsome. I think they should be kicked out on their fat arses for pulling down salaries that will be equivalent in commerce and industry.
If you want to be involved in charity, you should be doing it from the goodness of your heart. If you’re going to pay people to do things, which of course, largely you do have to do, like I have to pay my band, the crew, the sound, the lights, the hotels, and the transport when I do the cathedral shows, but I cough up my money and pay the bill. I think, largely, charity should literally be that. It should be whiter than white. It should not be subject to the corruption that occurs in so many charities.
The New Testament cannot be truly reflective of the world we have today, but it can truly reflect the kindliness, the care, the protectiveness, the shelter that it offers for the troubled soul.
It’s a spooky world in that regard. And I support churches and cathedrals, not because I’m a Christian, because I’m not a Christian. I can’t be. I’m barred from being a Christian because I do not have faith and I do not believe in prayer. Someone like me, who is a doubter, an agnostic perhaps — from one to ten, in terms of belief, I’m a five-and-a-half or perhaps a six — certainly, I’m not entitled to call myself a Christian. I am here to serve my Christian brethren and, particularly, the beautiful buildings that of many of which, in my country, are over 1,000 years old.
There’s something very spiritually uplifting about standing in a building as a musician, especially on the Christian tradition of Christmas, performing in a building that began its life 1,000 years ago. It’s a bit of magic in the air, and that’s what religion is really about. It is about magic. It is about the supernatural. It’s about a world beyond the world of nature, the one that we know. The idea that we can know it, that we have belief, is ultimately nonsense, but it’s a nice fairy story, one that I’m more than happy to go along with.
I’m happy to go along with the teachings of the Bible, in large part, but we have to remember that all the New Testaments were written by not one person, but by a number, particularly in regard to the Old. It is a document gradually put together, for its time, over a period of hundreds of years. It cannot be truly reflective of the world we have today, but it can truly reflect the aspirations, the morality and, especially in Christianity, the kindliness, the care, the protectiveness, the shelter that it offers for the troubled soul.
For me, that’s the value of religion. That’s why I support it. But just as I support gay marriage, despite the fact that as far as I know, I’m not gay — it’s possible that I might be, but I haven’t had a decent offer yet, so. I can support gay marriage without being gay, and I can be interested in paleontology without being born with a long, scaly tail with sharp, pointed teeth. I can support the Christian religion, and indeed, the idea of religion generally, whether it’s Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Islamic… I’m okay with it all. It’s part of a big world of belief and fascination. And as long as, on balance, it does more good than it does harm, then I think it’s all worth preserving.
And part of my life is aimed in that direction! But it’s a part of my life that’s essentially about four or five days a year. The rest of the time, I live in the temporal world. I live in the reality of day-to-day life and airplanes and hotels and concerts and video and computers and musical instruments, and it’s about as secular as you can get. But a few days a year, I’m your spiritual guy. I’m your conduit to experiencing a little bit of the miracle of the wonderment of the human species in regard to the spiritual side of our DNA, which seems to be written into us.
It may seem like an utter contradiction, but I haven’t changed my views since I was 14 years old and grew up in a grammar school in England, having to try and make some sense of religion as it was taught to us at the time, in a very simplistic and restrictive way. Nonetheless, I questioned it then, and I question it now. It doesn’t make me there to condemn religion, although I might be, from time to time, inclined to condemn some of those people who practice it and, particularly, those who practice it in a position of power and leadership, because I think they abuse it in many cases. Not all, but you know, it’s a worrying scenario. And the more evangelical it gets, the more it scares the shit out of me.
That’s one thing I have to say about the Salvation Army in my country. It doesn’t go out there trying to scare or bully people into converting to faith. It exists primarily to help people and give people solace, to give them support, to give them shelter, without all the evangelical urging and demands that go with, I have to say, America with the evangelicals who are often unqualified shamen who exist, really, to extort money from the gullible public in order to support their relatively well-off lifestyles and their desire for power over people, which really seems to be the driving force.
It’s a sad reality. Even if you’re Billy Graham, if you started out being a really tea-and-cakes, kinda nice Christian guy, but the power that comes with that position, the respect that people will show to you and the awe in which they will hold you will often go out of control. Billy Graham’s legacy, sadly in the form of his son’s version of “Graham-ism,” is a pretty scary reality. I don’t find that at all acceptable that that should be the case. It is rather like extorting money from people. I find all of that quite contemptible.
I’m there to give you that intellectual ammunition to go out there and take on the world. That’s what my job is, and it will soon be over. I’m getting to the end of my life.
Absolutely, and it’s great you’re able to mentally separate those concepts and say, in effect, “Look, I’m going to support these buildings that are culturally tied to Christianity without condoning the parts of it that are detestable.”
It’s about the Christian ethic. Whether or not you’re a believer — I’m very much a believer in the historical Jesus of Nazareth. I can’t say that I’m a believer in Jesus the Christ, but I certainly believe in him as a historical figure and the importance he holds and what he represents in many countries of the world and in many eras — past, present and, I hope, in the future. I’m singing from the same hymn sheet, but my lyrics are a bit unpalatable for traditionalists and my analysis is one that people who consider themselves to be true Christians would be very upset at me for gracing their presence.
But I believe that the proof is in what you do. The proof is in what you create, what you pass on. That’s ultimately what I think the value of Christian teaching is. It’s about actually living the life. Doing the things that are the good things. That’s a lesson, and a positive one. Talking about it and preaching about it while extorting money from people seems, to me, not the way of doing it!
So, there you go. You’ll find me in my office a few days a year. I go to work in my office, and it’s the Christian church. But I’m a bit of an outsider. I’m like an auditor here to check your account once a year. I’m not really one of you, but when I’m in your office going through your books, you have to put up with me.
As I said, my job is to paint pictures. My job is to try and crystallize things through rhyming couplets and musical motifs. I’m not there to tell you what to do. I’m just there to say: hey, this is the picture. I’m trying to make it succinct for people, and trying to get people to think about, talk about and consider what options they have, and why they’d choose one over another. But all you can be is a catalyst. I don’t want to go out there and change the world. I want you to change the world.
I can present you with a slightly more crystallized observer’s view in some specific way, whether it has to do with ecology, the environment or whatever it might be. It’s the job of the artist to do that. It’s not necessarily to try to become a politician. It’s there to give you that intellectual ammunition to go out there and take on the world. That’s what my job is, and it will soon be over. I’m getting to the end of my life, and I’m lucky I have a few more years to do what I’m doing, but it’s just a tiny little drop in a very big and turbulent ocean.
And we have the choice to create that drop, to create that tiny little ripple with the effect that it may have. Or we just sit back and watch the ball game or the Winter Olympics, goof off, crack open a beer, hang out with our buddies, shoot a few deer or whatever it is we do. We can do that or we can try for that little drop, try for that ripple effect and see if we can make that tiny, but ultimately significant difference. And if anyone has anything nice to say about me when I’m gone, it will be, “He was a drop in the ocean, but it rippled outwards.” That would be the best thing somebody could say for me.
Part III: Warfare
I think the intellectual ammunition I’ve gotten from your songs over the years is a sense of awe and wonder. It’s not just anyone who looks at a cat and writes a rhapsody, like “And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps,” about how gobsmacking that cat is.
Yeah, and while we’re talking about ammunition — whether it’s the ammunition of religious belief, culture or traditions — there’s literally ammunition.
The 9mm Parabellum has been with us since the turn of the 20th century and is well over 100 years old. It is still the calibre of choice for today’s American military side-arm, made, of course, under contract for the U.S. army. Some things just go on. Will people still be carrying a side-arm with the age-old, 200-year-old calibre, the 9mm Parabellum? In a world where we’re understandably frightened by the gun culture from an intellectual standpoint, there’s some very fascinating things to do with the world of guns.
It strikes me that we have certain traditions and things worth hanging on to. I think that’s, in essence, what some Americans will argue for. They may or may not be members of the NRA, but the fact is, what they’re really talking about is culture and tradition. And I’m with them on that. It’s just that I don’t feel comfortable living in a world where people have the fascination they have with guns and becoming an extension of the video arcade game, as it was in the ‘80s.
And now it’s in everyone’s household, with kids growing up with violent computer games, big shoot-‘em-out kinds of games. It’s not a healthy scenario to bring up children in that environment where they’ve become increasingly finding it difficult to separate reality from the artificial, “game” aspect of it. That’s the troubling thing, that people are losing touch with reality, losing objectivity. A kid can go buy a so-called, much-vaunted AR-15.
You do happen to know when the AR-15 was first conceived?
I’m sorry, I actually don’t.
I was about 10 years old when Eugene Stoner produced the AR-10, which was chambered for the .62 NATO rounds — the .308 Winchester, in sporting terms. He came out with the AR-10, and a few years later, came out with the lighter calibre, chambered for 5.56 NATO — the .223 Remington, as it’s called. Many derivatives were produced, you see, from the late ‘50s on. They had the legendary M-16 from the Vietnam War — today, it’s the M-4 rifle, but it still traces its roots back to Eugene Stoner’s AR-15.
It’s a gun that, in a civilian context, really doesn’t have a place in anything. It’s not a particularly accurate gun. It does okay. It’ll group into a couple of inches at 100 meters. It’s not a bad gun. But what bloody use is it in a civilian society? It’s not a sporting firearm. It’s not for target shooting. It’s not especially accurate, so it’s certainly not a gun you’d want to take if you were hunting animals to kill them and eat them. It doesn’t have a place, and that’s the worrying thing about that gun.
The only reason for having that gun is because you’re playing Cowboys and Indians in the contemporary sense. You’re playing that variation on the innocence of the Western age. Now, it’s people really being able to buy those weapons, and once you’ve got them, you’re obsessed with the idea. It’s rather like being a schoolboy and finding you’ve got this massive erection. What are you going to do with it? It’s fucking embarrassing; you’ve got this thing and you’re desperate to use it, but there’s no way to use it because you’re ugly. Girls don’t want to talk to you.
It’s that kind of terrible dilemma for someone who has that kind of weaponry in their possession. Many people are just not capable of having that and thinking it’s something they’re going to shoot paper targets with. Some people are going to feel that they’ve got to pull the trigger and kill somebody, because there’s guns for that purpose anyway. There’s assault weapons and then there’s defense weapons, as pistols traditionally are. We have a real disconnect between reality and the fantasy of a shoot-‘em-up video game.
That’s a major problem that I find in today’s world, but I’m still kinda sympathetic, to a large extent, to those traditionalists in America who value the much-vaunted Second Amendment. It’s the culture and tradition of a young country growing up in a time when a gun was — hell, you know, you wouldn’t have found me in the pioneer days of America, on a wagon train headed west, unless I had a trusty side-arm by my side and a Winchester carbine on my saddle. I would be armed to the teeth! It’s just that in today’s world, it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.
Trouble is, you’ve got, roughly speaking, 300 million rifles held in civilian hands. And in my country, as we did in 1997, we called in about 150,000 pistols that were being legitimately held with firearm certificates when handguns were banned in the UK. We were given nine months as an armistice to hand in our handguns. On the day when the armistice ran out, 150,000 handguns were handed in — on the day. People didn’t hand them in six months before.
And there was not one single case where somebody said, “You want my guns? Come and take them.” There’s something about the law-abiding, sporting, civilian shooting community in my country which I don’t think would happen in America if, for instance, an Obama determined to exercise gun control in a total way, calling upon the surrendering of all handguns. It’s unthinkable that people would comply! The difference is, many people have those guns and they’re not registered at all. There’s no record of them.
No serial numbers, no manufacturers’ name, no ownership, no certificate to show that you own them or that you’re safe to use them. Take Germany, for example, where you have to pass a test. You have to have to go to take serious lessons, you have to be examined, you have to demonstrate your safe and able use of a sporting firearm to hold a certificate and hold a rifle. Maybe that’s the modern age. Maybe in 100 or 200 years’ time, that will be the case in the USA.
It will certainly take a generation or more to exercise meaningful gun control, but I think you can safely start by trying to take out some of the fantasy assault weapon craziness, which I think there are very few people who have a credible case for having that kind of weapon technology in their possession. I think that’s probably the area where you’d have to start. Sadly, it is all too often that AR-15 derivatives are at the root of mass shootings, and of course, homegrown terrorism.
Poor old Eugene Stoner back in the 1950s. What would he be thinking to know he was responsible for that? What about Kalashnikov in 1947, the year of my birth? He developed and put into service the AK-47, the iconic assault rifle of all time, really. What would he think to know the terrible atrocities carried out by ISIS, for example, amongst many terrorist organizations who, if they can’t get their hands on an M-15 derivative, will go for an AK-47? It’s a scary thing to think that you are responsible for that killing, that mayhem, that madness.
I won’t be the person to say, “What about all the writings of the Old Testament?” Might they be feeling the same way, like, “What did I start here when I wrote all this stuff?” All the mayhem and madness and vengeance! But as an observer, I get to play it both ways. I can have guns and argue for gun control. I can argue against some aspects of organized religion, but I can still be a supporter of the religion I was born into, which happens to be Christianity.
I can see it both ways. I can argue in favor of total acceptance for people of different sexual orientation, but it doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing. I can see it both ways. That’s my lucky position in my life. I can try to see it from from both points of view and present the pros, the cons, the pluses and the minus, in the hope that people steer a middle course, because, I guess, that’s what we should sensibly do, especially in these times of divisiveness.
That’s the huge separation that’s occurring in your country — people whose political opinions are ever more polarized with every passing week, every passing scandal that goes on in the current administration. It’s just driving a wedge right down the middle of American society. It’s a horrible thing to stand and watch from the outside, as I do, having been so many times to America and having such a strong relationship with US audiences and with the whole story of America — what it is and what it is today. It’s painful to watch what’s happening. It’s a terrible thing. That’s why I say that you’ve got to make sense of it and try to walk that middle course.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Phone
Published: March 5, 2018
Total questions: 13
Word count: 6982
Reading time: Twenty-five minutes
accountant, aeronaut, airplane, AK-47, ammunition, AR-10, arcade, armistice, audit, austerity, belief, Bible, business, capacity, cathedral, Catholicism, Christianity, Christmas, church, computer, cowboys, crystallize, curling, derivative, dilemma, Dropbox, England, Eugene Stoner, extinction, faith, fascination, homo sapiens, horses, hotel, Ian anderson, iCloud, immigration, industry, intellect, Jethro Tull, lineage, mea culpa, migration, motorcycle, mouse, Nazareth, New Testament, ocean, Old Testament, Olympics, OxFam, paleontology, police, prayer, rabbit, religion, Salvation Army, species, tractor, turbulent, wildlife
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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