When confidantes and business associates began pitching Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson on ways to celebrate his band’s 50th anniversary in 2018, he was less than inspired. “Of course, offers were coming in,” says the famed flautist, 70, who has a distaste for nostalgia. But he adds, “Eventually, I began to like these ideas, and they took on their own momentum and actually became quite exciting.” Two are symbiotic: Rhino Records’ new best-of anthology “50 for 50” and an attendant greatest-hits tour with Anderson’s 12-year-old solo backing band. Anderson also is selling elaborate tour programs featuring bios of all 36 past Tull members, and highlighting them in retro live footage.
Thirty-six members — that’s a lot.
You will catch a glimpse of them all. But in some cases, it is just a glimpse, because you can’t feature 36 people in any real big degree of participation because there wouldn’t be any time left for the music, or indeed the musicians who are standing on the stage playing it. And, as I like to remind journalists who inquire “Will you be getting together with the old band?” But with 36 people onstage, it would get kind of crowded, and there would be three coffins, and there would have to be nurses and paramedics in attendance, because some of the musicians who are still alive aren’t feeling very well at the moment.
But you really do despise birthdays and other ways of marking time?
It’s not so much that I hate them; I just don’t revel in them the way that other people do. I always found that it’s a little bit embarrassing to be reminded of birthdays. I can understand if it’s somebody else’s birthday. I’ll be there and be joining in, in the spirit of it. But I don’t enjoy it when it’s me. And I don’t like parties or revelry, ever since I was just a kid. So nostalgia, when it becomes ritualized by others, is a bit awkward. I spend a lot of time thinking about the past — not only my own past, but the past in regards to history. But I don’t feel what other people call nostalgia. It’s the same thing performing old Jethro Tull music onstage. If I’m singing a piece, I’m not thinking about what happened 40 years ago when I wrote it.
How does it feel, looking back on a half century of achievement, though?
The whole nature of being in the world of performing arts is that it’s a Peter Pan existence, so you have to try and enjoy the moment. Just by the virtue of what you do, there’s a certain timelessness to it. It transcends points in history.
IF YOU GO
Ian Anderson presents Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary Tour
Where: Greek Theatre, 2001 Gayley Road, Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. June 2
Tickets: $45 to $115