Aqualung Is Just A Dirty Old Man

Aqualung is a grubby homeless man with poor hygiene that Ian Anderson made up and wrote about based on actual photographs of transient men.  Ian’s wife at the time, Jennie, was an amateur photographer and she had taken these pictures of people on the Thames Embankment as a photography student and then she brought them to Ian for him to look at.  One man in particular shown in these photographs caught their interest.  Aqualung is an undesirable person that emerged from the dregs of society, who is thought to be a perverted, disgusting bum having no property, originating from a lower class of human.  The other character that was spawned from these pictures is another form of low life named Cross-Eyed Mary.

Cross-Eyed Mary is a schoolgirl prostitute but not your everyday hooker.  She is not too particular about who she goes with. Dirty old men are acceptable because she enjoys doing them a favor, she gives sex to these people so they can be happy with themselves and this is not just for the in-the-moment pleasure, but a greater sense of well-being, thus she becomes a welcome distraction from their everyday misery.  There is no indication of Cross-Eyed Mary cuddling or kissing, but she leaves smiles on their faces and they feel good about life.  Mary is under the legal age of consent, but she is probably not part of organized crime and I don’t think that she has a pimp, but maybe the jack-knife barber is her pimp.  She is still in school and there is no mention of how she got started living this wretched existence of offering her services to the dregs of humanity.  Ian Anderson felt that there is a certain spirituality in all people, even a prostitute, who most people consider to be undesirable and unpleasant.  All people are God’s creations in one way or another, and there must be within these people some very essential humanity, even some goodness, some good side to their character or personality which is admirable.  Anderson saw Cross-Eyed Mary as a good person reacting to bad circumstances.  Anderson envisions her as if she is a kind of a Robin Hood prostitute, taking as much money as she can from her clients who can afford it, but she freely gives away her services to those who can’t afford to pay her.

The original Jethro Tull invented the seed-drill, which gave birth to modern agriculture.  About 270 years later, a British band named Jethro Tull released Aqualung, effectively giving birth to flute-driven progressive rock.  Aqualung is the name of Jethro Tull’s fourth album, which was released in March 1971, and it is also the name of their most famous song featured on this album and a homeless character who got this nickname because he appeared to have breathing problems.  Ian Anderson came up with this name while he was watching the TV show Sea Hunt.  This was Jethro Tull’s breakout album and it would become one of their most important ones, both lyrically and musically, as this landmark album sold over seven million copies, and it is the band’s best-selling album.

Jethro Tull got a new keyboardist John Evan and a new bass player Jeffrey Hammond, and they turned down the heavier electric elements of their previous albums and replaced them with more pastoral, acoustic sounds.  Two singles came from this album, ‘Hymn 43’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’.  In 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine listed Aqualung at #337 of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  They did win a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental on their 1987 LP Crest of a Knave, but Jethro Tull has not made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, maybe because they were more into making albums than singles, which went against the music that was played on AM radio.

In the first line of this song, Ian Anderson makes a reference to a traditional English counting nursery rhyme that is used to define future careers, Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, which by the way is also a song done by the Yardbirds in 1967.  He is saying that Cross Eyed Mary was acting normal by taking money from rich people, not stealing candy from babies, instead she was seizing the opportunities that were afforded to her.  Mary is a street prostitute, so she jumps into her client’s cars to provide her services.

Hampstead is one of London’s most beautiful, affluent areas and Hampstead Village is a quaint wealthy exclusive area of North London.  Cross Eyed Mary’s clients pay for her meals by claiming them as business expenses.  The jack knife barber is a man who performs illegal abortions and he is probably on the payroll of these rich people working as a part time chauffer.  Mary goes back to her regular day after providing her customers with what they want and this is her normal routine, so she is able to act like nothing happened, when she gets dropped off at her school.

Mary has no interest in brass buttons and bobby socks, but she is still a young girl, so she is able to laugh while she is on the playground, but unlike the other girls her age, she has no interest in little boys.  Mary has kinky thoughts about being with a lecherous old man instead of playing with the other children.  The character Aqualung makes a cameo in this song, presumably as one of Mary’s customers, or maybe he is just a voyeur who is sexually attracted to females that are sexually developed, but below legal age.  The album’s eponymous character seems to take pleasure in watching Mary through the railings as the children are playing in the schoolyard.

She doesn’t get along very well with kids that are her age.  Mary would rather let some poor man have a pleasant day by making the impoverished and miserable feel like rich men, as she performs sexual activities with them.  To give something for a song means to give it away for a very low price, so Cross-Eyed Mary is offering her services for next to nothing.  Robin Hood is the quintessential, legendary example of taking from the rich, and giving to the poor.  Mary is able to entice wealthy clients, getting them hooked to her services.  This income allows her to perform what is almost an act of charity, giving away her services to the poor for a very low price, and maybe even for free.  Highgate is one of the most expensive suburbs of London.  In the Victorian era, it was the site of the St. Mary Magdalene House of Charity, an institution for the rehabilitation of fallen women in the profession of prostitution.  Working as a prostitute meant Mary was able to have income, but her true desire was to see everyone get along.

[Verse 1]
Who would be a poor man, a beggarman, a thief —
If he had a rich man in his hand
And who would steal the candy
From a laughing baby’s mouth
If he could take it from the money man

[Chorus 1]
Cross-eyed Mary
Goes jumping in again
She signs no contract
But she always plays the game

She dines in Hampstead village
On expense accounted gruel
And the jack-knife barber
Drops her off at school
Hey

[Verse 2]
Laughing in the playground —
Gets no kicks from little boys:
Would rather make it with a letching grey
Or maybe her attention is drawn by Aqualung
Who watches through the railings as they play
Hey

[Chorus 2]
Cross-eyed Mary
Finds it hard to get along
She’s a poor man’s rich girl
And she’ll do it for a song

She’s a rich man stealer
But her favor’s good and strong:
She’s the Robin Hood of Highgate —
Helps the poor man get along
Hey

[Flute solo – Guitar solo]

[Verse 2]
Laughing in the playground —
Gets no kicks from little boys:
Would rather make it with a letching grey
Or maybe her attention is drawn by Aqualung
Who watches through the railings as they play
Hey

[Chorus 1]
Cross-eyed Mary
Goes jumping in again
She signs no contract
But she always plays the game

She dines in Hampstead village
On expense accounted gruel
And the jack-knife barber
Drops her off at school
Hey

[Outro]
Cross-eyed Mary
Oh Mary
Oh Cross-eyed Mary

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Property and for November Writing Prompts – Brass buttons and bobby socks.

8 thoughts on “Aqualung Is Just A Dirty Old Man

  1. I’ve always been a Jethro Tull fan. I first heard the band’s songs on a progressive rock radio station and ended up buying most of the group’s albums. I remember being on a date and I told her that I really enjoyed Jethro Tull. Her response was, “Yeah, he’s great.” She was obviously clueless that Jethro Tull was the name of a group and not a “he.”

    Liked by 1 person

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