[Work: Thick as a Brick, Ian Anderson, 1972]
It May Make You Feel:

Analyzing Lyrics in Jethro Tull’s Concept Album Thick as a Brick—Unserious Joke or Serious Art?

 

Introduction:

Photo of Jethro Tull by Cornet Benoit - Thick as a Brick, Ian Anderson - ironic, sincere, lyrics, analysis

Photo by Cornet Benoit

I know what you’re thinking: “What is an article about a progressive rock album doing in this book blog series?” Well, as you could probably tell from how it has featured poetry and plays in the past, this is not a book blog series; it’s a literary analysis and review series. And in any situation where poetry, which most would feel very comfortable labeling as literature, is a candidate for study—songwriting is eligible as well. Now, on to the topic at hand.

Fans of musicians like Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, and Arlo Guthrie are no doubt familiar with songs stretching above the ten-minute mark. And fans of bands like The Who, Rush, and Pink Floyd are familiar with entire albums built around one narrative or theme. But fans of Jethro Tull’s fifth album, Thick as a Brick, are automatically familiar with both.

This strange album from 1972 contains just one album-length song, also called “Thick as a Brick,” which was cut into two parts that filled both sides of the record on which it was originally distributed. But even when ignoring the song’s gargantuan duration, Thick as a Brick is an odd album; it was produced with the intention of poking fun at the pretentiousness of the long, thematic, narrative format of music (often called concept albums), and especially of progressive rock, which it also is.

This makes the album a prime example of parody which is seemingly undercut by the album’s success, with many missing the mockery and the album masquerading as a sincere expression for most listeners for decades. Much like how there are people like Nabra Nelson that see the novel Brave New World as a utopia rather than a dystopia, an artist’s intention might be distant from how people ultimately interpret or accept their art. Thick as a Brick even hit the number one spot on the American, Canadian, and Australian charts shortly after its release. But after all, is the song really just one big joke, or are people right to be taking it so seriously?

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[Work: Thick as a Brick, Ian Anderson, 1972]
It May Make You Feel:

Analyzing Lyrics in Jethro Tull’s Concept Album Thick as a Brick—Unserious Joke or Serious Art?

was last modified: March 28th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas B. Read - A Toccata of Galuppi's - art, time, death, commodity

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas Buchanan Read

Before returning to a consideration of a novel next week, I would like to once more (as I did in the last article’s analysis of two-centuries-old anti-slavery poetry) carefully examine a classic poem. In this case, it will be the poem “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” from (originally) the 1855 collection Men and Women by Robert Browning, who is known for pieces of poetry with a distinct narrative voice (such that his poems can be read as dramatic monologues). “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” is about art and death and beautiful music, and the analysis below is considerably lengthy, but I hope you will grant me the time.

An attention to artifice suffuses the act of invention whereby Robert Browning’s poems proceed from deeply characterized speakers. This attention to artifice necessarily involves a consideration of the relation between that which is artificial and that which is actual—a relation that can be understood as the more general form of which the relation between art and life is a particular form.

In his poem, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s,” the relationship between art and life becomes a subject of direct address for both the speaker of the poem and the performance represented by the poem itself. The poem expresses a view of art as a permanent representation of impermanent life. For those who consume the art, it becomes a reminder of the ephemerality of pleasure and life even as it discourses on a particular subject or aspect of life, and even as it operates in a tone far afield from melancholy.

Further, the act of consuming art, Browning’s speaker contends, is an economic act wherein time is traded for participation, contributing to life’s aforementioned brevity. Browning’s poem seamlessly blends a dramatic consideration of art as an inadequate-because-eternal approximation of human life with an evaluation of the grim commodification of art as a temporal purchase. Through this combination, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” reflects on the inadequacy of art to quell anxieties about mortality.

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[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

was last modified: June 15th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski