Thursday, December 4, 2008

Robertson Davies's Deptford Trilogy

So seeing Robertson Davies's portrait in the Yousuf Karsh exhibit at the MFA got me curious to read Davies. I had read at least the first book in the Deptford Trilogy back in college, so I started there. Here's my take on those books:

Fifth Business (1970)

Written as the memoir of Dunstable (Dunstan) Ramsay, upon his retirement as a history teacher at a Toronto boys’ school in 1970. He realizes the boys see him as ridiculous, and in a fit of indignation he decides to tell the headmaster the story of his life. Fair enough: I think the narrator realizes what a silly figure he cuts trying to justify himself, but at the same time he succeeds in convincing us that his life has some dignity, primarily by claiming for it the precise measure of dignity he deserves and no more. This is where the ittle concept comes in: Davies invented it as a term of European opera, meaning a fifth role type besides male and female leads and second leads: the fifth business is the odd man out who moves the plot forward in key ways for the others. And that’s what Ramsay is: by the end of the story we realize he’s only a bit player in his own life, and in the life of the world. The real story is about Paul Dempster and Boy Staunton.

The central incident of the story happens in 1908 when Ramsay is ten. He gets into an argument with his friend Boy (Percy), who starts throwing snowballs at Ramsay. Ramsay dodges behind some passersby, and a snowball hits one of them, a pregnant woman, Mary Dempster. She collapses, has her baby prematurely, and is never right in the head afterward.

Ramsay’s mother takes it upon herself to care for Mary, and so Ramsay himself ends up doing chores for her. At the same time Ramsay feels tremendous guilt—she took a shot meant for him. The baby, Paul, survives, but is never accepted by the village. The boys all ridicule the Dempsters, and it gets worse after Mary is caught having sex with a hobo. They become outcasts, Paul runs away with a circus, and Ramsay’s guilt grows.

He comes to see Mary as a living saint. Her simple wisdom and charity impress him, and later he sees her raise his brother from the dead; much later, he has a vision of her superimposed on a Madonna, when he’s near death on the battlefield at Paschendaele; still later he learns that the tramp she slept with reformed his life and started a mission for hobos. Ramsay considers these the three miracles required for sainthood.

He’s interested in saints throughout his life, although he was raised Presbyterian (=no saints); as a scholar he becomes a celebrated expert on hagiography, driven partly by his desire to see Mary recognized as a saint, and partly by his attraction to miracles and the possibility of wonder in a world rapidly becoming devoid of it.

He maintains an uneasy friendship with Boy his entire life; Boy is successful at everything, and eventually becomes one of the richest men in Canada. Boy marries a girl Ramsay had once had a crush on and lords it over him ever after (Ramsay lets it get to him, although he had ceased to love Leola long before she marries Boy). Boy seems to feel no guilt at all over what happened to Mary; Ramsay feels it ever after, and as Mary’s family dies, and Ramsay’s, Ramsay becomes her guardian and supports her for the rest of her life.

Ramsay encounters Paul a few times as an adult; Paul has become a magician, something Ramsay had introduced him to as a child. Magic, wonder, mystery, synchronicity, spirituality all play a huge part in the novel; the characters all have one mythic overlay or another, and in the course of the story Ramsay encounters a holy fool Jesuit and a Swiss woman, Liesl, he sees as the Devil; she gives him some good advice and they become sex friends.

The whole thing ends with a revelation and a mystery. Boy, Ramsay, and Paul meet when they’re all old men, and for the first time Ramsay talks about what happened with Mary and the snowball. Paul never knew; Boy says he can’t remember. And Ramsay reveals that the snowball had held a rock, which he has kept all this time. In other words, Boy’s action was serious, more than just a snowball – it would have seriously hurt whoever it hit. Boy doesn’t care; Paul says little. But that night Boy is found to have driven his car off a pier and committed suicide, seemingly; the stone is found in his mouth. Did Paul hypnotize him and kill him? Is this a long-delayed revenge?

You see what I mean: Ramsay plays a key role, but the real actors are Boy and Paul. Ramsay just suffers, just feels guilt – enough for him and Boy. And yet the focus is squarely on Ramsay: the dignity and psychology of the Fifth Business, who knows that’s all he is, and is content with it. Is in fact dedicated to trying to understand life from that perspective.

So: Davies famously employs Jungian archetypes in his fiction. I don’t know much about them. But I can pick up on some of the myth here. Mary=Madonna, Dempster=redemptor; Boy=eternal boy; Liselotte=Satan, he who lies a lot; etc. If that’s all that was in the novel I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much, but Davies gives each of these characters a life and a weight that makes them specific people, as well as archetypes; and sometimes they’re aware of their own or each other’s status as archetypes, although not to a metafictional degree.

There’s a lot here, a lot of plot strands I haven’t even mentioned; Ramsay’s relationships with women, for example, never very successful or ardently pursued. For a relatively short book, it’s packed with quite a lot of stuff. Davies doesn't waste a word, a scene, or a character. And yet it doesn’t feel like that: there’s time for verbal play, for attention to style, to the nuances of Dunstan’s voice, for scenes that feel relaxed and random even if they later prove to have moved key themes forward in an economical way.

Davies’s prose is interesting: at least in this book (which is trying to capture a sort of rusticated intellectualism slightly before the author’s own time), it’s a little more ornate than was standard for its day, and yet it’s recognizably modern. The humor is a little schoolteachery, a little fulsome, but this is balanced out by the novel’s pithy unsentimentality. The lack of sentimentality, on the other hand, never chokes off real emotion, never crosses into out and out cynicism. It’s a poised book.

It insists, most of all, on a spiritual dimension to life, on wonders and miracles as a part of human experience, even as its protagonist goes through all the disillusionment and soul-crushing of life in a claustrophic small Canadian town, the Depression,and service in the first World War. Boy becomes an atheist, but Ramsay points out that’s because he only ever worshiped himself anyway. Ramsay always knew there was more: Mary showed him that.

A peculiar book. Courtlier than what I’ve read of American fiction of its day, but no less modern.

The Manticore (1972)

In a way it feels like a middle book: interesting, but dependent on what came before, and ending in a way that only sets up the third book. Except that this doesn’t really resolve anything from the first book, and the third resolves nothing from this.

It’s about, and narrated by, David, the son of Boy Staunton, the guy who dies at the end of the first book. David is a lawyer, a bachelor, and an alcoholic, and he comes close to a breakdown just after his father’s death, and flees to Zurich to see if the Jungians can help him out. The book is mostly his conversations with Dr. Johanna von Haller, his psychiatrist, and as such it’s a straightforward explanation of the Jungian ideas that seem to have influenced the first book, but remained shrouded in mystery there. There’s mystery here, too, but lots of straightforward Jungian theory, too.

David’s story is essentially that he’s always been under his father’s thumb, but he worships his father. Took refuge in cold intellectualism—the law—partly because feeling scared him, with his mother dying and suspicions that she had been cheating on Boy with Ramsay (David is in denial about his father’s infidelities), and even suspicions that Ramsay might be his father… David’s life itself isn’t that interesting. One encounter with sex: his father arranges a night in Montreal with one of his mistresses. One encounter with love: a Jewish girl in Toronto whose parents decide he’s not good enough for her. One major discovery about his ancestry: that the first Staunton to go to Canada was not a respectable person but a bastard whose mother defiantly begged until she could take her child away from England. She had guts, is the word, and this stands David in good stead at the end… The one really new character we get, besides von Haller, is David’s nurse Netty, a domineering woman who may have killed, or at least facilitated the death of, Leola, because she always loved Boy.

In the end, on a break from therapy, David runs into Ramsay, Liesl, and Eisengrim in Switzerland, and they spend the holiday at Leisl’s castle. Leisl takes him up the mountain into a prehistoric cave once used as a chapel for worshiping bears: to get there they have to crawl through this tunnel for a quarter of a mile; coming out is terrifying for David, and he has to call on his great-grandmother’s strength to make it. A confrontation with the atavistic darkness and worshipfulness of the race, and a rebirth.

It’s definitely not the novel its predecessor is. Mainly I think this is because it seems to work so hard to explain the Jungian schematic. There’s more to it than that, but that’s where its heart seems to be, and it means that it falls a bit short of the delights of the first. On the other hand, it’s just as good a display of style, and in a different way. This is written in a pithy, measured, but still elegant style that reflects the lawyer’s love of simplicity, directness, and accuracy. And when it’s not trying to filter its characters through Jung it’s just as vivid a realization of character as the first book is.

This ends with the hint that David is just about to confront a very important woman, the next stage in his anima, someone who will help him complete his spiritual/psychological journey. But that's not what the third book is about.

(Or is it?)

(No, it isn't.)

World of Wonders (1975)

This one is told by Paul Dempster/Magnus Eisengrim. That’s not quite true: it’s Ramsay recording Paul’s life story as told by Paul in several marathon sessions. Paul’s audience is Ramsay, Liesl, and three people who are working with Paul to make a movie about the historic French magician Robert-Houdin. The three are a Swedish film director, Lind; his cinematographer Kinghovn; and Ingestree, a British novelist who’s coordinating the project for the BBC. The narration is taking place sometime after David’s in the second book, and the venue is first Switzerland, and then London, but there’s very little action in the present, just conversation.

But what conversation! There are few things I enjoy more in a novel than well-written dialogue, and this book is all that. My favorite novel for this is Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, with conversations and monologues that go on for chapters at a time, but never get boring. This is a whole book of that.

I dug My Dinner with André, too.

Paul’s life story is this: he didn’t exactly run away with the carnival as a child, as we were told in the first book. He was abducted by the magician, Willard, who was a pederast. The carnival was called the World of Wonders, and Willard kept Paul for most of his teens, raping him regularly until Willard’s addiction to heroin robbed him of the will and strength to do it anymore. Meanwhile, Paul’s role in the carnival was to sit inside this huge, grotesque mechanical Oriental and do card tricks. The important point was that Paul’s identity was completely erased in this way: audiences never saw him, and he sat out of site of anybody who knew his existence for most of each day. It was self-effacement at its purest. Eventually Willard’s addiction killed him, and for the last couple of years Paul was the master conjuror, exhibiting Willard as a geek.

Paul’s carnival years fill essentially the first half of the book. The second half covers what he did in his twenties, which was to join the touring theatrical company of one Sir John Tresize and his wife. This was in the ‘30s, and the Tresizes, we learn, were actors in a romantic tradition that was all but dead by this point, thoroughly despised or ignored by modern critics, although they were still loved by unsophisticated audiences. Paul’s role here, too, involved self-effacement: he was Sir John’s double for athletic scenes, such as a high-wire bit in Scaramouche. This called for another kind of disappearance, as Paul was required to learn how to duplicate Tresize’s every move, every air.

This covers most of the rest of the book, and fills in most of the important points of the Magician’s Autobiography, a genre that is the topic of a lot of discussion in the first and third books, since Ramsay writes Eisengrim’s. From Willard Paul learned conjuring, from Tresize he learned showmanship. The final ingredient came during WWII, which Paul spent in Switzerland fixing mechanical toys for a rich man who turns out to have been Liesl’s father. Paul and Liesl fall in a kind of love, and her money and vision help him to become Magnus Eisengrim. The end.

And an interesting story in its own right, with lots of vivid detail about carnivals and theatricals, lots of entertaining grotesques and romantic cameo sketches. But what makes the book really interesting is that at the end of every chapter (after Eisengrim goes to bed, leaving everybody in suspense), we get the hearers interpreting what they’ve just heard. At first we get the spiritual and doomy Swede, Lind, versus his utterly practical photographer, debating whether or not it’s possible to find and or convey depth in a story like this. Lind is all about the mystery at the heart of human experience, but Kinghovn is all about surfaces: give me the right light, he says, and I can simulate any depth, but in the end it’s all about the light. Ramsay, meanwhile, is of course on the side of mystery, but his main interest is to find out once and for all if Paul killed Boy Staunton.

In the second half the running commentary takes on a different tone, because it turns out that Ingestree had been a youthful member of the theatrical company at the same time as Paul. But Ingestree hated and hates everything Tresize stood for artistically: Ingestree is a Modern, and he locks horns with the uneducated Paul over every detail of the company. This in itself is a very entertaining clash, as Paul tries to make the case for artistic values that are not necessarily in fashion, while Ingestree insists that only what is current is of any worth. It’s pretty clear where Davies’s sympathies lie, but to his credit he makes Ingestree a pretty sympathetic voice.

Paul is kind of an idiot savant: the fact that he has no formal education, but is very articulate and thoughtful anyway, is constantly emphasized (not least of all by himself: one of the more vivid bits of characterization in the book). But everyone around him is so hyperintellectual that it kind of undercuts his insistence on street learning; like the other two, it’s a very erudite book, even as it trucks with carnivals and melodramas.

The vividity of the worlds depicted in the novel present an interesting challenge after the second book. Having learned, supposedly, the basic tools of Jungian analysis in The Manticore, we get the feeling we’re supposed to be able to unravel Paul’s story according to archetypes, but the shiny surfaces (Kinghovn’s territory) distract us. That very tension is part of what makes the book entrancing, though. I don’t pretend to have penetrated its depths.

What of the trilogy? It turns out to be largely the same events, or three sets of intersecting events, narrated by three different participants, with three very different outlooks. Paul is the Doer, in the thick of life in all its unpleasantness: he’s intelligent, but not a Thinker. Liesl says he lives according to almost medieval codes for understanding the world. Ramsay is the Thinker, intentionally sidelining himself from the business of life so that he can study it. He has a late in life fling with action, hooking up with Magnus’s show, but even then he’s relegated to the role of scribe.

What of David, then? I think he’s a substitute for his father. David is a minor character in the first book, and entirely absent from the third; and his story is largely about his father, about him coming to terms with his father. Every boy’s story is, in a way—David is a boy/David is Boy. That’s facile, but if David is not Boy, then Boy’s voice is very conspicuous in his absence. The central event of the trilogy is the snowball that Boy throws at Ramsay that hits Paul’s mother. We get Ramsay’s account, we get Paul’s account, but we don’t get Boy’s. We do, however, get an account by the only member of Boy’s family who seems capable of self-reflection, his son.

So who killed Boy Staunton? This book gives an answer, but I’m not sure I buy it. I’m not sure we’re supposed to buy anything Magnus tells us. I think it was David, and for reasons that are totally outside the text, but I think right up Davies’s alley. Boy Staunton is a Goliath in his son’s life, and a small stone, once slung in anger, is involved in his death. Who slings stones at giants? Davids.

But then, I've just said I think David is his father.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Karsh 100 and the new Ritts room at the MFA

There are two, count 'em two, photography exhibits going on at the MFA in Boston right now. The Tanuki got to take a good long look at both of them a couple of weeks ago.

One is Karsh 100, a big retrospective on Canadian portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh. I've been aware of Karsh for a long time, although for an embarrassing reason: he did a portrait of Rush for their album Grace Under Pressure, and as an incredibly nerdy Rush fan in high school, I noticed this. Also caught an exhibit of his work at the BYU art museum in '95 or '96, must've been. The MFA's show is far more extensive, though.

It includes selections of his non-portrait work, to give a better picture of him as a technician, an artist, and I guess as a person; some of his experimental early work, before he discovered his gifts (and patronage) as a portraitist, and some of the photoessay work he undertook in his maturity, social-realist views of Canada's cities, industrial utopian jobs for corporate brochures. All interesting, but not as interesting as his portraits.

Which I'm not sure are interesting, at least not in a high-art way. I kept looking for something deeper in the portraits, but all I found was what the sitters wanted me to see - what, presumably, the people who commissioned the portraits (who weren't always the sitters) wanted me to see. Famous things like the iconic picture of Hemingway, all manly beard and weatherbeaten face; this is how people wanted to see him, and Karsh gave it to them, larger than life. Or, to pick an example less well known to people in this country, his portrait of Robertson Davies (can't find this anywhere on the web to link to - sorry), which makes the man look like a palimpsest of Dickens and Pound, which is kind of what his books read like.

And yet: there's usually a startling beauty in the portraits, because Karsh was a master of light and texture. Flesh takes on the luster of marble, hair becomes silk; he'll often focus not just on the face, but on one point in the face, the nose or the chin, and everything else is just a little blurry, but that one point is indelibly captured. How you feel about one of his portraits will often depend on how you feel about the sitter, and the persona he or she projects, but if you can ignore that, there's a lot of surface beauty to lose yourself in.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had recently about a Van Dyck in the Baltimore Museum of Art. When you look at a portrait of a wealthy Dutch patron, do you see the loveliness of light on silk, or do you see capital? They're both there, of course.

The other photography exhibit at the MFA right now is the inaugural rotation of the new dedicated photography rooms they've opened, the Herb Ritts and Clementine Haas Michel Brown Galleries. The theme of this one is the body, and it's a splendid collection of stuff to look at. It ranges from the most experimental of things to the most accessible, and it's all great.

The accessible end of things is Herb Ritts his very own self, and it's hard to argue with his humongous (that's an art historical term) portrait of Sinead O'Connor. I guess I really am hopelessly bourgeois, if this grabbed me as much as some of the thornier pieces in the exhibit. But it did.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

James Bond review: From Russia With Love (1963)

(For my other Bond reviews, and my apologia for the project, see the tags on the right.)

CUT TO THE CHASE: The best of the Connery Bonds. If that makes it, by definition, the best of the Bonds, so be it. You’ll get no argument from me.

BOND, JAMES BOND: The first movie was such a hit that the second one decides to get a little meta on us. They kill Bond off in the pre-title sequence. They don’t bring him back for another ten minutes. When they do, they play with the idea of Bond’s celebrity - SPECTRE’s ruse is of a Russian intelligence clerk who has fallen in love with the glamorous British agent. MI6 and Bond don’t believe it, and of course we know it’s a trap - but in the end of course that’s exactly what happens, the girl does fall in love with Bond. The point being: who wouldn’t?

“Suppose when she meets me in the flesh, I don’t come up to her expectations?” he says, when M shows him the girl’s picture. As if.

And that’s Bond all over: women want to be with him, men want to be him. Connery showed us why in the first movie, but the movie itself was not a perfect success; here he has a movie worthy of his Bond. And it only adds luster to his Bond.

We might note, however, that already we have one definitive change in Bond’s character. The brief hints of loneliness we got in Dr. No are snuffed out here, replaced by the bonhomie he shares with Kerim Bey. For the moment, though, that dark side is not missed: we’re too busy enjoying Bond’s luster, and his lust for life.

What Makes Bond Bond: “Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.”

BAD GUYS: An embarrassment of riches here, deployed in interesting ways, before the Bond baddie became a formula. First and foremost we’ve got Robert Shaw as Grant, formidable and fun to watch; not as colorful as many later Bond villains, but the more believable because of it, and it makes the movie work.

He’s just the henchman, though; the real villain is the immortal Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb, ex-KGB, now working for SPECTRE. She’s suitably iron-clad and scary, but with a delicious hint of the sensuality and energy that must have filled her work with Kurt Weill. She’s one of the Bond series’ crowning glories, really - note the barest hint of sapphic interest she injects into Klebb’s appraisal of Tatiana.

But even Klebb is only a henchman. She works for SPECTRE, and for the first time we meet the head of that august organization. Or at least, we meet his hands. And his cat. A brilliant visual signature for the films, by the way, as evidenced by its ubiquity in Bond parodies. Later, of course, we’ll see a lot more of Blofeld, but he’ll never have the impact he does here.

GRATUITOUS SEX: Sylvia Trench is back (luv that name), the only time a Bond girl has made an encore appearance, although she’s really a minor Bond girl, and at least two other actresses have appeared twice, although as different characters.

We’ll pause to take note of the two gypsy girls Bond meets outside of Istanbul; the implied threesome is not only incredibly daring for 1963, it helps raise the gratuitous sex quotient of this film to a respectable four, among the highest of the series.

Of course the indelible Daniela Bianchi is the main Bond girl here, as Tatiana Romanova, the Russian spy who succumbs to Bond’s charms. Like Ursula Andress, Bianchi’s English was insufficient for the part, so her lines were looped by another actress. And looped well: that sultry voice is a big part of the character’s appeal. Another big part is quite small: that velvet choker. Vavavoom. Bianchi, with her Italian sophistication lurking just behind her character’s Russian sex-kitten veneer, is one of my favorite Bond girls.

AND VIOLENCE: Lots of memorable action sequences. Bond’s fistfight with Grant is a classic, the two of them thrashing around in the dark in the train, weird reflections in the shattered window and all. The assassination of Krilencu, as he crawls out between Anita Ekberg’s lips. Klebb’s shoes. The shoot-out in the gypsy camp. This movie is packed; it’s only here you realize how tentative Dr. No really was.

BOYS WITH TOYS: Q! For Quartermaster, of course. Only one real gadget, a tricky attache case. Naturally it comes in handy. But that’s hardly the point. The point is Bond’s attitude toward the whole thing: the politely concealed bemusement with which he listens to Q’s explanation of the gadgets, his game attempt to look relieved at having correctly followed the simple instructions. Bond uses the gadgets - he needs them - but he never welcomes them. He’s above them. Bond is not his gadgets.

Bond is a response to the late 20th-century crisis in masculinity, every bit as much as Fight Club was. But Bond doesn’t need Fight Club: as much as he loves his martinis, his suits, and later his cigars, he is not them.

JOIN THE NAVY AND SEE THE WORLD: The Orient Express: can’t get much more exotic a locale than that. Istanbul, Yugoslavia before it became the former Yugoslavia, and then Venice.

ETC.: If anything, the James Bond Theme is a bit overused here - people liked it in the first one, so they made sure we got enough of it this time. They still haven’t quite arrived at the full music formula, however: the opening title music is an instrumental, although a vocal version appears over the closing credits. There it’s sung, quite authoritatively, by Matt Monro… The title sequence itself is the first of the truly classic title sequences; it’s not Maurice Binder, but it’s a masterpiece of simplicity, logos projected onto belly dancers… No room for Felix Leiter, but Pedro Armendariz is the most memorable of all the Bond liaisons anyway… If you watch it right after Dr. No, and try to forget about the rest of the series, you realize this movie is, first and foremost, a sequel. From the way they overuse the music, to the way they take care to bring back even a throwaway character from the first film like Sylvia, to the way everything is bigger! and better! (more girls, more fights, more locations, more gunplay), it’s clear they’re doing what a sequel does, which is try to give the audience more of what they liked, with enough twists to keep it from feeling like the same thing. The marvel is that the sequel so far exceeded the original that more and more sequels became inevitable. This film was the pivotal one: Dr. No’s success ensured that this film got made, but if this film had failed, I wouldn’t be writing a series of James Bond reviews.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Baltimore Basilica

Me and Mrs. Sgt. Tanuki were in Baltimore for the Thanksgiving holiday. While there spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around the Mt. Vernon area, and we ended up at the Baltimore Basilica.

Like the city it graces, the Basilica is off the beaten path for most tourists, but it's one of the great buildings the Tanuki has seen in this country. Take a look here, and read up on its history here.

In brief, it was designed in 1805 by Benjamin Latrobe, who also designed the U.S. Capitol. The Basilica uses a lot of the same ideas: classical columns and a dome inspired by the Pantheon. All of this gives the exterior an unexpected look for a cathedral.

The interior is just as surprising. The ornamentation is not exactly minimalist, but definitely understated. Most remarkable is the color scheme, which has recently been restored to Latrobe's original vision: lots of white, with delicate pink and blue accents. In all, it's entirely different from, say, the shadowy, suggestive depths of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, or the dizzying detail on every interior surface of the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, or the colorful Southwestern primitivism of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City (which happen to be the other important U.S. cathedrals the Tanuki has visited).

The windows complete the vision. Evidently the Basilica had stained glass windows until a recent restoration, but that wasn't what Latrobe had originally intended, and in the renovation they went back to the clear glass windows he had called for. As a result, the interior is flooded with calm white light which interacts with Latrobe's airy color scheme to create an atmosphere of lightness and glory. It uplifts you, gently, rather than overwhelming you. The Old Cathedral in St. Louis has something of the same feel, with its clear windows and delicately modulated colors, but architecturally, that building feels little different than a normal church. The Baltimore Basilica is unmistakably monumental.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it feels closest to some of the monuments and early government buildings in D.C. It shares the same vision of rationality and spirituality supporting each other, and finding expression in an aesthetic that is at once direct and elegant.

It's one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been in.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Jethro Tull Mk. 1.5 / Mk. 2

So Mick Abrahams departed after the first album was recorded, and Jethro Tull Mk. 1 was no more. Jethro Tull Mk. 2 would happen when they found a long-term replacement, but in the meantime, as, let's call it Jethro Tull Mk. 1.5, they did two things.

They recorded one song without a lead guitarist: "A Christmas Song," released as the b-side of the Abrahams-led "Love Story." (See our comments on this song in our discussion of Jethro Tull Mk. 1, here.) "A Christmas Song" in fact doesn't seem to include any Tulls but Ian Anderson: the flute in the fade-in (carolers wandering up to the door, so to speak) must be him, and he's probably playing the stringed instrument (mandolin?) that backs up his vocal throughout the song. The other instrumentation is orchestral, no doubt courtesy of David Palmer, whose work with the band had begun with the horns on "Move On Alone" and would continue for many years thereafter. The drums may be Clive Bunker, but they don't sound like him. The song is a pithy, moralistic take on Christmas revelry, beginning with an ironic quote of the first verse of the carol "Once In Royal David's City" and proceeding to rake merrymakers over the coals. A Christmas classic, and a long way from the blueswailing - well, blueswhimpering - of the first album.

The second thing Tull one-and-a-half did was to experiment, for about five minutes, with adding guitarist Tony Iommi. Yes, mister Black Sabbath his own abaddonic self. They never recorded together, but Iommi did appear with Tull in the tapings for the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus. They're only miming to the studio version, unfortunately, but the video's worth watching anyway, to get a sense of how weird, yet cool, Tull were at this point. Later they'd be weird and geeky.

Abrahams's real replacement would be Martin Barre, who plays with Tull to this day. As a guitarist I've never been able to quite put my finger on him. He's played some really deathless rock leads over the course of his career, some solos that can stand up to any amount of air guitar, and yet I've never felt compelled to rank him among the Great Guitarists. Maybe I underrate him out of a sense that he was only playing what Ian told him to. Maybe it's just his Friar Tuck Goes to the Riviera look. Anyway, that underratability in 1969, with Tull Mk. 2.

They made their bow with a non-album single: "Living In The Past" backed by "Driving Song." "Driving" is forgettable, but "Living In The Past" was a real achievement. A catchy groove that just happened to be in five, probably in homage to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." Cool jazzy flute, and Barre on effective rhythm guitar. The whole thing is quite understated, and incredibly listenable. The lyrics aren't quite a statement of purpose, but may have been a reiteration of the aesthetic behind the cover of the first album: they were never quite a retro band, but neither were they ever really fashionable. Aware of the past, or rather determined not to be dictated to by the present.

Tull Mk. 2, then, was Ian Anderson on flute, acoustic guitar and such, and vocals; Martin Barre on guitar (and occasional flute, at first); Glenn Cornick on bass; and Clive Bunker on drums. They made one album together, and manage to avoid the sophomore slump by dint of the fact that this was in more ways than one a different band than had been heard before. Not only did they have a new guitarist: Anderson was now running the show. He'd stolen the handle, and the train wouldn't slow down.

Stand Up sounds like Ian Anderson's own personal version of the White Album. That is, if you hear the White Album as each Beatle staking a claim to his own style, or styles, his own metier; Stand Up is Ian doing that for himself. And, like the White Album, it sounds less like an album than a collection of songs in widely disparate styles. Look, ma, no rules.

It seems to have two of everything. You've got two electric bluesy things, featuring Barre's take on the blooz. They're not up to the mark of the blues things on the first album; they sound very British, very much like a second rate Cream. Still, they're catchy tunes, well performed, and they tend to show up on Tull compilations. "A New Day Yesterday" is the slow one; "Nothing Is Easy" is the fast one.

You've got two dreamy acoustic ballads, "Reasons For Waiting" and "Look Into The Sun." They're pretty interchangeable; "Look" has some tasteful electric guitar accents, while "Reasons" has a nice Hammond organ part and strings. If you dig Anderson's acoustic side (and I do), these are about as perfect a pair of specimens as you could ask for.

You've got two turbocharged fusiony rockers. "For A Thousand Mothers" never did all that much for me, but "Back To The Family" does; it introduces the light/heavy alternation that Anerson would exploit so effectively in the future. Here it trades between a gentle, seductive mid-tempo groove and a frenetic up-tempo passage; they're meant to illustrate the singer's successive frustration with living alone and living with his family. He gets stressed out either way, but hey, we can always jam... This is Barre's finest moment on the record. He gets a real nice sound in both the quiet and the loud sections, and the fact that he lacks Mick's blues credibility serves him well here, leading him into something a little more original. Straight rock, a hardness that would come, in time, to cast him as Anderson's main foil.

Other songs of note. Jeffrey makes a reappearance in "Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square," a
skipping little number that does indeed sound like "A Song For Jeffrey" revisited. It's arranged, rather than played, though, with very carefully chosen percussion notes and guitar lines. One imagines it would have been hard to pull off onstage. Its spiritual twin is "Fat Man," another acoustic number, but this one very fast. When I was younger and thinner I thought it a rather cruel lyric, and imagined Anderson was using obesity as a metaphor for wealth and property (the rich man and the eye of the needle, and all that); now I'm inclined to think fat represents fat.

What's left? Ah, yes, "Bourée." Jethro Tull does Bach. Here's an account of what a bourée is and where in Bach's ouevre this one can be found. Tull's take starts out fairly straight, then jazzes it up, with a superb Anderson solo followed by a great Cornick solo. As an idea (classical meets jazz), Bill Evans and others got there first, but not necessarily better.

This was probably the first indication that Tull's road would lead them to be classified as prog. But we must remember that there really wasn't any such thing in 1969. The idea was there: combine the freedom and new possibilities of rock with art musics such as classical or jazz as a way of furthering one's aesthetic horizons. Experiment, and see where it takes you. And really, how can you argue with that? Later there would be excess, and more significantly there would be ossification into a genre, with all the predictability that implies. But that hadn't happened yet in 1969. Instead, you had all sorts of groups, on both sides of the Atlantic, reacting to each other and, of course, to the ever-expanding Beatles, by trying new things. That's all Tull was doing.

So what else did Tull Mk. 2 do? One live track has been released, the Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee "To Be Sad Is A Mad Way To Be." It appeared in 1993 on the 25th Anniversary Collection box, but it's nothing to really write home about.

They also left one more non-album single: "Sweet Dream" backed by "17." "Sweet Dream" is Tull with horns (back to the John Evans Band idea?). A bombastic rocker, and I mean that as a compliment. But the b-side is, I believe, Tull 2's finest moment. A fairly simple melody, a mid-tempo groove, but played as loudly and raucously as Tull ever managed to be. The first and only time you could really imagine them as a party band. Cornick and Bunker pull this Stax-ish groove seemingly out of nowhere, Barre matches them with some Steve Cropper unleashed licks, and even Ian manages to sound soulful. Fantastic. You'd hardly guess it was Jethro Tull.