When the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey was at the height of its climaxing success, Ian Anderson picked up a copy.
He only made it through half of the first page before tossing it aside. In a phone interview, the Jethro Tull frontman called the best-selling novel "dreary" and "repetitive."
Anderson knows a good story when he sees one. He's a master storyteller himself, and he and his band will perform one of his greatest stories at Abravanel Hall on Monday: the twilight and dawn of the life of one Gerald Bostock. Anderson and his band will present the entirety of 1972's "Thick as a Brick," and then the entirety of "Thick as a Brick II," Anderson's 2012 follow-up, subtitled "Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?" Bostock was a fictional 8-year-old featured in that 1972 album, one of Jethro Tull's most popular albums.
"Thick as a Brick" paradoxically celebrated and parodied the idea of a concept album, which was en vogue in 1972 with albums by the likes of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Some critics even called Jethro Tull's prior album "Aqualung" a concept album, which Anderson disputes.
Ironically, "Thick as a Brick" is now regarded one of the greatest concept albums of the rock era, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard charts when it was released. Fans were drawn in by its time-signature changes, tempo shifts, unique compositional methods and, above all, Bostock.
For decades, Anderson resisted record label reps and friends' overtures that he should revisit the story of Bostock, whose epic poem (written by Anderson) about the trials and tribulations of a young boy inspired "Thick as a Brick." "I don't like going back to the nostalgic time of 1972," Anderson said.
But what eventually persuaded the famous flutist to return to the topic was that he found himself wrestling with a way to talk about the world and realized the character of Bostock might be an appropriate vessel to do it. Bostock, Anderson said, was a "metaphor for all of us" as we are deciding to take one or another path. He believes the story has relevance for people at both ends of the age spectrum.
But Anderson didn't want to create just one path for Bostock. Instead, he considered 20 possibilities, narrowing the choices to five potential scenarios.
In "Thick as a Brick II," he envisions Bostock becoming an avaricious investment banker, a homeless man, a soldier in the Middle East, a self-righteous evangelist and an ordinary man who runs a corner store and is married and childless. As he writes in the album's coda, "What-ifs, Maybes and Might-have-beens":
We all must wonder, now and then,
If things had turned out well just plain different.
Chance path taken, page unturned or brief encounter, blossomed, splintered.
Might I have been the man of courage, brave upon life's battlefield?
Captain Commerce, high-flown banker, hedonistic, down-at-heel?
A Puritan of moral fiber, voice raised in praise magnificent?
Or rested in assured repose, knowing my lot in quiet content?
As he hopes concertgoers will realize, the life or lives of Gerald Bostock serve as parables that allow us to examine our own lives much more than E.L. James could hope to.
Ian Anderson's 'Thick as a Brick' 1 & 2
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson will play in a theatrical setting with his band and additional guests.
When • Monday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $36-$56 at ArtTix.org