Sitting on a park bench
Eyeing little girls with bad intent
Snot running down his nose
So begins "Aqualung," the first song on the album of the same name -- which was Jethro Tull's best-selling album by far. (It has sold over 7 million copies worldwide.)
Aqualung is often characterized as a concept album, although Ian Anderson (the band's leader) has said that it was "just an album of varied songs of varied instrumentation and intensity."
The album is not exactly all sweetness and light -- like many records of that era, it lashes out against certain evils. It includes several songs which take a bite out of organized religion, and two that tell the story of two grotesque and reprehensible individuals.
"Cross-Eyed Mary" is a schoolgirl prostitute who prefers the company of old men to that of the "little boys" she goes to school with. She's the "Robin Hood of Highgate" -- an expensive London suburb -- who makes her rich patrons pay handsomely, but is willing to give herself gratis to poorer men.
Cross-Eyed Mary is not unknown to "Aqualung," a homeless man who is old, infirm, filthy, and a little crazy -- not to mention a perv who hangs around the school playground hoping to catch a glimpse of the girls' "frilly panties" as they play.
In other words, Aqualung is perhaps the most repulsive character in any rock song ever recorded. But it's hard not to feel sorry for this wreck of a man.
The last lines of the song speak of Aqualung's demise -- the freezing weather that landed in the hospital, where he can breathe only with the help of a machine . . . until he breathes no more:
Do you still remember
December's foggy freeze?
When the ice that clings on to your beard
Is screaming agony
And you snatch your rattling last breaths
With deep-sea-diver sounds
And the flowers bloom like madness in the spring.
Aqualung misses out on the flowers, of course -- he's six feet under when they "bloom like madness in the spring."
Aqualung was one of the most popular records on my college campus. Ian Anderson's crazy flute playing made it unique and instantly recognizable. Jethro Tull released over a dozen albums in the decade that began in 1968 and ended in 1978, but this is the only one know I know well. If "Jethro Tull albums" was a category on "Family Feud," Aqualung would undoubtedly be the number one answer by a wide margin.
The Songfacts website -- which has a lot of very interesting things to say -- has quite a bit on "Aqualung."
Here's the song:
Here's a link to use to buy the song on iTunes:
Here's a link to use if you prefer Amazon: