In 1976, my brother, three and a half years older than me, purchased a Jethro Tull greatest-hits collection with the curious title M.U. — The Best of Jethro Tull. (I’ve since learned that “M.U.” is Brit-speak for “Musicians’ Union,” but it still doesn’t make sense as a title.) Back then, albums often came with bonus mini-poster inserts, and my brother covered the walls of his room with them: the oblique Egyptian-pyramid images that accompanied Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the Eagles’ hairy-gothic band portrait from Hotel California, the collage poster from the Beatles’ White Album...
But the Tull album, the one the least consequential musically to our family, offered the poster that remains lodged in my brain: a “Last Supper”-style image of the band’s second and third lineups reunited over drinks and coffee at a banquet table:
As is the way of childhood, when the days seem to stretch out forever, I spent hours, ages, contemplating the strange creatures in this photograph: their ostentatious finery*, their prodigious facial hair, their palpable merriment; they were my own Sendak Wild Things. (Ian Anderson, in the center, seems to be roaring more than laughing.) They were also magnificently named: one was called Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, another Barriemore Barlow. For some reason, I was most obsessed with bassist Glenn Cornick, the bespectacled fellow second from right in the crocheted hat, glasses, and floral-print shirt.
I puzzled over these creatures, wondering if, should they ever have come upon me, they would have beaten me up or welcomed me into their band; it could have gone either way. Now, when I regard this image, I love the weighted-down heaviness of it—the dark brick, the dark fabrics, the straw-covered chianti bottles, the gauche flower arrangements. There’s something wondrous in all the baroque ugliness, and I can see how a child, any child with this image tacked to a familiar wall in his home, could get lost in it. I should add that this Tull poster remains intact, on the very closet door where my brother put it up in ’76; my mother still hasn’t taken it down. And I am still taken in by it.
* When I was still a regular contributor to GQ, I suggested to its editor, Jim Nelson, that the magazine restage this photograph as a fashion shoot, using models in clothing that evoked the clothing that the Tull members wear here. I figure that Paul Smith alone must have the duds to match these pretty closely. But Jim didn’t go for it.