Who knew Ian Anderson, front-man for the seminal rock group Jethro Tull, is a space aficionado?
The singer and flautist, who grew during the Cold War, was impacted as much by events in the America-Russia space race as his fellow baby boomers and, over the years, has even written space references into his tunes.
Anderson also performed a live flute duet with NASA astronaut Catherine (Cady) Coleman at the International Space Station in 2011 on Yuri Gagarin's 50-year flight anniversary. The song covered, of course, was "Bouree," based on Bach's "Suite in E minor for Lute" and cemented in pop culture by Jethro Tull.
Anderson and I chatted about many things music, but the topic that really got his blood pumping was space. Following are excerpts from a fascinating conversation.
Jim Clash: You celebrated Gagarin's half-century flight anniversary performing a flute duet with Cady Coleman who was aboard ISS. What inspired that?
Ian Anderson: I did that night, yes, from Perm, Russia. I'm a child of the age of space exploration. I was born in 1947 at a time when Werner von Braun was in America helping develop rocket technology, and his counterparts from those Nazi years of innovative engineering were in Russia helping the Russians do the same. Before the age of puberty, I already was in a world where we knew about rockets and the dream of sending a man into space and to the moon. By the time I was 10, in fact, Sputnik took to the skies and that first 'beep, beep, beep' sound was played over the airwaves. For me growing up then, it was almost an emblem of something that was a dream coming true. When Gagarin went into space in '61, ahead of the Americans, those of us in the west who feared the Russians and what they represented were a little disappointed that Alan Shepard and some others managed to get up there in a less sensational way.
Clash: But, over the long haul, the west did prevail.
Anderson: The almighty dollar and promises and guarantees by JFK of getting a man on the moon all came true, and America had its day in July 1969. I think I was on tour in America at the time Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.
Clash: That's right. You even wrote the song "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me" on the "Benefit" album.
Anderson: Yes, for the guy who didn't get to step on the moon, which I find poignant in a rather sobering kind of reality. To have been part of all of that yet having in a way drawn the short straw and not get covered in glory, since he didn't get to do what [Buzz] Aldrin and Armstrong did, seemed a little unfair. I felt a moment of sympathy and sensitivity about that. Ironically, 40-odd years later my son-in-law, an actor, played Michael Collins in a docudrama about the first moon landing. By pure coincidence, he got to play the guy who didn't go to the moon, although he did get to kill a lot of zombies in his role in "The Walking Dead."
Clash: Do you have any interest in visiting ISS yourself?
Anderson: I do have an interest, but I'm not physiologically or mentally equipped. I'm 66, and it would take a year of my time and tens of millions of dollars to visit. I know from frequent e-mails with my friend, the lady astronaut, that it is not something at all I would feel comfortable to do. But she loved it! She was desperately unhappy to come back to Earth. To me, it's just insane; I wouldn't last 10 minutes. I'd be stir crazy. I'm claustrophobic and would not be a happy bunny up there. It's bad enough flying--when I have to get on an airplane to Australia, for example, I'm scared sh*tless. Even when I was very young, I knew I was not going to be a guy who was going into space. But my flute has been there and came back on one of the last Space Shuttle missions.
Coleman, by the way, is scheduled to perform with her flute at the world-famous Explorers Club on Oct. 25 as part of "Space Stories" where the likes of Apollo 16 moonwalker Charles Duke will be presenting. Wouldn't it be something if Anderson showed up with his own flute for another duet - this time on terra firma?
Cady, are you up for it? Ian, are you listening?
Jim Clash, an adventure journalist, is author of "The Right Stuff: Interviews With Icons of the 1960s" (AskMen, 2012) and "Forbes To The Limits" (Wiley, 2003).