Alaska

Far Alaska by Jethro Tull

Pick a place or stick a pin in
any corner of the sphere
Post me cards and tell me nicely
Say you wish that I was here Read full Lyrics
Let me be clear: Far Alaska isn't about Alaska. Not really. Okay, well, it is about Alaska, but it isn't ONLY about Alaska. But who am I kidding? Is every Songplaces article actually about the place it claims to be? Mostly. Not always, and not completely. Stay with me and you'll see where I'm going with this.

"Far Alaska," by British rockers Jethro Tull, is about traveling the world; the whole world. The lyrics mention Alaska, Brazil, and Norway, specifically, but the point is that the singer wants to get out and see the world, or at least as much of the world as he possibly can. This is something I know all about, having lived in six different countries in the past five years. I've been from the western tip of Europe to the eastern tip of Japan and from the northern tip of China to the southern tip of Africa. It was always my dream to see as much of the globe as possible, and like Jethro Tull (and other touring musicians), I created my own chance to do just that (in my own way).

Anchorage, Alaska<br>photo: Bruce PedersenAnchorage, Alaska
photo: Bruce Pedersen
Now, I'm writing from Alaska. So this song speaks to me, and there aren't many written about Alaska to begin with. The 49th state is the northernmost and westernmost (and the largest) of the 50 states, and is located only 90 miles from Russia. Cue Sarah Palin.

The population of Alaska is mostly Native Alaskans, who (unlike their lower 48 counterparts) don't live on reservations. Instead, thanks to the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, their villages exist as pieces of 12 corporations that dictate the laws and regulations under which the natives live, work, and own land. The lifestyle within these very rural villages is unlike anywhere else in the United States. For starters, it's impossible to visit these villages by land. You have to fly into them; every village has its own gravel airstrip for both transportation and cargo shipments (which is great since the only way to get any food is either shipped from online retailers, or what you hunt, gather, and catch yourself).

Personally, I couldn't hunt anything for a couple major reasons. One, I'm a pacifist and a Buddhist who doesn't believe in killing anything. Two, hunting is largely sitting around on logs and waiting for the animals to show themselves. You have to watch and listen, and let me tell you, if I'm sitting outside for hours in -40 Fahrenheit temperatures, you'd better believe I've got my iPod in and Jethro Tull blaring into my ears. I wouldn't hear any moose, caribou, or bears coming until they were on top of me – at which point, I'd probably be as good as dead myself. I'd have much more fun going to a rock concert (so Ian, come up to Alaska, if you haven't been already).

A bald eagle in Alaska<br>photo: Stephanie PedersenA bald eagle in Alaska
photo: Stephanie Pedersen
By the end of the century, 30 years of writing and playing had given Ian Anderson (and the members of the band who stayed with him – none were from the original lineup, unfortunately) exposure to vastly different cultures, people, and music. His goal with 1999's J-Tull Dot Com – the band's 20th studio album – was to implement some of those influences into Jethro Tull's music, influences he had earned first-hand. These guys weren't sitting around listening to the World genre in their iTunes store. They were out there, living, traveling, and collaborating with musicians across the globe. The entire album is an homage to world music, and "Far Alaska" is but one track of the auditory mosaic they were able to create.

They had earned commercial success decades earlier with tracks like "Locomotive Breath" and "Aqualung." However, it took time to hone their musical skill to earn critical success and a respectable place among rockers and classical musicians alike. Anderson and Jethro Tull never really followed the formula for rock music at any point in their long career. One of least known and most impressive contributions to popular music was their 1972 release, Thick as a Brick, a single track lasting over 43 minutes and filling both sides of the album. It is one continuous piece of music. Quite impressive.

Is it possible the flute-toting lead singer, Ian Anderson, and the rest of Jethro Tull toured to Alaska? Yes. Is it likely? No. And even if they had, they would have been in a city like Anchorage or Fairbanks and not in tiny (.2 sq. mi.) villages like Noatak, Tanana, Napakiak, and Chitina. But they did see much of the rest of the world, and it was those experiences that influenced their ever-changing sound and style.

-Justin Novelli
November 24, 2020
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