On its surface, Aqualung by Jethro Tull appears quite simple. The titular character of the song is a pitiable homeless pedophile. Digging a little deeper, you start to get the real story.
Rather than a song about a homeless pedophile, Aqualung is about how we, as a society, view the poor and homeless in the most dehumanizing way. It’s a tribute to those who have been failed by the system and fallen through the cracks. Since Aqualung is sitting on a bench in the park watching children play, he must be a pervert waiting to pounce. It’s akin to how, whenever one sees a “homeless; will work for food” sign, people will pass by and think to themselves “well, he’s obviously a drug addict.”
Aqualung is a tragic character all around. A man who goes to the toilet and urinates on his feet to keep them warm. Whose only solace is at the Salvation Army, where he can get a cup of tea. One who wears shabby clothes, has dirty fingers, and is all alone in the world. A man who’s dying, as his breathing has “deep sea diver sounds”, or the sounds of someone using an Aqualung.
Cross-eyed Mary is a companion piece to Aqualung, and Mary is a schoolgirl prostitute who services rich men in the affluent area of Hampstead Village, dines with the wealthy johns, and then brings the money she’s earned and stolen back to the poor, offering cash and her services for next to nothing. This is what makes her the Robin Hood of Highgate. And the rich men in town who use her services don’t give half a damn about how messed up this situation is, as the back alley abortionist drops her off at school when her shift is over. Nonetheless, Cross-eyed Mary is the hero of this story, as she does what she can to not only provide for herself, but help raise the spirits of the people of Highgate.
On top of both of these tracks examining the plight of the indigent in London, they show nothing but sympathy for the eponymous characters in the songs. Ian Anderson wanted you to take a step back and realize that people like Aqualung are human too, worthy of respect, and assuming the worst of them just because of their unfortunate state is an awful thing to do.
We have a huge issue with homeless people in the US, and people are taking drastic and evil measures to make their lives even more miserable. Many homeless shelters are only open at night, which means they’re left to their own devices for the day. And shelters only have so many beds, which means not everyone will be able to get in. During the day, they are left to their own devices, which is horrendously dangerous when it’s miserably hot or freezing cold. Or if, you know, you have an unfortunate run in with the police. That’s always a danger too. Homeless people will check into emergency rooms and complain of a various ache or pain just to get out of the weather, have somewhere to rest their feet, and nab a bagged lunch. This is a huge problem that, in what is alleged by some to be the greatest country on earth, so many people are in dire straits.
So any time you see a homeless person carrying a sign, think of Aqualung. Remember not to think the worst. The homeless have it hard enough as it is without people using them as a punching bag.