JETHRO TULL: What is the meaning of the term “aqualung” in the Jethro Tull song Aqualung?


Mark R Frank, replies …..

The aqualung was invented by Jacques Cousteau. It’s known by the acronym, SCUBA—Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Anyone who has watched “Sea Hunt” or any number of underwater nature shows has heard the noisy intake and release of air. In the song, “Aqualung” is the tramp’s nickname, given to him because of the horrendous noises he makes inhaling and exhaling with a cold in “December’s foggy freeze.” “Do you remember December’s foggy freeze when the ice clings on to your beard in screaming agony and you catch you rattling last breaths with deep sea diver sounds while the flowers bloom like madness in the spring.” I imagine his breath billowing out and kind of looking like a bouquet of flowers. “Leg hurting bad as he bends to pick a dog end. He goes down to the bog and warms his feet.”

A “dog end” is English slang for a cigarette butt. Tramps pick up cigarettes, the ones with more tobacco being a prize. They smoke those and save the others and put the tobacco together for a smoke. He might have bought a pack of cigarette papers (Rizlas) or found a pack with a few left in a rubbish bin or on the street. The “bog” is a London underground toilet.

In areas like Hammersmith there are underground walkways so pedestrians can avoid the busy traffic. I suppose it’s similar in Highgate (if you’re going to be homeless, you might as well be homeless in a nice area) Toilets are also underground, so tramps can go underground for some warmth and go to the toilet. Although it’s walled in white tiles and kept pretty clean, it’s often damp and varying degrees of smelly, so the comparison to a “bog” is an apt one.

Jethro Tull and genius Ian Anderson are underappreciated, and Aqualung, song and album, is one of the transcendent works in rock and roll.

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