Monday, September 26, 2011

My Small Cigar by Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull, a band spearheaded by the renowned flutist Ian Anderson, wrote a song entitled "My Small Cigar." The song was part of the Nightcap album.

Jethro Tull's Nightcap Album

"A Small Cigar" is a song aimed against modernity, particularly as exhibited in its shallow drug culture, materialism, pornography, and escape from intellectualism. The cigar seems to be used as a symbol of tradition, of culture, of those simple things in life that bind men together in constructive ways, and not in ways that demean, that dumb down, that steal the use of reason.

"A Small Cigar" by Jethro Tull
"A Small Cigar"
by Jethro Tull

A small cigar can change the world
I know, I've done it frequently at parties
Where I've won all the guests' attention
With my generosity and suave gentlemanly bearing
A little flat tin case is all you need
Breast-pocket conversation opener
And one of those ciggie lighters that look rather good
You can throw away when empty
Must be declared a great success
My small cigars all vanish within minutes.

Excuse me, mine host, that I may visit
A nearby tobacconist
To replenish my supply of small cigars,
And make the party swing again.

I know my clothes seem shabby
And don't fit this Hampstead soiree
Where unread copies of Rolling Stone
Well-thumbed Playboys
Decorate the Hi-Fi stereo record shelves.
If you ask me they're on their way
To upper-middle-class oblivion.
The stupid twits, they roll their only
One cigarette between them.
My small cigar's redundant now.
In the haze of smoking pleasure,
Call it a day,
Get the hell away.
Go down the cafe
For a cup of real tea.

By the tube station, there's a drunk old fool
Who sells papers in the rush hour.
I hand to him ten small cigars
He smiles, says, "Son, God bless you."

A small cigar
Has changed his world, my friend
A small cigar
Has changed the world again

A small cigar . . .

Ian Anderson

The song reflects Ian Anderson's feeling of being disconnected with his generation especially at parties and other public gatherings which he attended. Cigars are a symbol of tradition, of culture, of "thick" human things, and not their shallow superficial substitutes. Cigar smoking used to be the staple of such meetings. In a social setting, cigars were meant to lead to meaningful, heart-felt, one-to-one communications ("breast-pocket conversation"). A cigar, of course, is not typically shared in common; there is no such thing as a communal cigar. Each individual has his own cigar. And yet cigars are shared, given as gifts, and they are smoked in common. Ex pluribus unum. G. K. Chesterton grasped this concept of a cigar when he stated: "The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar." This Catholic understanding of human solidarity and human communion, of perfect balance between individual man and social man, is in marked contradistinction to the social interaction which the modern world has ushered in, one based upon an extreme and therefore shallow individualism, social contractism, and the pleasure principle.

It is this extreme individualism and pleasure principle that has led to the social events which Anderson was forced to frequent to become infected by the superficial, shallow ersatz drug culture ("one cigarette between them," i.e., marijuana) and fogged in by the haze of materialism ("upper-middle class oblivion"). The participants of such gatherings are further being dumbed-down ("stupid twits"), and they are adversely affected by pornography ("well-thumbed Playboys," which, I'm sure, they all purchased for the articles).

It seems that a good old-fashioned cigar is no longer welcome among such modern barbarians, and the traditionalist finds himself unable to commune. So unnaturally he must find solace alone at a cafe. But this trip is fortuitous, for he stumbles across a destitute newspaper salesman, with whom he charitably shares the cigars the barbarians were uninterested in, and who thanks him for such kindness in a manner that the modern barbarians never could. The act of charity results in a communion of persons, cigars becoming, as it were, a vehicle for actual grace.
A small cigar
Has changed his world, my friend
A small cigar
Has changed the world again.
Cigars make friends, and friendship changes the world.

1 comment:

  1. An anatomist could not have dissected it better, Andrew. Thanks for sharing, great song and even better insight.