If you remember the elusively bedraggled homeless character of the ’70s that inspired one of the greatest rock anthems of all time, you have probably reached my age. Congratulations. Back then Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” conjured up more desperate isolationism than Eleanor Rigby, and cast a tattered shadow that nearly obscured Black Sabbath’s ode to the apocalypse, “Iron Man.” “Aqualung” was the embodiment of the homeless back in the ’70s: crazy, disconnected, obscene. According to Jethro Tull founder and flautist/frontman Ian Anderson, “Aqualung” was “a guilt-ridden song of confusion about our reaction of guilt, distaste, awkwardness and confusion, all these things that we feel when we’re confronted with the reality of the homeless.”
Had we known then what we know now about the homeless, “Aqualung” may have foretold today’s homeless situation — a crisis that inspired me to found the nonprofit organization The Man/Kind Project in 2016. It’s no wonder that I reached out to the co-writer of “Aqualung” to enlist his help to provide care to the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic? “Good luck with that,” a member of my board of directors told me. “You’d have more luck prying Hendrix’s Stratocaster from his cold dead fingers.”
Well, not according to a recently released video from The Man/Kind Project that leverages Anderson’s music and voice to raise funds for #CovidKindness care bags for the homeless, the elderly and others whose lives have been derailed by the pandemic. Within an hour of pitching Ian via his son James, we had a recorded voiceover of another Anderson tune, “Crash Barrier Waltzer,” that has gone viral and attracted major players in the entertainment business to our cause.
Ian would be proud that his work has resurfaced in the guise of a kinder, gentler version song that speaks of pour souls with “no bed, no bread nor butter.” It’s a heart-wrenching ode to empathy where power chords are replaced by lilting strings and woodwinds.
“In a crisis, it’s tempting to build a wall around your family and just hang on,” said writer-director Billy Ray, praising any effort “to look outward, to help more people, to expand the scope of this magnificent operation even though doing so is truly perilous and dangerous.”
Billy may have been referring to the part of the video where we are literally in the street, masked and gloved like characters relegated to the cutting room floor of a Tarantino grindhouse film, tending to the homeless. We go to where they are, and don’t force them to wait on lines for sustenance. The empty streets ridding them of the opportunity for hand-outs from passers-by.
Even Hollywood’s Rabbi, David Baron, offered words of inspiration: “During this stressful time, stepping outside of yourself and helping others is actually a resilience mechanism that helps the giver as much or more than the recipient.” The smiles and “God bless you’s” that we get from our homeless brothers and sisters is payment in full.
Now they are the focus of a campaign of care. People like Ray, Rabbi Baron, songwriter Mike Stoller and harpist Corky Hale, TV actor and activist Anne-Marie Johnson and producer-philanthropist Peter Samuelson have reminded us that social distancing does not mean being socially distant.
Watch the Man/Kind Project video above.