Jon Anderson Is Alive and Well and Will Be Flash-Mobbing On South Street Next Week

The (former) Yes lead singer on the Spectrum, Smerconish, and his Quebecois "impersonator"

The man who brought us “Roundabout”, “And You & I”, and “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” comes solo (as in, just him and his guitar) to the TLA next Tuesday. I reached him at his hotel in Hamilton, Ontario to see what’s up with the 65-year old prog rock giant.

I was surprised to hear that you were touring solo, since I thought that you weren’t with Yes due to illness.

Yes, I got pretty sick a couple of years ago, so I didn’t really want to get into the grind of doing 5 shows a week again. After 40 years of doing it, there’s a reason why your body stops working correctly. But the solo thing, it’s been really wonderful traveling around Europe, doing a show here and there, maybe a couple in a week.

And how is your health today at 65?

Very good. It’s been quite an interesting experience. It wasn’t on my radar to get sick. You feel invincible… It was very touch and go, so you have great respect for the paramedics, doctors, and nurses. My whole system shut down a couple of times. After that, I had six months where I didn’t sing. I did a lot of painting. And I came through with writing a lot of songs. [SIGNUP]

Have you seen your replacement [43-year old Benoit David] singing with your former band mates?

I just saw them on YouTube. A couple of songs. I mean, you have a great rhythm section. They were always damn good. But it wasn’t that good from my perspective… I went to see a Michael Jackson impersonator yesterday. It was bizarre. The music was great, but it wasn’t Michael Jackson, of course. And that’s like watching Yes. But it’s the sincerest form of flattery when someone impersonates you.

I remember seeing Yes at the Spectrum on the 1991 Union Tour. It was in the round, Rick Wakeman had some ridiculous number of keyboards. It was quite the spectacle, both visually and musically. So it’s a little hard for me to imagine the music of Yes performed just by you.

Well, that’s how the Yes music started. The songs have to start somewhere, and I wrote most of the songs for the band. Me and a guitar. So I just started reflecting on How did I play them? It’s a real challenge, but it’s very refreshing for people to hear the songs in their stripped down form. But it’s like walking a tightrope, and I have to be entertaining for an hour and a half. But as long as I enjoy it, the audience enjoys it. It’s a very simple, eventful, and fun tour. Telling stories. Singing songs. It’s like being in my front room, really.

I read that your early musical influences included the Everly Brothers and Elvis, which is a pretty huge leap from Yes. What happened along the way?

Well, my brother and I started a band in ’63. We wanted to be the Beatles. And you learn by covering songs. You do Everly Brothers, Beatles, Beach Boys. That’s how you develop your craft. And then you develop some identity about what you want to sing about. A lot of people were singing about rock and roll and drugs and sex. I wanted to write about searching for an understanding of life.

Speaking of your writing, many are puzzled by your lyrics. In fact, one of my friends would like you to explain “Sad preacher nailed upon the coloured door of time/Insane teacher be there reminded of the rhyme”.

It’s very sort of Jesus. Or religion. Our understanding of religion is nailed upon the cross… Religion is a very dangerous game. In one breath, you can’t say that the Christian knows the right way while there are millions who love Mohamed, Buddha. They are all connected. The rhyme is that the preacher is going to learn that we’re all connected… But how many times do you look at the Pope and all the people that surround him and see happy people? I don’t seem many happy, joyful faces at the Vatican. There’s always an air of sadness…. I hope that I’ve explained that well enough for your friend.

Listening to your music, I can only imagine the amount of drugs involved in the creation.

There’s always been some form of stimulation through drugs or drink in every form of art. Every form. It’s just part of the process of life. Jazz players loved to smoke marijuana. Cocaine. In the early 20th Century, it was very normal. And then it was the 60s, and we had LSD, which I took because Paul McCartney took it. It opens up your perception. As you grow older, you do it naturally through meditation and other forms. But as a teenager, you do it with drugs.

You actually left Yes prior to the latest parting, right?

Yes. When it got to the pressure in the late 70s to make a hit album – a mega hit – it just went out of control and divided the band. For years, Yes survived very well without making hit records. And then once we made that hit record, 90125, we had to make another one. So I left.

So is it fair to say that you won’t be singing mega hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” on this tour?

Oh no, I will play it. It’s very challenging to play on one guitar. It was a hit because of the sound, the sampling, maybe the chorus, the sound effects, the sampling of James Brown. It was incredibly well crafted. I told people I was going to do this song, and they say, “It could never be done.” So I’m doing it.

I heard that you’re buddies with Michael Smerconish. Do you expect to see him at the TLA?

Michael! [Laughs] I’ve known him for such a long time. He used to come watch Yes at the Spectrum, which was, by the way, one of the greatest places in the world – Yes’ favorite gig at one time. We met wonderful people like Michael, and we stay in touch. But, he’s a busy guy now. He’s on CNN a lot.

Jon Anderson plays the TLA on Tuesday, April 13th. For tickets ($45) go here.