COURTESY JON ANDERSON
Jon Anderson, singer for Yes, returns to Hawaii for a solo performance at Hawaii Theatre. Anderson says hitting the stage alone has been freeing.
Jon Anderson says yes to the universe
An incongruous, mundane and semi-embarrassing but nonethe- less painful moment: Jon Anderson was seeing stars. The sirocco-voiced singer of the rockestra band Yes -- he's the one who sounds like an Arthur Rackham fairie painting come to life -- was flat on his back, watching sugar plums dance in his head.
Place: Hawaii Theatre
In concert: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $29 to $45
"I broke my back," he said. "It's pretty wild. I was putting up some Christmas lights. We'd just got this beautiful house in California, me and my wife, Jane. I slipped off the ladder and fell on this wall and snapped my 12th vertebra, thank you. Very painful! Oh, yes, hanging up Christmas lights! Oh! Thank you very much!"
This all has to do with Anderson's upcoming solo gig at the Hawaii Theatre, and we'll get to that. It just takes a while. Anderson is not a simple person. He lives both in this world and in the universe we can sense but not see. There are many paths through life, and he's trying them all -- and in this case, he tripped.
"'What the hell was that?' I wondered, lying there," laughed Anderson, who's currently on Kauai. "As you say -- menehune -- here? The fairies are just laughing at me, man, giving me a hard time. I have a deep feeling for ancient life. Been studying it for many years, you know? So I always think they play pranks on you whenever they can."
Ouch. So imagine Anderson lying on a suburban lawn festooned with Christmas lights, groaning and wondering and hearing the spirits giggle, while we bring you up to date. Let's remember Yes with buzz phrases -- British, progressive rock, multiple lineup changes, first gig in 1968, last gig last year, song structures influenced more by Prokofiev than Chuck Berry, dynamic harmonic contrasts, dizzyingly flamboyant instrumental solos, a total-package band that included gently mystic philosophy and Roger Dean artwork. In the 1970s, almost as many teenage guitarmeisters learned the ringing tonics to "Roundabout" as the chords to "Stairway to Heaven."
Anderson was always a band member, starting out with brother Tony in The Warriors. "We worked on a farm 'til I was 17, and then my brother had a group in the north of England, and of course it was 1963," he said. "It was that magical moment. I went with my brother to see the Beatles play, and nobody was screaming; everybody was listening to the band. It was amazing. They were really great musicians."
And so he decided to quit being a farm hand and "become a Beatle. It was the first workingman's band."
He met bass player Chris Squire, hit it off, they met others, before you know it, they're filling in for Sly Stone because the cat couldn't make the flight, and becoming a prog/rock sensation with their driving, airy melodies and stream-of-consciousness lyricism. ("Call it morning driving through the sound and in and out the valley!")
A few years ago, during one of the band's countless reformations, they ended a three-year tour playing with the Honolulu Symphony.
"A really, really wonderful night. At the end of a tour, usually you come home and you're tired, but Honolulu, the show was just so exciting, exhilarating, you know?
"Last time we were here was the mid-'80s. We'd had a big record, 'Owner of A Lonely Heart,' and people wanted to see us all over the world. We'd travel the world in a big sort of super-duper style. Which sort of lasted 10 minutes. We had our moment of fame, which was cool."
At the moment, Yes is "going through a sort of holding pattern, the third time in 36 years," explained Anderson. After seven years of constant touring, it was time for a break. "It's hard, because a couple of guys want to keep going, and a couple of guys can't keep going. I got very sick, actually."
The reputation of Yes was built not just on musicianship, but upon cutting-edge dedication to quality production.
"We were this sort of big, 'Let's put on the show!' group of lads," laughed Anderson. "You know -- 'We've got money, let's put on the big show.'"
It was sort of like building the Titanic while everyone else was out having fun in rowboats. "I often wondered, why? ... I remember seeing Randy Newman with just a piano; it was magnificent. Neil Young -- what he had on stage was a palm tree and a light bulb, and it was perfect. I thought, my gosh, to be able to get up and do it yourself. But I got butterflies every time I thought about it. It takes a lot of guts to stand up on stage by yourself."
Which brings us back to the kind of strictly enforced time-out that a snapped 12th vertebra hands you. "I couldn't move too well. One morning I just started singing at the piano, and I'd never done that before. Wow! I just closed my eyes and sang. And it worked!"
COURTESY JON ANDERSON
Jane Anderson gave her husband a MIDI guitar for his birthday, which inspired him do his one-man show.
His wife gave him a MIDI guitar for his birthday, and suddenly new musical horizons opened.
"The MIDI guitar enables you to play guitar plugged into a special box which actually can generate different sounds and rhythms," he said. "So you can create a one-man band just by strumming the guitar. As soon as I got it, I went crazy. I can write symphonies with this guitar 'cause I can plug it into any keyboard. I had about six keyboards, and I'd cross-patch everything up. I can have a drum rhythm there, and a bass part there, and a guitar part, a string section.
"I just practiced and practiced. And I thought, wow, maybe I can do a one-man show. So I booked some gigs and, fingers crossed, went on stage."
"It was a very freeing experience. I was playing to only a few people. I got to see them, and in some ways talk to them about things that happened to me over the years, how this song came about. .. It was more like being in my front room, a really intimate experience."
A decade ago, Anderson and his wife were married on Maui. They were supposed to jet off immediately for a Yes tour, but things got postponed three months.
"So we stayed in Maui and we made an album, 'EarthMotherEarth.' Marvelous. I had microphones out in the garden, me with just an acoustic guitar and Jane, my wife, singing about nature. And the birds are singing along, and we come to the bridge and the ducks -- can you imagine? -- the ducks started singing along, too. It's kind of bizarre, but that's what happened."
And so it's a journey with spiritual side jaunts, the natural and the technological, the sacred and the profane, a kind of living continuum.
"It is all a growing appreciation of the spirit inside you," said Anderson.
"Why do we live? The only reason we live is to find the creator. That's what I'm doing, I'm trying to find the creator. ...
"A lot of people come up after the show and say hi, and a lot of them say, 'Wow, Jon, this song changed my life.' And I always think, man, it changed mine as well."