Jethro Tull: Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day

Jethro Tull’s Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day appeared on the 1974 album War Child and was also included in the live album Bursting Out released in 1978.

Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day, played in 1980, released in 1981 on the DVD “Slipstream”

Climate Change, opposite direction

Only recently did I find out that Ian Anderson indeed had climate change on his mind when writing this song. Interestingly, however, in the opposite direction it is discussed nowadays. Back then, scientists were expecting a new ice age.

Becoming a Seeker

The beginning of the song, to me, describes how a person is turning into a seeker. He needs to realize how much his reactions are pre-conditioned rather than resulting from free will.

Meanwhile back in the year one
When you belonged to no one
You didn’t stand a chance, son
If your pants were undone’

Cause you were bred, for humanity
And sold to society

This, however, can be changed – freedom builds upon becoming aware of the here-and-now.

One day you’ll wake up, in the present day
A million generations removed from expectations
Of being who you really want to be

Skating away, skating away, skating away
On the thin ice of the new day

Leaving the Old Life behind

While there are definitely various ways of interpreting the song, we take the freedom to look at it from a specific spiritual perspective.

So as you push off from the shore
Won’t you turn your head once more
And make your peace with everyone

For those who choose to stay
Will live just one more day
To do the things they should’ve done

He departs – maybe he lets go of earthly bonds? He comes to terms with everyone and bids farewell to his old life. In a more general sense, this could signify overcoming karma by radically accepting everything, not trying to fight against any circumstances, not trying to improve upon the current state, and entrusting oneself fully to the kingdom within.

This doesn’t necessarily imply a physical departure, but a fundamentally changed attitude towards life, a new focus, new priorities.

The ones left behind will live “one more day” – maybe a hint at another incarnation? Then they will be confronted with topics they left unresolved this time around. This could be desires, ambitions, goals in life, unfulfilled dreams, or whatever karma there may be.

And as you cross the wilderness
Spinning in your emptiness
If you have to, pray
Looking for a sign, that the universal minds
Has written you into the passion play

When the old focus is abandoned, i. e. ambitions, desires, dreams … become stale, the seeker might feel inner emptiness before a different kind of wealth emerges.

The reference to “universal minds” supports a spiritual level of understanding.

“Passion play” hints at Easter, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, in the form of a dramatic performance. It is also name of the Jethro Tull album preceding War Child.

All the World’s a Stage

Skating away, skating away, skating away
On the thin ice of the new day

The chorus evokes an ambiguity in me: I associate “skating away” with ease. He has made peace with the past, and leaves without regrets. There is a sense of assuredness – he is certain to be on the right path. At the same time, there is no way of knowing what this path will bring about – he is “on thin ice”. A spiritual image for this is the seeker who steps onto the bridge. What he sees of it reaches only to the middle – he cannot perceive any substance behind that point. Yet he has to move on – he needs to trust he will not fall when going further.

It is not too easy a task to leave the old life behind for good …

And as you cross the circle line
Well, the ice wall creaks behind
You’re a rabbit on the run
And the silver splinters fly
In the corner of your eye
Shining in the setting sun

“The circle line” may hint at the cycle of incarnations. Breaking through this barrier is obviously an enormous event in terms of a being’s vibration.

The last couple of lines remind me of Shakespeare’s All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players (in As you Like It, spoken by Jaques in Act II Scene VII):

Well, do you ever get the feeling
That the story’s too damn real
And in the present tense?
Or that everybody’s on the stage
And it seems like you’re the only
Person sitting in the audience?

The seeker who has reached this point is not fully identified with his role in society any more. He knows his true self (“who you really want to be”, as in the beginning of the song) is at a much deeper level. It is immortal and therefore independent of anything that will vanish in the course of time. He is now a neutral spectator of the ups and downs of life. He no longer wishes to change the script of the play.

This insight can be very encouraging. The true self is not threatened at all by the uncertainties of a rapidly changing world.

For another spiritual interpretation of a Jethro Tull song see the post God within man: Jethro Tull’s My God.

3 Replies to “Jethro Tull: Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day”

  1. While I agree with most of what you write, you misquote “looking for a sign that the universal mind…” as ” universal mind[s], which is quite significant, he’s referring in a singular sense to the “Creator” & is asking if he has put him on the earth with no apparent raison d’vivre or “written into the script” somehow; contrary to your writing that he’s come to peace in the refrain, “do you get the feeling that the story’s too damned real…”, he wonders if he has, again, been written into the script with a divine plan or purpose for life itself, he’s watching others play out their own perceived roles in life while he wonders if he’s the only one who doesn’t “get it” & know why they’re here & know their parts in this play of life.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Bernard!
      Interesting; Google displayed to me “minds”, while other sources give “mind”, which sounds more convincing.
      Also interesting how topics like this can be so ambiguous. Like we have to find our own answers and not rely on experiences others may have made before us.
      For me, the spiritual path brings about less certainty about my place in society. (Not that I need to fail or be perceived as an outsider by many; I may be, to a degree, be successful.) I feel some distance to the role I am playing here, and identify more with an observer than an actor. Others may identify more strongly with the role they play. It may sound like a contradiction, but to me there is indeed a degree of making peace, of feeling at ease. Successes and failures become less important.

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