The vocal arrangements in YES were also due to Chris Squire’s training in church choir music at St. Andrew’s Church and, later, at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Rick Wakeman’s keyboard playing made me want to play like him (or slam the piano lid on his fingers). So, being a piano player and having been raised on classical music and church music, YES appealed to my own influences and interests. But it was much more than that. It was something philosophical for me. In fact, I would have to describe it almost as finding a spiritual home.
The philosophical/spiritual center of the group was the lyricist and lead vocalist Jon Anderson. The very first YES song I ever heard was Yours is No Disgrace in 1971. I was twelve years old. The song was about the moral warriors trapped in the immorality of war. The disgrace was not belonging to the warriors but to the governments that sent them there. Circumstances often move us beyond ourselves. I was able to find real solace in the thoughts and words of Jon Anderson.
That has never changed. I still find myself moved by the line from Close to the Edge, “In charge of who is there in charge of me? / Do I look on blindly and say I see they way?” It went through almost every album that YES recorded and it was also found in the solo recordings of Jon Anderson and the duets with Jon and Vangelis. Jon’s first solo album Olias of Sunhillow remains my favorite album to this day.
So, imagine when I met Jon Anderson for myself in 1982. I was 23 years old. I wanted to be profound. I wanted to tell him what he meant to me. I wanted to impress him.
I… was…as… mute…as a turnip!
My buddy Eddie was with me and he kept trying to prod me to say something…anything! Nothing came.
For years and years I relived that moment in my head. I kept repeating things I could have said, should have said. As much as I couldn’t say anything to Jon Anderson, his music kept speaking to me. Through the 1980’s with albums like Animation and YES’s Big Generator, then into the 90’s with YES’s Keys to Ascension or his solo Deseo. The 2001 YES album Magnification was so refreshing and revealing for me. The concerts from that album were heart-warming and inspiring.
Then Jon was summarily drummed out of the band he created. He was rejected and abandoned. And it made me love his music more. He embarked on wonderful tours with Rick Wakeman and has released equally wonderful DVDs and CDs with Wakeman and on his own. He has grown again.
And I got to meet him again.
It was 2006 and he was performing on a solo tour—just Jon with his guitar. His open-heartedness has always been so evident on stage. He loves our world and he loves the people in it. Rick Wakeman has often joked that Jon is the only person he has ever met “who is trying to save this world while living on another one.”
Rick also tells a funny story about Jon when they were writing and recording together back around 1992-93. They were recording at Rick’s studio on the Isle of Man where Rick lived. Wakeman had arranged to have Jon stay at a great hotel overlooking the harbor and managed by a friend of Wakeman’s.
One day, Rick arrives at the hotel to pick up Jon and the hotel manager quietly asks him, “You’re friend Jon…is he alright?” Wakeman asked whatever did he mean? The manager took Rick upstairs and together they entered Jon’s suite. There was Jon, looking out at the tall ships in the harbor and painting.
As the manager nudged Rick around to see what Jon was painting, he motioned toward the canvas with his chin. Rick looked at the canvas and back at the manager. “Yeah?” he asked. “What about it?” The manager said, “He’s painting flowers! He’s looking at the ships but painting flowers!” Rick clapped him on the shoulder, laughing, and said, “Oh, flowers is all that he can paint. He’s just looking at the ships for inspiration!”
For many years, Jon was my tall ship. I couldn’t sing or write lyrics like him but he inspired me to do what I do and to do it better.
As I said, in 2006 I got to try it again. I had waited until long after the concert but I got my audience with him. I asked him to sign my copy of his 1975 album Olias of Sunhillow. He held the album carefully in his hands and smiled so warmly and affectionately said, “Olias.”
I told him that it was still my favorite. I told him what he has meant to me. I told him so many things that just poured out after waiting for this second chance and he listened to every word. Did Jon tell me anything profound? Yes, he did and, of all things, he did it without words. He smiled and put his hand over his heart.
And it was enough.
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