Wallowing in a prog fog for the last couple of weeks as my mind reeled.
Three Sides Live by Genesis has been playing, not the prog overload from other days but still a little overblown. Of the Genesis Live albums this for me has the best opening sequence. Turn It On Again into Dodo/Lurker and then Abacab with Mike Rutherford’s best guitar solo over the pounding Thompson and Collins drums. It may in fact be my favorite Genesis live album. After this it was not necessarily downhill but it was a different Genesis.
I was thinking I had gotten into a prog rut recently before I realized this is probably just the go to genre for me. It is the genre I grew up with funnily enough at the same time as I was listening to punk and pop with my friends. The common ground there was Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies and Here and Now.
I think my cousin Tony is responsible for much of my musical palette as he would watch me and bring over his Bowie, T-Rex, Tull and Supertramp. I think his watching me whatever that meant was just an excuse to pay my parents stereo really loud. This led to a love of the short aggressive pop/rock song as well as overblown and overwrought epic.
There was not much space for the long form song in the late 70’s and early 80’s. King Crimson reforming in their new age persona allowed a little relief but they were refusing to play any of those epics live and the flared trousered prog gods were getting confused in a swathe of mulleted and be-suited attempts at relevance by writing pop songs, some of them very well.
It was funnily enough the time when progressive rock having something of a resurgence with Pallas, Marillion and Twelfth Night appearing in my friends record collections. That is why I cried out in excitment when I found this in a record store the other day. I had spent a lot of time looking at that Pallas album in my friend Andy’s record collection but he spent more time making me listen to World Shut Your Mouth by Julian Cope than letting me listen to that enticing purple record. After finally thirty years or so later listening to it I think he made the right choice, although there is a very satisfying dramatic talk over on the track Rise and Fall about Atlantis and lost civilizations and malevolent computers which may save the whole album.
There were also really a lot of prog rock references in the music of the day, Magazine had some symphonic moments and other bands were taking time to stretch out, but the anti-intellectual feel of the times made it difficult to out yourself as a fan of the likes of Caravan or Camel, never mind Genesis or Yes. You also may never get a girlfriend that way or at least sit at the cool table in the sixth form common room.
In the end all of this has become almost irrelevant. People today are happy to dig into any genre to see what it is about. Metal has gone all prog and Tool have made the more obtuse elements of King Crimson almost popular. There is so much availability of music that it is a strange rich tapestry. Many of those musical anti-heroes are also turning up on any number of those tribute albums to their at that time bloated enemies.
The other week I was insanely excited to hear Gong, Jackson C. Frank, Steve Hackett and Lindisfarne coming over the P.A. at a Decemberists gig. There was much bemusement at my excitement as I sat among the hipsters. They seemed to enjoy the band as much for the references Colin Melloy talks about in interviews as for the music of the band. For many of them that is how they hear about Fairport Convention or Gong, never mind Caravan or Soft Machine. Musicians more so than ever are citing their influences instead or railing against the stars. This may not necessarily be a good thing as the revolution may be too cozy.
So now I can admit it, I enjoy progressive rock openly. I write this as I am now listening to Spectral Mornings by Steve Hackett. This has always been one of my favorite albums, Hackett was also the first gig I ever went to on my own. It was a strange experience sitting in the Liverpool Empire listening to Hackett surrounded by other very serious young men in glasses concentrating so intently.
I also remember the excitement when he performed Horizons and Blood on the Tracks sat on a stool in the center of the stage. On the way out I bumped into two of my friends from school, normally they were seen carting around a Damned album or Joy Division. They looked a little embarrassed at being caught at such an un-hip gig. This moment led to a series of strange happenings at school when convoluted epics would turn up on the common room record player causing the tussle haired Cure fans to run in horror from the room and some pimply young men not know which way to turn at the time.
Maybe at the end of the day we have a more functional way of appreciating music but sometimes it all seems a bit too polite and a little disagreement may be a good thing.