Saturday, February 27, 2010

Progressing again

As I discussed in an earlier post on this blog, in my late 20s I wrote and published a monthly newsletter about progressive rock. It was called On Reflection, named after a composition by my favorite progressive band, Gentle Giant. It never grew too big, or too successful, but it enabled me to write about and share my passion with people around the world, some of whom still remember me two decades later.

As review, what I refer to as progressive rock is a genre whose heyday was the late 1960s to the latter 1970s; another way to put it is that it was spawned by psychedelia and spurned by punk. The best known performers were bands such as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Though all these bands, including Gentle Giant, were British, prog groups flourished in the United States, Japan, Italy, Sweden, France, and many other countries.

Progressive rock is hard to define because there were scant similarities between the linear bombast of a Yes or an ELP and the intricately interlocking musical puzzles of Gentle Giant, between the spacy soundscapes of Pink Floyd and the improvisatory darkness of King Crimson, between the epic sagas of Genesis and the instrumental eclecticism of Dutch proggers Focus. But just as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about obscenity, "I know it when I see it," one can identify progressive rock fairly easily (as I borrow the structure of comedian Jeff Foxworthy's tiresome "You know you're a redneck if..." routine):

• If girls run screaming from the room when you play an album, chances are good that it's a prog rock album.
• If the cover art depicts a scene that could never exist in the known universe, chances are good that it's a prog rock album.
• If the shortest tune on the album is 8:57, chances are good that it's a prog rock album.
• If the guitarist plays electric and acoustic 6- and 12-string guitars, chances are good that it's a prog rock album.
• If you see the words "moog", "harpsichord", "cello", and "Taurus bass pedals", chances are good that it's a prog rock album.
• If the lyrics make more sense read backwards than forwards, chances are good that it's a prog rock album.
• If the band members are white and intensely ugly, chances are they're a prog rock band.

I could go on, but hopefully you're getting the picture.

Of course, I can say all these things because I'm one of the club, although like Groucho Marx, I'm at least a little wary about being part of a club that would have me as a member. I like to think that even I, within a crowd of fellow proggers, can look around and think "These guys are weird." And yet the music does move me.

On the other hand, a lot of other kinds of music move me as well, and because of that I got bored and burned out from doing the newsletter. I felt I always had to be in a prog mood and frankly I wasn't. I was getting more heavily into jazz, folk, and classical music and I was tired of listening to new CDs of new bands who were trying to sound like the old albums by old bands. So I stepped away from the scene, still listening to what I liked when I felt like it, but not delving any deeper into the genre.

In the meantime, as I explained in the original post, one of my subscribers, John Collinge, wanted to keep the newsletter going. He renamed it Progression, and I helped him with the first couple of issues. After a while, I lost touch with him but last year, curious to see if it was still in print, I Googled him and found that he had grown Progression into a massive quarterly magazine with glossy pages and lots of ads, photos, and interviews. It's quite impressive and a vast evolution from the original eight-page offset-printed newsletter I folded, sealed, labeled, stamped, and mailed on my own.

So I got back in touch with John and he asked me if I was interested in writing any CD reviews. I demurred, not wanting to get back in the scene. But then recently, when a friend helped me to discover that a writer today needs a platform and that mine was music, it occurred to me that I should be doing more music writing and getting my name back in music circles. A few years ago, I submitted a number of Gentle Giant CD reviews to the Gentle Giant website, where they are still posted; I might as well do the same thing and get my name in print. So I wrote him recently to say OK, I'm in. In my mail the other day were 14 progressive CDs, only one from a band I'd heard of before.

So here I go, back in the prog world with ears open and maybe a bit more objectivity than back in the day. And as I venture on, I think of the lyrics to a song by Yes with the mega-proggy title, "The Revealing Science of God":
What happened to this song we once knew so well
Signed promise for moments caught within the spell
I must have waited all my life for this moment

1 comment:

Anastasia said...

I didn't run screaming, squonk.