“When you step up the environment to those speeds everything becomes psychedelic, you create the psychedelic thrill. The whole world becomes kaleidoscopic and you go inward, it’s not an outer trip.” Marshal McLuhan
“You don’t know Grand Funk? The shirtless antics of Mark Farner? The competent drumming of Don Brewer or the bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher?” Homer Simpson
“It’s not a well defined line. If you’re in despair, if you’re in trouble, if your heart is broken, you turn to Jesus. In country music if you’re in despair or if your heart is broken then you go have a beer.” Larry Gatlin
“Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.” Dr. Johnson
Last Wednesday only one piece of analog mail came through the slot. It was my invitation to experience something called “Senior Summer Camp.” This was my chance to spend a week at a nearby assisted living community to find out what the place was like and to supposedly, “Connect with people your age and have experiences just like the ones you had at camp all over again.”
There’s a panty raid you won’t wanna miss.
I’m seriously considering it as it might be my only chance to live in one of those places Alaska Wolf Joe calls ‘the people pound.’
For openers our insurance company says we’re cancelled after TrumpCare (TM pend.) passes. Then there’s the small matter that the NRA has declared open season on registered Democrats, which doesn’t bother me because, as you can see below, the NRA is a little late to the party.
Lots of people have told me that’s a joke and that may very well be true, but none of them will be the one who finds out that somebody took it as an action plan.
When you pull those two items together then I might as well spend a week at the assisted living place as there’s no time like the present. Besides I might be able to help move the place into the future. Sooner or later there won’t be anybody left in the weekly Matlock Discussion Group. In a few years us Boomers born after 1955 will be plentiful enough that the weekly Matlock group will be replaced with bingo which means – as I’ve said many, many times before – sitting next to some guy who wants to tell you how he put bug spray in his bong while Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon comes screaming over the senior center’s public address system.
Heyyyyyyy speaking of Pink Floyd, that brings us to today’s topic – David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. While the book is jam packed with info it tends to be a bit subjective in that it probably comes closer to reflecting Weigel’s personal taste than being a prog-rock Baedeker. But realistically when you deal with niche music genres that’s bound to happen.
Therefore I shall give you my personal take on the alleged rise and fall of prog.
Say ‘YES!’ to Yes
In the 1990s several musicologists in Britain put forth the idea that much of the composition in the 19th Century suffered from Beethoven envy. They thought that the Ninth Symphony paralyzed some composers who thought that unless they came up with something that out 9th’d the 9th then they would only be remembered as artistic failures. Oddly enough musicians and performers in the 1970s were faced with the same problem when this irreproducible gem appeared in the early half of the decade.
Obviously you can only take in that exquisite melody and nuanced performance so many times before you find yourself emotionally drained and mentally spent.
So what were you to do back then?
Stereo equipment was reasonably affordable and records were less than $5 each so all you really had to do was find something else to listen to until you were in the proper frame of mind to experience the man we called, le Dandy.
Sure, there was plenty of popular music going around, but what was there to chose from?
God knows, the woods were full of sensitive singer songwriters. They’d put out all their feelings on the very first track of and then repeat the process eight or nine times to flesh out the album. This lead many of us to ask, “How many goddam feelings do you have?”
While I’ve never bought into the whole Beatles/Adorno/Frankfurt School conspiracy theory I am pretty much convinced that all the sensitive singer songwriters were part of a cabal lead by Rod McKuen.
So much for that.
And the cosmic cowboy stuff?
You listened to that at your risk. Back then people would listen to that stuff and be so overcome with such a peaceful easy feeling that they became motionless for weeks at a time. Even after they snapped out if it their movements were slow as if they lagged behind reality by a second or two. If you asked them a simple question like, “Do you know what time it is?” they would struggle to focus their attention on what you had said. Years later they saw the 70s as so much missing time and irretrievable memories. That’s why when people ask me, “HEY, did you see The Walking Dead last night?” I smile and say, “No, but I went to a Poco concert once.”
This didn’t leave much and as the sky was dark with Englishmen riding their winged dragons long enough for Roger Dean to get a pencil sketch down, prog seemed to be the best choice.
Proggy went a’courtin’
Weigel spends little time letting prog bask in its glory days. His summary of the peak years deals with personnel changes and band infighting. As such the back half of the book is pretty much about the genre’s decline.
For me the decline in the number of prog-rock albums I bought can be summed up in one word.
A key element of popular music is that it lets you get up and work off some excess energy while allowing you the opportunity to get all sweaty with a member of the opposite sex.
Such was the case with Glen Miller, such was the case with Joey Ramone.
Back in my day prog was not something the young women liked much less tolerated. They’d flip through your record collection and when they got to the Fripp, Giles, Giles, Gong, and Fripp section they’d make a face like there was something nasty smelling in the room. If you said, “Look, I got the new Yes Album!” It didn’t register. Instead they could have sworn you said, “You know, my job at the rendering plant complements my passion for taxidermy perfectly.”
As an aside – yes, we went through people’s record collections. Back then there was no FB, Tinder, or credit scores. You judged people by the vinyl they owned. Today you look through somebody’s medicine cabinet, back then you took a couple of fingers and flipped through the records. You know, …Grand Funk … Bachman-Turner … Grand Funk … Doobie Brothers… Doobie Brothers… Doobie Brothers … what a maroon!
Don’t give me that look.
I saw you do it.
Prog was a total failure when it came to courtship. You can’t dance to it, there’s not one single album that features anything anybody would admit to as being “our song,” and what kind of relationship would you be part of if you met somebody who was OK with making out to Van der Graaf Generator?
Because … damn … that’s just … damn
Weigel says there was one single moment when it was obvious prog was done. Early in the book he spends some time talking about how Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale as the one song that lead Brit pop musicians into prog. Some of them had long wanted to break out of the 4/4 structure and let things like an organ take the lead instead of the guitar. So when Peter Gabriel ran out his punk version of the song in 1979 it was an announcement, from no less that one of the major figures in prog, that its era had come and gone.
Days of Future Passed
The book does deal with the current state of the genre which begins with elders introducing the music to their young (see the video above) but finding it’s not something the kids take to readily.
The book’s intro and last chapter talk about how prog hasn’t really come back around again. Jon Anderson tried to get newer proggy kind of groups to tour with some of the Yes reunions, but it was a bust. Us potty old duffs don’t want to hear anything new – we just want to hear what we listened to in our teen years over and over and over again. That’s why prog nostalgia cruise ship tours do very well with middle aged high-school science teachers and graying tech workers.
Not surprising. When he was much younger AWJ liked DSOTM and we even went to see Roger Waters perform it live. But I think that’s a far as he got. A few years ago while stuck in traffic we got to talking about prog and he brought up some on his phone to play over the car’s sound system.
“Wow, that’s awful.”
And what of the book?
It’s an interesting read, but the breathless style leaves something to be desired. Sorta like the author staged a 50th anniversary celebration in a train station with people coming and going and talking over each other while others strained to hear the departure announcements. You might want to wait for it to come out in paperback or pick it up at a yard sale while you’re out on some fine Saturday morning looking for old Roky Erickson records.
The book’s single greatest fault is that Weigel is no fan of Krautprog. In fact he dismisses all of it in one sentence saying the German language and understanding of musicality never lent itself to prog.
But he carries on about PFM for five pages.
Again – what to make of a given genre is always subjective, but no mention of Can, Air, Guru Guru, Neu, or even the more accessible stuff like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk?
If we take that at face value that means I’m walking around with this massive body of useless knowledge – half of which – Weigel thinks is as practical as hoarding Weimar pfennigs.
On a wholly unrelated note – the family reunion is progressing well. A cousin from the midwest and I will be comparing our genealogy research notes and hoping like hell we’re not related to these two.