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June 03, 2013

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ZS

Thanks for this Glenn, especially "But really, the fallacy of the generalization stems from a not-uncommon rock crit problem, that is, mistaking one's practice with that of a sociologist's."

That's precisely why most rock criticism annoys me. Too much amateur sociology and too little discussion of the music.

Noam Sane

Hard to blame the guy, that's part of the fun of art, looking down your nose at the stuff that you dislike. For me, it's the earnest-lesbians-with-acoustic-guitars genre, we all do it, eh?

But treating "progressive rock" as a monolith is also kind of foolish. Yes, ELP, and King Crimson really don't share much in common other than a desire to work outside the boundaries of the 3-minute poptoon.

The influence of the prog-enitors pops up in odd places, proof that it wasn't all a waste. I always felt that indie darlings The New Pornographers were very Yes-y. Just shorter songs (or, it could be argued, longer gaps between song sections.)

Didn't ELP once tour with a giant replica of a boar that snorted dry ice? And didn't it malfunction once? And wasn't the next morning's headline "Hog Smog Bogs Prog Slog"?

preston

Funny, I was walking to work this morning with this Sheffield review still upsetting me. I had two things on my mind: why would someone be so insecure just to show that HE KNOWS how un-cool prog rock is?

And did GK read this?

Also, Ian and the boys never get any respect; ever since they got that Grammy in ’88 they’ve never been forgiven… quite a few of ‘em could play in 7/4, too.

Burn_amb

I expressed my own thoughts on this review on my own blog, and one of the anthology's contributors commented:

http://runningthevoodoodown.blogspot.com/2013/06/progressive-rockregressive-thinking.html

Henry Holland

Great piece, Glenn.

ZS, agree with your last sentence, but hey, it's easier to do sociology than describe music in detail and why something works or doesn't.

"Yes, ELP, and King Crimson really don't share much in common other than a desire to work outside the boundaries of the 3-minute poptoon"

Actually, they all shared stuff in common. They hung out in the same scene centered around the Marquee, lived together (Emerson renting a room to Fripp etc.), drank at the same clubs (The Speakeasy), were friends with writers like Chris Welch, played in bands together before the respective lineups solidified, played the same circuit of ballrooms up and down the UK. I mean, Emerson met Lake in San Francisco in 1969 to discuss a new band because he wanted to replace Jackson and Davison with better players, their respective bands were sharing a bill at the Fillmore West.

Musically, they were similar as well, Genesis being huge "In the Court of the Crimson King" fans in particular, so much so that they got a guitarist with glasses who sat down while he played his Les Paul through a HiWatt amp. They all emphasized that the drummer and bass player were lead instruments, equal to the vocals, guitars and keyboards. Plus, Mellotrons and synthesizers.

What I find boring about articles like the one by Sheffield is, apart from the mind-numbingly dull reliance on the same effin' cliches (sparkly capes! foxhead costumes! revolving pianos!), how much of a double-standard there was and still is. OMG! Wakeman wears a sparkly cape *snicker snicker* but they turn around and laud Bowie while he's wearing some of those Ziggy costumes, especially this one:

http://theselvedgeyard.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/mick-david-bowie-ziggy.jpg

Alice Cooper uses props = edgy rock theater, Genesis does it = pretentious. Dylan writes speed freak lyrics that are babble = studied in academia, prog bands write anti-war, anti-religion, anti-conformity lyrics = "Why do they all write Tolkien-like lyrics?".

The biggest lie of all though is that punk destroyed the prog bands, just put them out of business like some conquering army. ELP and King Crimson went in to hibernation before The Ramones even had a record contract, Gentle Giant changed musical direction in 1976, Yes and Genesis gradually became different musical entities etc. All my friends and I knew that the prog thing was played out by 1977, why is that so hard for critics to grasp?

GHG

And prog plus punk (rather than prog versus punk) led to fantastic stuff like Nomeansno, Don Caballero, etc.

Noam Sane

"Actually, they all shared stuff in common. They hung out in the same scene..."

Right, and they all wore trousers. I was talking about their music, the structure and sound of their art, and they were all quite different in that respect. You can lump them together under the Prog banner but beyond that the music each band made was of a piece. Of course their instrumentation was similar, it's rock and roll music.

Other than that, HH, you make great points. I will note that the Ramones signed to Sire in 1975, and ELP put out Works Vol 1 and 2 in 1977.

andy

As someone who listened to prog as a kid and hasn't really since, taking the Sheffield review to task for not focussing on the music seems to me to be not looking past hurt feelings to read the actual review. He says in the review that none (or was it very few?) of the writers grapple with the musicology of prog rock. They appear to discuss mainly the sociology of it. So he is keeping with the theme of the book he is reviewing. Why would he dicuss the music if the book doesn't? The book tackles it from a personal angle, and that's what he discusses. Pretty simple.

andy

To be clear, I didn't mean it wasn't condescending, or that the "comfortably numb" thing wasn't really clueless. But he has the right to condescend if he likes.

L

Yes = great music, still influences kids today who have very musical brains. It just resonates with them.

Henry Holland

"Other than that, HH, you make great points. I will note that the Ramones signed to Sire in 1975, and ELP put out Works Vol 1 and 2 in 1977"

That's nice. It has nothing to do with what I wrote, however, which was "ELP and King Crimson went in to hibernation before The Ramones even had a record contract". ELP disappeared almost completely for 2 1/2 years in August 1974 and King Crimson "ceased to exist" in September of that year.

"But he has the right to condescend if he likes"

And we who have criticized his piece have the "right" to take him to task for relying on cliches that were boring 30 years ago and now are just lame. It's like writing a piece about Led Zeppelin and spending most of it writing about the shark-on-groupie thing in Seattle.

andy

Henry--yes, I knew that someone would say that, and I'm not saying that point isn't fine in and of itself, or that no one can say it--but the main point of the general indignation here springs from the seemingly misplaced complaint that he doesn't dissect the music. If someone wrote a book that was about Led Zepplin fandom and (in the case of your analogy) groupiedom--not the music, particularly--it would seem pretty natural to trot that chestnut back out.

Tom B.

Perhaps Dave Weigel should turn the series he did for Slate last year on prog rock into a book. It was about the music AND the sociology; he knew what he was talking about.

James Keepnews

In re: hearing through, I believe Joe Carducci yearned in print for instrumental mixes of Yes. Apart from some general observations -- telling that Sheff offers not a mention of der Can, der Crim, &c.; the much-bruited "oblivion" can be as well or better invoked by the lyrics to "Heroin" as by the presence of a Mellotron (maybe he also doesn't dig Craig Taborn? Or, you know, never heard him, much less heard of?); I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest members of Porcupine Tree, Mars Volta, &c., are surely gettin' some -- one question:

"9/5"?

Noam Sane

"That's nice. It has nothing to do with what I wrote, however, which was "ELP...went in to hibernation before The Ramones even had a record contract".

If by "hibernation," you mean "spent time working on an ostentatious 3-LP opus," I guess you're correct.

Henry Holland

"If someone wrote a book that was about Led Zepplin fandom and (in the case of your analogy) groupiedom--not the music, particularly--it would seem pretty natural to trot that chestnut back out"

Of course, but why is that boring old anecdote trotted out in stories about, say, Robert Plant's solo work or John Paul Jones playing with Them Crooked Vultures? That's hackwork worthy of TMZ. I know there's a really low bar for writing about rock music that wouldn't be tolerated when writing about films but still.

It's not even interesting in terms of the Zep fandom. Zeppelin, along with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and the prog bands (among others) were for the kid brothers (i.e. me) of people who were Beatlemaniacs and original fans of the Stones & Dylan etc. My older sisters were listening to The Band and CSN&Y and James Taylor in 1970, they were as bad as my parents with their "turn that noise down!" stuff. That could be an interesting topic, recycled stories about sharks & groupies or the pact with Satan that Page, Plant and Bonham entered in to but not JPJ who didn't develop a horrible smack habit, have a 5-year old child die or die at 32 are not.

People are criticizing Sheffield's article because it's lazy, not funny and reads as if he'd gotten a list called 20 Big Cliches About Prog Rock from Dave Marsh, Jon Landau and Robert Hilburn and churned out his piece.

"one question:

"9/5"?"

That was classic, one of the few times he does write about the music and he comes up with that howler.

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