Are they that Unique?
Jerry Lucky Commentary September 2008
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2008 All Rights Reserved
I have written in the past about how Ďthere is nothing new under the suníÖand in my view that certainly applies to music. These
days, new music tends to be more like a consignment store where the music is Ďnew to you.í Now I donít say that to be harsh, I just
think thatís a reality. For me knowing that doesnít take away one tiny second of enjoyment form any disc. But thatís perhaps because I donít
hold up thatartificial yardstick of uniqueness to music.
There are many within the music community (not just the progressive rock crowd) who are quick to look to one or more forebears of a musical style and hold them up as the definers of that style and then draw comparisons to the current scene based on that. If itís just to help describe the music thatís ok, but if itís meant to denigrate the music based on itís supposed lack of uniqueness well thatís just not going to fly. Iím of the opinion this is unfair and Iíll tell you why.
Letís look at the prog scene specifically and deal with the Ďbig fiveí of Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Jethro Tull. These five bands are traditionally singled out as progenitors of their individual musical style, be that space rock, symphonic, classical rock or whatever. And that in and of itself is in no way out of place. After all these are the bands that history remembers. Itís that history remembers part that causes this to get a bit sticky. If we are to attribute more significance to the fact that these are the bands that set the style for the music to follow, and then bemoan how new bands are merely copying what has gone before, I believe we fail to read the context of history. If we go on to bemoan the lack of originality or uniqueness of current bands we are making a mistake that many historians decry of Ďattempting to read history backwards.í
Hereís what I mean, and again this is in no way meant to take anything away from the big five, theyíve earned their place in musical history. However, in their own time I think we might be a little surprised to learn they may not have been quite as unique as we think of them today. In their time, and thatís an important aspect to keep in mind, bands like Jethro Tull had many contemporaries who incorporated breathy flute work overtop of a blues rock foundation. Now without oversimplifying it, there were dozens in the late sixties and early seventies who crafted music in this style. What about Yes or Genesis you ask? Surely they were more unique and stood out? Well itís entirely possible they stood out but again if we look at the band environment they were performing in weíll find more than a few others in their peer group who were performing music of a similar style.
My point here, is not that the big five were lacking originality, no, my point is that they were not alone in making the music we remember so fondly. Today we anecdotally attribute significance to a band or style when itís perhaps more simply a matter that they were the ones remembered, not that they were the only ones performing in that style.
The fact that we remember and point to only the big five I think says more to the marketing of those bands rather than the actual music they created. They were the ones who made it. Given the music industry at the time, what got recorded, what got sold, what got exposure, they were the ones who stood the test of time. But they didnít create their music in a vacuum. Itís just that all those others faded into history. But that doesnít mean those other, similar bands didnít exist and create some great music.
So what does that have to do with today? Unlike Ďback thení where gaining exposure was challenging today we have a ready made marketing device called the internet. Now every band with a little initiative can get exposure. And that means that not only will we know and hear more bands, we will begin making comparisons to others weíve heard or seen and thatís where we get to the point of thinking that bands today might be lacking in uniqueness.
If you were sent back in time and had the ability to act like the internet and connect all the musical dots of all the local garage bands, club bands, art-school bands and grant them near instant exposure like the bands of today haveÖIím convinced you would find a similar situation then as now. Itís not that the bands then were any more unique to those around them. It was more a matter of only a limited window of exposure provided by the marketing mechanisms of the day.
A flip-of-a-coin and any one of those other bands might be part of the big five today, but it never happened. Not because of uniqueness, but because of the business. Their contemporaries played the same clubs, made music that was similar, had the same dreams but it didnít happen. If that was you going back in time, and not just spending time at the major clubs, but going to every little town hall or school or bar, Iím sure what you would hear lots of bands who sounded similar.
So today as we listen to so much more music that could be imagined back in the dayÖtoday when we have instant access to more prog bands than was even thought possible back in the dayÖIím thinking itís quite presumptuous of us to suggest that there are so many bandís today that are not unique. Itís inevitable that some will be more individual, and trend-setting and some wonít. But this has been true of music down through the ages. It only seems more of an issue today because we unfairly make it so. So hereís my suggestion Ė relax, sit back, Ďtake-a-pillí and just enjoy the music without trying to make all kinds of negative comparisons. Seems to me that would be a whole lot more fun and enjoyable in the long run.
At least thatís what I think.