It IS about the Lyrics
Jerry Lucky Commentary May 2009
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2009 All Rights Reserved
In The Progressive Rock Files I took some time to convey how progressive rock music was a blending of two musical schools of thought; the classical era
and the romantic era. In a nut-shell it can be explained this way; The Classical era which ran approximately from 1690s to 1790s was all about creating art and
specifically music within set structures and guidelines. It was music that was created first and foremost according to specific rules. The Romantic era which most see
as occurring roughly 1750s to 1850s rebelled against this constraint and said that music should be more (if not exclusively) about the emotions, feelings and things of this sort.
I like to summarize it that for the Classicists it was more about the mind while for the Romantics it was all about the heart.
So I think you can see why I made the analogy. Progressive Rock music does indeed borrow many classical rules and structures, but at its heart it is still a form of rock music which is all about the heart and so when crafted skilfully we experience the best of both worlds. This is music that is much more complex that regular pop or rock and yet is able to convey the full breadth and depth personal heart-felt expression.
Part of this expression of things intimate and personal obviously involves the use of lyrics. The music on its own can and does create certain emotions, certain feelings, that’s true however instrumental music in-and-of-itself cannot convey thoughts, that requires words. This brings me to the topic at hand. Over the years I’ve read the debate over whether lyrics are important to progressive rock music. The question itself hardly seems in need of answering were it not that so many argue passionately on both sides.
There’s certainly no reason why instrumental music can’t be appreciated for its own sake. I think we can all probably name some instrumental bands we enjoy and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. By the same token it strikes me that one of the core reasons for artists to employ music is to convey their ideas. So again there’s nothing wrong with that. Where this argument gets messy is when some try to suggest that progressive rock DOESN’T NEED lyrics in order to be good. That it seems to me is stepping way over the boundary of creator versus listener.
Our job if you want to call it that is to be the listener. That’s true even if at other times we are the creator. When we listen we are the listener, and the listener suggesting that the lyrics are secondary or not applicable is a bit like watching a movie just for the special effects and ignoring the story. It may be enjoyable but it’s hardly what the creator had in mind. As the creator you can make the choice about whether to include lyrics or not. But as the listener, choosing not to listen to what’s been written (regardless of how we may feel about the content – more on that later) is a bit like holding your hands up to your ears and going “la la la la” just to drown it all out. When you do that you miss the whole point of the creator’s efforts.
Some have become increasingly (and I would suggest annoyingly and obnoxiously so) strident in their selection of lyrical content to verbally abuse. Anything written with even a slight Christian content comes in for tremendous ‘self-righteous’ ridicule these days. Suddenly everyone’s become a qualified theologian! Why, I’ll never understand because these same writers rarely have much if anything to say about Marxist, left leaning, socialist styled lyrics or Eastern, pagan, witchcraft, anarchist oriented lyrics. Why they reserve their many-times ill-informed verbal-venom for Christian lyrics is puzzling and suggests it might have more to do with their own inability to come to terms with that particular faith’s message. After all it’s never easy having one’s faults pointed out. But that’s another story.
I tend to think why this whole debate even got started is because of the international nature of progressive rock music. I don’t understand Italian, Swedish or Japanese, nor do many other English speaking folk. I’m guessing it’s from this view-point that since I don’t understand the lyrics anyway they become superfluous. That seems to me to be somewhat condescending. There are many things in this world that I may not understand but that in no way makes them insignificant, nor does it make me the arbiter of whether they’re important or not.
In any case, here’s the deal…if the creator of the music has taken the time to put lyrics in the piece, we can safely assume they’re there for a reason. They’re there to get you to think. Avoiding the lyrics to avoid having to think about them seems to be an awful waste of our brains.
At least that’s what I think.