What Do You Mean – It’s the BEST?
Jerry Lucky Commentary May 2013
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2013 All Rights Reserved
So I’m reading the book Citizens of Hope and Glory [The Story of Progressive Rock] by Stephen Lambe. It came out in 2011 and I’ll be doing a review of the book when I’m finished. But I read a line in the first few pages that got my grey cells a tapping. It’s where the author is talking about the merits of the Yes album Close to the Edge and he says it is “arguably the finest statement that the Progressive Rock movement ever made.” He also makes reference to 1971 as being the best year ever for Progressive Rock in that it never got any better than that. I can think of a few people who might challenge that view. Me being one of them, but that’s for another time. But it got to thinking…why do we always feel the need to make this distinction. I realize I may be one of the lone hold-outs against this type of labeling but to my mind it has always seemed senseless to hold up certain things as “the best”, especially in such a subjective field as the arts. The author obviously thinks quite highly of Close to the Edge and I would agree it’s a fine album…but I don’t think it’s the only one that is that good either from that era or today. I tend to see things from a much wider field of vision. I think Spock’s Beard have done things that I would consider to be just as good as that. The same with the Flower Kings or even any number of lesser known bands.
The idea that there can only be ONE best symphonic prog album or ONE crowning musical achievement seems simplistic at best and naive at its roots. It’s the kind of thing my daughter used to do…when she was twelve years old. As she grew older she realized just how restricting or unrealistic that was. What if we said the same about something like cars….The Ford Mustang was the best and there has never been a car better than that one. What about all those people who prefer Camaro or Charger? Or what about a painting - the Mona Lisa is the best that that era had to offer and there is no better painting than that…or what about building…the Empire state building is the best and there has never been a better building. Again because of the subjectivity there will always be someone or group who think some other example represents something as good or better. Consensus in these matters is a tricky thing.
In the first place…the idea of picking one thing and holding it up as the standard of measurement is one thing but that then places everything below that supposed standard….What if we applied these same rule’s to science? That would mean that no other discovery or advancement was greater than the other. In an abstract way, ask yourself who was greater; Einstein or Einstein’s parents? Granted Einstein the person accomplished much in his lifetime and certainly should be credited with his accomplishments. But none of that would have been possible had it not been for his parents. Another words Einstein didn’t appear on the scene by fiat.
My view is that one builds on the shoulders of others and in so doing…building on what has gone before…all the while you take from the past and you add your own signature. As far as music is concerned there is a consistency of sound and development and yet when you listen to the beginning and compare it to the end there is a vast difference. And that’s what is missing in so many of these observations. We’re so quick to only see the similarity that we fail to see or fully appreciate the new embellishments that continue to propel the musical genre forward. So going back to my science reference…not every advancement in science is made with dramatic new discoveries. Sometimes the particular field of science advances in tiny incremental steps. I would suggest this is a more appropriate way of viewing music, which is after all on a continuum. One thing is written after another and on and on.
Somewhere along the way we became fixated on change and new and something different. As I’ve written in the past, through most of history that hasn’t been the case. It is only in these most modern times that we’ve attributed a certain sense of speed as something of merit or value. Faster computers, faster cars, faster coffee brewing, whatever. So getting back to the main point of this diatribe, the idea of selecting a period of music, a period of dates or years, a certain style or artist or anything of that nature fails egregiously in recognizing context. When we say the Progressive Rock music’s best years were from 1971 to 1975 we more than imply everything else was less than best, we actually insinuate it.
I don’t agree with that line of thinking, even if everyone else does. Primarily because of the subjectivity in this area, the idea that the majority are right on this matter is no more demonstrable than they might all be wrong. On the other hand suggesting that any of those types of measurements means that’s an individual’s “favorite era” or “favorite period” seems perfectly acceptable. You might even go so far as to say a particular era demonstrated a certain type of creativity or a certain set of years offered musical releases that formed a foundation on which others built. You might even go so far as to say, as I have done, that a certain period of time is seen as the “classic era” that inspired many followers, but to say it was the “best” oversteps the matter.
Seems to me the Progressive Rock genre is in no way served well by this line of thinking as it simply reinforces the idea the genre’s hey-days are in the past and all that has followed is to some degree inferior. Yet a quick look at the volume, variety and quality of current releases it is quite easy to see that is simply not the case. At least that’s what I think.