Who is the Enemy?
Jerry Lucky Commentary January 2016
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2016 All Rights Reserved
There is an old comic strip called Pogo from 1971 where the title character makes the observation – “We have seen the enemy and it is us.” That quote came to mind as I reflected on the Progressive Rock scene, specifically looking back over 2015 and looking forward into 2016. This is after all a time for reflection as well as forecasting. It must be said, that a good many of the old guard music critics have passed the baton to a younger crowd who in most cases don’t have the same history and as a result don’t seem to harbor the same prejudices against Progressive Rock Music. So what does that mean for our beloved genre of music?
In most respects the Progressive Rock genre has come a long way. Even though it hasn’t achieved the heights it attained in the mid-seventies when much of the material was being played on mainstream radio, it has still managed to become quite pervasive today by other means that I’ll address a little later. The fact that so many bands are out there creating prog is a statement in and of itself. Prog these days is not exactly a ticket to “money in the bank”, just ask Echolyn about that, and yet every day I get emails from bands around the world that are creating some amazing music.
As I poke around on various message boards I continue to be amused that here we are forty-some-odd years on from the genre’s beginnings and we are still wondering about what it is that defines the Progressive Rock genre. Having written extensively about this in the past myself, I never-the-less have to ask – what does it really matter? I mean, let’s face it; the music scene today is a vastly different beast than it was in the sixties and the seventies.
The other question that keeps popping up is – what was the first Progressive Rock album. Again having written extensively about this (it was the Moody Blues – Days of Future Past by the way) I’m struck that four decades on we still haven’t seen any kind of consensus on this matter. But then perhaps consensus isn’t possible given that musical expression is a matter of the heart more than the mind. I mean it’s seems easier to be concise about who invented the airplane than who created the first prog album.
There is also the strange phenomenon that I’ve written about where anything with a slight change in tempo is being included in the big prog tent using the broadest concept of what “progressive” means. Given that we’re now a world full of critics, everyone with a smart-phone has suddenly become a critic, no credentials required, and everyone has their favorites that are expected, sometimes demanded to be included even if it means they have to create a special niche oriented sub-genre definition. Seriously, this has to stop. Not everything that deviates from standard four-four time qualifies as progressive rock. If that were the case I can think of some catchy Taylor Swift songs that should be included immediately. So can we get over that?
So anyway…where was I going with this…oh, yes, so all of this had me wondering if perhaps in the spreading of the Progressive Rock gospel we aren’t our own worst enemy? By that I mean in our efforts to share Prog with the rest of the world have we focused on the wrong issues. We strived so hard to show how “different” it is rather than how “enjoyable” it is. It’s seems to be the nature of the beast that we emphasize every shift in timing, every dynamic nuance, every minor note or chord, every effort at call-and-response, every flute or Mellotron solo, and for what purpose? I’m wondering if all this stuff that we proclaim that differentiates us from the mainstream simply alienates the non-fans. It makes them feel inadequate when they fail to understand or appreciate what is supposed, by our standards, meant to impress. Perhaps, and I’m going to go out on a limb here, in 2016 we should simply treat Progressive Rock as part of the mainstream?
Progressive Rock music has always been with us, since its inception in the late sixties to this very day. The amazing thing is that even when it “disappeared” for a time in the early eighties, it was still there, simply ignored by the mainstream media until it’s resurgence in the mid-eighties. Band’s like Pallas, Marillion, IQ, Taurus and dozens of others were playing Progressive Rock in small dingy clubs because that was the music they felt in their hearts. It had less to do with getting on the radio (the mainstream) and more to do with being true to one’s inner creative self. I’ve said this before, but today there are more Progressive Rock bands out there making music than there ever were in the seventies! Today with the advent of so much non-traditional media, Progressive Rock music is stronger than ever, with a worldwide fan base drawn together by technology. Technology that helps create and disseminate the music. Prog is not going away.
The prog artists have done a great job creating the music we (and they) love, but it seems to me that we Progressive Rock fans have done a very poor job of spreading the music we love to others. We’ve tended to make it exclusionary and difficult. We have tended to make this a matter of the head, while the musicians have simply made music from the heart. Maybe it’s time we rethink our approach? At least that’s what I think.