Mid-Year Thoughts and Ruminations
Jerry Lucky Commentary July 2017
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2017 All Rights Reserved
My high school art teacher made a big impression on me for the three years I was in his class. I remember one of the things he used to rail on was the idea that you had to wait for the “spirit to move you” before you could begin creating art. He’d come by and simply suggest, well what happens if the spirit NEVER moves you? Implied in his not so subtle jab was that there comes a time where you just have to start. So it is with this slightly delayed July commentary. What follows then is a somewhat “stream-of-consciousness” reflection of things rattling around in the life of Jerry Lucky here mid-year 2017.
As most of you know, I’m a big fan of Brian Wilson and his revolutionary musical efforts that coalesced around the Pet Sounds/SMiLE era circa 1966-67. In so many ways Wilson began composing, arranging, recording and creating music that was very progressive for the time and in many ways led to certain aspects of Progressive Rock that we hold dear today. In fact more than one music paper was trumpeting Pet Sounds as “The Most Progressive Pop album ever.” Wilson was creating music on a very large canvas and was throwing out all the rules in the process. Sounds like Prog to me! He along with the Beatles revolutionized how music could be created. Who else in the rock-pop world was using flutes, Marimbas and Harmonicas for lead lines in their songs? Who else was creating songs in modular form, joining segment 1 to segment 2 and then repeating? In retrospect there is no question that rock and pop music was forever changed with the release of Sargent Pepper, we’ll never know how much more impact and change might have resulted had Wilson’s revolutionary album SMiLE been allowed to come out just before the Beatles Sargent Pepper.
I just finished reading Wilson’s biography, released in 2016 entitled I Am Brian Wilson and it’s a great read. I’ve read lots of things about him and the Beach Boys but this first hand, personal account clearly is a much deeper look into what was going on and how various external elements of “life, the universe, and everything else” came into play to shape Wilson’s world. It’s not only personal, but it’s also very, I have to believe, very heart wrenching for him to go through many of these stories, be they his musical rejection by members of the group he created or his spiral into drug and medication infused paralyses that plagued him for many years. Wilson makes no bones about suffering from a mental illness and it’s refreshing to read how he battled it head-on and has for all intents and purposes come out on the winning side. Scarred, yes, but alive and still creative. The book is filled with many details about many albums I’d not read about, significantly one of my favorite albums, Holland. I am Brian Wilson is a speedy read even though it’s almost 280 pages. I say speedy because it’s written in the clipped, short sentences, just the way he speaks. You have this sense that Wilson is actually sitting there telling you his stories. At times funny at times heart-warming and at times sad. Great book check it out.
Speaking of Brian Wilson, a little while back I picked up a documentary Blu-ray disc about the little known Wrecking Crew. You’re saying, what in the world is The Wrecking Crew? Well back through much of the sixties this was a group of Los Angeles studio musicians, some say a dozen, some say upwards of twenty who were at the top of their game. They were the musicians that unbeknownst to everyone listening to the radio at the time were actually performing the music we all listened to. They were making the music behind virtually ALL the bands between about 1963 to about 1968 or 69. It’s an absolutely astounding story that comes to light in this video. If you want to know what The Wrecking Crew sounds like here’s a short list of the bands they created the music for: The Mamas and The Papas, The Monkees, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Sonny and Cher, The Association along with all the Phil Spector groups. It’s actually stunning to watch this documentary and hear all those songs I grew up and discover they were essentially played by this talented group of studio musicians and not the band’s themselves. I remember clearly the furor that the media created when it was found out that The Monkees weren’t playing their own instruments on their first two albums. Everyone was running around with their hair on fire. Little did they realize virtually NO ONE was playing their own instruments at the time. It’s a fantastic documentary and I recommend it highly.
Speaking of videos, I also picked up the latest Steve Hackett Blu-ray entitled The Total Experience Live in Liverpool and it’s a very nice addition to the collection. It’s pretty much the complete performance with the first half of the show devoted to his solo material and the second half covering a nice swath of older Genesis stuff. Being in high definition it’s great to see the detail and hear the 5.1 mix and while it’s always hard to be totally happy with the song selection (he left out a few I’d have liked to hear) it’s hard not to appreciate what he has included. I’ve said it before, Hackett, in my books is the only member of Genesis that’s still treading the boards and creating high-quality Progressive Rock here in 2017. Included in the package are a collection of three produced videos and two short featurettes focusing on the band’s rehearsals and behind the scenes doings. The disc is a keeper and I certainly have no reservations recommending you track it down. Regardless of whether you enjoy his solo work or him performing the Genesis classics you’ll find much to enjoy with this disc.
Speaking of Steve Hackett likes and dislikes. I had the opportunity a short time back to have dinner with Shawn Bishop who is the “la tete fromage” of the Dividing Line Broadcast Network. That’s the on-line prog network that hosts my radio show which for lack of confusion is simply called The Progressive Rock Files Radio Show. A mouthful, I know. Try saying it fast three times! Over dinner we had the opportunity to talk about a wide range of subjects. One of them in fact was last year’s Steve Hackett concert in Vancouver. Shawn made no bones about how he was more of a fan of Hackett‘s work on the Genesis covers. I on the other hand am probably more of a fan of Hackett’s solo endeavors. But all that said there was no disagreement between us regarding his talent, whatever he plays. Our conversation got underway with Shawn questioning me about my thoughts on the state of the Progressive Rock world here mid-way through 2017. After a little back and forth we both tended to agree that things seemed to be in somewhat of a “holding-pattern” whatever that means. We could each point to great musical releases but there were also lots of holes in the release schedules. While there were still many new bands releasing good stuff, there was no question a lot of big name bands had become quite silent of late. What if anything that meant is tough to say. We certainly had no answers it was just that both of us were left with this feeling that while the world wasn’t collapsing or anything it wasn’t exactly buoyant days. And then the wine was finished!
Let me close with a couple thoughts about live performances. Sometimes I’ve been criticised by friends for not making more of an effort to show up at live performances, especially by Prog bands. While I usually take one, two or perhaps even three live gigs a year I must admit that (and I know this is sacrileges to say this) I tend to derive more pleasure from buying the band’s produced Blu-ray and watching the performance in an environment where I can appreciate every nuance and not be struggling to hear or see. Yeah I know that makes me sound like a old “fuddy duddy” but there you have it. Which brings me to the news that YES is performing in Vancouver in September of 2017. Upon hearing the advertisement on the radio I was immediately hit with two conflicting thoughts. One, it was another opportunity to one of the greats, and then two, this would be a very different event with the passing of Chris Squire since the last time I saw them a couple years back. Jon Davisson was singing with them at the time so it was already a bit of a different band but this time…well you know. I couldn’t help wonder – when is it a good time to stop. When is it a good time to say; you know what we had a good run. Let’s just relax and enjoy the time we have left. Now I know for musicians, where music is your life, that’s a hard thing to do. Speaking from experience, my dad who was a touring musician all his life, died at the age of 84 and on his desk was a list of some concert dates he’d been working on. I totally get the fact that for some it’s not a job to quit - it’s your life. Still as I thought about the YES concert I couldn’t help but wonder…when is it time to stop?
As for me…it’s time to stop…at least that’s what I think. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you’re thinking.