Oh…about that label “PROG”
Jerry Lucky Commentary March 2018
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2018 All Rights Reserved
I came across a fascinating article in the latest issue of Record Collector magazine entitled “The Roots of U.S. Prog.” The article was written from a recollection perspective and at that it was quite comprehensive and entertaining. It was particularly fascinating to see the inclusion of what I would describe as personal favorite bands that this author considered fell into the Progressive Rock or to use the term from this article, Prog genre. More on that a little later. The multi-page piece covered the years 1967 through to 1970 and while the article isn’t meant to be a treatise on the period, the author does go into some surprising detail about quite a few artists or albums that in his view helped pave the way for the genre we love.
These years, the late sixties specifically where the rock and psychedelic music were crossing over into the progressive era cover a fascinating period where music was exploding with new ideas and new technology and again the author goes into significant detail about how and in some cases why this was happening. Naturally over the course of his article he included many artists that I would never have included had I put together a similar period list. And on that point it struck me while reading the piece how everyone, including me, comes at this from a very personal vantage point. I was left wondering – is it even possible to be objective about as he calls it – the roots of U.S. Prog – or even the creative arts in general for that matter. I mean each of us has a trail of proggy-breadcrumbs that has led us to the point we’re at in our Progressive Rock listening. For some of us it’s a long trail and includes some very personal band choices and for others it’s a short line of crumbs that still might include some unorthodox band choices. In the end each of us is going to lay out a very personal path from introduction to today. In that sense, I guess, as long as the core players are part of the mix I should not be surprised by some of the supporting performers included in the storyline.
All of which got me thinking about that abbreviated label “Prog.” He used it throughout the multi-page piece and he seemed to use it in a positive sense with no reservations. The term, an obvious abbreviation of the more complete Progressive Rock is a relatively recent invention and one that just sort of “happened” onto the scene overnight. The earliest recollection I have of this word was actually another article in in a May 2004 issue of Record Collector called “Prog Then and Now.” It may have been used earlier but that’s the first time I saw it being bandied about. Here we are, thirteen years later and it’s become pretty widespread, especially by the younger crowd who have less personal attachment to the genre’s early days. But since its creation, I’ve often wondered does the word mean the same to you as it means to me? It’s a silly question because the obvious answer is – based on what I said earlier in this piece - no probably not. It’s inevitable that it will mean something slightly different to different people because we all come with different bands in our musical luggage.
What also prompted me to write about this was I remember getting into a discussion with one long time Progressive Rock fan that, at that time refused to use the term Prog. At least that’s how he felt about it way back then. He didn’t like the term I think because he felt the people using it were using it to refer to types of bands he didn’t acknowledge as Progressive Rock bands. It was almost like he felt that the term Prog was referring to a whole different genre of bands. He seemed to see the term as a more exclusive descriptive than the more all-encompassing inclusive term it appears to have become. I must admit to feeling both puzzled and intrigued by his views at the time although I’m not sure how he feels about it today.
All of which brings me to my core thought here and that is: am I simply displaying my age by using the full Progressive Rock term rather than getting in step with the times and using the catchier shorter Prog? In fact is the shorter term perhaps more inclusive of some of the sub-genres that aren’t quite rock but still, well, Prog. It’s got me thinking. Now I know what you’re going to say: but what about all the times you’ve written about there being too many genre labels out there already. Isn’t this just introducing yet another one? And perhaps you’re right. Or, perhaps not. Here’s a crazy idea. Perhaps we could get rid of a few of those other labels and just all start using the one new more modern Prog.
A part of me thinks that’s a really good idea. I never really used the term Prog much in years past, but I’ve noticed that it’s showing up more and more, quite easily as I write reviews over the past couple years. It’s certainly a term that I’ve grown comfortable using and it does save a few letters of typing. And certainly the author of the article in Record Collector, a magazine read by music lovers of all age stripes, seemed quite comfortable not only using the term but putting it in bold letters on the cover. I got the sense that no one seems concerned that the term might be miss-understood.
This just begs one last question by me talking about this: am I just living in a fantasy world or is it time to as they say – “get with the program” – and start using the term that is now being used by many others and is more representative of what’s at the heart of the genre? You tell me. So what do you think?