I'm always on the lookout for new books on progressive rock. Will's book caught my eye some time back and it's become a nice addition to my collection. We recently exchanged emails...here's what he had to say...
Jerry Lucky: First off, fill us in on what it is you do for your day job?
Will Romano: Not tellin’. (Ha!)
JL: How is it that you discovered progressive rock music?
WR: I guess that dates back to the mid-1970s or so. As a gift our uncle gave us a 45 rpm of “Roundabout” b/w “Long Distance Runaround.” We had asked for anything by KISS, but received Yes, instead.
JL: As a fellow author, I have to know what possessed you to write a book about prog?
WR: “Possessed.” That’s the word for it. Then, again,possessed (by what I don’t know) quickly became “obsessed.” When you spend three-plus years on one book you tend to lose it a bit. You can’t see the forest for the trees, sometimes. I grew up on progressive rock. I’ve always joked that I stayed away from the “junk” largely due to music like “Karn Evil 9 Third Impression” and King Crimson’s Lizard. So, I suppose this project was decades in the making. It was nice to come “home.”
JL: Interesting choice for the title…how’d that come about?
WR: Kicking around ideas with the editor and it came out of that … It was originally going to be called “Brain Salad Surgeries.” I like the current one more.
JL: Over the years there’s come to be more and more books written about progressive rock music…you obviously felt there was room for one more…
WR: Well, there certainly are some good ones by Edward Macan, Bill Martin, you (Jerry Lucky), Kevin Holm-Hudson, Paul Stump etc. To directly answer your question: My initial dealings with the publisher were over five years ago (in early 2007). At that point, yes, I believed that there was room for one more. Having said this, there’s still plenty of room for others. I think the attention being brought to prog these days is a good thing. Besides, anyone willing – and daring enough -- to write about such a maligned genre is O.K. in my book, so to speak.
JL: The prog community can at times be quite harsh and demanding of the genre they love…How was the reaction or response to the book?
WR: Generally speaking it seems to be OK, but you can’t, and won’t, please everyone. I knew, going into this project, this would be the case, just by virtue of the architecture of the book.
JL: You know there was only one quibble I had with the book and that was…it was sub-titled The Illustrated History of Prog Rock…and I was hoping to see more photos. You had quite a few…nice colour and all but many of them were cover reproductions…perhaps I was simply being unrealistic…was that something that simply came down to cost? I know how much it can cost to license photos…
WR: Licensing does cost you, you’re right. But, also, I think what you’re picking up on is the residue of tug of war between two creative urges: one side wanted Mountains to be more of a coffee table book and the other wanted it to be a work of music commentary and history. I like to think that a fair balance was struck. Allow me to say that the graphics department did a brilliant job. The layout and the explosive colours splash across the pages of the book, I think, and perfectly capture the escapist qualities of the music and artwork of the classic progressive era.
JL: I read or heard from a few people who were disappointed that you didn’t spend more time talking about the current world of prog. What was your thinking in that regard?
WR: It would be easy for me to say, “There was more coverage of the modern era in earlier versions of the book, but with ever-shrinking space it became clear that there was less and less room for the newer bands.” All of that is true, of course. But, in my mind, the modern prog scene would have a tough road ahead of it if it were not for the bands of the 1960s and 1970s. Arguably, and you might get e-mails from irate readers regarding this next statement, but perhaps the post 1970s prog rockers might not exist in the way we know and love them (if they would exist at all) had it not been for the historically significant “progressive era” artists. Hey, those guys and gals in the ’60s and ’70s, largely from Britain, created and shaped the genre as we know it, and they deserve whatever attention my modest book can bestow upon them.
JL: There are always going to be people who say you left out “this band” or you left out “that band”…In retrospect was there anyone you left out that you think now should have been included?
WR: My intention was to include as much of my work as humanly possible to present a full picture of the genre. This proved to be unrealistic at times given the constraints of modern publishing. (Ha!) Despite its subtitle, Mountains was a personal journey for me and, really, a celebration of prog, I suppose, more than anything. For me, it’s less a matter of reflecting: “I should have included these guys.” Essentially, I did, but not all of the chapters, portions of chapters or references survived the editing process. It’s unfortunate, but maybe I’ll have a chance to remedy this situation some day.
JL: All that said…You do cover virtually all of the major and many of the minor bands in the book with great bios and histories…what are your favourite bands…old and new?
WR: Very difficult for me to do. (Ha!) If you’ll indulge me, here’s a list of some progressive rock and prog-related records that have left a big impression on me (in no particular order): Tales From Topographic Oceans, U.K., Io Sono Nato Libero, In a Glass House, Relayer, Brain Salad Surgery, In Absentia, Moonmadness, Still Life, Godbluff, A Farewell to Kings, Scrapbook, Metamorphosis (Magenta), Fearless (Family), Songs From The Wood, Spyglass Guest, Ys, Frances the Mute, Wind & Wuthering, Rites at Dawn, Lizard, Day For Night, You, Third, Alpha, … Even in the Quietest of Moments, Roaring Silence (and Solar Fire), Seconds Out, Legend, Hatfield and the North, Fantasia Lindum, The World Became the World, 666, Lunatic Soul, Happy The Man, Ghosts, In the Land of Grey and Pink, Quiver (KTU), Gravity (Anekdoten), Ghost Reveries, In the Court…, Red, Starless and Bible Black, Stranded, Close to the Edge, Roxy & Elsewhere, Tightly Unwound, The Ladder, Thick As A Brick, Lifeline, Grace for Drowning, Meddle, Dark Matter (IQ), Schoolyard Ghosts … etc. That’s enough, I think, for now …
JL: What are your views on the current state of progressive rock?
WR: I hold too many opinions, some of them conflicting, about the current state of prog to say anything meaningful or coherent in this space. (Ha!)
JL: I’d be interested in your views as one who follows the music scene in general…There’s a lot of chatter about the demise of physical CD’s, do you see that happening anytime soon?
WR: I think, like any evolutionary process, you’re dealing in ebbs and flows. I suspect, yes, the CD format will be brought to the edge of extinction. How soon? Not sure. The digital revolution is moving so fast we can hardly keep up with it. Personally, given the choice, I’d rather hold a physical product, if you will, with a booklet that includes liner notes when I’m listening to music. I guess I grew up with the vinyl LP, so that’s ingrained in me. It’s ritual. It’s funny, because there has been a trend over the last few years of releasing new (and re-issuing older) albums on vinyl. Younger people are discovering analog and they seem to love it. So, who knows what’s next?
JL: The internet has had a huge impact for good and for bad it seems on the state of prog today, what’s your view on that situation?
WR: I find that the Internet cuts both ways when it comes to most issues and topics. I can’t deny that the Internet has helped to dig up long-lost recordings and brought prog fans together, like nothing before. Overall, you’d have to say the Internet has had a positive impact on the genre and can claim some measure of credit for helping to revive and stabilize Prog Rock.
JL: What’s on the agenda for Will Romano…future books?
WR: Some things are in the works, but I can’t really announce anything, yet …
JL: Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.
WR: Thanks for the opportunity, Jerry. This was fun.