Seriousness shanghaied the joy of rock and roll and used it to wipe its furrowed rear. The worst offenders are the truly repellent likes of Yes, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, those bands with wind-up toy time signatures, castrati vocalists, and reams of wretchedly vacant philosophizing that was so steeped in skull-fuckingly dull cliches that I suspect even Rod McKuen and Edgar Guest would call these guys grunting, formless worms choking down their own fecal trails. Still, I think some of this ambitious stuff works on their own terms--King Crimson, The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart, and his Magic Band. The lyrics from all three bands were idiosyncratic and free of pud-wilting platitudes. Overall, the music for the three of them was unique and entirely original blends of marginal influences that, when stirred the right way, created something just as authentic. Peter Townsend had been called an intellectual so often by both the rock and the mainstream press that I suspect he came to believe and sought to live up the image of the Thinking Artist. The irony was that he already was doing Art, a unique and original kind of music; his sagging jockstrap of an ego trip with Quadrophenia robbed him of that talent. He never got his groove back. I do think good rock and pop musicians and songwriters can be taken seriously to a degree. Still, there is always the danger of pomposity and self-congratulating bombast, the inflated sense of importance that nearly always saps the music of genuine inspiration and vitality. Yes, even the best of our generation's singer-songwriters have been maudlin, precious, and bordering on hard-edged baloney-mongering. But they have a knack, in general, to recover from their worst work and give us something actually inspired, focused, full of conviction. Still, others have not regrouped from their worst efforts. Sting, post-Police, is an autodidactic tourist in other cultures' music; he is lost in his pretensions, lost to us. Joni Mitchell decided she wanted to be a composer and a poet of a highly diffuse, Eliot ilk and tried to merge meandering imagery with poorly conceived, Mingus-inspired impressionism; she has been minor league ever since. Peter Gabriel, in turn, has been largely quiet on the solo front and involved himself instead in other projects; this keeps our memory of his music a fond one.
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Friday, September 28, 2012
There are occasional stirrings among those my age, music fans of a certain generation of decade, who become nostalgic for the surface noise and commotion of their own record collection and, in indulging their yen for a commodity fatally beyond its expiration date, will wax, wane and syllogize until the music of the spheres play slow blues solos some now deservedly disputably fad was, actually, not so bad, not bad at all, in fact, pretty damn good and unfairly maligned. Beware these acolytes, lest someone try to convince you of that the true worth of progressive rock, that hyperventilated amalgam of trick pony riffs that made radio something you dreaded turning on. I don't buy it, for the most part. The fascination with progressive rock grew out of the long improvisations pioneered by the essentially blues-based bands like The Butterfield Blues Band, Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, as the going conceit of the time was that rock and roll had become something smarter like "rock" and could now rival jazz as a young musician's medium for instrumental chops. The transition to classical borrowings, occasional jazz motifs and jacked up time signatures and tick-tock chord changes made for its own kind of monotony. Jazz, whatever its form or origin, was premised on the idea that, as a form, it was in a state of constant transformation--the musicians we still listen to rarely played the signature tunes the same way twice. Progressive rock, generally proud and defensive about the form's gerrymandered fussiness--this was the best place to learn the distinctions between the words "complicated" and "complex"--became insulated ever so much faster than jazz did. A one idea concept, with rare exceptions --Zappa, King Crimson, Pink Floyd--progressive rock could only become fussier, crankier, more incestuous. It actually became something resembling "rock" not at all, in any sense. It was the arena of sterile perfection and was truly unlistenable to a young listener having no desire (or need) to stare at the sky and ponder stoned philosophies. Punk rock was the shock rock and roll needed; stupid, obnoxious, repetitive, angry, the rude style pretty much revealed what a conceptual crock of mung progressive rock turned into. It was time to flush things away and allow the progressive rock to become something actually useful, such as fertilizer.
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The Atlantic a month ago ran a pig-headed bit of snark-slamming prog rock as "The Whitest Music Ever, "a catchy bit of clickbait...